A note from JLMullins

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After Tala had summoned her knife from across the room, her surprise gave her a moment to pause.

While examining the knife in her hand more closely, she, again, noticed the berry stains, and that had reminded her of the horror her face must be to behold.

She stepped into the bath room, and used the gloriously running hot water to scrub the stains from her face and hands. Thankfully, the inn had provided a bar of soap that seemed to be quite effective against the berry juice, removing it completely from her face.

Her hands, unfortunately, were rendered only mostly clean, even after she’d peeled the glue from her palms, and the pads of her fingers.

Good enough. Then, as she looked at herself in the mirror, her eyes went wide. My iron salve should have helped prevent the juice from staining my skin.

She frantically pulled out her magic detector and pointed it at her face. A soft glow emanated from the device.

“Rust me to slag.” She moved the short stick across herself, finding only a few, but still too many, places where her iron salve had been breached.

It was never a full breach, stars be praised, nor was it more than a small portion of her overall skin, but it was a shocking thing, regardless.

She stripped down, reglued her palms and finger-pads, and worked to re-apply her iron salve, going so far as to thicken it wherever she felt that was reasonable.

I was being careful. I thought I was monitoring my internal magic. Even still, the ending-trees would have gotten her, if she hadn’t already eaten so many of their berries. They would have at least hit, and been a colossal drain on my defenses. She likely would have noticed that… Would that have been enough warning? She didn’t know.

Tala sat on the floor, her hand’s glue free and fully dressed once more. She panned the magic-detector across herself. Nothing.

Her hands were shaking as she swept the device about herself, once more. Still nothing.

She shivered. I’m pushing my luck too far. She didn’t even know how the ending-trees’ power had degraded her iron protection, she just knew that it had.

That also explained why she’d earlier felt several hitches in the well of ending power she held within herself. The trees got through. She couldn’t see any part of her inscriptions activated, nor had she felt any power flow into them. Thus, she concluded that, as she’d hoped, the ending-berries within her had shielded her from the tree’s magic quite well.

Even so, it had been a bit of a foolish risk. I should have been monitoring more closely. I should have been more careful.

She stored the empowered construct and placed her face in her hands, her elbows resting on her knees. Get it together, Tala. You’re alive. You’ve learned. You can avoid this, tomorrow.

She nodded to herself slowly regaining control over her nerves. Tomorrow, she would be diligent, using the magic detector and iron salve more than she thought reasonable. Better to be safe. Better to not risk a breach. She took a deep breath and gave a shaky smile. Live and learn. Right?

She shook her head. Ok. I don’t have a lot of time left.

She stood, letting out a large, puffing exhale.

Tala left her room, examining her sheathed knife to keep her mind focused on the present.

The movement wasn’t a function of magic within the knife. I didn’t activate some inscribed or empowered ability inherent to the weapon, itself.

With her new use of mage-sight, allowing her to look within and target specific muscles, she was getting used to the feeling of using muscles that were usually ignored.

The mild strain she felt was almost identical to the feeling those neglected parts of her gave when worked. This specific instance, however, didn’t seem to have a physical source. What’s more, it felt more real. It was as if all other movements were through a tool, she’d been picking at the world with pliers, and now, for the first time, she had touched something with her own flesh. It wasn’t a perfect analogy, as she was referring to her body both with, and within, the analogy.

She grimaced. Why did her own body feel like a tool, in comparison?

Grediv said the star would help me stretch my soul…Am I feeling my soul? It’s more real than my body, more me. And it’s tired? That had some disturbing implications. Could she strain or tear her own soul? Her mind was at war with itself. One part of her wanted to tuck the knife in her pouch and never touch it again, leaving her soul in its previous, blissful state. The other wanted her to disregard all else and come up with a training regime for this newly accessed part of herself so that it could never be harmed, strained, or torn.

If I could trust in a simple life, I’d go with the first option. Sadly, she knew that wasn’t a possibility. There is only safety in strength, either your own or that of others. She would prefer to be safe in her own strength.

Soul training it is! Even so, she decided to wait until the current, exhausted feeling faded. No need to start on a bad foot. It should be recovered by tomorrow, right?

As she’d been musing, she’d returned to the market, where the barrel seller greeted her, inquiring about the items she’d purchased the day before.

She complimented him on them, and they talked briefly about how to tap the keg, when the time came, and how to keep it in good function until then. He also informed her that, if she was careful, she could reopen the keg, but probably not without needing a new head. A head was apparently the ‘proper’ name for the lid. Who knew?

