My name is Laken Godart. I am blind. Also, I’m trapped in another world where reality seems to conform to the rules of some kind of game.
I could be a victim of some kind of elaborate prank or test, or a social experiment. I could see myself being an easy target for some kind of shady government project—if of course I’m not just crazy.
Right now, I’m not ruling out any options. The reason why I ended up in this world could be anything as simple as an alien abduction gone wrong to genuine magic. I’m leaning on the magic side, myself.
This place is just too…real. Too real, and I want to believe in it. In the short month and a half since I’ve been here, I gained sight. Of a kind, yes, but sight nevertheless. I found someone I loved, and I found something to fight for.
But I won’t forget to think about what I do. I’m no hero with a sword. I’m fairly certain I’d hurt myself just trying to pick one up. I can’t be a warrior.
But I can be smart. I can choose what I want to do and pick my battles, if there are any in the future. I have friends. I have a class.
I am an [Emperor], and I have responsibilities. That, more than anything, informs how I act. Even now, I’ve travelled to this place, this city, for the people under my protection.
“It really is a big city, isn’t it, Durene?”
I say that out loud and feel Durene laughing nervously through our connected hands. I can tell she’s next to me. I may be blind, but I have my other senses. Here is what I know. I’m holding Durene’s hand. Her palm is callused—rough. Almost like a shark’s skin? I touched one once at an aquarium—a small, non-threatening shark or so I was told. Durene’s skin is somewhat like that.
Her hand is warm. On this cold, brisk day, her hand is warm. And I can hear her every step. But I can also hear the voices.
Oh—the voices. I’ve been in huge cities before, heard cars passing by, honking, shouting, but there’s just something about a mass of people that seems large to me. Maybe it’s because I know each person has to be out there, each one an individual moving and talking and thinking on their own.
A hundred voices. A thousand, some shouting, others just talking as they pass by me and Durene. More still simply walk, and it’s that movement which really tells me that I’m in a city.
I can smell—dirt and stone. And sweat, musty odors coming off of winter clothing probably. But more strongly through the air, baked food. Hot tangy scents wafting towards me and making me hungry. Someone’s cooking food over to the left, and the wind’s blowing it towards me. Not a meat—something else?
They’re not the only ones. There are more food vendors all about. Smell, hearing—I’m being overwhelmed on both fronts by the sheer input.
However, I am used to it. I know better than to panic, and it’s hardly like I’m incapable of moving about. I let Durene lead me through the city at a good pace. I just wish—
I wish I could see all of this. Sound and smell only get me so far. But from what Durene tells me, this city is like nothing in my past world.
“Lizard people? Really, Durene?”
“They’re called Drakes, I think. I’ve never seen one before. Um, I think they live far to the south of here.”
“Amazing. Drakes. Draco. Are they related to Dragons, by any chance?”
“I don’t know? They um, have scales. And long tails. Some of them have green scales, others have red or blue or—that one’s yellow.”
Durene moves as if to point and stops herself. I nod to myself as we walk on. I’m trying to imagine what these creatures—these people might be like. But I don’t think in terms of sight, naturally. I have a rough image in my head, but I would love to talk to one of these Drakes, shake their…hand?
“Do they have hands?”
“Something like that. It uh, it’s more like claws. They look sharp.”
Claw hands. I try to fit that in and reconsider shaking hands. But if I could touch one—
And how would I do that? I’m assuming these other species have the same taboos and social norms—at least broadly—that Humans do. Durene didn’t think it was too strange for a city to have Drakes in it, for all she’s never seen one.
Maybe if I got to know one. Naturally I can’t just stop someone on the street—well, I could, but I have more pressing matters.
I am in this city for a reason. I speak to Durene, feeling her guiding me left to avoid something or someone.
“Would you say we’re close to that plaza you saw now?”
“I think so!”
She sounds excited and worried by turns. Excited, and overwhelmed by her first glimpse of a city, as I suppose anyone would be. I have to remember Durene’s never even left her village. This must be overwhelming for her. I have to keep the cool head.
And yet, I can’t help but feel like Durene’s the one who’ll be most useful in a pinch. She proved that when she stood up to those adventurers. All I could do was raise my voice and be useless.
Those adventurers…I sigh as I walk with Durene towards the plaza.
Bastards. Ditto for that lieutenant. But the insight into this city was helpful. There’s corruption here, or at least, casual racism against one type of species. Ironic, that. I guess in a city with countless races joining hands—or claws—there has to be some group that gets pushed out.
I have to understand the world around me to interact with it. That’s why Durene and I have been walking through the city this last hour, taking it in, finding the measure of it. Better that than rush off and make mistakes. And it was a very pleasant walk too—Durene described so many odd sights for me. And yet, I guess you step in dog shit at least once on the best of strolls.
“Ah, I can hear the adventurers shouting now.”
Yes, in my ears I can now pick out a different set of shouts, this one growing louder as Durene and I walk forwards. Adventurers.
“…the Storm Raiders will sell our axes to anyone in need of a strong arm! Make us an offer!”
“—the best, the mightiest! Our shields will block spell and fang alike! The Ironshield Vanguard!”
“We’re a group of [Soldiers] who fought in the Yelten-Grimmor conflict! We’ve over fifty kills between us! You want protection, turn to us!”
Ah, adventurers. Durene leads me forwards, and I can just tell she’s stopping to stare around.
“Do you see Gamel around?”
Durene sounds worried, although she shouldn’t be. I can feel her shift—is she standing on her tiptoes? I imagine she would be able to see practically everyone in the plaza. Even these ‘Gnolls’ don’t sound as tall as she is.
“I don’t see him, Laken. Should I call out, do you think? Or—”
I squeeze her hand gently, reassuring her.
“Don’t worry, Durene. It was just a thought. I imagine he’s off in some other square. We did say we’d meet at midday. Correct me if I’m wrong, but we’ve a little bit of time before them.”
“Yeah. You did say—okay.”
“Let’s take a seat—if one’s available. I could use a few seconds to rest, and I’d like to listen to what all these people are shouting. You can describe them for me.”
We make it a few more steps into the plaza, and then I feel Durene slow. She bends towards me and whispers something in my ear.
“Laken, I think that girl is still following us!”
I pause for only a microsecond, but then move forwards. Durene is stopped.
“I see. Keep walking, Durene. Don’t look back at her—or if you do, just glance past her, as if you haven’t seen her.”
“Okay, Laken. But what does she want?”
“You’re sure she’s following us and not going somewhere else?”
“I’m sure! We practically walked in a circle, and I keep seeing her!”
“Describe her for me again.”
Durene pauses. I can hear the nervousness in her voice when she speaks again.
“Um. Tall. Taller than you, Laken. A few inches taller? She’s…got black hair, darkish skin—I’ve never seen someone who looks like that. Is she a foreigner? Uh—she’s uh—beautiful.”
It’s an alien word to me. Beautiful is a word I associate with a voice, not with faces or appearance. But Durene’s voice is filled with a longing that tells me all I need to know.
“She’s beautiful. Sort of scary-looking, but beautiful. And—she looks like a Runner.”
