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The Old Curiosity Shop

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Silberman's Books. Sunday, December 11th, 2016. 

 

Sundays were sleepy at Silberman's, since the store didn't open until noon on the weekends; this largely eliminated the early coffee rush, but meant the folks who came in now were looking to take their time and stay awhile. The sales floor looked very Christmas-y, and the fragrance of the decorated Scotch pine filled the store.

 

Lynn was in her office checking emails while Gretchen sat perched on her stool behind the counter, reading a magazine; her half trendy/half 'screw you' ensemble pegged her as a former art student, but nonetheless a playful pair of reindeer antlers were perched on her head.

Edited by Heritage

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After going to four bookstores and having no success, Mason's hopes for the final place were low. As he stepped in front of the building, the hairs on the back of his neck informed him he had arrived before he even checked the GPS on his phone. He closed his eyes and reached out with his mind. Yes, this is the place. Today won't be a waste after all.

 

He pulled open the door and was immediately hit with Christmas cheer. Red and green decorations co-mingled with pieces recalling a time when magicians were viewed with wonder and suspicion instead of bored bemusement. He nodded to the woman behind the counter and began perusing the shelves. He let his senses guide him to the spots that hide the treasures between the trinkets. They had a good selection of materials he hadn't read or even heard of. This place would serve him well for years to come. He found an old book on English Fae and couldn't help picking it up. It wasn't cheap, but he was pretty sure his dad didn't even have a copy of this one in his library. He gingerly flipped through the pages as he waited in line. When he got up to the counter, he put it down softly, "This and a mocha coffee, please."

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Once she realized she had a line (this was not an uncommon phenomenon for the 'customer service champ'), Gretchen set aside her magazine and rang people up; when Mason finally made it to the register, she cocked an eyebrow at his purchase, but offered no comment. Once the transaction wss over, she stepped over to the bar to begin preparing his drink.

 

"You mean a caffè mocha, the espresso drink?" Once he clarified his order, she went to work; she wasn't a true coffee bar artisan like Lance, but she was nonetheless highly skilled, and moved with purpose as she pulled the shots and steamed the milk. She presented his drink at the end of the bar in a large Silberman's mug, and it smelled delicious.

 

"You're interested in the Fae," she stated bluntly; this was her attempt at small talk. Now that she was closer, Mason was able to tell she possessed three magical items: her black plastic framed glasses, a simple silver necklace around her neck, and a beautiful silver ring with a large ruby on her left index finger. Curiouser and curiouser! Then she happened to see the white gold band on his finger, and her head cocked to one side. 

 

"Family heirloom?"

Edited by Heritage

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Mason confirmed his drink order and moved down to the end of the bar and continued his page flipping as he waited for his drink. He startled when she placed the drink in front of him and asked her question. He wasn't the kind of guy who usually read in public, but at the moment, was fully absorbed. He gaped far a second before collecting himself and responding, "Yes."

 

He took a sip of his drink, which was delicious, before thinking through his answer. He wasn't in the habit of telling women he was into fairies. It was then that he noticed the magical items she wore. Well at least she probably understood the difference between the Fae and pop-culture fairies. Plus she seemed to be engaged, so what difference did it make?

 

"Yeah. My family has always had a special connection to the Fae," he continued, not explaining much. He was considering what to say next when she asked about the ring. He twisted it around his finger and replied, "No, but it was hand-made by my father, so maybe in the future it will make heirloom status. Speaking of nice pieces, you seem to have some enchanting pieces yourself." Ok, maybe that was a little on the nose...

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Gretchen narrowed her eyes and shook her head. "Really? You're going with 'enchanting'? That's embarrassing." She studied Mason for several seconds, her head still cocked to one side like a quizzical bird; the scutiny was intense, but in no way hostile. Finally she nodded. "Well, then. You should probably meet my boss. Her family has connections to the Fae as well."

 

The barista made no move to push a button or pick up a phone, but several seconds later the door to the office opened, and a beautiful young woman stepped out. She wasn't very tall, just a few inches past five feet, but her presence seemed to fill the room with a warm glow. Curly, shoulder-length brown hair framed a lovely face, and her eyes were deep and brown, filled with both intelligence and mischief. This afternoon she was wearing a particularly hideous Christmas sweater, which she somehow almost made work, loose cut jeans and a pair of Uggs. She stepped right up to Mason, offered a firm handshake and flashed a smile warm enough to melt butter.

 

"Hi, I'm Lynn Epstein, owner of Silberman's Books. Nice to meet you!"

