Heart’s Desire, Part Seven

It couldn’t have been fifteen minutes later that Donovan Allman awakened with a start. How could he have fallen asleep with the Cabal about to invade Odd & Ends? Donovan hadn’t quite assessed how time worked in the Soul, but it was still an awfully foolish thing to do.

The train was now in a tunnel, but it didn’t look like the part of the Soul he knew. The cave was too natural. When it pulled into a station, which seemed to lead further into this tunnel system, Donovan got out for a moment to assess the map of all the stops. A lot of them had meaningless smudges where the names ought to be, and empty space where the map ought to be, but it was still shaped approximately like Skymoore. The next stop would take him closer to Odd & Ends.

While he waited for his destination, Donovan took a quick stroll about the train. Like much of the Soul, it was a work in progress, but the basic shape of the thing was there. Naturally, a large entertainment car was the centerpiece, with a glittering silver stage in the center. Attached to that was a car full of unlocked dressing rooms. Feeling a little chilly after his swamp water mishap, Donovan pulled a green satin cloak around himself. It was one of the first new items of clothing he’d acquired in Skymoore, and the first new cloak he’d worn since Asylum gave him his old traveling cloak two decades ago.

After the tunnels, the train pulled into a massive, high-ceilinged ballroom with a disorienting mirrored wall. The single chandelier that hung over the room must have been as large as a primeval dragon whale. Yet it was utterly devoid of life. The Soul was an empty and often haunting place. It was increasingly filled with homes and biomes that ought to contain some kind of life or another, yet it was all unnaturally still.

He watched his tiny reflection steadily grow in size as he crossed the ballroom, and he got a good glimpse of just how ragged he looked. His new cloak looked comically out of place next to his now tattered and singed clothing. More than anything, the wear showed on his face. The lines on his forehead, accompanied by bags beneath his eyes and wrinkles near his mouth, told a story of uncharacteristic tiredness for a man who once raced a mermaid down the eastern coast of Penscarop in a single day.

“And who might you be?” asked Malleus Silverscale, from somewhere in the city above. “A concerned government official,” replied a familiar voice. “Let us handle things from here, you’ve been enough of a boon to our city for one evening. Have a cup of tea, will you?”

Forehead wrinkles or no, that man lived within Donovan somewhere, and he pressed on through the ballroom. “My curse put me in this place,” Donovan told himself, “but I’m going to dig myself out of it.”

Beyond lay a low-ceilinged cobblestone alleyway. Donovan knew at once that this was the region of the Soul he was familiar with. At the end of the alley, a considerable distance down, was a purple and green door that felt strangely familiar to Donovan. Every few feet the alley branched one way or another, each offering new paths to potential rooms, each setting off the silver glyph on his hand and calling him toward them. But he stayed the course, heading straight toward the end.

“What exactly happened here?” asked that same familiar voice. Donovan thought it might be the agent of the Cabal he first met outside Odd & Ends, all those months back. This time it was Karessa who nervously replied. “Nestor, one of the owners, he…he was overworked, and he made a few mistakes. He had to destroy an item he created and…it made a mess.”

Overworked? Nestor had wanted to work that hard. For Odd & Ends. For their dream! He wouldn’t have pushed himself that far if he didn’t want to, would he? No, this wasn’t Donovan’s doing, or Nestor’s. It was the curse.

There is no curse,” came a soft whisper on the air, so faint Donovan thought he might have imagined it. “There’s only you,” it concluded, drawing Donovan’s attention to his right, where a white door painted with gold sigils waited. It took Donovan’s breath away. He’d have known that door anywhere. It was located in Kimavikka, Puford Kimble’s College of Culture and History. Thalialdera worked in that office as a clerk, back when she and Donovan were together. It was her voice, of course, that Donovan heard. Her voice that called him beyond that door. Her voice that made him certain he must stay the course.

As he began to run the rest of the way toward the purple door, the walls closed off every other passageway with a slam! that Donovan felt deep in his chest. Then the stone began to rumble as the alleyway stretched out even further, placing the purple door constantly out of his reach no matter how quickly he ran.

