The shelves were a collection of rainbows. Claude picked up something that looked suspiciously like a bamboo tube. It glowed like spring grass. He focused on it and noticed soft lines etched into its surface, runes on the inner surface of the tube.
“A water accumulator. It fills up over the course of a day, and contains one person’s daily rations. It’s essential for long journey or expeditions. It’s priceless to people that do a lot of field work,” Hurian half-whispered over his shoulder.
Claude put the tube down again.
“Why use it at all? A simple spell is more than enough to do that a dozen times over without even breaking a sweat.”
“It’s not much use to magi, true. But what about people who can’t use magic? It’s just one crown, too.”
Did he really just say it was ‘just one crown’? Claude’s fists clenched slightly by his side. He could make them himself and the materials wouldn’t even cost three riyas per tube, but Hurian was trying to make him pay a whole crown — fifty riyas? Cheap Claude’s arse!
“A magical alarm,” Hurian chimed when Claude picked up a small golden cicada, “It rings the moment someone activates a spell within five metres. A thale, a crown for six.”
So it was Appraisal crossed with a whistle? The mechanism was quite simple, really. A circuit of three runes worked together to make it work. An appraisal rune triggered when magic was used within its effective range, triggering a kind of telekinesis rune Claude didn’t recognise, which pushed a reed down over a small tube in the cicada, as well as the third rune, a rune Claude vaguely recognised as being a variant of a wind spell, which no doubt blew air through the tube, making the reed vibrate and the cicada whistle.
The old merchant made it sound wondrous, but it was really not worth much. If a magi got that close without being detected, one with bad intentions, that cicada was not going to save your life. And you were a real fool if you let a hostile magi get that close in the first place.
“An axe. It’s enchanted with Sharpen. It’s deadlier than your average axe, of course. I have one enchanted with Toughen as well, it’ll last longer.”
The two continued their dance thusly up and down the shelves for several dozen minutes. Claude would pick something up, and Hurian was chime in his ear, doing his best to convince him to buy it, without appearing pushy. Claude used the dance to learn some more about various magic stuff. For one, for example, he learned that enchanted weapons had a glow tied to their enchantment. Sharpen was white, Toughen was grey.
It made him wonder about his dagger. It had a black glow, unlike everything else he saw in the shop. Maybe it was poisoned? No, he remembered reading poison had a putrid-green glow.
“…These are never-lose sewing needles,” Hurian continued.
Claude had to stifle a chortle. What use did he have for such a thing? The needles were in a small silver container, stabbed into a piece of cork.
“Yes,” Hurian’s mercantile voice chimed again, “Some people have a tendency to misplace things. These return to their container if left alone for a while. As long as they’re within a couple of metres from the container, they’ll magically reappear in it. It’s the perfect gift for mothers and wives.”
Claude fought back another chortle. He was really just describing a particularly far-reaching magnet. Really now, couldn’t they do something more interesting?
His eyes glazed over as he lost interest. He scurried around a few more times, picking up only a couple more random items, then stopped. His eyes stuck on a metal crossbow.
“This?” he asked, reaching for it.
Was that supposed to mean something?
“Its name. Eifrey’s an infamous pirate. He died a century ago in a mutiny. He made extensive use of this crossbow throughout his career, and it tasted a lot of blood in his final minutes. It got its name from that mutiny.
“It has three enchantments; Toughen, Rustproof, and Restoration. The strongest crossbows are made of mithril steel, but they don’t last long. Toughen slows that, and Restoration repairs the wear. Mithril rusts easily as well, hence Rustproof.
Claude was more intrigued by the delicate, intricate design than any of its enchantments. It could even be called alluring. The enchantments were nice, but unnecessary. All that was really needed was better materials. Steel, for example, stainless steel would solve all the problems at once. There was no need for Toughen, Rustproof, or Restoration, so he could enchant it with more useful things.
“That’s it? What’s the price?”
Claude nearly lost his lower jaw. His Aubass was far more effective and only cost six crowns. How on earth was this worth a shaliun?
“Too expensive. I’ll pay three crowns at most.”
“It’s an enchanted crossbow. It can’t be compared with normal weapons!” Hurian snapped.
“Enchanted, sure, but with three rubbish enchantments. It might be worth a shaliun if it could make its bolts home on a target, or if it was exceedingly accurate, maybe if it was much stronger than a musket. As it is now it’s barely more than a nice-looking, durable, normal crossbow. Come to think of it why am I even willing to pay three crowns?”
“Fine, three crowns!” Hurian quickly shut him up.
“How far can it shoot?”
“Ten? Are you kidding me?! The bolts?”
Claude’s jaw fell of for real this time. He stared at the man, jawless, for several long, silent seconds, then put the crossbow back.
“I’ll throw in six mithril bolts enchanted with Sharpen!” Hurian crumbled.
“Fine. Damnit, why did I make such a stupid offer?” Claude sighed.
He wasn’t happy, but he had to admit he wasn’t completely rueful. He could at least experiment on the mithril and try to make steel.
“Everything’s packed,” Hurian said a few minutes later, “When will you settle the bill?”
Claude reached for his pocket, and froze. He hadn’t brought anything with him.
“My original intention wasn’t to buy anything today. I wanted to take a look today and come back tomorrow if I found anything worthwhile. If you can hold it for me till tomorrow I’ll come pay you then. How much for everything?” Claude said in as calm a voice as he could.
“Are you kidding me?!” Hurian asked, his warm smile vanishing, “You’re just here to waste my time!”
“You honestly think I’d bring that much money into a shop I’d never been in? I’m not stupid.”
Hurian’s face went blank. What Claude said was exactly what he would’ve done himself.
“Fine, but only for three days. They go back on the shelves if you haven’t paid in three days. And then I won’t do business with you again.”
“My teacher is back in three days and I need to finish the array before then, so don’t worry. I’ll be back tomorrow with the money.”
The two parted ways, and Hurian locked up the shop before returning to the mulberry tree.
“What’d he want?” a bearded man asked.
“A few ingredients, much the same list as yours,” Hurian answered.
The four sitting around the table exchanged rogue glances. Rogue magi or not, Hurian and they were good acquaintances, if not friends.
“What did he want?” another asked.
“He’s done a good job disguising himself, but he oozes inexperience. He’s very young; no older than twenty. He has a teacher and this teacher has several other disciples. He’s apparently destroyed his teacher’s array and needs to make another one before he returns. Do you know of any rogue magi in town with several disciples?”
“None I’ve heard of.”
The remaining two shook their heads.
“Whatever. We’ll find out in time. He said his teacher was informed of my opening by the capital. We’ll interact with them more in the future. He’ll at least come buy more materials for his experiments, I know that much for certain.”
The bearded man smiled.
“You made a killing tonight, yes? Arrays aren’t cheap. I don’t have enough savings for one even now–”
“Only killing being done is on your arse! Anyway–” the fat merchant downed his cup of wine, “He didn’t bring any money along. He said he’ll come pay tomorrow. I can’t be sure whether he’s lying or not… Agh, whatever. You’re leaving tomorrow, yes? Let’s drink to your departure, then!”