He turned around and saw a black counter next to the doorway. Hurian stood behind it. He reached down and removed a bottle of blueberry wine and two silver cups.
"Cup?" he asked.
For the first time in his life, he felt truly uneasy because of his company. Who knew what was in that wine? He still remembered Maria's warning; not all magi were friendly.
"My teacher told me about this place," Claude answered, bringing the conversation back on topic.
"Your teacher? And who might that be?"
Claude didn't answer. As long as the man had proof he was a magus, he need not know anything else. The old man smiled knowingly and took a sip of the wine.
"Just curious", he said, putting his cup on the counter, "First time seeing you, don't know you, was curious whether I knew your teacher."
"My teacher's in Tordesass. They'll be back in a few more days, but I'm stumped by their errands," Claude continued on his own track, careful not to reveal Maria's sex, "I thought I might find something useful here. My seniors have mentioned this place a couple of times as well. The capital sent word of its opening. None of us have been here before, of course, but I have little choice."
Claude painted an impressive, unspoken picture. He was part of a group best not messed with. An extensive group, headed by a master who could have multiple disciples, with connections to the capital.
"Alright," Hurian said, his gaze shifting subtly, "What materials did you say you were looking for again?"
"I do. Which element?"
There were many different crystals he could ask for, but fire crystals were the ones key to arrays. More complex arrays might use other elemental crystals, but not the one he was looking to build.
"I have a few, but they're pricey. Purchase or trade?"
"You take shaliuns?"
"Shaliuns?--" The chubby man's eyes brightened. "--I do indeed. One square of fire crystals for three shaliuns. How many?"
The square was a unit of measurement used almost exclusively for crystals. One square was roughly the equivalent of a mahjong tile. Maria always had a square water-element crystals on her person. They had cosmetic effects, making them a favourite among young women in the right circles.
Claude saw the water crystal before, he'd even toyed with it on occasion. There had to be more appropriate names than 'squares', 'pieces' perhaps.
"That doesn't sound right," Claude said, eyeing the old man, "The capital's crystals are less than two shaliuns and five crowns."
One shaliun was worth 20 crowns at the magic black market, if a square was worth 45 crowns, then it was just two shaliuns and five crowns. It appeared he was more a merchant than a magus.
He only earned three thales a month, just 36 a year. It would take him two years to make enough for just one square. Now the old man was going to try to take an extra two years?
Not to mention he needed six squares, not just one.
"The capital is far away," Hurian said calmly.
He finished his wine and refilled his cup before continuing.
"The further away from the capital, the more expensive the items. Transport costs and rarity, and all that. Besides, a shaliun is worth just 18 crowns here, so it's 54 crowns for a square. Not to mention I'm not technically even supposed to have these crystals. Any we get is supposed to be sent straight to the capital. I only have these because I'm selling them as a favour for a friend. And I've only got eight squares. I can't do anything about the price, either, my friend set it. I'm not even making a fenny out of this.
"The price is what it is. Take it or leave it. It won't take too long for me to sell them, anyway. Besides, I heard from a reliable bird prices are about to go up; prices for everything."
Claude stared at the old man. He didn't trust him, but he couldn't argue. He had little choice but to go with it and pay up.
"Fine, six squares," Claude sniffed.
Hurian's serious face bloomed into a warm smile.
"Skystar dust, whiteroot powder, and crimsonblood dew."
Skystar dust was basically powdered meteorite; whiteroot powder was a kind of powdered plant root; but crimsonblood dew wasn't anything bloody at all. It was a mineral that catalysed alchemical reactions.
Hurian's brow furrowed, and he scrutinised Claude again.
"You're setting up an array."
It was a statement, not a question. Claude wasn't surprised he figured it out. Someone trusted to manage a branch of the black market would know his stuff.
"I screwed up and ruined my teacher's array. I have to rebuild it before they come back."
"Young people always make mistakes. It's inevitable, especially on the path of magic. Just make sure you learn and don't make it again.
"A catty of skystar dust is 16 crowns. Whiteroot powder is seven crowns a box. Crimsonblood dew is 12 crowns a bottle. Two shaliuns, I'll even give you a crown's discount."
Warm smile or not, he was a cruel merchant. Claude didn't even try to argue this time. He was upping the price by half on everything!
"Fine," Claude sighed through clenched jaws.
He finally had all the materials. He'd had to fork out more money than he'd expected, but he was lucky to find everything in one place. He'd half expected he'd have to go to several places to get what he needed.
"I have a few tablets as well, if you want them. They improve the array if you place them beneath it," the old merchant chirped.
An array could be as simple or as complex as one wanted it to be. The bare minimum was very simple, but there were infinite possibilities beyond that. An array could be, for example, set up using only the ingredients he'd bought so far, and it would work, not well, but it would work. The tablets were essentials mods on the basic design that could improve specific functions, aspects, or make it better at certain processes. They were much harder to do, however.
Magistone was the most common material for these tablets, and they often formed the foundation of common arrays. They were made from the industrial waste left over from earth crystal production.
"How large and how much?"
"Six pieces, about a square meter in all. One shaliun."
Just enough for the array. But damn that price tag! The fight was out of the boy, however, so he just nodded and paid up again. He sighed and wandered around the shelves.