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Aline looked up from the small book in her hands, as she heard the pit-pat of the girls feet coming down the steps. She was wearing the new clothes now, the sleeveless mauve dress and half-cloak around her shoulders with the hood down at the back. “Man, what a difference clean clothes and a bath make. You look like an actual, living person now,” she said to the girl looking her way, having reached the bottom of the steps.


“Thank you for the clothes,” she replied.


Aline lifted her book back up, waving a hand “I just picked them out, Deryk paid for it. Take good care of them, if you tear them you’ll have to pay to get it fixed.”


“Okay, I’ll be careful,” said the girl.


Aline tilted her head to the side to look back to Esper. “You’ll have to buy some shoes yourself girl, I couldn’t guess what size you need.”


“Shoes?”


Not surprised at the question, Aline lifted one of her legs that was resting on the other, folded over the table into the air and shook her boot towards the girl. “Shoes, girl. You can’t walk barefoot everywhere in the city. You’ll step in old glass or something without them. Esper looked down to her bare feet.


“Besides, you need to have a presentable appearance, if you’re going to be seen in the kitchen here. We have a reputation after all.”
Esper nodded, thinking she understood “Mm.” Stepping down from the bottom of the stairwell, she walked towards the woman. Aline looked at the small, ragged pouch the girl held pinched sideways in her hand. With her own right hand, she placed a finger on a small silver coin on the table and slid it over the surface towards the girl with a sweeping motion. “This is your pay for this month. Use it to buy some shoes and do whatever you want with the rest. But remember it has to last for the whole month.”


Esper looked at the small metal disk on the table. “Is this money?”


Aline rolled her eyes and sighed. “The clothes were free, a gift from Deryk. He likes you apparently. But if you take this, you’ll have to stay here and work every night for a whole month, none of this day by day nonsense that he brought up. I do the planning around here, so I need to know now if I need to make other arrangements,” Esper thought about it for a while, she supposed she wasn’t in a huge rush. She really wanted to get to the top, but she also wanted to see everything on the way and meet interesting people and most importantly eat delicious foods. This could be a rare opportunity for her.


Esper nodded to the woman who slid the coin towards her with a flick of her finger. Esper waited for her to nod back, but she didn’t.


“Great. Daylight breaks in about an hour, maybe two. So you have about five hours to do your things and to get back here before we open. Understood?”


“Okay!” said Esper, taking the coin in her hand and sliding it into the ripped pouch in which her knife and key were. Seeing this Aline dropped her book to her lap with both hands and let her head tilt forward with an expression of sarcastic inquisitiveness. Slapping the book on the table, she held out her hand. “Let me see that, girl.” She snapped with her finger, her hand outstretched.


Esper cautiously held the old pouch out to the woman. Taking it, she made a grimace as she looked at it closely. “Puh, this thing reeks. Did something die in it?” Esper shrugged, not too sure what exactly she was talking about. Aline set it down on the table and got up. “Stay there.” The woman walked into the kitchen where the sound of a rattling drawer could be heard. A moment later the red-haired barkeeper came back with something in hand. Esper squinted her eyes to see her, walking closer to the table where the woman had sat back down again.


In her hand was a small needle and a bright red spindle of string. Aline took the end of the string in her mouth and wet it before threading it through the eye of the needle and tying a knot around it. Pinching the torn side of the bundle together, the contents jangling as they collided, she began to sew the thread through the hole from one side and then back to the other. Esper stared in wide eyed fascination, as the woman ran the string up and down several times, creating a zig-zag stitch that bound the frayed ends together with the bright red string.


Once she had done so three times, she bit the middle of the string off behind the needle, placing it down on the table. She tied a knot tightly in the little string and then held the bag into the air shaking it a few times. The stitching held up perfectly and she handed the bag back to the girl. “Here girl.”


“Thank you!” said Esper very happily, elated that her old pouch had been fixed. Taking it she held it close to her eyes and looked at the bright red string running through the otherwise stale colored bag, like a vein on the surface of a dead man's skin.


