Bitter 437

“You’re the Great Gnome,” said Britta.

“No, not me,” said the wizard. He did bear a striking resemblance to the gnome god, but he was dressed the same as when she had seen him earlier.

“What’s your name?” Britta was unconvinced that this was a different character from the same mould.

“I can’t tell you that,” said the wizard. “Names can be used against you in the world of magic, as I’m sure you know.”

It sounded like an excuse to her. She could see people’s names just by looking over their heads, it didn’t give her any magical advantage.

“Then why are you down here?” she demanded to know. “This is the Great Gnome’s place.”

“You must be mistaken. This is my private quarters where I carry out my private business.”

Britta looked around, expecting to see a table with a Frankenstein’s creature on it, gnome edition. The cavern looked the same as when she’d last been here, as far as she could tell. The large throne was missing, but that was about the only difference.

“What about the altar outside?” she said. “Why did I come here instead of upstairs?”

He looked in the direction she’d come from. “That old thing? It’s been here forever. Only a select few can use it.”

“You’re not going to start with the Chosen One thing, are you?”

“No, no. It doesn’t let heroes in here, only magic users.”

Britta turned to look back, even though all she could see was a dark tunnel entrance. “Only magic users? Why?”

“So they can visit my magic shop, of course.”

Britta slowly turned back to face the gnome. “You have a magic shop?” She looked around again, just in case she’d missed something. “Where?”

“Why, right this way.” He walked off. Britta watched him leave for a second, and then hurried to keep up.

“This shop, what do you sell?”

“Oh, a little bit of everything.” He was being intentionally vague, but if she really could buy magic items…

“Is it expensive? I don’t have much money at the moment.”

“Money? Oh, we don’t accept money. Worthless stuff.” He raised his hand and gold coins fell out of the sleeve, vanishing as they hit the floor. Britta was tempted to stick out her hand and catch a few before they disappeared.

“It’s all free?” she asked.

“What? Certainly not. I don’t run a charity. You have to exchange one magic item for another.” He led her into another tunnel mouth on the other side of the cavern. It wasn’t the one that led to the gryphon’s eyrie, as far as she could recall.

The tunnel was short and opened into a small cave lit with glowing balls of light that hovered overhead.

In front of her there were shelves and baskets and boxes, each filled with various items. Wands, staves, bottles of liquid, scrolls, crystal balls… it went on and on. They all appeared to be imbued with magic, humming and glowing and floating, but they looked weird piled up in such large numbers.

Legendary staff of the magi? Two for one, special offer.

Britta wandered around, hesitantly touching things. She expected to be shouted at or warned to be careful, but the wizard stood by the entrance, a small smile on his face. He seemed pleased to have a customer.

Britta had no idea what anything did, or what she might need. One of everything would be great, but how could she afford anything?

“What do these do?” she picked up a bundle of sticks bound together like firewood.

“Wand of Fireballs. Only three charges in each though.”

Britta looked at the bundle in her hand. There were at least ten wands, and more bundles in the basket at her feet. Point and fire a fireball at your enemy. Real fireballs.

“Do you have to be a certain level to be able to use it?”

“No, wands can be used by anyone.”

“You could sell these to non-magicians, then?”

“I could, but I wouldn’t. The Mage’s Union would have a fit. Although, once they’d used up the charges, they wouldn’t be able to recharge the wand the way a practitioner of the art could.”

Put your spells in a container for immediate use when you needed it, no need to worry about using up mana. What level did she have to be to be able to do that?”

She looked up at a shelf full of books. There was probably something here that would teach her how to do it.

“How does it work?” she asked the wizard. “I bring you something to barter with and then we negotiate?” If it was anything like the contract she’d signed with the kobolds, there’d be endless haggling involved.

“Oh, I don’t have time for arguing over prices. One for one. You bring me something interesting and you can take one thing to replace it.”

“What, anything?” That seemed a terrible way to do business.

“You think I should charge more?”

“No, no, sounds very reasonable.” Now she wished she’d kept hold of the recipe she’d been given. “What about potions? Do you accept those?”

“Only uncommon ones. The sorts of things you can buy from any potion trader aren’t of much use to me.”

“I know how to make Royal Orange Soup.”

The gnome’s eyes lit up. “Oh, that’s very uncommon. I wouldn’t mind a bottle of that.”

It wouldn’t be that easy, she would have to find the ingredients and make the potion, which would take time. Still, at least she had a way of generating a magical item to trade with.

“I don’t have any on me at the moment. Maybe—”

“What about the gryphon’s feather?” said the wizard.

“The feather? You’d take that?”

“Of course. It’s very rare.”

A feather for anything in this room. It seemed like a steal. The feather wasn’t worth anything. Or was it? The little wizard wouldn’t want it if it wasn’t useful for something.

But then, what difference did it make if it was the greatest, most magical feather in the world? It wasn’t like she was going to use it for anything.

“Okay. The feather for…” She looked around. What did she want?

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