Randidly found himself a corner and began to breath calmly, his attention focusing inward. He brought his consciousness down, and began to focus on his Soul Skill. His vision focused further, and images of the small creatures that were spreading to populate his world came into sharp relief.
Specifically, of all of the creatures, the ones that were the subject of Randidly’s examination were Annie’s creatures: the bug centaurs. But in addition to their insect like 4 lower legs, they also had two long and willowy arms. Their chitinous armor was grey, and as Randidly watched them, they leapt through the flatlands and rocky hills was an incredibly grace.
It reminded him of videos he had seen on Earth about mountain goats. Their movements seemed light, but there was an incredible amount of strength in their base at all times. In addition, they had a very thin and supple waist, which allowed their upper and lower halves to operate almost independently. So while their bottoms allowed them to stroll upwards on almost sheer cliff faces, their upper body could hold onto the primitive ranged weapons their people very quickly developed.
They threw thin reed spears and slung rocks to deadly effect. Luckily for Randidly, although he hadn’t directly used Arbor and Thorn’s life and meaning, it had worked itself into his Soul Skill, and small plant creatures filled the world, forming the bottom of the ecosystem that allowed the more advanced creatures to prosper.
It felt lucky, and incredibly so, which made Randidly sweat. He didn’t want this to be the final version of his Soul Skill, and he already had some ideas about how he could improve it. But he swore to himself that he would spend a lot more time researching ecosystems and climates before he made any great changes.
So he watched these strange, mostly silent, murderous bug centaurs and their flexible movements. Randidly watched them for a long time, fully 6 hours.
Then his eyes opened slowly, and his eyes were a bright, impossibly vivid emerald. Aether began to circulate in his chest rapidly.
Claptrap was slightly infuriated to discover that today, as they arrived at the viewing area for the second part of the preliminaries, there were already 4 other small carts set up, offering portable snacks to the watchers. It was only after he set up his stand, and secretly sent an assitant to buy the competition, did Claptrap relax.
Their food was quick, but it possessed none of the almost animalistic appeal that the Ghosthound’s recipes did. Claptrap wasn’t sure how the man had done it, in addition to training in the spear and Engraving at such a high level, but everything that the Ghosthound touched turned to gold.
Besides, although the others had tried to copy his food, Claptrap had gone last night with his brewer associate, and quickly approached all brewers in Deardun, letting them know what was going on. By 4 AM, after Claptrap and the woman had flashed some of the gold they had made, they had established Deardun’s first ever Brewing Association, as an independent entity from the Merchant Association.
The brewers were skeptical, but intrigued, by the volume of ale that the female brewer had managed to sell yesterday alone, and agreed to see whether it really was as good as Claptrap claimed. So now Claptrap had almost 40 different types of alcohol from 7 different brewers, and more waiting in the wings.
It was perhaps just a coincidence, but as Claptrap was trying to create a giant chalk board that morning, as they were preparing to head over to the viewing area, the Ghosthound had walked past and asked him what he was doing.
Claptrap, frothing at the mouth at his status at the head of this new business venture, hurriedly explained.
Then the Ghosthound shook his head. “No, don’t bother with all at once. Just have 8 at a time. Tell customers that they are on rotation, and when the casks run out, it will switch to something else, so they should buy what they want now, before it runs out. A deadline makes people more willing to buy. Oh, and don’t bother with these long explanations; you just need three things on a board like this: The Brewer, the name of the beer, and the color or base for the drink. For example, “amber” or “stout” or “apple cider”...”
Some of the words that the Ghousthound used Claptrap was unfamiliar with, but he was furiously scribbling notes. At one point the Ghosthound fell silent, as if pondering something, and Claptrap gazed at him with growing concern.
“Is…. Is something wrong….?” Claptrap muttered.
The Ghoshound’s eyes refocused, and he shook his head. “No, it’s just… I’ve been thinking about why something like this hasn’t appeared in this world, and I guess… you are thinking in too much detail. Also, you are too prideful in your approach. These ales have always been here, right? But you need to buy them by the cask, or go to an inn, which may have one or two varieties. That’s because you think customers will come to you if they want something. Which is true, and there are definitely people who won’t like the product, but there is a huge middle crowd of people that would take the product if it was convenient.”
The Ghosthound scratched his chin, and then said before walking away. “There aren’t many people who would go out of their way to buy ale. But if they were attending something else entirely, like a sporting event, and started to get thirsty…. How many of those people could resist a drink?”
Claptrap was slack jawed for several minutes. It certainly was… almost desperate, what the Ghosthound was suggesting. Going out and bringing the product to people…? But based on the results… there certainly had to be some truth to the Ghosthound’s methods.
So they followed the Ghosthound’s advice, and Claptrap was slack jawed by how many spear users changed their mind and bought a second glass of their favorite mead when he told them that it would be rotated out with another when the cask was empty.
It was another 24 hour preliminary, and after a batch of people surrendered early, it seemed like it would take the entire time, so everyone settled back down to wait, quickly getting food and drink, settling into a festival-like atmosphere.
Claptrap began to consider Ghosthound’s second point, about why something like this hadn’t happened before. Claptrap supposed that previously, there was a sort of “if you build it, they will come” mentality, so the merchant’s quarter of Deardun was established, giving the merchants a seat of power and prestige. But Claptrap had to admit that it was only rarely that the powerful Style’s disciples came to that area. It was mostly business between merchants that was conducted there.
On the other hand, the Ghosthound seemed to suggest that merchants instead, “build it where they are already coming”. Yes, and the king of it was convenience. When it was so convenient, and tasty, who could resist.
“Heyo, Claptrap. How goes it?” Old Clete, said, sidling up into the stand, his eyes excited at the line stretching out, waiting to get a drink. Old Clete was the largest brewer in Deardun, and most of the difficulty in establishing the Brewing Association was convincing this stubborn old man that their idea was feasible.
“Quite well, thank you. I believe we’ve sold… 4 entire casks already? And your Autumn Cinnamon Ale is very popular, that cask is almost empty. Do you have another we can use?”
“....w-w-w-w-w-w-w-what!” Old Clete said, his eyes springing open.
Claptrap shrugged. “Go talk to the guys in the back if you want the concrete numbers. I think someone was talking to one of your guys of ordering a cask of one of your other ales too…”
“Five whole casks!” Claptrap had never seen anyone move quite as fast as Old Clete sprinting around to talk to the men in the back working with setting up the casks. While keeping his expression from veering towards smug, Claptrap took the order from the next customer.
Idly, Claptrap wondered what he should invest all of his newfound money into. Maybe he should consult with the Ghosthound.
Randidly’s eyes crept open, his chest burning with power.
18 hours had passed, but he almost had it. With Aether thundering in his ears, Randidly continued to move smoothly, bending at the waist, keeping his shoulders and elbows relaxed as he followed the inspiration from the creatures based on Annie’s energy.
The more he followed it, the looser his body became, and the more strange looks he got from his fellow contestants. But he ignored them. And after a while, a notification that he was waiting for popped up in front of him.