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Just your average Joe.
Bagus Surya is the name.
From Indonesia.

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It was four in the morning when Veronica reported her finding. It was the pinpointed location of the prince himself and his general well-being which apparently remained unspoiled for the past six days.
What concerned them was the part where her finding conflicted with the hunter's account, which pointed to Fanghorn as the location where the kidnappers went.

Jazdia huffed and dismounted from her horse. It was not really a big deal for her, but she wanted to hear what the team leader had to say about this information, and the intel gatherer herself.

So the elf opened her pocketwatch and called for an emergency meeting. The map of Kindeance opened, and her enchanted arrows provided the light. Ten minutes at most.

"How much is the enemy on each site?" she began, eyeing Veronic. "In Pesti especially."

"I will not pry into your past, or your network." The orc caught Jazdia before the latter entered a room. "But I require your words that it will not negatively affect the mission at hand."


Jazdia was clearly not pleased with this untimely interruption. Though Matilda's suspicion was probably justified, they had all the chance in the world to join in and listen when she had a talk with Baker. Heck, it even would save her time from explaining to their team leader how the devices works.

"No, it will not," she replied with a deadpan expression. "On the contrary, I just solved our communication issue and ensured we can leave safely. From what I heard we probably have multiple targets, so splitting might be an option. Anything else? If not, I will take my leave and rest."
Enjoy the food. And they sure did.

There were already several empty bowls on the next table, and another came after Young Nina scrapped every bit of gravy from that old pot and had it delivered with an unrelaxed smile to a young lady that looked... very hungry. The owner blinked, mentally wondering who would pay for all of this, but soon realized that the crown's purse was nearly bottomless and his ex-boss was no pauper either.

The ex-boss in question impatiently tapped her wrist.

Located in a chamber next to the kitchen was another room. Unlike the rest of the inn, the room was brick-walled with smooth plaster made of white concrete. The place was lit by an expensive crystal lamp that radiates soft white light, and inside, there was a large metal cupboard, a large table, and several chairs.

"Interesting friends you've got there." the elven owner began, while Jazdia followed behind him. The door was not closed, either to avoid prejudical opinion or to invite anyone concerned and let them know that there was no state confidentiality being discussed here.

"You could say that."

"A druid, a noblewoman turned mercenary, another mercenary from a foreign land, both known for ruthlessness on the battlefield. A strange doctor with interesting stories centered around him, a Pale Lady from far away province, and King's Right-Hand woman herself--" Baker counted. "One could put them all in one room and nobody would find it strange, but with you in the mix? Now that's a different story. Especially after that failed assassination attempt."

The elf woman shrugged. "Well, it seemed you did your homework, I thought you don't really care. I already know who they are, so why bother telling me?"

There was a brief pause and Baker turned at her. "Let us say it was to express my congeniality, if that's not enough for you, just an old habit that dies hard."

"Congeniality?"

"They are not very solid, hmm?"

"Naturally."

"There was clearly a division. It wasn't natural at all."

"It was intentional."

The innkeeper opened his cupboard, revealing another containing a combined lock, then he continued without looking back. "Intentional? So it didn't end well, I presume? Looking at your bandages."

"This part was the result of holding back..."

A metal drawer was now placed on the table. Inside were numerous containers made of glass to separate a variety of trinkets. The Inn Owner selected a silvery piece of jewelry that looked like a compass with a brass lid, while Jazdia chose an earpiece.

"Was it D-1M or DM-3?" he asked, referring to the device model Jazdia picked. "I believe that is D-1M, you have to channel magic into it. Ancient model, you know old man Anderson wouldn't let me take anything newer. Up to seventy kilometers range, that transceiver still uses universal frequencies, so we can pair it with the Commpass."

That commpass was the bras trinket Baker holds. He opened its brass lid and spoke "There is something important I wanted to ask."

The words were received clearly by the D-1M earpiece, but it was not its only gimmick. When Baker pressed another button, the Commpass rewound the words faultlessly.

"There is something important I wanted to ask."

"The destruction of Black Serpent was your doing, wasn't it? It's not a secret, that orc lady can glare at me until a pair of wings sprouts from my back."

"Something piqued your interest?"

"So you don't deny it."

"This is Kindeance. Information has its price."

"Fine. You can pick one more merchandise."

Jazdia plucked a plain ring made of carved green garnet and placed it next to the commpass.

"I thought you'd want something more... impactful," said Baker, leaning on his chair. "A dimeritium ring? So your next target is a mage?"

"This is for the girl upstairs..."

"Pardon?"

