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Tala grunted, looking around at the magical items filling Artia’s little shop. What if artifacts really do show up more often, here? “Huh…Well, assuming it’s true…” she looked at the knife, again, “and I can’t see any reason to put that to lie, I apologize for misjudging you.”

“No offense taken, Mistress.”

Yeah…right… Tala put the knife down. “So, all of the items without spell-lines are like that? Artifacts of magic?”

“Most of the items, yes.”

Tala walked over to the wall of bags and found that many of them seemed to warp beneath her mage-sight, calling to her, beckoning her to look closer. Each of those was obviously a dimensional storage, and most didn’t have spell lines.

Those without spell-lines, and some with, had a very familiar feel to them, despite a similar looping, twisting spiral pattern that was, again, familiar but not. The underlying magic creates an effect like the cargo-slots… “Mages study these items to learn spell-forms.”

Artia made a happy sound. “That had always been my husband’s, Adrill’s, theory, though no Mage would ever take the time to discuss it with an uninscribed.”

“I’m getting the feeling that you all aren’t great at finding accommodating Mages.”

“With all due respect, Mistress. I think I may have met more Mages than you have.”

Tala turned to regard Artia. After a long pause, she nodded. “I suppose that’s probably true.” She frowned. Are Mages really so…yeah. As she thought back to her time in school, she had to acknowledge that most Mages, even most Mages in training, were not very kind to non-Mages. “Fair’s fair, I suppose. I never really got on well with most Mages anyways…” She felt a sadness flick through her but suppressed it. Now’s not the time. “So, these bags: Why are they here? No downside I can imagine. So, why haven’t they been snapped up?”

“Ahh! Yes. They degrade quickly once taken outside of the high magic region around a waning city, unless fed large amounts of magic, consistently.” After a moment, Artia amended. “At least, that is what I understand, not being a Mage, myself.”

“Really?” Tala smiled. “That’s quite interesting.” She picked one up, keeping watch on Artia with the corner of her eye to ensure the woman didn’t object to her doing so. She didn’t. “Does it simply take a raw power dump, or is it like empowering a storage wagon?”

Artia shrugged. “Not a Mage, dear.” After a brief pause, she added. “My husband would know more, and if you choose one of the bags, we can discuss a trade for any information he can offer.”

Tala quirked a smile. “Fair enough. Even so, I’d think these would have substantial use around your fair city. Why do you have…” She did a quick count. “Ten? Why do you have ten in stock?”

“That is a similar situation to the knife, dear. Sure, dimensional storage is useful, but they are very expensive, for simple, local use. Even so they really aren’t that rare, so those who want them, buy them.” She shrugged. “We’ve enough travelers that come through and want to rent them while in town that it pays to keep them on hand and not lower the price. That and locals rent them out too, on occasion. Most folks don’t need to have a dimensional storage of their own.”

“And that price is?”

Artia looked at Brand, and he nodded. “Well, as a member of the Order of the Harvest, we will bundle your purchases and give you a discount.”

“…But I won’t know what I can afford, unless you give me a starting price.”

“To rent one of those bags would be 10 ounces, silver, per day, and policy is: If you rent it for a year, it’s yours.”

Tala blinked. “There is no way you charge almost 40 ounces, gold, for one of those.”

“No? They never need to be reinscribed, and they never need new power sources, so long as you stay local. A standard dimensional storage would cost you 5 ounces, gold, plus another ounce for a power source. Then, you’ll need to reinscribe it every three months or so, to be safe, for another 4 ounces, gold, and you’ll need another power source every four months or so. When a year has passed, you’ve spent, what? 25 ounces, gold? And you’ll have to spend another 19, give or take, every year, forever, or the item loses all power and value. That isn’t even factoring the increased cost of magical metals in a waning city. I think 40 to never concern yourself with that is a bargain.”

Put that way, it was quite hard to argue with. “I don’t have 40 ounces, gold…”

Artia patted her on the shoulder. “I assumed not, dear. You haven’t any shoes.”

Tala glared, but there wasn’t any malice behind it. “I prefer to be barefoot.” She really doesn’t interact much with many Mages.

“Sure you do, dear. I understand.”

“You know, you’re a bit of a-”

“Um…” Brand stepped forward, quietly cutting her off. “I believe that this is going off track. Mistress Tala, there are likely arrangements that could be made, in lieu of monetary payment. You do, for example, have quite a few harvests to trade with, yes?”

