If there was anything that you had to say was your highlight in your short-lived life, you would have said that watching the trio of part-time magic shop employees making a masking spell was one of them.
Vladimir hadn’t been kidding about the spell involving a dead rat.
“Why a dead rat?” you asked him when you saw him retrieve one from an unnamed alley. (Apparently he had retrieved it on a street. How he had found it in the first place still remained a mystery.)
“The dead rat symbolizes deceit and distraction,” Lukas, with his placid fish-like expression, told you. He was softly murmuring some words every now and then through a book that you couldn’t decipher.
Arthur, who had just finished getting the meter-tall cauldron to a boil, turned his attention towards you. “We’re going to test out a pact on you, ______________. If my theory holds up, then you should be able be free of any smells or magic for the entire time you’re here.”
You tilted your head. “The entire time being the day that I’m going to be here or the rest of the time I’ll ever spend in the Yonder?”
Caterpillar Brows shrugged. “We’ll just have to find out and see.”
“And you mentioned this being a pact. What am I supposed to give up by hiding my smell?”
In response, Lukas looked up from his book. “Getting rid of your smell is actually the bad part.”
“Oh.” You paused. “So what’s the good part?”
Fruit Bat grinned, revealing his oddly pointy teeth. “The first three people you come into eye contact with will forever be bound to you.”
“Not literally,” Arthur quickly clarified. “We mean that in the sense that we’ll be connected in spirit. If something’s wrong, we’ll get a feeling that you need help, you see. We might be able to sense what you are feeling even if you don’t know the feeling for yourself. Think of it as being like good friends or close family members.”
“And you’re all alright with this? Isn’t it a little strange that three people will feel this way?”
“That’s survival of the fittest,” Fruit Bat smiled. You didn’t understand what he meant by that.
Lukas promptly cleared his throat. “I’ve gotten the spell enunciated. Vlad, would you bring me the rat, please?”
“Sure will!” his friend beamed and walked up to the stool where Ray-face was standing. What disturbed you most of all was that the rat looked freshly killed. It hadn’t decomposed in the slightest or you were sure the bones and flesh would have collapsed in on themselves within the skin and fur.
The most stoic of the trio made no disgusted expression as he hovered the rat over the open cauldron and began to murmur in a low voice. Once the exchange of words was over, Lukas uttered a few more phrases under his breath and unceremoniously tossed the little corpse into the cauldron. In the middle of the incantation, Arthur prepared a small lantern filled with burning incense—frankincense you presumed from the sleep-inducing woody smell. As he carefully levered the lantern above the open cauldron, an ectoplasmic-like pink smoke came oozing out of the edges and into the green fumes of the black abyss.
“I think it’s ready,” Vladimir told Arthur after inspecting the state of the incense lantern and tossed in a few unnamed herbs into the mix. At this point, the smoke coming out of the cauldron had transformed from a slime-green sludge to a mystical soft blue. It was reminiscent of the shade of Lukas’ eyes if anything.
Then, Arthur brought the incense lantern over your head and began to sway it back and forth like a warding charm. It was a good thing you weren’t a spirit or demon because the atmosphere in which the trio was conducting their spell was anything but short of foreboding.
Now came the candles. They had previously been set at the feet of the cauldron when you first entered the preparation room. The unlit cylinders of wax were now starting to combust without matches one by one as Lukas’ voice grew louder. The incantation growing progressively louder in crescendo and faster with accelerando, the smoke had now gone from a calming blue to a fiery hot scarlet pink. The frankincense that was waving above your head burned your nose and set tears threatening to roll down your cheeks. Your felt hot, trapped, unsure and untrustworthy of what sort of spell these three were trying to pull on you exactly.
As Lukas’ voice grew into a fever pitch, Vladimir began to chant, too, and then, Arthur joined in. The chorus of omnipotent voices melded together with the swirling chaos floating in the room. Smells of sweat, burning wood, and a hint of decay floated, clashed, and mixed around your feet, encircling you like a funnel-like cloud that began to rise up. Soon, your body was covered, concealing your vision completely until you couldn’t make out the trio’s faces any longer. Helpless and petrified at the given scenario, you could only shut your eyes and hope for the best. Somewhere along the way, you realized you had stopped breathing all together in order to seal your nose from the burning sting of the smells floating about. You could no longer hear one distinct voice over another. They had assimilated into a single chant, harmonizing to perfection and escalating in volume and speed further still. A fell wind blew through your hair, and within a matter of seconds, a suffocating sensation enveloped you. It was like being trapped in a bubble. One moment, your surrounds were obvious to you in every way: sound, smell, taste, and touch—excluding sigh because your eyes were closed—the next moment, everything that told you that you existed in a physical state cut off. Emptiness. Hollowness. Darkness.
