Timeline: November 6th, 2007
Wheels squeaked gently as Alice pushed the cart of books down the long, quiet rows of books in the Philosophy section, carefully checking each one before she placed it in its assigned place on the shelf. This was the simplest and most menial part of her job, but she found it relaxing. It left her mind free and in a peaceful place to consider the new pieces of knowledge she’d discovered within the ancient, leather-bound pages of a new acquisition. She’d been working on reading the book for months, now. The book was considered by some to be written by one of the wisest people to have ever lived; each sentence was worth savoring.
Alice was an attractive women just into her low thirties. She was blessed with long, smooth black hair and sparkling, intelligent brown eyes. For someone who spent a lot of time with books, she paid a surprising amount of attention to her body and health. She was strong, toned, and wore very little excess body fat. As pretty as she was, it was surprising to some that she had not yet found a husband to marry her. The fact was, romantic matters were things she had little time for. She would rather spent her days with her books, her meditations, and her Tai Chi. Men, she had concluded long ago, were a distraction. Nevertheless she always had time for people who came to her library in search of knowledge, entertainment, and sometimes, for advice.
Ariyah had always valued the council of her good friend, and respected her choice of books over men, though until now she didn’t understand it. She had come for advice, or perhaps a shoulder to cry on. She watched Alice re-shelve her books, and quietly waited for her to notice her. Quietly that is, until she sneezed.
Startled, Alice turned around too quickly and knocked a couple books off her cart. They hit the floor with a noise thud. As Alice blushed with embarrassment, she stooped to pick them up. “Bless you!” she told Ariyah with a little laugh at her own clumsiness.
Ariyah wiped her nose, and helped pick up the books. “Thank you.” She quietly placed the books back on the cart.” Say, do you have some time, lunch maybe?”
Alice smiled. “Time is something I have plenty of,” she said with a sweeping hand that encompassed the small, empty library. “I have brought some lunch with me today, really too much for me to eat anyway. I made lasagna last night and just brought the whole dish with me. Would you care to retire to the back room and share it with me? Hardly anyone comes here until after five anyway.”
“How could I pass up free food!” Ariyah followed her friend to the back and made herself a plate. “I was hoping I could get some advice, on well, men. I mean a man, rather, just one man.”
Alice put Ariyah’s plate in the microwave to begin heating and leaned on the counter. The back room included a small sink and refrigerator as well as a counter with a couple stools. The microwave sat upon a clean, beige counter and hummed as it did its work.
“A man? Well, I’m hardly an expert on men,” Alice said, “but I can certainly lend a sympathetic ear and give what advice I can. What seems to be troubling you, Ariyah?”
When the lasagna was ready, Ariyah removed a small bottle of hot sauce from her bag and dumped it on the Lasagna. She then sprinkled some chocolate shavings on it. Between bites she spoke. “Have you met Ramiel and his friends yet?”
“Hm,” she considered. Alice didn’t socialize much, but she did keep up on events by reading the local paper. “Is that the same Mr. R. Dragos that moved into the old resort house up the hill a ways?”
Alice thought about that. “No, not personally. Everyone has heard of him and his friends, of course. But only Ramiel has stopped in and he didn’t speak with me other than to get a library card.”
“Mhmm.” Her words were muffeld as she tried to choke down too large a bite. ” mats ma mone.”
Alice picked at her lasagna a bit then raised an eyebrow. “Is it this mysterious Mr. Dragos that has you vexed?”
“Vexed, hmm. Yeah it is him. I am just confused as to what to do.”
“So,” Alice ventured to guess, “you want to ask him out? He is a very handsome man. I can see how it might be a little intimidating to approach someone like that.”
“Wha- no, we have been seeing each other off and on all summer. Nothing serious, just you know, release. Well, I would say that our friendship is serious though. We have grown very close that way. He is a really great guy, actually the entire group is really great, though they can be a bit of a handful sometimes. Before I say any more I need you to promise me you won’t tell anyone.”
Alice raised her hand. “On my honor, mum’s the word. So you and Ramiel Dragos? This is, this is very interesting! “
“Oh you have to see it! The most eligible single woman in the town and the most handsome man in town? How could it not be interesting!” Alice paused. “Oh, but you said there was something troubling you about you and him, right?”
