Restart Again

by

Adam Ladner

Volume 1, Chapter 2: First Encounters

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As I wandered through the crowd, I was impressed by the total diversity of the market. The foods for sale had a rich, smoky aroma, with plants and animals I couldn’t recognize prepared over roasting spits or chopped up for stews. Random trinkets, clearly imbued with some sort of low magic, flashed and buzzed and zapped with a dazzling array of color. However, it was the people that truly caught my eye.

 

The crowd was made up mostly of humans, with skin colors ranging from the palest whites to the deepest blacks. Then there were the demihumans. The most common of them among the throngs of people were extremely similar to humans with small animal characteristics: The ears of a cat, dog, or rabbit with a matching tail, short tusks below the nose like a boar, or plumed wings sprouting out where the shoulderblades would be. Beyond that, I caught a glimpse of what looked like a lizardman, standing like a human would, but fully covered in scales with a large tail dragging behind him. I thought I saw a hulking bear-man at one point, but as I approached, it turned out to be a large human man wearing a bear pelt cloak.

 

Every discovery as I passed through the market left me feeling...nothing. It was all new to me, but I felt no sense of wonder, no thrill of discovery. This place might be new, but the experience isn’t. I scowled at the thought. How many times had I found myself in this exact situation? Wandering a world I know nothing about, taking in the sights like some sort of vacationer, like it’s some sort of amazing adventure?

 

Three. Three times. Three, god damned, wretched fucking times. I stopped to lean against the post of a fruit stand and rubbed the bridge of my nose in agitation. Why should I wonder at what an amazing world I’m in, when it’s just going to be taken away, and replaced with a shiny, brand-fucking-new world to wonder at again? What does it matter what I do, if I’m going to be reset back to square one in the end?

 

I sighed deeply and took a moment to center myself. No. Not square one. I’ve still gained...something, through all this. I shook my head and kicked off the post as I began my trek through the market again. I have my gear. I still have my enchantments. Once I have a room, I can see to thoroughly checking over the rest of my kit. Most importantly though, I have knowledge. I know what to do now that I’m here, and I know what NOT to do.

 

I noticed the crowd around me had begun to shrink, and I realized I had reached the edge of the giant market square. I’ve spent long enough moping, at least for now. Time to take care of the essentials: food, drink, and shelter. At this end of the pavilion the tiling transitioned into a more commonplace cobbled road leading off towards the center of the city. Various signs hung at the transition, but the writing was completely foreign to me. Great. Another alphabet to learn.

 

Picking a random person out of the crowd, I approached a slight wolf-eared woman in a red dress doing my best to smile pleasantly. “Excuse me, miss? Perhaps you could help me out, I seem to be a bit lost. Is there an inn nearby?” She eyed me suspiciously, no doubt off-put by my out-of-place attire.

 

“Uhmm, yes. Right up the road, the second corner on your right.” She gestured towards a sign hanging right next to me. “That one. Trader’s Pavillion Inn. You’re...not from around here, are you?”

 

I chuckled amiably. “You caught me. What gave it away? The clothes, or the illiteracy?”

 

“Actually, it was the inquiry about where to rent a room. Most people from Yoria don’t need to rent rooms, because they...live here?” She grinned wryly, her playful sarcasm plainly written on her face. Her eyes were a bright green, blazing and alive in the late afternoon sun.

 

Oh, I like this one. I scratched the back of my head and laughed. “I hadn’t considered that, but I suppose that’s a better tell.” I turned to leave and waved over my shoulder. “Thanks for the help, miss!”

 

“Uhmm, sir?” Her voice called out from behind me. I turned, eyebrow cocked slightly from curiosity. “Tell the innkeep that you’re a friend of Melrose. That’ll probably save you a copper or two on ale.”

 

Taken off guard, I stammered an awkward response. “Oh, uh, thanks for that...Melrose? I presume?”

 

“That’s right.” She smiled sweetly, then turned and headed towards the pavilion. “Enjoy your stay in Yoria!” Her slim silver tail wagged in what I assumed was a happy motion as she left.

 

I’m glad to see that not everyone in this world is like the gate guards. With directions to guide me I started down the road towards the inn, a small smile on my face. As I walked, enjoying the warm clear weather, I eventually realized I was grinning like a fool and shook my head to reset my face to it’s default expression: scowling. I know what NOT to do.