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Mason turned bright red and squirmed under her scrutiny. His innocence and youth were apparent to the more cosmopolitan woman. "Uh... Yeah. I was just trying to be... you know, subtle?" he stammered as his defense. He then shut up and sat in silence until Gretchen indicated that her boss had connections to the Fae. Suddenly his embarrassment melted into a nervousness that bordered on panic. Even if they are allied with him, they don't know who you are. Stay calm. Mason gulped and steeled himself while absentmindedly fingering the magic ring on his finger.

 

Great, another attractive woman, he thought as she approached. He shook her hand nervously, but she didn't seem to have any malevolent intent. "Hi! I'm Mason. I'm a student at FCU. Although this," he said with a tap on his new purchase, "is for some extra-curricular study." Lynn's disarming smile and laid-back outfit relaxed him enough to only be regular nervous. "To be honest, I had almost given up my search for a good bookstore. Most of them that advertise to students of the occult have more new age drivel or myths that have been overly Disneyfied. It seems you guys have the real deal here."

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Lynn laughed and shrugged. "Well, we try. Though I have to admit, being a 90s kid, I grew up on Disney movies and the Disney Channel, but I know what you mean; Tinker Bell is not exactly the most realistic depiction of a faerie out there, though really I think we have J.M. Barrie and the rest of the Victorians to thank for that."

 

There was a brief moment while Lynn and Gretchen exchanged glances, and then the store owner noticed the particular book Mason was holding as well as the ring he was fidgeting with, and then young woman in the ghastly sweater politely cleared her throat. "Uh, Mason, do you have a minute to talk in private?  Nothing bad, I assure you, but I'd like to talk...'shop' for a second, if you don't mind; we can use my office, if that's alright with you."

Edited by Heritage

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Abandoning the safety of a public space made Mason uncomfortable. They didn't seem like they were setting up a trap, but you could never be too careful with Fae. That being said, they could have nothing to do with him. Probably had nothing to do with him. And if she had information on the Fae and magic, she could make a very important ally.

 

Mason picked up his coffee and book. "A private conversation is probably a good idea. Lead the way." Mason nervously followed Lynn back to her office. He tried reaching out with his powers to her office but didn't detect a horde of Fae hobgoblins or a portal do another dimension. Maybe they were just going to have a conversation about magic.

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The store owner led him back into her office, a relatively small room lined with tall bookshelves on all four walls. The room was dominated by a huge old desk made of dark wood, behind which was a highbacked leather swivel chair; two lower matching chairs were also provided for guests. On top of the desk were a somewhat old-fashioned looking desktop computer, a banker's lamp and a well-stocked candy dish.

 

In particular, Mason's magical senses were drawn to two things; the bookcase directly behind Lynn, who'd taken a seat in the high-backed chair, and a pair of antique firearms, a lever-action rifle and a revolver,  that were mounted in a frame on the wall over and behind her head. The entire bookcase, including all the books on the shelves,  glowed with magic, as did the wooden pegs that held the two firearms in place. There were other odds and ends that radiated magic, but those two objects seemed the most concerning.

 

Did it feel like a lair? Yeah, a little bit. But what are you supposed to do when the lioness is so polite...?

 

"Have a seat, Mason, and help yourself to some candy if you're so disposed." The beautiful store owner didn't say anything for several seconds; she was pondering the young man, one finger stroking her lower lip, those deep brown eyes upon him.  Her gaze was not hostile, however, but seemed to shift from simple curiosity to mild concern. At length, she finally spoke.

 

"I'm sorry, it's rude of me to stare. Here I was, hoping to make you more comfortable, and then I brought you into the spider's web; please forgive me." She drummed her fingers on her desk and sighed. "Clearly, you can sense magical power, which means this whole store probably lights up like a Christmas tree to you. It's mostly glamour, if you're wondering; I'm very good with it." 

 

Suddenly Lynn sat up and slapped her forehead. "Oh, that's right, I forgot; I'm supposed to say the words! " She began to rifle through her desk drawers, clearly looking for something. "Just, just give me a sec; there's an oath for situations like this, a vow of safety for visitors..." Finally she held up a small piece of paper in triumph. "Ah-ha, here it is! 'I do swear, by the Cup, and the Sword, and the Staff, to do no harm to you in this place, until violence is done upon me.' See, now I'm Oathbound; couldn't hurt you if I wanted to!" She tossed the paper aside and smiled, looking tremendously relieved.

Edited by Heritage

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Mason's eyes scanned the numerous magical items in the office. Most of it was more interesting than troublesome. The two firearms were the other way around, however. He took a seat when it was offered but wasn't particularly relaxed. He made no move for the candy. He had been warned about accepting gifts from Fae.

