Tala thoroughly enjoyed her morning exercise, nestled in one of the lower branches of Makinaven’s great tree, even if it was after noon.
Mistress Odera really picked a great spot.
Tala was even able to find a nice level nook, off to one side, where she could open Kit in a secure manner and quickly cleanse herself of the sweat she’d built up.
Terry perched beside Kit protectively while she was inside.
You know, if I’m ever falling, could I just climb into Kit and wait until we land? At some point, she would have to trust someone enough to have them close her inside, so that she could see if she could get out.
That wasn’t a terrifying thought.
Not at all.
Necessary evils to get greater utility out of my items. Kit was great, but Tala wanted as much utility from the pouch as she could get. And if that works, I’ll have to see if I can close myself in…
But that was down the road a bit. Other things were jostling around in her head, demanding her attention.
I wonder how much one of those tungsten rods costs. Another thing to ask the Constructionists about. She’d probably never need it, but she was finding herself airborne far too often to not consider it.
As she climbed back out into a cool breeze, Tala took a moment to close her eyes and just enjoy the feel of the gentle currents. Her elk leathers shifted to allow the wind through to her skin.
The sensation was amazing. So much better than the frigidness of the forest in winter. Even if the difference was not as extreme this high up. I wonder if it’s cooler in summer too.
She glanced at Terry as she clipped Kit back to her belt. “Willing to give me a ride?”
Terry grew to a comfortable size and crouched down.
“Thank you.” As she climbed up, she tossed him some jerky.
He snapped out, catching it with his beak before it went out of range.
Right, he doesn’t want to teleport while I’m on his back. “Sorry about that.” She tossed another much closer, and he snapped it up much more easily.
He set off at a leisurely pace, just faster than she could comfortably jog.
Tala had a thought and glanced behind them.
Terry’s talons were digging into the tree for better grip, speed, and balance, just as he would the ground, below. Oh… That’s-
Even as she was considering the cost that she’d incur from all the damage already done, her mage-sight showed her that the wood was pulling back together, reforming and returning to its base state.
Oh, that’s wonderful. She let out a relieved breath and turned to face forward once again. Where to first?
There was no contest, she needed to go see the Constructionists.
“Let’s go back to the third tier. We can ask for directions to the Constructionist Guild from there.”
Terry bobbed his head in acknowledgement then bent lower, increasing his speed.
Might as well practice. She locked onto herself, bringing her middle finger to her thumb. Reduce.
Terry began to speed up more, seeming to relax a bit as her effective gravity decreased.
This is wonderful! She laughed joyfully.
There was an ox cart in the road in front of them, making its slow way towards the tree. When he was almost upon it, Terry pushed off to move around the obstruction, but things didn’t go as expected.
Something about moving from the straight run to a sideways diversion tripped up the avian, and he began to tumble. Terry immediately flickered away, appearing in a crouch on the short wall to one side of the road. He was now the size of a cat and wore a look of profound irritation clearly on his avian face.
Tala, with her effective gravity reduced, but her momentum maintained, tumbled through the air, straight into the back of the cart, hitting with a solid thwack!
She groaned, sliding to the ground in a comically slow fashion.
It seemed that the cart had been made very well; she hadn’t damaged it in the least.
The driver must have turned around to look, but obviously didn’t see her. Tala heard him flick his reins, and the cart pulled away, now moving a bit faster than before.
Tala lay there in the road for a long moment, glaring at Terry.
He preened while glaring back.
“I was just lighter, Terry. I still had the same inertia.” She was actively returning her weight to normal.
Terry squawked and shimmied, still giving her an irritated look.
“Fine. I’m back to normal weight. Let’s try again?”
He didn’t move.
“I won’t change my gravity while riding, not without talking to you first. Alright?”
After a moment, he bobbed, and reappeared beside her, sized for easy riding.
“Thank you. I apologize for throwing you off.”
He shook, settling her in place, and let out a satisfied thrum. It was almost a purr but with more music to it.
“Yes, you are a wonderful runner. As I said, I apologize.”
