By M. M. De Voe

You have a discerning ear for such a young boy. Seasoned musicians have missed how that ninth overtone echoes the wail of the albino panther sacrificed to make these strings speak moonlight. An homage to the creature, yes, but also a necessity: all great music is born of pain. I’m impressed you noticed.

So you wish to gain entry to the music emporium? I know the proprietor, if anyone can truly say they know a skin drummer. We have performed together, sometimes even in his shop—oh yes, there are impromptu sessions when musicians find themselves holding rare instruments and wanting to play. Why else would Orran line the walls and ceiling in ostrich feathers?

They are all jet black, though it is said they shimmer gold and emerald if the music strokes them right. I’ve only seen it happen once; ripples of light across the oily blackness. It might have been caused by the rising moon, though truth be told, the harpist that night sent shudders down every spine as she caressed her strings.

Did you bring something to trade? Orran doesn’t take coin or promises. He scoffs at Innard merchants that accept emotions, wishes, and dreams. Musicians always have surplus dreams they try to pass off as coin. It’s only potions masters and sorceresses that accept them, so there’s your explanation for our luck at love.

Drift over here. Show me what you have.

Oh yes. That should do fine. Musicians are always hungry. Keep the blood from dripping onto the floor. It stains the wood.

The trapdoor? You know about this? Wait; let me close the curtains and lower the flame on the lamp.

The rumours are true. There is a trapdoor. Only Orran can play it open, and only on a willing subject—he is a skin drummer after all—but once it is open, the music, oh the music. They say that a secret tunnel was dug to the fen and that a swish of mermaids that can live without sea salt (there are a few, you know, whose fathers were trout or whose mothers ventured to the fens and grew to love brine) congregate beneath the shop in a cave of crystal.

To keep them busy, Orran collects young boys. Those that can sing, Orran feeds and clothes in richest finery until their voices change, and although this means they are kept under lock and key for years at a stretch, many of them claim to be happier hidden in the crystal cave than starving in the streets, watching their mates hang one by one for crimes committed in hunger. The mermaids care for the boys, and their songs mingle. It is the only way they communicate. Their unearthly sound is released by opening the door, amplified and shaped by the amethysts in the cave.

The password is cockleshell. Beware, with that pretty voice of yours Orran might…

Oh, I see. Yes. You should be very happy there.