“I don’t think I would say I am the most eligible.” She finished up her snack, as she had been eating more lately. “I don’t know where the worries are, me, him, her, all of us. ” She sighed heavily. “You know how my powers have grown over the last few years, and that Ramiel and his friends all have abilities of their own. They are the ones who finally defeated the spirit that dwelled here. You know all this, aaah, I don’t know how you will take this, or think of me after, so here goes.
Alice looked concerned but simply let Ariyah talk.
“You know I have always had a more open approach to relationships, right? Well Ramiel is committed to Lyla, and vice versa. But they have what most would think of as unhealthy I suppose, they have a completely open relationship. It is very romantic in a way, they know that their feelings for each other will never falter.
“So this summer, they were going through some changes, and Ramiel and I were doing a lot of research together. He was more than willing to fulfill some desires I could not hide from him. But then he has a way to pull them out of you without even trying. You’ve seen him, try being in close quarters wiht him and not wanting. Never mind.
“So at first it was just us having fun, knowing where we stand with each other. Then Lyla came back, and she tried to intimidate me, okay she did in fact scare me. But it had the opposite effect. Instead of it remaining casual between us, I pursued the relationship. ” She paused for a moment.
Alice had an idea where this might be heading. She reached and took Ariyah’s hand. “Oh Ariyah. You deserve better than that. But you pursued what you wanted and maybe that’s all any of us can do. What happened next?”
“No, that is just it, I pursued a relationship out of spite. She wanted to threaten me, in a ‘this is my territory’ way. I didn’t want to give in, so I pursued a relationship that was not there, most likely wouldn’t have been. I wasn’t in love with him; now, I don’t know. I mean I love him, he is important to me, not in love. I don’t think we could ever feel that deep love for eachother. He cares for me a great deal. Who knows if Lyla were not in the picture maybe we could, I just don’t know how I feel.
“Plus there are some complications, as if that were not enough. There was an accident, some of his abilities got away from him, and Lyla was hurt from it. She is okay, and all is repaired between them. He took it pretty bad, but I think maybe I over reacted, or didn’t react severly enough. I mean he knew what he was doing, and he put her in danger, right? No he talked to me, he didn’t realize the full scope of things, it got out of hand. But it scared me. I know a good chunk of it is my hormones, they are haywire as of late. Ugh.” She looked her friend in the eyes and pulled her cloak to one side, revealing the expansion of her tummy.
“The other complication. ” She ran her hands over the buldge. “This little one has been turning my world upside down. The morning sickness has past, but the cravings and mood swings are unpredictable.”
Alice’s eyes widened. “Oh boy.” She bit her lip. “I’m sorry, Ariyah. This really has to be hard on you. How has he taken the news?”
“I would say suprisingly well, but it doesn’t suprise me. He is very supportive. He asked me how I wanted to handle things. He was supporting me no matter what my choices, even marriage if I wanted it, But I don’t.”
“Well,” Alice said, “that’s a relief. I’m sure your child will need his father. It’s good that he’s not going to run from this.
“You suprise me, I expected a lecture like all the times when I was younger. Why are you taking it so well? Are you not disappointed?”
Alice shook her head. “You’re a grown woman now and you’ve been on your own for some time. You’re decisions are your own and you deserve to be respected for facing the consequences of those decisions. In any case, I would never scold a friend for following their heart. I can see you didn’t mean for this to happen. I feel bad for your situation because I think you are an attractive, intelligent girl that deserves a devoted man. But that’s my personal opinion not something I’m going to attempt push on you.
“How has your grandmother handled the news? And your sisters?”
“Grandmother is delighted, and very supportive. She says it will be a girl, and she does not care if Ramiel marries me or not. She really likes him, and treats him as family anyway. She says something about destiny dancing around him, and Lyla too.
“Bree is happy too, she gets to be an Aunt, but Tera has no idea. You know she moved to New York a couple years ago. I could never understand her fascination with law. I have not told her, I don’t think she would be so happy with it.
“But honestly I have been worried as of late, despite Gran’s optimism. There have been odd pains, and I am worried. The doctor says everything is well though.”
