Will lay in his bed staring up at the ceiling. It was made from a wood worth more than he’d ever made in his entire life, and ornamented with complicated patterns and gorgeous artwork. It was just so… unnecessary. The building was made from marble, and so were most of the other rooms. But in this one they had decided to put in wood paneling on the walls, the floor, and the ceiling for some reason. Was it just because it looked prettier?
Will simply couldn’t understand the obsession people had with spending money on so much useless stuff. What was the point?
But then again, if you had more than you needed, why not spend it? It wasn’t as if it would do you any good just laying around. A week ago all that had mattered was surviving the immediate future. But now those gigantic problems he’d had for over a year had all vanished. He had a place to live and food to eat. What did he need money for except these ‘unnecessary luxuries’?
He might have spent too long trapped in the struggle, and left it too suddenly. Without the imminent threat of starvation or eviction looming over him Will felt lost. Whenever the maestra, Jocelyn, didn’t need him to do something specific she said he was free to spend his time however he liked. Actually he was specifically told not to do anything or move anything around without being told to do so first. ‘Or there was no telling what could happen.’
So not only did he have food and shelter, he also had free time. And a lot of it. Time he could spend doing whatever he wanted. He could go back to cooking and try and save for an actual restaurant instead of a small stall if he wanted. Or he could do something completely different like visit the library at the Guild Hall and try to learn as much as he could. He could even buy a copy if he really wanted to. For the first time in his life, he felt like the world was wide open to him. There were no imminent catastrophes to deal with, no problems to figure out. He could do pretty much whatever he wanted to.
So why did absolutely nothing come to mind?
In the week since he’d first come to Jocelyn’s store, he found himself spending more and more time within the four walls of this room. Whenever his help wasn’t needed, he wound up back here doing nothing. At first he’d called it resting. He had worked hard these past years, especially since arriving in Hinden, and had earned a break. But it quickly became clear to him that he simply had no idea what to do. With nothing to force him forward, he found himself stuck in place. He had no real goals anymore. And what was the point of just working for the sake of working?
He liked cooking, but even that seemed pointless. He’d always seen it as a practical way to make a living that was neither dangerous nor arduous. A good profession, to be sure, but a profession still. In fact he’d seen most everything that way. Since he was a little kid and had to work in the temple for meals, he’d started looking at most things as beneficial or pointless. He sighed deeply to himself. He really did need a change in his outlook. But just having that realization wasn’t going to be enough, he needed to actually do something.
He’d gotten lethargic periodically like this more and more these past couple of weeks, but before he’d had the excuse that his life had actually been hard. Now his life was easy yet it still felt pointless. ‘Why try if you don’t have to’ turned out to be quite similar to ‘Why try if it’s not going to make a difference’.
“Am I sick?” he muttered to himself. His thoughts weren’t reasonable. He could recognize the self-destructing whirlpool that was ahead of him. But he still couldn’t muster the effort to steer himself away from it. In fact, he almost wished he would get closer. The torrential currents would steer for him, if he just got close enough. Then at least he would have some direction.
He drew a tired sigh and closed his eyes. It was in the middle of the day, but time would pass faster if he slept.
When the knock on the door came some time later, and Will groggily came to, he felt even worse than he had. He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep for, but it hadn’t been long enough for him to feel rested, and too long for him to feel awake.
“Yes?” he said.
“Master wants to see you in her study.” Alice’s voice came from the other side of the door. “She says to come immediately.”
“Got it.” Will said. The prospect of having something to do made his mood brighten considerably, and he eagerly put on his boots and walked out the door. He’d slept in his clothes, of course. Once in the hallway Alice gave him a quick once over and a small crease appeared in her forehead that she quickly made vanish.
“Let’s go.” she said.
Will followed her through the now familiar hallway and he waited as she knocked on the door for the summon to enter. Alice went in first, then waved for him to enter as well. Jocelyn was in the room of course, but together with her was also a man he’d never seen before. A tall man in a full vest much nicer than the clothes Will was wearing sat in a chair opposite Jocelyn, holding a cup of tea in one hand as he inspected the contents of a piece of paper with the other. A hat was also placed atop another stack of papers on the table in between the two.
