Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Zeruhn Report, Part II (Spring 898)

I made my way across the large chamber, heading for the small passage indicated by the miner. Not surprisingly, none of the other miners paid me any attention as I walked past them and into the tunnel.

This passage was quite a bit tighter than the previous one, and it sloped slightly downward, though not as much as the main passage. I crept forward slowly, a bit uncomfortable in the closer confines of this tunnel. If another worm popped up here, I might not have enough room for my staff.

The passage twisted and split off to the right, but I kept following the left-hand wall as the miner had indicated. It led me past a passage sealed off by a cave-in, and eventually to a T-juction. I was about to continue along the left wall, when light and the sound of voices from the other passage made me change my mind.

I rounded the corner slowly, letting my eyes get used to the gradually increasing light. As I entered into the slightly wider tunnel, I saw a Galka and Hume miner digging at the edge of the tunnel, and a blond Hume woman shouting directions.

"Harder, Ormr," she shouted encouragingly to the Hume. "This is where Subodh saw that vein of darksteel! We pull that out of here, we all get bonuses!" She turned her head to the Galka, adding, "Where there's one vein, we might find two!Keep pounding, Gildge!"

In all the noise and confusion, nobody noticed my entrance.

"Excuse me?" I said loudly, edging toward the woman. I could see she had a short blade sheathed at her hip, and had no desire to be on the receiving end of that.

"I'm looking for Makarim," I added, even a bit louder than before. "I'm supposed to collect a report from Overseer Makarim."

The blond turned to me, sizing me up at a glance. "You must be the new courier. I wonder if Rashid is getting a little desperate for help these days." She laughed, and I felt a familiar rush of color rise to my cheeks.

"Anyways," she continued, pulling a sealed envelope from her pouch, "I just finished up recently. It's not what I'd want call leisurely reading, but-" she trailed off, ending with a small shrug of her shoulders, and handed me the letter. "Why don't you take this to Musketeer Naji for me. He's posted up near the President's office, above the Metalworks."

"Thank you," I said, trying to be courteous. "I'll be on my way, then." I nodded my head, and turned to leave the cave. "Good luck with the darksteel," I called back over my shoulder.

I had only gone a few steps when I felt a hand descend on my shoulder. I turned around to see the face of Makarim, only now with a threatening look directed at me.

"If I were you," she offered in a low, dark voice, "I'd likely forget everything I heard down here today. This darksteel is considered valuable, but the Republic needs it for their defenses more than you need a quick payday. Understand?" She flashed me a smile that was suddenly too full of teeth.

I understood.

"Of course," I said with a quick nod. "I was just going to deliver this letter, like the mission says." I turned again, walking just a little faster for the mouth of the mine.

"Good plan," her voiced trailed after me as I walked. " careful out there."

I somehow knew she was laughing at me.

I was walking up a long slope, and must have made a wrong turn, because I was suddenly in a passage I didn't recall. There was a lot of rubble scattered across the entry way, and a couple of mine wheelbarrows abandoned in the corner. The air felt stale and heavy, and I wanted out.

I turned around to leave, when suddenly I heard a liquid squelching sound from behind me. It was drawing closer, and I turned to see what else could go wrong today.

Slowly crossing the uneven rubble towards me was a horrible black amoeba. Its pseudopods were waving in front of it as it moved, probably seeking me. I knew these things couldn't see, but sensed by sound, and their touch was acidic enough to ruin anyone's day.

I turned and started to run, thinking I could get away from the slow thing if I just kept moving. The plan worked out all right at first, but soon I was wandering in a small delta of caverns. The squelching noise of the amoeba echoed off the walls, making it seem like it was coming from everywhere. I knew I would have to fight.

I waited for it to draw into view, and summoned up all my will. At first, nothing happened, but I felt a mysterious power rising in me. I focused on that surge, trying to block out everything else around me.

From the edges of the tunnel, I heard clattering sounds as small stones began to rise into the air, attracted by the force of my will. When I figured I had enough, I circled them around me until there was a small wall of loose rock between me and the approaching amoeba.

When the amoeba was no more than a dozen steps away, I pushed outward with all my mental energy, shooting all the accumulated rock directly into the approaching blob. I saw the black gel get shredded by the stone bullets, the liquid innards spraying out behind it in a grotesque fan.

Yet onward it came, leaving a horrible trail of black slime behind it. I could tell it was hurt, but was still determined to digest me. To make things worse, I had expended my mental energy for the moment, and couldn't rely on any more spells until I got some rest.

The only thing I could do was try to beat it with my staff. I dropped into a basic defensive position, gritting my teeth. I was resolute not to let this thing get it's pseudopods on me.

The amoeba stopped a couple of steps away, obviously aware of where I was standing. Almost faster than I could follow, it shot out a pseudopod toward me, which I luckily deflected with my staff. I stepped forward, bringing my staff down as hard as I could across its center.

A gout of the same black slime show out of its wounds, and the whole mass began to sag, spreading slowly out over the cavern floor. As it did, I noticed a couple of undissolved items, which must have been trapped inside its gelatinous form.

I waited until all that was left was a thin puddle of noxious slime, and then began rinsing the floor off with my waterskin, looking for anything valuable. I found a couple of old small bones, a small silvery rock, and a crystal that glowed with a greenish-blue light.

"That must be a water crystal," I said to myself as I collected it. "Not sure if it's useful for what I do, but I'll ask." I turned around, and began searching for a way out of the mines.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Zeruhn Report (Spring, 898)

The entrance to the Zeruhn mines was at the extreme western edge of the city. The area around the mine's mouth was full of Humes and Galka in mining gear, all milling about. There were several entrances into the side of the mountain, but I was guessing that the largest shaft was the one I was looking for.

As I crossed the open area, a large Galka wearing filthy mining gear stepped in front of me, with his hand up, palm facing out.

"What are you doing here, Hume?" he said in a rough tone. "You don't look much like the mining type to me."

"I'm here to see Makarim," I said, willing my voice not to shake. "On official business," I added, hoping it would allow me to get on my merry way.

"Official," scoffed the Galka, waving his hand dismissively. "You Humes all talk so big." He smirked, looking around at his fellow miners, who all seemed to smirk back. "You know somethin'? This city'd be nothin' without the power of the Galka. Who do you think carved out this forsaken mountain?"

"I wouldn't know anything about that," I said evasively, attempting to step to the right and around the Galka blocking my path. Unfortunately, he stepped right along with me, and continued his tirade.

"Yer damn right you don't know. You don't look like you know much." He laughed loudly, obviously pleased with his own sad joke. "Let me tell you something, Hume," he continued. "It's us Galka who built this city, and we never got a word of thanks from the Humes." He almost spat out the last word. "And now y'think you can just walk into our mines. On your official business."

"I've got a message for him, is all," I said with a shrug, thinking madly to find a way out of this confrontation. "If you could just let me by-" I broke off suddenly, and made a sudden step to the left, attempting to spin around the Galka and make a dash for the mine.

Lucky for me, he wasn't expecting that maneuver. I broke free, and began running for the mines entrance, thanking fate that I hadn't had a heavy lunch today.

"Yeah, you keep on running!" came the shout from behind me, presumably from the same large Galka. He sounded winded, as if he wasn't used at all to having to move quickly.

I made it easily up the slope, ignoring the stares of the two Galkas standing outside the mine entrance. I was sure they had seen the entire confrontation below, but they didn't say a word as I passed between them and into the mine.

The tunnel was actually pretty roomy, despite everything I'd always heard about mines. I suppose they had to make it large enough for the Galka to move around without any problems. There were torches along the wall, but they were pretty far between. I didn't mind much, because it gave me the chance to test out my new ring.

I help up my hand, and as if on cue, my ring began emitting a soft light. It grew until it encompassed my whole body, and extended into a sphere. I could see well for about ten feet, and had dimmer visibility for another ten feet after that. It would certainly make walking around easier, and hopefully wouldn't make me an easy target for anything out in the darkness.

I shrugged, realizing there was little I could do about it, and kept walking through the tunnel, which quickly took a turn to the left, and then back to the right.

After a couple more small turns, I reached a crossroads. I stopped, and looked around for some kind of clue which path to take. I was about to try the right-most passage when I spotted a Galka standing by the gate straight ahead.

"Excuse me," I said, walking closer to him, "I'm looking for Makarim. Do you know where I could find him?"

The Galka turned, and looked me over briefly. "Makarim?" he asked, one corner of his mouth curling up in a smirk. "Probably down in the west leg. I heard Dodoi found some darksteel down there." He chuckled, shaking his head, and turned back toward the gate.

"Thank you," I said, and turned away, before I realized I still had no idea where exactly that was. "I'm sorry," I interjected, turning back towards the Galka. "Which tunnel is that down? I'm new to-"

He cut me off with a wave of his hand and chuckled again, saying, "Down the tunnel to your left, then take a right turn. Cut across the big chamber, hanging right, and Makarim should be in that tunnel. If not, just ask one of the miners down there. They should be able to help you out."

"Thank you," I said again, with a short nod of my head. I turned, and headed down the indicated passage, hoping I wouldn't get too lost. It led steadily deeper into the earth, and took a sharp turn to the left about fifty feet in. I proceeded slowly, taking my time to make sure I kept steady footing on the smooth rock passage.

