Nigel hid the bottle of Dahl inside the secret compartment he had built in the bookshelf, also used for especially valuable loot, when he heard the knock at the window. Only a wood sprite would knock at the window, and he didn't want Friday to catch him drinking Dahl from the bottle during the day again. The last time she spotted him at his dirty habit, she turned him into a chicken. Even if it happened to be another sprite apart from Friday – and he had never heard of a sprite apart from Friday leaving the peace and quiet of their hidden village - they all knew each other and considered each other to be family, so Friday had probably ordered them all to spy on him and report back to her.
"You know, you shouldn't leave doors and windows and things unlocked, otherwise bailiffs can legally get in!" said the sprite cheerfully as she flew into the house and hovered at eye level with Nigel. The treasure hunter had never seen a sprite who looked like her before. Whereas all of the sprites in Friday's village had dark hair they usually didn't bother to comb, horns and bat-like wings, and tended to wear the same simple, dark-coloured dresses with belts, this tiny visitor had grey hair tied in an orderly bun underneath a lace bonnet, two pairs of ethereal-looking blue wings and a pair of glasses. Her outfit was expensive-looking and neatly pressed, if a little scanty: a purple two-piece outfit with white petticoats, complete with collar and tie. Her no-nonsense expression was not one that he had ever seen on Friday's face and it made Nigel feel uneasy.
"Um... are you Friday's friend?" he stammered, backing into a chair. He wished he still had that drink.
"More of a colleague than a friend," she said, steering in mid-air so that she could still meet his gaze.
"I d... didn't know she had colleagues," he said. It sounded too much like work, and Friday avoided work whenever possible, "What can I do f... for you?"
"I'm glad you asked. You see, I represent a loans company called Terme Finance, and I'm afraid we require your assistance to resolve an unfortunate incident," she said.
"Is Friday in trouble?" he asked, reaching for his sword. He would never be able to forgive himself if he failed to help Friday and something happened to her as a result.
"Oh no, as a fairy and therefore an associate of Terme by default, you'll be happy to know that Friday is entirely protected," she said, "Although, she does owe a month's rent. As her official sponsored adventurer, and because she was placed in a situation where she was unable to pay the rent by being dragged along on your adventure – direct debit services don't extend to Wood Sprite Village, you know – you're the one liable for paying back the debt!"
"Um, well, I've still got a lot of money left over from King Nole's treasure..." he said, scratching his head. Debt collection agencies weren't something he really associated with fairies. He had assumed they all frolicked under the trees all day when they weren't following adventurers around. Although he resented the implication that he had 'dragged' Friday on his adventure with him, as though he was some kind of kidnapper, when she was technically the one stalking him, he wasn't about to abandon Friday if she was in some sort of financial trouble. He didn't want her to end up being turfed out of her house. That would mean she would never, ever go back home and leave him alone.
It was also true that he had a lot of money, more than he really needed. He had spent a lot of money on new equipment, the best possible swords and armour, legendary weapons and magic artifacts from around the world. Other times he spent money on a life of luxury, travelling around the world on the finest modes of transport, hiring the best guides to assist him on his adventures. Hiring a bigger party was out: he only knew how to work solo, he was no inspiring leader like the famous Maximilian of Guardiana, to direct parties of adventurers, sometimes as many as twelve, on what were more like small military campaigns than exciting adventures. There came a point when all you could really do with money is retire and settle down, or maybe invest it in a business and make even more money, and it wasn't really the way he wanted to live his life. Settling down or working at a desk all day was for old codgers, and he was still in the prime of his life – hell, he was only ninety!
In fact, it was becoming a real problem, so much so that he was almost relieved at the idea of spending a large sum of money on a good cause such as paying Friday's rent arrears for her. These days, he often couldn't go adventuring, because he would go out and hunt for treasure, find something like a magic sword only to find that he had already bought a sword twice as magical from the auction last weekend. Or sometimes he bought so much equipment that the adventure had no risk, and felt so mechanical and soulless, he might as well have hired a team of labourers to dig the whole dungeon up and take it apart brick by brick to look for the treasure. Other times, he found that as soon as he left his house, a team of robbers descended upon his doorstep looking for the large amount of money and treasure they knew he kept hidden away somewhere, and he would have to fight them off to protect his wealth, as though he had become the grouchy old dragon guarding its treasure hoard from adventurers!
"Oh! That's okay then," she said, her voice becoming cheerful again – something that Nigel was soon to learn was a Very Bad Sign, "That means you can pay off all the other debts as well!"
"What other debts?" he demanded.
"Well, to start off with, you incurred quite a large fine when you trespassed on a national heritage site, vandalised a large portion of it, plundered national relics and, technically, committed regicide by murdering a King who hadn't died or been officially deposed, but the Government decided to drop that particular charge due to extenuating circumstances," she told him, "Added to which, King Nole and the people of Mercator hadn't been paying their rent either, so it falls to you to..."
"HOW MUCH?" he screamed, clutching his head in his hands.
"Oh, as you're a friend of a friend, I'll cut you a deal..." she said, floating over to his left ear and whispering into it. He let out another primal scream.
"WHERE'S FRIDAY? THIS IS HER FAULT, I'M GOING TO MURDER HER!" he roared, grabbing his sword and storming towards the door.
"You'll incur another million Gold replacement fine if you do that!" she warned.
"If I go and find some more treasure, will you promise not to charge me rent on the dungeon or fine me for killing endangered monsters or something?"
"Do you want to read the list of permitted dungeons? Actually, don't bother, none of them contain treasure worth that much," she told him, "Hey, I have an idea that'll land you that sort of cash in no time at all!"
"What is it?" he let out an exasperated sigh.
"How would you like to become the proud owner of an item shop?"
Meanwhile, Recce and Friday were fighting over a cookie.