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alderwitch

Wedding Fever

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Looking more harried than usual, Taylor teleported herself close by to the address she'd been given (assigned), and glanced around to make sure she'd gotten her bearings correct. 'Flowers by Design'. Heaven help her if she picked the WRONG florist. Usually she envied her family their normal lives but today, given the insanity levels, she was somewhat glad she'd likely miss out on the whole wedding thing. The last time there'd been a family wedding, she'd only been in her teens and only had an ugly dress to show for it. Now she was old enough to be given missions.

Next time she there was an imminent invasion, Taylor was calling her mom. She'd organized the troops with martial preciscion. Why, when the wedding was months away, this had to be done today - Taylor had no idea. But hers was not to reason why.

Settling her fedora over her black hair, she opened the door to the shop and let herself in. Somehow, she thought, a flower shop should have more flowers. They were all lovely, but... not quite what she'd pictured when she pictured flower shops. Well, what did she know about floral arrangements. Other than the poor, neglected ficus in her apartment, she didn't have a lot of experience with plant-life. Certainly, she looked out of place in the shop. The jeans she was wearing had seen better days although they were clean if worn at the knees. She wore a white short sleeve shirt under her bomber-jacket and beaten fedora. Taylor pulled off her sunglasses and let her eyes adjust to their surroundings before she crossed to the counter slowly.

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Stesha had spent most of her morning on the front end, studying a catalog of oddly shaped vases and bowls that her boss was hoping to get some inspiration from. Most of them were godawful ugly, but there were a few eye-catching pieces that she'd marked with post-it notes. And you never knew with rich people, some of them were inexplicably drawn to the godawful. When the door chimed she checked her list of appointments and looked up at the new arrival with a friendly and professional smile. "Ms. Chun?" she asked, just a little quizzically. The visitor didn't look much like their usual customers, but looks could be deceiving.

As Stesha came around the counter to greet her, Taylor got a look at the front-desk florist. She was young, a few years older than Taylor herself, probably, and wearing a neat and attractive outfit of powder blue slacks and matching blouse covered with tiny blue flowers. The most arresting thing about her, though, was definitely the hair. It was green as new leaves and braided into a bun that was decorated with real tiny blue flowers. "My name is Stesha Madison. What can I do for you today?"

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"Hi, Taylor Chun, yes. My mother, Claire, called about a wedding? It's for my brother," she quickly and somewhat uncomfortabally added. Her voice was surprisingly low and husky for such a small woman and her handshake was firm if not overly so. "I've been given a list and told to come look at things. It's a long list. Oh, and I have a deposit too."

Taylor paused to search her pockets for the aforementioned items. Where had she put them? Her mother had handed her the list and she'd come right over. Except for that stop-over to deal with a two-bit mystic. She bit back a quiet groan. Of, course, she'd transformed to Phantom and put the list in her pocket. Her dimensional pocket. She gave Stesha a small smile and searched her jacket pocket again, this time reaching into the dimensional space that she'd left them in. There was a small, barely noticible flash from her pocket before she pulled out the list and a check to the florist company, the latter of which she handed to Stesha. "I'm sorry, it's been a bit of a morning."

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Stesha sized this customer up as a reluctant proxy, and gave her a reassuring smile. "No problem. I'm sure I can help you find exactly what you and your family are looking for. If you'll just have a seat by the window, I'll get out some of our wedding books and we'll take a look at your list." She gave the list a quick scan as she walked behind the counter to fetch the books. It was a pretty standard list of pieces, but light in the specifics. Hopefully Ms Chun knew her future sister-in-law's tastes. Picking up a stack of books she carried them over to the table and set them down.

Figuring it would be useless to start too soon with colors and dimensions, she led with a broad question to get the lay of the land. "So it's your brother getting married? What are he and his fiancee like?" she asked as she sat down.

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Taylor eased herself into the seat and removed her hat, fluffing her hair with one hand as she did so. The jewel at her throat winked in the sunlight, an odd black gem in an old metal setting.

"My brother's a physicist. I don't think he'll notice the flowers one way or another," Taylor said with an affectionate smile, "She's an engineer. They're both very right-brained people, which is why flowers got delegated in the first place."

She glanced down at the cover of the book, and folded her arms together on the table. That was an awfully large stack of books, "I know that the wedding colors are red and cream, if that helps?"

