There was no blockade of the harbor when I cautiously surfaced in the early morning, and the townspeople went about their business in the way you’d expect – completely oblivious to me.
I made my way to Smitty’s before the sun had even decided to show its face. Again, I remarked how this felt like a different part of town. I spotted a group of thugs wearing matching armbands. Were they militia? A gang? Were they finishing up a night patrol or getting ready for a day one?
I avoided all these questions – and them – by taking a detour.
When I entered Smitty’s, a few divers were already there, snacking on fruit or mixing tea. It looked like they turned the front of the shop into a regular café when they gathered. I saw the man who’d wanted to dress me down for drawing on Sid glaring at me. I ignored him. Manny looked up at my entrance and a broad grin split his face. There are some people who have such a knack for being friendly that you’d swear it was a skill they had. Manny seemed to be one of those.
“Hey, Dom! Good to see you here so early! We couldn’t find you last night to let you know when we were leaving.”
“Glad I ran into you, then. When are we leaving?”
“About that … the boss actually wants to have a chat with you. He’s in the back with Sid.”
I sighed, figuring it was going to be about the near incident yesterday. “Fine, but don’t start carving my casket unless I start screaming.” He didn’t seem to appreciate my sense of humor.
I made my way to Smitty’s office – a greater challenge than yesterday, as much of what was brought up from the most recent job had somehow found its way in here. There I found Sid leaning in the corner, his arms folded, nursing a mug of something steaming. Smitty was leaning back in his versatile little chair. I’d obviously interrupted.
“Pardon me, but the word was you wanted to talk?”
“And he has an adventurer’s bag too.” Smitty said with a heavy tone as he seemed to settle further into his chair.
I felt the heat tinge the tips of my ears. They thought I was an adventurer playing at being a diver? Someone who’d jump at the chance to kill a shark, hadn’t he? Well I had my jumpiness earned through a week of dodging and acquiring enemies, and I took the title of ‘adventurer’ as an insult and said as much.
“We don’t care whether you are or not,” Smitty said. “I just wonder why you didn’t have it yesterday.”
“Was getting it repaired,” I growled.
Smitty shrugged. “So, you have an adventurer’s bag and can breathe underwater, and you didn’t mention either of these things?”
My eyes shot to Sid, taking a lazy sip of his drink. So he’d either wised to it himself or someone had told him about my ‘potion of water breathing’ and he’d twigged to the fact that no potion had the duration of the time I’d worked.
I could have denied it all, except I’d looked straight at Sid like a man who’d found a snitch and still hadn’t thought of a better lie.
“How I breathe underwater is my business.”
Smitty raised his hands in the air. “I could care less! Hidden item, family heirloom, you could have stolen whatever you’re using from that prepubescent twat we call a king and I wouldn’t turn you in! What I care about is now I’m wasting money!”
I couldn’t follow his logic, and voiced my confusion as eloquently as I always did in such scenarios: “what?”
“Boy; your bag, your ability … heck, even the fact that you were willing to draw a freaking sword on a great white make you the perfect person to send after the hardest places.”
“Just to clarify: you’re not pissed I almost dismembered your operations guy?” I turned the question to Sid. “You’re not pissed I almost dismembered you?”
Sid sipped his drink again. “Not dead. Besides the complaining about it from the crew I don’t see what the big deal is.”
Well, that was one outlook.
“So now you want to send me to hard to reach places your normal crew can’t go.”
“It’s not a matter of reaching it, I’ve got lots of employees who can reach these places. The trouble is trying to get the cargo back! One man goes down, then has to swim the chest of coins back to the surface? Right, uh-huh. By the time we have a barge show up to winch things back up, you’re running into more problems and before you know it, you’re selling the cargo to break even!”
“But you’re happy about me because …”
“Because you have a spatial bag!” He said, pointing. “You know how rare it is for me to get an adventurer down here?”
“I’m not a …”
“Do you think that a single one of those adventurers had the ability and the willingness to do what you’ve shown yourself willing to do?”
“There’s no way it’s that hard for you to get another bag!” I said. “You’re a huge business! Surely you can afford it?”