At the foot of the slope, a passage broke off to the right. I paused a moment, trying to recall the exact directions from the Galka. "I know there was a right turn in there somewhere," I muttered to myself, turning between the two passages. After a short moment, I shrugged, and continued on the main path.

Surprisingly, it led to a dead end after just a little ways in. I turned to go back to the split, when something glimmering in the corner of the passage caught my eye. I walked forward, and crouched down to examine it more closely.

A sudden rush of movement behind me nearly knocked me to the ground, as a tall, segmented worm rose out of the stone floor. It turned what I assumed was its head, a writhing mass of feelers, toward me, and made a loud hissing noise.

I drew back, not taking my eyes off the worm. I had thought the mines worms to be non-aggressive, but I might have made the mistake of invading this one's nest. I braced myself, and pulled my staff off my back. I certainly couldn't get around this worm, so I would have to go through it.

I charged forward, swinging my staff hard as I closed into range with the worm. The contact made a horrible squishing noise, and the worm's hiss rose into a high-pitched shriek. It swung its body around, and then, faster than I had imagined it could move, it swung its mass of feelers toward me.

I tried to ward off the blow, but the worm slithered around my worthless parry and raked its feelers down the front of my tunic. They left a mass of thick gel, and the skin underneath suddenly starting burning.

I shouted from the pain, and brought my staff back into position. I swung again, this time aiming a little higher on the worm's body. I swung true once again, the staff connecting with its "head", just below the mass of feelers.

The worm shrieked again, its movements visibly slowing down from the bludgeoning it was taking. It made another swipe, aiming its feelers at my head this time, but I was able to deflect it with a quick blow from my staff.

I stepped forward, and choked up on the staff, taking a short, powerful swing for the same spot just under the worm's feelers. The blow struck true, and the worm let out one final shriek before collapsing onto the stone floor.

I propped my staff against the wall, and took a moment to examine my tunic. Other than being smeared with a thick gel and not smelling the greatest, it was fine. I pulled it up quickly to check the skin underneath.

The skin on my torso was an angry, irritated red color. The pain had actually faded to a sharp tingle after the fight, but touching the skin was still painful. I sighed, and pulled the tunic back down over my torso.

"I suppose I should see what that shiny thing in the corner was," I muttered to myself, grabbing my staff from the wall. I walked over to the same spot again, crouched down, and began brushing dirt away from whatever had caught my attention in the first place.

After a moment, I had uncovered a large rock shot through with bright silver veins. I slipped it into my pack, making a mental note to bring it over to Fatimah in the guild to see what it was worth.

I straightened up, and turned from the dead end, re-tracing my steps back to the passage that branched off. "I knew there was a right turn somewhere in there," I muttered to myself as I followed that tunnel.

It quickly opened up into a huge cavern. I could see several Galkas and a few Humes along the walls, mostly wielding pickaxes. Luckily the cavern was big enough that the noise wasn't overwhelming. I picked one of the Humes who wasn't chipping away at the wall, and walked towards him.

"Excuse me," I called when I got close enough, "I'm looking for Makarim. Do you know where I could find him?"

He started a bit, then a slow smile rose to his face. "Makarim?" he asked, looking me over. "What do you need with the overseer?" He looked on the verge of laughter. Why did everyone have the same reaction when I asked for Makarim?

"I have a message for him from Musketeer Rashid," I said with a smile. "I'm led to believe it's important, and I'm having a hard time getting straight answers from people here." I shrugged, and added, "I guess we'd better hope no one asks me for a detailed report. I'd hate to get anyone in trouble."

I actually wouldn't hate it at all. If this was the way these miners routinely treated people, they deserved whatever would end up coming to them.

The miner nodded his head, the smile slowly fading from his features. "Makarim's down that passage," he said, pointing west, "and hug the left wall. Should be at the end of the tunnel." He fell silent, turning back to the closest miner. From his reaction, I judged the conversation had reached its end.

"Thanks," I muttered, and set out to find Makarim and pick up his report. I was ready for this assignment to be over.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

You've got Mail!(Spring, 898)

I stopped by home for a bit, mainly to deposit my store of unused fire crystals and to get some food. I pushed open the door, and walked through the semi-dim interior.

"Master!" came the cry as Moguri turned from the fireplace and flitted toward me. "You got a package while you were gone! It has the official seal of the Republic on it!" I saw that he was holding a small brown package in his paws, and I stepped toward him to receive it.

"Thank you, Moguri," I said with a smile. "Do you know who dropped this off for me?" I inspected the package quickly, but found no markings aside from the seal.

"Some huge Galka in armor," he replied. "I think he said his name was Invincible..something. He was awful gruff and just asked that I give the package to you."

"Well, thank you," I said with a short chuckle. I began working the package open, trying to get at the contents. "Do you know what's in here?" I asked Moguri after a moment with little success.

"Usually a letter and a ring," he answered, surprising me. "It's kind of a welcoming present for the new residents of Bastok."

"I see," I said, finally worrying the package open and pulling the contents out. As Moguri had predicted, it was a short letter and a ring of silver and gold. I read the letter quickly:

Dear Aspen,

Let me be the first to welcome you to the fair city of Bastok. I trust you will find your life here very rewarding, provided you are willing to put the effort into the city. She always takes care of her own.
If you have not yet done so, I urge you to see one of the Iron Musketeers
about undertaking missions for the Republic of Bastok. We must all do our part to enhance the prosperity of the Republic.

The enclosed ring is enchanted for you only. It will provide a small bonus to your health and quickness, as well as lighting your way in the dark. We hope it will aid you greatly in your travels.
Again, I welcome you to Bastok and wish you the best in our city.

-Invincible Shield, former 3rd division Legatus

I took another long look at the enclosed ring, admiring the detail. It was a small spiral formed of half gold and half silver, with a tiny, silvery stone embedded in each end. I slipped it onto my finger, flexing a bit to ensure it fit right.

I'll admit, I didn't really feel any different with the ring on, but Invincible Shield did say it was only a minor enchantment. Still, I suppose I felt a little more secure for wearing it.

"Missions for the Republic.." I muttered, scanning through the note again. "That's what I was going to do next." I looked up to find Moguri hovering between me and the fireplace, with an anxious look on his face.

"Do you have anything that I could eat for lunch, Moguri?" I asked, suddenly aware again of how hungry I was. "I spent a long morning at the goldsmiths' guild, and I worked up a little bit of an appetite." I laughed, and walked over to the cubby near the door, digging the fire crystals out of my pouch as I walked.

"I have a small sandwich you could eat," he said after a moment. "It's not much, but it should provide you with enough energy to make it through the day."

I nodded my head, turning back to him with a smile. "That sounds great, Moguri," I said encouragingly. "I made a small profit today, but I have to hold onto it until I can make a little more."

"I understand," he said with a nod. "But we're going to need more money to buy food, you know. These pantries don't fill themselves."

"I know," I said with a smile. "Soon we'll have a nice, big grocery budget. Then you can buy whatever you like for dinner." I chuckled, moving towards the lone chair in the room. I was about to dispose of the package wrapping, when something else caught my eye inside.

"What's this?" I wondered aloud, pulling the small piece of paper from the envelope. It was marked 'Adventurers' Coupon'. On the reverse side, it said, 'Redeemable for 50 (fifty) gil from any Bastok gate guard.'

"Well, that's something," I said with a smile. "Not too much, but fifty gil is fifty gil." I chuckled, and slipped the coupon into my pouch. I sat on the chair, turning my head just in time to see Moguri coming towards me, holding a small meat sandwich and a small clay cup of water.

"Here you are," he said, bobbing his head quickly. "Like I said, it's not much, but it should work for a lunch, Kupo?" He was bobbing his whole body nervously, almost like he was waiting for my approval.

"It looks fine," I said, watching him closely. "You don't have to be so nervous around me, Moguri. I'm really an easy Hume to please." I chuckled, and took a bite of the sandwich. While the bread was a little coarse, it still had a very nice flavor. The meat in particular was quite well prepared, sliced thick and juicy.

I finished the small sandwich quickly, cleaning the crumbs off my hands. "That was delicious," I said to Moguri with a smile. "Hit the spot, as they say." I chuckled again, and finished off the cool cup of water. I stood quickly, not wanting to waste any more of the day.

"Any idea when you'll be home again, Master?" asked Moguri, looking at me expectantly. "I can have dinner ready if I only know what time to expect you."

"Moguri," I began, shaking my head slowly, "please call me Aspen. You don't have to keep calling me 'master'. It makes me feel like you're a slave or something." I laughed to try and bring some humour into the situation, thinking perhaps he wouldn't feel so bad about it.

"If..if that's what you want...Aspen," he said, making it sound difficult to get out. It probably was, to be honest. He'd likely spent his entire life referring to people as 'master', and I didn't think it was a habit that would be broken overnight.

"It is," I said firmly, nodding my head. "And thank you for the lunch. I'm off to seek more work." I smiled, walking toward the door and pulling it open. I made sure to grab my staff before I left. You just never know when you might need a good, stout stick.

"Take care, Mas..Aspen," Moguri said, waving his small paw at me. "See you when you get home."

I nodded to him, and pulled the door closed behind me, and began heading for the Mines district. I figured I would find Rashid again and trade this coupon in for some gil, and then ask him for a nice, easy mission.

When I got back to the main gate of the Bastok Mines, Rashid had a line about ten people deep. I gave up on getting to actually talk to him, and walked over to one of the other gate guards, a massive Galka in sturdy metal armor.

