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Whimsical Wonderful Wandering Wares

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                  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.

Spoiler

 

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The sound of the bell as the shop door opened rang above the newcomer's head, the sound swelling like a small creature stirring from a deep slumber, before drifting across the room like a sort of phantom. The traveling jingle of a sound touched the far wall, where a store clerk sat nose-deep in heavy book, which lay open on a dark wood-top counter. The sound of the bell circled back from the wall, whipping past the clerk's left ear, close enough to brush her cropped, raven hair like a gust of wind before returning to its copper home above the front door. The clerk looked up from her thick, dusty tome to catch the silhouette of a man standing in the doorway, and heaved the book closed with a dry, solid 'thunk'.

“Hello.” she said, her voice soft, but somewhat flat. She eyed him over as she stood from the stool she'd been perched on for most of the afternoon, just about matching his height as she stepped around the counter. She didn't seem surprised to see somebody coming in from the street so late in the day and, more notably, in such cold as the sun began its descent into the horizon. Really, she didn't seem to express much of anything in her features apart from momentary interest, and even that was a little debatable.

The space itself was smallish, or else it just seemed small because of the wares and oddities that lined the shelved walls and seemed to close in on whoever entered. It was a dim space, too, despite the many orb-shaped lamps that hung from above at various heights and locations and in no discernible pattern. There were no windows in sight apart from the one on the door, and the dim, glowing orbs illuminated the space with a greenish light that gave everything it touched a similar tint. One had to wonder how anybody could read under such conditions.

The place smelled of incense and old paper, but with a hint of something sour beneath it; Likely whatever preservatives were keeping the jars of frogs, fingers, and other biological oddities (some of which seemed to be staring Ainsworth's way) in remarkable condition. The clerk looked past him as the door eventually swung closed, noting the chill that drifted in behind him. She approached one of the low-hanging lamps and leaned in to whisper something to it in a way that was too soft and breathy to hear. The light from the orbs shifted from green to a warm, sunny gold, brightening the place, but also emitting a warmth that wasn't there before. As the green light faded, so too did the greenish tint on everything it had touched, save the woman herself, whose skin kept its leafy spring color.

“There.” she said, still flat, “That is better, I hope. You were looking for something..?”

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Still staring unabashed at his surroundings with a wide-eyed awe, he replied, “I think I found it.” 

He didn’t know what he was expecting when he came here, but it wasn’t this.

As the lights and temperature of the room changed, he was surprised that while the light returned his skin to its warm tan, the woman’s skin remained green. That was new. Ainsworth caught himself staring and averted his gaze to lock eyes with some... eyes. A jar of eyeballs, yellow and fleshy, floated in their preserving fluid in a jar that sat just below eye level on a crowded shelf. One blinked. (Winked?) Ainsworth blinked back with unease.

“Actually,” he started, diverting away from the jar, “do you sell hag stones? Specifically, any with quartz in the base composition? Oh and, wait, hold on a second,” he fumbled his list back out of one of the many pockets on his jacket, “I’m also looking for 15 grams of runestone, 5 grams Ashwagandha herb, sympathy wax, and, well, do you know what Panax is? More importantly, what half a terric pinch of Panax is?”

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“Panax notoginseng, Panax quinquefolius..?” she asked. In the warm light one could better see the green of her eyes as well, which seemed to brighten as he rambled off his list of ingredients (though her overall expression stayed stone and plain as ever). “You're looking for ginseng root, of which I have a few kinds..” The witch stepped past him, gesturing to a middle shelf along the same wall as the door, where a line of dried roots and herbs sat in neat little boxes of varying size. Some were labeled with handwritten cards, but most were not. One got the impression that anyone who came to the shop either had to know exactly what they were looking for, or else be wise enough to ask for help.

