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AngryCacti

Whimsical Wonderful Wandering Wares

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Enid could see the way his posture sank with every passing moment of silence, allowing his resignation to settle in.. It was almost sad to watch, but there was little the witch could do to remedy the matter. She meant what she'd said, and the stone would not budge on its terms. (It was far more resolute than either of them in that way.)

Ainsworth leaned forward and Enid bent closer over the table, listening intently, though her eyes had shifted from her guest to the small rock on the table. It didn't do anything significant like spin or glow, or whatever it was that vaguely magical items were meant to do in ritualistic circumstances. And this was, for all intent and purpose, a ritual of passing, albeit a casual one. He went about making his own cup of tea and she found the tiny, subtle ring of ceramic brushing against the saucer almost as pleasing to the ear as the story he began to tell.

It was not the personal truth she expected, but it was for more interesting than she could have guessed without first reading his tea leaves, or cards. Which was just as well; She didn't expect he would allow her to try at this point, anyway. The seer's attention drifted from the stone back to Ains, watching as he reached into the folds of his jacket to produce a charming little pendant of a bird. She didn't recognize the symbol, but then why would she?

When it was done, she let the silence sit between them, pondering the story and what it implied about her increasingly unusual guest. It wasn't her policy to ask questions of a bartered truth, though she had many. Through all of this the stone sat unchanging on the table, giving off no immediate sense of having shifted in ownership or loyalty. When Ainsworth finally spoke up again, Enid shrugged.

“Let's see..” she said, plucking up the stone and enveloping it in a closed fist. She considered its shape and slight heft for a moment before reaching back to tuck it into a pocket hidden in the folds of her black dress. She let it fall, and at about that moment something small and round felt as though it had dropped into Ainsworth's pocket instead. Enid fished about her pocket until she was satisfied that it was empty and smiled a real, if reserved smile.

“Yes, that seems to have worked.”

Edited by Lady Gilaen

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To his surprise, Ainsworth felt something drop into a pocket of his coat. He mirrored Enid’s search, rummaging through the contents of his jacket until he pulled out a small stone with a hole in middle and returned the witch’s hesitant smile. It had only served to further his surprise when the hagstone had not dropped into one of the more visible pockets, but into a pocket that was hidden in a seam in the coat’s lining. 

He held it to the light. Same size, same shape, and the same discoloration of quartz ran through the stone. It was his hagstone. 

“Well, what do you know...” he murmured. His hands continued to turn it over while he spoke. “That’s impressive.” 

He paused and gave the stone a suspicious glance. “And it will stay in my pocket?” He asked. With a deft twist he dropped it into a large pocket at his side, waited a moment, and drew it out again. “I, ah, just thought it might not be a good idea to have opened up a hypothetical rift between our two pockets.” He laughed, but there was a gleam of seriousness behind the humor. “Actually,” He said, talking more to himself than to Enid, “that’s not a bad idea...”

The tea that Ainsworth had prepared was cooled off enough to not burn his tongue when he took a cautious sip. He was by no means a connoisseurs of teas, but even he could appreciate the finery of it. “You have a rich taste in tea.” He said. Though much of the physical tension had not left him, Ainsworth’s voice had lost the terseness after surrendering his secret to the witch. 

He set his cup down with a soft clink of ceramic and leaned forward. “I mean no disrespect, but are there any other special arrangements needed for anything else I’m looking for?” He was fiddling with the stone again without thinking, running it between his palms and rolling it over his fingers. As he talked he brought it up again to look through; First at the table, then at the room, then, in a moment of etiquette transgression, at Enid herself. He  still half expected the hagstone to go through some change- though he knew otherwise.

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It was a relief to hear him speak casually again, and to know that he was genuinely pleased with the stubborn little trinket that was now attached to him.

“Not exactly, “ she replied, “It's more tied to... well, your territory, for lack of a better word. Your pocket, your home, your line of sight, that sort of thing. Had you tried to steal it, not that I expect you would..” Then again, he had more or less admitted to escaping from prison, but that was beside the point just then. “Well, you couldn't. To put it plainly.” She shrugged and sipped at her tea.

“Oh? I suppose I do.” she added after his comment about the tea, “Do you like it?” As flat as her delivery had been up to that point, there was at least a hint of something like hope in her eyes when she asked. She really did enjoy the company. His inquiry about other 'special arrangements' with regard to his purchase was almost amusing enough to make her smile again. Almost. Mind, it was a reasonable question, so she answered in kind.

“Oh, no. Everything else you require is more agreeable.”

She didn't pay much attention to his fidgeting with the stone until he held it up to his eye. Cup and saucer in hand, she paused mid-sip as she caught him looking her way, then set the flatware down with a slight clatter.