Durene spotted the girl following us a few blocks back. She pointed her out to me—well, described her to me—as one of the oddities of the city. A foreigner, someone not native to this continent.
It’s a…hard thing for me to think of. I know there are ethnicities in my world, of course. Nationality, race, gender…that’s easy to understand. But skin color? I don’t know what the color blue is supposed to look like.
Apparently, the folk of Riverfarm and this continent look predominantly like the people of my home continent, Europe. That is to say, mostly fair-skinned. This girl isn’t. She could be black or Asian or Latino—Durene’s descriptions don’t help me think of her in that way. She’s just clearly a foreigner, and one who stands out in this multi-species environment. No—more so because she stands out among her own kind, Humans.
And she’s following us. What does that mean? I frown as Durene worries next to me.
“Let’s get to a seat, and you can tell me if she stays in the area. If she doesn’t—well, we’ll know then.”
Durene’s palm is slightly sweaty in my hand. Or is it mine? Because I hate to imagine it, but this could be an issue.
Why would someone follow us? A thousand reasons come to mind. They might be a prejudiced asshole like the adventurers. Or they might be interested in Durene. Or maybe it’s something to do with me?
I’m in a gaming world. Is this just a random event? Is this a scripted NPC? I’m sure this isn’t that kind of game, but why else would someone follow us? Is she aware of Riverfarm’s plight? Is she simply curious about an interspecies couple?
I don’t know. But I think. That’s what I can do in this world. Think. Think, and try to understand. Who is this young woman? What does she want?
And what should I do about it?
Ryoka Griffin gritted her teeth as she saw the half-Troll’s head turn. She slowed, but the tall girl’s head found her.
“She can’t have spotted me. She can’t.”
Ryoka muttered under her breath as the girl named Durene seemed to glance at her, and then hurriedly look past. It was the third time she’d done so in as many minutes. It made Ryoka worried.
And annoyed, because Ryoka really didn’t want to think she’d been spotted by a Troll. Half-Troll. Whatever. That would be embarrassing, and yet—
“She saw me. Damn, damn, damn…”
In writing, it sounded easy. Follow a blind guy being led around by a half-Troll. How hard could that be? It was probably wrong to think, but Ryoka had the impression that the half-Troll girl wasn’t exactly the fastest brick on the block. She seemed simple, somewhat timid, and gentle. A giant, in short, easy to follow without being seen while Ryoka listened to what the two were doing.
But the Troll—Durene was her name, wasn’t it?—kept looking around. Ryoka felt the half-Troll girl’s eyes pause on her again and tried to meld with a group of laughing Drakes. But the problem was that becoming one with the crowd only worked if the crowd was the same species as you were. And for all her varied interests over the years, Ryoka had never tried espionage. To be more accurate, she’d never tried following someone who kept pausing every few minutes to stare about.
In movies or in books, the protagonist following the suspect had the advantage of darkness, or an unaware target, or some convenient plot twist which would help them complete their mission. And at the very least, they could blend with the crowd.
But Ryoka stood out. She knew she stood out. She was an Asian girl who didn’t look like the other native Humans to this land, and certainly not like the other species. So she’d been spotted with disgusting ease. The blind guy couldn’t see her, but his helper could, and she kept staring around—probably to tell him what everything looked like!
That was one side of the problem. The Troll-girl saw Ryoka. She saw Ryoka, but Ryoka saw the man following the pair. That was someone the half-Troll hadn’t spotted.
And no wonder—he was completely bland. He had flaxen hair, a nondescript face—his clothes weren’t anything to blink twice over. And yet, he was following the blind man known as Laken and the half-Troll Durene as well, Ryoka was sure of it.
He was following them, and Ryoka wanted to know why. She kept eying the man as she walked into the plaza with all the adventurers lined up. They were an odd bunch. It looked as though each one had their space to, well, show off. Teams of adventurers—Silver-rank at best by the looks of them—were doing tricks with swords or just trying to give off a certain amount of swagger as their teammates or hired help extolled their virtues, trying to get them a job.
It was an odd way of doing things, but Ryoka supposed it was needed advertisement if you wanted a lucrative contract. In a place with so many adventurers—Ryoka saw one every block it seemed—people with requests could choose their team, which meant competition had to be fierce.
Now the human and half-Troll seemed to be stopping. They were headed for some unoccupied benches sitting in the shade of some trees in the plaza. Ryoka bit her lip.
She hadn’t gotten close enough to hear more than a few snippets of conversation and she’d already been made. Should she try to get close, knowing she was exposed?
It had just been a few words. In German. Just a few words—why couldn’t there be some nation based off of Germany, or some culture with Germanic roots? But Ryoka had to know.
So she walked closer. She looked around—where was that man in plain clothes? He was a master at being invisible. Ryoka would never have spotted him if she hadn’t noticed him following the pair like she was.
There. He was strolling ahead of her, right next to the half-Troll. Ryoka’s eyes narrowed. She watched as he approached, and then cursed.
“Son of a—”
It happened in a moment as we were walking towards the bench that Durene had found. I, walking by her side, felt her pause for a second.
“Oh! I’m so sorry!”
“My fault, Miss. Please excuse me.”
An unfamiliar voice. Male. Pleasant. I frown and hear him walk away.
“What was that, Durene?”
“Nothing, Laken. I just bumped into that man.”
Durene sounds at ease, but my frown remains. Something feels wrong. Bumped into her. Why does that…
Who would bump into someone as big as Durene? From what she’s said, she gets a lot of room even on a busy sidewalk. Who goes around bumping into people ordinarily, anyways? And the way he said it—
“Durene! Check your money pouch!”
I snap as thoughts come together in an instant. I’ve encountered thieves and pickpockets before. I know the scam. I hear Durene gasp and then her anguished shout.
“It’s gone! He took it!”
“Go after him!”
I shout, letting go of her hands. That’s not just her money that was taken—Durene had the entire pouch of coin and gems I found by her cottage! If that thief runs off with it—
To her credit, I hear Durene hesitate only for a second. Then I feel her turn and run away from me. Then her voice.
It’s a shout that drowns out all sound for a second. Durene has an impressive pair of lungs, and I can practically hear the thief’s heart stop as she runs towards him.
I stand in the plaza, not moving, fishing in the small rucksack I’m carrying for something. I pull out my foldable cane and extend it fully.
I haven’t had to use it in a while. I decided not to use it when Durene was walking me around—I trust her completely and it might have gotten in the way of all the pedestrians about. But it’s a useful tool now.
A quick check—I tap carefully in a circle around me and find the bench we were about to sit at. I move over to it and sit down.
It’s not as if I’m not panicking right now. A thief, taking all the money Durene and I have—the money meant for Riverfarm? That’s a disaster. But what can I do in this situation? Panic?
Durene’s chasing after the thief. Either she gets him or she doesn’t. I can only make things worse by shouting and running about. So I sit and try to think.
