<center>~ Chapter 01 ~</center> “None at all?” The older man behind the counter showed his customary grin. “A young lad came in not ten minutes ago and bought me out. He was appreciative of what I had to offer.” Will sighed, and shook his head, but smiled. “I don’t know why I bother with you, old man. Let me guess: you expect another shipment tomorrow morning? Suppose it might be more than thirty of each?” “William, I’ve known ye since before I even hung up this store’s sign. Every day now ye pester me, boy, but I simply don’t sell regs in those quantities. I can’t support my business by spending such exorbitant amounts of gold.” “Oh, come now, I’ve told you a thousand times that if you just stock them, I’ll buy them. You’ll be making exorbitant amounts of gold!” The old man chuckled. “We’ll see, William, we’ll see.” “Gah! You’re useless, old man.” Will smiled at him, and turned for the door. “I’ll be back tomorrow.” “Ha!” barked the old shopkeeper, “Not to buy a single thing!” Will chuckled and replied as he walked out the door, “Maybe I would if you’d get me something worth buying!” His smile died as he stepped outside, and his red cloak billowed open behind him. The breeze was a welcome change; the summer heat was finally giving way to autumn. The streets of Britannia’s capital, Britain, were paved in a dark gray stone, creating a somber feel within the city, though it was bustling with activity. Lord British had always done a good job as their sovereign, but Will did think it a bit conceited that he’d name the land and its capital after himself. Rolling his shoulder once, he turned and began walking down the road. That shoulder roll had become a customary habit, one he seldom noticed anymore. It was quite a disconcerting sensation the rare times when he would do that and not feel the weight of his sword. At the moment, though, he was more concerned about the lack of weight in the reg pouch at his belt. Will turned his steps toward the eastern bank, his boots tapping softly against the smooth cobbles of the streets. Shops and homes passed by on both sides of him, all friendly and inviting, yet somehow disturbing. For even as he looked at these buildings, in his mind’s eye flashed identical images, with different faces. Here, in the Trammel facet, people had discovered buildings standing, furniture in place, rugs on the floors -- but no people to claim the buildings. People who’d had no homes before took up the abandoned buildings, and both facets, Trammel and Felucca, prospered somewhat better than the original Britannia had by itself. Yet, no matter which facet or town, everybody flocked around the banks. The banks were like the centers of each town. People came to store or retrieve belongings. More than that, people came to banks to chat, to sell wares, to buy them. They came to seek aid, to seek information, to seek employment. Will strode up the road towards the bank, set apart in a nice open area. The sight of a familiar black vest and blue shirt brought a bit of a grin to his face and he quickened his pace. Something else caught his eye, and he frowned. People also came to steal. Will stopped and watched the long-haired fellow’s hand come out of a pocket with a brief glint of metal, likely a small piece of jewelry. He crossed his arms over his chest as he watched the man turn and start to nonchalantly walk away. After a few steps, the man noticed Will standing over there. As their eyes locked, Will grinned confidently and waved. The thief’s eyes widened and he started running down a tiled footpath, causing several people to look over questioningly. Allowing the pickpocket to think he might get away, Will waited until nearly too late before crying out, “Guards!” Immediately, there was the resounding echo of a teleport spell, and two guards emerged from bright flashes of white. On both sides of the path, a few yards ahead of the thief, they both swung their halberds, hitting the rogue squarely in the chest with a solid whump. Amusingly, for a brief second the shrouded spirit could yet be seen running, even as its corpse flew backwards. Ere the body hit the ground it vanished, and only the thief’s belongings lighted on the stone tiles. A hearty laugh came from behind him. “It’s a good thing I was never spotted by the likes of you during my less reputable days.” Will turned and clasped hands with his older friend. “Dumas! It’s good to see you, my friend; you’ve been too long away.” They both let go and turned to walk to the bank. As always, Dumas looked dignified in his black boots and pants, with his long-sleeved blue shirt, and his black doublet over that. If not for the wide assortment of weapons, people might mistake him for a wealthy merchant, or an esteemed noble. As it was though, with his clothing, his short beard, his poise, and his piercing