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Uluula had a pocket full of money and wasn’t sure what to do with it yet. After the meeting with Ryan Gonzolez ended, all the Delvers went their separate ways to begin preparing for the mission. Mareen went looking for Henry to accompany them while shopping but somehow the man seemed to vanish into thin air. Eventually, Uluula and Mareen left together while Mareen grumbled about, “That man.”
Uluula thought about what Henry said in the meeting; people could choose not to go on the mission if they didn’t want to. The truth was, even if she was not romantically involved with Jason, she would have still volunteered. The entire operation sounded incredibly interesting.
Uluula hadn’t been to Berber yet. Berber was also a border country with the Areva nation Hanana to its northwest. At some point, Uluula wanted to visit.
However, she had to improve her armor and weapons before going anywhere and she didn’t know the first thing about enchanted items. She also had to consider cost. The Mirana Government gave Delvers LLC a small fortune as an advance, true, but most of that had to be kept for Henry’s projects before they left.
Maren had graciously donated what was left of her money to Uluula. Mareen didn’t really need any more gear and if she did need anything, Henry could just make it for her. Still, Uluula was grateful.
Uluula was holding a sizeable amount of money, enough that it made her uncomfortable.
The first thing she did was visit a weapon shop and learn the basics about magic items. Basically, magic items came in two types. The first could be operated by anyone and didn’t require any other equipment to use. These were usually simple items like elemental weapons or cups that created water. They had a switch, button, or some other physical means to activate them.
The second type was more complex and could be activated with a thought. Uluula believed most if not all of Captain Haili’s items were this type. Complex enchanted items required the user to wear a focus crystal in order to sync with the item. These types of items were useless if their owner was not wearing the paired focus crystal, but they were more valuable because a random person couldn’t just pick such an item up and suddenly be the new owner.
Pairing the enchanted object with a new focus crystal established new ownership.
Uluula discovered that rings were the most popular and most expensive types of focus crystals, and she didn’t understand why. She bought a necklace. She figured if she lost a hand she could still be fighting, but if she lost her head, she probably wouldn’t need the focus crystal anymore.
She chose a choker necklace, the choice was partially influenced by how Mareen usually dressed. Uluula was used to Mareen wearing a lace choker to help hide the line around her throat for her servitude contract. Uluula reasoned she could do something similar to hide her new focus crystal necklace.
It didn’t hurt to be careful.
Still, all these decisions were fairly simple. Actually deciding what enchanted items to buy was another matter entirely.
There were weapons, shields, projectiles, utility items, even clothing. All of it was expensive, even ridiculously so. Uluula kept thinking about how the enchanted items in other part of the world were stronger too. She had to keep in mind how important something could be and how beneficial it would be to replace it if she found something even somewhat stronger.
She wished Jason was with her. Mareen was good company and she was sharp as a vibrade, but Jason would be much better to discuss strategy with. I wonder if I should wait for Jason to get back? The thought was tempting, but she rejected it. A warrior never knew when she’d be called upon to defend her life or the lives of others. Even a day or two was unacceptable if she knew what her course of action had to be.
Plus, she didn’t know when Jason was getting back. She dispelled the thought before it could ruin her mood but her demeanor must have changed. The old shopkeeper she was talking to wrung her hands and backed away nervously. Of course, Uluula and Mareen both wearing Delvers LLC masks probably didn’t help matters. Rumors were being spread about people wearing metal masks. Uluula thought the whole situation was ridiculous.
The shopkeeper kept slowly backing away and Uluula sighed. She didn’t want to be rude, but she was done at this store anyway. She jerked her head at Mareen and her friend followed her out into the street.
There was only one more notable store in Mirana that sold enchanted gear. In fact, it was the largest. Uluula had been avoiding it since it was also the most expensive. Oh well, no other option now. She and Mareen went to almost a dozen shops already and hadn’t seen any gear that caught Uluula’s eye. Most of the items they’d seen so far were simple enchanted weapons.
Uluula had her spear with her, as usual. She trusted the spear but she knew she needed an upgrade. Well, she needed a new weapon but she wasn’t going to settle for anything other than another spear. She preferred spears anyway, and on Ludus where everyone and everything seemed to be taller than her, she wasn’t in a hurry to shorten her reach.
Uluula chatted idly with Mareen as they walked. Uluula wasn’t very interested in inane conversation, but she knew it helped Mareen. Her friend had a lot on her mind and seemed to think she was required to present a strong front. Terrans were truly bizarre. Uluula wondered if Terrans always tried to act as if nothing was wrong so other Terrans would not take advantage of their weakness.
Earth must truly be a hellish planet. She wondered how Jason was able to stay kind in the face of so much violence and brutality. If anyone ever tried to change Jason, Uluula was going to carve their heart out with her spear while they still lived.
