I stood in the middle of Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store, gaping at the two proprietresses. I looked again from the woman identified as Christine, with her medieval gown and ethereal appearance, to the woman claiming to be Talia, in her modern-day, business casual attire and down-to-earth looks.
Crawford’s words echoed in my head – when you go, be sure to talk to Talia. Christine is a nice girl, but she’s pretty clueless about real magic.
The diaphanous figure gliding about the store was clueless about magic? The businesswoman curiously watching me gaping at her was the expert on things magical and mystical? I was having a hard time wrapping my head around that thought.
Finally, Talia grinned. “I guess I’m not what you were expecting.”
“Actually, no.” I realized I was still staring and shook my head to dislodge the cobwebs that seemed to be slowing down my thought process and enmeshing my conduct. “Please pardon my lack of manners. I’m Marge and this is Dray.” I motioned toward Dragon, in her customary guise of an elf maiden. “We’re acquaintances of Crawford and Griff.”
Still grinning, Talia raised an eyebrow at Dragon. “Dray, huh? Interesting name.” She winked at Dragon, then turned back to me. “And Marge, is it?”
“Hmmmm…nothing unusual or mysterious about that name. So, Marge and Dray, Crawford sent you to see me?” Talia leaned back against a display of geodes and crystals and looked at us expectantly.
“He did.” I nodded. “Crawford mentioned that you were very knowledgeable about magic, and . . .”
“And you’d like to pick my brain for you latest book, short story, article, cosplay or fantasy role-playing adventure game?” She sighed, then gave Dragon a sharp look. “I should think you would know enough about magic to give her whatever help she may need.”
“Unfortunately, milady, that is not the case.” Dragon narrowed her eyes and gazed at Talia. “We seek information I do not possess, and for a reason of far greater import than that which you have suggested.”
Talia raised an eyebrow at Dragon but met her gaze with an unwavering stare of her own. After a few moments, she nodded curtly and turned to her partner, who was unenthusiastically dusting some displays. “Christine, I’ll be in conference in my office. Please see that we are not disturbed.”
The young girl answered in her small, reedy voice that raised the hair on the back of my neck. “No prob.” She took a few more swipes at the display with her feather duster before gliding across the showroom floor and positioning herself near the cash register. “I can handle any retail transactions that might occur in your absence.”
I gave the gowned figure another hard look before following Talia and Dray, who were already walking toward the back of the cavernous store, but Christine studiously ignored me.
Upon entering Talia’s office, the co-proprietress of Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store motioned for Dragon and me to sit on the small sofa, a piece of furniture that looked out of place with the antique wooden desk, wingback chair, and glass-fronted display cabinet. Talia eschewed a seat, and remained standing just inside the door, which she closed as soon as we were seated. I was startled to see this side of the door. It appeared to be a Gothic-arched wooden structure, with ornate, medieval-looking hinges, and door-pull handle. It looked nothing like the other side of the door, leading from the store to the office. That was a drab, gray, rectangular, metal door with a standard round doorknob.
“So, what answers do you ladies seek?” Talia’s bored voice startled me from my thoughts about the door.
I furrowed my brow, trying to decide if I should use the ploy of having a character I needed to develop. I decided on the truth instead. “Crawford suggested you might have some knowledge of a form of magic we have encountered.”
Talia’s expression remained the same. She appeared disinterested, but I pressed on. “In a nutshell, there is a five-year-old girl in our neighborhood who has magic but is not a magician. She sees through spells of concealment, and she sees the true nature of any person or creature who has shapeshifted to another form. She can also cause others to see what she sees just by telling them what she sees. The child suspects there is something different, something special, about herself. She has even speculated she might be a witch, but she’s neither witch nor sorceress, at least not as we understand those terms. She cannot create illusions, she cannot conjure, she cannot enchant, she cannot cast any sort of spell.”
I paused, giving Talia time to digest the information. She furrowed her brow and tilted her head. Finally, she spoke. “So, you wish to know just what she is, and how to defeat her magic?”
Dragon and I nodded eagerly, moving to the edge of our seats.
Talia sighed. “I’m sorry. I don’t believe I can help you.”
I felt my shoulders slump, and I saw Dragon’s face fall. “I see. We had hoped you may have encountered magic of this particular nature and could explain it for us.”
Talia raised an eyebrow, crossed her arms defensively over her chest, and made a moue. “I never said I hadn’t encountered such a phenomenon before. I said I don’t believe I can help you.”
Dragon gaped at Talia. “You mean you are familiar with this magic?”
