“Leave her be,” said Imagic, appearing from nowhere. “You’re giving a nasty first impression, Mr. Wilson.”
Telekinetic’s fire cooled under his icy gaze, though his narrowed eyes betrayed his frustration. It was another short moment before Imagic pulled away, retreating to his place at the edge of the circle. Everyone was watching him, that same calm falling over the group once again. No one spoke, but whether it was from respect for Imagic or some sort of enchantment, Anny couldn’t say. She only watched as he shut his eyes and released a heavy sigh. He seemed tired, something she hadn’t noticed before. There were dark circles beneath his eyes.
Sakura was the one to break the silence. “You were stunning tonight,” she said timidly.
“Thank you,” he answered, his eyes still closed. “It is the aim of he who headlines, to surpass the rest on his appointed evening.”
“By the way,” said Mikau, the lead guitarist, “where’ve ya been? Didn’t catch you at supper, did we?”
At last, he opened his eyes. “I was taking the time to practice.”
“Practice?” exclaimed Telekinetic. “We just finished the show! You’re not working on your next act already, are you? Don’t you have two weeks before you’re headlining again?”
His gaze jumped around the circle of faces. “One.”
“That’s rough,” remarked Kit. “Can’t you just do the same trick over again or something? It’ll be a different audience, anyway.”
“I must continue my work,” he said stubbornly. “There is no true challenge without the constraint of time.”
“You might want to take it slow,” suggested Yin, concerned. “You keep going on like this and you’re sure to tire yourself out.”
Yang opened his mouth, about to speak. But a look from Imagic and he was silenced.
“I cannot rest,” he continued. “Further still I must advance, deeper into the realm of magic and all its rewards, as well as its pains. There was a time when goblins lived lifetimes upon lifetimes. But now, in all my misfortune, it appears I am only given one.” A shadow fell over his eyes. “There is no time for rest.”
“You’ve already achieved so much!” exclaimed Sakura. “You’re the greatest magician I’ve ever seen!”
“Hm.” Imagic said nothing more, but leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes a second time. Despite his proud words, the physical exertion of his shows was taking its toll. Anny watched as another silent sigh left his lips. His magic came at a heavy price.
“She’s right,” said Mikau, “you’re not looking so good.” He shuffled through a bag at his feet and produced a small vial, glowing green under the faint light. “Why don’t you give this stuff a shot? It’s supposed to be an energy booster or something. Does the job.” He reached across the circle and held it out to him. “Little gnarly for me, though.”
Opening his eyes, Imagic reached to take the vial. “What is it?”
“Like I said, energy. Just put a drop in your drink and it’ll send you blasting when you need to hit the gas. But don’t take it too close to bed, or you’ll never fall asleep. Keeps your heart pounding.”
Imagic turned the vial over in his hand. “This… this looks interesting. Where did you get it?”
“Cousin got it for me last week, when I was playing at the Poison Apple during my break here at Lavinia’s.” He shook his head and laughed. “What a punk. Wouldn’t have made it without that stuff.”
“But where did your cousin get it?” asked Kit, suddenly curious. “Stuff like that could really come in handy!”
“You know that big tower past downtown?” said Mikau. “It used to belong to some rich sorceress, but she upped and left after things got hot with the Meddlers. Right now it belongs to a weird magician who trades some pretty freaky stuff, if you’ve got what he’s looking for.”
“Oh! I think I’ve heard of him!” said Yin. “Rumpelstiltskin, if I’m not mistaken?”
“Yup, that’s the guy.”
“What?!” exclaimed Telekinetic, nearly knocking over his coffee. “You don’t mean the real Rumpelstiltskin, do you?”
“Yeah, genius,” replied Mikau, sarcasm dripping from his voice. “I mean the real Rumpelstiltskin.” He rolled his eyes. “Smarten up, you dolt.”
Imagic shifted in his seat at the change of subject. “If Rumpelstiltskin was in town, he would not so easily betray his presence.”
“How come there’s a magician with his name, then?” grumbled Telekinetic.
Rumpelstiltskin… thought Anny. The name was familiar. But she didn’t feel as though the Rumpelstiltskin she was thinking of was the magician they were discussing. Not wanting to sound ignorant, she remained silent.
“Apparently he can make gold from anything,” said Yin.
“Oh, I get it,” said Kit. “Like the fairy tale.” He glanced at Anny and decided to save her the embarrassment of asking. “Rumpelstiltskin is a famous goblin magician,” he explained. “He was so powerful that people say he cheated death a thousand times, and that he still lives today.”