If she fails to get him—we have to talk to the Watch. But can we get our money back? It’s not like I had a credit card—that gold and those gems are probably as good as gone the instant they’re lost. And would the local law enforcement help us? The way they treated Durene—
I wrench my mind off of that train of thought. Consider the worst when it’s over. The real question is—why target Durene? Who steals from a half-Troll? I haven’t ever really laid eyes on Durene, it’s true, but a girl who towers over the biggest Human and who can probably bench press a horse is not someone I’d expect pickpockets to normally go after.
Unless that’s normal in this world. No—it can’t be. Did that cutpurse realize how much money she was carrying? Or—
“Damn. A Skill. It must be that.”
Why didn’t I think of it? It’s a reasonable explanation. If you assume there’s a class for everything, and that’s what Durene seems to believe, then there’s definitely a [Thief] class. And what better Skill than one that allows someone to pick out an easy mark? Or a rich one?
I clench one fist as I hear Durene’s shouting and the commotion growing more distant. Pray. Hope. And think about what to do if she doesn’t catch him—
“Excuse me. Is your name Laken?”
I start. A voice—a female voice comes from above and to my left. I turn my head.
“Hello. Pardon me, but have we met?”
“Not before. But tell me—woher kommst du?”
The pronunciation is terrible, and the words are stilted, spoken without fluency. But I stiffen nonetheless, because I know German when I hear it.
And I know that no one on this continent speaks German, as far as Durene or Gamel know.
So why is someone speaking it to me right now?
In the time it takes for me to clear my throat and respond, my thought process is simple. Who’s talking to me? It has to be the girl Durene spotted. Why?
Well, either she thinks I’m from her country or, more probably—
“Aus San Francisco. Und Sie?”
A sharp, indrawn breath is my only answer. But it’s the only one I need.
“Dieu merci. I am not alone.”
Can you feel shock, amazement, relief, and confusion all at once? I’m sure there is one, even if it’s not an English word. There are words in other languages for feelings that are never fully translatable into English.
The Norwegian word forelsket for instance—I feel that towards Durene every time I touch her. I suppose in lieu of a word now, I think I’ll go with ‘relief’ as incomplete as it may be.
“I am not alone.”
I feel tears spring into my eyes, gathering behind my eyelids. As strange as it may sound, I really did think I was alone up until this moment. Alone, in a new world.
But there’s someone else. I stand up, and hear someone take a step back. There’s noise all around us—has Durene caught the thief? I can’t focus on that. Suddenly, I’m in a small bubble with this girl.
“You’re—from home, aren’t you? Earth?”
“My god. Excuse me, but who are you? I’m blind—are you the young woman who was following us around earlier?”
A pause. I listen, heart beating, before the young woman replies in a low voice.
“I am. I’m—a friend. My name is Ryoka Griffin. Tell me, when did you get here? Do you know why you came to this world? Who have you talked to—who’s that girl who was with you?”
The questions are like a storm, tersely delivered. I hear in them echoes of all the things I want to know.
“My name is Laken. Laken Godart. I came here a little over a month ago. I don’t know how or why—the girl’s name is Durene. She’s my guide, my friend. She found me when I first came to this world.”
“Where is she, do you know? She ran off—”
“After the thief. I think she got him.”
I’m astonished, but there’s a flicker of amusement in Ryoka’s tone.
“Yeah. She picked him up and threw him on the ground. I think she broke some of his bones.”
I can’t imagine it. Well, I can, but I can’t imagine her doing that. But this strange young woman seems focused. I hear her moving closer and resist the urge to reach out to try and touch her.
“Look, I don’t have a lot of time before your friend gets back.”
“Why would that—”
“Do you have a cellphone? Flashlight? Anything—anything from our world?”
The question catches me by surprise, but then I fumble at my pocket, and then remember and grab for my rucksack.
“I do. I have an iPhone—it’s practically out of battery, and there’s no signal obviously, but—”
“You can recharge it.”
“If a mage casts a [Repair] spell it’ll go back to full charge. Okay, listen. Did you get a call—no, you wouldn’t have if you were only here for two months…huh…”
I can tell she’s thinking hard about something. Myself, I’m just astonished. Mage? [Repair] spell? You mean I can charge up my phone in this world with magic? What possibilities might that unlock?
Then I hear Ryoka’s voice in my ears and jerk away. She’s so close! And she’s whispering, very urgently.
“Listen up. You’re not entirely safe with that iPhone. You might be tracked with it—there are people in this world who know we come from another one. If you get a call on your phone, don’t answer it. There are more of us in this world, but—”
“Hold on, hold on! More of us?”
I can’t process everything that she’s saying. Ryoka shakes her head—I know because her hair hits my face slightly as her head moves.
“I can’t give you the full details, not yet. Look, we need to talk. Why don’t we meet up later? I have something to do now, but I can meet you here in—an hour. Can you wait until then?”
My head is spinning, but I nod.
“I can. I’ll be here.”
She’s gone before I can give voice to the questions in my mind. At least, I think she’s gone. I tap around cautiously with my cane—she could be just out of range and I’d never know.
What was that? I sit back down on the bench; my knees are shaking. Before I can collect my thoughts, I hear a voice speaking to me again.
“Sir? Are you the friend of Miss Durene?”
For a second I think Ryoka has come back. But it’s not her—the speaker is different. There’s a bit of a growl to her tone that makes me think of a dog. And worry. Dogs scare me. I’ve been bitten three times while walking—I can’t tell where they are until I run into one, and if the owner’s not got a leash or isn’t attentive, some of them take objection to my presence.
But this is no dog. It must be a Gnoll! I stand up, turning my head in the direction of the speaker.
“Can I help you…Miss?”
“Yes, sir. My name is Raisha, and I am a [Guardswoman] on duty. I am told you are blind. Well, I would like you to know that I have recovered your lost belongings.”
“I got it, Laken!”
Durene calls out and I realize she’s standing with Raisha. I smile.
“You caught the thief?”
“Yes, your friend broke his arm and several ribs.”
An amused tone enters Raisha’s growling voice. She touches something which makes a metallic noise.
“He has been arrested and will be charged. However, I would like to confirm that this bag—”
She hefts something metallic with a strained grunt.
“—is yours. Is this so?”
I’m confused and say so.
“It is—but Durene, you were carrying it.”
“Yes, but…well, it is yours, Laken!”
That’s true, but I have to shake my head over Durene’s semantics. Raisha, the Gnoll [Guardswoman] doesn’t seem to care who owns what.
“I don’t need to know who was carrying what. The issue is simple, sir. I just need to prove that you are the owner.”
Now I’m worried. It’s not as if I could prove anything. Raisha opens something with a snap and rummages around in some sort of purse.
“I have here a gem enchanted with a spell of [Detect Truth], sir. It will tell if you are indeed the owner of the stolen goods. Will you comply with this test?”
“Truth spell? Well—certainly. What do I need to do?”
“Place your hand out, palm up. Good—”
I feel something small and hard drop into my palm. It’s cold and I jump a bit. Raisha’s voice is calm.
“I will ask you one question. Please answer yes or no. Is this stolen pouch of coin yours?”
I can’t help but feel worried. It’s technically mine by the uncertain rules of finders keepers, and it was on Durene’s property, which is to say, mine. And it was a byproduct of a Skill, but I can’t help but tense a bit. I wait for any reaction, but the cue must have been visual.
