Thick windowless walls of the store kept most of the heat away, so it was pleasantly cool inside. Several lamps hung from the ceiling on long cords keeping the lower level of the building well lit and the upper dark. Weapons were everywhere: on every wall and a dozen of wooden stands below, in the open, inviting anyone to hold them, take a closer look, drop a hair on the blade…
The shopkeeper sat in a tall armchair with his back to the door, peacefully sleeping, it seemed. Kuldagan citizens are nocturnal beings. Staying awake during the day is not their thing.
Vlada decided to let him rest for now. She put her backpack on the floor and walked along the stands. She liked weapon stores since she was a kid. Such a pleasant distraction from the grim news seemed like a good idea at the moment.
She weighed a two-handed sword in her hands. That used to be her father’s favourite weapon, so she knew how to handle it, even though she found it too heavy to her taste. The morning stars took her attention next - her grandfather’s weapon of choice. Vlada took a closer look at each of them imagining what he would say about their designs, which things he would praise or curse, and how he would add a loud “tsk!” to every sentence when his emotions took over. It was always nice to remember him.
Bows and crossbows interested her less. Halberds, the city guards weapon, decorated in a peculiar way, took her attention for a while. Clubs and spears she passed.
The last stand displayed several katanas made by a local smith. Vlada stopped there. A katana was her weapon of choice. Of course, she didn’t come to this shop for them, but why not take a look?
She cast her eye down to the collection of katanas. They looked good and were made in the same style, obviously by the same master. All but the one that looked just a little bit different as if someone really wanted to imitate the master’s style but couldn’t yet. An apprentice, maybe…
A warm smile touched Vlada’s lips. She took the imperfect katana from the stand and made a few moves to feel the balance.
“Whoa, lady!” She heard a young voice. “Careful!”
It was the shopkeeper, now wide awake and watching her with a keen interest.
“Sorry, master,” Vlada apologised and put the katana back with a respectful bow.
“It’s okay,” he waved carelessly. “I’m glad I was smart enough not to come too close to you… What’s your name?”
“Vladislava. You can call me Vlada.”
“Kangassk. Just Kan to you.” The young man bowed courteously.
Vlada gave him a closer look. Kangassk had dark skin - its tone wasn’t the pitch black the local men had, though, but rather chocolaty brown, - black hair, and green eyes. He was shorter than the locals, and his face resembled neither Del nor Emer.
“You’re not from this city, are you?” she asked.
“Oh, I’m from here all right,” Kan growled, obviously irritated. “I’m just a freak, the shame of my ancestors and all.”
“I wouldn’t call you a freak,” said Vlada, frank and straightforward as usual. “I think you’re a very handsome young man.”
Kangassk shrugged, unconvinced.
“So where are you from? Who are your ancestors?” he asked.
Vlada smiled as she realized that the poor guy expected to hear the names of her city and its first people.
“My family is known as Wanderers in Kuldagan,” she said.
“Wanderers, huh?” Kan’s eyes brightened up. “So it was your family who drove the rare fire dragons into extinction?”
“Yes. Kind of…”
“You have my huge thanks then!” Kan beamed. “Aren-castell used to be their favourite resting spot during their breeding migrations. Imagine these scaly jerks perched on every roof like some crazy giant chickens! Everyone who dared to leave the house risked being eaten, fried, or both… May the master forgive me, I’m giving you 50% discount on everything!”
“So you’re not the master?”
“No, just an apprentice. And a poor one if you take my master’s word.”
“Okay… so, will you show me your guns?” Vlada went straight to business.
“Ah, guns… Firearms…” Kan hesitated.
“Yes, them. I need one.”
“I’m going to visit the Burnt Region.”
“Why? I wouldn’t ever go there, not for love or money! I heard…” He took a deep breath, obviously preparing to tell her some cool story.
“Guns, Kan,” repeated Vlada in a cold, slightly impatient voice.
“We don’t have any,” Kan confessed after an awkward pause. “We used to have a lot while the gold rush was still a thing, but now people don’t travel through the Burnt Region anymore, so we don’t make guns and haven’t ordered gunpowder in years. You can go to Torgor and…”
“Too bad!” said Vlada, adding the disappointed “tsk!” sound, just like her grandfather used to do when he was displeased. “I’m in a hurry, Kan. I can’t afford going back to Torgor. I guess I’ll go to the Burnt Region as is: with a sword. How much do you want for this katana?”
Kangassk gasped. During the next minute he made several attempts to say something, yet no sound came from his mouth. He looked like some unfortunate fountain fish suffocating on the sand. Finally, he gave up.
“Fifty coins,” he uttered painfully and then almost exploded with emotions: “Vlada, please, no! Even with a gun, it’s dangerous to go there!”
“Calm down, Kangassk. It’s not my first trip there.” Vlaga gave him a condescending smile and put the coins into his hand.
“Would you… maybe… like going somewhere tonight?” Kan asked hopefully. “We have a theater and…”
“No, thanks. I’d rather take a nap and be on my way in the morning.”