Another chapter finished! This one was quite a bit of fun to write, and the next one should be as well. Please look forward to it!
Liscia watched the kid called Michael leave the guildmaster’s office, then turned to the guildmaster. On the desk in front of him lay the kid’s registration forms. The child had chosen ‘assassin’ as his profession.
“Why did you accept the kid? His story is clearly a lie,” she asked.
Dargo didn’t answer her immediately. Instead he scratched the stubble growing from his chin a few times. He stood up and walked to the window behind him, and looked out over the training yard from which the kid had come not too long ago.
“Tell me, Liscia, how common is it to find someone, a child, to be precise, with the skills of a well-trained knight?” he asked finally.
Liscia pondered for a moment.
“Exceedingly rare,” she answered.
“Indeed,” Dargo replied, “Whether he is telling the truth or not, isn’t really of any concern. He is a wildcard, and a dangerous one at that. If he is telling the truth, then there exists a people with considerably more power than us. Even if he is lying, his own strength and potential is not something we can easily overlook. Either way, honest or lying, it is better for us to tie him down. We are a guild loyal to the royal family. If he registers as one of us, we can control him to some degree, perhaps even influence him and turn him into another loyal subject of the crown. If he’s an enemy spy, then we can keep a closer eye on him. No matter what the situation, it’s better to keep him close than to let him roam free and unchecked. A dog, whether friendly or hostile, peaceful or violent, is better kept on a leash.
Liscia nodded at the monologue.
‘The Guildmaster certainly was the right pick for the job. He is far more capable and far-seeing than any of us.’
She gave Dargo a slight bow, and left to return to her post.
Dargo continued to stare out of the window at the training guildsmen.
‘So, young Michael, what will you turn out to be: a loyal pet, or a rabid mutt?’
Michael left the Devil’s Cry guildhall and proceeded down the street once more. The sun had climbed to its zenith, and would soon begin its slow decent to the western horizon. The streets were not as full as they had been early in the morning. No doubt everyone was avoiding the midday heat. Michael, however, being a player, an individual with stats greater than that of the average individual, and with only the most tenuous connection to this world, didn’t feel any discomfort.
He marched down the street, taking in every brick and tile, every pavement stone and tree that he passed. The world was vivid, at least as far as sight and sound went. The immersion caskets that were used to connect him into the matrix couldn’t handle all the processing or data exchange necessary for all the senses, and so only sight and sound were fully emulated. The various elements of touch – such as heat, pressure, and texture – taste, and smell were only rudimentarily emulated. He knew he was touching something, that he was smelling or tasting something (which a silent voice would whisper more detail on into his subconscious), or whether the air or an object was hot or cold, but beyond that, nothing. He couldn’t feel texture, he couldn’t actually taste anything, he just instinctively knew what he was tasting (thanks to the voice) or smelling.
It was a lacklustre experience compared to reality, but it was dozens of times more immersive and complete than what had been available, or indeed possible, previously. Michael had no idea how the developers of Cosmos Gate had been able to do it. He had some rudimentary IT training in highschool, enough to code a few simple programmes, and understood how the basics of information processing worked, and he couldn’t even gain a simple glimpse. He remembered reading the various debates that those more technologically educated had had on the internet on whether Cosmos Gate’s claims were hoax. Half of the world said it was impossible to deliver what they were promising to, and the other half was sept into speculating how they might have done it.
Of course, when Cosmos Gate would finally be released to the public, they would all be silenced. Michael had understood this the moment he set foot in this world. Ah, he couldn’t wait to make and post his first impressions video online. He was going to enjoy watching the doubters vanish into their little safe-spaces.
Michael arrived back at the marketplace. It too, was slightly less crowded than it had been when he first passed through. It was still, however, busy enough to be comparable to how the streets had been in the morning.
He walked slowly this time, stopping at every other stall to look at their wares. Last time he had been in a hurry to register, but now he was in no rush. He had kept an eye on the clock. About five hours had passed in Cosmos Gate, but the clock registered the passage of only half an hour in the real world. This meant that Cosmos Gate ran ten times faster than the real world. He would be able to spend the whole day here before his three hours were up.
‘Great. I should be able to finish my first round of shopping, and maybe even get a hunt in before having to log off!’
He continued meandering from stall to stall for about another hour before he found the first shop that managed to pique his interest beyond wanting to give it a passing tour. The shop was located at the edge of the marketplace.
The marketplace itself was a large paved plaza. The wooden stalls split the plaza into a series of intricately connected lanes. Very few of the lanes led to the sides of the plaza, but none ended in dead-ends either. Truly this was the bane and beauty of organically evolved networks. They were chaotic, and yet beautifully functional at the same time. Stalls weren’t ordered, nor grouped in any form, but simply stood as they had cropped up. You could find food stands next to jewellery shops, pottery makers next to poultry peddlers, and everything in between.
One particular pair of shops made Michael instinctively wince. A poultry peddler stood directly next to a tailor on the one side, and a textiles merchant on the other. Of course he could only know that the smell wasn’t pleasant from the input he received from the immersion casket, but his real life knowledge of the stench of poultry faecal matter readily filled in the blanks. He couldn’t help but wonder how many times he would have to wash the clothes before the stench would be gone, had this been the real world.
‘Were middle Age and earlier people content with smelling like poultry?’ he thought, ‘Well, the alternative was smelling of sweat, so I guess smelling fowl was a refreshing change.’
The shop that had caught his interest was located in one of the buildings that marked the end of the edge of the plaza. It specialised in selling stationary.
‘This certainly isn’t the kind of thing you’d expect to be sold in a shop, not in the era depicted in Cosmos Gate. Then again, this is supposed to be a very rich and thriving mercantile city, so there shouldn’t be a shortage of wealthy patron of the shop.’