“It’s not a question of affording it, the adventurer’s guild locks the production of their bags down tight. They’ve got the government approval to do so; I can’t even make a good bribe to them without jeopardizing my business. Black market is no place for bags, since the owner’s spirit locks strangers out. It all makes me very curious how you got yours.”
“Scavenged it from the bottom,” I said honestly. No need to mention where.
“Lucky you. Most people with those bags had to join the adventurer’s guild and do a lot of favors before paying a lot of money to get one.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all. I got lucky. Everybody gets lucky a couple times in their life, don’t they?”
“Don’t count on it too much, when it’s nearly your lowest stat.”
“You were saying something about wanting me to work for you?” I arched an eyebrow at him, trying to convey that I’d prefer he’d pander than berate.
“Here’s my deal: I send you to the spots I haven’t been able to get a team to. They’re mostly places with a handful of items of high value – I know you couldn’t fit a ships’ cargo into your bag.”
Not even close to it. If it had been possible, there’s no way shipping industries wouldn’t have found a way to break the adventurer’s monopoly on spatial bags. Why commission galleons when you could fill a sloop with filled spatial bags?
“You fill your bag with what you can, and I’ll give you 30% of the item’s value. I seem to recall you’d wanted to work on commission?”
I wanted to haggle for a better price, but honestly that sounded really good and I couldn’t come up with a better offer. I did stipulate two terms:
“Alright, but I get to work on my own time, not running myself ragged to knock out all your projects. I also get to look over your charts and pick which jobs I take.”
He seemed confused by the stipulations but agreed after he’d thought it over. Just by that, I gathered at least some of the information he had on his charts could be found elsewhere, otherwise he wouldn’t trust someone as new as me with it. He wasn’t worried about me taking the information to his competition – but then, if I’d gathered information correctly, what competition?
“Very well, I’ll write up the contract now.”
I stuck around and watched as he wrote up the terms. Either he was normally succinct or my reading over his shoulder made him think twice about filling the document with legalese. I tried to find any ways he could rope me into something else, but the contract’s purpose seemed to protect Smitty from me just running off with the goods. It wasn’t designed to hold my service. I could leave his employment at any time so long as I satisfied I wasn’t absconding with any goods.
Are you sure you wish to enter into a contract with Smitty?
That was interesting. Not every contract was accompanied by a prompt. It was probably caused by my service to Jones – I had to be careful now who else I entered agreements with, as Jones could demand I break all others.
The possibilities of what Jones might demand were starting to fester in my mind. Sure, it appeared that I had freedom, but I felt a type of chain that I’d never submitted myself to before.
I agreed to work with Smitty and signed my name on the contract.
“Very good,” Smitty said. “Come over here and we can discuss your first assignment.”
Smitty wanted me to pick a random ship and he’d fill me in on the details. That didn’t work for me. I wanted the details on every ship. The type of cargo was secondary. I’d get it for him, but I really wanted to know my options for experimentation. After lightly reminding him this was now a term of my contract, he became more helpful.
The first ship he pointed out was a pleasure craft for a rich nobleman a few days travel up the coast. The nobleman and his crew had made it off the ship but had to leave some valuable heirlooms behind. Smitty wanted me to get them, and I gathered that it was more about the political capitol he’d gain from appeasing the nobleman than any true monetary value. I’d keep it in mind if I had any reason to improve Smitty’s mood, but it wasn’t what I was really going for.
When Smitty picked up on my primary desire to know ship types, depths, and days from Tulisang, he began to accommodate me faster than I could keep up. Barque; water depth approximately 110 fathoms, five days sailing. Brig; water depth approximately 150 fathoms, two days sailing. Naval clipper; water depth approximately 130 fathoms, four days sailing. Caravel, carrack, brig, barque …
After he pointed out the ones in a reasonable radius, I asked if I could use a pen and paper. The frugal miser dug out a piece of paper he’d crumpled in the waste bin and the stub of a pencil. I marked down the positions of the ships on the chart along with what type, then had him tell me what I was to retrieve from each. I’d probably forget if I got caught up in playing with my profession, and I could just imagine how that conversation would go. ‘Oh yes, Mr. Smitty, I found the ship! What? Salvaged goods? Uh, yeah, that part slipped my mind …’
When I’d nearly finished, I pointed at the one by the Falai cliffs I’d seen earlier, the one marked in red ink with a list of names and question marks. “What about this one? You didn’t mention it.”
