“Miyara, is everything okay?” Meristo calls into the back. “We have a full shop—I could use some backup.”
“Missing ingredient I need to whip up a batch for a customer’s order,” I explain.
“Told you they weren’t back there,” Lorwyn says smugly.
“And you could have told me when you last looked for them and didn’t find them,” I return. “Take a turn brewing up front while I search.”
Lorwyn scowls but doesn’t argue, which I take to mean she realizes she should have reported this too.
Meristo looks in. “What are you looking for, anyway?”
“Flickerwind petals,” I say. “They’re not where they’re supposed to be, and they’re not in any of the other places I might expect them to be misplaced. I checked the inventory twice.”
“Maybe the inventory is wrong,” he suggests.
I shake my head. “No. Off by one I might accept as human error, but not gone entirely. There should be three unopened bottles still, which means they have to be somewhere.”
“Sure,” he says. “Anywhere. Just tell the customer we can’t find it and suggest something else. That’s always worked for us before.”
“Before I wasn’t your manager. I will ask the customer if they’d like to wait, and I will handle the front with Lorwyn. You find the petals.”
“Oh, come on.” His voice doesn’t have its regular strain of amusement.
I frown over at him from the stacks suspiciously, belatedly realizing that while Meristo is an easygoing person, it’s not like him to write off concerns this way or try to discourage me.
Slowly I say, “You don’t by chance know where the entire collection of flickerwind petal bottles have moved to, do you, Meristo?”
He winces, then sighs. “Spirits take it. I really thought that would work.”
“Very nearly,” I say, amused despite myself. “So?”
He crosses his arms. “Look, you know sometimes the Cataclysm ingredients interact with each other?”
I nod. “Lorwyn adjusts their containments for that, and we set up the inventory layout taking that into account.”
“Yeah, well, a while back I dropped a crate down too hard on the ground near their shelf which caused everything to rattle. I look up, and the petals are whirling around in their bottles and the bottles themselves started to lift, and then—they were next to an ingredient with camouflage powers, right?”
“So you think the crash triggered a response buried in the petals—”
“—and that response caused a reaction with an ingredient that made them invisible, yeah. I think they’re hiding.” He winces again, as if he can’t believe he’s explaining to his manager that he lost a bottle of petals to undocumented magic—which, oddly, is more convincing than his last reasoning.
Or because he’s embarrassed about it.
“They are in here somewhere—anywhere—then; just invisible.” I tilt my head, realizing what conclusion he’s drawn. “Because they’re scared of you?”
He looks away. “Yeah.”
And he’d felt bad about scaring them, so he hadn’t reported it.
I dust my hands off. “Well. I’ll tell the customer flickerwind petals are no longer available, then.”
Meristo looks surprised briefly, then grateful, then winces again as if embarrassed for revealing unironic feelings. As if I don’t think better of him for it.
“I’ll handle the front on my own,” I say.
“It’s busy today—”
“I’ll manage,” I say gently. “Why don’t you and Lorwyn take the afternoon and see if you can come up with a way to reassure them?”
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