“You’re speaking the truth. Thank you sir, I just had to check. Your friend has your belongings now. Thank you for cooperating. I regret that you were the victim of this crime, and hope you will have a pleasant day.”
Raisha leaves. Durene steps over, and bends down to talk to me.
“Laken, it was amazing! I ran after that thief—I thought I’d lose him, but I just kept on shouting and someone tripped him up for me! Then I grabbed him and threw him down—I didn’t mean to break anything, but I was just so worried he’d run away! And then Raisha ran over and said that she’d never seen a dumber [Thief]—trying to steal from me I mean, and—”
It’s too much for me. I sit back down hard. Unfortunately, I miss the bench and land hard on the paving stones in the plaza. That hurts.
“Laken! Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, Durene. It’s just…something happened when you were gone.”
I have to laugh as Durene helps me sit down on the bench. How can I tell her? It’s actually easy to say, really. I met someone from my world. Six words. The rest is just speculation.
“I can’t believe it.”
I say it again as we sit together. Durene is silent, thinking. I told her what happened. I wouldn’t keep a secret like this from Durene. I don’t think I’d keep anything from her.
“Do you know why she found you? I mean, how?”
“I have no idea. I just know that she must have been watching us—she was talking to me in German, so she must have heard my comment to that guardsman earlier. It might have been coincidence or—she knows about me some other way.”
“I don’t know. Magic? Or maybe—she mentioned my iPhone might be used to track me somehow. I wonder, can they use the GPS…? I’d imagine it has to be on, but…”
I trail off. After a moment Durene speaks.
“What are you going to do, Laken?”
“Do? Wait for her. But do it intelligently. Before she gets back, I want to just sit—sit and think, Durene.”
She’s a good listener. I have to smile, and when I reach out, she takes my hand. For a few seconds we sit together, sitting together, not just on the same bench. I feel myself calm down and when I have my thoughts in order, tell her what they are.
“We learned a lot, and not just that there are other people like me, Durene.”
“What do you mean?”
“I think we had better find a bank—or some kind of moneylender. That thief didn’t go after you by chance. Also, I had no idea there were truth spells in this world.”
“You didn’t? I mean—of course you—but you have things like that in your world, right?”
“Nothing like that. Oh, we have something called a lie detector test—it can’t be trusted. There’s no certainty, no knowing if someone’s telling the truth like this.”
“Yeah. Truth spells, huh? If we had that where I come from, politics might be a lot different.”
I shake my head, thinking about what that might mean. Fact: that guardswoman had a truth stone. Even if that’s only because this is a prosperous city, it means that a truth spell isn’t out of the reach of an affluent member of society. So…
“Things just got a lot more complicated, Durene. I think we’d better wait for Gamel and Ryoka Griffin right here, but in the meantime, here’s what I think we should do.”
Durene’s voice is quivering with…anticipation. She doesn’t seem scared, only focused and ready to act. It seems like when the chips are down, she’s not afraid to be bold.
I admire that—I’m completely scared spitless by recent developments. But—I smile.
“I smell good food. If I hold down the bench here, you can get us lunch. And something for Gamel too.”
Durene is incredulous. I shake my head.
“There’s no use thinking on an empty stomach. And believe me, we’ve got a lot of thinking to do.”
“Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn—”
Ryoka stalked down the street, cursing under her breath. She was upset. Not upset at what had just transpired, but she was—tense.
“Why are ye cursing? You spoke with the blind man while his protector was away, did ye not?”
Ivolethe piped up from her position in Ryoka’s belt pouch. The young woman paused and took a breath.
“I did. It’s just—hell, Ivolethe. Was that the right thing to do?”
The faerie’s answer was an eloquent shrug. She’d found a bug from somewhere and was holding the squirming insect as she pulled a leg off of it. Ryoka had to pause, with people passing by her from every side and giving her dirty looks, to admire that.
“You’re a monster.”
“Hah! You eat cows and sheep and birds! What’s a small insect to all that?”
“I don’t eat them live.”
Ryoka paled a bit as Ivolethe tore the twitching leg off and bit at the insect’s abdomen. She closed the belt pouch for a few seconds and collected her thoughts.
“He’s from another world. Fuck. Okay. He’s from another world. What do I do now?”
The Frost Faerie poked her head out and shrugged. She was licking something off her face—Ryoka looked away.
“Who says you have aught to do? ‘Tis not your business whether he lives or dies. Why not do what ye need to? You have duties. Your enchanted items, learning to run like the wind—”
“I know. I know, but—I can’t just ignore him. He could know something important. He could…I can’t just ignore someone else. It’s one thing to know about the kids Magnolia has, but she has no idea about Laken. I want to keep it that way, warn him.”
“A smart idea. Perhaps.”
Ryoka glanced down sharply at Ivolethe, but the Frost Faerie’s comment could have been just an offhand insult. After a moment, Ryoka nodded and resumed striding down the street.
“Let’s just find Reynold. I thought he’d catch up by now, but he might have had trouble parking that carriage. That was lucky.”
Ryoka wondered if Ivolethe liked giving her ulcers, or if the faerie didn’t know what effect her words had on Ryoka’s paranoia. No. She had to know. Ryoka shook her head as she made her way out of the plaza—she saw as she went out, some farmer’s kid pleading with a group of adventurers.
“Sirs, please! My village is—it needs protection! We don’t have much money to spare, but—”
He got no further because the adventuring team—a rough-looking group of warriors led by a huge man armored like a Viking—turned away from him in disgust. The young man despondently hurried over to the next group as Ryoka shook her head.
Poor people, without money or friends. It was the same in every world; those who had neither got stepped on. She walked swiftly away, hearing him begin pleading with another group and hoping that he found someone who would listen.
After five minutes Ryoka did find Reynold, or rather, he found her. She was nearly back at the Runner’s Guild when she saw him walking towards her down the street. He…stood out.
A [Butler] walking down the streets of New York City would stand out, and Invrisil was close in nature to fit that analogy. Heads were turning as the trim and elegant Reynold proceeded down the street. He stopped and nodded politely to Ryoka; a grunt was his response
“Took you long enough.”
“My apologies, Miss Ryoka. I was unavoidably detained. May I escort you to your desired meeting with the [Enchanter] in charge of your artifacts now?”
The two turned and Reynold led Ryoka away from the business district, into an upscale area clearly occupied by the wealthiest individuals. It was still a place for work to be done, but these were clearly homes that doubled as working places. Ryoka was relieved that Reynold set a good pace; for a man who dressed like a Victorian-era servant, he certainly could move quick.
“I never asked, but you know how to fight, don’t you? Magnolia wouldn’t hire a normal [Butler]. Not her.”
“I do indeed have a few levels in, ah, auxiliary classes which inform my main class, miss.”
“Really? Were you a former adventurer?”
Reynold turned his head slightly. Ryoka met his gaze.
“No, Miss. Not an adventurer.”
