Chapter 4: The Magical Mystery Tour
Cyrus wandered warily towards the Magic Shop, not entirely convinced it was of his own accord. Magic tended to creep him out, and while he normally tended to avoid places that sported atop their entrances a large magical eye, he couldn't for some reason let it intimidate him right now. That, coupled with his immediate need for information about Spielburg, steeled his resolve to enter the shop, despite the eye's unsettling fixation upon his movements. Unable to take his eyes off its gaze, he approached until he nearly disappeared from its view (he hoped) under the entranceway.
"I bet you never lose a staring contest, eh?" he asked, then quickly made for the door.
He jumped back as a small explosion sounded above him, looking up, he saw a play of lightning or electricity or some kind of magical energy crackle above the eye and disappear. When nothing else happened a few seconds later, he moved again toward the door, doing his best this time to ignore the eye.
"Do I need to knock?" he muttered. "I don't see any knockers or doorbell…"
He raised a hand, about to rap on the door, when he was again startled by the shop. The door began to disappear as he was about to touch it, washing briefly in some mystical energy, then dissipating as if it had never been there. Staring into the dark entranceway where it had been, Cyrus's pulse quickened. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.
I need information, he told himself silently. This valley's obviously magical, and if there really is an ogress responsible for cursing it, I'll need all the help I can get.
Keeping his throwing hand under his cape near his dagger, the thief moved stealthily into the confines of the shop.
It was nearly half a minute before he could really make out any of the interior details, and he wasn't prepared for what he saw when he did. On either side of the aisle leading to the counter, shelves were packed with strange materials that could only be kept and used by wizarding folk. From arcane, dusty spellbooks placed high overhead to dried out, jarred and embalmed spell components making his stomach churn uncomfortably at eye level, Cyrus was immediately put on high alert by the things he recognized.
The things he couldn't recognize were even more strange. Some containers seemed to have glowing, flashing liquid light shows of all colors going on inside them, yet they never moved, popped, or turned over. He saw one metallic box contraption that had a sign underneath it—one he swore wasn't there before he looked directly at it.
It said, "Toaster. Due for invention in another 100 years."
Furrowing his brow at that, he shook his head and moved toward the counter. "Is anyone here—!"
A leathery black flash of movement above him and to his right caused Cyrus to jump sideways.
Near the counter, up on one of the closest shelves, was a man-sized bat!
Well, not exactly. He was more like a man with pronounced bat-like features. At least, that's what the two arms, two legs, and strong muscled body that virtually glittered black seemed to suggest at first. However, the two leathery wings with red "lining," demonic shape of its face, and glowing red eyes staring fixedly at him begged to differ about its supposed humanity.
Cyrus had his hand on the hilt of his throwing dagger, but didn't draw. The creature hadn't moved since unfolding its wings. It merely looked at him.
After a few moments of near-hyperventilation, Cyrus sighed. "And here I was, thinking all you magic folk were strange. I was wrong. You're all creepy!"
The creature inclined its head slightly to the side. Cyrus interpreted it to be a smirk.
"Are you Zarra, the owner of this shop?" Cyrus asked, dreading that it might be.
The creature shook its head in negation, its sleek face still pointed sinisterly at him.
"So, where can I find him?"
A wave of the arms to the counter indicated its answer.
"But no one's there," Cyrus answered, gesturing at the unmanned table. "Unless—unless he's invisible…"
The creature again shook its head, a pained look of annoyance forming as it visibly rolled its red eyes at him. Another, more insistent wave toward the counter finally induced Cyrus to walk up to it.
Another flash of lighting popped forth and made him jump back, hand on dagger. By the time he recovered his sight, a beautiful woman, not quite of human lineage, stood behind the counter. She had long, red hair, pointed ears, and a body that men (and quite a few women) would easily kill for. Her dark, focused eyes, however, told Cyrus that she was no plaything to be trifled with. Still…
He remembered not seeing any knockers on the way into this shop. He privately quipped that he could certainly see some now!
"I am Zarra," she said immediately, "and my companion is Damiano. This shop carries items designed for magic users. We have very little for those like you, who have not been initiated, but perhaps a few items can be of help."
She said nothing more, merely looked at him. Cyrus assumed that was the closest thing she had to a sales pitch, and nodded.
"That's fine," he said, not imagining he could ever use anything he bought in here. "But actually, I'm just looking for information right now. Can you help me out?"
Zarra's hands went to her hips, and Cyrus noted with some queasiness that Damiano's did as well. "What is the nature of this information?" she inquired.
"Magical, of course," Cyrus replied, feeling a little more at ease. "I'm an adventurer, and here to apply for the Hero job, but I don't know any magic, or much about the curse's magical aspects. I imagine you're the most knowledgeable about magic around here, so I wanted to ask for any information you had about this area."
Zarra continued to look fixedly at him, and he found her half-closed eyes, the no-nonsense set of her slender jaw, and tightness of her lips impossible to read. He was about to speak when she finally started talking.
"There is much magic in this valley, and as many ways to discover it," she said. "It is something of a nexus of magical power, and attracts many who use it. I am here in town, Erasmus has his house on Mount Zauberberg, and even the ogress Baba Yaga has her hut cooped up somewhere around here."
"Do you know where?" Cyrus asked.
"I have no interest in that wicked hag, and neither shall you, if you are wise," she replied. "She is both powerful and vengeful. The last man who took an interest in ridding this place of her lost everything he ever cared about."
Zarra went on, in her efficient way, speaking about the valley, the town, and the other magic-wielding denizens of Spielburg. The town itself was even protected by an Aura that mostly prevented acts of harm or violence from being committed within the town walls, though it may have missed several "dark places" to which the beautiful faery-human alluded. There was also apparently a magic user named Erana who had once been here; she was responsible for not only the Aura around the town, but a place beyond the town walls where he might be safe, if ever he was caught outside at night.
"It is called Erana's Peace, and it is to the north."
"What does it look like?" Cyrus asked.
"You will know it when you arrive there," the mage replied.
Cyrus sighed, but didn't press the woman for more information. He'd known too many magic users to think it would yield any information he could use, and when they were provoked, often the assailant could suddenly end up in the most crowded of places, mysteriously bereft of clothing. Not that he knew anything about that personally.
As far as magic users went, though, this one was remarkably lucid. One particularly engrossing bit of information she gave came in the way the curse was worded:
"Upon von Spielburg and all his clan, this Curse I now demand: what I will shall come full measure, so shall ye lose all that ye treasure."
Spiteful words, Cyrus thought, and for a moment he couldn't help but be transfixed by the rage that must have provoked their utterance. Zarra must have noticed, because the next words she spoke were, "There is always a way to break a curse. You would do well to ask Erasmus about this; he knows more than I."
Cyrus nodded, feeling more and more like he was being sent on a wild moose chase. "Erasmus on Mount Zauberberg? What's he like?"
"He's kind enough," Zarra replied, somewhat disinterestedly, "though his sense of humor is a bit difficult to grasp."
That made Cyrus's heart sink. He left the shop dreading that eventual meeting.
Any mage who made other mages confused was going to be too much for him anyday.