Michael had to admit, he was quite the history buff. He had spent his formative years immersed in history books, and old-school ‘television’ documentaries about every topic of history imaginable. When others were enjoying archons (1), he was reading actual physical books about the political structures and systems in ancient societies, or books on primitive barter and exchange economies. He had once even delved into a book called ‘A Brief History of Water Supply and Sanitation’ (2). He was quite proud of the fact that he had a personal library the size of most town libraries in the late 20th century.
Given his intense interest in history, he was quite interested to see what stationary this world was using. He unhesitatingly stepped through the door into the ill-lit interior of the shop. All around him were shelves and shelves of utensils. From what looked like charcoal sticks to something approximating what he understood to be ‘pencils’, nearly everything imaginable that could be made without industrial era machinery was present. He was surprised, however, to find that when it came to writing surfaces, this world was rather primitive. He could find only two kinds of writing surfaces: parchment and something similar to bamboo scrolls.
During the course of his wanderings, he saw several other customers enter and leave the shop. They were all met or seen off by some staff member or other. He, however, was paid no attention to. He surmised it had to be due to his simply clothing. He was wearing a simple, thin-wire woollen tunic, and trousers. The tunic was a dull, dry bamboo colour, and hung down to just beneath his hips. His trousers were the colour of dirt. They were tied to his waist by a thin hemp rope – probably the most expensive thing on his person besides his coins – that ran down to his feet, which were covered by leather shoes. It was more accurate to describe his ‘shoes’ as beast skin bags covering his feet.
Despite their appearance, his clothes were clean and felt new.
His appearance, however clean, was that of a country bumpkin, barely higher on the social pecking order than a beggar, certainly not someone with the education to use stationary, much less the financial capabilities to purchase them. It was already to the credit of the shop’s staff that they didn’t directly chase him out.
Michael didn’t dally. Whilst he was very interested in the utensils being used, and whilst he did technically have enough money to make a purchase, he had limited funds, and other priorities to spend them on first. He was of a mind to return at a later date, and made a mental note of the location of the store.
He continued down the edge of the plaza to its easternmost corner, where he found a small, run-down yet clean vegetable shop. They sold the food of commoners: cabbages, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, and wheat. The shop was manned by a young girl, probably around thirteen years old, and a slightly older lady, probably in her late twenties or just over thirty.
“Go’af’ernoon!” the girl greeted him cheerfully.
Her voice was quite powerful, and she had certainly not hesitated in using it. He was still over ten metres away from the shop when she greeted him.
‘I suppose this is part of the business of this era,’ Michael thought.
The shops of the poorer demographics didn’t have the luxury of simply waiting around for customers, and often actively – and quite literally – pulled customers aside and into the shop. Some of the more belligerent shops even badgered their victims and refused to let them leave – under politer pretexts – until they had bought something.
Michael, however, had been meaning to buy something from the shop in any way, so he continued unperturbed towards the shop.
“Good afternoon,” he returned her greeting once he was close enough to reply at a polite volume.
“Geeze, you’al’migh’y fine for a poor blo’on’you?” she asked.
Michael was completely oblivious to what exactly she had tried to say, but mere moments later that same voice that would whisper details into his subconscious, informed him what exactly she had rambled.
“Well, there, young lady, i didn’t know my speech was so abnormal,” he replied.
“Well i’ sure’s. I ain’ne’er hear some’n say’em wor’s lie you ‘lessay’e some no’le,” she replied dismissively.
The elder woman gave her a slight slap on the back of her head, which she followed up with a stern stare, before giving Michael a slight nod of her head.
“I’am mos’sorry for me daugh’er’s ru’e be’aviour.”
The woman was slightly more understandable, and quite a bit more mannered. Though Michael couldn’t quite shake the feeling that she had misunderstood his situation somehow.
‘Maybe she thinks I’m some minor noble or high class merchant travelling incognito?’
“It’s no problem, ma’am. I will be heading out on a hunting trip for a few days, and I’m looking to buy some vegetables. Would you, by any chance, be able to make any suggestions?”
‘I don’t really need her advice on what to buy for such a trip, but it helps a lot to make people feel like you value their opinion and input. This should help me get a better price.’
The woman’s eyes lit up and her cheeks reddened somewhat. She spun around on her heals and grabbed several handfuls of vegetables from several different baskets behind her, stuffed them in a couple of woollen bags and swung them into his hands. It all happened so fast that he could barely see what exactly she had stuffed into the bags. He did see potatoes in the mix, however.
A few minutes later the woman confirmed his suspicion.
“‘Welve earh a’les, a hea’o leaf, an’ a ba’o san’grain. Tha’ll’e four co’ers.”
‘And just like that she’s incomprehensible as well…’
At least Michael got the part about the whole lot being four coppers, even without the voice whispering at him. He decided to defer to her judgement on the items being enough for his ‘few days” hunting trip. He took out the four coppers from his small pouch of coins and paid her.
“Have a goo’ay, seh,” the woman said, bowing slightly this time.
The little girl simply stared at Michael. Seeing her failure to copy the older woman’s gesture, she slapped the girl and pushed her into a bow as well.
“Ma! Why’you sla’me lie tha’?” the girl protested.
The two spiralled into an incomprehensible dialogue that Michael had no energy to try and decipher, so he simply smiled at the two in return and left.
1) Archon, from the greek word ‘archon’ meaning ruler or sovereign. In this particular case it refers to a device used for immersing one in the emotions, feelings and experiences that others have had. It’s called an ‘archon’ because it ‘rules’ your senses and sensory experience for a time in order to let you experience what is stored within.
2) This is a chapter from an actual book.
< Previous chapter | Index | Next chapter >