Chapter 15:

The Potion Seller

The Swordmaster and the New God

      We arrived in Deiridh a few days after encountering… that thing. The path was eerily quiet the rest of the way. Not a single living thing crossed our path, not even an Earther. The grass around Deiridh was bright green, standing still with no wind to move it. The sky above us was a light blue, with scattered clouds floating lazily across the sky. The interesting part was what laid beyond. I couldn't tell the distance, but decently far out was a line of solid clouds stretching far along the horizon as far as I could see. The clouds looked dark as night, with a purple tint to them. If I looked hard enough, I could see flashes of lightning just beyond the horizon. That was undoubtedly the Demon Realm, our destination.

      “Ok, so when we enter Deiridh, I think that we should split up to save time.” Evelyn said.

      “What for?” Emilia asked.

      “Supplies.” Evelyn reached into her red robe and pulled out a piece of paper. “I made a list of things I assume we will need. If we split into two groups, we should be done within a few hours I think. I thought I would go with Kazuma while you and Austin get the rest of the items, then meet at the adventurers guild when we're done?” Evelyn looked around for any objections, finding none. I, for one, was fine with the groups.

      Evelyn pulled another list out from her robe and handed it over to Emilia. She took the white crinkled piece of paper, and after scanning it, put it in her pocket. She walked ahead of us, Austin in tow. “We'll meet you guys in a few hours.” She seemed anxious to get going, especially for someone who didn't want to come here in the first place. From what I knew of Emilia, she probably just wanted to get the shopping done as fast as possible.

      We walked after them, passing through the gates of Deiridh. It had no walls of any kind, instead just having a checkpoint between the cobbled road and the city itself. For being the closest city to the Demon Realm, it seemed extremely lax on security. From what I could see, the architecture looked exactly like Calpa or Ronoe. The same brown and white buildings loomed over the streets. As I got closer, I felt I recognized some of the buildings—the nail placements on the wood, the spots where the painters had missed. The wear and tear itself seemed identical to some of the buildings in Calpa and Ronoe. Was it some kind of skill? There were a ton of classes and skills; the guild had a whole book of them. There was probably some skill that allowed buildings to be created, or at least that was the only reason I could think of explaining the similarities. Still, that wouldn't explain why the damage to the buildings was almost identical. I doubted that the buildings came out partially damaged.

      We passed through the gate, entering Deiridh. I thought about sharing my thoughts with Evelyn but decided against it. She would call me crazy; besides, it was probably just all in my head, nerves from what was to come.

      Evelyn led me along by the hand, winding through streets left and right, like she had done this a hundred times. “Hey Evelyn, have you been here before?”

      “Yeah. Before I went to Calpa the first time, I stopped here to register at the guild and take a few requests. I didn't want to go to the Calpa's guild and look like a complete newbie. The only issue was that all the requests around here are non-combat oriented. The only requests that give you even a chance for action are to guard the Edge of Life, and that's mainly just standing in one spot for a few hours, with nothing happening in the slightest. The second I hit E rank, I was out of here.” I remembered Austin talking about how a lot of American actors would move to Hollywood, the movie capital of the world, as soon as they could. I guess being an adventurer was like that. Evelyn wanted to be like a Hollywood celebrity or an S rank, and she didn't want to be a complete newbie, instead, someone who had acting, or in her case adventuring, experience.

      A few seconds later, we reached the market. People crowded around the stands, just like in every city we had been to. The difference was the wave of red hair. Of every hundred people, ninety-nine of them had red hair. I felt out of place with my pitch-black hair in the sea of red.

      Evelyn dragged me along from store to store, securing things here and there. Food, weapons, medical equipment, and all of it went in my inventory. She seemed to know half of the store owners, calling them by their names and talking them up. The surprising part was how she paid. Somehow, her pockets held a bottomless amount of money. She kept pulling more and more gold out of her left robe pocket, way more than it should have held.

      “Ok, I think this is the last thing on the list” Evelyn looked up from her list and pulled me along to the last stall.

      Despite the fact that we had been shopping for close to two hours now, I had struggled to get a word in, instead just following the flow and getting dragged along by Evelyn. Still didn't mind, though. Any second spent with Evelyn was a good second spent in my book.

      The stall she took me to was unlike any other; a rainbow of color covered the table, made from clear bottles of different sizes and shapes containing potions that were every color imaginable. Labels, all in Japanese, explained what they did. Their effects ranged from simple healing potions to more extravagant effects, like flight and invisibility.

