Heart’s Desire, Part Two

Nestor’s Magifts functioned like so: people in line could fill out a form describing what they would like constructed or what problem they would like solved – ideally limited to common household tools and situations – and then Nestor would work and field questions as the line progressed. For a discount, people could also bring their own goods from home. He was envisioning a more relaxed environment, maybe half a dozen people gathered around, talking about his creations as he worked. Instead, he was about to be a one-man assembly line

As the halfling in front explained their vision for a wrench that adjusted its size as necessary, Nestor reached into the box of components under the counter, crushing a tigerfalcon feather in his fist to cast a spell of quickening. The result was a peculiar mix of exhaustion and revitalization, like a shot of caffeine to an insomniac.

His mind and body were faster now, his hands effortlessly molding magic into strips of metal as his mind ran calculations about the amount of time to be spent on each person. He spoke about the process as he went, his words coming a mile a minute, dizzying his patrons with talk of thaumaturgical conductivity and arcane elasticity. At the end, he produced a shiny bronze wrench, tested it on three different sizes of bolts, and the halfling walked away happy, which made Nestor happy. He repeated the process on a stuffed lizard that reminded its owner of appointments, a rolling chair that could be called with a command word, and a coinpurse that responded when asked “now where did I put my wallet?” with ease. Curious customers asked about the materials he was using, his favorite inventions, and how on earth he found the energy to talk so much. If he could only ignore the looming line, it was everything he imagined.

Of course, he could not ignore the looming line. Even if he could put aside his own sense of duty to his business’s patrons (which was about as likely as the Oviriun Songswallow deciding to give up singing and ‘just get a real job’ like all the other Oviriun Fowl insisted, which is to say not at all), he could not ignore the impatient stares, the rhythmic tapping, or that dwarf who said “hey you, gnome guy, what’s the freezing hold up?”

Nestor assuaged them with pleasantries, thumbs-up, and an even more absurd pace. At once he worked on an autonomous backscratcher, a silverware set that always matched the table décor, and a tip-jar that bit the hand of anyone who tried to steal from it. He was cooling the metal of the flatware while he spun the glass of the jar, all the while polishing the wooden scratcher with a cloth he held in his toes. The results were far from immaculate (and the owner of the scratcher opted to clean it several times before use), but they got the job done, and the customers left happy enough.

Happy enough was of course not enough for Nestor Pinkly, and as he allowed himself a seven-and-a-half-minute break in the shop’s tiny office, he seriously considered his options for ensuring productivity and quality. He weighed the amount of time he’d save by drinking an Alacricitrus vs the time it would take to stop by Al’s Chemy to buy one. Perhaps he could send Donovan? Oh, if only Dovetail were here…

As though he’d heard the thinking of his name, Donovan strode into the office with a sense of purpose, pulling a file labeled “synonyms for ‘Amazing’ in the many tongues of Skymoore” off of a hanging shelf before he noticed the gnome sitting there, pondering, hardly taking anything resembling a break.

“Are you alright, Nestor?” he asked. “Can’t say I’ve ever seen you sweat before.”

Nestor wiped his brow with a handkerchief and put on a bright expression. “I’m just splendid! I always told you I’d be content to be paid in happiness, and I’ve never had the chance to make this many people happy at once!”

“Before I moved out here, I thought you were joking,” said Donovan, “but now I must ask, can you actually be paid in happiness here? We really could have saved some money that way.”

“Every job pays in happiness if you have the right attitude,” Nestor replied, his smiling lip trembling as the quickening began to fade.

“See, this is why I went into business with you, Nestor,” Donovan said. “Nobody in all Solkin has a heart like yours, I guarantee it.”

This lit a fire behind Nestor’s sagging eyes. “I won’t let you down, Mr. Allman!” he said with a salute, and threw open the drawer on the office desk reserved for emergencies. He withdrew a vial of tears taken from a troll who had recently failed a spelling bee, but only barely, having done an impressive job of keeping their composure in an icy climate (the weakness of all trolls), and placed a single drop on a flower that grew on a mountain where a struggling couple vacationed to successfully rekindle their romance. This alchemical solution produced an aroma that, when inhaled, restored a user’s spirits and magical energy. There were some scholars who argued the effects might shave time off the user’s life, but they all died before they could publish conclusive evidence.

Nestor burst onto the salesfloor with hypernatural enthusiasm, cutting his break short at five minutes and twenty-three seconds. Standing in his booth, looking shell-shocked by what lay before her, was Karessa Plunderton, looking small and helpless in her father’s oversized fishing coat.