"Greetings, adventurer," he boomed out as I drew closer. "It's a lovely afternoon! What can Crying Wind do for you today?"

I was slightly taken aback, but managed to retain my ability to speak.

"My name is Aspen," I said with a smile. "I have this coupon for you, Crying Wind." I pulled the coupon out of my pouch, and held it out to him with a smile.

"Another new adventurer!" he proclaimed, seeming delighted with the notion. "If we keep gaining them at this rate, we'll be the strongest nation in no time! Awash in adventurers!" He let out a deep, booming laugh, and then reached into his pouch to hand me a small sack of gil. "Here you are," he said, "fifty gil, as promised."

"Thank you," I said with a smile, depositing the sack into my own pouch. "I was also told that you offer missions to citizens. Do you have anything available right now?"

"That would actually be Musketeer Rashid's duty," he replied with a fearsome grin. "I can offer you a Republic Signet, though. It can magically keep track of your activities, and lets you take part in the conquest for the Republic." He paused a moment, then added, "You also can trade in your conquest points for free items and equipment. You can't go wrong."

I nodded, saying, "Sounds like a nice thing to have. I'll accept a Signet." I wasn't familiar with the idea behind conquest, but trading in points for free items sounded pretty good.

Crying Wind nodded, and then raised his hand over my head, and muttered a few syllables under his breath. I saw a small nimbus of light appear before me, and then vanish quickly. I felt maybe a little different, like someone was watching me.

"There you are," he said with another grin. "Now you're taking part in the Republic conquest. Make sure to do us proud out there." He laughed, and clapped a hand on my shoulder in an almost-staggering blow.

"Thanks," I said, making a conscious effort not to rub my now-sore shoulder. "So..I'll just go and talk to Musketeer Rashid, then." I turned toward Rashid's post, noticing the line by him had at least shrunk a little bit.

It actually didn't take long before the line moved and I was able to speak with Rashid again.

"Good afternoon, Rashid," I said with a smile. "I'm back to see if you have any small missions available for me. I got a letter from Invincible Shield that convinced me to try and help the Republic."

"So I see," he replied dryly, and took a moment to consult a sheet of paper. "Well, I have one that just requires a short trip into the Zeruhn mines to receive a report from the overseer, Makarim. Once you obtain that, take it to the guard at the President's office, Sir Naji." He paused, and then added, "That would be through the Metalworks district, up on the top floor." He nodded his head, and then asked, "Do you wish to accept this mission?"

I considered a moment, then nodded my head. "I accept this mission, Rashid," I said with another smile. "So..get a report from overseer Makarim in the mines, and bring it to Sir Naji in the Metalworks? That's it?" It seemed simple, but I was determined not to screw it up.

Rashid nodded back, saying, "Exactly. Make sure you come back and see me when you finish. Unfortunately, this job does not carry a gil reward, but it will allow me to issue you assignments that do." He shrugged, and added, "We all have to start somewhere." He laughed, a short, somewhat harsh sound.

"Thank you," I said with another smile. "I'll take care of this right away." I turned, and began heading toward the west, where the mines entrance was located.

"Good luck," called Rashid, and raised a hand to me as I turned back to look. I raised my own hand in reply, and set off to fulfill my first mission for the Republic of Bastok.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

New Recruit (Spring, 898)

I spent the next couple hours concentrating intensely on copper ingots. I picked it up pretty easily after the test, especially with a little private tutelage from Fatimah.

"Keep the shape of the copper ingot foremost in your mind," she offered after one successful synth. "You were struggling near the end there; you almost lost it."

"Can you read my mind?" I asked jokingly, laughing a little to myself.

"No," she replied with a smirk, "I can see your concentration wavering in the crystal's energy. If it wavers too much, that's when you lose control and your synthesis fails." She shrugged, then added, "You're progressing well, but you just need to maintain a little more focus to minimize any synthesis failures."

I nodded my head, and took a fresh set of materials in hand, vowing silently to keep my concentration solely on this next synth. After a short moment of preparation, I released the crystal's power in the now-familiar way.

"Very nice," came the praise from Fatimah, sounding faint in the roar of the flames. I continued to hold my concentration on the desired final form of a copper ingot, noticing that it actually was getting a lot easier as my confidence grew.

The flames roared higher, culminating in the final burst of energy that could only mean a successful synthesis. I set the very warm ingot aside to cool. In a few moments, I would be able to examine it for any flaws.

"Your concentration was spot on that time," said Fatimah. "You've picked up on this ingot synthesis very quickly, Aspen. Maybe we'll have to challenge you a little bit more." She laughed softly, and picked up the ingot I had just set aside, apparently heedless of the heat.

"Not bad at all," she said after a moment's appraisal. "Your edges are more clearly defined that the last few. Not that it makes much difference in an ingot, but it will make them stack nicely in the storeroom."

I nodded, happy to be getting the praise of the head of the guild. "I think I'm just about done for the day," I said with a smile. "I'm just about out of fire crystals, and I'm starting to get a bit hungry." I looked to the stack of completed ingots, silently trying to figure out how much gil I had earned that day.

"You should have no problem getting a nice lunch with the gil you'll make today," said Fatimah with another soft laugh. "I see eight copper ingots here..I mean, nine," she amended, placing the one she was still holding on top of the stack. "You can sell these to the guild with Teerth, or you can pay for the materials and take them to the auction house." She paused, then added, "Although I'll warn you, the auction house will only accept them singly or in a stack of twelve."

"So if I make three more, I could sell them more easily?" I was intrigued by the idea of selling them on the auction house, but that meant I would have to come up with some gil to pay Teerth for the ores. "Or maybe I'll just sell with Teerth," I added hastily, thinking of my poor, aching supply of gil.

"Most newer recruits do," she said with a laugh. "When you build up a little stash of gil, it becomes easier to just buy the materials and sell them yourself. Or use them for crafting other things."

I nodded, and began picking up the small ingots of copper. "Thank you for all the help today," I said with a smile. "I think I'm beginning to see why some get so addicted to synthesis. It's actually a lot of fun." I laughed, and scooped the last ingot up into the pile.

"As long as you can maintain that attitude, you'll go far," she replied with a lovely smile. "It's these crafters who can't see the wonder in each synth that burn out and turn it into a horrible chore." She shrugged, then added, "Just go slowly, and your skills will increase with time. It's not a race to the top."

I nodded, considering the advice carefully. I wanted to become an accomplished craftsman, this was true. But to try and rush through it would certainly end up taking a lot of the enjoyment out of it. I didn't want this to become just another drudging job.

"Thank you again," I said with a nod toward Fatimah. "I'll try to come back tomorrow and make more ingots. Will I see you then?" I blushed faintly, hoping she wouldn't notice the color in my cheeks.

"If I'm not, you can seek instruction from any of your new colleagues," she offered with a smile. "Wulfnoth is one of my best, as is Ulrike. You can find them in the room across from the shop," she said with a wave of her hand. "And if I'm here, I'll provide some instruction, of course."

I nodded again, and stepped for the shop counter, saying, "Thank you again, Fatimah."

She smirked, replying, "What are you thanking me for? You're the one supplying the talent." She laughed again, and disappeared around the corner towards her desk. I laughed as well, shaking my head as I walked toward the shop counter.

I began placing my ingots on the counter. lining them up for Teerth's inspection. He looked at me, and smiled that fearsome grin of his.

"Fatimah liked the look of you, aye?" he asked, before letting out a deep laugh. "Decided to give you a chance in her guild. And it looks like you ain't done half bad." He laughed again, picking up a few of the ingots for inspection.

"Thank you," I said, mustering a smile. "Fatimah told me I could sell these to the guild through you. Pocket some earnings, so to speak." I laughed, but I think it came out more like a nervous chuckle.

"Indeed," Teerth replied with a smile. "Let's've got nine ingots to sell, minus the cost of the ores.." He trailed off, looking down at a piece of paper which, no doubt, had the current prices on it. "You did lose a couple of ores in the beginning," he said with a smile, "which we'll have to count in there."

"Of course," I said with a returned smile. It didn't look nearly as ferocious as his, though.

"I can give you sixty gil apiece for the ingots," he said after a moment's thought. "It's a slightly better price than normal, but we can use the extra stock..and you could certainly use the extra gil." He laughed again, the booming sound filling the room.

Why did people keep commenting that I needed the gil?

"So after expenses, that comes up hundred and forty-one gil in your favor." He smiled, and reached into a cash drawer on the other side of the counter, and began counting out the gil quickly.

I nodded my head, pleased with the results of a day's labor. I made a mental note to myself to check out how much the ingots would sell for on the auction house, be it individually or as a group of twelve.

"Here you are," Teerth's deep voice interrupted me, as he handed me a small pouch of gil. "You can count it if you want, but we ain't in the habit of cheating our new recruits." He laughed loudly again, and I nodded my head.

"No," I said with a grin, "I trust you. I'll be back another day, Teerth. Thank you for all the help." I turned from the counter, and walked towards the door of the guild.

It wasn't a lot of gil, but it was a fair amount for someone just starting out. I was pretty sure that it wouldn't have even covered the crystals I used, though. Maybe tomorrow I would look into buying the materials myself and selling the ingots on the auction house.

