Chapter 1 – Part 3: Derna


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Half an hour later, the two of you sit amongst gently swaying tussocks atop the large hill, the air here fresh and clear, with the sound of the wind accompanied by the gentle trickle of water from a small spring that bubbles up nearby. Ameronis stands a few feet away, taking in the sights and sketching what they see into their notebook.

You sit by the stream, looking down at the valley and the road that can be seen not too far in the distance. While you’re able to catch your breath easily enough, by now, you’re pretty hungry. You rummage around in your pack and pull out a smaller bag from which you begin munching on a handful of nuts and seeds. After a short while, Ameronis makes their way back over and sits down, letting out a sigh in the process.

“It is peaceful around here; gotta give it that.”

Seeing you eat your snack, Ameronis decides that a quick lunch break is a good idea, and soon fishes a small bundle out of their bag, taking out and partially unwrapping a smaller bundle, before taking a second one out and holding it out to you.

“Want one?”

You look over and see the rather delicious-looking sandwich peeking out of the partially unwrapped bundle, then look at the one you’re being offered.

No! No more..!

As good as it looks, you’re determined to not add any more to your debt at this point, and politely decline. Ameronis nods and packs the other one away before removing their mask and digging into their meal.

You stare at Ameronis for a moment, quickly trying to process a handful of thoughts. While the mask had muffled their voice somewhat, it was kind of difficult to tell if the voice was male or female in general as it seemed like it could be either; a deeper female voice, or a higher male one. Seeing Ameronis’ face for the first time now, you realise that they are a she, and she is a lot older than you were expecting.

Wait, I got thrashed twice by this old lady?

Olive-skinned, with deep green eyes, defined cheekbones, and a regal air about her, she looks to be in her 60’s. She stares off into the distance idly as she eats, but then suddenly turns to look at you as you stare at her.

“Something on my face?” she asks.

You can’t help but stare for a few more seconds before quickly tilting your head back as you stuff another handful of nuts and seeds into your mouth. You shake your head and casually mention that she’s… a little different to what you were expecting. She smirks.

“Yeah, I get that a lot.”

She finishes her sandwich, dusts off her hands, stands and replaces her mask.

“We should keep going. We still have a ways to go and I’d like to get there while we still have plenty of day left.”

You continue over the hill and head down to rejoin the road, following it North as it takes you along the valley. Soon you leave the wooded hills behind and begin to head West. Before long, you notice the smell of the ocean in the air.

As the land slopes upwards again, eventually the entire Northern side falls away to reveal a steep cliff over 200 feet tall. Below, a deep blue-brown sea stretches out to the horizon. From your vantage point, you can make out boats of different types slowly moving across the waves, and to the West, you see, far in the distance, the silhouette of a city, crowned with a pale brown haze.

By mid-afternoon, you’ve made it to the outskirts of the city, helpfully denoted by the fact that the dirt road abruptly transforms into a paved one. By late afternoon, you’ve pushed your way into the city proper, and find yourself in a densely built-up area on a high street. Here, dozens of people bustle back and forth. With a little bit of exploration, you discover a hotel, Slaryn House, which Ameronis insists on checking out; with her plan being to stick around town for a while, it’d be good to have a base of operations to work from, and even better to have a guaranteed place to lay her head tonight before it gets too late and all vacancies are filled. If you find somewhere better, you can always move later.

Slaryn House is larger and more modern than The White Hound inn you stayed at last night, but has less of a cozy feel to it. The receptionist confirms that they have vacancies and that their rates start from 175 cogs per night. You quickly interject and ask if there are any currency exchanges in the area. The receptionist thinks for a moment, then says that aside from the local bank there are two in the vicinity that they know of. He happily writes down the locations for you. You ask him if he can reserve a room for you while you go to get money, but he says that that can’t be done without a down payment. Ameronis offers to book it on your behalf.

Nnnngh… Fine!

You’ll be back with money shortly and can finally be done with this.

You let the two of them go over the booking for the two rooms, then turn to head out once they’re done; Ameronis opts to go to her room immediately to rest. You pause for a moment to ask her how much you owe her now. 335 cogs; 140 for yesterday, and 195 for now. You nod and head out the door.
Following the given directions, you find the bank quickly and are relieved to see essvons on the list of accepted currencies. You have almost 10K, and here, after a bit of quick math, you find that you’ll be able to exchange them for 15,055 cogs.

