“Well, this sure looks like the right place.” Morgyn said as they walked into the alleyway. Cordelia didn’t understand how they could sound so calm. She had an uneasy feeling, the same kind she felt in the empty streets of Forgotten Hollow.
“Are you sure?” She turned to the sage. “It’s a little… creepy.”
Morgyn didn’t as much as look at her, instead, their eyes scanned the street from one side to the other.
“Obviously. They’ll hardly hide the key to ancient knowledge on a merry-go-round.” The sage said, settling their sight on a strange display window ahead of them. “Although that would be quite an inventive way to hide something of that nature, I best remember that…”
Cordelia didn’t know how to respond, so she just stepped closer to Morgyn, looking over her shoulder nervously. There was nobody else around, but that didn’t seem like a good thing – didn’t work out for her so great last time she found herself in an abandoned place like this.
“The entrance seems to be right through here,” the spellcaster gestured towards a door next to the display.
She reluctantly followed them inside. The place smelled stuffy, probably from all the old books around the shop. Though the books were probably the only kind of merchandise Cordelia recognised. Her gaze wandered from one bizarre item to the next, until she noticed the hooded figure on the opposite side of the room.
“Morgyn.” She hissed at the sage, panicked.
“Relax, Cordelia.” The spellcaster told her. How could they be so calm? “This store is no different from the one you work at yourself. Just old tomes and magical ingredients, nothing to worry about.”
“May I help you?” An ice voice interrupted.
The hooded figure turned towards them, though Cordelia still couldn’t quite make out their face. She backed away a little. Morgyn didn’t appear concerned, though.
“We’re interested in visiting the Omniscan ruins.” They informed the shopkeeper with a pleasant smile. “I’m told this is the place to get directions?”
“I have an old map in the back.” The cloaked person said. He sounded annoyed. Cordelia wasn’t sure this shop got many customers – even Darrel was more welcoming than this man.
“Sounds perfect,” Morgyn purred.
“Follow me.” The shopkeeper sighed, heading up the stairs.
Following them was the last thing Cordelia wanted to do. Morgyn seemed to realise this, glancing towards her. “Would you prefer to wait down here? Or outside?”
She shook her head quickly. There was no way she was staying on her own in this place.
They made their way up, into an even stranger room – almost looked like a ritual chamber of some kind.
No different from the store you work at… The more Cordelia saw, the less convinced she was. Strange idols, skeletons… it seemed everything in the room was designed to make her feel uneasy. Though nothing in the store was quite as sinister as the shopkeep himself.
She really didn’t want to go wherever he was leading them, but it was too late, Morgyn had already disappeared behind the heavy looking wooden door.
The hooded man stopped. It seemed they were in a storage room of some kind – the shelves seemed far more crammed than the rest of the shops.
Oh gods, he was going to slice them up and stash them into an old chest or something, Cordelia thought…
“It’s just here,” the man briefly disappeared behind a counter in the corner, rummaging through something.
Cordelia could feel her whole body start shaking. Any las shred of reassuring nonsense her brain attempted to come up with was gone.
And then Morgyn grabbed her hand. Their hand was warm, steady.
Their eyes met for a moment, and Morgyn gave her a small encouraging nod. The sage didn’t say anything, but it did make her feel a bit better. They wouldn’t let anything bad happen to her… or so she hoped, at least.
“Here we are.” The man emerged from under the counter, placing a dusty roll of blue paper on the surface and unfolding it.
“Let’s have a look.” Morgyn walked cover to the counter. Cordelia followed, thankfully, they didn’t let go of her hand. “I take it this is the map?”
“Not too sure how up to date it is,” the shopkeeper admitted. “Nobody’s been that far into the jungle for quite some time. You’d be far pressed to find a more accurate one, though.”
Cordelia could finally see his face. He seemed like a regular man, after all. Maybe the odd cloak was just a uniform. She finally stopped clutching onto Morgyn’s hand.
Her eyes wander from one bizarre item behind him to the next.
