Lexy drifted between the tables of detritus, [[loupe]] held against her right eye. Yard sales — or, as the sign directing passersby to this particular event had put it, "yard sard" — were such a curious thing. Here lay the last few decades of a complete stranger's life, splattered across the lawn for all the world to see.
Perhaps not every detail was here, but the fragments on display were more than enough to tell a story. An old golf trophy, a complete archive of some coin collectors' magazine, a foxbat harness. The things we're most eager to get rid of are, in a way, the things most personal to us.
None of this related to her [[true purpose]], but it passed the time while she looked around.
A loupe is a jeweler's lens. This particular loupe was enchanted to identify the effects of artifacts. It was a rare and expensive gizmo that Lexy had acquired when— well, that's a different story entirely.
The loupe wasn't turning up anything. Not too surprising, really; of all the yard sales Lexy visited, maybe one in ten turned up an artifact.
Artifacts, as everyone knows, are everyday objects imbued with some magical effect through the influence of a person and their story. The word conjures images of ancient marvels with incredible power, but few realize that the world is full of a great many more humble artifacts. Everyone has stories. Over time, under the right circumstances, and with a little luck, those stories can imprint themselves on treasured items.
Most such everyday artifacts lie dormant in drawers and on shelves, their owners unaware that a favored paperweight now works in any direction, or a "broken" compass is actually pointing towards their soulmate. And so Lexy made a habit of visiting every yard sale she could find, hoping to find an old knick-knack with a memory quietly floating around in it. She'd then buy it for next to nothing, leaving the seller happy to have gotten rid of what they thought was [[junk]]. Win–win.
Junk, junk, junk. The last box on the last table, and it was full of junk. All of this was junk.
She turned to leave, but something caught her eye. A single speck of light. It was completely by chance — if she'd taken the loupe from her eye a moment earlier, she would've missed it entirely.
The owner of the house, a tall and broad-chested flowercat, had just walked by. She wore a sort of half-vest, half-jacket garment that Lexy couldn't put a name to. Dangling from the pocket was a loop of fine golden [[chain]].
The loupe revealed the effects of artifacts as patterns of light surrounding them. Supposedly, it was possible to deduce the effect by reading the light patterns, but Lexy had never found either a person or a book who could explain how to do it. She'd figured out what she could herself, but the relationships were so complex that the best she could do was general rules like "more intricate patterns are more interesting".
The pattern on the chain was one of the most intricate she'd ever seen. Most patterns were sparkles, dots, crackles, glows. Dancing along this particular chain, Lexy caught a glance of tiny //roses//. Roses made of pure light, dancing leisurely around the length of the chain in a loose spiral.
And this was only the //chain//! The [[pocketwatch]] itself could only be more impressive. Whatever this was, whatever it //did//, Lexy had to have it. Had to know its story.
But this could be a very personal item, so she had to [[proceed]] carefully.
Of course it was a pocketwatch. She was the child of a merchant family from a merchant town steeped in merchant culture; she knew a pocketwatch chain when she saw one.
Plus, you know, there are only so many things that people keep on fine gold chains in their pockets.
"Oh, is that a pocketwatch?" she asked, extremely coolly and casually and with her arms nonchalantly crossed behind her back. She fidgeted with the loupe, out of sight.
"Hm? Oh, this?" The proprietress fished the watch out of her pocket and held it in a guarded hand, as though she'd taken it out just to look at it herself. "Why yes, why do you ask?"
Lexy's mouth opened, and her brain scrambled to feed it some words. "Oh, I.....'m very interested in pocketwatches. I collect them, in fact." Dammit. She didn't. She //appreciated// pocketwatches, but she didn't know too much about them. This one was clearly — probably? — new, so it was surely not a hand-me-down. Had this flowercat bought it for herself, in this day and age? Interesting.
The flowercat beamed down at her. "That's an odd hobby for someone your age, isn't it?"
Lexy returned a pained grin. She was a //little// short for a fox, so this was not an uncommon mistake. Well, might as well take advantage of it.
"Well, my... mommy's a clockmaker, so I get to see a lot of them." God, she was so bad at lying. She fought the urge to dive into the bushes and disappear forever, before a bystander could call her on her bullshit and demand some obscure piece of clock trivia. "Can I see it?" She gave her best curious little kid eyes.
