The morning at the shop is always quite lively, even just after one exits the covers. Tressa eagerly throws open her curtains upon rising out of bed, scratching her bed head and yawning. The weather outside is perfect, as it often is in Rippletide. The Coastlands are blessed with temperate weather; not sweltering like the Sunlands or chilly like the Frostlands. The sun is never beating down in heat, save in the summer. But even then, the cooling waves are a reprieve you can't get anywhere else in Orsterra. And the fine sands that run all the way along the coast to Grandport are what beach dreams are made of. From her room, Tressa gazes out towards the blue ocean meeting the sky in the distance, forming a glistening horizon in the morning sun.

"Alright!" She throws open the windows, taking in the salty air from the seaside. Her pet squirrel hops on her head and chitters. Tress grins, "It's another great day to make some money, Kuzco!"

Kuzco, dressed cutely in a small button vest, fetches her comb as she begins to dress for the day. She tops her short, bouncy hair with the trademark trader's hat, complete with her special little touch: a yellow feather she bought from her first junk sale. The trader said It was from something called a chocobo, birds not native to Orsterra. She couldn't believe how lucky she was.

"Mornin' Pa! Mornin' Ma!" The girl greets her parents cheerfully, dressed as though she might be ready to hike.

Her parents are beginning the morning after a quick breakfast by setting up shop. The Colzione Tradepost is known as a general store of sorts. They have nice porcelain, clothing, sculptures, and even books for sale. A lot of the pricier objects are from trades of old that have accumulated history and value. Outside their home-shop they sometimes sell produce and other comestible products as retail from fishers. The girl hastily grabs the last piece of egg toast her parents left for her in the conjoined kitchen area.

Olneo Colzione looks to his daughter, the ends of his mustache turning up gleefully, "Look at our number one employee, out of the gates already!"

"Hehe, the early merchant gets the deal!" Tressa salutes, "I'm off to stock the shelves!"

"Up up up! Not just early!"

"Oh, dear, this again?" Marina sighs with a smile at her husband.

"It's a must-know, honey, for every merchant!"

"Well, duh! Smiley and mannerly too!" Tressa does a peace sign, and Kuzco poses on her head as well, "You're not getting me that easy, pa!"

"Hahaha, that's my girl! Well, go on. These shelves ain't gonna stock themselves!"

"Be back in-"

"Hold your seahorses there, missy!" Marina calls Tressa just before the eager beaver leaves the entrance, "There've been pirates causin' a fuss near town! And they're at the tavern too! You keep a wide berth, you hear?"

"Bah, blasted sea dogs!" Olneo grumpily cleans up some discarded goods, "Back in my day, I woulda whooped them good for their money!"

The portly man no longer was recognizable as the fearsome merchant he once was. Not only did he have eyes for value and a tongue to talk rain down from the sky, but he was also fit as a horse. Olneo the Muscled Merchant, they used to call him. He had broken the backs of a few unfortunate thieves who tried to rob him back in his day. Settling down has made him a bit more of a soft family man.

"I got it, Ma!" Tressa waves and Kuzco gives a thumbs up, "Be back in two ripples of the tide!"

Walking out onto the paved streets of Rippletide, one can see all of the town waking up bright and early. As she munches on her toast and hands a nut or two to Kuzco, she surveys the town.

Rippletide is a port town built on the remains of an old castle. This explains the stonework which makes up much of the old foundation. It stands on an established floor piled on the edge of the coast. Additions to the town's west side are composed primarily of wooden materials, creating the piers. Throughout the town, which is situated at the southeast side of Middlesea, water runs through the sea out to the rest of the world. Bridges span some of these smaller venues, though none as pretty as those of Saintsbridge. The control of these waters has made Rippletide an area of bustling activity and entrepreneurship from around the world, drawing in trades and faces from all over. While it was nowhere as large as Grandport, the Coastland crown jewel, it certainly made up for it in a lively and relaxed atmosphere despite the competition between traders.

Tressa looks out from the main bridge just before open sea. She counts about three ships coming into the wharf. Already docked are two small fluyt ships in the harbor. One bears a red and gold flag and another has a blue and silver banner from the crow's nest.

"Newcomers!" Tressa practically hops a little. Newcomer ships mean new loot to drool over. However, she has to focus first on the task at hand.

While she thinks about the route to take for supplies, she cannot shake the thought of those new ships in the harbor, with goods beyond Rippletide which she likely has never laid eyes on. Living here, there is a lot you see, but it's all only tantalizing bits and pieces of what may actually be really out there. It really makes one think about what lies beyond the shell of their little oyster Looking slightly towards the open sea, that old wanting desire resurfaces in her young heart. She has vied a long time now, but only in daydreams and silly wishes.

Yet, they do not invalidate the wanderlust merchant in her being.

A soft breeze blows by. She holds to her hat as Kuzco chitters.

"... If only I could see where they come from..."

Going down the mountain trails was much easier than when they had to climb up the Highland paths on their feet at least. The monsters evened out the difficulty in both instances. Shortly after they bid farewell to Sadiq and headed north, Primrose and the others ran afoul a band of ratkin and their nasty looking leader, a ratking.

"Waugh!" Alfyn ducks below the ratking's cleaving axe.

