“Ca ou ek’lain ome’hin oo e, A’elia?” Hegel said as she descended the stairs of the inn. She held her signature green cloak under her arm and hopped on one foot in an attempt to fit her heel into a worn boot, a piece of Edlian Toast hanging loosely between her teeth.
“I didn’t understand a word of that,” Amelia said as she carefully stowed adventuring gear into her rucksack. “Your mouth is quite full, Hegel, and I have yet to discover what mysticism might make that less of an issue.”
“I said ‘can you explain something to me,’” Hegel droned after she swallowed her breakfast in a single chomp. “My cloak doesn’t seem to tatter.” Hegel doused her face with water from an oaken basin near the stairs and exchanged smiles with the tall, skinny, wooden Edlian innkeeper behind the front desk. She patted her face with her sleeve and tightened the leather bracer on her wrist as she eyed a pyramid of toast on a yew platter.
“Tatter?” Amelia said as she looked up from her bag with a raised brow.
“Yeah, you know,” Hegel said, waving two pieces of toast methodically in the air as she spoke, “get damaged or, I don’t know, old and busted or something.” She crammed the foodstuffs into her mouth excitedly and washed them down with a mug of something she couldn’t pronounce.
“I know what it means,” Amelia said, “I’m just struggling to formulate an answer that I think you’ll like.”
“Oh,” Hegel gulped, the evidence of several breakfasts on her collar. “Maybe just tell me the truth? Is it some magicky nonsense?”
“Kind of?” Amelia admitted before polishing off the last of her Humdig Tea. She crossed the room and dusted the crumbs away from Hegel’s tunic before giggling at her friend’s food-inflamed hamster cheeks. “Are you saving that for later?”
“No,” Hegel gulped, “I get better food later. Don’t change the subject, you brat.”
“Pingforth’s Needle,” Amelia sighed.
“Pongfirth’s Noodle?” Hegel replied as she absently scratched her head.
“Your cloak. Somewhere around the time we were tracking those Mire Toads to investigate why they were excreting paint. You said that you loved that cloak.”
“I remember. Literally the most disgusting two weeks of my life.”
“I know,” Amelia laughed. “We secured the dark artifact, though. I also told Pingforth’s Needle about your cloak.”
“You . . . told it?” Hegel asked, her face squished together in suspicion.
“Without resorting to long-winded declamation, the needle essentially treasures things that ought to be treasured. Your cloak will be good as new every day that we are still friends.”
“Wow,” Hegel said, “that’s really awesome of you.” She smiled impishly and tousled Amelia’s red hair. “Admitting in front of these twig people that you are friends with a disgraced line of nobility and all.”
“Best friends.” Amelia grinned and prodded Hegel’s nose. “And Pingforth’s Needle treats your cloak with the same love that you do. Favorite things should be taken care of, after all.”
Amelia shouldered her bag and placed a handful of living insects on the front desk as she walked past. The Edlian innkeeper looked down at the bounty of bugs briefly before scooping them up and gently placing them all over its body, one by one. Hegel dry heaved and quickly caught up to Amelia outside of the inn. She turned on her heel and peeked back inside one last time. Her eyes widened as she watched the Edlian innkeeper split into two in order to accommodate more of the insects. Perhaps there had been two of them standing really closely together the entire time, but Hegel didn’t stick around to wonder.
“Amelia, wait!” Hegel yelled as she sprinted down the road out of town.
“No time for waiting, Hegel! We don’t often have days off and I’m making it down to that fizzy lake before the Academy contacts us with more ‘magicky nonsense’ in mind!”
“Some best friend!” Hegel huffed as she sidled up next to Amelia and began to catch her breath.
Amelia’s unconventional weapon occasionally rubbed its scabbard against Hegel’s leg as they walked. Each time, Hegel was blinded by the glint of Amelia’s scalemail apron as she looked down to find a way to effectively avoid contact. Seeing Amelia’s Corvite Tongs made Hegel briefly wonder what fun it would be to meet them in combat; flitting thoughts brought on by minor annoyance. Of course, they could have walked single file, but that’s not how best friends walk.
Upon reaching the effervescent lake, Amelia and Hegel laughed and played as they spritzed fizzy water back and forth. Hegel tested how long she could hold her breath underwater, and Amelia investigated some fish below the surface that turned into bubbles when she poked at them. Eventually, they came to rest on the shore of the lake, their feet swaying lazily in the wake of popping gas pockets. Hegel looked fondly at the cloak folded nearby, but she quickly realized that something still troubled her.
“Amelia,” Hegel said, “why do magisters and such always come running out of library stacks saying that they’ve ‘discovered a new spell’ or magic or some such thing like that? They didn’t ‘discover’ anything. It was written in a book.”
“Are you worried that we may not be the only ones discovering, Hegel?” Amelia said as she gazed down at the waters.
“No,” Hegel said, “I just feel like it’s a weird thing to say. You read the book and then you know the magic, right? Someone else discovered it.”
“Hmm, yes and no,” Amelia replied. “What you call ‘magic’ the artificers and magisters know as ‘din,’ and we don’t quite understand what it is yet. Artifacts are infested with it. Some creatures have it coursing through them in some way, shape, or form. It’s just . . . pervasive.”
“Yeah,” Hegel said before allowing silence to drift carelessly on the air.
“Why do you ask?” Amelia eventually said as she picked grass blades off of her dress.
“I dunno. I guess I just wonder what it was like for the ones who actually did discover whatever cool thing they were doing with the din. Like, how awesome would that have been? One moment you are fooling around with an artifact or some junk you found—”
“Components, right, but like, what an amazing feeling to be doing whatever and all of a sudden an acid blob or shark made of darkness spews forth and wrecks your house.”
Amelia looked at her friend and laughed.
“I’m serious!” Hegel said with some exasperation. “To really discover something nuts like that must be an incredible feeling.”
They looked at the darkening sky for a long while before Amelia smiled and looked over at Hegel.
“You know,” Amelia said, “you could say that I discovered you in that dungeon near the River of the Water Dragon.”
“Pfft,” Hegel spat, “I was already there to begin with.”
“Uh huh, and yet I discovered you all the same.”
“You’re right, though,” Amelia said, “discoveries are a gift to those who stumble across them. It is a wondrous feeling.”
“A gift? Like my infinitely regenerating cloak?”
“Like your infinitely regenerating cloak.”
“Okay,” Hegel said excitedly.
Somewhere in the distance, a ringing began to swell.
“You also meant the gift of friendship, right?” Hegel asked.
As the ringing crescendoed, a pink haze became evident over the hill on the other side of the lake. Amelia stood up and pulled her boots on before grabbing her bag. Hegel jumped to her feet and stumbled over to her cloak in a desperate attempt to match Amelia’s pace.
“That sounds like a dinstone!” Amelia said excitedly. “That means the Academy has a mission for us. Would you care to go on an adventure, Lady Hegel?”
“Would I?” Hegel smirked as she pulled her polearm’s blade from the body of a nearby tree. “I would consider it a gift.”