The store was gloomy but filled with marvelous things. Arcane and occult pictures sat cheek by jowl with dusty books with portentous titles. Crystal balls, wands and cups were piled up in one corner. Behind the counter were two massive pillars, one black, one white, and in the middle was the proprietor. He was an ageing thin man with skin as yellow as parchment and a voice as dry.
“Ow can I ‘elp,” he said, as he saw the two foreigners approach.
“I believe we are expected,” said Clackprattle. The man behind the counter grinned. Several teeth revealed themselves to be absent.
“I am a master of the unseen arts,” he said, absently turning over a card. It showed a picture of a tower struck by lightning. “Of course you were expected.”
Pook pushed himself forward to the counter.
“I believe what my…master is referring to is that we have, if you will, an arrangement to procure something here. Something we have been at pains to find for quite a little while now.”
The man behind the counter looked unimpressed and gestured around him.
“Specifically,” continued Pook unabated, “we are here to acquire a map which, we are so led to believe, will allow us to uncover the location of four parts of a key.”
The shopkeeper’s face fell.
“That’s you?” he said incredulously.
“Indeed sir,” boomed Clackprattle, “Why do you seem surprised.”
The shopkeeper shrugged.
“I was expecting someone…” he trailed off, arms waving some complex sigil.
“Would you have the item in question, that we have traveled so far and waited so patiently for,” beamed Pook without a hint of warmth. The shopkeeper made a noise with his mouth and disappeared into the back.
“I don’t trust this debauched reprobate as far as I could throw him,” said Clackprattle, none too quietly.
“He came highly recommended,” said Pook, “from a most reliable and trustworthy source”
Clackprattle looked down his nose at Pook.
“In other words another debauched reprobate,” said Clackprattle. The shopkeeper returned with a scroll tied with a bit of black ribbon.
“Here she is,” he said.”You have the money?”
“Let us inspect the merchandise first,” said Clackprattle. “You won’t make a fool out of me.”
“Naturally,” said the man “A man of your stature could never be made into a fool.”
He handed over the map and whispered “deux, peut etre.” Clackprattle unrolled the parchment and stared at it.
“It’s in French,” he said. The shopkeeper shrugged.
“I ‘ave dictionaries for sale,” he said. Clackprattle glared irritably at him.
“It seems in order,” said Clackprattle, “Pook, give him the money.”
“May I ascertain if this map, is, as we specifically requested, the only such copy,” said Pook.
“As you asked,” said the shopkeeper.
“Then Master… I suggest that you pass the money to our most helpful friend and shake his hand.”
Clackprattle grinned and walked over to the counter. He removed his glove at the last minute, not breaking his stare with the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper for his part returned the stare, with a bored disaffected look on his face. He took the larger man’s hand listlessly then after a moment he looked down. Clackprattle’s fat, sweaty fingers were a green colour, and the green was spreading to the shopkeeper’s hand and up his arm. The shopkeeper looked in horror and tried to pull away as the putrefaction spread to his chest.
“What are you?” he gasped as the green maleficence overcame his head and his tongue lolled black from his silent mouth.
“I, sir, am the man who will unleash the weapon of Paris,” said Clackprattle and turned to leave the shop. He waited at the door until Pook opened it and the two left in silence.