New Quest in Your Inventory
By Leanne Fitzpatrick
Darcy stood at the back of the shop and, with stack of freshly donated and inventoried books in hand, stared at the doorway in the wall. She was fairly sure it hadn’t been there yesterday. She knew it hadn’t been there last week.
“Clark?” she called through to the front of the shop. “What did you do?”
There was a sound of creaking leather and the shuffling of slippers across old wooden floor and a small, bent figure inched its way into the room. Darcy winced. She hated it when Clark moved. He looked so fragile.
He stared at the door.
“Huh,” he murmured in his old, dry throat. “That wasn’t there yesterday.”
“I gathered. What did you do?”
“Why do you think I did something?”
“Clark- you’re a thirty-five year old man in the body of an octogenarian because last week you insulted a witch. Of course you did something to open a doorway to who-knows-where in our wall. The landlord is going to kill you.”
“Not if age gets me first.”
Darcy rolled her eyes, which could have been disastrous in this place where she had to dust daily so the metaphors wouldn’t build up.
“Does it open?”
She closed her eyes and counted to five.
“Remind me again why I married you?” she sighed, placing the books on a small carved table and smacking the gremlin hand that reached up to snaffle one.
“If I remember correctly, it was because you rescued me, were sick of the adventuring life and wanted to settle down and enjoy retirement in peace.”
“And that worked out so well for me,” she sighed.
“There’s a letterbox. Maybe we should write a letter and post it through.
“Or we could not do that, and instead just ask Molarch to brink his All-Seeing-Eye and take a look though it.”
Clark pouted, which was impressive to see on a man with no teeth, and shuffled back to his habitual seat behind the till. Darcy could hear the popping and cracking of bones with every second. She hoped the curse wore off soon.
“You’re no fun,” she heard him mutter and changed her mind about the curse.
The connection died and the crystal ball returned to it’s inert, colourless state.
“You’d think there was a better way of communication,” she sighed. “Those technomages promised crystal clear communication decades ago.”
“There’s a little card with the number for tech support.”
“Yes. I’ve tried it. Funnily enough, there’s always a problem with the connection.”
“Well,” Clark sighed. “They are technomages. Still Molarch got the message so that’s something.”
“Definitely an improvement.”
There was a pensive silence in the shop. Darcy counted the seconds, anxiety creeping closer the longer it went on.
“You know,” her husband said in his papery voice, and the tension broke.
“No,” she cut in.
“You don’t know what I was going to say.”
“‘There’s no reason we couldn’t write a letter and post it through. Chances are it’s an intelligent sort of people on the other side… And if there isn’t they won’t be able to read the message, so no harm done’. That about the jist of it?”
He humphed in his chair. “You don’t know me,” he grumped.
Despite herself, Darcy smiled.
“I remember it was you telling the Lizardmen about ancient sacrificial rites that gave them the idea to sacrifice you to their previously none-bloodthirsty leader.”
“Remarkable species of people. Such a shame they vowed never to utter a word afterwards.”
“And broke that vow less than a day later because you wouldn’t stop asking questions.”
“I think it was more because they were terrified of you. They thought you were going to kill them.”
“Because you wouldn’t shut up about sacrificial rites. Poor things didn’t have a chance… And you were completely oblivious.”
“I was not-”
“And, if I remember correctly, you are the reason the Atlantians went back under the water.”
“And now they have a booming tourist industry-”
“Which was preferable because your insatiable curiosity was wearing them out.”
“You say that like curiosity is a bad thing.”
She stood up and kissed the top of his head.
“It isn’t, my love, but you are like a tenacious puppy. Your curiosity has no limit and it never rests.”
“I thought you liked my curiosity,” he grumbled.
“I do. Most of the time. Mostly the times when it doesn’t disrupt our lives or need me to pick up a sword again.”
She squeezed his shoulder, wincing at the frailness of his bones and gave him another kiss.
“Molarch will be here this afternoon. Have a nap, love. You need it at the moment.”
He harrumphed, but didn’t argue. Instead he picked up a tome and settled into his chair to read. Darcy glanced at the title: The Layman’s Guide to Summoning a Leviathan – One Wizards Diary and raised her eyes to the heavens, praying that this wasn’t going to set off a chain of ever-growing scenarios that resulted in breaking the dimensions of the world. Again.
The day wore on. The shop was quiet. Clark snored in his chair, tome gently resting on his stomach, rising and falling in time with his breathing.
Darcy embroidered. It was a restful hobby, although she often caught herself thinking of the needle as a tiny sword and the fabric the enemy. She tried not to worry about it too much.
The little bell over the door chimed and she looked up with a smile.
Molarch the Terrible eased his more rotund than usual shape through the door.
Clark woke up with a snort, the tome sliding to the floor and landing with a thump.
“Afternoon Clark,” he wheezed. “You annoy Calambria again?”
“That woman is impossible not to insult,” Clark sniffed, back creaking as he rose to greet their old friend. “I’m sure she was cursed to be perpetually offended by everything.”