“This is so much people!” she whisper-shouted when he joined her.

“All thanks to your brilliant marketing, Ms. Plunderton! You should get a raise!”

“Thank you, Nestor, but also: frosty damnation! Have you been doing this for three hours?”

“Don’t swear in front of the guests,” Nestor chided, “but it’s actually been four! I oughta get back to it.”

“Are you okay, Nestor? You’re vibrating.” Nestor gave her a thumbs-up. “Should we cut them off at a certain point? Tell them to come back tomorrow?”

“Nonsense, Karessa! We’ve promised them their heart’s desire, and I’m going to give it to them. Donovan said if we make enough, we can open up Odd & Ends Jr!”

“Great Bear Beneath, I wish we had HR. Linda’s big, she can do it. Look, these people’s hearts will be there tomorrow.  I’m talking to Donovan.”

“No, it’s okay! I have you now!” Before she could protest, Nestor turned the sign around and the line surged forward.

For the next hour two hours, things ran smoother than ever, with Karessa managing the line and fielding questions while Nestor tinkered away. Their little corner of the shop was like clockwork, and Nestor turned out a stamp that automatically changed to reflect the current date (requested by the mayor’s overworked office clerk of the week), a recliner with arms to massage its occupant (requested by a humanoid centipede who lifted freight for a living), and a ring that helped it wearer maintain the proper mood for a given social situation (requested by an out-of-touch noble who was trying to get back into the dating game). Even the people who missed the tone of the event – asking for a jar to trap their neighbor’s soul, for instance, or for their stepson to love them – left happy enough, once Karessa managed their expectations a bit (with defensive lawn ornaments to prevent fruit theft and a skateboard that can never wipe out, respectively).

But as the hours ticked away, so did Nestor’s thaumatological reserves. Artifice took far less out of him than your typical ritual or spell, but even he could not endure hours of infusing item after item. His medicine bottles that walked themselves to the alchemist, hats that left the hair beneath untouched, nail clippers capable of trimming a kamenclo’s stone fingers, and self-pedaling unicycle all lacked the potency and craftsmanship of his earlier creations. Even the singing tea kettle he made for the Wintosan Wereworm who could only hear in song had bags under its eyes.

Karessa was getting ready to physically remove Nestor from his station, telling the crowd to return tomorrow, when Nestor suddenly cried out “Malleus!” The dragonkin had placed himself at the end of the line. It looked as though he’d had a long day, judging from his weary face and now-ragged cloak. “Come on down!” Malleus eyed Nestor warily as the crowd murmured angrily. “I mean it!”

“Nestor, you have to stop,” Karessa said firmly.

“Poppycock, Ms. Plunderton! Malleus saved my life earlier! I owe him.”

“What about what you owe yourself?”

“And of course I owe Donovan, for starting this wonderful establishment, and everyone in this line for trusting me to give them their heart’s desire!”

Malleus made his way to the front of the line, and Nestor introduced him triumphantly to the crowd. One gentleman started to clap, got embarrassed, and stopped.

“Have you decided what it is your heart desires, Malleus?” asked Nestor.

The dragonkin looked at the ground a moment. “I have,” he said bashfully.

“Better be something easy,” muttered Karessa. Nestor gave her a mind-your-manners look.

“I want people to notice me.”

Karessa looked up at him incredulously. “People have trouble with that?”

Malleus tapped his cheek pensively. “Er. Maybe it’s the opposite.”

She tilted her head. “You want to be invisible?”

“Not quite.” He huffed. “When I am…interested in someone. Is that unbecoming of a hero?”

“Not at all,” Nestor said. “I’m interested in everyone!” Karessa pat Nestor on the shoulder. “Of course not,” she said.

“When I am romantically interested in someone,” Malleus clarified, “they tend to be…intimidated. By either my stature or my status. I’d like them to see me how I am, and to engage me as an attainable person.”

“So…like a charm?”

“Nothing so…invasive. When I show an interest in someone, I’d like them to feel comfortable talking to me. Without becoming too forward, because then I get nervous. Like a very weak charm, perhaps, combined with a relaxant.”

“Buddy,” Karessa said, “every person alive wants what you just asked for. We’re more in the business of…socks that smell nice, or dishes that change color when your food is hot.”

Malleus pondered this a moment. “Those dishes sound lovely.”

Nestor waved his hands frantically. “I won’t hear any of this negativity, Ms. Plunderton! Only the finest for Mr. Silverscale.” Malleus began to protest, but Nestor insisted. “At a complete discount, too, as I promised.”