I headed back up the stairs and looped around the fountain, heading toward home. Maybe this afternoon I could see if the gate guards needed any small missions done.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Craft Work (Spring, 898)

I stood there for what felt like a very long time, just looking down at the materials that Fatimah had placed in front of me. I mean, I knew the basics of crystal synthesis inside and out, but it didn't help that I had never worked with fire before.

It also didn't help that I had the head of the goldsmithing guild watching my every move.

"Just relax," Fatimah said, giving me an easy smile. "Keep the image of the end result in your mind, and access the power of the crystal. As long as you keep your concentration on the finished product, the crystal should do all the work for you."

I nodded my head, and turned my gaze over to the ingot sitting on the desk, taking a brief moment to study it closely. When I was satisfied with the mental image, I nodded my head again, stepped closer to the desk, and took the small chunks of red stone in one hand and the fire crystal in the other.

I closed my eyes, letting the image of the copper ingot fill my mind. I felt a sudden rush of heat in my left hand, where the crystal was.

"Now," came the voice of Fatimah, "let the crystal release its power, but slowly. You're the one in charge." She giggled, a soft sound like small, tinkling bells.

I complied mentally, slowly allowing the crystal's power to seep out toward the components. The heat in my left hand began growing in small increments, and I began to feel echoes of that heat from the rocks in my other hand.

"Very nice," offered Fatimah, from what seemed like miles away.

I didn't reply, but tried instead to keep the image of the finished ingot foremost in my mind. It was difficult with the heat of the crystal flaring up in my palm, and I think I began to sweat from the effort.

Suddenly, there was a loud pop from my hand, and the heat in my hands flared once more before dying out. I opened my eyes slowly, and looked down at my hands.

Instead of a bright ingot of copper, I now held only two red rocks and a handful of ashes. The synth was a failure!

"I'm..I'm sorry," I stammered, looking over to Fatimah. I knew that my cheeks were flushed from embarassment. I had just blown a synth in front of a room full of professional goldsmiths.

Fatimah nodded her head, and said, "What's there to be sorry about, Aspen? You had wonderful control over your energy, especially for a first synthesis. Frankly, I would have been more surprised if you had gotten it right on your first try." She giggled again, the sound cheering me up a little.

"I see," I said, trying to recover from my failure. "Why didn't you tell me that from the beginning?"

"If you knew you weren't supposed to succeed, there's no way you would have been successful. It would have been a complete and utter failure." She paused a moment, then added, "You were doing fine up until the very end. You must have let yourself get distracted somehow."

"I suppose," I said with a nod. "So does this mean.." I trailed off, looking to Fatimah for some kind of explanation.

"Of course," she said with a smile. "I would be happy to have you in the goldsmithing guild, Aspen. It seems like you've got a lot of potential."

I smiled, my enthusiasm returning quickly. "Thank you, Fatimah," I said with a short bow of my head. "I would be happy to be the new recruit."

"Well, we can put you to work synthing ingots for a while," she replied. "Once you've gotten comfortable with that, we'll try some other formulae. You can set your own working hours, and we'll pay you based on what you make, subtracting the material costs." She paused, then added, "Of course, if you make something nice and want to sell it on the auction house, you're free to do that. You just have to cover the full material cost."

I nodded, then asked, "What about crystals? Do I have to bring my own, or can I buy them from the guild?" I only had a couple crystals to my name, and didn't think that would get me through many synths.

Fatimah laughed, saying, "You should bring your own. We can't discount the prices at all, so you can usually get a better deal on the auction house. Of course, you could always try to hunt them down yourself outside." She shrugged briefly, and then added, "Was there anything else you needed to know?"

"I don't think so," I said with a smile. "I'm eager to start working. Can I put in any time today?" I was eager to start, if only because my gil pouch was getting a little empty.

"If you like," she replied with a short nod. "Oh, before I forget," she added, opening another drawer in her desk and rummaging around inside. After a moment, she produced a large cluster of glowing red fire crystals, and put them on the desk.

"These are for you," she said with a large smile. "Consider them a congratulatory present. Welcome to the goldsmith guild, Aspen."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Will Work for Gil! (Spring, 898)

I entered Bastok's Market district through a nondescript gate, and proceeded down a somewhat narrow street. I was immediately aware of the number of other people in the confines of the avenue. People were lined up along the sides and against walls, trying to sell their wares out of small bazaars.

It made progress a little slow, mainly because any steps close to any of these merchants was taken as an interest in whatever they were selling. I heard more sales pitches in that short span of road than I think I'd heard in my entire life thus far.

I wove my way carefully through the labyrinth of vendors, carefully shaking my head and looking away whenever one of them addressed me. Eventually, I reached the short flight of stairs leading up to what looked like a main rotunda area. I could see the top of what looked like a pretty massive fountain in the center.

I walked up the stairs and crossed the plaza on the north side, keeping just enough of my gaze off the fountain to avoid the various bazaars and pedestrians in the area.

"Hey, you!" I heard from somewhere off to my right. "You need to make some quick gil?"

I turned toward the voice, seeing a blonde Hume waving me over. I nodded my head, and crossed over to where he was leaning against the wall.

"That's what I thought," he said with a wry smile. "Every one's out to make their fortune these days. But I'm one who delivers. My name is Foss, and I'd like you to hear my proposition."

I nodded again, saying, "I'll listen to your offer, Foss. I'm Aspen" I was cautious, but willing to hear him out. Especially after noting all the new things I would need to furnish my home. If he was honest about it, it might turn out to be a good deal.

"Here's the thing," he said, his voice dropping a bit. "In the time of the crystal war, they used buckets for hauling minerals from the mines to the Metalworks."

I nodded, wondering why I was getting the impromptu history lesson.

"Eventually," he went on, "the buckets would break or warp and become useless. The workers would pitch them over the side, into the gulf." He indicated somewhat westerly with his arm. "Most of them are still there."

I nodded, with him so far. "And what does this have to do with me making gil?"

"Well," he said with a smile, "I'm a..collector of sorts, you could say. And I'm willing to pay for any of these buckets you bring me. I'll give you sixty gil per bucket, with no limit on how many." He nodded his head with a smile, then added, "I'll also tell any of my friends about you if they're offering work."

I considered a brief moment, then nodded my head. "Alright, Foss," I said with a smile, "if I find any of these buckets, I'll trade them to you for sixty gil apiece. Any advice on how I might get ahold of them?"

He chuckled, scratching his chin briefly. "I'll tell you what I do know," he said with a grin. "Sometimes anglers bring them up by mistake when they think they have a massive fish. Must be a pretty amusing sight." He chuckled again, and then added, "Best place to try would be off the edge of Firewater Circle here into the gulf."

"I'll keep that in mind," I said with a nod. "By the way, can you tell me where the Goldsmith guild is?"

He nodded, with another short chuckle. "I guess you really are new here. I know how to pick 'em out." He pointed eastward, saying, "Head back the way you came, and take the smaller staircase to the right. Follow along the aqueduct, and it'll be on the left side."

I nodded with a smile, and said, "Thank you. Until we meet again, Foss."

I began walking back around the edge of the fountain, hearing Foss begin calling other people out of the crowd as I left. I wasn't in any hurry to begin fishing, but at least it could be a source of income if nothing else paid off.

I followed Foss' directions, and found the Goldsmith guild with no trouble at all. It was a low-profile building situated along the stone aqueduct. It was surrounded by some wealthy-looking homes and a shop specializing in musical instruments. I took a moment to look around, and then pushed the door open and went in.

A large Hume man stood behind the counter, and turned toward me as I walked in.

"Welcome to the Bastok Goldsmith's guild," he said with a wide smile. To be honest, it looked a little frightening on him. "You look a bit lost, friend. is there anything I can help you with?"

"I was hoping to speak to someone about employment," I answered with a smile that belied my nervousness. "I might be interested in signing up for the guild."

The man let out a massive, booming laugh, and said, "We always welcome new recruits to our ranks. My name's Teerth, and I run the shop with Visala, here." He waved one large hand to indicate a quiet Hume woman standing beside him. To be honest, Teerth had commanded my attention so much I hadn't even noticed her standing there.

"Pleased to meet you," I said, with a nod toward both of them. "Who would I talk to about possibly securing some employment?"

"That would be Fatimah," came the quiet reply from Visala. "She normally handles the new recruits." She smiled, and added, "She's through the door to your left, probably at her desk with her lenses. Best of luck."

I nodded, saying, "Thank you both. With a little luck, you'll be seeing me again soon."

I entered the right-side room, keeping my eyes open for anyone matching Visala's description. Sure enough, against the wall there was a short Hume woman peering into a lens device. I walked up to her desk, and stood there for a moment, unsure of whether to interrupt or not.

"Well?" she said after I had stood there a while. "What can I do for you? You're obviously new here." She didn't look up from her lens at all while addressing me, which put me off a little bit.

"Umm, hello," I said, mentally berating myself for being so nervous. "My name is Aspen, and I'm interested in signing up for the guild here." I smiled, then added, "I'm new to Bastok, and looking for a way to help make ends meet."

"I see.." Fatimah said, and finally raised her gaze to meet mine. "I'm Fatimah, and I run this place." She paused to look me over, then added, "You certainly do look like you're new in town. Are you signed with any other guilds yet? I'm quite the jealous guildmistress."

"No," I said with a weak smile, "This was my first stop. Your guild's reputation precedes it."

"That's good to hear," she said, finally giving me a smile. She was actually an attractive woman, once she got her face out of her lenses. "Can you do any kind of synthesis at all?"

