Chapter 10: We Should Leave
"Are you alright, Rhys?" Nikola asks after we reach Ultra's bread stand.
"Yup," I say quickly.
I am not at all concerned that we should leave the city and this country at this very moment. Nope. No worry there. Once we get Merlin I am taking her to get shoes, and clothing, and weapons, and supplies, and we are going to find a way out of here. We should definitely leave as soon as possible.
"You appeared to be distracted again," Nikola explains.
"Rhys is distracted?" Merlin asks after she sets down a small empty wooden crate on a short stack of similar crates.
"I suppose she's likely thinking on a great many things now that her bag is no longer weighing her down," Nikola muses. He looks down at his shoes, the cork soles are worse than before. "Perhaps I should have requested a similar enchantment on my new boots?"
"You got magic boots?" Merlin asks as she rushes over. "What do they do?"
I lean my cane against a wooden table then stick my hands under her armpits and lift her into the air like she wasn't a couple feet taller than me and built like the football player she is.
"Holy crap," Merlin beams with a giggle. "You're super strong!"
"Yeah, it doesn't last forever but should make carrying stuff easier." I set her down. "Sorry I picked you up without asking."
"Oh, no, dude that's fine," Merlin laughs before picking me up the same way and spinning around once. "See, now we're even."
"I'm going to miss having you around, Merlin," Ultra says from her booth. "You've been such a help."
Merlin sets me down. "I'm sorry to have to leave like this," Merlin says. "Will you be able to get someone else to help out?"
Ultra shakes her head. "Possibly, if I could afford it. I have managed for years on my own, so I should be fine."
I'm already taking my bag off my back as they're speaking. I quickly rifle through it and pull out two gold coins. I hope it'll be enough to help her hire someone to help. Since the coins are a little bigger than a quarter they're still just small enough to hide in my hand. I put the coins in my pocket for a moment before I sling my bag back over my shoulder. It's weird how light it feels.
Merlin looks over at me as I fasten the front clip on my bag over my chest. "Captain, is there anything we can do?"
I nod and pull the coins from my pocket before holding my closed fist out toward Ultra. "Ultra, this is for you, from all of us. Thank you for everything you've done."
The older woman eyes my hand suspiciously before sticking her palm under mine. I release the gold coins and her eyes become saucers filled with tears.
"Please, Ultra," Merlin says. "If that's not enough let me know and I'll get you some more, okay? You really saved my bacon when I first got here."
Ultra wipes her tears with the back of her long sleeve. "No, no, this is more than enough to help me hire someone. But are you sure? You just arrived here. I can't take all your coin like this."
Merlin must have told her some things about us but not everything. Smart, I think to myself.
"We'll be fine," I say. "We wouldn't give this to you if we couldn't handle it."
"She means we're not wealthy," Nikola chimes in. "But we do have funds for supplies and lodging. It is a solid foundation."
"Thank you," Ultra says before giving Merlin a big hug. "Thank you so much."
Ultra gives us each a small round bread loaf before we part ways. Nikola, Merlin, and I walk through the market to the center fountain in the plaza before Merlin speaks up.
"So, what's the play, Captain? We don't have to wait for someone to be summoned. What now?" She asks.
"We get you some magic boots," I say. "And all of us clothing."
"All of us?" Nikola asks.
They've both stopped behind me so I turn around and put on as calm a front as I can. "The weather is likely going to change soon. We need gear and supplies so we can look for a way home."
"If winter is soon to be upon us, would it not be sensible to remain here?" Nikola asks.
I can't allow myself to think I'm just being paranoid, not when our lives depend on making the correct decisions.
"We should leave," I say. "Tomorrow if possible. Search as much as we can before the weather turns. There's some other cities around Regno that we could settle down in for the winter."
Nikola nods. "Yes, I remember seeing on the ma-"
"Also, we need weapons," I interrupt so Nikola doesn't blurt out that we just saw a very illegal map of the country.
"Weapons? Like swords and stuff?" Merlin asks excitedly.