There was a tone in his voice that shut down the conversation. Ryoka had used it countless times before. She debated pressing him further, but she couldn’t quite make herself be that rude. She sort of liked Reynold.
“Here we are, Miss.”
Reynold led Ryoka to a rather plain door. Ryoka blinked at the grey granite door and lion knocker. Reynold stepped up and rapped the knocker twice smartly. The Runner stared up at the building that looked like it had been carved completely out of a single block of granite and snorted. It stood out from the elegant facades and buildings covered in paint and architectural daring.
“I can’t say I admire this [Enchanter]’s sense of aesthetics. This building is an eyesore.”
“It is shaped to contain magic. Stone is a necessity to avoid leakage; and paint wears away in no time. My dwelling is plain because I have shaped it for function, not visibility.”
A calm voice came from the doorknocker. Ryoka jumped as she saw the lion’s stone eyes had shifted to stare at her.
“You are Ryoka Griffin. And you are Lady Reinhart’s representative? Enter.”
The door swung out, revealing a far more impressively-decorated interior. Ryoka blinked at the rosewood floor and well-lit entryway. Then she stepped into the [Enchanter]’s house.
The door closed behind Reynold as the two walked down the corridor. The inside of the [Enchanter]’s house was no featureless stone building. The flooring, walls, and hanging glass globes of mage light were all extremely costly. But Ryoka’s eye was drawn more to the decorations on the wall.
Wands, swords, a shield, a helmet on a stand or a single metal gauntlet adorned the walls of the [Enchanter]’s home. Ryoka realized in a few seconds that these were ornaments as well as the merchandise; she still had to blink as she entered a living room where a massive greatsword hung over the fireplace.
“I am in my work room. Please, take the door across from you and proceed left down the hallway.”
A voice echoed throughout the house. Ryoka did as instructed, and found herself in a large room filled with oddities.
The first thing she noticed was a circle drawn in the center of the room, a complex diagram of countless lines that formed…well, a circle was the rough shape, but the pieces that made it up were countless symbols joined together—
They glowed white-blue as Ryoka stared at them and she looked away, blinking as her head began to ache. When she could see again she saw a man standing along one wall of the room, holding a sword in his hands.
It was one of the swords that the Horns of Hammerad had recovered. As Ryoka watched, he lowered it into a tub, a wooden basin holding…what?
Dust? No—iron dust, small fillings as fine as powder. The man muttered a word and Ryoka saw the sword’s blade flash in the basin. When the man pulled the sword out, the iron dust had clung to the blade of the sword in a strange pattern. It was clearly a magical symbol, and it changed as Ryoka watched.
The [Enchanter] turned and the dust fell back into the basin. He nodded at her. Ryoka was surprised to see this man was barely thirty years old. He didn’t seem old at all, but he had a pale cast to his skin that spoke of staying out of the light far too often, and he was missing the ring finger on his left hand.
He was clean shaven, had pale orange hair, a nervous tic where he would tap an object twice with his left finger, and a businesslike attitude. He nodded to Ryoka.
“Yes, the iron dust magnetizes when exposed to the enchantments under the right circumstances. Not with all enchantments, but it is a preferable alternative to other sundry materials.”
He gestured, and Ryoka saw there were other basins in the room containing similar materials. This man also had an anvil and hammer leaning against the wall. No fire though—he’d probably conjure that, wouldn’t he?
“You have quite the setup.”
Ryoka nodded at the anvil. The man didn’t turn his head.
“I do. Now, you have come to have the qualities of your magical items explained, yes? I assume the nature of these artifacts may be shared with the servant accompanying you? And the…thing in your belt pouch?”
“How did you—”
The [Enchanter] tapped the back of his right hand with his left hand’s finger.
“All transactions and words uttered within my abode are private. They will not be shared; rest assured, my wards will keep out even the most powerful of mages from listening in without my knowledge.”
Ryoka glanced behind her at Reynold, who had taken a position by the door. The [Butler] nodded politely at the mage.
“Mister Hedault’s services are recognized as the best in the city. He is extremely competent, and does not reveal any information passed to him in confidence.”
Hedault made no reaction to Reynold’s words. He stared at Ryoka with a fixed, off-putting, focused stare.
“I put a question to you. Will you share the information with the [Butler] and creature you are carrying?”
Ryoka muffled the outraged shout from her belt pouch. She stared around and found the items she’d given Reynold to have appraised. A silvery circular buckler with a hairline scratch, a sword whose hilt was burnt but had little else wrong with it, the blade of a sword—the metal deformed in two places, and a dagger. The dagger was curved and sharp; Ryoka thought the tip was reddish, but aside from that the weapons appeared like normal, functional killing instruments. But not magical artifacts.
Then again, what did she know? Ryoka spotted two other small objects—a pack and a small bag that looked like it held only a few objects inside. An adventurer’s pack and bag of holding.
“Did you analyze everything?”
“Yes. I shall list the properties of each artifact first, and then inform you as to the nature of any damages that may have occurred and the probable cost of repair. Please, do not interrupt.”
“Hold on. Do you mean—”
Hedault turned and stared flatly at Ryoka. The girl rolled her eyes and closed her mouth.
“Very well. To begin with, this sword. It is worthless.”
The man walked over to the sword blade without the hilt and lifted it to show Ryoka. He pointed at the melted bits of metal.
“See how the blade has been melted from the heat? The enchantments are broken. Unable to be reconstructed. There is no merit to using the blade; the magic is defunct.”
“Can anything be salvaged? Could you study the enchantment—tell us what it does?”
Another flat look. Hevault tapped the blade twice with his finger and replied testily.
“If there were any use for it I would have stated. I asked you to remain silent.”
“Yeah, but I like asking questions.”
This time Ryoka saw the man’s eye twitch. Hedault placed the sword blade back on the table without another word.
“Next, this dagger. It is unharmed from the fire damage. Curiously, it was not affected despite the enchantment not being warded against magical damages. I can only surmise luck played a role in this—”
“Do you want to know where these weapons came from?”
Ryoka couldn’t resist breaking in, just to annoy Hedault, really. He looked at her and she saw Reynold covering his face out of the corner of her eye.
“I do not have to ask. I know. These came from Albez.”
“You could tell?”
“The enchantment style matches the other artifacts recovered from that location. Moreover, rumor points to the Horns of Hammerad having found magical items in that ruin recently. It matters not; the enchantment speaks for itself. Do not ask another question or I will silence you with a spell.”
Ryoka shut her mouth and raised her hands. Hevault sighed and tapped the blade of the dagger twice.
“Note the tip. The blade is common steel, but it is warded against physical harm and heat. When a word is spoken, the tip will ignite. However, the heat will be contained. Thus, when using it like so—Terith.”
He spoke a word and Ryoka saw the tip of the blade began to glow red. But not a bright hot-red; rather, the color seemed almost illusory, a red overlay over the plain steel blade. Hedault turned with the blade extended away from him.
There was a piece of firewood on the table. Hedault picked it up and touched the tip of the dagger to it.
The entire block of wood burst into flame. Ryoka recoiled and stared at Hedault’s hand, but the man had hurled the firewood away. It hung in the air, burning fiercely as he lowered the dagger.
