Lyn stared down at the food log before her. “What even is this?” She picked it up, examining it from all sides. “Can a single person eat it?” She was bouncing it up and down slightly, seeming to be testing its heft.
Tala quirked a smile. “Well, I ate two for dinner.”
Lyn gave her a flat look. “Can a normal person eat this?”
Tala scoffed. “I’m hurt, Lyn.”
“No, you’re not.”
Lyn hesitated. “Wait, Tala… This is dinner. Are you telling me that you already ate two of these, earlier this evening?”
“That may or may not be the case.”
She sighed, rolling her eyes. “Fine, keep your secrets.” She lifted the log a bit, returning to the earlier topic. “So…what’s it called?”
“Right! It’s called a ‘Little Caravan.’ I guess because it carries so much amazingness in one package? I think that one is a standard meal. Oh, this particular variant is called the ‘Little Cheesy Caravan,’ likely because it’s double wrapped, with a layer of melted cheese between the wrappings. I just call it a food log.”
“I think I like 'little cheesy caravan,' more.”
“Food log is shorter.”
Lyn gave Tala a long-suffering look, eventually shaking her head slightly and returning her attention to the food log. “Well, here it goes.” Lyn lifted the food log up and took a bite. Her eyes opened wide. “This is amazing! What’s the name of the restaurant?”
Lyn clucked her tongue, consideringly. “Interesting name.”
Tala shrugged. “Probably means something to the owner.”
Lyn took another bite and let out a contented sigh, speaking around the food. “Meh, who cares; this is amazing.”
“So, you said.” Tala grinned and tore into her own food log. Money well spent. This time, she’d gotten extra of the thick, green, veggie sauce. It added an additional robust, creamy flavor to the already incredible medley.
The two ate in companionable silence.
Tala let her mind wander as she ate. The magic that she and Lyn had pumped into the air within the home had already faded. The city’s collectors are quite efficient. The exercise that they’d been doing was fascinating in concept. It didn’t open her gate any wider, at least not directly, but it increased the amount of power coming through greatly. If she was right in her estimation, that increased flow was causing the gate to widen, but as a secondary effect. But it didn’t seem to be a quick process.
Still, quadrupling my accumulation rate, even if just for short bursts, is amazing. This is definitely worth pursuing.
Continuing to eat, she focused within herself and created the void around her gate, pulling her magic back with an effort of will. The power-flow instantly increased. With Lyn’s earlier words in mind, Tala attempted to take a more active role in the distribution of that power. She split roughly a fourth off, allowing it to flow into her body and scripts as usual, and the rest, she pulled away.
Where to put this? Her hands were full of the food log, so she couldn’t easily direct it into any of her items. She really did feel like sending it into the air was a waste.
Flow! The knife was connected to her soul, so she didn’t need any sort of physical contact with the weapon to send it power. It didn’t need the power, of course, but every bit that she actively put in would increase the strength of their bond and deepen the well that that tool could draw upon. I’m sure there’s a limit, or a threshold, but I’m not there, yet.
She directed three quarters of her increased draw into the knife. It absorbed the magic like deep, desert sands taking in water.
As Tala focused, she realized that a quarter of the power was more, if just barely, than her body and active scripts needed, combined, as they were both benefiting from that portion of the influx. She did her utmost to carefully adjust the amounts until only the needed amount went to her physical form. There. It was not easy to maintain such a precise balance, but it was becoming easier by the moment.
Lyn shuddered slightly, opening her eyes and focusing on Tala. “What are you doing?”
“What are you doing, Tala?”
“Oh, I’m just practicing.”
Lyn sighed. “Can’t you just enjoy the meal?”
“I’m doing both.” Tala took another big bite, relishing the harmonizing flavors.
Lyn shook her head, taking a last bite and setting fully half the food log back on the plate before her. “I’m full.”
Tala ate the last bite of her own, leaving her hands empty as she savored the mouthful before swallowing. “Really?”
“This is much too much food for me.” Lyn hesitated, looking to Tala’s empty plate. “Do you…want the rest?”
Tala brightened. “Are you sure?”
Lyn pushed the plate across the table, pulling out her book, again. “Enjoy. I bet this would be a pain to reheat. I can get another tomorrow.”
