Though there hadn’t been any conflict between Ruclua and Stredo in a handful of years and they weren’t technically at war or anything, Barrett and Shanta still kept a low profile as they entered the country, mixing in among the many others moving through.
They were headed for Phanapis, a smaller city in Ruclua. That is, it was small compared to the relative city size in Ruclua and tiny compared to Stredo… but larger than Durham and Triridge put together. Though he’d now grown desensitized to Stredo’s size, Barrett could still recall how big his home city had felt when he was growing up, even though it wasn’t large in the grand scheme of things.
Along the way, Shanta asked about the followers of the nameless God. “What made you feel you owe them so much?”
“They were the only ones willing to give me food and shelter. Technically, I lived with my cousin… but they provided so little of those things I wouldn’t count it. Simon and the others helped me out when no one else would- at risk to themselves. Sort of like when you found me out on that battlefield.”
“Bah, that was my job. You just happened to live long enough for me to help you.”
“I’m sure you knew what was going on… people don’t get stabbed in the back for no reason.”
Shanta shrugged, “I might have had suspicions, but I wasn’t going to let anyone tell me who I could and couldn’t heal. It seems I made a good choice- you saved me a bit of trouble at the expense of a lot of trouble for yourself. Don’t tell me running while that injured wasn’t a lot of trouble, either. Just because you didn’t get caught doesn’t mean it wasn’t bad.”
Barrett grinned sheepishly, “It’s weird to think about now. People like that couldn’t even scratch me now…”
“That’s right… but you manage to keep finding people who can almost kill you. Even among your sect, you spend a large amount of time being almost dead. I almost couldn’t believe you ripped out your own heart. But then again, it was you…” Shanta shook her head. “Did you even think about it?”
“A prophet told me not to,” Barrett held his head high, “More or less. Subconsciously, I expected to be able to grow back my heart… and I almost couldn’t. I guess True Immortal Bodies aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.”
“Maybe you’re just pushing things too far.” Shanta looked at Barrett, “It’s great that you care about your friends more than yourself, but you should put more value on you too.”
“You think I don’t care about me?” Barrett made a fist in front of himself, “Here’s the thing… I don’t know if I’d want to live as the kind of person who let their friends die when they could do something. Not being able to do anything is the worst feeling in the world.”
Shanta nodded slowly. “Yeah. Tragedy is an unfortunate motivation for many cultivators… and so far, nobody has managed to stop it happening in the future.”
“Too many people who think their ways are right…” Barrett shook his head.
Travel through Ruclua was safe, since Ruclua wouldn’t have become a very large country if their roads were filled with wild animals or monsters. It was part of what was holding back the Southern Metal Sea- but even they had relatively safe roads way from the sea itself. Either way, they kept monsters out of the country and removed any groups of bandits who thought they might prey on the wealth of the country. While Ruclua might not have cared if a group or two were beset by bandits, nobody would trade with them if it was a regular occurrence. Two individuals such as Barrett and Shanta might look like easy targets, but also didn’t have wagons full of goods. Up close one might notice the quality of their clothes and other gear, but that was actually another reason to leave them alone. Smart bandits preferred avoiding bloodshed entirely if possible.
It didn’t take too long for them to arrive in Phanapis which was merely a few days into Ruclua- at least when travelling at a cultivator’s pace. They weren’t sure of the exact urgency of the situation so even thought it was evening they immediately went to look for the contacts Simon had mentioned in a second sheet attached to his letter.
“I think we’re in the right section now,” Barrett sniffed, “The apothecary should be this way.” He pointed down a narrow but well-kept street.
After another block or two, Shanta sniffed as well, “You’re right. I smell the herbs now. I’ve trained to pick them out but you got them from all the way over there…”
“It’s not like I could distinguish anything in particular. I certainly couldn’t say what most things were, anyway. However,” Barrett tapped his nose, “Pure Body Tempering isn’t just about muscles.”
“I hate it.” Shanta said, “What’s the point of learning all this stuff about bodies if you can just change it?”
Barrett shrugged, “It’s not like energy cultivators and magic users don’t go against what’s normal. It’s just that most of what they do is common enough to be included in your learning.” Shanta grumbled as they stepped into the apothecary. A bell rang over the door as they opened it, and an older man stepped out from the back room. Barrett addressed him, “Hello… we’re looking for Charlotte?”
The man looked Barrett and Shanta up and down, “Is that so? This way.” He gestured behind the counter into the back room. They followed him out through the back and out a door into another alleyway. “It’s just over here.” He walked down a few doors, then knocked in what was obviously a special pattern. Barrett listened, both for people in the alleyway around them and for what was going on inside. Master Alnherr said that it was possible to sense the layout of a room… but Barrett wasn’t at that point yet. However, he could hear each person moving inside. One person moved towards the door, and there were many more in back rooms talking quietly. The door opened, revealing the face of a middle aged woman- not a cultivator, similar to the apothecary. “These two are for you, Charlotte,” the man gestured to Barrett and Shanta.
“Oh! Do come in,” the slightly heavy set woman waved them inside. “There’s a pot on the stove. You’re welcome to stay as long as you need but…” she shook her head, “We’re out of beds. Only room on the floor now. This is one of the few places left…”
“That’s okay,” Barrett held up a hand to stop Charlotte, “We’re not here for charity. We’re here on Simon’s request, more or less.”
“Simon?” Charlotte’s eyes lit up, “You’ve come all the way from Triridge?”
“Not exactly,” Barrett shook his head, “We’re from Stredo, but I was in Triridge… for some time. Don’t worry, we’re here to help.” Barrett turned to face the door, “That’s to you, behind the door.”
A grim faced woman, about the same age as Charlotte, stepped into the room. She looked at Barrett in surprise. “You… don’t look much like a wizard. Regardless, I won’t let anyone cause trouble here…” her eyes flicked to Shanta.
Shanta shrugged, “Relax, I’m a healer. We’re here to help.”
“That’s right,” Charlotte waved a hand at the woman, “Simon sent them to help. You remember me talking about him, right Caprica?”
Caprica frowned, “That’s… the priest from the church of Prosperity?”
“He was, once. Decades ago. I’m sure you wouldn’t begrudge his background, hmm?”
Caprica grimaced, “No, I get it…”
Barrett could feel she was a cultivator- a third tier magic user who gave off a gloomy aura. It seemed somewhat familiar, but not quite the same as anything else he’d previously felt.
Charlotte turned to Barrett and Shanta, “Caprica’s been with us a couple years… and with all the trouble lately she can be a bit overprotective. If Simon sent the two of you, I’m quite grateful for whatever help you can provide. Times have been hard. You said you were a healer?” Charlotte looked at Shanta, “We have a few sick people… we don’t want to turn them away but we also don’t want everyone else to catch what they have. If you could look at them…”
Shanta quickly agreed, and Barrett wished he had more he could do besides fight things. Well, perhaps they would need help moving things… but also, there certainly could be attacks so he kept his ears open for possible people coming from outside. For the first night at least, there was no further trouble.