I nodded, saying, "I used to make arrowheads for my brother back home. I haven't done much beyond that, to be honest. Nothing with metals, yet."

"I see," she said with a nod. I thought maybe I sensed a little disappointment in her tone, but she was a tough woman to read. "I'd be interested in trying you out, Aspen." She reached under her desk, and pulled out a handful of small, reddish rocks and placed them on the desk.

"I'd like you to try and form these into an ingot of copper for me," she said with a smile. She reached into the desk again, and pulled out some glowing fire crystals and a small copper ingot, then added, "You can use these fire crystals, and here's what the finished product should look like."

I looked down at the materials on the desk top, and nodded my head. Inside, I was panicking a little. I'd never done any synthesis with fire before, and had never worked with metals, either. This could end up going really badly for me.

"Well," said Fatimah after a moment, "show us what you've got, Aspen."

Friday, May 1, 2009

Rise & Shine! (Spring, 898)

I awoke the next morning with one firm plan in my head: to find steady work.

Unfortunately, a night in that worn-out cot had left me with a stiff neck like never before. After a little bit of stretching, I felt almost as good as new. I went into the privy, and washed up in a large basin of cool water, then went to my pack to pull out something to wear.

Instead of the slightly rough weave of my tunic, my hand encountered nothing but air. I panicked a little, pushing my hand deeper into the pack to try and find my clothing. Finally, I dumped it out, paying no mind to my personal belongings bouncing everywhere.

No clothing fell out. I didn't even have a pair of slacks to wear.

"Moguri!" I called, trying not to sound angry or panicked. There was no response at first, until I called a few more times. Finally, he appeared, poking his head around the arch of the doorway.

"Good morning, master!" he chirped, sounding in very good spirits this morning. "What can I do for you?"

"Did my clothes?" I asked, trying not to let myself blush. "I can't find them in my pack."

"Of course," he replied, making it sound the most natural think in the world. "As your house-Moogle, it's my duty to manage your wardrobe. I took the liberty of cleaning and organizing all your clothing and some of your things." He paused briefly, then added, "I didn't get to all of it last night, but I'll finish up while you find work today."

It was impossible to stay even a little upset at his earnestness, so I nodded my head and sighed inwardly. "Think you could hand me my blue tunic and black slacks?" I asked, holding my arm out to receive the garments. I heard him flutter off to the other room.

A moment later, I felt the weight of the clothes pressed into my hand. "Thank you," I said, and began dressing myself. When I was presentable, I took a long look at myself in the mirror, determined to make a good impression on any possible employer.

What I saw astounded me. Moguri had done more than clean and hang my clothes; he had somehow found the time to redo all the sloppy stitching and patchwork. My clothing looked better than it had since before I acquired it.

"You found the time to do all this?" I asked incredulously, turning towards Moguri. "But when did you sleep? This had to have taken hours." I fingered the tunic, marvelling at the nearly invisible mending job.

"Kupo!" Moguri nodded in acknowledgement. "I did this last night, while you slept. I bet you didn't know Moogles were so good with needle and thread!" He laughed, a light sound like the tinkling of small bells. "We Moogles don't need a lot of sleep. I'll rest some today while you're gone."

"Thank you," I said quietly, still admiring the newly re-made tunic. "Hopefully, this should help me to find employment." I smiled, and finished straightening my clothes out, making myself look presentable.

"If you're done preening yourself, I made you a sweet cake for breakfast, Kupo! It should give you all the energy you'll need to find work." He produced a plate from who knows where, with an enormous glazed bun on it. My mouth started watering immediately, and I reached into my pouch for my travel utensils.

"It smells delicious," I said, nodding my appreciation. "Thank you so much." I smiled at Moguri, reaching over to take the plate from him. Apparently, having a house-Moogle comes with some special benefits.

The bun was at least as good as it looked, and it wasn't long before I was cleaning the last sticky remnants from my fingers. I pulled the door open, and turned back to Moguri.

"Thanks again," I said with a smile. "I'll be home in a few hours. Try not to have too much fun without me." I chuckled briefly, and Moguri dipped a bit in the air as I pulled the door shut behind me.

I decided to try the Market district first, as that was where the Goldsmiths' guild was located. Also, there were all sorts of merchants in the area. Maybe one of them would be able to help me find some sort of paying work.

"Here we go," I thought, as I took my first steps into Bastok's Markets district.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Great Googely Moogely! (Spring, 898)

I guess it shouldn't have really surprised me the way it did. I mean, everyone has a house-Moogle these days. Well, everyone except for a farming family on the outskirts of the Konschtat Highlands. I had heard of Moogles before, but had never seen one up close before.

It wasn't nearly as big as I thought it would be. Even hovering off the floor, his head was about level with my chest.

A Moogle is one of the inhabitants of Vana'diel. They are an intelligent, hardworking race that, for some reason, absolutely loves to take care of other people's homes and belongings. You give a Moogle a place to sleep, and he'll keep it sparkling clean for you. It's odd.

I was actually alright with having a Moogle in my new home. Truth be told, I'm sure I can be a bit of a slob sometimes. Having someone else around to help take care of that would probably be really nice.

"Hello," I said, inclining my head slightly to the Moogle. "My name is Aspen. I'm moving into this home, so I guess you're my house-Moogle." I smiled, attempting to put him at ease. Was it even a 'him'? How do you tell these things?

"Good evening, kupo!" the Moogle said, bobbing its head back at me. The pom on top of his head waved back and forth comically, and I had to struggle to keep from laughing. "They told me you were coming today, so I cleaned up and kept the fire nice and hot for you." He waved his hand toward the fireplace, where a large fire burned brightly.

"Thank you," I said with another smile, even though the weather was hardly appropriate for a fire. "That was very nice of you." It felt a bit odd to be making small-talk with a house-Moogle, and I briefly wondered if other people talked to theirs.

"So do you have a name?" I inquired, determined to stop thinking of him as 'the house-Moogle'. I turned to look him over, getting my first close look at a Moogle.

His body was actually covered by a fine white fur, and his facial features resembled that of a cat. The pom in the middle of his forehead was bright red, and didn't seem to serve any other purpose than to gauge his emotions. On his back was a pair of shiny purple wings, which was currently letting him hover.

" last owner called me 'Mog'," he said, not meeting my gaze. "But I was named Moguri by my mother." His pom drooped a bit as he spoke, revealing his feelings about his given nickname.

"Well, I think I can call you Moguri, if you like," I said slowly, watching his pom to gauge his reaction. It stopped its drooping almost immediately, and Moguri's bobbing grew a little more enthusiastic.

"That would be great, kupo!" Moguri chirped. "Moogles have never been happy with nicknames. Especially not such a generic one." His energy level seemed to double, and he flitted over to me. "Can I take your pack? You must have come a long ways."

I nodded, shrugging the pack from my shoulders. Moguri took it, and, with some difficulty, moved it over to a small closet by the entrance door, hanging it over a peg. I took the opportunity to look around the room.

As I had expected, it was sparsely furnished. The best feature of the room was the fieldstone fireplace, in which Moguri had kept a nice, big fire going, as promised. There was a small, rough-looking bed in one corner, and a wobbly wooden chair in front of the fire. A door in the far wall led into what I assume was the privy, and there was a small cubby near the front door. Otherwise, the room was bare.

"We'll have to do something about that soon," I muttered, making a mental note to myself. First priority would be to find steady work, and then the furniture could come later.

I walked over and sat in the chair, looking into the fire as ideas for furnishing my new home raced through my mind.

"Is something wrong, kupo?" came the soft voice from somewhere near my elbow.

"No," I replied, "everything is just fine. Happy to be home, is all."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Home, at last? (Spring, 898)

The walk back to the main gate was a bit shorter than before, mainly because I didn't stop to ogle the buildings and people. Actually, I went a little out of my way to avoid the auction house. I could probably lose most of my day spending my meager supply of gil.

Rashid was standing in the same place as the last time I saw him. It actually looked like he hadn't moved a single step in the entire time I was gone. This time, miraculously, there wasn't even a line of people waiting to see him.

"Hail, future citizen," Rashid intoned flatly as I approached. "Your housing application has been processed..almost an hour ago." He held his hand up, offering a shiny object toward me. "Here is your new housekey. The scrap of paper with it has the location of your room. Replacement keys will cost two hundred gil apiece, so be careful with this one."

I nodded, taking the large key from his hand. "Thank you," I said, nodding my head slightly.

"It's my job," he stated, finally cracking a smile. "By the way, did you make any decisions on your military service? I heard through the command chain that they are licensing inexperienced adventurers at this time." He shrugged, adding, "Might be worth your while, that's all."

"Thank you," I said again, nodding my head. "I'll keep that in mind." I wondered how many other people he had told the same lead, and what my chances were of being chosen.

"Not a problem," he replied with another elusive smile. "Always happy to help out someone in need. I'm storing up some karma." He smirked, then turned away as a dark-haired Hume stepped up to his post, presumably another registrant for housing.

I turned east toward the residential district, which took me right past the large pens for the riding chocobos. So that was the wonderful smell hovering around the main gate. I guess we do learn something new every day.

Luckily, the residential district was situated far enough away from the pens to reduce the smell significantly. I didn't think it would be a problem when I got to my new home, which was still a short ways away according to the directions. I shrugged my shoulders, and kept walking.