Tala picked up the food, happily. “They do sell smaller versions.” She pondered for a moment. “Even Littler Caravans?” She shook her head. “No, this was called the Biggest Little Cheesy Caravan. I’m sure they have a medium Little Caravan, or something like that.”
“That makes no sense.”
Tala shrugged. “I didn’t make up the names.”
Lyn sighed, leaning back, hands coming to rest on her stomach. “That was quite good. Thank you, Tala.”
Tala smiled around a new mouthful.
“So, I suppose I should be doing the exercise every time I think of it, too?”
Tala nodded, mouth still full.
Tala saw a flood of power immediately begin to radiate from the other Mage. Tala swallowed. “We really should get you a magic-bound item, or an innocuous incorporator.”
Lyn sighed but didn’t stop. “I’ll look into it, tomorrow.”
Tala smiled and took another bite, all the while maintaining the void around her gate, and the two flows of power into her body and knife. It did feel odd, keeping a portion of her self bereft of power, but she was getting used to it. Thankfully, the magic void was not at a surface level, so she wasn’t creating a vulnerability in her defenses. It wasn’t at a physical level at all. Her gate was deeper, somehow, than the flesh it connected with.
Tala had just finished her food, or rather the second half of Lyn’s food, and Lyn was still going strong with her practice, when Tala had to release her hold on the power within herself, slowing the accumulation of power. She stood, stretching.
The woman looked up from her book and smiled. “Yes?”
“I’m supposed to ask you to schedule my meeting with a senior guild official.”
Lyn’s smile moved towards a smirk. “I thought I saw you drop by the guild.” She nodded. “Sure. I’ll do the scheduling, tomorrow.”
“Great. When should I show up?”
Lyn gave her a long look. “I’ll know…tomorrow.”
“Oh…right.” Tala glanced away, feeling a bit foolish. Of course, she wouldn’t know now… “Goodnight, Lyn.”
“Good night, Tala. Sleep well.”
* * *
Tala woke early, as usual. She smiled up at her plain ceiling, stretching under her blanket. Good morning! She felt fantastic.
After she’d filled the tub and started the fire beneath it to heat the water, she returned to her room for her morning routine.
She moved through her physical exercises, doing her utmost to maintain the void around her gate, throughout. She kept the excess power streaming into Flow. Waste not…
The split concentration made it even harder for her to balance through the complex movements, but she was beginning to get the hang of her strengthened body. As such, she only fell a few times.
She also did her utmost to keep her breathing in the correct patterns, along with maintaining the other things Adam had taught her.
It was a fairly complicated conglomeration of things to focus on, and she had no doubt that she’d have been unable to even attempt it, if not for her enhancements.
Her stretching and physical exercise complete, Tala stripped down and headed for her bath. I’ll get the hot water incorporator today. That will remove the need for the fire.
She put out that fire before climbing into the tub.
Tala had to release the void and rest for a few minutes, before she returned to that exercise. It certainly felt like she could hold for a bit longer each time, and the instructions given to Lyn by her master had indicated that this exercise was tailored to be safe. Once she felt recovered from it, she was recovered. There was no danger of injury due to repetitive strain over a short timeframe, so long as she followed the instructions.
Thank all for that.
She finished up and allowed the water to drain away. A few minutes later, clean, dry, dressed, and refreshed, Tala came out into the empty living room. Lyn’s still asleep?
She glanced at a window and saw it was still dark out. What time is it?
Tala had simply gotten up when she’d awoken. She felt rested, but she really didn’t know how long she’d slept. She’d always trusted her body to wake once it had the rest it needed. Maybe, I should get a clock…or pocket watch? Those could be incredibly expensive; the mundane ones were almost as much as their magical counterparts, if she remembered correctly.
She sighed. Yet more things to eat up my funds… Her stomach made a resonant, forlorn, gurgling wail, and Tala found herself grinning. “Alright, alright. I’ll go find something to eat.”
She looked around, Terry was nowhere to be seen, so she returned to her room.
There he was, curled up on her pillow. Huh… She renewed her internal void and sat, considering. Should I let him sleep? And just read until he wakes up? That probably wasn’t necessary; he did seem to sleep a lot, during the day.
One of the avian eyes popped open, regarding her.
He groaned with a deep, trilling sound, but was instantly on her shoulder, eyes closed once more.
