A smartly dressed old man enters the shop and waves me off when I attempt to seat him. “I just always like to look around and see what’s changed since the last time I was here,” he says, ambling around. “Never ceases to amaze me what Talmeri manages to make tea out of.”
It’s Lorwyn that makes the tea, but I don’t correct him. Talmeri is, after all, responsible for the ingredients she’s forced to make tea out of.
But the old man is not, in fact, content to wander around unattended, and he appears at my shoulder as I’m clearing a customer’s table.
“Say, what’s the tea with the strangest ingredient you have in right now?” He winks. “Looking to play a joke on an old friend.”
“Hmm,” I say, setting down the dishes in the bin and leading him over to the kiosk so we can study our options more closely.
“Nothing stands out?” he asks eagerly.
“It’s difficult to imagine what could win the distinction as the very strangest here,” I say, and he cackles.
“Give me your best shot,” he challenges.
“Well,” I say, “there’s the one with the sleekbeetle scales—”
“Nah, she won’t like bug tea.”
“The tea made from the bark of dreadstalk, which tried to attack us—”
“Well, that’s hardly unusual here, now is it?”
“Ah, you are a regular,” I say, and he laughs again. “How about the jellyrose lichen?”
“Now that sounds promising.” He grins. “What’s jellyrose?”
“A flower from the Cataclysm with petals like transparent pouches filled with a colorful rose-red fluid that looks vaguely like jam,” I explain. “If the petal cracks, it oozes out like chunky aloia nectar and attracts a unique kind of lichen—unique to the plant itself, not just to the Cataclysm. It has an odd mix of flavors with a subtle earthy hint combined with fruity notes that are infused into a green tea.”
“That’ll be just the thing then. You’re a delight. Brew me up one of those, grace?”
“I thought it was for a friend?”
“Oh, it is.” He smirks, and I begin to worry I’ve missed something.
Minutes later, the tea is ready, and that’s when Talmeri strides in.
And stops when she sees the old man. “Why, what a pleasant surprise!” she exclaims. “What are you doing here?”
“Heard you were in the neighborhood, thought I’d drop by,” he says, then winks at me. “Talmeri and I’ve been friends since childhood.”
“Friends is one word,” she says, but she rolls her eyes fondly. “Why don’t you come and visit in my office?”
“I’d be delighted,” he says. “But first, I got you something.”
And he passes her the tea.
She freezes. Talmeri knows what ingredients she orders for her poor unsuspecting customers—and since she’s in plain view of said customers, she can’t turn it away.
Grimly, she takes a sip, and her eyebrows shoot up. “My, that is a unique blend of flavors,” she says. “Lorwyn has outdone herself. Shall we?”
Talmeri ushers the old man, who cackles at me as he passes, into her office, then turns to me.
“Do I want to know what’s in this?” she asks.
I consider. “Probably not.”
Talmeri shudders. “Lorwyn is a genius and a monster.”
“I’m sure she’ll be glad to know you think so highly of her,” I say, deciding not to comment on whose fault it is a tea made with jellyrose lichen was caused to exist.
“Put it on sale in my honor as a special mystery tea of the day and tell absolutely no one what’s in it,” Talmeri says and, glaring at the tea cup her friend has saddled her with, stalks after him.
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