It had taken some time for Alex to assess his situation after Arakne disappeared. Of the multitude of supplies he had started out with, only his bag, a few changes of clothes and an empty water sack remained. Even the gold he'd hidden within a pocket on the inside of his shirt was gone. That damn witch, he cursed silently. It was going to be a long walk, especially without knowing where in the forest he was.
Alex sighed and gathered his remaining belongings. As he picked up his bag, he noticed a folded piece of paper resting on the ground near the stone where Arakne had been. He picked it up and carefully unfolded it. To his surprise, it was a map, one well detailed down to the exact placement of the cave. Apparently, Arakne hadn't left him completely lost and hopeless.
Alex skimmed the map, looking for the nearest town. He noted several of them were marked with X's while others were circled as if certain places were better than others. One town, in particular, stood out to him. Not only was it circled, but annotations written around it suggested it was a hot spot for adventurist activity. Better than that was the annotation the town was only a few hours travel from the cave on foot.
"Well," Alex said. "Burgeon City it is." He folded the map and tucked it away in his shirt. Then it hit him. Even if he could find his way to Burgeon, he still had no way to leave the cave. After all, ten feet was quite a ways to fall.
From the outside, Burgeon City was nothing special. The town seemed composed of nothing more than a collection of a few dozen small buildings surrounded by maybe a score of fenced off fields. Even the main gate to the heart of the city was manned by what appeared a rather elder farmer. Alex was unimpressed, feeling as though he had somehow been duped by the hints Arakne had left him. But after traversing through the forest for what seemed an eternity, especially after falling the last five feet from the cave, Alex was ready to accept anywhere willing to offer him shelter.
"Howdy, stranger," the man standing by the gate called. "Why dontcha tell me yer name 'n' what brings ya ta this ole town?"
Alex, on the verge of passing out, dragged himself up to the wood gate blocking his way and leaned against it. He looked over the man standing before him. He was about five and a half feet or so tall leaning over the fence. His face said fifty or sixty, but his muscular build suggested youth ready to surprise anyone. He held a short pipe in his mouth, balancing the end in his left hand. Alex looked behind the man, taking note of the dull looking rifle leaning against the wall. Despite the rust on the barrel, Alex was pretty sure that gun had seen many a prey fall, and certain still not all of them saw the table. If anything, this man was definitely not one to play games.
"My name is Alex Daeroen, sir," Alex finally replied. "I am here to find rest and supplies. May I ask who you are?"
"Th' name's Garth Kragget," the man replied, sticking out a roughened hand. Alex shook it, gritting his teeth at Garth's bone crushing grip.
"Well," Alex said once he had his hand back. "Mr. Garth, would you happen to know anywhere I may go to earn my way? It seems my unexpected house guest took what gold I had whilst I slept." Alex smiled and waited for a reply. Garth said nothing, only puffing on his pipe.
"Ya sure ain' from 'round these parts, ain'tcha?" he asked. "Keep talkin' that way 'n' yer bound ta find yerself in trouble, kiddo. Ain' no one 'round here talkin' ahll proper like that. But if yer keen 'n workin' some'ere, ya migh' try askin' ole Merrick in town. Last ah heard, he was lookin' fer someone ta help 'im run th' shop fer ah couple months." Alex continued smiling. Somehow, coming here seemed even worse now.
"Hey," Garth continued, giving Alex a hearty slap on the shoulder. "Don' worry, ah'm sure ya'll do jest fine. Jest r'member ta mind yer manners 'n' don' talk so high 'n' mighty." Garth gave a hearty laugh, while Alex stood rooted. Was it too late to go back to Verdale now?
"Hah, hah. Oh boy. Well, Mr. Alec, welcome t' Burgeon." Garth said, opening the gate. Alex snapped out of his daydream as he felt gravity take over. Just before face planting in the dirt, a strong hand shot out and pulled him back to his feet. Shaken and amazed, Alex stood frozen in place. "Bes' watch yerself, kiddo. Otherwise, ya might find yerself doin' more th'n jest workin' yer back off."
"Uh, y-yeah, thanks," Alex mustered. "Uh, oh right. Where might I find this Mr. Merrick?" Garth took another puff of his pipe before grabbing Alex by the head and forcibly turning his entire body toward the heart of town. Alex was screaming internally, realizing just how sore he really was. But fear and respect kept him from fighting the elder man's grip.
"Jest head on down this road 'ere 'n' make ah right at th' third road ya come ta. Th'n jest follow th' crowd 'til ya get ta th' place with th' red sign 'n th' window." Garth gave Alex one last hearty slap to the back before turning back to his post. Alex was sure even if he did manage to make it to the shop he probably wouldn't be of much use. But the need of supplies and shelter were greater than the ache in his body. So, with these things in mind, Alex set off.