“I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Let us begin from the top of your list. Hag stones..” the witch moved past him again, angling herself so as not to accidentally brush elbows before reaching up to a high shelf on a different wall. She wore a long black dress that might have been flattering if it wasn't so painfully simple in make and design. Still, the fabric flowed as she moved, rippling with each step like droplets of ink in water. The clerk pulled down a small, but heavy chest with a silver latch and no lock. She turned to her guest, flipping the lid open to reach in and pluck out one of many smooth, pitted stones within. Holding it to her eye, she looked through the hole in the middle right at Ainsworth. “Quartz is among the most common minerals you'll find in any composite stone. Any of these should be sufficient, but please,” the pitted stone clacked against the couple dozen other still sitting in the chest as the witch dropped it back in, “have a look for yourself.”

The witch held the chest firmly in one arm and kept the lid open with the other. And though she showed no immediate signs of distress, the way her arm began to sag beneath the weight of the stones suggested that holding them for too long would prove difficult. Why, then, were they on a tall shelf to begin with? Above them a taxidermy barn owl sat poised and motionless in a sprawled attack position, save for its eyes. The eyes were watching them.

“May I ask..?” the witch began, inquiring with minimal inflection, “Are these for you, or are they an errand for someone else?” She wasn't in the habit of asking such things, not usually. It wasn't her business to know such things. But there was an uncertainty about the man that she couldn't quite put a name to. Not yet, anyway.

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“Ginseng?” Ainsworth asked as he stripped off his gloves and tucked them into a pocket as the room warmed. He nodded in recognition. “I never would’ve been guessed. Makes sense though. Thank you.”

He followed her to the shelf and waited for the witch to retrieve the wares, fingers absentmindedly playing with a loose thread. The owl perched overhead caught his attention. Its predatory eyes, combined with the general feeling of being watched from unsuspecting corners of the shop, sent a shiver of uneasy paranoia down his spine. It contrasted with the feeling of wonderment the rest of the shop brought. While an adversion to eye contact rarely caused any trouble, the feeling of being watched by eyes where there should be none preyed upon his nerves. He was glad for the distraction when the witch brought the box down. 

Ainsworth pushed up his sleeves and began shifting through the chest of hag stones with a practiced motion, picking through the stones as if he had done it many times before. He looked fast out of consideration for the witch and the heavy box in her arms. Some of the excess jittery energy seemed to drain from the mage as he focused on the task, his fingers suited to spending their energy on feeling for faults in the stones. Most he pushed to the side. For a few, he took them out and held them to the light, turning and examining each face and facet, before dropping them gently back in. He examined one of a trigonal disposition with a single opening a little bigger than the pad of his thumb and large splotch of quartz coloration along one side for some time; he turned it over in his hands and held the hole to his eye to peer through, mimicking the witch’s earlier action; Though, he took care not to look at her through the hole. Beyond simple courtesy, based on his experience in the shop so far and a hunch, it may be best to let some things remain unseen.

The shopkeep asked a question in her monotone way of speech while the exchange happened.

Not expecting the query, Ainsworth started in surprise and fumbled the hag stone in his hands, loosing the rhythm of his analysis. “I- well, it’s mostly for me,” he said. “The hag stone is for me anyway. There’s a few things I’m looking for that are going to get used and maybe sold if I’m lucky. They’ll get used, that’s for sure.” He gave a small smile and pushed back a strand of escaped hair from his face in a habitual tick. “Oh- and I’ll buy this one,” he said, and held up the triangular stone, apparently satisfied in its appearance.

“If I could ask a question,” he said after a moment, “how did you get so many natural witch stones? None of them looked drilled.”

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“Mostly..” she echoed, sort of humming flatly to herself. It wasn't a question, but there was an emptiness about the word.

“They do not come to me all at once, that is for certain.” the woman said with a deep sigh, the first sign of inflection to be found in her voice as she hefted the chest back into place. “When I go looking I have to dive for them and scour the seabed for piddocks. If one knows where to look, however, one can harvest a stone or two before they are washed ashore.. or lost to an endless deep.” She smoothed out her dress as she turned back to him, then gestured to the hag stone he'd plucked from the bunch. “That one,” she said, “is a somewhat rarer find. You have a good eye.” A compliment, though it hardly sounded like one in her particular way of delivery. Of course she might have been trying to sweeten him up before negotiating an inflated price, but it was hard to say for certain.

