Chapter 1: The Deal

     The front door of the little shop that was supposed to be closed opened with a creak and sent the bell at the top ringing. The Shopkeeper was caught by surprise, as he just now realized that he forgot to lock the door, a very serious mistake in such a bad neighborhood. He shot up and quickly took large strides behind the counter where he kept a large wooden club. Just in case. Even though he'd managed to avoid a major robbery up to this point, he didn't like to take risks. The Shopkeeper's hand stopped inches from the club as he looked towards the door and saw who was standing there.

     An older woman, age apparent by her gray hair with just a few hints of auburn stubbornly fighting at her temples. Her hair was tied neatly up in a bun on the top of her head and it almost tapped the doorframe as she walked in, she was taller than him without a doubt. Sharp gray eyes contrasted strikingly against her tan face as their gaze drifted over his little shop, not stopping on anything in particular. 

     Above all, what stood out the most was the jacket she wore tightly around her slight frame. It was a light, dusty brown leather jacket that fell all the way to her knees. Stitched into the exterior was row after row of pockets, each snapped, zipped, tied, or latched shut in some way. No two seemed to be the same. The interior of the jacket likely hid even more pockets that he could not currently see as she had the jacked completely buttoned up, all the way to the collar. Each of the buttons appeared to be made of a different metal, but they all shined brilliantly, even in the dull lamplight.

     On the high collar of the jacket were several embroidered crests, though only two were recognizable to the Shopkeeper. One was the crest of Lunabek, signifying that this woman worked for, or was honored by, the crown in some way.  The second was the crest only given to Alchemists who have proven themselves to be at the very pinnacle of their craft. She was a Master Alchemist, of which there were only five in the entire city. All of them incredibly wealthy from the results of their craft. And for some reason, she was in his humble, dirty little shop.

     "Um, pardon me, milady." The Shopkeeper stumbled out as he managed a weak bow behind the counter. "You gave me a bit of a fright. I wasn't expecting anyone after hours." The Shopkeeper slowly moved his hand away from the club. "And you know, this isn't exactly the safest place to be when the sun goes down." He continued, trying to smile through the displeasure of having someone who was basically a Noble in his shop. As far as he was concerned, Nobles brought nothing but trouble.

     "I don't mean to be rude, milady," he said as politely as he could manage, but he did intend to be at least a little rude "but may I ask what you need from a little shop like my own? There's really nothing here I could have that you couldn't find in your own shops up there in the Gold Districts." 

     The woman remained silent, not even acknowledging the question as she continued walking along the shelves and looking over the various goods he had stocked today. It wasn't much, just the basic foodstuffs and your everyday use items like thread, needles, cloth, and ink. As one would expect from a Noble in a commoner's shop, she looked wholly unimpressed. Eventually she made her way to the front counter where she stared down at the Shopkeeper, who shrank away slightly from her intimidating glare. 

     After staring him down for a few seconds, she finally broke the silence. "I see you do not stock any elixirs or potions, do you not believe your customers have need of them?" She said with an accusative tone.

     The Shopkeeper was aghast at the question, but managed to quickly recover. "No,I don't have any elixirs or potions in stock, milady. Not for lack of respect towards your profession, you know. It's just that those things aren't exactly cheap and, well,  I'm not made of gold." He said through clenched teeth. How dare she come into his store and accuse him of not stocking the best goods that he could. The amount he made today would barely be enough to buy a single potion from an apprentice Alchemist, let alone a guild sanctioned Master like herself. 

     The woman eyed him warily, as if she was not appreciating the tone he was using with her. She turned her back to him and began wandering the small shop floor again, occasionally picking up something from the shelves to inspect. "How much of the Alchemical arts are you aware of, Mister..." and she trailed off, giving him time to provide his name.

     "Jaren, milady. My name's Jaren." he answered stiffly. "And I don't know much about that alchemy stuff. Just that you mix magic and herbs and stuff and get potions and elixirs out of it." 

     The woman tutted at him as he finished his answer, apparently disappointed in his lack of knowledge of her profession, which only made Jaren angier, clenching his jaw to bite back the response he truly wanted to give.

     "I suppose that is all a Shopkeeper such as yourself would need to know." The woman said, setting down a box of sewing needles before moving onto the next shelf. "You are correct in that Alchemy involves magic. To be an Alchemist you must be born with the gift to sense the various essences within the objects and beings that inhabit our world. It's this essence that magic relies upon. Without this gift, you cannot be an Alchemist. It would be like an armless man attempting to be a Blacksmith." She continued to lecture as she paced about the room, not even sending a glance Jaren's way to see if he was listening.

     "So? Is there a point?" Jaren blurted out abruptly after a short silence. "I'm sorry, milady, but I guess I don't get why you're telling me this. I know I don't have that whole magic gift thing. I enlisted when I was still a lad and it's the first thing they test for. So what is it-" he said before getting interrupted by the woman.

     "I'm here to make a deal, Mister Jaren. One that would be mutually beneficially, I would think." The woman said, turning her attention back to Jaren. Walking back up to the counter to stare him down once more. "While you may not have the gift, your sons are a different matter entirely."