 

I began to worry as time passed that I had somehow missed the turn to the inn. The instructions had been so simple that I expected to find a row of buildings just over the first hill, but after walking for fifteen minutes I was instead entering a beautifully manicured garden. The flora I passed as I continued onwards was fascinating. Slender stalked flowers with dual bulbs at the end, each a different vibrant color. Fruit bearing bushes, weighed down with perfectly spherical, glossy green fruits. Trees with trunks so intricately curved and twisted that they were almost certainly designed artistically.

 

As wonderful as the garden was, I breathed a sigh of relief when it gave way to a wide paved street leading to a city block. Buildings totally unlike those at the trader’s gate were aligned neatly along the main road in the distance, with well crafted, intricately shingled houses and boldly lettered signs. Foot traffic increased dramatically as I reached the first intersection and I began to find it difficult to proceed at the leisurely pace I had grown accustomed to in the gardens. Crossing the first intersection, I scanned ahead to find a sign that would hopefully match the one Melrose pointed out to me earlier. Mental note: Make learning the local alphabet a higher priority.

 

On my way towards the second intersection I was distracted by some curious trinkets in a shop window; Glowing crystals of all shapes and colors, a small rack of what I assumed were wands, and various bits of jewelry. Each item had a small tag affixed to it with a few small lines of text, presumably the price or the purpose of the item. I looked up to the shop sign, doing my best to memorize the series of characters. If magic is as prevalent here as it seems, maybe I should put learning the basics of the system higher on the to-do list as well.

 

Soon after the magic shop I came upon the second intersection. Luckily, the sign for the inn was easy to spot, with two universal pictograms displayed prominently on the sign: an overflowing stein and a bed. I pushed through the heavy wooden door, eager to finally find a moment to relax. My senses were completely assaulted by what I had come to know as classic tavern fare. The smell of old ale layered lightly over fresh pipe smoke. Chatter was surprisingly high; as my eyes adjusted to the relatively dark interior I realized this building extended much further back than I had initially anticipated, and it was filled with a least two dozen people.

 

I approached the bar which appeared to be unattended at the moment. There was no visible bell to ring for service, so I took a seat on one of the barstools to wait. Leaning against the counter, I took a moment to scan the room. Immediately apparent to me was the fact that a large majority of the patrons were demihuman. None of them seemed particularly interested in me, which gave me some relief. So far, the racism in this country seems to be minimal. That’s a welcome improvement.

 

The rest of the room appeared standard as far as taverns go. Lots of round tables with stools, a rather cozy fireplace with a large stew pot set over it, and plenty of shady corners for illicit meetings, two of which were currently occupied by solitary, hooded figures. In the center of the room, some of the tables had been pulled back to make room for a small stage area, sitting about a foot above the floor. It was empty except for two stools which currently were unoccupied.

 

“What can I get for ya, stranger?” A chipper voice asked from behind the bar, startling me. I spun around quickly and was confused to find the area behind the bar still empty. I heard the clinking of glasses from further down the bar, so I stood up to peer behind the counter. A man, standing not four feet high, was rummaging through a shelf beneath the bar. Running along the baseboard of the bar was a series of step stools, each directly across the bar from a patron’s chair. I sat back quickly in my seat, hoping the man didn’t see me staring at him.

“I’m actually looking to get a room here for a couple of nights. A friend of mine recommended I come here, said you’d know her. Melrose?” I said her name, almost as a question. I hope this isn’t some prank to make me look stupid. Should I really be asking for a discount from this stranger, on the word of another stranger?

 

The man’s head popped up in front of me suddenly with a wide grin across his face. “Oh, a friend of Melrose’s! Any friend of hers is a friend of mine.” He held out a small hand. “The name’s Sherman, nice to meet ya!”

 

“The pleasure is all mine, Sherman.” I shook his hand and smiled. “So, if I were looking to get a room for...three nights, and maybe some simple meals to eat, how much would I owe you?”

 

“Ah, straight to business. You really are a friend of Melrose.” Sherman chuckled. “We don’t have much in the way of food, aside from the stew on the fire that is. Yer welcome to a bowl if you’ve got a room. Three nights, that’d put ya around...25 crowns, courtesy of Melrose.”

 

I met his stare blankly. After a long pause I chuckled nervously, pulling out my coin purse. “25 crowns...that would be...about…” I stalled, fishing through the various coins in my bag, none of which had a crown on them. “Well, Sherman, you see…”

 

“Are ya broke, lad?”

