The Iron Bellows
|«To Struggle Nu Mou|
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After sitting down and tallying up the profit from our various ventures, I'd say we have sufficient funds to keep the Bellows running comfortably for quite some time. Truly, your goods have brought in a small fortune.
Yet I still haven't thought of a proper way to thank you... While I'm busy with that, why don't you visit with Eismon? He mentioned wanting to have a word with you.
I've noticed him sneaking about, trying to arrange a celebration with you and our clients, so I'm guessing he needs your help with the preparations.
Mwahaha! Nothing gets past me! In my forge, I see everything my artisans do...or don't do, for that matter.
Last I saw, Eismon was over at the Wandering Stairs. Assuming you're of a mind to speak to him...
Oh, Forename, we've been looking for you. I have a favor to ask you...
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! Celebration preparations? ! Yes, Iola told me...
Wait, what!? It was supposed to be a surprise!
Iola's head might be filled with figures and finances, but she's got a sharp eye. Should I bop her with my hammer so she forgets what we're up to?
Someone ought to bop you with a hammer, you uncultured brute.
Come now, Eismon, spit it out. Was there not something specific you wished to share concerning the upcoming festivities?
Oh, yes, of course. Part of our plan was to surprise Iola with a gift─something near and dear to her heart─but we're having trouble, uh, acquiring the item in question.
He's talking about the ring Iola's father lost to that bastard moneylender. The three of us have been working our fingers to the bone this past while, scrimping and saving what we could, all so we'd have the coin to buy it back.
Once we'd deemed our purse sufficiently hefty, we paid a visit to this nefarious usurer─a shifty fellow by the name of “Walden.”
Yet even after we paid the villain his due, he refused to surrender the ring. Apparently we'd failed to account for the “interest” accrued in the intervening years. A patently absurd amount...
We're at a loss as to what to do next. I was hoping someone as well traveled as you might have some advice to give.
Am I too early? I'm too early. <snort> I don't get invited to a lot of parties with people...
...You seem troubled. Is there a problem with the celebrations?
So you paid this man a fair price, but he did not honor the trade? Demanded more from you?
We of the Nu Mou frown upon deals where the balance of value swings too far in one side's favor. <snort> This Walden fellow sounds in need of a lesson in equilibrium...
Oh, I'd love to teach him a lesson, but the only one I can think of is like to leave me covered in blood and arrested by the guard...
Let us not attempt anything rash─'twould only add to Iola's woes. Still, I'm afraid a civilized approach has already failed to persuade that unmannered churl to part with the ring.
<snort> No violence will be necessary, my friends. I have an idea.
This is your moment to shine, Forename. I'm going to supply you with some materials─use them to make a ring of finest quality, then give it to Eismon.
I realize this is all very mysterious, but I ask that you trust me. Everything will be explained soon enough.
Did you catch up with Eismon? He was headed to the Wandering Stairs, last I heard.
What a bloody mess...
Confound it all...
I'll just...stand around here. Until the ring is ready.
Oh, well that didn't take near as long as I thought it would. That's beautiful work, Forename.
So, Nee Marn... What exactly is the plan for this ring?
The materials I provided to Forename were prepared with a minor enchantment. Walden will be so taken with our ring that he'll be willing to offer Iola's ring in trade.
What, just like that?
I have doubts as well, but I say we give it a try.
Right, then, let's pay another visit to Walden. Will you come along, Forename? He should be lurking around Musica Universalis.
Did you meet with Eismon?
Did you run into difficulties forging the ring? Not to worry, I have some materials in reserve...
A ring, a ring, a wondrous thing, when its metal band hides a Nu Mou's sting!♪
I don't know what's going on, but I'm keeping a hammer handy. Just in case.
We can but trust in the Nu Mou's sense of fairness. I am curious as to what mischief the flying pig has in mind...
Eh? Back so soon?
We came for the ring, Walden. We already paid you a fair price for its return.
Let me spell it out for you again, boy: no money, no ring. You'll get naught but curses till you cough up the interest what's owed me!
We don't have that kind of money, but we do have another ring you might be interested in. Care to trade?