Enid looked much the same through the center of the tiny viewing stone, but not entirely. The witch he saw through the hag stone was fidgeting with the fabric of her dress, biting at her lip, and looking generally anxious and expressive. And the longer he looked, the more little details began to shift and change. She retained her green color, but her strait, neat bob now appeared to be a long, somewhat tangled mess of dark hair littered with stray twigs and blooming flowers, and her eyes had a faint glow about them. He wasn't seeing through a glamour exactly, but the stone was showing him a kind of truth; a secret in return for the one he'd shared.

While the witch Ainsworth saw appeared anxious and flustered, the Enid that existed on the surface was poised and calm as she leaned over the table and placed her hand over his, gently lowering the stone from his eye. “I suppose I deserved that..” she said. After all, she'd done the same to him before in the shop. She let go of his hand and returned to her tea

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All things considered, Ainsworth recovered from his mistake quickly. With a jolt of unexpected contact, awareness returned to the mage in time for him to pocket the stone along with the last shreds of dignity. The action had been intentional, but what he saw had came as a surprise. It was no secret that, while he was a lot of thing, Ainsworth was not one to stop when it would be convenient for him.

He nodded once and fixed his gaze intently onto the pattern of wood grain in the tabletop. “Then I suppose we’re even now.”

When Enid had looked through the stone earlier at Ainsworth, the changes revealed were nowhere near as substantial as hers. There was nothing glaring that was hidden under an illusion or disguise. Two extra pockets on his jacket, a faint hum of magic about the pendant around his neck, and a hand full of scars that peeked out from his sleeves and collar. If one looked long enough, they would see that the mage looked younger, his appearance more in line with his true age rather than the more weathered visage he carried. It was subtle enough to be overlooked in the moment. Of course, Ainsworth had been oblivious to her search at the time.

Ainsworth cleared his throat. Still maintaining his careful examination of the tabletop, he said, “I can’t say that I’m surprised. The secrets and the, erm... green... give it away. I just didn’t know the- ah-“ he made a vague motion at his face- “extent.“

Hindsight was a marvelous thing.

“What I mean to say,” he said, slowing to a more rational pace, “is thank you for your hospitality, Enid. I’ll pay now for the items you have in stock if it won’t be too much trouble.” He stood from the table, practically climbing out of the large armchair. He watched the witch carefully out of the corner of his eye for her reaction. “Is half a gold fair?” He asked, referring to the receipt she gave him. 

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'Even' was a matter of perspective. She wasn't sure if they were even, or if Ains was merely doing his best to wipe the slate clean and be rid of any lingering trace of her after their interaction was done with. That was a sad thought, but not an unexpected one, and not uncalled for. Still, the fleeting company had been a welcome distraction while it lasted. She'd spotted a few subtle secrets hidden on his personage through the witch stone when she'd looked through it before, and she could imagine the stories they told.. But the witch didn't think on them too deeply. She could tell that their tea time was coming to a close, and her curiosity was fading. There would be other distractions, other work, other guests to occupy her time soon enough.. eventually, anyway.

“I don't hold many secrets, to be honest,” she said with a shrug, though she clearly had some that were worth keeping. “I think it just seems that way to people who aren't open to accepting the unusual. But not all things need an explanation for being.” Another shrug. She didn't seem particularly bothered about it, but her tone wasn't reassuring either.

Enid cocked her head slightly to one side while looking at him. “Fair?” she asked in response to his offer. What did fair have to do with any of it? Things came at a price whether it was fair or not, and her say in the matter only applied insofar as most items' willingness to be flexible. But after a moment she nodded, “Yes, that will do.” She was talking to him, but looking into his used cup as though something were peering back at her from the bottom. “Huh..” she hummed to herself, but left it at that.

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Not all things need an explanation. 

Gods, that was all too familiar a phrase. It was always one of the biggest feuds in his marriage. He could never see why his wife wasn’t the least bit curious about her powers and Cerin could never see why it mattered. Not that it mattered now. He could almost feel her berating him from wherever she was, afterlife or not.

Ainsworth wasn’t sure why he ended up thinking of Cerin. It was just a shopping trip- granted one that had veered sharply off course- but mundane nonetheless. Perhaps it had been old smugglers instincts setting off warning bells. Perhaps it was the eyes in the shop. Their stares filled with blood and popped in his mind. But that was hardly new. Ainsworth wondered briefly if there had been something in the tea.

In any case, though he would have liked to redo the encounter on better terms, it was time to leave.

