Landford’s Used Books for a New Age seemed to extend back quite a ways from the door; but that was simply an illusion brought about by the tall bookshelves obscuring a clear view of the back of the store. In any case, the building was
rectangular since three of the visitors now standing inside had walked the length of it as they came down the driveway.
“Mmmmmmm, smell that? That’s some fine coffee brewing somewhere in here,” Zane commented, momentarily drawn out of himself.
“I like the smell of the books,” Danica said, smiling as she gazed around at the old wooden bookshelves, their dark wood polished but chipped and scratched in places.
The bookstore had a comfortable, old paper smell—dry, crisp, and a bit musty. Hanging on the walls, underneath the high windows, were velvet-lined display cases containing ancient weapons, mostly knives and swords. There was an attempt to organize and label the multitude of books, but Rhianna noticed there were scattered stacks on the floor and piles on the tables.
“I hope the owner can find everything in here,” Adam said, following Rhianna’s glances.
The brunette elf smiled and replied, “Oh, I love how it looks. Everything is so casual and disorganized, but I bet the owner can put his hands on anything he wants. I just have a feeling.”
Rhianna felt Zane move up beside her and tilted her head up to look at him.
“Speaking of the owner, “ Zane said restlessly. “Is anyone actually here, or is this some sort of joke?”
Without warning, an older man, just barely of medium height and slender—almost frail but his head of thick white hair and his twinkling blue eyes giving him an ageless air—, appeared from the dimness of an aisle to their right. “Indeed I am here, Sir! And I assure you, none of this is a joke.”
Zane, Adam, Danica, and Rhianna all watched the pleasant-seeming man walk around them and lock the front door with a key. He slipped the key ring back into his pants pocket and turned around.
“We don’t want any unexpected customers. We have much to discuss, you understand.”
He seemed quite pleased with their appearance in his bookstore. None of the four had any sort of cautious feeling about him right offhand.
Flipping a switch that dimmed the front lights, the proprietor put his palms together and touched his index fingers briefly to his mouth, beaming all the while. “Come in, come in and follow me,” he motioned with his hand for them to follow and nearly disappeared down an aisle of books. This unexpected departure forced the others to hurriedly follow him. Their footsteps were soundless on the worn, dark green carpeting.
Although Zane did not feel in any danger, he knew the tricks that could be played on the mind, and he kept alert and wary; Danica loved the bookstore but was cautious about this whole situation, and her slight shivering in the warmth of the establishment was merely her usual cold state of being; Rhianna had a million questions to ask; and Adam was of two minds—he wanted to find out everything about this old man and what this was about, but he also reached into his jacket and maneuvered his gun slightly for better access.
The rear of the bookstore contained, surprisingly, a quaint little café. Surprising both because there was a coffee shop two doors down the block, and because this place just didn’t seem the sort to have such an amenity.
“You’ll have to bear with me waiting on you,” the white haired man apologized as he made his way around the back of the half-circle bar surrounding the small serving area. “Please, sit at a table. They’re much more comfortable.”
Rhianna, Zane, Danica, and Adam claimed a chair at one of the four round tables arranged on a hardwood floor. Adam held the chairs for the women, much to Rhianna’s delight and Danica’s surprise.
“And I’ve been rude not to introduce myself so far….forgive me. My name is Baron….that’s my first name, not my title,” the white-haired man explained. “Baron Langford, at your service.”
Baron Langford had prepared a snack of homemade cookies, muffins, and dessert crackers and had placed them on a large plate. He removed the plastic wrap for serving. “I’ll just have some coffee poured and hot water for tea ready in one moment,” Baron continued as he delivered the food.
Danica pushed her chair back, despite Baron’s protestations as he poured the liquids into containers, and brought the tray of beverages to the table. Soon, the five inhabitants of the bookstore—as least as far as they knew—were seated around a table. The silence was a bit awkward but busy while food was taken and fragrant coffee or hot water was poured into various colored cups.
