There is, in the woods, a shop.
They say the shop owner is a witch, and that she sells magic at high prices – wishes for your heart, or your dreams, or your memory. They say to not trust her, to leave the shop and do not look back until you are in the trees again.
They say the shop owner is a young man, charming with a silver tongue and feyfire in his eyes. They say that his words coax out your sense, make you agree and that he buys your soul and promises and bottle them up, to sell to others who can pay the prices he set. They say you should not turn your back on him, but thank him and lie with your eyes while your tongue says bare truths.
They say the shop owner is a robed figure, hooded and cloaked in shadow with a voice that is everything and nothing. They say that if you look away, he will be in a different place the next time you look, and that what he sells is too dear to ignore. They say he shimmers like a mirage, and that he keeps a scythe in the back of the shop – if you pay what he asks for, he can cut all bonds.
They say there are three shops – no, three thousand, the forest dotted with pavilions and arcane tents and odd-angled houses of stone. They say that they move – that you find your way with need, that you can leave but there is a price for that as well. They say –
Every shop sells you what you want, but only some sell what you need.
That if there are musical instruments, do not play them, because the harp has the strings of siren hair and the flute is carved from dragon horn.
That those who buy are watched carefully, but those that buy from the hooded one are not watched at all, and those that walk away more carefully than any.
That you can find your way to all but one many times if you leave; they know there are many chances in your life for dreams, for wishes, for change.
You can only find your way to the hooded one once.
There are not three shops, nor three thousand – there is one, and you see what you want to see every time you go to it.
You cannot kill the shop owners, but some have tried, all fiery chargers and banners flying and pride in ridding the world of witches preying on the weak. They do not return, and the shops dwindle shortly after, and return in the winter when no one is looking.
They say that it does not matter what they say, because they know the look in your eyes, that you will find your own path through the woods.
They say to find what you need, not what you want.
They say to be careful.