“Armor… armor… where are the crafters at?” Q wandered around Foria’s square searching for either a new set of armor, or someone who could repair her current set. The only reason she was walking around normally was because she found a merchant who sold full-body robes, which wasn’t hard at all considering the regular attire of the townsfolk. As she moved from one stall to another she noticed more astralites moving about the stalls, actively purchasing any and all items they might have deemed necessary.
In the middle of her search for armor, someone called out to her.
“Hey Q! Over here!”
Q turned around and saw Melun, the felyne wildling she met earlier. When she made eye contact Melun rushed over and began talking. “Heya Q, fancy meetin’ you here!”
“Hey there Melun,” Q smiled, “what’s up?”
“Nothin’ much. Everyone’s off buyin’ stuff for the fight in two weeks, and they told me to jus’ wander around while they get things. That’s not nice at all right? I can buy stuff too y’know?”
“Say Melun, would you like to buy this stack of leaves for one gold?” Q brought out one of the many stacks of leaves she gathered from inside the forest.
“Sure!” Melun unhesitantly pulled out a gold coin and presented it to Q.
“Pfft. I now understand why they don’t let you buy things.”
“Aw, not you too…” Melun’s ears and tail drooped down.
“More importantly, do you know where to buy any armor? Mine turned into tatters after fighting some boars.” Q lifted up her robe slightly, revealing the broken armor underneath.
“Ooh! Armor! I know a place!” Melun suddenly got excited and began pulling Q by the hand. “Fort was headin’ on over to a guy he says has real promise in craftin’. I dunno how he keeps findin’ these people, but it sure is helpful!”
“I’ll say. Maybe he has a myth that lets him read stats or something.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised. Fort’s always got this shifty look in his eyes. Hey lookie, we’re here!” Melun let go of Q once she reached a stall that was slightly far away from the main square.
With a quick glance Q saw a small group of people crowding around the stall which had various pieces of weaponry strewn about. All of them were currently huddled together, and as Q walked forward she passed through a sort of invisible barrier (which was similar to the one back at the Primrose base). Passing through the barrier, Q then felt the temperature rise and heard a constant hammering sound, and by craning her neck she could finally see what all the astralites were crowding around.
At the center of the crowd was a young human male with black hair and eyes hammering a lump of iron into the shape of a sword. Even with her amateur knowledge of blacksmithing, she could immediately tell that the young man was an expert, and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call him a master. Q quickly joined the group in the trance-like state, staring at the beautiful movements of the hammer.
“Uhh, Q? Earth to Q?” Melun began shaking Q’s shoulder, snapping her out of her trance.
“Oh shoot, my bad.” Q shook her body similar to how a wet dog would. “Kinda lost myself for a moment. That’s definitely one hell of a blacksmith.”
“I know right?” A bell-like voice rang out from beside Q. The owner of the voice was actually a female vulpyne like Q, except she was of average height with jet black hair. Her slanted eyes squinted in pleasure upon hearing Q’s praise for the blacksmith. “Kuro-kun is an amazing smith.”
“Kuro-kun?” Q raised an eyebrow and then took a proper look at the blacksmith. Ignoring the wonderful hammer movements, she noticed a star on his shoulder which displayed a name above his head.
[Kurogane – Level 8]
“That’s a cool name. Oh, and you are…?”
“My name here is Suzuko, but you can call me Suzu!” Suzu raised her hand and made a V-sign with her fingers, revealing a small star on her index finger which showed her name.
[Suzuko – Level 7]
“Nice to meet you Suzu. I’m Q” Q extended her hand and touched her fingertips, much like how Lily did earlier. Seeing the surprised look on Suzuko’s face, Q grinned and said, “It’s a local greeting. Spread it around!”
“Whaaaat! I didn’t know that!” Melun exclaimed. “Do they really do that around here?”
“Yeah! …Probably.” Q made the same greeting with Melun who happily returned it. After exchanging ‘greetings’ with Melun she turned back to Suzuko. “Can I buy some armor here?”