The flowercat hesitated; she thumbed the watch as she mulled this over. The feeling of the chain seemed to sway her — the watch //was// attached to her, after all. "Well, sure, honey, why not."
She held out [[the watch]].
Lexy snuck the loupe back into her satchel while the flowercat's eyes were on the watch, then gingerly picked it up.
The engraving was simple: concentric circles. The maker's name was printed in tiny letters on the back, but she didn't recognize it.
She pressed the button. The lid sprung smoothly open. Inside was a fairly standard clock face. It was four minutes and forty-seven seconds fast.
The watch had no engraving in the lid, no signs of being a very special gift, no identifying marks at all. It was just a watch.
"Umm. Where'd you get it?" Wow, great, not suspicious at all. "I've just never seen one like this," she amended, lamely.
"Oh, goodness, I don't remember." The flowercat rubbed her chin. "I was out in Red Point somewhere and bought it on a whim."
Hardly a deep personal connection. Good! That would make this much easier. Or, at least, possible.
Lexy knew she would only have one shot at this, so she chose her next words [[extremely carefully]].
"Can I have it?"
Shit. No. Undo. No, the words were already out of her mouth. Shit. Maybe she could bite them out of the air? No, probably not.
The flowercat laughed. "No, no, honey, only the things on the tables are for sale. This is just for me." She took the watch back and snapped the lid closed.
Disaster averted, but this was still shaky ground. Lexy considered her options.
She could [[try to buy the watch]], but she'd only brought so much cash with her.
She could [[call in reinforcements]], but he'd probably want to keep the watch for himself.
And, of course, she could just [[steal it]]?
She could definitely afford to make this person willing to part with their watch. A thousand, two thousand mewbles? Surely far more than it was worth, and not so much that she'd miss it. And yet...
What if... she needed that money later? For something? Some kind of emergency that required exactly as much money as she had right at that moment?
Better not chance it.
"Oh, okay. Well, I guess I'll go home now." Lexy flashed an awkward smile, spun on her toes, and ejected herself from the yard and conversation as swiftly as she could manage.
"Lop...? Lop! Where the hell did you go?"
A long-eared head, half-hidden in fur and with its mouth full of grass, poked up from behind a hedge two houses down. Lop, her loyal [[steed]], trotted over and gave Lexy a delighted lick on the cheek.
"Auugh. Eww." She wiped drool half-chewed grass off her face and wiped it on her flank. "C'mon, boy, we've gotta jet. I'm pretty sure I made her a bit a lot suspicious."
Lop nodded, Lexy climbed on his back, and together they trotted off down the road.
Once they were out of earshot, Lexy withdrew her [[compact]] from her satchel.
What a remarkably bad idea. The watch was, after all, //chained// to its current owner.
Lexy sighed, pointedly, to no one. She dialed Toyle.
His dumb smug face filled the display. "Hey hey! How's my favorite fox? Looking to unload?" He winked, as though he'd said something clever.
"Hey, no. Can you get your dumb smug face down here and convince this lady to sell her pocketwatch to me?"
"Would it be an artifact pocketwatch, by any chance?"
"Ha! You're a terrible liar."
Lexy scowled. "I know! That's what I need you for!"
"Calling in the professionals for once, eh? Good move. Any idea what it does?"
"Not a damn clue. Doesn't seem to have any special significance, doesn't look weird, doesn't open a portal to Hellside when you open it. It's not even a particularly nice watch."
Toyle rubbed his mask's chin. "Interesting. You're in Blue Point, right? Text me the address, I can be there in [[ten]]."
"Steed" was a strong word. Lop was more of a close pet who happened to be big enough to ride.
"All right, who's the mark?"
Lexy wrinkled her nose. "Dude. Don't call her a //mark//. We're not //robbing// her."
Toyle nodded sagely. "Right. We're //conning// her. Actually, //I'm// conning her, because you fucked it up."
"Look, you— oh, fuck off. She's the yard sale around the block."
"Right. What's the setup so far?"
"Yeah, you know. What'd you tell her so far."
"Uhh." Lexy cleared her throat. "I may have said I collect pocketwatches. And my dad is a clockmaker. Or maybe my mom. I forget."
