I couldn’t change genders; I didn’t have the right clothing, and I needed to be able to trade and travel without drawing suspicion like a woman or Being alone would. So I thinned out my body, growing a handspan taller than my own height. I focused on my hair, making it a truly unfortunate shade of red, and covered my skin in blotches.
My looks would make me stand out even more than being a stranger, but no one would connect me to the bills with my true face. My clothes were nondescript enough to belong to any traveler, the blue linen shirt long since faded to gray and my leather trousers nothing remarkable. My boots were in a state, strapped in one place on the right one, and my cloak was also coated more in dust than true color.
“Who’s in there?” Loud bangs on the door of the privy startled me. I knocked my elbow on the wall and cursed.
“Just a moment. I grabbed my pack and slung it over my shoulder, then opened the door. “Sorry.”
“This here ain’t no public toilet, Mister. Who do you think you are just barging in?” The man was holding a small polished club and had a gleam to his eye that I didn’t like.
“Again, sorry. It was an emergency, and I spied the outbuilding through the alley.” I made a show of fumbling with my belt and the small coin purse I’d left hanging on it. The small copper bit wouldn’t hurt to lose. “For the owner, sir. Or you?”
“Well, see as I might have had to fine you for public disturbance creating a ruckus using someone else’s privy and upsetting Missus Phillers, I suppose I can accept this instead.” The man snatched the copper from my fingertips and it disappeared so fast I knew for sure he was a human lawman.
Only them and magicians could make that trick happen before your very eyes.
“Thank you,” I said, bitter gall burning my stomach. “Can you point me to the purchasing establishment? I need to replenish some supplies.”
“Hoity toity talk you got there. You wanna get some victuals or some herbals, you gotta see the store keep on High street.”
“All right then. Thank you.” Being as the place only had one real street, with a few alleys the size of two men at their widest, perhaps, it wasn’t hard to figure out what I wanted. I hadn’t needed to ask, but it was always best to ingratiate yourself with the law whenever possible.
“Don’t be sticking around too long, hear? We don’t need no strangers.”
“I won’t.” I hitched my bag up on my shoulder again and took off back up the alley toward the wider road that they’d apparently felt they needed to name High Street. Well, I suppose one side did have wooden sidewalks put it in front of the store, and even stairs. My worn boots shushed across the boards quietly instead of clopping.
“I hear a woman or a man in need of boots,” came a voice from behind row after row of shelves. “If I miss my guess, and I never miss my guess, you’ll be needing these.” A Being came out from behind the shelves.
Not that I wouldn’t have guessed he was a being if I didn’t have magic myself. He looked human enough. No ears, no scales or fur or feathers. No fangs protruded from his mouth. His eyes sparkled a pale violet, but a rare human might claim that gaze.
It was his aura. I could manipulate mine to adjust my form; it was part of how my magic now worked. The other side of the magic meant I could recognize others’ auras as well. Good, evil, human, Being, in-between… This one was definitely some form of Being.
What are you? The question hung on the tip of my tongue, but I bit it, holding the words back. “How much?”
“With the goods I think you will need, two silvers, five coppers.”
“How do you know what I need?” I asked suspiciously.
“Just a knack.” He shrugged. “You look like a traveler. I know what travelers usually buy. Food, medical supplies, more food. Boots after traveling over the mountain.”
Haggling would just take longer, bring unwanted attention to me, and delay my departure. I had the coin; I also had several bags of gems and other tradeable items. Those would be best spent in a larger town or city to avoid speculation or possible robbery.
“I have a list.” I fished it out.
“We can handle that.”
Huh? “We?” I handed over the list and took the boots. They were made of thick leather, but it was warm and supple in my grasp.
“My helper.” Another Being came through the doorway and this one I recognized.
“Maize.” I hadn’t changed my voice, but she’d seen my body change before.
She gasped, dropping the list. “You’re supposed to be dead.”
“Rumors of my demise were greatly exaggerated,” I said calmly. “I bet I could guess who told you that I died though.” Sodding bastard.
“To hell with who. You’re alive.” She slipped under the counter and rushed into my arms. Her hold on me was tight enough to make my ribs creak, for all she appeared as a willowy, fragile human woman. I dropped the boots.
Tree Dryads…. No one really knew all the different kinds or why they chose to leave their kith and kin and walk among humans, but that was what these two were. How strange.
“Your tree okay?” I’d kept some humans from cutting it down.
“Yes, thank you again! She is lovely, the harm barely even noticeable.” Maize beamed. “But life has not been easy for you.”
“No. No it hasn’t.”
“How can we help?”
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