Madden was obviously already expecting them when they arrived at his office. His cold grey eyes were resting on Dawn and he asked brusquely. “What is she doing here? Kindly refrain from bringing strangers along to a meeting.”
Grinna retorted shortly. “We need to show you something, and can’t do it without Dawn. Would you show him the stone please, Dawn?”
Dawn nodded, took out the echo stone and laid it on Madden’s desk. “It’s an echo stone, a kind of diary. I found it in the caves where the demons roamed. You need to touch it for it to work.”
Grinna added, “And Dawn needs to touch it too, without her it’s not working.”
Madden frowned. “And why would that stone only work when Dawn touches it?”
“I can’t tell you that. You’d have to ask the stone, but I fear it won’t answer.” Grinna told him with exaggerated patience.
Madden shot her a frosty look and said. “Well then, let’s start with this thing. What does it show, anyway?”
Dawn laid her hand on the stone and said simply. “You’ll see when you touch it.”
Madden squinted at her and laid his finger on the white stone with obvious reluctance. After a moment his brows rose. “Fascinating.” Then he was quiet for a long while.
Dawn was a bit bored and started to fidget. As fascinating as the story was, she had seen and heard the messages several times now. She wished she didn’t have to be there for the stone to work.
Grinna and Teren were standing patiently, waiting for Madden to go through all the messages. Finally, Madden let go of the echo stone, his brow wrinkling as he thought. “Interesting,” he said. “Now we know the origin of the first demon, at least. What a madman, experimenting with blood magic on his own. But the story once again proves that it is banned for a reason.”
“What now?” asked Grinna. “Did the council decide on anything?”
Madden sighed, absently arranging the pages of reports on his desk. “The council decided it needed more information first. It would have been helpful to know the story of the demon queen before the weekly meeting.”
“Well, we didn’t know the story ourselves, or how the stone worked until this morning.” Grinna retorted.
“I’ll add the information from the stone to my report and try to arrange meetings with some of the individual players on the council to hasten the decision process, but I expect there will be no changes until the next council meeting in a week. And there will be a lot of skepticism regarding the blood magic part of the story, I’m certain. Unfortunately, I can’t take Dawn and the echo stone to the council to let them experience it themselves.” Madden told them.
“Deities beware those relics on the council from believing in something they don’t want to hear,” Grinna muttered darkly. Teren laid a calming hand on her shoulder, while Madden’s look at her could have frozen the whole of Atelang.
“If that is all, I have important work to do,” he said pointedly. Grinna grimaced at his words but chose to leave without any further comments. Dawn trailed after the rangers as unobtrusively as possible, as they all left the building and Madden behind.
The rangers accompanied her to Grinna’s home and left her doing the laundry together with Yasema. “See you later Dawn,” Grinna called and hastily left the house.
Yasema chuckled. “Grinna always hated doing the laundry. I bet she was afraid we would try to get her to help.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite activity, either,” Dawn said and brushed back a strand of her hair. “But needs must. I don’t want to run around in sweaty and dirty clothes if I can help it.”
While Dawn didn’t like to do the laundry, working together with Yasema made it fun. She had a sunny demeanor and a dry wit. She told Dawn some stories of Grinna and her shenanigans as a girl, so they were laughing a lot as they worked over their clothing at the tub.
Before they were done, Dawn had gotten a level up in her cleaning skill. When they were hanging up their clothes to dry, Dawn sighed. “I envy Grinna,” she said. “She’s always so sure of herself and so certain that she is doing the right thing. I wish I could have some of that certainty myself.”
Yasema looked at her probingly. “You don’t seem insecure to me, Dawn. If I think of you leaving everything behind and living alone in the wilderness… It may have been a bit naive, but those are not the actions of someone who doesn’t know what she wants.”
“Oh, I know what I want,” Dawn replied. “I want to be a wise woman. But how to achieve that, that’s a whole different kettle of fish. With all the things I have done and learned during the last weeks, I don’t seem to be one step nearer to my goal.”
Yasema smiled at her. “Take one step at a time, Dawn. For the time being you evaded a marriage you didn’t want, spent weeks in the wilderness, discovered an ancient city and survived several encounters with bloodthirsty demons. You didn’t do so badly, all things considered. And you’re still very young. You have a lot of time left to learn.”
They entered the house together and settled down with mugs of hot tea and plates of cookies. As if Grinna and Teren had just waited for them to finish their work, both appeared promptly after they had sat down.
“Cookies!” Grinna exclaimed. “Just what I need right now.” She snatched up mugs for Teren and herself and grabbed a good portion of the sweet treats. “Still the same greedy pig, I see.” Yasema said, laughing and shaking her head.