“And yet, you’re the only one she hexes on a regular basis,” Darcy said as she came through to the front. “Hello Molarch.” She kissed his cheeks in greeting, avoiding the wisps of his beard. “You seem larger than usual.”
“Spell commission. Mistook girth for length and… Well…” he gestured to his spherical shape.
Clark coughed. Darcy grinned.
“‘Tis the season for love potions and, ahem, marital aids,” the old wizard sighed. “Still, work is work.”
“It’s that time of year again? Are they still having the Maypole Dance on the Green?” Clark murmured.
“Tradition. I know Baker Richardson is leading the Morris.”
“The man has two left feet!”
“And who’s fault is that?” Darcy asked. “I told you that book of cures was a knock off-”
“And I refunded him, and sent it off to be examined!”
“Steady on,” Molarch grunted. “I don’t want to get caught between one of your domestics. The sparks stung last time.”
Clark settled, Darcy smiled.
“This isn’t a domestic,” she laughed.
“We don’t have domestics,” Clark sniffed.
“No,” Molarch agreed. “You have full on battles when you go off on one.”
“That was one time!”
“Enough,” Darcy sighed. “Molarch didn’t come to listen to us harp on at each other.” She eyed his bulk. “It’s in the back. Are you going to be able to get through?”
“No need, my dear. I’ve been experimenting with the Eye. I can remote pilot it now.”
Darcy saw the curiosity spark in her husbands eye.
“Then I’ll leave you to get on with it, and make us a nice tea. I doubt you’ll be going home straight away now you’ve said that.”
Molarch glanced at Clark with a knowing grin.
“You do put on a wonderful spread, Daughter of Moglass.”
“Uh-huh,” she acknowledged as she made her way through the shop and into the kitchen.
“And this is the control,” she heard Molarch murmur. Despite herself, her curiosity was piqued and she peeked through to the back room. Clark and Molarch were standing at the gremlin table. The gremlin itself was looking fed up as its carved fingers held the state tabletop steady. Between her husband and his friend she could see a series of small crystal balls. Some were perfectly formed, others looked as though they were carved and polished orbs of boiling ocean.
The bookshelves had been moved- she hoped that was Molarch’s doing and not Clark putting his back out, and there was a protective half circle surrounding the door. She grimaced at that. Molarch’s runes were renowned for their staying power. Even when all his ingredients were supposed to be non staining.
“So you can just send a single orb through?”
“And then it’ll transmit everything to the Eye for us to see.”
“Fascinating. How did you come up with this?”
“Young lass came into the shop. Wanted a spell to see through things… mostly the wall to the boys shower room at the university.”
There was a disapproving silence.
“Work is work,” Molarch said defensively. “Besides, she never said anything about it being non fogging. I have my limits after all.”
Darcy rolled her eyes again and leaned against the door frame, keeping an eye on the stove and on the two men.
“Well, here we go…” Molarch said, picking up one of the clear crystals.”
“What about getting it back?”
“It’ll deactivate and become inert in an hour or so, after that it’ll re-materialise here.” the wizard said. “Bloody things are nightmare. They never come straight back. I remember finding one in a box seven years ago. It was the one I used last week.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“Not really. Really messes things up when you can’t remember when or where you sent it. Had a migraine for three days.”
“That’ll explain the thunderstorm over your house then.”
“The missus was not impressed,” Molarch grumbled, waving one hand over the orb. It glowed from within with a properly greenish-yellow eldritch light and then he posted it through the letterbox. They didn’t hear it land on the other side. “Ruined her roses, she said. Still worked in those bloody love potions though. Help me get this thing turned on.”
Darcy shook her head as the two men grappled with the eye. It wasn’t much to look at, just a plain bowl that would have been at home on a mantelpiece somewhere holding pot-pourri. Which, if the brittle leaves Clark swept out of it were anything to go by, was exactly what it had been doing.
She watched Molarch pour a mercurial liquid from a stoppered bottle into the bowl.
“Ah,” he sighed with satisfaction. “There we are.”
“Does it have sound?”
“Of course it does, just got to tune it.”
He placed it in the centre of the table. The gremlin made a huffing motion, and both Darcy and Clark watched as he turned it on the spot.
When sound eventually came thorough it was fuzzy and far away. At one point there was a sharp keening shriek and the books shrank back. Darcy didn’t dare turn to the oven. She already knew the soufflé had collapsed. So much for that, then, she thought with a sigh.
“Sorry about that!” Molarch called out to the room at large. Clark gave him a look, gave an encyclopaedia a comforting touch and edged back to the bowl.
Darcy moved forward to, peering over their shoulders into a slightly unfocused view of a picturesque town.
“What’s that sound I can here?” she asked.
“Hold on, let me turn up the volume.”
The sound of tinkling bells and chimes permeated the back room. Darcy felt a knot form in her gut.