And then…pop! Just like that, your eyes flew open, and the room filled with the familiar tri-colored blue, green, and red lights. Lukas, Arthur, and Vladimir were watching you as if nothing had happened. The cauldron was now empty, and the dead rat and oozing smoke were nowhere to be seen. All appeared well.
Arthur was the first to speak. He cleared his throat for a spell and then began talking in his usual English accent—plus a bit of a rasp on the end of his sentences from the incantation, you guessed.
“Ahem. Do you feel any different, _____________?”
To this you bowed your head, blinked a few times, moved your fingers, wiggled your toes, and opened your mouth to speak.
“I think I’m alright,” you replied. “It was definitely…different.” Then you looked up at them. “What about you guys? I thought when I made eye contact with you that you’d feel something.”
“I feel fine,” Lukas said.
“Nothing unusual on this end,” Vladimir added.
“I don’t feel any different, myself,” Arthur finished off. “Hmm. We’ll just have to wait and see when we step outside. The air in here isn’t exactly good to base a threshold off of.” The rest of you agreed and proceeded to step outside of Camigani’s Corner. Arthur was the last one out of the store, making sure the locks were all secure.
“This is great,” Vladmir beamed, walking beside you. “Thanks to you, ____________, we don’t have to count stocks.”
Ray-face rolled his fish eyes. “We’re going to have to do it when we come back, Vlad,” he reminded him. “And we wouldn’t have had to count stocks to begin with if ______________ hadn’t knocked over everything in the first place.”
You jumped into the conversation. “Now that I think about it, how did you and Arthur get everything organized so quickly? If you think about it, you and Arthur were the only ones in the store, right? Adding up the time I took to go to Lukas’ place, recovering from the bathwater incident, and going over to your apartment, there was a really small time window for you to organize everything together.”
After making your statement, you noticed everyone wearing devious and/or sheepish looks toying in their eyes. They looked like they had something they were hiding, but—
“A-Ah, you smell wonderful, _________________,” Arthur quickly snapped you up from your thoughts. “You took a bath in Vlad’s place, correct? I’m going to guess the water smelled like lemons?”
“Er, yes?” you answered in more of a question than a statement.
Caterpillar Brows forced a smile. “That’s what I smell off of you, not the normal Earl Grey and brown sugar that you used to give off.”
“The pact was a success,” Lukas nodded.
Confused, you looked over at Ray-face. “You said that when Vlad made a pact, he did so with the Bloody Lances. Who did I make a pact with?”
“Us!” Vladimir smiled.
“Yup! We have our own pacts!”
“Practice for our own shop when we get the license,” Arthur answered in his ruby-eyed friend’s place. “Getting a license for a magic shop requires a lot of work, actually. It involves understanding of normal human interactions, exchanges between two parties, magic studies, and the concept of luck.”
“Huh. You never told me you wanted to open up a shop of your own.”
“It’s something that just came up one day…” Lukas mumbled.
“But…so that means Arthur’s brothers has their own pacts, too?”
“Correct,” Bushy Brows nodded.
“Ooh. Then Francis has a pact of his own, too!”
Arthur twisted his lips into two sour lemon wedges. You were sure it wasn’t your new smell that made him make that face. “He does. It’s actually quite popular because his deals have to do with romance and little compensation.”
“Hmm. Do you have a cool name for your pact?”
“Magic Trio!” Vladimir burst out.
“Magic Trio,” Lukas sighed. “I was hoping for something like Elusive Cloaked Brotherhood of the Trinity Black Magicks, but Vlad’s name stuck.”
“…I can somehow see why.”
Vladimir seemed proud of the name he came up with. “Magic Trio has a nice ring to it. It’s simple yet gets the job done. It embodies what we are, really.”
You smiled. “Yes. It’s sort of cute.”
“It’s not supposed to be,” Fish-face mumbled. You frowned.
