“I believe you,” Miro said. “But where do you want to go, and why?”

One of These Shops: A Few New Wrinkles
a Branching Impro
Original Concept by Farsan de Arnibia

Today’s Experiment by Dot Warner

“Do you mind if I sit down first?” Alea asked, her eyes already scanning the store for something appropriate.

“Oh, here.” A small barrel was quickly pushed from behind the counter.

Now I can be certain of three things, Alea thought as she accepted the hastily offered “seat”. One, he’s new at this. Two, he’s far too trusting for his own good. And three─ she closed her eyes. The Third Thing was exactly what wore on her mind. “I don’t have much time, so I’ll be brief. Your Shop spoke of altering Fate. However, the lesser fates of individuals are being changed all the time, especially when a Shop fills requests that could not otherwise be accomplished.”

“We did that a few days ago, with Anjie, didn’t we?” Miro pointed out.

“Yes, that is true,” the parrot acknowledged reluctantly. “But the Greater Will has remained constant.”

Alea nodded. “The Greater Will is something that is beyond even the gods. However, many whisper of a legend, more myth than anything else, that somewhere in the infinite sea of worlds is hidden an Artifact that can manipulate the fabric of reality at deeper levels than either you Shops or we Travelers would ever be capable of. The radical Travelers I spoke of have been hunting the Shopkeepers because they believe that one of them either knows of its location or has it in their possession.”

“And killing them when they fail to produce the item, even though it seems obvious that there can be no such thing,” the parrot interrupted bitterly.

“It’s possible, I suppose, but I know next to nothing of this Artifact either. However, the mere idea of such a thing have driven many mad.” Alea sighed. “The Insane Ones are tearing through Shop after Shop, world after world for any clue of its whereabouts.”

“Then we have to stop them!” Miro exclaimed.

“And what do you suggest that we do? Bring them in here, ask them to sit down and discuss this like civilized people?” the parrot asked, sarcasm almost visibly dripping from its curved beak.

“Well, then, we can ask other people to help us, couldn’t we? Like Anjie’s group? Or other Shops, even?”

“No, no, and definitely not! You are not to have anything to do with this mess.” The parrot turned to Alea. “And as for you, madam, and I use this term quite loosely, I suggest you leave before I have to make you!”

“Very well.” Slowly (or at least slower than the parrot would have liked), Alea put all of her armor back on and headed for the door. “Be careful, Miro.” she called over her shoulder. “The Travelers are already on to you.”

~ Irashaimase ~

Reia dove into the shadows as the doors to Miro’s Shop opened and the Traveler stepped out, looking rather sad.

So she really isn’t out to harm Miro after all, Reia thought. An Insane One probably would have gone after Miro the first time he stepped outside of the Shop. He seems to be a new enough Shopkeeper that the Shop’s protection isn’t that extensive yet. She watched the Traveler walk down the road until she was out of sight. And if what she says is true, then Miro’s in more danger than ever…

The sound of a sword being drawn behind her caused Reia to turn, and she found herself staring at the sharp end of the Traveler’s weapon. “You’d better have a good explanation for why you’ve been squatting out here eavesdropping on a private conversation.”

~ Irashaimase ~

Miro lay in bed, unable to sleep. He could understand why his Shop distrusted the Travelers so much, but even if only a small fraction of Alea’s words were true, he felt responsible for doing something about it. Having already once answered the call of Adventure, he felt it tugging on him so strongly that he was almost tempted to sneak off by himself. At this thought, however, the Shop’s warning rang in his ears again, and the more cautious part of himself decided that no amount of excitement would be worth the additional risk to his life.

“What are you doing here? Get the hell out!”

Miro sat up. That sounds kind of like Shop, but not completely. He seems to be upset about something. Tiptoeing towards the door, he pressed his ear against a small crack in it.

“Pretty feisty for a Shop that was practically at death’s door a few weeks ago.” This voice was relaxed and jocular, but Miro could detect a slight threatening tone to it. “I see you caught yourself a fresh one this time.” Miro winced as he heard the crash of glass breaking against the floor in a thousand melodious shards. “Hm. And quite an imagination at that, too.”

Shop emitted a low growl. “I’m warning you.”

The Other clicked his tongue. “Come now, we’re both civilized, mature adults here. Besides, I don’t remember you ever being that fond of your previous Shopkeeper anyway. But enough of the past. You know why I’m here.”

“Yes, and you can─” and here the Shop said something that Miro couldn’t understand, but was fairly certain that it was something vulgar and offensive.

“You still haven’t given up? What makes you think this guy’s different from all the other chumps you’ve roped in?”

Again, the Shop spoke something in a strange, yet vaguely familiar language, as if reciting from something.

The Other gave a derisive snort. “So what? That’s vague enough that it could apply to almost anybody.” Miro could almost feel the Other smirk, even through the door. “Including me.”

A long silence passed, in which Shop was probably either fuming, glaring, or merely at a loss for words. “This is such a waste of time.”

“Now there’s something we can agree on. But soon enough you’ll come to realize that I’m right and you’re wrong. Good night.”

The bell on the door jingled as the Other stepped out, his boots clicking sharply against the Shop’s wooden floor.

Unnecessarily Long and Tiresome Authoress’ Notes:

Introducing a little more conflict into the universe, because I’m evil and I happen to think that things are not nearly as simple as the Shop claims to be.

(the rest of the story)