Her curiosity getting the best of her, Anny ventured a question. “But he was some imp that spun straw into gold, wasn’t he? And then there was that bit about guessing his name… Was he actually a goblin?”
“That he is,” said Imagic. “The greatest goblin magician of all time. What little you’ve heard is merely a weak interpretation of the tale, and that tale merely one of many.”
“But that story is hundreds of years old!” she exclaimed. “Wouldn’t he be dead by now?”
“Dead? Rumpelstiltskin?” Imagic lowered his gaze, shaking his head as he chuckled. “Such naiveté. As if death could take him! Verily, I say to you, the laws of nature could hardly thwart such a goblin.”
“Heard he could turn invisible,” said Mikau. “Shape shifts too, apparently.”
“That’s bogus,” scoffed Kit. “Ain’t no magician that could turn into a bird and fly away.”
“Not on his own,” said Yin. “He would need help. From a wizard, or something along those lines.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Telekinetic. “Wizards don’t associate with our kind.”
“Very well,” she said irritably. “A magician, then. Or sorcerer.” She paused and smiled as her brother whispered something in her ear. “Of course! There’s a story about all that. Haven’t you ever heard the tale of the Seven Goblins?”
“Who hasn’t?” said Sakura, bored by the conversation. “It’s this Rumpelstiltskin I want to hear more about. The real one, mind you. There’s been a lot of talk about him lately.”
“Last rumour I heard was a few months ago, about that market collapsing overseas,” said Mikau. “Meddlers say it was the old Rump’ behind it all.”
“Ah, that’s nothing,” said Telekinetic. “I got something even better.” He leaned forward in his seat, excitement written all over his face. “I recently heard he had his eye on this very Market. Talk of the town says he’s rustling up all the Transgressors he can find, preparing for–”
He was interrupted by a deep, throaty chuckle. Everyone turned to Imagic, head bowed as he laughed in his seat. “Truly, Wilson, you aim to entertain. Your humour edges on the verge of lunacy.”
“Do I sound like I’m joking?” he said, furious. “I would’ve thought you of all people would want to be enlightened.”
“Enlightened?” Another chuckle. “Such a strange word to use for a string of whimsical rumours. Perhaps you should focus on collecting facts rather than idle gossip.”
Telekinetic held his ground. “Why?” he sneered. “You haven’t got anything to hide, do you? Besides…” He sat back in his chair and gave a big yawn. “We’re all on the same side, aren’t we? I mean, if this Rumpelstiltskin, the real guy, was recruiting ’round this area, I’d be the first to sign up.”
Kit must have been using his crystal, because he sensed Anny’s agitation and turned to look at her. Transgressors? she thought, aware that he was listening. These guys are terrorists?
He gave her a look that indicated there would be an explanation later on. For now, it seemed best to say nothing.
Imagic rose from his seat, the mirth from his features fading as he pulled his hood back over his head. He passed by Telekinetic and placed a hand on his shoulder a second time.
“You have two ears, my friend. And one mouth. Listen as you were meant to listen, but keep quiet about what you hear.”
With that cryptic piece of advice, he strode away from the group, off to practice his magic.
“Hmph!” said Telekinetic. “Someone’s grumpy.”
“Well, it is getting late…” said Yin. “It’s almost eight, for goodness’ sake! Come, Yang, we have to go.” She stood and helped her brother to his feet. “Until tomorrow, everyone.” A moment later and they were out of sight.
“You better pack it up too, Jack,” said Mikau, eyeing his companion on the couch. Anny had fallen asleep.
“Oh? Oh, yeah.” Kit turned his attention back to her, somewhat amused. “Remember, she’s from aboveground. You know they don’t sleep during the day.”
“She will now,” said Sakura. “Try not to scare her off, alright? She actually seems half decent.”
“Don’t count on it,” said Telekinetic, getting to his feet. “She’s too smart to stick around Jack for much longer.”
“Keep your crap for someone who cares,” muttered Kit, gently shaking Anny’s shoulder. “Hey, kid. We gotta get going.”
She turned her head away and moaned.
“If you don’t get up now, I can carry you home.”
“I’m up.” She groaned, ignoring his outstretched hand. “I can do it. I’m fine. Let’s go.”
Kit laughed and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. Oddly enough, she didn’t try to shake it off. After a hasty round of goodbyes, the two left the club together, sleepily heading back to their small apartment on Main Street.