City of Andoria
Cottages and townhouses with walls of daub and waddle reinforced with heavy timbers share the winding streets with aged stone towers and brick guardhouses on this hillside city that overlooks a mountain-ringed valley spreading off to eventually give way to the Sea of Omens near the horizon. Reptiloid beasts of burden pulls wagons or carry riders up and down the steep throughways, and hand-painted signs advertise pubs, inns, and shops. Banners hang at the guard towers and gates, displaying the city's emblem of a rising golden phoenix silhouetted against a midnight blue field.
The Tower of Celesti still casts a cloud (literally) over the city, but nonetheless, for the time being, our intrepid adventurers have taken a break from the travails of the tower, in hopes of finding some inspiration on how to deal with its challenges … and perhaps also just because they need a break.
Of the original party of three, only two of the adventurers are together today, the bat Air Elementalist, and the Mephitian (skunk) healer. The third member, a dragon Fire Elementalist, had pressing business elsewhere for the day, leaving his companions to a day on the town.
The two compatriots walk together, side by side, alongside the main road that cuts through Andoria. Despite the Tower's perpetually gloom cast over the town, both the bat and the Mephitian's spirits are up.
"So, Wynona," asks Galen, the Mephitian, to his companion. "Tell me more about yourself. You've already shown me you have numerous mystical talents; and, more importantly a talented mind." He grins. "But I still don't know that much about you."
Wynona chomps absently on an oblong green fruit she picked up from a sidewalk vendor. A few moments ago, Galen can distinctly remember it being bright orange. She chews and swallows, then looks to Galen. "Oh, I don't know, really. What's there to tell? I work with the element of the air, and I've been doing it all my life. It's what I do."
Galen eyes the fruit for a moment, noticing its sudden color-change, then he looks back to Wynona's face. "Oh, certainly there's more than that," he continues. "I mean, what about your family? Your goals? Your hobbies? And your favorite things? Or even whatever you don't like?"
"My family?" Wynona echoes. "Well, I don't really see them much. As for goals, well, I'd like to be an even better air mage. Striving toward that is pretty much my whole hobby. And my favorite thing would most certainly be flying on really nice days. That, and a good piece of fruit." She takes another chomp out of the fruit.
Galen laughs, softly, as he watches her obviously enjoying her snack. He takes a tiny, quick glance at her back and her wings. "It must be wonderful to be able to fly," he says. "Can you tell me more about it?"
Wynona laughs. "It's one of those things that it's hard to just talk about. You don't have things around you, pinning you in. You've got the air buoying you up, a symphony of wind running past you, the whole of the countryside out beneath you, yours for the picking just where you'd like to go, and how fast you want to get there."
Galen cocks his head to the side, silent, as he listens to her description. That's the very first time I ever heard you talk like that, Wynona, he thinks to himself. No stammerings, or factual recitations. Just poetic prose. And beautiful at that. Interesting.
The two near another ear of the town lined on both sides of the road with vendors. Galen spots a short, stocky male cat, of mixed furry colorings, displaying a curious line-up of pink, juicy cubes of meat on sticks. "Gnarf-kabobs! Gnarf-kabobs!" shouts the cat, in a deep but friendly voice. "One for two shekels! Two for three! Eat 'em while they're hot!"
As the pair walk by, Galen takes a few looks at the "gnarf-kabobs." "Hmm … hold on for a moment, please?" he asks Wynona. He walks to the stand. I just realized, I haven't eaten all day. And I'm famished. He pulls out his purse bag from his pocket, and takes out two shekels. "I'll have one of these, thank you," he tells the cat vendor.
Wynona quietly munches on her fruit while Galen purchases the "kabob," scanning the other booths, her eyes falling upon a couple of storefronts one offering brightly patterned fabrics and another selling crystal hangings.
"So what about yourself, Healer Galen?" Wynona asks, absently. "I haven't really heard much about what you like to do or have to do, for that matter other than the fact that you're a healer."
After paying and thanking the vendor, Galen is back at his companion's side, now taking a bite out of one of the cubes of meat on the stick. Not bad; unusually juicy, and sweet, he thinks, and takes another bit. It's not until he's done with the first of the four cubes skewered onto the stick that he realizes Wynona talking to him. "Oh! Ah-heh, I'm sorry," he says, smiling a little sheepishly. "I wasn't listening." He pulls out a handkerchief from his pocket, and wipes his muzzle a little bit. "Well … let's see … what is there about me?"
