Tala hadn’t moved, and Terry was sitting with her, when Boma returned, stone slate in hand.
“Here, this should be in order.”
Tala stood and walked to him, Terry appearing on her shoulder after she was up. “Thank you.” She took the tablet and looked over the short bill of sale before retracting her power from her finger, pricking it, and certifying the transaction. “There you are.” She handed it back. “Oh! What would it cost to get one of those?”
Boma accepted the slate back, seeming to contemplate. “For transactions? Or do you want it connected to any specific archive or library?”
“I mean, I’d prefer it to be as useful as possible.”
He grunted. “Probably wise. Adding additional connections isn’t really that expensive, but more useful means more used, so you’ll have to get it re-inscribed quite often…Five gold? With a recommended two-month re-inscribing timeline. That would be an additional four gold each time.”
Tala’s eyes widened. That’s crazy!
“Don’t give me that look, child. It’s a complex schema, and it takes a lot to ensure the connections don’t muck up the archives they link to. We could do it in an artifact format, but that would be…” He blew out a breath, considering. “Fifty gold?” He nodded to himself. “Yeah, fifty gold ounces for one of those.”
Fifty gold!? I could buy an apartment for that…Wait… Tala frowned. “One moment; you can make artifact style items? With that specific of properties?” They can interlink with archives, that doesn’t seem like something that could happen randomly, even if the randomness was guided…
Boma stiffened, freezing in place, before he turned to look at her. “No. No, we cannot.”
She sighed. “Fine. I’ll ask again after I’m an Archon.”
He seemed to relax a bit, still obviously a bit off kilter. “Well, sure…If you think that would change anything.”
She did. “I have a question regarding dimensional storage items, specifically of the artifact variety.”
He turned a bit more towards her. “Very well.”
“Well, I have two, actually. Questions, that is. First, how can I determine if it is safe to be in my dimensional storage after it closes? And second, how could I expand its internal size?”
Boma looked away, seeming to contemplate. “Well, your first question implies that you know your dimensional storage changes, sometimes. That isn’t rare for artifact-style items, but the most common dimensional storages are uniform and constant. Open or closed, they are the same inside.”
She nodded. “Mine alters its shape, seemingly based on my more basic goals. It also will offer up the item I reach for, so I don’t have to take it from a specific location inside.”
He was nodding. “Not common, but not that rare. There are two subtypes of item that function in that way, that I know of. For one, all unoccupied space ceases to exist, when closed. It is theorized that the unoccupied space never existed at all, any perception of such is an illusion, meant to convey various things to the user.”
That’s a disturbing thought… When I climbed in, I may have been completely surrounded, engulfed, but didn’t know it?
“In the other, the internal space is amorphous, but relatively static. It alters itself to give desired items to the user, and reshapes towards its user’s needs, but holds its form in the meantime. In those cases, they function much like standard dimensional storage items: closing them doesn’t change the inside in the least.”
“Huh, thank you. How would I determine which I have?”
Boma looked at her hip, where Kit hung, for a long moment, his mage-sight inscriptions activating. “There is something blocking my direct view of your item. I can tell it’s a dimensional storage, because of the flavor of the power coming out the top, but the rest is difficult to see. May I examine it?”
Tala handed him the pouch. He had no trouble grasping it. Did Kit allow that, or did he overcome its attempts to avoid being grabbed? She might ask, after she got her other answers.
He opened it, looking inside for a moment, then pulled it closed and handed it back. “You have the second type. The internal space will remain in existence when the pouch is closed. It only reshapes to meet a sensed need, from you.”
Tala smiled in relief. She wasn’t quite sure how much of a difference it would make, but she found herself happy that it was the second. “Quick question: Was it difficult for you to grab the pouch from me?”
He grunted. “Not really. Nice little defense, though.”
So, it did try to avoid him, but it wasn’t very successful… At least, that’s what she interpreted from his answer.
He looked at his hand quizzically for a moment, then a flicker of power caused a puff of dust to rise off his palms. “You coated the outside in iron? A bit rude, that.”
Tala swallowed. “I apologize. I didn’t really think of it.” She smiled in what she hoped would be an innocent way.
He grunted. “Don’t hand that to a Mage. You might cause all sorts of…unpleasantness.” He shook his hands, then sighed, and wiped them on his robes. “Now, as to your other question, how to make the space bigger.” He gestured expansively, but not really indicating anything in particular. “The quickest way would be for you to soul-bond the item. That will give it a boost to storage capacity relative to the strength of your soul.” He hesitated. “So, I’d wait until you’re a bit stronger in that regard.” His gaze hardened, briefly. “You should wait either way. Become an Archon before soul-bonding anything else.”