“Well, that works, I suppose.” She stood and departed. If he’s actually sleeping, how does he stay balanced? It was a question for another time.
The streets were still dark as she strode through Bandfast. Let’s see… I remember seeing a clock tower around here somewhere…
She did, indeed, find the tower in question shortly after. Seven past four in the morning. It wasn’t as early as she had feared, thankfully, but still too early to reliably find food. She groaned in irritation, pulling out a hunk of jerky to chew on in the meantime.
She flicked a bit to the side, and Terry caught it without seeming to move. Only the slow grinding of some inner parts of his beak, and lack of meat hitting the ground, indicated that he’d taken the bite.
Tala found a park near a breakfast place, the latter of which was still closed. She sat on a deceptively comfortable bench and pulled out one of Holly’s books. It should open in an hour or two. I can wait.
She spent the time reading the book and practicing the maintenance of the void.
After what seemed like a surprisingly short period, Tala was pulled from her tasks by the sound of a lock grating within a door. She looked up and saw lights on within the eatery, a worker unlocking the front door. Magic lights, eh? They did provide a much more consistent, reliable illumination. Even a copper inscribed item could provide days of light, if done properly, with the added benefit of being able to be turned off. Yeah, if I had a business, I’d invest in such lights. They were likely hooked into the city grid for power. Cheaper than using harvests.
More importantly, however, the place was open now. Hey! Very nice.
She could still see the clock tower. Six in the morning already?
The two hours had passed without leaving much of an impression. Still, I finished another set of reviews.
In fact, she was well into the third set of topics she’d decided to tackle.
In addition, if her estimates were right, she could now hold the void for nearly twenty minutes, even while splitting the power between her physical self and Flow. That thought made her think back. Ahh, right. I’m in the middle of my sixth cycle of the exercise, aren’t I?
She closed the book, tucked it into Kit, and stood. “Breakfast time.”
She was the first customer through the door, but as she entered, she saw other people moving about on the street outside. She likely wouldn’t be alone in the restaurant for long.
“Hello! Welcome, and good morning. What can I get for you?”
Tala looked over the menu. I need to get some jugs to buy coffee in bulk… “Morning to you. I think a couple…no four, breakfast sandwiches, and the largest coffee you have.”
The young man hesitated. “Well, we sometimes sell coffee by the gallon, when a foreman wants to treat their workers, or for similar situations. Are you looking for that amount?”
She found herself grinning, almost uncontrollably. “Oh, yes. How much would that be?”
“A silver, if you don’t have a container. Half that, with one, assuming it’s clean and easily usable.” His eyes flicked to Terry, and he smiled. “That’s a beautiful bird. Does it have a name?”
“Thank you, his name is Terry.” She smiled in return. “As to the order, I can keep the container in the first case? Then use it as my container to get the cheaper rate later on?”
“Of course.” He looked back to Terry. “Good morning, Terry.”
Terry cracked an eye, and let out a little, drowsy chirp.
“He’s pretty neat.”
“I like him.” She patted the supposedly sleeping bird. “How much for the sandwiches?”
“Twelve copper.” He hesitated. “But, if you want, we can do a group breakfast deal.” His smile shifted back towards one of professionalism, rather than friendly interest.
“It’s six sandwiches, and a container of coffee, for one and a half silver ounces.”
Tala frowned, her coffee-less brain doing quick math. That’s almost a quarter ounce, silver, in savings. “That’s fantastic! I’ll do that.” She hesitated. “Why the deal?”
The young man shrugged. “A few other eateries have started opening as early as we do, some earlier, and the boss wants to keep our customers loyal, at least those who buy a lot.” He quirked a wry smile.
She shrugged. “Makes sense, I suppose. Thank you. Is that deal available with the discount, if I bring back the container?”
The worker smiled. “If it’s clean, empty, and usable, as I said before? Then, yes, that would drop the deal price by a half silver. I’ll get that started for you.”
She glanced to his name tag, then back up to grin at him. “Bnar, I think I’m going to become a regular, whenever I’m in town.”
The young man was surprisingly quick at his job, and she left in less than ten minutes, cloth sack containing the sandwiches and earthenware jug full of coffee, both safely tucked away in Kit.
She’d been right, and quite a few customers had come in after her, but Bnar was already handling them quickly, efficiently, and professionally. I don’t think I could do that job. She pulled out one of the sandwiches, taking a large bite.