She would raze their homeworld to the ground. Nobody better change her gentle giant. Well, he was gentle when he wasn’t teleporting behind people and stabbing them, but she liked that side of him too.
They reached Enchantment Emporyum, the largest enchanted item shop in Mirana while Uluula still had dark thoughts about genocide and Mareen was prattling on about tasty pies. Uluula shook her head, it was time to focus, time to get serious.
Even shopping could be a battle.
Inside the shop was very tasteful, the aesthetics pleasing to the eye. Nice colors, not too overdone, but with an undercurrent of wealth. It immediately set her on edge.
These people were probably very good. They’d be dangerous. Uluula would much rather deal with bumbling, stupid shopkeepers. The people running the Enchantment Emporyum were probably predators, skilled hunters.
The portly Terran who stepped forward to greet them had every appearance of a kindly old man. His eyes twinkled, his smiled seemed genuine. He wore clothes more after the Ludan style; dark robes with a vest. Uluula didn’t believe his smile for a second.
“Hello and welcome to Enchantment Emporyum! Based on the masks, I’m assuming you ladies might be part of Delvers LLC?”
Uluula could not believe the salesman had so brazenly tipped his hand. He just demonstrated how well informed he was, only possible if he kept close tabs on potential targets. Uluula didn’t trust him as far as she could throw him. Sales people were all crooked.
Mareen began to speak but Uluula cut her off. Mareen had already demonstrated earlier that she didn’t know what a pack of scavengers all these sales people were. “Just tell us where everything is and leave until I get you.”
Uluula was being so rude she almost expected the man to say something, anything. But all he said was, “Very well. Utility items are on this floor. Armor, weapons, and higher end utility items are grouped accordingly on the second floor.” Then he bowed and left them alone.
Uluula was so suspicious her skin began to crawl. A salesman who listened to her and even walked away… even while being Terran? If she bought anything from these pirates she was going to haggle them into the ground.
Into. The. Ground.
Mareen gave her a questioning look but Uluula ignored it and stomped up the stairs. Anything she would want would be expensive. Unfortunately, that was just how the world worked. Her only recourse was to treat every sale like a battle. She would not lose.
She thought the decorations on the second floor, namely stuffed demon heads on the wall and paintings of dungeons were tacky. The exception was the decoration in the center of the room.
The centerpiece of the room, a giant crystal carved in the likeness of an Areva woman holding aloft a blazing sword was lovely. The figure’s crystal sword was used Ludus tech to glow and help light the room. Uluula recognized the artistic skills of her people in the piece, of course it was nice. She nodded in satisfaction as she passed the beautiful sculpture.
From the center of the room she glanced around. The shop’s reputation was well earned. She saw the largest and most varied selection of magic equipment in all of Mirana.
Uluula noticed a couple guards out in the open, both of them Mo’hali. Both wore masks. She wondered if either of them was a Hero and doubted it; the masks were shoddy and didn’t look fitted to either guard.
She had a feeling that most shops employed Mo’hali guards whether they had a Hero or not since the mere threat of one would probably deter most mages or Bonded. She had a feeling there were other, unseen eyes around the store as well.
They went to the utility section first, completely ignoring another sales person and a few customers walking around. Despite herself, Uluula was impressed by some of the items and descriptions she saw. As with all the other shops they visited in Mirana, each device was behind glass so customers couldn’t accidentally take ownership of anything. Uluula reflected it was probably a good precaution against someone intentionally taking ownership of an item too since even if the store got the item back, its value would be lowered if the item even existed anymore.
Enchanted gear could only recognize three users before dissolving, after all.
Uluula examined a number of items, some of which had truly remarkable functions. A cloak that helped make its wearer harder to see, a necklace that changed the user’s voice, a hat that kept the user completely dry even in a thunderstorm, a belt that allowed someone to stay underwater on one breath for over an hour…
The item selection was extensive. There were even a few blessed steel itesm mixed in the merchandise such as cups, cutlery, and random bits of metal like hinges.
In the utility section, there was a staggering number of rings. There were rings that created light, rings that lowered light, rings that tested for poison, rings that could create a loud siren noise, even a ring that purified water.
Uluula moved on to the armor section of the Enchantment Emporyum and found more merchandise than the utility section.
The ‘Emporyum seemed to classify anything that created protection or was created from armor all fit under the category of “armor”. Uluula thought it would have been more accurate to call it the protection section.
The most common types of items in this section were rings and bracelets that created magic shields, most shields created would be about the size and shape of a physical shield, just made of force, or air, or some other element. Uluula began to realize that Captain Haili’s items she demonstrated were probably individually more powerful than anything available in the shop.
