"I want to make a return," the alchemist said.
He was a tall, silver-haired and mustachioed man in purple robes that were trimmed with gold. His black cloak was lined with white fur and seemed to billow slightly despite the calm air in the shop, its colors standing out starkly against the shelves of brightly colored merchandise around him.
Tom looked up from the floor, away mess he had been sweeping up. "Uh," he said.
The alchemist frowned at him severely and held out a mug. The mug was average in nearly every regard: white, ceramic, looked to hold about 12 ounces. The only thing noticeable about it was a crude watercolor-like leaf painted on the front.
"What's wrong with it?" said Tom, still kneeling on the floor, holding the dustpan. From this angle, he could see that the alchemist's belt was loaded with bottles of potions.
"It turns everything into tea," the alchemist said.
"Is it not supposed to?" said Tom uncertainly.
"Don't be smart with me. I wanted one that did real tea. This tastes like that Lipton garbage. I want a refund."
"Uh," said Tom.
Tom got to his feet and looked around the shop. He saw the usual rows of open displays and the variety of novelty mugs inside them, but nothing else. He took a few steps back away from the alchemist and craned his neck to see through the doorway behind the counter. He saw the storage shelves and boxes of new merchandise and the rest of the usual junk, but that was it.
"Sorry," Tom said. "Grandpa's not here right now--"
"You can't do it?" snapped the alchemist.
"No, sorry. I-- uh. Haven't been trained on the register. Um." Tom found his eyes drawn to the mess on the floor and had to pull them away. "Come back later?" he said hopefully.
The alchemist glared and said, "What time?"
Tom wanted to tell the truth-- I don't know-- but knew instinctively that that answer would be Unacceptable, so said instead, "Maybe an hour?"
The Alchemist's frown deepened at the sound of "maybe" but he seemed to accept it. "Very well," he said, sweeping out of the shop. "I'll return shortly."
The bell above the front door jingled as he left.
Tom sighed, relieved to have him gone, and turned his attention back to the mess on the floor. He had just dumped it into the trash bin and was about to put the broom away when the bell above the door jingled, letting him know someone was there. For a second he was afraid it was the alchemist again. He peered around a display and saw a small, elderly woman in a pink, floral dress and a fluffy windbreaker that looked like it was trying to eat her. Her gray, wispy hair stuck out from her floppy sunhat like escaping spiderwebs.
"Hello?" she said in a voice like creaking pipes.
"Hi," Tom said, smiling. He stepped into the open and leaned the broom against the counter. "How can I help you?"
She squinted at him through her thick glasses, then began rooting around her jacket's pockets. After a moment, she pulled out a business card.
"Is this yours?" she said.
Tom took the card and read,
MERLE'S MAGIC MUG SHOP!
NOVELTY MUGS! CHARM YOUR FRIENDS!
245 N. Senter Road
"Yeah," he said. "That's ours. How can I help you?"
"Do you do teapots?" she said.
"Uh," Tom said.
"I want a nice, floral teapot. One with roses on it. Do you have anything like that?"
"We, uh, just do mugs," said Tom.
She blinked at him. "Just mugs?"
"Do you do bowls?"
"Just mugs, Ma'am."
She frowned, puzzled. "But mugs aren't charming."
Tom almost disagreed, but said instead, "They're charmed, ma'am. like, uh. Magic." He wiggled his fingers to demonstrate the magical nature of the mugs, then stopped when she continued to look puzzled.
"Do you have any mugs with roses on them?" she said. "I'll still need a teapot, but a rose mug might be nice."
"Yeah," said Tom, relieved. "We have a bunch of flower mugs. They're over here. . ."
He led her towards a display around the corner of the shop. It was filled to the brim of eclectic looking flower-themed mugs. Large ones, small ones, ones with thick handles, one with dainty swirly handles, ones that were shaped like flowers whose petals help the liquid, ones that had flowers printed on the sides.
"What about this one?" she said, holding up a mug with roses painted on the side and a handle like a vine.
"That one turns everything inside to rosehip tea," he said.
She blinked. "I mean how much does it cost?"
"Price tag's on the bottom. Uh. . ." He checked for her. "Three dollars."
She put the mug back and picked up another. It was one of the ones shaped like a flower. "This one?"
"I think that one makes love potions. Price is ten dollars."
"That's awfully expensive for a mug," she said disapprovingly.
He shrugged. "It makes love potions, Ma'am."
She didn't respond and picked up another mug. She went through what felt like the whole shelf, asking the price of each, despite the fact that each one had the price sticker on the bottom. Tom dutifully answered every question, telling her the price when asked and telling her the mug's specialty when she didn't.
