Hey, awesome people! So, at the minute I’m taking feedback from beta readers and editing The Mage-Lord’s Legacy, the second book in The Constellation Saga. I’ve been working hard on the planning for the third book too. And I really just wanted to write something instead! Here’s a first glimpse into the next world we’ll be exploring once the Constellations have finished telling their story… Let me know what you think!
The numbers slid together in Cal’s mind and he totted them up to a satisfying total in the box at the bottom of the column. 83.83. A wave of rightness fluttered in his chest and reminded him that today was the third day of the third month, more perfection in pattern form.
“Excuse me,” a nervous voice pulled him from the revelling and he turned his attention to the delicate minotaur resting her hands on the counter beside him.
“Welcome Ma’am,” the smile reserved exclusively for customers lit his face instantly, “Please forgive me, just trying to catch up on the books, you know? But you come first, of course. What can we do for you here at Vesper’s Artifacts?”
“It isn’t really the artifacts I’m here for.” The minotaur looked sheepish for someone that was half-cow, barely meeting Cal’s gaze. Instead, she chose to fixate on her wringing hands.
She was slight for her race, still enough to look down on a fairy and outweigh him twice over though. Even her horns were slender, as though they would snap off if she caught them on a doorframe. A rugged shawl swathed her entire form, and her eyes and fur were dim.
“Then what can I do for you Ma’am?”
“It’s you,” her voice was whispery, hoarse, “A dark fairy. You can give me a dream, can’t you?”
“I’m sorry Ma’am, that just isn’t the kind of thing I do. We trade objects of power, find lost treasures, store things of value. I’m not a tweaker, I’m the manager here.”
Cal knew he didn’t have to mention his position, but he was still thrilled enough that he often considered making himself a tag with the title proudly written across. The fact that Nate would never let him live it down was the only thing holding him back.
“I can pay. A good rate.” The woman leaned forward, invading the staff only area behind the desk with her nose and horns.
‘Pay’ was one of the magic words that always seemed to summon him- Nathaniel Vesper, the blond half-elf that owned the business, seemed to appear from nowhere.
“And we charge an excellent rate,” Nate oozed charm as he shook the minotaur’s hand, “What are you looking for, dear lady?”
“A dream.” She looked at Cal, intensely this time. Her endlessly deep eyes bored into his, begging.
A massive grin bloomed on Nate’s face and he dropped an arm over Cal’s shoulders.
“Just so happens Cal here is the best darn dream tweaker in the city!”
Nate somehow managed to extract a piece of paper from a nearby stack with his non-engaged arm, then slid it over the counter.
“Just sign here, to say you won’t hold us responsible if anything goes wrong. Not that it will. But you know, if you have a bad reaction or something.”
“Mate, that’s a copy of form seven C, it’s for people leaving an object here overnight for historical and magical identification,” Cal whispered into the slightly pointed ear still crushed against his forehead.
“A release form’s a release form.”
It wasn’t, it really wasn’t. The blatant disregard for the filing system made Cal nauseous. And now it looked like the paperwork he’d planned on finishing wouldn’t be getting done.
“This isn’t what we do.” Cal did his best to keep the conversation out of the customer’s hearing.
“It should be.” Nate had the typical glee painting his face that shone out whenever he got an idea that didn’t involve him doing any extra work. “We spent most of what we had to buy this place and fit the defences, bro. We could do with the extra cash until we get the first few expeditions done.”
“You know I’m not going to argue with you…”
“Yeah. That’s my favourite thing about you.”
“Where am I going to put her?”
“This used to be an inn, bro. There’s dozens of rooms upstairs.”
“I’ll send a minion.”
“You mean an employee?”
“Or that.” The half-elf waved Cal away and retrieved the signed, horrifically incorrect paperwork.
If Cal was going to start dream tweaking from the premises he’d have to draw up some proper forms. Maybe some information brochures. And it would probably be a good idea to prepare some general ones that could be filled in with whatever crazy venture Nate dreamed up next.
“Why don’t you take this lovely lady up to room three, and I’ll send someone up with your kit once you have her settled in?”
There was no disagreeing with Nate once he had his mind set on something, especially if it helped further his business. It looked like dream tweaking was getting added to Cal’s job list. If it got too popular he’d have to hire another ebon fae to help out. And it would become popular once word got out, which meant waves of customers with smutty requests and bloodthirsty desires. He’d start looking for another tweaker tomorrow, there was too much involved in running Vesper’s to get distracted with a side venture. They would have to be good though, he’d prefer to run himself ragged than offer a less than perfect service.
He led the minotaur woman over to a staircase set in the solid, blocky walls. Under his feet sat a heavily fortified cellar that had been fashioned into the most impregnable set of safes in the kingdom. They already held some of the artifacts belonging to the nobles and mages that lived in the city. Hopefully the collection, and the profit, would continue to grow. Yet here he was, performing the art that most people looked down on his kind for, but always seemed to want access to.
The inn rooms were on the floor above the one where Vesper’s business was conducted, and they had hardly changed. Some were set aside to be used by staff, but most were still plainly yet tidily decorated with their original furnishings. Cal opened the door of the one Nate had suggested he use and let the woman enter before him.
“Have you ever used a dream tweaking service before?” Cal asked, straightening a coaster on the side table so that it lined up with the edge.
“No.” The woman fiddled with the tassels on the corner of her shawl and cast her gaze around the tiny space- the single bed, compact dresser, and table with a rickety chair tucked underneath.
Cal took the chair and motioned for her to sit on the bed. She still towered over him, even though the mattress sank under her weight.
“We’ll talk through what you want to get out of this first,” he explained, the spiel coming back to him naturally, “You can ask for anything you want, what we discuss is completely confidential. If you ask for anything I find particularly distasteful, I retain the right to refuse, okay? If it involves other people I’ll get you to give a description of them, your brain will fill in most the blanks though, so it doesn’t have to be perfect- just enough to get me started.
“Then you’ll take the sleeping draught. It’ll be about a minute until you’re fully asleep. I need to touch you once to access your mind at the start, once I’m in I’ll drop the contact. You’ll see it much more vividly than a normal dream, and there’s a higher chance you’ll know you’re dreaming.
“You’ll be out for around an hour and might be a bit groggy when you wake up. And there’s a slight chance you could be allergic to the draught and experience negative effects. Do you understand everything?”
She nodded silently and took a heavy breath.
“And you want to go ahead?”
“I do.” The mournful sigh that escaped her lips told Cal this wasn’t going to be a typical pleasure simulation.
“Then tell me about it.”
“I just want to see my son,” a tear escaped from corner of one eye and ran down through the rough fur covering her cheek, “He died last week. I want to see him, that’s all.”
Cal rested his hand on the minotaur’s arm, taking in her unique signature to align himself with her mind, and providing her with whatever scrap of comfort he could offer.
“Know what?” he said, “This one’s on me.”
If you enjoyed this, check out this short story involving everyone’s favourite snarky Juggler, Asher from The Constellation Saga.