“I don’t know,” a voice echoed throughout the alley, “but we’ve had a unit watching Odd & Ends from a distance all day. They should be converging soon; nobody will remember a thing.”


Before he knew it, Donovan had crashed directly into the purple door, which crumbled with the force of the impact. Pieces of it crumbled to dust as they hit the ground, and the room beyond smelled of age and dust. A sign on the fractured door labeled it “The Imaginatorium.” Donovan could not feel the magical presence here as he could elsewhere, but he knew the handiwork of Nestor Pinkly when he saw it.

Cautious, confused, Donovan entered. A long glass tube lining the perimeter of the room flickered to life to greet him with bright magical light for just a moment before dimming considerably, leaving him with limited visibility. From what he could see, the expansive building looked like Nestor, alright. A great translucent bulb in the center was labeled “The Imaginator,” a curtained stage for “Nestor the Incomparable” was in the back of the room, and there were child-friendly alchemy stations all about. According to a map, upper and lower floors contained, among other things, a jungle gym, a gift shop, and a petting zoo/café.

But it was all wrong.

The Imaginator was shattered, the curtains were moth-bitten, and the friendly automatons by the alchemy booths were disfigured with mold and rust. Donovan had never seen a room like this before in the Soul. He’d seen incomplete, sure, but this room was…broken.

He really had ruined everything.

“What was that?” a disembodied voice asked. “I don’t know,” came another, “but we’ve had a unit watching Odd & Ends from a distance all day. They should be converging soon; nobody will remember a thing.”

What was going on? Was the Soul malfunctioning? Or was it giving Donovan another chance?

Either way, he hurried. The Imaginatorium exited into a familiar, empty town square, where Agnes Pollinsworth’s bakery resided. He’d been here before, and wasted no time in navigating back through the maze the way he had first entered. What had once seemed impossibly complex now came to him naturally, and he was back at the door that led to Odd & Ends in minutes.

Exiting the Soul was like surfacing from underwater. A shift from one atmosphere into a another completely different, although the specific differences are much more difficult to put your finger on. It had the effect of rendering Odd & Ends’ backroom strangely alien. Or maybe that was the many dazed and scared customers huddled among the Wonders of Solkin exhibit, eyeing Donovan with wild confusion.

He cleared his throat. “Pardon me, everyone,” he said professionally. “I’ve come to clean up this mess.” He strolled into the front of the store with false bravado, realizing he must have looked foolish with his battered clothes.

(“Was he wearing that cape before?” a kamenleda whispered.)

Back on the sales floor, Donovan found that there was not much of Odd & Ends remaining. Nestor lied unconscious atop an unconscious Linda, who lied among countless unconscious customers. Most of the merchandise and much of the edifice lay in ruin. A haggard Malleus and Karessa assessed the wreckage from the counter. It seemed everyone on the docks fled when the building was destroyed. Donovan tried not to let his fear showed on his face. That was half of heroism as he knew it – showing others they needn’t be afraid.

There was one bright side, at least: no Cabal.

“What happened here?” Donovan asked softly. Malleus and Karessa told him. Donovan clenched his jaw. “And you haven’t heard from the Cabal?”

Karessa’s eyes widened and she shook her head. “Why? Are they coming?”

He nodded.

Malleus tilted his head. “I don’t understand. What is the Cabal? Is it a monster?”

Donovan frowned. “Of a sort. They’re the enemy.” Malleus looked intrigued. “Karessa, do you think you can hold them off?”

Karessa surveyed the carnage with a palpable sense of exhaustion. “Probably not,” she admitted.

“Don’t beat yourself up. It was a tall order.” Donovan took Nestor into his arms. “It only means I’ll have to hurry.”

“Hurry with what?”

“It’s complicated and I don’t have time to explain. I’m just trusting an instinct.”

“I’ll try not to let that scare me too much.”

Donovan laughed a hollow laugh threw Nestor over his shoulder, catching his hat as it fell. “Protect these people, Silverscale, if it comes to that.”

