The Tresdin district is the first thing we see after entering the city. The district functions as the main area of commerce, comprised of various locales, businesses, stalls and peddlers.
Even as the evening hours creep in, the traffic and bustle of the area is still enough to draw large crowds and plenty of noise. Savvy buyers will know this is a good time to buy, as the owners are all looking to pack up and head home for the day.
Yes, no reason not to take advantage of a good opportunity. The rich get richer in part due to this mindset.
"Hey boss, you can spare this much, right?"
Max is right behind me looking mightily uncomfortable. He doesn't seem to appreciate these conversations that are all about getting what you want.
"Come on, it's not every day you get to see a pretty girl like me, right? Don't I deserve a discount?"
He grumbles something in response, but I don't really care. I'm just going through the motions to get what I want.
"Thanks, boss! I'll be sure to tell everyone to visit your place!"
Of course, I'm not going to say anything. But if it makes the owner feel better, why not?
We set the oysters down at the nearby table crammed between other street vendors. The small table sits up to six, with the edges of the table already occupied by other customers. Loud noises can be heard from the owner as he's serving the other people waiting in line.
Taking seats opposite of each other in the middle, Max looks uncomfortably to the people at his side, as if disappointed in my decision.
I know he doesn't like being surrounded by strangers, but I've already decided that I'll do what I think is best for him. Taking him out of his comfort zone in this small way is just a small test of my resolve.
".…I thought we were here on business, but we're just playing aren't we?"
Just as I was in the middle of cracking open a shell, I hear this annoying sentence.
"Come on Max, read between the lines. If someone saw us together, what would they think?"
He gives me a frown in response. All within expectation.
"I didn't realize you cared about what others thought about us."
He mutters the last part of the sentence, but I already knew what he was gonna say without having to hear it.
"Just be patient with me, please. I promise I'll give you something that'll make it all worthwhile for you."
"Ahh, that's right! You left the papers you brought with you back at our home. I glanced through it and wanted to ask you some things about it."
Ahh, shoot. I forgot about those, didn't I? Well, it's not the worst time to talk about it.
"Mmhmm. How much of it did you read?"
"Well, not a lot to be honest. But one part really caught my eye. The part where people trap themselves into an identity was quite interesting. Can you explain that a bit further?"
I'm sure a glint sparked in my eye before I quickly turn down to crack a new oyster shell. So he already found the most important part that I wanted him to see.
"Well, what did you need clarified?"
He pauses briefly to consider the question before responding.
"How can I know if I am me?"
A shiver runs down my spine. Did the outside temperature just suddenly drop? I'll feign ignorance for now.
"That's… you're going to have to be more clear than that, Max."
He eyes me suspiciously before continuing. I'll have to concede some ground here.
"I think you know what I'm trying to say. Still, I have to thank you, reading that paper helped me conceptualize my issues. As you know, I've been having difficulty using magic like usual. Now I can see it as an issue of not understanding myself."
Hmm, he seems to be getting closer. I'll probe around a bit further.
"Let me first ask you this Max, why did you choose to become a magician? Particularly one specialized in warfare?
He pauses at my question as though it's something he's contemplated before. Of course, I already know the answer but I want to see what he'll say.
"The very same question I asked myself today… So this is the key to it all, isn't it?"
I nod my head in agreement. Like the paper says, A magician's personal truth will likely be the greatest obstacle towards their success. It is only when they have a clear understanding of the self will they be able to command their soul to create the possibilities inherent in them.
Though I can guide Max towards the door, he will have to open it himself to resolve his inner turmoil.
"Sounds like you've found the problem you're looking for. The question is, what're you going to do about it?"
".…I don't know. I supposed I'll have to figure that out myself."
Though the final answer remains unclear, he smiles at me with a radiance that seems to illuminate the surrounding area.
"You know, I'm really glad I came out with you today. I think talking about my problems really helped put everything in perspective. I'm sorry I ever doubted you. You really are a good person."
Ahh, there it is. Those words that create a quavering in my heart, testing my resolve.
Yes, this should be enough for now. Though I want to push further, I know that it'll be overzealous to say anything further. For his sake and my own.
We finish up eating and clear our part of the table before heading out. Strolling through the other vendor stalls, we meander through the market and chance upon anything that catches our interest.
Moving along the aisle, I see something that catches my eye.
"Hey look, lumbals! Let's get some of those on the way."
"Didn't you just have a huge plate of oysters?
"Yeah, but I have a second stomach just for lumbals."
He gives an exasperated laugh, before continuing.
"Alright, you deserve them just for that. I do owe you for buying me the oysters."
"Wait a minute, the oysters are way more expensive! There's no way this is a fair deal."
"...Normally I'd agree if you didn't eat almost all of my oysters back there."
"Like I said, two stomachs. There's a lot of maintenance that goes into that."
As proof, I pat the top and bottom parts of my belly to illustrate the two stomachs. He looks away in feigned annoyance, but I know he's smiling from his voice.
We continue walking and talk about various nothings. I can tell his mood has lifted by the way he carries himself. His eyes light up and body language is more open, inviting further exploration.
Before long, the setting sun has fully dissolved and we part ways at the entrance which we came from.
"Hey one more thing, was this all you wanted to do? Get some food and walk around? I thought there was something you wanted to do coming here."
"Ahh there was, but I think since it's so late we can wait till another time."
There actually was something special I wanted to do today. But I no longer have the justification to proceed with my plans. Well now that it's come to this, there's no turning back. This is what I wanted, anyway.
We walk to the crossroads to where the direction splits between my residence and his. A familiar intersection that we've passed many times before.
"Well, see you then."
"Yeah, see ya."
I wave goodbye and watch him go a bit before I turn away. I can hear a soft sigh coming from my heart, letting me know that these moments won't last forever.
Yes I realized this already, but forewarned is not always forearmed. Even after many years of preparation, I still think there's something wrong with this answer.
But it's the one I've chosen, so with my head high I walk back home and leave the dusty path behind.