Ash woke up with a smile. His eyes, half-open, scanned the small room in which he found himself. It wasn’t much bigger than what was needed to house a simple bed and a dresser, but it was comfortable and the door had a surprisingly secure lock on it. He shifted slightly to pull the curtains back on the window near the head of his bed; the sun was just starting to peak over the city’s walls, turning the sky a pinkish-red color.
With a groan, he shifted until his feet were on the floor, sitting at the edge of the bed for a moment before summoning the strength to push himself to his feet. He snatched his robe from off the top of the dresser and gave it a sniff, curling his nose a little before shrugging and throwing it over his head.
“Be clean,” he chanted in a rough morning voice. A mist flowed out of his hands and covering him, soaking into his robe and cooling his entire body, coating him in a cotton-candy cloud of white. When the mist dissipated, Ash and his robe were left clean and smelling fresh. With a smile, he opened his door and headed out of the simple but surprisingly nice guild barracks, simply happy to have been able to sleep without the fear of nearby monster frogs.
A couple hours later, Ash found himself walking down one of the multitudes of streets that made up Prismar. The areas surrounding the guild were surprisingly nice, a mix between artistic representation and wealthy encroachment. While the square near the guild’s campus was dedicated to mostly crafters and artists selling their wares, it didn’t have what Ash needed.
He walked into a store on the other end of the city, on one of the small artificial islands that expanded the city into the ocean. Each island had its own walls and guards, and he had to go through a checkpoint before entering the island that was almost entirely eclipsed by mages and shops dedicated to their crafts. He had learned from one of the Artists’s Guild receptionists about this island, but it had taken most of the morning to find a store that might fit his needs.
When he entered the shop, it felt like walking into a weird thunderstorm. The air felt alive almost, with a slight copper taste to it. The store was filled with baubles and doodads that spun and twirled and chirped in every manner of way. He had no idea what most of them did, and his Interface wasn’t much help.
[Dream Charge - absorbs dream energy to release a soporific effect. You do not meet the requirements to use this item]
Most of the items he checked were beyond his use, which was understandable but also frustrating. The items he saw that he could use he either had no use for, or just no clue what they even did regardless of the hint. However, he didn’t let it bother him too much; he was here for a specific reason. In one section of the shop was a bookshelf, filled with large tomes that seemed to have an energy of their own.
[You have picked up Dominion’s Advantage. Your class does not allow you to learn any of the abilities in Dominion’s Advantage.]
He went through the shelf of ability books, but only one of them fell within the specifications of his class: Binding Attire. He wasn’t all that surprised since he came to a store that specialized in magic and his class seemed annoyingly nonmagical despite his esoteric abilities. However, he didn’t come here to buy, though it would have been nice to find an offensive ability. No, he came here to get an idea of general prices before trying to sell some of the books he found at the temple. He was still trying to get a hold of the currency, but it seemed to be a fairly easy, gold-based system.
Without a clear understanding of how much certain abilities were desired over others, the best he could do was try and get an understanding of how similar abilities were priced. He saw a couple different ice-based skills on the shelf that gave him some idea of his ice storm book, Eldavar’s Blessing - Storm of Frost, but he didn’t see many fire spells. And definitely no fireball spells. This gave him hope that it was either rare or so highly in demand that it was hard to keep on the shelf. He wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to sell his Book of Fireball, however. He still held out hope of shooting comets of fire from his palms in the future.
He had a third book, but he wasn’t sure what it was or what it did. Until he had a better idea of its value, he was going to keep that one in reserve.
Walking up to the counter, he greeted the shopkeeper with a smile. “Hello, ma’am.”
The older woman smiled back at him, her eyes darting over his simple robe to size him up as a potential customer. “Good morning, young man. Is there something you’re looking for today?”
“Yes, I came across a few ability books that I have no use for. Do you purchase here, or only sell?”
“Hm, I can’t guarantee that what you have will be of interest to me, but I am certainly willing to buy any magical items that I might be able to turn for a profit.”
“Wonderful,” Ash replied. “I have two such ability books that I’m looking to sell. One,” he made a slight flourish with his hand as the first book popped into existence, pulled from his inventory, “is an ice storm ability, and the other,” he flourished his free hand and the second book popped into it, “is a fireball ability.”
He considered that the flourishes might have been a little over the top, but deemed his performer’s touch to have been worth it when he saw her eyes spark in interest at the first mention and go wide at the second one. He kept his smile at her reaction internal, but was glad to know his assumption was correct.
“I’m in the air about selling this one,” he held up the fireball tome, “but I’m hoping we could come to an agreement of sorts.”