Aline picked her book back up anew and set her feet back onto the table. “Sure, now get going. And wash that bag when you come back.” Esper nodded to the woman, not sure why she had to do that, and waved goodbye as she hobbled to the door. Once it had closed, Aline sighed to herself, more out of principle than for any particular reason and returned her gaze to her book. Blowing the old, gray-blue dust off that had gotten stuck to her hands.

 


 

Esper tucked the bag beneath the cord that was looping tightly around her waist, tugging on it once to make sure that it stayed securely in place. Satisfied, the girl looked up and down the road that the guardsman had carried her down the day before, she couldn’t remember his name. He was nice though. Oh well, turning to her right she instead walked around the building, towards the busy side road that she had seen from her upstairs window. The way was illuminated by many different lights, all shining out of the stalls and large shop windows, converging into an aura that was almost as good and bright as daylight itself.


She stepped around the corner of the building and looked left to the side road, stepping to the side as a group of people walked past her. Dozens of men and women were holding conversations and conducting business with each other. The air was filled with laughter and banter. Though Esper hadn’t seen a single upsetting thing since she got here, their joyous laughter made her uneasy in a way, as she stood there and looked at them. Now not up from a window, but down on the same level as them. Lower actually, everyone was taller than her here. Even the children she saw were all a half head larger than herself at least.


Something shifted uneasily in her chest and she felt a weight growing in her stomach, anchoring her feet in place. Her eyes darted from one person to the next, none of them paying her any mind, but her mind slowly becoming hyper focused on each and every one of them and their mannerisms. She felt uneasy, fearful. Her breath became rapid. No insight would come to her this time, no icy sting from the necklace to give her a new guidance that she hadn’t thought of herself yet. She felt nervous sweat grow on her brow.


Stepping backwards, Esper hustled back to the door of the tavern, quickly opening it up and stepping back inside, feeling her heart beating far too fast and strong. Aline turned her head around and looked to the girl. Immediately feeling her gaze, Esper looked up and stuttered “I-I forgot something,” and rushed past her, back up the stairs. Digging the key out of her pouch, she opened the room door and shut it behind herself. Slowly, her mind began to cool down, the over-stimulation from the chaotic world outside now slowly being suppressed by the comfortable safety of the small, secure room. Leaning against the door for a moment the girl thought for a time.


The soft fabric of the folded hood of the cloak pressed against the back of her neck and gave rise to a new idea, this one crafted all of her own design. Esper went to the robe-bag on the bed and undid it once more and took out the half-skull mask from the bag and looked at the strange thing. Returning her gaze, the two stared at each other for a few seconds. Flipping it around she stuck the mask on her face, where it held tightly as before on its own with no straps. She still wasn’t sure how it worked, but was happy that it did. Pulling the large hood from her half-cloak up now over the top of her head as well, she went towards the window staring at the vague, foggy reflection looking back at herself.


Staring at her eyes behind the mask, Esper felt a gentle relief wash through her core, erasing the stress from her anxiety present just a moment before. She nodded to the obscured girl in the window, the obscured girl nodded back. The pact was sealed. Turning around with newfound bravery, Esper returned to the bundle on the bed and took out the small pouch hat she had gotten from Journeyman's bag, looking at the coins inside. They were similar to the one Aline gave her, but different. She would ask Aline later, thought the girl, taking the coins out of the little satchel and putting them into her own freshly rewoven pouch, together with her wages. With newfound bravery, Esper retied the bundle on the bed, leaving it there and went back to and out of the door; making sure to lock it behind herself. With the key in the pouch and her face covered as decently as possible, she hurried back down the stairs. Aline was gone now, seemingly in the kitchen.


Esper went back out of the door and once more around the corner to face the side street. Taking a deep breath, the obscured girl took her first step down the side road, looking around from side to side at the many people walking past her. None of them really paid her any more mind than before, that being none, to her relief. Sometimes someone would look down at the hooded child wearing an odd skull mask, but they would just as soon look away, as if they had never seen a thing out of the ordinary.