He thinks for a moment … then for a while. He is unusually silent. His eyes drift off … then he blinks, and looks back to Wynona.
"No one, has really asked me that question before, Wynona," he says, finally, softly. He is silent for a moment longer, then continues. "And now that I tried to come up with an answer to your question … I realize that I have nothing to say." He is no longer smiling.
Wynona looks at Galen for a time, and then suddenly breaks out in giggles. "Well, then! Maybe we both need to get out more often. Uhm … but I suppose I'd better think of a new topic quick, before we both get terribly embarrassed. Oh … let's see … have you come up with any brilliant new ideas about the water elemental?"
Galen nods a little, but it's plain to see he's not as happy as before. "Yes … let's switch topics." The pair resume walking alongside the road again, only taking a few moments to look over the other stands and vendors' wares. There really is nothing to me, thinks the Mephitian, as he slowly takes another bite out of his gnarf-kabob. I've no hobbies, no particular likes or dislikes, no real goals back at home, except to simply stay out of trouble … and, no friends.
The pair get close to passing by the booths that are selling fabrics, and crystalline wares. What have I really accomplished with my life? A good job? An obedient son? A sheltered life? Inwardly, he sighs. No … none of that means anything at all. I have done nothing for myself, nothing for others, save for healing for a fee. Nothing … nothing at all. What a poor person I am.
Realizing, too late, that his current mode of thinking is exposing things about himself to himself he'd rather not think about, the healer switches mental gears. "Well, let's see," he says to Wynona. "If it wasn't for Randle's antics with those towels, I would have thought about somehow using those against Miss Shimmer. But now that he's scared them, I wonder if they'll be of any help."
Wynona hmms. "Well, I suppose they might be scared of him. We don't breathe fire, after all. Unless you've got some secret you're holding out on me." The bat winks.
Galen smiles a little, just a bit. "No, no secrets like that, I'm afraid." He looks over his companion once again. You claim to have the same lack of living as myself, Wynona, but you never cease to be happy and full of joy. Or to make me smile. How do you do it? "If Randle's business is done and he joins up with us again when we deal with Miss Shimmer, mayhap he can somehow intimidate the towels to serve us … or maybe … " He pauses for a moment. He takes a quick look at the fabrics vendor's stand, then he looks back to Wynona. "Maybe I'm only being a fool … but do you think at all possible that towels or clothes with drying properties can be bought here?"
Wynona frowns. "We could ask … but I think it's pretty safe to say that the High Council wouldn't approve. Celesti engaged in a lot of excesses. Those towels could be dangerous, you know. In any case … uhm … I don't actually have all that much money, really." Then, she blinks, and smacks herself on the forehead. "I'm so stupid!"
Galen blinks thrice at her. "What's wrong?"
Wynona says, "One of the properties of Air is that you can use it to dry things. Uhm … except that I don't think that even unloading all of my magical power at that Elemental would be quite enough to fully drain the pool. All I could do is weaken it at the most. Or get it really, really upset. All right, so that wasn't such a fabulous idea after all."
"No, no, don't be so harsh on yourself," says the Mephitian to his bat companion. "That's actually not that bad an idea. We'll need all the help we can get, and if your spellcasting is one more way to help, that's grand." He smiles at her reassuringly. "So … perhaps we can actually do something now, with Randle's Fire Elemental abilities, his ability to intimidate the towels (I hope) into possibly going up against Miss Shimmer, and your own Air Elemental powers." He blinks. "Which leaves me."
"To put us back together when Miss Shimmer loses her temper and tidal-waves us right out of the room?" Wynona offers, smirking.
Galen blinks again, at Wynona, thrice. "I'm hoping it doesn't come down to that. And I'm hoping that there's some other way I can help … but how? Other than possibly talking to her and trying to outwit her, like with the other Elementals?"
Wynona says, "Well, I think you'd probably have the best bet at succeeding in the 'outwitting' department. That hasn't exactly been my specialty."
Galen says, "Actually, I don't really consider it to be my specialty, either … but, thank you." He nods. Once again, he looks at the fabrics booth. I can't help it; just one quick question will suffice. "Hold on one moment, please," he tells Wynona, then he walks over to the booth.
