Approaching the unfathomable figure resting atop the stone altar, the small figure almost disappeared in comparison.
Taking in the spectacle of the rainbow scales reflecting light all over the place and the presence filling the entire space, bowing towards the god of dragons would have gone unnoticed if it hadn’t been for an eye the size of a wagon wheel focusing on the servant.
“Your lordship, we have received message from our branch in Leandar. The negotiations have been a success, and in exchange for precious ores, Your requests will be granted. The old geezers gave in, they have no idea who we are monitoring as well. Do You wish for this lowly servant to prepare the necessary offerings?”
Without so much as a flicker, a chunk of stone was ripped from the ground. For the dragon it was quite insignificant; for the servant however, a mountain of ore suddenly appeared in front of him.
“I thank thee, my Lord, for going through the trouble. I will send it over right away.”
Touching the shiny mineral, the elf deposited it into his own [Soul Space], causing it to disappear into thin air.
As he departed from the sacred shrine, an enraptured expression found its place on his face. Being able to be close to the target of his worship allowed the servant to be content for close to a millennium, in particular since chances to enter the Sanctuary were few and rare to come by.
On the other side, the behemothic dragon god closed his eyes again and opened his [Third Eye], the servant already forgotten from his mind.
As he surveyed a place far from his home, only the spectres from the rainbow light dancing through the grotte remained behind in the Sanctuary.
Arriving in front of the guild building, Nisha was panting far more than a quick sprint from the neighbouring library building should have taken out of her enhanced constitution. The fear of being late and disappointing her friend drove her harder than she could have imagined.
Standing near the various gates leading inside, the cheerful counter girl who had already been waiting for her started to walk in her direction, meeting with her in the middle.
“Sorry, Aubrey. Did you wait long? Looking through the skills took longer than I expected.”
Catching her breath in between each sentence, the dragon did her best to not let it show how anxious she felt due to being late.
Aubrey, on the other hand, simply smiled.
“No worries, I had to stay a bit longer anyway since the girls on the next shift were late, so I just got here as well. But enough of that. Where’s your brother?”
Not minding the time she had to wait while keeping to herself the real amount of time to avoid burdening the flustered looking girl even more, the counter girl replied with a question of her own.
“He still has some business at the library, so he offered that I go ahead and that he’ll take my books with him when he goes back home. We can go ahead without him.”
Finally gaining a semblance of composure and steady breathing once again, Nisha informed her friend of the situation, unsure how to proceed.
“Great! More time for us to do stuff then, I guess. Let’s go!”
Not giving her a chance to argue, the cheerful girl grabbed Nisha by her hand and pulled her through the large plaza in front of the guild.
The merchants left and right greeted the two girls. Aubrey well known as a sort of mascot of the guild.
Leaving in big strides, she also shared many small stories involving the various vendors while dragging Nisha along with a certain destination in mind.
Without her enhanced hearing, the dragon would have had a hard time understanding all of it, but for the moment she was just happy to have her friend’s hand in her own.
“Granny Cerhi here sells the best snacks on the whole place, and she always gives me a little extra. The stall over there is also pretty nice … ah, we’re here already.”
As she led the way into a side alley, the stream of people rapidly declined compared to the wide main road, allowing the older girl to let go of the small and delicate palm she was holding.
“Where are we? Why is no one walking here at all?”
The alley they were standing in had abundant space and neat paths to walk on. Although no stalls or shops lined the road, some pedestrians glanced amusedly at the wondering elven girl.
“Apart from the residents, not many people know about the side alleys. We are in between two store fronts, between the main roads, so to speak.”
“With stores facing left and right from here, most buildings have a small yard behind them and a back door to allow easy restocking of their suppliers. Of course, there’s also some parks and apartment blocks for people who work in the stores.”
“We can use this as a shortcut to get to my place. I’ll show you where I live.”
When she suddenly grabbed my hand, I was surprised. Yet, when she let go, it feels lonely. I wonder if it is too soon to take her hand on my own …
Lost in her thoughts, Nisha almost lost sight of her friend who entered one of the aforementioned backdoors, hurriedly chasing after her and catching the closing piece of wood before it had a chance to snap shut again.
