Part 1: The Exchange
So there I was, wearing a red dress that was the slightest bit too short and cut a little too low in the front, standing in a club with flashy decor and iridescent lighting, surrounded by beautiful people belonging to at least four different races.
And I was miserable.
Okay, if I was miserable, why did I come in the first place? I was starting to ask that myself. This is all for the job, I kept telling myself. I can’t let Adrian down
Maybe I should explain.
My name is Claudia Philips, and I’m a witch in training. When I turned ten, my parents thought, “Well, she’s obviously not a normal human being, we should send her off to learn spells and exciting things like that”. Sure, I liked learning that kind of stuff, but it was still kind of nerve-wracking. Adrian Rune was the only wizard in the country who agreed to teach me, since, in our culture, it’s best to start training at the age of five. I was a little scared of him. He was eight years older than me, fresh out of school, and I was his first student. Apparently, he had been an outcast in whatever wizard school he went to. He didn’t care for rules, wasted his time chasing the girls, and was one of those kids that seemed to never do the work but get all A’s anyway. Basically, he drove a lot of people crazy. Now that I’ve known him for the last seven years, I’ve kind of grown to be driven crazy by him, too. Still, there’s a lot about him that I like. He’s a great teacher and can easily get into “serious mode”, as he calls it. He’s got a sweet side, but he doesn’t show it very often. And he goes into these phases where he doesn’t talk much and acts all mysterious, which is a little weird.
Anyway, enough about Mr. Big Shot. Back to the previous question; why was I here in this club? It wasn’t my scene one little bit. I could think of ten different ways I’d rather be spending a Friday night, like reading or playing my magic board game with my friend Leon Woods. Yet, here I was. Here’s the truth; this was my first big job as a witch. Adrian had sent me out on little errands in the past, but this was different. There was this client that Adrian had, who only told us that his first name was Clark. No other information but his name. That was fine by Adrian, I guess. He’d been his client for the last year and nothing bad had happened so far.
“It’ll be easy,” he said. “All you have to do is fit in.” If he hadn’t had such a serious look on his face, I would have thought he was joking. Me, an awkward seventeen year old trying to fit in with the club crowd. I hoped he never asked me to do it again after this. Really, all that I had to do was find Clark and give him a bottle of…whatever it was that Adrian mixed up for him. He never told me, and I knew better than to ask questions. But after I gave Clark the bottle, I could leave.
I had the bottle in the little red purse hanging from my shoulder. I was so nervous that someone would steal it that I kept one hand over the purse’s opening. I strained my eyes trying to find the guy in the crowd of elves, humans, and a couple of other non-human races. Upbeat music pounded through the room, making the floor vibrate. People had to yell in order to be heard. How could anyone like to go here, I wondered. Adrian told me that my dark corner of the room would be where Clark met me, but I had been here for exactly thirty minutes and he still hadn’t shown up. I must have sat there for another ten minutes, wishing I could appear somewhere else, before Clark finally showed himself. I saw him come into the club with his hands in the pockets of his brown trousers. He had a mess of blonde hair, and even from here I could see his bright green eyes. I could tell he wasn’t human. He was most likely one of the Shining Eyes. He removed one hand from his pocket to dust off his blue button-up shirt before catching sight of me. He paused before coming towards me. I gulped as he did so. He slid into the opposite bench of the booth I was sitting at, eyeing me with a smirk on his face. I was staring at him too, but with a look of annoyance.
“You’re late,” I said. I wanted to sound professional, but my voice came out all squeaky, betraying how I really felt about being there. He shrugged, pursing his lips.
“Well, I’m here now, aren’t I?” He said. He was so relaxed it annoyed me even more. I took a deep breath and reached inside my purse. I brought out the bottle full of shimmering liquid for Clark to see.
“This is it, right?” I asked. He nodded as a huge grin spread across his face.
“Oh yes, it is,” he said, sounding a little too pleased. I don’t think I could have been any more curious than I already was.
“May I ask what it is?” I said. I didn’t think he would answer, since he was so absorbed with staring into the bottle with dazzled glowing eyes.
“Oh, doesn’t that wizard teacher of yours tell you?” He asked, not taking his eyes off of the bottle. I shook my head.
