The following Monday saw Clancy back in his town’s branch of the Foundation headquarters. The small city of Fontaine’s Foundation office, was a cross between a mall and the dmv. Loud but orderly, with the pale turquoise walls and wide clear windows. All covered in posters and holographic advertisements.
The vendors were kept to the first floor while the more bureaucratic business was handled on the second. With the real important stuff handled on the third floor behind a warded door, a security gate and some slightly overweight but well-armed guards.
As was likely intended, people who went into the Foundation Office would often either buy something and then do whatever they’d come to do, or they do whatever they came to do and buy something as they left.
Clancy was no exception to this, stopping over at one of Foundation’s shop counters to make his usual purchase.
“So that’s Six sets of Mind-Regen Meditation Supplements, Six Sets of Viridian Healing Potions, Four Stacks of High Count Warding Cards, Two Canisters of Black Warding Ink, Two Canisters of White Warding Ink, One Pack of Multi-Color Warding Ink Mini-Canisters, Eight Sets of Advanced Level Alchemical Reagents, Four Sets of Expert Level Alchemical Reagents, Two Class-B Beast Capturing Cages, and one double-pack of Amrita-9.” said clerk. A red-headed woman who sat behind the glass booth that Foundation mandates had all their vendors sitting behind.
“…Righterino.” said Clancy. Forcing a smile when what he really felt like doing was crying bloody tears.
“That’ll be $36,240.00, please.” said Clerk.
Clancy nodded. Sliding his credit card and his Foundation membership card onto the counter.
The clerk took it, and ran the card through her machine, typing on her console and waiting while beeped and booped and made a bunch of hungry crunching noises.
A minute later Clancy got his cards back with a receipt on top of them.
“Your orders will be delivered to the address you provided.” said the clerk. Giving a charming but entirely perfunctory smile.
“Thank you kindly.” he said. Nodding his head and turning away from the country. Still wearing his own forced smile.
Trying to look like he wasn’t just a little stressed because even having recently soloed that job in Hatterton, his purchase just now, plus the bills, utilities, and the mortgage on the house, would push his and Anne’s shared account into the red by about $15,000.
Or at least that would be the case if he didn’t do anything by the end of the month, which was in about one and a half weeks.
It wasn’t even about them living within or outside their means. They lived within their means and their lifestyle wasn’t particularly extravagant, despite all of Anne’s hobbies, which generally paid for themselves in the long run.
Since they usually had at least a net positive effect on her work, if they didn’t end up directly becoming part of her work. Something else she could do on the side to help them keep their necks above water.
What it was, was about them being casters, and worse yet, cursed casters. Casters with a bunch of pain in the ass baggage to deal with if they didn’t want to die or fall into a bad way.
If they were normal folk or even just a normal working class Wizarding family, it would be different. Just Clancy’s income alone would be enough for the two to count themselves as upper-middle class, maybe even slightly wealthy. Even with the effects of world-wide inflation.
As a Spiral rank caster he could solo jobs that casters of the circle ranks and below had to do in teams, and not have to split the reward.
Were they ordinary folk, what he made would be more than enough for the two of them to live on. Especially with Anne’s online work and commissions added in.
The problem, again… was that they weren’t ordinary. Clancy’s father had seen to that with all his damn experiments. Anne had a hunger than didn’t just demand blood, but also called for death which meant paying the Amrita to avoid from creating a body count, and as for Clancy, he had his own issues that were costly to deal with.
Even if the two weren’t trying to cure their problems by ascending past mortal bounds like every third poster in the Foundation Office suggested, every good little wizard or witch should be trying to do, just staying as they were and trying to get buy would be equally as costly, if not more so.
Since staying still would mean having to deal with the costs of their symptoms progressively getting worse.
In which case they might as well try to keep on ranking up and getting stronger, more magical and in control till they didn’t need all those drugs, warding materials and cages.
Which again, brought the problem full circle since it simply just wasn’t affordable to fund Magical Cultivation on one’s own dime.
It was actually pretty much impossible, or at least so near so, that most people either, joined sects, joined clubs, joined gangs, joined sponsored teams, worked for private companies or found religion to pay their way through.
With the only people who stuck on their own not doing so, being the normal folk. The commoners. The humble dirt farmers and wage slaves of the magical world.
