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Rated: E · Fiction · Fantasy · #2229721
Every good story needs a sidekick. Meet Mather Arkwright, artificer extraordinaire.
         A loud bang from the attic rattled Mrs. Bluth's home. She sighed and shook her head. Her tenant was turning out to be a little more than she had bargained for. She heard the old attic door squeak open. The sharp smell of smoke wafted down into the kitchen and she wrinkled her nose.

         "I'm okay," her tenant called down softly.

         "Open the windows up there, dear," Mrs. Bluth replied, going back to mixing the dough for her pastries. She heard the door shut quietly.

         This tenant was an artificer, and a rather skilled one by many people's standards. He had moved into Mrs. Bluth's attic roughly five months ago, directly after finishing his schooling. Where he got his schooling from was an absolute mystery, even to his landlady. He kept to himself mostly, only leaving her house to get more supplies and make deliveries.

         It's not that Mrs. Bluth pitied the artificer necessarily, it's just that she thought that it was a shame that such a bright person was such a recluse. The only people he knew in the city were shopkeepers and customers.

         As the attic door creaked open once more, an idea came to Mrs. Bluth. The artificer descended the old staircase, each step groaning, a package tucked under one arm. He had soot smudged across his left cheekbone, and his hair was disheveled. He had a pair of goggles pushed up on top of his head, one of the lenses cracked.

         "Making a delivery, Mr. Arkwright?" Mrs. Bluth asked as he passed by her.

         The artificer nodded, fiddling with a piece of string tied around the package. "Yes, for the tailor. It's a device that threads needles for you," the artificer explained, checking his pockets for something.

         "Oh, what a wonderful machine! I'm sure he'll get plenty of use from it."

         The artificer smiled at her. "Hopefully. His daughter ordered it for him since his eyes weren't what they used to be. He's too proud to admit that, though." He continued to rummage through his pockets, his eyebrows furrowing.

         "How sweet of her. I've been meaning to ask," Mrs. Bluth began, setting aside her mixing bowl, "have you made acquaintances with anyone since you came to the city?"

         The artificer paused in his search, thinking. "Well, I know the shopkeepers."

         "Besides them."

         "My customers?" he offered.

         Mrs. Bluth shook her head. "No, no. I mean people like you. Inventors, tinkerers. Have you met anyone like that?"

         "Oh. No, I haven't."

         "I thought not. Well, I don't know any personally, but I know someone who does. I think the two of you would get along splendidly."

         "Oh, um...I appreciate the offer, but I have to test—"

         "Mr. Arkwright, I'm sure that you can take a break for just one day. There's a convention in the scholar's district this afternoon. My friend should be there. I'll take you to it."

         "Well, I, uh, I'm...thank you, er, Mrs. Bluth. And please, call me Mather."

         Mrs. Bluth nodded, smiling. "You're welcome, dear. Go make your delivery. Breakfast will be waiting for you when you return. And don't forget to water your plant that I gave you!" She had given him a small succulent, just something to liven up his room.

         The artificer made a gesture of thanks and left, walking at his quick, anxious pace. Mrs. Bluth smiled to herself, prideful of this small victory. She would turn him into a social butterfly yet. She hummed and added ingredients to her bowl, the spoon never ceasing its stirring.

• • •

         Mather quickly made his way to the craftsman's district. It was always a rather lively place, a bustling rainbow of movement. Vendors were selling textiles, baskets, pottery, even weapons. Above the din of the market, the steady strike of the blacksmith's hammer could be heard, keeping time for all the chaos.

         He pushed through the market, holding tightly onto his package. A vendor thrust a terrified chicken at him, its panicked squawks sounding eerily human. Mather jumped back, knocking into a basket display. He muttered apologies as the stall owners shouted at him and shot a quick "no thank you" in the general direction of the vendor with the chicken. The vendor shrugged and shoved the poor bird at another potential customer.

         Mather pressed on, following the steady rhythm of the blacksmith. The market opened into a circular area known as Craftsman Circle. It was lined with stores and workshops, all of their doors facing the center. Mather entered the circle, the din of the market falling away. He let out a breath he hadn't realized he had been holding in, taking a moment to compose himself. He saw a man pulling a small wagon towards the clockmaker's workshop, filled with wood and gears and springs. He quickly checked his pockets and, satisfied that all of his belongings were in place, made his way to the tailor's.

         A bell jingled as he opened the door of the tailor's shop. Reams of fabric lined the walls, half finished garments on dress forms in front of tri-fold mirrors, pincushions scattered about like sea urchins on the ocean floor.

         The tailor was an impossibly old man whose gnarled fingers could still make some of the finest garments north of the Hyrst Forest. Like most beings, he had grown exceedingly stubborn over the years, refusing to believe that his age was changing him. He insisted that his eyes were just as good, maybe even better, that the blacksmith was making the eyes of his needles smaller.

         "Who is it?" a gravelly, curious voice called out. "Do you have an appointment?"

         Mather shifted his feet nervously. He was unsure as to to how receptive the tailor would be to his daughter's order. "Uh, no, sir, I have a delivery," he responded cautiously, approaching the front counter warily.

         "A delivery?" the voice asked. It was coming from the back, somewhere behind the reams of fabric. The tailor came shuffling out from behind a curtain. He moved surprisingly fast, his hunched frame lurching severely with each step. "I don't remember ordering any—"

         "Oh, how wonderful, it's ready!" a second voice exclaimed. The tailor's daughter came rushing out after her father. "I ordered a little something for you, just a small device to assist you with your work."

         The tailor threw up his arms, turning to face his daughter. "What device? I don't need any device! You think I'm so old and feeble—get that off the counter, I don't need that!" the tailor raged, pushing the box from the counter with a surprising amount of force.

         "I'll take it from here, thank you, Mr. Arkwright!" his daughter cut in, snatching the box up and tossing Mather a coin purse. The tailor continued to grumble as he left the shop quietly.

         As he walked back to Mrs. Bluth's, he thought about what she had said. He really didn't know anyone aside from shopkeepers and customers. He had been so absorbed in his work since moving to the city that he hadn't taken time to go out and meet people. Not just people like him, but any people at all. The only conversations he had aside from exchanging daily pleasantries with Mrs. Bluth were business transactions.

         Something glimmered on the ground, pulling him out of his thoughts. He stooped down to find a tiny gear with one bent tooth. It must have fallen from the clockmaker's delivery of supplies. He looked around and saw that the square was empty. Even the shops seemed to be less lively than usual. He pocketed the gear and continued on his way home, an idea for a new device forming in his mind as he walked on.
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