 

He squirmed uncomfortably under her gaze. Why am I the one always squirming? I am wield the arcane arts and have the blood of the Fae flowing through me. They should be the ones to squirm! Why weren't they the ones to squirm?... Pay attention! The false mental bravado achieved nothing other than to distract him. Luckily, she hadn't tried anything yet.

 

"Oh, so are they magical and disguised with glamour, or are they mundane items hid with magic? I must admit, I am still working on my ability to scrutinize things with magic," he was saying when she apparently remembered something very important. He stammered to a stop and let watched her wide-eyed. Surely she meant no harm. She seemed harmless, but shouldn't that warn him of more danger? Then her oath was spoken. He didn't feel any different, but if her powers were like his, it was enough. Should he reciprocate? Maybe if asked...

 

"So you are Fae. I have to admit, I've never met one of you. Although I have been warned plenty. What brings you to live in this world? And is your employee out there a Fae or are you out to all your employees? Do you get back to the old country often?" he spurted out. Suddenly, he was embarrassed. "I'm sorry. You don't have to answer those questions. You invited me back here to talk, I assume you had something in mind?"

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"Whoa, whoa, whoa," laughed Lynn as she held up her hands. "So many questions! Alright, first of all, let me address the whole 'glamour' issue. Many people have a bit of a misconception about it; they assume that since it's just an 'illusion' or a 'dream', it must be insubstantial, like a hologram or something." She leaned forward conspiratorially, and lowered her voice for dramatic effect. "But what they don't realize is that to the Fae, dreams and stories are real."

 

The changeling held out her hand, palm up, and a small figurine appeared, no more than six inches high; it was Mason, jeans, coat, book bag and all! She placed it on the desk in front of the boy, and crossed her arms, a mischievous smile on her face. "Go ahead, pick it up; feel it's weight. It's gotta be porcelain, right? Got to be." After a few seconds, she waved her hand, and the tiny figure vanished as quickly as it arrived, dissolving into what looked a cool wisp of vapour as it departed.

 

"Glamour can be wood, stone, paper, glass, rubber or a dozen other things; it cannot be metal, or at least it can't be when make it. It can be as simple as a golf ball, or as detailed as an entire bookcase filled with books." (Apparently she noticed his interest in the shelves behind her earlier.) "And it can make you drunk or crush a car flat." Lynn loudly clapped her hands together. "Useful stuff, glamour."

 

She gave the lad a few seconds to let that all sink in before continuing. "Now as to your second battery of questions-" She spread her hands wide. "I was born right here, in South Jersey! I was a mortal descended from a mystic that traced its way all the way back to Avalon. But a ritual was performed at the moment of death that transfered my spirit, my essence, into an immortal shell made of timeless, ageless glamour. So now-" 

 

A cloud of vapour swirled around the shopkeeper seated in her chair, and when it parted, she was a dead ringer for actress Scarlett Johansson, still wearing the same apron and hideous sweater. "I am whoever I say I am." She shrugged and chuckled. "It's pretty cool, actually."

Edited by Heritage

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Mason picked up the figurine and looked it over. The detail, the weight, even the texture seemed real. He set it back down on the desk, and  it was gone. "Is an illusion that affects all senses any different than a real object?"

 

The transformation startled him in a way that the figurine didn't. He was about to say something but just stuttered. After a moment, he collected himself and tried to cover by taking a long drink of his coffee before continuing, "I get my powers from something similar. My family supposedly has Fae blood, and that is where we get our powers. Are people with connections to the Fae common around here? It seems strange that I have gone my whole life without meeting anyone else like me, and then I come here and meet someone rather quickly."

 

She was a bit older than him, but he felt a kinship to her that he wanted to explore. "Would you ever want to go out sometime?" It was a rather sudden question.

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'Scarlett' sat there for several seconds with her mouth open, her cheeks going a little pink at Mason's words. The guy was still just a kid, like any other boy his age; why on earth did she bust out the frickin' ScarJo? As if he didn't have enough going on to confuse him!

 

 "Uh, I think I have to explain a thing or two here." There was another swirl of mist, and Lynn was herself again. "I'm very flattered, Mason, that's...that's very sweet, but I am currently in a releationship right now."

 

Plus I'm old enough to be your grandmother, fer chrissakes! Although to be fair, Gretch is only in her mid-twenties; she just seems a lot older due to her general orneriness. 

 

"Besides, you're in college now, right? You should be looking into dating girls your own age; believe me, there are a LOT of girls out there who are into magic and stuff like that. You'll be catnip to girls like that, I assure you."

 

At this point, she just wanted to move on to another topic, pretty much any other topic. "So, what kind of things can you do with magic?"

