Four Corners Vignette #6 (2019)

“A lot of people want to believe in an afterlife because they’re looking for something better than this world,” Jacob Ellwood said, as he set the translucent figures between his hands rotating.  “I say, there’s no guarantee of an afterlife, or that if there is one it’ll be like you think.  This world’s the only sure thing, so take what joy you can from this world and this life.  Some take joy in getting stuff, others in seeing the world.”

He nodded toward the illusory scene formed, floating, between his palms.  Subtle changes affected the figures.

“I take joy in practicing, creating, and perfecting ephemeral art,” Jacob said, then nodded across the manicured park.  “I’ve been coming out here off and on for seven years now.  Every day, Winston has been here, rain or shine, caring for the trees and shrubs.  It’s what he enjoys.  Does that answer your question?”

He sat in silence for a few minutes.  Both Jacob and his companion outwardly focused on the older man, Winston Tykma, moving amongst the trees of West Park.  A couple local kids, no older than eight or nine, trailed along behind him.  The breeze, funneled by the buildings around them, set branches swaying.

It was, Jacob reflected, nice to get out of the apartment studio occasionally.  Even if it meant being accosted by people from time to time.

“Mr. Woodbine?”

His companion, introduced as Esmond Woodbine, shook himself.

“It is certainly something to consider, Mr. Ellwood.  But, it doesn’t answer my question about how what you do relates to the entity Aedolan.”

“Yes.  Caught that, did you?  Well, that’s a whole other day’s talk.”

Four Corners Vignette #5 (2019)

Nica turned down the proper street and found the door she’d been informed of.  It looked plain and simple, no different than any other door on the street.  But, that was the point.  With a moment’s thought, she tapped the lintel stones in the pattern she’d been told.

As the door closed behind her, Nica found herself not in a building, but on a wide pedestrian street.

Looking as she walked, she decided the Four Corners was quaint.  It had a certain Old World feel, reminiscent of the nicer parts of 18th century London, she thought.  But rather cleaner.  Better sanitation.  The whole place couldn’t have been more than two centuries old, though.

Nica consulted her mental map, as she took in the cacophony of sounds and scents while weaving along the crowded street.  The place could give the City of London a run for its money in terms of foot traffic.

After a short distance, she spotted the street.  First right.  Twycross.

Nica scanned storefronts as she walked the less congested avenue.  Most appeared to be printers and writers, professional researchers and private tutors.

But, there, nestled between an antique dealer and a scryer, was the place she sought.

House Ross’s office.

The House was younger than her, but it paid to follow the niceties and rituals.  Kept shtriga from killing each other.  Mostly.

She opened the royal blue door set in a whitewashed frame.

Inside, a young man sat behind a heavy mahogany desk.

He smiled brightly when she walked in.

“Welcome to House Ross.  I am Lucien del Rio.  How may we help you?”

Nica nodded.

“Nica Radcliffe.  I’ll be visiting for a good week.  Just paying my respects to . . . Harrison Ross.”

“Excellent!  There is, of course, no need to see Lord Ross directly.  Just sign this book here, with your expected purpose of visit and anticipated length of stay.”

As Nica wrote, he continued.

“House Ross has no feuds, and is completely neutral, politically speaking.  As such, violence against shtriga and non-shtriga alike is forbidden, except in clear cases of self-defense.  Have you seen the brochure?”

He handed Nica a tri-fold pamphlet.

“Panel two has all the places where shtriga are allowed to feed.  Do you have lodging?  No?  No matter.  Panel three lists some places that are shtriga friendly.  The back lists the office’s open hours as well as business and after-hours contact information, should you have any trouble or questions.”

Nica simply stared in silence.

In nearly five centuries of life on two continents, traveling to hundreds of House territories, she had never been through an introduction so . . . business-like.  It felt like a chamber of commerce greeting, not that of a House of blood drinking immortals.

The Lucien’s suit and the décor hit her.

Camouflage.

Blend in and set the mortals at ease.

“Any questions?  Or anything we ca do to help?”

Nica shook her head, both clearing cobwebs and answering.

“No.  I think that will do.  Thank you, Lucien.  Oh.  Does Lord Ross meet visitors anywhere?  A little old fashioned, I know, but . . .” she shrugged depreciatingly.

“Not at all, Lady Radcliffe . . . Nica.  He does spend time at the first restaurant on the list on Tuesdays, usually one to four in the afternoon.”

“Thank you,” Nica said, before turning to escape.

Four Corners Vignette #4 (2019)

Juniper Smythe looked across the main room of Murphy’s.

The lunch crowd wasn’t quite in, but it was starting.  The couple dozen already seated around the room represented all corners of the continent.

And not a local among them, aside from the rest of the staff.

Even so, she found a familiar face coming in the door.

“Stan!  Irina!”

Two familiar faces.

Juniper met the couple halfway across the room.  She was instantly enfolded in a three-way hug.

“I thought you weren’t coming until tomorrow.”

Irina shrugged her shapely shoulders.

“That was the plan, but Stan’s schedule opened up.”

“Let me get you guys a table,” Juniper glanced around.  “Over there, best we have available, right by the bar.”

As she led them over, Stan looked at the tables.

“How’ve things been?  Looks like the place is working out.”

“Sort of a niche market, but a big one.  And a loyal one.  The reputation and word of mouth from shoppers and tourists has been great.  How about you two?  It’s been a while.”

Irina smiled as she sat.

“Hunting hasn’t been great, lately.  But, Greywood headhunted Stan, and may have a field position for me in a couple months, so not too bad.”

“Greywood Institute?  Are you sure?”

Stan shrugged, “Well, the non-disclosure agreement is a bit . . . strict, but the pay and resources are . . .”

“. . . something we can’t discuss,” Irina finished.

Juniper waved over a waiter.

“”Sorry, guys.  The lunch rust is starting.  Maybe this evening?”  Then, to the waiter, “Take good care of them, they’re old friends.”

Four Corners Vignette #3 (2019)

“Hernán, where are we on the Tierney contract?”

Hernán Wilcox, half of the founding members of Howey & Wilcox, looked up from his desk.  He scratched his greying beard.

“Kyrah took the down payment just this morning, I think.”

His partner, Theodora Howey, nodded to herself and made a note on the pad before her.  Her bushy tail, that marked her as a jager, swayed as she thought.

“Given the job and subject matter,” she said, “I think I’ll see if Katrina’s available to consult.”

Hernán paused a moment, his eyes unfocused in thought.

“Rathmell?  Yes, yes, she would be a good asset.  Haven’t’ seen her around in a while either.  Be good to talk with her again, always has some interesting new find.”

“I’ll confirm payment with Kyrah and drop by her office in a bit then.”

These days, Theodora reflected, most of the research was kept in house, now that the firm had grown enough to employ a fair variety of people.  But, in the early days, they had outsourced a number of jobs to people in her extensive network of expert specialists.  Of course, Hernán had done a considerable amount on the magical side of things, as she had done on the more mundane research side.  They had agreed early on, though, that they would bring in experts as necessary for things they did not feel as qualified to be gathering data on.

The Tierney contract certainly counted.

Getting the current information it called for was right up her alley.  But, the client was looking for a couple centuries worth of information, and Katrina Rathmell, with her knowledge of spirits, was the best historian they had on call for consults.

Four Corners Vignette #2 (2019)

Helena Bannik ran a hand over her face, ostensibly wiping away tension.  The act also masked her spellcasting, on herself, not either of her recalcitrant companions.

“Seriously, Lawrence?  Do you think me some kind of fool?  You think I know nothing of your reputation?”

Viola Ehrich, Four Corners resident and heir to a modest fortune.  Not known for her grasp of social graces, beyond ordering around servants.

“No, I know you to be a fool and irrational.  Your family’s stake isn’t worth what it once was.  Realistically, you must sell at a loss, as the business is not worth what it was, even six years ago.”

Lawrence Bear, her other client.  An alchemist who, rumors and evidence suggested, had never been particularly apt or studious in his magic.  But, he made up for it with a penchant for business, specifically buying and profiting from others’ businesses.

Both headstrong, proud, and firmly convinced of their own genius.

And she had to find common ground.

At a loss after two hours, Helena let her eyes roam Four Corners’ central square.  Her ears and subconscious recorded and processed the bickering while she watched the blissfully unstressed visitors and locals enjoying the sunny day and cool breezes.  Some strolled across the cobble square, on a mission or simply taking in the scenery.  Others lounged at black, ornate wrought iron tables like her clients, though considerably more relaxed.

After a few calming moments, Helena decided she should probably intervene before one of her clients killed the other.

Four Corners Vignette #1 (2019)

Frances Duncan studied his client over steepled fingertips as he considered the request.

Young, perhaps fifteen years his junior.  Clothing comfortable, well-tailored, speaking of modest wealth, considerable but not obscene.  Shoulder length brunette, cut straight and simple.  He had not balked or started at the theatrics—the dim lights, subtle incense, fake crystal ball, the things one expected of a diviner—which indicated familiarity, or that they had not registered.

Given the man’s apparent state of distress, Frances decided on the latter.

“Mr. Havorford, I am sorry you wasted your time.  If it was a matter of finding this person, or something they’d taken or lost, that would be different.  But, divination is notoriously vague and tricky.  The future is constantly shifting.”

“If it’s a matter of money . . .”

Frances held up a hand.

“No.  It is a matter of ethics and accuracy.  History shows us a trail of ruin that sits at the feet of divination.  And history is correct on this matter, I’m afraid.”

Gods, he thought, don’t let him try . . . yes, Havorford was resorting to the puppy eyes.  And he was damn good at it too.

“Please, Mr. Duncan?  I need to know.  For my parents and my family, not for me.  You are the most reputable diviner I have found in months of looking.”

“That’s because I will only tell you the truth, if I do this.  Not simply what you want to hear.”

“That is all I ask, sir.”

Frances closed his eyes and sighed.

“Fine.  Give me two days to prepare, then return here.  Friday at seven.  Then we will see what we can see, probabilities only.”