The shopkeeper evaluated the man standing across from her, and Ash caught an excited spark shining in her eyes. She snatched both of the books from Ash’s hands, muttering to herself as lights sparked around the books, giving off some sort of information she was able to read.
“Well, they are what you say, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re valuable,” she said, “They’re a little rare, but they’re still lower level spells. I can maybe do fifty gold for Eldavar’s Blessing - Storm of Frost. The Book of Fireball will be a bit more expensive, but I would also be willing to do a trade if any of the tomes over there caught your eye.”
Ash had expected to be shortchanged, but based on what he saw on the shelves, her offer was in lines with what he would have hoped to get. The moment of surprise passed quickly, however. “That’s an interesting offer. Tell you what, I’ll take you up on the ice storm book. There was only one book over there that interested me; let me consider the offer and I’ll come back later and let you know.”
The shopkeeper handed a sack of gold coins over to Ash, who snapped them all into his inventory. Before Ash was out the door, the shopkeeper was already slapping a price-tag on the book and taking it to the shelf.
The price of his stay at the guild barracks was a silver a week, so just selling that one book was enough to keep him housed for months at least. He was still getting a hang of the currency here, but he was pretty sure he would be fine for his immediate needs. Beyond room and board, Ash had several money sinks in which he needed to invest, not the least of which was a proper weapon. However, first he had a stop to make.
An hour later, Ash walked back into Craftsman’s Square, his feet comfortably encased in a new pair of soft cotton socks and shiny leather boots. After the better part of a week walking around barefooted, he finally felt properly clothed. A good pair of boots and clean socks are not to be underestimated.
Ash made his way over to a shop that sold goods from one of the blacksmiths. He walked in and saw racks of weapons covering the walls. He saw barrels filled with simple spears, racks of swords, baskets of arrowheads. A spear would do more damage than his staff, but he went over to look at the swords, most of which were in a saber or cadet fashion.
When he picked up one of the swords, he could feel his Danse Macabre skill encouraging him to move with it. While he was admiring some of the display weapons, the smith came in from the back. He was a massive man; as tall as Ash but twice as wide.
“You buying or you just swinging that thing around for the fun of it?” The giant blacksmith said in a surprisingly light voice.
“I think I’m buying, but I’m not sure exactly what I’m looking for,” Ash responded, still looking over the racks of weapons. “Recent changes have changed up my typical fighting style. You know how it goes, I’m sure.”
The large man chuckled. “Well I’ve always been on the strong side, but you definitely wouldn’t be the first who found themselves in need of a style change. However, you have the clear look of an amateur while holding that sword.”
Ash’s face reddened slightly. Danse Macabre helped him to an extent, but it was no replacement for actual training. “Yeah, well, I use to be a ranged expert, but my preferred weapon doesn’t seem to be much of an option here.” He glanced over the pile of arrow heads, but he’d used bows in the past and was no expert. On top of that, he could feel no connection between that and his Danse ability, so he’d be relying purely on his own skills, as meagre as they were.
“That shouldn’t be a problem. I’m sure the trainers over at the Adventurer Collective can help you out,” the blacksmith responded.
Ash turned back to the man, taking his eyes off the weapons. “Adventurer Collective?”
“Sure,” the man said dismissively. “They might not be the Explorer’s Prestige, but who can afford those prices on a regular income?” The questioning note in Ash’s voice had been taken as skepticism instead. “The adventurers over there aren’t the strongest, but they are honest. And they’ll train up anyone looking to defend themselves.”
The smith looked Ash over. “So, you shouldn’t let not knowing how to use the weapon prevent you from getting the one that would best fit an evolving style. Speaking of which, what is your style?”
Ash rubbed his chin like a contemplative noir detective. “It seems to be leaning towards speed, which,” he gestured to himself, “is not a familiarity for me.”
“Hmm, well, if you want anything special added to these, you’ll have to take them to an enchanter. But, something like this,” he bent towards one of the racks and grabbed a sword that Ash must have overlooked earlier. “is generally considered quick and flexible. It depends on the individual, but it might do for your needs.” He handed Ash a beautiful rapier-style sword with a simple hand guard.
The smith held the weapon out to Ash, handle first. Holding the weapon, Ash felt a slight connection. “Hmm, this is very Alexandre Dumas,” he mumbled to himself. He considered for a few minutes, looking over the other weapons. Besides being similar to the ceremonial swords he was familiar with, it also helped that it was half the price of the larger broad swords. He ended up buying the sword and a pair of well balanced knives, because it’s always good to have a knife on hand. They’re surprisingly versatile tools and you never quite know when you might need one.