The color on the blade returned to normal. Hedault placed the dagger back on the table as the firewood burned in the air behind him. He waved his hand and the blaze ceased, leaving the wood charred but intact.
“As you can see, the flame enchantment is not for heat per se, but to spread fire. An important distinction. The contact radius of the flame is around…the volume of a tree, I should say. Or an Ogre. With it, it would be possible to immolate several targets at once, but the flames will be non-magical. Alternatively, it is possible to set fire to something like the surface of a lake, although the magical aspect of the flame will last for seconds—it will quickly extinguish if the material is not readily combustible.”
Ryoka breathed the words, her heart still pounding.
“That was magic.”
Hedault stared at Ryoka. She bit her lip, remembering his injunction. But he smiled, turning up his pale lips for the first time since she’d seen him.
“It was. A competent spell. Too often the blades I see with heat enchantments are simply hot. But this? A useful tool for a mage to distract the enemy, especially if used with telekinetic spells to strike at range, as the old [Battlemages] often did. Now—”
He turned to the sword. Hedault sighed as he picked it up.
“An intact blade of weight. The enchantment is finer than most, but it is unremarkable.”
He turned and raised a finger to forestall Ryoka’s question.
“This is a common enchantment favored by warriors. It amplifies the weight of the blade when struck with. So—”
He raised the blade and tapped it on the wooden table, using the flat of the blade rather than the edge. The table broke with a crash that made Reynold and Ryoka jump. Hedault blinked at all the weapons lying on the ground and tsked.
“Well, this blade is quite powerful I suppose, but otherwise uninteresting. A valuable weapon for a warrior, I suppose. With this grade of enchantment…you could very well fight a creature such as a Wyvern and cleanly slice through its hide with the right swing. Next.”
He put the blade on another table as he levitated the buckler out of the broken wood. Hedault seemed to grow morose as he touched it, showing Ryoka a hairline fracture on the center.
“A shame. This shield is damaged and requires repair. However, the enchantment is largely intact—it will emit a field around the buckler of around three feet in every direction. It is hard to describe to a non-mage—consider it a moving barrier extending the natural shield, with it as the focus. Such a barrier is practically impervious to most weapons, although a strong blow may destabilize it. And of course, the true benefit of such a shield is that it is practically weightless—”
“A force shield.”
Ryoka breathed the words. Hedault cocked his head and nodded.
“Crude, but accurate. This buckler is highly useful, not to mention original. But as I said, it must be repaired first. I will inform you as to the cost later. Now, these conclude the weapons recovered. But this—”
He turned to the adventurer’s pack and flicked his fingers at it. It rose and spilled out its contents into the air.
“Those who recovered this pack were wise not to disturb it. However, there was no trap spell on the bag, merely one to prevent it being opened by the wrong user and reinforce the materials. I have bypassed that; here are the contents.”
He showed Ryoka a sheaf of very cracked and faded papers, a broken inkpot whose contents had spilled over some other objects including flint and steel, waterskin, small brush—a toothbrush?—sealed jars, a small gold ring…
“Most objects were mundane and of little worth. There was also a quantity of rotten food which I disposed of.”
Hedault shuddered and tapped his hand against the bag before levitating something up to show Ryoka.
“—This is what is valuable. These four potions are, in order, a healing potion, a potion to provide sustenance, and two potions which prevent the user from needing to breathe.”
He held out a hand, forestalling Ryoka, but this time the girl didn’t speak. Hedault eyed the smiling Ryoka and explained.
“The potion to provide sustenance is a rare acquisition that [Alchemists] may pay well for. It is not a common discovery in adventurer’s packs however, as they generally fail to stopper said potions correctly and it is subsequently lost…this one is untouched. Drinking a small bit will forestall hunger for a day. Drinking the entire potion at once will provide sustenance for up to a month depending on the level of exertion, and the user will find it difficult to imbibe any other foods in the meantime although it is possible…”
“And the breathing potions?”
“Exactly what they sound like. Generally such potions have the efficacy to provide their users to hold their breath for…two hours. Note that the creation of such potions differ…you may wish to consult an alchemist, but a majority of the potions were made to be held in the mouth rather than swallowed. Swallowing such a potion may result in extreme indigestion. Explosive effects tend to ensue.”
Explosive? Ryoka could just imagine what that meant, and wished she couldn’t. Hedvault placed the potions back in the pack dismissively.
“Next. The last items of value are this bag of pebbles and ball.”
He pulled out a bag filled with tiny circular, flat stones and a ball which was made out of leather. Someone had stitched an angry face onto the leather in red thread. Ryoka was tickled by it. Hedault gestured to the pebbles.
“Each one is enchanted to shed [Light] for twenty four hours before fading until exposed to sunlight for an equal amount of time. A useful tool I suppose. But this ball…is quite extraordinary.”
He had that look which told Ryoka it was more interesting than the rest. She stared at it. Hedault pointed to the face stitched in the leather.
“Note the symbol. This one is meant to provoke an opponent. If it is touched here, and then thrown—”
The instant his finger touched the ball, Ryoka saw the stitching contort. The face contorted, and then began to scream.
Instantly Ryoka clapped her ears to her head. Reynold did the same, but Hedault just tossed the ball. It immediately shot out of the room and rolled down the corridor, emitting that same ear-piercing shrieking of noise. After a few seconds in which Ryoka shouted and Hedault calmly shook his head, the sound ended and to her surprise, the ball rolled back into the room. It sat at the enchanter’s feet, calm and inactive.
It took a few minutes before the ringing had died down in Ryoka’s ears to hear again. When she did, Hedault calmly picked up the ball and showed her where to press.
“It takes a rather strong force from a living hand to activate it. However, when used it will aggressively seek out any living creature in the nearby area, excluding those in a general radius of activation…if no quarry is found it will return.”
Ryoka shouted the words. Hedault nodded and smiled.
“Innovative. That is all of worth in the pack.”
Ryoka put her finger in one ear and winced, wondering if she’d lost some of her hearing for good. She saw Reynault shaking his head and turned to Hedault.
“All of this…is this a good haul for a group that went through a dungeon? In your experience?”
He stopped and considered that, hand on the last item, the bag of holding.
“No. Some of these artifacts are indeed valuable—the shield and sword I suppose are most useful—but they are hardly impressive finds. Given the risk, I would say that this recovery is rather mediocre.”
Ryoka’s head lowered. Hedault smiled.
“—If you do not count the contents of this bag, that is.”
Her head snapped up, and Ryoka saw a smile flash over the enchanter’s face.
“You do have a sense of humor. Huh.”
He turned away from her and carefully opened the bag.
“Given the quality of the items recovered, I had assumed the Horns of Hammerad had broken into a competent but average mage for the era, perhaps an intermediary mage in their craft. However, when I finally managed to open this bag…it is clear now that the fire trap spell that triggered consumed many powerful artifacts. Yet this bag was completely unharmed; an appropriate measure given the artifacts contained within.”
