Kit barely glimpsed the figure before it passed out of sight. He stared, wide-eyed, as he scrambled to his feet. But even before he made it to the end of the alley, he knew he had missed his chance. The shadow had already woven back into the crowd.
He turned around. At least the tower was still there. It was a lot like the Arbiter’s Tower on Main Street, except that it was dark, and so tall that it continued past the ceiling. He wondered if it surfaced aboveground. Oddly enough, he had never taken the time to find out.
With a backwards glance at the busy street, he decided his time would be better spent investigating the tower than running after the feathered shadow. He had seen the tower countless times before, but the presence of hired thugs in the surrounding alley had always stifled his curiosity. Only the rich and paranoid could afford that kind of real estate, and they were willing to pay top dollar for their privacy.
But this time the alley was empty, abandoned. And the conversation at the club last night had got him thinking about that tower, and the magician rumoured to be inside it. A magician who could turn anything into gold.
He would have to, thought Kit, if he wanted that place. The tower had more floors than most buildings, and if it really did surface aboveground, it would mean that whoever lived there would have free access to the world above as well as the Market. The location itself was worth a truckload of gold! No ordinary goblin would be able to afford it.
The problem was that it still looked rundown. The windows were covered with boards and there was a curtain of unattended ivy crawling its way up the tower’s walls. It was occupied, Kit knew it was, but the whole place looked empty as ever. This Rumpelstiltskin was a curious character.
Drawn to the foot of the tower, his eyes fell on the door. It was crooked, unvarnished.
And it was open.
Kit blinked. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Someone had left the door open, just a crack. It was all the invitation he needed.
Wrapping his fingers around the thick edge of the door, he widened the crack and stepped in. It was dark, which was no surprise, considering the windows had been boarded up. But it was unusual for a shop to be so dim, even this far downtown.
Furnished to the bare minimum, the shop had only a few scant shelves stocked with equally scant products. After a quick look around, Kit realised he was the only one in the room. With a quiet chuckle, he started poking around.
Many of the objects littered about the place were covered in dust, a sign that the shopkeeper wasn’t in the habit of spiffing up his meagre collection. There were even cobwebs on the ceiling. Was Rumpelstiltskin allergic to customers, or what? There had to be something else going on. He stopped at a low table, his eyes scanning the trinkets before him. A dusty old vase, a half-burnt candle… Was that really a piece of coal?
He stared at the strange collection, trying to piece together the meaning behind it. There’s no way people would buy this, he thought, reaching for the coal. Unless…
The moment his fingers touched the rock, it began to change colour. He brought it close, watching in wonder as the heat from his hand warmed away the darkness and summoned a deep-violet hue from within. The colour remained as long as he held it, bright as ever and unchanging as the seconds passed. He stared long and hard at the rock in his hand, but he couldn’t imagine why it was glowing.
A sound, behind him. He spun on his heel. “Hello?”
It came again. Not a voice, just a noise. He stepped forward, the rock forgotten in his hand, and looked around. Was it coming from the back?
This time he saw movement. He turned his attention to a shelf up ahead, a large wooden box resting just beyond arm’s reach. The sound came again while the lid rattled in place. There was something inside it.
Kit didn’t question himself. He found a stool within seconds, slipping the glowing rock into a deep pocket, and kept his eyes on the box overhead. A moment later and he had it in his hands. It was encrusted from head to toe with jewels, precious stones that would have shone if they had been polished.
He could feel it now, something moving inside the box. He stepped down from the stool and placed it on a table. His curiosity mounting, he ran his finger over the rim of the lid. It didn’t look as though it was sealed, as far as he could tell. But judging from its weight, there was definitely something inside. Slowly, carefully, he lifted the lid.
“Don’t touch that!”
Kit jumped back, a heavy hand clapped the lid in place. “What? What is it?” He watched, wide-eyed, as the stranger before him sealed the box and proceeded to return it to the shelf. “What’s inside?”
“A poltergeist,” replied the man, focusing his attention on the container rather than the kid. Once he was satisfied with his work, he turned around. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
Kit ignored the man’s questions, fixated on the box. “A poltergeist? Really?” He frowned, remembering the weight of it in his hands. “That’s one big poltergeist!”
“Yes,” said the man. “Yes it is. Now are you here for something, or did you come to sightsee?” He wasn’t much taller than Kit, but he was lean, with sharp features that gave him a shrewd appearance.
“Odd shop you’ve got here, Mr. Rumpelstiltskin.” Kit crossed his arms and cast a suspicious glance around the room. “Are you starting up a poltergeist business or what?”
The stranger wasn’t impressed. “Firstly,” he muttered, “the name’s Grimm. Secondly, I don’t have time for loiterers.” He glared at him, narrow eyes behind thick glasses. “I suggest you turn yourself around and get out.”
This was not what Kit had pictured. Could it really be true? Could this man, with his drowsy gaze and scruffy dark hair, really be the same man they had been talking about at the club? He didn’t look like a magician at all. Except…
What was that mark on his face? It looked like blood. And there were fresh bandages on his wrist. Kit remembered the feathered shadow and looked to the magician, alarmed.
Grimm pulled his sleeve over the bandages. “Did you not hear me the first time? This isn’t a museum!”
Wanting to find out more, he tried to stall. “You know, I’m pretty sure they’re illegal, those poltergeists. What exactly are you planning to do with them?”
