Chapter 1: Business as Usual
"I’m in such a good mood today that I might even crack a smile." - 'Old Man' Harris, Pawn Stars
"Well," Marrik said as he stared across the store counter at a man half-carrying half-dragging a wood carved statue taller than he was through the store's front entrance. "That's not something I see every day. Need help?"
The man dragging the statue shook his head before finally setting it upright. "I heard you take exotics from Star City?" A nod from Marrik before he looked up and down the Statue. As if this were a prompt to elaborate, the man that brought it in spoke, "I found it near what my map calls 'Big Bang Burgers,' but not there. It was like three buildings from there in a back room.
Another nod as Marrik looked down while straightened his shirt, seemingly using the action to hide the frown forming on his face. When he looked at the customer again he spoke with a practiced ease, "Well the problem isn't provenance since even if this were a modern reproduction it's obviously got enough work put into it to have some value." A hopeful smile briefly flicked on the customer's face before Marrik's next words wiped it clean. "The problem is not a lot of people want a seven foot tall carved statue, and there's only so much room I have in holding. I can call a buddy in from Centerdale, but that'd take a few days for mail to run, more for him to get up here, and... how long're you in town Sir?" Marrik asked as his mismatched blue and green eyes looked into the customer's brown eyes. "I only as since I saw you in here last week in the Outfitter section, and Roy said you were after him pretty hard."
The man made a dismissive wave with his left hand, "No worries. The scavenging trip went pretty well." Before Marrik could do more than open his mouth the man continued, "Most of what I found is actually going back home with me. Purely decorative items, a few odds and ends here and there. It's just this thing's..." His head shook, "It's too big to lug back and would take up too much space in the wagon."
Either the customer chose to ignore or outright couldn't tell the small gestures Marrik started making with his left hand were magically related. The man only saw the fingers on Marrik's left hand curl, uncurl, and then move in sequences as the store owner squinted at the statue. These finger motions got more complicated until Marrik stopped and spoke, "There are three doors on this thing that require a little magical finagling to open."
"Do you have to call a lock breaker?" The man asked, "Would you be able to open it before totally passing over, or what?"
As Marrik stepped over to the customer side of the counter he smiled, "Tell you what. I'll pay you, here and now in cash money what this is worth as a pre-war art piece. If there is anything of value inside I'll leave it up to you if you want to sell or keep those. Sound fair? I mean its your stuff do with as you want, but I'm saving you from getting this thing back out of here even if it turns out to be empty."
"This is true," The man said. "So what sounds fair to you?"
"Without having an appraiser on hand?" Marrik ran a finger over the smooth surface of the statue. It looked like carved wood, but felt almost like glass to the touch as opposed to finely sanded or even lacquered. "Three Fifty." He held up his right hand as his left traced along the statue's lines and curves. "It could be worth a lot more, but it could also be worth next to nothing especially after I try forcing the compartments open. So I'm taking a pretty hefty gamble here."
Several moments passed before the guy nodded. "Lets do it."
Paperwork was signed. Money changed hands before Marrik gestured for the man to stand back. Once that was done Marrik's legs widened, his posture changed as his arms moved, one forward, the other behind with his hand swept up towards his head. The man watched as he moved from this position to others, each much like pieces of a dance, or perhaps slow-motion demonstration of different hand to hand techniques.
Marrik's hands moved, palm forward, to hit the statue at two points, and then a third, and then he stood straight. His feet touching. It was as if the statue waited for the sound of his heels clicking together as its sign to respond, which it did so by opening in three different places. Each drawer only popping open slightly and just enough to be pulled open. Two of these contained old coins, jewelry, documentation and pictures.
The Third contained several books, each with midnight blue bindings. None had titles on their covers, but for all their generic appearance to mundane eyes Marrik's breath caught when he saw them. "These..."
The man watched, waiting on the store owner's verdict.
"These," Marrik said as his fingers ran along the spine of one of the books, "Are technically illegal to own privately."
"Necromancy?" The man asked. His lips twitched downward as he considered the implications.
