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The Aspiring Hero

There it was! 
A faded sign hung from rusted chains, softly creaking as it swayed in the wind. The Seeker’s Respite.

Finding it had been a year long endeavor. He had traveled the land, chasing whispers and rumors. He had hung out in shady drinking establishments until his many questions made the patrons uneasy and he was thrown out, often with a black eye or a fat lip. He had traded favors and coin for snippets of information, more than once falling victim to con men and swindlers.

Finally, after all his searching, after all his work, he found himself standing in front of this small building. Hidden in a dark alley of an unassuming little town, this shop held the promise of everything he had ever wanted. Power. Fame. Glory. Giddy with excitement, Gavril held his breath and pushed the door open.

The interior was gloomy. Dust danced in the rays of the late afternoon sun that fell in through the windows. The air was heavy with mixture of smells; wood, oil, leather and old paper layered over the unpleasant sharp scent of chemicals he couldn’t place. A little bell tinkled as the door fell shut behind him.

The room was larger than it looked from the outside, but the space was cramped, packed with display cases and shelves filled with wares. There were weapons of all shapes and sizes, some glinting as they caught the sun, some seemingly with an inner glow that hinted at enchantments. Some were so black they seemed to consume light.

There were wands and staffs made of all colors of wood. With intricate carvings. With metal inlays and gems mounted on them. With handles wound tightly with rope or cloth. Some decorated with elements from nature like feathers or shells. A few looked rough and crooked, nothing more than a branch chopped off some tree and stripped of leaves, but these somehow managed to look even more intimidating and impressive than the pretty ones. Gavril was certain he saw a couple that were crafted from bone.

There were bottles with yellowing labels, their odd, multicolored liquids slowly swirling. There was old jewelry; rings and amulets with precious stones that hurt his head when he stared at them for too long. There were all manners of trinkets, each more intriguing and fascinating than the last. One whole wall was taken up by a vast collection of books, bound in heavy leather, their titles in different ancient languages Gavril couldn’t read.

As he wandered through the shop in wide eyed wonder, Gavril could practically feel his gold trying to burn its way out of his pocket. His entire life’s savings. He was sure he would end up spending every last coin here. But it would be worth it! He could make more money. He might never find The Seeker’s Respite again. Such was the nature of the shop.

An old woman hobbled her way behind the counter. Her wispy white hair was tied up in a sloppy bun. A large black bird — crow? raven? — sat perched on her left shoulder. The rest of her form was wrapped in layers of shapeless dark gray clothing. The word “hag” immediately sprang to mind.

“The aspiring hero approaches,” she croaked and smiled a warm, good humored smile that was just a little off-putting. “Welcome to my humble shop young master. I have many items for sale. Or, perhaps, trade?”

As Gavril stepped closer he realized he had judged the woman unfairly. Some of the deep set wrinkles on her face, upon closer inspection, were old scars of the type a fighter might collected over a lifetime of battle. The hobbling gait, which he first thought to be frailty, now appeared to be the result of a body broken and healed many times over. Her piercing blue eyes were as sharp as he imagined her blade had once been.

This woman was everything he might hope to achieve some day; a brave warrior who survived to live out her days in wealth and comfort. A guide and mentor to those who proved themselves worthy of finding her. Cavril gently took her hand and clasped it in both of his own.

“Greetings, grandmother,” he said with real affection, “I hope I find you well.”

The woman sighed and nodded. “Well enough, sonny, well enough.” She pulled her hand out of his grasp and gently patted his cheek. Her bird squawked at him. “Now, what can I do for a strapping young man like yourself?”

“I wish…” Gavril lost his train of thought as his eye fell on a set of the most beautiful plate armor he had ever seen. It hung on the wall behind the counter gleaming in the light of the setting sun. “What is that?” he asked breathlessly.

“What is what?” the woman turned to follow his gaze. She turned back to study him through squinting eyes. “You can see that, huh?” She tapped her fingers on the surface of the counter, as if deep in thought. “Not many people can. There must be something special about you.”

The woman carefully took the armor off the wall. “This is the most powerful item in existence,” she said as she placed it on the counter between them. “More powerful than any magic.”

“Is it blessed?” Gavril whispered in awe, “Or maybe cursed?”

“Yes, both of those. This is plot armor.”

Gavril face fell. “What?” he said flatly.

“It’s true, young one. Touch it. Feel it’s power.”

Gavril reached out his hand to humor the old woman. He did not expect anything to happen. But amazingly, when his fingertips grazed the armor it felt vibrant and alive with the power of a thousand stories. Startled, he looked up at the shopkeeper who nodded at him with a knowing look.

“It’s forged in the fires of imagination from the finest Narratium. The owner of this armor will always defy the odds, slay the beast, rescue the damsel in distress — or bachelor in distress, if that’s where their preference lay — and ride off in the sunset, victorious. Nothing can touch them.”

She reached under the counter and pulled out a tome. She put it next to the armor with a heavy thud. The Book Of Untold Adventures was printed on the cover in elegant gold lettering “It comes with this special book. It’s…a journal of sorts.”

“Is it real? Or some kind of trick?”

“Oh, it’s very real. You want to be a hero? This armor is your golden ticket. But,” she grabbed his hand. Gavril tore his eyes away from the shining metal and met the old woman’s intense gaze. “I must warn you. It comes with a heavy burden and no small amount of hardship.”

Gavril’s eyes returned to the armor before him. “But I’ll be a hero. I will be the hero.”

“Yes, you will be the hero.”

“I want it.”

“Then it’s yours.”

He glanced up, a dreamy look on his face. “How much?”

The old woman shook her head. “All you need to do, is write your name in the journal.”

“Like a contract?”

“Exactly.” She handed him a quill.

With slightly trembling hands Gavril took the quill from her and opened the cover of the book. There he saw…nothing. Curious, he flipped through it. Still nothing. Blank page after blank page passed through his fingers.

“It’s empty.”

The old woman chuckled. “Of course. Once you’ve written your name, this will be your story. And you have not started your adventure yet.”

He flipped the pages back to the beginning. With a deep breath, he started writing his name on the very first page. His hand was not as steady as he would have liked and the letters came out in a way that would have made his tutors groan in despair. But once on the page, each letter shone with a soft blue light. When he completed his name, there was a bright flash. Someone not blinded by it — say, an observer with dark googles. Or perhaps an alert narrator — might have caught a glimpse of Gavril’s form stretched and twisted, being sucked into the pages of the book. When the flash was gone, so were Gavril and the armor. All that remained were a pile of clothing and a pair of shoes where he once stood.

The old woman shuffled to the front of the counter, picked up the clothing and shook them out. She sniffed contemptuously at the amount of gold she uncovered but put the coins in the till anyway. Then she picked up the book and made her way through a small door half hidden behind some shelves.

In the cozy kitchen, the old woman placed the book on her table, got herself a big steaming mug of herbal tea and sat down to read. The cover now said The Untold Adventures Of Gavril The Brave. Her bird squawked as she opened the book.

“I know, sweetie. I am excited for this one, too.”

The pages slowly filled up with words.