The sage seemed to have noticed this, flashing a smile in her direction. “Remember the fake voodoo dolls at the Humour and Hijinks festival? This would be the place where you could get the real deal, I’d wager. Isn’t that right?” They turned to the cloaked man.
“Yes, I’m sure we have one.” The shopkeeper disappeared beneath the counter once again, reappearing much quicker this time. He placed a small doll on top of the map. “I can give you a package deal for both of these, if you’re interested.”
“Sounds good,” Morgyn nodded. “Speaking of which, how much are you wanting for these?”
“We don’t take human currency here,” the man told them. “We honour the old ways of paying, every transaction is a matter of raw magic.”
“I have plenty of that,” Morgyn replied dismissively.
Cordelia couldn’t take her eyes off the voodoo doll. “Do we really need that?” She asked the sage.
“I don’t, but you could use it,” Morgyn handed the doll to her, pressing it into her hand. “With all the trouble you get yourself into, I’m certain there will come a time when it’s of use.”
Perhaps that was true, she thought. It couldn’t hurt to have one, could it?
“Well then, the payment…” the hooded man seemed to be growing impatient.
“My school of magic is the untamed,” Morgyn told him. “Anything particular you are after?”
“The school of manipulating life itself,” the man grinned, seemingly pleased. “I wouldn’t mind a dose of youth.”
“Not exactly how it works,” a hint of frustration surfaced in Morgyn’s voice for a brief moment. “But tell you what, I can make sure you won’t age a single day for the next year.”
“That sounds more than enough for these two items,” the shopkeeper nodded.
Cordelia watched in awe as Morgyn proceeded to make the “payment.”
They didn’t linger in the shop much longer after that. Cordelia felt a little better once they were outside, in spite of the fact it was raining and her struggle to comprehend what exactly had happened. But of course, Morgyn had stayed nonchalant throughout.
“Well, that was fruitful,” the spellcaster commented as they exited the shop. “I suppose we can set off into the jungle tomorrow morning.”
“Morgyn, wait… the spell you cast on the man… did that take away from your own life span?” She asked uncertainly.
“Don’t be absurd, of course not.” The sage replied. “There are no limits to the rejuvenate spell. I can cast is as much as I like. How do you think I keep my skin so dewy…”
“Does that mean you’re immortal?” She interrupted. One more reason why the sage would be a good match with a vampire, it seemed.
“Unless someone kills me,” Morgyn laughed. “Is anyone truly immortal?”
“That’s not funny!” She burst out. How could they joke about things like that? “That shop whole shop was really creepy, and there was something off about that man, and who knows what powers you gave him, and this whole place is…”
“Are you quite done?” Morgyn interrupted, tapping on their wrist as if to insinuate they were checking an imaginary watch.
“I have everything under control.” The spellcaster told her, clearly irritated. “Why don’t you leave the worrying up to me, instead of forcing us to stand outside in the rain… let’s just get back to the hotel. Unless you’d prefer to stay here in this creepy street…”
“No, I don’t.” She frowned. Morgyn didn’t say another words as they walked back to the hotel.
The unpleasant end of the day was still on Cordelia’s mind when she woke up the next day. She wasn’t even sure if they were still headed to the jungle – Morgyn and her didn’t really talk after getting back to the hotel.
She sighed and got out of bed, taking in her surroundings. Her mood lifted. Regardless of what went down last night, she was still in paradise.
She headed out onto the balcony that wrapped around the bedrooms. The view was incredible – the jungle on one side, the old town on the other, in the distance.
It was then when she realised she wasn’t the only one on the balcony.
“Morning,” she greeted Morgyn uncertainly. The sage didn’t look her way, their gaze fixated on the jungle instead. They looked preoccupied with something.
Finally, they acknowledged her presence, letting out a sigh. “Did you know that raw magic was once a common method of payment in the old Hex Shop?
She had no idea. “No.” She said quietly.
“It’s the old way.” Morgyn explained, not taking their eyes off the jungle. “Rest assured the Charm family did not have outsiders manning their store for them back when the currency was power. There’s a reason they no longer bother to spend time in their shop.”
