Getting to Seamoore was never an easy task. It was near the western edge of the continent that is mostly called Penscarop, but which has been dubbed “Remainia” by many recent immigrants and their children. To get to it, you had to cross either the Frostlands, the O’grofkala mountains, or troll territory, depending on where you’re coming from, none of which is anyone’s idea of a good time.
Once the city released itself from the surface of Solkin, taking its farmland, its minerals, and its port with it, everybody kind of agreed the area was too boring to re-settle now, and they were honestly rather happy to see it go. A few years back, there was talk of giving it a go anyways. To have a large settlement near the sea was valuable, some said, and besides you could bypass some of the nastiness by taking a boat down the Crystal Tears. But then The Below walled off the crater where Seamoore once was, and from then everyone was too afraid to go anywhere near there unless they had business.
This is all a long-winded way of saying that when Linda Arterford had business in Skymoore, she had some difficulty getting there.
Pate Demford, a one-legged, half-elf traveling merchant, allowed Linda to make use of his wagon to get past the O’grofkala mountains, and partway down the expansive dirt road to Seamoore, when she suddenly asked him to stop.
“Really?” the old merchant asked. Linda unloaded a large wooden sled and began to toss some bags onto it. Stone and steel jostled within. “This is the end of the line for you?”
“I will walk the rest of the way. Don’t want to trouble you with Below territory.”
“For what you paid me? I’ll take the risk.”
Linda waved him off. “Just a few days’ walk. I can handle myself better than most.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know who ya are. Pieced it together a couple nights back. Just thought I’d save you the trouble.”
“Don’t plan on spending much time in their land anyway. My destination’s up there,” she said, pointing to the floating city.
Pate looked up at the city, then down at Linda’s sled, and then back at her. “Yeah? Moving to Skymoore? Heard a lot of weird things about that place. I know some merchants who make a habit o’ going there, but it just don’t sound worth it to me. An old friend of mine said they used silvered feathers as money.”
Linda shrugged. “I’ve seen my share of weird. Thanks again for your transportation.”
“No, no. Thank you for the gold. You sure you can drag all that? I know you minotaur are strong, but…”
Linda just tied some roped around her torso and began walking. The encumbered sled followed her with surprising speed. The man just gave her an impressed look and amused smile, and commanded his horses be on their way.
“Safe travels,” Linda called.
Fortunately, her travels west of the mountain range were uneventful.
The rolling fields were lush, empty, and largely cast in shadow by Skymoore. Eventually the dirt road gave way to the sea of green, the land having grown over it after years without use, but Linda was in no danger of getting lost. From the moment she stepped off Pate’s cart, her destination was in sight: the mile-high steel elevator which grew closer and closer as she neared the city.
It was located at the far end of Skymoore, a few miles away from where the city once rested. The slate, featureless red wall that surrounded the crater sent chills through Linda’s body, and made her great many hairs stand up. She tried not to think about it.
The elevator was a massive, technical marvel. Four steel, diamond, and orchalum beams made up the corners, with immaculate chains and gears making up the front and back “walls” of the monstrosity. The effort that went into building and maintaining such a thing was beyond Linda’s imagination, and she had once carried the body of an ancient silver dragon from the base of a mountain to its nest at the very top.
Standing outside the elevator, beside a steel panel with buttons and levers, were two identical dwarves wearing sharp clothes, trim beards, and glasses with dark, thick lenses.
“G’day, madam,” one of the dwarves said. “Is this your first trip to Skymoore?”
“It is. I’m moving here.”
The dwarves exchanged a glance and nodded. In unison, they each produced a small velvet box from their pockets and opened them, revealing bronze badges in the shape of Skymoore, and pinned them to their breasts.
“I’m agent Kraf T. Littlebugger, and this is my brother Cheek E. Littlebugger. Skymoorian Immigration. In addition to a small fee, we’re going to have to ask you a few questions and run through some procedures before we let you up. Is this agreeable?”
“I speak only the truth,” Kraf said.
“I speak only lies,” Cheek added.
“You may ask one question. Your goal is to determine-”
“Is that a lie?” Linda asked.
“Huh?” Cheek asked.
“You only speak lies. Is it a lie that you only speak lies? Because if that statement is true, it is also false.”
If Linda could see Cheek’s eyes beneath his shades, she’d have seen the eyes of a man whose very foundation of reality and self-understanding had been rocked to its core. Haunted eyes. Scared eyes. Instead, she saw the stoic calm of a Skymooiran Immigration officer. “You pass.”
Kraf produced a notebook from his breast pocket and began flipping through it. “Moving on. Just need to cover some basic things. Name, place of origin, occupation, how long you plan to live in Skymoore, a personal secret, and an embarrassing memory you try not to think about but in your most dark and private moments, and also randomly throughout the day, it crops up again to haunt you and put you ill at ease. Oh and your favorite color.”
Nearly an hour later, Linda stood in the center of the enormous elevator, all alone, feeling kind of queasy and unsafe. The view of the Remaining Sea was nice, but if she had one note for the experience, she’d recommend glass walls as opposed to open air.
“You don’t find this offensive?” Karessa asked. “Because I find this kind of offensive.”
“In what way?” Nestor asked. Dovetail, Nestor’s automaton and friend, stood on her knees in the middle of Odd & Ends. She was dressed in the store’s very own self-fitting clothes, but Nestor had adjusted the pants to stop at her knees, where she also had placed a pair of shoes. Karessa wasn’t sure if Dovetail could feel things, but it looked very uncomfortable. “Dovetail is just trying to figure out who she is. Today she’s trying to figure out if she’s small, like us!”
“But…she’s clearly not.”
“She could be! I thoughtlessly made her in a human image without stopping to consider whether she might prefer to be another race. This way she can test it out and I can make modifications as need be.”
“I just can’t imagine why anyone would choose to be short, though. It’s so much better being tall.”
“Ow,” a minotaur woman muttered as her horn caught the top of the shop’s open door. She was broad, as many minotaur were, and covered in reddish brown fur, as some minotaur were, but she was missing a swath of hair on a scar across one of her cheeks, as perhaps only a few minotaur were. She wore a green tunic which might have been called provocatively fitting on someone with less hair, but came off as merely pragmatic on this particularly fierce and impressive individual.
She was also dragging what must have been hundreds of pounds of stuffed satchels and backpacks on a sled behind her.
“Hello and good morning!” Nestor cried. “Welcome to Odd & Ends, Skymoore’s number one magic shop!”
“Number one and only,” Karessa corrected.
“We don’t have many minotaur in town, and I can’t say I recognize you,” Nestor said. “May I ask your name, madam?”
“My friends call me Lofgun’t’gundrmgr, but you can call me Linda.”
“Yeesh, you have talented friends,” Karessa replied. The minotaur grinned. “I’m Karessa. The chipper one is Nestor. The, uh…kneeling one…”
“Dovetail, this is a perfect time to practice,” Nestor said. “Give her your name.”
This command confused the automaton at first, but she figured it out in a few moments. One of her fingers became a thin blade. She set about carving her name into the floor so that she might remove the floorboard and give it to Linda. She didn’t get very far before Nestor stopped her.
“Nononono,” he said. “Tell her your name. Say hello.”
“Dovetail hello!” the automaton said.
“Her socializing could use some work,” Karessa said. Then, seeing the automaton frown, added, “hey, chin up. Mine, too.”
“What can we help you with today?” Nestor asked their visitor. “I could give you a tour if you’d like.”
“I’m sure that will come in time,” Linda said. “I’m looking for…Donovan.”
As if on cue, the door to Donovan’s room opened, and Odd & Ends’ co-owner stepped out into the store. His face lit up at once. “Linda! You made it!”
“You two know each other?” Karessa asked. “Does Donovan have friends?!”
“Something like that,” Linda said.
“Everyone, I’d like you to meet Linda Arterford. She’s going to be helping out here at Odd & Ends,” Donovan said.
“Welcome!” Nestor said. “It will be a pleasure to work with you. Any friend of Donovan’s is a friend of ours.”
“Are you from the surface, then?” Karessa asked.
Linda nodded. “Up until quite recently she used to travel with the Suntouched,” Donovan said. “She’s the source of much of my knowledge about the man.”
“His obsession was ridiculous. He was a Suntouched groupie, following us around the world and questioning me for details every time something exciting happened. The Suntouched didn’t have much interest in Donovan, but he grew on me well enough. Someone had to tell our story, and he seemed more than qualified to do it.”
It was plain that both Karessa and Nestor found this absolutely adorable. “If you two will excuse us, I’m going to show Linda the back room and explain what it is we do here. Nestor, could you send Dovetail home before we get back? I don’t want that thing scaring away customers.”
The gnome pat Dovetail on the shoulder and assured her Donovan didn’t mean it as the two went into the back.
“The ruse is going to take some getting used to,” Linda muttered as the Suntouched locked the door to Odd & Ends’ tiny storage space. There was hardly enough room for the woman to stand, as it was filled to the ceiling with cardboard boxes and loose trinkets.
“Lofgun’t’gundrmgr…” the Suntouched said, collapsing into his friend and removing his enchanted ring. His peach skin gave way to his eternal sunburn, and for a moment he felt so light he thought he might fly away. “Linda. Thank you so much for coming, I…I don’t know how I’m going to do this. This life, I…”
Linda held her friend, and they shared each other’s burden for a while, like they used to. The two stood, wordless, for several minutes, and for that short time, the Suntouched knew that everything would be okay. With Linda by his side, he could do anything, even run a magic shop in a city so far removed from anything he’d ever thought of as home.
“Come,” Linda eventually said. “That gnome wants to give me the tour.”
“Brace yourself,” he said with a smile. “Even the One With Strength of Twenty is no match for an excited Nestor.”
“We will see,” she said, flexing and grimacing absurdly. The hero laughed as he replaced his ring, and ventured back into his shop.