The residential district was surprisingly clean, with well-kept houses lining both sides of the cobbled road. There wasn't much in the way of plantlife, which can be expected in the dry terrain Bastok was in, but there were a few scrubby-looking short trees between houses. It was an effort, anyways.

I found my new residence with little trouble. You have to expect some when most of the houses look alike. Obviously this was one of the mass housing booms after the crystal wars, which meant the housing was about twenty years old. For stone houses, that shouldn't be too bad.

I found the matching house number to the one on the paper, and stepped up to the front door. The house didn't look as well-kept as its neighbors, but I guess that's to be expected when a house sits unoccupied. I made a mental note to try and do some basic repairs, then slid the key into the lock, twisting it gently to unlock the door.

Before I could push the door open, it was pulled open from the inside, nearly pulling me off balance with it.

"Welcome home, Kupo!" came the voice from inside the dim room.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Bat's Lair Inn (Spring, 898)

It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dimmer light, but the Bat's Lair Inn was actually a decent looking place. There were only a few tables in the small eating area, and it only took a moment for me to spot Kuto-Lulu.

"Hello again," I said, stepping up to the table and pulling out the chair opposite his. "I made it through my registration without any problem, surprisingly."

Kuto-Lulu nodded, his mouth full of what could only be bretzel. "Sounds good," he said after a swallow. "Did you get a room yet?"

I nodded and sat down, my mouth almost watering from the bready aroma of his bretzel. "I got a single room, but they haven't assigned me just yet. I have to go back in an hour."

"Should have said you were here with twelve brothers and sisters. Then you could've had a huge house!" He giggled, making me reasonably sure he was only joking.

"Right, because frauding the republic out of free housing is the best way to start my life here in Bastok." I smirked, settling deeper into the chair, still eyeing up his bretzel. "Anyways, once I get settled in, I can decide what to do with myself. Rashid, the gate guard, said I could seek employment with one of the guilds." I shrugged, adding, "He said it's a way to make a decent living."

Kuto-Lulu nodded, his mouth full of bretzel once again. "But which guild would you join?" he asked after another large swallow. "The ones they have here are the alchemist, smithies and goldsmithing." He shrugged, adding, "Of those, I think goldsmithing sounds the best, but I never had any patience for that kind of work."

I nodded, my resistance finally breaking down. "I guess so. Hey, where do I get a bretzel? That one is killing me with how good it smells."

Kuto-Lulu pointed to the counter by the main door, where a Hume woman stood, looking rather bored. "That's Griselda," he said in a lower tone. "She runs the place here. Don't mess with her; I've seen her throw Galkas out that door."

I laughed, making my way over to the counter where Griselda stood. A sign looking slightly older than me proclaimed all manner of foods for sale for reasonable prices, but right now all I wanted was one of those bretzels.

"One bretzel, please," I said with a smile.

Griselda looked my way, and nodded, saying, "That'll be twenty-six gil, please." I nodded, and pulled some of the meager coins from my belt pounch, counted out twenty-six gil, and handed it to her.

"Thanks," she said with a small smile, depositing the coins into a pocket on her apron. She turned back to some shelves, gathering some ingredients. I watched, slightly confused. Was she going to make one from scratch for me?

As it turned out, she was. She combined the ingredients in a large bowl, mixing it up quickly. I saw a large egg, some flour, a knob of butter and some salt all go into the mix. Then, she produced a crystal with an internal red glow, much like the ones I had found.

She concentrated on the crystal, holding it over the bowl of combined ingredients, until suddenly a gout of raw fire was released, surrounding the bowl in a bright nimbus. The flame roared louder, finally culminating in an expanding ring before fading away complately.

Instead of a raw mix of ingredients in the bowl, there were a handful of steaming salted bretzels in a neat stack.

"Here you are," she said, handing one of them to me. "One bretzel."

I nodded my head, fascinated with the display I'd just seen. So much, in fact, that I didn't even register the heat of the bretzel in my hand until I reached the table, where I dropped it with a surprised hiss.

"Hot?" asked Kuto-Lulu, his eyes twinkling with unvoiced laughter.

"You know it is," I replied with a slight flush. "You saw her doing the crystal synthesis." I shook my hand lightly, though I wasn't even feeling any pain. "I had no idea a fire synthesis would be so hot afterward."

Kuto-Lulu cast a sidelong glance at me, his mouth slightly agape. "You've never done a synth before?" he asked, incredulously. "I didn't think there were people left on Vana'diel who had never done a synth." His eyes shined merrily, as he looked me over like some newly-discovered scientific specimen.

"I've done some synthesis before," I said, my cheeks flushing in spite of my best intentions. "Just not with fire. Only with wind, making arrowheads for my brother." I shrugged, then took a massive bite from my bretzel to try and disguise the flush in my cheeks. It really was tasty, with a crispy, salty outside and a doughy inside.

"I see you're a fan," said the Taru. "Having the first bite of a bretzel is like a religious experience, you know." He cocked an eyebrow as a few small giggles slipped out of his mouth.

"It's quite tasty," I said, licking the salt from my fingers. "Better than my Ma used to make, and she did it the old fashioned way, with a brick oven and patience." I chuckled, taking another huge bite from my bretzel. "I bet she's glad she doesn't have to do that anymore," I added, inclining my head toward Griselda.

"You bet yer Hauby," she exclaimed from her post at the counter, breaking into a series of shrill cackles.

"Well, if you want to be any sort of craftsman, you'll have to get used to more than just wind synths. They're using all the elements in almost every guild these days." The Taru shrugged, finishing off his bretzel in a few small bites.

I nodded, taking another, smaller bite of my own bretzel. "I know that," I said once my mouth was free. "I just can't decide which guild to look into. I know I could probably be a good goldsmith, but I just don't know if that's the path for me." I shrugged, nibbling some more on my bretzel.

"You want my advice?" asked Kuto-Lulu. Why did everyone assume that I needed advice? "You should go into goldsmithing. You never know when I might need to know a famous..and rich goldsmith!" He broke into another giggling fit, as I tried to look cross while finishing off my bretzel. As soon as it was gone, I wanted another one, but I could wait until I had a little more gil in my pouch.

"We'll see about that," I said with a short laugh. "I'm a long ways away from being either rich or famous, you know." I chuckled again, looking toward the door. "I suppose I should be heading back to the gate to get my housing assignment. It's probably been more than an hour."

Kuto-Lulu shrugged, saying, "Why should you care? It's not like they're going to give your house away to someone else. Besides, all the housing is the same at first, anyways. You have to make it your own home."

"Is there any furniture?" I inquired, suddenly a bit nervous. It wasn't like I had a lot of gil to spend on furniture, or anything else for that matter.

The Taru shrugged again, saying, "There's usually a cot, and a small chest of drawers for your things. You know, the basic amenities."

I nodded, letting out a sigh of relief. "Good to hear," I said with a smile. "It'll be nice to sleep inside tonight." I stood up, brushing a few errant crumbs from my tunic, and turned toward the door. "You coming?" I asked Kuto-Lulu over my shoulder.

"No thanks," he replied. "I've got some business to take care of in the metalworks district. Why don't we meet up at the main gate later?"

"Sounds good," I replied with a short nod. "I'll do some thinking about a craft while I'm out. Maybe I can come up with an idea that isn't completely ridiculous." I laughed softly, pushing the door open and holding it for the Taru.

Kuto-Lulu nodded to me, turning up the north-bound street. "We can talk about it later. There's no rush, as long as your supply of gil holds out." He giggled, and disappeared into the crowd.

"Holds out.." I muttered, self-consciously patting my thin pouch of gil. Though I knew it could turn into a problem before too long, I had faith that I could make something happen.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bastok: Mines District (Spring, 898)

I walked in through the gate, and got my first look at the mines district of Bastok.

To be honest, the only impressive thing about it was its size. The streets were quite dirty, and everything seemed to be the same uniform shade of beige stone. The smell was a bit oppressive, which is bound to happen when you pack so many people into a city, no matter how large.

"Where do we go first?" I inquired, looking expectantly.

"You have to register with the gate guard," Kuto-Lulu replied, motioning over to a blonde man standing near the gate with a large book close at hand.

"Why do I have to do that?" I asked, anxious to begin exploring the new city.

"All sorts of reasons," came the reply. "They need to assign you temporary housing, plus you can't apply for citizenship without being 'on the books', so to speak." He paused, then added, "And if a guard catches you, they can eject you from the city and fine you. Let's not do that."

I nodded with a quick sigh, and headed over to the short line in front of the gate guard.

"Are you going to wait here with me?" I asked, as the Taru made no move to join me.

"Why would I? I'm already registered," he replied with a giggle. "I'll tell you what, meet me over at the Bat's Lair Inn. It's just down this street," he said, waving northward with his hand, "and through the small arch. You can't miss it." He giggled again, and disappeared through the crowds toward the north.

I waited in line patiently for my turn to speak with the blonde man. Though there were only a handful of people in life in front of me, it still took quite a while before I finally stepped up.

"Welcome to Bastok," he said in a dull tone, looking me over carefully. "I'm Rashid, of the Iron Musketeers. How can I help you today?"

"I'm here to register," I said with a smile. "It's my first time in Bastok."

He nodded, pulling the large book closer. "Name?" he asked, not looking up from the paper.

"Aspen," I replied, trying to remain cheery.

"Where are you from, Aspen?"