Finally, Tala bought four more kegs, along with ‘heads’ for after they’d been filled, and a tap that could be hammered into any of the kegs to access what was stored within, assuming it was mostly liquid, that is.

As she’d thought about it, she realized that the berries were still mostly intact, and likely wouldn’t flow smoothly, so she’d bought an additional couple of heads, so if she had to break open the keg as he’d directed, she could at least put a lid back in place after.
She negotiated him to two silver ounces for the lot and completed the transaction on the merchant’s slate.

Thankfully, dimensional storage was common enough that he didn’t give her pouch more than a passing glance as she slipped each of the items inside. I’ll need to go in and organize, back in my room.

She bid him a farewell and headed back to the inn. As she walked, she felt her lower abdomen gurgling a bit. She wasn’t hungry, yet, and the feeling was a bit uncomfortable. Huh. Did I catch something? Something I ate? She’d only really eaten the ending-berries, and a bit of trail food. Maybe, it wasn’t the best idea to eat so many…

Back in her room, she opened the pouch as wide as it could go and took a moment to examine what she saw. This is a wider opening than last time. Where, before, she’d had to squeeze her shoulders in, compressing her chest and tucking her elbows to her side to drop through, and then shimmy quite aggressively to get back out, now the pouch seemed to have opened to a size through which she could climb down without scraping the sides, if only just.

Make no mistake, it still wasn’t roomy, and a full-grown man would have been hilarious to watch in any attempt to fit, but it would suit her, perfectly. “Thank you, I think?”

The bag did not respond.

She climbed down through the hole, using the rungs of the ladder still in place within the dimensional storage.

The feeling of a comfortable embrace returned as she descended the ladder, stepping down off the last rung with ease. Feet now firmly on the soft yet solid floor, she looked around, a frown on her face.

Three things immediately jumped out to her.

Firstly, though there was no obvious source of light, she could easily see. I wonder if a plant could grow in this space.

Secondly, there wasn’t a pile of kegs, lids, and other items at the base of the ladder as she’d expected. Instead, there was a rack on one wall, that appeared to be perfectly sized to hold each of the five kegs individually. A small shelf made out of the same nondescript, nonspecific material as the walls, also held the extra lids. Her tools, likewise, were hanging on a different wall, each seeming to have a custom place to rest.

Thirdly, the space seemed larger than before.

“There is no way this is standard. Artia would never have sold you if she’d known you could do this.”

The comforting feeling of the space didn’t alter.

“Or… are all dimensional storage artifacts capable of this? Maybe if they are owned, instead of rented out? Does my knowledge that I’m keeping you influence what happens? Or… maybe they just need to be given sufficient power and interaction?” Tala’s frown deepened. “I didn’t think I gave you that much power, but I suppose a day outside the walls would have helped…” She found herself nodding. “If dimensional storages are mostly used within the city, then most would effectively be magic starved.” She felt a bit of sadness, as she looked around herself. “Were you just really hungry?”

The comforting sense might have intensified, just slightly. Probably just her imagination, though.

“Not sure if you’re actually sapient, or just responding to my own emotions…” And…you’re talking to a bag, again. Tala sighed. “Well, if I’m crazy, at least I’ll be true to my insanity.”

Her stomach gurgled again, roiling this time.

“Thank you for organizing, I suppose.” As she moved back towards the ladder, she noticed that another wall had a shelf with her books on it. I thought I had those in my satchel… She grimaced, placing a hand on her stomach against another roil.

She climbed out of the bag and closed it before heading to the latrine, conveniently located off of her bath room.

There, she had an…unpleasant few minutes.

Mother always warned me not to eat too much fruit at once. The ending-berries had made themselves known, and she’d been punished for overconsumption.

Thankfully, the discomfort had passed in less than half an hour, along with a lot of other things.

Too many berries…Moderation, Tala. She shook her head, now back in her room, laying on her bed. She’d been surprised that the amount of power within her hadn’t diminished during the…lesson, but she assumed that her body had simply drawn all the magic out of the berries beforehand.

As she considered that, she realized that the berries’ magic should be leaving her in great puffs with each breath. Why isn’t it exiting my lungs?

She focused inward, sipping a glass of water to continue the calming of her stomach.

Her mage-sight revealed that while the power from the berries did fill the lungs themselves, it did not distribute into the air within. Why?

There was no easy answer. Maybe, like her intestines and kidneys, her lungs didn’t see that magic as a toxin, needing to be cleansed from her body, and therefore didn’t draw any into what was to leave her? As good a theory as any, I suppose.

But her own, internal power seemed to equalize with the air. Maybe, because the ending-berry power is highly specific? Formed in such a way as to not dissipate into the air with much ease?

