The Middle Men Ch.4


It had been about a week since the men returned. With their new crop of exotic mamono materials, business was doing well. There had been a somewhat of an upstir in town in which word of mouth had spread effectively through the circle of magic-users. Their little shop had wizards and sorcerers descending upon them like bees to honey.

Today saw the three men peddling merchandise from the butcher’s cart and tent outside their shop. Chevy was trumpeting a horn to announce their brand-new import of goods while Mac and Luke mingled with the customers roaming about.

“Ten silver? That’s awfully expensive” a red wizard thought out loud as Mac presented him with a canister containing magma from a Lava Golem, which he held with a thick, padded glove.

“Well, my friend, it’s called a ‘fiasco tax’. Covers for burn damages while handling this stuff on our end”

“You mean my end” commented Chevy. He rubbed his butt which was still seared from their last excursion out of town. There was even a hole burned into his pants, with some of his underpants showing.

Mac glowered at Chevy’s interruption for only a second, then resumed.

“On top of that, you get to keep the glove. You can’t be walking down the street with a hot pocket, can you?”

“Mmm, very well, I’ll take one” the red wizard agreed.

“Thanks, pal. You won’t regret it”

Meanwhile, Luke was showcasing their collection of mamono fur and hairs. They proved to be quite potent ingredients for elixir-brewing. On top of that, he brought out some more of his ‘experiments’. He showed off everything from some Slimed-coated Arachne webbing on reinforced armor plates to a Gandharva feather dipped in Alraune peddle juice which acted as a terrific air freshener.

“What’s your pleasure, mist-?” Mac greeted a customer but yelped when he saw that it was the Valkyrie, along with two fully armored Order guards. Even Luke flinched in the middle of demonstrating the durability of a Giant Ant scale, which went flying off to the side when his grip faltered. Chevy sounded the horn again, unaware of the turn of events.

“Hush up. We got some templars here” Mac tugged Chevy’s pants up top.

Chevy looked down and then smiled nervously.

For most citizens, the sight of a god-like Valkyrie with her outspread wings, as well as donning her pearl-white robes and navy-blue armor was a magnificent spectacle. However, the men’s past ‘endeavors’, back before they even moved to Truseve, had caused them to become jittery whenever around authorities; even if her sword and shield were both sheathed. Of course, the men blushed at her beauty, but survival always came first.

“Good day, gentlemen” the Valkyrie greeted them, her manner assertive but proper, much like her appearance.

All three men turned toward each other, baffled.

“She must have us confused with someone else” Chevy scratched his head.

“My name is ‘Chelise’, first tsar of the temple of Saint Daimar. I must ask you to stand aside while we investigate your premises” the Valkyrie continued.

“Now just a second. Who do you think you-” Mac protested before one of her guards raised his sword to Mac’s throat. “Errlp, -yeah, sure thing, babe. You want a red carpet, too?” Mac gulped. Even when nervous, Mac was crass.

While her guards moved the three men outside, Chelise entered the tent and began inspecting various items. Although she was quite casual, the wheels were turning in her head.

“Do you always bring the artillery when buying stuff?” Mac started to get a little testy again.

“What do you need? Armor? Polish? We’ve even got a big warhammer from-”

Mac grabbed his shirt. “Pipe down. We’ve just got to give her the brush-off, then we can get back to business” he whispered, hoping to get this over with as soon as possible.

“Oh, I see. We’ve got a feather duster if you need it” Chevy continued. Mac face palmed.

The ever-professional Chelise smirked only a bit.

“I am not looking to buy anything today” she replied, picking up a pot of Dryad leaves to inspect.

“Heh, a window-shopper” Chevy muttered to Luke and motioned with his thumb.

Chelise ignored the insult and turned her focus toward the shop in the back.

“I wouldn’t touch anything in the back room there, Miss” Luke warned her to which she gave a quick glance and proceeded on. He didn’t like people prodding around in his shop but didn’t have the conviction to order someone out. Especially a high rank representative of the Order. All he could do was cross his fingers and hope that no accidents landed them in hot water.

