Into the Mystic, Volume Three

Into the Mystic, Volume Three

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781948608626
Publisher: NineStar Press, LLC
Publication date: 05/02/2018
Pages: 198
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.45(d)

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CHAPTER 1

Talida yawned and checked her pocket watch. Outside the Storyhouse's storefront windows, the hustle and bustle of the morning had already quieted. The sun, bright and fierce in its spring attire, spread sharp light over the narrow street. In the distance, only the rhythmic sound of boots on cobblestone disturbed the midday lull. Soon everyone would be having their lunch, but Talida couldn't wait to return to the conservatory. The day had been especially boring. She eyed the jars waiting for pickup on the counter, but as it was, the courier from the Taleshop was late.

For a few moments, Talida stared at the hands of the watch ticking slowly. Half an hour until noon. If the boy didn't arrive by then, she'd have to take the jars inside, water the seedlings, and bring them out again the next day. She shook her head and petted the edge of a jar with her index finger.

"I'm sorry, darlings. Looks like you're staying with me one more day."

Behind the glass, the storypuff glimmered and shivered. A little impatient, this one, to be taken by a writer and finally molded into words.

Talida herself could only weave them into idea-mist, particles of inspiration for artists, waiting to be relayed to the world. In the hands of a talented storyteller, the seedlings would be forged into finished stories. Some hopeful, some bright, others dark, and a few even sad. Talida took pride in being the only muse in the city to be able to weave both grizzly and fluffy story seedlings — all thanks to her conservatory, which was covered in glass that could be convinced to change its clarity. Or instructed from the control panel, as it were. Talida didn't question the how or the why of the science, only cared that it worked, much like she didn't appreciate others questioning her magic. It was nobody's business how she tended to the well in the inspiratorium, or why only that particular water could be used to grow stories.

The conservatory and the sunroom were Talida's favorite places in the house. The storefront, not so much. Very little light came through the windows, even though the street itself was bathed in it. With a grimace, Talida patted the pockets of her skirt, looking for the front door key, just to be prepared to close shop. If the courier was this late, he was late until the next day. Her hours were strict, and for good reason. Seedlings needed care.

It was then, as she was scowling at the remnants of cold tea in her mug, that the door opened with such force that the bell above it shook with a shrill. Talida managed to keep her tea from spilling, but not the teaspoon from flinging to the floor. She bent to retrieve it, set on scolding the courier.

"You must learn to be more gentle with my store," she said.

"Ah," a voice replied. Definitely not the Taleshop's errand boy. "Excuse me." The person sounded slightly out of breath. "Someone down the street told me you close at noon, so I hurried."

A new customer? Those were rare, unless they were traveling bards or nomad artists. Talida peeked carefully over the edge of the counter, excitement thrumming through her, when she laid eyes on — oh.

A scientist.

The young woman in front of her wore the telltale long gray coat with a few questionable stains, high boots and leather pants peeking from under its hem. Her freckled cheeks were flushed, wide eyes bright as she looked around. Her hair framed her head in a mess of ginger curls, goggles nestled haphazardly in between.

"Hello?" she asked, trying to fan herself with a glove. The other one hung precariously out of her coat's pocket.

Talida sniffed before rising to her feet. Scientists were never her favorite kind of people, with their never-ending rules and condescending attitudes.

"Can I help you?"

"Whoa, you're so pretty!" The woman froze just as the words were out of her mouth, and then she smacked the glove over her face. Talida took a careful half step back.

"I didn't mean that!" The woman flapped her hands in midair. "I mean, I meant it! But not like — you know."

Talida narrowed her eyes. "I don't know."

With a deep sigh, the scientist moved closer to the counter. "Anyway, that's not what I'm here for."

She extended a finger toward one of the jars waiting for pickup and Talida snatched it out of the way.

"What for, then?" Perhaps if Talida were unwelcoming, the other would go away sooner rather than later.

"I'm here to buy a story," the woman declared.

Talida straightened. So she'd arrived here by mistake. "You're in the wrong place. All the stories are at the Taleshop, across the market. We don't sell them here."

The woman shook her head. "No, I want a raw one, an unfinished story, for inspiration, you know."

Talida did know all about providing ideas, she wasn't a storyweaver muse for nothing, but this was appalling. Ridiculous.

"What would a scientist do with such a thing?"

"I need it to build a —"

"No."

Talida couldn't release one of her precious seedlings to be experimented on. She rounded the counter, crowding the surprised woman, and steadily back-walking her toward the door, making use of her tall stature for once.

"But —"

"We don't sell stories to strangers," Talida said, in hopes the explanation deterred any further attempts. It wasn't a lie, not really. She took pleasure in inviting storytellers to tea in the sunroom, getting to know them and their personalities before weaving stories for them. It was part of the process. But what could a scientist bring to such a creative encounter? Nothing useful.

Talida opened the door, and the woman, still caught in slight shock, stumbled out onto the street.

"Have a nice day," Talida muttered and pushed the door closed. She was pocketing her keys when the woman knocked on the glass.

"My name's Ingrid!" she yelled.