“No, never,” I said. Then he looked at me. Now, a normal person wouldn’t have been able to tell that Clark was suddenly uncomfortable, but Adrian had taught me how to pick up on gestures, expressions, and tones. Clark’s muscles tensed up, and his face flushed the slightest bit pale. His eyes went brighter. He studied me with a confused look, and then sighed.
“I see,” he said. “Well then, if Adrian hasn’t told you, it isn’t my place.”
Even though that wasn’t what I wanted to hear, I figured he was right. But now I was wondering what made him change his demeanor. I brushed the thought aside and turned my attention to the task at hand. Clark took a tiny pouch out of his coat pocket and tossed it to me.
“Four pieces,” he said.
“No, five,” I said, looking inside of the pouch. “I’m pretty sure it’s always been five pieces of silver. I keep track of all the money Adrian and I get.”
“No, it’s four, trust me. I’ve made this exchange a dozen times,” said Clark. I stared at him for a moment, then finally gave in. I just wanted to leave.
“Fine,” I said. Clark smiled again. He was beginning to relax.
“Okay then, I guess I’ll see you around…maybe.” He stood to make a swift exit, glancing around the room as he hid the bottle inside his coat. As soon as he was out of sight, I jumped up to leave as well. For a second, just before I stepped through the door, I felt like someone was watching me. I peeked over my shoulder. I didn’t see anyone looking at me at first, but when I squinted into one of the dark booths in the corner, I saw the silhouette of a woman. Her glowing eyes were focused on me; another Shining Eyes. I didn’t have to stay another second to see what would happen next, so I took my leave.
Outside, the evening air was cool, just as usual. Our little corner of the world, Jadehaven, didn’t get all that hot, and nights were always pleasant. The sun was barely visible in the west, and the sky was turning dark. Stars littered the darkness, colorful and bright. I loved those lights a lot more than the blinding bulbs in the club. The moon was huge and full…but seemed ominous. I don’t know why, but it made me feel a little uneasy. As I walked, my heels clicked against the cobblestone street. Shops with darkened windows stood on either side of me, all closed for the night. I saw no one else on the streets, but I heard cheering from somewhere further down the street. It wasn’t the direction that I was supposed to take to get back home, but I was curious. As you might have guessed by now, I was curious by nature. I missed the turn and kept on going straight. Even before I reached the crowd, I understood what was going on.
In the moonlight, I could see what the group of onlookers were so excited about. It was The Card Dealer. He didn’t come all that often, but when he did, the people went crazy for him. He never spoke a word, adding to his mysterious aura, and he amazed the crowd with his magic tricks. No one knew his name, but they never asked. It was just more thrilling that way. I came a little closer, just as the man caught his signature deck of cards on fire and threw it into the air. The cards vanished without a trace. With a flick of his fingers, the deck appeared in his hand again. As the crowd applauded, The Card Dealer glanced over at me. Whenever I was close to him, the strangest feeling came over me. I couldn’t explain it.
That night, he wore an olive vest over a white button-up shirt. He was never seen without his pale fedora. But that wasn’t what made him a little bit creepy. It was the cloth tied over his chin, mouth, and nose that really freaked me out. A huge grin was painted sloppily on the cloth, giving off the illusion that The Card Dealer was eternally happy. But not just regular happy; it looked more as if he had gone mad. While it was creepy to look at, the people still loved him. Children squealed at his magic, the adults cheered for his tricks. It made me a little jealous…but just a little.
In that split second that he glanced at me, I could tell that he was really smiling under that cloth. His eyes had a peculiar sparkle in them. I couldn’t break away from his gaze until he turned back to his tricks. I stood there for a minute longer, mesmerized by the magic. I shook my head and made myself turn away. Adrian would be wondering what was taking me so long.
As I walked away, the cheers echoed in my ears, and The Card Dealer’s chilling glance was etched into my mind.
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Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it! Your feedback is very welcome! My sister gets the credit for the art! And just so ya’ll are aware, if you have any questions, I’ll be collecting them for a Q & A post that will be released in either late August or early September (that is, if I get any questions!). Until next time, God bless!
Part Two will be released on August 3!