The slender host casually studied his four guests as they served themselves. He carried on a friendly conversation that ranged from the bookstore itself, the weather, a bit on sports, and even the traffic. Baron watched as the large, bald man sat alertly in his chair, his back straight and his arms crossed on his chest. He’d quickly poured a cup of coffee but took no food. He sat thoughtful, silent, and restless. The beautiful elf moved gracefully and almost as if she were made of liquid as she settled herself comfortably back in the chair with a tea bag hanging out of her cup—herbal tea, at that. She already felt at home in the bookstore and had drawn her legs up under her. The blue-eyed man helped himself to a few cookies and his own tea, then sat with his forearms resting on the table, also alert but more relaxed. The tea steeped on the table between his hands. Finally, Baron smiled inwardly at the other young woman—such an unusual hair color—as she couldn’t help but gaze around longingly, ignoring the three muffins she’d placed on her plate. He thought he’d perhaps found another lover of books. Although, along with her interest in the books, he sensed an uneasiness and could almost see the contemplation going on behind those almond-shaped eyes.
“Well,” Baron Langford finished up his rambling and seemingly-absent minded conversation. “I can’t tell you how pleased I am…truly pleased, that you all showed up.”
“Yeah, exactly why did
you…or whoever…want us to come here?” Zane asked bluntly. He was tired of being in the dark. It had been a very long and very strange day. A day Zane would just as soon forget but knew he’d never be able to.
Baron Langford smiled understandingly. “You do deserve an explanation, and so you shall have one.”
Zane was more than ready for this revelation, and the other three at the table turned their full attention to Mr. Langford and his kindly face.
“But first, a round of introductions is in order. You have me at a disadvantage in that I don’t know your names.”
“Oh!” Rhianna exclaimed. She had completely forgotten they’d not even told Mr. Langford who they were. “I’ll start.”
She smiled at the older man, and he couldn’t help but smile back at the beautiful elf. Baron felt a warmth steal over him, and he nearly blushed.
“Ah, but I know who you are, my dear. The talented, lovely, and charming Miss Rhianna Sheridan—model and actress extraordinare!”
“Oh, well, you make me blush, Mr. Langford!” the actress said truthfully. “And that doesn’t happen too often,” she winked.
“My dear, your talent is legendary. It’s said you’ll go down in cinema and stage history as one of the great stars of all times,” Baron said with a serious expression on his face. “Tell me, by what magic do you keep from being recognized?”
The elf’s embarrassed expression turned to amazement. “How…how did you know I can keep people from knowing who I am?”
The older man just raised his eyebrows and gave a small smile. “It’s inevitable, my dear, Rhianna. You couldn’t possibly have the freedom to go about as carefree as you seem without some sort of “help,” shall we say?”
Rhianna laughed finally. “Don’t ask me what exactly it is, because I can’t tell you,” she glanced around at the others who were giving her their full attention. She shrugged. “It’s just something I can do. I can influence people sometimes, as well as make them not really “see” me, if that makes sense.”
“It does,” Adam nodded and chimed in. “Back at the mall, I could have sworn I knew you, but I just couldn’t place your face with a name.”
“I’m surprised you even guessed that much,” Rhianna admitted. “Usually people have no idea who I am if I decide not to be noticed.”
“Hmm, this is good,” Baron Langford remarked, mostly to himself. Then before anyone could speak, he questioned Rhianna again. “You’ve been in this reality, what, about ten years now?”
The other three, especially Zane and Danica, stared at the actress. Adam’s thoughts returned to his childhood, but then the memories faded quickly.
“Yes, about ten years now. I was lucky,” Rhianna smiled at the thought of her adoptive “family.” “I was taken in by mundanes and taught how to live in this reality. I managed to use my talents to my advantage and succeed where I know many Shadowkind have failed.”
Baron nodded, pleased with the elf’s apparent knowledge of Shadow. She would take well the information that he needed to impart. Then Baron turned to the private investigator. “And you, Sir…..you are?”
“Huh? Oh, I’m Adam Kenton. Um, Private Investigator and Sha…,” Adam began then cut himself off.
“Please, go on, Adam…what else do you do?” Baron encouraged.
“I’m a Shadow Hunter……I hunt, well, “things and creatures” that others want found. However,” he added quickly. “I only take clients who are…shall we say, working for the good of this reality.”
?” Zane asked confusedly, shaking his head.
Baron interjected, “A tracker, a stalker, a finder of lost things and people that come from beyond Shadow. A most useful occupation indeed.”
“One more question, if I might, Adam?”
