Locke had paid Red Maple Inn for a week’s worth of lodging right off the bat. He’d intended to spend some time familiarising himself with the new environment. The weight of his pockets gave him a sense of security and his steps felt more confident than before.
“I’ll buy you anything you want!” Locke had offered generously. Despite spending many years together, this was the first time he’d spent any quality time with Laffey and Kristin. He felt he’d owed them plenty hence he wished to make up for lost opportunities. The women didn’t hold back. It wasn’t long before their arms were fully occupied by bags and sacks. Everything displayed on the street was new to them and his offer was way too tantalising to pass.
Locke had offered his spatial ring to stow their purchases but Kristin thought otherwise. “Lugging bags around is part of the shopping experience,” she said with determination. Locke was then stuck with the short end of the stick, tasked with being their porter for the day.
The east coast was starkly different from the Three Western Isles. The locals here were bold and unreserved compared to home, perhaps having much to do with its coastal location and thriving trade.
There were three knights in leather armour bickering with a merchant nearby. Their armour looked worn, covered with visible scratches. The state of their gear suggested that they were adventurers. The three were low-rank Knechts and this was the first time Locke had seen a powerless commoner not the least bit intimidated by knights.
The slight commotion went unnoticed by Kristin and Laffey, whose attention was glued to the myriad of dresses in a boutique. The designs and tailoring were nothing like they’ve seen before; it was bold and colourful just like their people. The fabrics appeared sheer, which inevitably pulled Kristin in. The young woman felt inclined to buy one while Laffey tried to avert her gaze. Disregarding the young servant’s discomfort, Kristin dragged her by the arm into the establishment.
The boutique catered to an all-female clientele, apparent from the crowd inside. While the concept of a gender-targeted audience was new to Locke, he’d known well enough to stay out of it. He waited at the door, choosing to eavesdrop on the ongoing argument between the three adventurers and the merchant.
“I’m not paying anything more than fifteen silver donnes!” The merchant huffed. He wasn’t seeing eye to eye with the low-rank Knechts.
“The three of us had waited for these silver fish roes for a whole week in Woogen Forest!” One of the adventurers snapped back.
“Yeah! Our effort is worth more than fifteen silver donnes! That amount is only enough for a week’s supply,” added another adventurer.
The merchant disrupted them. “Your efforts are none of my business! I repeat, six silver fish roes are only worth fifteen silver donnes!”
The adventurers’ frustration boiled and the argument continued.
Locke gave up on the conversation, eyes peering down to the filled bucket near their boots, where six silver oval eggs bobbed around on its surface. Oh, so that’s what silver fish roes look like.
He hadn’t heard of silver fishes back on the Three Western Isles so it was safe to assume that the species was endemic to the east coast. The energy field around the bucket had wavered slightly, which was something his improved sensitivity had caught on. He couldn’t tell if the eggs were sourced from a major beast or monster. Regardless, Locke had a newfound understanding of why the roes were priced at the low price of only a few dozen silver donnes.
The silver fish wasn’t the one that piqued Locke’s curiosity, though. He was more interested in the Woogen Forest mentioned, which sounded like a great place to train as part of his expedition.
“Brother Locke! What do you think of this dress?” Kristin's gleeful voice interrupted his train of thought. Locke turned around, finding her with a light pink dress in her grip. The overall construct of the dress was simplistic but tasteful; the design was unique and Locke had never seen anything like that. It was truly beautiful and even a brute like him could agree. However, he had an issue with it. Its construct suggested that Kristin would be exposing her smooth shoulders for the world to admire.
The east coast aesthetic was beyond his comprehension. For all that was worth, the fabric used on this dress was scant. At that point, Kristin realised that the design was indeed a little too bold for a young innocent maiden like her. “Uh,” She stammered a little and thought to herself, Maybe I’ll just wear this at home for Brother Locke. She entertained the thought further, suddenly fuelled with the drive to pick something out for Laffey.
Locke was content with staying out of their hair. They were free to choose what they wear and his job was to pay for their purchases. “That will be twenty silver donnes,” drawled the merchant lazily, to which Locke quickly responded.
He stared at the new bags that dangled around Kristin and Laffey’s arms, in utter disbelief that a few pieces of clothing could cost more than major monster eggs. Life was truly unfair. The low-rank Knechts had risked their lives in the woods for a week, only to be paid with the sum of the dresses for the effort. It appeared that the gap between the rich and poor here was similar to that of the Aomarian Empire.