In focusing on the apothecary, the ratking leaves its rear open for Therion, who swoops in for a decisive stab at the neck. He is unfortunately a hair off and hits the ratking's tough helmet instead, which extends to cover part of its neck. The beast rears and hisses at him with two enormous incisors snapping.

The thief jumps back as the ratking lunges for him now. Just as it does, the end of a spear burrows its way into the ratking's mouth, bursting from the other side of its head in a clean pierce. The big rat instantly goes slack, dropping its axe, and just dangles now from the spear shaft which impaled its head. Therion wipes off some of the rat blood that splattered onto his face from the proximity of the spear. He glances with minor annoyance at the warrior who shakes the dead rat off his weapon.

"Watch it."

"You could have maneuvered the other way," Berg says tonelessly as he flicks the blood off the Sunland spear. It had been a while since he used a spear. In Cobbleston, he primarily taught the guards the ways of the sword. Lances and spears have their use though, as they can better pierce a variety of tough naturally armored monsters.

"Guys, guys, you both did great!" Alfyn says quickly, sensing tension, "You guys got 'im hook line n' sinker!"

Therion grunts slightly and goes to rifle through the ratking's belongings. Like crows, rats also have a hoarding capability, thought usually for food. Ratkin, however, have been known to loot armor and weapons off the dead for their own use.

The helmet, pulverized by the spear thrust, wouldn't get much. There is that stone axe, but it seems like a hassle to carry. The ratking also wears old armor, but it would stink too much of rat to sell. What a total loss. He straightens and pats down his hands.

"We should be getting out of the Highlands by now," Berg looks down the trail to where the ground begins to go near sea level to meet the beaches and waves, "Let us not dally further."

Therion glances up for the dancer. He sees her sitting a bit idly on some rocks, a bloody dagger in her hand. Her gaze is a bit unfocused, ignoring the dead ratkin at her feet.

"Prim?" Alfyn goes over to her, "You alright? The rats didn't get you, did they?"

"... I'm fine, Alfyn," She gives a slight, hollow smile and stands, "Berg is right. We should go."

She just hasn't gotten over him, huh.

Therion sighs as they resume their journey. Such doubts will slow you down and make you dull on the road. If you want to live, you'll forget such distracting thoughts and focus on staying alive. Not that he was going to tell her. She'd probably stab him if he said that.

It wasn't that the thief was cold. But he was a survivalist to the core. He traveled light and stole when he needed, did what he needed to do to survive. Getting attached to people was... a luxury he can't afford. But, when he thinks about how the apothecary has made his life a lot easier, that rule begins to get a bit fuzzy, even as he tries to ignore it.

Their first night on the road together was thankfully quiet. They reached the base of the Highland mountains and had stepped their first foot onto Coastland territory. For the dancer, the sand felt vaguely familiar, yet also different.

"Whooahohoho!" Alfyn runs about the golden, moonlit beach like a kid in a candy store, "So this is the Coastlands...!"

Therion sighs and gathers some big, broad leaves from the nearby trees to make an ad Hoc sleeping mat. He watches with slight annoyance at Alfyn running into the waves and then away, "Will you please act your age."

Berg smiles softly at the enthusiastic apothecary ignoring the thief. He glances warily to the dancer, standing quietly in the sand, with the waves lapping at her sandals. She is gazing up towards the night sky. It is a clear and beautiful night where the cosmos has revealed all of its starry wonder.

Her eyes look to a single star. Sadiq had mentioned it. The star of Yusuf, for what he named Yusufa after. It is a small, single, bluish light. If you were not caring to look, it would be easily missed, as it is not particularly large or eye-catching. But, as Sadiq had said, the indigenous peoples of the Sunlands pointed to it as a star who led the weary and oppressed to the paradise of the gods. It was seen only by those who needed its hope. Yusuf, whom the star is named after, was a saint who converted to the Church of the Flame. He alleviated the suffering of many.

Prim sees a smaller star sparkling near the Yusuf star. They twinkle in unison. She feels the cool waves at her feet. For a moment, her burden felt eased.

I wish you both happiness... Yusufa... Sadiq...

Instantly, she mentally kicked herself. Happiness? They were dead! They were... never going to be laugh or smile again. Like her father, their lives were blown out like flames in a gust. If the gods had preordained it, they were cruel and unjust, no matter what saints they sent down. And she was also party to the guilt...

All she can do is not waste the effort they lay down for her to achieve her own goal. She mustn't fail. She mustn't fall into such trite pitfalls for her conviction. There is only one way to pay back blood...

"Prim?" Alfyn calls over to her from the small fire he and Berg started in the inner beach, "You alright?"

"I'm fine," She waves back over to him.

"We're about to have some dinner! I got rations!"

Therion, who was lounging on his leaf mat for a second, hops to his feet, muttering, "I'll catch some fish or something..."

"Huh? In the moonlight?" Alfyn blinks, "You handy at fishing, Therion? I caught some guppies before, but they never come out in the night..."

"There are some kinds of fish which seem more active at night," Berg says, pointing at the sea, "Supposedly, there is a type which surfaces at night in a massive group. The moon shimmers off their scales, making them appear like a patch of silver in water. Such a sight of the school is visible even from the Highland peaks..."