“Odd pains? What kind of pain?”
“Mild pains, in this area.” She rubbed her hand in the lower right quarter of the abdominal area. ” Growing I guess, but the doctor says everything is fine.” After taking a drink of water, she sighed. “I was so mean to him, over the accident. I mean I was justified in my fears, but they were a bit over the top I think.
“Hey have you noticed things changing around here, since the spirit is gone?”
“Well, there have been more visitors, I’ve noticed,” Alice said. “But what do you mean by over the top toward Ramiel?”
“You know, I was afraid he would be that irresponsible around me, the baby. I was worried about our safety, I mean he loves her more than anything and he put her life in danger. I let my hormones make things worse than they are I guess, but still. Ah, I wish I could tell you more, but it is personal to them, to me.”
Alice thought about that. “Well, I wouldn’t want you to betray anyone’s trust. But if you can tell me, what did Ramiel do that put Lyla in so much danger and worried you so much?”
“Alice, this may seem strange to you, or not. But there is more in this world than meets the eye. We know this from our teachings growing up, but it goes way beyond that. I know there have been many questions I have always wanted to ask you, but they are private so I have not. This town, this world, it is not alone, and nothing is really as it seems.”
Alice looked at Ariyah, then nodded slowly. “I’ve always sense there were deeper truths and that not everyone you meet is who they seem to be. Does this have to do with happened between Lyla and Ramiel?”
“Myself included. I trust you Alice, I trust that you will not tell anyone what I am about to say. This is concerning me. I will do my best to respect what is private for the others.
“I am different, my powers, are not just ancestral. I have awakened in this world, and seen what it can be. I am a mage, and from what I have researched the founders, our ancestral line, most likely were as well. Not all of them, but a good portion. Ramiel has helped me with research, he really likes that kind of stuff.”
“A mage? As in, you work magic that’s real?” Alice seemed surprisingly calm about the idea, willing to entertain the truth.
“That can suffice as a definition, yeah. Again you seem calm about this information, I get the feeling you are not telling me everything.” She smiled warmly at her friend.
Alice returned the smile. She needed time to put together what she wanted to say on the matter so she got up and filled a coffee pot with water, then placed tea bags in a filter instead of coffee. Once the little white machine was burbling away, she returned to sit by Ariyah again. “You’re right, of course. There really is a lot more out there than meets the eye.
“I guess I’ve always known it,” Alice continued. “Ever since I was a little girl I had sort of a… sense about things. It led me to explore the hidden world, eventually. I studied Platonic Forms, I visited Tibet for many years. I learned all I could about the hidden world, and brought that knowledge finally back home with me to Eldon Well. I’ve come and gone from Eldon Well many times but I was born here.”
She paused and leaned toward Ariyah. “I am sixty-five years old this year — and I know I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what all is really out there. So, while I don’t know precisely what it means that you call yourself a mage, I am not surprised that you are more than you seem. I have always sensed it. It is my gift.”
Curiousity urged Ariyah forward. “What do you refer to as the hidden world?”
“There is knowledge scattered all across the world, in all faiths, and all people. A lot of it is mystical and the truth is, that it is real. I know magic is real, because I do it myself. When I was in Tibet, I learned the ways of Tao — not Buddha as is more popular. Tao is far more ancient, and there I was able to discover mysterious that opened the way to greater harmony and balance. It also opened my mind to the realities of the world, the existence of spirits, and the realization that there are more kinds of demon and spirit that walk this earth than there are man, but that the world still belongs not to our spirit-brothers but to mankind.”
“You say sixty-five?” Ariyah asked. “You don’t look older than thirty. Are you human, or other? I believe the world belongs to us all, actually. It is something Ramiel and I have discussed to great depths. We share the world, each of us has a part. But yes I will agree that mankind is the majority.”
“Human born and human still,” Alice said with a smile. “Maybe it’s best if I just show you. Promise not to tell anyone?”
“As you keep my secrets, so shall I keep yours.”
