Nothing attracts visitors like a good sign. Dirk Tinshrift had read that somewhere, and hoped it was true, as it was about all he had going for him. To be fair, the “Tinshrift Wonderbook Emporium (and Gallery)” was not a bad shop all in all, but the fact of the matter was that when passers-by saw the title of the Emporium, with its two foot gold letters trimmed with crimson, its exquisite typography, and, of course, the addition of the word “Gallery”, the last thing they expected the Emprium to be was a used textbook shop, which, of course, was precisely what it was.
The problem with catering solely to the opuscular needs of the students of major and minor arcana at the University of Cysgod was that business was very seasonal. At the beginning of the semester, the Emporium was teeming with budding arcanists and artificers with lists of various tomes, compendiums and quartos to acquire for the semester. Over the subsequent weeks, business would dwindle, with the only customers being the laziest of students who were finally getting around to buying their textbooks. At this point in the semester, however, the only customers were those students taking Thaumatergical Literature, or other classes which allowed them to purchase their books sequentially as the course progressed. In order to make up some of the profit he was missing during this time of year, Dirk had made a key addition to his shop; the Gallery.
It had been one of Dirk’s brighter ideas. Many attempts to augment his income had come before, including but not limited to selling preserves of rare and obscure fruits, homemade spell components, and one promising but ultimately unsuccessful endeavor involving a barbershop quartet (behind the counter), an empty hat (upon the counter), and a sign encouraging tips (below the counter). The Gallery, on the other hand, was an entirely different creature, and mildly successful at that. The idea for the Gallery had come from his mother, who, while poking around the attic, had stumbled upon several watercolors he had done in grade school, and had thoughtfully mailed them to him so that he could decide whether or not they should be thrown out. Dirk, who was rather proud of his excursions into the world of art, had decided that they should not be thrown out, and had instead hung them in his shop. Much to his surprise, some people will actually pay for watercolors of popular textbooks, a fact he discovered when a wealthy tourist with a distinct lack of watercolors of popular textbooks entered his store one day. Inspired, Dirk had decided to start painting again, and had somehow managed to sell enough paintings of textbooks over the past several years to make the middle and latter portions of the academic calendar more bearable, bolstering what he referred to as his “primarily thaumatergical income”.
This morning had been decidedly thaumatergical. A grand total of three students had entered the Emporium today. Two had purchased copies of Felix Naestrahan’s play The Ensorclled Doubt. (5s14c ea.), and the other had come by mistake. Exactly zero of them had inquired as to the price of the watercolors hanging above the desk, which Dirk considered some of his finest works; Advanced Telekinetics, Studying for the Occlumancy GRE and Arcane Haberdashery, which, as it happened, were priced at 1g23s, 87s and 1g56s respectively. Dirk was starting to think he might actually lose money today, and that perhaps it would be a better use of his time to close up the store, go home, and enjoy a nice glass of ambrosia and a book on runic calligraphy.
This all changed when a fourth person entered the shop. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that this all changed when the fourth person exited the shop, as Dirk was so caught up in his thoughts of ambrosia and books and fireplaces and watercolors and such that he didn’t notice that anyone else had entered the shop until he heard the door close and noticed the sealed envelope sitting on the counter in front of him. Dirk adjusted his spectacles, looked around, coughed, and looked back down at the envelope. It was addressed to “The Tinshrift Wonderbook Emporium (and Gallery)”.
“Wouldn’t want to open somebody else’s letters,” Dirk said aloud. Upon remembering that he was the only one there, he coughed to himself, picked up the envelope and turned it over. It was sealed with red wax, imprinted with the letters Epsilon and Omicron. It looked very official and impressive. Dirk broke the seal and opened the letter. Inside was a small note, containing only the following four lines.
Looking for An Introduction to Chaos
Will pay 650g.
“Well,” he stammered, and sat down for a long think in his chair.