Meeting the Neighbors
First off Mark don’t panic. Just because you saw footprints yesterday does not mean someone is there today. You can teleport to your hidden spot and search around the area and check out the entrance again, just to be double sure. It could have been monsters or anything, don’t make hasty decisions and choices. Now that I had my brain in order I teleported to my hidden observation area outside the dungeon. I quickly took a look at the entrance and saw nothing. Ok, nerves calm down. I glance around and I see a trail of smoke a little west and south of the dungeon entrance. It looks like a fire from a camp.
Now this has potential. If I approach them as a wanderer there will be less chance of them suspecting anything is wrong. Not that anything is wrong, but I am alone and a virus pretending to be an Elemental Thri-Keen. Oh no, what if they have inspect as well? Will it show my true race as Magic Chimera Virus or as an Elemental Thri-keen? Don’t panic Mark. Even if they see something weird they will probably ask about it before doing anything. That just means I need to come up with a good story and background that either answers or deflects those types of questions.
Ok background story, I was the only survivor of a plague when I was a child. The rest of my village died and my master found me wandering in the woods nearby. My status has said something about a virus ever since then. Ooh that sounds good, it has elements that are hard to verify, but also tugs at the heart strings. The wandering master helps out with why I am alone or do not know simple things. I have been isolated and finally sent out on a trip to gather real world experience. Yes, this story should do nicely. With my little piece of subterfuge ready I start towards the smoke trail that I see. Here goes nothing.
I decide that I should actually find out who and or what the visitors to the area are before I go introducing myself. It would be rather embarrassing if it was a group of say monster orcs or ogres and not one of the organized sapient species. I stealthily climbed a tree close enough that I should be able to get a good look at the area where the smoke is coming from. Careful Mark, not so high. Remember your body has doubled in size even you can climb just as well. That would have been a bod first impression, falling out of a tree and having people come over to see what the noise was. I secure myself and take a look.
I see a single campfire with several tents surrounding it. There seems to be at least a dozen people moving around. I see a couple of shorter people, what looks like two or three with animal ears and several others. That is a good sign. This means it is probably a mixed group from a city or organization. I did not see any signs of collars or chains or anything so the fear of slaves is gone. They also seem to be too well organized to be bandits, but who knows for sure. I will take the risk. I climb back down the tree and continue towards the camp.
“Hello the camp!”, I say in common. I could hear people moving around after they heard my voice. Soon enough I had a reply.
“Hello Stranger, approach and be recognized.”
I walked forward, trying to seem confident without seeming overconfident. I was sure I was failing at it. Soon enough I entered the clearing that this group was camped in. I could see that the people had formed up into a loose configuration, just in case this was a trap or something. I addressed my next statements to the shorter person with a beard in front of the rest of the group.
“Forgive me for disturbing you, but I have been in the wilderness for some time now without any contact with others and when I saw the smoke from your campfire I came over to hopefully catch up on recent events.”
The person in front of me, he had to be a dwarf. I mean he was about 1.3 to 1.4 meters tall, obviously fully grown with a beard down to his waist. He hit almost every fantasy stereotype of a dwarf from Earth. This person seemed to be the leader as he was the one to reply.
“Welcome, my name is Sven Hardright. I am the teacher of these students of Vulcan Academy. We are here to provide them with some real world experience in the local dungeon. May I inquire as to your name Thri-Keen.”
Well first off the good news was he seemed to take me at face value. The next excellent thing was he recognized my race and did not seemed fazed by it. I replied.
“My name is Mark Stefanopolis. I realize that this is not a traditional Thri-Keen name, but it is what my master wanted to call me when he found me many years ago and I have gotten used to it by now. Please call me Mark.”
For whatever reason these words seemed to relax the dwarf and he turned back towards the camp and told them to hurry up and get ready. If they wasted any more time they might not be able to make it through the dungeon today. He said that our new guest and friend would still be here when they finished and then turned around and spoke to me again.
“Sorry about that Mark, kids these days are overcurious, almost to the point of it being dangerous. Perhaps you can entertain me with your story while they finish cleaning up.”
I realized that this was more than a request and decided to humor the dwarf and try to find out some information myself. I started spinning the tale that I had come up with to Sven. Survivor of a village destroyed by plague, raised by my wandering master, now out learning on my own. Now that he had my story, I decided it was time to pry some information out of him.
“So Sven, my master avoided towns and villages as much as he could. I do not think I have even visited one in over five years. Can you direct me to the nearest one? Now that I am learning on my own as master put it, I would like to live in or near a town for a while to have that experience.”
“Well lad we come from the nearest town to here. The name is Vulcanopolis. It was built by the dwarves as a trading post and interaction point on the surface many years ago. It has grown quite a bit since then and is a bustling city that thrives on commerce.”
“That sounds like just what I want to experience Sven. Is it far from here? Does it cost a lot to live there? How do people make money? Could I live there?”
I try and overwhelm Sven with questions to act like I have never actually been to a big city and really want to experience it. It seems to work, as I can see a big smile forming on Sven’s face.
