The layout looked good, but it could have looked better. Guh tried viewing his work from different angles, to see if a different perspective would leave him satisfied, but it was clear: the book he was compiling at his printer's press was lacking. It needed a certain something more if it was going to 'pop', if it was going to be able to attract readers.
Guh's shop had seen a steady rise in business lately, mostly from Aislinn's politically-minded, who all seemed to have differing opinions about the city's new mayor. Guh himself didn't care much for politics, or hold any serious political opinions of his own, but he sure appreciated all the new business that those who did had been bringing to his shop. Guh had spent his entire life at that book shop, working it as a child with his father before taking it over, and living in the small apartment upstairs. Book sales had been steadily declining for the past few years, but ever since he purchased a used printing press his doorbell had been ringing much more frequently. His press was one of only three in town, which made Guh a very popular person.
On this particular afternoon, though, there weren't any pamphlet or bill orders to be completed. Instead, Guh was working on the illustrations for a fantasy book his friend was just now in the process of editing. Of the eight color plates for the book, there was only this one that had given him any trouble, a scene depicting a night journey. Guh tried out all seven of the different blue inks he had on hand, but none of them seemed to work just right. He knew what would, though: it was andalore ink, a special blue pigment made from a flower that was poisonous if handled incorrectly. Due to the danger inherent in creating the ink, there was only one person in town who ever tried. Thankfully, she was one of Guh's oldest acquantainces. Guh made sure all of his inkpots were closed, fed his two orange cats, and then locked his shop and headed out to meet his friend the dye-maker.
Guh found her, old Dernia Blim, in the garden outside her modest house. She was, as always, covered in dirt and singing to no one in particular.
"Dernia! Hello, my love!" Guh called out.
Dernia popped her head up suspiciously and then smiled when she saw that it was Guh.
"Guh! Nice to see ya!" she said with a wave. Dernia's hands were always covered in splotches of color, and today she was bright pink and green.
"Nice to see you too, Dernia," Guh said, as he leaned casually against her fence. "Tell me, you wouldn't happen to have any andalore blue sitting around, would you?"
"Andalore, eh? Must be a real important project your working on."
"It's Hibby's book, he's almost finished it."
"Really? He's been talking about that thing for years! Can't believe he's almost done now."
"Me either. It's not bad, really. I'm kinda proud of old Hibby."
Dernia stood up and brushed some dirt and grass from her knees.
"I'll have to make up a new batch," she said. "Follow me!"
Guh followed her into her house, which was messy, as an artists usually is. There were piles of newspapers, unfinished and finished projects in every corner.
"Down to the laboratory!" Dernia said, and then gave a wicked little cackle.
Dernia's dye vat, a giant metal bowl streaked down the sides with all the colors of the rainbow, sat in the middle of her dank basement. There was hardly room for both she and Guh to stand, but they managed to carve out a little path for themselves, as Dernia pulled various tinctures and compounds off the shelves and handed them to Guh.
"So! Andalore ink, you say? Let's see...," Dernia said, as she paged through a book on a nearby stand, presumably looking for the recipe. "Here it is! First... Two quarts of boonian blue..."
She poured the thick stuff into the vat.
"Three parts gerolian hue!" Dernia cried. "The sheen of atolax, tincture of tantaleez, wax of jugapug..."
The old woman raced around the basement like a fury, sloshing and pouring and dripping things into the ink vat as she went. Guh loved to watch Dernia work.
"And, finally...," Dernia said with a coy smile, as she went into a case. "The main bit!" she said, producing a dark purple dried flower.
"Careful!" Guh cautioned.
"I've been doing this for some time, don't worry," Dernia said.
While she was preparing the flower, though, Derina suddenly gasped, and grabbed at her throat.
"Dernia!" Guh cried, rushing to his friends side.
"Ah!" the old woman cried, writhing about. "Help me! Help me, I'm..."
She gasped for air.
"You're...," Guh said searchingly. "You're what?!"
"I'm...," Dernia wheezed, then laughed. "I'm joking. Ha! Gotcha."
Guh was not amused. He watched the self-satisfied old woman separate the pollen from the flower delicately, with the assurance of a highly knowledgeable trades person. It was only the smallest amount of the flower's pollen that was needed for the dye recipe, which Guh watched Dernia drop into the vat from pinched fingers. The shiny bits of pollen danced down through the air into the vat. As soon as the particles touched the inky mixture therein, striations of bright color shot out from around them. Every point of pollen seemed to shine like a sun, for only a second, before the vibrancy was pulled back into the dye by whatever magic nature was working. And then the contents of the vat began to bubble, slowly at first, then to a full roll. The gurgling noises grew with the size of the bubbles, until a loud final pop resounded, and the ingredients finally took to each other. Guh peered into the now smoldering pot at the mixture therein.
"Looks like another great batch!" Dernia laughed. "That'll be twenty goldquartz."
Guh was delighted and thankful to have such a helpful and strange friend. He stayed for lunch after paying her, and was sorry to say goodbye when the time came.
Using the new batch of ink, the night scene leapt off the pages of the book Guh was working on. It was much to his dismay, though, when his friend the author of the book came to call that night. It seemed that the chapter featuring the scene Guh had worked so hard to produce had just been cut. A lot of work for nothing, Guh thought.