"Gerrald Grey." The whispered name spilled icily from her lips. "The girl upstairs was his most powerful slave. You asked about my injury, she was the one who did it."

Baker's breath halted at that explanation. During his career in the Organization, he remembered that not many people could give their boss a run for her money, but Jazdia's cold expression told him that it was not a joke.

Shuddered only slightly, Baker's face told everything, however.

"I shot her lung," Jazdia reported, answering his implied concern. "Missed a few centimeters from her heart. Her power was spent after rampaging that tunnel in response to her master's demise."

"So this will be another stray tiger you picked up. And I assume you want to house her here?"

"Only for a couple of days. The accommodation for her to stay here had been paid."
"Without my approval!"

"It was your fault not being present when we checked in. As far as the law concerned it was a valid contract..."

Baker rubbed his temple with a pained expression, crazy facts that not only overwhelmed but also were being hammered inside his head one by one. Jazdia let him savor the pain for a while.

As soon as he managed to regain his composure, the inn owner returned to Jazdia. "Not the information I wanted to know actually, but--what the hell! So, by 'was' and 'demise' you mean you killed her master?"

"That's right. Black Serpent is no more."

It might be good news for some debtors and small merchants in Rascade, but Baker was not one of them. His handsome features turned gloomy, and he stared across the doorway cautiously.

"This morning I rode to the capital after the Adventurer's guild notified me about the liberated slaves. Sadly two of them were dead." Baker paused and looked at his former boss keenly. "You know this, don't you?"

"Was the deceased someone you know?"

Baker's eyes narrowed kindly at her. "This doesn't sound like you."

---


Jazdia wondered what she used to sound like, she only remembered all her actions were based on principles, and yes, she fully acknowledged that Baker is trying to jab at her trademarked morals.

"Not directly... It was a daughter of a friend from the neighboring town." Baker gave up and both knew this 'friend' could be anecdotal, but the sternness in the Inn Owner's tone implicitly said that was beside the point. "I might not be the smartest agent in our now-defunct organization but I know collateral damage when I see one. It was the result of the raid, wasn't it?"

"Yes."

Silence fell. Baker, again, waited for more, but Jazdia's confirmation would only be that simple yes that seemed to have multiple meanings. The Inn Owner put the drawer aside and leaned forward. His eyes searched her.

"Who was it?"

The words came out sharply. But it was far from being galvanizing enough to make the elf in front of her waver. Jazdia knew where this conversation led to, and whatever reason Baker had to antagonize her and her team was probably warranted, but she simply had her own judgment. The murderer was a valuable asset, and he was needed.

"I am not obliged to answer that. It's already your second question."

"Wait! So Gerradl's slave counts too?"

"You asked, and I answered..."

Baker looked like he was about to petrify on spot.

"When I looked at that dead woman, I think about Nina's elder sister. God forbid-- I was glad it wasn't her, but I wondered what if it was her. I wondered how her family would react, I wondered how they would think after knowing the other slaves are liberated but not her. I wondered how they would take it she is dead by the one who was supposed to set her free. I wondered what the so-called liberators would think after that ordeal."

He looked at the doorway and grimaced with ephemeral disgust. "To think they would eat, drink and celebrate sickens me..."

There was a pause. Jazdia closed her eyes briefly and then glanced at him with a concerned undertone, signifying that both elves shared mutual sympathy, but hers was leaned more on reality.

"Someone will be held accountable for that unlawful killing, but that will not be not today." Jazdia rose up from her chair. Her mechanical tone showed neither promise nor irresolution, but her blue, brilliant eyes glanced with hidden anger. Though there was no threat in Baker's condemnation, It was important for her to make her point.

"You might not see me as a person who sees everything in the bigger picture, but this time I must." she said, reaching for the compass and the ring and securing it in her bag.

"Until when you will hold on to this pragmatism?"

There was more pause. And it was a question she intended to not answer.

"I can't answer that. Thank you for your cooperation, Captain Baker."

Everyone save the bear was still in the common room when Jazdia exited from Baker's warehouse and climbed upstairs. Slowly but surely she opened the room where Gerrald's former slave was resting and found her sleeping soundly. She could feel her chest tightens, not because it was wounded but rather a newfound sympathy.

The girl remained undisturbed, her face was much more peaceful now, but her breath was still short. The elf held the ring and channeled some magic into it. The ring slipped onto the girl's middle finger easily, and then with a simple touch and magical command, it turned invisible.

——Who… is to blame for this?