 

“Well, not technically speaking.” I pulled out a copper coin and a silver coin, placed them down gently on the bar, and slid them over to Sherman quietly. He looked from the coins, up to me, and back down to the coins with a wrinkle in his brow. Picking up the silver coin he flipped it in his palm to observing both faces, and then followed suit with the copper.

 

“Yer REALLY not from around here, are ya?”

 

“No sir.”

 

Sherman stared me down for a moment, and then burst into laughter. I looked away and pursed my lips as my face darkened. “Oh my, that really tickles me.” He tried to regain his composure, wiping a tear from his eye, but another round of laughter caught him unprepared. “I don’t mean to make fun of ya lad, but it’s a funny situation, right? How far away can ya be from where you don’t know what a crown’s worth?”

 

I weighed my options momentarily, settling on a shrug. “Very far away.”

 

“Right, course ya are.” He grinned a toothy grin, though it was lacking quite a few teeth. “Listen, seeing as yer a friend of Melrose, I’ll help ya out. But in the future, it might not be a great idea to let on you don’t know how the world works around here.” Sherman nodded towards the patrons behind me. “Some people...they may not play fair with ya, if ya catch my drift.”

 

Damn it, he’s right. I should know better than this by now. “I appreciate your help, and your honesty.” I gathered my money and placed my coin purse back on my belt. “I didn’t realize how difficult it could be to...adjust to a new city.”

 

“Of course lad, of course.” Sherman hopped down from his step stool and rustled through another cabinet, returning with a palmful of coins. He dropped them down on the bar in front of me. I noticed the familiar pattern of copper and silver coinage I had become acquainted with in the past, although the size, shape and imprinting was different.

 

“So. Yer small coin, that’s the crown.” He held up one of the copper coins. “We call it that because...well, that’s easy to figure out.” Indeed, a crown was depicted plainly on both sides of the small coin. “That’s mostly what yer gonna be spending around here. Some call ‘em coppers, some call ‘em crowns, it’s all the same.”

 

He moved on to the silver coin, of which there were only a few present. “Yer silver coin is called a stein. Most people, they call ‘em ‘silver steins’. Guess it just rolls off the tongue, ya know?” He handed me the coin to examine. It actually showed three vessels: A stein, a jeweled goblet, and a small cup. Both sides were, again, the same image. “Now, one of these silvers steins is worth 50 crowns. A bit steep, perhaps, but silver is a lot more rare than copper now isn’t it?” I handed the coin back to him, nodding silently.

 

Sherman leaned in a bit closer and lowered his voice. “Now, I shouldn’t really be showin’ ya this, but…” He produced a golden coin from his back pocket. “A gold imperium.” He didn’t offer this coin out to me to take, but instead kept it in his upturned palm. This coin was noticeably more intricate than the others; It was roughly the same size as the other two, but the artwork was much more detailed. It showed what looked to be a massive castle, with an impressive spire in the center. At the top of this spire, a window was punched out through the coin, leaving just a sliver of a hole.

 

“Impressive, ain’t it?” He withdrew the coin and placed it back in his pocket, patting it lightly. “They say the picture is harder to copy this way, ‘specially that little window bit. Keeps the forgers away, I ‘spose.” Carefully, he began to pick up his other coins, silvers first. “One imperium is worth 20 silvers. That one coin in my back pocket could rent a room here for a whole season.” He scooped up the remaining coppers and gave me a wink. “Needless to say, let’s keep my finances a secret from the other guests, hmm?”

 

I nodded quickly. “Of course. Your secret is safe with me.”

 

“That’s good to hear, lad.” Sherman hopped back down to return his coins to their proper location. “Now,” he said from somewhere under the bar, “about yer payment.”

“Right.” I fished a silver coin out from my purse. “If you can find a place to exchange this for a stein, maybe we could call it even?”

 

“Aye, that could work.” Sherman’s head popped back up in front of me, a semi-toothed smile stretched across his face. He reached out and snatched the coin from my hand with alarming speed. “I’d recommend ya find a place to make some exchanges yerself. Maybe somewhere more...official than the place I’ll be going.” He gave me a knowing raise of his eyebrows. “Maybe the Imperial Bank? I’m sure they’d be interested in the fascinatin’ coins ya got in that pouch.”

 

Anything to avoid a third encounter like this one. “I’ll do that. Hopefully, this Imperial Bank is in the city?”

