Now, Nicky Reynolds was just your average city rat. He did have a few special qualities, though: unerring common sense, stubbornness only equaled by an enraged cave troll, and a sense for magic that saved his life approximately sixteen times, even before he was kicked out of the orphanage.
His common sense prompted him to tell his trade-titan father that he should move all his investments out of sugar before war broke out in the Canelzke Islands. When his father didn’t listen, Nicky’s stubbornness took him to his mother, who moved all her shares out of sugar. And when he sensed magic outside his father’s window one rainy day in April, he took his mother and ran before the assassins sent to kill his father got them too.
That was when his mother sat him down and explained her plans. She’d start up an inn in the middle of the city with some of her money and Nicky would go to an orphanage.
But why? Nicky asked.
Because, Nicky, back when I was Polly Wharf-rat and not Patricia Reynolds, I learned how to be tough and relentless. Now, you can already be relentless. But you can’t be tough. So go learn how to be tough.
Nicky did learn to be tough. It helped him in the orphanage, where a quarter of the kids had magic and swanned around like they owned the world, the work was hard, boring and endless, and the kids sleeping next to him were an ifrit who breathed fire when she snored and an unendingly hyperactive pixie. Toughness also helped him wage prank war against the magical kids who ran the place, with the covert assistance of Connor, a mischievous selkie who helped him fill the sirens’ beds with seaweed in return for his shower time. By the time he was kicked out, he ran the place. And Nicky found that not only did he like being tough, he knew how to handle people. If a werewolf needed to find a silver-free place to transform, he could do that. But if they only wanted to talk about their problems, he could do that too.
When Nicky staged his “accident” after three years in the orphanage, a lot of people were surprised. The ifrit Nita, who had claimed the position of Nicky Reynolds’ Trusted Lieutenant, took over with only a little fuss, while Connor and the sirens had a few more questions about how to keep the inspector off their backs. The orphanage director was not a factor in Nicky’s equation, as he’d sent her off on an archaeological expedition to Old Sehherika.
But Nicky, with a suspiciously “broken” leg and a lot of new friends – but he’d never call them that, they were allies, stop looking at me like that, Mother – went to the three-year-old Fire and Shadow Inn. And that’s when Nicky sprung his bombshell – he wanted to hire Connor and Nita from the orphanage.
Oh, Nicky, his mother said exasperatedly while she dumped out the dishwater. I’ve already hired them.
So Connor, with his magical good looks and charming wit, ran the bar, while Nita waited tables and doubled as the bouncer, and Nicky added up the finances. His mother did the cooking. When the nixie twins showed up and wanted jobs, Nicky put them on table-waiting/bouncing duty and moved Nita to the kitchen where she whipped up tasty, sinus-clearing spicy food.
Eventually, some of the other orphanage kids showed up – werewolves (bouncers), vampires (wait staff), ogres (cooks, actually). They were never turned away.
One day, due to the largely magical staff, the clientele of the Fire and Shadow started to become more magical too, with hags with platters of raw liver, fairies playing politics, and itches discussing the latest fireproofed cloaks. Nicky’s mother knew they’d made it when the High Warlock and his friends in the magical city guard began showing up every week, and retired, leaving Nicky the inn.
The Fire and Shadow, Nicky’s baby and the magical community’s crown jewel of clandestine information, would also become the starting point of the Dragon Rebellion.
Well, I’ll tell you that one tomorrow night.