Claptrap looked broodingly at the short, choppy waves of orange water between his boat and the next. The past several months had not gone as he had planned.
He originally worked as a simple clerk in one of the larger merchant associations in the capital of the Northern Province, Deardun, content to stand in the sunlight filtering through the window, daydreaming about the day that he would become an Artisan level Spearman.
In his heart, Claptrap always knew that was an almost impossible dream. Not only did he possess no distinguishing qualities, he also had a rather poor work ethic, and the rate at which his spear skills improved was very swiftly outstripped by his peers. He had no family who were particularly powerful, and no ties to a powerful Style, so Claptrap slowly slid sideways from the intense training as a spearman to the more realistic course of becoming a merchant who serviced spearman.
There was an ember of bitterness in his chest, but the idleness of the days and the warmth of the sun sustained him. That was until he met Her, the big Her, with a capitol H. Her name was Ciel, and when she first walked into the door of the shop Claptrap worked at, she smiled at him.
The rest was history.
Over the next 6 months a fire that Claptrap hadn’t known himself to possess drove him forward. He rose from clerk to assistant manager, then finally manager at that location. Through copious research, he became an expert in weapons and armor, able to swiftly determine the value of any high class materials with just a glance.
But regardless of the improvements in his life, Claptrap knew that their two stations were still far, far apart from each other. Whereas Ciel could afford to purchase his wares as simple training garb, due to the generous stipend given to her by her Style, Claptrap could only struggle and smile in silence. He had no way to bridge that gap of strength. Ciel was the pampered successor to an influential style. Claptrap might work for an influential merchant association, but he was only a manager of one small store. With that standing, he could not even let her know how he felt.
In his excitement, Claptrap confessed his feelings to one of the fellow store managers. He was met with laughter. Only after a solid 20 minutes of knee slapping did the woman sober up and say, “Oh, you were serious? But she’s an actual spear-user.”
So despite the warnings he received from… basically everyone in his life, Claptrap left the job track he was on, which was quite stable, but would take a while to come to fruition, and moved out to Qtal, where the competition required less starting capital, and founded his own merchant association. Of course, referring to it as a merchant association was a little grand at this point. It was just him, and all the savings he had, from his entire life, and his parent’s lives, as he was the only child of two individuals who had died in a dungeon.
But things hadn’t turned out quite how Claptrap had planned. Whereas in Deardun, everyone sought out high quality armor, there simply wasn’t the same amount of upper class money in Qtal. Instead, what they wanted was cheap and lasting armor, that they could buy to protect their life, and forget about. All that knowledge that Claptrap had about rare materials, processes, and workmanship was worthless.
Instead, snarky, smooth talking merchants extolled shit as gold and received the sales, whereas Claptrap’s shop received less and less customers.
But Claptrap, perhaps foolishly, refused to give in. His goal was not to become some two bit con artist. He still had some money remaining, and his pride. With these, he would continue to struggle until his dream had truly crashed to the-
Claptrap jumped, surprised, and turned to find a young man standing in the middle of his boat, looking at Claptrap curiously. Blushing furiously, Claptrap stood and bowed slightly. To think that he was so lost in his own self-pity that he had missed a customer…! “Hello, sir, how may this one help you today?”
The young man was strange, with a pale, pinkish skin that gave Claptrap no clue about his Style’s rank. As Claptrap examined him more closely, some of that self-pity returned. The clothes the man was wearing were quite rough; well used leathers and furs. The leathers appeared to have been worked by someone who had some idea what they were doing, but they appeared to have gone through hell since. They were crisscrossed with rips and tears.
In addition, the man’s feet were barefoot. That cemented the sinking feeling in Claptrap’s chest.
“I’d like to make a trade.” The young man announced, and produced 3 leather bracers.
Inwardly, Claptrap sighed, but he was professional, and walked forward with a smile. “Of course, but I have to let you know that I very rarely buy wares from-” But the words caught in his mouth as Claptrap looked down at the bracers in front of him.
Because there was Engraving on them. In this backwoods town built on the water
Novice’s Leather Bracer Lvl 15: Leather armor worked by a novice. Vit +1, Health +8.