“Let me see..” the woman said, “Ginseng, witch stone, wax...” she was revisiting his list out loud, pointing to each corresponding item among the shelves. “What else?” The clerk drifted back to the counter to step behind it and open the ledger. She scrawled what looked like phantom notes on a blank page with the tip of her finger as she awaited the remaining items on his list.

The taxidermy owl followed them the whole time with warm, near glowing eyes, as though it were watching a baby rabbit in the underbrush. “You seem a little uneasy.” she said, still peering down into her invisible (if they were there at all) notes, “Would a cup of tea put you at ease? It would warm you from the cold at the very least.”

Edited by Lady Gilaen

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Mostly
He let the silence cradle her word, feeling the long pause envelope the two of them and suspend a simple sound in layers of weight. He wasn’t sure what she meant by it. He wasn’t sure why it was important. 

Again, her explanation arrived welcome. He listened without interruption and waited while she put the box back on its shelf. Perhaps he should have helped, but he suspected it would not be received well. The tone of her voice made it difficult to deduce the meaning behind her comment on his choice of hag stone. It was a good stone- not great- but good and reliable. He hummed. It was neither good nor bad, simply an acknowledgement of her statement. He was interested to see what she would try to charge him for it.

He looked back at his list. “I still need... fireweed, dogwood sap, three salamander lenses if you have them, and ashwaghanda root- or rennet.” He raised an eyebrow at her method of notation, but declined to comment. “Already got reishi...” he mumbled to himself, thinking. “That should be it.” He folded up the list and put it away. “Unless you’ve got dogbane for less than a copper.”

Tea was an unexpected offer. 

“I...” Ainsworth trailed off. The cold had been banished from the shop some time ago and the mage was comfortable in the warmth of the magic lanterns. However, he couldn’t help but sneak a wary glance back at the owl. Had it moved? No, it was just his imagination, but the way its eyes seemed to follow him across the room did nothing to settle his unease. He tore his gaze back to the clerk and gave a thin laugh. “I guess I am,” he said. “A cup of tea would be nice, thank you.” He smiled and stuck his hand out. “Ainsworth. It’s nice to meet you. You run a good business.

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Well that was the one thing that sparked an emotive response. “Uhh..” she looked at his hand, hesitating to reach out and take it in a welcoming gesture, though she did eventually. She averted her gaze to the counter top and cleared her throat as she firmly shook his hand. Of all the feelings she could have in that moment, she was surprised to find that embarrassment was the one that came to the surface. It's not as though simple introductions were an unusual event, even in her secretive corner of the world. She usually ignored such casual pleasantries when they were offered, to be frank.

“Enid,” she said in turn, “Heks.” She'd paused between first and last name as though she wasn't sure about giving it. “Well, I do have salamander eyes,” she continued, finding her monotone as she looked him properly in the eye once more, breaking her grip on his hand, “If you're squeamish about extracting the lenses, I can do it myself, but it's the same price with or without the whole eye.” Which, to be fair, wasn't terribly expensive to begin with. “I'm afraid that I'm fresh out of fireweed, but if I have the seeds I can grow some in the span of an hour.. give or take.” She shrugged, stepping away from the counter toward a curtained doorway along the same wall.

Enid pulled the curtain halfway back before pausing again, trying to think of the right words to articulate what was going through her mind without coming off as cold or rude. “Forgive me when I don't call you by your given name.” she said. It was as much an apology as it was a forewarning. Names were a complicated thing, or she seemed to think so at least. “I will fetch the kettle from the kitchen if you would like to join me in the parlor.” she added, stepping through the curtain door head of him, leaving the warm light of the hanging bulbs to fade back to a greenish tint.

The shop was watching him still, curious thing that it was. The curtain remained drawn halfway, as though it were daring Ainsworth to cross the threshold. And when he did (if he did), the other side was just as dimly lit as the first, this time by the amber glow of shaded electric lamps standing tall on a carpeted floor. Deep velvet curtains swallowed any natural light that might have seeped through the windows and made the place feel a bit like a well furnished (depending on one's taste) cave. The furniture was old, as was the wallpaper, and everything within carried the faint, but noticeable scent of sage. Two large and soft looking chairs sat on either side of a smallish round table; the only plausible surface on which to serve tea. Enid, however, was nowhere to be seen until she emerged from another doorway holding a long tray of cups, tins, and a steaming kettle.

