After offering his watermelon pie (medium well) at the Church of Sol, Nestor Pinkly returned to Odd & Ends to adjust the chrysanthemums once more. When he got there, he was surprised to see a halfling girl sitting on the steps. She had dark skin, messy hair, and wore a jacket that was far too big over her regular clothes.
“Huzzah!” Nestor shouted. “A customer! And hours early! You must be so excited!” He ran enthusiastically toward the young woman.
The girl was a little alarmed by his effusiveness, but she tried her best to look friendly. “Oh, no, I’m not a customer,” she said. Nestor’s face fell. “You must be Nestor.” Nestor nodded. “Karessa Plunderton. Donovan asked me to work here…he can verify it as soon as he gets back from the blacksmith.”
“No need!” Nestor said, twirling his cane and pointing it at the door. “I’ll give you the tour.”
“That’s it?” she asked. “No verification? Look at my clothes. I could just be some street urchin.”
Nestor just smiled at her blankly for a moment, wondering if he had missed a memo about urchins evolving to live on land. “I suppose we should get some paperwork in order. Follow me!”
Karessa didn’t argue.
The interior of Odd & Ends was simple, but it filled Nestor with pride. The floors were clean, the brass cash register was shiny and new, a fancy chandelier gave everything a warm and homely glow, and the counter had an adorable little bird figurine that would perpetually bob its head up and down into a water dish for all time. It looked pleasant, it felt pleasant, and, thanks to some peach-ice-cream-scented candles of Nestor’s creation, it smelled pleasant. Pleasant, pleasant, pleasant.
“So behind us is my least favorite wall,” Nestor said as Karessa entered behind him. Now the western wall wasn’t bad by any means, just a touch…unimportant? Well it was important in that is protected the interior from the elements. And it contained the front door. And front doors protected against theft, making the wall not only welcoming but a bastion which protected all within from harm. Perhaps the wall was alright. It contained only a blue banner which depicted a white flower with its petals opened to reveal a small city and less-small castle within. “That’s Donovan’s,” Nestor explained. “From his homeland.”
“He said he was a nomad,” Karessa replied.
Nestor looked at her quizzically. “Perhaps he meant he doesn’t get mad? Hmm…that can’t be it, he got mad at me this morning. Well, even nomads have a starting point, right?”
Karessa didn’t say anything.
Nestor continued to show Karessa the walls in order from worst to best. Next was the back wall, behind the counter, which was nice because it had doors leading to the storage room, Donovan’s bedroom, and the office. Then there was the wall which contained clothing that would always fit however the wearer liked best (“What’s that supposed to mean?” Karessa snapped when Nestor asked if she would like some. Nestor dropped the line of conversation, which was quite a feat for him). Lastly, there was the wall of shelves which contained magical various trinkets and toys, all of which Nestor had designed.
“See this pinwheel?” Nestor asked, being very careful not to touch it as he pointed it out. “Once it starts spinning, it doesn’t stop until its owner asks it to. Don’t touch that one, though. Whoever starts its spin becomes an owner, and that’s the only one we have for today.”
“Who enchants all this stuff?” Karessa asked.
Nestor pointed to himself with pride. “I get some help from my friend Dovetail, but mostly me! It’s exhausting but it’s worth it. Soon all of Skymoore will have a little piece of Nestor to brighten up their day.”
Karessa looked impressed. Nestor’s smile widened.
The middle of the store contained many shelves and glass displays containing everything from rings, to snow globes, to instruments, to oat bars. Nestor showed her each display one by one, until they made their way to the back wall.
“And before I can show you everything else, you have to be an employee! So step in here so we can employify you!”
The knobless door to Odd & Ends’ back office swung open effortlessly, revealing a dingy room that hardly contained its desk and three chairs. It looked like the type of place a seedy criminal who just declared bankruptcy might conduct his business.
“Elum!” Nestor exclaimed, and the desk’s single wax candle sparked to life, burning brighter than one would expect given its size and making the room feel a little less drab. Above their heads were shelves containing various knick-knacks, including a compass made of emerald and what appeared to be a child’s framed rendering of The Suntouched riding a sea serpent up a waterfall.
Nestor took a seat behind the desk. Karessa sat opposite him. He set his cane on the desk between them, and the metal gryphon on its head glowed the color of sunset in the candlelight. “So,” he began, pulling a clipboard from beneath the desk. “Let’s start with the basics: Plunderton; what’s the etymology of that name?”
Karessa stared at Nestor blankly, not for the first time in her life, and many thousand times from the last. “Eta…what?”
“Where does it come from? I don’t mean to be rude, but it sounds human, or dwarvish, but you don’t look human or dwarvish.”
“One of my ancestors actually was a human. A thief called Kalla Plunder-a-ton. She changed her name so her son wouldn’t feel obliged to lead a life of crime. He still did, but he at least he got to choose, ya know?”
Nestor nodded and dipped his quill in an inkwell that swam with all manner of colors. The ink seemed to sparkle on the end of his pen, changing color continuously until it settled on black. He scribbled furiously for about thirty seconds. He dipped his quill once more, and this time the ink became green. He made a few more jots.
The gnome cleared his throat. “Do you have any prior work experience?”