He seemed to have hit the mark, making the magician uneasy. “Who wants to know?”
“No one in particular,” he said, shrugging. “Just sayin’ that running a poltergeist business might not be the best idea. Not around here, anyway.”
Grimm stared a long while, a wary look in his eye. “I don’t sell poltergeists.”
“Well, that’s good,” said Kit. “But what do you sell?”
The magician stood in thought. “Favours,” he said finally. “I sell favours.” He sighed, removed his glasses, and began to clean them with his shirt. “Listen, if you need something, I’m willing to talk. But if you’re here on a field trip, I’m going to have to ask you to leave, alright? I have a lot of work to do.”
Satisfied that he would discover no more, Kit relented and turned to leave. “Alright,” he said. “But I’ll be back for a favour someday.”
“That’s fine,” said Grimm, putting his glasses back on. “As long as you have the means to pay for it. Shut the door on your way out.”
Reluctant as he was to leave, he did as he was told, making sure the door was properly closed before he left the shop. Boy, was that man a seedy character! Kit was kicking himself for not wearing his crystal that day. He wished he could have known what Grimm was up to. What was that bit about selling favours? With a sigh, he reassured himself that he would figure it out eventually.
He decided it would be best to go see if Anny was awake. She would probably want to poke around the Market a little more, maybe take a peek into some of the shops. He chuckled as he imagined some of the things he’d show her.
A shrill voice rose above the crowd.
Roused from his thoughts, he realised that someone was calling his name.
“Kit!” said Saphira, running through the throng. She greeted him like an old friend, rather than a new acquaintance. Breathless, she skidded to his feet. “Hi! How are you doing?”
“Uh… I’m fine,” he said, confused. “How are you?”
“Great, good.” She giggled. “Do you know you have a feather in your hair?”
He stared at her. “What?”
“There’s a feather in your hair!” She reached over and pulled it out from behind his ear. “See?”
“Oh.” It glimmered a deep blue as she placed it in his hand. “Thanks.”
He turned to see Timothy striding towards their little reunion. He tipped his hat and joined them. “Hello, Kit. Did you enjoy your evening off?”
“Actually…” He thought back to last night and smiled, unable to conceal his pride. “There was a last-minute change of plans. Lavinia called me in and gave me the opening act!”
“That’s great!” said Saphira, assuming the opening act to be a good thing. “How’s Anny? Did she go with you to the show?”
“She did,” he said. “I think she’s doing pretty well. Haven’t seen her since last night, though.”
“Where is she now?” she asked.
“Back at my place.”
“Oh, that’s good,” said Timothy. “So she decided to stay with you after all?”
“Well, obviously!” he exclaimed. “Was there ever any doubt?”
Saphira laughed. “Of course not. Do you have plans for lunch, by any chance?”
“Uh…” He popped his lips. “I don’t think so. Guess it depends on Anny.”
“In that case, I have an idea,” said Timothy. “That is, if anyone wants to hear it.”
“Shoot,” said Kit.
“Well, I’ve got to make a delivery at that noodle place down the street.” He held up the bags he was carrying. “I could grab a table for four, you two can get Anny, and we could all have lunch together.” He paused, biting his lip as he added, “Only if you want to, of course. I mean, it’s really just a suggestion. If you’d rather something else, we can–”
“That sounds great!” said Saphira.
“Sweet deal,” agreed Kit. “I guess we’ll go get her, then?”
“I’ll meet you all over there,” said Timothy, giving the pair a shy smile before turning to leave.
Saphira followed Kit’s lead as they made their way to his apartment. “So you work at the Ace of Clubs, right? That big building downtown?”
“Yup,” he said.
“What do you do there?” she asked, trying her best not to sound rude or ignorant.
“I perform,” he replied.
“I, um, oh…” She wasn’t sure how to respond. “But… what do you perform?”
He laughed. “Maybe you ought to come and see for yourself.”
“Oh… well, no,” she said, “I don’t think I would do that. I’m really not the type to go to clubs.”
No kidding, he thought. Feeling a slump in the conversation, he thrust his hands in his pockets and looked away.
She turned to him, confused. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
He pulled out a black rock, staring wide-eyed as it changed to violet. “Yikers! Forgot I had this.”
“Oh! How pretty!” Her eyes lit up as she gazed at its vibrant colour. “May I see it?”
“Uh… sure.” He handed it over, his eyes growing wider as it turned bright red in her hand. “Wait, why is it…?”
“Beautiful!” she exclaimed. “How does it change colour like that?”
He was clueless. “I… have no idea. It’s always purple when I hold it.”
She smiled and handed it back. “Where did you get it?”
“I, uh…” He frowned, watching the rock change back to violet. “I borrowed it.”
“Oh?” She paused, waiting for an explanation. When none came, she looked back to him and asked, “Do you know what it is?”
He shook his head. “Beats me.”
“Maybe Anny will know,” she suggested.
“Maybe.” He shrugged, tossing the rock into the air. “Sure is a mystery.”
“What about the friend you borrowed it from?” she said. “Could you ask them about it?”
He chuckled. “I guess I could…” He threw it up and caught it again, a wry smile on his face. “But it’s more fun to find things out on your own, y’know?”
She didn’t seem at all suspicious. “Of course! But let me know when you do find out, alright? I’m dying to know!”
“So am I.” He held it out to her a second time, stunned as it changed back to red. “So am I…”