The shop had been quiet for a few days now, which was completely normal, mind you, with everything that was going on around the Curve and its gates. It was like this every damn season: Leaf had its refreshing resorts opening their doors, Tear, its holidays and family reunions, Sand had holidays AND great weather, always, and Zephyr and the rest managed to make people get off their asses to move even though she couldn’t understand why after all those years… But what was the most mind-boggling was the people themselves, those who stupidly thought that by starting a few hours or days early they would manage to wiggle through when, after so many cycles, it was always the same thing. The same damn thing, always. Too many people would all think of getting an early start at the same time and it would end up like always, with the gates over-packed and her shop more quiet than usual…
This time was no exception. It even seemed even more quiet than the previous cycles. She knew that clients would always end up coming back at one point, often in much higher numbers in the first weeks following the change but it still managed to freak her out to an extent, even after all this time. I am no better than those idiots, am I? Thinking it’ll be different this time… She sighed and adjusted the new items she had received the previous day. Dust-globes of the citadel, animae of the shuttles gliding along the Curve’s rainbow paths, a bunch of Nat’ur magazines – stupid hipster name – and, last but not least, a dozen pairs of the latest lenses of truth by Trigon, supposedly able to display events past and future of the location you looked at. She knew it was a scam, as most merchants and tourists did – even Trigon themselves, the product’s distributing guild had admitted it sometimes operated in ‘unpredictable ways’ for Io’s sake! – but it never seemed to stop selling, the speed at which they disappeared even seemed to increase.
She was in the middle of putting the contents of the last box on display when the gong echoed. She looked up and saw a red-haired mudborn walk towards her. No, a human, she corrected herself silently. Not cool Vee, not cool… Those were the remains of the old her, she tried to let those apprehensions fizzle out in the far reaches of her mind but it was much more easily said than done. She had learned to see past what her clan had taught her when she had left her home all those years ago but it wasn’t perfect yet. Who is perfect anyway? Nothing it lost as long as you know it’s bad Vee, as long as you know it’s bad, she repeated the words of the preceptor as a mantra. She stood up and dusted her hands on her robe, everything needed a good scrub anyway and she still had some time to get the shop clean and proper before the number of clients soared again.
“Hello, how may I help you?”, she asked, putting on her best smile as the woman walked up to her.
“Hello”, the woman replied with a slight accent, which she found cute, “I am looking for a specific item and have been… unlucky in acquiring it in the shops I have visited previously. I was told that if I asked for a certain Verian here, they would be able to help me…”
The way she had paused in the middle of her sentence had caught Vee’s attention, she studied the woman a little more closely. She looked and sounded like a tourist passing through with her light clothes – an ample white blouse, an equally floating lilac-coloured skirt and a large curved straw hat – and her slightly rolling accent. The only thing missing to complete the look were large sunglasses. But as Vee observed the red-haired woman a bit more closely she noticed the small wooden stick – probably a wand – hanging by her side and the deep yet cold brown of her eyes. Not a passing client, she is dangerous… Vee immediately settled the broad smile on her face so as not to let on her thoughts. Now that she thought about it, the woman had an unfamiliar and spicy aura around her, which was definitely not common. And if he had been recommended to her by her peers, it must mean she was ot a usual client either.
“Of course, I am Verian,” Vee replied, “what is it that you seek to obtain? I may already possess something of the kind in my inventory.”
She went straight to the point and the woman seemed to appreciate that.
“To be frank, I am not looking for an object, rather… a creature. One of great power. I was hoping you would be able to provide counsel on this.”
Interesting, thought Vee. Usually when clients came to her with special orders they were seeking materials or objects, those who came to obtain other types of merchandise like living creatures or other were even more rare. And yet she felt that woman in front of her was of another kind still. She seemed to know exactly what she wanted already and someone who had the means to acquire it by private circuits rather than through merchants or guilds. So why would she come here?
“Come with me.”, Vee said before moving to the back of the shop, not even locking the front door as she was sure no one would disturb them.
The woman followed her to a larger, more lit room which served as a meeting room for the rich and important clients. Windows displaying different landscapes were placed along the walls. Of course they were false, this room had no other physical entry or exit that the one leading to the shop, and it was tailor-made to become a very, very sturdy safe-room if anything went wrong during or after a deal. Or if anything went wrong in general, with her establishment so close to the Curve it was always a risk, no matter what the officials could say, she trusted her judgement more than their corrupted one.