It still seemed to leak from her eyes for whatever reason, even if slowly. Bah! I’ll just have to keep note of how it works and try to learn as I go.

A knock came on the door, and she pushed herself to her feet. She still felt off, but her extended trip to the latrine seemed to have gotten out the worst of it. Or at least most of it.

She opened the door to find the diminutive seamstress staring up at her. “You look awful.”

Tala sighed. “Yeah, I ate-”

The woman cut her off. “That outfit is the same as before, but worse, because it means you have two of them.”

Tala actually laughed.

Her laughter seemed to catch the seamstress off guard, because the small woman paused, giving her a quizzical look.

“Well, you’ll be happy to know that this is now the only one I possess.”

The seamstress harumphed. “Well, I’m glad of that.” She held out a small stack of clothing for Tala. “Put this on.”

Tala took the clothing with a smile. “Thank you.”

“Put it on, and thank me once you have the information to do it properly.”

Tala snorted another laugh. “Very well.” She stepped into the bath room and closed the door before beginning to strip.

“Child, you don’t have anything I haven’t seen before.”

“Doesn’t mean I want you to see my version of it.”

This time Tala heard the seamstress chuckle. “Very well. But be quick about it. Yes?”

Tala simply grunted in reply.

She dropped her old clothes into her pouch, vaguely wondering if the item would add a wardrobe, or something similar, to handle the clothing.

The clothing the seamstress had brought was of a stunningly fine linen. Looking closely, she could see the weave, but just barely, and it felt almost like silk between her fingers.

She pulled on the shirt and pants before examining herself in the mirror.

The pants were a superb fit, molding to her curves perfectly, and moving with her smoothly. There wasn’t a pinch or pull, no matter how she flexed, bent, or stretched. In addition, the lower leg flared just so, in order to let her bare feet seem an intentional part of the look, rather than a case of forgotten shoes. Huh. These are amazing. They were of a medium-weight, black linen, of as fine a weave as the shirt.

The shirt was looser on her and hung down almost to her knees. A tunic, then?

She’d had to fasten a simple, heavy clasp behind her neck, after pulling the garment on, over her head. Non-metal, nice. She thought it was a heavy wood but couldn’t quite place it.

The collar was snug, against her neck without actually coming up onto it. It rested softly atop her collarbones and left her throat unimpeded. The linen of the shirt was a soft, almost storm-cloud grey, which complemented the mild grey tint of her skin quite nicely.

As she spun to look at herself in the mirror, she noticed that the back of the shirt was still open. The clasp that she’d done up had pulled in the collar, but there was still a circle of flesh exposed on her back: her keystone.

The inscription of her keystone was prominently displayed and highlighted by the shirt. Interesting choice.

The shirt’s sleeves came down to beyond her wrists, but she noticed simple clasps, similar but smaller than that behind her neck, and once she’d done them up properly, they held the cuffs at her wrists perfectly: secure without being tight.

“Well? Are you going to spend all afternoon mooning over yourself? Come out and let an old woman see what she’s created.”

Before complying, Tala put her leather belt back on, situating it to sinch the shirt in a flattering manner. The black leather of the belt complemented the shirt and matched the black pants perfectly.

She pushed open the door, and the seamstress gave her a critical look. “Good, so you do know how to put on clothes properly. I’d been concerned.”

“You know, you’ve never given me your name.”

“You’ve never asked, and it hardly matters.”

“What is your name?”

“Call me ‘seamstress.’ ”

“That’s not your name.”

“I didn’t say it was.”

Tala sighed. “Very well. Thank you, seamstress. These are wonderful.”

“Of course, they are. I made them.” The seamstress smiled in self-satisfaction.

Tala felt her lips tug up in a half-smile, despite herself.

“Now…Now, you look how you should. A woman like you should be naked, but you’d cause a riot.”

Tala had been taking a long, slow breath through her nose, but when she heard the seamstress, her breath caught, and she practically choked. “What?”

“You heard me, dear. Don’t act daft.” The seamstress was walking around her, inspecting the results of her handiwork. “Clothing is like manners, armor for those who couldn’t function in society without them.”

“Is that why you’ve no manners? Because you believe that you’re good enough to not need them?”

The woman grinned. “And why I wear clothes, my dear. Now. Are you satisfied?”

Tala found herself nodding.

“Good. I’d like you to have ten sets. Two more like this one, for everyday use when you’re in a city, but you’re a traveler, so five should be a bit more utilitarian, more leather, more durable. I wish I had some arcane skins for that.” She clucked her tongue in thought. “I’ll make the last two for more formal occasions.” She tsked to herself, while cupping her own chin. “Not as form fitting for those outfits, though. You’re not a prostitute.”

