[personal profile] drownedinlight
 She laid the book out on the table and her fingers slip under the parchment, which appeared, at first to be very small, but she found it was just folded many times. When the parchment was finally all laid out, many creases decorating it, Tabitha found the same lovely cursive that covered the front of the package.

“Dear Tabitha,” the letter read. “You do know, I am afraid, and I would have liked to know you. At the risk of sounding like several novels of popular fiction, I am sure that by the time you read this that if I am not already dead, that I will be quite soon. This is not a sad event Tabitha, but I wish I could have mentored you. I am sure we would have had our similarities and that you would have made a wonderful protégé. Unfortunately, it cannot be, for it is my time, to fly with Lady Death to wherever I am bound. But there are things I still must tell you.

“My name is, or was, depending on when this letter shall reach you, Elba Mullins. This was rather unfortunate as I was born some fifteen years before the beginning of the French revolution, and remained in French society until after Napoleon received his banishment. This may be difficult for you to believe, as it would mean I was older than the very country you were born to. But it is true, Tabitha, I swear on my life, or soul as it may be, that I write to you the truth.

“For, you know, Tabitha, strange occur around you. They are not always bad, though they have made you an outcast as much as your frightful intelligence has. But you have always kept yourself in check and chastised yourself for any loss of control you have had. You need not chastise yourself any longer, Tabitha, for this is not a thing to be feared but celebrated.

“When I was a girl, about your age, there was a man who came to me, and gave me a book, much like the one I give to you. He told me that he was called the Great Magician, and that one day I would be too. This, I write to you now: you will be the next Great Magician, as I was before you. There is magic beneath your veins Tabitha, and greatness in your future.

“I wish I could tell you that this will be easy for you, Tabitha, but there are those who would seek the knowledge passed from one great magician to another. There are those who seek to live forever, and since unfortunately, those means have been found, they believe our knowledge may help them do so. And they could be right should they use it for such pursuits. You must learn these things, Tabitha, learn every one of them, and never give into the temptation to use them for ill. They will have clever reasons to sway you, such as the pursuit of power, or even simple knowledge. But, Tabitha, no man, most especially no magician, should live forever.

“It had been my hopes that I could be with my protégé for some time before I would need to depart him or her. Now I’ve set you up on a rough path without anyone to guide you. There will be people you can trust Tabitha, people who believe as you will, and see the misguided evil of those who would prolong their lives to rule over others. But none shall know all that you know, and should any ever want to, I advise to consider them much more closely than you may have before.

“I can think of nothing left to say. Death hovers over my shoulder correcting my grammar, now. It is almost time for me to go. I wish the best of good luck to you, my dear Tabitha. I should hope you only met the great lady who follows me know for tea times, and only in a great many years for your final journey.

“La paix, la connaisance, et la magie avec toi
“Elba Mullins.”
Tabitha read the letter, than reread it just to make sure she did not make anything up in the reading. She, the strangest girl in town, would be someone known as the Great Magician? Tabitha slunk into her chair, a frown marring her face. It seemed a plot familiar to her, that she had read many times, through different books spread across her fifteen years of life. Perhaps someone was pulling her leg. Maybe her father or stepbrother thought to make fun of one of the singular pleasures she had in the world, aside from writing in her journal.
But they never read anything like such a plot; where the strange girl in a small town (or perhaps a large one) suddenly found herself gifted with new, powerful abilities. They closest they ever came were the five minutes they spent watching the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer, before changing the channel. For that matter, there was probably no one at school who knew her well enough, despised her enough, or even noticed her enough, to play such a prank.
Besides, all of those theories did not explain the book.
Tabitha wanted to open the book, but the same feeling that had told her to cut school was telling her now to keep it shut until she was somewhere else. In fact, until she was somewhere that was anywhere but here. The book found its way back into the box, Elba’s letter gently settled on top of it, before Tabitha exited her stall. She began a slow stride toward the stairs, which did nothing for her heart pounding in her chest, especially when she heard the floor creak behind her.
Whirling around, she found no one there standing on the old hard wood floors.
“Mrs. McCay?” she called out, backing up towards the entrance. Mrs. McCay was one of the ladies who helped found the library over a century ago. She died around the same time, but the librarians gossiped that she haunted the top floor occasionally, where she had been found, slumped over a cart of books. “Mrs. McCay, I’m going to go down now,” Tabitha called. There was another crack in the floor boards, which was not her own, and she ran all the way to the stairs and then all the way down them.
“What got into you?” Nancy asked when she reached the bottom of the stairs and almost slammed into the front desk.
“I just…I just thought I heard Mrs. McCay,” Tabitha replied. “She scared me.”
“You know Mrs. McCay is probably the most harmless ghost who ever lived again, right?” Nancy asked.
“I know I’m just sort of on edge. Nancy, I’ve got to go for a walk. Maybe it will settle my nerves and all. Anyway, um, I’ll be back for my volunteer shift tomorrow.”
“Call if you need time off,” Nancy said. “You know Mary thinks you’re an angel and works a little too hard for someone your age that isn’t getting paid. And do something fun on your skip day, all right? For me?”
“Sure Nancy. I’ll see you tomorrow, if I’m not on edge.” They exchanged smiles with their goodbyes, and Tabitha turned toward the doors and walked out onto the streets, trying to find a place where her heart would stop pounding.

