6 Chapter 5: Shopping Spree
Kira turned into a side street, beckoning for Diana to follow her. With a shrug, Diana walked behind the Hersha for a couple of minutes before ending up n a massive street. Peddlers advertised their wares from street stands, carriages clattered down cobblestone streets, crowds swarmed around bards revealing the local news. She gaped. She vaguely realized she had traveled down this street just this morning to arrive at the castle, but it had been nothing like this. Where had all these people come from?
Kira grabbed her hand, grinning. Raising her voice above the bustling roar of the city, the Hersha grinned. "Cat got your tongue?"
Diana's jaw dropped even lower.
Sticking out her tongue, Kira laughed. "What? It's okay for beast people to make jokes about animals…"
A bit hesitant, Diana turned to look at all the stores lining the street. She saw everything from marvelously woven carpets to glistening dresses. A whistle broke her wonder.
A man leaning against a building jeered, "What are you two fine ladies doing here? You want to come with me to that alley over there?"
Diana turned to look at Kira, but she gave no evidence that she'd heard. Diana turned so she could display her well-built frame and half drew her sword. With a cool glance up and down the man's body, she stared at his eyes, a faint crimson clouding her otherwise stoic countenance. The man gulped, seemingly realizing he'd picked on the wrong damsel. Before she could take any further action though, Kira pulled her toward a small general store.
Diana was about to protest when Kira hissed into her ear, "Are you crazy? Pulling a weapon out in the open? Where do you think we are?"
Diana blushed, stammering, "Well, I'm a [Knight]. I have to protect our honor…"
Kira stared her down, her anger transforming into outright confusion. "Why would that man damage our honor? He's just an idiot."
The man seemed to have heard that as he turned to angrily glare at the two before kicking a pebble down the street and walking away. Pointing toward a general store that seemed relatively ignored by the crowds, Kira led the way through the crowd. A bit unused to walking in crowded cities, hurrying shoppers jostled her because she walked too slowly while taking in the vibrant scenes. Kira explained while walking, "Diana, I don't know how it is where you come from, but we don't have time to correct every idiot in the world."
Diana refrained from mentioning that one of her oaths had been to actively seek and fight injustice.
Instead, Diana looked at Kira in surprise. These were surprisingly wise words coming from a Hersha [Berserker]. Feeling a bit remorseful, Diana thoughtfully nodded and didn't contradict the Hersha. Ducking through the doorway, she found herself in a dimly lit store where a dwarf sat behind the counter. Besides for a few shelves for spices and rocks, there didn't seem to be anything else in the dusty place. Confused about what they were doing here, Diana just watched as Kira went up to the dwarf.
Kira pulled out a pouch and set it on the table. She announced, "I want the same order as last time for three thousand Seedz."
The dwarf grumbled, "Prices have gone up. There's trouble on the roads, and the [Harvester]s decreased their yield again."
Glaring at the shorter man, Kira growled, "Fine. I'll add three hundred more. Otherwise, I can look for business elsewhere."
With a cough, the man gestured toward the table. Sighing, Kira pulled out a slightly larger pouch and found three one-hundred Seedz coins. Placing them next to the pouch, the dwarf took out a Mana Reader and scanned the three new coins as well as the thirty coins within the pouch. With a beep, the machine glowed blue, confirming that these were authentic dungeon coins. "Do you really have to do this every time? Have we ever cheated you in all the deals we've ever made?"
The dwarf hummed. "It's good business practice, young [Maid]. It's always better to be safe than sorry. Wait here. I'll go get your goods for you."
Wandering to the door marked "Employees Only," the dwarf disappeared for a few moments before returning with a small case. He set the case on the counter and allowed Kira to inspect the displayed contents. Picking up a few, Kira turned each crystal in the light. Now, Diana realized that each of these objects was an elemental crystal, probably harvested from some Dungeon monsters.
She was a bit surprised before she realized that these were probably necessary for James's creations. Shrugging, she went to look through the various paraphernalia on the shelves. The dwarf called out, "Young Miss, please don't touch any of that stuff. Those items belong to our customers."
Diana frowned. "How do you know that I can't be a customer?"
The dwarf paused. "I apologize for the misunderstanding. That's where our customers can pick up various items they've ordered from distant places. It's an easy way for them to just grab their things and leave. Suffice to say, should you touch something you shouldn't… well, the consequences might not be pleasant."
Diana backed away, a bit miffed at how rude the dwarf had been. Deciding that she wanted nothing to do with this store, she took a final glance at Kira who was still bent over the box and exited the store.
Passing by the crude, simple garments she had seen in the Skillful Seamstress, the place that Kira had mentioned they'd be shopping at next, she took a right toward a side street. This one was far less sketchy than the one they'd gone through to reach here. Finally, she found it, the store that Baroness Lillian had recommended in her letters, the Threaded Mistress. She admired the silky white dresses, more fit for a ball than walking on the streets. Still, they were objects of beauty, capturing both elegance and the certain pomp unmatched by simpler dressings.