For the next few minutes, the four of you ended up exchanging experiences with the Hither. Vladimir occasionally asked a question about some of the electronic contraptions that you used in your everyday life. According to the laws of the Yonder, electricity was not only unavailable but it was disregarded completely. A laptop would not be able to work in the Yonder even when fully charged and functioning. The same went for all portable electronic devices and everything in between.
In exchange, Arthur shared some stories about his brothers’ travels into the Hither. He recalled them bringing back all sorts of odds and ends from the non-magical world like clovers, stuffed toys, and rubber ducks.
“Those are oddly specific things,” you commented.
Arthur managed a smile. “The clovers are superstitious fragments of luck that you use in the Hither, correct?”
“Y-Yeah, I guess.”
“Even believing that something can bring good luck invokes a little magic into the items. The same can be said about anything having to do with the number seven, rabbit’s feet, horseshoes, charm bracelets, and crystals. Even stuffed toys and rubber ducks can be thought to be charms to some people, it would seem.
“My brothers would take some of these things back to the Yonder and test out their magical properties to see where they appeal in terms of luck. As we mentioned before, the magic in the Hither has a lot to do with fortune and fate, if you’d like to call them those things. All magic is based on those properties in our sense. With a little manipulation, we are able to produce certain outcomes that result in certain events.
“For example, a charm that bestows happiness can be sold in the Hither to produce good luck. That good luck might result in something like doing well on an exam, getting a chance to spend time with friends and/or family, stumbling across some they like or interests them…the list goes on.
“Whereas, if we were to bestow someone with a charm that is for despair, then it’s like a hex.”
“The person would get bad luck,” you elaborated.
“But why would you want a charm that gives off bad luck?”
Arthur shrugged. “It’s in their taste. I haven’t researched too much into that, but my brothers mentioned something about pranks that people play in the Hither. It’s harder to conduct here since ‘bad luck’ which translates into bad magic has a distinct smell.”
“And I’m guessing that smell is whatever people think are bad?”
“That would mean I hold a lot of good magic, then, right?”
“Hmm.” You fell silent for a while as the Magic Trio, as you thought was appropriate to address them as, led you to the main market street in the center of their quaint town.
Since the Yonder had a layout similar to the Hither, you felt somewhat at home with the same crosswalks, streets filled with bustling shops, and twinkling lights scattered throughout the canvas of the magic world. The smells were homely: fresh earthy bread that was always fresh, a scent of the laundry detergent back at home when you watched your parents do laundry, the smoke-filled mornings when you would go to school, and the crisp biting air of a chilling winter’s afternoon.
“It’s magical,” you breathed, taking in all of the nostalgic smells. Funny how magic in the Yonder acted this way. For better or for worse, you appreciated every one of the smells. Both brought you a little closer to home in this parallel world.
“It sure is,” Vladimir agreed. He pointed to a store with a glass door on the other side of the street. “That’s the place that sells stones. We’ll get some over there.”
“Do what you want,” Lukas sighed, his eyes averting from yours. “I was thinking about getting something for my brother while I was here.”
“Eh?” You looked confused. “I thought the reason you all came was to make sure nothing happened to me.”
“That’s taken care of now,” Ray-face flatly responded. “Since you don’t give off the smell of a strong magic user, people will most likely ignore you—included magic detecting extraordinaires like Francis.”
“Actually, Lukas has a point,” Arthur softly spoke under his breath. “There’s something I wanted to get for the shop, and I’ve been meaning to look into it. Perhaps my brothers will give me permission to order them for our stocks.” He then looked over to your only remaining escort. “Vlad, would you be so kind as to make sure nothing happens to ________________?”
“Sure,” he grinned.
“This is crazy! What about the spell? I thought we were bonded!”
“That’s right. We are,” Lukas confirmed. “If something happens, we’ll get a feeling that something’s happening.” He stopped and looked over at his companions. “I don’t feel anything. Do the rest of you?”
Arthur and Vladimir shook their heads.
“Good. Then I’ll be close by.”
“We’ll see you all in half and hour,” Arthur announced already backing away like a shy cat. Before you could say anything, the others had disappeared within the streets like magic.
“Ah, they’re gone…” you sighed. That’s when you felt a hand on your shoulder.
“That’s okay, ______________,” Vladimir smiled. “You’ve still got me.”
“I guess,” you weakly smiled. “Do you have something else on your mind besides me?”