Those freelance mages, who happened to just have an enough talent or skill to get by in the lower end of the food chain.
Clancy and Anne’s situation was a little bit better than that, but not by much. If they weren’t so abnormally strong, what with the problem of their Anathema’s having been handled by their shared curse, they’d have likely not been able to hang on as long as they did.
Then again, if it weren’t for those curses, they wouldn’t have needed to have to hang on. They’d have been free to live completely normal lives. Living in comfort and ease like any other wizarding couple at their level.
In the end, as saying and goes, if wishes were fishes then everyone could eat. After checking his account to make sure that he and Anne were still good for the present, Clancy put away his phone and headed towards the second floor where posted task could be received and accepted.
If the Foundation’s offices were indeed like a cross between a mall and a dmv depot, the bureaucratic lobby where all the agents got their business seen to was a lot like a food court. Mainly because there was a big wide area with tables and benches for people to sit down and eat, or otherwise just kill time, if they didn’t want to wait in line.
Most of the lines were for the reward windows and the ticket machines that gave tickets for getting into queue with all the other windows.
Clancy waited five minutes to get his, spending most of it, wondering about the origins of the flaming neck and back tattoos of the guy he was standing behind and whether they were magical in nature.
Once he got his ticket to get into the job queue, he went and found somewhere for him to sit down. Sitting near the corner of the room, back to the wall, arms crossed, chin tucked down. Napping but wide enough awake that he’d hear it if they called his number.
Having gotten good and comfortable Clancy dreamt of naked, dancing ladies, Clancy being Clancy, though ladies soon all turned into clones of Anne. Over-thinking it, a part of his psyche questioned the repercussions of the world having that many Anne’s in it.
Those questions were answered by a three-part answer from his penis, heart and a very nihilistic portion of his brain. That all more or less decided they didn’t care. Anne was well,…Anne. He loved Anne, and He didn’t quite like the rest of the world that much in comparison.
If he had to die six more times than the norm to allow for this hypothetical, then so be it. And if that wasn’t possible, then at the very least 4.53 billion years was a pretty good run for this planet, and it wasn’t like there weren’t colonies on the moon and Mars.
It was even said that their magical flow was free from a lot of the negative influences of the monochrome. So that was one upside for whatever remained of humanity.
“Hey stranger?” said a voice from somewhere above and behind where Clancy sat.
Clancy awoke instantly but staggered the process of his return to consciousness. Opening his eyes but keeping the rest of his body perfectly rigid, in a flinch that lasted one one-thousandth of a second.
Sensing no danger he made himself relaxed suppressing his instinctive reaction of violence and undoing the haphazard spell that he’d been about to throw out.
He turned around to see who spoke and saw a slender man, with an athletic build, tan skin and light green-brown hair. On his back, He carried a case with the crystal capped barrel on an auto-stave peaking out of it.
“Oh, it’s you…shit, how goes it Dennis?”
“It goes well…Clancy. At least for the most part anyway.” said Dennis Dane. A friend of Clancy’s from way back when he was just starting out and was still figuring out this whole being a “mostly” normal person schtick.
“Good to hear. Are you here picking up a job or dropping off a completion ticket?”
“Picking up a job. You?” said Dennis, sitting down, on the chair opposite Clancy’s at the table.
“Ah…how about we do a team up?” said Dennis. Smiling in that mischievous, its a conspiracy, but its okay, since you’re in on it too, way of his. The same smile that had charmed the formerly hard-edged Clancy into making friends with him when they first met during Clancy’s extremely brief tenure in college.
Clancy couldn’t help grinning back, but the grin soon faded, his expression turning cloudy and slightly troubled.
“…. Not to be that guy, but you know about me and team ups.”
As a spiral ranked magi, it was only natural that even a guy who was lacking in all but the most basic social graces, and didn’t do much palling around would get a few people trying to make friends. Most these friends coming attached to recruitment offers. Even if casters were a dime a dozen in this world, quality would always be in high demand.
For each and every offer Clancy had gotten, including those from a few well-known companies, groups and even the Foundation itself, he had declined. Doing so politely but decisively.