Edited by Heritage

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His cheeks were already pink when he blurted out his ill advised question. As the silence stretched on, his face turned red hot. Luckily Lynn was nice to the poor boy. At least he knew now for sure that she had no ill intent toward him; it would have been the perfect time to spring a trap. Then, torn between apologizing and just taking the out she offered him, he decided on the later.

 

"Um, yeah, my magic," he stammered, "It is a fairly odd form of magic as far as I can tell. Although to be fair, my studies have been limited to my father's library until fairly recently. I can draw power from the Fae realm through my blood connection. Then I shape that power into a more conventional spell. The advantage is that I don't need to use words of power or hand signs to draw the magic from the universe at large, but the disadvantage is that if cut off from the Fae, I would lose access to my powers."

 

Why did I just tell her my weakness? I just met her. He had never been able to talk about this with anyone besides his parents before, so now it all just came pouring out. "I can create illusions too," he continued as a miniature armored knight appeared on her desk, "but they lack the substance of glamour."

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"What kind of spells can you cast," Lynn inquired earnestly. "I mean, you don't have to spill all your secrets; it's always good to have a few tricks up your sleeve, and I certainly haven't told you everything can do." 

 

Just then, there was a gentle knock on the door, and Gretchen joined them. "Everything good back here? I didn't hear any explosions, so I got worried."

 

"Nah, we're good," the changeling said with a smile as she took Gretchen's hand and kissed it. "Are we okay on the floor?"

 

"Merge has it covered," she said with mild annoyance as she took a seat on the arm of Lynn's chair. "She sent a representative from the back."

 

"Mason and I were just discussing magic."

 

"I figured," said Gretch as she made a gesture with her left hand, which floated the candy dish within her grasp, allowing her to fish out a fun-sized Milky Way. "Do go on."

Edited by Heritage

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Mason was just about to respond when the knock interrupted him. He nodded to the woman from earlier and was surprised when she came into the office was them. He was more surprised at the affection between them, but at least that explained why Gretchen was in the know and had the magical trinkets. Of course it brought his previous faux pas back to his mind, and his cheeks turned the slightest pink. He quickly pushed it out of his head, however.

 

"Oh, uh. I can astrally project and communicate over long distances. I can manipulate people's emotions... Oh, and I have a magical blast I can magic missile," he finished, eyes looking up as he searched his brain. "Oh but, who is Merge? That is a strange name... Is Merge another magic user like us?"

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"The less you know about Merge, the happier you will be," hissed Gretchen tersely. "She eats little boys like you for breakfast."

 

"She's a recent hire," Lynn said a bit more diplomatically. "Who can be a bit...much, sometimes. But her nature is her own business, so I'd rather not discuss it." Then she changed the subject back to Mason's own abilities. "Astral projection, huh? That's pretty cool! Can you visit other dimensions that way? The Nine Hells and the Six Hundred and Sixty-Six Layers of the Abyss?" It was not entirely clear how serious that last question was, to be honest.

 

For her part, Gretchen's eyes narrowed at the mention of 'emotion control', which to her had some disturbing implications, especially in the hands of a young man attending college. "Just how much can you manipulate somebody's emotions? Can you create emotions that aren't already there, or redirect the focus of someone's feelings?"

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Mason wasn't sure if Gretchen was joking about Merge or not, so he politely laughed, even if he didn't get the joke. But after Lynn's cryptic comment, he decided that maybe this Merge person was some kind of exotic entity or something. Definetly something to look into in the future. He let the subject go and explained that his astral projection hadn't developed that far yet.

 

"Hypothetically yes, I could enter other dimensions. My father can, anyway, so I see no reason why I wouldn't be able to. He refused to teach me how, however. He said it was too dangerous for someone my age. It is one of the things I am looking into with my research," he explained as he tapped on the book he had just bought from them. "Making things more complicated is that going to Fae will probably be the easiest dimension for me to get to but also one of the least safe.

 

Gretchen caught Mason off guard with her inquisitorial questioning. "Yes, I mean, I suppose I can do both of those things, but would only do so to protect someone." His voice quivered, unsure if he was being accused of something or it was his imagination. He had trouble reading Gretchen. Troubling reading either of them, apparently. "Why makes you ask about emotion control?"

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Gretchen looked at him like he was some sort of weird alien fish from the depths of the ocean. "You're a young man in college with the ability to manipulate emotions. If the many ways you could abuse that position haven't occured to you yet, I assume you're either Amish or were raised by monks."

 

"What I think Gretch is trying to say," said Lynn as she rolled her eyes in mild embarrassment, "is that you may be tempted in life to use that power to take advantage of others, particularly young women in your case. But it sounds like we don't have to worry about that, do we?"

 

The young barista harrumphed, folded her arms and looked at Mason expectantly, waiting for his inevitably awkward response.

Edited by Heritage

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