It cost him a fair chunk of his limited stash, but Ash was happy to have something more than an oddly durable stick to keep himself safe. Needing to keep himself busy, Ash left the city and found an out-of-the-way place in the woods nearby. After exhausting himself exercising, he spent some time trying to familiarize himself with his new sword, but felt out of his depth.
Frustrated, he snapped his weapons back into his inventory. “Learning from a trainer wouldn’t be a bad idea.” He snapped his Book of Fireball into his hand and stared at it wistfully. “Is there a point in holding onto this if I might never be able to use it? If changing classes is possible, I would probably end up with something sword-based now, right?” He sighed at himself. “And if I could use it, how long until then? I’ve said it before, more abilities less problems, right?”
“Be clean,” he chanted with resignation before standing up. He walked back towards the city, lamenting that he might never be able to be a one-man artillery unit. After he passed through the gate and headed back towards the island dominated by mages and ended up trading his Book of Fireball for the Binding Attire ability book and a good chunk of gold to make up the difference.
He was walking back through the city, enjoying the sights between the mage island and the guild campus. The architecture continued to impress him as he walked. It was later in the afternoon, but the streets were crowded with people walking around. He had to dodge around several of the horseless carriages he’d ridden in on his way to the city as well many more that still relied on the horses to pull them. Guards walked around the major streets, interacting with the people and keeping their presence available.
Ash turned down a smaller sidestreet and heard a man’s voice call out. “Hey, stop! Thief!” Someone came sprinting down the street, their head was covered by a hood, a clothe pulled up to cover most of their face. Ash saw a pair of guards turn and start sprinting after him, but they were halfway down the street and the thief was in a clear path forward.
Ash popped his staff into his hand and eyed the distance between him and the running thief. With another silent pop, the staff disappeared from his hand. A few dozen meters away, the staff popped back into existence between the legs of the thief, tripping them up and sending them sprawling. They hit the brick street with a crack that made Ash wince. He ran over to check on them to make sure the cracking wasn’t their head opening in the fall. He saw some blood on the ground and felt his heart lurch a little, but before he could roll the person over, the two guards finally caught up. They bent down and yank the thief to their feet.
One of the guards pulled a small vial from his belt and dumped the contents down the throat of the unconscious thief. A gash in his forehead, that had been leaking quite profusely, stitched itself closed immediately. With a groan, the thief came back to consciousness, attempting to reach up and rub his head only to find his hands restrained by shackles and one of the guards’ iron grasp.
Panic surged in the thief’s eyes and the shackles briefly lit up in colored runes before sending a jolt through the thief’s wrists. “Anti-ability cuffs, numbnuts. That won’t be working.” The guard holding him smacked the thief in the back of the head and started dragging him away. Ash hid his scowl at the action, but didn’t mention it.
The other guard turned to Ash. “Thank you for the assist, sir. That was quick thinking, the guard could always use some talented new recruits. Give it a thought. You can stop by the main or any of the branch headquarters if you got any questions.” The guard through a snap salute and walked away, leaving Ash standing there before hearing any sort of reply.
On his way back to the guild, he passed by one of the branch guard headquarters and saw some of them training in a field adjacent to the building. Most of them looked to be new recruits, learning to handle their weapons for the first time. Ash looked on and smirked when he spotted the person in charge. The training sergeant was a woman roughly his own age, but her face was a mix between schooled professionalism and growing frustration.
One of the recruits was swinging a spear around wildly, chopping it down like they were trying to split some wood. At that, the sergeant lost their patience and began going off on the poor kid. He was too far away to hear her words, only the sound of angry yells reaching him. The recruit was facing away from him, but he saw their shoulders droop as they stood in front of his sergeant’s wrath.
“Poor kid. Been on both sides of that ass chewing,” Ash thought out loud as he turned away and headed back to the guild. “Definitely not interested in heading back into that life, far too stressful for far too few freedoms.” He wasn’t ready to be under the thumb of this city’s private military. As amazing as most of the city has felt, there was something about it that put him off ease. He couldn’t put his finger on it, and maybe it was just a difference of cultures, but it felt like there was something wrong.
“The only thing to do is get stronger and be ready for when the card flips. Like the old gunny used to say, hope for the best but prepare for the worst.” He pulled his new Binding Attire from out of his inventory and looked over its plain leather cover. “I don’t know what it is, but I have to get stronger. There are too many unknowns in this world.” The book vanished from his hand and he went back to scanning the the city as he returned to his new home.