“Of course you can buy things here. Give me a moment.” Suzuko returned to the stall, pulling out various pieces of armor and weapons. Her previous friendly expression was replaced with a serious one and her eyes looked like they were calculating the maximum possible amount of money that each astralite was carrying. “Welcome to Black Steel Works. We’re selling armor sets at refined quality for twenty silver each, while individual pieces are five silver. We also sell bladed weapons of any sort. We don’t have any blunt or piercing types available. Special orders will be one gold and price will vary depending on the contents of your order.”
“Wow, instant merchant mode.” Q took a look at the armor sets they had available and it turned out that they were all metal-based, consisting mostly of full plate or half plate. Their design wasn’t anything that stood out, and Q could easily imagine them being worn by NPC guards. The weapons were much more eye-catching. A decent amount were shortswords and longswords that looked to be of excellent quality, but what stood out more was the large amounts of katanas. Just the sight of them laying out in a row was breathtaking, but when Q looked closer she could have sworn that there was a faint layer of light on them.
The other astralites were drawn away from Kurogane working, and were exclaiming at the quality of the pieces. Q herself was first drawn in by the armor, but seeing that they were generally heavy and hard to move in she lost interest. Instead she looked over at Kurogane, who seemed much more at ease now that there wasn’t a crowd of people surrounding him. He’s really good at this. I wonder if he’s done a lot of smithing in real life?
Her thoughts were interrupted by Suzuko calling out to her. “Miss Q, are you interested in any of these items?”
“Hmm… not entirely. I need something that I can move in easily without slowing me down too much. If there isn’t anything like that, can you instead repair my current stuff?” Q displayed her tattered armor underneath her robe for a moment.
“Ooh, that doesn’t look good. Give me a second.” Suzuko disappeared under the stall and rummaged around for a bit before bringing out a set of armor. The armor she pulled out consisted of interlocking scales that resembled a long dress. The gauntlets and greaves only covered the hands and feet with metal, while a cloth cover went up towards the shoulders and thighs. “This is one of our scale armors. It’s relatively light but still provides a good defense against any slashing attacks. It’s a bit more expensive since Kuro-kun doesn’t really like making them, but I guarantee it’s quality! One thing I have to mention is that it doesn’t have a matching headpiece so it won’t grant a set bonus, but if you give us some time we’ll be able to make one.”
“No need, it’s perfect as is.” Q took out the Squibble King’s Crown from her inventory and plopped it on her head. “Name your price!”
Suzuko’s eyes widened at the shiny golden crown, but quickly collected herself and stated the armor’s price. “It’s thirty silver, and if you buy now we’ll add in a common quality weapon as a bonus.”
“You’re really shrewd, but then again that’s good for a merchant.” Q pursed her lips as she looked at her inventory which had barely enough money to purchase the armor. I’d like a little more leeway with my cash… She’s really good at guessing my maximum budget.
Q was going back and forth with her decision, when a notification told her that the gathering quest had been completed, and she received two silver coins as a reward. Thanks Cookie! She mentally sent out her heartfelt thanks to her reliable partner.
“I’ll buy it!” As soon as Q said those words a window appeared in front of her displaying two sides, with one having the pieces of armor she wanted to buy. She put in thirty coins in her side, and the transaction had been completed. The armor vanished into light particles which gathered around Q, and she watched as the armor appeared in her inventory at the same time her coins disappeared. She immediately equipped the armor and the Squibble King’s Crown, then took off her robe.
“Wow! Q, ya look like a princess ready for battle!” Melun exclaimed.
“Thanks Melun.” Q nodded and did a twirl. “Man this feels so much better. Farewell old armor, I hardly wore ye.” To her surprise this new set of armor from a player actually provided her with better protection than the one she received from the quest. “Kurogane’s really good at what he does. Actually that reminds me, Suzuko, does he do smithing in real life?”