The owner of this particular stand is an emerald-green snake, thick-headed, armed, and bodied, whose length can't be determined as it's hidden behind the booth. The vendor greets Galen with a slow, graceful nod and twinkling, slit eyes. "How may I hepf you?" it asks, its sibilant voice giving no indication of its gender.
"Good day," replies Galen, nodding in return. "I just wish to know: do you sell any clothes, or towels, or fabrics, that are especially good at soaking up water? Magically enchanted, even?" This is a stupid, stupid question to ask, Galen, he tells himself. What are the possible chances at all of a simple vendor as this selling anything like Celesti's? Your curiosity is only making you a fool in front of everyone, especially yourself.
The snake makes a reptilian attempt at a smile. "Why, yeS I do, aS a matter of fact! I have many fine fabwicS of a magicaw nature. Just hepf youwSepf to my Sewection." He then goes into a long and lisping schpiel on the wonders of his water-soaking towels and carpets.
Galen's eyes open as wide as teacup saucers. I … can NOT … believe … this.
Wynona raises an eyebrow, as she looks over the towels. "Hmmm."
The healer, dazed, simply listens and nods continuously to the snake's lisping spiel of all his water-soaking products. Finally, after having stood there for a good minute or so, Galen shakes off his disbelief and quickly nods in an exaggerated fashion. "Yes, yes, yes, thank you so much for telling us about them all, sir." He takes a deep breath, then lets it out. "Can you please tell me which ones are, well, in the affordable range?"
"Oh!" the snake says, "I'm having a Sale today. Going out of buSiness. You can have them for a copper each, in a wide wange of cowowS."
At this statement, the Mephitian's jaw simply drops. But he quickly regains his composure. Now, now, Galen … your lucky streak may have ended. He could be lying about going out of business. Now, what did mother tell me about, what's that word? Ah! 'Haggling'? Though a hundred shekels is not at all a bad price for enchanted towels, methinks the price needs to be dropped a bit. He nods most graciously to the vendor. "Thank you sooo much for telling me all this. I just need to speak with my companion for a moment, and then we'll be right back!" And with a broad grin at the snake he takes Wynona's arm and motions her to go with him.
The serpent gestures widely to the garish assortment of colors that the magical drying towels are available in. Of course, they're all hemmed in runic patterns. He frowns a little as Galen goes away, but quickly hides it. "I will Stiww be hewe!" he lisp-hisses.
The bat follows along with the skunk, and then she looks to him. "Do you have some sort of plan, Healer Galen?"
Galen nods. "Yes, yes … " He glances behind him at the snake vendor, now four booths away and hopefully very far from hearing, then whispers quietly to the bat, knowing full well that her sharp ears will pick up every word. "I'm thinking that we need to get as many of these towels as possible, if they do in fact work. Did you look at the runes? Do they look authentic?" he asks her.
Wynona frowns. "I recognized some of the runes, but, honestly, I've never dealt in permanent enchantments on objects. I'm simply not that good of a mage. I'd have to do some more careful study, really, to be sure, and that would take time."
Galen nods, and then motions Wynona to go with him to a small area between another food booth and a trinkets booth. In a moment, both are completely out of the snake's view. "I just remembered," he whispers again, "in my medical teachings, some Nagas and snake-like beings are deaf, and can lip-read. This should make sure he doesn't know what we're up to." He recollects, then continues. "First, we need to make sure the towels actually work. I'm thinking we should go to a booth that sells any water, then test it on the towels. If it's obvious that they do in fact magically soak it up, then I want to 'converse' with you in front of the snake-vendor about how well you're doing in your teachings as an Air Elementalist, and how well you know these runes. That's when you can start 'pointing out' to me how the runes show the towels aren't really as good as a hundred shekels apiece."
He takes a breath. "I'm hoping we can lower the price, maybe even down to fifty shekels, or even below that. The more towels we get, the better. Understood?"
Wynona raises an eyebrow. "It sounds very unscrupulous. My, my! I wouldn't have expected this of you." She grins mischievously.
Galen sighs, with a smile. "You're right … this is very unscrupulous of me. As a matter of fact, I've never done anything like this before. But I'm hoping it'll work. You don't have anything against this, do you?"
Wynona shrugs. "Let the seller beware!"
At Wynona's statement, Galen laughs. Which surprises him. But, he doesn't bother to hide it. He looks down to her, and smiles. "You're really very poetic and vivacious, Wynona." He pauses. "I never knew how beautifully you could speak, until you told me about what it was like to be able to fly. You have a better tongue than I. You shouldn't hold yourself back so much, all the time."
