Listen to this story!

Ewyn watched the customer in front of him carefully.

He’d initially mistaken the giant of a man for a bear. But the crossbow in his hand and his tattered, plain-colored clothing told the shopkeeper otherwise. Fresh scars covered his body, and he was panting heavily, as though he’d run a marathon. It was pretty remarkable that he’d gotten through the front door, given the floor of the Tower that Ewyn’s shop was located on.

“Ewyn the merchant,” said the customer. “I have crossed deep forests, braved cragged mountains, and overcome countless trials, all so that I could enter your realm. Now I stand before you so that I may seek your help.”

“Neat,” said Ewyn. “So what sort of help are you looking for?”

The man was taken aback, a common response among his customers. He shook his head and pressed on. “A vicious warlord is laying waste to my country, ordering his armies to raze every village and town they encounter. But our King is preoccupied with his own petty feuds, and has left only a pitiful force to defend us.”

“And you’re concerned about this because…”

“My village and my people are in their path! As their leader, it is my duty to protect them.”

“Got it,” replied Ewyn. “I’m guessing you’re looking for a way to stop them.”

“Of course!” snapped the man. “So, Ewyn the Merchant, what can you trade me?”

Ewyn frowned but said nothing. A customer was a customer, even a problem one.

“One second,” Ewyn reached underneath his desk and made a show of rummaging around for several seconds. He pulled out a metal tube, a glowing prism on one end, a trigger on the other, and dark panels along the top.

“Here you go!” he said, grinning. “Just what you need!”

“What is this odd… crossbow?” asked the man. “I don’t see a place to knock an arrow.”

“To answer your question, good sir, it’s a ‘magical artifact’ that I picked up from a… far away plane,” Ewyn replied. “The people living there call it a ‘Solar Powered Plasma Pistol’, but I prefer Suncaller. If you can use that crossbow you keep waving around everywhere, then you’ll have no problem using this handheld death machine.”

“I see.” The man placed his blade on the counter, giving Ewyn a clear view of it. Its hilt and scabbard were covered with ornate illustrations of trees and birds. “I offer you this in trade.”

Ewyn looked over the weapon for all of two seconds before shaking his head and leaning back in his seat. “Sorry, but given the trouble, I went through to get this, your offer just isn’t sufficient.”

“This sword is my village’s most precious treasure,” continued the man. “It was wielded by our founder, who received it from a forest spirit and used to defend our fledgling community from a rampaging monster.”

“That’s an interesting story, but I’m not interested in something you just borrowed,” replied Ewyn. “Given the power of my artifact, and the short notice order, I’d say that your three closest possessions would do.”

The man looked lost, then settled on anger. “I would not give away such possessions, even if I had any on me.”

“So guess that doesn’t work,” Ewyn scratched the back of his head, “How about three years of your life?”

“I will not give you that either!”

“Then what will you offer in exchange?”

“I have already made my offer. Now give me the Suncaller.”

“Sorry, my friend, but if you entered the nowhere of your free will, you must have had some idea of how things work here,” the shopkeeper leaned in close, a shadow passing over his otherwise cheerful face, “I mean, it’s your village at risk here. If you want the means to protect it, you’ll have to make a fair trade.”

The man growled and pointed the crossbow at the shopkeeper’s head.

“Well,” said Ewyn, looking at the bolt. “This is both unsurprising and disappointing.”

“How about this for a ‘fair trade’, you cheat,” said the man. “I will slay you, take your ‘Suncaller,’ and save my village.”

“Listen, pal, are you sure this is a good id-?”

The man fired the crossbow, sending a bolt through Ewyn’s eye and out the back of his skull.

The man watched in shock as the entity’s head exploded outwards into a spray of golden dust.

The gold dust stopped in midair for several seconds, then flew back towards Ewyn, reforming into his head. While this was happening, the otherworldly shopkeeper’s face morphed from surprise to a disturbing blankness.

With a heavy sigh, he reached under his counter and pulled out a whistle. “You know what? I offered you two fair deals, and you decided to be rude to me instead. I think we’re done here.”

Before his customer could react, Ewyn had blown into the whistle.

It made no sound.

The man backed towards the doorway, then tensed as bestial cries echoed in the distance, rapidly becoming louder as they got closer.

“I suggest running,” said Ewyn.

The man broke into a sprint and disappeared down the corridor, leaving Ewyn alone in his shop. He twirled the whistle in his fingers and watched the rainbow hues of the sky. Little things like that were what made life in the Tower, and the Nowhere more generally, worthwhile.

A scream echoed in the distance. Ewyn listened until it was cut off like a scratched record.

“And thus, another problem was solved,” he said to the empty room. Taking a closer look at the whistle, he remembered how he’d obtained it from an archaeologist, apparently a gift from his late father. That customer had traded the whistle and his ability to see in color for a lost Babylonian artifact.

He wondered how he felt about the exchange now.

Then again, what happened to his customers once they left wasn’t worth worrying about.

Bryan Wood is an author based out of North Vancouver, BC, where he spends his days volunteering at libraries and archives, swimming lengths at the local pool, and watching improv comedy shows. He reads a wide variety of genres, and writes for fun and for sorting out modern anxieties. This is his second published story for The Arcanist.