“Have a seat.”, Vee gestured and a row of different seats appeared behind the woman.
She sat on the one covered in pale blue fur. Nice choice, Vee thought, it was the most comfortable one, after her own of course, which she outed immediately after. She also outed a small table with refreshments, she always kept some in case of unexpected business.
“So,” she sat down in her own seat, a thin layer of ochre sand cut into the shape of an armchair, “what exactly brings you to see me?”
She shifted slightly, taking a cookie from one of the jars in front of her, resting her tale on her shoulder. The woman filled a small cup with the sweet ruby liquid in the bottle next to it and took a sip before replying.
“I have a – let’s say a project in mind, small and inconsequential to the scale of the Curve but which I hold quite dear right now. I am very peculiar on the details of this project but it requires a piece that I have not yet been able to put my hands on.”
She paused and took another sip, she seemed to enjoy the drink. Vee did not speak and simply bid her time, she knew when to respect her clients’ pace.
“The creature I am looking for is a dragon,” the woman said after a short silence.
Vee couldn’t help the slight surprise but nodded to hide her small frown. Why would a client come to her for such a simple task as this? There must have been something else…
“As you might expect, I am not looking for simply any kind of dragon, I wouldn’t have come to you if it was the case. I have specific requisites that must be met.”
Of course, it couldn’t be that simple.
“I understand. Would you care to give me these details? I will know immediately what preparations are needed.”, Vee said.
Dragons. She had a few of those in her own inventory but they were common and relatively easy to obtain. They would most likely not be what her client was looking for. That wasn’t a problem though, she hadn’t gotten her reputation by chance, if it existed, she could most likely get her hands on it and most assuredly make a nice deal of it.
“What I am looking for is a hybrid, cross between the black Zora and the small Iyor. It must still be in the egg state, that is very important.”
Vee was mentally reviewing her database to see if she could already pinpoint a location or at least a first move as to how she would fulfill this task and she visibly frowned at the second part of the request. A dragon, whether purebreed or crossbreed was relatively easy to find for someone with her background, but a specific crossbreed and adding the absolute condition it needed to be an egg made things more complicated. Not impossible, though she was confident she could achieve that by going through a few unusual channels. However she froze when the woman added a third condition.
“And you have to bring me along to choose the egg. I would normally ask for its location and go there myself but I am not familiar with these parts and I need a guide…”
Vee checked to see if this was joke, but nothing in her client’s attitude indicated anything of the sort. The red-haired human was completely serious. Damn… I should have expected this…, she silently cursed. Usually, for such a request, she would have her few trusted associates work for or with her and only move once the product was located, or not even move at all sometimes. But that damn woman wanted her to do it herself and to tag along, this was trouble, definite trouble! She did not want to be a babysitter to this human girl, even more so when she had this uneasy feeling about her. She was about to voice her refusal when she felt the spiciness of the air. The woman’s eyes were not cold, nor did they reflect any malice but she felt pressured nonetheless; there was power in those eyes, she could feel it and she wasn’t sure if she was ready to go against her request. She wasn’t even sure she could as she opened her mouth to speak.
“Very well,” she said, refraining a sigh, “I believe I will be able to fulfill your request. However, for this special treatment, the fees will be higher than usual.”
The red-haired woman simply nodded her approbation and Vee waved her hand, vanishing the food from the table and outing the documents to validate this contract.
“Usually for requests like these, I require a month. But since you wish to come with me, I will need a few days to prepare, no more than three, to get the shop in order and to gather some information as to the place where we will begin our search. I hope this is fine for you.”
“I see no problem, it will give me time to continue my preparations and to take a closer look at the citadel.”
“Then if you would press your finger here…”, Vee said, pointing to the thin silver sheet before her on the table.
The woman followed her instructions and Vee did the same on the other side, explaining the exact details, the dangers and the rules that would have to be followed. A copy was then made and one was kept by her, the other given to the woman. Then she accompanied the red-haired human to the door with a smile. It was only partially forced this time, this trip would not be pleasurable to her, she was sure of it, but she would making a nice profit, whether she succeeded or not. However, considering her impression of the one at the origin of the request- no, the demand, she had a feeling that failing was not an option she would enjoy… Vee watched with mixed feelings the woman only known to her by her initial, a cursive E on the contract, take out what she believe was a wand only to have it grow to the size of a broom, and hop on it with elegance before silently flying off.
“Well, this is going to be fun…”, she muttered, her tail purring with apprehension at what was to come.
Prompted by a Reddit thread.