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Opening his eyes, he finds himself near Draven's museum, but several feet off of his intended mark. Better than last time, but not good enough. He walks to his new starting point, closes his eyes, and begins again. One, two, thre-
Stark stops. He heard... something. He opens up his ears to the ambient sounds of West Luna.
Stark runs to the shop and in no time emerges on the library floor and fury boils in his veins. Melfina is backed up against the far wall, both wrists locked in an iron grip. Gamblor looms over her. Her scream makes the assailant flinch, but his grip holds strong.
The silence of Melfina's teleport tile allows him to appear unnoticed, and her scream helps to muffle his charge. Halfway across the room, Gamblor hears the guard's rush behind him, and frantically swivels around and places Melfina between himself and death.
Melfina's eyes widen as she sees the charging paladin. "Stop!"
And he stops. Just out of reach of Gamblor and his hostage.
"Release her," says Stark with a cold voice that sends a shiver down Gamblor's spine. "Now!"
Melfina breaks free as Gamblor jumps at the command. Stark's sword is ready to act as soon as she's clear, but surprise finds her clinging to his arm.
"I said stop it!"
Stark takes his eyes off of Gamblor and turns to face a furious and frightened Melfina.
"Stop!" As soon as she's sure that he's understood, she stalks back toward the terrified Gamblor, and jabs a finger deep into his chest, "That's what you get! Maybe I should've let him kill you! What am I supposed to do now! Tell me!"
He pushes himself off the wall, and grab's the scribe's wrist before she can poke him again. "Think of something or move on! I don't control the full moon! And I didn't time it to be last night!"
"I only have one day! One! What can I do!" Melfina bursts into tears as she pounds on Gamblor's chest with her free arm. He tries to hold her close, but she roughly pushes him away. "Don't touch me!"
"Well don't blame me! You don't know what I went through trying to get those stupid flowers for you! You should have told me a month ago! Always putting things off to the last minute! If I did that, I would've come back a day too late! Keeping so many secrets. If you told me what was going on, maybe I could have done something more!"
Before she can respond, Stark asks, "What's going on, Mel?"
She turns around. "He didn't get them! The items on the list!"
Stark glares coldly at Gamblor. "Return her payment."
He opens his mouth, but then quickly shuts it, grinds his teeth, and pulls out a bag of gold. He offers it to Melfina, but she just snatches it from his hand and throws it at his head.
"What am I supposed to do with that!"
"Go buy yourself some sympathy!"
Melfina cries. Stark acts.
"No Stark." She inhales deeply, and continues in a dejected voice. "It's not his fault. The moon blossom patch was destroyed."
"He can't just go to another patch?"
"As if it's that easy!" Gamblor starts off heatedly, then he remembers the sword and sees the anger still in his eyes, and shuts his mouth.
"They only bloom during a full moon. They need to be in full bloom to have the properties I need for my special dyes. Lord Falcon was going to pay me two-hundred thousand gold. It was going to be enough. For new supplies, new books, and… my payment." Melfina closes her eyes. "I don't have enough anymore." All her hope exhales from her mouth and she falls into a nearby seat.
Stark removes his gauntlets, rests a hand on her shoulder, and tries to will strength into her.
Gamblor takes seat, slightly away from the two, wary of Stark, and perhaps Melfina as well. "You can't dye it a similar color? I can go get any other ingredient you need. No charge."
"No. He's very picky. He's going on a hunt soon, and wants it to match his outfit. It took him an hour to go through my entire sample book just so he could ask if he could take it home so he didn't feel rushed!"
"What about selling him something else?" asks Gamblor.
"I don't have anything else to sell that's worth enough."
Stark adds, "What about the Tome of Lo-"
"No! I won't sell that. Don't say it again."
"What about the other books in the cabinet?"
"I'm not selling that collection. I'm not going to part with those."
"You'll have to if you-"
"No Stark," she says with finality.
"Why not just sell a copy?" Gamblor asks simply.
"I told you already! It can't be copied!"
He lifts up his hands in supplication, and puts on an innocent face. "I meant a fake copy. Sell it to some ignorant collector or something. I'm sure you can think someone to sell it to that wouldn't look at it too closely. Or maybe you could even tell them about your situation to get sympathy, and make them think they're taking advantage of you while helping you out? Tell them you don't have any choice. It's the only way to save your shop."
The words leave a bad taste in Stark's mouth.
"I can think of several-"
"You're not considering that," Stark interrupts.
She shrugs her shoulder out from under his hand and glares up at him, "If you'd let me finish, I would have said that!"
Stark backs off and slightly bows his head. "I apologize, Mel. I didn't mean to question your honor." He then turns his gaze upon Gamblor.
"Don't glare at me, guard. I don't see you coming up with any ideas." He takes an exaggerated look around the room and adds, "There's no danger here. Get back to work."
"Don't talk to him that way," Melfina snaps at Gamblor, and then looking back at Stark, "and take that look off your face. He's my friend too."
Gamblor smirks, trying to provoke Stark, but he's able to keep himself under control and is rewarded when Melfina notices Gamblor's smirk and flicks a wad of paper at the fool's head.
"Mel." She looks up him. "If you won't sell the Tome, and you can't make the revenue selling other goods… I think you have to try selling Lord Falcon a different colored spellbook. Just be prepared to convince him. Have fully dyed spellbooks to show, instead of just the sample book, and have compelling reasons."
Gamblor adds, "Just tell me what you need. I'll get it to you by tomorrow morning, tonight if you need me to."
"No… I have everything I need. I don't think it will work though, but I'll try."
"No. Look at me Mel," Gamblor says, "If you want to convince someone, you can't feel like that. Convince yourself that it will work. You are the professional here. You know what you're doing, and you know what's best. If you don't believe it, he won't believe it. Come up with real reasons, and know that your choice is the better one. The way you say it is more important than what you say, with something this trivial. Believe, and so will he."
He's good. Stark makes a mental note that he needs to watch him more closely than he had been.
Stark simply adds, "You can do it." And he gives her shoulder another squeeze.
"Ok. I'll do it. But I need you guys to leave me alone so you don't distract me while I work. I have everything I need, so there's no need to stick around."
"I'll be back tomorrow to check in on you anyway," says Gamblor.
"So will I." To check on both of you, he adds to himself. "You can do it, Mel. I have faith in you."
* * *
"Rules for Being Human" by Dr. Carrie Ann Scott
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