“Good, now we’re all here.” Jocelyn said the two walked in. Will walked over and took the seat next to the man, while Alice took the one next to her teacher. As they sat she leaned in and whispered something in Jocelyn’s ear, which caused her to give will a look that sent a shiver down his back. Will had come to learn that Jocelyn wasn’t big on ceremony. In fact she rather disliked it. She’d much rather they act like friends or at least friendly than master and servant. A policy that Will enjoyed a great deal. It was a refreshing contrast to the taskmasters he’d worked under at the docks. He felt more at ease here, able to be himself and speak his mind. But that didn’t mean that he didn’t find her intimidating. Not even close. In many ways she was scarier than the brutes down at the docks. She had this way of looking at you that made you feel completely seen through. Like she could read your mind and learn secrets about you even you yourself didn’t know just by looking. And who knew, it wouldn’t surprise Will in the least if alchemists actually could do that. That wasn’t the look she was giving him at the moment, but it still felt unnerving.
“Help yourself to some tea, both of you.” Jocelyn said eventually as she took her gaze away from Will and to the man seated next to him. Will let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, but if Jocelyn noticed anything she didn’t show it. She gestured to the man and spoke. “My associate here has come upon a very interesting opportunity that I wanted the both of you to know about. If you would, Brick.”
“Of course, Jocelyn”, the man in the hat said. He put the tea down on the table and gestured with the piece of paper in his hand. “This here is a letter I percured that details an expedition into a recently discovered cave system in the Midalan Highlands. That in itself isn’t very interesting for you lot, I’m sure, but it got me curious. I’m a quite nosy person you see, and when I hear something interesting I just can’t help myself. I have to find out more. So last night I...”
“Brick.” Jocelyn said, in that kindly tone that sends a chill down your spine. “We don’t have all day.”
Brick just nodded towards Will with a small grin. “I was just introducing myself. It’s natural to explain what kind of person you are if you’re going to work together. And he might wonder how I got a hold of this thing otherwise.”
“You obviously stole it, there’s no need to get so braggadocious about it. Just get to the point.” Jocelyn said with a shake of her head.
“She means I’m full of myself.” Brick turned to Will and winked.
“I know what it means,” Will said with a frown.
“Good, good.” Brick leaned back in his seat. “Anyway, where was I? Oh right, the papers. Lady Jocelyn’s right, of course. I did steal them. And you guys should be happy I did, or you’d never have found what they found inside those caves.”
“What?” Alice asked. Brick gave her a wide grin.
“Well it wasn’t immediately obvious.” he said, gesticulating with the paper. “They tried to hide it even in their internal paperwork, but that isn’t going to stop someone who spends as much time near alchemists as I do. I noticed that they had requisitioned Wyvernleather gloves and masks for all the expedition members, and if you take those together with a dark cave it’s almost guaranteed that they found a grove of Red Lanterns. And a sizable one at that, given the number of people they’re sending.”
“Red Lanterns? Those are really rare around here.” Alice said. “Are you certain?”
“As certain as one can be, miss Alice.” Brick said. “And that’s as far as I got in the explanation before you got here. Now that you’re all caught up, can we discuss what to do from here? I assume the reason you sent for Will here is that he’s going to take the trip.”“I will?” Will said. “I’m sorry, I’m a bit confused. Why are we talking about going on a trip? Are you saying we just go and steal someone elses find?”
“If you say it like that it sounds worse than it is.” Brick said. “It’s not theirs while it’s in the ground. We’re just going to get to it first is all. Besides, it’s not like the mushrooms are on their land to begin with. And we won’t be taking all of them most likely.”
“Still doesn't seem right...”
“It’s first come first serve in this world, Will.” Brick said. “If you don’t take advantage of opportunities given to you, you won’t even get a seat at the table. Competition for ingredients is very common between alchemists, and often it’s even more brazen than this.” Brick gave Will a good looking over, then grinned and continued.
“Besides, you trying to tell me you’ve never stolen something before? Just two weeks ago you were hard at work at the docks, no?” He whistled softly. “A dockworker who hasn’t stolen before, a rare sight indeed.”
“That’s different.” Will said instinctively, before instantly regretting it as he saw how Brick’s grin widened at his words.
“Thank the gods, I was worried there for a moment.” Brick said dramatically. “You almost made me doubt my views on humanity, but it turns out you have stolen before, hmm?”
“...Yes. But only because I had to in order to survive.” Will said, realizing there was no going back on his statement as he’d already said too much. He just hoped Jocelyn wouldn’t fire him for being a thief. Then again, she did seem familiar with this Brick person. Despite the opulent clothes and too white smile, and just having met him for the first time a few minutes ago, Will could tell that without a doubt that stealing was one of his favorite activities.
“Well then there you go.” Brick said with a wave of his hand. “You did it because you had to, and we’re doing it because we have to. What’s the difference?”
Will blinked and stared straight at Brick for a few moments. Was he serious?