"If you want a sword, yeah," I reply with a nod. "We should be able to protect ourselves and survive in the wild if necessary. We should aim to travel as light as possible, but if we can all get boots like mine, then it will help with transporting things. Granted, this magic thing only lasts so long, we can just travel that length of time before resting or something."
"You are implying we will be traveling on foot," Nikola points out. "Perhaps we can hire a stagecoach?"
"That's an excellent idea," I agree.
"I've never ridden in a stagecoach, have you?" Merlin asks Nikola.
He nods, "A few. Locomotives and cabs are more common...or they were...I suppose they aren't for you." I'd think he was resisting the urge to ask us about the future if it didn't look like he was about to cry.
"So," I cut in as part of an effort to distract Nikola from falling down whatever melancholy hole he's staring at. "Let's go get Merlin set up for some new boots and ask Cameron where we should look for clothing."
We grab some food from various vendors which we eat with our bread on the way back to the Cobbler's shop. I'm not sure what kind of meat it is next to the carrots and onions on the skewer I have but it's juicy and rich. It's by far the heaviest meal I've had since I split my lunch with Merlin after arriving to Regno. My stomach is a little overfull when we reach the shoe store. There's a sign in the window that says 'closed' but Cameron lets us in before locking it behind us.
"I'm so happy you've returned, this must be the companion you mentioned," Cameron says happily. They do a short bow. "Hello, I'm Cameron, the cobbler. They and them will work splendidly."
"Merlin, she and her," Merlin replies. "You're an elf? That's so freakin' cool. And you've got two different color eyes? Wild!"
"Thank you? and yes," Cameron says before turning toward me. "Rhys, my apologies but I forgot to mention a side effect your boots can have. I am terribly sorry about that."
I feel a pit in my stomach.
"Side effect?" I ask with a squeak.
"Yes," Cameron nods. "If one uses them for prolonged periods they can lose strength overall. You should make sure you exercise your body without the use of the boost spell so your muscles do not waste away. Over use can cause you to become weaker."
"That makes a lot of sense," I say. I brace myself before clicking my heals and deactivating the spell. The weight of my backpack hits my shoulders like the near forty pounds that it is. I grunt a bit but stay upright. "Thanks for letting me know."
Cameron turns to Nikola. "I have been working on your order, Nikola. I will have them ready before sunrise. I am excited to infuse the enchantments into them. No one has ever asked for that sort of resistance before."
Nikola smiles. "I'm happy that you are excited about them. I look forward to seeing them when they are complete."
Cameron turns to Merlin and claps once with a grin. "Now, my dear Merlin. What sort of footwear are you interested in?"
Merlin glances over at me before turning back around. "Got anything that would give me armor? Or, like, keep me warm? I'm not from a place that gets that chilled so I'm worried about winter."
Cameron smiles. "I think I can work something out."
I set my bag down and take a seat while Merlin and Cameron discuss which enchantments the boots will have. Nikola pulls one of the other stools up next to me and sits down rather comically with his long legs. A few moments pass and I zone out a bit running through a list in my head of items we need to survive in the wild until Nikola speaks softly.
"Thank you," he says in a voice that's soft yet not quite a whisper. "You distracted me when I was close to...breaking."
"No problem," I say.
"But there is a problem," he replies. "I'm not sure how much use I will be in this world. I can not help thinking about all the things I've lost. The people I may never see again."
"I'm sure we're all doing that," I lean forward and lace my fingers together with my elbows on my knees. "I know I am, but I've had some experience compartmentalizing and distracting myself from...stuff the last few years. For me it's been one personal crisis to the next until this last big one that's affected everyone in the world. It's easy to get overwhelmed so I try to focus on the things I can control."
"How do you do that?" His question is genuine.
"I think about something else," I explain. "Like right now, I'm thinking about where we'll find a stagecoach and that we should leave tomorrow. I'm thinking about getting swords from the blacksmith shop down the street, and that I'm going to ask Cameron where we can find clothing so we can fit in and stay warm. We need supplies so we can survive in this place."