Ryoka and Reynold held their breath as the enchanter reached into the bag. The room went silent as Hedault fished around inside and then pulled out…
Three rings and a wand. Ryoka exhaled hard as she stared down at the items in Hedualt’s hand.
“Tell me looks are deceiving.”
Hedault appeared annoyed as he placed the items on the table.
“Always. These artifacts are all exceptionally valuable. Let me impress the reasons why upon you now.”
Ryoka gestured for him to go right ahead. The enchanter muttered to himself a bit and then tapped the table as he pointed to the bag.
“Firstly, the bag. It is superbly enchanted. By which I mean to say there is no magical leakage whatsoever. Do you understand the concept around magical interference between artifacts?”
“I get it from context. Leaky magical items conflict? Can’t have a sword and a shield if the enchantments are bad?”
“Yes. Such a combination would lead to a reaction in the worst cases, or a clash of magics which would unleash the spells, alter them in adverse ways, or simply break one or both of the enchantments. But this—this bag is perfect.”
Hedault sighed as he held it up.
“Despite the limited size—you may be able to fit twenty pounds of weight inside at most—it is stellar. A mage practicing magic may carry it without fear of any kind of magical interference.”
“Huh. Twenty pounds? Doesn’t sound that great.”
The look Hedault gave Ryoka said he was considering fitting her head in the bag and giving it a good kick.
“Bags of holding rarely contain more than a few hundred pounds of weight—and those bags are very magically unstable, let me assure you. This is the work of an artisan above my ability. You would be lucky to find another bag so well made.”
On a hunch, Ryoka pulled out her bag of holding, the one Teriarch had given her.
“This one holds a bit more than twenty pounds. I fit a bunch of chairs in it one time. I haven’t found the upper limit. Mind telling me how good this one is?”
“Hah. This is…this…”
Hedault’s voice trailed off as he took the bag from Ryoka. He peered at it, and then his eyes bulged. Ryoka snatched the bag back and smiled.
“Good to know.”
It was just a hunch, but why would a Dragon ever have a bag of holding that was less than perfect? Hedault stammered as he stared at her.
“Who made—where did you…?”
“What does this ring do?”
Ryoka lifted a ring up. Hedault had to visibly compose himself for a second—in the corner of her eye Ryoka could see Reynold writing something down. She turned with a frown, but he had tucked it into his waistcoat before she could see.
He was recording all of this down—not just the artifacts, but what she had as well! Ryoka bit her lip and made a note to have words with him afterwards. Hedault shook his head and turned back to the ring Ryoka was holding.
“It is inadvisable to touch something until an [Enchanter] has identified it. In this case, the danger is to me. Please hand it to me.”
Ryoka did. Hedault slipped the ring onto his finger and sighed, going back to his business-like self. Nevertheless, his eyes still glittered as he showed the ring to Ryoka.
“Note the circular diamond in the center.”
“It’s large. Flawless. My g—wow. And perfectly cut.”
Hedault nodded, acknowledging Ryoka’s insight into the gem itself. Ryoka had seen valuable gems—she was aware of the difference between cheap cut stones and the really important stuff. The diamond was the later kind.
“Pure. Without faults. And large—yes. This gem acts in tandem with the metal—it is not, in fact, silver but platinum.”
“You’re kidding me. People knew how to work platinum back then?”
“Oh yes. Platinum is a very powerful metal when used for enchanting or spells…in this case, it acts as a conductor for the spell with the gem. When the ring is put on the finger and the hand is flicked like—”
Hedault paused as he put the ring on his finger. Ryoka saw Reynold duck out of the way, and she herself felt uneasy the instant she saw it go on his finger. The enchanter stared around the room and shook his head.
“…If I used it, my walls would suffer damage. I shall avoid demonstrating it now. Know that this ring can be activated and deactivated. But when activated, a flick—”
He demonstrated after taking the ring off. It was a quick snap of the wrist.
“—will send a piercing spell flying at the target. I believe it would be…difficult to aim without practice, but let me assure you that this spell far surpasses any Tier 2 or Tier 3 spell of a similar nature. It would be…around Tier 4 in potency.”
“Blood on my grave, that’s nasty.”
Reynold muttered out loud and clapped a hand to his face as both girl and mage turned to him. He colored, but Hedault nodded.
“A powerful spell, designed to cut past any quick defense. A perfect tool for an assassin—or a mage disinclined to fight fairly in a magic duel. Very powerful.”
“So I see. And this ring?”
Ryoka pointed to one made out of wood. Hedault shrugged, losing interest.
“Very powerful. Very common. [Barkskin].”
“Do you mean literally bark for skin, or…”
“There may be some physical alterations given time, but only temporarily. The skin will indeed grow tough—not as strong as armor, but certainly far more durable which would be invaluable against daggers and to an extent, swords…but [Barkskin] also provides the wearer with a degree of cold resistance due to the thicker exterior, and of course, some users simply prefer it when travelling outdoors as the sun will provide them with energy…”
“Wait a second, you mean you’ll literally have bark for skin, as in, you can take in light like a plant?”
Hedault gave Ryoka a confused look.
“That is the implication with the spell, is it not? In any case, it is a valuable item, especially given that it is a permanent spell. Again, I impress on you the difference between temporary and permanent. [Stoneskin] is a powerful enchantment, but I have heard of only a handful of cases where it was ever successfully imbued into an artifact.”
“Good stuff. Got it.”
“Yes, well, this ring is far more interesting.”
Hedault shook his head as he pushed the other two rings back and picked up the third. Ryoka’s eye was caught instantly by the way this one was clearly magical. It looked like it was made up of air. That was to say, it was practically invisible, but for shifting…waves in the air. It looked a lot like the shimmering that came off of pavement in the heat, only twisted into a band.
“A ring that allows the user to jump up to six times their height without consequence. Weight will affect the spell naturally, but this…”
The enchanter breathed the words out loud, eyes shining. Ryoka and Reynold blinked.
“Oh come on. That’s your powerful enchantment?”
Ryoka glared at Hedault. The mage looked insulted.
“This enchantment is splendidly made. And though it is not a physical enhancement, the use of gravity magic is—”
“It’s a ring of jumping. Tell me how that’s as useful as a ring that turns your skin into bark or shoots missiles?”
“Well, you could crush a man in armor with your foot if you put it on.”
Ryoka paused with her mouth open.
“This ring does not simply allow you to ‘jump higher’. It allows you to jump higher and maintain the weight of your fall while protecting the user. To put it in simpler terms, this is not a ring that has a simple [Featherfall] and [Lightfoot] dual enchantment. This ring uses gravity. Thus, if a warrior in plate armor were to jump twenty feet into the air and land, the impact would—”
“Quite. Do you understand? This is no ordinary ring. In fact, a ring of jumping completely misses the point. With it, a user could grab hold of say, a team of adventurers and leap to safety, or use it themselves to travel up a cliff without fear of falling.”
“But there are limits, right? You couldn’t just jump off a cliff and…”
Hedault raised his eyebrows. Ryoka gulped.