A nod from Marrik, "The other two drawers seem to have more than enough for you to cart home and sell off piecemeal whenever you find a jeweler. I shouldn't pay you anything for the books since I'll have to report those for proper disposal, but I'll take them off your hands anyway since you're being a fairly good sport about all of this. Might never see you again, you might be a regular in the making. Either way pleasure doing business so far."
"Yea the less I have to do with them the better." The man said as he took the contents of the other two drawers and, without thinking, closed both. Marrik hadn't realized this as he was busy inspecting the books. It was only after the man left that Marrik looked up from his inspection of each. The books found their way into the holding room separate from the statue itself. As Marrik half-drug the statue into the room he noticed the drawers remained closed, which seemed to please him.
When he walked back to the front counter he paused by a record player he had in the corner and flipped the disc over. It was a recent attempt at re-creating pre-war 'Electronica,' though Marrik only knew the term from a book. It was an odd sound, but he liked it well enough and its peppy beat suited his mood. Good customers were hard to find and more valuable than the money they spent.
More customers came, some to buy what others left, and others to buy from the section of the store dedicated to 'outings' according to the sign. This section had what most would consider camping supplies; tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, books on knots, first aid, basic useful-to-know minor magics. It was while he was putting a fresh stack of books into this section that Marrik heard the sound of rapid wing beats in his store. Many from out of town would mistake the noise for a hummingbird, but Marrik merely went about his task until the source of the noise landed on top of the shelf he was working at.
He looked up and saw a woman, perfectly human like with only a few minor details such as pointed ears, cat-like eyes, pink hair, and being only a handful of inches tall alongside the delicate dragonfly wings poking out of the back of her work clothes pointed at her being out of the ordinary.
"Sparks," Marrik sighed at the sprite, "Urgent?" He offered a spot on his shoulder for the sprite to land on while he walked to the recent aqquisitions room. He had little to no interest in airing out anything that might have come in the post at the front counter. When he walked inside he gestured for Sparks to land on the statue he had recently drug in there before frowning at one of the now slightly open drawers.
"Eeeeh, just a couple letters from your parents," The diminutive lady chirped as she pulled two envelopes, each as long as she was tall, out of pocket-space within the shoulder bag sized to her proportions. Marrik did not seem in the least disturbed by the apparent impossibility of anything fitting in a bag that small as he took the offered letters. "Nothing on your requests from Newport, and they're sacking us effective end of the month." Sparks pulled a pamphlet from her shoulder bag to hand to Marrik.
"What? Sacked, as in the entire courier outfit?" Marrik set the letters aside before unfolding the pamphlet. "Effective on the Seventh all non-human couriers will be retired." His voice grew increasingly filled with anger as he continued reading, "At which time we will transition to an automated sorting mechanism. This is for your convenience and the safety of your packages. This brochure will detail any and all changes we expect you to have to make during the change-over." Anything else that might have been written was ignored in favor of throwing the pamplet away, not even bothering to watch as magic crushed then guided it into a garbage can near the door. "What is this garbage?" He demanded of no-one in particular. "Why wasn't the commerce association notified?"
"Because," Sparks said with more than a touch of anger in her voice as she settled onto the top of the statue, "city post is a civil service, not commercial." Her legs swung as she sat there looking at the storage room. "We've got a week before they start 'transitioning,'" More scorn was invested into that word than the rest, "Frank's gone on record saying the new system's prone to jams, needs constant tending to, and doesn't do half of what we do either."
With Frank's name mentioned, Marrik's posture changed and his voice grew more interested. "Wow, last guy I figure to ever stand up for you. I mean wasn't Frank the one that kept calling you guys thieves and beggars?"
"Frank's always been solid for what helps productivity." Sparks said in response while looking down at Marrik from her perch. "He's the reason we had better sleeping arrangements put in right before you rolled into town. He still complains, but yea." She trailed off while still looking Marrik over. "So now I'm trying to figure out where as many of us can go."