Burgeon, despite its outward appearance, was practically full of life. Alex didn't even make it to the second street before a massive wave of people washed him off his path. He fought hard to break free, squeezing past all manner of person and monster. Finally, he managed to find an exit. Breathing a sigh of relief, Alex looked around him. Exasperation wasn't enough to describe how Alex was feeling. He was now so far off the path he figured he'd never make it to Merrick's shop before sundown. But the determination to at least find somewhere to sleep steeled his nerves.
"I just need a new perspective is all," Alex said to himself. He looked around him, taking in his surroundings. He noted the low height of the roofs in the area, perfect for climbing on. A pile of scrap wood provided the chance at reaching such a goal. But with a lack of climbing skill and the guts to do it, there was no chance of that happening. Looking the other way gave Alex the hope he needed. A ladder just tall enough to reach the roof of a rather odd looking building lay on its side in the dirt. Alex decided if he was going to climb anything, might as well be a ladder.
"Oh? Are ya lost, mister?" a voice called just as Alex approached the ladder. He turned around to see a child standing where he had been only moments before, dressed only in a simple cloth tunic and loose pants. His feet were bare, and the dirt covering him suggested he probably didn't take a bath often. But Alex wondered if maybe this child could help him find a way out.
"Ah, yes," Alex said, turning. "I am lost. Maybe you can help me find my way back, though. I nee-"
"Ya talk kinda funny, mister," the boy interrupted. "I'm Tracy, by the way. I live by m'self. What about you, mister?"
"My name is Alex," Alex answered. "I'm a traveler. Now, could you help me fi-"
"Yer a trav'ler?" the boy asked, a light of curiosity now shining in his eyes. "Wow, I bet ya must've seen a ton a places, ain'tcha mister?"
"Yes, er, I have visited a number of different places." Alex was starting to worry his chances of any sort of help were starting to dwindle. "Maybe you cou-" he started.
"Can ya tell me about some?" the boy begged. Alex looked in his eyes. He sighed. He was stuck here now. Might as well entertain the kid. Maybe the next crowd would come and take him back to the main road.
"I guess I could tell you about a few of them," Alex said as he sat down, leaning against the odd building. The boy leaped joyfully and took up a position at Alex's feet.
"Hmm, I guess the most interesting story I have is about my time in-" Alex stopped. He could feel someone watching him. He searched every window within eyeshot, but found nothing. Out of the corner of his eye, a flash of yellow drew his attention. Nothing. Just empty street. He sighed and turned to face the boy who was no longer around.
"Heh, Heh, should've figured this would happen," Alex sighed. Just another day of nothing going right. He stood up, decided going anywhere was better than waiting, and took off in hopefully the right direction.
"Ah, well now this is an unexpected surprise, is it not?" a very familiar voice said. Alex froze. "How goes the search? Were you successful in finding our dear patient, my former apprentice?"
"I-I-I-I d-d-did, m-m-mast-t-ter Roj-jak," Alex stammered. "B-b-but sh-she g-g-g-got away ag-g-gain." Sweat was pouring off of him in waves. Rojak should have been in Verdale. Why would he be in Burgeon? What need would he have to be in Burgeon? How Rojak even found him!?
"Is that so?" Rojak said. "Well, you will certainly not find miss snake here. May I ask what business you have in this barren alley? I hope it may at least be of clean origins."
"I-I-I w-was c-c-carried aw-way b-by a cr-cr-crowd, m-master." Suddenly, Alex broke, dropping to his knees and bowing, tears exploding from his eyes. "PLEASE HELP ME!! I'M LOST AND I DON'T KNOW WHICH WAY TO GO!!! EVERYTHING HAS GONE WRONG SINCE THAT - THAT - THAT WITCH!- WOKE UP!!! PLEASE HELP ME!!!" Embarrassment was the last thing on Alex's mind. He wanted nothing more than to have at least one thing go right. But with each passing second, something going right seemed a far off dream.
"Calm down, my friend," Rojak consoled. "I have faith you shall find our patient before long. It will just take many trials and much hardship before success shall shine her light upon you. Since you were successful in locating our patient, I shall assist you this one time. Take this. Place it near your heart. If you wish to return to the main road, follow this pathway before you. You must be prepared for anything, Alexander. Even if the very thing you are preparing for proves to be the exact opposite of what it should have." Alex looked up into Rojak's face. A wave of relief flooded his being, and Alex stood to face the elder mage. He took the small sack Rojak was offering and placed it within his shirt pocket. Rojak placed his hand on the shoulder of his former student, giving a small smile before turning to leave.
"Thank you, master," Alex said. "I-I'm not quite sure what came over me. I guess I just felt so overwhelmed lately." Alex looked up to where the elder mage had been standing, only to find him no longer there. Alone, again. But at least now, maybe, Alex had hope. Perhaps Burgeon wasn't such a terrible place to come.
As if seemingly on cue, the crowd that had swept Alex off course the first time returned. Alex, wiser this time, darted between the pair of buildings nearby, glad to not rejoin the nightmare. Unfortunately, between the houses only proved safe from crowds, not buckets of wash water.
"On second thought, I HATE BURGEON!!!"