“Okay. Follow me this way.” She went to the back of the room where there was a large, old door. From its placement, one would assume it was just the back door of the library, usually kept locked. But Alice withdrew a long, brass key that looked very old and very complicated. She put it the lock, turned it one way, paused, turned it another, and then one more time, as if it were a kind of combination lock. The door opened and, despite its age, issued not a single creak or groan. Beyond was a landing for a staircase that led to a basement. Another door across from the one she opened, appeared to be bricked up.
Alice flipped a switch that lit the basement and as Ariyah followed her down old wooden stairs, an amazing site met her gaze.
The immediate space was filled with all manner of crystals, bubbling tubes of liquids rested atop a great table made of cherry or other dark, hard wood, an armoire made of the same wood stood not far from it, and then there was shelving lining the space. The floor was covered in what appeared to be Chinese characters laid out in artful patterns and arcane angles, circles and other shapes.
Beyond the immediate mystic workroom stood what Ariyah could only assume was Alice’s own, true library. It was protected from entry and theft by a heavy iron bars and a locked gate that would keep any but the most determined intruders out. She could see easily through the protective grid rows of shelves filled with books, scrolls, even hand-stitched tomes. Though she saw no Atlantean sigils on any book in sight, what she did see showed that Alice’s collection contained considerable occult knowledge, even if it didn’t directly contain information on the Atlantean Magic.
Walking down here immediately reminded Ariyah of her own sacred space, her Hallow and she sensed there was power here. But it wasn’t just the place that had a power of its own. It was in the way Alice had arranged the room. She’d heard of Feng Shui — but this was the first time she’d ever seen it in very real and very effective use. This place was an occult mecca!
When Ariyah turned her astonished face back toward Alice, Alice was wearing a smile perhaps born of a little bit of pride in her work and her collection. “The secret of my longevity is right here.” Alice gestured to the huge lab table covered in glass vials filled with liquids, powders, and bits of various metals including some that looked like silver, mercury and gold. Burners stood ready to heat her mixtures, old-fashioned scales held bits of lead on one platter and gold on the other.
“You are an alchemist? Something more than that I assume. This is amazing, and wonderful. Why did you keep this secret for so long?”
“Well,” Alice said, “it’s because people wouldn’t understand. I’m a Tao Alchemist, yes, and not just a master of external alchemy but also internal alchemy. But if people knew that, how long do you suppose it would be before I had people beating down my door for the secret of my longevity, virtual immortality? This is the greatest secret of the Tao monk masters, and the greatest secret I have uncovered in all my studies.
“When I achieved this final lesson I realized that pursuit of knowledge for knowledge sake was not always the wisest course of action. I retreated to Eldon Well, posing as my own daughter. Here I can continue my studies in relative obscurity with little fear of my secret being discovered and people coming to take what they are not ready to have.”
“Yes,” Ariyah murmured, “it is very… similar…”
Alice asked, “Did you say something?”
“Yes, and no. Things are just very similar to others some times, that is all.”
Alice pulled up a tall stool used when working at her lab table, took pains to carefully place it, then turn it just so, and then offered it to Ariyah. She then placed one for herself with the same care. It was as if she was trying to preserve some kind of occult symmetry to the room while still being sociable.
“So,” Alice began. “Tell me about you. What does a ‘mage’ do for a living?”
“Well, you know I still assist Grandmother, I am being groomed so to speak. One day I will take over as mayor, well myself or Tara. But Grandmother thinks that Tara will never wish it, but I don’t know. I also help the young ones, I teach classes for Gran, as well as fill in at the High School when needed.
“For the most part we are no different than everyone else, most have the potential, but never awaken to it.”
“The potential?” Alice prompted.
“I would not call you a normal human, or a sleeper as we call them,” Ariyah said. “This is because you possess knowledge of the supernatural and the other realms, as well as abilities of your own. Every person has the potential to hear their calling. But not everyone follows it; they remain asleep. For those who do follow, few survive the journey. Those who do are awakened to the worlds around them, who they are, what they are, and all they are capapble of. All mages are similar, and different, we follow different paths and such.”
“This is fascinating, to me,” Alice said. “You have an entirely, completely different look at the occult and supernatural world than anything I’ve experienced or read about before and you’ve been right here in Eldon Well the whole time! From the way you talk about Mages, it sounds to me as if you aren’t alone, as if there are more Mages right here in Eldon Well. I won’t press you on that. I know you don’t want to reveal secrets that aren’t your own to give.