Talida moved the Closed sign in front of her face, before returning to the counter.

"I'll come back tomorrow, then!" Ingrid shouted from the street.

Talida sighed.

The bell rang with a loud jingle as Ingrid made her way into the store.

"Good morning," she said, too cheerful for the gloomy cloudy day.

Talida sipped her tea. It was the sixth day in a row that this unwelcome visitor had stopped by. So far, she'd been successful in ignoring Ingrid, but she couldn't say how much longer she'd manage. The constant chatter from Ingrid made it hard not to fire back retorts. And she wasn't even talking about anything in particular! Just that the weather was fine or the florist up the street was selling a new type of pot and other such daily pointless observations. Barely even asked to be sold a seedling anymore.

"So, I've been reading about muses," Ingrid said, setting a parcel on the counter. "And I think I know why you're so grumpy."

Talida huffed.

"No, no," Ingrid countered, waving that dreaded glove. "It's my fault. I've been rude. Muses require presents, right? And I haven't brought you one yet, so ..." She pushed the parcel toward Talida.

For her part, Talida had the sense to redden. Here she was, being the rude one, when Ingrid thought she was at fault instead. Well, she wasn't entirely wrong, muses did like gifts, but they weren't obligatory.

"Go on. Open it," Ingrid said, and Talida blamed her subsequent hurry in unwrapping the present on her fluster, resolutely ignoring that part of herself that found immense satisfaction in receiving presents.

Inside, there was a thin plaque with the word Open on the front, in small letter boxes. Its back, though, revealed a clockwork mechanism around what seemed to be a half-assembled watch face and more letter boxes that spelled Closed.

"Do you like it?" Ingrid asked, bouncing on her heels. "I made it myself. Look." She pointed at the hands of the watch, ticking away. "At noon, it will release this bit and then the sign turns! Brilliant, right?"

Her grin was contagious and pulled at the corners of Talida's mouth.

"It is," she admitted. And then, because she needed to apologize for her behavior, she did something she had never thought she'd do. She invited a scientist, of all people, inside the house. "Do you want to join me for tea this afternoon?"

It was still midmorning when Ingrid, joy barely contained, left to run the rest of her daily errands, but Talida closed the shop early. She had no deliveries scheduled and she wanted to tend to the new storypuffs before teatime. The day was already beautiful, sun shining from between dispersing clouds, giving the world a misty feel after the rains of the week. Perfect for new puffs to peek out into the world.

In the conservatory, she switched the transparency of select panes to dark — for the tragedy seedlings growing in a corner, right against the wall of the inspiratorium. A good place for them, shadowed and damp. After checking the soil and sprinkling a hefty amount of water, Talida moved to the comedy beds. These were fun to care for, especially now, when the storypuffs were nearly ready and had started to bounce off into the air with mirth. Talida chuckled as she gentled them back down onto their stems for watering.

Carefully, she made her way through the garden. Last, right at the end of the glasshouse, where the sunlight was the brightest, were the two tables of romance stories. Talida sighed as she inspected the earth. They weren't very eager to grow, hadn't been for a long while. Perhaps her inspiration magic wasn't strong enough.

"What are you waiting for, hmm?"

She bent closer to a seedling shimmering in the colors of friendship, blew over it gently. The storypuff fluttered but remained stubbornly attached to its stem. Perhaps Talida should add more adventure tales to the well. Or a poem or two, about lovelorn fools.

She frowned at the thought. Perhaps if she found some amour somewhere, she could convince its owner to tell her the story of acquiring such an emotion. Hm, but who would know about love? Not muses, and especially not Talida, with such a satisfying weaver trade. Muses were usually content with just sharing their inspiration with creative others in exchange for gifts, so Talida wouldn't know love if it smacked her in the face.

Besides, love stories had been a rare thing in these parts for many years, since before her time. That was one of the reasons why Talida was trying to grow romance seedlings.

Shaking her head at the rows of frail stems, she pulled out her watch. Almost time for tea, then, so she hurried to fix her hair and prepare a pot.

As she led Ingrid through the winding corridors of the house, her guest observed their path with curiosity. She wondered briefly what Ingrid's expression would look like if faced with the well or the conservatory, but she shook the ridiculous notion away. Scientists couldn't see the colors of the storypuffs nor hear the faint whispers surrounding the inspiration well. The magic of those places would be lost on her.

Ingrid did, however, seem to enjoy the tea. "This is so yummy," she said from her sprawl on the iron bench facing the backyard.

Outside, the trees were almost in bloom, and soon Talida would have the pleasure of tending to the plants out there as well. Maybe she should get an outdoor table, put it under the oak.

"What kind of tea is it?"

The question pulled Talida out of her musings and she turned her attention back to Ingrid. "It's a blend."

"Really? What of?" Ingrid's inquisitiveness was pleasing. People weren't usually interested in muses themselves, but more in the stories they could weave, the inspiration they could provide. Maybe Talida should have paid more attention to her, but maybe this was just a fluke. She'd have to wait and see.

"The one we're drinking is made of black tea, rose petals, and a little bit of jasmine."