Ainsworth stopped, coinage in hand, halfway through the motion and mirrored Enid’s tilted pose. “Something wrong?” He asked. If Enid didn’t immediately answer, he sets the money on the table and takes a step back. It wouldn’t take long to collect the rest of his purchase. Daylight only last so long and the mage wanted to get a room at an inn before too much longer. 

Edited by AngryCacti

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Enid plucked up the cup daintily, as though it might break in her grip. It was a delicate looking piece, but not actually fragile, as Ainsworth would have noticed while handling it. “It's nothing,” she said, shrugging, “..probably.” She turned it over and over in her hand and looked at it side ways. “..maybe. Does this look like an owl to you?”

The witch angled the teacup with an awkwardly curved wrist to try and replicate the angle she'd been looking into it. It looked like a clump of dead leaves sticking loosely to the inside of a bowl, but if one squinted and tilted their head a bit it might have made a shape. Something rounded and alert somehow with a hole where an eye might be peering up at them. But to call it an owl was a stretch; possible, but only if one was open to seeing it.

“Anyway, be cautious in your travels.” she said, setting the flatware on the table. “You can leave your payment there on the-” She cut herself off. Ains was already putting his coins on the table, “Yes, there. Thank you. I still have to extract those newt parts for you. It will only take a moment, if you would like to wait up front.” With that she returned everything but his teacup to the serving tray and bussed it back to what one could only assume was the kitchen. She wouldn't be gone for a long while, but long enough that Ainsworth would have the opportunity to inspect the tea leaves for himself and muddle through their meaning.

 

After everything was said and done, or at least when it seemed to be finished, Enid met her guest at the front desk with a sack of goods in jars and tins that gently clanked together at the bottom of the bag. The glowing light from the hanging lamps in the shop had cooled in the time they'd spent in the parlor, shifting back to its previous greenish hue. The eyes of jarred, dried, and taxidermy animals no longer stared. They were as dead and lifeless as one would usually expect them to be, but there was a sense about the place that made it seem like it, or everything in it anyway, was sleeping.

“That should be all of it.” the witch said as she passed the bag over the counter to Ainsworth. “Thank you for your visit.. And your company, Timorous. Truthfully, I did appreciate it.” And she meant it, whether it showed or not.

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Ainsworth watched the shopkeeper bus the china to a back room with a faint sense of confusion. He picked up the remaining teacup and looked in once again. It looked like a mush of tea leaves to him. Perhaps if he turned it slightly and looked at in in the dim light he could see an owl, one eye gazing out from a face of feathers. The last bit of liquid sloshed the leaves around and there was a talon, reaching out for prey. Of course if he turned it the other way, one could see a skull (albeit a misshapen one) in place of an owl.

“Huh.”

The mage made a face and put the cup back down. He wasn’t familiar with the art of reading tea leaves, but he doubted that it would have had anything good to say. He placed his hand over his chest to feel where the small, stone, owl pendant hung beneath his jacket. Perhaps it was best not to dwell.

The final movement of the cup contorted the leaves back into the shape of an owl. It’s eye slowly loosing form and dissolving back into a damp mass.

At the register, Ainsworth quickly examined the goods with a detached and practiced eye, acting more out of habit than distrust for Enid’s business and took the bag graciously. His hand pressed over hers for a moment during the exchange. In the enchanted light, even his bronze skin had a greenish tinge to it.

He smiled thinly at her comment. “Thank your for your hospitality. I’m only sorry I couldn’t return it. Please keep my secret safe.” The mage hoisted the bag over his shoulder, careful around the various containers. “With a shop like this...” he started, “I don’t suppose- that is to say, I’ve been around this street enough to know that you haven’t always been here. I don’t suppose we’ll meet again?” Saying this, Ainsworth felt like he already knew the answer. If not for the tangible cloth under his hand and the weight of the hagstone in his pocket, he would have thought this encounter a hallucination.

Whatever Enid’s response, Ainsworth looked to the door. It was time to go. There was a hot meal waiting in front of the fire for him at the inn if he was quick enough. “It’s been an experience, Ms Heks.” He said with a true smile. “Have a good evening.”

Then, he passed under the sleeping eyes and left the shop

Outside, the sun had sunk below the building and the evening air blew a chill down the back of the man’s collar. A light dusting of snow blew through the empty street. He shivered and pulled his scarf up around his face to block some of the wind. 

The sound of icy slush crunching underfoot bounced off of the closely packed stone and timber walls of the Valjer street as Ainsworth trekked away from the shop. A bag of ingredients and supplies was slung over his shoulder. A small flame flickered in his palm for warmth. Maybe next year he would go north for the winter where there were bound to be stores that didn’t leave him with such an unsettled feeling in the pit of his stomach. And yet, no shop would ever be quite like Enid’s.

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