"From the Konschtat Highlands." I wondered just how many times he had done this today.

"Reason for your visit?"

"Seeking a trade."

"Ahh, one of those." He gave a short laugh, jotting the information down. "My advice would be for you to check with one of the local guilds, or else get good at adventuring."

"Thank you," I said, slightly taken aback by the sudden show of humour in Rashid. "I'll have to do that."

"Don't mention it," he replied. "Now, are you here alone, or with family?"

"Alone," I said, wondering the significance.

'Single house,' he wrote on the paper, then asked, "Any skills of note?"

I hesitated a brief moment, then said, "None, really. Not bad with a staff, I guess."

He nodded, again jotting everything down. "Well, Aspen," he said, "we can give you a small living quarters to stay in at this time. I'll get this information processed, and if you come back in an hour, I can give you the key." He nodded, and added, "Was there anything else I could do for you today?"

I hesitated, then nodded and said, "I may be interested in signing up for military service. I've heard it's a decent living."

He leaned in close, his voice dropping to a hushed tone. "Do you want my advice?" Then without pausing for an answer, "Be an adventurer who takes on work for the military. Don't sign on. It's fine once you get a little rank under you, but for new recruits, it's a tough job." He shrugged, as if to say, 'take it or leave it.'

"Thanks," I said with a smile, slipping to the side. "I'll be back in an hour or so."

I began wandering northward, looking around at the buildings and people as I walked. I suppose it tattooed a giant 'Tourist!' sign on my forehead, but I didn't care.

As I rounded a corner, I caught sight of a milling crowd of people in front of a large building. As I drew a little closer, I saw they were all standing in front of a series of counters, all waving their arms and shouting at the people who, luckily, were behind sturdy-looking steel grates.

"What's this?" I asked an official looking man on the steps of this building.

"This is the auction house," he replied with a friendly smile. "Anyone can put their items up for public sale for a modest fee, and of course anyone is able to buy. We make it so no one has to sit at their own bazaar all day."

"A nice idea," I said, remembering the long days trying to sell our produce. "Certainly are a lot of people here," I added, looking around.

The man let out a short laugh, then said, "You should see the auction house in Jeuno easily twice the size, and that's just the main office."

I nodded, privately thinking that the man was just humouring me. "Sounds pretty immense." I looked over the crowds again, then asked, "Say, do you know where the Bat's Lair Inn would be? I'm supposed to be meeting someone there."

"Sure thing," he replied. "Just go around this corner here," he said, pointing west, "and then turn north. Take a right through the small arch, and it will be right there." He nodded, saying, "The bretzels there are legendary. Very good." He laughed, then added, "Make sure you come back and check out the auction house."

"I will," I replied, already walking around the massive construction.

I followed his directions, and soon arrived at the small archway. I swear, I could already smell the bretzels cooking. I passed through the archway and entered the door for the Bat's Lair Inn.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Road to Bastok, Part III (Spring, 898)

I rose early the next morning, simultaneously happy and dismayed that Kuto-Lulu had not woken me up for a watch. I stretched a bit, looking around for my diminutive companion, finally spotting him a few dozen yards away, doing some sort of exercise.

"What's that you're doing?" I questioned as I drew closer, evidently startling him out of his current pose.

"It's a form of stretching," he answered, raising his arms up over his head and gracefully moving back into position. "Keeps me limber, and builds endurance."

"Maybe I should try some of that," I said, eyeing up the easy-looking stretching.

"Don't be silly," he replied with a smirk. "It's a lot tougher than it looks; and besides, you won't need this training if you end up in some magic unit. You'll be working on the powers of the mind instead." He giggled, and let his arms down gently. "I suppose you want to get moving?"

"Of course," I replied. "I'd like to make it into Bastok today, if possible." I looked downward among the trail speculatively.

"Of course we'll make it today," came the response. "It's just around the corner for the main gate. We probably could have made it in last night, but finding someplace to sleep is a lot tougher when it's already dark."

I nodded, and then added, "And you probably wanted to have that little talk, too."

Kuto-Lulu grinned in response, and we got down to the menial task of breaking camp. Before too much longer, we were back on the road toward Bastok.

"Shouldn't we be able to see the city by now?" I complained, looking around as we walked. "I mean, it's a huge city, right?"

Kuto-Lulu stopped, and looked over at me. "You really don't know?" he asked, his eyes twinkling with mirth.

"Know what?" I replied shortly, not appreciating being the butt of the joke.

"Bastok was built inside a mountain," he replied slowly, as if explaining to a child. "To be specific, this mountain," he added, sweeping his hand toward the massive stone outcropping to our left. "We're just headed for the gate." He giggled, clearly amused by my lack of knowledge.

"Oh," I said, flushing with embarrassment. "It's not like I've ever been here before, you know. I thought-"

Kuto-Lulu cut me off with a wave of his hand. "I'm just teasing you, Aspen," he said with a smirk. "You take the bait way too easily, you know." He giggled again, and we resumed walking around the massive stone wall.

"How did they get the mountain hollowed out?" I asked, more for the point of making conversation.

"A lot of years, and most of it was Galka power. They're good at things like that, you know. And I'm sure the Humes helped too. Probably built some giant machine to move the rocks for them, though. Galkas love to do that sort of thing by hand."

"I'll have to remember that, next time I need a hole dug." I laughed, my gaze continually drawn to that rock face. It was so big! How could anyone-or anything hollow out an entire mountain?

As we made our way past the corner of the rounded mountain base, I saw that the little Taru was right: Carved into the side of the mountain was a massive white stone gate. We walked forward, joining with the small flow of people waiting to enter the city.

'Here we go,' I thought to myself, with a little anxiety. 'For fortune or ill.'

As if reading my thoughts, Kuto-Lulu turned to me and smiled.

"Welcome to Bastok."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Interlude: The Back Story (Spring, 898)

We sat around our small campfire, eating the last of what actually turned out to be a pretty decent meal.

"How did you manage to find such tasty things to eat?" asked Kuto-Lulu, scraping the last of his plate clean.

"It comes with being the son of a farmer," I replied, looking into the small flames. "You learn what you can eat and what to avoid. Sometimes you can even make it taste pretty good." I smiled, leaning back against my pack. "And I brought some of it with me, like the dried meat and some of the greens. So it wasn't all found around here."

"Well, it would've been nice to have you along on some of my other adventures, you know. We travellers always appreciate a good cook." Kuto-Lulu belched softly, then covered his mouth and giggled. "My compliments to the chef," he said, his eyes shining mischievously.

I laughed easily, and scooted a little closer to the fire in an effort to keep warm. "It certainly gets cold around here at night," I remarked. "To be honest, I'd hoped to be in a nice cozy inn by now." I laughed, looking upward into the night sky, and added, "Though this is nice."

A faint scuffling sound to me right told me that Kuto-Lulu was moving closer, probably to have that little talk he had alluded to earlier.

It was several more quiet moments before he spoke, his voice sounding uncharacteristically serious. "What's your real story, Aspen?" he asked. "You say you're the son of a farmer, and you certainly look the part. But then you can cast White Magic, which you need training to do, so..?" He trailed off, leaving the question hanging.

I sighed gently, shifting my gaze back down to the fire. "I am the son of a farmer," I began after a moment, "but not truly by my birth. From the way my Da told it, they found me sleeping in one of the windmills one day on the Konschtat Highlands. They took me home, and no one ever came to claim me." I shrugged gently, keeping my gaze steady on the flames.

"But what about the magic," came the interruption from my right, the Taru evidently deciding I would never get to the point without some help.

I help up my hand gently. "I'm getting to that," I said with a faint smile. "As you know, it usually takes some time and training to be able to cast magic of any kind. I...never had any kind of training, at all. I've always been able to do a small amount just by willing it to happen."

Kuto-Lulu nodded, silently urging me to continue.

"My Da told we should keep it a secret. He said that others...wouldn't understand. And of course, there's a few people who would really want to find out why I can do these things without training." I shuddered a bit, adding, "I really don't want to spend the rest of my life as some study subject."

"Oh, I hear there's plenty of gil in being a study subject," Kuto-Lulu said, trying to make light of the situation. "My uncle did that for a while, and he made enough to buy a dhalmel farm!"

I laughed, shaking my head gently. "Is that the same uncle who was the first Taru to climb Dekfult's tower? Or the one who fell into Ifrit's Cauldron and lived to tell the tale?"

"Nooo.." came the defensive reply, as Kuto-Lulu began giggling.

"In any case," I continued, "we hid the fact that I could do these simple spells from everyone for my whole life. But recently, my Da decided I should have a better life than that of a farmer, and urged me to head into the city to seek my fortune." I shrugged, adding, "I suppose he thought I would take up life as a cleric in the Republic Army."

Kuto-Lulu giggled, saying, "And I can be the first person to say I knew Gold Musketeer Aspen when he was knee-high to a Quadav." At this, he dissolved into a fit of giggles, rocking back and forth on the ground.

I nodded, saying, "And that brings us up to this point. I'm headed into the city, trying to figure out how on Vana'diel I'm going to make ends meet."

"Welll...," interjected the Taru, "you could always be an adventurer, like myself. Your talents could really come in handy in the field, you know. You'd have no trouble finding yourself a nice group to fall in with."

I shrugged, saying, "I never pictured myself as the adventuring type, you know. I always figured I'd be a farmer like my Da, scraping an honest living out of the soil. It might lack a bit in excitement, but it's a lot safer." I laughed, and added, "Though I would like to see the world. Farmers don't get to do that."