Jazdia closed the door and walked into the neighboring room. What Baker said, and the living irony rested just by the next door pounded her head mercilessly. Perhaps a warm bath can ease it up a bit.



Not long after Cedar left the premises, a man walked in.

"I don't know we have a guest," he said, walking closer to the currently most populated table. A man of the same age as Jazdia approached with a carefree smile. Just by looking, he seemed like a good man who got along with women. He had a handsome face and droopy eyes, with masculine, chiseled features. His slightly long black hair had smooth waves and his eyes were the usual brown. His elven characteristic contrasted with his plain, natural attractiveness. One that does not showy and easily forgotten but still very pleasant to look at.

His traveling outfit uniform was worn-out, a ranger tunic like Jazdia wore, but his was adorned with ornamental plaid cloth hanging from his belt and a silver patch on her shoulder with a symbol of an eight-pointed compass in a circle. His voice was cultured and smooth, and he gave off a completely different impression compared to the brusque attitude that seemed to be the trademark of his fairer counterpart.

"Miss Jazdia. What a pleasant surprise!" he greeted, though, with a hint of sarcasm. The elf smiled back, but the man smooth yet evasively turned to Matilda.

"Wilyadin is the name, but folks often call me Baker. I am so happy one of the king's retinue visited my humble establishment! I should offer a handshake but that's not how an innkeeper expresses their hospitality. Ninaa!"

"No need to shout, I'm right here like I always am. How'd your meeting with the Guildmaster go?"

The owner wagged his fingers. "Tut! Tut!" Now is not the time. Have you prepared the food? Rooms and bed?"

Nina pouted, such a poor sight for a cute young lady. "I have! But we need to cook the stew again!" across the table and counter that separated the common room from the kitchen she showed the now-empty pot and placed it back on the stove. "If you have time to dally you should help me! I've asked Nob to fetch the grocery, we are short-handed at the moment!"

The owner glanced at her and chuckled "I am sure you can manage sweety! I have a matter to discuss with one of our guests!"

"But, Fatheeeerr!"

Ignoring his 'daughter' plea and possibly underestimating the possibility of having cooking utensils thrown at him, the Baker continued. "I am very tempted to ask what's the occasion, but I guess I will invoke the old saying that ignorance is bliss." He shuffled his gaze on Matilda, then to Veronica, Solomon, Kaito, and lastly Jazdia.

"I assume your visit is not coincidental, eh Boss?" he said, still smiling.

"No, not really." answered the elf after a long and heavy sigh. "I need to take some of your old equipment with me. Could that be arranged?"

The elven owner flinched, but his jolly persona remained unchanged. "Goodness gracious, how long has it been? Ten years? And Your P's and Q's have not improved a bit. Of course, I still have them, and I will lend them to you if you have the password~~"

"Those are the property of CSA, and can be recalled or confiscated if needed."

That cheerfulness faded almost instantly. "But you disbanded it... have you not? And you are retired. Then by what right do you demand me to surrender my mementos?"

Silence, while Jazdia kept her deviant look, other patrons also looked at him uncomfortably. Then, a smile cracked on his face. The amiability returned, but this time it was laced with cautiousness. "Of course, I was just messing with you. You can use COMMS. Anything else is off-limits though. This is Kindeance. If you want something, you have to offer something else in return. Well, let's have it settled then. Ladies, and gentlemen, please enjoy the food and drinks... and atmosphere." He bowed, and as the man straighten up, he winked at the other two ladies.


Jorr jolted slightly. The words were delivered slowly, but emphasis after emphasis made it sound demanding. She straightened herself in an apprehensive posture. If she was making a mistake, she would say sorry if she didn't do what she was supposed to do she would do it, if she had to be silent she--

"I want ya's ta be yaself-- Knows yaself-- owns yaself-- decides fo' yaself-- and knows what yas likes, dislikes, and wan's fo' yaself. ... ... I kin tells this a big thang ta ask fer. .. .. Dun wurry 'bout it. I kin tells ya ain't ne'er done nut'n like at afore. But I'l be aright---'ats w'at I wants, and all I wants from ya. Nuttin' else. "

Cedar's words sounded like nothing but pity. And for Jorr, her first instinctive reaction to it was to be wary. Decided for herself? What was that? The concept was strange as it was fearful to her. As far as he could remember, her life was always decided by others; by her parents, by the merchant who bought and sold her to a master, then to another, and another. She had experienced the pain of making her own choices and had paid dearly for it.

Cedar's words, though encouraging were full of rambling nonsense. Part of her wanted to defy it, screaming lies! at the top of her wounded lungs, but she had been so conditioned with years of servitude that the only thing that came out was the word "Yes."