The road smelled intensely of smells she had never experienced before, all mingling together. Some of exotic foods and drinks and others from the workers and craftsmen behind their booths, making tools and clothing the likes of which she had never seen. In the middle of the road, stopping in front of a small stall, she looked at the leather works the man had on display. Satchels and bags of all kinds lined over the table made from deep-brown to brightly-tanned leathers. They were pretty and she wondered if she could afford one, but then her hand reached down to the small satchel that Aline had fixed for her and she knew she didn’t need one; walking on with a smile.


Just past that, there was a large window front, behind it several cushions with sparkling metals and colorful stones making up a collection of jewelry in colors she had never seen metal in before. Most of it had the same dark, blue metallic hue the armor of the guardsmen had. But scattered in-between the displays were several others variants of a shining golden hue like summer sunlight. The stones that adorned them all opaque, but with wildly colorful waves of varying hue flowing throughout them. Her smile grew larger as she realized that she owned something so pretty as well, her luck had really turned up since then, she thought beaming, feeling the cold touch of the amulet against her skin.


Walking around for a time, Esper found her body and mind grow less and less tense as she went down the road further and further. Several stalls selling bright and vibrant outfits, shawls and shirts and all manner of robes and dresses caught her eye. More than once she stopped to take a deep smell of the foods that she walked past. Each time she had to fight with herself to not try to get one. She needed to find shoes and she didn’t know how expensive they were. She could get food afterwards.


Resolutely, Esper marched on until almost the end of the street which led to a large stone bridge, crossing over to another one of the spireing fingers. Another cluster of the town was situated on top of it, exchanging people freely with all the other islands. Just before the bridge however, she saw the small stall on the right side. An old man with a single round glass in front of his eye sat there, stitching a leather boot that his hand was planted inside of. With a smile, she ran across the street towards him, ducking and weaving past the people who seemed to take little notice of her.


“Hello!” She said as she reached the stall. The man looked up and around, confused for a moment before his gaze locked on to her, despite having passed her face twice already.


“Oh, hello there,” he said, taking the round glass off of his eye, before rubbing both of them. He was old, with no hair and a deeply wrinkled face. They converged mostly around the sides of his eyes however, giving him a kind and friendly face. Looking at the obscured girl curiously, he continued “How can I help you, child?”


“Aline told me I need to buy shoes!” she replied, enthusiastically.


The man rubbed his head. “Well I don’t know how that is, but if it's shoes you need, girl, you’re at the right place!” said the old man with a smile, placing the boot in his hand down on the table together with the thick needle. “What kind of shoe are you looking for?”


Esper thought for a moment and shrugged “I don’t know. I’ve never had shoes before.”


“Good heavens, girl. Where on earth are you from?” Esper opened her mouth to say the Burrow, but the memory of the large, excited crowd surrounding her back in the last town rushed to the forefront of her mind. “A-Achtel,” she lied to the man.


He shook his head, sighing “You poor thing, I’ve heard stories about that town but I haven’t been there in ten years since…” He looked at the small child in front of him. “- Well, nevermind!” With a smile he rose to his feet. “So, tell me what you need shoes for and I’ll help you find the right kind! How about that?”


Esper nodded “Mm! I need them to work. I wash things at the tavern!”


“Mhm, I see,” said the man “Do you stand in one spot mostly, or do you walk a lot?”


Esper thought for a moment “When I work I stand mostly, but when I don’t work I walk a lot. I walked here from Achtel!” she said proudly.
“Not alone I hope!” said the man indignantly. Esper shrugged in response. “By the gods, girl. Okay… How about something like this.” Reaching below the counter, the man pulled out a boot. It was slim and sleek, made from a thin leather with a brownish, dark-red hue. The top folded downward with a small flap. A lace of a somewhat darker variant of the same tone ran up the front. “These are some of the best sellers in these parts.” He held the boot out to her “They’re fantastic for wearing every day, very practical and most importantly comfortable.” Esper took the boot from the man and held it close to her eyes, spinning it around to look at it.


She wasn’t exactly sure what it was she should be looking for. But it was a pretty thing nonetheless and was fun to look at in its own way. One realization came to her and she held it back out to the man “It’s too big.”


“It’s just a show piece, girl. What size are you?”


“I don’t know,” she replied. The old man reached beneath his table and walked around the booth.