"Ohhh, that sounds neat-o!" Alfyn gazes out towards the ocean, "Fish that don't need to sleep, wow!"

"Of course, I have never caught them," Berg says frankly, "I typically do not dabble in aquatic activities."

"I'll be fine," Therion goes to the water edge. He was not in the mood to eat some more of those herbaceous rations, no matter the positive health effects.

In the dark waters with the moonlight shimmering off the waves, he can't really see a thing. He lights his dagger with flames and waves it slowly over the surface nearby. Nope. Figures that fish don't want to swim up to areas where they might get beached.

Despite the fatigue from the mountain trek, he was pretty dogged about getting a fish. He tosses off his boots, making sure the protective amulet is safe, before wading into the water. Against the light of his dagger, he sees a crab scuttle by on the sand, as well as tiny sliver fish, too small to eat.

"Any luck, Therion?" Alfyn calls for the thief. Therion just grunts in response.

Berg looks up at the palm trees in the moonlight. There is no fruit yet. Either that or they had been picked off by other creatures in the area already. That would bode ill, if there were indeed other creatures in the area. He unpacks his own rations, including dried meat and hard cheese.

"We'd best not expend energy when we can get by," He says to the two by the water, "It would be best if we ate now."

Primrose chuckles lightly, seeing the thief grumble at his poor pickings. She goes back over to the small fire set up. Berg's large frame keeps the flame decently sheltered from the beach breezes. Therion eventually comes back empty-handed, holding his boots. Alfyn espies the amulet tied to the shaft of the footwear as Therion goes to re-wrap them on his shin.

"Hey, what's that?" The curious apothecary leans over to look.

"None of your business," Therion sighs as he tightens the laces.

"No need to be so blithe about it, Therion," Primrose says, chewing quietly on some dried fruit, "Alfyn merely asked a question.

"You keep it zipped too, princess."

"It seemed like an amulet of sorts," Berg remarks, munching on some hard bread, "You did not strike me the superstitious type."

Therion mutters "mind your own business" before picking up a wedge of cheese and munching down in it. Unfortunately, he bit the rind first and gets a mouthful of that grainy bitterness. The dancer sees his face screw up a bit and gives a small smile of amusement. The thief tries to wash his tongue with some water.

"It is a beautiful night," Berg looks up and around, "Thankfully, there do not seem to be many nocturnal monsters here in the Coastlands."

"I'll bet the place looks real pretty in the day," Alfyn chuckles, "I heard all about the nice beaches by Goldshore. Magg had some wild stories about pirates and sea monsters..."

"How much longer until we reach Rippletide?" Prim looks toward the north end of the path they were supposed to be following.

"We passed the gap today," Berg takes out a small map of the north Highland region, "If we follow along the coast, we ought to arrive by the end of tomorrow if we make haste. Even better, we could take a thinner route and maybe even make it in the day. But it is more rife with monsters."

"We made good time!" Alfyn grins and wipes the crumbs off his lips with his sleeve, "Ah, shoot I barely gathered any new plants on our way here! I'll make up for it, starting tomorrow!"

"So much for making haste then," Therion rolls his eye.

"You won't be complaining when I'm using 'em to patch you up!"

"Easy. I just won't get hit," Therion says matter-of-factly, "I'm not klutzy like you."

Alfyn folds his arms and puffs a cheek at the comment.

"That is easy to say, but not to do," Berg says, looking at the thief, "Battle is rarely predictable. Luck in one match does not mean you will emerge unscathed in the next bout."

"Who said anything about luck?" Therion scowls slightly and adds with a sneer, "And like you should talk. You're like a giant moving target. A slow one."

"Someone's grumpy tonight," Primrose gives a wry smile at the thief. He just avoids her face and wolfs down the rest of the cheese, bitter rind and all.

"Hey, look!" Alfyn perks up and points to the night sky, "Isn't that Dreisang's staff? Woah... I never saw it in real life before!"

"It is a very clear night," Berg glances up, "The staff is often harder to see, since it is wedged between Aeber's Knife and Balogar's Helm."

"Gee, Berg, ya gotta know like, everything at your age," Alfyn chuckles.

"You flatter me, Alfyn. I am not even 40 yet," The warrior chuckles quietly, taking a swig from his flask, "But I have been told I do appear rather old."

"It's those pesky grey hairs, as Ulinor always said!" Alfyn points at the stripes on other's head.

"Well, that's not entirely true, Alfyn," Prim laughs lightly, "Our dear Therion has a whole head of white hair. While he is as grumpy as one, he is no elderly person."

"Oh yeah!" Alfyn seems to suddenly realize the thief's hair color. Therion gives a venomous eye roll to the dancer, who merely giggles in response.

"... I'm going to bed," Therion grumbles as he goes to lie down on the leaves her laid out, "If any of you guys're late in the morning, I'm not waiting."

Primrose smirks knowingly. The thief said the same thing before… yet he ended up waiting nonetheless.

"Alright, night then, Therion," Alfyn says obliviously before looking back to the warrior, "Say, Berg, were ya born with that hair? I think Therion is..."