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"That's great," Stesha told her, noting that down. "And is it a daytime or an evening wedding? Is it in a church?" She took Taylor through a list of relatively simple questions and noted down the answers, eliminating catalogs as she went. Finally, they were down to only two photo books on the table. "All right, I think we can probably find just what you're looking for in one of these books. And if not, we can always design something that'll be perfect," she offered cheerfully. "That's a beautiful necklace, by the way," she added. "Is it an heirloom?"

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Taylor touched the necklace briefly, almost as if startled by the question, but she covered quickly with a smile, "Sort of. My Great-Uncle is an archeologist and he's the one who found it. It's old, but not a family heirloom per say."

She was relieved that it didn't appear that she had to do more than look at pictures and talk about flowers. Taylor could even get into that, a bit. "Thanks for all the help. This is my first wedding. Well, as a wedding minion. My mom's something else when it comes to planning these things but I think she's the most into it. It's a pretty big affair. We've got a huge family, and she's Irish-Catholic, so there's a number on their side too."

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"It's easy to get worked up about the details of a wedding," Stesha agreed, "just because there's so many of them. But flowers should be one of the fun parts. You just pick them out, I put them in my computer, and on the big day we show up with everything looking and smelling beautiful, and you don't have to worry about any of it." She smiled at Taylor. "You should be glad you're in charge of the flowers and not the catering. I've seen fistfights, I kid you not. It sounds like the bride and groom are pretty laid back about the details here, and that's going to make everyone happier."

She opened one of the books, leaning over it to leaf through the pages. Taylor got a whiff of light floral scent, either from the flowers in Stesha's hair or her perfume. "Take a look at this bouquet," she told Taylor, pointing one out. "The red roses are classic, they smell great, and they're really dramatic against a white dress. Add in some mini calla lilies, which also smell just amazing, and you lighten up the color of the bouquet and make it a lot more interesting. Photographers love bouquets like this, because they can nestle the rings right into one of the lily cups and take a gorgeous picture."

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Taylor glanced down at the picture and smiled faintly. "It's lovely. I know they'll like the roses. Those are a pretty standard symbol for romance and they're not the most creative. Which is fine, of course, there's something to be said for traditions, right?"

She ran surprisingly delicate fingertips over the picture thoughtfully. Although her nails were short and she wore no jewelry on her hands, Taylor hand fingers that were suited to fine work.

"Well, I can tell you that all of us in the wedding party are going to be in red, the bride's in cream and the men are all in black tuxes. So, I think we'd want to go with red roses for the bride and maybe a cluster of whites for the bridesmaids?" She suggested, her tone self doubting. A linguistics degree made her the 'artsy' one in the family. Lucky her. Thankfully, the florist seemed very competent.

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"Tradition doesn't become tradition for no reason," Stesha agreed cheerfully. "It's really nice that you're helping your brother out this way. A wedding is such a nice way for a whole family to get together and celebrate, especially when everyone had a hand in it." It could just as easily go the other way, she knew, with the family at each other's throats by the end, but she preferred the optimistic and romantic view. "There's no better celebration of love, for the couple, sure, but also love for family, and for friends."

She flipped a few more pages. "If you're looking for solid color bouquets, what do you think about arm bouquets? Roses for the bride and lilies for the attendants, with matching boutonnières for the men? Spreading the pages flat, she pointed to the picture she meant. "This is definitely a more modern style, but using traditional flowers makes a nice blend. You cradle the bouquet in one arm instead of holding it in both hands, you see, and the stems are visible, tied with ribbon. "We can do up the altarpiece in the same colors, with roses and lilies to highlight, and then variations on that theme for the swags and pew pieces. The whole church will smell like a garden," she said enthusiastically. Even the flowers in her hair seemed to brighten with her countenance, though that was of course just illusion.

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"We're a close bunch. Five kids within ten years, we'd have to be close or have killed each other by now," Taylor chuckled. "After this, the unmarried ones will just be me and Jackson. He's the next youngest."

She glanced down obediently, trying to look at the flowers with as critical an eye as she could muster. After a moment, she agreed, "That does look pretty."

Taylor glanced up at the green hair and flowers as they seemed to perk up. This woman clearly loved her job. Now, Taylor was a fan of nature, but Stesha's enthusiasm for all things plat life was down right contagious. "What are the other options?"