And then he ran into the Soul. He hadn’t even made it down the stairs before Nestor’s eyes fluttered open.

“Donovan, I can explain!” he cried. And then he gasped. “Donovan? Er, where are we? Where is Odd & Ends? Did I…oh no, did I die? I never even got to finish Regibald!”

Donovan continued to move quickly, but he slowed a bit to adjust Nestor’s position, placing him in a piggyback once he was sure the gnome possessed the strength. He tossed the hat up, and the gnome placed it on his head with style. “I’m the one who has some explaining to do.”

So he explained. He told Nestor about the Soul. About how it seemed to be affected by the happiness they brought people at Odd & Ends (though perhaps not only by that). About how there were potentially rooms here for everyone in Skymoore. About how it reversed the flow of time today and allowed Skymoore to rise from the surface three hundred years ago. How it allowed him to remember things that he’d long forgotten.

“Donovan, this is amazing!” Nestor exclaimed for the twelfth time when he finished telling the story. “The part about the fire monster is a little scary but – on the whole this is unbelievable! I can’t believe you discovered something like this!”

Despite the day he’d been having, Donovan smiled. “I can’t take all the credit, Mr. Pinkly. Not even half of it. I may be the brains behind some of our decisions, but you’re the heart and the imagination that makes it all real. Whatever this place is, we made it together.”

Nestor beamed. “I – that’s very nice of you to say, Mr. Allman!” Then the gnome inhaled sharply as they entered that abandoned town square. From this side, The Imaginatorium was a great, colorful building with a neon, color-changing sign of Nestor, arm outstretched, beckoning people into its walls.

“The Imaginatorium!” he practically squealed. “It’s real! The Imaginatorium is real!”

“As real as anything here, yes,” Donovan said. “But…there’s a problem.”

Nestor’s face fell once they reached the inside of the Imaginatorium. Donovan set him down, and he slowly paced inward, crestfallen. “This is exactly how I imagined it, in some ways. But…it’s all wrong. I thought you said it…reflected the person who created it. This isn’t me at all!”

Donovan shook his head. “No,” he said, “it’s not. I worry about what that might mean. I…I worry about what I’ve done to you.”

Nestor looked incredulously and waved a hand dismissively. “Donovan, you could never – you could never do anything like this to me.”

Donovan frowned. “I could have, though.”

Nestor looked at the ground a moment, sullen, and then met Donovan’s gaze, a bit more serious suddenly. “No, you’re right. I need to…I need to stop making excuses for you. Karessa was right…but I didn’t want to believe it. You manipulated me today. You manipulated me into working so hard that I…I mean I wanted to! But…you did push me. With Odd & Ends, Jr. It wasn’t fair.”

“It wasn’t fair,” Donovan agreed.

“Friends don’t do that.”

“Friends don’t do that,” Donovan agreed. “I’m afraid I wasn’t much of a friend this morning. I was so fixated on nourishing the Soul without even telling you about it, that I…I…” Donovan shook his head. “I apologize, Nestor. This whole mess is my doing.” When Nestor didn’t say anything for several moments, Donovan added, “I did mean it, though, about Odd & Ends Jr. I want your dream to be realized – I want Odd & Ends to be everything the both of us want it to be. Everything I said about you today, I meant it. You’re incredible, Nestor, and I could never have started this life in Skymoore without you. You’re the best business partner I ever could have asked for.”

“Do you mean it?”

“Of course. Friends don’t lie, and I’m your friend. I messed up this morning, but I meant every word of what I said.”

Nestor had to crack a smile at that. “Even though I got all of your money locked in a vault where neither of us can ever touch it.”

Donovan nodded. “Even then. Sometimes I think that might be the kindest thing you’ve ever done for me. Worrying about all of it is stressful, but building this business with you and Karessa and Dovetail and Linda, it’s one of the greatest adventures I’ve ever been on, and I’ve been on a lot of great ones.”

“Better than getting to meet the Suntouched?”

Donovan’s smile faltered. Friends don’t lie.

“Donovan? It’s okay if it’s not better than knowing the Suntouched. I was just making a joke! I’ll gladly take second best adventure!”