He bobbed, and started out again, this time going a little slower as if a bit unsure of his footing. That quickly passed, however, as he took a few zigs and zags to get a renewed feel for it. By the time they’d passed the still plodding cart and ox, he was up to speed once more.
A few minutes later, they reached the trunk and passed through the entry tunnel. At the end of that tunnel, Terry took a hard right, down the 4 o’clock spiral. His claws dug deep to facilitate the change in direction, but he pivoted perfectly, barely losing any speed.
Terry let out a quiet trumpet of triumph as he continued. If anything, he increased his speed as they moved down the sloping road.
Behind them, the wooden road fixed itself, sending out minute eddies of power, which quickly calmed, leaving no trace that the damage had ever been there.
They practically whipped down the tiers, Terry skillfully weaving around and through the traffic.
As they went, Tala occasionally thought she saw flickers of light from across the open space of the tiers that they were passing. It seemed to originate from larger tube-like vertical shafts. I’ll investigate that later, I suppose.
It didn’t seem dangerous, but something about it tickled at her mind. Later, I said.
When they reached the base of the third tier a few minutes later, Tala directed Terry out onto the main floor.
Giving a subtle whistle as a warning to Tala, Terry flickered to her shoulder, allowing her to drop and land on her own two feet.
“Thank you, Terry. That was kind of you.”
He simply hunkered down a bit before opening his mouth.
Tala grinned and gave him some jerky.
She wandered the vast, open market of this tier, taking in the sights and sounds of bartering and merchants calling out to potential customers about their wares.
As she walked through a section that was oriented towards food, an odd-seeming stall caught her attention. It was manned by two older men and a boy: likely a father, son, and grandfather if their looks were any indication. The stall was smaller than those around it but was doing a brisk business.
They seemed to be selling dark-colored bars of some kind.
Is that some type of dessert? It almost looked like low-quality chocolate, but there seemed to be a teapot in front of each section, steaming away on magical heaters. That’s not cheap to maintain.
The father smiled her way. “Welcome, Mistress. What can we interest you in, today?”
“Pardon my ignorance, but what are you selling?”
The oldest of the three stepped forward and bowed. “No pardon necessary, Mistress. These are tea bricks, for the most part. I assume you have not come across these before?”
“I have not.”
He moved to one side, drawing her with him by the movement, so that they would not be blocking the front of the stall. “Well, once you have a brick of the tea of your choice, you cut off a small portion and toast it, usually over a flame, but hot air or a magical heater can work as well. This brings out the depth of flavor. Once that is done, you grind up the tea and place it into your mug or teapot, pour in hot water, and allow it to steep as appropriate for the given tea. It is a compact, efficient way of carrying a large quantity of tea.”
Tala leaned forward, inhaling steam coming from the various pots. “These smell amazing.” She felt herself relaxing as she took in the myriad herbal scents. She knew very well what it reminded her of, but she refused to acknowledge that, since it would ruin her enjoyment.
“Thank you, Mistress.”
“How many cups of tea can a brick make?”
“That depends on the strength of tea you desire, as well as on the type of tea. But in general, you can get ten cups per ounce of the stronger teas. For the herbal teas, you need closer to half or three-quarters of an ounce to achieve a robust flavor.”
“And the bars are how heavy?”
“The smallest we sell are single-pot nuggets, and the largest, single bricks are a pound.”
“And the cost?”
“It varies, Mistress.” He smiled apologetically.
Tala shrugged. “I suppose that makes sense.” She considered. “Am I right in assuming that you have some of each already brewed in these pots?” She gestured to the steaming kettles.
Tala nodded. “Then, if you are willing, and they are available, could I sample your mint blend, a chamomile, and…” She hesitated, her nose catching a whiff of something. She frowned in concentration. “Do I smell coffee?”
“Ahh! Yes, we have a limited selection of espresso bricks.”
“Espresso?” She tried the unfamiliar word.
“Coffee that has been processed to be stronger. Usually consumed in very small quantities.”
She could tell that he had greatly simplified that explanation, but she didn’t really mind. “I’d like to sample that as well.” My own supply of coffee? It might work, at least until she got her coffee incorporator.