"It makes tea."
"It makes aqua fresca. Uh. It's sorta like a smoothie, but not."
"It makes sleeping potions."
"It makes alertness potions."
"it turns everything into hot cocoa."
"It brings fortune to your home."
"It can collect liquid sunlight if you leave it by a window."
And on. The old woman-- whose name was Deborah and who insisted on telling him about her two cats that she cared for and her son who she didn't-- never responded to the magical effect of the mugs, and when at the end of it all she settled on a mug with petals painted on it that turned everything poured into it into rose water, she asked him kindly to "stop with that nonsense, please dear."
Just as he was ringing her up and wrapping her purchase, the bell above the bell jingled and another customer came in.
He was bald and dressed in layered black robes that seemed to suck up the light around him. He cast one look around the shop, spotted Tom, then barreled straight for the counter.
"Hi. I'll help you in just a sec," said Tom. "I'm just finishing up--"
The robed man pushed the old woman away and slammed both fists into the counter.
"Where is it?" he said, looming over Tom.
"Uh?" said Tom.
"Don't play stupid boy, the Grail! The elixir of life! Where is it?"
"Uh?!" said Tom with more feeling.
The man's fists began to crackle with black light that sparked and flashed from his hands like lightning. "Tell me!"
"Uh?!" said Tom with passion.
"Stop!" shouted someone else. The door to the shop burst open and another man entered. Like the one at the counter, this man was wearing a robe. Unlike the one at the counter, this one's robe was blue and silver, and his hair was jet black.
"Raven," the man at the counter snarled. He whirled around, facing the newcomer. Tom took the opportunity to drop onto his hands and knees, hoping the counter would shield him from whatever magic was about to go flying.
If I can just make it to the back room. . .
"Begone, necromancer!" said the blue wizard. Blue fire swirled around his hands. "You're not taking the Grail."
"That's where you're wrong, Raven!" said the necromancer. "The elixir is mine!"
Tom peeked his head around the counter and saw Deborah standing a few feet away, looking highly offended.
"Now wait a moment," she said, wagging the mug at them. "I don't know what you boys are up to, but this is entirely inappropriate!"
"Wait!" Tom shouted. He shot up and went to try and stop Deborah before one of the men turned her into something nasty. As he was about to reach her, an invisible force slammed him backwards. He stumbled and staggered back until the four of them, Tom, Deborah, and the two wizards stood apart in a square formation.
Tom held up his hands. "Wait! We don't have any grails! We just do mugs!"
The necromancer pointed at him. "Lies," he hissed.
"There's no point in lying, boy," said Raven. "We know it's here. Give it to me and I can protect you."
"Give it to me or I'll turn your skin inside out!" said the necromancer, moving towards Tom. The blue wizard moved towards him, too.
"W-wait!" said Tom, scrambling backwards and bumping against a display shelf. "I can check in the back! If you put in a custom order, maybe Grandpa forgot to tell me and--"
"Hello?" said a familiar voice from the still-open doorway. The alchemist from that morning strode in, mug in hand. "I'm here about that return--"
Both wizards turned their heads to face the doorway. The alchemist froze. Then, his face grew red around the nose and cheeks, and his severe frown became a snarl. Tom looked to the other two men and saw that they, too, were glaring back at the alchemist in nearly palpable anger.
There was a solid second of silence before the mug slipped out of the alchemist's hand and fell to the floor. The handle cracked off and the noise of it, like breaking a spell, broke the silence.
"Raven!" hollered the alchemist. With a blur of motion, two potion bottles from his belt were in his hands, ready to throw.
"Edward!" spat the wizard, his fires burning brighter.
"What are you doing here?" The alchemist said.
"I could ask you the same!" said the wizard.
"Silence!" shouted the necromancer. "
"Oh my," said Deborah.
Tom slipped away from the necromancer and went to Deborah. He hesitated for the briefest second before wrapping and arm around her shoulders and guiding her towards the back room.
"Is there a back exit?" she said.
"No," he said. "I'll try to get them out the front--"
There was a loud crash from the front, then a gust of warm air laced with the electric edge of magic. Tom winced.
Grandpa is going to be so mad. . .
He ran from the back and was just in time to see the alchemist hurl an orange potion bottle at the necromancer. The necromancer called up a shield of swirling black magic to shield himself, and the bottle burst into a thousand shards of glass and an explosion of fire. The blue wizard Raven put up his own magic shield-- one that actually looked like a spectral shield-- to protect himself, but it was all Tom could do to drop to the ground and cover his head. He felt sharp flecks of pain on his exposed arms and wondered if he'd have to go to a hospital later to get the glass removed. A second later, Raven responded in kind, and the shop filled with blue fireballs.