In addition to all the items that generated magic shields, there were a surprising number of normal looking armor pieces with resistances to various elements or attacks. Mareen pointed out a helm that was resistant to fire and gauntlets that were resistant to wind. Uluula agreed they were interesting, but she believed they were limited in value. Unless she had her whole body covered by a single elemental resistance, a single piece didn’t seem that useful to her.
What was far more practical was a leather chest piece she noticed that offered puncture and slashing resistance, effectively making it the same grade of protection as steel armor. Uluula was interested until she saw the price and almost gagged. It was obscene!
Robbery, just robbery. She continued to list every item, its description, and its price in her neuralcomp. She’d been doing so all day at each store they went to. It paid to be informed. So far she was surprised the Enchantment Emporyum didn’t have much more expensive list prices than the other stores in Ludus, but she was still suspicious. It was all relative too since they were all thieves.
She’d sold enchanted items on behalf of Delvers LLC. She could make a guess on what kind of markup the ‘Emporyum was making and it almost made her sick again.
She saw some armor that truly caught her interest when she was almost done browsing the protection section. They were a set of light bracers, nothing really amazing to look at. However, the description made her eyes open wide in interest. She also did a double take when she saw at the price. So cheap!
Then again, thinking about it more fully it made sense that movement items would be less popular among other, larger races. They would probably be painful if not impossible to use for larger people. There weren’t many Areva in Mirana; if there were, Uluula was sure the bracers wouldn’t still be around, especially at their current price. She smiled and put a mark next to the bracers on her mental list.
Lastly, she perused the weapon section, the larger portion of the shop. Mareen visibly brightened up. This was the section she told Uluula she wanted to see.
As Mareen hummed to herself and moved over to window shop the heaviest, largest weapons, Uluula idly continued adding entries to the database in her neuralcom, the computer in her head as she made her way to the spear section.
There was a staggering amount of diversity in items. Rings that could produce sustained jets of flame, daggers that left infected wounds, bracelets that caused metal weapons held in the hand to glow, swords with elemental damage, even an axe that could almost effortlessly cut through stone. Mixed in with all the enchanted weapons were a few blessed steel items. The enchanted weapons themselves were made of a variety of materials; bronze, copper, tin, blessed steel, even metals Uluula couldn’t identify.
When she got to the spear section, she almost immediately found two things she wanted. One was a ring that could create a spear of fog twice a day. The description stated the spear could be held and used as a weapon for a few minutes, or shot from the hand as a projectile.
The other weapon took her breath away. It was a jaalba, plasma halberd… or at least close. Uluula had no idea why an enchanted item had been created that looked so much like the traditional Areva melee weapon of war, but it called to her.
She read the description and saw it even had a plasma enhanced cutting edge. It had modifications to decrease its felt-weigh to the user too.
Due to its power output it required magic stones for power. It even used them up rather quickly which was probably the only reason it was even in Uluula’s price range.
Uluula was in love, but it would come in second place to Jason, though. Nothing at this point could replace her tall, messy-haired Terran. Thinking of him made her bring up a viscap she stored of him in her neuralcomp. She especially liked how after gently making love with her, always so gently, he’d kiss her nose and…
She shook her head. Neither the time nor the place for thoughts like that. She walked over to stand by Mareen but only half paid attention to her friend. It was crazy that a year ago she hadn’t even known for sure that Terrans existed. She never thought she’d have a Terran friend, much less a Terran lover.
Then there was Henry. She didn’t hate Henry, but she had no idea why Jason and Mareen cared about him so deeply. She admitted that he had a kind of efficient pragmatism and a number of talents. Deep, deep down she had to admit that in some ways he reminded her of herself. So yes, she didn’t hate him, but if he ever got himself killed she wasn’t planning on wearing mourning clothes.
No use in being insincere.
The truth was she still didn’t like Terrans that much in general. The mere thought of them didn’t terrify her like they once had, but she was still suspicious of Terrans and Terran sales clerks in particular. She loved Mareen as a sister, bonding over their shared awkwardness, and she was going to marry Jason. In fact, she had to hurry up and marry the fool man so she could start growing his household.
She knew he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea and she didn’t want to push him, but she agreed with Mareen that neither Henry nor Jason knew how important establishing their families would be on Ludus.
Uluula didn’t want to make Jason uncomfortable, but with the type of political snake den they could be walking into, Jason needed all the support he could get. She refused to lose him. It had taken her over 40 years to find the man, he wasn’t going to get himself killed by getting nerves about marrying her and another woman or two.
It still stung her that he felt that way, that he focused on the carnal aspect of it. Did he not trust she’d pick worthy suitors? Not for the first time, she had to remind herself that he was from a different culture. A stupid culture. An incredibly stupid culture if people really got married to one person “for life” only to get divorced and make the same vows again to other people.