“Understood. That was my plan.”
“Good.” His eyes narrowed for a moment, before he grunted, seeming to accept her word for it. “Once you are an Archon, and you bond that pouch, if the increase in capacity isn’t to your liking, we can do a similar working to what we just did. You’ll have to provide other, compatible storage devices to combine with the pouch, but that should increase the working capacity.”
Tala found herself nodding. “That seems simple enough. Thank you.”
He gave her a long look. “Simple? No. Relatively easy? Sure.”
She shrugged. “Fair enough. Oh!” She’d almost forgotten. “You do lensing items too, right? Incorporators?”
“We do. Why?”
“Well, first off, why do I have to recharge his collar, if it’s a lensing item?” She patted Terry’s collar.
“Quick answer is: you don’t.” He held up a hand, to quiet her objections. “You are ‘flavoring’ your portion of that collar, if it is the type it appears to be. That allows it to be bound to you but doesn’t actually use that power. No power store can be infinite, so you have to refill that tag, every so often. If you were in an area of high enough magic density, it would fill on its own, the incoming magic being automatically flavored by the remnants of your power already in the collar.”
I suppose that makes sense. “Thank you.”
He nodded. “Sure. Anything else?”
“Well, I’m interested in buying incorporators. I have one for water, but it’s cold water. Could you do one for hot water? Like near boiling? I’d also be interested in any generic ones that you might have available.” After a brief moment, she had a thought. “What about coffee? I’d definitely want a coffee one.”
He laughed. “Hot water is easy, we might even have one on hand. If not, we’ll have the diagrams in place to make one quickly. Coffee? That is a rather complex substance.” He looked away, not meeting her eyes. “It wouldn’t be easy to make, and coming up with such a diagram, such a device, would likely cause friction with the Grower’s Guild, which cultivates that crop in parts of the cavern complex below this very city.”
Tala found herself grinning. “You already have one, don’t you.” She thought for a moment. “That’s where the coffee in the waiting room comes from. How do you keep it from discorporating?”
“Mistress Tala, your conjecture is unwarranted. I’m afraid we cannot easily create such a complex incorporator.”
She cocked an eyebrow at him. “I’ll bet you can’t.”
He gave her an exasperated look. “I do apologize, the research required to create such would be extensive, and prohibitively expensive. Even if you had the funds to commission such, we simply do not have the time.”
“Fine, fine. I won’t push. How much for the hot water one?”
She didn’t know how to feel about the price. It seemed both too expensive and too cheap. “Why? And how did you know the price already?”
He shrugged. “Why the cost? They are useful devices to some, but overall, they are inefficient. How I know it? One is no harder to make than another once the details of its construction are known. All incorporators I can sell you will cost basically the same.”
She grunted. I can spend up to a gold ounce on a few of these. They’re good training for my accumulation-rate and useful besides. “Which ones do you have in stock? I’ll want a hot water one, whether I have to come back or not.”
Boma was nodding, working on the tablet they’d used for the earlier transaction. From what she could see from her angle, it looked like he was going through a manifest list of items and materials this guild had on hand. He then manipulated the information, combining it with a secondary list. “Here are all the incorporators that we can create on commission for a certified Mage. If we have it on hand, that is indicated, here.” He pointed to a column of Xs and blank spaces to one side of the slate. “Take a moment to have a look.”
She smiled, accepting the tablet. After a moment, she looked up in confusion. “This one says diamond. You can make a diamond incorporator?”
“Not as useful as it sounds. Any jeweler worth their metal will be able to tell it’s not quite right. Plus, incorporated material degrades based on the connected mass exposed, along with various other factors. The more rigid the creation, the faster it discorporates as well.”
Tala grunted. “Ah, so diamonds don’t last very long.”
“No, less than a minute.” He shrugged. “Though, some of our clients have said it’s quite fun to send out a spray of diamonds.”
She smiled, opening her mouth, but he cut across her.
“Before you ask, no, it is not a harmful spray, nor can it be made to be so. I understand that there are some industrial applications for diamond dust.” He indicated another incorporator listing. “If I remember right, it is a very effective material for grit-blasting to clean various items. The fact that it discorporates so quickly afterwards is a benefit as well.” He hesitated. “To be clear, the incorporator, itself, does not do the blasting. That’s an entirely different device.”
“Huh, I suppose I can see that.”
There were a surprising number of options, but they were all for unified materials, in one state or another. Only homogenous incorporations were available.
“This one says: ‘Hot air.’ How hot? And just…air?”
