Shal sat up slowly, carefully conserving as much energy as possible. As if sensing Shal’s movement, Divveltian appeared in the doorway, looking down at Shal with glowing eyes.
“I need a favor.” Shal’s voice was light and breathy, as he attempted to conserve energy anyway he can.
Divveltian snorted. “Don’t you always? From the day your father dropped you off with the Endless Heat Style, to the day you came back to us bearing the spear of the one they called the Devourer, you have always needed my help. And I have helped you as much as I could, because it is what my niece would have wanted.”
Shal’s eyes tightened. If the woman Shal considered his foster mother, Dorotyh, hadn’t gone looking for his father, finally fed up with the fact Aemont went to confront Haelthing and failed to return for Shal, Shal might still be living peacefully with that Style, content to forget about the father who pushed him and ignored him in equal measure. But she had her own feelings, and had gone.
So Shal had pushed himself to the limit to train, and then followed her. The spear of the Devourer might be the most widely known treasure that Shal obtained in the dwelling of Haelthing, but it was by no means the heaviest. That honor went to the wizened and drained body of the woman who raised him.
The silence stretched between them, Shal unwilling to expend his energy to speak more, Divveltian seemingly content to brood in his thoughts. Luckily for Shal, Divveltian eventually looked up, fire in his eyes.
“...I know there are many things about what you found in the lair of Haelthing that you are hiding,” Divveltian began slowly. “And I’m not going to demand answers. But… you must tell me. Why are you pushing yourself so? You seemed content to let yourself waste away in the aftermath; I let you, because I knew it was just how you needed to grieve, but now… what changed?”
“A letter” Shal whispered, forcefully remaining loose and relaxed his body, even as every muscle wanted to clench in fury at the memory. “From Lucrecia.”
“Who is Lucrecia?” Divveltian’s eyes were serious and lined at the edges, but there was something in his voice…
Shal blinked slowly. That sad note in his voice… Shal had always known that Divveltian had adventures beyond the limits of the Spearman School’s land, traveling through the other Schools, learning his peculiar moves abroad. But what that strange note told Shal now was that Divveltian recognized that name.
He knew Lucrecia.
Shal grinned, his hatred overflowing so much that he couldn’t care about the Aether expenditure. “Lucrecia… is a woman I must kill. She… cursed the fate of my family, and made us all into monsters.”
Daital stood dutifully next to his father, wondering what they were even doing.
As a 14 year old man, his father allowed him to accompany him when he went to the market day. It was a very important day for his father, because ever since they had earned the ire of Uncle Izzie, his father’s business hadn’t been doing well, and Daital had been forced to spend less time working with a spear and more time helping around the shop.
This was somewhat of a conundrum for Daital, whose friends continued to train diligently with a spear, and began to make snide comments about how Daital was becoming a soft and weak merchant.
He argued that strong men help their parents, but his friends didn’t seem to understand; they were all related to a local Style, and none of their fathers were merchants. Daital’s mother was the source of strength and prosperity for the family, but she was on a rotation at the front lines, which made Daital’s father extremely nervous.
But they were a family, and Daital worked to help out where he could, minding the store, learning his father’s merchandise, taking care of his little sister so his father didn’t need to. Although he didn’t have time to work so hard on his spear skills, Daital had gained several other skills, like Cleaning, Bargaining, and Cooking in the meantime.
And as he was still 14, and hadn’t gone through the ceremony in a village that would grant him the class of Spear-User at 15, Daital could have as many skills as he could manage. Of course, there was a corner of Daital’s heart that hoped he would achieve a variant class, something like ‘Strong Spear User’ or ‘Agile Spear User’, but it was unrealistic.
By and large, everyone in their world received the class Spear User. There were only some exemplary individuals who were destined for greatness that managed more than that.
Of course, where there was exemplary, there was also the untalented. Classes like ‘Lazy Spear User’ manifested themselves from time to time. Which was why Daital was becoming very worried about his lack of training for the past few weeks.