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"That's great," Stesha said with a laugh. "I have a big family myself, three brothers and two sisters. It makes the family gatherings so much more exciting! People ask me how I got any attention growing up with so many kids, but I feel like asking them if they weren't really lonely growing up without people to play with! You're going to have such a fun time."

Stesha tagged the current page with a post-it note, then showed Taylor a few more traditional types of bouquet, explaining how each one would look and smell. She could've tossed out ten or fifteen different options for a picky bride-to-be, but had a strong feeling that less would be more in this case. "Really, in the end, it all comes down to shape, color, and smell, and how you want all those to work together. If nothing you see here is quite doing it for you, we'll put together something else. We do all our work right here in the shop, so you can customize as much as you like."

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"It's nuts, isn't it?" Taylor said, laughing with her. "But you're never lonely as a kid, that's for sure."

Taylor fiddled with the necklace as she gave the pictures an almost intense level of concentration. Just because she wasn't good at this sort of thing, didn't mean that she wasn't going to give it her all for her brother and his new wife. She asked a few careful questions then went with Stesha's original suggestion for the hand-tied boquets. Fortunately, Taylor did know the church that it was going to be held at. All of her siblings had been married at the church and almost everyone still attended services there. Taylor, herself, didn't feel comfortable in churches anymore. Nor did she have the time, but she knew the layout quite well from her childhood. "Is there anything else we need to decide on?"

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"A few more things, but it won't hurt much, I promise," Stesha reassured her. "The hardest part is picking a theme, which is pretty much what we just did with the bouquets. Everything else we just look at shapes and sizes, and we'll make the pieces up in your colors, if that's what you want. And if you change your mind or your family wants to add something, just let us know within 45 days of the wedding, and we can change it up. I can also make color copies of some of these pictures for you to show the bride and groom."

She showed Taylor all the other things on the list, from the toss bouquet to the altar piece to the pew decorations. She was a little more assertive here, since it seemed that her client wasn't entirely comfortable making all these choices. Stesha knew that the end result would look great, so she wasn't worried. "So are you in the wedding?" she asked as they started wrapping up. "Or just helping with the preliminaries?"

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"Both, really, I'm an all purpose slave-" Taylor started, only to break off as her mystical senses went haywire. This time, Stesha definately saw a flash of eldritch light in the brooch as her client stood up and twisted at the waist just as a hideous little imp appeared with a puff of smoke in the center of the shop. It screeched once and dove at them both. Taylor fired a bolt of magic power operating on pure reflex only to have the creature explode in another burst of foul smelling smoke, that left her coughing. Sulfur.

'Note to self. Fire stun FIRST. Question monster. Then blast into tiny pieces. Blast.'

Then realization set in that she was still dressed as Taylor. She was at a wedding appointment for her brother for goodness sake. And her hands were still crackling with magic.

'....' No word in any language she knew was foul enough for her situation. "Ahh..."

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Stesha stared for a minute, stunned, then leapt into action. Propping the front door open with a wooden block, she picked up her manila folder and began fanning it frantically in the air in front of the smoke detector. "Please don't go off, please don't go off..." she muttered. Having the sprinklers go off would mean a real mess, and hours more work. After a few seconds, the smoke began to clear, and she sighed relief.

Paul stuck his head in from the back room. "What was that?" He wrinkled his nose. "What's that stench?"

"Um... a kid threw something in from the doorway and ran," Stesha improvised. "I think it was a little stink bomb. I'll spray some air freshener." Paul frowned and muttered something about hooligans, but withdrew back to his lair. Stesha turned to Taylor. "So... who are you, and what was that, really?" she demanded.

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Taylor, only by sheer force of will, refrained from burying her face in her hands and groaning. Instead she pulled her hat from the table and settled it back on her head and quickly cast a spell to make certain that there wasn't any more little monsters waiting to pop out of the wood-work. Then she eyed the reasonabally irate florist and debated what to say.

"That... was an imp. At least that's the best term for it in English. It's a minion from one of the Abyssal planes. Like a spy for a higher up monster. It was likely looking for me." Taylor paused to take a breath and squared her shoulders as she drew herself up slightly, "In addition to the whole student thing, I'm an interdimensional gaurdian. People call me the Phantom, and I would be permanently indebted if you could refrain from mentioning that to anyone."

'At this rate, I'm going to be left with tattered shreds of my secret identity. Maybe I should relocate to Sri Lanka.'