Donovan closed his eyes, and the world destabilized a bit. He knew he owed this to Nestor. What use was there in hiding this? What was he even running from?

“Nestor, I never traveled with the Suntouched,” Donovan admitted. “Not the way you’re thinking. I wasn’t the president of the Suntouched fan club. The reason I know so much about him, Nestor…it’s because I am him.”

Nestor blinked. He furrowed his brow. He smiled a moment, and then he didn’t. “You’re joking, right? You’re joking! I…I don’t think I get it, though.”

“I’m not joking, Nestor. I’m telling you the truth. I’m the Suntouched.”

“Donovan, this really isn’t funny. We were having a moment.” He looked Donovan in the eyes, and noticed the faint swirl of magic that occasionally made itself visible just beneath their surface. “What would the Suntouched be doing in Skymoore?”

“The whole story is long. But the truth is simple. I’m running a magic shop with my friend Nestor Pinkly.”

Still clearly confused and processing all of this, Nestor had to smile. Donovan got down on one knee, outstretched his arms, and welcomed the gnome in a tight embrace. The Imaginatorium swirled about as they held each other, as time moved in reverse once more. The glass shards of the Imaginator picked themselves off the ground and rebuilt the bulb, with a metal cube beneath it for a person to stand inside. Dust peeled itself off the wall, floated back into the air, and vanished. The holes in the curtains stitched themselves back together, and years of rust covering the automatons receded. The lights regained their full, regular potency and a bouncy tune began to play.

Nestor was awed. “It’s real!” he cried. “It’s really real!”

“I hope so,” Donovan said. “Quickly, now, Nestor, we don’t have much time. You’ve invented all this, right? In theory anyway?”

“I’ve been drawing the schematics to this place since I was a child in Barlagtelen, Donovan.”

“What does the Imaginator do?”

“Exactly what it sounds like! Converts your imagination into magic, within reason. My people never had any aptitude for magic, but with the Imaginator, anyone can cast a spell! As long as it doesn’t hurt someone, of course.” Donovan was quiet. “Is that good, Donovan?”

“Good?” he asked. “Nestor, you mad, big-hearted genius, you’re going to save Odd & Ends.”

“Oh? Oh! That’s going to require a lot of energy, Donovan.”

“Not a problem, Mr. Pinkly. I’ve got just the source.”

As he explained his plan to Nestor, the gnome was glowing with excitement. All the weariness of the day leading up to this evaporated as he took in Donovan’s words, and the unabashed joy of seeing his childhood dreams come true.

Two dreams, actually: he’d always wanted to save the day with the Suntouched.

* * *

The more familiar Donovan was with a source of magic, the further away Donovan could sense its presence. Being blasted and burned by his fire so many times left Donovan with a stronger impression of Sol than he’d realized, and the primal had felt like something of an inevitability ever since he boarded the train. He wasn’t sure exactly when Sol would arrive, but he was keenly aware that he was coming.

Therefore, when Sol stepped into the Imaginatorium through the same entrance that Donovan had come from, the Suntouched was more than ready to strike his pray. He was waiting for him in the netting that covered the ceiling of the building, where hundreds of balloons were ready to be dropped at any time. As soon as his quarry stepped foot inside, Donovan leaped from the ceiling and onto his back, wrapping his arms around the primal’s neck and arms in an attempt to restrain him.

“What is the meaning of this?” Sol snarled. “Get off me at once, you worthless insect of a man!”

“Worthless?” Donovan asked. “Your fire can’t touch me, primal. This is going to be nothing.”

Sol chuckled. “You cannot kill a god, Suntouched. This is futile.”

“But you can kill a primal,” he said. “Even if it’s temporary, I can destroy your body. And if I can’t…he can.”

It was only then that Sol looked up toward the Imaginator, where Nestor was standing in the hollowed-out cube beneath the bulb, wearing a metal top hat with wires connecting it to the translucent material. Nestor waved.

Sol snorted. “You think that pipsqueak can stop me, Suntouched?” he growled.

