Chapter 5:

Must Be Nice (part 2)

Mylo and the Summoned Hero

Mr. Morin fancied himself well-informed. Hence he walked into his favorite cafe with a current newsletter tucked under one arm. It wasn’t from Edule, where he lived and worked, oh no. This was the news of Dioon, the capital.Bookmark here

He was tall, wore an all-white suit, and peered down a hawkish nose at everything.Bookmark here

Led by the host to his usual table on the patio, Mr. Morin sat down to breakfast and coffee. Over his newsletter, he watched the waitress with the shaky hands as she maneuvered the coffee press over his cup. The hot black stream wavered near the rim, but didn’t spill.Bookmark here

"Really, what’s the world coming to?" he muttered, plenty loud enough for the waitress to hear. "Can’t money buy good service anymore?"Bookmark here

The waitress grimaced. Why did he keep coming back if he was never happy? But she straightened up, raised her chin, and stalked off to another table.Bookmark here

The cafe perched right at the edge of Edule. Its patio, where Mr. Morin now sat, jutted out into the dense pine woods to the city’s south.Bookmark here

At least he had the lovely view—not that he appreciated it. He didn’t so much as look for his fork when he mislaid it, preferring for his hand to hunt like a blind spider across the table. Wouldn’t want to lose his spot in the column of condensed words.Bookmark here

Mr. Morin devoured the newsletter's main articles, in particular the reporting of L. Lonne. What hours she must keep, to be out in Dioon’s dance halls and anila bars, to witness the late-night scandals, and get back in time to write up her report. He marveled at the cutting assessment of the disarray of the new generation (hers) and the paralysis of the old (his). Under L. Lonne’s pen, Mr. Morin’s old ghosts lost their power.Bookmark here

He also had rather good coffee, light roast, imported from Bowenia.Bookmark here

"Really, can’t a man get a decent cup in this city?"Bookmark here

Apparently couldn’t appreciate that either.Bookmark here

When the waitress came back, Mr. Morin ordered a dish with very soft cheeses, particularly tender ham, sugar-dusted bread, and especially strawberry jam. A few minutes later, she resisted the urge to throw it in his face.Bookmark here

He picked at it daintily, and declared it passable.Bookmark here

The waitress resolved to quit, soon as she could line up another job.Bookmark here

By the time Mr. Morin finished the paper, he’d only gotten through half his food. He felt satisfied he had learned everything of importance today could bring. But if he’d only looked up for a moment, to appreciate the forest, would have seen that he, or rather his plate was being watched by hungry eyes.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Mylo changed back into his own clothes. In the blur of Kasumi’s picks there had been a few he really liked, but his meager savings couldn’t tank a hit from Paul’s price tags.Bookmark here

Emerging through the curtain, he found the clothier waiting for him.Bookmark here

"Your new friend is the interesting individual, is he not?"Bookmark here

Mylo straightened the garments and hung them back up. "Yes. Pelgram’s quite the character."Bookmark here

"Well, I am glad he brought you here. I was hoping that we could have the little chat."Bookmark here

"Another lecture?"Bookmark here

Paul pulled him into the store’s center, away from the two customers currently just browsing. Here he employed a well-practiced whisper. "I have learned you have the arrangement with some adventurers. You sell them the path to the final room in the ruins."Bookmark here

Mylo turned away from Paul’s gaze. "It’s not illegal."Bookmark here

"But using Callawea’s equipment for personal gain is expressly forbidden. So it is written in your employee handbook."Bookmark here

"I barely make rent, the way they pay me." Mylo smiled and nudged Paul with a playful elbow. "Besides, you’re a detective, or used to be. How likely are they to find out if it took you this long?"Bookmark here

"Truth does not always require a detective. Stop, if only to guarantee a good reference when you do leave."Bookmark here

"Fineeee," Mylo said, but his heart wasn’t in it.Bookmark here

Mylo took the opportunity presented by a customer plying Paul with questions to make for the door. Still running on impelled mana, he needed to get home and sleep as much as he could. Tonight's shift was going to be rough.Bookmark here

On such a sweltering day he couldn’t run home. He had to walk downhill into the narrowing streets and flaking walls of Edule’s east side. Here, apartments long since fallen from grace crumbled around their tenants. Mylo’s room was on the second floor.Bookmark here

Flopping down still dressed, Mylo relaxed and let the mana go as it pleased again. Exhaustion hit him hard and fast, but not quick enough to have him snoozing before he noticed the lump in his pocket.Bookmark here