The bat's ears blush. "Well, let's get to business, shall we?"
Galen nods, still smiling. "We shall."
Wynona decides to take the lead, peeking out back at the snake vendor, and then striding purposefully back over to his wares. Along the way, she pauses at a trough, and fills up an empty flask from her belt with some water … and then continues on her way.
The two march out of the area they were whispering in. "Let's see if we can find any water," says the Mephitian.
Wynona sloshes her flask around noisily. "Got it!"
"Ah, good, thank you," replies Galen. Within a few moments, they are back in front of the fabric-dealer's booth. "Good day, again, sir," he says to the snake, nodding his head in greeting as before. "My companion and I would greatly appreciate it if we can 'test' your towels, to see how well they can soak up water. May we test one or two of them, please?"
"Oh, of couwSe!" the snake hisses, and picks up a couple of towels from the back one a pale green, the other a deep turquoise and holds them out. "Feew fwee!"
Galen nods again, most graciously. "Thank you so much. May we lay them out on the table here?"
The snake nods and carefully sets the towels down on a bare spot of the table.
Wynona readies her flask.
"Thank you," says Galen again to the snake. Then he looks to Wynona and gives her a nod.
The bat pours some of the contents of the flask onto the towels. Sploosh! Within seconds, the puddles of water vanish completely, leaving the towels quite dry.
Upon seeing it, Galen blinks … but retains his appearance of one who is only mildly impressed. "Hmm," he muses out loud, in front of the vendor. "I don't know … it didn't disappear quite so quickly as I expected." He shakes his head a little. "What do you think, Wynona? What could be the problem?"
Wynona quickly does her best to hide her momentarily look of awe at the towels, trying to move it into a look of being aghast. "Why, I could easily snap off a cantrip that could dry that water in half the time!" she says, shaking her head.
The snake hisses, "But thiS iS a pewmanent enchantment. No caSting wequiwed!"
Galen simply shakes his head again, more sadly. "Permanence is nice," he says, "But not if it takes forever for it to dry. Why, we may as well just wait for the water to dry by itself." He looks to Wynona. "By the way, just how hard is it to cast a permanency spell on an object, as you learned in your studies, Mage Wynona?"
"Oh!" Wynona squeaks, "Why, it's the most difficult … " She pauses for a heartbeat, then quickly recovers. "… thing to get wrong, as far as I'm concerned. Hardly worth a whole copper each."
The snake looks aghast. "I am wounded! Do you weawiZe I have cut my pwiCeS down to the point of woSing aww pwofit entiwewy? I am onwy twying to wecovew enough to feed my stawving fingewwingS!"
Galen smirks. "Just as I thought." He looks back to the vendor. "I am so, so sorry to hear that you're going out of business, dear sir," he says. He clears his throat, then continues. "But, perhaps I can offer a little advice? Perhaps, just perhaps, you would not be in the predicament you are now in, if you didn't price your goods especially even simple goods as these so high in the first place? I mean, at one hundred shekels for a single, solitary one of these towels, people would not only refrain from buying them, but they would simply think it more cost-effective to ride over to the next town and get a better price for them over there!" He looks to Wynona. "I mean, remember that last town we visited, that you teleported us to, my most renowned Mage, that sold silver-weaved towels that could soak up a lake's worth of water for the same price??"
Wynona puts on a fairly good show, and the haggling goes on in like fashion, with wild claims being added to the mix, but it seems that the snake is starting to become doubtful as to the veracity of Galen's and Wynona's claims. So far, the only begrudging ground he's given is, "I wiww Seww you fouW towewS fow the pwiCe of thwee."
Galen, by this point, is getting mentally tired, and sees from the side of his eye that Wynona, too, is starting to get desperate. I can't think of any more ideas … it'll have to be settled, before we blow it completely. After a moment of appearing to be in deep, deep thought, he raises his arms up in disgust. "Ach! Very well, very well, sir. Four for the price of three … for the children," he adds.
"The towewS awe aww you wiww get fow that pwiCe!" the snake insists, looking aghast. "I wiww not thwow in the chiwdwen aS weww! Now then, chooSe youw fouw towews … and I wiww look at youw thwee coppewS."