He smiled. “We can make it as hot as you desire, though efficiency drops exponentially. So, it can’t even create more than a minor burn, even if you held it flush to your own arm. As to the chemical composition of what’s created?” He shrugged. “For those: Non-toxic in roughly the ratios found around us all the time. Mostly heard of them being used to speed drying or curing times. Some Mages who had baking hobbies have tried to make ovens from them, very precise temperature output and all, but the throughput was never sufficient for their purposes, given the point was incredibly precise temperatures over an enclosed space. Similar for a crazy lad who tried to use one to inflate some large cloth bag to fly; he claimed the same issue with output volume. Don’t know that any Archons ever tried either of those tasks, though.”
“This one, here, says ‘Flame.’ That would burn something, right?”
“That is the idea. Ludicrously inefficient, as expected. I, myself, can only create about a four-inch, very thin flame for a short time.”
So, worse than my inscribed item and more than four times the price. Not that I’ve used that outside of starting the fire under Lyn’s tub… “But what does it actually produce?”
“A gaseous fuel at a high enough temperature to combust virtually instantly. And before you ask, the amount of fuel that can be produced at lower temperatures is equally miniscule, and it doesn’t last very long; it's too complex a material for a durable incorporation.”
These are not as useful as I’d hoped…
He smiled. “I imagine that you’re a bit underwhelmed, yeah?”
“Just a bit…”
“Well, you don’t see these everywhere, do you?”
“I suppose that’s true.” She sighed. “I’ll just take one for water, as close to boiling as reasonable, one for hot air…at whatever temperature you think is reasonable for drying everyday items, when wet? And one for coffee.”
He gave her a long-suffering look. “The hot water and hot air incorporators will cost you sixty silver, together.”
She nodded. That’s a lot, but I should be able to use them to good effect. She decided to not fight him on the coffee. For now. “When can I pick them up?”
He took the tablet, working up a sales agreement before handing it back. “Tomorrow? These are well known designs. I’m glad you didn’t have too specific of temperature desires, because if we haven’t worked out formations for exactly what you’re looking for, it’d require starting from scratch.”
“It’s not just a minor adjustment?”
He shook his head. “No, it is not.” He didn’t elaborate.
“Alright then.” She confirmed the bill of sale. “That’s all I can think of, right now.”
“Well, it’s been a pleasure. Do come back, once you’re an Archon. I think we’ll have a more productive time.” He smiled.
She nodded, respectfully. “Thank you. I think we did all I needed us to. Truly, thank you for all your help.”
He gave a slight bow and strode away, slate in hand.
* * *
It had been a very productive morning, and Tala was quite ready for some lunch.
With Kit mostly empty now, she decided to swing by home to load up the jerky, though she didn’t particularly want that for lunch.
Terry didn’t seem to mind the detour or the bits of jerky she regularly flicked out for him.
While she was home, after the jerky was stored, she looked around Lyn’s kitchen. There was a very simple, inscribed hot plate without any means of powering it, and there was a large fireplace in the living room, though she’d never seen Lyn use it.
In the fireplace itself were wrought iron fixtures for hanging pots or kettles over the flame, and others to allow skewered meat to be turned over the heat. There were heavy doors set into the brickwork beside the hearth that were clearly intended to be ovens, of a sort.
I have no idea how to use any of this. She let out a long-suffering sigh. It would have been nice if the academy actually taught us practical skills…Now that she thought about it, hadn’t there been a cooking class available? I didn’t really have time...
She’d have to seriously consider figuring out how to cook, if she was going to be around the city much of the time. Or, I could just go on more caravan trips, and pay off my debt faster… That was probably a better choice.
“Now, Terry, where should I get food?” She locked the door behind them and turned towards the nearest group of restaurants. I wish I could practice some while eating… She could read, at the very least.
She ended up choosing a new place, drawn in by the scents.
Twenty minutes, and half a silver, later, she exited the eatery, bearing what appeared to be a small log, one end easily the size of two of her fists. It was two-thirds as long as her forearm. What was I thinking? This is huge!
The meal was composed of an incredibly thin, flour flatbread, wrapped around a layer of melted cheese, then another layer of the incredibly thin bread. Inside that double layer of goodness was a medley of tender chicken, heavenly pork, fluffy rice, fried beans, perfect spices, cooked vegetables, mild cheese, and swirling, complementary sauces.
She sat down at an outdoor table, just staring for a long moment. The menu inside had listed this one as the ‘Biggest Cheesy Little Caravan.’ As that was a much too complicated name, Tala just thought of it as a food log.
