So on Twitter this morning an amusing exchange occurred between two immensely talented authors of my acquaintance. It inspired a story. So here, mostly for the amusement of Lucy and Jen, is the result of this morning’s scribbling.
Lucy chewed her bottom lip as the old man busied himself behind the counter.
“Remind me again,” she whispered, “How did I let you talk me into this?”
Jen smirked and brushed a wisp of hair out of her eyes – black at the moment, which rather seemed to fit the occasion. “Well,” she whispered back, “You asked ‘what would Wydrin do?’.”
Lucy sighed. “I really must stop saying that.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Jen grinned. “We have better adventures that way.”
The shop was old and musty, crammed full of nicknacks and tchotchkes. There was barely any room to stand so the pair huddled together in front of the huge, scarred wooden counter, peering around at the strange objects which leered out at them from the murk.
Lucy gave her companion a sideways glance. “Maybe next time we should ask what Brégenne would do instead. You know, just for variety.”
“Pfft. You know what Brégenne would do. She’d say something stern about the rules, bite her tongue and march back to Naris.”
“Oi!” Lucy hissed, jabbing Jen in the ribs with a finger. Jen shrugged.
“Sorry,” she grinned, amiably. “It’s not my fault that you insist on writing your badasses as Lawful Good. You should chuck in a little Chaotic Neutral from time to time. It spices things up.”
“I’ll spice you up in a minute,” Lucy growled. “I’ll have you know that – ooh! Is that a sealed copy of Morrowind?”
“Oooh! Oooh! Where?”
“Up there,” Lucy pointed, jabbing a finger at one of the shelves behind the counter. “How much do you think he wants for it?”
“Eyes on the prize, Luce,” Jen murmured. “Eyes on the prize. We didn’t come all this way for retro gaming.”
The old man cleared his throat, the sharp, dry sound slicing the air like a whipcrack. “Your merchandise, ladies,” he said, sliding a wrinkled paper parcel across the counter with a gnarled hand.”
“Oh, er… brill!” Jen said, as brightly as she could manage. All of a sudden she felt a little chilly. “How much do we…?”
“You must understand, this was not very easy to come by,” the old man interrupted, his pale eyes twinkling in the gloom. “This was transported from yesteryear, not preserved in some hidden vault. It is at once as fresh as yesterday and as ancient as a century ago. Lord Asmodeus will be most pleased with its quality.”
Lucy froze. “Asmodeus? she said, as casually as she could manage. “From Greek mythology?”
“Please,” the old man said, grinning with horrible, yellow teeth. “Do not take me for a fool. He has something that you want, yes? Something… valuable. Desirable. And you require something other than your mortal souls to wager on the game that he demands in return. No doubt one of his aides whispered to you of his habit, and in turn directed you here.”
Jen narrowed her eyes. “How do you know that?”
“Because not all of Lord Asmodeus’ aides work for him,” the old man smiled. “Some of them work for me. The coin I pay them pales against that which I earn in return – that which I will earn from you.”
“So, as my friend said,” Lucy replied, “How much do you want?”
The old man spread his arms wide. “Oh,” he said, softly, “I want nothing so prosaic as money. I have all of the wealth I could possibly desire. No,” he continued, prodding the packet with a crusty fingernail, “I shall give you the merchandise free of charge. But only if, once you have finished with the boon he grants you for winning, you pass it on to me.”
Jen and Lucy exchanged glances. “That’s all?” Jen asked. “No catch?”
“No catch,” the old man nodded.
Lucy watched him carefully for a moment. “Why so generous?” she asked.
The old man smiled again. “Lord Asmodeus is not the only one with… particular desires,” he said.
“All right,” Jen nodded, reaching forward for the packet, “Deal. But only once we’re both done with it. And that might take a while.”
As her fingers touched the packet the old man grabbed her wrist, holding it in a painfully tight grip. “But of course,” he said, his face uncomfortably close to hers. Jen flinched at the smell of his breath, a perfume of stale cigarettes and cloves. “I can be patient,” he continued, menacingly, “But remember that it would be very unwise to cheat me. Very unwise indeed.”
Jen nodded, calmly, and the old man released his grip. Her heart racing, she swept the packet from the countertop and stuffed it quickly into her pocket.
“We have an accord,” the old man said, amiably. “You may both leave. The very best of luck in your game. If Lord Asmodeus partakes before you begin you may even win.”
His dry, rasping laughter rang in their ears as Lucy and Jen bundled out of the shop, their breath catching in their throats. As the reached the pavement outside the midday sun beat down on their goosebumped flesh, returning to them the warmth that had been leached from them inside.
“So,” Jen said, brightly, “Pub?”
“Yeah,” Lucy nodded. “I do with a drink or six.”
She took her friend by the arm and led her down towards the end of the street, where the promise of wine and a warm meal was lurking within the walls of the local Wetherspoons.
“Jen?” Lucy asked, tentatively.
“Do you ever wonder whether we’d be better off just, you know… doing what everybody else does?”
“Waiting?” Jen frowned. “Is that what you mean?”
“Yeah,” Lucy said. “I mean… buying ancient drugs from strange old men and gambling with ancient Gods seems a bit much.”
“Maybe,” Jen agreed, “But I’ll be damned if I’m waiting another two years for Dragon Age 4.”