Merlinus' Most Excellent Adventure

Chapter 1: Unwanted Visitors

Merlinus looked up from his work as the door opened.

Merlinus was a rather large man, not fat per se, but he definitely knew how to enjoy the finer things in life. His long blue hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Here and there strands of grey were beginning to pop up, about which Merlinus was in a constant state of denial. His moustache, like much of Merlinus, was kept trim and proper.

His store was so cluttered with junk- antiques, as he called it- that he couldn't see the person who had just entered.

"'Allo?" came a voice from the front of the store.

Merlinus sighed.

"Back here," he called out.

Emerging from between the dusty, overstuffed shelves was a scruffy young man. He looked about himself with a glint of mischief in his eyes.

"I'll thank you to keep your sweaty hands in your pockets, thank you very much."

The young man chuckled.

"If that's the way you want it guv'. Course, then I couldn't give you this package wiv' your name on it."

Merlinus leaned forward, his curiosity peaked.

"Your name's Merlinus right? Wouldn't want to give it to the wrong bloke, y'know."

"Yes, yes that's me. It said so on the sign outside," said Merlinus impatiently.

"Here y'go," he said, setting the package down on the glass counter. "Now the fellow that asked me to deliver this said you'd pay me once I got here."

"What? Pay you? Who's it from?"

"Well, alls he said was that he was an old friend, no more."

"Then what did he look like?" pressed Merlinus, starting to get annoyed. He didn't like the prospect of having to pay this street urchin.

"He said I shouldn't answer too many questions 'bout him, else he'd track me down an' slit me throat," he drew his finger along his neck to illustrate. "An' he looks like the kinda bloke what would do it too."

Merlinus muttered under his breath as he reached into his pocket. He dropped a few coins on the counter and stared at the young man expectantly.

He gave Merlinus a playful wink before picking up the money.

"Thanks a bunch guv'. See you around," he said as he walked away.

"I should hope not," said Merlinus to himself, but not before he heard the door close behind the delivery boy.

"Who was that?" came a voice from inside the store's back room. A younger looking man emerged from within the store. Much like his employer, he dressed very neatly and more a pair of small spectacles over his nose. His hair was a bright orange.

"Oh Alex, there you are," replied Merlinus, looking up from the package. Alex was Merlinus' apprentice. He could be a little gung ho at times, perhaps, but deep down Merlinus really liked the fellow. "We've just received a package from an anonymous sender."

"Really?" said Alex peering at the nondescript brown parcel. "What's in it then?"

"Haven't a clue," responded Merlinus, not taking his eyes off the package.

"Well... perhaps we should open then?" asked Alex, a little confused.

Merlinus gave his young protege a sharp glance.

"Well, yes, I suppose we should," said an annoyed Merlinus, peeved at his apprentice's impatience. "You know Alex, patience is a virtue."

Merlinus picked up the package and headed for the back.

"Come Alex, we'll examine this in my office."

Office was too kind a word to describe Merlinus' work area. It was as cluttered as the rest of the store, if not more so. He sat down in a large overstuffed chair behind the desk and swept a large pile of paper on to the floor to make room. Alex stood in front of the desk, brimming with anticipation.

Merlinus pulled out a sharp little dagger- a memento from his adventuring days- and cut the string that bound it together. He carefully unwrapped the paper, displaying its contents for both to see.

"Wow," breathed Alex, speaking first.

Merlinus nodded slowly. Inside the brown paper was a large key. But it was not your average, everyday key. It was made of what appeared to be solid gold, and encrusted with half a dozen blood red rubies. It was crafted in the shape of a dragon; its teeth doubling as the key's teeth.

"Incredible... absolutely incredible," whispered Merlinus.

"So what do you think?" asked Alex, eyes locked on the key. "It looks like it dates back at least eleven hundred years. The style is-"

"Definitely pre-Scouring, for sure," said Merlinus excitedly. "This is amazing!"

They were snapped out of their collective trance by the sound of the front door opening.

"Oh, by St. Elimine's light!" cursed Merlinus. "Alex, go take care of whoever it is. Tell them we're closed or something."

Alex hurried out, leaving Merlinus alone with the key.

Merlinus glanced at the paper and noticed for the first time that there was writing on it. He grabbed it, and started poring over the note.

Dear Merlinus

As you have no doubt noticed, I have entrusted you with a very valuable item. I hesitated to send you this, as I did not want to drag you into something that you have no business being in, but I could think of no other place to send it. And I knew you of all people would appreciate the artefact in front of you.

I will be with you presently to retrieve the key, once things have quieted down. Take good care of it. And Merlinus, whatever you do, do not sell that key!

Yours truly

An old friend

Merlinus looked up from the letter, a puzzled look on his face. Who could have sent him that key? An old friend? That could be anybody. He thought back to his travels with Lord Hector and Eliwood. There had been many unsavoury characters in that mixed bag of mercenaries, that was for sure. Anyone of them could have sent him the key. Perhaps it was indeed Lord Hector or Eliwood, calling him back into duty. But no, what use would they have for an ageing merchant? Surely they would have much more capable people at their disposal. So, if not them, then who? What if…? No! It couldn't be, surely not her…

"Er, Merlinus? We have a little problem," said Alex, snapping Merlinus out of his thoughts.

"Wha-What? Problem? What kind of problem?"

"The customers, they're asking about, about the key!" he blurted out.

"What? That's impossible," said a suddenly flustered Merlinus. How could anybody know about the key already?

"They look pretty serious too."