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"Okay I won't, but just don't say anything too loud, okay?" Stesha told her nervously. She went behind the counter and grabbed a bottle of air freshener, spraying it around liberally. It made her cough, but a high-class florist shop couldn't go around smelling like rotten egg farts. She kept one eye on Taylor as she spritzed the shop. "Interdimensional guardian... that's a good guy, right? Do you work with the Knights?"

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Finally, Taylor took notice of the woman's own nerves and that there was something magical about her as well. Closer determination revealed the woman's nature and she relaxed back into her alter-ego's usual stance, "I'm no more interested in having anyone find out, than you are." she assured the woman, "Yes, I'm a good guy, and I have worked with the Knights. If you're concerned, please feel free to contact any of them that you like."

She glanced around to make certain that things were clear then joined in helping Stesha clear out the smell of sulfur with just a little bit of magical help.

"How do you know about them?" She asked curiously.

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"Oh, I, I have a friend on the team," Stesha said coyly, not sure how much she was actually supposed to reveal about that. She wasn't sure Moira even had a proper secret identity, but it was better to be safe than sorry. Revealing too much would give away her own secret, after all. "I know they do a lot of good work. That thing's not going to come back, is it?" she asked. "Or bring something else back with it? We could move the rest of this consultation somewhere else, let the room air out a little bit..." Truthfully, it smelled fine after whatever Taylor had done with it, but Stesha still had vivid memories of the pain it had been to replace the front window just last month.

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"Moving somewhere else is a good idea." Taylor agreed, "It's not likely to come back but if it was able to track me and something else shows up, I'd rather be some place that is a little less fragile."

Taylor folded up her list and put it back in her pocket - just in the jacket pocket this time - and followed Stesha to the counter. Her senses were still on high-alert and she was truthfully a little uneasy. That was the first time she'd been tracked and attacked while in civilian attire. She had a feeling that there was a larger picture here to look at but that research would have to wait for the moment. For now she was curious to learn about this neo-dryad that seemed to know the Knights.

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Stesha stowed away the air freshener and locked up the cash register. Leaning into the back, she called "Hey Paul, I'm taking an early lunch, going to let the front air out for awhile. I'm locking up out here." She closed the door and turned to Taylor. "He's got a fifty table garden party tomorrow. He probably won't notice if a bomb explodes before six pm, but it's better to be safe than sorry. There's a park down the street." Picking up her knapsack and the wedding books, she flipped the pretty painted sign on the door to Closed and ushered Taylor out.

"So are your family super?" she asked curiously as they walked. "That'd make a really spectacular wedding. You could color-coordinate with uniforms, have shaped insignia pieces..." Despite what had just happened, she seemed more enthusiastic than upset, now that they were away from her workplace.

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That actually startled a laugh out of Taylor and she shook her head firmly, "No, and they haven't a clue about my abilities. They really are all right-brained scientist types. Having one of the premier mystics in the city in their family would cause my world to implode inward on itself."

"What about you? Are your abilities hereditary?" Taylor asked curiously, "Like, neo-dryads or something?"

She followed along in Stesha's wake, taking long steps for her size. Her hat brim shaded her face and she reached up to adjust the angle against the sun as they headed out to wherever Stesha was leading them. Inwardly, Taylor was silently thanking the powers that be that she wasn't having to deal with a hysterical florist frantically calling her mother to cancel based on act of demon.

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The question was enough to have Stesha stopping in her tracks. She looked around nervously, hoping she hadn't started spontaneously popping flowers in the sidewalk or anything like that. But nothing seemed out of the ordinary. "How did you know?" she asked, her voice half a wail. "Nobody is supposed to know that, at least, not just from looking!"

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Taylor started then quickly stepped in to make somewhat frantic flapping motions with her hands, "It's okay, it's okay. I'm not normal."

She visibally winced. This was going on the list with the cats with moments of her super hero career. Trying to will the woman with her mind not to burst into tears she explained, "I'm a mystic. I detect things. Like magical things or dimensional anomolies. It's one more sense that I have. Then when the imps showed up, I cast a spell to see if there was anything else and it told me about your abilities. I can't tell just by looking with my eyes. I just happen to have super-sense that detect magic. I'm not about to tell anyone. I mean, you know my secret identity. You even have my mom's phone number and address."

Taylor spoke quickly, her voice low and pitched not to carry as she tried to soothe the woman. She really, really wished she was better at soothing at this particular moment.

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