White’s Antiquities, tucked away amongst the other buildings, was within a triangular intersection. High Holborn was on its north side, Cadabra Way was to the east, and an unnamed road was on the west. It was a wood-beamed shop with an overhanging second story. Evidence of its Tudor past could be seen in the uneven gables, but it was the soot and grime that stood out. It had to be the dirtiest building in Crowley. Its sash windows and splintered wood door were covered in filth. Instead of soiling my gloves, I murmured an unlock spell and entered.
The inside was no better than the exterior. A musty, dank smell made my nose wrinkle. Some might consider the curious items valuable, but to me, it just appeared as junk piled in a small space.
“Can I help you?”
I glanced up and saw an older woman with graying hair piled on top of her head. She was barely five feet tall, and she wore an ill-fitting black dress that was sadly outdated. Her beady acorn-brown eyes glared at me as if I was intruding upon something important. She stepped from behind the wooden counter. Limping toward me, she asked again, “Is there something you need?”
Holding my chin high, I said, “Are you Esther White?”
She looked down her aquiline nose. “Who is inquiring?”
“If you are Miss White, then the person asking might be the daughter of Eleanora Alderdice.”
The woman’s thin lips twisted into something resembling a smile. “There’s a name I haven’t heard in years.” Her voice was abrasive as if she’d spent too many days inhaling the soot-filled air.
“Are you Miss White then?”
“Yes, child. What do you want?”
Nonchalantly I said, “A little help would be nice. I have a scroll in my possession that I can’t decipher. Maybe you can?”
She cackled. “Maybe? You know nothing of me, do you?”
I turned away from her and pretended to be interested in a stack of old books. “I know that you’re on the Murcurial Watch List.”
“Is that all?” She clopped along behind me as I continued to peruse the shoddy merchandise.
“You lived on the same street with my mother.” It was a stretch. The records only indicated that they were born on the same road.
“You’ve been snooping in the Chamber of Annals.” Miss White blocked my path. “You do know the problem with being nosy?”
“Who said I was being nosy?”
She leaned in, and I got a good look at her scarred flesh and a generous whiff of stale breath. “Stop. I can smell the magick on you. If I had to guess, I’d say that you glamoured yourself to look like one of your professors. You snuck into the records room and stole what you needed. Let me see this scroll.”
I backed up. “Do you think I’m dumb enough to carry it with me?”
“As a matter of fact, I do.” She snapped her fingers, and the scroll slipped from up under my sleeve. A satisfied smirk crossed her chapped lips as she unfurled the parchment.
Reaching for it, I shouted, “Give that back! It doesn’t belong to you.”
“Nor you.” She carried the item to the counter and spread it out. “Leave this with me, and I’ll help you.”
“Is that all you want?” I approached the woman. “Just that old piece of paper?”
Not making eye contact, she said, “We’ll be doing each other a favor.”
I folded my arms. “What kind of favor?”
“So many queries for such an inexperienced Spelltwister.” Miss White re-rolled the parchment and finally looked at me. “What do you know about magick?”
Should I have pointed out how ridiculous her question was for a Spelltwister? I knew magick. “I assure you I’m well-versed—”
“Tell me, child, what is the difference between a Murcurial and a Celestine?”
Was she serious?
“Try harder. Everyone knows that Murcurials are born from evil intent and Celestines are pure of heart.”
“And why is that?”
“Because of their parents.” The woman must have thought I was a dullard. Those were easy questions with even easier answers.
“Wrong,” she spat back. “Magick traces back to our ancestors. Murcurials have Aradius to thank for their powers. Celestines are tied to Devanus.”
Miss White glanced out the dirty window. “It’s getting late. Come back tomorrow, and I shall give you a proper lesson.”
“Tell me about Aradius and Devanus, and then I’ll leave,” I urged.
She sighed. “Very well. Who cares if Eleanora gets upset? Right?”
The woman had a point. I hadn’t gone to market, and Mr. Simpson’s shop would be closing soon. “Very well. I’ll come back bright and early.”
“You do that, child.” Miss White turned back to the parchment, slowly unfurling it. “I’ll give you a much-needed history lesson, and we’ll discuss this scroll. Bring the grimoire that goes with it.”
“There is nothing I don’t know,” she said and hobbled down a cluttered aisle.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish