Today’s the day, guys.
So, you remember in the last post how I said showing people my stories feels a little like drop-kicking my poor baby off a cliff? Yeah.
Time to kick this bad boy off the proverbial cliff before I chicken out.
I present to you… The Wishmaker!
I’ve lost count of how many Wishes I’ve made tonight. It seems the whole city is keen for something it can’t have, maybe more than usual. I swirl the potion in the bottle at my fingertips, watching the color shift from orange to red and back. A Wish for love, so generic I mix up a dozen before each market. Not powerful, really, but they do their job. Never put too much fallowroot in these, I remember my father saying. Why not? I asked. His expression was deadpan: because they’ll fall hopelessly in love with a lamp and die of a broken heart when it doesn’t feel the same.
He was probably kidding. But I always measure my fallowroot extra carefully anyway. I straighten the clutter on the table in front of me, but not enough to take away the weird mystery that comes with a lot of bottles and jars and vials all spread out in a mess. Some bubble or stream, some change colors, and they all sing. Not to anyone else of course, not even to the other gnomes peddling their own potions around me. Only a Wishmaker knows what a Wish sounds like.
There’s a man in the crowd who’s trying to pretend he’s not looking at me. But he’s been puttering around the same few tables without looking at them for a while, and every so often he glances in my direction. When he does, the potions on my table rise in pitch a little bit. He wants something, and they know it.
He peeks at me, and I wink back. I choke back a laugh at the look on his face as he ducks into a shadow. I make it a point to be a little mysterious, a little enigmatic, like any good Wishmaker should be. I mean, no one’s shy about magic, but there’s something about Wishmaking that speaks of smoke and mirrors, something theatrical about it. I enjoy it more than I care to admit.
I wear a handful of beaded necklaces, with a string of dried herbs for good measure, and I braided ribbons and flowers in my hair. Not a look you would catch the fashionable citizens dead in, not even gnomes, but I love it. I could pull a live cow out from under the table and I don’t think anyone would be surprised.
Not that this market isn’t used to surprises. The shadow my stalker friend is watching me from and thinking he’s sneaky is one of many, like a cloak wrapped around us all. We like the dark, us. We shouldn’t really be here, so being out in the open seems like inviting the law to come ask if we pay taxes.
Of course we pay taxes. What are we, criminals? Maybe we don’t pay all of what we should, but we do pay. Because it would be suspicious is we didn’t pay something, but hey. At least we’re half obeying the law.
And maybe some of these materials are restricted because they could explode and take half the city with them if not handled correctly. But we know what we’re doing. I’m sure it’s fine. There hasn’t been a big explosion since last April, and who knew gunpowder reacted so… vivaciously with certain potions?
Not me. I had nothing to do with it.
The air smells of fish. I’m glad we don’t meet at this warehouse on the coast every time. That would be unbearable. I prefer the empty factory on 9th Street, personally. Loose gravel rolls under my bare feet, and my fingers stick to the grimy table as they drum against it. My potions begin to sing brighter and higher. It’s a tug at my chest that feels like when you hold something you’ve wanted forever for the first time. I glance around, and sure enough, that guy is pretending to be browsing the fairy next to me’s wears. She pays no attention to him. He doesn’t look like the kind who would be interested in buying one of her pistols.
No, this guy would probably go in for something a little more ornate, and be able to afford it, too. His tailored suit is spotless, his dark hair slicked back, and he leans carelessly on a decorative umbrella.
His glamor must be strong. No one manages to stay looking so clean around here. Someone should tell him he sticks out like a well-dressed sore thumb and he’s probably going to get mugged.
“Took you long enough,” I say as he finally sidles up to my table. He flashes sharp-toothed smile. His fairy height lets him tower over me, but he doesn’t seem to care to flaunt it. Instead, he leans an elbow on the table casually.
“So what is it you want?” I shuffle a few bottles around. He watches them hungrily, and the bottles in my hands buzz as his gaze passes over them.
“Is good luck a wish?” he asks.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific,” I say. I get asked for luck a lot, but it’s just not clear enough. Vague Wishes might as well be a message in a bottle on the ocean.
“How about money? I’m sure money is a valid Wish.”
“How much money, exactly?”
“Just to fill pockets of a poor soul in need,” he says, and grins. He’s got a good grin, the kind that makes you want to smile back at him.
“Okay, lost puppy. That’ll be…” I think for a minute, “that’ll be 20 crowns,” I’m already pulling an empty bottle out from under the table. His picture-perfect smile flickers, but he doesn’t miss a beat.
“You’re quite uncreative with your payment. Everyone wants money. You should distinguish yourself.”
“And charge what? Compliments?”
“You’re looking lovely today. Is that a new flower crown? Love what you’ve done with your hair.”
“It was a joke. Is this a subtle way of telling me you can’t pay?”
He feigns shock, clapping his hand over his heart.
“I would never! I’m just saying you should branch out. I think I have something that would interest you more than money.”
“Like bad poetry?” He ignores me.
“All this,” he waves his hand across the table, “is hard to come by, yes? Like, the ingredients and stuff?” I look at him sideways.