A few minutes later, she came back out where she signaled her guards to stand down.

“Forgive my intrusion. You may resume your peddling” she gave them all a smile. Her demeanor switched to a much more friendly recognition.

“Say, what’s cooking?” said Chevy, wondering what the fuss was all about.

“It was my duty to check if any mamono have been smuggled in on your part”

Chevy’s expression became befuddled. “Who smuggles Mamas into town?”

“Not mothers, you ‘featherbrain’. Mamono. It’s what the rich folks call ‘monsters'” Mac groaned at Chevy’s group humiliation.

When it came to upper class society, the men knew as much as a Wurm knew about table etiquette. Mac, however, did know a little more than the other two, due to eavesdropping in on some nobles that used to occupy the shop next to theirs. Other stuff, he just made up after connecting a few dots.

“Oh… nyeg-!” Chevy flinched after thinking for a moment. Even he understood how bad it would be if the Order discovered the Bubble Slime they had stowed in the wagon-train.

“We’re not smuggling in any monsters. Do you think we’re crazy?” Mac objected, way ahead of Chevy in covering up the Bubble Slime.

“Pardon me, but when your business results in amassing such an inventory, it does garner attention” she intoned, not dropping her pleasant smile but letting her suspicions be clear.

“Hey, like the sign says, ‘They got ’em, and we get ’em”; by hook or crook” Mac added.

“Mostly by crook” Chevy chuckled.

“Ehh, what ‘blubber-nose’ here means is that we personally convince those monsters to donate some supplies to our shop. And we beat it once we get their goods. Sometimes things get dicey but what doesn’t get dicey nowadays? It’s a living” Mac clarified. “Right, fellas?”

“Right” the other two affirmed.

Speaking of donations, Mac had been pondering what Chelise’s wings might be worth but thought better of asking her. Just as he had thought better of telling the imposing Valkyrie that their “Anti-Women Union” forbid any woman from entering their shop.

“Indeed. Though it appears that not all your products are merely ‘found’ outside of Truseve” she nudged a bottle of smokescreen made from deep fried Matango shrooms.

Luke stepped up. “Why not? We sell the goods to those wizards who do all kinds of crazy things with them. We do the same thing; only on a budget”

“Mm-hm” hummed Chelise, still deep in thought. “It’s good to see that your shop has improved from what it once was. Perhaps I will be in need of an item in the future”

“Really?” came Luke, excited to talk to anyone about his work. “Stop by any time. We’re always expanding. I plan to dabble with this stuff and come up with some more merchandise”

“As long as you don’t poison us or the customers, we’ll be fine” Mac quipped at Luke with a half-smile.

Through her brief observation, Chelise had already concluded that these three men were too dim-witted to stage any sort of hidden invasion for the Demon Lord’s forces. However, Chelise had no contempt toward the down-trodden men. True, they were all around foolish and undisciplined in their manners, but their aura lacked any sense of rancor that she’d witnessed in certain people during her travels. If anything, their lifestyle made them a threat more to themselves than anyone else. Still, their ignorance and low competence did make them capable of bringing trouble and spreading havoc. Much like a cow in a powder house. So, for now, she would just keep her eye on them. For their sake, if anything else.

“Well, I must be going. Sorry for the intrusion” Chelise nodded her head with a pleasant smile and left.

“Tell your friends!” Luke called out to her.

“Shut up, ‘lugs-for-brains’. You think we need any more authorities poking around here? Get back to work” Mac berated and tossed a bolt at Luke’s head. The men were lucky to have not unloaded the Slime-trapping jug from the wagon. That would have been a, fittingly, sticky situation to explain to the Valkyrie and her guards before they were marched off to the guillotine.

After all, they were adept at finding trouble, and often, trouble found them. In their lifetimes, the three men had gotten into so much mischief from their schemes that it was difficult to remember if they had ‘wanted’ posters out on them in any particular region. Once, in their youths, they rigged a jousting contest, and the next thing they knew, there were signs with their pictures on them reading: “Wanted: Dead or in bad shape”.

