Micael Chapter 3
The sun was well behind the horizon by the time the pair reached Lumina. They had rushed themselves the rest of their journey upon noticing the lateness of the day; the effectiveness of their sabbatical at the creek was negated by their haste. Needing rest all the more, the two Jumi hurriedly studied the darkened town. Old stone buildings, most of them hazy and bland in color, slouched around the cobbled streets; their awkward doors were the least inviting portals since the cramped Windcaller huts. Most of the locals that were still up at the late hour were stout Dudbears, meandering about as if they enjoyed the nighttime better than the day anyway. A few people were still wandering the streets, although most of them were paying little attention to the young visitors.
Micael watched the dozen or so villagers he saw and decided to catch one of them. Touching a gangly, heavily cloaked man by the arm, he asked: Where is the nearest inn?
The man studied the Jumi incredulously for a second, recoiled a little, then spoke: I frankly dont think that any of the inns here will cater to you. An amused smile came across his lips. The Ulkan Mines arent more than an hours walk from here; maybe Watts will let you stay in one of his caves. With that, he continued walking.
Glaring at the man, Micael muttered something unintelligible under his breath, then looked at Esmeralda. She shook her head and shrugged slightly. The male Jumi frowned. I guess we can find one ourselves.
Lets ask someone else first, she suggested, and started off towards an old woman. Micael started after her, but before he could stop her she reached the elder. Leaning down a little towards the bent woman, Esmeralda queried: Are there any inns nearby?
The woman paused for a moment, looking around herself, then leaned closer to Esmeralda. I honestly dont think there are any around here that will take Jumi in, young lady; these are a very superstitious people. With that, she turned and spat on the ground.
Micael stalked up to her. What was that--
People cant let go of their own pride to help others, the woman continued, Its a sad world. Ill bet you two arent here of your own accord.
Micael stopped. He looked at Esmeralda, and she returned the look before answering the elder. No, were not.
I wish I could help you, but Im homeless myself, the woman confessed. If nobody wants to help an old lady like me, Im afraid a Jumi isnt in much better shape. Im sorry.
Dont worry about it, Esmeralda said, almost absently. The pair retreated slowly, uncomfortably, from the old woman, who tried unsuccessfully to give them a smile. She turned around and hobbled off, back in the direction from which she had been walking. As the Jumi turned around themselves, heading for a more well-lit part of the town, Esmeralda said, in a near-whisper: I thought she was walking towards us at first. Maybe she was looking for a hand-out.
But she never asked for one, Micael replied.
Probably figured we didnt have anything.
We could have given her some of our food at the least, he said, indicating the sac of fruit given by the Windcallers. A dozen or so pieces remained.
Yeah, she realized, but as she aimed a glance back over her shoulder the woman was nowhere in sight.
Micael followed her eyes, but did not linger as long upon noticing the disappearance of the elder. He quietly beckoned her to join him as he proceeded to the section of town still lit by Luminas trademark pole-mounted lamps. As they entered the western section of the city, they saw fewer people walking the streets; most of them were inside the various pubs, drinking and raising a modest amount of noise. The ones that did notice them, through tavern windows or upon leaving establishments, seemed to stare all the more intently at the pair of outsiders. Micael kept a brisk pace past most of them, but slowed down upon spying an odd, open-air tavern made of much of the same rock that lined the streets. Dudbears moseyed around the two-tiered establishment, chatting among themselves and watching a pair of street performers near the staircase to the second level.
Spotting a tall figure upstairs surrounded by dancing patrons, Esmeralda skipped ahead of Micael and approached the man. The male Jumi followed, squeezing past a crowd of hooded Dudbears. Who was believed to be the owner of the tavern was, upon closer inspection, an odd-looking man with an irregularly shaped, bald head, stiff shoulders, and flattened limbs. He was a little taller than Esmeralda and a little shorter than Micael. Bulbous protrusions sprouted from his body, forming a plane of club-shaped growths around the figure. His clothing-- his very body-- seemed to be made of pieces of monochromatic blocks linked together underneath his head. To look into his blank face caused one to imagine a crude wooden carving of a real person, but when the figure caught sight of the two Jumi his face lit up and seemed possessed by a lively ghost.
Well, hello there, he called as the pair approached. The crowd of Dudbears dispersed as the visitors approached. Welcome to the Mischievous Spirit. I am the Manager of this tavern; how may I help you?