"Clothing?" Cameron chimes in. "I will write a list of the best places here in Centrum." They look at Merlin. "You may be able to get a discount at one of them if you sold them your...uniform?"
"Sweet," Merlin beams.
The rest of the evening goes quickly. Once we finish at Cameron's shoe shop we head to the blacksmithy. Nothing at the shop is enchanted so I settle on a short sword that has a blade about the length of my forearm and open hand. I also get a smaller boot knife which I store in my right boot. A bow and quiver with arrows as well as a sling with a bag of stone shot round out my personal armaments. Thankfully I know how to use both the bow and sling thanks to having done some various research endeavors for books that never saw print. I am confident enough that I can hunt for whatever small game exists in the space between towns.
Here's hoping nothing living here is toxic.
Merlin selects a long cutlass style saber. She asks the people at the blacksmith's sales area if they have armor and learns we'd have to go across town to find the armorer. When I suggest she get a smaller backup knife she picks one out that's similar to my boot knife. Nikola, to my surprise, foregoes a smaller knife and chooses a simple lance with a wooden shaft. He immediately starts using it as a long walking stick when we continue to one of the clothing shops Cameron mentioned. I wonder if he knows how to use the lance or if he chose it just because it could double as a walking stick.
We reach one of the tailors Cameron recommended a few blocks away. Nothing premade in the shop is enchanted and when I ask her about whether we can get custom magical clothing she's initially reluctant to talk. The tailor is willing to give us information about the situation after Merlin mentions exchanging her football jersey as partial payment. We discover that Cameron's a bit of an outlier in the area, given that they can enchant their wares. Most shops in Centrum don't offer those services, in part because magic in Regno is nearly as chaotically regulated as map making. Cameron isn't from Centrum or even Regno, so they have an exemption and are able to enchant the footwear they make. Most mages from the area have been conscripted to work directly for King Harnold.
Few are ever seen again.
It doesn't take our party long to decide to no longer pursue that line of questioning and instead we all shop for clothing. Nikola purchases a warm looking long overcoat and nothing else. A dark gray fabric with purple trim and embellishments, the overcoat includes a hood and several pockets inside and out. It looks pretty practical and does a good job of making him look more like a local. Granted, Nikola's clothing made him stand out less to begin with, but that could just be my lack of understanding about local clothing styles.
Merlin and I buy whole new outfits. She gets a long cream colored tunic and slate gray pants, which clash with her football cleats, but that won't be a problem after tomorrow when we pick up her new boots. She gets a belt to attach her saber to. She also buys a coat that has a warm hood lined with fluffy white fur after we confirm that winter is indeed just around the corner here in Regno. Winters here are apparently pretty cold, with snow and ice storms being common for at least three weeks at a time. Neither I nor Merlin are looking forward to that.
"You look," Nikola looks away for a moment and clears his throat. "You look quite handsome."
"He means you still look like a short dude," Merlin translates with a grin.
When it comes to my new clothing I've settled on deep tan breeches, that are thankfully not weirdly baggy at the sides, but they are rather form fitting. I've also got a tight deep gray and black vest made of leather and canvas that's got sky blue accents, and a simple gray long sleeve shirt. For the winter I opt buy a dark colored cloak that I can throw on over my clothing and bag to protect it from being messed with in crowds. I also pick up a second pair of simple cotton pants and a long sleeve shirt.
"You're giving her your old stuff too?" Merlin asks the moment the tailor heads to the back of the store out of earshot.
"Yeah," I reply. "I don't think we should stand out," I explain. "Nikola's outfit isn't that far off from something people here might wear, but your and my clothing screamed 'From Another World.'"
"And the second outfit?" Merlin asks.
"To sleep in," I say. "Or as a backup for when I wash this one."
"I hadn't thought of that," Nikola says from near a rack of vests.
"Me either," Merlin says. "We should do that too, Nikola. And get our own bags so Rhys doesn't have to carry everything."