“But I’m just dying of curiosity. How does it work? Or, can you show me something?”
“You have shown me this treasure trove of yours, so yes I can work a little magic for you.” she smiled, and then concentrated. Her voice was echoing and soft as teh words of ancient right danced upon the air. Her hand moved in a smooth arcing motion from her face to the back of her head. It only took moments to complete, as her strawbwerry blonde hair and hazel eyes cahnged to blue eyes and long sraight jet black hair.”What do think, should I go vixen?”
Alice laughed and clapped her hands once. “That’s amazing! I’ve never seen someone do something like that outside of a movie! May I?” She reached out to touch Ariyah’s new hair, to see if it was real.
Ariyah let her feel the silken smoothness of her hair. “You can give it a tug, too, if you like.”
Alice played with Ariyah’s hair for a few moments until she was convinced it was no illusion. She shook her head and let go of the hair. “That’s really something. Can you apply this magic to other things, too? such as changing the features of others? Or how about changing bigger features, such as features that don’t normally exist like… like a bunny with wings? Or a porcupine that is cuddly instead of prickly?”
Ariyah laughed lightly. “It takes more, but yes. If I wanted I could become someone else, at least in appearance. It would take a great deal more, but I could even shift gender, in theory. There are always dangers to such things, and I am always very careful. But there is little harm in a makeover for a day.”
Alice shook her head in amazement. “The closest I can come to anything like that is my alchemy,” Alice said. “I can change metal into gold, liquid into mercury or any other substance but only after hours of work. I can change my body by altering the flow of Chi, but I can’t make it look different. And, I can transform my physical self into ephemera, to become a ghost, but that too takes a lot of concentration to do. Mostly, though I just use what I know to keep fit, to keep my mind sharp, and to continue to learn what I can about the occult world.” Alice gestured toward her special library locked behind the gate.
“Unless you are born gifted, it’s pretty rare for someone to take a serious interest in the occult. In fact, other than you, the only other person in town that knows my secret library exists is poor Abigail Braff — and her interest has been very specific.”
“Abigail?” Ariyah questioned.
Alice looked surprised the name didn’t ring a bell for Ariyah, but then realization came across her face. “Oh! You didn’t know because you were away at college when it happened. A terrible tragedy struck the Braff family when you were away at college a few years ago. They had a farm just outside of town, you see…”
Alice paused to collect her thoughts. A little wrinkle of sadness materialized on her brow as she began to relate the story. “According to the paper, the Braff family was attacked a group of wild animals that took off with their two children and her husband. They were never found and Abby was devastated.
“But that’s not the story Abby tells. That’s just what the police were able to put together. They never did solve the case.” Alice shook her head. “It was horribly traumatic for Abby. She believes it wasn’t just wild animals. She said that whatever they were, they didn’t take her husband, either. You see, it was werewolves.
“I know what you’re thinking; real werewolves? They’re supposed to be things made up by hollywood, right? Well, right after the attack Abby was was extremely upset, naturally. Her husband was still there and he told her everything. He told her how he was something called a wolfblood and that their children were too. He told her that they were taken away because the eldest, Bobby, was about to change for the first time and that her daughter was close, too. I think Abby said they were only 14 and 12 at the time.
“Anyway, if you believe her tale, she freaked out on Reggie, her husband, and stabbed him several time. He fled after that leaving her alone in that house.
“Well, ever since then Abby has been looking for information on the werewolf thing. I happen to have a lot of books on research and theory of shapeshifters. For the past few years Abby has been looking for her children and trying to get revenge on the werewolves that took them.
“After being gone for about a year, she turned up yesterday. She was sporting some new scars and she looked like she’s been weightlifting every day since her kids disappeared. Apparently, she had found some werewolves in the mountains somewhere west of here. Not close, though. Any, she said she hurt them pretty good but they managed to escape the traps she set for them and come after her, so she retreated here to recuperate. She came here yesterday to do some more research in my special collection.”
“Oh my. What were her childrens’ names? IS she still hunting, it sounds so dangerouse.” Ariyah was calm with the news, perhaps too calm, she tried to show some shock on her face, but was probably failing.
