Andrea trailed behind Janet and Ethan, trying to figure out how he had talked her into going to a spell caster for help. To her, it was like enlisting Santa Claus to fight the boogie man. She acknowledged that they had just experienced inexplicable things in the woods but the rational part of her mind stubbornly sought logical explanations for everything. To her, believing in the existence of actual spell casters was like saying that magicians were real. Andrea wanted to know, if there were people who could produce real magic then why weren’t they running the world? Why weren’t they at least rich and famous? When Ethan explained that this spell caster was also a gypsy, she was instantly suspicious. Her mind conjured up hackneyed images of fortune tellers in carnival tents. Of course, she had never seen a male gypsy before. To appease her cynical nature, she told herself that she was just going along with the others in order to meet what had to be a con artist and have a little fun at his expense.
Janet was cautiously hopeful that a spell caster would help turn things around. If he had any real occult experience then he would be an asset to their team. Of course, the fact that he was friends with Ethan made her reluctant to trust him. For all she knew, bringing an ally of Ethan’s into their midst could be nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to take the talisman from her. Subconsciously, Janet’s hand rested protectively over the stone. She made a vow to stay on guard.
Ethan led the sisters down an alley to an unlabeled, nondescript steel door which opened into a foyer leading up to a massive, spotlighted wooden door. He stopped before the door and stood squinting at the inscribed ancient lettering near the top of the door. After a moment, Andrea sighed exasperatedly and brushed past him. When she failed to open the door, he could barely contain his mirth. She glared at him.
“What’s so funny? The door is obviously locked. There’s nobody here.”
“Someone is always in there. As for the lock on the door, for lack of a better description, it’s an enchanted door. You have to read the inscription in order to enter.”
“We can’t read that. It’s not even in English.”
“I don’t care if it’s Greek. None of us can read it.”
“Marko once told me what it said. I was trying to remember how it went when you tried to take over. Get out of the way and be quiet for a minute…right, I think I’ve got it now. Pay attention because we have to enter one at a time and you’ll each have to repeat what I’ve said as you turn the doorknob.”
Ethan recited the inscription and entered the bar. Andrea followed suit and stepped inside. The door closed and Janet stepped up to the door. The talisman began vibrating against her chest. She looked down and saw it glowing through her shirt. Janet experienced a moment of anxiety as her mind almost went blank. She recited the inscription with her hand on the doorknob and felt a brief tingling sensation creep up her arm then settle into her chest before fading. Janet opened the door on a darkened bar full of old, heavy wooden furniture. She immediately felt the pressure of a several pairs of eyes resting on her. The sudden tension in the air was palpable. A wave of energy washed over Janet which seeped in and attempted to drain her energy away as it receded. The sensation became an insistent tug. She turned in the direction of the flow, felt a slight pain in her forehead and recognized the opening of her third eye. Janet read the hunger in the aura but could not make out the sender of the energy pulse. Looking directly at the stranger was like gazing through a filmy veil. A sudden memory of the shadow creature from her dream heightened her anxiety as her attempts to halt the psychic assault failed. Janet pulled the talisman from her shirt, held it up to her eye and gazed through the stone. There you are. She could clearly see her assailant. Janet concentrated and sent a pulse of energy, propelled by the strength of her nervous energy and growing annoyance, directly at his forehead. She felt gratified to see him rock back in his seat. The tugging abruptly ceased as the man got up and retreated. Janet gently pulled her partners aside.
“Brace yourself, there are psychic vampires in here. What kind of place is this Ethan?”
“I dunno, some sort of hangout for people who dabble in the dark arts. It’s all good though. That incantation we read at the door temporarily suspends the spell casting powers of all who enter.”
“Well apparently, it doesn’t prevent psychic attacks.”
“I think I see Marko. Let’s just go talk to him. It’ll only take a minute. Then we can get out of here.”
Reluctantly, she allowed Ethan to lead them on feeling eyes at her back. They followed Ethan to the rear of the bar and found his friend seated sideways in a high-backed black leather booth drinking coffee. The sisters took in the long hair framing hawkish features dominated by large, intense eyes which looked black in the shadowy corner of the bar. Without looking up, the man said.
“Well, look at what the cat dragged in. From the cocksure way you’re strutting up to me, I’m assuming that you have my money.”
“Money? Oh right, I did owe you a few quid didn’t I? Funny story about that mate…”
“Do you have my money or not?”
“That’s what I’m trying to explain…”
“So the answer is no. Why am I not surprised? You seriously need to back away from me and walk away while you still can.”
Ethan tried to laugh off the implied threat, “where are my manners? Ladies, I want you to meet an old friend…”
“Former friend more like.”
“Have it your way mate, I want to introduce you to Marko. You see they are sorely in need of a spell caster and you’re the best.”
“Paying customers? You should have led with that…”
“If by pay, you mean receiving their undying appreciation and gratitude then yes.”
“So let me get this straight. You show up out of the blue, empty-handed trailed by two more moochers?”
Andrea snorted, “That’s rich, a gypsy calling us moochers. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!”
“Ah, surly and prejudiced. There’s a winning combination,” quipped Marko.
“Hey, you prejudged me. I was just returning the favor. For the record, you haven’t exactly been Mr. Congeniality.”
“This one is salty. I like a woman who speaks her mind. Does the other one talk? Hmm, the strong silent type. I was impressed by that little show you put on at the door. I was beginning to wonder if you belonged in here until I saw you repel that psychic attack. I’m intrigued Ethan. What are you proposing?”
The three of them sat down across from Marko in the oversized booth, crowding together on one side since Marko did not attempt to make room for anyone on his side. They took turns telling the story of their ordeal, careful to omit Steve’s death. Marko listened attentively.
“How old are you,” Andrea asked boldly.
“Age is but a number. I much prefer to measure maturity by life experiences, ” Marko replied.
“All right, then how much experience do you have?”
“Is this a job interview? I don’t recall any discussion about pay.”
Ethan cleared his throat exaggeratedly, “you have to excuse Andrea…”
“Do I? Because if I recall correctly, You all came to me asking for help,” interrupted Marko.
Janet spoke up, “my sister meant no disrespect. We’ve literally been thrown to the wolves. She doesn’t want to get her hopes up if you can’t really help us. The only thing I’ve ever heard about gypsies is they are fortune tellers. Can you see what will happen to us next?”
Marko smiled indulgently at her. “Yes and no, divination enables us to foresee the manner in which events will unfold if all factors remain constant. That’s why I don’t do fortune-telling. There are too many variables and people are too unpredictable. The very act of telling you what I see in your future will cause you to change your behavior which has a ripple effect on you future.”
“So what exactly do you do?”
“I like to think of my skill set as defensive magic.”
“Show us what you can do,” challenged Andrea.
“First of all, this place is a sanctuary. Everyone who enters commits to refraining from using magic while they are here. Secondly, real magic is not some sort of parlour trick that you perform for entertainment. Every time I cast a spell, it exacts a price from me. It would be irresponsible and wasteful for me to draw on my energy reserves in order to cast a spell that serves no real purpose other than to impress you. Besides, something tells me you would be skeptical of anything I produced. I have nothing to prove to any of you. In enlisting my assistance, your friend has vouched for my abilities. However, if you don’t feel I’m up to the job then by all means go and ask someone else to put their life on the line without backup or compensation.”