Kuto-Lulu nodded emphatically, saying, "That's right! You want to see the world, you have to be an adventurer, like me!"

"Let me sleep on it," I practically yawned, rolling out my bedroll by the fire. "Do you mind taking the first watch? Those spells left me a little tired." I laughed softly, already looking forward to crawling between the blankets.

"Go ahead and sleep," replied the Taru. "I'll make sure no harm comes to us in the middle of the night."

I drifted off to sleep quickly, glorious visions of adventure-dom dancing in my head.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Road to Bastok, Part II (Spring, 898)

Unfortunately, the road to Bastok proved to be a very hot and dry one.

" much further is it?" I panted as we mounted yet another crest in the road. I think my question was justified, as we'd been walking since our little turtle encounter, and the sun looked just about ready to set.

"Just a few more hills," answered Kuto-Lulu, punctuating his response with a short giggle.

I have to admit, I was less amused. The Taru had proven to be better at travelling than me, and was handling the journey with a lot more style.

"Easy..easy for you to say," I responded, slowing down slightly as we approached the crest of the hill. "I have to tell you, I wasn't prepared for quite so many hills." I found a conveniently placed rock beside the trail, and sat down to catch my breath.

Kuto-Lulu strolled up beside me, the beginnings of another fit of laughter playing across his features. "Are you tired again?" he demanded, putting his hands on his hips and glaring at me. "At this rate, we'll never make it to Bastok!"

"I'm sorry," I puffed, slightly embarrassed. "I'm not used to walking quite so much. Farm work I could do all day, every day; but this.." I trailed off, looking at the desolate landscape. "In a more forgiving climate, I'm sure I would be in Bastok already. This is killing me." I laughed softly, stretching a bit, and stood again, ready to continue walking.

"Finally!" was the response, as an eager Kuto-Lulu fell in step beside me. "Did I ever tell you about the time I got lost in Castle Oztroja? I wandered in looking for-"

I looked over as his story was suddenly cut off, only to see his whole body enveloped in an ominous purple-black cloud. I straightened, looking around anxiously for the source of this magical attack.

"Poi..poison," spat out Kuto-Lulu, his body wracking from the spell's effect. He gained his feet, hunched over in pain. "We find the caster," he managed, gritting his teeth against the poison.

"There," I said, pointing in front of us, where a dark shape was barely discernible against a rock. I started towards the shape, pulling my staff free from its sheath on my back.

"I're good with..that stick of yours," said Kuto-Lulu, struggling to keep up as the poison sapped his strength. "I won't be much good against this one."

As we drew closer to the rock, the dark shape separated itself, heading toward us quickly. The distinctive sound of a blade clearing its sheath rang out as the masked adversary came into the light.

"Damn gobbies," grunted Kuto-Lulu, dropping into a defensive fighting stance. "I should've known!"

I followed suit, gripping my staff in a defensive fighting style. I was a little nervous, as we'd had some pretty intense Goblin raids on the farm where I was raised. I'd battled them before, but never with just one comrade. Especially not just one poisoned comrade.

The Goblin charged in, its dagger swinging down in an arc toward Kuto-Lulu. Just as it seemed it would end the fight, he dodged out of the way, and landed a quick series of punches on the beastman's torso. At the same time, I closed in and took a powerful swing at the side of his head with my thick ash staff.

The Goblin fell back a couple steps under our assault, seeming suddenly unsure of itself. It turned toward me, somehow judging me the bigger threat. Perhaps that poison had taken more out of my Taru friend than I had originally thought.

He stepped toward me, his dagger flashing in the setting sun as it flashed toward me. I darted to the left an instant too slow, and the slash meant for my face ended up glancing off my elbow, leaving a shallow cut.

I hissed in pain, and closed in again, swinging my staff overhead in an effort to end this fight quickly. The Goblin, however, raised his shield to deflect my blow, and slashed his dagger at Kuto-Lulu as he closed in as well.

The blow stuck true, leaving a vicious cut across the Taru's torso. Kuto-Lulu cried out, and fell to one knee, clutching his bleeding chest. The Goblin grunted and stepped forward, ready to deliver the finishing blow.

I gave a hoarse shout, and shifted my grip on my staff. I stepped up behind the Goblin, and swung with all my might. The resulting blow left my hands numb, but the satisfying crunch it made on impact was well worth it.

The Goblin turned towards me, the dagger falling out of its grasp as it staggered backwards. It fell to the ground, its body going limp. I breathed a sigh of relief, then rushed over to where Kuto-Lulu was crouched.

"I'm..I'm afraid, Aspen," he said, not shifting his gaze from the ground. "I'm hurt..pretty bad. And this poison.." He trailed off, his body shaking gently.

I shook my head gently, and gathered in my will, placing my hand on Kuto-Lulu's shoulder, and whispered, "Poisona." A sharp, white light pierced the dark aura around his body, quickly dissolving it into a mist. I braced myself, and whispered, "Cure," watching as the magic began to close the gash on Kuto-lulu's chest. Exhausted, I stepped back, and picked up my staff from where it had fallen.

I felt a small hand place itself into mine, and turned to look into the grateful eyes of Kuto-Lulu. "Thank you," he said warmly, smiling at me. "And now...we're even," he said with a short giggle, unmindful of the danger we had just been in. He got to his feet, and headed over to the body of the Goblin, and began looking through the pouches along its belt.

"Let's see..some raw meat," he began, casting the item in question aside. "A bit of chocolate..some cloth.." He trailed off for a moment, his hands busy. "Aha!" he exclaimed, holding up some red crystals, "two fire crystals, and a handful of gil." He held the coins and the crystals out to me.

"Oh, I don't need.." I began, before I was cut off by the Taru pressing the items into my hand.

"You know you need these more than I do," he said, his eyes bright. "Plus..your kill, your gil." He giggled, stepping away to grab the Goblin dagger. He appraised it, his bright eyes looking over the dark metal. "Worthless," he said after a moment. "Some of these daggers get pretty awful," he said with another giggle.

"You should be glad it was so dull," I said, pointing to his torso. "Otherwise you would have been beyond help, you know." I laughed softly, and turned back to the road, saying, "What do you think? Should we make camp, or press on for the city?"

"Oh, let's make camp," he replied. "I think you've heard enough about me, Aspen. There's a few things I'd like to know about you.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Road to Bastok (Spring, 898)

As I walked along the long, dusty road toward Bastok, I couldn't help but curse the situation that had brought me here.

"Stupid farmers.." I muttered under my breath, ignoring the fact that my own parents were considered among that group. "Not making enough money..stupid military service," I continued muttering, trudging along with my head down.

"Look out!" I heard from somewhere to my left, just before an enormous, jagged sword came slashing down in front of me. I looked up slowly, directly into the ugly, grinning face of a Quadav.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the Quadavs, imagine a turtle the size of a man, standing on its hind legs. Then give it plenty of muscle, armor, and a huge sword. Yeah, that's about right.

I broke into a cold sweat, dodging to the right side as the Quadav raised his sword again, but he proved to be quicker than I had expected, and knocked me to the ground with a quick bash from his shield. I exhaled and closed my eyes, waiting for the inevitable as the Quadav raised his sword again.

Nearly half a minute later, I dared to peek out again, as the inevitable seemed to be taking an awfully long time to arrive. Instead of a six-foot reptile, there was a very short Taru looking back at me, struggling very hard to hold in his laughter.

" should have seen the look on your face!" he said, holding his stomach as he doubled over with laughter. "Just sitting there with you...with your eyes closed," he nearly squealed, literally falling over in gales of laughter.

I picked myself up, my face burning. "Thanks...for your help," I muttered, brushing my tunic off and looking for my dropped pack. I found it a minute later, and shifted it onto my shoulder, resuming my travel toward the road.

"Wait..wait," came the voice from behind me, as the Taru came running up behind me, his short legs pumping. "All I get is a grudging 'thank you'? I saved your life there!"

My face burned again as I turned to face my savior. "I would offer you some money," I began, "but I really don't have much beyond the clothes on my back. I'm headed to the city," I continued, inclining my head in a general eastward direction.

"I..I don't think I would want your gil anyways," he responded, looking over my clothes briefly. "You seem like you're having a hard time of it, and I would hate to make it even tougher." He began to walk beside me, keeping up with my slow pace. "Why don't I come with you," he suggested, his eyes growing bright. "I've been to Bastok at least a hundred; no, two hundred times!" He giggled again, looking me over.

I blushed again under the scrutiny. While I certainly wasn't wearing rags, the budget of a simple farm family doesn't really allow for finery. My favorite blue tunic wasn't too patched, and my boots weren't even a decade old, yet.

"I suppose I wouldn't mind a little company," I said slowly, wondering if I would end up regretting this decision. "Makes the trip go faster, and I who knows when we might run into trouble." I smiled, as if to allay my silent fears. "My name's Aspen," I said, extending my hand down to the Taru.

"I'm Kuto-Lulu," said the Taru, grinning broadly as he put his little hand inside mine. "I made the trip from Mahura. You ever been there? It's all the way across the ocean. I took a big ferry, and we saw some pirates! And a giant squid-thing!"

I smiled back, listening to Kuto-Lulu's tales grow even taller as we headed down the road together. If anything, perhaps the trip would be a little less dull.