“That sounds familiar,” Clark murmured. “Why am I thinking of our honeymoon?”
“Oh no,” Darcy murmured.
Molarch touched one of the crystal balls and the image began to pan as the ball on the other side rolled.
They watched as it went through grasses, over dirt roads and wound it’s way through a small village and up to higher ground. Children ran and played in the fields. Woman went about their chores and men worked under the clear sunny sky. The tinkling of chimes and bells gave way into pleasant harmonies, coming from everywhere and nowhere.
“It reminds me of the nights we spent up at Goldford Lake,” Clark sighed. “Where we could see the stars, and we curled up to watched the Aurora.”
Darcy smiled at the memory, despite the gnawing worry. “Quest music,” she murmured.
“Well would you look at that,” Molarch said, drowning her out. “What a beautiful little town.”
They stared at the vista, Clark even sighing at it’s perfection. Darcy felt herself relax a little and then spotted exactly what she’d been dreading.
“There’s a notice board with a single announcement,” she said. “What is it?”
“You can see that?” Molarch asked, surprise tingeing his words.
“Barbarian Raider,” Darcy muttered. “It’s the sort of thing I look for.”
She picture fuzzed as Molarch directed the ball and then it focused on the board.
“Can you zoom?”
He grunted and the picture expanded.
“Help wanted,” Clark read. “Monster in the mountains stealing our stock. Leader’s daughter missing. Big reward. Enquire at tavern for map.”
“It’s a quest,” Darcy breathed, sagging.
“Oh look,” Clark said, pointing as if he hadn’t heard her. “That drawing there looks just like the map I bought of that vagabond the other day.”
“Vagabond?” Darcy asked, a sharp tone creeping into her voice.
“Yes- you now the chap. Carried a lute. Charming fellow- had lots of stories. He had a stack of books to sell. The map was in amongst them. I only knew because it gave me a paper-cut.”
Darcy closed her eyes and counted to ten. The tinkling bells filled the heavy silence.
“That’s quest music,” Darcy sighed. “You got blood on the map, and it’s activated a quest, which means we’re stuck with this door until it’s completed and also means every damn barbarian, adventurer and bard is going to come traipsing through here because now we have to tell the Mayor.”
“We could not tell him,” Clark said quietly.
“No good,” Molarch sighed as the picture faded and the mirrored surface reflected only the dusty ceiling. Darcy grimaced and looked up at the cluster of similes caught in spiders webs. It was one more thing to add to the list of things to do. “These things always get out,” the old wizard finished, picking up the bowl and pouring the liquid back into its container.
He paused, putting a comforting hand on Clark’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry old boy- it’s going to be a nightmare for you until the quest is completed. I remember when I accidentally activated a rescue quest in the back garden. The missus was not impressed.”
“I-” Clark looked at the narrow door frame. The image of paladins and barbarians trying to get through it with their groups and supplies entered all their minds.
“I’m fairly sure there’s a compensation scheme already set up for things like this,” Molarch said quietly. “I’ll ask the missus to look into it. She knows about that sort of thing.”
“I guess,” Clark sighed. “I guess I’ll let the Mayor know… Sorry about this sweetheart- I know you just wanted a quiet life.”
“I’m not sure there’s any such thing,” Darcy said with a smile. “Still. Nothing’s going to happen until tomorrow. At least we can have a nice quiet meal tonight before I start ripping out the doors tomorrow.”
She retreated to the kitchen, leaving Molarch and Clark to clear up the Eye and it’s various accoutrements, and took a deep steadying breath. For a while she lost herself in the rhythmic cutting and chopping of salads, and then she paused, staring at nothing.
There was a shuffle behind her and she felt him standing at her back. She closed her eyes and relaxed against him as he looped his arms around her.
“They might not come,” he said after a pause. “It’s a small quest, not really worth the attention of a barbarian horde.”
“They’ll come- and when they do it’ll get back to him.”
“We could leave for a bit- until the quest is completed.”
She thought about it, even yearned for it for all of twenty seconds.
“No,” she said at last. “No. I won’t run away any more, and if he’s still sore about it, then I’ll deal with it when he gets here.”
“We’ll deal with it,” he said, giving her a squeeze. “I’ll be back in my normal body by then, and I’ll make sure not to get hexed again. I’m not going to leave you to deal with him on your own.”
“It’s okay if you do. You aren’t a barbarian. He’ll crush you.”
“You’re my wife, Darcinaema. I’m in this for the long haul.”
She stood there in their little kitchen and listened to the whistle of the kettle, breathed in the scent of the soufflés and nibbles nearly cooked, and enjoyed the weight of his arms around her and the heat of his body against her back.
She squeezed his hands and with a small pat he let her go.
“Thank you,” she murmured.
“Now then,” he said, brushing away her worry with a calming brusqueness. “What can I do to help with the food?”
Has that piqued your curiosity? Want a little more? Check out the previous weeks stories on the Ray Bradbury Challenge Master Post