(c) Nin Harris 2010–
It is perhaps axiomatic to the point of cliché that beings who would choose to settle in a glade of oversized mushrooms also possess a keen appreciation for strange stories. Was that not how most of them had found their way across Alta Exsilii? Exiles dream harder and more fiercely than any other type of humans, because dreams mean so much more to those without a physical anchor. There are bookstores for many different kinds of dreams and obsessions in Mykologosia, but Grisette’s little bookstore was visited only by the most occult and the most covert. She liked to call herself a were-cat, but in truth she was a woman in a catsuit, with an enticing feline mask covering the top part of her face. The costumes were lovingly stitched together by her assistant Lillian, a tiny Cambodian woman who helped her with book-keeping, tea-making as well as costume-making.
The costume-making was a hobby and passion for both of them, and took place after hours, in their shared flat on the bookstore’s second and top floor. They would drink chrysanthemum tea sweetened with rock sugar, and eat delicate, translucent rice-flour dumplings stuffed with bamboo shoots and shrimp as well as pao stuffed with mushroom, herbs and chicken, while listening to music playing from a record player. Ignoring the scratch of vinyl and the skips in some songs, they would talk about their literary and occultic acquisitions, gossip about their neighbours, and reminisce, half-heartedly about the lives they had left behind.
Grisette herself had escaped servitude as a book-clerk in a branch of an international chain. She could never quite remember the details of how she arrived on Yrejveree, nor could she remember exactly how she managed to connive, consolidate and strategize enough to become the most occultic bookseller in the whole island. But succeed she did, and if perhaps she had made one too many bargains etched in her own blood, who could fault her? Was she not helping in the study and advancement of the arcane arts? Was it not partly due to this that major citizens of Mykologosia had succeeded in making this Glade an independent city-state within a storm-lashed isle of dreams?
Commerce was the backbone of every world, Grisette thought to herself, as she pulled the elegant pashmina shawl around her shoulders, feeling a little more on edge today than usual. A pleasant afternoon breeze shivered the lace curtains veiling the open window, but it felt almost wintry to Grisette’s nervous pores. Alas, the werecat was not nearly furred enough to be immune to both the change of seasons or the onset of a very human fear. She had both the pride and the apprehension of being the only bookseller who had actually seen Jezemiah Irlinus’s face. Not that this was something to boast about.
Even Lilian, her elegant assistant had no inkling of this, assuming that only the Nepali boys had been given the job of delivering books to his doorstep. Some books were too precious for couriers, however. Some secrets were far too dangerous. And perhaps Jezemiah Irlinus was indeed the assassin responsible for the mass murders that had dogged them for nearly a decade before they stopped, shortly after the Guardian had died. Correlation or coincidence? Who knew. But the man that was partially accused of being an Assassin was now the Caretaker of all of them, and yet another just promised her half a million gold bars for the shipment that was due tonight. What could a bookseller do, but comply? And if, perhaps, she knew secrets no bookseller should know, who could blame her for pretending innocence? She understood, better than anyone, that in Mykologosia, no one was truly innocent.