"Yeah, these should work. Do you have any more of these in stock? I was hoping for a lot more than this." I asked the shopkeep, eyeing the three magic containment bottles on the counter. "No, just those three," the stocky dwarven man said. He stroked his cinnamon-colored beard and looked up as though he was running through a mental inventory. "But I will be getting in another two boxes next week. Will that be soon enough?" "That should work," I said. I only needed a few of these immediately, but I did come here to restock my supply. "Great, I can just have them delivered to wherever you need them. No need for you to come all the way out here again. The industrial district is so far from here," he said, presuming that I must have been a worker. It wasn't a terrible presumption. My deep brown skin probably looked even darker with the smudges on my face. I was wearing a black set of coveralls and a broad toolbelt. But that wasn't what my tools were used for. I was more interested in precision work. I'm a magical researcher. "It's fine," I said casually. "I can just swing by, no trouble." "Don't be silly. I'll do it for no extra charge. Two boxes of these would be quite a substantial purchase," the dwarf offered kindly. "Fine," I relented. "Great, just let me fill out the order form. Could you give me your name?" he asked. "That's not necessary. I'll just give you my address," I pleaded. I was hoping to avoid that kind of scene today. "Hey, c'mon. What's wrong with giving a name? My name's Aron Zaugg, nice to meet ya'," the dwarf offered. I sighed. Some things simply cannot be avoided. "You can put the order under Magister. My name is Celeste," I said quickly, hoping we could just skim past this part. The growing smile on Aron's face told me otherwise. "No, really?" Aron beamed. "You're really Tony Magister's kid? I thought I'd recognized you from somewhere." I doubted that, as he was just treating me like any other customer. But people loved to give themselves too much credit. "I am," I confirmed. "But if we could just get back to the order." "Of course! It all makes sense now. Your dad must need these bottles for some secret project he's working on. What is it? You can tell your new friend Aron, can't you?" He tried to coax out of me. Of course, there was nothing to coax. Even though my father was a famous magical inventor that had revolutionized life in Anglachel, I tried to stay out of his business. "No, these are actually for my own research," I explained. "Aww, how cute," Aron condescended. I couldn't tell if it was accidental or intentional. "You must be trying to launch your own thing under Magister Industries. Nothing wrong with accepting a little help from your old man. I'll just have these shipped to the Magister warehouses. We have a regular account we use for Magister purchases." "No, that's not going to work," I said, trying to hold my composure. "Like I said, this is for my own research. It is unrelated to Magister Industries. If you could just have them delivered to my house, that would be fine. I'm just trying to restock my personal workshop. And please don't use the company account. I have my own money." "It is really no trouble," Aron insisted. "We both know who is really going to be paying for these anyway. And I'm sure your dad's guys would have no problem delivering them to your little shop or whatever you called it." I could feel my skin start to boil. "Please," I yelled a little too loud. "Just let me use my own coin and deliver it to my workshop. Here," I said as I pulled the order form away from him. "I'll just write down the address for you." "Whatever you say, Ms. Magister," Aron said, settling into a more professional tone. "I'm sorry I didn't use the appropriate amount of respect for someone of your background." I hated this. I can never have a friendly banter with shopkeepers once they learn my name. They either want to make everything about my father, or treat me like I'm some kind of princess. Couldn't they understand that I was neither of those things? You can have a successful and wealthy father and still want to find your own way in the world. Granted, even those thoughts felt hypocritical, as I wrote the address to the family mansion on the order form, with specific instructions to drop the order off at the side door. Sometimes, it felt like I was actively trying to make my life harder. "Thank you. These bottles really are a great product. Is it alright if I take these three with me?" I asked, trying to add a little extra kindness to my voice. "Anything for you, Ms. Magister," Aron said. "And don't worry about paying now. I'll just include an invoice with your order. I know your family is good for it." That stung a little. It's like he knew exactly how to knock down my self-esteem. "That will be fine," I finished. I clipped the three bottles to my belt and walked out of the shop. As the door to the shop closed behind me, I took a moment to recollect myself. I know that Aron, the magic shop dwarf, didn't have any intention of insulting me and questioning my entire existence. He was trying to be helpful and just presumed that much like every other rich kid I grew up around, I relied on my father's wealth and reputation to make my way in the world. But was it really so hard to believe that I didn't want to forever live in my father's shadow? I decided to take my mind off these hard questions by getting back to work. I didn't just come out today to restock my magic container bottles. I also came out to gather some divination magic essence. The project that I have been most obsessed with since I began my magic research was finding the origin of all disciplines of magic. Historically, it is known that somewhere in the Jungle of Despair, to the west of Anglachel, lies the power source of Dispell magic. Most researchers credit this to the broad worship of the goddess of balance, Estel, among the indigenous tribes there. I'm still not convinced the gods are real, but I do believe that the widespread belief and worship of a god could create some sort of collective magical power. My father has said that my own anti-magic field is generated because I was conceived while my parents were adventuring in the same jungle. If you hadn't heard, I have the unfortunate ability to constantly generate my own anti-magic field. It is impossible for me to perform magic, magical items I touch stop working, and I can temporarily cause magic users to lose their power. It may seem confusing that someone that cannot practice magic, such as myself, would choose to pursue the field of magical research. I like to think it is because I have a knack for it, and I'm always up for a challenge. My father thinks it is because I admire his groundbreaking enchantment work. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Back to the case at hand, my next set of experiments is pinpointing the origin of divination magic. To do that, I need to gather the concentrated essence of divination magic. Therefore, I'm headed to Fortune Teller Way. Anglachel is a vast city that has just about anything anyone could need. Conveniently for me, most of the industries tend to group together. Just a few blocks away from the magic shop is Fortune Teller Way. Every fortune teller, whether they can actually use divination magic or not, has set up shop along this one street. It is no secret that most of them are frauds, but surely there must be at least one fortune teller that actually uses divination magic. As I turned down the street, I put on my dragon scale gloves and lowered my dragon scale mask. As far as I can tell, dragon scales are the only material that can block my anti-magic field. I pulled a crystal out of my tool belt and held it in front of me, so I could see it through the dark glass in my mask. This crystal is specifically attuned to divination magic, and it should glow whenever I am near a practitioner. I could see very little walking down the street, but I heard plenty. "Allow me to find your true love, pretty girl," one fortune teller barked at me. "I can tell you what your loved ones are hiding from you," another yelled. The crystal remained dull as we passed by their shops. While their performances are likely compelling, they were not actually users of divination magic. "You are worried you will never live up to your own expectations," a gravely female voice called in my direction. The crystal shone through the darkness of the mask. I turned to face the fortune teller and felt a hand on my shoulder. She must have sensed my interest and reached out to guide me into her shop. This would not go well. "No! My sight!" the woman wailed. Was her divination magic tied to her vision? I lifted my mask so I could see what was going on. The woman appeared human. She had thick, dark hair and an elaborate flowing green dress that reached the ground. She clutched the side of her head with her left hand. "I'm sorry, are you o.k.?" I asked. "Do I look o.k.?" she cried, looking me straight in the eyes. Good. At least I didn't cause her to go blind. "I take it you have lost your ability to use your magic?" I asked, confirming the fear racing through her head. "What have you done to me? Why have you done this to me?" She pleaded. "I didn't," I comforted, "at least not intentionally. You'll get your power back. Maybe we could go inside your shop for just a moment. I can explain everything." She looked at me skeptically. "Very well," she conceded. She opened the door to her shop and led me inside. Her shop looked well lived in and homey. There were pictures on the walls and modest furniture. She sat on an ostentatious-looking chair and gestured for me to sit on her couch. I obliged and explained to her the anti-magic field that I generate and how the effects tend to be temporary on people. "All living things generate their own magic energy," I elaborated. "My field simply drains your reserves." "How long will I not have access to magic?" she inquired. "Not long. Magic always renews itself at dawn. Tomorrow morning you should start to feel like yourself again," I reassured. She released a sigh of relief. "I'm sorry that I overreacted," she apologized. "Divination is not only my profession. It is my whole life. Once I realized that I was naturally attuned to it, I became obsessed with learning all I could do. I opened up this business more of a way to expose myself to different kinds of destinies than to actually make money." "I understand that more than you know. I actually came here to appease my own magical obsessions. I'm trying to bottle the essence of some divination magic," I said. "Truly? You're as big of a magic nerd as I am?" She laughed. "I guess I am," I admitted. "Even though I've never been able to actually practice magic myself, it has only served to push me to learn all I can about it." "It is a pleasure to meet you," she said. "My stage name is Seer Lakha. You can just call me Lakha." I hated this part, but she seemed nice enough. "I'm Celeste Magister," I said tentatively. I saw a hint of recognition in her eyes, but she didn't say anything about it. That was a relief. "Nice to meet you, Lakha." She smiled, and I caught a hint of a fang in her front teeth. She must have mascara blood in her. Mascara are a demon-touched race from centuries ago. Very few of them have overt demonic features anymore, but subtle ones do creep out. Most mascara make an effort to hide their demonic ancestry as to not be judged or run out of their neighborhood. Since Lakha was polite enough not to comment on my ancestry, I was kind enough to not comment on hers. "Since I can't work until tomorrow," Lakha said. "Would you like some tea? I would be happy to make us some." "I actually really wanted to get back to work today. If you wouldn't mind, and this will sound weird, can I root through your trash?" I asked. Lakha heartily laughed at that. "Why not, Celeste," she giggled. "What could you possibly want with my trash?" "Since you're a natural practitioner of magic, anything you work with would have a touch of divination magic on it. So anything you cook, clean, or fix would have a bit of magic leftover on it. Trash is a great place to find that stuff because we all throw away elements of our work. I should be able to gather the divination essence I'm looking for there," I explained. "On one condition," Lakha said. "Anything," I agreed. "Once you finish gathering my essence or whatever, you will have some tea with me and tell me about your research," Lakha said. "I would love to nerd out about magic with someone. You owe me that much." "That sounds lovely," I relented. The essence will keep, and I can always finish my research tomorrow. It will likely take a lifetime to discover the origins of magic. Taking off one afternoon wouldn't hurt.
These stories serve as inspiration for the upcoming short story collection, Tyranny of the Fey. The collection will be released in Fall 2023. You can get a $1 preview now!