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85 Tiny Little Cakes  - Headed by a Snake

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"So it's a smiling chicken," Dragan tapped a heavy forefinger onto the dining table.

Maximus placed his hand on the table and leaned forward, "Right. And it's eating a worm out of an apple."

"Happy chicken?" Lone offered.

"Couldn't be," Maximus sat back and stroked his chin.

Guild Invictus had reached Merylsward and were staying at the... inn with a chicken on its sign. Tycon had taken Pale and Taree out, while Dragan's team were carousing at the inn's first floor, a dining hall and tavern.

Dragan scratched his fiery red mane in frustration and downed his flagon of ale, "Bah. I wish Tarquin stayed for a bit. He would've gotten it."

"He didn't even stay to check out the girls," Maximus complained.

Lone and Dragan shot him a look.

"...Such evils in this world." Holy Warrior Maximus stared back with pride, "When the meek are possessed by sin, it is my solemn duty to exorcise the demon."

Dragan snickered, "Yeah, man. And you can take 'em to the heavens."

A pink-haired elven serving girl approached and took a comfortable seat on Maximus' lap, "Oh, Paladin Maximus, I would love to help you exercise the demon."

He took a grave expression, "That-- I promised my friends that I would accompany them in their noble quest."

The elf fawned, "Oh wowww~ Official business?" Her voice dropped in octave, sweet and sultry, "That's so hot."

Dragan reached across the table and took Maximus' half-filled ale flagon, "Tell ya what, bud. We'll finish up here and you can gooOOoo... show your new lady-friend your uh... spear?"

Maximus stood up, "Milady, perhaps a... private consultation is in order?"

The giggling elf followed Maximus back to the privacy of their inn room.

"F*cking dragonborn," Dragan complained when they were out of earshot, downing the rest of Maximus' ale.

Lone nodded, "Y-yeah."

Young Master Tamaki returned to the table, "Jolly Pecker!"

"Wh-what?" Lone looked confused.

Tamaki sat down, a smug look on his youthful face. "The sign on the inn. It's a Jolly Pecker!"

Understanding dawned on Lone's and Dragan's faces, "Jolly Pecker~!!"

"Well!" Dragan stood up and clapped his hands together, "Let's get going, you two."

"Ooh, are we goin' to see the ladies, Mister Dragan?" Tamaki smiled.

"Ayep! Boss assigned me a mission! To find Lone a mate."

"Wait, wait, hold on." Lone held his palms out, "Why was I not informed of this mission?"

"We decided it while an 11-year-old girl had your balls in a crush-grip," Dragan explained.

Tamaki followed up, "Yeap. You lost, Chosen One. So ya gotta pay the piper."

...

Tycon held the written letter he'd received at the Courier's Guild building.

"Who's it from, Boss?" Pale asked. He kept his eyes outward, constantly scanning the people in the crowd for potential threats.


Taree was bouncing around like a pigeon, largely ignoring her surroundings, "What type of person was that? They were shorter than me but they looked so old!"

Tycon turned to Pale, "It's an update from Sorina Capulet back in Nice. She's doing well, but she's requested more funds for investment. We'll need to find a fence in the lower district."
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Tycon turned to Taree, "That's a gnome. Don't stare, it's rude. Gnome culture values curiosity, so most gnomes will gladly answer your questions."

"And don't hold up the line by asking a gnome that's working," Pale added.

Taree nodded obediently to Pale. Even though the girl was taller than Pale and a few years older, she always acted like the younger between the two... Those two were awful close, though.

Tycon tucked the letter away, masking his feelings in front of his young companions. There was an unwelcome development in the Merylsward mission. He needed to discuss it with Guild Invictus' contractor.

After a short walk, Pale was growing anxious.

After a short walk through the city streets, Tycon noticed Pale growing anxious. He nudged the young spearman, "Whaaaat is it?"

Pale looked up with hopeful eyes, "Can I have some coin, Sir Tycon? I'd like to take Taree to go buy some snacks."

Tycon activated his spatial ring and handed him a small pouch of coin, "That's your month's pay. Spend it as you like, but don't forget to save some money for essentials: rope, rations, repair, clothing, SOAP."

"Yes, sir!" Pale saluted.

"I'll be going into that building over there. If we get separated for too long, go back to the inn."

The two children agreed and ran off. Tycon yelled after them, "You'd best not forget the soap!"

Tycon watched the two whelplings race away and turn a corner.

"Tss. Maybe I don't want eggs, after all," Tycon grumbled as he pulled his dark hood low and entered the nearby building.

...

"--And this last one is an Eclair la Chocolat," Pale introduced, smiling proudly.

He had brought Taree to a small, but friendly-looking corner shop. Through the window, the smell of fresh baked goods in the style of the Kingdom led his sharp nose straight to it. Taree's eyes were as wide as dessert plates. She'd grown up with her mother's delicious baking, but the variety of the Kingdom's sweetbreads, cookies, chilled desserts as Pale introduced them all, blew her mind.

"But-- but this looks so expensive! How many spirit stones does this cost?" Taree looked worried.

"Don't worry," Pale smiled, "I can probably afford all the bread in this shop!"

Taree made a squee-like noise as she shook in excitement, "Oh! In that case, I want that and that... and that..."

The cafe's other clientele were comprised of older folks and young couples. All of them watched the children's little date with warmed hearts.

A well-dressed businessman with deep wrinkles etched into his face smiled at the baker's daughter, "Heloise! Your mother will scold you if you give those two lovers run of the bakery!"

Heloise smiled with the tilt of her head, her long light hair styled with a bandana, "Oh, don't worry, sir, they're paying customers. The young master might be a nobleman's son."

The girl handed the older gentleman a bag packed with fragrant, freshly baked bread rolls as he laughed, "Aha! I wish I had the coin when I was younger! Ah, did I tell you how beautiful your mother was when she was younger? You look just like her, Heloise."

"You tell me this every day, Monsieur," Heloise placed her hand on her mouth, stifling an embarrassed laugh, "And Mother is always complaining about your coquetry at the market!"

The crowd behind the older man grew eerily silent. Heloise looked over in worry as she felt the goosebumps rising on her arms.

8 rough-looking men, armed and armored in mismatched uniforms had approached the corner bakery. Reynard's men had come to cause trouble.

The older man had quickly excused himself, hurrying away, just like all the other clientele. Only Heloise, the young boy that introduced himself as Pale, and his young girlfriend, Taree, remained.

She gathered her courage and managed to eke out a tiny voice, "Messieurs! C-can I help you...?"

One of the men, Armand, turned back to her, "We're not here for you, Heloise. Mind your business."

Another of them, an ex-soldier named Marceau, spoke harshly to Pale, "I hear you've got coin, boy. How about you come with us for an outing?"

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