Crystal and Scarlet – a Choose Your Own Story

This post is a part of the story that I am beginning to write over on my Patreon. It is a patron driven story that I will expand on every month beginning when I hit my first milestone. This is an excerpt from the first section that is already written, but what happens next to Angela, Tami and Emerson — and the mystery person — is up to the Patrons. If you enjoy this excerpt, and want a hand in where the story goes next, you can  become my patron and see the full part 1 here.  Once I hit the milestone, I will be putting a poll out to my Patrons to see where they want the story to go next.

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Angela’s cut offs and toms looked out of place against the dark heavily polished wood of the basement speakeasy that lived in a back ally of Wicker Park. Emerson padded in behind her, shoving past her legs to make a lazy lope over to the water bowl that he knew Tamlin kept by the bar. Angela stumbled in to a high top table then made her way to a tall seat next to the happily lapping dog. Tami was serving a slender man at the other end of the bar and nodded a quick greeting to Angela who went ahead and sat, echoing Emerson’s contented sighs.

Tami’s pub was a well loved hangout in the mystical community, being one of few in the city. It gave them a quiet place to talk and somewhere they could tell their “non gifted” friends they were going without seeming suspicious. “I’m going out for a drink with the girls” sounds a lot better than “The covent meeting might go late, Marlin’s got some beef about the inscription circles we want to start using.” The door to the bar was in a back ally and at one point had been a normal speakeasy, lending itself perfectly to its use in 2014. When you came in the heavy metal door creaked in protest, opening in to a single, narrow staircase. Down the slick wooden steps and around its sharp turns the stairs opened up in to a large room with low ceilings and exposed beams that carried old refurbished chandeliers hanging just low enough to make moderately tall patrons duck. The amber glow from artistically visible filaments caught on  cracked white paint over aged brick and iron held together with crumbling mortar. The dark polished wood floors had the spiraling patterns of Tami’s protection charms laid in to them in bronze strips. If you squinted your eyes to see past the soft light of the chandeliers, you would see the floor’s mirror imag pressing up in to the ceiling. She had considered leaving the magic infused metal strips installed under the floor boards and painting over them on the ceiling, but Tami had decided against it. She said she wanted people to know they were safe.

When Tami first opened it was a big deal. Word got around that she had warded the doors, ceilings, had every inch of the place covered in enchantments crafted by a famous wizard — though no one could ever agree on which one — so that only members of the mystical community could find the already well hidden watering hole. Angela loved the part about the famous wizard as she’d spun it herself, slipped it in to conversation and given the subtle warm velvet hint to friends’ psyches that it must be true. Truth be told, Tami had done most of the wards herself. Contractors had scratched their heads as they laid in the metals strips to her meticulous specifications, and once thy were gone Tami had gone to work sculpting the power that would infuse every inch of the shining copper spirals. It had taken weeks and the help of multiple practitioners to put the final touches on it, but in the end, she had what she wanted: A pub that was invisible to the non-mystic community, and strong enough to withstand the magical equivalent of a nuclear attack.

Chicago was known for its booze and Tami’s stock was no different. The back of her bar boasted everything from Malort to Highland Park 30 year old scotch, with a special section that sat just above the top shelf. The cabinet was suspended by a few links of chain from the ceiling and had etched glass laid in to the doors and bronze locks that gave the old brown and green bottles behind the foggy vine patterns a touch of grandeure. Below them, hanging on the mirror behind the bar was a metal sign with an arrow pointing up that said “Drink at Your Own Risk” in chipped red letters. She would never admit it to Angela, but her cabinet of home brews was Tami’s pride and joy, the fusion of her love of her pub and her magical craft. Drinks infused with herbs and magic. There was nothing like it in the world.

Tami brought Angela a glass of water and before she could open her mouth and Tami said

“You know, we could meet other places. I do leave work. You don’t have to come here.”

Angela sipped the water and eyed the bottle of tequila sitting on the back of the bar. It had been her favorite when she could handle it, or could at least convincingly pretend to handle it. As much as she always wanted to tell her closest friend that being around the literal gallons of booze didn’t bother her she knew Tami would taste the lie before she could finish telling it. That’s the problem with being friends with psychics and witches — there’s no point in lying. Having drunk his fill Emerson flopped out at Angela’s feet in to a gangly pile, legs sticking out in to the room behind her and tongue lolling out of his mouth not quite touching the floor. She nudged the base of his ear with her toes and he leaned in to the attention with a blissful grin.

“It’s alright Tami, Em here will keep me honest, won’t you boy?”

Emerson started licking her ankle in response, leaving a string of slobber on her shoe.

“Anyway, its important.” She said, pushing Emerson’s affectionate tongue away and letting him collapse completely with a sigh. “Its another death, up at Montrose. Same thing, 37 stab wounds, all long and thing. Like ribbons.”

Tami sighed and sunk in to her shoulders, her hands on the rounded edge of the bar, her eyes following the scattering of people sipping drinks and laughing in darkened corner booths.

“Is this public? Or even happened yet? Can we stop it?” She asked.

“They found him a few days ago. But he’d come to me first Tami, I saw them finding him. Told him they would. And he had a shadow.”

Tami’s eyes snapped to Angela who had reached down to rub Emerson’s exposed belly. She waited for Angela to sit up again before lowering her voice and asking

“What kind of a shadow?”

“Old.” Said Anegla, running her finger around the top of the glass. “Like, he’d had it for years. Someone had been playing the long game with him. He looked it too. I saw his eyes. He knew. And he wasn’t a mystic. Not even a halfling. Just a . . person.”

“Shit. This is three, you know? One or two is a coincidence, but three? Ange, people are going to start asking questions. Are you sure about —- you know?”

“I didn’t do this!”

A hush fell throughout the bar as Angela slammed her hand down on the bar. Tami glanced around at the eyes suddenly trained on them and straightened herself in to a dazzling smile.

“It’s alright folks, just the wrong credit card, go back to your drinks.” then leaning back down on the bar “I’m not saying its intentional, but you know what happened last time. You haven’t. . . “

“No, I’m still on the wagon. This isn’t me, jesus Tami. Someone’s been putting shadows on people, normal people, people who wouldn’t even know what they’re signing, not at first, anyway. And they’ve been doing it for a while. This guy, Peeler, he would have had to have signed in to his shadow when he was a teenager. I’ve got nothing to do with them dying, I just get ring side seats to watching it happen.”

“Sorry.” Said Tami quietly “I didn’t mean to — its just that they’ve all been in your visions and none of the watchdogs have had a clue as to what’s doing it.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m planning on talking to them tomorrow, let them look at what I’m seeing, see if it can help.”

Tami’s spine with rigid and she stared at her friend in disbelief. Would Angela actually volunteer to let the watchdogs share her visions? Tami had heard such terrible things she couldn’t imagine that Angela would go in to it blindly. Angela cut in to Tami’s thoughts with

“I know the risks, okay? But they’re driving me crazy, okay Tam? They’re worse than my usual one. They taste like rot and death, and I can feel them, the whole thing, the shadow, the fight, the adrenaline. The pain. I’m going to the Watchdogs tomorrow.” she said, downing the last of her water.

Emerson growled under Angela’s chair and heavy footsteps stopped just behind her as Tami snapped to attention. A smooth voice purred from behind Angela.

“Well, isn’t it my lucky day then? Angela Mordeau I assume? I’ve been looking for you.”

 

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