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A note from haikuotiankong

Sorry for the hiatus! New job and going home for Thanksgiving really threw a curveball here in terms of getting more writing done.

Created: 2019.12.03

After Ada resetted Leanne's stats so that Leanne wouldn't collapse from a lack of food immediately, Ada and Leanne started drafting their backstory. Since Leanne didn't look remotely Anonan, Leanne decided to stick with her original name -- a name which in Tesia was fairly common. Her surname was changed to Shani. They debated on whether to have Leanne be an adopted daughter of a local Anonan so that it would make sense for her to be on this continent. However, that would mean there was greater risk in the locals uncovering that there was no Shani family compounded with the issue that Leanne had only a limited understanding of Anonan customs. Ultimately, the two decided to stick with Leanne being where she really was from.

Ada changed her name to Flora Tanning, an equally common Tesian name. Tesian was known for its mineral deposits and one of the most widely traded commodity was iron. For lack of a better imagination, they assumed a business of trading in iron. Neither Leanne nor Ada looked old enough to have started a trading company of her own so they created imaginary parents. In the backstory, Leanne's parents owned a small trading company dealing with iron ores. The iron was mined in the Fenisian Mountains in North Tesia and then transported via wagons overland to the coastal city of Pire in South Tesia. Their trading company had exclusively only conducted trade within the Kingdom of Tesia but now with the recent surging demand in Exicoz for iron, Leanne's parents wanted to expand. Since they were presently engaged with other matters, they sent Leanne to make contacts with the local merchants trading in commodities to initiate negotiations. Flora was Leanne's personal bodyguard on this trip.

The money used in Tesia and Exicoz used copper and silver coins but their shapes, sizes and mineral percentage compositions were different. Leanne didn't have to use money when she was an adept at her former temple and the standard library offered no class matching that of the particular coins. This was an issue that would have to be resolved once they actually arrive. Ada and Leanne agreed that they would sell a few small valuable trinkets from the palace and acquire some real money then. The identification document was resolved next. Ada created a sheet of paper and a pen for Leanne to write the document. To Ada, the words in Tesian and in Exicozan looked like worm-like squiggles and oblong boxes respectively. Leanne assured her that the words made the document look authentic. Since not many people knew how to read or write in this world, there was apparently no standard template for any identification documents. The days of passports and driver's licenses were still far in the future but hopefully the arrival of universal education would be near in the future, Ada thought.

"Ada, forgive my incredulity but even with these documents, I'm not sure if anyone would believe that a Tesian parent would allow their young daughter to carry on such a journey by herself," Leanne suddenly interjected.

"Leanne, you have me as your bodyguard protecting you on this journey," Ada replied.

"Ada, I do not doubt your capabilities at all but the story has holes. What parent would send their young daughter on a dangerous journey to negotiate a potential trade contract? Why would the parent not do it himself or herself? Or send a higher level clerk in the business?"

"Leanne, I'm going to be honest with you here. I don't know a good answer to that. We could say that your parents wanted to test your mettle and presented you this challenge. That doesn't sound too likely. Maybe a better answer would be because that you're stubborn and wanted to take this trip where you somehow forced your parents to comply."

Leanne wrinkled her brows and still looked unconvinced.

"Yes, I agree with you that these answers are not very good and probably wouldn't hold much water upon further questioning but that's we have as of now. We'll do the best we can when asked."

"I'll go with the second option," Leanne agreed reluctantly. "I have never thought of myself as an obstinate child but for the sake of this story, I'll do it."

"Good, I think my story would be much simpler than yours. My parents are also hired guards and have served your parents for many years. I followed the family tradition and learned the trade as well. You convinced your parents that you would only take me as your bodyguard since we grew up together and you trust me."

"Ada, that sounds reasonable," Leanne nodded.

"We have two more things to take care of here. We need to have appropriate clothes to wear and I need to learn the language."

"Ada, before we do that, I'm curious on how are we to land without anyone noticing the cloud?" Leanne asked.

"While you were sleeping, I spent some time dwelling on that. I can't have a repeat of the last scenario obviously," Ada pondered. "I wonder...how do the other gods get around here? Do the altars act as a teleportation point?"

"Teleportation point?" Leanne looked confused.

