The Beginning After The End - Chapter 72 - A Confusing Day
I knew that I had people to inform but I owed it to them to be there.
As a change of pace, I was determined to spend time with my family, namely my mother and sister. Father left at dawn for work after checking up on me so it would just be myself and the girls. Tabitha decided to tag along and after a rather brief discussion; they wanted to go shopping. It was fairly apparent to me that they wouldn’t take no for an answer.
I could at least use that chance to take a detour, after, to Xyrus Academy. I knew that everyone was safe according to what my parents heard from Professor Glory, but I shouldn’t keep them in the dark about what happened to me for an extra day. I was also a bit worried about the condition of Tess’s assimilation.
I lost count of the many places we visited after the umpteenth store but I didn’t dare show my displeasure in front of the girls. While browsing through the stores, I realized how ignorant I was. The fact that the only time I’d visited the shops was a bit after I was first reborn into this world, struck me; this, coupled with the fact that I had no noteworthy equipment besides my sword, made me contemplate getting new equipment. I still remembered the time when I was slung on Mother’s back and got to see all of the small tents filled with merchandise back up in the tiny town of Ashber.
Most of my childhood was spent in the Kingdom of Elenoir, more specifically, inside the castle. Even the previous time I went shopping with the ladies, we went directly to the fashion district so nothing appealed to me. There were some items with protective capabilities from either their material or from runes etched into the inside, but nothing powerful enough to catch my interest.
“Aunt Helstea, are there stores where they sell something that can help me train faster?” I asked while we headed inside a store that exclusively sold scarves.
“Hmm? You mean elixirs? Of course.” Tabitha gave me a confused look as if I had asked some sort of trick question.
I’d never used the elixirs here, but if they were anything like the drugs some practitioners used in my old world, then I didn’t want to go anywhere near them.
“There’s actually a small elixir and medicine shop around the corner if you want to go take a look while we shop for some scarves…”
That was all I needed to hear before strategically bolting out the store.
“Thank you! I’ll meet you in front of the store!” I shouted while running out after carefully dropping the bags I was assigned to carry.
“Kyuu!” ’Don’t leave me!’
I saw Sylvie extend a paw out towards me in a desperate attempt to escape Ellie’s firm hold on her but I just gave her a look of condolence before running off.
Your sacrifice will not be in vain, I saluted.
After turning the corner as per instructions, my face crumpled up in bewilderment.
This was a store?!
The corner I turned at led me into a narrow alleyway thugs probably used to mug unsuspecting passersby. At the end of the narrow alleyway was a dingy shack that even rats would find too revolting to live in. The wooden planks that made up the store looked like they had been painted with moss and fungus as a musty, stale air emanated out, drifting towards me. At least it complemented the sickly green weeds creeping out from the bottom of the store as if even they didn’t want to be stuck there.
WINDSOM’S POTIONS AND MEDICINES
I had to tilt my head to read the etched title on the angled sign, which had been barely dangling on a single nail.
Did they really sell potions and medicines there? I would be less surprised if they sold bottled diseases and poisons.
“Spare some change, young lad?” A haggard voice startled me out of my stupefied state.
Beside me sat a pale old man with a hand reached out towards me, palms up.
I immediately took a step back in surprise, instinctively layering my body with mana.
How did I not sense this old man that was almost right next to me?
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost, young lad. I’m but a mere aged man asking for some change.” The old man’s face wrinkled as he revealed a pearly white smile that didn’t match his ragged state.
“Ah yeah, sure.” I reached in my pocket for a copper coin, using the opportunity to take a closer look at him.
With a thick, uncombed bed of pepper-tinted hair that fell down to his slightly hunched shoulders, he looked up at me with milky eyes. The old man’s wizened face, though, didn’t come off to me as weak and weary, but intelligent and bright, for some reason. I could tell that this man was probably very handsome in his youth, which all the more made me feel a bit disheartened seeing him end up like this.
“Many thanks, young lad.” His gnarled hands nimbly grabbed the coin out of my hand with a speed that surprised me.
Between his middle and index fingers was a coin that was silver instead of copper.
Shit! I gave him a silver coin by mistake! That was a hundred copper coins!
“Wait… I meant to give you this…” I reached into my pocket again and when I made sure that this time, the coin in my hand was indeed copper, I looked back up to see that the old man was gone.
“What the f…” I stood there, bewildered for the third time in the last 5 minutes.
After letting a helpless sigh escape my lips, I took a step forward towards Windsom’s potion shack. I reached for the handle of the wooden door that seemed like it would break upon mere contact when I felt a concentration of mana from the copper doorknob.
Coating my hand in mana, I wrapped my fingers around the knob, preparing to turn it, when a stiff jolt coursed through my hand and up my arm. Thankfully, the mana protecting my hand helped me from pulling away so I forcefully twisted the knob, opening the door.
As soon as the door unlocked, the shock stopped as well. Pushing open the creaking door, I’m welcomed by a breeze of something indescribably horrendous. The stench was so strong that it immediately triggered a stream of coughs from me.
“Oh, a customer! What can I do for you?” a familiar voice welcomed me.
“You!” I couldn’t help but point my finger at him in both anger and confusion. It was the same homeless old man that disappeared after taking my silver coin!
“What brings you in here?” He looked at me with an innocent expression.
I sighed in frustration. “Can I just have my coin back? I need that money to buy some stuff I need… and besides, you said you were homeless.” I stuck my hand out towards him.
“No, no… I said I was but a mere aged man. Based on the environment where you met me and by my appearance and demeanor, you assumed I was homeless.” He wagged his finger at me in a scolding manner, as if I was the one in the wrong. “How about this, you can pick one item here for free as a thank you for the present,” he continued in a magnanimous manner as he twiddled my silver coin between his fingers, mockingly.