"Nay, my hair was ebon at birth, I believe," Berg takes a moment to think, "My bunkmate in the army discovered my first gray hair when I was only 20. It wasn't uncommon for many who were trained in the art of war though. Such pressures change a man's soul as well as his body."

"Hmm, so you were a soldier," Prim says with mild interest, "With strength like yours, you must have killed a lot of people."

She had known the answer already. She asked it anyway as a sort of spite, a bit of retribution. Alfyn seems nervous for a moment as Berg sighs and nods in confirmation. He knew what she was getting at.

"... Tis the way of war," Berg sweeps off any crumbs from his tunic, "As soldiers, we were taught to fight and kill. I say that as a fact, not as an excuse."

"Uhh..." Alfyn yawns loudly, "Say, it's getting' real late, ain't it? We should call it a night. Get up bright n' early to Rippletide, you know?"

"I agree with the sentiment," Berg says solemnly, "But it would be unwise for all of us to rest at once. That begs to be taken unawares in our sleep out in the open."

"I will take the first shift then," Primrose offers. She wasn't feeling tired at all. Sleeping might just be the last thing on her mind at this point.

"If you want, one of us can stay up with ya, Prim!" Alfyn grins.

"You ought to rest, Alfyn. I can stay with the maiden till she goes to slumber. I will wake you then for your shift," Berg nods.

"Well…" Alfyn seems to think about it before a lightbulb goes off in his head and he enthusiastically agrees, "Ok! Well, night, guys!"

Without another word, he happily goes to lay down beside Therion. The thief grumbles and scootches the apothecary half onto the sand, away from his center spot atop the leaves. Alfyn obliviously is out like a light.

"…" Primrose gives a soft smile at the two of them beside one another. She turns her attention back to the flickering flames, her gaze never meeting that of the warrior across the fire. The two are silent for a spell.

Despite the exchange the night of the farewell party, the two remained wary of the other. Berg still found her powers disturbing, to say the least. His sensitivity to the powers of Gates let him in on a rather perturbing feeling when he was around her. After being aware of it the first time, when she forced the bandit to kill himself, he has been unable to shake off the dreaded feeling. Prim, on the other hand, is inscrutable. When she looks to him, it is one of wry temptation. He couldn't tell if she was truly an ally or a foe waiting for him to fall.

But, he reasoned, she had cried true tears for that Sunlander… and given me his spear no less.

If for that, and nothing else, she set herself apart from the malicious puppeteer who almost killed him that time in battle.

He clears his throat a bit and begins in a low voice not to disturb the resting, "Your skill with a knife is quite remarkable."

"Hm… Thank you," The dancer says simply, "It is not quite as striking as your art of the sword though."

"Dagger fighting is nonetheless impressive. I have seen such skills overwhelm swordsmen such as myself," Berg folds his arms a bit, "You must have trained well."

"…No, not well at all," Primrose gives a wry smile, her eyes focused on the flickering flames, "It was just what necessity dictated."

Even though Alfyn divulged of her unsavory past, Berg could not shake the feeling that it did not explain the air with which the dancer carried herself. A common prostitute would not be so eloquent nor trained in a deadly art. She could have been a spy, or perhaps an assassin. If she was keeping this a secret, then what are her aims? And her dark power also… all these strange details and missing swaths of information put him at unease.

"… You are a curious man yourself, Berg," Primrose now meets his eyes, much to his surprise, "If that is even your true name."

Berg freezes. The dancer's smile changes rather playfully. She was reading him and his tells so easily while he couldn't even figure out what was right on her face.

"Ah, so I was right?"

"… I suppose it is not a secret that needs to be kept any longer…" Olberic sighs, "I had been hoping to keep a lower profile as we traveled… However did you find out…"

"I knew something was off about you… but I wasn't sure until you reacted so skittishly, haha," Primrose draws herself up a little and stretches, "You seemed to have quite a past of your own, and you were hiding it from everyone else. And that name the ruffian uttered back in the den… Erhardt, was it?"

Olberic nods, "You know of it?"

"I have read some history books… I believe it was the name of a famous knight from the bygone Hornburg Kingdom. If you had affiliations with him… Why, you must have been important."

Olberic's lips draw into a taut line, "…Indeed, I knew the man."

Not as well as I should have.

"A mercenary of a fallen kingdom then?" Primrose leans forward a little, a playful smile forming on her face, "My, my, what is your true name? Such a mysterious man..."

"Olberic… Olberic Eisenberg," Olberic says tersely. The old name felt like a good, old piece of armor on his tongue. Despite the time, it fit well.

"Olberic…" Primrose rolls the name around her tongue for a few moments before her eyes widen with realization, "The Olberic? The other sword beside Erhardt?"

"The very same one."

Primrose makes a slight sound that may have been a scoff of disbelief, "So… you're a walking dead man among the living."

"… A relic, yes," Olberic's eyes lower onto the flame. He pokes it a little with his sword to stimulate the embers.

"I'd say my history pales in comparison. You are a living legend."

"It is hardly an interesting story," Now it is Olberic's turn to scoff, "I am far more intrigued by your shadow magic."

"Oh? What about it?"