“Slow down lad, you had a lot of questions there, let me try and get to each one. Vulcanopolis is about four days leisurely walk to the south from here. The cost of living depends on where you want to stay in the city. People make money in a variety of ways, from trades to guards, and even adventurers. Yes, you can live in the city. There is no discrimination against any type of person and as long as you have the means you can stay. Say lad, how old are you anyway?”
“Well sir, I have seen 17 winters that I can remember, but I do not know how old I actually am as I remember little from before I started living and traveling with my master. However, he said I was now old enough to make my own way in the world and he would just check up on me every now and again.”
“I see lad, that should make you between 18-21 which is above the age of independence in this kingdom. How did you come to be in this area though?”
“That’s easy, master brought me to the Fire Caves dungeon to practice and then said when I felt comfortable enough I should leave it and travel to earn more experience.”
“You mean you have been going into the dungeon by yourself.”
“Sure, it is not that hard anymore. It was very difficult the first few times, but I figured out some tricks and now I can finish it every day. I have just been looking for an excuse to move on, and with your directions I now know which way to go.”
“Um, Mark if you do not mind me asking can you let me know your professions and your level.”
“I don’t see why not. Do people not usually share that information?”
“It depends lad on how much you trust someone, and whether you think that they will use the information against you.”
“Well you seem like a nice enough person, my profession is Sorcerer and I am currently Level 76 Transcendent. Although the transcendent thing just happened a couple of days ago and I do not know what that means.”
I was hoping for sympathy with my country bumpkin routine and it seems like I got that and more.
“Level 76 transcendent Sorcerer, you are sure about that Mark. What is your secondary profession?”
“Yes I am sure, and I have not picked one yet. Master said I should wait until I had more choices to learn.”
“Well Mark, how about this. You go through the dungeon a few more times with my group of students over the next week and then you can travel back to Vulcanopolis with us. I will show you around the town and even give you a tour of our academies campus. If you like I can even recommend a spot for you as a student. You see students can study at the academy until they are 25.”
“Sven, I don’t mind leading you through the dungeon and helping out, but I am not sure about the academy. That would be a long commitment and I have never stayed anywhere that long before. I am not sure I could do it. Is there something in place where I could learn but still travel or come and go as I need too? I really do not know how I will be surrounded by so many people. I do not want to promise you something and then run away.”
“Mark that is a very mature answer. Yes, there is something in place for more advanced students, we call it independent study. To qualify for an independent study you have to reach level 50 by the age of 18 and demonstrate your ability to support yourself outside of the academy. I am pretty sure you would qualify.”
“Can I really support myself? How much would classes and room and board cost for something like that?”
“Well Mark, tuition for independent study is 500 gold coins a year. That sounds like a lot, but you can attend any class during that year to listen to any lecture and you have full use of the facilities, including training rooms and the library. You room and board as an independent would be separate. Most rent or buy a house in the city itself. A small house sells for between 250 and 1,000 gold coins dependent on the size and area. The average person can feed themselves for 50 copper to 1 silver a day depending on how much they out and how fancy they eat.”
I quickly check my inventory. Over the last few days I have collected around 100 gold coins and probably another 25 gold in silver and copper. I also have several gems I could sell along with the fire cores and magic weapons I could sell.
“Well Sven, I don’t have that many coins on me, but I have some things I could sell. Could you tell me if people would buy the fire cores, magic weapons, and monster parts and what they might be worth.”
“You surprise me once again Mark. The low quality core of any element that you get from monsters between levels 50-100 run between three and five gold each depending on demand and the market. Magic weapons are between five and twenty-five gold depending on the type of weapon and the enchantment. Monster parts are usually sold to alchemists and once again are highly dependent on level and quality.”
Let’s see low price 3 gold each, and I have collected around 70 each dungeon run. I have gone through 8 times, 8 times 70 is 560 cores. 560 cores at 3 gold each is 1,680 gold coins on the low side. Alright I have the necessary funds to survive in the city, and I can easily get more. One week of dungeon diving seems to equal about 1,250 to 1,500 gold coins for me. That should be enough to join the academy and live freely.
“Alright Sven, I accept. I am pretty sure I can come up with the necessary funds and I think joining an academy even if I do not stay could probably only help me. Please expect me to disappear occasionally for my own purposes or if I start to feel overwhelmed.”
“That sounds fair lad. I could not really ask for anything more. Now since you have local experience and seem to be stronger than my students do you mind leading us through the dungeon for the first time?”
“I do not mind at all, but am I really stronger than your students?”
“Most people around the age of 18-21 have only reached level 50-60. To reach the transcendent at your age and above level 75 is quite the achievement.”
“I did not realize that. I have only really had my master to compare myself too, and he is so far ahead of me I do not know if I will ever catch up. If you do not mind me asking Sven, what would a normal level for a teacher be?”
“Most teachers at the academy are stronger than most and have levels between 125 and 200 depending on their age and their professions. To help you understand a student can graduate the academy when they turn 25 or they reach level 75. The choice is theirs.”
“Thank you for the information. I am sure that there are a lot of details that normal people might know that I am still clueless about. Learning about them at the academy should be fun.”
With that our little chat had finished and the rest of the group started to gather round. It was time for my first dungeon run with companions.