Tala looked away from Artia and deflated slightly. “You are right, as usual, Brand.” She glanced back at Artia. “I do not appreciate condescension. I am aware that many of your clientele are of the type to loosen their purses simply to prove you wrong. I am not one of them, and I would appreciate it if you’d forgo such tactics, for the sake of our amicable relationship.” There. Maturely handled, Tala.

Artia smiled slightly. “Very well, Mistress. I will not attempt to maneuver you. Shall we look at what all we have to interest you, here?”

Tala nodded her agreement. Then, an oddity struck her. “Wait…”

Artia paused, looking quizzically in her direction.

“If the bags degrade in normal or low magic areas, how could they be found in ruins? This area is only high magic because of the waning city, and thus the bags couldn’t have remained intact for the centuries since their creation.”

The shop owner stared at her. “That…is an excellent question, actually.” She frowned. “It is possible that the item is an artifact, and the magic inhabiting it is new?” She thought for a moment. “That does actually align with more of the details that I know.” She turned back to fully face Tala. “I suppose that I should express a couple of things about artifacts, because you are new to them.”

Tala tried not to give a frustrated sigh. “Any information would be appreciated.”

Artia nodded, consolingly. “First, artifacts…change over time. They seem to adapt to the uses they are put to and the peculiarities of their owners.” She hesitated, then shrugged. “This is speculation, but I’ve heard of some…older Mages whose use of artifacts seems to have modified them far more heavily than in other cases. I don’t know why.”

“Hmmm. Interesting. And the second thing?”

“Artifacts can be dangerous. There haven’t been too many incidents in recent memory, but anyone who deals in artifacts is trained to look for certain things. There are storage bags that look like other dimensional storage artifacts but have a tendency to…eat their user.”

Tala blinked several times. “What.”

Artia held up her hands placatingly. “All those have some commonalities, and we watch for them carefully. All the storage I have, I’ve rented out hundreds of times, and they are tried and true. There were also early instances, hundreds of years ago, and in other cities, obviously, where some knives would be found in their owners' hearts, driven clean through the bone. Could have been foul play, but they have similar…threads? Yes, threads, which can be seen with mage-sight, or items that allow similar sight.”

“So…none of your items will kill me.”

“They shouldn’t. Though clean items have been observed to develop in that way, if their owner harbored suicidal tendencies. Again, the items seem to mold to their user, over time.”

“So, be careful what you wish for, and don’t be depressed.”

Artia snorted. “Sure, if that’s what you want to take from it. Also, if you ever come across an artifact, whether in the wilds, ruins, or in this city, have a reputable dealer examine it for you. I am happy to do it myself, free of charge. I don’t wish harm to come to you.”

“In the wilds? The city? Madam Artia, how could unknown artifacts simply be laying around?”

Artia shrugged. “No idea, but it happens. Some claim to have seen artifacts appear from nothing, or a burst of magic to manifest atop an item, rendering it an artifact, but I’ve never put much stock in those rumors or tales.”

“But you pass them on?”

She shrugged again. “I’d rather share hearsay than allow you to be taken unaware. I’m glad that you will exercise caution.”

Tala grunted. “Fair enough. Thank you.”

In the end, Tala had a moderately sized pile of items on the shop counter, which included a theoretically permanent storage bag, which was the shape of a belt pouch and roughly as large as her two fists pressed together, but could hold as much as a large storage closet. She’d picked it for several reasons: First, it could only open to just over a foot and a half in radius, and thus was restrictive in what could be stored inside, this made it seem to be the least valuable of those Artia had on hand. Second, its twistings of dimensional magic seemed to include defensive measures, unlike any other that she’d seen. If she understood them correctly, and that was a big if, the bag could subtly shift space around itself to be out of the way of any but a direct attack on the pouch. She didn’t know how it would respond to area attacks.

Artia did not seem to realize this added affect, and Tala was not about to enlighten her. Third, more than any of the others, its warping of space reminded her of her own mental constructs for dimensional reshaping. It simply felt right to her.

I’ll have to experiment with it a bit.

Aside from the pouch, Tala grabbed a drop-point, artifact knife of the same kind as the short-bladed one she’d examined earlier. This handle fit her hand better, and the blade was a bit longer, lending utility without becoming unwieldy. The metal of the knife she chose looked like standard steel, which was not the case for all those available. The scales of the handle were what looked and felt like smooth, cool stone, pinned in place with bright, silver rivets.