“Ah, yes. I’d actually advise staying away from that one. It’s the H.M.S Alayne. It was hunting pirates when it struck a sandbar and went down. Naturally, Andros wanted certain things recovered, and I deployed teams to find it and report on its condition.”
I indicated the list of names. “I’m guessing these men?”
“Yes. The first team disappeared entirely. I sent a second team armed with the knowledge that there could be unknown dangers. They managed to find the Alayne, but also lost some of their team. They just disappeared. Naturally, the scouting team decided against pushing on. I let the navy know and asked for them to loan me their muscle if they wanted it salvaged. My request got lost in the bureaucracy and I expect the Alayne will stay un-salvaged.”
Yep, I had no motivation to explore an area that had already killed enough people to require a list. “What type of ship was it?” I asked, purely out of a sense of thoroughness.
Ohhh, I shouldn’t have asked that. I’d been picturing a ship like the naval clipper. A galleon fully outfitted to hunt pirates? Of course I wanted to see that! Even if I could do nothing with Alayne itself, it was sure to have some interesting artillery onboard, ripe for the plunder!
“It’s not worth it,” I said, as much to myself as to Smitty. He agreed. I folded my ‘shopping list’ and felt around for my wallet pouch before remembering to stick it in my bag – I still hadn’t fully gotten used to it, convenient as it was.
“So, which one you heading out to today?” Smitty asked.
“Today?” I repeated. “We’ll see. First I got a stop to make at the local library.”
Smitty sighed. “Please just make sure you get some work done every week.” He turned back to Sid. “As I was saying, the brigantine job will work out. Dockside merchant had some idiot come into his shop and sell him the water-breathing potions we need for eight gold a pop! We’re getting them from him at 10.”
My eyebrow twitched as I was leaving, and I paused in the doorway. It didn’t take a genius to connect the dots. My desire to correct the price and tell Smitty how he was being conned was offset by the fact I’d already been referred to as an idiot for letting them go at 8G. Did I really want to admit letting them go for 5?
Smitty seemed happy to be swindled for 10 gold, so I decided not to expose myself.
The directions I received to the library took me to a part of town I hadn’t been to. So far, only Mama Jo’s tailor shop had been more than a few streets in from the docks. The library was by the city gate, on the other end of town.
I’d gotten the impression that the docks included different territories, possibly run by gangs or domineering businessmen. Here, there was a clear delineation between ‘Tulisang’ and ‘government-controlled Tulisang’. Buildings had been cleared so no one could scurry over rooftops between zones, roadblocks – while currently open – promised that the quarter was ready for action at any moment.
The closest thing to armed guards I’d seen before were those guys wearing similar armbands. Here, grouped soldiers wearing Andros’s colors of yellow and black made tight patrols. No one was outright hostile, but they had the definite air of a group under siege. It made me wonder what Donovan and the others had been doing.
There was no way Donovan wasn’t involved in the local politics. Besides the very successful business he ran, I’d seen how the bigwigs congregated around him. But was he a businessman looking to maximize profit, or did he have ulterior motives?
Not that his motives mattered to me. I had no motivation to stick my nose into the business of anyone as powerful as he seemed to be! None whatsoever!
Okay, I was curious. Donovan was an interesting guy. I just wasn’t curious enough to do anything stupid.
The libraries owned by Antarus’s monarch were over-the-top buildings in size, decoration, and knowledge within. I expected something similar from the library here. After all, Dagat had an impressive library, didn’t it?
Maybe I couldn’t expect all libraries to be on that level, maybe the local one here was like it was because Tulisang was the black sheep port. In any case, the nook the library occupied was underwhelming. I actually walked past it a few times, wondering if there was a mistake. When I finally tried the door, I half expected it to be barred.
