A proper green mage would balk at the idea of going into the desert to ply their trade, and in fact they had. Ana was not, and would never be, a proper green mage. She’d started with a mage of the highest regard in New York, one carefully chosen and courted by her parents. Six months he lasted, before sending her away. Her parents, not to be deterred, sent her to another mage, this one in Chicago, as though if they ripped her from her fine life she would behave. Her parents never did seem to understand her. Samantha had been her name, and she had lasted the longest, admirably putting up a fight against her chattiness and rule-breaking right up until she died of cholera. How does a mage die of something as common as cholera, the city wondered? Perhaps by being perpetually exhausted.
Ana had been ignoring her parents for years by this point, accepting their money but not their letters. Once Samantha had been burned on her pyre and all her affairs were in order, Ana had taken everything that was hers and continued west. Her last master in the art she met accidentally, in Beacon. Ana was looking to be officially approved without any more work, and Bert – fat, old, and perpetually miffed – wasn’t looking for an apprentice or any competition. The deal they struck was simple. Ana would be approved as a green mage, and then she would leave for any place that wasn’t Beacon. The whole affair lasted little more than an afternoon, and once Ana had her parchment notarized she got on the next train west.
It was assumed she’d keep going until she reached the Sunset Shore, and she thought about it. It was plenty green there, and just beginning to grow. She would have no issues finding some new little village in need of an apothecary, and if there was anything she actually missed of New York it was the ocean. Only, to get to the Sunset Shore you had to cross the Cursed Lands, and once Ana saw them she knew she would never leave.
She leaned against the bar of the saloon and drank it all in, knowing she looked like a northern tourist and caring not a dram. The saloon was new, all hastily-thrown-together planks nailed together in hard edges. The place was well filled, mostly with others on the same trading caravan she had hitched a ride in, only stopping for food and rest as they followed the river south and west. There were other, more permanent folk. Miners, from the look of it. Homesteaders, making a go. A few ladies in the brightest colors in the room made their rounds under the watchful eye of the old woman on the balcony. All of their hard lines creased with dust blown in from the desert. These were people Ana could live with.
The fellow with the apron wrapped around a hefty belly came down to her end of the bar in quick steps. She had already bought three glasses of his most expensive whiskey, and she could tell he was just itching to leave the bottle.
“Miss?” he asked, picking the bottle up from behind the bar.
Ana nodded, and while he filled her glass asked, “What’s your name?”
“Crocker, very good. My name is Ana, so you can stop calling me ‘miss.’ What’s the name of this town, anyway?”
Crocker smiled like he was telling a joke. “Moment’s Peace, miss…Ana. Miss Ana. Last one you’ll get crossing to the Sunset Shore.”
Ana smiled back at him. Moment’s Peace. Exactly the kind of name a town like should have.
“Is there an apothecary here?” she asked.
“No, Miss Ana,” Crocker said. “Nearest we got is Chester and Ethel Ames. They run the general store, and they get syrups and powders and what have you traded to them from mages up north. If you’re ill with something, you can check with them, I’ll show you where it is.”
But Ana was already waving a hand.
“My good Crocker, I am a mage. And I am thinking of setting up my shop right here in Moment’s Peace, especially now you tell me there is none.”
Crocker looked pleased, but not as pleased as Ana would have liked.
“It’ll be good to have an apothecary right here in town, Ma’am.”
“Crocker, knock it off. I told you, my name is Ana. I hate that ‘miss’ and ‘ma’am’ bunk.”
“Yes, alright, don’t have to come at my face like a viper. What kind of magic do you work in, if I might be bold to ask?”
Ana kept her face flat, although she was smiling inside. “Green magic.”
Crocker’s smile faltered, and he rubbed the back of his neck with a greasy hand, revealing the darkened stain under his pit.
“Forgive me if I’m mistaken, I don’t know much about magic but…isn’t that one a little hard to work in a place that’s not green? Wren’s Alley – that’s the next town downriver – they have a mage who works with bone, from what I hear. And there’s a traveler who comes through, works with song.”
Ana threw back her whiskey and motioned for Crocker to pour her another. “Yes, I suppose it will be hard. I will have to learn what I can from what little grows here and find a way to grow my own. But tell me, Crocker, is there anybody who has stationed themselves in this little cursed town who wasn’t ready for the challenge of it?”
“I reckon no,” Crocker said, and the way he shifted between his feet told her he was thinking about his own challenges and successes. “I reckon if there’s any place to try the impossible it’s here in Moment’s Peace.”
“Good, good! It’s settled. I’ll take a room, and begin looking for a place for my shop tomorrow. Oh, and Crocker? Leave the bottle.”