Book 1, Chapter 24B

A Summer Like Winter

An hour later, the portrait was placed in front of Blackgold.

The grey dwarf had the maestro waiting almost forty minutes before he crawled out of the heap of gemstones which occupied the entire table and jammed half the entrance, only spending a minute to listen to the man’s explanation. The Deepblue was a world of magic and money, unrelated to art. Thus, even if the dwarf only came up to the maestro’s chest despite having one foot atop a mountain of gold and the other held aloft by magic, he seemed to tower over the artist instead.

The dwarf didn’t pay much attention to the maestro’s words, skipping everything to take a look at the piece of art which was the key point. Her Excellency Sharon had stipulated such things be reported, and because of that he carefully used his rough hands with calluses as thick as beast scales to unwrap the portrait.

Silence ensued as the grand mage started at the portrait with full concentration, his lips moving fast as he mumbled unknown words to himself. The maestro was astonished by the sight; he’d never thought Blackgold would be able to appreciate the beauty of this piece of art.

The dwarf eventually heaved out a gust of turbid air, rubbing his dry eyes, “Just this?”

“Huh? Yes...” The maestro was confused.

“The piece isn’t even coloured yet?”

“...” The man couldn’t keep a hold on his irregular heartbeat. He took in a long breath before he answered softly, “This is a sketch.”

The dwarf came to a sudden realisation, taking another look at the sketch, “Hmm… Not completely mature, and her face and figure should be average… Of course that’s from a human point of view, if I judge based on Stormhammer tradition… Wait, AHA! I see, the thermos box! That’s the one specially prepared for Richard, and the details are completely accurate without a single fault… So much like Richard, did you know grand mage Loton who teaches him spell formations came back to praise him thrice this week? This year… As I recall, it’s like fifty or seventy times… Whatever it is, it’s a lot! That old man hasn’t had this much praise to give out in the past ten years!”

The maestro couldn’t describe his feelings at that point, nor could he shout at Blackgold. He tried to guide the man patiently, “Take a closer look at the precious moment caught in this piece…”

The dwarf took a second look, and then a third… Still, he felt the piece was too dull without any colour. The artist’s mood was as dark as Richard’s by the time he left Blackgold’s office; he’d never faced such a setback that made him lose confidence in art itself before. He couldn’t understand; why did this master appraiser of jewellry, magic equipment, and antiques not have any flair for art? His comments as an outsider were so destructive!

The two simple yet elegant bronze doors of Blackgold’s office slowly closed behind the maestro’s back. The doors were double the height of normal ones in the area, representing high office, wealth, and status. They garnered the jealousy of many for the position they represented. Of course, there was no need to explain why a dwarf only half as tall as a human would want to have his office so tall.

Blackgold sneered once the doors shut, muttering, “How could it be so simple to make boss happy?” There were a total of 67 items in his cabinet vying for Sharon’s Delight, including this one.

The dwarf instantly made his way back towards the mound of gems, but then he frowned and stopped. He returned to his desk, unwrapped the portrait, and examined it for a little over ten more minutes before he stowed it away into a smaller cabinet after some hesitation. The small cabinet had the same kind of things, but there were only five items here; he put the art piece in second place. The difference between the two cabinets was that the ones in this one would soon be handed to the legendary mage for perusal, while the others would be thrown out like trash over the next few months.

Summer passed in the blink of an eye for Richard. The next day was already the autumn festival, marking the beginning of autumn where fish could no longer be found in Floe Bay. Millions of people living nearby would hold a grand celebration on this day, expressing gratitude to the god of the sea for granting them the food to survive the long winter. The Deepblue, located right next to Floe Bay, commenced autumn with this festival.

Of course that was all meaningless to Richard. All his time was spent either completing the heaps upon heaps of assignments he had, or meditating and practicing magic to increase his mana. He wished to fill up the entirety of his time; if he didn’t wild thoughts would bubble up in his mind that were hard to get rid of.

Erin reached his place on time the night before the festival. She already found it hard to carry the box with his dinner in one hand now, and one could imagine how much heavier it would grow in the future. She sat quietly by his side as he ducked between all the food, just watching him eat.

At this point the gold had stopped exchanging hands, and the two rarely spoke. Erin didn’t get a single coin from Richard, while eating for the boy had grown completely miserable. No matter how she tried the young lady couldn’t hide the fact that she was troubled, but she refused to tell him why no matter what. It left him with a pain he could not soothe.

Richard swallowed the last bit of dessert with great determination before he raised his head to really look at the girl for the first time that day. He wanted to thank her like he usually did, but the string of numbers that appeared on the girl’s body made him freeze on the spot. The girl’s figure had changed!

The minute changes were enhanced in his digital mindscape, the numbers aligning in front of him. Her breasts had grown larger, but they weren’t balanced. This wasn’t some natural growth, instead due to some external injury.

Her position was quite awkward as well, especially her trembling legs that caused her to shift her weight around subtly on occasion. It was like the cotton cushion of the chair was a bed of needles, poking into her down below. Her eyes were a little swollen as well, more red than normal seemingly from her crying just moments ago. Her robe was much thicker this time, wrapped tightly around her, but an accidental movement had exposed a hickey on her neck. Her heartbeat was much faster than usual, faster than his own. In fact, it was so fast that a serious event should have occurred.

Adding up all the traces and marks, an immediate answer welled up in Richard’s mind, one that he refused to believe.

“You… slept with someone else?” Richard’s voice was dry and husky, so much so that even he couldn’t recognise it. At the age of eleven he hadn’t known what nobles started to learn at the age of seven or eight, but in this past half year this girl in front of him had taken him halfway. He’d already learnt of how males and females could interact.

Erin trembled, her face turning white. Yet the truth being out somehow calmed her down, and she raised her hand to tidy up the messy hair by her cheeks, “Yes, last night.”

Richard took a deep breath and closed his eyes, refusing to see the devastating numbers stacking up in his vision. “Why?” he asked, his voice growing as calm as hers. He had become ice-cold.

“I need money.”

“I have a lot myself.” Ever since Richard started noticing Erin change, he was like a bird breaking out of its shell. He’d started to learn of the outside world, and that he couldn’t judge others by his own standard. Take expenses for example; his monthly income would be enough for over ten people to live a good life in the Deepblue.

Still pale, Erin looked deep into Richard’s eyes and shook her head with determination, “But I don’t want your money.”

She cleaned up the thermos box as usual. Walking towards the door, she turned and said, “Oh, I forgot to inform you. Someone else will be delivering your food from tomorrow. So, Richard… See you around.”

The gates shut slowly with a loud thud, and Richard lost all his energy as he leaned back into his chair. He pulled at his hair, trying to convince himself that nothing had happened just now, but both his abilities and the traits he’d developed in his childhood told him this was cold hard fact.

What he couldn’t understand was why Erin didn’t want his money. The boy still didn’t know that people insisted on things for unknown reasons when they were young, persisting with their emotions as they let go of whatever truly meant something to them.

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