The woman nodded and narrowed her eyes. “That does not mean I will share what I know.”
“Why wouldn’t you?” I could feel my face flush with anger.
“Because, little writer-person, some things are best left alone by those outside the circle.” Talia sneered.
“Am I outside the circle?” I heard the threatening note in Dragon’s voice.
“You are outside your domain, Dray.” Talia gave Dragon a withering look. “Now, I believe it is time for you to leave.” She opened the door, and I gaped at the scene beyond the threshold. The door through which we had passed coming from the store into the office now opened onto the small alleyway behind the shop. I started to say something but found Dragon and I were suddenly out in the alley with the door closed behind us, without either of us having taken a step.
In a second, Dragon was in her beastly form. She swung her tail around with enough force to splinter a normal door, but all she achieved for her effort was a badly bruised tail. When she opened her maw and breathed fire at the door, it bounced back with such force, it almost fried us both.
“Dragon! Dragon! Stop!” I snatched her scaly arm and tried to get her to listen. “This isn’t accomplishing anything. Talia, for reasons of her own, will be no help. Let’s go home.”
Slowly, Dragon let go of her anger and shapeshifted back to the form of an elf maiden. “You are right. I am sorry for my actions. Let us go.”
We trudged along the narrow alleyways back to the street. We were surprised, and a bit apprehensive, when we saw Christine standing in front of the store. She approached us and addressed us in her small, reedy voice. “Umm . . . don’t mind Talia. She gets a bit testy when she thinks any in her circle are being threatened.”
I frowned. “We threaten no one. In fact, the child about whom we seek information is a threat to us, to Dray and her companions who live with me.”
“Is the child in Talia’s circle?” Dragon lifted a delicate eyebrow. “Does Talia possess the same powers?”
Christine shuffled her foot in the dirt on the sidewalk. “I don’t know. You would have to ask Talia.”
I shrugged. “I don’t think Talia wants to speak with us.”
Christine laughed. “She will speak with you. Come.”
We followed Christine back into the store, exchanging puzzled looks behind her back.
“You’re back?” Talia glared at us from half-way across the store.
“Oh, Tal, you’re being silly!” Christine laughed again, a melodious sound, like the tinkling of wind chimes. “They simply seek to protect themselves and theirs. Like you.” Christine’s eyes narrowed and she stared at her partner. “Now, be nice and tell them what they need to know.” Her voice was much more robust now, with an authority that was hard to ignore.
Talia looked at Christine, then at us. Her eyebrows squished together, and she ran a hand through her hair. She tilted her head and rubbed her chin. Her lips thinned, and her eyes narrowed. Finally, she sighed and nodded. “Fine.”
Christine led the way back to Talia’s office. As Dragon and I took our seats on the small sofa once again, I was startled to see the big glass-fronted display cabinet had been replaced with a different piece of furniture, one containing books, scrolls, and other items.
Christine stared pointedly at Talia, who huffed at her partner. The disgruntled woman reached into a cubbyhole in the bookcase. She extracted a scroll and handed it to Dragon. “This will explain. There is a spell you can cast which will protect you from her energy. You should have all the necessary components; they are all rather common.” She sighed and lowered her eyes. “This is all I can do for now. When the child is older, she should come to see me. I can teach her, train her to use her power rather than be used by it.”
Dragon took the scroll, holding it close to her chest, but not opening it. “Thank you, Talia. Thank you, Christine. You do not know what this means to us.”
“I think we do.” Christine’s voice had returned to the ethereal, reedy sound that raised the hair on the back of my neck. “And if you ever need any more assistance, be sure to come back. Talia would be ever so delighted to help you.” She giggled at the murderous look on Talia’s face.
Dragon would not open the scroll in the car. “This is delicate and needs to be handled correctly. I will open it in my chambers, when I can concentrate properly.”
I scowled. “But what if Talia deceived us? What if you open the scroll and it’s blank, or all it contains is . . . oh, I don’t know . . . a recipe for chocolate cake? Wouldn’t it be better to know that now, so we can turn around and go right back and confront her?”
Dragon smirked. “I do not believe Talia would have attempted deception while Christine was watching. I believe your friend, Crawford, was mistaken when he said Christine has no knowledge of magic. I believe she not only possesses great magic, she also possesses a will much stronger than that of her partner. I believe Talia is aware she would suffer great repercussions if she displeased Christine.”
“Well, let’s get home quickly, then, and see if this mystery is solved.”
What will Dragon find when she opens the scroll? Will it explain Marisol’s power? Will Dragon really be able to defeat the child’s magic? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.