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I hate this city! Melfina thinks again as she exits another vendor shop. The twenty-sixth time that day. Why do I keep coming back here? Luna has everything, but I can't find anything! I don't know why I waste my time like this, she shakes her head as she moves on to the next shop, unfortunately named Vendor House.
She holds her pristine, deep blue dress close to her body to keep it from catching on any of the countless items scattered throughout the store. The gold trim shimmers in the mid-afternoon sun. A glance at the sign reminds her of all that is wrong with Luna. I don't know what's worse, the sloppy design of the house, the ugly decor, the haphazard arrangement of goods, or the horrid name. She quickly scans the area and once more begins to methodically sort through every crate, bag, and chest, looking for anything of worth. It's a familiar process that she goes through every month. Every time she makes a promise to never do this again, but every time, the chest waiting at home beneath her bed reminds her that it is sometimes worth it.
Why isn't there a quicker way to search through this mess! she vents in frustration as she opens up crates of armor and weapons, and bags filled with jewelry. Where are all the scrolls and books!
And then there they were. Tucked away inside of a small wooden chest, inside of a crate, in the back corner of the store, was the wonderful aroma of paper and the delightful sight of books. Just three books, but they were still books.
Disappointingly, she finds she already owns two of them, Virtue by Lord British and Talking to Wisps. Maybe I should learn to cook, she considers as she picks up Preparing Poultry. But it's just so much easier to simply cast create food, she thinks as she unconsciously waves her hand in the air, mimicking the spell. It may be unpredictable, but I'm not a picky eater, and it happens instantly. Time spent cooking could be time spent studying, writing, or researching.
With it already in her hands, she can't help but open up the book, not registering the odd presence of a book cover. Her breath cuts short as she looks at the open pages. Instead of seeing a recipe for lark, wren, or sparrow, she finds herself reading the familiar process of casting heal, but with a slight variation to the tone, a sharper emphasis to the syllables, and a tweak to the hand movement. The right texture and quality to the paper, and the right feel and tint to the inks. A careful eye, a quick flip through the rest of the book, and a pause to sense its magical resonance solidifies her suspicions. A Tome of Lost Knowledge! No creases, no tears, the cover hasn't been foolishly dyed, and pages haven't been written in! The only oddity is the lack of a proper sealant to preserve the pages.
Melfina calmly puts the book back, closes the chest, and then the crate, and then rummages through an adjacent chest before leaving Vendor House with what she hoped was a thoughtful look on her face rather than an elated one. As soon as she steps beyond the view of anyone at Vendor House, she reaches into her pouch, grabs a hold of her runebook, and casts recall. She vanishes and then reappears in the heart of Luna, where all the city sponsored shops are located. The tailor, carpenter, tinker, healer, and any other shop that is deemed a necessity to the city, all run by friends and family of the archduke. All the shops are appropriately centralized the around building that is the true heart to any city - the bank.
The midday sun can only mean one thing for anyone with business in the heart of Luna – crowds. Vendors not fortunate enough to own a shop within the city walls are scattered about the central square, shouting out items for sale, services for hire, or offers to be taken, all the while banksitters litter the area in hopes of finding a deal, simply wanting to discuss the latest news, and for the unfortunate passerby, sometimes lying in wait for a target.
The designer of Luna's bank was either inspired or lazy. It is not really a building in the traditional sense, but rather, the central square itself. Like any building, Luna Bank has four walls and a roof overhead, but instead of doors, it has wide arches with no means to close them. Anyone is welcome to enter and exit as they please, and they do, with most not needing the actual services of the bank.
The bank relies on the city guard for protection, whose barracks lie above the bank. The second floor also contains an inn for wary travelers and a church for the city's paladins, where they can pay their respects with prayer and gold. There is no need to worry about being robbed in the bank or anywhere else within the city walls. Even within crowds that often become so thick that to see beyond three feet becomes impossible. As long as anyone is within the city walls, a simple yell for the guards will bring forth swift response for the victim and even swifter justice to the criminal. Having a well kept, efficient, and effective city guard is the only thing that Luna has done right.
I hate this city! Melfina thinks for the twenty-seventh time as she elbows her way to the banker.
"Oh hello, Melfina," she replies happily, "how may I help you on this wonderful afternoon?"
"I’d like to withdraw one-hundred and fifty gold pieces from my account please."
"Find something interesting?" Leah asks as she gathers up the gold.
"Just a couple more books for my library collection."
"That's good to hear," Leah replies with a practiced tone that seems friendly yet professional at the same time. "How's business been treating you?"
"A little slower than usual, scribes just aren't in demand. I still have some loyal customers, so I get by."
"At least you have that," she replies with a sympathetic smile. "Well there you go. Luna Bank always welcomes your business. May fortune favor you."
As soon as she breaks her way back out of the crowd, she hits a dead run. It would be too confusing to have a rune dedicated to each shop in Luna, so she has to make her way back on foot. Just before she gets within sight of the shop, she forces herself to a walk, wanting to catch her breath and not send signals that one of their items is worth far more than the asking price.
Vendor House remains empty of other customers. Melfina simply walks back to where she left the books, picks up all three, and pays fifty gold each. It would have been an outrageous price for three such common books if they were as they seemed, but there was a hidden gem that was hers now, and hers alone. Months of aggravation finally yeilded some results. The grin on her face is impossible to hide no matter how hard she tries. Thankfully her back already faces the store.
Her own shop lies west of the city, still within sight of the city walls, but that may as well be in the furthest depths of Doom as far as the Luna Guard is concerned. One step beyond the walls and Archduke Aedilwulf's decree prevents them from acting against even the most vile of criminals.
Recalling back home may risk damaging the book in its current unprotected state, so she makes a precise gesture with her hands, touches her runebook, utters the words of power, vas rel por, then as the familiar scent of vaporized reagents tickles her nose, the familiar sight of a gateway appears along with it's familiar hum and the feel of home.
She steps through the gateway, and without a backward glance, runs into her shop, steps onto the teleport tile that takes her to her library on the second floor, and then releases a yell of triumph. The tome is gently placed on a table as she opens up a wooden chest where she keeps her stash of red leaves used for making a sealant for preserving books.
She feels an arrow brush past her cheek as it bites deep into the lid of the open chest. She jumps to the side and prepares to throw lighting at her attacker. The spell is forgotten as she sees an archer dressed all in black reach for the Tome of Lost Knowledge.
"I ban thee!" Melfina screams to invoke a magical ban on the intruder. As soon as the spell takes effect, he will be forced out and no longer be able to step inside her shop. But he gains a firm grip on the tome before the spell hits him.
She chases after him but soon realizes that he's much too quick. A fireball or energy bolt could damage the book, so a desperate, "Guards!" bursts from her lips as she helplessly watches him near the forest's edge.
Melfina slows to a purposeful run, takes a deep breath, and casts clumsy. The thief stumbles and trips over a loose stone with the Tome securely clutched to his body. He springs back to his feet, close to vanishing from sight.
Then the unbelievable happens. A Luna Guard appears. His polished armor reflects the intensity of his words, "The book, or your life. Choose."
* * *
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