gray eyes, Dumas’ bearing commanded respect. “How are things with you, eh? Keeping busy?” “Aye, quite. Those GMX fellows never rest. If we aren’t fending off attacks by Chaos guards then we’re under siege by another warring guild. I had to tell Fu and Smed that I just needed a break.” Will leaned his back against the wall of the bank, and let out a brief chuckle. “I don’t see how Fu does it.” Dumas shook his head wonderingly. “Nor I. But what about you? What kind of trouble have you been getting into?” “Ha. Not much to speak of. Just training and studying. Even now I’m on a reg run so I can continue practicing my spells. So far I’ve had little luck.” Will lifted his nearly empty reg case in demonstration. “An expensive skill, my friend. I still say you should have focused a hundred percent on your blade work and forgotten this magery foolishness.” Will smiled slightly and said, “Remember that next time you ask me for a gate.” He looked up at the sun, which was closing toward the horizon. “Well, my friend, I’d better get back to shopping -- I can’t cast spells with just fancy words. Need anything before I go?” “Actually,” the older warrior said, “I was wondering if you’d allow me to rest at your villa this evening.” Will waved it off, saying, “Aye, make yourself at home. You know you’re welcome anytime. I should be by there in a few hours, perhaps sooner if things go well. Farewell, Dumas.” He waved and began his trek to the northern side of Britain. “Hey Will!” called Dumas. Will turned back toward Dumas and caught a light green stone. At Will’s questioning look, Dumas smiled, saying, “Felucca, Mage’s Light. If you hurry, you should get there right when their supplier is stocking their shelves. That should net you enough regs for a few days.” Nodding his appreciation, Will turned east, towards the outskirts of town. From there he could use the stone Dumas gave him, a Felucca moonstone, to open a gate to the other facet. If Dumas were right, Will could finish much earlier than anticipated. Then he might have a chance to actually get in some practice before the end of the day. Will grinned in anticipation of the end of his search. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The sun was setting by the time Will made it to the Mage’s Light shop. This had been one of his favorite shops in the past. Not because the shop was better than any others were, but because the nearest shop to it was a familiar tailor shop. He’d spent the better part of his first years away from home sewing his fingers to the bone in that shop. It was rough work, and poor pay, but his simple doublets bought him the equipment he needed to follow his calling. He was a long time free from struggling for money, but he still remembered his humbler origins. Will turned back toward the shop, a large one-story building with wood siding. It was set away from the street a little bit by a short walkway. Before Will could grasp the handle, the door opened, and a bearded man came walking out, waving to someone inside. The man had an oversized backpack, but it looked to be empty now. Will grinned: Dumas’ information had been correct. Nodding a greeting to the merchant, he held the door while the man walked off. A jingling sound revealed that the pack was in fact not empty, but it’s contents replaced by coinage. Will stepped inside, inhaling the myriad scents of various reagents, most of a common sort, some rarer. There was a display case on one side of the shop, Will knew, that held a vial supposedly filled with dragon’s blood. Will couldn’t see how the vial held dragon’s blood, though. He’d seen dragons, he’d seen them slain, and he’d even once helped take one down, but their blood was as red as the cloak he wore. The liquid in the vial was green. The shopkeeper came out from behind the eight simple wooden chests stacked on his counter, dusting off his midnight blue robes. “Good evening, sir. How might I help you?” He turned toward a shelf against the wall, filled with flasks of potions, eight different colors in all. “We’ve a goodly amount of healing potions here. Or perhaps m’lord would prefer some antitoxins? Hmm…ah yes! We’ve got some quality refresh potions here, too, including several greater refreshes. And here --“ “I’m not here for potions, good sir,” Will interrupted him politely. “Ah, my apologies. You’re here for a wand then? Perhaps to peruse our selection of scrolls?” The man began making his way over to a case near another wall, waving for his customer to follow him. Will sighed. “Sir? I’m not here for any of those things. I’ve come to purchase reagents.” The shopkeeper turned back, his eyes turning to look over Will’s shoulder. One of his eyebrows raised questioningly and he said, “Truly?” He waved it off, though and made his way to the counter with the crates. “You’re in