The Measure of Mettle was a small, unassuming shop among its towering neighbor’s in Ankheim’s shopping district, which had resumed its late afternoon business after the excitement had subsided. No shop door was closed for particularly long with the constant flow of traffic, save for Mettle’s.
“I like the look of that place,” Aranza said.
Temperance started to suggest one of the other armorers nearby, but Aranza had already reached for the small, plain handle on the similarly small, plain door. It opened without her touching it, and both Aranza and Temperance hesitated.
“Perhaps an enchanted door to seem more welcoming?” Temperance suggested.
The ceiling seemed impossibly high compared to the unassuming exterior of The Measure of Mettle, and grand chandeliers made of patchworks of material–some carefully shaped ironwork, some meticulously carved stone, and some made from bones of indeterminate origin–bobbed lazily at various heights, held not aloft by chains nor rope but instead anchored to the floor.
“Looking for anything in particular?” rumbled a voice from the opposite side of the shop. A half-giant stood behind the counter, her attention fixed on a set of plate armor as she hammered it into shape though her tools made no sound.
“Hail and well met, shopkeep,” Temperance said, taking the lead. “We’ve come to Ankheim on official Guild matters and find ourselves in need of new armor for my traveling companion.”
The half-giant shopkeeper looked up over half-moon glasses, her left eye a pool of silver and her right one white from edge to edge with a long, angry red scar crossing it from her forehead down to her jaw.
“Guild doesn’t make Ankheim its business much these days,” the shopkeeper said. She pointed at Aranza. “You the companion in need of armor?”
Aranza nodded. “Went for a bit of a swim and my kindly Paladin was insistent we make use of our funds to replace this old thing,” she said with a gesture to her waterlogged armor.
A hint of a smile tugged at the shopkeeper’s lips. “Plenty of other shops that could provide for you,” she replied. “Why pick this one?”
Temperance furrowed her brow and considered the question, which allowed Aranza time to step in and respond.
“It’s got character,” Aranza replied. “Something about it called to me, and when I reached for the door it just opened.”
The shopkeeper nodded. “Good enough for me,” she said. “Let’s get to work on something for you.”
“Get to work?” Temperance said at last. “I’m afraid custom armor isn’t quite within our budget.”
The shopkeeper stepped set down the plate she was shaping and stepped over the counter. Up close, she was easily twice as tall as Temperance, even slightly hunched down to avoid the chandeliers.
“Every piece in this place is made for someone,” the shopkeeper replied. “And anyone who is someone who has business in my shop has armor waiting for them. It’s a small matter of doing Fate’s work, and as such for the sake of my own skin and sanity I do not charge additional coppers over the matter of what you called custom armor.”
“Aranza,” Aranza said, holding out her hand. “Aranza Twinblade of Tidalreach.”
“You’ll learn to not give your name so willingly to strangers, I think, in due time,” the shopkeeper said. Her expression softened. “Call me Faen. It’s not my true name, but it’ll do for the sake of this transaction. I do believe we’ve got something that will be just right for you.”
“Forgive my asking,” Temperance interjected, “but where are your wares? The ones fated to be sold to rightful owners, I believe you’d suggested.”
Faen raised an eyebrow. “Nothing here for you,” she said. “Not yet, anyway. As for you, Aranza, I’ll ask you to hold on tightly.”
Faen picked up Aranza as if she were little more than a piece of parchment and put her in a small pouch slung over her back.
“There’s a tear or two I’ve been meaning to mend, so if you’re not careful you’ll fall out,” Faen explained. “Don’t want you to hit the floor and make a mess now, do we?”
The floor wasn’t too terribly far down, or it wasn’t until Faen began to climb the length of rope tethering a crystalline chandelier to the floor. She moved swiftly, hand over hand, and reached the brightly lit top before Aranza could finish cursing.
“You roguish types prefer your armor to remain a little on the squishier side these days, yes?” Faen asked in a way that sounded more like a statement.
Aranza blinked a few times. She was standing on a solid floor, or something solid at least, but when she looked down she saw the top of the chandelier.
“Don’t think about it too hard or you’ll break the spells and fall,” Faen said absentmindedly, her focus on the many armor-outfitted dummies in front of her.
“Ah, here we are,” Faen said, retrieving a forest green tunic from one of the dummies. She handed it to Aranza, and then turned away.
“Let me know once you’ve got it on,” Faen said. “I’m sure I know what you’ll have to say about it.”
Faint, and from far below, words echoed up. “Do you require my aid?” Temperance shouted, though her voice was barely a whisper once it traveled the distance from the floor.
Faen chuckled. “Is this her normal demeanor?”
Aranza laughed in response. “That’s a safe I haven’t quite cracked yet, but I think there’s good in her deep down.”
“I like to hear that,” Faen said. “She doesn’t seem like a Guild sort. Take care of her and she’ll return the favor, I’m sure. Best way to do that with a Paladin is through honest, open, and honest communication.”
Aranza finished pulling the tunic top over her head before she responded. “You said honest twice, you know.”
“Did I?” Faen said. “How curious.”
“I’m ready,” Aranza said. “It fits…”
“Perfectly?” Faen said as she turned around. The tunic looked as though it had been made for Aranza, and only for Aranza.
“Check the pockets,” Faen said. “This bit’s my favorite part.”
Aranza did as she was told, and discovered her belongings were all where they ought to be.
“Don’t get used to it, though,” Faen said. “One time cantrip, used up once the wearer puts on the new armor for the first time. I never even learned that particular spell, so I can’t help you there.”
Aranza nodded. “What’s the damage?” she looked downwards again, and added, “Don’t suppose we could…” She pointed towards the floor.
“In a moment,” Faen said. She disappeared between two of the dummies. Aranza could hear her shuffling along, but couldn’t see her despite how tall the half-giant loomed.
“Thought as much,” Faen said, having reappeared behind Aranza. She held a rolled up piece of leather, held shut by a simple knotted piece of rope, between her fingers as if it was a handkerchief. Before Aranza could ask, however, Faen had plucked her from the floor and leapt from the place above the chandeliers.
Aranza screamed by reflex as air rushed upwards around them.
Faen landed with a delicate thud, only a step or two away from Temperance.
“Gods damn it, was that necessary?” Temperance snapped before regaining her composure.
“Yes,” Faen said, setting Aranza down.
Temperance looked Aranza over and nodded. “That suits you quite nicely,” she said. “Sturdy leather made to look inconspicuous and crafted to allow for silent movement.”
Faen nodded, smiling. “You know your stuff better than you let on,” she said. She held out the roll of leather. “This is for you. You’ll know, I think, when the time is right. Not yet, though. And as for you…Payment.”
“What do you mean ‘payment’?” Temperance demanded.
Faen held up a finger, and Aranza nodded in response.
“Temperance, I need to tell you something,” Aranza said. “I was the one who destroyed the dam.”
The two were suddenly outside, back on the street in front of a storefront-shaped gap between buildings.
“I’m sorry, you said you did what?” Temperance replied.