I woke up in the evening feeling drained and exhausted, but no longer nearly so actively upset. I reflexively checked my timer – 55 hours to go – before remembering that it seemed like skills and magic weren’t going to be for me. What was the point. I flipped over in bed, stuck my head under the pillow, and moped some more.
I was clearly not going to earn myself the [Stealth] skill anytime soon since dad heard me and entered the room.
“Hey kiddo,” he said “How’re you feeling?”
I grunted back. How did he think I was feeling?
“Hey, so I know you’re upset, but it’ll be ok! Most everyone learns their skills from their parents anyways, or picks them up as they go along. You’ll be fine! Julia will teach you eeeeeeeeeeverything you’ll need to know!”
I sat up in bed, picked up my pillow, and threw it at him. It wasn’t a great shot, and it was just a pillow, but the message was clear.
“Ok, Ok, I get it” he said chuckling “I talked with mom. After you’ve unlocked the system, you can come with me for a few days while I do my rounds, and we’ll see what we can do with picking up skills. After all, you can try to get carpentry by sticking a knife in the block of wood at the temple, or you could’ve a real live [Carpenter] show you how it’s done until you get the skill! Doesn’t that sound so much better?”
I perked up, not believing my ears. Not only would I get to try all sorts of fun things, I was almost guaranteed to get the skill? That sounded great! A small part of me whispered that I should still be upset over my treatment at the temple, that it was still unfair to girls everywhere that we were denied that chance, but I was far too excited to listen to that voice. Right now.
“Yay dad you’re the best!” I jumped up to hug him “I can’t wa-“ *GURGLEGURGLEGURLE*
I went beet red as my stomach rebelled, informing me in no uncertain terms that I needed to eat.
Dad laughed. “Julia also mentioned that you didn’t have lunch. Come on, let’s go get some dinner together.”
Weee! Getting dinner with dad meant we weren’t cooking – it meant we were going to raid a food stand! I needed a good raiding hat. Maybe a raiding party.
“Let’s go!” I bolted out of the room, out of the door, and was about to turn down the street when-
“Elaine! Your sandals!”
Ah right, those. I sighed, turned about, and put my sandals on as dad caught up.
“Here” He handed me four iron coins. “You’ll be deciding and buying today. Ok?”
Better and better! I was always considered too young to do the shopping – the most I did was tag along. Now I finally had money! The world was my oyster! Muwahahahahahahaha. I rubbed my hands together, plotting.
I played with the coins dad gave me, turning them over in my hands. They were circular, with a triangular hole in the middle. I traced my finger over the ridges outside of the coin, then stuck my finger into the hole in the middle, feeling the ridges on the inside as well. I had always wondered -
“Dad, why do the coins have holes?”
“Smart girl! It’s so you can thread them onto a rod, see?” Taking a coin from me, he took one of the long triangular rods by the wall and threaded the coin onto it. “It’s hard to carry and deal with a bunch of money at once, and at a certain point a coin pouch won’t do it anymore. So, we thread them onto a rod instead! 64 coins on a metal pole make a rod.”
He took the coins off the rod and handed them back to me. We left the house, and started wandering back towards the main street. The street we were on had some vendors, but I was filthy rich now, and I wanted to hunt bigger game. Rolling the coins in my hand, we wandered down the main road while I let my nose try to find the best smelling vendor.
Eventually my dogged pursuit of tasty food led us to a stall, where I stared up at the man tending the stall.
“Two pitas please!” I asked in my best not-a-kid-anymore voice. He looked down at me, looked up at my dad. Smiled.
“That’ll be 5 iron coins please.” My face fell. I turned around and looked pleadingly at dad, who just raised an eyebrow, mouth studiously still.
I turned back, determined to separate the vendor from his delicious smelling food, puffed out my chest, and insisted “Four iron coins! All I have!”
Dad facepalmed while the vendor laughed.
“Deal” he quickly insisted, and I had the sudden feeling that I had been had. I reluctantly handed over the entirety of my dragon’s horde, and greedily grabbed the pitas. Whirling around, I handed on to dad, and skipped off down the street. We wandered back home, sat down, and started munching on the pitas. After a nice meal, dad sighed, and fully reclined on the recliner.
“You know kiddo” he started “you overpaid at the vendor’s. Should’ve only been two, maybe three coins.” I was shocked. Shocked! I got cheated? Wait, dad LET me get cheated? He was a guard! He was supposed to stop that type of thing!
“Why didn’t you say anything?” I glumly muttered, visions of my horde being separated from me unjustly swimming through my mind.
“Because you’d never learn otherwise. It’s one thing to hear about it, to be told it, and another to experience it. Plus, the vendor over-charging you, with you negotiating it down, means you’re likely to get the bartering skills.”
After a pause “Want to hear a secret?”
Secrets! Secrets were great!
“Almost every girl is taken out around System Day or around the time they unlock the system with four coins, and brought to a vendor to buy something cheap. Vendor knows to charge 5, 6, 7 coins when this happens, but they allow themselves to get talked down to 4 or sometimes even less! Vendor makes a bit of extra money, you potentially get the bartering skill, everyone wins!”
I looked at dad with a mouth that could catch a thousand flies. Oh my gods. It was Santa Claus all over again, a grand societal conspiracy for the betterment of children. I felt a lot better about being ripped off, since I hadn’t really gotten ripped off, and really, it was dad’s money anyways. Mom walked in at this point with a bag full of shopping, smiled at us, and went to the kitchen to drop off the food. She popped back out a minute later, and sat down at the table with us.
“Did dad go over the plan with you?”
“Just that I was going to be learning skills from him!”
“Yes, but remember – the next two days until you unlock the system, you’re MINE.” She said with a mischievous, gleeful look in her eyes.
I gulped. Getting skills might not be as fun as I thought. Lyra save meeeeee.