At dusk, the men were closing shop when a stranger ran up from the dark street. His torn pants and shirt were dirtier than any of theirs while the large, brimmed hat that he sported was equally unruly.

“Wait, mister! Can you spare five minutes?” he said. His exhaustion made his speech a bit incoherent.

“Sorry, bud. No free showers”

“No, I need to speak with you three” the stranger insisted.

“You picked a fine time to speak with us” Luke muttered with heavy sarcasm. “We’re pooped. It’s been a long day, okay?”

“Please! I had to run all the way here to make it in time” he gasped.

Luke questioned if he truly made it “in time”.

“Well, if you’re here to buy something, then I think the first thing on your list should be a pocket-watch”

“If I could have gotten here earlier, then I would have. And that’s what I need to talk to you about” he pleaded as his desperate hands held Luke by the collar.

“What’s going on out here?” Mac stuck his head out the door after hearing the commotion. His first assumption was that the stranger was a vagrant looking to lift some of their loot, starting with Luke. “Hey Chevy! Get out here! We got us a thief!”

“No wait! I’m not here to rob you! I’m here to ask you for a favor” the stranger held his arms up and begged to not be ganged up on.

“Where’s the robber!?” Chevy ran up and bumped the smaller Mac right out the doorway onto his face. He gripped a broom in a clobbering position, ready for action.

“I’m not a robber. I have a proposition” the stranger continued and ducked behind a table.

“We don’t want to marry you! You don’t appeal to us!” Chevy fired back.

Mac grunted while getting to his feet and lurched Chevy back by the arm. “He said ‘proposition’, not ‘proposal’, you ‘pebble-brain’. He wants to make a deal”

“Will it involve this?” Chevy lifted the broom up.

“Probably not” Luke chimed in.

“Oh… then I’ll just go back to work” Chevy walked off.

“What’s on your mind, stranger?” Mac approached the stranger.

As the stranger explained, he was a farmer whose pet donkey had escaped his ranch and wandered off. He had tracked it to the lair of a Medusa who had turned it to stone. Too afraid to retrieve it himself, and without any means of transporting his crops, he needed help desperately. The Order had no knights available to assist him, which Mac scoffed at as it was typical of the Order. But he had heard of the boys’ shop which dealt with monsters. The farmer’s friends called the three men’s work “imbecilic”, but he left that part out of his story. Without any further options, he approached Mac, Luke, and Chevy to seek out the Medusa’s lair and retrieve his donkey.

“A Medusa, huh?” pondered Luke. “Sounds tricky, but I think we can handle that”. His cowardice and fascination were struggling for dominance. So much that his curious nature often clouded how quickly he got scared.

“Oh, if you would, I would greatly appreciate it” replied the farmer.

The ever-opportunistic Mac halted everything. “Hold up, everyone. Before we go off storming her lair, just what’s in it for us, hm?”

“Well, you see, I don’t have much money. But I can offer you my surplus of grain and milk. It should be enough to feed all three of you for a few weeks”

Chevy came racing out of the shop at the word ‘feed’. It always amazed Mac how Chevy had a sixth sense when it came to food. Only two things on the line could get Chevy to move so fast, food or his life.

“Mmm, eats! And all we have to do is bring a dumb animal home? When do we start?” he chirped with his mouth already watering.

Mac pouted behind them. He could have just berated Chevy and sent him and the farmer off with their tails between his legs. But with their enthusiasm, as well as Luke shooting his choice in the form of an uneven smile, he relented.

“I guess we’ve got to go through with it” Mac sighed. He hoped to build some good reputation points out of this if nothing else. Sort of a form of advertising.

The grateful farmer dirtied all their hands with his soiled, enthusiastic handshakes. He then gave them his name, where his farm was located to return the donkey, as well as where he tracked the Medusa to. In return, they gave him a time frame of two days, along with a caveat: the farmer had to throw in a set of dishes and eating utensils. They were all sick of having to eat out of pieces of scrap with their hands.

After the farmer left, they all convened. Putting their heads together, as well as Luke consulting their book of monster encounters, they worked out a plan of attack.

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