"It is by no means common magic… and many places go as far as to say it is illegal," He refocuses his gaze on the dancer, "It has customs associated with it that are despicable and barbaric. Human sacrifice, eldritch summons, defiling the soul…"

As he lists these, Primrose's face remains unreadable.

"I came to face one such shadow master before. And it nigh costed me my life," Olberic suppresses a shudder at the memory, "It was a vile encounter. I felt something probing my very soul and robbing me of my faculties. That magic is one of anti-life and anti-divinity. It is sacrilege and depravity manifest."

The dancer's gaze remains on him, though it betrays nothing.

"… It begs the question of how you came to be in possession of this power… and what do you intend to do with it," He looks to her, trying to discern a reaction.

"… You are more of a thinker, I think, than most people give you credit for, Mr. Eisenberg," Primrose smiles sweetly, giving a non-answer.

Her strange and detached address of his name strikes him as odd. Before he can needle her for dodging the question, she asks an odd question.

"Would you believe me if I said I was on a quest to become the only possessor of this accursed magic?" Primrose rests her chin on a hand propped on her knee, "That I wish to find and kill all other practitioners of the shadow arts?"

She says that with a saccharine smile that even he could detect. Olberic gives a small snort. She was teasing him.

"You are a vexing woman," He says, pointing at her, "But I do think you hide behind more words than you will admit."

"Hmm… that may be so… same as how you hide behind your sword, I suppose," She says mysteriously.

Olberic does not press further with her, instead sighing. He was at a clear disadvantage. She was reading his every emotion whilst he was failing to even grasp the intention behind her words.

"So... when do you want to tell Alfyn and the other one your real name? Seems almost improper to continue just calling you 'Berg.'"

"... I will tell them tomorrow... I just hope it will not cause much of an issue."

"That should be no problem," Primrose smiles slightly, "Alfyn may not know the implications... And I hardly think Therion cares."

"...You ought to rest soon," He says, "I will wake Alfyn later."

"You can rest yourself," Primrose retorts lightly, "I'll wake Alfyn."

She looks out to sea with a faraway expression.

"I don't think I will be sleeping tonight."

The cleric stands at the deck of the ship, looking up at the night sky passing overhead as they sailed. Down below deck, H'aanit, Cyrus, Linde, and Hägen are fast asleep after the assassin ordeal. Most other passengers sleep, ignorant of what fracas had passed in the first half of their voyage. Half the ship crew has taken their sleep shift. The remainder half work slowly, often rubbing their eyes or yawning. They await their turn to go to dreamland.

Ophilia had rarely seen a sky like this. Down southward, she sees almost an entirely different night compared to Flamesgrace. The snow and clouds often obscured the heavens back up north. Here, the weather is pleasant and not chilly, and the skies are clear.

"You ought to be sleeping, you silly."

Ophilia turns to see Mattias approach with some water. She takes the refreshment gratefully but does not drink it immediately, still looking to the stars.

"You really like the view, eh?" Mattias looks to the cleric.

"Yes, very much…" Ophilia murmurs, "It's still so exciting you know. A new city tomorrow… almost as big as Atlasdam!"

"Well, no, that's not true," Mattias chuckles, "Rippletide is a port city but it is nowhere as big. It's more like a fishing village that just happened to be built on a convenient spot. But I guess its all the same kind of adventure to you, hm?"

He smiles when Ophilia nods. They enjoy watching the sky slowly pass for a while. The sailors around shout occasional orders to the crow's nest for forecast, as well as riggings and whatnot.

"When this is over, you should rethink my offer," The merchant says.

"Huh?

"You know, traveling with me."

"Oh, Mattias," Ophilia gives a light laugh and curls her hair behind her ear, "You know I'll have to pick up the slack at the cathedral once Anna is on the Kindling… Josef needs someone to keep a tight leash on his stubborn self…!"

She says that in a light tone. For a second, however, Mattias looked a bit grim. The look is quickly gone though, and he folds his arms behind his head nonchalantly.

"Yes, yes, I know… Daughter of the year, Ophilia!" He dramatically sighs, "You really only think of others, don't you?"

"What's wrong with that?" She raises an eyebrow at Mattias, "Aelfric wanted us to be kind to one another. It's a beautiful thing that leads to a beautiful world."

Mattias walks a bit in front of her so she cannot see his face. He takes a few seconds before he speaks.

"We don't really need the world… if we have what matters most."

"…? What?" Ophilia goes to put a hand on Mattias' shoulder, "What are you talking about, Mattias…"

"… Joking!" He turns to her with a big trickster grin, "Haha, gotcha!"

"Oh, you are just horrible!" Ophilia flushes and punches him in the armpit.

"Hehehe!" He chuckles and rubs the spot of impact, "Ow ow ow, whatever happened to pacifism, Ophilia?"

"You're always just teasing me!" Ophilia puffs a cheek and flails her arms a little, like a child. The display only makes Mattias laugh harder, much to her chagrin, "Can't you be serious with me?"

"You are just too much, Ophilia," He chuckles and pokes her on the forehead, "Never change."

"Huh? Where- Where did that come from?" Ophilia pouts cutely, "You're not making any sense, Mattias…!"

"Haha, I guess I must be tired. Off to bed for me then. You should come soon too, Fili."