Trade!? Do I look like a flea market to you!? I only deal in cold, hard coin!
Oh? Maybe you should inspect the quality of the goods before you make up your mind. Here, see how it glitters?
W-Well, ain't that a pretty little thing! I had no idea such beauty still existed in this world. It's just so...precious!
I had a feeling you would appreciate the, uh, the craftsmanship.
Aye, it ain't often I get me hands on a proper treasure like this one... You've got yourself a deal, boy. Here, take your bleedin' ring─go on, take it!
A pleasure doing business with you.
Hee hee! Enjoy your worthless old antique. There's only one ring I care about now!
The way his eyes lit up was almost disturbing. Just what kind of spell did Nee Marn weave into those materials...?
Well, we'd best be getting back to the others. The festivities aren't going to prepare themselves.
You've made the ring, exactly as I asked. Just be sure Walden sees it, and everything will turn out for the best. I promise you.
Aye, that's Walden. I really hate the part where he yells at me. I could do without the yelling...
A strange business, that, but at least we have the ring Iola wanted. Now we can celebrate without a care!
...Although we should probably finish up the preparations before the guests arrive.
Ahem. Iola, we have a gift for you.
Oooh, a gift! Is it flowers? Some sweet treat from the markets?
Hah! As if you'd want something as pointless as that!
Ahahaha! Aye, I'd rather a sack of coins than some smelly bouquet!
Not a sack of coins, I'm afraid...but it is a precious metal.
Oh, Eismon, are you proposing? I know I'm pretty for a smithy, but this is all too sudden...
...Just a damn moment. Th-That's my father's ring! Where...? How!?
We weren't able to stand by you when the Bellows needed us most, so we got back the thing you most wanted instead.
Fittingly, your efforts to revive the forge were the reason we could earn enough money to buy that trinket back in the first place─that, and a dash of Forename's exceptional craftsmanship.
I don't know what to say except...thank you. I'd thought myself alone since my father died, but it seems I do have family around me after all.
<snort> And now we see the girl behind the forgemaster's mask. A bittersweet day.
It's certainly been an interesting one. Speaking of which, you never did tell us what kind of enchantment you put on the moneylender's new ring. He all but snatched it out of my hand...
Ah, that was naught magical─his desire for the ring was born entirely of mundane greed. I knew that an avaricious wretch such as Walden would soon see the value of Forename's craft.
My contribution was far less innocuous─a little curse of misfortune, to punish his unfair weighting of the scales. That man's financial luck is about to take a decidedly ugly turn for the worse.
You needn't look so worried─I would never weave curses upon an upstanding trading partner such as you. Keep the balance, and all will be well between us.
Your efforts were successful, yes?
Huh, you got the ring back. I don't put much stock in wispy magicks you can't even see, but they seemed to have worked on Walden.
I only hope that winning the ring back counts for something against the balance I owe Iola's family.
It's good to see you, Forename. All that excitement has left me feeling positively drained.
All that proper food has left me feeling unusually full.
Ugh, well I feel like someone's been using my head for an anvil. Don't remember much after that tenth tankard...
Shall I remind you, then? In your inebriation, you deemed it necessary to initiate a brawl with our Zun guest. The tavernkeep will be sending a bill for the destruction you caused to his establishment.
You might have stopped her instead of making wagers on the outcome, Rend. Tell me why I rehired you people again?
...I suppose the answer to that is right in front of me. I still can't believe you managed to prise it from Walden's grubby hands.
We couldn't have done it without Forename and Nee Marn.
Aye, thank you again, Forename. You've been there for me every step of the way.
From here on in, I think I can keep the Bellows running under its own steam. And if there's any trouble, I have these three miscreants to help me deal with it.
You've left us in a good place, Forename, but know you're welcome to come and visit any time you like.
And don't forget to take your payment─you've certainly earned it!
Head, pounding... Belly, churning... No, dinner, stay down!
Colana can cover a disgustingly large area with her putrid retching. Thankfully, I always have several changes of clothes on hand...
I don't think I've ever seen Iola cry before...