She admired several of the dresses before noticing how they were displayed. The glass displays that went from floor to ceiling enthralled her. How did they even make glass like that? With a gentle push of the door, she entered the large shop that was brightly lit by faerie candles. Before she could take more than a few steps in, a tall burly man blocked her way. He rumbled, "Miss, I'm going to request that you leave your arms at the front as a courtesy to our other customers. Our store will keep them safe."
With a sigh, but knowing better than to complain, Diana unbuckled her sword and smoothly handed its sheath to the [Guard], or at least, she suspected it was a [Guard]. She wasn't prepared to enter combat mode just to determine his Class. Now feeling a bit lighter due to the loss of her weapon, she walked past the lobby and into the main part of the store.
Immediately, a few vigilant [Noblewomen] stared at her. The [Knight] blushed upon realizing they were judging her rather simple sundress with its high hem. Now hesitant, the [Knight] hurriedly turned in an aisle so as to avoid the penetrating stares. She had never before felt like she didn't belong anywhere!
Picking up a hangar, she examined a shimmering red dress, placing it on top of her body so she could examine herself in a mirror.
"Can I help you, Miss?"
Diana jerked in surprise, nearly dropping the dress. A hand quickly caught the dress before it could touch the ground. Dressed in a fashionable dress, a woman came up. "Hello, my name is Ingress. I was wondering whether you needed any help choosing apparel today. I'm actually an [Apprentice Designer]!"
Diana looked around bemusedly. "Uh, sure. I was looking for some casual clothes as most of mine got lost while I was traveling."
Ingress perked up upon hearing this. "You're saying you want a full wardrobe?"
Diana nodded with a bit of hesitance. Ingress clapped her hands. "Goodie! We just got a new sequence designed by one of the highest leveled [Seamstress]es on the continent! It'll be perfect for your figure."
Diana let herself get dragged by the young [Apprentice], wondering whether the girl was using some type of |Cajoling| skill. With a shrug, she began putting on various offered sets of clothes.
Setting aside the third dress she planned to buy, Diana sat in the changing room, waiting for Ingress to return. Much to her surprise, the bustling [Apprentice] hadn't returned even after a few minutes. A bit curious and figuring that she could also try her hand at finding her own clothes, Diana opened the changing room door to hear faint muttering. Her |Aura Sense| started to alert her that something was going on. She tuned in on the feeling and noticed a faint tension in the air, ready to boil over at any moment.
Suddenly, she heard a voice that sounded suspiciously like Kira's shout, "Yo, Diana! Are you in here!"
Then a gruff voice interrupted the Hersha. "I'm going to have to ask you to leave the premises."
Diana reached for her sword before remembering that she had left it at the front. She silently cursed. Ever since she had come to this damn Kingdom, she'd allowed herself to be separated from her sword far too often. What had happened to her vigilance?
Breaking out into a |Sprint|, she quickly arrived to see a flushed Ingress standing behind the bulky [Guard] from before. The two faced off against a hissing Kira. Diana paled: Kira was a [Berserker]. This would probably not end in a very pretty way.
Thinking quickly, Diana put her own body between the two foes, acting as a physical barrier preventing confrontation. Kira growled, "There you are, Diana! I've been looking everywhere for you. Thank gods one of our neighbors spotted you coming to this run-down pawnshop. Well, what are you waiting for? Let's go." Kira turned around, taking a few steps before realizing that the [Knight] wasn't following her. The Hersha stamped her feet in frustration before muttering, "Da*n, you're going to make this difficult. Aren't you?"
Diana frowned, thinking Kira was being quite rude. Ingress turned to face the [Knight]. "Miss, I'm very sorry that you had to be here to witness this unpleasant scene. I'll remove this Hersha from the premises immediately."
Diana paused. She hadn't expected this to happen.
Kira folded her arms, staring warily at both Diana and Ingress. She humphed, "No one is making me go anywhere. Master James has given me permission to act as a free person!"
The man stepped forward, looming over Kira. "Did you not hear what she said, fur-ball? Scram!"
Kira bristled. "Who are you calling a fur-ball? Knucklehead!"
The man cracked his knuckles and pulled out a large baton from his belt. He menaced it in front of her. "Electrically attuned; it can take down even the likes of you crazy bastards. Don't think I haven't heard of you. I know what you are, Blood-fiend."
Diana narrowed her eyes. How did this man know that Kira was a [Berserker]? Now even more confused, Diana mentally counted to ten before smiling at Ingress. "Ingress, I'd really appreciate it if you let my friend shop here. I found this dress that I thought would look perfect on her!"
Kira whirled away from the man's weapon to stare at Diana in surprise.
For a moment Ingress looked at her in shock as if not comprehending that Diana had been talking to her. Then, her gaze turned cold. Finally, she said, "Well, once you pay for the three dresses you wore, you can be on your merry way. It'll be two thousand Seedz."
Diana frowned. Just a few minutes earlier, Ingress had promised to give her a third off as a discount for making such a large purchase. Nevertheless, seeing the way things were turning out, she decided it was best to leave before things got too messy. She was about to open her mouth again when Ingress continued, "Also, you will be completing the transaction here." Ingress wrinkled her nose in distaste. "We don't want you mucking up the rest of the store with the smell of Hersha pheromones."
