Thursday, September 8, 2016
Glass and Roses, Chapter 8
Berit leaned on the door frame and tried to conceal her concern. “How is he holding up?” she asked.
Valdimer took off his glasses and wiped his brow. He shook his head. “He's not getting worse, but the wound has some sort of magical effect from the demon that inflicted it, and I can't identify it. I'm going to stay with him and make sure nothing changes.”
Berit looked at Dror, lying unconscious on the low bed. He hadn't woken up since he was knocked out by the demon twelve hours ago. Berit tried to say something encouraging, but faltered and simply left. She walked out of the ward where the guards who let them in the city had told them to tend to Dror, and found Zhihao and Catarina waiting for her. The birdfolk ruffled her feathers and stood to attention, while Zhihao only stared at her with wide, worried eyes.
Before they could ask, Berit relayed what Valdimer had told her. “Which means we will be in town for a while,” she continued. “Cat, do you have any way of knowing where the demons went? We were using our last clues to even find that forest.”
Catarina shook her head. “I do not. Our only option is to move east and hope we pick up the trail.” Berit nodded, noticing that she had included herself in the group. Berit had thought the warden would only care whether the demons were in her forest or not, but it seemed she had the ability to think beyond her home.
Berit clapped her hands together. “Then we've got to prepare for that. We can't lose another battle that badly. If Dror doesn't recover, we might be able to find more help, but we'll be losing his experience with us and against demons. We need better equipment.” She smiled. “It's time to go shopping.”
It didn't get the reaction she had hoped. Zhihao blinked and tilted her head. Catarina folded her wings and shuffled her feet. Berit put her arms around their shoulders and began walking them down the street. “Come on, don't give me that! We've got some extra gold, right? There are shops in this city which'll have enchanted armor, warding pendants, and maybe even some magical weapons for sale. Just ask around and we'll find something for each of us!”
“When you say enchanted armor,” Zhihao said, “does that mean I have to wear armor?”
“No,” Berit said. “You can keep your robes. Maybe you can find enchanted robes.”
“But that is not armor.”
“I...I know, I was just...You know, never mind.” She stopped them in front of a trinket store. The sign boldly proclaimed Raganthium's Rarities, the Most Unique Items for the Most Unique Individuals. “This looks like exactly the place we need!” She started walking inside, but Catarina stopped.
“They want us to...enter the building?” Catarina asked. “Is that the custom?”
“Yes,” Berit said airily. “You need to enter the building to see the wares.”
“Not unless they've invited us in, surely?”
“They don't need to invite us.”
“Then how do you stop someone from entering your home, if there are no social norms for these sorts of situations? I would not walk into a bear's cave without permission. I would get eaten.”
“The fact that it is a store is, itself, an invitation to enter,” Berit said. “There are no bears, only a man who wants to take our money in exchange for his stuff.” With that, she opened the door and walked inside. Catarina and Zhihao tentatively followed.
“Welcome!” said the man who must have been Raganthium. He was a blue-scaled dragonborn wearing tacky wizard robes. “Tell me if there's anything Raggy can do for you!”
Berit walked up to his counter and put on her best bargaining voice. “There certainly is! You see, we've run into some trouble lately and plan on getting in a few more fights with some monsters. We need something that can protect us in a fight, both from claw and magic. We wouldn't mind seeing if you had anything that packed a punch either. If you have anything in cloth, leather, or-Zhihao!” she shouted.
Zhihao had picked up a helmet from a shelf underneath a sign that said Do Not Touch. Raganthium let out a yelp that sounded like a puppy who had just been kicked and scurried over to the helmet. He snatched it from Zhihao's hands, put it back on the shelf, and pointed to the sign. “Can't you read?” he snapped.
“No,” Zhihao said.
It wasn't long before they were walking down the street again, empty handed. Berit's hands were balled into fists, and Zhihao and Catarina had to jog to keep up with her stride. “Let's try this one, then,” she said, entering another shop. “And stay by my side this time. Both of you.”
The shopkeeper was an elderly woman with strange tattoos on her neck that slunk down under her collar. She happily started showing them different robes and jewelry that had been enchanted to make the wearer heartier or harder to hit. She handed a pelt chest piece to Catarina, who turned it around in her hands and clicked her beak.
“This is despicable,” she said. The shopkeeper paused in the middle of her sentence to Berit about the runes on a particular amulet.
“I'm sorry?” the old lady said.
Catarina pointed to the fur. “This armor is made from a thunder bear.”
“Yes,” the shopkeeper said. “It is very tough and contains natural magic that will-”
“They are majestic beasts who should not be killed for such selfish purposes!” Catarina yelled, throwing the armor to the ground.
Berit put her head in her hands as they sat on the side of the road. “At least I got this before you had us kicked out again,” she said, fiddling with the amulet around her neck.
“We are sorry,” Zhihao said, and Catarina nodded. “We are just not used to...people.”
Berit sighed and tried to think where they should go next. Her thoughts were interrupted by a rattling sound approaching from down the street. She realized that the foot traffic seemed to have disappeared. She looked up and saw a man pulling a cart heading towards them. The cart was filled with swords, bows, arrows, hammers, necklaces, bracelets, rings, and more. Everything seemed about to fall off, but somehow stayed on the cart even when it went over a bump in the road. The man pulled up next to where the three women sat and turned to smile at them.
“Good afternoon, ladies!” he said. “It looks to me like you could use a bit of magical assistance. What do you need?”
Berit stood up and examined the wares. “Well, I'm looking for a set of leather, my friends wear robes and-”
“No, no, perhaps you misunderstood me,” the vendor said with a chuckle. “Tell me how much you are willing to spend, and I will provide you with as much as I can afford to give for it.”
“Will you let me finish?” Berit snapped. “I'm trying to tell you what we can use.”
The vendor smiled. “No need. Only tell me how much you are offering.”
Berit wrinkled her eyebrows. “Three gold pieces, twenty silver,” she said, starting low and expecting the bargaining process to start.
The vendor, however, simply nodded and started taking things off his cart. “For that I can give you this fine suit of leather, enchanted to make feats of acrobatics more achievable. For your friend, perhaps she would like these gloves that increase the impact of any punches delivered.” Berit looked over at Zhihao, surprised that he had guessed her fighting style. She almost interrupted to ask him how he knew that, but he had already continued to the next item. “And your avian friend might like this belt. It tunes the wearer to the spirit of the land around them, making them both harder to knock around and tougher to kill.” He handed it over with a smile, then held out his hand politely for his payment.
Berit looked at the items, checking to make sure they were real. There was no mistaking the aura of enchantment they each exuded. She looked back up at the smiling vendor. “What if I added in another gold piece?” she asked.
He grabbed a small item from his cart and dropped into Berit's hand. “Then I could add this magic ring. It will help keep the demons at bay,” he said with a wink.
Berit, Zhihao, and Catarina walked back to the ward with their newly acquired goods. Berit was still deep in thought, wondering how the vendor could have known exactly what they needed. She also wondered how he had disappeared so quickly. The crowd had suddenly returned when she had turned around to give the other two their items, and he had been gone the next instant. She pushed the thought from her mind and knocked on the door to the ward.