“Sis! I am back! Are you here?”
Unconcernedly shouting into the house, Aubrey looked back to see that her guest had made it safely inside before venturing further inside, once again leaving the dragon to chase after her.
“Calm down child. I’m already half blind, I don’t need to lose my hearing as well.”
Rising from a rocking chair half hidden by a curtain, a grandfatherly figure answered the call and stood up, squinting at the pair of girls still standing in the entryway of the backdoor.
“You’re back late, Brey, and lunch already started. Who’s your friend over there?”
“Uncle Asen! Stop doing that, you scared me! This is my friend Nisha; we met at the guild earlier, and I brought her over to play. Are my sisters both home?”
Putting the project he was working on from his lap onto a nearby table, the elderly man rose to accompany them.
“Indeed, I think the girls said something about you always running late and that they won’t bother to wait for you. I think they should still be in the dining room.
You can go ahead with your friend, I’ll fetch one more set of dishes.”
Without giving Nisha a chance to introduce herself, he vanished deeper into the corridor covered by the curtain next to his chair.
“Who was that, Aubrey?”
Still confused by the encounter, the elven girl asked about it.
“That was Grandpa Asen, although he doesn’t like getting called that or anything similar to grandfather, so we settled for Uncle Asen instead. He helps around the shop and had his store in this building before he moved in, so by this point he’s somewhat family already.
Come, I’ll introduce you to my sisters next. That’ll teach them to slander me like that! I wasn’t late, I brought a friend home!”
To make sure Nisha wouldn’t lag behind this time, Aubrey grabbed her hand again, dragging her along the corridor before similarly diving into a passage hidden behind another curtain.
At the same time, Nisha couldn’t help but focus on the hand clutching hers, happy to once again hold it.
“You’re big fat meanies, you know that?!”
Opening with these words, the young woman stormed the room, dragging a happy dragon behind her.
“I’ll accept the mean part, however I definitely protest the fat part. Don’t you see these curves?
Wait a moment, who’s that?”
“Aha! That’s my friend, Nisha! I met her in the Guild and brought her here to introduce her to my sisters, but all I found were two pigs, pigging out on the meal I invited her to. Piggy! Piggy!”
The woman Aubrey fought with held a great similarly to her own features, enough to let the elven girl know that they were related. Only, the one she squabbled with was some turns older and gave a good preview of the pretty woman the counter girl would turn into.
“What? You want to tell me my workaholic of a sister, who often comes home late due to staying longer to snatch a promotion, would actually interact with a customer enough to become friends with her? Preposterous! Who are you and where is my sister?”
“Please don’t mind those two idiots, it’s always like this with them. They’ll calm down in a bit.”
The other unknown woman in the room directly addressed Nisha, her features close enough to Aubrey and her opponent - coupled with the counter girl’s announcement to introduce her to her family - to let the dragon guess this one was related to her friend as well.
“Usually they butt their heads against each other for a while before they calm down. Let me introduce myself while we wait for them to cool down. My name is Linda, I’m Aubrey’s older sister. Welcome to our home.Of course you’re invited to stay with us for lunch. I hope you don’t mind them too much. Moreover, a friend of Aubrey is certainly a friend of mine as well. While I’d love to learn more about you, it’s not really practical to hold a conversation with this noise. For now, please take a seat, and we’ll go from there as soon as there’s not a screaming match in the room.”
Unlike the blond lively counter girl and her older look-alike, who were still arguing, albeit not with a malicious intent, the other sister only seemed a few turns younger than the oldest one currently present, appearing as a gentle person with shining brown hair.
Pulling out a chair for Nisha next to her, she beckoned the guest to sit down and simply watched while her family duked it out.
During that time, the door opened one more time, revealing Grandpa Asen, who carried another plate and a knife and fork for the unexpected guest.
What a lovely home. Staying with Henry and Luthais is fine too, but they don’t joke around like this. I think I like it here.
After plenty more friendly abuse, Linda gently reminded her sisters in a brief respite when both parties caught their breath.
“Isn’t that enough, you two? I really want to point out that we have a guest here. You shouldn’t behave like that in front of a guest.
And you haven’t even introduced yourself yet, sis? What is poor Nisha here going to think about you? That you’re a brutish and loud woman? Come on, drop it already.”