“Bobby — Robert I think was his full name. And Samantha was her daughter.” Alice considered Ariyah’s face for a moment. “And until Abby finds her kids, I don’t think she’ll ever stop hunting. Their her whole reason to keep going. She’s sacrificed everything she had, all her belongings and her husband’s — who is also still missing — to get the materials she needed. I’ve even helped her a little bit mainly because I often wonder if maybe her story is true. I hate to think something bad is going to happen to her, but I don’t know. I just don’t see a happy ending for her if she keeps this up. On the other hand, maybe no happy ending can exist for her now.”
“I know. She rubbed her belly gently. “But you think maybe she overreacted with her husband? I mean she stabbed him. If this story is true, don’t you think he would have stayed with her if she had not attacked him?”
“I don’t know. Abby said that he conspired with the werewolves to have their children taken from her in the most horrifying way imaginable. He knew what was going to happen and not only did he not try to stop it, he had, according to her, a part in planning it.” Alice shrugged. “In circumstances like that, I’m not surprised by anything a person might do, especially a parent. Still, I don’t think Abby misses him very much. She views him as her enemy, too, part of the kidnapping. She wouldn’t have wanted him in her life after that.”
“That is too bad.”
Alice nodded. “Very much.”
“What if I said I believe her, but don’t agree with her? What would you think?” Ariyah looked anxiously at her friend.
“Well, if she isn’t crazy — and she might be — then monsters stole her kids and her husband helped them. Why wouldn’t you be sympathetic to her struggle?”
“Oh, you think she may be crazy, hmm.” She thought on it for a moment. “Okay that aside, you see what we can do, that magic is real, as well as other things you have researched. So why not think it is possible for Werewolves to be real, and if they are, does that make them automatically monsters?”
“No, but stealing children does,” Alice pointed out. “I would consider kidnappers who take children and do god-knows-what to them monsters, regardless of race.”
“But they were never given a chance to see if they would be returned. I mean what if you found out your child was going to change like that, but someone could help them through it if they stayed with them for a while, long enough to learn. So what would you do? I mean what if you were told your child would be a werewolf? Other than not believe it, and then you were shown it was real, then you would freak out right?
“Maybe they did what they felt was best. Or maybe they really did intend for this terrible thing to happen, but I find it difficult to think a father would endanger his children and wife, I mean he had to care for his wife.”
Alice shrugged helplessly. “I really can’t answer your questions. I do know that she never found her children. I also know just enough of the occult to realize that not everything is what it seems — and that even spirits can and will lie if it suits their purpose. To me, it seems just as likely that her husband drugged her broke out some windows and made a mess to provide a kidnapping cover story and then took off with the kids while that she hallucinated the whole attack. It’s certainly just as easy to believe that as it is that a group child-stealing werewolves showed up one day out of the clear blue and kidnapped kids.
“Since there were no other witnesses there really isn’t any choice but to take Abby’s story at face value. I’ve known Abby for a long time and I’ve never known her to be prone to have an overactive imagination, or lie. She has always struck me as a caring person who really loved her family. Terrible things can happen to people, though, and who can blame them if they finally snap?”
Alice shook her head. “The thing that really intrigues me, though, isn’t Abby’s story.” She looked meaningfully at Ariyah. “It’s your reaction to it. The way you talk almost has me thinking you believe in werewolves.” By her tone, Alice was intrigued, not critical.
“With all your research, can you not believe it to be possible. I mean with all the people who believe in it, who is to say that it is not real just because we have not seen it.”
“I never said I thought it was impossible. I just think that other explanations are just as possible as that one,” Alice stated. “Why do you think the werewolf theory is the most likely explanation, instead of a more mundane one?”
“What like a cult? I mean why would the husband tell her what he did then? Of course if she is crazy, maybe it was a murder and her mind has transformed it into something else.” Ariyah chuckled. “I guess that I was caught up in the thought of the fantastic.”
The two women heard a bell chime ones. “Sounds like someone’s come in, finally,” Alice said with a smile. “I suppose we should head back upstairs.”
“Absolutely,” Alice replied brightly.