But he still had a year, he assured himself. He could make up this break. Working with his father didn’t make him any less of a man.
The crowd around them shifted, and Daital and his father were able to move forward.
Some of the magic of the Market Day had rubbed off after Daital had to come here to help out with business, but it was still a wild place filled with powerful warriors and powerful weapons and armor. This was a place where everyone was looking for an overlooked masterpiece. Which was of course unlikely, but Daital still found himself scanning racks of spears for one that would catch his eye.
And slowly but surely, they moved forward in the line. A fellow merchant friend of Daital’s father had told them that something strange was happening over here, at this stall. A man was selling some amazing food, in a convenient and portable form that set the whole of Qtal’s merchant population on fire. The Merchant Association had even tried to shut it down and steal the secret of it, but the workers had casually rebuffed the strongwomen sent over to ease the transition.
And then the stall had continued doing business like nothing happened. Whereas the convenience and simplicity of the food had captured the attention of the merchants, the casualness of the strength displayed by this action earned the respect of all of the spear-users in Qtal, Daital included. His heart beat fast and he stood on his tiptoes, struggling to get a view of this strange stall.
“Ah! Claptrap,” His father said good naturedly, gesturing for Daital to stay in line as he stepped out and went to the stall next to the food stall. Daital’s eyes swept over the messy set up of this stall, where only a few average looking pieces remained on the display area.
Daital had to restrain his sneer. It seemed that this merchant was quite down on his luck, despite his happy expression.
“Kaitan! Wonderful to see you. How have you been? Did you see the prices the caravans were charging for dyes Monday-”
“It’s price gouging. Ever since the Merchant Association agreed to those concessions with the Trade Guilds-”
“You’d think that big Styles would protest their monopoly, but nooooo, it’s always the customer facing sellers that get shit on-”
“Holy Fuck! These are Engraved!” Daital’s father gasped, his previous conversation with Claptrap derailed as he finally took a speculative glance at Claptrap’s wares.
Even Daital blinked and looked back over. Claptrap’s smile was a little bit smug now. “Yes. It’s very dangerous, and I don’t think I’ll be selling them for much longer, but I made a reliable connection. The profits-”
Daital’s father’s eyes swiftly became calculating. “The cost per unit?”
“Minimal.” Claptrap lowered his tone and looked guilty, but couldn’t help but gloat a little.”About a 20% markup of the cost of an Unengraved piece of armor at retail. And I charge 50% more. That 30%-”
“I heard that,” A frosty, female voice said. Daital blinked, and turned to step forward, because the line had moved some while he hadn’t been paying attention. The most beautiful woman stood there, at the food stand, scowling over at Claptrap, who was coughing into his hand.
“Just a misunderstanding-”
“Oh, Claptrap,” Daital’s father said. “You know the owners of this stand? They are making quite a stir. I don’t suppose they would be willing to come work-”
“Fuck off~” The beautiful woman said sweetly, showing her teeth to Daital’s father, who took a step back, surprised by the aura of violence that the woman abruptly produced. Daital’s heart began to pound faster and faster.
This… was this love…?
Then the woman turned and greeted the next customer in the food line with a beautiful smile. Daital’s father and Claptrap moved to the far side of Claptrap’s stall and began to whisper fearfully to each other, glancing over at the beautiful woman.
When it finally came time for Daital to step up to the counter, he gulped, barely able to breath. But to his disappointment, as he stepped forward, a man with sharp eyebrows and a showy face stepped forward. “This talented one shall take your order. What are your desires?”
The beautiful woman turned away, to speak with the man who was working over the fire, creating the food.
As his heartbeat continued to rise, Daital pulled out all of the allowance he had been given for a month and slammed it on the counter. “The best money can buy!”
Daital was extremely gratified when the woman turned and looked at him, her eyebrow raised.