 

“Indeed it is. Further in towards the keep, in the Noble’s District. I suppose you’ll be needin’ directions?” He laughed at his own joke. “That’ll hafta wait I’m afraid. Bank would be closed by the time ya got there.” Sherman disappeared momentarily, and returned with a key attached to a small block of wood. “This’ll be for yer room. If you go up those stairs,” he motioned down the bar to a small staircase set in the corner, “and follow the hallway right, should be the last door on yer left.”

 

I took the key and bowed my head gratefully. “I truly appreciate the help you’ve given me today, Sherman. I hope I can repay the favor, somehow.”

 

“I’ve got half a dozen ideas already, lad.” Sherman chuckled. “You look like someone who can handle himself, aside from a lack of street smarts o’course. Anybody who can get things done is a valuable asset ‘round these parts.” He motioned me away towards the stairs. “We can talk about that tomorrow. I’m sure yer tired from yer...long trip here.”

 

“That I am.” I sighed deeply, only now realizing how tired I really was. Before I could stand up to go, however, my stomach gave a rather audible grumble. “I suppose I might be a bit hungry, as well.”

 

“As I said before, I don’t keep much in the way of food. I can get ya a heel of bread and some ale, or a bowl for some stew.”

 

“Ale and bread would be great.” I pulled my coin purse out once again. “How much will it run me?”

 

Sherman held up a hand and shook his head. “Consider it part of yer room charge.” He hopped off his stool and clattered around under the bar. I could just barely make out the wisps of thin white hair on his head bobbing down the length of the bar, so I stood and followed him down. “Though, there is one thing I could use from ya.”

 

I paused, uncertain. “What would that be?”

 

A mug of ale, foaming and running over, appeared atop the bar. “Yer name, lad.” His hair bobbed back down a ways to a small cabinet where he pulled out a loaf of dark bread. “If we’re to be helpin’ each other out, I might need to call ya something, someday.” He reappeared before me and handed me my bread and ale.

 

“How rude of me, missing introductions.” I smiled pleasantly. “You can call me Lux. Happy to be of service to you, Sherman.”

 

“Lux. Lux.” He tested the name out loud a few times. “Alright, Lux. When yer all prepared, head on down here tomorrow and we’ll have a chat.”

 

“I look forward to it.” I held up my stein in thanks and headed to the staircase. I ate the bread, just a nibble at first, but growing in voracity as I climbed the stairs. It’s certainly not the best thing I’ve ever eaten, I thought to myself, but something about that...journey leaves you hungry. At the top of the stairs I found a single hallway running straight ahead with doors lining both sides. Four doors down, the hallway turned 90 degrees to the right and ran down to a dead end.

 

As I reached the end of the hallway I pulled out the wooden block Sherman had given me. A badly faded symbol on the block matched the small metal engraving hammered into the door. The lock was fairly simple: A single hole for a key and a small metal latch below it to lift. The key turned hard, and the door seemed to stick after the latch had given way. I put my shoulder to it, opening the door at the cost of some spilled ale. I grimaced, now short on drink and slightly sticky.

 

The room was unimpressive, but standard as far as my experience with inns had been in the past. One small chest of drawers. A single, long bed with a well worn mattress and sheets. Wooden, unadorned walls, save for a single small window at the back of the room. A nightstand with a candle, almost completely melted to the base. Overall, a passable room for the price.

 

After locking the door behind me I crossed the room, set my ale down on the nightstand, and flopped down on the bed in relief. I sighed, more of an exasperated yell from the volume, and rubbed my face. “Again, again, again...again.” I allowed myself a minute to wallow in my depression. Get it out now. Feel pitiful, you deserve it. I stretched out, eyes closed, every breath another deep sigh. Minutes passed as I slowly began to destress, my sighs becoming less comically loud and the rubbing of my face less aggressive. Alright, time to get to work.

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About the author

Adam Ladner

Bio: Hi there. I'm Adam, the author of the "Restart Again" series. I started this writing project in the spring of 2019 as a fun creative outlet, and much to my surprise, I actually stuck with it! Fast forward to a year later, and here I am with the first book completely finished, and the second well under way. It's been a great experience, and I'm glad I have a chance to share it now!

I'd never heard of this site until recently, when one of the Amazon reviews for this book suggested I share it here as well. I'm not entirely familiar with how the site works, and whether or not it's frowned upon to just come here to share fully finished products that exist on other sites. With that in mind, I plan to drop a chapter on here every Sunday and Wednesday until the entire book is posted. If you enjoy it, hop over to my website to find the latest news on the project, and a link to the Amazon page where you can buy the eBook/paperback. I hope you enjoy it!

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