It was a known fact Clancy Ambrose didn’t do teams. It wasn’t any lone wolf nonsense. It was just pragmatics and economics. Past the 5th Circle a foundation agent had the option of accepting a job normally or paying a small nominal fee to accept the entirety of the mission by themselves.
Most people did so, for the sake of monopolizing a job for their teams. Clancy did so for the sake of monopolizing task payouts for himself. As the simple fact was that doing a job that paid out $2,000.00 dollars per participant and buying up all six participation slots meant a pay-out of $12,000.00 dollars.
Beyond that he didn’t want to be tied to anything. He liked living his life on his own terms without having too many people being able to make demands on him.Especially contractual ones.
Lawyers and Wizards were two types of people that were far too good at being tricky with words and as such they tended to be careful of each other.
Besides after finally being freed from the hellish Cult of Dantalion, the whole idea of becoming part of an Organization and working for that organization’s purposes gave the man goosebumps. While there was no avoiding it when you lived in civilized society, Clancy still wanted to be careful that he didn’t get entangled in anything troublesome.
“Yeah, of course I do, Clancy. Shit, I’m pretty sure there’s a fair amount of folk in this Fontaine Foundation Office who know about you and your policy on team ups…Still, I bet you it’d be a hell of fun. Good money in it too.”
Clancy sighed, naturally, being an extremely sociable sort, Dennis was part of a team. More than that, he was one of the heads of his team.
Wizard Groups or Squads, that served the foundation as Exploration Teams, were like sports teams in that they came in Major, Minor and Amatuer leagues.
With the Major and Minor leagues getting sponsorship deals with companies, sects and other parties who either worked in the Wizarding world or wanted an in with the foundation and UN Councils.
Dennis’s team, the Three-Princes of Greenglade, was backed by the Greenglade Brewery out in Barton, one of the towns neighboring New Camden.
As to why a Brewery would be sponsoring a Foundation Wizard Group, in this world of magic and the monochrome, there weren’t that many people who didn’t have a wizard or two at their beck and call, just in case. Besides the Foundation was a bit like privatized army, for the defense of the human race, it was good PR to be seen doing you fair share.
If that good PR also came with increased resources and access rights to monochrome based goods from the foundation and the almighty UN Council, as well the surety of knowing you had a team of magical badasses in the fortunate but not completely unlikely event that something went down, then so be it.
Clancy scratched his cheek thinking of how to respond to Dennis’ casual goading. His nail scritching through the nine-o’clock shadow that was already growing in even though he’d just shaved today and it was only eight in the morning.
“Do I really got to twist your arm buddy? After all that we’ve been through together? Come on, just come, have a meet and greet maybe help us handle a little something, just to see what life’s like with other people there to watch your back for ya and then if you don’t like it, I promise I’ll never bring up teaming up again.” said Dennis. Making a last minute push and doubling down on his hard sell.
Dennis was a friend, a genuine friend, one who’d been there for Clancy and Anne when they were just starting their lives in New Camden. Giving them a fair bit of help settling in.
Even if Clancy didn’t really like working in groups, he figured that putting up with one just the once was the least he could do. Especially for one of the extremely small handful of friends he’d managed to make in the years since the fall of the cult.
Though he really didn’t want to, Clancy felt like he really didn’t have much choice but to relent and give a little compromise.
Agreeing to meet the team because he reasoned that Dennis A)might actually be in need of help and B) might also be trying to give Clancy a hand again, because his reasoning was sound.
Generally it “would” be dicey, dangerous and downright irresponsible for a lone Wizard to head into the monochrome alone.
“Fine fuck it…I’ll meet your damn team and maybe even do a mission with you guys too…” said Clancy. Pretending to grouse.
Dennis drummed the table, smiling.
“You won’t regret it, man. These guys are good people, good at what they do and just generally decent folk.” said Dennis. Jumping up and heading off to finish whatever it was he’d been doing before he’d seen Clancy napping at the table.
Clancy saw him off and heard the prompter call his number. He got up with a sigh, aware that this meant he’d end up doing a little more work then he’d planned for this week.
Though Dennis had said the money for whatever his team had set up, was good, being the cautious guy that he was, Clancy would still need to do his own solo stuff to make sure that Anne and him were okay for this month’s expenses.