luck, lad. I just got these in today -- but a few moments ago in fact. “We’ve got all the key reagents here: spider’s silk, sulfurous ash, blood moss, ginger, garlic, nightshade, black pearls, and mandrake roots. Just tell me which ones you need and how many of each, and I’ll get them ready for you.” Will smiled and said, “All.” “Ok, sir, and how many of each would you like?” Again, he said, “All.” The vendor looked up in surprise, and he gave Will a critical appraisal, only this time his eyes didn’t linger on the sword hilt over his shoulder, but on the spellbook held on the left side of his belt. As their eyes met, Will could see understanding come into the man’s eyes. “Oh,” the shopkeeper said simply. About half an hour later, with his business out of the way, Will decided to put off his training. He was still in Felucca, in Britain. The weight at his right hip was now more comfortable, with the rest of the reagents being held at the bank. At first, as he began his aimless journey through the town, the streets were still thriving. Now, though, as he got further from the bank, the streets were more often deserted, and he found himself more often alone. Here and there, as he passed along in silence, he could see some of the scars left by Minax. It hadn’t been too long, and the wounds were not fully healed. Britain would remember the relentless wave of assaults for a long while yet. But not as long as Trinsic would. Will stopped walking, overcome by shame. That day... that day, he had failed his city. That day, he had failed his people, had failed his guild. He had failed his friends. That day…he had failed himself. That one decision had put the lie to all his noble words. It made everything he’d ever stood for a lie. Nothing but a lie! Will punched the wall beside him, not feeling the pain. His chainmail leggings scraped against the cobbles as he went to his knees, putting his head against the wall, fist still pressed into the stone. Through his mind flashed the consequences of his failure. Visions of black and red and gray, of destruction and decay. Visions of those eyes, his eyes. A cold hand on his shoulder brought him back to reality. He looked up to see two concerned guards, one of them saying, “Sir? Are you alright, sir?” “I’m…” He could not lift his head to meet their gaze. Will placed one hand on the ground and pushed himself to his feet. “I will be.” The guard started to say something else, but from somewhere in the distance came a cry of, “Guards! Help!” The other guard readied his halberd and disappeared immediately, but the first hesitated, torn between answering the cry for help and aiding this unknown but seemingly distressed man. Will showed the guard a sad smile and solved the man’s dilemma for him by saying, “Duty calls.” The guard hesitated not a second longer. Impossibly, Will laughed, though the sound was somewhat dry. “Constructs indeed.” If guards were magical constructs, as a popular rumor claimed, then they could not have shown the concern that guard just had. Empathy in armor. Somewhat unsteady at first, he set off again. A thousand thoughts went through his mind. A thousand thoughts, yet he had resolved nothing by the time he reached the harbor. It was deserted at this hour. Will kept walking, until he stood at the edge of the longest pier. How long he stood there, staring into the night, he couldn’t say. At some point, however, he looked down, at the water. He looked at the reflection of himself. In the moonlight, he could see only a dusky outline, but it was easy enough to picture the red cloak, the black shirt, the chainmail leggings. It was just as easy to picture a blue cloak with a white tunic. Before his mind could wrap around that, something else caught his attention. The night darkened, and in the water Will could see that one of the moons, full but a moment ago, was little more than a series of specks in the lapping waves. Telling himself it was a cloud passing over the moon, but knowing it was more, Will looked upward. There, silhouetted against the night sky, was the Chaos symbol, a forked cross inside a circle. The moonlight flowed through the dark sign, as though it was a physical object between it and Britannia, yet even as he thought that, the symbol began to fade away. It wisped into immaterial darkness in a few brief seconds, and the sight itself was brief enough to question its reality. As the symbol disappeared, though, the entire night filled with sudden, and total, blackness. It lifted again, and though the night was no brighter than before, it suddenly seemed glaring. Will was left standing there, alone, at the edge of the pier, racking his mind for possible meanings for the ominous occurrence. A hundred possibilities came to mind, but of only one thing was he certain. This is not good, he thought to himself.