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Tycon, dressed in a full helmet and silvery knight regalia, dragged the patrolling guard's body into the alleyway. Taree in her maid outfit hurried closely behind, carefully carrying the guard's crossbow. Pale followed more slowly. He repeatedly grasped his right hand, playing with the wisps of magic left behind from his Sleep spell scroll.

"Why couldn't we just knock 'em out, Boss?" Taree excitedly punched a blur of fists at the air.

Tycon sat the unconscious guard up against a wall. With a flash of magic from his spatial ring, he summoned a bundle of rope and some cloth, "Pale."

Pale nodded, grabbing the rope, "If you try to knock someone out, there might be a lot of noise. And it's not for sure that they get knocked out for a long time."

Taree tilted her head, "What if we... hit them *really* hard?"

Tycon began binding the man's mouth with cloth, "Humans have an unfortunate weakness that you may not be aware of. Enough blunt force trauma dealt to a vulnerable area may result in an incurable condition called 'death."

Tycon had trouble hiding his smirk, "Not all people have the hardiness of your sect's Stone Body art, young lady."

Taree humphed, "Humans are pretty weak."

"Humans... vary in strength." Tycon grit his teeth, trying to explain, "In the normal world, a frighteningly small percentage of people are full-time combatants: law enforcement, military men and women. And a smaller percentage of those are capable monsters."

Tycon had finished removing the man's armor and colored tabard, storing the effects in his spatial ring, "Always be wary of your opponents, do you understand me?"

Taree saluted with her palm to her chest, "Yes, Boss."

"*That* is why we're using magic. It's more reliable than force, trying to infiltrate the Duke's estate. Young lady, I pray you've been practicing those rope-tying knots-- Hands. Ankles. Pale, ensure the work."

Taree grinned in embarrassment, but the boy in the wizard hat began to instruct her calmly. Tycon walked out of the alleyway, to watch for signs of trouble.

...

Duke Xander Tavor smashed an mana-charged fist onto his desk, spiderwebbing cracks all over its surface, "That BITCH Aurala has embarrassed me for the LAST time!!"

Nagini crossed his arms, rubbing the smoothness of his snake-scale bracers. The Duke's anger had nothing to do with him. The several Tavor Guardsmen beside him, however, fidgeted in nervousness at the Duke's powerful display.

"Yet ANOTHER of her sponsored has become a Circle Mage at the University of Arcanix!! How in the ELEVEN heavens and SEVEN HELLS is she able to find talent like it's festering beneath rotting logs?!" Tavor raged.

He rubbed his dark greasy hair with his grubby hands in frustration. The bread crumbs in his mustache and beard greatly diminished his majesty, but the others wouldn't dare offend their employer. With his station as a Duke and his talent as a Second-Circle Mage, an impolite word was as good as a death sentence.


"There isss another applicant-- a mosssssst promisssing one," Nagini offered.

"Aha!! I knew it! The gods favor Xander Tavor, after all!!" Tavor's face twisted into a leering smile, his previous anger nonexistent, "Tell me, Nagini!! Who is it? What are they??"

Everyone in the room looked to Nagini with expectation. This was how Nagini was able to stay employed to the Duke for so many years. He only delivered good news, taking all credit as his own, "A group of three, Duke: a half-elf not even in his teens, his maid, and his bodyguard."

The Duke laughed giddily, "Ohohoho! A half-elf! Won~derful, WONDERFUL!! How is she, then? Is she strong??"

"Hisss name is Pall Reynard. Perhapsss a lowborne, from the way he isss dresssed. But ssssupremely talented in wizzzardry."

The Duke stood up, "Very good! Good!"

Suddenly, the Duke's face twisted into anger, "The rest of you! TERRIBLE!! USELESS!! Why do I even bother with you lot! OUT!! OUUUUTTTT!!"

With a hurried clanking of light armor and rubbing leather, the guardsmen swiftly left the room.

The Duke faced Nagini with a wide smile on his broad face, "Nagini! My most loyal retainer! Let us meet our newest ally!"

...

"Why've they made us wait for so long?" A maid with short-silver hair complained to a knight in full helm and armor. "D'ya think... They know?"

Pale adjusted his oversized wizard hat. He was trying to concentrate on a book of elementary magic that they purchased for cheap.

The armored knight pat the girl on the head, "Patience is a virtue, young lady. We are a commodity. They will see to us."

The helmet that Tycon wore made his voice boom and resonate. His words of reassurance almost sounded ominous. Taree bit her upper lip and nestled herself beside Pale to wait.

The trio were seated in the lobby area of the manor, every fulm of it covered in paintings, display cases of trinkets, works of art-- Taree felt her own estate looked poor in comparison. When she was in Reynard's office, she was excited and curious about everything. But being in the den of the enemy, Taree's stomach spun in nervousness, constantly worrying about figurative crouching tigers and hidden lizards.

The double-doors connected to the rest of the manor opened and two very different figures entered the room. The first was a tall, dark-skinned man in green snake-scale leathers. He wore a fanged snake's skull on his head and a curved hacking-blade on his waist. The second was a thick, slovenly, bearded man with dark messy hair and an extra-thick stained military coat.

The noble hobbled forward with a strange gait towards the book-holding Pale, "Hard at work! HARD at WORK!! Hello, hello, young wizard!! I am Duke Tavor! It is a PLEASURE to meet you!!"

Pale hopped out of his seat, shaking the Duke's enthusiastic and somehow greasy hand, "Hello, my name is Pall Reynard, and these are--"

The Duke pumped Pale's hand up and down, the force nearly lifting the boy off of his feet, "Your most loyal retainers! What a lovely young maid you have!! And--"

The Duke eyed Tycon. Full armor. Average to below average height. Cheap weapon. His face turned to a sneer of disdain, "--have you met my personal retainer?"

The snake-helmeted man lightly bowed.

The Duke placed his hands on his waist, fidgeting arrogantly, "His name is Nagini, a shamanistic warrior from the Eastern States! His armor is made up of trophies from creatures he killed HIMSELF, from his life in the dee~eep jungles!!"

A low rattling of metal armor broke the calm. Taree placed her hand on Tycon's arm. Was he upset?

The Duke tilted his head up, twisting his mustache, "Is there something the matter, soldier?"

Hushed, measured laughter resonated from Tycon's helmet, "Ha ha haha. Nagini? Isn't that a girl's name?"
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