Diana blushed. Had she just insinuated that… She gripped her hands. She looked at Kira who was watching her with a hint of expectation. Diana scanned through the elegant dresses adorning the walls of the store and made up her mind to try to do something for her newfound friend. Through gritted teeth, she said, "Fine. I'll also be buying the blue dress you pointed out earlier for my friend here."
Ingress looked at her blankly as if Diana were an idiot. "We don't serve her kind here at our establishment." Sensing Kira deflating beside her, Diana felt a flash of rage shoot through her. How could they be so blatantly discriminatory?
Slamming down twenty one-hundred Seedz coins, Diana glared at the [Apprentice] and [Guard]. She coldly said, "Now, my sword please."
The [Guard] laughed, "What sword, Miss? You're a fine noble lady. Why would you bring around something so crass? Only some brutish commoner would waddle around wagging their brother's or even worse, a stolen, sword around. Surely, you wouldn't suggest that you're such a character."
Diana nearly trembled in rage, and beside her Kira tensed as well, preparing to leap at the man. The [Guard] immediately tensed, warily facing the Hersha. He warned, "Now, now. If an unrestrained Hersha attacks someone, I am fully within the right of the law to exert any force necessary to quell it." There was a hum of electricity around his baton. Diana carefully examined his tool. It was really just a simple stick attached to a metal ring engraved with some runes and a cheap lightning core. While a bit more expensive than the usual ones, she knew the man was bluffing. It was unlikely the weapon could cause any serious harm to a [Berserker]. At most, it would stun Kira long enough for the man to escape. Still, it wasn't worth getting Kira in trouble with the law.
Diana lay a hand on Kira's arm, and the Hersha seemed to understand. Without taking her eyes off the guard, Diana said to no one in particular, "I think it'd be best if you left so they can't claim you did anything."
Kira protested, "But…"
Diana gently pushed her toward the door. With a reluctant look backward, the Kira left the door. From the corner of her eye, Diana spotted her passing the glass display wall. Once Kira was out of the side alley, Diana then directly focused on the man. He stared back at her unflinchingly. Squaring her shoulders Diana stepped up toward the man. "Now, you said I didn't have a sword?"
The man seemed more nervous now, probably recognizing that Diana seemed to actually be in a Warrior-Class stance. The guard backed up a bit, edging toward the center of the store where several [Nobles] had stopped even pretending to shop and were avidly watching the confrontation.
Diana readied her |Warrior's Awareness| and entered a |Brawler's Stance|. The rhythm that came only in battle seemed to flow through her mind. Despite being a level 20 [Knight], she had only gained six unique skills, besides for the common ones inherent to the |Knight's Skills| that all [Knight]s had. However, these few skills were quite powerful, having passed through her family's lineage for several generations. While several of their skills had been lost, the core one remained. She felt a brief pang of regret as she realized she would not be able to use her favorite sword skill today. A small beep sounded in her head, "Combat Started." Her |Warrior's Awareness| immediately revealed that her earlier guess had been right, this man was a [Guard] of mid-level, maybe in the mid-teens. Taking a deep breath just as the [Guard] seemed about ready to use his weapon, she used |Rigorous Strike|, the second form of her family's most powerful heritage, right on his liver.
The [Guard] grunted and barely held onto his rod even as he crumpled over in pain. Ingress turned pale as she watched her in fear. |Kicking| the rod out of his hands, she carefully picked it up by the handle. She looked at it distastefully. It was a single-use enchanted item, no doubt far cheaper than a real arcane weapon would be. Using her |Enhanced Strength|, she snapped it against her knee, tossing the now-defunct parts on the floor. She allowed herself a small grin at how well the fight had gone. Even though the enemy had been rather low-leveled and weak, it had still taken precision to assure each step had been perfect.
She then cheerily waved at Ingress, offering her a fake smile. "I'm not sure whether I mentioned this when I first came, but Baroness Lillian herself actually suggested this place to me. She'll be so disappointed to find out how this adventure ended."
If it were possible, Ingress seemed even paler. Quickly crossing over to the [Apprentice] who shied away from her approach, Diana completely ignored her as she retrieved her sword from the storage behind the lobby counter. She picked up her twenty coins on the floor, cheerily announcing, "Huh. I must have dropped these coins by accident. Oh well."
Giving the [Guard] a solid kick on her way out, Diana waved the emblem engraved on the leather and metal sheath in front of his groaning face. "This is the emblem of a [Knight] sanctified by the Order of Royals, meaning I have the right to jurisdiction within Alliance Lands. Who's the brute-ish commoner now?"
A watching [Noblewoman] giggled in the background, her voice resonating through the store. "My, my, Aren't you interesting? Well, don't worry; I'll help make sure the other women don't fret too much. Go on and meet your friend. After all, it's only natural I do a favor for my good friend, the Baroness."
Offering a nod in thanks, Diana didn't think too much about it as she left the store to reunite with Kira. The second her two feet exited the store, a subtle ding popped up within her head, and a rush of knowledge entered her head. It felt soothing, almost cathartic, relaxing her muscles and calming her surging thoughts.
Level 21 Gained
Skill Gained: Protector of the Innocent