Engraving of Dragonfly 52% (U): Wearer of the armor moves slightly more quickly when moving with the wind. Wearer gains Aspect of Dragonfly I..
Novice’s Leather Bracer Lvl 17: Leather armor worked by a novice. Vit +1, Health +13.
Engraving of Bear 48% (U): Wearer of the armor is resistant to slowing, stunning, or knockback effects. Wearer gains Aspect of Bear I.
Aspect of Bear I: Endurance +1, Strength +1
Novice’s Leather Bracer Lvl 14: Leather armor worked by a novice. Vit +1, Health +7.
Engraving of Fish 40% (U): Wearer has increased sensitivity to movement and hostility within a small area around themselves. Wearer gains Aspect of Fish I.
Aspect of Fish I: Perception +1, Wisdom +1
“These are just some examples of my work.” The young man remarked coolly, clearly seeing Claptrap’s frazzled reaction. “I’m looking to set up a partnership with one of the armor dealers in the area, Engraving their wares. If you are interested… we can discuss compensation.”
Claptrap’s eyes were bulging. Although the Engraving in front of him was at a barely passable level, and was of relatively simple runes, it was still Engraving. The Engraving Guilds were extremely secretive and selective, and charged ridiculous prices to have their masters work on weapons and armor, basically making sure only the most affluent had access to Engraving.
In addition, to the guild’s selectivity, the average person had no interest in pursuing Engraving, because it took so much investment to reach a level where there was a real, tangible effect on the wearer. Both Aspects I and II were things that people would be slightly interested in, but the real power of runes became apparent when they cross the 80% threshold, and the III level of the aspect was available.
These were all far from that, but with some time and training, the Dragonfly Engraving could perhaps reach 60%....
All of this flashed through Claptrap’s mind in a split second. Common Engraving like this simply wasn’t on the market. No one was doing it, because it was basically impossible for an amateur to learn, by himself, how it worked, and the guilds didn’t want to cheapen Engraving by providing this sort of service.
So this young man was effectively offering Claptrap the opportunity to have a product that he would basically have a monopoly on, especially around Qtal.
Claptrap kept his face studiously casual. “Ah, Engraving I see. Well that is interesting. I suppose I wouldn’t mind using some of my spare profits to invest in you… What sort of deal were you thinking?”
The young man gave him a frank look, then glanced around at Claptrap’s deserted shop. Claptrap lifted his chin and studied the sky, refusing to balk. Finally, the young man chuckled.
“...well initially, I would give these as a sample and a deposit. In exchange, you would give me additional pieces of armor for me to engrave for you, as well as some of the expected profits, so I can purchase some materials.” The man tilted his head to the side, and Claptrap noticed for the first time how green the young man’s eyes were. They were were a strange mixture of cat’s eye yellow and forest green.
“If we can agree on expected profits.” The man finished simply. Claptrap smiled uncertainly, but with a hint of hope. Maybe this was exactly what he needed to turn his luck around…
An hour later, after the young man departed with some of his gold and a dozen steel bracers and chest plates, Claptrap was more ghost than man. Every time Claptrap thought they had agreed on a price that would be to his benefit, the other man would ask some seemingly inane questions about the value of the armor, or the leather, or how much other things could be purchased with the value of such a piece of armor.
The most chilling of those interactions was when the man looked coolly up from the initial meagre amount of cash that Claptrap had been willing to front him, and had simply said. “I suppose with this… I’ll be able to buy some blue energy crystals…?”
Gritting his teeth, Claptrap mumbled out that he must have miscounted, and added 3 more silver coins to the pile. This man’s intuition was absolutely uncanny…! How could he so accurately tell when Claptrap was trying to get the better of him…?
Finally, that man left, with a sigh, as if the whole ordeal left him completely disappointed, although they were able to come to an agreement in regards to price. Seeing that disappointment, there was a part of Claptrap that wanted to offer more, but he managed to bind and gag that part of him.
After all, with the money that he had paid out to the man, if he didn’t receive a decent return, and rather quickly, his business would soon be nearing the danger zone.
“Ah, friend, what do you call yourself? When the many customers ask who the maker of those fine equipments is… what should I tell them?”
The man shrugged, his eyes flashing emerald as he turned away. “Just tell them it was The Ghosthound.”