"Have you seen or heard of gods who appeared where their altars are?"

Leanne thought for a moment and then shook her head, "Ada, I have heard of seers conversing with his or her deity through the altar but never have I heard a god suddenly appearing in front of an altar. Mortals who have met any of the gods are informed through a dream or a vision of where to meet the god. I am not sure if any mortal knows how the gods travel or where they even permanently reside."

"That is very surprising, Leanne. Not so surprising on the lack of teleportation part for the altars though that would have been pretty cool. It's weird that no one knows where any of them live. I didn't expect them to be wanderers."

"Ada, I am sorry I could not be of any more help."

"No, that's fine. Who knows? Maybe they are not wanderers. Based on my own example, maybe have their own floating clouds as well acting as their permanent base," Ada said with a wave of her hand. "Back to the original question of how we're going to land, we'll just have to find a remote place to set this palace down. That's the best idea I have right now. Ideally, it'll be close to a major city so we wouldn't need to walk too far."

Ada could tell that Leanne didn't seem to like that answer but since she couldn't think of a better answer, she consented with a nod, "Ada, from what a traveler told me a year ago, there's a small flat plateau not far to the east of the city of Czitu which is not inhabited. He camped out a night on top of the plateau when he couldn't afford to stay at an inn. If we land there, it should only take us an hour to walk to the city."

"This city is not on the world map. Was it known by a different name?"

"Ada, it used to be called Itui before the Rift War. The war destroyed much of the city and killed off many of the original inhabitants. The new elite decided to rename the city Czitu after the war hero Czitu."

"The Rift War?"

"It was a war that lasted a decade fought between several of the gods. Most of the interior cities of Exicoz were completely destroyed and even some of the coastal ones such as Itui were decimated in the war."

"Leanne, I'm extremely curious in learning more about this but right now we just don't have time. The plateau east of Czitu sounds like a good landing spot. With our current trajectory, I estimate we'll pass close to it in another two hours. So we have two hours to get ready. What are the clothes Tesian merchants wear? Then after that, let's go over the basics of the language."

Leanne explained succinctly what she knew about the apparel of Tesian merchants. Most of them loved colorful outfits, especially blues and violets. However, due to a shortage of dyes, most of the lesser wealthy families had to make do with more subdued colors and coarser materials. There was no reason to draw too much attention to themselves. They decided to go with a dark green velvet tunic for Leanne and a plain brown woolen tunic for Ada, Typically, wealthy ladies would wear dresses but since they were both travelers, tunics were considered acceptable as long as they also wore leggings. Neither decided to wear jewelry to avoid being the target of thieves. The cloaks, shoes and hats followed similar tendencies towards the colorful. For inexplicable reasons, the current fashion trend favored pointy flat shoes for men and round wide shoes for women. For the hats, larger hats apparently indicated greater wealth.

Ada was never one to follow fashion trends of any type and she thought this was entirely absurd. Nonetheless, remaining incognito required following some conformity. They talked at some length on the dimensions of the shoes and the hats. With Leanne's ability which Ada has named Divine Eye, Ada quickly identified the attributes required in creating these new articles of clothing. There were a few failed attempts with tunics too large or shoes too small. Leanne seemed uncomfortable to have even her goddess look at her while she was changing clothes and so out of consideration, Ada left the room several times for each of them to change clothes separately. Are all the women this reserved or is it just the temple ones, Ada thought idly.

Eventually, they found the right sizes and wore their clothing. That entire episode only took about an hour. The language turned out to be a much harder ordeal for Ada. Ada knew several languages but aside from English all the rest were computer languages. Clearly, having competency in learning computer languages did not prove to be helpful in learning human languages. Either Ada's language skill was lacking or Leanne's teaching style was deficient. After almost an hour of frustration, Ada decided that she just didn't have enough time to absorb all the vocabulary and grammar Leanne threw at her. Unfortunately, Ada knew that she would still have to depend on Leanne to teach her local languages in the future; there was probably no English to Tesian, English to Exicozan or really English to any-language-on-Urth dictionary on this world which she could peruse and memorize.