"Oh," Ingrid whispered before sniffing at the cup. "I can smell it!" She grinned and Talida couldn't help but smile. "Did you make it yourself?"

"Not this one. I got it at the Teastore."

"They must be very talented."

"They are. Just as fine artists as the singers. Or, actually, as good as the writers at the Taleshop," Talida said. "I traded five seedlings for five new blends and they didn't disappoint."

A small frown formed on Ingrid's forehead. "So the tea is a story?"

"Yes, see, the tea plants, much like my seedlings, need care to grow. Then they are properly selected, mixed in just the right amounts, and — oh, hah!" Talida stopped with a laugh. "I guess the tea blender profession is more like mine than that of a storyteller."

"And you are ...?"

"A storyweaver." Talida set down her cup and shifted to the edge of her seat.

On the other side of the table, Ingrid leaned closer too. "What's the difference?"

"I only prepare mixes of ideas. When a story is told — or written, or sung, or painted — the artist needs an invisible hand to guide them. Suggest a little bit of happiness here, a lot more of tragedy there. It's what I do. I give them the inspiration in just the right amounts. You wanted to buy an unfinished story, but see, they are never unfinished. Barely unwrapped when in their idea form, and that's what I provide. Not a story in itself, just the means to tell one."

As Talida spoke, Ingrid kept leaning forward, and then a little nearer, until her watch slipped out of her breast pocket and into her teacup with a plunk.

"Ack!" Ingrid pulled it out by its chain. "This always happens."

Talida blinked, unsure of what to say. Tea dripped from the watch, an intricate old piece by the looks of it. Broken now. She sighed, shoulders drooping. "How many watches have you lost to tea?"

Ingrid's head snapped up, and she looked at Talida in surprise. "Well, I usually drop it in paint or other —" She paused to place the cup down, watch still dangling over it, before she pulled a handkerchief out of the other pocket of her vest. "Oh, and none. This is my only timepiece."

Talida raised an incredulous eyebrow at that.

"I can fix it," Ingrid declared with too much mirth for someone whose watch was no longer telling time.

In that moment, with the sun low in its late-afternoon position, the glow of the room was warmed in soft orange hues. The copper tint of the watch's casing gleamed with it, in unison with the shade of Ingrid's hair. In this light, the mop of curls seemed to be burning like an ember at its highest peak. Talida drew a careful breath, mesmerized by the sight.

Perhaps she should invite Ingrid over again.

For the past week, Ingrid had graciously — or rather said, excitedly — joined Talida for daily tea. They had a visit set for that very afternoon; yet here she was now, invading Talida's morning shop hours again. So far, Ingrid had dusted all the shelves, cleaned the empty display jars, and arranged all the receipts in the counter drawer. Talida had half a mind to hand over a mop too.

"I'm bored," Ingrid whined from where she leaned against the windowsill.

"Nothing to do in your laboratorium?"

Ingrid waved a hand. "No, I — did you just say laboratorium?"

"Yes?"

The laughter that filled the space was loud enough to make Talida cringe, and she worried as Ingrid held her belly while bent at the middle.

Talida groaned. Maybe she remembered the name wrong, but what was up with the scientists and their constant need to be correct? Served her right to be nice to one of them. She crossed her arms with a frown.

"That is the best thing I've heard all day!" Ingrid threw between cackles.

"You've been here all day," Talida muttered.

"I'm going to use it from now on. Imagine the faces on the elderly scientists who still cling to the old ways. I'll even put it up on my sign." Ingrid finally calmed enough to straighten and lifted her hand in a wide arc above her head. "Ingrid's Laboratorium! Get it?" She turned to Talida, walking over. "Like an imaginarium, or! Or! An inspiratorium!"

"What?"

"That's what you call it, right? The place where magic happens? I've never seen one, but I've heard so many things!"

Ingrid was loud, breathless as she leaned over the counter, nose in Talida's space. This was not at all what she expected when the laughter started, for it to be directed at others and not at her. She cleared her throat.

"Do you still want to see one?"

The south wing of the house hosted only the inspiratorium and, beyond it, the conservatory. The inspiratorium was a large round room, with a glass ceiling to receive as much sunlight as possible. Its walls were lined with shelves upon shelves of books, while the well sat at its center. Four doors led in and out; one to the conservatory and the other three to the hallways, for ease of access and, of course, to help the whispers gathering on the surface of the water to travel through the rest of the house.

The well itself had a low wall surrounding it, perfect for sitting to read during the day and watch the stars at night. Talida's cans and buckets were lined neatly on one side, waiting for the lunch watering. She checked her pocket watch as they entered. Still an hour to go, so there would be time to show Ingrid around.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Into the Mystic, Volume Three"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Ava Kelly.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

It Started Before Noon by Ava Kelly,
Heart's Thaw by Bru Baker,
Fire and Brine by Lis Valentine,
Dance with Me by Michelle Frost,
My Cup of O Pos by L.J. Hamlin,
Home by K. Parr,
Swoon by Artemis Savory,
The Hunt by M. Hollis,
By Candlelight by Ziggy Schutz,

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