Despite the apparent slick smoothness of the surface, the handle felt incredibly secure in her hand, almost as if it were clinging to her, as well. The stone was a lovely grey, white, and red-flecked black, and it reminded her of a hazy night’s sky.

As she’d examined the artifact knives on display, she’d noticed that each had an odd depth to their magic, as if there were far more within each knife than the simple, surface enchantments. There was also a small pocket of emptiness, where something seemed to be missing from the magic, or where it could have something added, but didn’t have to have such. It was a fairly odd thing to see.

To the knife and storage, she added three artifacts that she’d picked almost at random, but without letting that show, to the best of her ability. One was a wooden comb that untangled hair with a single stroke. The second, a whistle that only those friendly to the blower could hear. Third, a simple stone coin that always landed face up, when flipped, and which would cool water to just above freezing when placed within it. Artia made sure she understood that it ceased to work in any liquid other than pure water. Tala acknowledged that and took it anyways.

There were supposedly a whole host of other items that Tala could look through, but she already suspected that she was well past her budget.

Therefore, that done, the three of them went out to Tala’s handcart and looked over what she was willing to sell.

She had eight talons and six leg bones from a blade wing, and one horn from the thunder bull. She’d prefer to keep two of the leg bones, and she additionally had right around 100 pounds of thunder bull jerky, if she needed to tip the scales.

You know, I think I’d prefer to keep the jerky than the leg bones, if it comes down to it.

Artia pulled out a small eye piece, and Tala immediately focused on it, seeing within it a magic akin to her own mage-sight, if more limited.

Another artifact? She wasn’t lying when she said they were everywhere, it seems. Tala almost laughed at herself. That? That’s what convinces me? She’d just been searching through a store filled with such items, but this casual display is what tipped the scales in her mind, it seemed.

Artia picked up one of the talons, and examined it through her eye piece, before sighing. “I’m sorry, Mistress, but these are useless. All traces of power are utterly gone. I’ve never seen them fade so fast, but it must just be bad luck.”

Brand seem flabbergasted. “What? That’s impossible! It’s only been a few days since those were harvested.”

Artia shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you.”

Tala smiled. “I do. They haven’t degraded.”

Artia gave her a long-suffering look. “I’m not seeing any magic.”

Tala took out her own knife and took the talon from Artia. Then, as the woman watched through her eye piece, Tala scraped her knife along the talon’s surface removing most of the layer of iron salve, which had set as an outer layer.

Artia almost gasped, as she snatched the talon from Tala, examining the small opening, through which magic poured. She rubbed her thumb across the surface, working the surrounding salve into movement to re-cover the small hole, and the magical light faded to Tala’s mage-sight.

“Sealed, somehow? You coated them with something to contain the power and keep it from degrading?”

Tala nodded.

“Then, these are all as potent as if just harvested.” The woman looked utterly astonished.

Tala made a hesitant sound. “I’d say they are as fresh as if harvested within the last few hours. Likely less, but I don’t wish to oversell.”

Artia cocked an eyebrow. “Really? After that little demonstration?”

“It is what it is.” But Tala was grinning.

“Well, if a hunter brought in a fresh harvest, I’d likely be able to give a gold per talon, and three per bone.” She lifted a finger. “Honestly, the larger pair would fetch four, and the smaller pair two each, but it still averages to three, which is the value of the middling set.” She glanced to Brand. “As Brand stands for you, I do not need to verify the source of your goods, and I can trust that they are what they appear. The thunder bull’s horn is an interesting find, as the power it contains is mainly used for shattering defenses, though some fools take that power and invert it to heal maladies of the skeletal system.” She shook her head. “Why they don’t use the beast’s bones is beyond me, but Mages are an inscrutable bunch, and I suppose I’m no Constructionist.”

Tala cocked an eyebrow but didn’t comment.

Artia cleared her throat. “The horn is easily worth four or five ounces, gold. Now, normally, I’d have to pass on some of these, as I have no ready buyers, and everyone knows that harvests kept out of an iron box degrade quickly, and even in one they don’t have an eternity to wait. I was going to make an exception, but it seems I don’t have to.” She looked up to the left for a moment, seeming to do some calculations. “So, all told, that puts the valuation of your harvests, generously, at 31 ounces, gold. I could never give you that much if I simply bought them from you, but as part of an exchange, I think we can consider that full valuation. The value of the items you selected inside is still higher, though.”