Now it's Galen's turn to look aghast. "Oh, my dear sir! You offend me! I didn't mean I wanted to buy your children. I was simply stating that I will suffer the indignity of buying these towels at such an exorbitant price as four for three hundred shekels!" He folds his arms across his chest, and now looks quite perturbed. I only have five coppers on me … and I don't want to have Wynona spend all of hers. Let's see … "Now I am not even sure if I'm willing to give so much money to one who can't even understand a buyer's sentences! Not even if it means help for your fingerlings!" He glares down at the snake for one, still second. "… not unless you give me eight towels for five coppers!"
The Mephitian, with tail-hairs raised, places his hands on his hips, and looks the snake down. "Now … g'nough?"
The snake stops, jaw slackening. He just looks at Galen for a long moment, as if in utter shock.
Galen continues to stare down the snake. … Naga eyes are rather hard to stare down, I see. I forgot from my medical texts that they don't blink. Another thought enters his mind. Now what? If I say anything more, it might end everything, and I feel in my gut that my display wasn't the best possible. No, I can't say another word: my eyes are drying out, but I will continue to stare. Until he breaks.
The healer is wondering what Wynona is doing during this time.
Wynona looks a bit at a lack of what to say, either. Fast-talk isn't her strong point at least, when it comes to talking fast for any particular purpose.
Finally, Galen decides to break the silence. "G'nough?" he repeats, stronger this time.
At this, the snake's eyes go just a smidgeon wider, as if they might simply pop out of his head … and then he sputters out, "Out! Out of my booth! Away with you! No mowe inSuwtS! Find a bettew deaw on theSe towewS ovew in that othew town with the Siwvew-thweaded cheap magicaw dwying towewS! Ha!" He flails his arms about violently, and his tail-tip lashes to and fro.
Galen blinks. His hands drops from his hips. He looks at the vendor for one more moment … then turns around, without a word, and leaves.
Wynona squeaks in alarm, and rushes after Galen, her wings held up to shelter her head, as if expecting to have heavy objects flung after her. (The merchant, however, doesn't seem to be so riled up as to deliver free merchandise in such a manner, though.)
Galen walks away from the booth, his jaw clenched, and his face grim. But his head is still held up high. The pair walk some distance away from the highly disgruntled snake, before Galen stops. He turns to Wynona. He is silent for a long moment … then, he lowers his head. "I'm sorry."
Wynona lets out a long breath, and then gives the skunk a questioning look … and then … she breaks out laughing!
Galen blinks. Once. Twice. Thrice. Then his mouth opens partly. "What?"
Wynona sputters, trying to stop laughing enough to talk, and pats Galen's shoulder. "That was outrageous! I'm amazed we kept that up as long as we did! Oh, the look on his face! Oh my!" She laughs again. "And yours! How do you keep such a straight face?"
Galen blinks again, several times, then simply rubs his eyes with his fingers. "It … it wasn't easy. My eyes are so dried out now that I'll almost be glad for Miss Shimmer to send a tidal wave at me." He smiles a little at the bat, but the smile is sad, and he shakes his head. "I'm sorry … this was my very first time I had ever, ever done anything like this. But still, that's no excuse. Now we have no extra towels where once we could have had five. I blew it. I'm sorry, Wynona."
Wynona makes a sputtering noise. "Oh, come now! Must you be so glum? You aren't out any money, at least. And who can tell if only four towels would have been enough? You took a chance, and a chance means that sometimes you don't make it."
Galen raises his head up. He looks at Wynona, strangely, and is curiously silent. He maintains his gaze on her … then he turns his head. "Well now," he says, matter-of-factly. "Now that that's over with, and since we still have some money to spend … what would you like to buy?" He looks back to her, and a smile is on his face. "All your choice. Food? Clothing? Items? Whatever your want, just for tonight. You more than deserve it for what you've done with me and for me today. You were wonderful with the haggling yourself."
Wynona shakes her head. "Wonderfully lucky, maybe, that he didn't blow up at me sooner! Goodness. I'm just glad he wasn't a mage himself, or I would have been so in trouble." She pauses thoughtfully. "Well, if you're in a generous mood, that fruit was a nice appetizer, but I could go for a meal… "
The healer nods. "As could I. But it's your call for where to dine." He sighs, closes his eyes, then opens them. He is still smiling. "Later, we have many things to worry about." His bushy tail flicks. "But tonight, we celebrate: in honor of Galen Lightningtail, for trying to Stare Down a Snake; and for Magus Wynona, Mistress of the Elements and of the Haggle!"