It was a crumpled bit of paper.Bookmark here

Pelgram, did you leave me something?Bookmark here

The handwriting proved to be Paul Etier’s.Bookmark here

"Don’t give up. The Jagai dreams for us all. You are not forgotten."Bookmark here

The words backfired and cut deep.Bookmark here

I thought you knew I hate hearing that name.Bookmark here

Mylo closed his eyes and let the paper tumble.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

That evening, the same time that Mylo was dragging himself down the road for another night shift, Paul heard something from the back of his shop. A faint, vanishing sound, like the scrape of two pieces of wave-worn glass rubbing together, but an octave down.Bookmark here

The door sat snug and locked. Curtains hung undisturbed over their windows. Paul leaned his broom in the changing booth and crept towards the back of his shop. Hands raised before him, Paul Etier advanced behind the curve of a transparent, pale green barrier.Bookmark here

In the back of his shop, he found a person wearing a deep-hooded traveler's cloak. Despite the garment’s deep shadows, Paul recognized her on the spot.Bookmark here

"Lady Wode." His tone was warm, warmer than when he spoke to Mylo, but he did not walk toward his unexpected guest. "It is a pleasure, but you should have called ahead. I would have put on the kettle."Bookmark here

Lydia Wode kept her hood up. "This is not a social visit. I am here only to give information."Bookmark here

Letting his barrier drop, Paul wordlessly offered a chair. She made no move to accept. He smiled and waited for her to continue.Bookmark here

Passing a disinterested eye over his merchandise, Lydia meandered with her feet but not her words. "There’s a hero. We don’t know the province of their arrival, or even a general bearing. We don’t have their face or name."Bookmark here

Heroes were a sometime-necessity for this world. Adventurers could take care of most threats, from human marauders to a cantankerous dragon. Not all of them would survive the encounter, but the threat would be dealt with. Threats like demon kings and fasral hordes required something more. Then, and only then, did the nations of this world attempt to summon a hero. Lately though, they seemed to drop in unannounced.Bookmark here

"I always thought it strange, heroes arrive so randomly anymore. Falling to earth on some grassy hill, or born as a mere infant in some little hamlet."Bookmark here

Paul held out a tin of biscuits with the lid open. Lydia paid them only a glance before moving on.Bookmark here

"It’s inconvenient," Lady Wode said. "Haphazard. Makes us look bad."Bookmark here

"So you come to Paul Etier."Bookmark here

Lydia’s eyes flashed. "Not just you. I have several stops to make tonight."Bookmark here

If this wounded Paul’s pride, he didn’t show it.Bookmark here

"But of course, I am but one man and the hero might be anywhere."Bookmark here

Lydia’s curiosity and hand strayed to a particular garment. "I say, is this shirt transparent? You made this?"Bookmark here

Paul waved panicked hands. "No, it is sheer. Translucent only."Bookmark here

"How indecent! What has living in the wilderness done to your brain?"Bookmark here

"It is a man’s shirt, for wearing to the fancy costume parties."Bookmark here

"Oh. Well. I didn’t realize they had parties out here."Bookmark here

"A small but a lively scene."Bookmark here

Lydia dropped the shirt sleeve and the topic. Paul sighed relief.Bookmark here

"As you guessed, you and other…potential assets are being activated to find the summoned hero. We can’t just slap up posters, or we’d be buried in a wave of false reports. Last time we tried a public search, we were inundated with would-be heirs claiming this father or that aunt." Lydia shuddered. "We’re still going through paperwork on that one."Bookmark here

Paul straightened his already laser-straight tie. "And for my most capable assistance…"Bookmark here

A sly nod was all it took to lift Paul up, but the next words brought him crashing back down.Bookmark here

"But only those directly, significantly contributing get noticed. Not my policy, of course."Bookmark here

Paul swallowed sour disappointment. "Of course."Bookmark here

"Well, that’s all I guess."Bookmark here

As she turned to go, Paul Etier forgot his pride. He raised his voice. "Lady Wode, I ask a favor."Bookmark here

"Not for the likes of you."Bookmark here

He smacked the point of his cane on the floor hard enough to crack the tile. "One question! I MUST know."Bookmark here

Lydia half-turned to look at him.Bookmark here

"Does the Three Feather Cafe still offer the strawberry shortcake?"Bookmark here

For a beat, she stood motionless, mouth locked in a frown, considering leaving without an answer.Bookmark here

Lydia nodded. "I go every Saturday."Bookmark here

Then with the sound of rubbing sea glass again, she was gone.Bookmark here

Paul Etier retrieved the broom. Sweeping up the dust and the occasional thread, his brow furrowed.Bookmark here

"Every Saturday…must be nice."Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.