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It wasn’t long before we arrived at Killias and Sons, a small shop that smelled faintly of an odd mixture of cinnamon and sulfur. Other than that, it was a completely unassuming little shop with a quaint little sign hanging above its door that was in desperate need of repainting.

Removing the last package from my cart, I pushed open the door to the store, the little bell ringing above my head. Nel followed me in, apparently having nothing better to do than follow me around while I worked.

“Hi, welcome to Killias and Sons, how can I…” Fiora came out from the back and stopped mid-sentence when she saw me. “Oh, it’s you. You can come drop that stuff off here.” She glanced at Nel. “Hi, Nel.”

“Hi, Fiora.”

Fiora was an Elf, which made her something of an oddity in Istalfax. We were a mostly human-dominated city, but some families of Elves, cast out from their high-and-mighty homelands for one reason or another, had settled here over the years, and a lively but still very small Elf community had eventually formed.

Elves weren’t generally known for lowering themselves to the level of us non-pointy-eared folk, but in the city they didn’t have much choice. Fiora taking an apprenticeship under humans had apparently caused a minor scandal among the older Elves, but she was far from the only young Elf to do so.

She could trace her family line back to Ralar’shen-zaraneth, the City of Dreams of Mysteries of the Deep Oceans, which was apparently less of a cumbersome name in the original language, provided you say it in the right accent. Like all Ralar’sheni Elves, she had dark and dusky skin and curly hair that fell to the bottom of her neck and no further. The hair style wasn’t universal to Ralar’sheni, I mean, but the black coloring of the hair generally was, so far as I knew.

Look, I grew up in a predominantly human city; I don’t actually know much of anything about Elves or Dwarves or Serpentfolk.

“Can I go to the back of the store too?” Nel asked as I stepped behind the counter.

Fiora smiled. “Sorry, Nel. Store policy.”

“Laaame.”

Fiora shrugged.

“How many potions you planning on brewing with this stuff?” I asked.

“Three,” Fiora told me. “Special orders for noble clients, plus one adventurer. I also need the amethyst dust and jiren grass to make a bag for the adventurer.”

“A bag?” I asked.

“Of Holding.”

“Oh, that makes sense.”

I entered the back room and set the crate down on the work counter that I usually set deliveries down on. Frederick Killias was nowhere to be seen, but that wasn’t unusual. Frederick and his brother Thomas tended to not work the shop anymore, preferring to delegate that business to their apprentice. Though from what I’d heard, Fiora was also becoming more and more responsible for actually crafting new magic items for the store. Nel was right; at some point they might as well just rename the shop “Fiora’s.”

Taking extra care not to look the mysterious floating orb that was always back here in the eye (I had no idea how exactly you would even go about looking an orb in the eye, but Fiora was very insistent that I should not do that), I took a moment to try to shake the feeling back into my arm. These crates were honestly a lot heavier than they really had any right to be.

That’s when I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye.

I followed the movement before I even consciously registered that I was doing so. There was a rat running along the top shelf. As if it sensed that I was watching it, it stopped and turned its little black eyes to look on me.

“You better clear out fast little guy,” I said softly. “Fiora hates finding rodents in her shop.”

he rat just looked at me. I wondered if I should try to scare it off or something, but I’d have no guarantee it would leave the shop if I did that.

“Thank you for your warning.”

“No prob– wait, what?” I stared, mouth hanging open, as the rat rushed off behind some jars of something-or-other and disappeared from sight.

“Did… what?” I couldn’t really form the proper question, which was, of course, “did a godsbedamned rat just talk to me?”

I glanced at the floating orb, hoping I didn’t meet whatever qualified as its eye. “Did that just happen?” I asked.

The orb did not reply.

Shaking my head, I made my way out of the back room. Running those deliveries must have tired me out more than I thought; hells, more than should be reasonable. I really needed to get to bed.

“It has to be tiring, hitting things with a hammer and everything all day,” Fiora was saying as I stepped out of the backroom.

“Not really,” Nel said. “I’ve been doing it for so long that I don’t even really notice anymore.” She held out one of her hands. “Look at these calluses; I barely even feel the shockwaves anymore.”

Fiora gingerly took Nel’s hand and traced the calluses on her fingers. “Wow,” she said, bringing her own fingers down a bit to Nel’s arm. “You’re really strong, Nel.”

“Um, thanks?”

“Oh!” Fiora jumped. “Sorry,” she said, quickly taking her hands off Nel’s arm. “Didn’t think.”

Nel raised an eyebrow at her. “Alright,” she said a bit uncertainly. “Oh, hey, Corvus, you done with the deliveries?”

I nodded. “I am,” I said. “Hey, Fiora, you don’t have anything back there that would make me hallucinate talking animals, would you?”

“No?”

“Oh.”

Fiora gave me a strange look. “Why?”

I shook my head. “No reason. Sorry, I gotta get back home.”

Nel started following me out. “You guys can come back any time!” Fiora called.

“Thanks,” I called back.

“So you’re done for the day?” Nel asked once we were back out on the street.

I shrugged and took hold of the cart. “In terms of deliveries, yes, but I need to get back to the shop.”

“You work too much.”

I gave Nel a look. “You are usually working a lot later than me, Nel,” I pointed out.

“Yeah, but I’m blacksmithing. Long hours, hard work, yadda yadda. You just sell people stuff.”

“You make it sound easy.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Have you ever sold strangers random stuff?”

“No.”

“Then take it from me: it’s not easy. It’s annoying and I hate everyone who walks through the door.” I sighed. “You wouldn’t want to switch places with me, would you?”

Nel laughed. “The forge would rip your weak little arms off!”

“Thanks.”

“Don’t worry, it would rip most people’s arms off.” Nel smiled at me. “I guess I’ll head home too. See you later, Corvus.”

“See you.”

After we went our separate ways, I continued through the city back to the shop. I was lost in my thoughts, wondering about that rat that I may or may not have heard talking. I was so tuned out that I barely noticed the criers, still going on about the Serpent Empire, or the newsies, trying to sell papers about the same subject as soon I was crossed into their territory.

By the time I arrived home, I’d convinced myself that I’d imagined the whole thing. Nodding quickly to the line of stray cats that had formed near the store’s back door for some reason, I went inside to report all the goods delivered.


Submitted: November 15, 2018

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