Calmly pointing out her thoughts, Linda finally managed to put an end to their quarrel.
With blushing cheeks, the oldest woman in the room took her seat again and noticed the elven girl, who was absorbed in observing their dispute, for the first time.
Straining her voice as much as possible to keep it from showing her embarrassment, she spoke up.
“Uhm, nice to meet you. You’re called Nisha, right? My name is Mary, I’m in charge of the shop and the girls here while our parents are away. Are you really a friend of the career-hungry beast over here?”
The last comment earned her a slap in the side from the person in question, which she held with tears in her eyes.
“Yes, I met with some trouble in the Guild and Aubrey helped me sort everything out. She invited me over to your home, sorry for the inconvenience …”
“Not at all, we’re happy to have friends of our little darling sister over. But apparently she doesn’t appreciate that at all …”
All of a sudden, the gentle appearance of the brown haired woman vanished, revealing cold eyes and a pressure that even made Nisha flinch, causing her to shrink back in her seat and move it further away from Linda, whose icy stare reprimanded Aubrey and Mary harshly for the shameful display in front of a visitor.
Note to self: Never anger Linda.
“Please, I don’t mind. Rather than a formal meal, it’s fine for it to be this lively; after all I still owe Aubrey very much for helping me out in the Guild, so don’t be too harsh on her.”
Trying to save her friend from a scolding, Nisha intervened, despite risking to draw the icy gaze onto herself.
“Ara, our little sister actually did good for once? Usually, she only brings trouble home and tries to hide it from mother and father.”
With the elven girl presenting herself and her story to the two older women, Aubrey had a chance to escape the piercing accusations directed at her and sighed out of relief, secretly thanking her new friend.
“Yes, there was some trouble where an adventurer picked a fight with Nisha, challenging her to a duel. Thankfully, nothing bad happened to her. I could vouch for her, so she was let off with a warning.”
Smiling at Nisha, both she and Nisha thought they got away and took charge on the conversation, yet Linda’s follow up question froze that smile right on her face.
“The reason why that adventurer picked a fight with this adorable little girl wouldn’t happen to sit in this room right now and lie to me, would it?”
“Of course not! You know how the guys are, always hot headed and rude. It was just a regular clash on the training field.”
Small beads of perspiration ran down Aubrey’s brows as she did her best to keep up her story.
Linda, on the other hand, kept judging her, with Mary curiously leaning in, having taken an interest in the story.
If things keep going this way, I’ll just have made more trouble for Aubrey … what can I do? The only thing I could try is to take their attention again, but the topic needs to be unrelated. What could I ask to take their mind off of her?
Thinking quickly, a sudden flash of inspiration crossed her mind.
“Um, I’ve got a question. Mister Asen mentioned it earlier, but he said that he had his shop in this place in the past. Do you run a store too?”
“That’s right, we took this place over from Uncle Asen. You can call him that as well, he won’t mind. I don’t know if Aubrey already told you or not, but nonetheless, welcome to the [Marin Tailor Shop]. From dresses to leather armor, we craft anything you might need. As the current acting owner of the shop, I’ll look forward to working with you.”
Pride glimmered in Linda as she introduced her personal kingdom to her guest, who successfully made Linda forget about the squirming girl avoiding her gaze on the other side of the table.
“Uncle Asen used to do everything by himself here, but a few turns ago, he sold this place to our parents, who are currently on a journey back to the farm where we originally lived, getting more fabrics. Until they get back, I’m in charge of everything here.”
“Wow, that’s awesome. However, you said ‘looking forward to working with me’ … I don’t think I can help you with anything here.”
Recalling her painful sewing lessons, the dragon wasn’t too keen on picking the needle up again, albeit her creations could pass as solid craftwork.
“Oh no, you misunderstood. As a friend of Little Brey, I really can’t let you go like this. We’ll have to do a complete make over. I already have some ideas about which fabrics would suit you; let me just go ahead while you and Aubrey can eat. She’ll explain the rest to you.”
On the other side of the table, the girl in question suddenly had trouble looking her friend in the eyes, simply muttering silently.
“Sorry, Nisha …”