“Together, I know we can. You won’t be the first false god I’ve slain.”

“Everything you attempt is doomed to fail until the end of your miserable life. Witness my true power!” Sol hurled Donovan across the room like a doll, sending him sprawling and bouncing helplessly across the stage until he caught the curtains, which crashed down upon him.

Sol turned his attention on Nestor.

“Nestor, no!” Donovan groaned helplessly as he disentangled himself from the heap of curtains. “Run! He’s too powerful!”

“Now watch, Suntouched, as you fail your friends and your doomed, pathetic world. Had you only lived up to my expectations, this wouldn’t have to be.” He reached out toward Nestor, and released a continuous jet of flame, which met no resistance as it filled the cube with flame. Donovan cried out in protest to no avail, as the fire sprayed away. The heat was converted into usable energy by the machine, which filled the top of the bulb as a yellow liquid. It rose, and rose, and rose, until the bulb was at full capacity.

Eventually, Sol relented, when he finished being pleased with himself long enough to wonder why there wasn’t any screaming. As the fire and the smoke cleared out from the Imaginator’s cube, Nestor Pinkly wore an uncharacteristically cocky grin. Then he removed the sapphire ring on his finger, ending Donovan’s glamour. Donovan returned to his normal height, revealing the eternally sunburned skin of the Suntouched, his clothes wrapped now in a fire-resistant blanket from the Imaginatorium’s R&D department.

As much as a faceless construct of fire could, Sol looked stunned. “Tadah!” Nestor said from the stage, making himself visible suddenly. He snapped his fingers and the Donovan on the stage was revealed to be one of the Imaginatorium’s unintelligent automatons. “No offense, meant, Mr. Fire, you’re very impressive at all. But I do have some trouble believing that Sol could be fooled by two illusions and a ventriloquism spell.”

Sol now screamed with anger, turning his attention on the gnome. The instant he attempted to move, however, Donovan was upon him, delivering a series of blows against his strangely corporeal flaming body. “Leave Nestor out of this,” Donovan said. “This is between you and me!”

“Very well,” Sol said, catching Donovan’s hand as his fist solidified like magma once more, trapping Donovan within. “Let’s play your way.” He kneed Donovan in the stomach, doubling him over, and elbowed him in the back, sending him crashing into the ground with a crunch. Using their joined hands, he lifted Donovan into the air and slammed him into the wall of the Imaginatorium. Donovan cried out as he was flailed about, hitting Sol on the arm, body, and wrist with all his strength. The primal hardly seemed to feel any of it.

Restra!” Nestor called, outstretching his hand as an ethereal blue rope came from within his sleeve, soaring across the room and wrapping around Sol’s wrist, catching it just before he was about to land a crushing blow against Donovan’s head. “Haven’t you been listening to yourself, Donovan? We’re best when we work together!”

Now Donovan grinned and tugged against their joined hands with all his might, leaving Sol completely exposed, and did a backflip, connecting with the primal’s jaw, which hardened beneath Donovan’s foot…and fractured, leaving bits of molten rock on the floor beneath them. Sol released Donovan’s hand and as his entire body returned to pure flame, he appeared somehow lesser.

“He didn’t like that much at all, did he, Nestor?”

Sol grunted and yanked his tied wrist forward, pulling Nestor across the room like a caught fish, and crashing him down upon Donovan, knocking the two of them prone. The primal tried to strike at the duo, but Donovan took hold of Nestor and rolled out of the way. He hopped to his feet just in time to jump backwards, avoiding two quick jets of flame. Furious, Sol was now utterly relentless in his attack, but he was no match for Donovan’s peerless agility. Donovan continued dodging out of the way, maneuvering in something of a circle as he positioned Sol so that he had his back to the rear door of the Imaginatorium. Satisfied, Donovan held Nestor up toward Sol, wordlessly communicating his plan.

Pof!” Nestor said, pushing outward with both hands, releasing a compact gust of air that struck the fire primal in the stomach, sending him toppling backward and out the door.