Toyle laughed. "Great! You're a natural. 'Hey, person with a diamond purse! I just so happen to be a purse collector. Please give me your purse even though I look like a toddler.'"
"Are you going to help me, or just be a huge dick?"
"No reason I can't do both! C'mon."
"What, me too?"
"Sure. You think she won't get suspicious if two people ask about her pocketwatch within half an hour? It's better to [[stick to the script]] you started."
Toyle strolled quite confidently across the now-familiar yard. Lexy scurried after him, feeling extremely conspicuous.
"Madamé! If I may have a moment of your time."
The flowercat greeted him with a welcoming smile and a slightly confused glance at Lexy. "Hi there, were you interested in something?"
"As a matter of fact, I am! My little girl" — at this, Lexy choked down bile — "tells me she's got her eye on a pocketwatch of yours?"
"Well, yes, but... like I told her, it's not for sale."
"And I wouldn't think to ask to buy! But what I //can// do is propose a trade." Without waiting for an answer, he produced an absolutely beautiful pocketwatch. The lid featured an engraving of the entire continent in impressive detail, with every major city marked by a small embedded gemstone of a different color. He clicked it open to show off the interior, which had a smaller sub-face showing the position of the sun in the sky — and, Lexy noted with some surprise, was set to exactly the right time.
"Oh, my goodness! You want to trade //that// for my watch? It must be worth a fortune! I couldn't possibly—"
Toyle beamed. "Nothing's too good for my little angel."
Lexy resisted the urge to vomit. On Toyle. Just snatch his mask, puke in it, and rub it back in his smarmy face. Yeah, that'd do it.
The poor flowercat looked from one of them to the other, bewildered. "Well... if it means that much to you, I suppose I can trade! I'm not all that attached to it." She unhooked the chain from her vest, and she and Toyle exchanged watches.
"A thousand thanks, madamé," Toyle said with a half-bow. "And now if you'll excuse us, we have to be off! //Time// flies, you know." He winked, smoothly twirled around, and marched off.
Lexy shrugged helplessly and [[ran after him]].
As soon as they turned the corner, Toyle tossed the watch over his shoulder. "And that's how it's done."
"HEY! Watch it!" Lexy snatched the watch out of the air. "This thing's valuable!"
"//Is// it? Was this worth my time?" He paused. "//Time//?"
"Yes, dumbass, I caught your brilliant joke." Lexy retrieved her loupe and examined the watch through it. The pattern it radiated was, indeed, fantastically beautiful — the watch itself was cupped in a bed of translucent rose petals. She wished she could touch them, but they only existed within the view of the lens.
Toyle leaned over the watch. "And? Any idea what it does?"
"Well, there are a lot of pretty lights and colors." Lexy clicked the watch open. "But otherwise, all I can tell you is that this watch is fast."
"Is it? What time is it?"
Toyle squinted at the watch. "Looks right to me."
"What? No. See, the minute hand—"
"I've seen a clock before. That says 2:47."
Lexy looked at the watch again.
"[[Oh, no->oh no]]."
"Oh no what?"
"Nevermind. Thanks for your help. Gotta go. Lop! C'mere!"
"Hey, what? I came all the way down here just to help you. You've gotta give me something better than that. Do you know how much I paid for that watch I gave her?"
Lop meandered out from behind someone's house, and Lexy hopped onto his back — then rolled her eyes where Toyle could see it. "You came down here to show off. And for a counterfeit? Not much."
Toyle cracked a grin. "How'd you know?"
"I didn't, but why would you give away a real valuable watch? Anyway, don't worry. You're not missing out on anything."
"So you know what it does, then? Come on, tell me."
"Isn't it obvious? I see the consistently wrong time. You don't."
Toyle was naturally oblivious to illusions, as Lexy was well aware. The simple explanation was usually correct, and this explanation was very simple.
It finally clicked for Toyle, and he laughed out loud. "Are you telling me you were desperate to get your hands on a watch that just //tells the wrong time//? You, miss perfect timepiece?"
"Yeah, well, it'll make the perfect ironic crowning jewel for my pile of crap artifacts. Seeya." She and Lop turned and trotted away.
Toyle winked after them. "You're welcome."