The sole occupant of the building was a teenage girl sitting on a tall stool behind a tall desk. She was reading – appropriate, given the setting – but the novel looked like something that would make you blush when reading it instead of giving advice on life progression.
After a quick glance at the few shelves, I moved to her desk and cleared my throat. “Excuse me …”
She lifted her eyes from her pages to meet mine. That and a slight narrowing of her gaze were the only things my approach had changed. “What do you need?”
“I was actually looking for some books on magic, if you have them. What’s the admission fee?”
“Admission is free to all visitors, courtesy of his royal highness and the office of citizen development.” The librarian said in a monotone that left no question she was required to say that part. “Anyone looking for information on magic is advised to look into one of the mage colleges. All citizens showing magical aptitude are required to present themselves to said colleges for testing. Training will be provided upon entrance into his majesty’s service.”
“I’m not a citizen!” I said quickly. The last thing I wanted was to be dragged off to a college for mages.
“Good for you,” she said blandly, returning to her book.
I glanced between her and the oh-so limited number of shelves. “You don’t have any books on magic?”
“I believe I just said that.”
“Well, what do you have here?”
I swear she had a malicious gleam in her eye as she stared me down and said, “books.”
“Really? How am I supposed to learn anything magic related?”
She licked her finger and prepared to turn a page. “Why don’t you go to that old wizard guy? Isn’t that where all you pirates go?”
I placed my hands on my hips as I marveled at her. Part of me wished I was a decade or two older so I could put some weight behind the lecture I wanted to give her. I was blown away by the fact she assumed I was a pirate and didn’t care one whit. There was also the fact that Tulisang had a go-to magical instructor in an otherwise regimented magical society. And she’d called him a wizard? I was pretty sure magic users were called many different things by region, but humans typically referred to magic as magery.
I decided against going with the ‘young-lady’ talk and instead asked for directions to this ‘wizard’. She waved in the direction of the door.
“He should have left some pamphlets lying around.”
I easily spotted them in a wooden display tray by the door. Among the colorful advertisement for magical tutoring and classes, it listed a home address. That seemed like a bold move, telling everyone where your home was.
I debated doing so, but before I left I turned to the librarian and thanked her for her help. She ignored me. I left the library not filled with ideas of magical theory to practice, as I’d intended, but a much more mystifying question: how could the flippancy of teenage girls be so annoying?
The wizards’ address indeed looked like a home address, complete with vines climbing the trellises along the whitewashed siding. The doors and windows were open to allow air flow before the day brought down its tropical heat. I knocked on the open doorframe, glancing around inside.
I was not, thankfully, examining someone’s sitting room. The first floor of the house was extremely spartan, with reed mats on the floor, a handful of slight chairs and desks stacked against the walls, and locked cabinets in the corner that I assumed contained books.
“Hello?” I called. A moment later a man peeked in from a back room.
“Yes, can I help you?” He wore light robes that might be wizards’ dress and might be relaxed wear. His white beard was cropped short. He didn’t look like the stereotypical mage, but he still checked the right boxes.
“I’m here about magic tutoring. Are you …?” I checked the pamphlet again. “The great wizard Renshaw?”
“Yes,” the man said without a hint of pretentiousness over the title. “Are you looking to awaken magical abilities?”
“Actually, I acquired air and water on my last voyage, and I’m looking to learn some basic spells.”
“Really?” Renshaw said, more curious. “Well, that’ll be more interesting. I charge by the hour, with surcharges for each additional spell. It’s five silver an hour and another two per spell instruction, regardless of whether you pick it up or not. You still interested?”
“Mm-hmm, not many sailors like you. Can you start this afternoon? I have a student meditating right now and a class later.”
“Will I be working with a class or just you?”
“That rate is for private tutorship. It’s dependent upon my schedule, but fortune smiles upon you! It happens that a previous long-term student of mine just hired on to a ship.”
Anyone coming here for magical lessons was deliberately avoiding the government-sponsored colleges, so I surmised a local pirate crew was one mage stronger.
“I’ll be back this afternoon, then. Anything I should bring besides my coin?”
“No, just you and your coin will do for today.”