And so Nestor set to work constructing a bronze brooch depicting Old King Dundermoat, Skymoore’s famed vampiric tree, as a sort of souvenir from Malleus’s visit to the city. Pressing the metal and stamping the image was the easy part. Infusing the spell was another matter entirely.

(Describing an artificer’s technique to one who has never felt the vibrations of a solid object’s atoms or tested another’s elemental affinity is nearly impossible in the parlance of Skymoore. To do so, the fourth wall is going to need to come down a moment.

Now imagine you are driving on a foggy night and finding the frequency for your date’s favorite radio station without any verbal feedback. You can only judge if you’ve chosen correctly through body language. Now imagine that each time you approach a station, and the signal gets clearer and clearer, the knob becomes harder and harder to turn, as though the radio bands were real bands, tightening around your arm. And of course you can’t forget that if you fail, your date will not only leave you at once but your car was likely to crumble to dust around you. An artificer’s work was something like that, though far less likely to set the mood for a romantic evening.

Sorry about your fourth wall, by the way. The necessary carpenters have been contracted for its repair.)

As Nestor was attempting to infuse the brooch with the charm part of the spell, he was having trouble finding just the right frequency to fill the space between the atoms with magic. He adjusted his magic this way and that, but he just couldn’t focus on the finesse that typically came to him so easily. So, he did something artificers should never do – he added more power, to try and force the lock as it were.

The brooch resisted more, and Nestor fought harder. He began to sway where he stood, and Karessa made a move to steady him, but Nestor stepped aside. “Not now, Karessa,” he said, “I’m concentrating.” He couldn’t hear his own voice, as the world muted and dimmed around him as his essence flowed into the brooch. Distantly, Malleus voiced some concern as the brass of the brooch gave way to his enchantment with a loud pop, and the gnome fell to his knees behind the counter.

“Is this normal?” Malleus’s voice echoed in the darkness. All Nestor could see was the brooch, which scintillated brilliant pink and gold light.

“No,” Karessa said, lifting Nestor off the floor. Malleus hoisted him over a shoulder. “This is not normal.”

The brawny dragonkin was knocked off balance by an unexpected blow as a bear-sized, bear-furred man waiting in line barreled into him, sending Malleus and Nestor careening over the counter with a splintering thud. The color rushed back into Nestor’s world, but his strength failed him as the man ravenously pried the brooch from Nestor’s hand…

…only to be himself tackled by a halfling, an elf, and a human who clung to him with feral ferocity. The bear man snarled and thrashed to dislodge his attackers, giving Nestor time to crawl out from beneath him. Malleus meanwhile was pulling assailants off the brooch thief while Karessa tried to calm the mob that was now climbing the counter, to no avail.

“Nestor, what did you do?” she asked as a sectum spit barbed saliva at the bear, making him drop the brooch into the elf’s hand.

“I only charmed the brooch!” he cried, uselessly trying to impede the elf twice his size. “Though I may have charmed it too well!”

“You may have?!”

Across Odd & Ends, the front door burst open and half a dozen people poured in. Nestor asked if they could please not run in the shop. In lieu of polite response, they kicked over the glass display of dancing porcelain dolls. As more entranced passersby made their way inside, Linda threw herself against the door to stem the chaos.

“Linda, I’ve made a mistake!” Nestor called. The minotaur shot him an unamused stare. “Where’s Donvoan?”

“He said he had something to take care of a while ago,” she replied. “Not sure where he’s wandered off to.”

In truth, this was a relief to Nestor. Surely Donovan would never entrust him with Odd & Ends Jr. if he made mistakes like this. He surveyed the scene in dismay as the unaffected customers attempted to take cover in the back room and the ensorcelled masses attempted to take possession of the brooch. “Just keep the door closed, Linda!” Nestor said, “I’ll fix everything else!”

Linda grunted. Would-be invaders pounded on the door behind her, but she held firm.

An exhausted Nestor followed the action of the brooch as it violently passed from one patron to the next and reality truly set upon the panicked gnome. “You may be right, Karessa,” he said as a one-armed dog-like creature punched one of the two heads of Armin, a local priest, to get its hand on the prize. “I should tell Donovan this was too much.”

There was no response. Not even an “I told you so.” Because Karessa wasn’t with Nestor and Malleus behind the counter. She was out there among the melee, climbing up the side of a six-eyed troll to obtain the brooch.

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