Not bad!

Seeing as the posters talk about having the best rates in the area, you make a mental note of this and decide to check out the next location.

The second exchange is down a cramped side street and is a far cry from the bank, which had a bright, sweeping interior with expensive furnishings. Judging by all the random items in display cabinets and in heavy boxes, it seems to be some kind of pawn shop. The shop worker watches you closely from the moment you enter, silently puffing away on a cigarette. You greet him and ask about the exchange rate. He looks at you for a moment, then speaks with a strong accent in a gruff, somewhat creaky voice; apparently, he’s worked his way through quite a lot of cigarettes in his time.

“What you got?”

You tell him about your 10K essvons, or more specifically, your 9,970 essvons). He stares at you again, reaches under the counter and grabs an abacus, and after a few moments of flicking and muttering, he tosses it away again.

“I’ll give you 14,750. Take it or leave it.”

It’s your turn to stare at him, and it takes a little restraint to not yell out “you mad?!”. You stifle a chuckle, tell him no; it’s OK, you’ll leave it, then bid him good day as you head back out.

Back on the street, your face crumples slightly. What a rip off! That’s like 300 cogs he’s trying to steal from you, in comparison to what the bank was offering. You shake your head and focus. Whatever. You still have one more place to try, and if that sucks, then you’ll just head back to the bank.

The third place is a post office, with dozens of workers buzzing about in the back area behind the counter. No one is there when you initially enter, but a passing worker spots you and heads over to the desk. Despite how busy they all seem, this guy seems very cheerful and greets you in a friendly manner. You notice his nametag. He is Jamie. You ask him how much you can get for your essvons. He tells you 16,650.

Excuse me..?!

You quickly blurt out the much lower offers you were given at the other two stops. He laughs.

“Yeah, don’t tell anyone that I told you this, but the banks will always use their prestige to act as though they have the best rates, even though they’re usually pretty bad. They also act as though they are the only place you can go for it. Which isn’t true either. But, they get away with it most of the time. As for the other guy; I’ll assume you’re not from around here, so I’ll give you this bit of advice; stay away from the sharks. There are a lot of people around here looking for ways to make short work of anyone who is vulnerable. Keep your wits about you; they’re pushy… but you seem like you can shrug them off with little trouble. Anyway, do you wanna go ahead with that exchange?”

Back at the hotel, you sit on your bed dividing up your wad of cogs and the small baggie of change. You set aside the money for Ameronis, then go about splitting it further; most of it goes back into your secure pocket, a portion is hidden in your bag, and the rest stays in your money bag.

Afterwards, you decide to take a nice, hot bath. After days of travel, crossing dusty and dirty terrains, sleeping in your travelling clothes at times, and getting into a few scuffles along the way, the opportunity to finally get clean and also relax is too good to pass up.

You would have stayed in for much longer, but your stomach rumbles and reminds you that you haven’t had a proper meal since… last night.

You get out of the tub and dress yourself in the cleanest remaining outfit you have… which isn’t very clean, but is also quite damaged. The rest of your clothes will have to be washed if you can be bothered to wash them in the tub here or find a washhouse somewhere nearby, though it might be simpler to just get some replacements.

You finish off your remaining nuts and seeds, smooth yourself out in the mirror as best you can, grab your smaller bag of essentials (along with your battle axe hidden underneath), then head out the door to Ameronis’ room, envelope of cogs in hand. Ameronis answers her door, still wearing her mask and cloak, and cheers when you hand her the money, making a wholly unnecessary fuss about it. Whatever; it’s done, and you can finally move on to the next chapter of your life.

Ameronis asks what you plan to do now. She reiterates that she plans to stay here for at least a week and check out all the city has to offer. She’s not sure if she’ll go anywhere tonight though; she wants to continue resting and properly compiling her notes from Chrendle.

You let her know that you don’t know how long you’ll stay, but you do want to explore and that you’re heading out now to find something to eat, somewhere to get some new clothes, and somewhere to wash your current ones. She demands that you tell her if you find somewhere selling great food; you agree, then leave to begin your quest and let her get back to her business.

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