“Please,” she said, placing the tray on the table, “make yourself comfortable.” She took a seat in one of the oversized chairs and swept a lock of hair over one ear that fell immediately out of place. “These are tea,” she indicated, gesturing to the assorted tins before picking one from the bunch, “this would be your rennet..” She set the tin aside before plucking a jar with orangey, viscous looking contents from the serving tray. “And here is your sap.”

Edited by Lady Gilaen

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Ainsworth looked away as Enid attempted to meet his gaze. He gave a smile as she let go of his hand. “Good to meet you, Enid,” he repeated. It was his turn to look embarrassed upon her next question.
“Well, I’m not squeamish, it’s more- er- that I have no talent for it.” It was a bit of an understatement. One would think it difficult to consistently ruin the simple process of cutting a lens free, but after 20 coppers worth of eyes and a stain that will never work out of his table, Ainsworth had given up on the ‘home dissection’ process. “If it’s all the same,” he said, “then I don’t mind the extra wait.”

As the warm light faded and the witch invited him into the parlor, he hunched his shoulders against the omnipresent feeling of surveillance that persisted in the green glow of the room behind. Ainsworth ducked through the curtain and followed Enid to the next room. “If it helps,” he offered, not understanding but not criticizing her comment about his name, “you can call me Ains. Sometimes it...” He trailed off as he stepped into the parlor. The dim, amber light was reminiscent of the rest of the shop but the clerk was not there. “Huh.”

He wandered into the room and paused, looking around. Slowly, almost guiltily, he reached for a curtain. There was a strange feeling of relief when his fingers brushed normal velvet and a sliver of light shone through. He half expected it to be an illusion or have secret limbs or something odd to fit with the rest of the shop. The sound of footfalls announced Enid’s return. He started and let the cloth fall back into place. 

Taking a seat on the edge of an armchair, he glanced at the tins she set before them. “May I?” He asked when she was done explaining. He picked up the tins of sap and rennet, giving each a cursory examination. “These are...” he paused to think of the right word. There was a balance between being polite but keeping the cost down. “...Nice,” he said. “I don’t suppose I could ask about prices, though? Not that I wish to rush you, it’s just that it might be better to ask- I mean  discuss- before, you know,” he waved his hand to indicate the current setting. Unfortunately, said hand was still holding the tin of rennet and the root spilled out onto the table. Ainsworth hissed a curse under his breath and waved a panicked hand over the mess. The rennet had barely touched the wood before it leapt back into the tin. He gingerly slid the tin back on to the tray with an embarrassed look.

“Sorry.”

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“Of course you may.” she replied, gesturing to the two items she'd set aside from the bunch. He was, after all, in want of said ingredients. One could swear the witch had cracked the slightest smile at her guest's appraisal, but it was gone (if ever it was there to begin with) the moment he would have looked up to meet her features. Enid didn't have to be observant to see just how flustered Ainsworth was beneath his thinly veiled attempt at playing the shrewd barter. She watched as his casual gesture sent a small cascade of rennet over the table. The witch made to stand from her chair, but found that Ains had dealt with his own mess quickly and efficiently. “You have quick reflexes for one so..” it took a moment to consider an appropriate word, “skittish.”

After a moment, Enid pulled at a drawer along the underside of the table, taking out a receipt pad and a pen before pushing it shut with a dry, wooden click. She was writing with a utensil this time and not just the tip of her finger. “My prices should be comparable to just about anywhere else, but have a look and see what you think.” She tore the top receipt from the bad and slid it face up across the table. Every item he'd listed thus far was accounted for, save the fireweed and dogbane. True to her word, the cost of each was reasonable, or at least no more inflated than in any other shop in Genesaris. The only outlier was the hag stone, for which the price listed was '1 secret', scrawled in a slanted cursive that was almost too tight to read.