“Yes. At an extremely young age he was taught by his family the art of blacksmithing. It’s been a tradition since the Edo period and has carried on until today.”
“Damn that’s a cool origin story. I need to add him as a friend for all my equipment needs!”
“I’ll take the friend requests. Kuro-kun prefers not to have so many people talking to him at once.” Suzuko turned to look at Kurogane, and her expression seemed to say ‘It can’t be helped’.
“Alright then.” Q added Suzuko as a friend, then studied her face. “Say, Suzuko… You’ve known him for a while, yeah?”
“Yes, ever since we were children.”
“Ye- … Eh?!”
“I see…” A mischievous grin crept onto Q’s face as she watched a red-faced Suzuko in a fluster. I didn’t expect it to be so cliché, but this is literally the perfect setup for a romantic comedy. I’ll keep it a secret for now though…
Just as Q was about to say ‘Your secret’s safe with me’, her mouth was clamped shut by Suzuko who moved at lightning speed. Q was overcome with a sense of foreboding, and looking at Suzuko’s eyes she felt a slight hint of fear at the intense ferocity they contained.
“Don’t. Say. Anything.” Right now Suzuko’s face was twisted into the image of a terrifying demon, and Q could only nod her head with great difficulty. Seeing that Q was compliant, Suzuko slowly removed her hand, though she remained cautious in case Q decided to suddenly speak.
Fearing that opening her mouth would lead to another ‘attack’, Q sent a message on the friend chat.
|[Q]: I won’t say anything. Your secret’s safe with me.|
[Suzuko]: You had better not! I’m only letting you off because you seem like a nice person, but if you say anything to Kuro-kun then…
[Q]: I won’t! Seriously!
Suzuko gave Q a suspicious glare, but eventually relented. “This stays between us, okay?”
“Yup. In fact, what were we talking about? Armor? Weapons? Oh yeah, I still want that common weapon by the way.” Q smoothly brushed over the situation and began looking at the weapons on sale. Luckily no one had noticed the commotion as they were either absorbed in watching Kurogane or observing his wares. Well, no one except Melun, who tilted her head in confusion.
“Tha’ heck was that all about?” Melun was puzzled but couldn’t make heads or tails of the previous exchange as they were too quiet for her to hear anything they said.
Suzuko breathed a sigh of relief, then went right back to selling items. She showed Q all the common-level items, as to which Q picked out some brass knuckles with a small blade at the end. She was just about ready to leave the area when a man’s voice came from behind her.
“Hello Q, we meet again!”
Turning around, the man was revealed to be Verne, who was followed by Fortis, Neira and Aeryn. Once again that ‘sparkly aura’ was around Verne, and Q managed to hide her discomfort before responding.
“Hey there. I was just getting some new armor.”
“Is that crown included in that armor?” Fortis’ eyes focused on the crown, and for a second Q thought she saw something flash in his eyes.
“Nah, got it from a boss drop. Word of advice: don’t piss off the squirrels.”
“Okay…?” Fortis was perplexed but didn’t pursue the matter any further. “Melun, here’s your equipment. You didn’t… buy anything else did you?”
“Nope!” Melun smiled as she equipped her new armor. “Awright! Now I’m ready to take that beast down! Q, wanna join us?”
“You got a hunt going on?” Q’s ears perked up.
“Yeah! We’re going after some sorta boar thingy.”
“Boar huh…” Q’s mind flashed back to a few hours ago, when she was battered around by the boars. She then smiled and looked to the rest of the members and asked, “If I do join, would it be alright if I brought a friend along?”
“Hm… I suppose we could use a few more members…” Fortis began muttering to himself, but soon came to a decision. “Alright. Bring your friend, we’re leaving in thirty minutes.”
“Sweet. Get ready boars, I’m coming for a rematch!”
A/N: That’s right, JP protags have made their way here. Stereotypes aside, I think they’ll make an interesting duo later down the line.