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I Cast a Spell On You! [IC]

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May 30, 2:30 PM

Robin cross was perched on a stool in her laboratory, watching a flask of cloudy liquid slowly darken. It was the shade of fog just before sunrise, and she calculated that once the fluid was a clear blue color the same shade the sapphire swinging above the rim of the flask, the sorceress should pour in the phial of hard water in her right hand and chant the spell. She had decided on Icelandic; it fit the intent of the potion, and in magic it was important that all the pieces fit as well as possible.

A string of silver bells, hanging up where the ceiling met the wall, began to ring their tiny, musical hearts out. Robin let out a breath she hadn’t been aware she was holding and muttered and oath that would’ve shocked a berserker. The bells meant a customer had just come in. On the one hand, her regular customers would spend fifteen or twenty minutes browsing and picking out their ingredients. There would be plenty of time for Robin to complete the delicate part of the spell and set the brew to bubbling.

On the other hand, if it was a walk-in she might not have five minutes. Straights – that is to say, normal people not clued in about the supernatural – didn’t linger long in the shop. It might be the cuneiform inscribed about the doorframe, or it might be the three-foot bird skull under glass a the counter, or it might be some more subtle vibe that Robin just wasn’t sensitive to. In any case, if she didn’t want to miss a sale she needed to get out front.

She reached under the flask and screwed the Bunsen burner off. Being a white hat might be more interesting, but it did cut into her free time.

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Cross’ Roads was the basement of a larger building and one went down several steps from street level to enter it. Inside, the area was subdivided by bookshelves and displays into several smaller sections, each devoted to a certain type of magic: divination, herbalism, enchantment, alchemy, elementalism, and more. Ingredients were on display tables or racks of cubby-holes between the sections.

Robin pushed out of the backroom and emerged behind the counter. It itself was directly in front of the door, but she didn’t see any customers. She glanced around and spotted the woman: older, maybe in her fifties, brown hair going gray pulled into a bun, staring in mixed horror and disbelief at a sign that read “Rat Tails: $3 for 5.†The merchandise looked like nothing so much as a pile of vacuum-sealed, pink shoelaces. If one didn’t look close.

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Robin cleared her throat, and when the other woman looked around gave her a bright smile, white teeth bright against her dark skin. The woman started and turned to face Robin, he lips forming an apology but the words dying unsaid. She looked the sorceress over carefully before asking, hesitantly, “Are you Robin Cross?â€

It was clear from her tone that she’d been expecting something different, and it wasn’t hard to imagine why. Robin was wearing a tee-shirt that had been canary-yellow before half a hundred washings turned it dingy and thin, and jeans with spots burned in them. Over all that was a thick leather apron, pockets filled with tools and parti-colored stains completing the ensemble. Her hair was pulled back from her face in a queue, emphasizing her sharp, thin face, but that was the only part of her figure that seemed threatening. She certainly didn’t look like someone who could wield the primal forces of creation or call up spirits to do her bidding. So Robin turned her smile up another notch, fought down the annoyance at her interrupted potion brewing, and replied, “Yes I am. How can I help?â€

The older woman took a breath and drew herself up. “My son’s missing. I need you to find him.â€

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The smile faded from Robin’s face as she examined the woman opposite her. “Finding lost people isn’t really what I do. Have you talked to the police?â€

The woman shook her head with quick, sharp motions, and Robin got the impression that she was suppressing a lot of emotions. “They said he was an adult, that they wouldn’t investigate unless they had evidence of foul play, but I just know he wouldn’t up and leave without any kind of explanation!â€

Robin held up a hand, cutting off the avalanche of words and emotions. “Ma’am how old is your son?â€

The older woman blinked, blindsided by the question. “He turned 25 last month.â€

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Robin suppressed a heavy sigh, but her tone was practiced and bored. “Your child is a legal adult. It’s perfectly legal, whether you like it or not, for him to leave town for any reason at all. Or even no reason at all. It may not be particularly adult-like for him to do so, but it is not illegal and it doesn’t mean that you have to hire a private investigator.â€

The woman started digging in her small clasp purse before Robin was half done with her speech, and now thrust a Saran-wrapped bundle at the sorceress. “My son is in danger,†she insisted. “I searched his room and found this.â€

Robin took the item, handling it gingerly and turning it over and over. It was a human hand, or at least a hand from a human-like thing. The flesh was gray-brown and desiccated, nearly mummified, and apparently rather fragile since the thumb had broken off at some point. The remaining four fingers had each been dipped in wax and a wick stuck at the tip, turning the entire thing into a macabre candelabra. Even through the plastic, the energy pervading the construct filled Robin’s head with the sickly-sweet scent of rotting things, and made her taste ashes and salt.

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The sorceress took a heavy swallow and pushed the plastic-wrapped hand into a pocket of her apron. She no longer tasted death, but just the presence of such a foul thing was a pressure in her mind.

She reached out and took the other woman’s hand. “I think we should discuss this privately.â€

Robin locked the door to her shop, turned the sign to read “Out to Lunch,†and lead the older woman up a semi-concealed stairway to the official ground floor of the building. Her apartment was, unsurprisingly, right at the top of the stairs. It was a railcar unit with maybe a thousand square feet, more than enough for Robin’s needs with her lab in the shop, but for two it would be cozy. The sorceress sat the other woman on a sagging couch and pulled in a chair from the kitchen, keeping her arms unfolded with an effort of will. "Now," she began, "tell me everything that's happened."

(Continues here.)

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