I don’t know what it was about my town, but it attracted heroes like flies on shit. This one sauntered into the store in a mismatched set of armour, her hair an unfeasible shade of pink, and introduced herself as The Messenger.
“Sure,” I replied. I couldn’t remember the last time we’d had one call themself that. “We had The Questioner come through a short while back.”
“Cool,” she said, and didn’t mean it. Sometimes they were looking for each other and sometimes they weren’t. It helped to move them on before things got weird. She dug through my inventory and made a pile of stuff, including a hefty pile of grimoires that newcomers always seem to buy. Then she dug through her own inventory and made a pile of crap she clearly thought I’d take off her hands. I mean, what the heck was I going to do with eleven cans of dog food on top of the thirty-seven already in the back room?
“That’ll be eighty shells.”
The Messenger pouted and fluttered her eyelashes at me. “Surely you can do better than that?”
They all said that, it was why I never let Rio run the store any more. “I could charge a hundred but I’m feeling generous today.” Truth be told, it pissed me off heroes never seemed to want to pay what things were worth.
She handed over the shells and took her goods. On the way to the door her body froze and stuttered before blinking out. It happened sometimes, and meant no peace for the rest of the day.
I went outside, and sure enough The Messenger was across the street chatting to Rio, and neither of them appeared to notice that his head had become just a bunch of eyes and teeth. Her hair stretched out about twenty feet behind her like some insane taffy-pulling contest.
“I am The Onliest!” a voice roared. I dove for the shop, because they only announce themselves when they’re going to cause trouble. Sure enough he went after The Messenger with a sword taller than he was, and promptly impaled her with his oversized phallic symbol.
Or at least, he tried to. He too froze, before spinning in place. The Messenger took advantage of the confusion to flee. A moment later Onliest was moving again, this time straight up in the air.
“Gonna hurt when he comes down,” a voice remarked. I turned to see Shen, who usually worked the other side of the map, and his caravan of horse-sized lizards. His head spun a full three-sixty, which I politely ignored.
“Sure will. Good for restocking, when he lands. Whatcha got?”
“Big pile of grimoires,” he said. “Got heroes offloading them like they think I’m opening a library, getting upset they’re not worth shit.”
“Is that so? What you asking for it?”
“I’m hoping you’ve got dog food, they’re paying stupid for it back home.”
I thought of my latest haul. “Just so happens I do, enough to feed a whole damn pack of canines. And I could always use new grimoires, got heroes biting my hand off for them here.” A thought struck me then. “Seems like this is an opportunity for both of us to make a tidy profit.”
“How so?” Shen asked, but his thoughtful tone said he’d had the same thought I had.
“I take those grimoires off your hands, sell them in my store at an inflated price. You take my dogfood and do the same. Next time you’re back this way, bring those books right back and I’ll give you whatever dog food I have.”
“And when they catch on?”
I shrugged. “At least I won’t be drowning in cans of Canine Cornucopia.”
A short distance away Onliest hit the ground and disappeared, leaving a small satchel behind. Rio, his head now intact, scooped it up and ran. It was only a matter of time before Onliest would be back, right as rain and looking for his stuff. If a hero caught you looting them it never went well.
Shen and I went into the shop to trade. A moment later there was a roar of rage as Onliest reappeared and found his stuff gone. He stormed into the shop wearing only underwear and turned over my inventory looking for his gear. When he didn’t find it he stormed off, declaring my stock was crap. To be fair, it wasn’t a patch on what he’d had before.
“Mind if I…?”
“Be my guest.” I wasn’t about to begrudge Shen a sale. He took Onliest back to the lizards, and a moment later I was rewarded by the sight of Onliest dressed in a suit of armour shaped head to foot like a giant chicken.
“Best there is,” Shen said. “Super rare.”
When Onliest had departed, The Messenger hopped down from my roof. “Hey, could you point me to the Temple of the Three-Headed Monkey?” We did, and watched her hurry away.
“You think she knows people spontaneously combust on that road?” Shen asked.
I shrugged. “If she doesn’t she’ll find out. Time for a drink before you go?”
Shen nodded, and we went back inside.
C.L. Holland is a British science fiction and fantasy writer, and has been published in magazines and anthologies such as Fantasy Magazine and Nature Futures. When not working or writing she can be found playing computer games and tabletop RPGs, or reading about history and folklore. She browses Twitter as @clhollandwriter.