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Only silence greets Melfina as she steps outside. Something brushes her cheek and she looks up to find the sky an unreal shade of blue. Green leaves and purple nightshade petals fall from the sun overhead. The light fall quickly turns into a storm.
"Help!" a desperate Melfina screams, looking for anything recognizable through the storm's blinding fury. Warmth radiates from behind, and she turns around to find her gaze landing upon Stark. Light surrounds him as all the petals and leaves flare up before coming close to touching him, creating a sphere of safety within.
He reaches her and his radiance protects her from the endless storm. "My light is both gentle and strong."
"I see what Lord of West Luna must have seen in you." Stark then raises his gaze over her shoulder.
Melfina turns to find the Lord of West Luna before her. He stands impervious to the flames engulfing him as his nightmare towers behind, releasing its deadly breath.
"I see gold."
The Lord of West Luna draws his bow and fires. The iron tip penetrates into her heart. Stark doesn't even blink an eye. Lord Luna steps forward and yanks the arrow out from her chest leaving a gaping void.
"There it is," says Lord Luna as he stares at a newly golden tipped arrow. "But it's not enough." He plunges his arm into the void of her chest. His eyes lock onto hers while he sifts through her soul.
Melfina shrieks when he withdraws his arm and the Tome of Lost Knowledge is in his grasp. "This will have to do."
The Tome turns to ash.
* * *
Melfina wakes. Her heart is pounding. It takes a moment for her to realize she is still in bed. A few moments more and she realizes the room is too bright.
She gets up, and her mind races to adjust her schedule to the lost time. She peeks under the bandage and finds the wound healing nicely. After putting on a simple light blue dress, she heads downstairs.
Sitting at one of the library's desks, Stark sets a book down and says, "Good morning Merchant Vendor. How are you feeling?"
"I woke up late. We need to get started. Do you need breakfast? I can make some."
Melfina starts moving her arm in a circular motion, but Stark interrupts. "No thank you. Save your energy. I ate the leftovers from last night."
"I need to finish giving you the tour of West Luna and then I have other business to take care of."
"Very well," says Stark as he puts the book back on the shelf and Melfina leads the way.
Back on the bottom floor, Melfina takes Stark to the building in front of them. They climb the sandstone steps and she yells, "St. Michael!" Silence is the only response. "Oh well, I suppose he's out. Probably restocking." She extends her arm. "Welcome to the House of Poison."
"The Merchant Vendor who owns this shop is a saint?"
"Oh no. Michael is Lord Luna's uncle. Lord Luna is the one who owns this place and Michael runs it for him. We call him St. Michael because... well... because it annoys him," he says impishly, "He deserves it."
"Me and Gwen. She runs the House of Furniture. We'll go there next. But as of now, this is the House of Poison. Here you can find any manner of items that deal with poison and poisoning, except for curing it. Poisoned weapons, kegs of poison, poisoned food, and even instructions on how to become proficient in poisoning your own items if you're inclined to learn. A copy can be found in my library." Melfina grins.
"You can smile about that even after yesterday? What if Nightshade bought the very weapon that was used on you from this very place?"
"Knowledge isn't the problem, how certain people use it is. There are legitimate ways to use poisoned weapons."
"It's not the weapons I really have the most problem with, it's the food. What use does it have other than poisoning the innocent or assassination? At least a dagger can be a clean and quick kill after the poison has slowed the victim down. Death by poison alone is a cruel fate. And with food, too many times the identity of the poisoner is never even known. There is nothing honorable about poison," says and angered Stark.
"Well you can take that up with Michael when you see him. Don't yell at me," says a now also slightly angered Melfina. "Let's leave this place then. Off to the House of Furniture."
They walk back towards Melfina's shop and past it. On the right is Lord Luna's manor. It is built with the same marble and sandstone materials as the other two shops, yet there is a sense of majesty to it. A wide sandstone stairway leads to the main floor. Two potted Rose of Trinsic bushes and two mounted polar bear heads are placed on either side of the entrance.
Several vendors stand in different colored robes, indicating which area of furniture they're to be selling. A stunning blond woman dressed in studded leather armor and apron walks in from the back room.
"Stark, this is Gwendalyne, Lord Luna's sister and Grandmaster Crafter of the House of Furniture."