Terry appeared on the other side of the table, and she took a moment to get a larger than usual chunk of meat for him.
He ate it just as quickly as usual.
Well, here it goes.
What followed was truly something to behold. Each bite was a subtly different combination of flavors, textures, and scents.
It. Was. Glorious.
Her mind was bent entirely towards the consumption of her lunch, her book forgotten as she simply enjoyed.
She ate the whole thing.
Leaning back, she let out a contented sigh. She pulled out her water incorporator and took a careful drink. Hey! I didn’t gag myself. I’m getting better control.
Terry was stretched out in the sun on the other side of the table, ignoring her.
She glanced towards the eatery. Should I get another?
It was a tempting thought. Her stomach objected. She couldn’t remember ever feeling so full.
No, Tala. That should have fed you for days. You don’t need another…not right now… Maybe, she could reward herself with a second after her visit to Holly, late this afternoon. Yeah. That’s a good plan.
She groaned contentedly as she pushed herself up into a standing position. Yeah, not another now.
Terry blipped to her shoulder as she pulled out Lyn’s sheet once more. Now, where to for my massage?
Her belly full, she wandered through the city.
It was alright that she was taking this day a bit easier than she had the last three weeks. She was due for a break.
I can train tomorrow.
Lyn’s directions led her to an unassuming building without a sign out front. If it had been in the inner circle, she’d have assumed it was a house. As she thought about it, she realized that it could still be a home. It’s not like the guards do sweeps of the buildings, ensuring people only sleep in one part of the city. She took another moment to compare her location to Lyn’s directions. Is this the right place?
She checked Lyn’s sheet again. This seems to be the right place… Still uncertain, Tala walked up to the door and knocked.
A decidedly feminine voice called from inside. “One minute, please!”
The door opened to reveal an older woman with gray-streaked, black hair. She was smiling, highlighting the pleasantly warm smile-lines and crow’s feet on her face. She was just slightly taller than Tala and petite. “How may I help you?”
Tala glanced down at the paper she held once more. “Are you Emi?”
The woman’s smile deepened. “I am! You must be Mistress Tala. Come in, come in.” She stepped back, her long skirt swaying about her as she gestured for Tala to enter.
Tala stepped across the threshold, processing what her mage-sight was telling her about the woman.
Emi, like most people, had a gate, through which power flowed into her body. It was a bare trickle, when compared to any Mage. Lacking a keystone inscription, Emi wouldn’t be able to alter or control the flow consciously. Even so, the diminutive woman had gold inscribings set into her shoulders, arms, forearms, and hands, all focused on increasing the strength and dexterity of the limbs and preventing that increased strength from causing harm.
As Tala contemplated what she was seeing more closely, she saw that, underlaying the inscriptions, indeed surrounding them and encapsulating them, was more magic of the same type, but based in the woman’s flesh, rather than the inscribed lines. Again, it’s like arcanous beasts in the wilds, or the guards.
It appeared as if Emi, through the years, had somehow acquired naturally occurring magics directly correlating to her inscriptions. That can’t be a coincidence. Do human bodies adapt to the inscribings? She realized that, if that was the case, it would explain why Mages who’d been getting the same inscriptions, consistently, for years, seemed more powerful than others.
Emi tilted her head. “Have I lost you, Mistress?”
Tala blinked, returning to the present moment. “I apologize. Your inscriptions are fascinating, and you seem well practiced in their use.”
Emi smiled happily. “That is a kind way of saying I’m quite old.”
Tala’s eyes widened, but before she could respond, Emi chuckled.
“Oh, I know that’s not what you meant, Mistress. Now, come with me. You are my whole afternoon.”
Tala followed Emi through the simple building to a back room. “Mistress Lyn didn’t tell me what the cost would be.”
“The kind Caravan Guild functionary? Right, that was her name. Well, I have you for three hours, so we’ll do eight silver. If, at the end, you don’t feel it was worth it, we can discuss alternatives.”
“That seems more than fair.”
The room Emi had led her into had a waist high, padded table in the middle, appointed much like a bed. “Have you received a massage before?”
She barked a soft laugh. “Well, we’ll talk for a bit, then you’ll undress and get under the sheet, face down, and I’ll see what I can do.”
“So, tell me what’s bothering you.”
Over the next ten minutes, Tala explained what she was feeling from her back and limbs, as well as some of the changes that she’d noticed over the past weeks.
That done, Emi left so that Tala could undress and get in place on the table.
When the woman returned and began to work, Tala slipped into heavenly bliss as, through the early afternoon, each muscle was slowly cajoled into giving up its tension and pain.
Worth every copper.