Without 'master'.

"Bein' free ta choose be da birthrigh' of E'ERY thinkin' bein', lil' lady. " "An 'at include you too."

Is that a request or demand? She could not fathom, not now, not today. After what happened, she only wanted to be left alone. To weep a bit more, to think... what was thinking? To decide? The silliest phrase was somehow engraved strikingly in her mind. She looked at Cedar, and her reply came in delay.

"Jormungand..."

The name now brought up some mixed memories about her deceased master, yet she uttered it not because it was given, but because it was hers. "My name is Jormungand. Please call me Jorry"

It was the first thing she had decided, and she looked at Cedar and searched for approval, but she found nothing of sort. Only a thin grin from his elongated jaw. Did I do it right? Is it okay to ask for more?

"Cedar-- I'am--" she reached for the bread and showed it to him a like child showing off a handmade toy. "Can I have this?"

@wierdw
"She seem nice enough on firs' glance 'dou."

"She reeks of old hatred!" the girl declared tensly, then she looked down, and trembled again as if realizing that she might have uttered something she shouldn't.

"I--I am sorry. Thank you for helping me--" Her voice was muffled, and Jorry clutched the hem of her dress. "Your kindness will never be forgotten... I will do my best to be of use."

The situation became awkward and only eased up when Nina suddenly returned with a tray.

"Heeey, it’s lunch time!"

The three stared at each other for a moment. Bear was sitting on the floor and was in a deep conversation. It was impolite to interrupt, but the door was open and she did say she would return. Ugh!

"It’s heavy. Hurry and take it!" Nina grumbled, then Cedar stood and reached for a table so Nina could place the tray safely

The menu was soft bread, vegetable soup with chicken and colorful beans, fried potatoes and onions garnished with salt, garlic, and pepper, roasted beef with sauce and fruit cake as dessert. That was the usual in this inn. Plain and simple food but homey and wholesome.

"Dig in you two!" Said Nina, smiling, but soon she smacked her forehead after realizing how big Cedar was. "Err... maybe call me later if you need something else?" There would definitely be a call later, but Nina just put up the last defense from bankrupting her entire kitchen.

When the bear walked in, Jorry was no longer frightened, though her heart beating unpleasantly fast. Instinctively she remembered one of those so-called fateful days when she and a few othe girls on her age were herded onto a platform, exhibited in front of many eyes.

At that time she tried to not think about anything, not even when the potential buyer stepped in and gripped her chin. Then another, who touched him in many places. She did not dare, or rather care to see their faces, though, at that time her eyes and ears were okay. Her buyers were lucid figures with power over her, and they are buying meat, and she should just act like one. Best to get this over with quickly so she could see what fate had prepared for her.

Turned out, it wasn't so bad at all.

And today, strangely, her new master was no longer a lucid figurine. Though obedience had robbed her sight and hearing, it was sharper in a different sense. A bear with soft words and gentle steps. The vibrations he made were clumsy and innocent, and his words were intelligible for now, partly because her sense was not used to the throaty vibe of his and it did not demand an answer.

Jorry... Jorry wanted to trust him.

Simply because that was just how it is.

I don't think they are bad people.

Nina said that. The word of a servant often weighed less, but somehow it resonated in her mind. She touched her chest, savoring the memory of pain, strangely the last part of it was warm and fuzzy. Though her power was exhusted and her sight blurred, she could still identify talent, and it belonged to the hulking, more gentle version of Teddy in front of her. With a bit of a hand sign, she pointed at herself, then to whoever was in front of her.

"Why help?"

Silly question, of course, they wanted to keep her alive so she could be theirs, and---

The elf she remembered had no desire to dominate. Her aura and vibe told nothing but a sliver of rage and pity. And now when her grief for her master's demise had been suspended, it was understandable why. It was like an arena fight. She hurt her and in return, she hurt her too. So why she was alive?

"Are you the elf's friend?"

"It's okay! You are our guests! Just don't startle her, OK?" She said, a bit startled herself after seeing a man with a bit of beastly features next to The Talking Bear. She shook her head again and sighed, wondering if these bizarre visitors would bring some kind of omen.

That will be a rouble for Father to sort out, I guess...

"I will take my leave then." The innkeeper winked before going downstairs.

***

Jazdia nodded. At least they have reached an understanding. A bit gravitated on her side, actually, and she had prepared to deal with Matilda's lengthy argument. Turned out the orc captain was not as confrontative as her looks suggested-- or maybe that side of her was well hidden and only be shown through action?