A welcoming smile beams from Gwendalyne's face. "You say that as if your own work isn't grandmaster quality, Mel." Turning to Stark. "I'm glad my brother has decided to hire a guard. We've talked it over so many times. Well, as Melfina said, this is the House of Furniture. We sell everything here. Tables, chairs, chests, cabinets, dartboards… pretty much anything you could possibly think of. Made to order from the wood or stone of your choice, or purchased from our pre-made selection. Single piece or bulk order, we can do it. And we have vendors ready to assist in customizing your old furniture with our furniture dying tubs, free of charge. And of course extra special orders can be left on our message board over there."
"That sounds like a lot of work for one person."
"It is, but it's worth it. Many people have plenty of money and time, so they often decide to completely redecorate their house. Or do a complete remodeling. I have quite a few repeat customers. People love their homes and will pay large sums of gold to improve them in subtle way that only they'll notice."
"Which reminds me that I have to finish the table I started working on in the back." She waves the saw in her hands. "You'll be sleeping in here for now. We have a room made up for you. Just come back later and I'll show you the rest of the place. Take the side staircase, that's the only way into the private rooms of the manor."
"Yes, my Lady." Stark bows.
Gwendalyne laughs. "I'm no lady. Just Gwendalyne will do."
After a pause, "As you wish Merchant Vendor Gwendalyne."
She shakes her head with an amused smile on her lips.
"You'll have to come over later too, Mel, and tell me all about what happened yesterday. I'll bring the food, you bring dessert,” she says, eager to hear about yesterday's events.
"Of course Gwen, I know exactly what to bring." What am I gonna bring? She knows I don't cook! The anger is only surface deep however. The dinners are always fun, as long as she has the time for it.
Melfina leads Stark back outside. "Done. That's West Luna. Now go start guarding." Melfina says trying to shoo him away with her hand, already thinking about the rest of the day as she tries to catch up with her schedule.
"I'd like to know more if you don't mind. Such as what is that building," says Stark as he points to the building in front of them. The House of Furniture, The Magic Arts & Crafts, The House of Poison, and the house with plaster walls could make a city square, with a crystal spring in the center, if Lord Luna ever fulfills his vision. "I need to learn the surrounding area as well, if I'm to properly do my job."
"Oh ok, let me show you. Draven is usually home at this time."
They walk around the corner and up some wooden steps. Vines creep up the walls. Melfina doesn't bother knocking. She's always welcome here.
Long counters fill the floor making neat aisles. All sorts of items lie on top with a small plaque by each. Some are weaspons, some of it armor. A skull over here, a crystal ball over there, and a minature ship in the back. Each item has a small plaque next to it, and is protected by a glass case.
"Lass, always a pleasure to see you. And who is this that you've brought with you?" says the red haired man, with just a touch a grey to it.
"This is Stark, Guard Captain of West Luna. Stark, this is Draven." Stark nods.
Draven laughs. "Interesting. A Guard Captain. Is this another attempt to get me to join West Luna? It might work. Finally something worth offering. Guards, like real cities have, and commanded by a paladin no less."
"Well... as of now, there's just the one guard. But I still think the advertisement that Lord Luna could provide you would be good for your museum."
Draven grins. "You're a persistent one. But once again, I'm providing something unique. It'll advertise itself eventually, with only a little effort. All Lord Luna would do is speed up the process. I'm not selling goods like you are, just sharing my experiences. I can afford patience. Money can go to my next adventure instead of Lord Luna. If he could get me visitor numbers that even the smallest shop in Luna gets, that would be a different story. Not even the House of Furniture gets that, and that place has gotten him accepted by the Luna nobles. Come back to me when there are guards for him to captain over and I'll think about it."
"I actually wasn't here for that. I'm just giving Stark a tour of West Luna. He wanted to become familiar with the area."
Draven's face lights up. "Come here lad, let me show you the Museum of a Thousand Wonders! I've traveled all over the world collecting rare and unique items and I've decided to share them with everyone. Melfina here has been trying to convince me to write my travels down in a book. I may do that someday, but there are still places to see."
"You should write it down before you forget."
"I won't forget."
"You better not. You've had a very unique life. It should be recorded. It would make a great addition to my library. But I have an appointment to prepare for so we'll see you later."
"Have a good day Melfina. And you too, Captain Stark. You're welcome back anytime. If you want to come check out these wonders... or wish to guard my place for free." He chuckles to himself and walks the two of them to his front door.
With her mind thinking ahead, she tells Stark, "Ok, that's it for today. Gwendalyne can probably answer your questions when you see her tonight. I have to take care of my shop now."
* * *
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