My brows twitched in annoyance but I calmed myself down and quickly took a scan around the sorry excuse of a store.
“Are you sure there are even items here worth a silver coin?” My voice came out with a twinge of frustration in it.
“Of course! I don’t give this chance to just anyone, you know. You just have to choose carefully.” The old man’s eyes gave off the excited twinkle of a second-rate gambler with a winning hand.
I rubbed my temples to try and calm the boiling rage stirring up inside of me.
The elderly should be respected, Arthur.
The elderly should be respected…
By this time, my nose had become accustomed to the mysterious stench that had the power to drive even the most ferocious mana beasts away. Taking a look through the shelves caked with dust, I became more and more amazed at how this place was still even running.
“Don’t you ever clean this place, old man?” I asked as I slid my finger along one of the shelves. I could probably build a snowman out of dust with the amount collected here.
“Are you asking an aged man like myself to do manual labor?” He gasped sarcastically, putting on a horrified expression.
“Nevermind.” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at this man. I couldn’t gauge him and that made it all the harder for me to trust him.
Making my way past the half-open boxes blocking the path, I went towards the shelves near the back of the store.
While scanning through the various vials and containers filled with either murky liquid or colored pills, I was startled by a figure sitting on the top of the shelf.
Dammit, what was with this place?
I couldn’t sense anything inside here until it was right in front of my nose.
The figure became more apparent as I focused on it; it was an almost pitch black cat. The only part of its body that wasn’t black were the tuffs of white fur in front of its ears, but that wasn’t what caught my attention. It was the cat’s captivating eyes. Eyes that seemed as if it held the universe inside them. They looked like mirrored night skies with bright twinkling stars sprinkled inside them, with white, vertical slitted pupils glowing like a crescent moons.
As I stayed fixated on the cat’s bewitching eyes, the cat peered back down at me from the top of the shelf with a sense of obvious superiority before it turned back and walked away.
Shaking my head, I focused back on the various bottles and containers when a small black box catches my attention.
Picking up the plain box, roughly about the size of something you would use to store small jewelry, I tried to open it. With a small click, the hinge came undone to reveal a small ring inside it. I brought the ring closer to my face when the ’gem’ embedded into the ring suddenly squirted something out towards me.
Instantly, I whipped my head to the side so the stream of clear liquid missed and landed behind me.
It was water.
“Tch… you dodged it.” I turned my head back to see the old man grumbling while still fiddling with my silver coin.
At this point, I felt like if I stayed any longer, I would lose my sanity. First, the shocking doorknob… now, this squirting ring. This old man sure loved his pranks… even his cat looked down on me.
But I was determined. If I could get anything inside this store for free, I was going to get the most valuable item inside this store.
I must’ve spent at least an hour inside, just combing through elixirs that I didn’t need. Why would a twelve-year-old need an elixir for hair growth?
“Kyu!” ’Papa! I’m here!’
A white blur whizzed past the door that was left open and landed on my head.
“Kuu!” ’Papa, you left me!’ Sylvie puffed while smacking my forehead with her paw.
You survived, comrade! I smiled, rubbing her tiny head.
“Old man, I can’t find anything I…” I began to say but the expression the old man had on his face made me stop. He was the one that looked like he saw ghost this time because his already pale face became whiter. His milky eyes that sagged down from old age looked like full moons, his expression stricken.
“We finally found…”
“You okay, old man?” I waved my hand in front of him. The shop owner shook his head and let out a cough.
“Yes, I’m quite alright.” His voice quivered a bit, confusing me.
“Anyway, old man, I can’t find anything worth taking back with me. Can’t you just give me back my money?” I grumbled as I took one last scan through the store.
“You really don’t have an eye for anything.” He walked out from behind his counter and strolled to one of the shelves in the front corner of the store.
“Ah, here we are.” Without even looking back, he tossed back to me a small ball about the size of a marble. It was layered in dust but when I wiped it clean, it was clear with specks of different colors floating inside it.
“What is this?” I asked as I brought the orb closer to my face to study it, making sure it wouldn’t spray me with water.
“Don’t worry, it’s something you’re going to need. Now scat. Teasing you bores me.” He shooed me off.
“Okay, okay.” I walked out of the store on my own, taking one last look back at the old shack.
As I strolled out of the narrow alleyway, I spotted the black cat gazing at me and then Sylvie before turning away as if it had lost interest.
Thinking little of it, I reached the intersection out of the alley and turn the corner to see my mother and sister sitting down at a table with Tabitha.
“Hi Brother!” Ellie waved while holding a drink with her other hand.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” Mother asked as she put down her refreshment as well.
“I…think?” I scratched my head. I put the clear orb inside my dimension ring to study it later but I couldn’t help but think that it wasn’t anything special.
“Oh really? That store is considered famous for having quite the variety of elixirs and medicines to help with training. Most of the students in Xyrus go there to shop for training materials.” Tabitha got up, picking all of the shopping bags off the floor.
“What? That shabby old place?” I replied, surprised that a bunch of rich snobby brats would go out of their way to shop at a rundown shack.
“Shabby? What are you talking about?” My mother and sister got up too, handing me their bags nonchalantly.
As we walked towards the alleyway, Tabitha turned the corner first and pointed at the shop.
“I wouldn’t say it’s shabby,” she said, a bit confused by my comment.
“Really? If that’s not shabby then I don’t know…”
My jaw dropped along with the shopping bags I was holding onto.
In place of the previous narrow alleyway leading towards the worn-down shack was a marble-paved road laid out towards a three-story building with a gold sign that read: