Heart’s Desire, Part One

On the morning of Odd & Ends’ Heart’s Desire sale, with just an hour until sunrise, Donovan Allman was wiping down the glass display for candles that flickered on and off in time with music. For the twelfth time. He was certain he saw a smudge, but he realized now it was only a bug crawling on the wall behind it.

He smashed the insect. Not even a steakfly was going to ruin this day.

As he looked around for something else to compulsively adjust, Donovan was feeling a lot of things at once; jittery, nervous, excited. Judged. Linda sat in the corner, sleeping until open, but even her soft snoring sounded accusatory. What right did she have to judge him, anyway? She’d given up on adventuring because it no longer suited her. He was here working, finding ways to fight for the people of Solkin even in his forced retirement. If she really cared, she –

Donovan caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror. Even through the glamour that magically disguised his red skin, he looked weary.

No, that wasn’t fair to Linda. She retired because she cared about herself. She wanted him to retire because she cared about him, too. But every time he closed his eyes to rest, every time he resigned himself to be a shopkeeper who used to be a hero, he saw the stained-glass window in the temple atop Mount Paylor. He saw the man wielding the sword which expelled a light which repelled the encroaching darkness. That man was supposed to be him, but that wasn’t him yet. He never fulfilled his destiny; it still awaited him. It waited here, in Skymoore, and this sale was the beginning.

Linda snorted loudly in her sleep, and Donavan winced. He relocated to the back room, where there was still work to be done.

The Wonders of Solkin exhibit was his proudest contribution to the event. He came to Skymoore with so few of his own belongings – Expanse, the Dragon’s Tail, the Bulwark bracers, all of these things had been abandoned or given away before his settlement – but with Linda’s help and letters to some old friends, Donovan was able to put together an impressive collection of artifacts, portraits, and treasures that people would travel the world to see. That people were currently traveling the world to see. The Adamantine Battle Dress, the Sandals of Remarkable Swiftness, Darkest Day and Brightest Night by the famed elven painter, Pomeyse; these were things few people on the surface, and likely no person in Skymoore, had ever gazed upon, and they were here in Odd & Ends. Even in the dim silence, the room seemed to sparkle and sing in the glory of their presence.

He whispered the command to open the magically secured case that housed the Battle Dress. A smile crept across his lips as he ran a hand across the rippled metal, thick as plate and twice as heavy, but finely crafted and segmented to be wearable by the most elegant of the Dul Elves’ battle dancers. It had been so long now since he’d touched adamantine, feeling its smooth surface which lacked any temperature at all, but this dress was especially nostalgic. Only five sets had ever been made, and only two remained unlost to time. He had worn it once, decades ago in the Ylguvei Museum of Warcraft in Dol Belvargamar.

Back when he had only just begun courting Thalialdera, he’d arranged for an “impromptu” combat demonstration with one of the curators who was a fan of the Suntouched’s work, in a bid to impress the magnificent half-elf. A crowd gathered as Donovan was called upon to spar with their famed security golems. The dress complimented his style of combat perfectly; he was just strong enough to wear it and take advantage of its wide range of movement, rendering the few blows that managed to connect useless against the impenetrable battle dress. His scheme had worked for him – Thalialdera was a scholar of many things, elven history among them, and to see not only Donovan’s connection with the museum but how proficiently he wore the dress…

…Donovan snapped out of his nostalgia in order to perform the actual work of polishing the adamantine. Then he set about rearranging the Colors of Creation, the Landscape of Eternity, and so on. Perhaps if he just kept moving, he could even outrun the urge to pause, to go back, to fix.

Eventually, the sun rose.

“Are you ready?” Linda asked, peeking out through the shop’s shuttered windows. “There’s a boatload of people out there. Maybe two.”

Donovan took another peek in the back room, making sure the sentient digeridoo that was to provide ambience was set up properly. “Skymoorians?”

“And outsiders,” Linda confirmed. “I see crests from Castiron, from Castle Belmov, from…wow, there’s dwarven royalty out there. Are we ready for dwarven royalty?”

“Probably Saltinius,” Donovan guessed. “We’ve dealt with him before. Show him something sufficiently shiny and talk about how it’s dwarven made and he’ll trip over himself with pride.” He took a step toward the door, and caught himself. “Wow,” he breathed. “It worked, didn’t it? Karessa’s birds really did the trick.”

“You’ve taught her our ways,” Linda said, allowing herself a grin, “believe hard enough in a stupid enough plan, and it’s bound to work out.”

Donovan let himself return the smile for just a moment, before nerves overwhelmed. “Wait just a moment. Nestor isn’t here. How did I forget Nestor? He’s the key to all of this. Linda, have you seen Nestor?”

“I’m sure he’ll be here,” Linda said. “Have you ever known the little guy to be late?”

“Maybe he overslept. Maybe he got stuck in an Atermaj outburst. Maybe –”

“Maybe he’s right outside,” Linda said, taking another glance. “You need to breathe, Donovan. But you also need to get in gear. They’re getting rowdy out there.”

Donovan frowned and had a look about. Suddenly everything looked…small. Too dense. Nothing like the grand emporiums of Dol Belvargamar or the enormous mall in Castiron. To anyone from the great living castles, his humble store would appear a strangely decorated lavatory, and a small one at that. Embarrassment gripped him.

Linda put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s going to be okay, Donovan. You believe in this stupid plan.”

“Do you?”

She sighed. “I believe in you. Always. That’s why I can get so frustrated.” She didn’t allow Donovan the time to contemplate this. “Now get over there, behind the counter. It will look more impressive if you’re over there.”

Donovan did as she suggested, expecting to feel silly, but from this vantage point, everything looked a little better. He could see the whole shop from there, and he knew his wares were impressive. He knew Nestor’s booth would delight. He knew that with sunlight pouring in, their displays would amaze.

Without a bit of Donovan’s trepidation, Linda crossed the room and threw open the door before he could stop her. And he was glad he did not. On the faces of each and every shopper he saw hurry, excitement, curiosity, or amazement. Kurt Durgikmar, ambassador to King Saltinius of the Fortuglian Spice Mines, stepped into a store in Skymoore for the first time in his life, and seemed impressed by what he saw.

The ensuing half an hour was a complete blur. Customers came to him, asked questions about the shop, the city, the items, and even about himself. A man who introduced himself as Malleus Silverscale thought Donovan looked familiar, but Donovan assured the dragonkin he knew him only through reputation, and thanked him for his contributions in fighting off the Army of Below and the Chastened.

Most interesting to Donovan (aside from the unbelievable success of his plan), was the mingling of Skymoorian and Surface folk, watching the first true exchange of many cultures who had largely chosen to ignore each other for the last three centuries. Aside from the complaints about Skymoore’s lack of inns and certain people’s discomfort with the sliminess, smelliness, and eight-headedness of some of Skymoore’s more unique citizens, the blend of cultures felt like a success. More than one curious traveler from across the continent expressed interest in coming back. Things were going to change in Skymoore, whether the Cabal liked it or not, and Donovan was the catalyst.

It felt a little like destiny.

***

For Nestor Pinkly, every day that ended in “Y,” was a great reason to get out of bed. Had he known about Othendok, the secret eighth day of the week that exists only for those beings who are afflicted by the Illithid Chronology, he would have been thrilled about that as well.

Of course, even though all days were ultimately good, some were better than others, and nothing got Nestor out of bed quite like a special day at Odd & Ends. On such an occasion, he might leap from his bed directly into his shoes, having slept in his work clothes, and twirl into the kitchen, where the cardboard and clay construct Regibald had prepared him breakfast.

On the way to work each morning, Nestor spoke to the spirit of Mrs. Grantham, a famed toy maker and Nestor’s personal hero. She never talked back, but knew her spirit was there; artificers like himself infused a piece of themselves into the things they created, and when an artificer of great talent passed, their spirit joined the things they loved most, and there was little Mrs. Grantham loved more than Skymoore (another thing she and Nestor had in common).

“I love having people from the surface come to Odd & Ends,” Nestor explained to her as he walked his favorite route to work, which passed twelve of his twenty-three favorite gardens in Skymoore, and thirteen of his favorite thirty-two. “It simply doesn’t happen often enough! Before Donovan, I was sort of afraid of people from the surface, even though I am one. It’s not that they’re all bad, by any means, only that they don’t tend to appreciate Skymoore. That’s the brilliant thing about Donovan blocking off the streets; it guarantees that the first thing they’ll see is Odd & Ends and me and Karessa and Linda and Donovan, and what’s not to love about all that?

“Now, for our last big sale, we had about six people from the surface,” Nestor went on, “but that was mostly coincidence. With Karessa’s new advertising tactic, we’re thinking we can get ten or more! Those were her numbers, anyway, but I think we’ll do better than that. If I had to guess, based on the direction the birds traveled and the populations of the major settlements and the average adventurous spirit of each, I’d estimate we’ll receive fifty-four visitors, plus or minus ten, to account for the smaller settlements.

“And if this is all a success, which I have no doubt it will be, I’m finally going to have a serious talk with Donovan about the prospects of Odd & Ends Jr, a smaller division of the store focused on the creation of toys for children. Just like you, Mrs. Grantham!”

When Nestor arrived at Odd & Ends, the road between the humble wooden establishment and the edge of Skymoore was filled to the brim with nearly one-hundred people, sixty-one of which were from the surface. To Nestor’s dismay, there seemed to be a disagreement between the natives and the visitors.

A well-dressed dragonkin man was questioning Tilda McHatter, the avian woman who baked cookies off Leftwetter Lane. “Is this a mistake?” he asked. “I ask not to insult, only to understand,

“We suspected initially that we may have been looking for Odd End, some kind of street or manor claimed by Skymoore’s nobility. When a curious fellow in the Frostlands told us it was a shop of wonders that we sought, the notion conjured images of a grand emporium, like one might encounter in the bazaar of Windomere Grove. I must admit, this homely establishment is a little…less…than we had imagined.  Are we really going to find our heart’s desire in such a place?”

Tilda scrutinized the dragonkin lazily. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, sir. I’m here for more of the magic shoelaces. They change their tightness based on your level of activity, and they’re half off today.”

“Do you mean to tell me…we traveled all this way…crossed the Frostlands in the mouth of an enormous worm, because of an advertisement?”

Tilda shrugged. “Why don’t you ask him?” she suggested, meaning Nestor, “he works here.”

“Nestor Pinkly!” Nestor Pinkly said, tipping his top hat.

“Malleus Silverscale,” Malleus Silverscale said, bowing slightly. “Was it you who sent that banner across the land?”

“That would be our marketing department, actually!” said the gnome. “I’m the artificer department!”

Malleus nodded. “I see. And when you say you’re going to make our dreams come true…is this with…low prices?”

A handful of travelers began making their way back toward the elevator.

“Not only that! We’re launching a new service today! A custom magic item crafted by yours truly to fill a hole in your life! It’s going to be…more exciting…than I imagined, but I’m up to the task.”

This seemed to catch the attention of at least a few of the disappointed.

“The life of a hero has few holes,” Malleus said. “But I am intrigued, both by this shop and by this peculiar city. I, for one, shall stay.”

“Splendid!” Nestor cried, hopping up the single step to the shop’s porch. “Mind the chrispantsaplumb,” he warned, gesturing to the chrysanthemum hanging before the door, “and welcome to Odd & Ends!”