Morrington Harbour had six urban areas, half of which were recently developed. Locke, Kristin and Laffey had spent the entire day exploring but had managed to cover a third of the city. It was late night when they finally returned to Red Maple Inn. The establishment had operated all day so they weren’t concerned about getting locked out. The three were barely exhausted despite their strenuous travelling since they were mid-rank Knechts and above.
They were barely inside for a few minutes and Kristin was already bumbling off with an unwilling Laffey to try on their new dresses. The garments were exotic and they couldn’t help but be excited to see how they’d drape on their bodies. They wanted to look their best for Locke.
They began to change. He forced his eyes away from the moving shadows on the screen divider. “Kristin, shall we go check out some caster guilds tomorrow?”
“Oh?” The chatter stopped. “Sure, why not?” She chirped.
While the women enjoyed their shopping spree, Locke had been gathering information from their surroundings. “Caster guild…” He repeated mindlessly. “What are caster guilds? Are they the same as the ones back home?” Locke pondered as he rubbed his chin. His keen observations had pointed to the fact that casters enjoyed superiority over the knights on the east coast. Kristin may be a mid-rank Lehrling but she’d commanded the respect shown to quasi-Ritters here. He needed a plan; he had a goal to meet and he couldn’t clamber around hoping for the best. Obviously, contacting the east coast factions would be their best course of action and it was better to be proactive.
“Brother Locke, what do you think?” Kristin’s bashful voice brought Locke back to the present. She stood timidly beside the screen with red cheeks. The pale pink dress had come down to her knees, revealing beautiful unblemished legs. Her toes were sickeningly cute, appearing like delicate pearl beads. The bodice of the dress was designed as an off-shoulder, which served to highlight her pale décolletage. It was a heavenly sight. Locke was captivated, which Kristin appreciated with a giggle. But that was far from the end of it.
Kristin plunged her hand behind the screen, grabbing ahold of a reluctant Laffey. The young servant was dressed similarly albeit in a different colour. Her dress was a pale blue and her shy little expression was a punch to Locke’s gut. “Not bad,” He said dryly, clearing his throat in the process.
“Of course! These are nightgowns I picked!” Kristin said with a proud chest.
“Uh, since these are nightgowns… Maybe you both should wear it every night?” Locke tried to put up a calm front.
Kristin giggled. She wasn’t expecting such a response from him. “Sure!”
Laffey, on the other hand, was incredibly flustered. She fidgeted uncomfortably at the attention, much to Locke's delight.
The rest of the night was spent in silence as they drifted to sleep, allowing them to rise early the next day.
“Good morning! Would you like some breakfast?” The attendant of Red Maple Inn greeted them once they made it downstairs.
Locke nodded. “Yes. Three sets of milk bread, please.”
The attendant quickly brought their orders to the kitchen. Only the rich could afford to have milk loaves in Morrington Harbour but the choice didn’t come as a surprise. The three of them looked wealthy and Locke had paid them a gold sorre off the bat for lodging! It was a payment that far surpassed the duration of their stay in the second-floor suite. The attendant didn’t need to request any payment for the meal, which money would naturally be deducted from the gold sorre paid.
“Mermerri’s Cottage? Phantom Tower? The Scar of the Death Bell?” Locke’s mind was overwhelmed by three unfamiliar names. They were caster guilds.
“Yes, that’s right,” answered the female employee. They were currently in a magic shop. Locke had paid her two gold sorres in exchange for her knowledge of east coast factions. She was a novice Lehrling and a member of a lesser-known guild named Children of Lightning.
As expected, there were many spellcaster organisations on the east coast. There were dozens of prominent ones here in Morrington Harbour alone, including the three names that she’d given earlier. The only thing exciting about her guild, Children of Lightning, was merely its intense name. Otherwise, it was just a smaller faction with no solid influence.
“Brother Locke! I want this enchanted mud crab taxidermy!” Kristin chimed from the rack beside.
“Ah, that would be seventeen gold sorres,” said the female merchant with an upbeat voice. She was quite the pretty face.
Locke brought out a stash of gold coins from his spatial ring and deposited them on the table. The merchant’s eye immediately darted to the spatial equipment. The countertop was soon filled with Kristin’s pick. The enchanted mud crab, whose dark body was encased in transparent cylindrical glassware, had been the most expensive out of the bunch.