When the cookies had been decimated, Grinna turned to Dawn and said. “I’ve been in contact with Aaron. The good news is, he is interested in seeing the books and potentially buying them. Bad news: He insists on dealing with the seller directly. So, you’d have to meet with him in person. He wants to meet you this evening. I think he’s just curious. After the council session there are a lot of rumors flying around, regarding the demons and an ancient city that has been discovered. I bet he hopes to learn more about the whole thing if he talks to you.”
Dawn said: “What do you think? Should I meet with him? You said he could be difficult. And should I tell him the whole story if he asks?”
Grinna pondered for a moment. “As long as we’re with you when you meet with him, it should be all right. You can tell him your story, but avoid any mention of your healing skills and of the echo stone. And it’s better if you don’t let him see your storage ring. We’re trying to avoid generating too much interest in you and your skills.”
Dawn rubbed her nose thoughtfully. “I can avoid mentioning my skills, no problem. It’s not as if I go around bragging about them. But you know, I don’t have the smallest idea what those alchemy books are worth.”
“Neither do we, exactly.” Grinna said. “But considering that you got them out of a laboratory from an ancient city, they should be worth quite a bit for their rarity alone. The drawback is, we have only one interested party here. But advanced alchemists are not that thick on the ground. If we were willing to wait a few weeks and got the word out, maybe we could interest another buyer or two, but it’s not guaranteed.”
Teren added, “and it might generate a lot of interest in the seller. Don’t know if I’d recommend that.”
Dawn said: “I’m not in favor of waiting several weeks. Who knows what might happen in the meantime. And I want to get back together with Ankou. I miss that stubborn cat.”
“So, we will meet with Aaron together and wait for him to make an offer for those books. I don’t know if you had much contact with money in your life in Greenriver.” Grinna said and looked at Dawn inquiringly.
Dawn laughed. “You might say I had no contact at all with money. The men sometimes traveled to Atelang to buy or sell some things, but it’s not as if we had shops in Greenriver. Mostly we bartered for things.”
Grinna nodded. “So, to give you some orientation. As a ranger one of us will earn about ten silver a month. That is a pretty good income for Atelang, as rangers need to succeed in a pretty rigorous selection process and have to train for several years. And of course, it’s a dangerous occupation, so we get paid more money. Now, if I were to buy a beginner’s book for alchemy, it would cost me about one to two silver I think, depending on the book, the seller and my bargaining skills.”
Dawn said. “And advanced books should be more expensive than those for beginners.”
“Exactly. But how much more expensive I cannot say.” Grinna replied. “We will have to wait and see what Aaron is inclined to offer.”
Teren stood up. “We need to get going. Grinna and me are due on the training court for some sparring and training sessions.”
Grinna wrinkled her nose. “Is it that late already? All right, we’ll collect you later for the meeting with Aaron, Dawn. Wear your best dress. We’ll be back here by evening bells.” She sprang up and energetically bustled out of the door, Teren following after her.
Dawn looked after the rangers as they left the house and sighed. Yasema smiled at her and said. “I have to go to the market to buy some food. Do you want to come with me, Dawn?”
“If you don’t mind, I’d rather stay here. After weeks in the wilderness the city is a bit overwhelming, crowds of people on the streets and having meetings with all kinds of people. I think I need a little time to myself.”
“Whatever you want. I’ll be back in an hour or so.” Yasema stood up and started to clear the table but Dawn fended her off. “Leave it, I’ll do that.”
After Yasema had gone, Dawn enjoyed some peace and quiet, all alone in the little cottage. She washed and dried the dishes and then went up to her room. For quite some time she had wanted to study her books on runic magic some more, but during the last week with the rangers she had found no opportunities for it. Now she took out the tome she had found the easiest to understand and started to study the runes and read the descriptions. She traced the symbol for Haya, the rune of life and blood, several times and tried to imprint the complicated design on her memory. After she thought she had managed it, she turned the page and started to study Ruh, the rune of soul and spirit. She found it hard to memorize the design and started to develop a headache after a while. When she closed her eyes and pressed her fingers to the bridge of her nose, she got a notice that her skill in runic magic had risen by one. Dawn smiled. Finally, she was making some progress.
This is my first time writing a story. I'm still learning as I go along, so there may be some hiccups down the road. I am a voracious reader myself and especially adore science fiction and fantasy. Recently I have discovered the genre of LITRPG for myself and it fascinates me.
Please feel free to comment. I'd love to hear from you.