Chapter Two: Seated in a Magical Pawn Shop

No such luck. Tabitha certainly did not want to stop inside every store in town, because that meant word would get back to her dad that she skipped school. But her edginess developed to the point that she did not even feel comfortable to sit inside the café and eat her salad. So she took it and a few baked goods and wandered the city, looking for a place to settle. Soon, the soles of her feet began to ache. She was at the edge of town then, with no real good place to sit down unless she walked back.
Then she saw it.
It was probably one of the oldest buildings she had ever seen, and though it reminded her more of the structures she saw in history books or the buildings on the Smithsonian mall which mimicked the historical ones, the sign above the door read, “Tiberius’ Pawns.” Tabitha felt certain this building had not been in down town before just now, when she noticed it. But there was something alluringly safe about the white stone building. So, she trotted toward it and entered.
The bell above the door greeted her, but nothing else did, not a person and not even a front desk. Instead, there appeared to be a maze of shelves filled with things from an old hose to what looked like a golden statue.
“Hello?” Tabitha called into the shop. She received no answer, but the edginess and heart pounding had completely drained from her system. “Weird,” she remarked, quietly, as she began to walk the shelves. “You’d think a place like this would put me on edge, not make it go away.” Still, she felt quite calm and began walking among the shelves, looking for a chair to sit in.