“You mean besides counting stocks?”
You shook your head. “No. Like a person.”
“Person,” Fruit Bat echoed. “There’s my little brother.”
“You have a younger brother, too?” It seemed that it was a common thing for the Magic Trio. What else did these eccentric three have in common, you wondered?
“Uh-huh,” Vladimir smiled. “He’s really cute. I think he’d like you. Although…I don’t know if you’d be able to meet him. Our age differences is really big, you see, so we don’t have the time in our schedules to see each other too often. Maybe twice a year or so.”
But Vladimir quickly recovered and led you across the streets. “We don’t have to think about that right now, _______________. I can always talk with my brother with the stones. Speaking of which, we still need to get you some before your time here is up.”
You had to smile. Out of the three members of the Magic Trio, you had to say that Vladimir was the most eccentric. Lukas was the hardest one to figure out, and Arthur was the most unapproachable. Then again, old fish-face wasn’t easy to talk to, either, but his little fumes of temper tantrums and outburst every now and then made being around him somewhat more bearable. You would have to work out your relationship with Arthur in the six months you would be working for him.
When you entered the shop, the first thing that caught your eyes was the rainbow-like display of glittering lights above. Unlike Camigani’s Corner, the lights were bright and pastel-like. Soft rosy pinks, light spring greens, and baby blues dotted the ceilings like a starry night for the cute and creative minds.
As far as smells went, there was a pleasant whiff of something sweet. You couldn’t quite put your finger on it. The smells exchanged from freshly baked sugar cookies to strawberries and cream to a hint a vanilla here and there. You weren’t sure if this was the result of having strong magical properties or the work of the shop, but you enjoyed it all the same.
“This place is awesome,” you gaped. “Erm, so…where are the stones?”
“They’re in the conventional aisles,” Fruit Bat told you and led the way. He showed you to a place where stones of all shapes and sizes were stacked in neat pockets. The boxes were sorted by color, and within each box, there were stones of varying luminosity and density. How anyone had managed to find the time to arrange little things as handheld stones was baffling to someone like you from the Hither.
“There are so many…” you goggled with an open mouth. “Does it matter which one I choose?”
Vladimir laughed. “The reason why they’re all so various is because only one contact can be registered per stone, remember? Some people prefer to choose their contacts with colors. Others with sizes. It’s really up to your tastes.”
“Hmm.” You looked at the various stones and thought about your selection for a moment. “Does this come out of my work hours for you?”
“I think so.”
“Ah.” It actually wouldn’t have mattered. The varying amounts of colors, sizes, and luster had nothing to do with the price. All of the stones were thirty heta each. That meant ninety heta in all. It was quite a steep fee.
“I think I’ll go with this one for Ray-face,” you said selecting a murky blue-colored stone with smooth bumps along its surface. “And this one will be for Caterpillar-Brows.” You picked up a lush green-tinted stone with interesting stripes cut into the sides much like a chipped off piece of rock off of a larger structure.
“What about me?”
You giggled. “Fruit Bat, you’re getting the best one.”
“Hmm?” He watched you as you showed him a deep red stone with magnificent luster and milky swirls. The stone had no specific shape. Instead, it was an abstract work of art worthy of being displayed in three-dimensional studios.
“It matches your personality, don’t you think?” you asked, leaning over to his eyes and holding the stone up. “It’s kind of…it’s a bit hard to describe. You can’t put your finger on it, but it’s passionate and loving all the same. And it’s shiny. Like you. Right? You sort of bring a little light into the room no matter how quirky it is. Er…what am I saying? I must sound so stupid right now—”
Lukas suddenly looked up from the shelf he was browsing. It was as though someone had reached his inner thoughts and whispered into his head.
The feelings couldn’t be put into words. He didn’t think it was wrong. Still, he was baffled, a little flustered, even. This wasn’t something he felt too often. Very seldom, in fact.
Somewhere else, Arthur was feeling the same way. Unlike Lukas, he had felt this more times that he could have counted. Too often. The feeling hurt, and he didn’t want to be experiencing it again. The realizations hadn’t even come into full exposure yet, so why was he starting to feel this way now?
He didn’t wait around to come up with the answer. Something was calling to him, as were the other two threads that he was now bound to. He had to go. It wasn’t wrong to go, he thought, but it wasn’t right, either.