He waves as he walks back down below deck. Ophilia feels her flushed face slowly cool down in the night air and sea breeze. She never understood how Mattias got under her skin so easily. He was always such a big brother, honestly.

Sighing, she looks out to the dark mountains rushing to meet the night sky in the distance for a few more moments before joining the others below deck to rest. It takes her a little bit of effort to maneuver around the floor in the dark, since there were no lights down in the lower deck save for what came in through the porthole and a lantern at the other end of the barge. She didn't want to use her light spell and possibly wake everyone. Eventually, she reaches her cot after feeling around a little.

As she settles into her cot, she sees Linde's eyes flicker open and look at her in the dark. Being a nocturnal beast, her eyes glow in the dark like luminous orbs. Ophilia gives a small smile as she whispers "good night" before turning over. Lying on her side, she looks out the porthole on the opposite wall and sees the night and deep sea blending together into one dark color. Giving a small yawn, she closes her eyes to sleep.

"Hmm…" Tressa looks over the selection of fish carefully. Kuzco is no help for anything other than produce. On such things, she has to rely on her own trained eye. But she is confident anyway. Olneo had taken her from a young age traipsing around the open-air markets of Rippletide.

Many a time was she required to appraise the quality of products. Her father would watch nearby, with a stern and observant eye. She hadn't gotten her first try on her own, admittedly. She asked some old lady passing by how she got her fish, and learned tricks from her. Clear eyes, no slime, no stink, and good texture when you press. If a fish has just been caught moments ago, it should have died only a few moments ago as well. As a result, the flesh remains firm to the touch.

Olneo laughed when she picked out her choice of a blue marlin. Indeed, she had done well learning appraising techniques with new product. No merchant knows the values of all things everywhere. The world is simply too big. They have to learn tricks from locals who have been doing it for longer.

The marlin she picked would have been a stellar choice to resell. Unfortunately, she had missed the mark on the flesh where the ship's fishing spears had run into the collar and marred the filet. Olneo pointed this out to her and explained this sort of imperfection lowers its price. He then pointed it out to the fishmonger, who grudgingly slashed his price for the catch. They walked home with the pretty catch and turned the fillet into rations. And that was how Tressa learned to appraise fish.

"Now this looks nice," Tressa murmurs, glancing closely at the selection of whitings. They were definitely fresh, with no odor of rot or the beached surf.

Next to the selection is a larger grouper on display. It was also in a rather pristine condition. Gingerly, Tressa lifts one of its fins to inspect its gill area and breaks into a confident grin. The fishmonger had been watching her along with other customers curiously. She points to the grouper.

"I'll have that one please!"

"Wonderful choice!" The fisherman smiles as he goes to pull the fish up by the tail, "That's some real heft it's got. Lotsa meat, good bones for stock. Caught just this morning, fresh as they come. 100 leaves. It's an absolute bargain."

"Uh huh... I'll give you fifty for it," Tressa says bluntly.

"Fifty? What, are you yankin' my chain, missy?" The fisherman indignantly exclaims, "That's half the price of an already-great bargain! What fool do ya take me for?"

"I'm not going any higher than fifty," Tressa points at the fish, "The product isn't fit to sell at 90, much less a hundred."

Kuzco, perched atop her hat, nods along affirmatively. Some other goers look on at the seeming standoff between the merchant and the fisherman.

"Bah, take yer money elsewhere and stop wasting my time then."

"You see, the fish's outside looks great, but the inside is all messed up!" Tressa proclaims, "When you caught it with a hook, you improperly removed it and it caught on the innards!"

Her finger points directly at the gap where the fish's head meets the body and the gills open. One can see a thin trickle of blood and bodily fluid from the fish's insides leaking out. The fisher now notices this and hears his customers grumble to his dismay. He gives an indignant huff.

"... Fine, fine, fifty. Take the damn fish."

He wraps the fish in parchment as Tressa counts out fifty leaves and hands it over. As he takes the money, he sighs and seems a bit less belligerent.

"You really are a haggler," He says with some grudging respect at being found out, "Quite the tongue and eye."

"Hehe, thanks! And I know," Tressa gives a thumbs up, fish in the other hand, "Pleasure doin' business with ya!"

With that, she starts off for the rest of the errands. In addition to fish, she had to go and restock on wine, textiles, and some other things. There were supposed to be some good shipments coming in for foreign liquors later near noon, according to her trusted sources. A merchant needs an in-person, always, to get the best details on the best deals. For now, since it's still early, maybe she could find some good deals down at the south market for some other things...

At the inner market south of town, there are some people peddling wares like jewelry, clothing, as well as the usual food and services. She maneuvers by the cobblers to see what the day-old food stand has to offer, as it is sold at reduced price. Much of the stuff is what chefs would prefer not to use, but you can find some nice gems if you look hard enough. There are plenty of times where she and Kuzco got a very nice deal on some ripe fruit and vegetables. For meat and poultry, it is a much trickier game.

As she looks among the spoiled produce, there is a loud grumbling and something like a cat screech from the near corner of the market. Tressa turns to look and hears some people mutter as a man is chased away with his dignity barely intact, holding to his slashed trousers.