Oddly enough, she walked past many rows, though it felt like it had only been five minutes when she found the chair pulled up to a table, with a small type writer seated there. Tabitha allowed herself to fall into the seat and settled her salad next to the typewriter. She opened the salad container, and though the chicken, egg, vegetables and leafy greens had seemed so tempting in the café, her stomach no longer growled at the thought of eating. “Well, I shouldn’t let it go to waste,” she murmured.
“No, that would be a shame.” Tabitha gasped, jumped and turned all at once, to see a man standing over her. He was wearing trousers, a dress shirt, waist coat and tie, though he was barefoot and in need of a good shave. “Are you frightened, miss?”
“You startled me,” she replied. “I didn’t hear you come up behind me.”
“Well, perhaps next time, you should try feeling for the one who comes up behind you, instead of listening for them. What can I do for you, miss?”
“I was just looking for a place to sit and eat,” she said.
“You could not have done that where you bought the salad?” he asked.
“It just all day I’ve felt like…” Tabitha squinted at her salad, as if she could see revelation in the greens. “It’s the oddest thing. I’ve felt on edge all day, but I didn’t realize until just now that it was because I felt like I was being watched. And when I came in here, that feeling just went away.”
“Not many people can see through the shop’s enchantments,” he said. “Most folk can see the shop, but a rare few can see through the walls, and fewer through the shelves. Most folk don’t bother. But if you came in you must have needed something else aside from getting away from prying eyes.”
“Well, what would I need?” she asked. “And it’s not exactly like I can pay you. I don’t have much cash on me—”
“What exactly is cash?” he asked.
“Dollar bills,” she replied.
“That foul paper they started printing and decided to call money?” he asked. “I thought that would fall out of fashion for sure!”
“If you thought that was bad, it did get worse,” Tabitha told him. “Now most of people’s money is kept on plastic cards.” The man stared holes into her.
“Please tell me, you must be joking…What on earth is plastic? Wait! Don’t answer. I haven’t decided if I want to pay you for your information yet. Well, all I know is that if you came in here, you must need something from the shop…Say, you’re new at this aren’t you?”
“New to magic?” she asked.
“Why yes, I would say you are,” he replied, a slow grin over taking his face.
“I might be new to magic,” Tabitha replied. “But I’m not knew to cons. They’re all over the place now-a-days.” His grin dropped from his face.
“Would you stop saying things like that? I might start feeling like I owe you.”
“You would owe me…Are Tiberius, as in, this is your shop?” Tabitha asked.
“Well, technically. A council of Magicians trapped me here over five hundred years ago. I got caught trying out immortality. They trapped me here to see how I might like it. I haven’t aged a day since: I don’t need to eat or sleep. They made sure I would want for nothing. But I have to stay and man this shop, until the day some kind, powerful magician decides I’ve learned my lesson.” He looked her up and down.  “Well, if you haven’t got gold or silver, you’ll need something to barter. What’s in the box?”
“Something I wouldn’t care to give up.” He tutted at her and shook his head.
“You must be about sixteen?”
“Ah, it shows. You give too much away. And the box reeks of Elba’s magic anyway. Where is the old girl? I haven’t seen her since after the queen was crowned.”
“Should I give too much away again?” To answer her Tiberius raised his hand and moved to strike her, but an instant before his hand met her face, it was rebuffed by an invisible source.
“Listen girly, I can’t hurt you, not by hand or magic. I only said such a thing to put you on guard about those who can and very likely will hurt you, understand?” Tabitha nodded. “There’s no need to get smart with me. Tell me about Elba, and I’ll consider it a piece of information to barter with.”
“It’s not good news,” Tabitha told him. Tiberius snorted.
“You think I’ve lived over six hundred years now, over five of those centuries confined to an organized junk yard, and I’ve heard mostly good news? Is she gone then?”
“Maybe,” Tabitha replied. “She wrote me a letter and said that if she wasn’t dead by the time I got it, she would be soon enough.” He grunted.
“I suppose that is bad news. So you’re the next then? The next Great Magician?”
“I guess. I only just realized I was a magician today,” she replied.
“Don’t suppose it’s your fault. I’m not calling science false, but ever since they started making more discoveries there, there seemed to be more disbelief in us all the while. But if Elba picked you.” Tiberius seemed to stair off through the shelves. “Not yet thirty when she when she first entered my shop, after the French revolted for the first time. Even then, you could tell she would bring truth to the name, ‘the Great Magician.’ She smelt of magic the way a drunk smells of alcohol.” He looked down at her again. “Ah well, find something you want for the trade.” He began to walk away when she held up the salad,
“Listen, do you want this? Since I’m not going to eat it?” Tiberius stopped dead in his tracks and turned back to her.
“What’s your name, girly?”
“Tabitha,” she replied, which felt too short, so she added, “Tabitha Walls.”
“You, Tabitha Walls, are too good. Perhaps that will serve you well, in the art of magic. Perhaps it will not. I’m not sure I can say. But you might think to be more careful before you next offer of yourself so easily. I’ll take your salad.” He plucked the bowl from her hands. “Bring what you want to the front of the shop. Don’t worry about finding it, you will when you’re finished. We’ll see about barter then.”
He disappeared into the shelves.
Tabitha looked around her for something of interested. If he thought she needed something from here, she probably would not be able to leave without taking the two things she had bartered for.
On the wall just across from her she noticed a long coat, the kind of long coat she had wanted since her discovery of long coats. The collar did not flop like a trench coat and had silver fasteners which changed for every row, as well as coming in a shade of grey that brought out her eyes. Inside of the coat though, was the most interesting part, because it was filled with as many pockets, in as many sizes that Tabitha would ever need. She discovered that she could even slip her journal inside one and it did not even feel like it weighed the coat down much.
Once she had on the coat, a pair of boots almost threw themselves off the shelf at her.



January 2017

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