“Oh! Your eyes..” she remarked suddenly, not quite raising her voice, but speaking out of turn very suddenly none the less. “I wrote them down, but I forgot to pick them up on my way to the kitchen.” Enid plucked a small tin from the bunch on the table and carefully pried the top off with dark, polished nails. “If it's just as well, I'd rather have my tea before extracting the lenses. Do you mind, Sir Timorous?” She was asking, but she sprinkled a loose mix of mint leaves, rose hips and something else into her teacup as she did so. She didn't remark on the name she had given him, which had slipped out casually. 

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Ainsworth flushed at Enid’s name for him. So this was what she intended by her earlier comment. Now acutely aware of his actions, he made his hands sit still on top of the table and forced a breath. 

The mage examined the proffered list carefully, going item by item and comparing them to the numbers in his head. To his pleasant suprise, the cost set seemed equivalent for a an average of Genesarin prices- some even conforming to east standard. Shopping for magic in the more isolated and down to earth environment of much of the south sometimes proved a gamble. Of course, he still planned on bargaining down as many items as he could.

 He paused at the last item. 

“No... No I don’t mind,” he answered, somewhat distracted. He reread the last item then reread it again. Ainsworth looked closely at Enid as she made her tea. He had heard of people who did business with such intangible intimates as dreams or memories.  They were witches or warlocks or fey. They were something Ainsworth had never met in practice before. “A secret?” He asked with an almost imperceptible shake of the head. Ainsworth folded his arms and leaned back into his seat and away from the witch. He didn’t touch the tea. “I don’t deal in things like that. I would think a hagstone would be worth, say, a three-quarter silver?” He gave a wan smile.

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Enid dusted her fingers off absently as she cast him a curious glance. She then picked up the steaming teapot by its handle and gingerly poured the water into her cup. The whole dining set looked as if it were carved from bright jade. Each cup had elaborate patterns etched into its sides while the interior of each was perfectly smooth. The smell of mint wafting up from her teacup in a light mist reminded her of summer; something she dearly missed in the bitter cold season.

“Thank you.” she said, sincerely glad for the moment to sit enjoy her tea and his company. And she did enjoy his company, hesitant though he was to find his own comfort. She enjoyed most any company on dull afternoons, of which there were far far too many. The witch raised her cup and saucer to her lips and blew gently before taking a small, calculated sip. “Not quite ready..” she said with a slightly knit brow. The whole while Ainsworth was reviewing the receipt (rather, the bill) over and over again, processing something in his mind that Enid could not begin to guess at. Handwriting aside, she had been quite clear and concise about everything listed on the paper. At least, she thought so..

“Mmhm.” she nodded, placing her tea back on the table with a soft, dry click of stone against wood. He folded his arms and Enid imagined a stubborn dog digging its paws into the ground and bracing against any attempt to move it. They were on opposite sides of a hard line, and for the first time since he'd arrived, she was the one who'd begun to feel the tension.

“There is no deal about it.” she said, flat, but firm. “How do I explain... Everything we acquire comes to us at an exchange. I give my time and care to the soil in exchange for herbs, and you may buy those herbs for coin, and if someone were to steal your satchel of herbs they would be paying you in turn with grief and anger. Some exchanges are fickle like that. Others are quite specific, and will not budge on their terms.” She pointed to where she'd last seen the stone, but looked him in the eye while speaking, “That stone is valued at one secret. It will not leave with anyone who has not given a hidden truth in exchange for its loyalty. It is a small and merely adequate hag stone, but it suffers a grand delusion, and it cannot be swayed otherwise.” The witch plucked up her tea again, and this time when she took a sip it was almost just right, which was close enough.

“If it puts your mind at ease, I can assure you that I do not deal in information. I won't sell a secret.. However, they are useful to me.” Enid took a long, careful sip before setting the cup down again. She rested her hands in her lap and eased back into the large, soft chair, awaiting his response in turn.