It was madness.
It is common sense that with more than one wife in a household… Uluula’s thoughts trailed off. She stopped thinking about bizarre Terran customs and made her decisions about the magic items.
“Mareen, I think I’m ready to try buying what I want.”
“Oh?” answered the darker skinned woman. “You finally found something you like?”
“Actually a number of things.”
“How much will everything cost?”
“About three times more than I have with the money you lent me.”
Mareen arched one eyebrow at her, “You want to haggle don’t you?”
“Don’t you ever get tired of spending all day trying to wring every coin you can from a deal? I mean, if you can get the price down to a third of what they’re asking I’ll be impressed, but why do you think it’s even possible?”
“Because I saw Henry’s old axe he sold. Remember the “Badaxe”? It was very distinct looking. I know what it sold for to the Guild and I know what they’re selling it for here, so I can guess at the general markup in the store using all the other prices I noted today.”
“I see.” Mareen sighed. “What all are you trying to get?”
Uluula’s smile was predatory. “You will have to wait and see. I have to fight this battle first.” She stalked down the stairs of the Enchantment Emporyum to find the old snake that first greeted them. The fight was on.
* * *
Three hours later, Mareen and Uluula were walking back to Henry and Jason’s house. Uluula admired Mareen’s fearlessness to live with Henry so quickly. The thought of living with a man still made her nervous, even though she had activated her sexual bridge and was having… relations with Jason.
“I wish I had the nerve you do.”
“What do you mean?”
“The way you live with Henry. We talked about this before.”
Mareen was aghast. “You make no sense at all. You can kill monsters five times your size, you rarely ever show any fear about anything, but you’re still afraid to live with a man you’re already sleeping with? Seriously?
“Uluula, you just bargained in a shop for several hours and even shouted at that poor old man. I think he let you have everything you wanted just to get you out of the store. The fact you are so nervous about certain things just makes no sense. Have you talked to Jason about it?”
“Yes, he said I can move in with him whenever I want, that he loves me,” she answered uncomfortably. Well, at least Mareen was right when she said she got everything she wanted at the Enchantment Emporyum. She had to admit she felt a little smug. She got the plasma halberd, the mist spear ring, the movement bracers, a shield ring, and the concealment cloak for just under all the money she’d had.
She spent a small fortune, but she knew she stretched every coin.
Still, she reflected how lucky she was there were so few Areva in Mirana. With more small-statured people frequenting the ‘Emporyum, she didn’t think she would have been so lucky. For instance, her shield ring was marketed as a “large shield.” Full body shields in the shop were priced more than triple what the standard shield devices here. If the people running the stop had realized that the dimensions of a “large shield” would completely cover her body, they probably would have marked up the price.
Uluula thought for a second before elaborating, “Jason being comfortable with it doesn’t mean I am. You wouldn’t understand. Cohabitation is a big deal in my culture, more so than sex or even having children. Some married people don’t even live together.”
“That… doesn’t make any sense. Not only that, aren’t we basically planning to push Henry and Jason to deal with the thing that make them uncomfortable. Isn’t this kind of hypocritical?”
“No, because my hangup isn’t going to put my life in danger.”
“Well, I guess you have a point. I just don’t like being devious like this. It feels wrong.
“But I have a change of topic. I’ve been meaning to ask you for a while… why are you buying all this enchanted gear? Why didn’t you just take an orb? I know we don’t know what kind it is since Keeja’s been gone, but wouldn’t the orb solve all your gear problems?”
Uluula missed a step but kept walking. She’d known this question would come up, and would probably come up again too. Unfortunately she couldn’t tell her friend the truth. Uluula hadn’t given up on her dream completely yet, what she’d been aiming for ever since her sister was killed. Uluula may never be an admiral now since she was stuck on Ludus, but that didn’t mean she had no chance of ever attaining an Artifice in her lifetime.
Of course, she had to get off this planet first and take Jason with her but it was her dream, her passion to earn an Artifice.
However, it was more than passing odd she never heard anyone mention Artifices on Ludus. Nobody talked about how it was obvious that Dolos was obviously trying to mimic Artifices with the Dolos orbs.
She was almost certain that Keeja was a high grade Artifice Holder too.
Uluula was raised to always watch her words, to always observe the world around her. Until she understood why nobody on this planet so far talked about Artifices, even people who should know of their existence, she was keeping her mouth shut.
“I have my reasons,” was all she said.
“There you go being mysterious again.” Mareen sighed, “Fine. Have it your way. But I’m bored and I don’t really have anything to do. Later today want to test out all your new enchanted items?”
Uluula gave a genuine smile and said, “I’d like nothing better.”