The chick had been put into the saddlebag for the ride to the next town.
In the past months, Jonathan had passed by many patrolling soldiers who were dealing with the outbreak of beasts; the kingdom’s response was likely why they hadn’t run into any more of them. The beast killed by Jonathan and Aderes must have managed to slip through the patrols, or perhaps had been one of the first few migrating out before the kingdom noticed.
The group they just came across, however, took up the whole road.
Jonathan and Chester moved aside for the platoon.
“Where are they headed?” Jonathan questioned.
“The border with Nu, further West,” Chester said. “It’s been going on for a while.”
Jonathan frowned. He wasn’t planning to walk into a war zone. “I didn’t know. I’ll be heading South soon.” He needed to plot a new course.
“Wholeheartedly agreed.” Chester eyed the colorful armor that was slowly disappearing around the bend. He smiled. “After all, it’s far warmer. I might be able to actually feel my toes again.”
This valley held three towns, but only one of them was right on the path. Because of the soldiers, Jonathan and Chester decided to go a bit off the beaten path. There tended to be incidents around large groups of men headed to war. They reached the town square and tied their horses to a tree.
Chester pulled out his mandolin and glanced around to see how much traffic there was. He was planning to perform for a bit.
“I’m going to buy some things,” Jonathan said. Before he left, taking the bag with the chick with him. He went to the first general store he saw, then to a bookstore. He assumed it was a bookstore from how there were books visible in both of the warped glass windows.
There was a wizened pair running the place. The man, his long beard braided with a careful assortment of beads and feathers, was stocking shelves with books. The woman, who had her hair pulled back in an intricate bun, was behind the counter. Both wore the same gold ornament.
Jonathan headed towards the counter as there were no other customers there. “I’m hoping you can help me find a book on raising birds.”
The old lady looked up from where she was arranging a few small items, bookmarks, tea bags, and those sorts of things. “Any specific kind? There’s some differences between raising the common hen and the Rainbow Capintong,” she pointed out dryly.
Jonathan smiled politely. He wasn’t offended at the remark as he couldn’t help but agree with the lady. “I’m not sure what kind. I found a chick.” He opened the small bag to show the bird. It was curled up in a corner of the saddlebag, sleeping.
The lady fumbled for her glasses. She looked curious and surprised; the latter was likely because someone had actually brought a random animal into the shop, but she didn’t demand that Jonathan leave. “I’m not sure. Once it’s grown up more you might be able to tell. We have some bird identification books you can buy. What runes can you read?”
“Ah, runes? I’m not sure . . . ”
“What languages do you know?” The book lady rephrased.
“I’ve picked up a bit here and there of pretty much everything.”
The lady harrumphed in disbelief. She pulled out one of the books behind the counter and opened it. “Read this then.”
“Mining expertise related to magic crystals and stones,” Jonathan read. He knew the symbols were different but he also knew what they meant.
“You know how to read Dwarvic runes.” The lady squinted at the transmigrator. “That’s rare, especially in the Hrea Empire.” Most of the other humanoid races had been wiped out, or intermixed with humans.
“I have an interest in languages.” Jonathan smiled politely. He was glad he had been purposefully vague before.
The door opened as someone entered. The person had seen that someone was at the counter and decided to ask the man stocking the shelves. “Hello there, would you happen to have any books on dragons?”
Jonathan remembered that voice. “Peter?” He asked, turning around.
“Oh! Jonathan.” Peter seemed surprised, but not overly so. “Here to buy a book as well?” His tone was casual, as if he had bumped into a neighbor on an afternoon stroll . . . and was not on the other side of the Empire from where he had said he was traveling to.
“Yes. It turns out I needed a book on raising birds and another on identifying them,” Jonathan said pointedly.
“Something spur your interest?”
“I happened to find an abandoned chick on the road.” Jonathan gestured towards the open bag on his hip. The chick was cheeping curiously towards the opening.
Jonathan and Peter were both smiling, but they didn’t trust each other.
“How do you feel about having lunch together?” Peter proposed. He was wearing clean, newly bought clothes, but he hadn’t abandoned the straw hat. The combination looked slightly strange.
“That sounds perfect.”
The two bought their books and headed to the tavern next door. It was cramped and the table was not very clean, however, they weren’t there to eat. The chatter of the other tables was to mask their own conversation. They still ordered a few things so as not to look suspicious.
“I have a lot of questions for you,” Jonathan said. “The problem is that I don’t think you’ll answer me honestly.” He kept the saddlebag closed; he was pretty sure the lack of light made the chick sleepy.
Peter laughed and dipped a piece of bread into the creamy sauce in front of him. “You’re right about that.”
“Our last one worked out rather well . . . ” Jonathan hesitated. He wasn’t sure whether to trust the merchant, yet he pushed past that. He needed more information about Peter and the chick. He could already be carrying a ticking time bomb and just didn’t know. “I’d like to propose another deal.”
“Interesting. What do you want?”
Jonathan pulled his map out; it had been folded and unfolded many times, the creases worn into the paper. He had learned some about the economy and transportation from Aderes. “There’s a train running from Lembroke to Maskiff because of the mining and refining companies for various industries.”
“Tickets are hard to get without proper documentation. I can do that for you,” Peter acknowledged. He seemed to enjoy the food he had ordered. “I also have something I need help with.” He pulled out a map from the bag. “I need you to get something from this cave for me in three days.” He pointed to the x on the map. “In return, I’ll answer a question and get you a train ticket.”
“Two train tickets.”
Peter smiled. Curiosity was clear in his expression. “Two,” he agreed.
Jonathan sighed. “Deal then.” He can’t believe he just agreed to what was literally a fetch quest. “What do you need me to find for you?”
“A bracelet,” Peter tapped the image on the treasure map. He smiled as he pulled out the book he had bought. “And you might need this.”
“Don’t worry that much.” Peter waved away the concerns. “It should be sleeping.”
“Should?” Jonathan asked, incredulous.
“Are you going to go back on the deal or will you keep your side?”
“ . . . I’ll do it.”
Sorry for being a bit late, I’ve been quite busy.
Also, the return of Peter 😀 my favorite sus merchant