It was a heavy, whole grain bread with a sausage patty, fried eggs, chopped bacon, and a savory yellow sauce that tied it all together. Oh…my… I’m so glad that I found this place. It was quite good, to say the least.
She ate the sandwiches as she walked towards the work-yard, only pausing to take deep swigs from the jug of coffee. Each of the six masterpieces was varied, and the eatery's menu indicated at least two dozen more combinations to try. She’d liked the first one the most, so far, but she appreciated the variety more than she likely would have liked six sandwiches of the same type. I never considered the downside to eating so much. I’m going to have to be careful to avoid becoming sick of certain foods.
She was just licking her fingers clean of the red sauce from the last treat when she arrived. Tala was quite glad to have eaten, and to be arriving at her first destination so early. I’m getting into a good pattern. She grinned. The sun still wasn’t up, on this autumn morning, and she was well into her tasks for the day.
True, she’d paid a bit more for breakfast than she’d planned, but it should mean less expensive breakfasts going forward. And I got the jug I’d been hoping for, so... She shrugged. My budget can be flexible.
There were a couple of guards patrolling, but the work-yard was otherwise empty of people, and the guards didn’t give her more than a cursory glance and slight bow. Her cargo-slots stood to one side, and she saw other groupings of cargo-slots and some of cargo wagons, which she assumed were for other Mages to empower for their own ventures. Were there others, before? Probably. She thought back and realized that, yes, there had often been other cargo items in the work-yards she’d empowered cargo-slots in. Never really paid much attention, I suppose.
The guards moved on as she walked towards her task. I guess I look like I belong? She had no idea how they assessed possible threats. They could probably tell I’m a Mage. Their bows lent weight to that assumption. Dealing with a Mage is likely above their paygrade.
Tala shrugged and smiled, a thought coming to her as she refocused on her purpose, there. I can divert into the cargo-slots.
She walked to the start of the line, right hand outstretched. Her gate was gushing into the magic starved void that she currently maintained around it.
It was a mild additional effort to interpose the mental construct and funnel the power through it as she touched the first charging panel, but it seemed to work well enough.
Every indicating symbol flared to life instantly, glowing fiercely in the early-morning dark.
It was too much power.
She snatched her hand back, allowing the void within her to fill, her eyes widening. Rusting, really?
Surprised, she thought back, remembering that she’d been able to charge the cargo-slots the day before in mere seconds by shunting her full flow into each. Right.
Thankfully, she was able to see the cargo-slot bleeding off the excess power.
Then, she remembered the first time she’d empowered cargo-slots of this type. Didn’t it take nearly a minute? There’s no way I’ve increased my flow-rate by sixty times, since then…
That had been before she was using the mental construct. Wow, those really do make a difference. Hmmm… I think it took around ten seconds per indicator, when I began using the mental construct.
More than anything, that spoke to the benefit of well-formed mental models for what she was doing. And my mental model has only gotten better, since then.
Tala forced herself to focus back on the present. She rebuilt the void, splitting the power further and sending a bit more than half of the power into Flow, just less than a quarter into her own body, and about a quarter into each cargo-slot as she tapped down the line. That should be just more than I used, yesterday.
Each cargo-slot’s three indicating symbols pulsed to full brightness after the touch, influx of power, and a couple of seconds. It wasn’t instantaneous, but it didn’t need to be. A smile grew, spreading across her face with every success.
She reached the end of the line, charging the last cargo-slot and almost laughing in delight. Yes!
Even so, she felt her grip on the power slipping and allowed the void around her gate to fill in, the flow of power drastically slowing. Good to know, splitting the flow further requires much more attention and lowers the time I can hold the void.
She felt a bit of a headache, but a swig of coffee seemed to help.
Splitting it three ways had lowered her time to just more than a minute. Her smile didn’t fade, however. So, I can increase the difficulty by splitting the flow further, eh?
She stretched her arms upward, arching back and feeling her muscles respond happily to the motion. Well, I’m way too early to go to the training yard for the class… But, maybe they’d let her use a space, until they needed her? It was worth asking. Maybe the Constructionists are open? It was after seven in the morning. I’ll drop through there, first.
That decided, she turned and strode towards the Constructionist Guild building that she’d visited the day before, Terry happily sleeping on her shoulder.