Edited by Lady Gilaen

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Ainsworth waited quietly through her explanation, nodded slowly. When she finished, he pushed his unused teacup away from the edge of the table, sighed, and slumped back in the chair. His finger tapped a crescendoing beat on his arm as the silence dragged on. 

He knew he couldn’t afford to wait the couple months until the roads going east cleared. He also knew this was probably a bad idea. 

“What kind of secret do you want?” He held up a hand. “I’m not agreeing, I’m just asking a question.” He sat forward again but kept his gaze averted down, choosing his next words carefully. “We both know that a secret is worth a little more than information on the scale of things. Especially in the hands of a magic user.” An understatement. “And I don’t doubt it would be useful for you... along with my middle name and some poor first born child. It’s not your selling that I’m worried about. So, my apologies, but no, it doesn’t- it doesn’t really put my mind at ease.” He trailed off and ran a hand through his hair, hesitant to say more.

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“A child?” the witch replied, one hand absently shifting to rest over her abdomen, “No, I'm not certain that I want to be a mother..” Enid couldn't even think of a man she'd want to share the experience with, past or present. She gave a light shake of her head and smoothed the fabric of her stress with both hands, not really looking up at him anymore. It was difficult to say whether she was joking, or if she had taken the comment entirely seriously.

“As for names, I didn't ask for yours,” she added, plucking away some lint that had transferred from the chair to her skirt, “you gave it to me. Don't get me wrong, I think your hesitation now is wise. It's just a very sudden shift after such a warm greeting.” She shrugged, and leaned forward in the oversized chair to reach for her tea once more. Apart from their conversation, the room was noticeably lacking in ambient sound. The old lamps didn't buzz with the sound of electrical currents, no rush of air flowing through the vents, and the velvety drapes seem to absorb what little sound they made in the silence between words.

“It's not really a matter of what I want.” she replied finally, “It's what the stone demands. Really though, it's nothing so dramatic as it sounds. You would merely have to share a truth of self to earn its loyalty. Perhaps a phobia that you hide from others, or a hard truth that you're reluctant to face?” The witch was looking up again, meeting him with a forest green gaze that was almost certainly searching for something. “Mind you, a difficult truth isn't necessarily negative. Each of us has denied a hidden strength at one point or other in our lives.”

 

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He blinked. “It was a sudden shift from a trusting greeting,” he said, “but I am sorry nonetheless.” He retrieved the stone from its last location and placed it on the table so it sat as a centerpiece to the conversation. To think that such a little thing could have such a cost, dramatic or not. Delusions of grandeur was an appropriate turn of phrase for a rock with a hole in it. 

His fingers drummed a frenetic dance on his arm. What was the worse that could happen if he gave the witch a secret? The last of his resolve began to crumble before his necessity. Whatever reservations he still harbored would have to be set aside. 

“Alright.” He leaned forward and began preparing his own cup of tea, picking from the same tin of tea leaves. His eyes looked up for the first time and met Enid’s. While hers searched, his just looked tired. “Let’s get this over with. It’s not negative or positive and it’s not a “personal truth”, but it’s the best secret I feel like giving this.” He frowned and picked up the stone, turning it between his fingers. 

“It’s not hard to get things into Reyer City Prison.” He began. “What is difficult is getting things- or people- out again. If you go north-east of the city limits you’ll find a cluster of boulders in a wooded area. One of the smaller ones will have a symbol scratched onto it. It looks like this-“ Ainsworth reached under his jacket and pulled out a necklace. A small, finely carved, stone pendant of a bird in flight dangled from a cord. He held it out long enough for Enid to look before letting it drop. “With some magic, you can get underneath the rock and then it’s about a mile of crawling though a tunnel until you come up in a false bottom cellar in the city. No bribes needed, but you need a magic user to be able to use each entrance. It was a pretty well kept secret when I was last there.”

Ainsworth looked down again and set the hagstone back on the table. He felt no change in the stone— though he was unsure of what change, if any, was supposed to happen— to signify a new ownership. It yielded no outward signs of change, nor did he himself feel any different. “Did anything...“ He asked slowly, “was something supposed to- I mean, is it done?”

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