Adam nodded. This was interesting to him, and the PI didn’t mind answering questions this one time.
“You, too are, Shadowkind, are you not? When did you cross over?”
Rhianna, Zane, and Danica looked at Adam in surprise. They’d had no idea he was Shadowkind—there was no indication.
“Are you?” Rhianna asked, interested in which race.
Adam nodded and frowned slightly. The last time he’d tried to speak of his past was to his wife…ex-wife…and look where that got him. A divorce and separation from his only daughter. But these people were different, Adam thought, especially Rhianna. “I am a Shadowkind Human. There are many realities where the inhabitants are human, the same as here in this reality. My family and I, and a few other families, came over somehow when I was just a small child. My original home was quite far behind in technology, but this reality is all I remember clearly.”
“But,” Danica leaned forward. “You seem so…normal, so human. No offense, Rhianna, I just mean I can tell you’re an elf, but Adam just seems like a mundane.”
Rhianna smiled to show she had taken no offense.
“Hey!” Adam said. “Watch who you call a mundane,” he teased Danica who blushed but grinned.
Baron smiled indulgently, pleased to see these four getting along. Well, three of them, at any rate. He turned to Zane, still with his arms crossed and a crease on his brow. The older man nodded encouragingly.
“And your name is…?”
“Zane Merrick. I work at a church doing the administration work.” He glanced sideways at Danica, wondering if the young woman had ever seen him there; however, she gave no indication if she had.
“Yes, that’s what you do now,” Baron nodded. “Tell me, Zane, how long has it been since you’ve been out of the military. It would be good to be part of a team again, don’t you think?”
For a moment Zane stared at the old man. He shook bald head slightly as if to clear it. “How’d you know…never mind, don’t tell me. Yeah, I was in the military for quite a while until I got this.”
Zane rolled up the short sleeve on his left arm to expose his very muscular bicep. A large jagged scar wound its way around the arm as if someone had tried to literally slice off his arm from multiple directions. “It healed completely, but not before the Navy honorably discharged me.”
The ex-Navy Seal gave no response regarding Mr. Langford’s comment about being on a team again, but Zane had to admit to himself it sounded a hell of a lot better than just wasting his days the way he had been these past years.
Baron nodded understandingly and turned finally to Danica. She blushed suddenly and looked shyly down at the table then returned to meet Mr. Langford’s kindly blue eyes.. She still hadn’t come to a decision about this situation, but she was liking these people at the table a great deal for some reason. Her brain and her heart continued to drag her in opposite directions. She self-consciously picked up her tea, her claws making a clicking sound on the ceramic.
“My dear,” Baron said gently. “It’s no use thinking so intensely about what is meant to be. It’s going to happen with or without you worrying over it. Now, who are you?”
A liberating relief flooded through Danica, and she smiled. “I'm Danica….Danica Owens.”
“And you are a Dragonblooded Human, yes?”
For the first time Danica wasn’t hesitant to admit this fact. Rhianna said ‘ah ha’ because she’d known the girl was some sort of Shadow Creature.
“My ancestors…many generations ago…were gold and copper dragons. They’re part of the ‘good’ ones,” she explained, knowing the reputations of dragons. “They intermarried in their human form with Shadowkind humans and those mundanes who understood until most of the offspring just had certain dragon features.”
She waved her claws in the air. “Most mundanes just see very long, gold-painted nails,” she explained. “But what about Zane? He’s some sort of Shadow Human, isn’t he?”
Everyone turned their attention to the man with the caramel-colored skin. Trying to lean back further in his chair, Zane sighed and resigned himself to explaining. “Yeah. Snakeblooded Human. But I don’t know anything about how or why. I never asked. I…I’ve tried to deny the fact for most of my life,” he admitted.
Everyone was silent for a few minutes, digesting everything they’d heard so far. Tea and coffee were sipped and a few bits of food were nibbled upon; but mostly everyone was now incredibly curious as to what was to come next. A clock in the bookstore chimed 8:00, but no one paid much notice.
Baron rubbed his thin-skinned but strong-looking hands together, then took another sip of tea. “Now, you need an explanation of why you are here.”
“Finally!” Zane said.
Edited by Nikki Peppermint, 10 April 2005 - 07:11 PM.