“The ring will come into focus the more its energies are exhausted. See, it is practically opaque? It will slowly stabilize and its true form—I believe it is a brass band—will emerge. Thus, a user will be able to calculate if it is becoming drained from usage. Although I doubt it would be drained from anything other than a powerful impact. And it will recharge within days at most…”
It was odd. Throughout her talking with Hedault, Ryoka had just marveled at the magical items, wanting to try one or the other, but without any real desire to use any of them. What was she going to do with a sword? Well, it would be fun to chop a few things apart, but…
But now she couldn’t stop staring at the ring Hedault held. She wanted it. Ryoka Griffin wanted it more than anything she’d ever seen in the world. She wanted to climb a cliff with it. Or a mountain. She wanted to jump. She wanted to fly.
“Okay, that one’s good.”
“Relatively speaking, it is the second-most powerful item discovered. But this—”
Hedault sighed and picked up the wand. Ryoka’s eye fixed on it. It wasn’t a wand made of wood. It was metal. Iron? The dark grey—almost black metal was twisted like it had been alive, though. It was fashioned as though it were a bit of wood taken from a tree, ending with a blunted tip.
The [Enchanter] looked at Ryoka as he cradled it in his hands.
“Before I inform you as to this item’s usage…I don’t suppose you would consider my offer? I realize it is completely unconventional, but I feel compelled to make it.”
“Allow me to pay you eighteen thousand gold pieces to purchase this wand from you. I will not make this offer again, and if you desire to accept you must not ask what this wand’s usage is.”
Reynold sounded like he’d inhaled his tongue. Ryoka blinked a few times and put her hand to her ear.
“Eight…eighteen? Not just eight?”
“It is the number for silence, for not inquiring. The wand may be worth less, but this is my price. Will you take it?”
Ryoka gulped as she met Hedault’s eyes. She looked at Reynold—the man was blinking rapidly as his eyes fixed on the iron wand. There was quill and inkpot balanced on his hand as he held a small book in front of him.
The young woman turned back to Hedault and sighed.
“Damnit, if you knew me…I have to know what the hell that wand is. Sorry, no deal.”
Hedault nodded. He looked visibly disappointed—Ryoka supposed that was crying and weeping on anyone else. He stroked the wand and then looked at Ryoka.
“Very well. Then, an explanation first. This wand is not metal as you might surmise. It is iron wood—it comes from a rare tree that is extinct as far as I know. But inside the wand…there is something. A core.”
“You mean, the thing that gives it magic?”
“Yes. I do not know what it is.”
“You can’t tell?”
Hedault shook his head.
“It is something I have never seen before. Something…powerful. This wand is powered by the core—it is a classical wand. I suppose you do not know the difference between a classical wand and variation designed for spellcasting…? No, I see not.”
“Let me guess. One’s better?”
Hedault nodded. He indicated the wand he held.
“This wand has no spell attached to it. It is…well, I suppose you could call it an aid to spellcasting, but an aid hardly encompasses…it will boost any mage’s ability to cast spells immensely. Not like the modern wand. Those have cores of course, but these are almost invariably small mana stones. They are consumed with every cast of the spell embedded in the wand—you understand?”
“One’s temporary and helps cast a certain kind of spell, the other one’s good at everything and doesn’t run dry?”
Hedault nodded as he reluctantly let Ryoka inspect the wand. It was heavy she found—and the iron wood did indeed feel like wood. Cold, metallic wood.
“Such a wand is…valuable does not begin to describe it. Consider, please, the limits of modern construction. A—a wand made today would have to be of some high-quality wood. Perhaps meltwood, or cerabark? And the core might be unicorn hair or unicorn horn if you were so unimaginably lucky—it would be inferior to this wand by a substantial degree.”
Ryoka whistled as she held the wand.
“Ceria and Pisces are going to tear each other apart over this thing.”
“Any mage would. In fact, I advise you to take care in transporting it—it is not magically significant so a casual [Detect Magic] spell would not identify it immediately if concealed correctly, but any mage worth their salt would do almost anything to obtain such an object.”
Ryoka eyed Hedault.
“Why didn’t you lie about what it was, then? Seems odd you’d just tell me what it is after making one offer.”
The enchanter glared at her, outraged by the suggestion.
“I make my living based on my trustworthiness. I would not lie—even when sorely tempted to.”
“Sorry, sorry. It’s just—wow, this is the big one, isn’t it?”
“Yes. It is.”
Hedault grew silent as Ryoka turned the wand over in her hands. He sighed.
“Congratulations, Ryoka Griffin. I am told there are two mages in the Horns of Hammerad. One of them will benefit greatly—assuming the other does not attempt to kill them to possess this wand, that is.”
Ryoka put the wand down and turned to Hedault. She felt lightheaded—possibly because she’d listened to him chatter on about magical artifacts for the better part of an hour. Or was it more? She couldn’t tell how long she’d been standing here.
“Was that it? You said something about repair costs…”
Hedault flicked his fingers and levitated the buckler up.
“This is the only object in need of repairs to function. The hilt of the sword enchanted with weight could use touching up, but that is a minor cost. Now, I estimate that this buckler can be fixed with a modicum of effort and time—say, five days? I could do it myself for a small reduction in fees.”
“And the price?”
Hedault tapped the buckler twice as he thought.
“I would think that the least I would ask is…one thousand and six hundred gold coins for the buckler, and four hundred…and fifty for the hilt. Now, understand that an error might occur in the repair process in which case the fee will be refunded, but the enchantment will in all likelihood be completely lost.”
He looked up and saw Ryoka had gone dead white.
“If you like, I can offer you a very good price if you would consider trading the wand—”
Outside, quite a number of streets away, Laken sighed impatiently. He was sitting with Durene and Gamel, both of whom were flicking crumbs from their lunch and snack at some inquisitive birds who’d flown down to look.
Laken knew he should be at the inn they’d found, feeding Frostfall. And he had business at the Merchant’s Guild—and the Runner’s Guild—and the Adventurer’s Guild. But he was waiting here for Ryoka Griffin.
“Where is she? I wonder if something’s happened?”
Across the city, one of the overworked [Receptionists] in the Mage’s Guild sighed long and hard as he got another message in. This one was addressed to a name he’d had cause to curse in the last few days.
He neatly took note of it, recording the sender and the addressee.
To: Ryoka Griffin
From: Erin Solstice.
This was the first message from this sender, but he had messages from…the [Receptionist] consulted the sheet out of idle curiosity.
Ah yes. From Krshia Silverfang, Selys Shivertail, Klbkch (no last name given), Lyonette (no last name given), Ceria Springwalker, Pisces (no last name given), and now Erin Solstice.
He wished she would turn up.
And last, but certainly not least the female [Receptionist] at the Runner’s Guild grimly stopped talking with one of the Runners who’d come in. She was going off-duty for the day, but she left a message for all [Receptionists] on duty. She had a message for Ryoka Griffin too, and she was sure the girl wasn’t going to like it.
And outside, the snow began to fall. The winter was more than half-over. It had been a long one, but the longest day of the year was fast approaching. After that, the snows would linger for a while, but then melt.
Winter was ending. But there was a lot to do first. And much of it turned on a young woman who was currently talking about payment plans with an [Enchanter].