Micael paused in amazement at the spectacle before him, but Esmeralda, still in front, managed to speak. Hello... umm... we were...
Traveling, I imagine, the Manager concluded with a warm smile. Dont be frightened of me; Im quite personable. He hobbled closer to the Jumi and proffered a thick hand. Esmeralda took it and weakly shook it. Micael forced himself to seize the limb as firmly as he could; the figure had a surprisingly confident handshake. The Jumi thought his hand might be crushed in the awkward grasp of the Manager.
How did you know we were traveling? Micael asked.
Simple; youre Jumi, the Manager answered. It is rare to see one of you around this part of the country, and even more rare for one of you to be living in this town.
Yeah, Esmeralda agreed, exchanging a look with Micael. We came from the forest to the west; we think there might be Chobins after us.
The figures visage soured in thought. Chobins? Why, no, there havent been Chobins in that forest for centuries, if even that. Its thought to be a place where Mantis Ants go to die; otherwise, theres nothing special about that forest.
Esmeraldas brow furrowed, and she exchanged a different look with Micael than she had before, then turned back to the Manager. Did you see any other Jumi pass through here? she queried hopefully.
The figure turned towards her, giving her a sad yet warm smile. Im sorry, no; are you looking for someone?
Were looking for all of them, she replied sullenly, letting her eyes fall to the stone floor.
Dont worry; you look like your journey has just started. Ill bet you find them before you know it.
She smiled back at him. Micael edged a little closer to her and asked the Manager:
Do you now if there is someplace for us to stay for the night?
Pivoting a little towards the street, the Manager grunted quietly in thought. Id be more than happy to let you stay the night here, but Im afraid youd better look for a more secure location. Not many people take kindly to Jumi around here, sad to say.
We know that, Esmeralda remarked.
I tell you what, the figure said, there is a shop not far from here run by an alumnus from the Magic Academy in Geo. Follow the alley behind the tavern and youll see it. Its a fairly small building that actually used to be a house. Tell the owner I sent you; he should be able to help you out.
Thank you, Micael said, bowing slightly and backing up. Esmeralda began to follow him.
Wouldnt you like to stay? The Mischievous Spirit is known for its unconventional yet entertaining atmosphere. Wed love to have some more guests.
Thanks, Micael replied with a wave, But weve been walking all day, and we want to catch that shopkeeper before it gets too late. Thank you again.
Any time, the Manager offered. Stop by again if youre in the area. He waved slowly as the Jumi descended the staircase and departed the tavern, nearly stepping on the feet of a sleepy, wistful-looking Dudbear.
Esmeralda quickly took the lead as the pair headed around the perimeter of the tavern. Micael stayed a step behind, with his eyes on the street and a frown on his lips. His look moved to the bland chunk of rock sitting in the middle of his chest. Narrowing his eyes he bitterly mused: Moving around this city might be better if we werent so obviously Jumi.
Esmeralda stopped, almost at the same time as her companion. Micael studied his core for another moment, then unfastened the left-hand button of his cloak. Fidgeting with the opposite button, he removed its cover to reveal another, overlapping base that could hold the left corner of the cloak and close the gap between his shoulders. Micael stopped, looking at the left-hand button of the cloak and his core, sitting plainly between the borders of his tunic. He looked at Esmeralda; her low-cut blouse betrayed her own deep green core. She frowned.
At least one of us could talk to these people without any trouble, she admitted. I could... walk behind you.
Micaels brow furrowed. He grimaced at his core again, the refastened the left button to its original spot. I cant do it, he confessed, twisting the cover back onto the right-hand button. Sighing, he shrugged to his companion. I cant.
She looked at him for a moment, studying his hangdog expression. Spinning around on her heels, she headed again for the western edge of town. He followed, adding an extra step in between them and keeping his eyes angled towards the street.
They soon entered the residential section of the town and began hunting for the shop in question. Few of the houses had lights burning inside, and the shop had a distinct light hanging just above its front door, illuminating a sign written in a script that the Jumi could not decipher. Esmeralda hesitated at the door until she saw that Micael had reached the door as well. With a cocked glare at the door, she seized the knob and marched into the building.