As Donovan had hoped against hope, the Soul was on his side. The cobblestone alley shifted for the second time today, putting a sheer stone wall between himself and the primal. “This is my domain!” he shouted faintly through the wall. “This is the road to Solaria, and my faithful will follow it until the end! As long as you plague us, Suntouched, you will be our greatest enemy, and we will not stop until you are destroyed!” Another layer of stone wall placed itself between them. The creature roared, and howled, and cursed, but soon his cries were lost as the Soul shifted further still.

“We won,” Nestor gasped, followed by a yawn as his exhaustion set in. “We won, right?”

Donovan returned his sapphire ring to his finger, replacing the glamour and restoring his original skin tone. “I think so. But I’m not so sure we would have if the Soul hadn’t helped us.”

“Don’t be so glum, Donovan. We made the Soul what it is right? So, if you get right down to it, we still made our own victory. Together!”

“Yes, I suppose we did.”

“And you got the Imaginator all charged up and ready to go! That was a brilliant plan.”

“It couldn’t have worked without your brilliant imagination. Now get in there, Nestor.”

As Nestor stepped into the Imaginator and wore the metal top hat for real, the air around him began to shimmer and bubble and hum. “It’s working!” he said excitedly. The gnome began to float off the ground slightly, as the atmosphere became dense with magic. “Wow, it’s working a lot!”

And then Nestor’s eyes glazed over with a brilliant colorless light, and the gnome went into a trance as his raw mental energy was transformed into a spell, fueled by the fire of the false Sol. In his mind, he saw Odd & Ends in the ruined state he left it in, but everything was happening in slow motion. Karessa was slowly gesturing toward the front door as she told the remaining customers that it was safe to leave, her lips moving at a fraction of a word every few seconds. Malleus, meanwhile, sluggishly strolled across the store, checking on the unconscious guests.

While that happened, Nestor’s strong desire to fix the store began to take shape, turning his imagined vision of the store into reality. Pieces of wood reassembled much like the glass in the Imaginatorium, displays returned to their original state, the flag from Donovan’s home replaced itself, and the Enigma Cubes were neatly stacked in a pyramid at the center of the store, as they were meant to be. With the excess magical energy, Nestor put a new layer of paint and polish on the walls, and restored the broken chrysanthemum from this morning, for good measure.

Nestor returned ungracefully to the ground as the Imaginator ran out of juice, and he waved his arms dramatically to maintain his balance. He was beaming. “I did it, Donovan!” he said. “I – us – we saved Odd & Ends!”

Then, immediately, his exhaustion returned to him, and Nestor hit the floor like a sack of bricks. “…saved…Odd & Ends….” he mumbled.

Donovan smiled to himself as he lifted the gnome up off the ground. “You sure did, Nestor Pinkly. And you had an adventure with the Suntouched. Now let’s both of us put an end to this day of madness.”


Things were astonishingly calm back in the store. The customers had cleared out from the Wonders of Solkin exhibit, which was presently undisturbed. Donovan used the secret door from the back room to his bedroom, and set Nestor down for bed. He also threw on a complete change of clothes, save for his new satin cloak, and reemerged on the salesfloor, where a few remaining customers with remarkable tenacity continued to browse their wares. The many previously unconscious customers were up, and beginning to mill out of the store, as if nothing had ever happened.

“You did it, Donovan!” Karessa said when he emerged. Malleus was in the middle of picking Linda up off the ground. “How did you do it?”

“That’s going to have to be one of my famously long stories,” he explained, “but I didn’t do it alone.”

Malleus was suddenly uncomfortably close to Donovan. “You did this? Why, that was one of the most impressive displays of magic I’ve ever seen! It was such a precise spell, turning back time in only this location, restoring the victims of the enchantment spell, painting the walls…how did you do it? The complexity is unimaginable!”

Donovan just smiled. “I didn’t,” he said, and left it at that.

Linda glared at Donovan as he smugly crossed the store, and followed after him. “Just because you cleaned up the mess, it doesn’t mean you didn’t make it.”