"It's Haggling Hilma again..."

Haggling Hilma is the rather unfashionable name given to perhaps Rippletide's meanest and most disliked resident merchant. She wasn't exactly old, per se. People say she's actually only in her middle age. However, she has the appearance like that of a near-elderly woman, with many years of stress having formed deep lines on her face. She is also rumored to have lost her eye and leg in a bet, thus why she wears a glass eye and peg leg. In general, she had few qualms about pulling fast ones on buyers and sellers alike, earning a reputation as an unscrupulous merchant. At night, she is known to frequent the ale dens for gambling games, since the game hall had been converted to trade storage. Obviously, she was one of the vocal dissidents about that choice.

"Bah! Lily-livered pissants..."

The infamous Hilma folds her arms, one hand holding a foreign ornamental saber. Her greying hair is tied loosely in a red bandanna, with a few sprigs framing her gaunt, scowling face. Her clothes are rather unkempt and she reeks of alcohol. Due to her habits, she would be homeless some days and rolling in dough the next. To tell the truth, that sort of life was obviously frightening and unhinged, but Tressa found the freedom in it to be a silver lining. As a merchant, the common saying is "no pain, no gain, but you can get more gain if you play the pain."

No one talks much about anything else surrounding the foul-mouthed Hilma, save that she did have a family. "Did" being the key, as in past tense. Her late husband was her partner in crime, helping her skim and scalp just about anything they could sell or buy. Rumor has it they even sold a child they had, but that's unfounded. Plus, human trafficking has been illegal for over a few decades now according to the Coastland trade laws.

It might be a bit naïve to believe it though.

Tressa passes an eye over Hilma's spot in the market, largely avoided by all. As usual, she has strangely interesting trinkets. They are unknown in origin and Hilma would cut you if you asked. One might end up with a complete fraud if they were not careful. But Hilma made it hard not to be skinned alive either way. People say she probably stole or fabricated some of the stuff.

The trinkets that catch Tressa's eye are a candelabra, an amulet, and a pen. The candelabra looks to be made of tarnished silver, with floral motifs on the arms and stem. The amulet looks dull, like it's made of wood, almost. The pen is one of those new types replacing quills, without feathers.

When Tressa saw value in something, she couldn't always explain why. For the fish, that was easy enough. There were objective problems and a standard which she could judge by. But a lot of times, there were just things that seemed valuable to her and no one else. They wouldn't be useful or actually valuable nominally even. Many a time she had spoken about it to her father as a child, pointing at something that she just had to have for no reason.

There was one time, where she pointed out a model statuette at a bazaar. Olneo had been very confused about the choice. It was made simply out of marble, with no maker's mark, and just a generic water bearing woman motif. Obviously, he did not go with the child's whim.

But later in the day, as they passed the auction area, they saw the exact same statuette sell for over 1,000 leaves. Olneo and Tressa's jaws dropped.

Since then, Olneo had told Tressa she perhaps had an innate sense for value, a skill prized by merchants. It was once dubbed "Bifelgan's Scale," which is what the merchant god supposedly used to find the value of all things. Merchants who had this ability honed were allegedly able to simply look at something and instantly know its value. Such a skill is invaluable in the field of commerce.

Tressa, of course, curbed her enthusiasm and kept her expectations level. She still had poor control over the sense, as she would never understand the reason behind what she saw value in. And if it's something from Hilma's shop … well, best skip it.

She sighs and goes about buying a nice bale of fabric. Finding a few small problematic stitches, she got 20 leaves off. When her pack began to get a bit heavy, she started home to drop everything off before going to the wine shipment.

Before the tavern, she hears some rowdy shouts from inside and even some glass shattering. But this was really no surprise in a place like that. Sailors who get drunk are among the worst customers. She hears some shouts like "damn pirates!" and remembers what her mother told her. Steer clear.

"How was the market today?" Marina looks to her daughter coming back in with parcels, "Goodness, that's quite the haul."

"Yep! I found some nice picks and extra stuff that you cannot believe!" Tressa laughs as she unloads her haul, "We'll make a small fortune outta this!"

"There wasn't anything interesting happening? What about the pirates?" Olneo pops his head in from dusting.

"Naw, they were just being loud with the sailors over in the pub, I think. Not unusual," Tressa shrugs, "Oh, but Haggling Hilma cut some guy's pants up!"

"Oh, my goodness!" Marina covers her mouth as she gasps, "That woman has no shame!"

"Just his pants, eh?" Olneo gives a playful smile, "She let 'im off easy then, hehe!"

"Dear, I do wish she would... Oh, but I shouldn't say," Marina sighs as she goes to help Tressa unpack, "She is not a very good example of a merchant. She's the reason people think merchants are always out to get someone!"

"Things are getting tighter. More ships get attacked and land shipments vanish. People are doing what they can to survive," Olneo sighs as he dusts down some shelves, "It wasn't the good ol' days, you know? More people are changin' for the worse."

"I saw some nice things on her sale corner," Tressa says without much thought, "But I probably couldn't afford them."

"That's my girl," Olneo nods, "Not that I don't trust the scales, but the lady'll make it not worth the trouble. Remember that time I tried buying that special dyed handkerchief, honey?"