"There is another thing," said Jazdia, now in a more relaxed tone. "I enlisted one of my field operators into our party. His intel on Rascade's underworld had proven valuable and helped us immensely during yesterday's operation. His mastery of illusion magic and hypnotism also can be put to good use in a clandestine type of mission. He was the guy who carried the sack full of evidence onto our table."

Jazdia leaned forward. "By looking at your reaction, I assume you just realize his existence just now, don't you?"
Nina managed to have the strange girl seated. That was quite easy, considering how the girl would react earlier.

She disrobed her gently and quickly noticing the bandages and trail of blood. Some were on her temple and right ear too, but luckily the wound on that part had been healed.

"I will clean you up, all right?"

Her answer was a somber nod. Nina twisted the washrag and wiped the girl starting on her bloodied temple and upper torso. But soon, the young Nina was startled when her towel scrubbed a burn mark on the back of Jor's shoulder. So it was true, she was branded.
But Nina did not ask further, she wanted to sympathize with her but was unsure of the correct way to do it. The silence stretched
uncomfortably. Finally, she blurted. "I don't think they are bad people."

Nina felt Jorry's posture arched for a moment. The girl winced and turned away, "They are killers..."

Her voice was strained, weary with a hint of resignation. The innkeeper didn't try to argue with it, and instead, she turned to face her, scrubbing the remaining dust on her collarbone. Her feature was unnaturally composed, pale, and inarticulate. Only her eyes, bloodshot and brown and filled with pain, seemed alive.

Impulsively Nina smiled. "Would you like something warm after this? I hope you will like my clothes, they are plain, but at least clean and ironed." It sounded inane and nonsequitor, but it was the first thing that sprang to her mind and she always spoke earnestly. A moment passed, and Nina kept talking while now working on Jorry's arms,

And gradually, emotions flitted across her face— offense, disbelief, gratitude, yearning, understanding. Nina helped the girl to sit on the bed and helped her to wear one of her hand-me-dows; a simple blue dress with a smiley patch sewn on its bodice. It looked old and the color had faded, but certainly much more better than the ragged skirts she was wearing. Now finished tying Jorry's long, brown hair in a simple ponytail, she looked like a real ordinary country girl.

Satisfied with her work, Nina chirped. "Done and done! Would you like to go downstairs?"

Jorry shook her head.

"Would you like me to keep the door open?"

There was a long pause until Jorry gave her a simple nod. Nina shrugged and lugged the bucket with her. "Suit yourself then."

The innkeeper hummed as she walked past Kaito and Mr. Bear "Your princess' freshen up now. I will send up some food and hot tea."

"Moving after dark is hazardous. Explain why you think it's a good idea."

Jazdia raised an eyebrow. "If not for sufficient rest and preparation, then to maintain confidentiality. The urgency for it has been emphasized repeatedly and despite the misgivings felt due to a certain slip of the tongue, I assume you would still want to keep this operation in low profile. Traveling with the cover of the night would be your best bet. Not to mention the advantage of the element of surprise. Humans generally take more time to be prepared during the last third of the night."

Jazdia turned to Solomon, who asked about the girl she brought with her. She assumes matilda would want to hear about that too.
"She was sedated with a medicine that suppresses one's magical capability as the intended side effect. A very strong painkiller reserved for the most grievous wound." What Jazdia didn't explain was the medicine and its side effect was also intended to keep herself in check so she wouldn't overexert herself when her ancient rage kicked in. One could guess that fire mages had a lot of things in common.

"And with her mana reserves completely exhausted, I predicted that it would take a full twenty-four hours for her to be ready to cast a single spell, and that too would be a painful and strenuous endeavor for her body to bear. What is uncertain for me is if she would risk breaking that limit for whatever reason. The blindness she suffered was the result of her breaking that limit and reckless use of her magic."

"I will not speak about compassion as a means to tame her right now. Your concern is understandable. After this, I will check on her, and then we will see. For a few days to a week to come, her wound would prevent her from doing anything significant. Chest wound is extremely stifling to u-- magic users who rely on disciplined breathing."

Jazdia activated her eyes and observed upstairs, she saw that cute innkeeper putting on a fresh set of clothes on Jormungand. Contemplating for a moment, Jazdia wondered how such a thing could happen. And both girls seemed to be enjoying each other's company too! Perhaps compassion could work?
Besides the heartwarming juncture, Jazdia saw the blue aura in the girl's body was barely visible and it still remained that way since their escape from the tunnels.

"She is still within manageable parameters and rest assured, I intend to keep it that way."
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