A small person jumped up and ran into the circular counter sitting in the middle of the main room of the shop; the proprietor had been roused from an inspection of his inventory along the back wall of his store. Everything in the shop was situated low to the ground to accommodate the little owner. Even the ceiling was low, but Micael figured that it had been added in order to give the hut and extra floor; a rickety set of stairs led up to what was probably the students bedroom. Straightening his puffy, crown-like hat and pulling at the lapels of his light blue Magic Academy robe, he rested his hands on the circular counter, feigned a smile, then twisted his face in bewilderment at the customers.
Jumi? Here? he queried.
Good evening, Esmeralda replied with mock congeniality. We were told you could help us.
Who told you that? the shopkeeper asked, circling the counter and approaching the two from the front.
The Manager of the Mischievous Spirit, the Emerald Jumi responded.
Stopping in his tracks, the small merchant gritted his teeth in thought. Okay, Ill give you what you want, but tell him he owes me now. Im not interested in finding out if the things they say about you people are true. What can I get you?
Micael stepped forward. Well, were actually looking for a place to stay the night, and some supplies for a trip through the snowfields.
What do you have in the way of money?
The Jumi flashed looks between themselves. Micael folded his arms and shrugged, wincing slightly as he rested his hand on the Mantis Ant-inflicted wound. What do you use... for money... here?
Lucre. The shopkeeper folded his own arms and cocked an eyebrow.
A couple more tentative looks ran between the pair, and Esmeralda subtly nodded her head at Micaels arms. He quizzically followed her stare until he noticed his gauntlets, decorated with small jewels. Naively brandishing them to the store owner, he asked, Will you take payment in jewels?
The shopkeeper relaxed his arms a little and responded: What are they?
Micael removed his right-hand guard and pried a couple of rocks from it. These are amethysts, he declared.
Really? the student asked. He trotted over to Micael, took the pair of jewels in his hand and scanned them with his eyes. A broad smile grew across his mouth, which was clumsily stifled as he inquired, What would you like?
Well need enough food to get us to Geo, Esmeralda piped up, And a map through Fieg.
Sure, sure, the shopkeeper said, walking behind the counter while still gazing at the gemstones in his hand. Ill give you a bag of dried Apricats and Springananas, and I know I have a map somewhere around here. He hopped up to a line of barrels near the left-hand side of the store and took a scoop out of one of the containers in the middle. Filling a hide pouch halfway with wrinkled, dark red morsels, he then shuffled over to a wooden crate back to his right and dropped a dozen curly yellow fruits into the bag. Tossing the sac lightly onto his counter, he jogged further to the right, into a small, dimly lit room. Crashing sounds quickly resounded, and the student followed them up with mild curses before emerging with a small rolled parchment.
There you go, he pronounced, setting the map next to the pouch. Giving the pair an uneasy smile, the shopkeeper sighed and asked: You still want me to find you someplace to stay, dont you?
Micael threw a look to Esmeralda, who placed her hands on her hips and impatiently nodded her head. Yes, we do.
Forcing the grin all the more, the student looked around his shop. I guess... you can stay here, he thought aloud uneasily. Just be careful around all of this stuff. Ill get you my cot. He disappeared into the back room again, and came back sooner with a folded-up bed frame. Placing it in the middle of the floor of the small shop, he shook it open and secured a couple of clasps around the feet. There you go, he announced coolly as he left the cot to lock the front door. Its just the one, but thats all Ive got. Youd probably better stay inside; the drunks are coming out soon, and youd be surprised at what they do to their friends, let alone the likes of you two.
The Jumi watched as the small store owner left them and climbed the stairs to his living quarters. Micael folded his arms, adjusting his bandage a little, and remarked: For a kid, hes pretty cocky.
A lot of the students at the Magic Academy are older than they look, Esmeralda replied. Some of them change their appearances, too. He might look a lot different in reality, and be a lot older. She walked up to the cot, but stopped herself and gave him a tentative look. Micael stared at it for a second.
Well, I can--
Well take turns, she interrupted, stepping back and gesturing towards it. You go first.
...Okay. Slowly, the male Jumi approached the frame and gingerly lied down on it. It creaked uneasily and seemed barely able to hold his weight; instinct had to be overridden before he could make himself comfortable. Esmeralda wandered over to the window at the eastern side of the shop and sat down on a crate. She gazed at the nearly full moon outside as it washed the streets and the shop in eerie light. Even while lying on the threateningly weak cot in such abnormally bright conditions, it did not take long for Micael to grow drowsy. The last thing he remembered seeing was the Emerald Jumi watching the sky, sighing lightly in her bath of moonlight.
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