The plateau where they were to land was arriving imminently and they were both eager to see what came ahead. Using the same technique Ada had used several times, she adjusted the density of the cloud like a hot air balloon until they safely descended on the ground. With no trees and no boulders, this was really the perfect landing spot. Before descending to an absurdly low height noticeable to the mortals, Ada used her script adafog to create a dense fog surrounding the area around the plateau. She hoped that people would assume this was a natural fog which was common in the vicinity surrounding a coastal city. With the cloud secured on the ground by the extra osmium acting as ballasts, Ada used her script adaladder to create a sturdy ladder which they then used to climb down. Ada created some more fog around the area which she hoped would hide the palace for long enough until they came back.

"There must be a way to turn this palace invisible," Ada muttered grumpily herself. "This is the most conspicuous thing here if the fog disappears."

"Ada, I know that several of the gods possess the power of invisibility," Leanne replied.

"Really? I would love to know how they do it. With science, it's definitely possible to create a mirage but to actually go invisible?"

"I do not know, Ada. The gods do not tend to share their secrets."

"Yeah, that's something I plan to change around here. I don't know if these gods don't share their secrets whether cause they are arrogant or cause they're ignorant."

"Ada, I believe you. I never learned how I was able to do what I could do when I was a follower of Ayula and we Adepts were privy to some of the deepest secrets. I was taught to just obey and to not question so I never voiced it aloud. It always bothered me though since I always felt there was something more underneath the surface."

"There is, Leanne. It's called the System and I'll explain it to you once you're well-fed."

"Ada, I am not hungry yet but I do feel a bit faint," Leanne replied.

"Hang in there, we'll get some food soon. You know I would like to learn more about your personal life. You must be exhausted from answering all my serious questions," Ada suddenly changed the topic.

"Goddess Ada, not at all. It is the duty of the disciple to follow the wishes of her deity."

"Yeah, I tend to be pretty loose with that distinction. Look, I'm curious about you so just tell me a little about what you like to do and where you grew up."

For the next half hour, Leanne regaled Ada with amusing stories of her childhood and her family. She was quite the playful one before she had to conform to the temple life. Just as Leanne was about to get to the climax of one of her stories, she stopped and pointed ahead, "Look!"

Ada was looking down at the trail and raised her head. She saw that they were close enough to the city walls to finally see people. Leanne was a good conversationalist for time to pass by so quickly, Ada thought. They were approaching a long line of wagons, carriages, people and all sorts of domesticated animals. These people were all waiting in line to enter the city gate.

"There must be at least a hundred people in front of us. This is going to take forever!" Ada exclaimed.

"Ada, there is no other way. The trade cities are known to be quite strict on who they allow to enter," Leanne sighed and shrugged helplessly.

"Leanne, I didn't ask you this before but now I think of it, would anyone suspect if we still talked in the divine tongue?" Ada asked as they approached ever closer.

"Ada, I believe almost no mortal is familiar with the divine tongue. If anyone hears us, I'll just tell them we're speaking an obscure dialect of Tesian. Tesia is known for having many mutually unintelligible dialects that are loosely clumped together as one language. We should be fine."

A minutes later found Leanne and Ada joining the line behind a family of two parents and three boys. They were clearly peasants from their thick dirty woolen clothes that resembled potato sacks. The two adults carried half-filled woolen sacks. All five of them looked malnourished and had a tired haunted look in their yes. The boys all probably had hair lice for they scratched their heads incessantly.

"Leanne, is this a common sight?"

"Ada, as a goddess you must not be used to this but sadly these are far from the worst I have seen. Here, they have at least their freedom from exorbitant taxes. Their villages still have to contend with bandits and nature though. In Tesia, many of the nobles are terrible tyrants who love to stomp on the unfortunate for their own greed."

"I wish there was something we could do. Looking at this line, I see mostly impoverished people."

"Ada, if you do anything here which catches attention..."

"Yes, I know. We will blow our cover. As much as I hate it, I'll just have to ignore all this," Ada sighed sadly. Then with more resolve she added, "One day we will change all of this."

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About the author

haikuotiankong

Bio: On the productive side, I mostly write poetry, science articles and code. On the consumption side, aside from paper books of the scifi and fantasy variety, one of my "guilty pleasures" is reading massive amounts of online web novels. The dream is to write an appropriately decent one of my own which people would enjoy reading.

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