      “We’ll take ten vials of healing potions,” Evelyn said to the old lady staffing the shop. Her hair had faded to a dull grey, with sagging white skin. Despite this, she looked healthy and sharp. It was like some old grandma, one that happened to do advanced calculus on the side.

      “Why certainly, hon. That will be five thousand gold.” Evelyn pulled out five large gold coins and handed them to the old woman. She pulled out ten red vials from under her stand, giving them to me.

      Just as I went to take them and put them in my inventory, I got bumped from behind, hard. I flew toward the stand and the old lady. Potions started falling as I knocked into them getting closer and closer to the table. The weird thing was when I hit the table, I didn't stop. I kept falling through it. I could see the inner grain of the wood, passing through the potions as if they were nothing but air. My momentum carried me past the end of the stand, into the old woman. The weird thing was that I went through her as well, like she was a hologram.

      Inside her body, it was dark. There was no light, only an empty void. I had a feeling that the reason for the darkness was more than just the lack of light. It felt like there was truly nothing inside the old woman, organs, bones, muscles, or anything. I felt a force slowing my fall until I was inches away from the ground. Then, I sprung back up. It was like gravity had reversed, pulling me away from the darkness and into the light of the sun.

      I stood still, feet on the ground as if I had never fallen. The stand, however, was a glitchy mess. The stand was broken, but not at the same time. It kept flickering back and forth, showing both a broken stand and an unbroken one at the same time, at the same place. Potions spilled and unspilled. The glass shattering, then appearing perfectly fine. Some of the potions flew out into the crowd, almost hitting people, then teleporting back to the stand, flying out again.

      The most interesting part, though, was the old woman herself. Her legs appeared where her torso should have been, and vice versa. The legs tried to walk, getting stuck on some invisible barrier and walking back. The tops of the legs had black voids where they should have connected to the torso, looking like they went on forever.

      Her torso was turning left and right, while her head looked me straight in the eyes like nothing was wrong. She had a gaping hole in her stomach where I had dived into her, leading to a dark void like the one at the top of her legs. It looked endless, a lot deeper than the actual width of the old woman.

      I looked around me, regathering myself. A figure in a dark cloak was running off, everyone's eyes on her. Whoever was behind that cloak was almost certainly the person who had pushed me. I went to chase after her, then stopped. I couldn't leave whatever this was alone. It was too weird. As the shadowy culprit turned a corner, I saw the glint of a white chestplate, shining against the sun, and then she was gone.

      I turned back to the old woman, regaining my composure. Her legs and torso were constantly switching positions, like she was trying to realign herself; then, almost as soon as it started, her body returned to normal. The table was in perfect condition with potions covering the table, their bottles intact radiating the vibrant colors of the potions inside, as if I had never fallen into it.

      “Hey Kazuma, are you ok? You looked like you got pushed pretty hard.” Evelyn asked.

      “Yeah, I'm fine, but did you see what happened after?”

      “See what?” Evelyn looked at me quizzically.

      “What happened to the table and the old lady? You can't act like you don't know what I'm talking about.”

      “I'm afraid that I don't know what you're talking about. Did that push hit your head or something?” Evelyn sounded generally worried like she hadn't seen a thing.

      I took one step back, then another. I wasn't afraid but still freaked out. “Hey Evelyn, I'm going to just meet you at the adventurers' guild, is that ok? Before she could respond, I ran away from the market. I had no idea where the heck the adventurers' guild was, but I felt sure I would find it eventually. Cities could only be so big, after all.

      “Wait!” Evelyn grabbed the potions and followed me, running as fast as she could. She shoved the potions in her pockets one by one, letting her get a normal running form and slowly catch up to me.

      I turned a corner and practically ran into the adventurers' guild. I had no idea we were so close. It was around the size of a two-story house, much smaller than the other guild houses I had been to, with a rectangle cut out of the front, creating a large hole as you would see on a barn.

      Inside, I saw a few people walking around, getting requests. There were very few tables and no bar attached to the guild, making the guild have less draw than normal. Emilia and Austin were sitting at one of the tables, looking exhausted. Emilia especially looked like she had just run a mile, panting heavily. I guess shopping was just that hard for them.

      “Hey, guys.” I walked towards them as Evelyn ran into the guildhall after me. I sat down next to them, taking the last chair.

      Emilia looked up at me. “So, how did you like the potion seller?”