“Well, officially, I’ve only worked at the theater. I’ve been working as a stage hand for about a year. But I’ve worked all sorts of jobs in the past under the table…”
“Oh, you were a chef at Under the Table? At your age? That’s splendid!”
Karessa didn’t bother to correct Nestor as he made some more notes.
“Just two more questions! What is your favorite color?”
“Oh, is this for uniforms?” Nestor stared at her and smiled. “Okay, well…orange, I guess.”
Nestor nodded furiously and scrawled across the clipboard in wide strokes.
“Now,” he began, “imagine you were to awake one morning in a meadow lit by both the Pale Moon and the Warm Moon, their lights reflecting beautifully off of the sparkling dew. At the edge of the meadow is a pond, and you find yourself suddenly very thirsty. You make your way over, and as you lower your head to drink, you are astonished to find that you’ve been transformed into an animal! Which animal is it?”
“Um…a pegasus? Wait, no-”
“Pegasus!” Nestor said. “Perfect!” He began scribbling down some more notes. “Alright, Ms. Plunderton, it looks like we’re done here! I’m just going to need you to sign your name at the bottom.”
At the top of the page, written in stunning calligraphy, was:
“New Employee: Karessa Plunderton”
Beneath that was a childish drawing of what Karessa presumed to be her, dressed in thieves’ attire and a chef’s hat, wielding a frying pan, riding atop a pegasus in mid-flight against an orange sky. Wondering what exactly she was getting herself into, Karessa signed her name at the bottom of the drawing.
“Congratulations and welcome to Odd & Ends! Now I’ll give you the full tour!” Nestor picked up his cane and swung it about dramatically. Karessa ducked. “This is the office!”
Karessa almost cracked a smile at that. She had to admit Nestor was kind of cute – not in the way that Roland the set designer was kind of cute, but in the way that squirrels were kind of cute. Maybe it was because gnomes were actually smaller than halflings. Wait, did everyone think about halflings that way? Karessa pushed the thought from her mind, lest she vomit.
When they returned to the shop floor, Donovan was there.
“Nestor, this is great!” he said, sweeping his arms across the store. “This is exactly like we discussed in our letters. Everything, right down to the self-cleaning frying pan, is exactly like I’d imagined it. And you’ve hung my banner! Nestor, you pint-sized genius! I love all of it.”
In the months to come, Karessa Plunderton would remember this moment as the happiest she’d ever seen Donovan Allman. “It’s very nice,” she agreed, even though it was just modestly nice.
“And I see you’ve met Karessa. I should have sent along a letter or something, but I see you got that sorted out. Doorknobs should be here soon, and Odds…Odd & Ends will be all ready for business.”
Just then, happiness stumbled, but it got back up.
“Nestor, could you grab the elvish wine from storage? Beige Hurricane, it’s called. All the way from Dil Kama. Tastes like beige, but feels like a hurricane, they say. Never tried it myself. Karessa, have you tried elvish wine? It’s nothing like other wine, not in flavor nor effect. All the different villages – the Dels, the Dils, the Dals, Dols, and Duls – they have their own specialties which affect the body in completely different ways.”
Karessa never had. Though, from what she knew of Dilish wine, it appeared Donovan had already downed some. But when Nestor left the room, Donovan’s more serious demeanor returned. His smile straightened, his shoulders tightened, his eyes dimmed.
“What happened earlier,” he said, “that was incredible. Heroism, truly. They should be holding a small parade in your honor and you act like it was nothing.” Donovan was looking at her with the same fascinated intensity from earlier in the day.
Karessa looked away. The bird by the register bobbed continuously. Her eyes followed its rhythm. Her cheeks flushed. “Whatever. It’s just aftermaj protocol,” she said curtly. “We have emergency kits and drills and everything.”
“I see,” Donovan said, the way one of Karessa’s teachers might have said “I don’t think you’re applying yourself.”
Mercifully, Nestor broke the ensuing silence with his return.
“To Odd & Ends,” Donovan said once he’d poured everyone a glass.
“To Odd & Ends,” Karessa and Nestor agreed.
The drink was spicy and it burned Karessa’s throat, but she didn’t want to be lame so she grimaced and endured the sensation. “You don’t have to drink it,” Donovan said, and Karessa frowned. A better actress wouldn’t have shown it.
“So how did you advertise this place?” she asked after pretending to take another sip. “I haven’t seen any flyers around.”
Donovan eyed Nestor as he finished his drink.
“Oh, we used the Critter Method,” Nestor said. “It’s what my family used to do when I was very young down on Solkin. When they saw a squirrel or a rabbit or a cat heading in the direction of their next stop, they just tied a little piece of paper to them saying ‘hey, a caravan of performers is heading your way! Get excited! Save your money!’ So what’s a flyer? Is it with birds?”
Donovan looked like he was going to be sick.
“Congratulations, Karessa,” he deadpanned, pouring himself another glass of wine. “You’ve just been promoted to Head of Marketing.”
Maybe it was the store, maybe it was the company, or maybe it was the wine of the Dil, but some peculiar feeling punctured Karessa’s ironic façade for just a moment. Warmth trickled through her veins, tingles rippled across her skin, and, despite herself, Karessa Plunderton smiled.