The place turned out to be a small warehouse in the harbor section, its many shelves stacked with items from any of a number of realms, loosely categorized into aisles containing certain types of goods. Though Lamar himself was out bargaining with another local merchant, three or four assistants continued to run the store in his absence. Just as they were told, it was the single biggest outfit on the island, with a wider selection than any other three stores put together.
Their first order of business was restocking the ship’s food stores. Fortunately, Lamar’s did a brisk trade with travelers, so they made a point of keeping bulk supplies of canned, dried and salted goods on hand. Bandit’s nose led them straight to the food section, and they got right down to business.
“So,” Justin asked Shades, “now that you’ve seen more of the prices here, how long do you think we can afford to stay?”
“Probably a couple weeks or more, if we really wanted to,” he answered. That answer might have been more than a month, but after compensating Rude Bones, and learning how much it would cost to refuel the Maximum in a place where fuel was a scare commodity, he wanted to err on the side of prudence.
“I’d really rather not stay more than a week,” Ma’Quiver told them, “but it is your ship. It’s just that after I’ve searched a place, I want to move on.”
“I know what you mean,” Shades conceded. “Now that I know John and Amy aren’t here, the only things holding me back are the need to rest and recover, and the tug new places put on my feet to explore.”
“Aside from getting mixed up with Nikopol back in Bodeen, the longest I’ve ever been delayed in any one place was my starting point, Alta,” Ma’Quiver told them. “And that was only because I fractured my leg.”
“That must’ve been rough,” Justin remarked. “I used to live in some old ruins, but at least I never had to fumble around in the dark.”
“You’re tellin’ me. My flashlight only worked for the first several hours I was down there,” Ma’Quiver recounted, “after that I lost all sense of time. Though the city of Alta is said to have been built on successive layers of past ruins, I was still surprised at how much was really down there. A pity I didn’t actually get to see more of it…”
“But didn’t you say the earthquake opened up entrances to the ruins?” Max asked.
“And that was how I got back out,” Ma’Quiver reminded him, “but the city elders decided to forbid access to the Ruins after the quake. Said it was too risky down there, with the rest of the city sitting on top of it. Later, I heard talk of an expedition, but I didn’t stick around to see how that turned out. Once I could walk again, I set out.”
“Then again, you were sightseeing when it happened,” Shades pointed out.
“Yes, but that was back when I was still with Master Lazlo,” Ma’Quiver explained. “We were traveling and training. Even before the disaster, we were hearing rumors that someone had found a passage leading down to the lower levels, places no one had seen in centuries. Of course, there were tales for years of thieves and smugglers using secret tunnels, but this was different. Given how ancient everything is down there, if somebody was digging or something, that would probably have been enough to trigger a collapse. After all, I kept hearing people saying that earthquakes were unheard of in those parts.”
“Could be,” Shades mused. “Back in my world, I’m told some thieves in my mom’s home town broke into some local shops after stumbling across forgotten tunnels beneath the streets, something left over from the Nineteenth Century. At first, the police were stumped, but they got too greedy, and kept hitting the same place, so they got caught. Last I heard, they were planning to turn it into some kind of tourist attraction.”
“Tourists, huh?” Ma’Quiver sighed. “From what I saw of the Ruins, I’m with the city elders about it being too dangerous. Whatever fell apart down there, it demolished entire sections of town up on the surface. I saw the devastation for myself later, and have no trouble seeing why Lazlo would think I was dead. Though I don’t remember much from when I was found, I spent the first few days in a hospital tent. Much to my surprise, I was taken in by a fairly wealthy man, who was funding the relief effort, and whose son kinda reminds me of Max, now that I think about it…”
He looked like he was about to say something more, when Justin came rushing up, waving a comic book, saying, “Hey Shades! Check this out!”
“I see…” Shades looked that the cover. The CrossFire Gang, and #86 “Extreeeme Jaake!!” One of his favorites. “And in surprisingly good condition without a dust jacket, all things considered… Where’d you find this?”
“Over there. Somebody just left it on the wrong shelf, I guess.” He flipped a few pages in, to a splash page of somebody fighting the crazed, gun-toting commando type depicted on the cover. “This ‘Tomcat’ guy… denim jacket, sunglasses, all those pockets… You really do like to dress like this guy, don’t you?”
“You think?” Shades scratched the back of his head, somewhat chagrined at crunching the numbers on how many years that vision had dominated his wardrobe. “Well, Tomcat was my hero when I was in middle school.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“Nope!” Shades laughed. “After all, when I grow up, I want to be a ninja.”
They all had a good laugh at that one.
“Ya know, just seeing that again is inspiring,” Shades decided. “I think we’ve regained enough of our strength to resume training again tomorrow, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” Max agreed.
“Then we continue tomorrow,” Ma’Quiver made it final. “Bright and early.”
After that, they finished gathering supplies, Shades and Justin passing the comic back and forth. For a little while, Shades seriously considered buying it; it was a rare and nostalgic piece of his past, but he was increasingly seeing for himself how fast excess baggage could become a burden when traveling as often as he did. Instead, he picked up a grey cap with a peculiar bill, having no cardboard or plastic support inside, which reminded him vaguely of one he saw in a store when he was a kid.
They then went back to the ship to drop everything off before continuing their tour of the town.