“Pardon me. I’ll just take a measure real quick, okay?” The man leaned down and placed the marked cloth string against her foot, taking the size of both directions. “Hmm, yes…” The man rose back up and went back behind his stall to a crate in the back. Shoving open the lid she began to dig through it, reaching almost the very bottom. Esper stared at him curiously, as he almost vanished into the large crate, his feet almost leaving the ground to rise into the air, as he bent over it head first. He seemed to find what he was looking for and emerged back out with a pair of small boots in his hand. He shut the lid of the crate back tightly down and came back to the counter.


“Here, try these on. These should fit you.” He placed the boots on the counter together with two short pieces of fabric. Seeing her confusion immediately the old man went on “They’re socks, girl. Wear them on your feet before you put on the boots. Leather takes a few days to settle and become comfortable to wear. You don’t want to rub your skin open.” Esper nodded and took the things, sitting down on the stool before the counter. She wiped her feet off and slipped her feet into the socks and wiggled her toes, the sensation of cloth over them felt odd and new.


Taking the boots now, she placed her feet inside of them one at a time, leaving the laces open and loose on the front, since she didn’t entirely know what to do with them. Rising up from the stool, she noticed immediately that the world seemed different. She was higher up, not much more than a centimeter or two at most, but the small shift made her brain notice that everything was just a little off from how it usually was. She shook her legs and rose to the tips of her toes and her heels, getting a feel for the things on her feet. It was an odd sensation and she tentatively took a few steps around in a circle, trying to understand the mechanics of walking like this.


“Well, what do you think?” asked the old man.


“It feels weird, but the rocks don’t hurt my feet anymore!” she replied enthusiastically to the man, who smiled back.


“If you haven’t worn shoes then it will take some time to get used to, but after a couple of days it should be alright.”


“Mm!” Esper reached into her bag and pulled out the coin that Aline had given her. handing it over to the man. “Is this enough?” Taking the coin he looked at it. Seemingly satisfied, he looked back to her.


“Sure is, hold on.” Placing the single silver coin down, he rummaged through a small container beneath the desk. The old man held his hand out to the girl “Here’s your change.”


Esper wasn’t entirely sure what change was, but held her hand out and took the coins back from the man a little confused. “Thank you!” she said to him with a smile shining out beneath the skull mask.


“No, thank you for your business,” said the old man with a smile of his own, before sitting back down. “Ah! One thing.” He rose back to his feet, walking around the stall once more to her. Bending downward, he grabbed the strings of the boots and tied them tightly, but slowly so the girl could watch him do so.


“Make sure to tie these when you wear them so they sit nice and snug, otherwise they will hurt. Okay?”


Esper watched in fascination at the complicated knot the man was making on her new shoes, unsure if she could replicate it. “Okay! Thank you!” The man rose up and gave her a final smile before returning back to his chair once more. Waving goodbye to each other, the man watched as the strange, obscured girl walked off down the bridge to the other rise. He shook his head, wondering what strange children there were these days.


He picked up his boot from before together with the needle and began to continue his stitching. Not a minute later he blinked, his eyes rising up in confusion, as his mind told him that something vague and undefined was wrong. Looking around his stall he noticed a silver coin in his money basket. Where had this come from? He hadn’t had a single customer all day. Scratching his head, he tossed it back into the basket, not entirely upset about having more money than he thought he did.

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About the author

Razzmatazz

Bio: Socially awkward witches, sad hugs, dramatic adventures, spooky stuff, and comfy dungeons: My name is D.M. Rhodes, but I love to write about those things under the moniker 'Razzmatazz'. (Hopefully full-time, one day soon!) I’m a hobby occultist and, more boringly, I’m an XR expert, as well as a government-trained media and information specialist.

The main genres that I write in are litRPG-fantasy, action, adventure, romance, tragedy, horror, and slice-of-life. I seriously vibe with religious and occult overtones mixed in with super obscure story concepts. °( ~ )°

Thanks for taking an interest! Because of supportive readers like yourself, I can keep following my socially unacceptable dream! (I'm going to become the wizard-king.)

– Always open for feedback!

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