"Oh my gods," Cameron says after we've settled down in their shoe store and I've shown them the unconscious woman I've been carrying. "I haven't seen someone suffering from magic exhaustion like this in ages. And these robes!" The cover their mouth.
"Can we leave her with you?" I ask. "You'd know more about how to get her the proper help she needs."
Cameron shakes their head. "Unfortunately no, I can't take her. She's a royal mage, and not just any royal mage. I think this is the head mage. I don't have any way to help her with her sickness either, not here in Centrum. Maybe in one of the border towns of Regno, or perhaps you can find someone more gifted in magic and healing. The best I can do is to give you the boots you ordered and send you on your way as quickly as possible."
"Thanks," I say as I cover the elf with my cloak. She's resting on the floor where I set her down. I had to check to make sure she was still breathing and she is, just shallowly. Her head is still feverish as well. "I forgot to get a list of places to get supplies from our former innkeeper. Do you have any tips for camping equipment?"
Cameron shakes their head. "Best I can do is say to check the market. I'm sure some booths are starting to set up at this hour."
"Thank you," I say again.
Cameron claps their hands together gently and grins at Nikola and Merlin. "I have your orders ready, my friends. Please, this way."
My companions follow the cobbler to the workshop in the back of the store and I'm left in the front with the unconscious elf, all of our gear, and my racing thoughts. I catch a glimpse of gold and red outside in the dim morning light. At first I fear it's the dragon woman who's been following us, but when I look up I see a human. Sure he's big and his long hair is a mix of red and gold, but he's no dragon woman. His dark armor does look similar though, so I wonder if he's part of some organization she is.
Do adventurers guilds exist here like in video games?
I shake my head, grab a small notepad out of my bag, and jot down a quick list of supplies we need to distract myself. I'm not sure if I'll be able to find a tent but I want to at least get some kind of skillet or pot to cook in. I could cook meat using a flat rock but I really doubt Nikola would eat it and not just because it was meat. I'm wrapping up the list when the others come back to the front of the shoe store.
I thank Cameron and slip them a couple gold coins before we leave. Nikola and Merlin are excited about their new boots. Nikola's grant him resistance to electricity, which doesn't seem super practical to me but it makes him happy. Merlin's boots give her resistance to the cold which is just plain smart.
The market is pretty dead at this hour. A few stands are set up and others are opening but most of the more permanent looking ones are shuttered or non-existent. The sun is rising at least so it's easier to see. There are some lamps around the streets of Centrum but they're oil lamps hanging from posts that don't cast as much light as I'm used to at night. I think back to the list I wrote as we walk through the skeletal marketplace. None of the booths sell any supplies we don't already have.
"There's nothing here yet," Merlin says. "Should we wait?"
"No," I say. "We fill our water skins, grab some food, and find a ride out of here."
"Where shall we do that?"
"I have an idea," I say. "Let's just hope he hasn't left yet."
Ultra is excited to see us again when we buy bread after filling our water skins. There's few other booths with food ready so bread will have to do. We buy several small loafs to take with us, which wind up going into Merlin's satchel. We say our farewells to Ultra before continuing on to find a befuddled Image Notfound. His wagon is packed up and a large bunny horse that's gray with a white tummy and legs, is hitched to the front. The fur looks extremely soft. Image brightens up when he sees us but I can see sweat on his brow.
"Hello, Image," I greet him. "Are you still looking for someone to escort you where you're heading?"
"Unfortunately yes, I was hoping to leave today but will have to delay bec-"
I interrupt him, "We can do it."
"We can?" Merlin whispers.
Image beams. "Oh, thank the gods," he says. "Please, don't mind Airplane Mode, she doesn't bite unlike some orycturines. She's sweet as honey."
"Right," I say glancing back at Nikola and Merlin, only Nikola isn't there. It takes me a moment to find him looking in the back of the egg wagon, peering over the wooden slats that seal it partially. "Nikola?"
"Oh, my apologies," he says. "These racks are designed to hold your eggs so you can transport them unharmed, and these glowing crystals keep them the proper temperature?"
Image hurries over to Nikola. He's too short to look over the slats himself so he stands on his tip toes and points as he says, "Yes, see the larger eggs are in the back, and these smaller ones are here closer to the door as they're less likely to survive the trip anyway."
Nikola raises an eyebrow.
"They tend to scramble," Image says quietly.
"Mr. Notfound," I begin. "Can I put my...uh...bag in the wagon before we leave?"
He turns back toward me and nods. "Of course! This way, this way, please."
Getting into the sleeping area of the wagon is a bit tricky while holding the unconscious elf but Image doesn't say a word as I lay her on the bed. Merlin hands me my actual backpack and I set it on the floor. We close the wagon back up and follow it as Image guides Airplane Mode to one of the large gates that leads outside of Centrum. None of us have been to this part of town until now and I do my best to avoid looking surprised. The city's colorful medieval buildings abut a giant stone wall that surrounds the city. Some guards stand by the gates as people enter and exit. No one's checking for identification or anything and more people are entering than leaving. I try not to hold my breath as we walk out the exit. Outside Centrum's walls are quite a few smaller houses and buildings but nothing quite as grand looking as inside.
I guess this is Centrum's suburbs?
The road, paved in large stone blocks, stretches out to the horizon traveling down a seemingly gentle but very noticeable slope to a rolling green plain. We've left the city. Looking back at the towering walls behind us I spot a tall figure exiting the gate. It's hard to see at this distance but I can't miss the colors of gold and crimson, and the glint of light on dark steel armor.
Is that who's after us? I wonder. The guy I mistook for the dragon woman? Or is that really her this time?