Someone screamed "Stop! Stop!" It took Tom a second to realize it was himself.
The room grew quiet except for the sound of fire crackling nearby. Then someone grabbed Tom by the hair and dragged him to his feet.
The necromancer pulled Tom's head back, exposing his throat. "I think I'll just kill you now," he said. He flicked his wrist and, out of thin air, there was a dagger in his hand. "I'll bind your ghost and make you tell me where the grail is."
"Tom?" hollered another voice. "Tommy, why's the door open? We've got the heater going--"
A short, stocky man in overalls walked into the shop. His brown beard was short and streaked with gray, his face was square, and his arms were full with a box of new merchandise. He blinked at the scene in the shop and time seemed to stop as he took it all in. Several displays were down, and pieces of mugs were scattered across the floor. Some of the wooden pieces of the display shelves were on fire. There were charred spots on the floor and three magic users who were holding the clerk at knifepoint, and an elderly woman was poking her head out of the storage room.
Tom's grandfather calmly walked to the counter and put the box down. Then, casually, he took his car keys from his pocket and used a key to rip open the packaging tape sealing the cardboard. he opened the box and began unpacking some new mugs.
"You alright, Tommy?" he said, not looking up.
"F-fine, Grandpa," said Tom, trying not to look at the blade still being held in his face. "Uh. These guys are looking for- uh. A grail? Uh."
Merle stopped unpacking, his hand resting on a black oval-shaped mug. He looked at his grandson. "Tommy. What have I said about saying 'uh'?"
"S-sorry, Grandpa," Tom said.
"You've got to have more confidence."
"Excuse me," said the alchemist. "Do you run this establishment?"
"Indeed I do," said Merle. He crossed his arms, one hand still holding the mug. "You gentlemen need help finding what you need?"
"The Grail, old man," said the necromancer. He released Tom and went towards Merle. "I know it's here. I--"
Merle spat into the mug. Tom couldn't see exactly what happened, but the next second, his grandfather had splashed the necromancer's face with purple liquid, and the man was rolling on the ground, screaming and clutching his eyes. Merle stepped over the writing wizard and plucked the dagger off the ground beside him.
"You," he pointed to the blue wizard. "Out."
"I'm afraid I can't leave," he said. "Not until I get the--"
"The Grail was sold weeks ago," said Merle. "Some Russian dignitary ordered it special. It's not here."
Raven looked like he wanted to argue, but he bowed his head. "Right," he said. "Thank you." He turned to leave.
"Whoa there," Merle said. "Hold on a second. You and your little friends here wrecked up my shop--"
"I'm not associated with--" said Raven.
"I'm not with--" said the alchemist.
"I don't care!" thundered Merle. His voice boomed with power, and the whole shop shook with the strength of it. "The three of you will be hearing from my lawyer about this, you'd better believe it!" he snapped, and three balls of red light appeared above his hand. The lights hovered for a moment, then zoomed across the room, each one floating above the head of one of the three men. They hung in the air for several seconds, then vanished.
"Hey!" said Raven.
"Hey what?" said Merle. "'Hey, don't put a tracking spell on me?' You should've thought of that before you set fire to my shop. Next time have your duel outside!"
"I was just making a return!" said the alchemist.
"No refunds!" snarled Merle. "Both of you, out! And take your buddy there with you!" The two men stared. Merle snapped. "Go on! Go!"
They hurried and grabbed the unconscious necromancer and dragged him outside. Once they were gone, Deborah crept out from the back room.
"Oh my," she said.
"Sorry about that, Ma'am," said Merle smoothly. "Have you been helped?"
She stared at him for a second. "Yes," she said. "The young man there was ringing me up. . ."
Merle gestured his head at Tom.
"What? Oh! Uh." Tom hurried behind the counter and found where the rose petal mug had fallen over. Thankfully, the wrapping had protected it from the fall: no cracks. He finished wrapping it and put it inside a box with the shop's name on it.
"Here you are, ma'am," he said, passing it to her.
"Thank you," she said.
"Have a nice evening," said Merle, seeing her to the door. The door closed behind her, and the two sighed. For a long minute, the two stood there in silence, taking in the sight of the shop. The fires were out, but that was about the only good news.
"Welp," said Merle, clapping his hands. "Go get the broom. We've got to get this all cleaned up tonight. I don't want us having to close tomorrow for this mess."
"Yes, Grandpa," said Tom.
"Don't tell your mom about any of this."
"Yes, Grandpa," said Tom.
"Thank you, Grandpa."
Tom went to get the broom and dustpan, and wondered if there'd be enough room in the trash bin.