     Jaren's eyes went wide at the mention of his sons, he could feel the anger rising in his stomach. There was no way he would let a Noble take his sons away from him. They'd already taken so much from him. After taking a deep breath to push the anger back, he said, "I'm sorry, milady, but my sons aren't up for bargain. The eldest already enlisted, just like his pa that one. The middle one I need around, as he's like to take over this shop one day. Then the youngest has already taken the vows of the Guiding Spirits. The church ain't likely to give him up."

     Instead of looking disappointed like Jaren expected, a slight smile began to turn the corners of the woman's lips. "Three sons? Now, I do believe you have four. If I'm not mistaken of course." The woman said smugly, as if proud to have caught him in a lie.

     Jaren's face scrunched up in disgust, of course. His fourth son. It's not that he was trying to hide the fact that he had a fourth from her, it's just that he tried to forget about him after what happened with his wife. Jaren shook his head to clear the thought from his head. "Ah! My apologies, milady. Of course, the fourth son. No, he isn't spoken for, I suppose. Though I do feel I should warn you, he ain't exactly good for much. Not sure what you'd want with him." Jaren said, noticing a sad look come across the woman's face, if only just for a moment.

     "I've been searching for an Apprentice, Mister Jaren. One who could continue on my legacy, or even surpass it with any luck. In your son I see the potential that I have been looking for, that I believed no longer existed in this younger generation. I believe he-" she said before stopping abruptly, waving her hands between them. "You don't care what I see in him, it doesn't matter. What I am offering is what you care about."

     "Sell me your son, Mister Jaren." The woman said flatly, all previous emotion gone from her face. "In exchange, you will receive weekly shipments of basic Elixirs and Potions made by yours truly until a time where your son is ready to begin crafting them himself. From that point and for the remaining duration of your son's apprenticeship with me, the shipments will be made by him." The woman unclasped two of the middle buttons of her jacket as she talked, one bronze and one silver Jaren thought. Then she reached into her jacket and pulled a scroll, which when unfurled revealed itself to be a contract. 

     "Anything that comes from my workshop will have my own personal crest on the bottle," the woman said, pointing to one of the crests on her collar that Jaren did not recognize, "along with the crest of a Master Alchemist. Your will be receiving them for free, and as Alchemical goods are governed by our own guild, and not the Merchant Guild, you may price them however you wish." With a sly smile she continued, working on hammering the final nail into the deal. "Such products showing up on the shelf could be just what a cozy little shop such as yours needs to ascend back to relevance."

     Jaren stared at the contract, unable to believe what he was reading.  Goods directly from a Master Alchemist? At no cost? A single potion would pay of all of his debts in one go. A crate of the things would allow him to move to a building that didn't creak with every step and lean when the wind got too strong. But she was a Noble. A Noble who just wanted to take more from him. But it was just that boy, nothing he hadn't tried to get rid of before.

     For several minutes both parties stood there in silence. Jaren continued to glare at the contract, trying to find any trick wording. Any clause or fine print that would allow the Noble to go back on her word, to stop paying him. He found nothing. Eventually, Jaren began to laugh as he realized his luck was finally turning around. Without saying another work he grabbed the ink and quill he kept under the counter for receipts and quickly signed his name on both copies of the contract, right below hers, then stuck out his hand. 

     "Why, I believe we have a deal, Miss..." Jaren said before glancing down at her signature on the contracts, "Lenorane Amberpure."

     With a smile she met his outstretched hand with her own and shook twice. "I am so very glad we could come to an agreement, Mister Jaren. I am sure you will not regret it one bit." Lenorane said with a smile before letting go of his hand and rolling up her copy of the contract.

     "Ah, just wait here a moment." Jaren said, beginning to turn around to head through the door behind counter that led to the house proper. "I'll go fetch the boy for you." 

     "No need, Mister Jaren."  Lenorane said as she raised a hand to stop him and smiled. "Young one, you can come out now." She called out towards the back room, her voice far kinder than it had been since entering the store.

     After a few seconds, a small boy peeked around the corner. Lenorane gestured him to come out, beckoning him into the room. The small boy shyly entered the room, he couldn't have been more than five or six years old. Tangled and dirty black hair hung past his shoulders, his shirt and pants were no more than tattered rags that wouldn't even be worth a beggars time.

     His bare feet slapped against the hard wooden floor as he walked over to his father and looked up at him, but his father did return the look. Jaren's had returned his attention to the contract, eyes locked onto it, paying no mind to the boy looking up at him. A sad look crossed the young boys face, but he did not seem surprised by his father's lack of reaction to his presence. 

     "Young one," Lenorane knelt down next to the counter, just an arms reach away from the boy, "You'll be coming with me now. Do you have anything you want to bring with you? Perhaps some farewells to say?"

     The boy continued to look up at his father, who still had not looked down at his son standing the beside him, then shook his head from side to side, his hair going every which way and hiding his face. The woman couldn't keep the saddened expression from her face, but quickly put back on a smile before extending a hand out to the boy.

     "Well, shall we head off then?" Lenorane asked the boy sweetly. The boy finally looked away from his father and locked eyes with Lenorane. He had the same strikingly gray eyes that she had and he was staring curiously at her past that tangled black nest that was his hair. As if he was trying to figure out some puzzle that was on her face. After a few more moments of hesitation, the young boy took her hand and allowed himself to be led out of the shop. Not once looking back towards his father as they left the little shop.

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