"Well, if they're just getting rid of most of you, won't it be a good idea to try staying with your customers til you can think of something different? Surely you guys don't each much. It can't be a burden." Marrik continued speaking even as he walked back to the front counter. "I'd be willing to take you in. You've been a pretty solid friend."
"It's.... not that simple." Sparks began, "'ang on, customer coming in." Her wings buzzed to life before she took to the air.
"How?" Marrik looked at the diminutive sprite as she buzzed along. Then, switched gears when he noticed the customer walking in and waved them through. "Sorry about that, minor hiccup with the mail system, anything I can do for you sir?"
The man shrugged before setting several heavy gold rings on the counter. "I got these while out and-"
Marrik held a hand up to stop the man. "Jewelry is tricky since those look fairly new. Now I'm not trying to say that whatever story you're about to tell isn't going to end up as true, but Jewelry is easily stolen, plus that one right there." He pointed to a silver ring with a large onyx with sapphires clustered along the band. "Those are still being made. Unless you have some kind of documentation I'm taking all the liability in case they're stolen."
"Uh," The man paused, his face flicking through annoyance, anger, and then finally resignation. "It's just the jewelry you have problems with?" It would be clear by how the man breathed and his posture he was still clearly annoyed and was making effort at choosing his words.
"Jewelry, guns are a flat no," Marrik ticked points off on his left hand as he explained as calmly as he could to the clearly annoyed customer what the situation was. "Magical items are a case by case basis. Mostly depending on how hard they are to trigger and any sort of artistic or historical value. I take a bounty on books on necromancy, ritual magic, and other borderline illegal material so I can then turn over for study or destruction." He then laid his hand, palm down, on the counter. "I don't mean to make this hard but say you got these from a guy in town, and even if you didn't realize they were stolen, I'm left with stolen goods I then have to hand over even though I've already bought them off you."
"Oh... Right then," The man fished about for his wallet and set a typed card on the counter. "Permit I got before poking around Star City, would that be paperwork enough?"
"It's definitely better than nothing," Marrik conceded after looking the rectangle of paper over, even holding it to lamp light, showing flecks of thread and other material only visible when light was shown through the paper. "I still have concerns so I'm going to see if a buddy of mine is able to swing by. He knows jewelry a lot better than me." He gave a short whistle. "Sparks you still in?"
The humming-bird buzz was the customer's only real warning about Sparks as she flew to the store's counter. "Whatcha got Boss?"
"What is that and why is it talking?" The man scowled at Sparks, who scowled back at him.
"Look here," Sparks began before Marrik put a finger on her shoulder.
"Mail-Sprite. Licensed courier and trained message runner. Technically she's bonded to City, but considering I'm her Primary so long as I don't intrude on her work schedule she tends to work out of here since it makes less paperwork for the post office to deal with if she can go site to site instead of through them for everything."
"...And she doesn't steal anything?" The man asked in disbelief.
"Pardon?" Marrik and Sparks both asked in unison.
The man looked from Man to Sprite then back. "So long as your pet is well behaved I guess it can't hurt."
"Take your stuff and get out." Marrik said without hint of anger in his voice. "There's a guy about two blocks down that deals primarily in jewelry."
"But," The man's posture shifted at the look Marrik was giving him. "I'm right here."
"Sir," Marrik said, voice still calm as he leaned forward. "I have a feeling this won't end on a good note if you stay. Please leave. I don't appreciate how you're talking about my friend here."
"Well," The man started to gather his rings, "If you're sure then I guess that's that." He left without any fuss or further trouble.
Only when the door closed and both were sure the man wasn't going to march back in did Marrik rub his face with his hand. "Possibly the biggest sale of the day and the guy just had to be a racist."
"Win some, you lose some right Boss?" Sparks said as she flew to rest on Marrik's shoulder. "I saw a few new books in the holding room. Gonna do any reading after you close up?"
A laugh from Marrik, "You know Necromancy's illegal, but til I turn them over those books are in my care and I really should make sure they're in good shape."
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