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  1. The sound of icy slush crunching underfoot bounced off of closely packed stone and timber walls in the narrow backstreets of a small, frozen city in the Cold South. The rest of the continent was warming with the end of winter, but spring in Valjer meant only that the roads were clear enough for a few intrepid travelers to make their way to the city on foot instead of by the small airship port. Ainsworth, a traveler, was neither intrepid nor wealthy, but he was in Valjer none the less. Said traveler, a man with a flame cupped in his palms stepped off to the side of the street to allow a horse and sled to trudge past. It was carrying several blocks of ice from the market and neither draft-horse nor driver looked pleased about it. He called out to the driver. “Any late arrivals to market?” The driver didn’t stop the cart to yell back as he drove past, “Sorry, pal, closed an hour ago.” Ainsworth shaded his eyes and squinted at the sky. The sun was hanging low, bright against the grey, overcast heavens. He estimated he had three more hours until it was gone. Maybe less if the storm moved in. He sighed. With a snap of his fingers he relit the spark that danced an inch over his palm without burning the skin. It wasn’t much, but the heat felt good through his threadbare gloves. Ainsworth walked briskly down the street, his hands preoccupied, giving his mind time to ruminate. Time was running out and so were his hopes of finding what he needed. As someone who relied on magic as a livelihood, the idea of returning home empty handed was intimidating. He had a full silver piece saved in his purse for this purpose, but it wasn’t enough to buy passage to a city further north where such supplies would be abundant. He snuffed the spark and pulled a crumpled list from his pocket. Some items had been crossed off already, but the apothecary he bought the fireweed and reishi from dealt solely in local herbs. After spending the morning at the market, hoping the thaw would attract new business and being disappointed, he took the afternoon to comb the streets of valjer for any shop that sold anything magic at a decent price. Powdered magnesium? Expensive. Ashwagandha? Even more so. Witch stone? It was unlikely he would find something like that this far south, though he still had a few hours to go. He stopped in front of a door. Frowning, he looked down at the hastily scribbled address on his paper. It matched. A local at the market had directed him here, promising a “strange shop” with “strange things inside.” Ainsworth looked at the door curiously. It was worth a try. The gentle tinkle of a bell welcomed him inside. “Hello? I’m looking for-“ the man drew up short when he took in the inside of the shop. “Woah,” he breathed softly, eyes wide in awe of the sight before him.
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