I know they exist.
The man bowed low as the other two moved, getting three small cups for her to sample.
They set them on a small, cleared space to one side, and Tala moved over to pick up the first.
She closed her eyes, inhaling deeply. Mint. It was a crisp scent. At least pepper and spear…is that rosehip and lemongrass? She hadn’t actually delved back into alchemy or herbalism since Holly had given her the enhanced senses. This is incredible! She took another deep breath, then sipped slowly. Hibiscus, too? It was a masterfully put together blend. “Splendid. How much for the larger bricks of this?”
“As an herbal tea, the larger bricks we sell this in are just under a pound with indentations for easy preparation of twenty-four pots. The cost for each such brick is twelve copper.”
Tala blinked at him. “Twelve copper.”
How is it that cheap? Ingredients were much cheaper than prepared products, and even prepared tea was cheap enough to be simply given to guests at many restaurants… “That seems very reasonable.” They must grow it nearby.
“It is actually the least expensive of our teas, and one of our most popular, Mistress. My brother’s son has cultivated an expansive amount of mint to the south, along with most of the other ingredients we use.” He smiled proudly. “Mint, we have in abundance; that grows quite prolifically.”
“I think ten bricks of this.” She took another slow sip of the tea, draining the small cup.
She passed back the teacup and reached for the next one they’d prepared.
“Ahh, one moment.” He produced a cup of clear, cool water from behind the stand. “To cleanse the palate.”
Tala smiled and drank the water gratefully before handing the cup back and picking up the second flavor on offer.
Other customers had entered, and the father had greeted them and was seeing to their needs. Tala paid them no mind.
By the smell, this second drink was the chamomile blend. Chamomile, obviously. Hibiscus again. Spearmint? She supposed if they had a ready supply, it made sense that they would integrate it wherever possible. Rose petals this time, and blackberry leaves? She continued to analyze the aroma, internally going through the ingredients that she could pick out. Finally, she took a sip, marveling at the flavor.
She wanted to wax poetic on the wonderfully subtle, balanced tastes, but the tea also made her want to curl up in a comfortable chair and watch the world go by. She settled for a contented sigh and a softly uttered, “Oh, this is fantastic.”
“That blend is a bit more efficient in quantity to desired flavor by design, though it is still an herbal tea. The one-pound brick is segmented for thirty-six pots. The price for that is twenty-three copper.”
“Yes, ten pounds of that, too, please.” It had been much, much too long since she’d taken the time to enjoy good tea. At first, at the Academy, it had been too much of a reminder of all-too-fresh wounds. And by the time that those aches had faded somewhat, she had been well out of the habit. No more.
Tala noticed that most of the customers that came up seemed to be regulars, not needing to sample before they bought a large amount of this or that tea. A few bought a selection but not many.
She took a final drink of the chamomile tea, finishing off the little cup. She couldn’t help herself; she smiled and spoke her praise once again. “Wonderful.”
“Would you like these bricks open or wrapped for longer, more secure storage?”
“Cost of wrapping?”
“Three copper, per brick.”
The young boy began wrapping her selections individually in waxed paper. His expertly dexterous fingers tucked the paper back in on itself, sealing the tea away from the elements without need for string or other, additional fastener.
She handed back the empty, chamomile cup, and took another proffered cup of water. That drunk, she picked up the last sample.
It was indisputably coffee by the smell. No. It’s espresso.
“Now, this is brewed strong. Many will add it to water, or milk, and most like it with a bit of sugar or honey. Would you like either for your sample?”
Tala breathed in deeply through her nose, reveling in the potent fragrance. “No, thank you. I’d rather taste it as it is, not masked by something else. It smells divine.”
The older man gave a half bow. “Mistress is too kind.”
She took a sip, and her eyes widened. “There isn’t any bitterness at all.”
“Of course not, Mistress.” He straightened himself, clearly proud of his offered goods. “We only buy from the finest roasters. We do recommend that you use water just shy of boiling, so that you don’t burn the grounds as you brew it.”