She’d never given that any thought, but it made sense. “So… it wasn’t specific to that creepy shop, then.”
Morgyn finally turned towards her. “Cordelia, you do realise that whatever awaits in the jungle, and especially in the Ominscan ruins, will be far creepier than that shop yesterday, right?”
“More importantly, it will be far more dangerous.” The sage added. Their expression seemed distant. Cold.
“You’re mad at me.” Cordelia bit her lip.
“Mad at you?” The sage repeated. Why was it always so hard to figure out what Morgyn was thinking?
“I overreacted in the shop yesterday,” she admitted cautiously. “It was just a shop. Like the one I work in, as you said. I understand that now. I just… the man in the shop, he… this will sound silly. His hood and cloak… he looked like death.”
Morgyn gave her a curious look before speaking. “You mean the reaper. Of course. You witnessed the death of your mother.”
“Wait… are you saying you know what I mean? That I’m not mad?” She found it hard to believe. “Nobody believed me… everyone in the village just thought I was crazy. Just like with the sprites.” She trailed off.
“Clearly, they were fools. The sprites are very real.” Morgyn pointed out. “As is the reaper.”
“Is that another spellcaster thing?” Cordelia asked uncertainly. “Why am I seeing all of these creatures normal humans aren’t supposed to see?
“It’s not a spellcaster thing,” Morgyn’s tone turned soft. “Only children can see the reaper.”
“Oh.” So that was it. All these years of being the odd sprite girl, the girl who’d seen the reaper, the crazy one. But just because nobody else could see them didn’t meant they weren’t there. Of course, somebody besides children had to be able to see the reaper, she thought. Morgyn seemed to know what he looked like, at least.
“But then… how do you know the reaper exists?” She wondered out loud. “If you can’t… unless… have you seen the reaper, Morgyn?” Cordelia’s words slowly caught up with her mind. Was she not the only one on the balcony who had witnessed death as a child?
The softness in the sage’s eyes was gone within an instant. “That… is irrelevant. It hardly matters.”
“I… I’m sorry. I just wanted to understand you better. But I shouldn’t have asked.” Cordelia stumbled over her words. “If you have… I’m really sorry. And… I’ll do better in the temple. I promise. I won’t let you down.”
“You really need to stop apologising.” Morgyn interrupted her. “There’s nothing to be sorry for. All these things you speak of; am I mad at you, have I seen the reaper, worrying about letting me down… it’s nonsense. None of those questions are a matter of concern.”
Her heart sank. Maybe Morgyn just didn’t care about anything at all.
“Right… well I’m sorry I bothered you. Or not sorry.” She corrected herself, sighing.
“You misunderstand.” The sage spoke, their expression hard to read. “This is not a matter of you letting me down. It’s a matter of you being prepared for what’s ahead of us. I will not let harm come to you. But you have to trust me.”
“How can I? I barely know anything about you.” She blurted out. “I don’t even know what you’re thinking right now. You avoid any questions about you, even in these last few minutes.”
“If you insist this is necessary…” There was an odd heaviness to Morgyn’s voice, but they carried on. “No, I’m not mad at you, that is absurd. Yes, I have seen the reaper, but I may as well have been a different person back then. And right now, I’m thinking that I don’t want you to perish in an Omniscan temple, because that would be a damn shame.”
Cordelia’s cheeks grew hot as Morgyn’s fingers touched her face softly. Her head was spinning.
The sage was looking directly into her eyes. “Does any of that make that trust easier?” They asked eventually.
“A little. Maybe.” She said weakly.
Who was she kidding? Here she was, back to eating out of the palm of Morgyn’s hand again. Nothing had really changed between the two of them. And yet all she wanted to do was kiss them.
She pulled herself away, facing towards the jungle instead. “So,” she cleared her throat, “are we setting off today, then?”
Morgyn joined her in looking towards the horizon. “Yes. As long as you’re ready.”
It was an odd statement, really. How could she be ready if she had no idea what was ahead of them. But Morgyn would be with her. And from everything they said, they had to care about her at least a tiny bit, didn’t they?
“Ready as I can be.”