Result 7

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If there’s a chance you might find something here, might as well take it. And if that fails, you can always look elsewhere.

Ameronis nods.

“Alright, well; let’s get going.”

After gathering up your things, the two of you step out onto the street and begin to wander around the village. For the next couple of hours, the two of you explore the place, during which time Ameronis chats to the locals and makes a series of notes and sketches in a small notebook. Over the course of your exploration, the fog lifts and gives you a better view of the village, which you learn is named Chrendle. It is definitely a very quaint, picturesque place, the kind of place that you’d find on a postcard, with the cottages being especially idyllic.

Unfortunately, they seem to make up 95% of the buildings in Chrendle. Also unfortunately, the village, despite having a small population, is scattered over a surprisingly large area, with multiple dense clusters of housing interspersed with hills and rolling fields. Each cluster is connected with dirt paths, some leading through woodlands, and others past fields edged with high hedgerows. This results in the two of you having to trek across the whole landscape before you get to any other significant location, going up and down hills and over uneven paths as you move in a spiral inwards. At least I’m getting my daily steps in…

As time goes on, it becomes less and less likely that you’ll find what you’re looking for, as you realise that, aside from the housing, you can count all the building types in this place on one hand. The two of you discover multiple farm buildings, a small temple, a couple of taverns which seem to be the major entertainment hubs of the village, and eventually, a community centre that also serves as the local school, post office, and medical centre (which you imagine is more or less just a room with a first aid kit). Add to that list the inn that you slept in, and you end up with just 5 building types.

By the time you both reach the community centre and you trudge into the post office, you’re more than a little weary. And hungry. At the counter, you speak to the clerk and ask them if they can exchange 100 of your essvons for some of the local currency. You are met with a blank stare followed by a polite but incredulous form of “your what!?”. You show the clerk a 10 essvon note which results in an even more baffled expression.

“I’m sorry… I’ve… never seen or heard of that currency before. We only have cogs here…”

You stifle a small sigh but grasp for any small slither of hope. You ask if there is anywhere else in Chrendle that you could check, but the clerk shakes her head.

“No, I’m sorry. I think you’ll have to head into the city for that.” City..?

You enquire about said city and she tells you that Derna is about 18 miles away to the North-West. It’s a big place with many travellers and immigrants, so they’re bound to have heard of your money there.

You sit down on a bench in the village square with Ameronis, taking a moment to rest and wait for Ameronis to finish compiling more notes. They are unsurprised by the post office’s lack of foreign currencies, but refrain from saying “I told you so”. You ask if they’ve ever heard of or been to Derna; they bobble their head around a bit.

“I’ve seen the name written down, but I’ve never been there. I also don’t know jack about the place, but we’ll find out soon enough.”

You watch the people as they go about their business, and listen to the handful of schoolchildren as they play in the schoolyard behind a fence nearby. You lean back on the bench and enjoy the sunlight, which is nice and warm in contrast to the air, which is still brisk. You wonder out loud what people do for entertainment around here, to which Ameronis replies bluntly with “work and drink” whilst scribbling more notes down.

“Doesn’t seem like there’s much time or facilities for anything else really. They wake up, work hard in the farms and fields from dawn till dusk, go have a drink to unwind in the evenings, go to bed, then do it all again the next day. A simple, honest living I guess. Though, I imagine it might be a bit too simple for your liking. Unless I’ve got you all wrong and you’re actually planning to settle down here?”

Ameronis glances at you; you can’t see their face past the mask, but you get the impression they’re smirking at you. You shake your head; you left your home to go and explore the world and see the sights. You’ve seen pretty much everything there is to see here already, and would now like to see the back of it. Ameronis laughs and then motions to the notebook.

“Well, we’ll be heading out as soon as I’m done with this.”

You’re about to ask what all the notes and pictures are about, but Ameronis stands up suddenly.

“Actually, hang on a second. Wait here…”

They stride off back towards the community centre without another word, then return a couple of minutes later, holding up both hands and shrugging.

“Well, the good news is, there is a road leading directly from here to Derna, and they regularly make trips there in a wagon to deliver grain, meat and milk and get some supplies. The bad news is that recent rainy weather combined with poor practices by one “old man Shears” caused a landslide which has made a section of the road impassible. Their wagons can’t get past it and they have no all-terrain vehicles, so there’s no way we can get a lift from here to the city. So! I hope our gentle stroll around the village has got you hungry for more because we’re walking to Derna!”

After another 30 minutes of trekking across the valley, you finally come to the Northern edge of the village, and a short while later, you end up on the ‘road’ Ameronis mentioned. It’s a wide dirt path with deep grooves left by wagon wheels and numerous horseshoe prints. You follow the road for another half mile through some woodland and eventually note the strong smell of soil and manure in the air (prior to this point, it was just a faint smell of manure in some areas around the village). A few minutes later, you come across the incident site; where there were previously tall trees there is now open air, and the relatively flat road is now completely buried under a wide slope several meters across made of clods of earth, thick mud and fallen trees. At least 20 men are here, attempting to dig their way through the slope, chop through the fallen trees, and clear away the general debris. Almost every single one is caked in mud; up to their knees or elbows or both and more, and the whole area stinks; there’s a distinct sewage smell on top of the manure and soil smells.

The two of you watch the men work from a distance; they’ve clearly been at it for a while and have made a decent dent, but still have a long way to go. A man holding an axe notices you both as he moves past. He pauses and wipes his brow on his rolled-up sleeve, and confirms that you shouldn’t try to get past this way; you can climb over the mound if you really want to, but he wouldn’t recommend it. He points up the hill.

“You’d best go up and around, up past the farm, then continue North until you reach the road again further on. It’s a longer path, but…” He looks you up and down. “better that than ruining all your gear in this muck, eh?”

He jerks his thumb back at the mound, then excuses himself to return to tackling it. Ameronis stands with their hands on their hips, looking at the mound then up the hill.

“Guess we’d better get to it…”

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.

A farmer overlooking their land in Chrendle

(Ai-generated image produced using Stable Diffusion)

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 wrecked 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?”

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 battleaxe 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.

You wander along the high street as the evening approaches, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of this new town. At the post office, Jamie had welcomed you to Derna and given you a map, which you had studied in your room as you lay in the tub, giving you a general gist of the place. He also warned you to be careful; Derna is massive and is easy to get lost in, even with a map, due to the numerous tightly-packed districts filled with narrow, winding paths and dozens of buildings which are difficult to distinguish from each other. He said that if you were to walk in a straight line from one side of the town to the other, you’d swear you’ve just been walking through the same two or three areas in a loop.

He did also say that Derna tends to come alive at night, so you’re unlikely to be bored if you’re looking for something to do later.

After scanning a few clothing stores for ones that both suit your style and have decent prices, you begin to peruse the aisles to find a suitable replacement day outfit or two. Among the many styles on offer, you find:

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