"Oh, don't even remind me Neo!" Marina sighs with exasperation, "That old … hag! She threw an obscene number in the air, as if anyone would pay that for a handkerchief of all things!"

"It was a nice find though. Would have made a nice present."

"Hmm..." Tressa is only half listening as she finishes unpacking the last of her findings. She looks to the clock. Time to go to the wine shipment.

"Alright, down, Kuzco."

The squirrel obediently runs down her arm to her hand. She puts the squirrel back on his perch in her room and leaves him with some nuts and seeds. It'd be better not to show up with a pet to these kinds of things. With another quick word to her folks, she leaves the house once more and heads to the pier where the ships are coming in. Three ships actually came in: the traders, a luxury trade, and a passenger. Tressa sees the luxury ship's blue sails and espies a blonde man with long hair talking to the crew. The passenger ship seems to have come from Atlasdam and is just starting to lower its anchor.

"Wine shipment, coming through!"

The shout from the unloading cargo gets her attention and she goes to join the modest crowd gathering before the seller. There is a selection of reds and whites, as well as sweet wines and strong liquors. The seller begins loudly talking up the color and taste, and for very fair prices. But Tressa knew she had to act fast, since the price would change by the next hour.

"I'll take a Dragon's Breath!"

"100! Sold!"

"Sauvignon, two bottles."

"Pleasure doin' business with ya!"

"And I'll have a bottle of Cabernet!"

Tressa manages to net two reds, one white, and even a smaller bottle of hard, along with a real treat: rainbow wine. She didn't like alcohol much, despite being of age. She had it maybe once or twice since she turned 18. When it was sweet, she felt it was no different from juice. When it was strong or otherwise, the bitter burn turned her off. People go nuts for it though so it's always in need of restocking.

As she starts walking back towards the main marina, she sees the passengers coming out. One who stands out among them is a woman in furs with two fierce looking beasts. She seems like a hunter. They are infrequent in these parts. Tressa watches as she is accompanied by a man in a dark coat, a younger woman in white, and a man with a merchant's hat.

More interesting people...

She sighs a bit ruefully and goes to hurry back with the wine back to her home.

Back in the main street, more people are walking about after morning had passed. Unfortunately, it seems the tussling in the tavern has also spilled out into the open. There are two swarthy looking men with sabers at their belts and bandannas around their head squaring off with some stripe-shirt sailors. They seem to be getting by on insults for now, but there are remains of broken stools and tankards on the floor. It is liable to escalate from here maybe... Especially as the swarthy men are joined by others in similar bandannas. The two seem to be the pirate leaders. One is a short man and the other is tall and lean.

"Dirty pirates! You ain't payin' yer tabs!"

"I don't hear ol' Horus here makin' complaints!" One of the pirate leaders, a squat, fat man, says confidently.

Horus is the pub owner. He was a bit of a soft-spoken man. It's more likely he got bullied by the pirates. Again.

"Scoundrels! Ya keep thinkin' ye kin' have yer way with Rippletide, eh?" The sailor scowls with ruddy cheeks. Ah, that's why he's fighting. He's drunk. Most people wouldn't stand up to pirates.

"Stop, stop, stop!" The sailor's seeming captain runs out from the pub, coming in between the conflicting parties, "Don't make a scene, ye deck rats!"

He was insulting his own crew in favor of the pirates.

"Heh, listen to the lily-livered scalawag there, huh?" The thin pirate leader sneers, "Aight, thanks for the drink and loot then!"

Loot?

The pirates stride by in their posse, smug in every way as they pass the silenced sailors. Tressa sees they carry a sack with them that clinks a lot. They see her arms loaded with drinks.

"Yoink!"

One of the pirates swipe her rainbow wine bottle faster than she could say "two ripples of the tide."

"Hey boss, look! Rainbow wine!"

"Ey, ey, great, we'll have it good! Better than some kid, hehe...!"

"Hey, give that back!" Tressa growls, "I paid for that!"

"Yeah? Well why dontcha try and take it, kid?" The pirate sneers, jauntily holding the bottle.

Tressa bites her lip. Her parents indeed told her to steer clear of the pirates. Looking around, the townsfolk can only stare and point. They won't help. This is a sad but common occurrence.

"Can't, right? Yeah, that's right. Because!" The pirate clasps his sheathed saber's handle in show, "The strong take while the weak quake!"

There is the sound of a string snapping. The pirate yelps as something strikes his hand. He drops the bottle and it smashes on the floor, spilling out the rainbow colored fluid over the stones.

"Gyagh- you!"

Tressa had taking out her slingshot and given the pirate a piece of her mind. If people didn't stand up... she would anyway.

"You jerks … don't get the hard lives of the common people trying to make a living at all, do you?!" She says, readying another shot. Her heart was pounding and her fingers were twitching a bit, fumbling.

"Reeghh!" The pirate draws his sword, "I gave you a chance, kid!"

He slashes down at her. She squeezes her eyes shut. There is the sudden sound of striking metal. Someone had intervened. Tressa feels herself pulled back

"Hey, hey!" A young man with a green vest and dirty blonde hair tied in a ponytail fends off the pirate's strike with his silver axe, "What's going on here?!"