“And it’s much stronger than I was expecting, even with your warning.” Tala found herself staring down at the black liquid. There was no other way to put it: It was strong. If the coffee she usually drank was a bucking donkey, this was a well-trained team of oxen. Smooth, powerful, amazing. “How much?”
“This is usually brewed in smaller quantities. What you are sampling, here, was ground as finely as possible, and the espresso stays in, just as with the teas you tried. If you prepare it that way, you need one ounce for every pot. But if you intend to strain out the espresso, you won’t want it as finely broken up, and you will need close to four times the amount.”
Tala gave a slow smile. So, it’s expensive. “How much?”
“Sixty copper per one pound brick.” He said it with an easy, unapologetic smile.
That’s nearly three times as much as the more expensive tea. “I’ll take ten of those, as well, wrapped.”
The man smiled. “Wonderful! That will be ten silver and forty copper. Can I assist you with anything else?”
Tala nodded. “I could use a mortar and pestle along with a teapot and cup.”
He laughed. “Of course!”
They talked about the various kinds he had available. They were of high quality but limited in selection. He apologized for that lack. He worked with other merchants to have a few in stock for the occasional customer in need, but they were not among his primary wares.
In the end, she selected a lovely, black-granite mortar and pestle and a stunningly-enameled, cast-iron teapot and matching cup.
The teapot and cup set got a raised eyebrow from the man, but he didn’t comment. The look is likely because I chose iron over one of the clay or wooden versions. He must know something of Mages, I suppose. She’d been tempted by the others, but the one she’d ended up picking had just been too beautiful to pass by.
The one that she’d chosen was a squat thing, a bit wider than it was tall. The main color was a glossy black with the outlines of interconnected, dark-red hexagons overlaying the surface. The effect looked like ruby veins peeking through an onyx shell.
In total, the peripheral items cost her another three silver. Or it would have, if she hadn’t negotiated. In the end, she got the lot for eleven silver. Still a lot more than I probably should have spent…
Even so, she was happy with her purchases. “Thank you, sir.”
“Thank you, Mistress.”
“Oh! Before I go, could you point me to the Constructionists’ Guild?”
“Certainly. You can find the nearest public location that I know of at the north 6 o’clock of this tier.”
North? 6 o’clock would be south. She frowned.
“Oh, my apologies. That is on the six o’clock spiral, half-way to the next tier.”
“Ah! So, to the north.”
“And do you know where the Culinary Guild can be found?”
He gave her another odd look, then shrugged. “The closest public location can be found at south 12 o’clock of this tier.” His eyes twinkled a bit.
“I think I’ve got it. Thank you!”
She tucked her purchases into Kit, waved goodbye, and departed.
Terry flickered back onto her shoulder shortly after, and she realized that he’d departed just before she approached the stall. “Where were you off to?”
He simply hunkered down in seeming sleep.
“Well, I don’t hear any screaming, so it’s probably fine.” She shrugged and started towards the south to get onto the 6 o’clock spiral. After a moment, though, she hesitated. I could just climb up one of the pedestrian tubes. It would be about a fifty-foot climb. That would be faster than going all the way south, then circumnavigating the tier.
She spun on her heel, feeling a bit of a fool, and headed back north.
She waved to the tea merchants as she passed and walked quickly towards her destination.
Tala and Terry passed through the market, and Tala did her best to not be distracted by the wide selection of items up on offer. Blessedly, she succeeded. I already spent too much time. I need to get to the Constructionists.
When she reached the twelve o’clock road, she looked around, until she saw a tube-like space, inset in the wall, which had a ladder housed within.
The one she found first was marked as ‘Down’ so she continued to look around, until she found the one labeled ‘Up.’ She grabbed on and climbed quickly, Terry gripping her shoulder tightly.
At each level, there were large, stylized numbers beside the exit. It was a bit of an odd thing as the numbers were counting down while she climbed up.
When she reached the large ‘6,” she stepped out onto the six o’clock spiral. Just to her left, up the slope, she saw the sign for the Constructionists’ Guild.
“Finally. Let’s see if we can’t get some of our questions answered.” Tala found herself grinning.