“Actually, the ingredients trade is quite good here.” A half-truth. Most ingredients are easy to find in this city, what with so many gnomes willing to pay for them. But Wishmaking calls for some rather eccentric components, most of which are best obtained in other parts of the world. That’s why all my siblings left to travel the world, rather than face the pain in the neck that is trying to find Cave Flower extract in this city. I don’t tell my well-dressed customer that.
“Hm. Surely you’re running low on…” he leans in, inspecting a blue-gray potion in a long necked bottle, “bluish goop? Whatever this is?”
“So,” he reaches into his pocket, “perhaps this would help?” he pulls out and unfolds a map, stenciled on to clean, white paper. He holds it low, sending furtive glances behind him like it’s a big secret.
“Where to find all the rare ingredients. Very valuable. Much more than 20 crowns.”
“And why are you so eager to part with it?” I raise an eyebrow. Play it cool. You’re an ice queen. With a soul made out of, um, ice. And snow. And more ice. I’m not great at schooling my feelings, and this seems like a stroke of good fortune. But this guy’s probably conning me. He’s a fairy. They lie about everything. Their looks, at least. His suit probably isn’t even fancy, he’s just using his glamor to make it look the part, if he can’t even afford a 20 crown potion.
“I don’t need it,” he says, “And you could use it. We both win.”
“Just sell it then,” I don’t know why I’m telling him to do that. I want the map. But… it could be a scam. If he can’t come up with a good reason he’s trying to pass it off on me, it probably is.
“Who to? The club of people who like maps? You are the logical choice. I mean, the other potion makers here would probably have some use for it, but not as much as you. Wishmaker need the weirdest stuff.”
“Oh. You’re very knowledgeable for a fairy.” I see his cheeks start to redden, but they pale again quickly. Unnaturally quickly, obviously by glamor.
“I am. I’ve done my research. So, do we have a deal?” his eyes, chocolate brown as per the latest fairy fashion, are pleading. It sets me on edge, but… I’m practically out of half my more important ingredients. I haven’t had to buy most of them, by myself at least. The map could be a fake, but is it worth the risk?
“Let me see it,” I say, and he offers it to me. My fingers brush against the fine paper.
“Where did you get it?” I don’t know why I haven’t asked that already. I guess he’s odd enough that I didn’t expect an explanation. I wonder if that’s how people see me.
“Where are you, you weasel of a fairy?” he yanks the map out of my hands as a shout sends a wave of panic down my spine. It ricochets off the empty walls, sending most of the vendors at the market diving under their tables, sweeping off the more valuable –or incriminating- wares with them. The buyers melt into the shadows.
I should be scurrying away with them. But the blank look of shock of my buyer’s face is such a jarring change from his smile, it stops me. He, I kid you not, squeaks like a distressed mouse. Then he disappears.
He’s under my table. And the man who shouted is coming in my direction. Oh joy. He’s not a green-dressed policeman, but a rough looking sailor, with a swagger fit for the sea and a toothpick drooping from his lip. Too tall and thin to be of my species, but with a mop of wiry hair that screams “gnome.”
A half-blood then. And angrier than a hornet.
I shove my shaking hands into my pockets. He scans the maze-like rows of tables, then locks eyes with me. My brain scrambles to find why he would single me out, but then I realize I’m the only one still standing by my table. The only one still standing up besides him, period.
I am bad at this.
I can’t run, unless I want to be chased by someone with legs twice as long as mine. So I stand my ground, I don’t break eye contact, I let him think I’m crazy, which is what he’s probably thinking. It’s what I’m thinking anyway.
“Can I help you?” nope, bad start. Sounded patronizing. He swaggers up to me, sneering at the mess on my table like it just offended his mother.
“Have you seen a rat in a fancy suit?” his voice is harsh, but with the threads of a well-bred country accent clinging on. “Not a literal rat. Like, a metaphorical rat. Because he’s a bad person.” If he wasn’t tall enough to step on me by accident, I might find him funny.
Oh, and the fact that the only one I’ve seen around here in a suit, ever, is hiding under my table at this very moment.
“No,” I say, too quickly. He has a pistol tucked not-very-discretely into his belt, and his hand goes to rest on it.
“I saw him come in here,” he says. I give him my best I’m-totally-telling-the-truth face. My potions are practically humming themselves off the table. They always do that around people who wish a lot and get little. I don’t know if they’re reacting to the sailor or the guy under the table. I shouldn’t feel sorry for either of them at the moment. I think I can feel the heartbeat of the headache is fairy form from under the table.
Or maybe that’s just mine, trying to bring down the walls of this rickety warehouse.
“I think,” I say, voice wavering, “I saw someone matching that description leaving just a little…” when did he see him coming in here? “While ago. Was he an awkward looking gentleman with a tacky haircut?”
“Yes. That’d be him. Don’t know what’s with the haircut.”
“Yeah. Uh, he left,” I should stop, “a while ago,” why am I not stopping, “going… away.” It’s official, I am the worst liar ever to grace this earth.
He stares at me, expressionless, for long enough that I think my lie might have worked. Then he squints at me.
“You are a bad liar.”
Ta-da! *jazz hands* The next installment will be ready in a couple weeks.