“Believe me, Linda. I’ve done enough punishing myself and being punished for one day.” He lowered his voice. “I think one of my legs might still be broken. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think this sale is over for the day. I’ve got to prove to Hega that I’m not…”

Standing in the doorway of Odd & Ends was a young human man wearing a fancy button-up. His mouth appeared to be sewn shut. In his hands he held a ceramic pot, which contained the incredibly small mayor of Skymoore, Gendry Dew, whose existence was confined to a clump of soil.

“Gooood evening, er, afternoon. Hold on, what time is it? Doesn’t matter! Good day, Odd & Ends crew! It has been too long since I’ve stepped inside here, you know. That pen you gave me? Works like a marvel! An absolute marvel.”

“I’m glad to hear it, Mayor Dew,” said Donovan. “But to what do we owe the pleasure? I’m afraid the sale has come to a rather…abrupt end. We lack the staff and the merchandise to keep up with the demand, I’m afraid.”

“Yes, quite! It was actually that demand that got my peers and I so…curious. I accidentally had a sip of truth serum with my coffee this morning so I don’t mind telling you that some friends and I have been keeping tabs on this whole affair. We can’t say we’re pleased about your decision to invite so many outsiders here.” His eyes flickered to Malleus for a moment. His ever-present smile embiggened.

“I figured if I’m already paying a tourism tax, I might as well make the use of it.”

For just a moment, Gendry’s smile faltered. “Terribly sorry to hear that you feel that way, Donovan Allman. It feels unnecessarily confrontational, if I’m being honest, as the truth serum ensures I am.” Gendry cleared his throat. “Ah, well, I can see I’m not exactly wanted here, so I’ll make this quick. Since that massive column of light seems to have miraculously caused no damage at all, I only have to hit you with a Lack-of-Noise Pollution fine for the brief silencing effect you placed on the area immediately surrounding your business. Beyond that, I’ll just need to have each of you meet with a Debriefing Clerk to explain the situation and then a Debriefing Counselor to cope with the stress of the debriefing process. So if I could have each of you follow my assistant Bedward here, we can have this taken care of lickity-split!”

Donovan crossed his arms. “Will that really be necessary, Mayor Dew? You’re welcome in my shop anytime, but it’s plain to see nothing has happened here.”

“That beam of light was just a special effect, to let people know the sale was over for today,” Karessa added.

Mayor Dew looked between the two of them suspiciously. “Besides,” Donovan added. “I think you have more pressing matters to attend to at the bank.”

The mayor clapped his hands together overenthusiastically. “Of course!” he said. “Of course, of course, of course! You’re so un-be-lievably correct about that, Donovan! That’s why you’re such a valuable asset to our beloved city of Skymoore!” He snapped his fingers. “Come along, Bedward, we must be off!”

Bedward turned on his heels and exited Odd & Ends. “Congratulations on your sale, everyone!” Gendry called as he disappeared around the corner.

In his periphery, Donovan saw a number of individuals in blue and yellow robes pass across the window, headed away from his shop with Gendry Dew. The Cabal. He smiled to himself, then turned to face his team.

“Well, everyone, we’ve had quite a day, and despite all odds we got through it with our shop, our memories, and our lives intact. Thank you, Malleus, Linda, and Karessa for all of your assistance. Are you all well?”

Linda grunted. “I don’t break easy.”

Karessa kneaded her calf and hissed a little. “Yeah, me neither,” she groaned.

“Then would it be alright with the two of you if you finished ringing up the remaining customers? I’d like very much to sit in my chair and never rise again.”

“It feels like an imbalance of power to ask favors of your employees,” Karessa said. “Well, not Linda, nobody can tell Linda what to do. But anyway, yeah, that’s fine. You’ve earned it, boss man.”

Donovan thought he thanked the two of them, but he said nothing. He was too tired. He only waved a little, and made his way into his bedroom, where he took a seat in his large, comfortable chair beside his bed, where Nestor slept soundly. It was not much time at all before Donovan joined him, and the two founders of Odd & Ends got some very well-deserved sleep.

Beneath their store, the Soul of Skymoore grew, and took shape, and all of Skymoore was better for it.

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