THIRTY-ONE OUNCES! Rust keeping two bones as fighting sticks, I’m selling all of it. She nearly had a fit of joyous dancing but did her best to keep it hidden. She remembered how her father would alter prices based on the cut and quality of a customer’s clothing, and she’d needed to not only keep the numbers straight, but not let on that it was anything other than the ordinary price. Tala nodded. “Shall we return inside?”

Artia had been about to continue but frowned slightly before nodding. “As you wish.”

They walked inside, returning to Tala’s small pile. Tala looked around at the merchandise once more. “Wait. The harvests are sitting out…?”

Artia smiled. “These are past the point of selling, too degraded unfortunately, and are simply out for display purposes, demonstrating the type of thing we can acquire. It takes a very long time for the last vestiges of power to finally leave an item, and until then, the type of power they have is still easy to verify.”

Tala nodded. That made a good deal of sense. She gestured to her small pile, turning away from the shop at large. “What is the value we have, here?”

Artia looked at Tala with suspicion but continued. “Well, that is the least of our bags, so I’d normally part with it for thirty-five gold, the knife is half an ounce, and the coin is one ounce, the whistle two, and comb really should be three, but I’ll part with it for two.”

Tala nodded, but didn’t say anything further, simply flicking a glance to Brand, before returning her focus to Artia.

The shop keeper sighed. “Because you are at least working with the Order, I’m willing to bundle these all together and part with them for an even thirty-five ounces.”

Tala almost grinned, then. She must rarely have use for this smaller dimensional storage bag. She’s willing to be quite flexible on the price. “So…?”

“So, if I take all your items, and you wish all of these, the balance would be four ounces, gold, from you to me.”

Tala nodded. “That seems quite fair.”

Artia smiled broadly, opening her mouth to conclude, but Tala continued.

“Unfortunately, I’m not in a place to spare four ounces, gold, at this time. While the coin would provide many pleasantly cool drinks, I do not think I can justify it at this time.” She moved the stone coin aside.

Artia nodded, opening her mouth, but again, Tala continued.

“And the whistle could be a boon in a pinch, but it really isn’t an effective use of my resources at this time.” Even as she placed the whistle with the coin, she tittered a laugh, as if to herself. “And if I can’t justify such an obviously helpful item, I certainly can’t allow myself to splurge on a comb.” She nodded, as if conceding a point, and moved the comb over, to beside the other two items. “And as you said, those together were valued at…” She paused as if she hadn’t calculated beforehand. “Five ounces, gold.”

“I did say that, but-”

Tala continued as if she hadn’t heard the woman. “Thus, if my figuring is correct, I’m asking for thirty ounces of product, and I have offered thirty-one ounces in payment. I do hope that it won’t be too much trouble to transfer a gold ounce to my account?”

Artia blinked at her a few times, then sighed. “You planned that, right? You preselected those three items to nudge the numbers around.”

Tala shrugged. “Yes and no. If it had worked out, I’d have loved to get every item here, and those stood out as interesting, for one reason or other. I’m sorry that they won’t come into my ownership at this time.”

Arita huffed a laugh. “Fine, girl. It’s not worth fighting you. But no, I’ll not transfer the ounce. We’ll do an even trade, and we’ll both be happy about it. Yes?”

Tala thought for a moment, then nodded, extending her hand. “Very well. Thank you.” She had to contain her excitement, partially at her exchange, and partially at what a piece of her mind had just discovered, or thought that it had. While most of her attention had been taken up with the transaction at hand, a small portion of her mind had been puzzling over the mysterious, miniature void in the pommel of the various artifact knives, the place where the magic seemed to be waiting for something. In truth, such was evident in most of the artifacts, though the positioning and ease of finding the small voids varied from type to type.

And a possible answer had just clicked.

Tala concluded her business with Artia. Part of that was getting assurances that nowhere south of the pass, within a day’s walk, would have low enough magic to harm her new pouch. She promised to return the following evening to discuss dimensional storage with Artia’s husband and join them for dinner.

Without further delay, she shoved her remaining things, including her backpack, satchel, and jerky, into her new belt pouch and departed.

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I am absolutely floored by the responses to Millennial Mage.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for your comments, critiques, edits, ratings, reviews, and now, patronage.

You all have added such joy to my life, through your engagement with, and consumption of, Tala's tale.

Thank you.


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