Stepping into Chaos Comics, the ambient magic in the dim, cozy shop made Zed Christi’s body hair jump to attention. Grinning at the knack caused by the invisible, kiwi scented energy—and the wonderfully toasty, shag carpet underfoot—Zed hooted softly in joy as he rubbed the static charge from his chest first. Unlike other shops, he could actually taste the mana.
Work had him visiting shops around the world and there was nowhere else that would let you port-pad to the front arch in your underwear. Nowhere.
Other places could always dwarf Chaos Comics’s boxcar size, but they could never capture the feel.
Rubbing down the rest of his body, Zed fondly mumbled old Joe’s motto, “No shoes, no shirt, no problem. Forgot your pants? That’s cool too.” Registering how much he’d spent over the years, the white carpet which spanned the store—even into the back issue rows—darkened to gold.
Remembering the first time he had seen the effect in his early teens, pride swelled in his forty-year-old chest. He’d managed to maintain his top tier customer status for twelve years running. Second only to Othar Ostrada’s thirty-six, which shouldn’t really count since the sovereign prince never had to earn his own ingots.
Rubbing his hands greedily, Zed stepped up to the spinner rack of the latest releases and grinned at the classic squeaks it gave as he rotated through.
He stopped at the empty bin where the current issues of Frank’s Blazzin’ Pyromancer Tips should have been. So much for buying an extra copies to bag up. Zed frowned at the empty spot. “But it just came out…” Getting the feeling he’d missed the release of a real steamer, Zed called out, “Uh, Joe. Do you have the new issue of Frank’s BPT in my pulls?”
Sadie Arrowhead stepped into Chaos Comics and froze. Everything wrong with the dark, shitty store was epitomized in a dumpy, grown man standing in his tighty-whities spinning a squeaky rack right at the entrance.
This was the same sort of bullshit, pervey old-man crap craft that got this boxcar store booted and blacklisted from more countries than years she’d been alive, Sadie pulled the cover from the dragonstone end of the cinnamon matchstick she created—and had always chewed since—for her master thesis project.
It remained dormant.
Created to only light in the presence of pure magic, it would never light in a shop as sinister as this one.
She glanced to the sandstone archway that led out into the Grand Marketplace in the island nation of Millstra and found the twenty-one and older etching at a child’s eye level. Yet, the ephemeral slime in the seedy air told her instincts that no one in this place would ever enforce it.
She put the cap back on her match. You’re not here for that official reason, Sadie. Just get the books and get out of this shit hole. Not wanting to touch the dumpy man, no less talk to him, she didn’t approach the counter. Instead, she raised her voice and called out, “Shopkeeper! In the name of Magestone and the Sovereign King Uther Skata Ostrada, I demand you hand over all copies Pyromancer Tips.”
Done with the final issue of six arc Demonfire spell bound into Frank’s Blazzin’ Pyromancer Tips, Bart Tsung felt a warming in his head as the magic lesson sunk into his repertoire. Used up, experience shared, the pages and cover went blank. He tossed it into the large black Rubbermaid bin in the employees only area of Chaos Comics. It thunked against the edge and, like the others, waited for distribution to recall them. He guzzled the last of his orange soda and tossed the aluminium into the green Rubbermaid recycling bin.
Bart had heard muffled voices call from the front of the store, but Joe—the old, tight-fisted, liver-spotted owner—wouldn’t pay him if he worked during his break and also wouldn’t let him bank the time. So, even though it went against everything he was learning in Business 414 about customer satisfaction, he let them wait until his time was up.
Opening the narrow door from the cramped break room, his nose curled up. The kiwi air freshener must’ve triple squirted.
When he first got the job, Janaa, his first—and only—girlfriend had once made him try the small, hairy on the outside, delicious on the inside, fruit. Scores of kiwis later, and years after the breakup, the smell still made her memory force its way into his mind. Obviously, she had bound a spell in what most called the cute fruit, but the complexity of even the most simplest of enchantments were always beyond his grasp and—working for tight-fisted Joe—he couldn’t afford a counterspell.
At least, not yet. It’s all about saving up.
Bart check the normally white shag carpet and noted it had turned gold. A customer with deep pockets had come in. He stepped into his flipflops—tight-fisted Joe allowed all kind of weirdos walked in there barefooted—and started to the front.
He froze. Deep green robes interlaced with gold. Magestone. His mind went to the bootleg Blasters DVD set he had in the back. Trying to tell himself it wasn’t about that, Bart walked down the counter toward the customers.
© Ezekiel James Boston