“You just told me that I should go around naked.”

“A cake sitting on a counter is beautiful to behold, and there is no need for every guest in your home to touch it. Put that same cake in a fancy box, and tie a ribbon on it? Then, it’s just begging to be unwrapped.”

Tala found herself quietly laughing, again. This woman is crazy. “So, how much would this cost me?”

“For twenty items of clothing?”

Eighteen… But Tala thought better of interjecting.

“I think a gold ounce will do nicely.”

Tala spluttered out. “A gold ounce! That’s five silvers a piece! You think each article of clothing is worth the same as a night’s stay, here?” She gestured around herself.

The seamstress returned her gaze with a flat calm. “Yes, dear. And so do you.” After a brief pause, she made a shooing motion. “Go look in the mirror, again. I’m not going to haggle with you. I’ll wait out here for you to come to your senses.”

Tala went back into the bath room but didn’t close the door. She did take some time examining herself in the mirrors hanging therein. These do look amazing…Ten full sets of clothing would be nice. If the traveling clothes have a lot of leather, I can work in the iron salve, and that should give them added durability, at least against magic.

She sighed. She’s right. For ten full outfits of this quality, it’s a deal.

She walked back out to find the seamstress sitting in the reading chair, flipping through what looked like a notebook, occasionally jotting within it. “Well?” The woman didn’t look up.

“Two questions.”

She sighed, closing her book and tucking it away. “On with it, then.”

“If I bought fewer sets, would the price go up for the remaining?”

“Of course, it would. What kind of idiot question is that?”

Tala nodded. “And when could you have them done by?”

The seamstress eyed her, seeming to sense a trap. “My underlings could have these done by tomorrow evening, earlier if needed, but the Matron told me you’re here through the following morning. Do you need one in particular earlier?”

Tala shook her head and smiled. “Thank you for the answers. This is the deal: I want twenty outfits, the style and function of them in the ratios you described. I will pay you one and a half gold ounces. I do need the work done by tomorrow evening,”

The old woman stood, opening her mouth to object, but Tala continued.

“And I will know your name.” Tala had pulled upon all her memories of haughty Mages for her tone and bearing while speaking her terms, and she realized that, in the outfit, she felt more like an actual Mage. Rust her, she’s good at what she does…

The seamstress closed her mouth, eyeing Tala for a moment before grinning. “You think yourself quite clever, eh?” She nodded to herself. “Fifteen outfits, one and a half gold, and you may call me: Merilin.”

“Merilin.” Tala nodded. “Fifteen outfits for one and a half gold isn’t a better deal.”

“I did tell you that I wouldn’t haggle. If you want to buy more, though, I won’t stop you.”

“You said that buying less would cost more per item.”

“That’s true.”

“So, buying more should cost less for each item.”

“Except, I’ll have to get the work done in the same amount of time. Doing fifteen sets of clothing by morning, day after tomorrow, will be hard enough without taking from my meager profits.”

Tala frowned. I’m not going to move her on this, am I. She sighed. And she moved the time of delivery back… “Very well, Madam Merilin. We are agreed.”

Merilin nodded her head in acknowledgement. “I will see you in the morning, the day of your departure. I’ll have your clothing, then.” She pointed at Tala. “Do try not to destroy that outfit.”

Tala quirked a smile. “All fifteen other sets. I’ll be ready to pay you, then.”

Merilin hesitated, then snorted out a laugh. “As you say, Mistress Tala. Good evening to you.”

“And to you, Madam Merilin.”

The seamstress left without another word, and Tala slumped down in the reading chair. “By the heavens, I’m glad Artia wasn’t so stubborn, or I’d have nothing left to my name.”

She supposed that Merilin’s age, and obvious familiarity with Mages, had both been advantages that Artia didn’t possess.

Tala glanced out of her open windows and saw that it was getting quite late. Her stomach was still a bit off kilter, but she needed to eat, and she’d promised to join Artia, Adrill, and Brand in Artia’s home tonight.

Off to dinner, then.

She checked herself one last time and found that she was pleased. “Merilin was right; this is much better.”

She verified that she had all her possessions with her. Her knife and pouch were securely in place on her belt, counterbalancing each other. That final check complete, she headed out the door, back towards the marketplace and dinner.

A note from JLMullins

Advanced Chapters are available on Patreon at:

A special thanks to MM's patrons! [Note: Patron list was pulled the night before posting. I apologize to those that missed.]




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