The gnome’s request for order went completely unheeded; as he reached up to turn the knob and push the door open, surfacer and Skymoorian alike hurried through the threshold, stampeding over and around Nestor, who ducked and dodged his way to safety. A lanky Kamenlada brushed forcefully against the hanging plant, causing it to swing in place.

“The crystlantaphy!” cried Nestor. “Mind the crystlantapahy!”

A rowdy, defiant dryad jumped up and hit the pot mid swing. Nestor ran beneath it to cushion the fall with magic, before it occurred to him just how much energy he’d need for the coming day, leaving him defenselessly in the path of a falling pot.

A hand cold, rough, and strong grabbed Nestor by the hair and yanked him away from the pot, which shattered pitifully. “Careful, little guy,” said Malleus.

“Watch for shattered pot!” shouted Nestor, shielding the defenseless chrysanthemum. And then, when the crowd had moved entirely into the store (or stepped out to wait their turn, as Odd & Ends could not accommodate even half that many people), Nestor thanked Malleus for his rescue. “A free item for you, I think.”

Malleus put up a hand. “You’re too kind, gnome,” he said. “But a hero wants for nothing.”

“Stay a while and think about it,” said Nestor. The dragonkin nodded, returned the gnome’s hat to his head, and set about exploring the shop.

As far as Nestor was concerned, Odd & Ends was always one of the most joyous places in Skymoore, but today it was looking even sharper than usual, with freshly-painted walls, painstakingly-cleaned glass displays, and the “Wonders of Solkin” exhibit, containing artifacts and treasures that Linda had collected in her adventures (including the sentient didgeridoo that was providing everyone with an upbeat ambiance).

After Nestor cleaned up the ruined plant with Linda’s help, he took his place at the extended counter along the shop’s back wall, where a makeshift, gnome-sized crafting station had been set up. There were tools, adhesive, raw materials, and lollipops arranged beneath a sign reading “Nestor’s Magifts” (a name he adamantly clung to, despite Karessa’s repeated insistence that the name did not work aloud).

As he settled into his booth, surveying the line assembling there and flowing out the door, even the ever-plucky Nestor Pinky couldn’t help but be daunted by what lay before him. Before he could turn his Sleeping Nestor sign over to his Friendly-Wave Nestor sign, Donovan squeezed his way behind the desk. “Good morning, Nestor,” he said deliberately. “Ready for today?”

Nestor Pinkly forced a smile, an event that had occurred exactly as many times as patrons of Hidden Gem, Dol Belvargamar’s all-dwarf café, had broken their tooth on small chunks of space debris that had made their way into a mug of hot chocolate through the window, having been mistaken for a marshmallow, and had gone on to fall in love with their oral surgeon on their ensuing trip, resulting in a relationship that lasted exactly eight years and twenty-seven days. That is to say, three times.

“Of course, Mr. Allman!”

Donovan turned his way from Nestor toward the crowd, nodding politely to the eager halfling in the front. “I understand it’s…more than we anticipated, but don’t forget what this represents for Odd & Ends – for Skymoore as a whole!”

Nestor saluted. “I could never! You know I want our business to thrive as much as you do, Mr. Allman. I am more than up to the challenge!”

“I knew you would be. You’re like a hero of legend, someone willing to put their wellbeing on the line to bring safety and joy to others. Maybe one day, people on their way to work will be talking to the spirit of Nestor Pinkly, the most dedicated and exuberant artificer who ever lived!” Nestor beamed. “On top of that, if business really picks up here, we might be able to make Odd & Ends Jr. a reality.”

Nestor’s had a glow about him, then, a warmth so intense that for all he knew it was visible to the patrons around him. With the spring most thoroughly returned to his step, he returned to the line before him, turned his sign around, and called “Nestor’s Magifts is open for business!”

(“That doesn’t really work out loud, does it?” whispered a stout druid man to the myriad snakes that composed his hair. The snakes hissed judgmentally.)

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