"I see," said Merlinus, steeling his nerves as he stood up. "The note said that we can't sell that key, it's as simple as that. I'll just have to tell them to look somewhere else."

"Note? What note?"

"The note on the back of the wrapping, that note! Pay attention," snapped Merlinus.

Merlinus took the key and placed it in the drawer of a large, antique ebony dresser for safe keeping...

"Come Alex, we have some miscreants to dispose with." Merlinus puffed out his chest and strode out into the store brimming with confidence.

But the sight of the two prospective customers quickly drained the confidence from Merlinus, and he had half a nerve to run back into his office, get the key, and hand it over without a fight.

But no! Someone had entrusted him, Merlinus, with a task, and there was no way he was going to let that person down, whoever it was.

The two of them were standing in front of the counter, looking around the cluttered store with bored looks. They both wore dark purple robes, with the hoods thrown back to reveal their pasty faces. The first was shorter, and his long black hair was tied in a ponytail. The second was massive-the heavy, thought Merlinus to himself-and his bald head gleamed dully in the dim store.

"Er, gentlemen, how can I be of service to you?" asked Merlinus, putting on his best smarmy salesman face.

The smaller of the two looked over Merlinus disdainfully, and Merlinus had to hold back a gasp. Their eyes! They were gold. But where had he seen that before? Merlinus wracked his brain trying to pull back the memory, but to no avail.

"Are you the, ahem, proprietor of this store? Good. Perhaps you will be of more assistance than that dim-witted fool that you employ."

"I will certainly try sir," said Merlinus, restraining his anger.

"Listen carefully, old man. I am looking for a very important key, and I have been led to believe that you are in possession of it. It is shaped like a dragon."

"Aha, a key you say? You just might be in luck!" exclaimed Merlinus, thinking quickly. "One moment please."

He headed deeper into the store, looking for something. Alex followed hot on his heels.

"What are you doing? You can't give them that key!" demanded Alex in a hushed roar.

"Restrain yourself, please. I have no intention of giving those miscreants anything," whispered Merlinus, as he sorted through the shelves of dusty boxes.

"Aha!" he cried, emerging from the shelves carrying a small, dusty wooden box. He returned to his position behind the counter, and placed the box down in front of them.

He gave the two a wide smile.

"I trust this is what you were looking for?"

The smaller of the two grabbed the box, a rapacious grin crossing his small mouth. He pried the box top off, and his smile quickly faded.

"What is the meaning of this?" he snarled holding up a handful of dull brass keys. "Is this your idea of a joke, old man?" he spat. Merlinus gulped. He could see the anger in his eyes. Where they had been peaceful before, now they were filled with burning rage. But suddenly, the man blinked, and once more he was the calm and collected person he had been before.

"I know how you think," said the golden eyed man, and he pulled a large bag from within his cloak. He plopped the bag down, and Merlinus couldn't help but notice the very satisfying jingling sound that came from within. "50, 000 gold. Right there. It's yours, if you give me that key."

Merlinus stared wide-eyed at the bag in front of him. 50,000 gold… the number danced through his head. With that kind of money, he could close up shop, retire, and live the rest of his days in happiness. But no, a little part inside of him screamed. Merlinus didn't know what that key was for, but he knew it was way bigger than him, or his store.

"You- you don't mean the key that's shaped like a dragon, encrusted with rubies and the like do you?" asked Merlinus, thinking even faster.

Their eyes grew wide at the mention of the key.

"So you do have it!" exclaimed the first.

"Oh, how unfortunate you both are. I sold that very key, not two hours before!" said Merlinus, lying through his teeth.

The second man spoke up for the first time, his voice a deep rumble.

"I don't trust 'im for second. He's lying."

Merlinus felt his knees began to shake. He thanked the gods that the counter shielded his body's betrayal from sight.

"Look me in the eye shop keep, and listen close," said the first man, in a very threatening tone. "If I find that you are lying to me, I will return to this miserable rat hole that you call a store and rip your eyes from your head, and I will leave you to bleed to death over your worthless junk. Now tell me one more time old man, where is that key?"

Beads of sweat popped out onto Merlinus' wrinkled brow. He swallowed hard, and answered in a faltering voice.

"I-I sold it to another man, be-before you arrived," he managed to stutter.

"Pah, that don't mean a thing. I say slit 'is throat and be done with it," said the second one.

"No, not today. I don't think he's lying. This miserable old fool doesn't have enough spine to lie to us. Come Graven, we have a key to find." They turned to leave, and Merlinus was about to let out a sigh of relief, when the first one turned back one last time.

"One more thing, shop keep. The man you sold it to, did he wear red robes, and have long purple hair?"

Merlinus nodded his head furiously.

"Y-yes! That's him exactly!" he exclaimed, desperate to hear the door close behind them.

"Hah, just as I suspected. See Graven? It's true what they say: You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

The sound of the door closing was music to Merlinus' ears. He had thought they would never leave.

"You did it Merlinus! You got rid of those rogues. That was incredible! How did you do it?"

"Well," said Merlinus, "it was nothing really…"

"We won't be seeing them around for awhile, huh Merlinus?"

But Merlinus didn't hear him. He looked back towards the door to his office, where the key lay hidden, safe.

What had he got himself into this time?

So, what did you think? I'll admit, I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this. That is, I'm still not quite sure who sent Merlinus the key, who the two thugs are, or what the key even does. But ignore those small problems, I think it went pretty well. I'm sure I'll think of something. Feel free to make suggestions.