“Let’s just start from the top,” Sadie advised. “What happened this morning?”
“I went to the park because I got a new book and was reading it and then my neighbor Frank helped with my tablet and—”
“Slow down,” Sadie cautioned and held up a hand. The overexcited teen in front of her inhaled, holding her breath with pursed lips. “You got a new book?”
“Yeah,” Sofia said. “It’s old and it’s written in some sort of weird language. Which is why I wanted it! But Mom said no more weird junk.”
“And the book is weird?”
Sofia turned sharply, yanking open a drawer on the antique vanity that served as her desk. The book she withdrew had been bound in leather and decorated with tiny gilt images all over the front cover. The attached strap and buckle showed it was meant to be kept closed.
“Here.” Sofia thrust it towards Sadie. “I mean it’s really cool. I’m not sure what kind of language it was written in. I thought maybe it was Arabic, but I can’t identify any sort of words in it.”
“You can read Arabic?”
“Not really, but kind of? I mean, I can google the words and match them up to what’s on the page, so yeah? Just not well. Or at all really. But that’s the book.”
Cautiously, Sadie opened it. The letters on every page had been inked in blue, and boxes on every corner showed some sort of image. Animals, plants, planets, a couple of swords. Those, she noted, had been done in a variety of colors—green, red, black and a sort of silvery grey.
Sadie nodded, handing the book back to Sofia and rubbing her hands together. She frowned, noticing her palms glittered.
With a book that old, perhaps the gilt had flaked off.
“Alright, so you know your Mom’s going to have something to say about your new book, so you took it to the park to try and translate it?”
“My tablet has a good enough camera that I figured I’d do a reverse image search to figure out what language it is. Only, it was…so weird. Like, hidden QR code kind of weird?”
“And your hidden QR code did what exactly?”
“Totally fried my tablet. But that’s not why I called you!”
“Okay, then why did you call me?”
“See, my neighbor Frank? He knows a ton about tech and stuff so I figured I’d ask him because my tablet was fried, and he’s a pretty cool guy, you know? And besides, at that point, I didn’t know what had happened so I figured I could avoid Mom getting mad because she would freak if she found out I broke my tablet.”
So far, everything made sense, but Sadie still wasn’t seeing what the problem was. “Okay, and I’m guessing Frank couldn’t help you out?”
“Oh no, he fixed the tablet, no problem, which is when I figured out it had done something really weird because when I went to check the picture, it looked like it had been translated? They were definitely not the same letters on the page as they were in the picture.”
“And what did the letters say?”
“Not a clue!”
A sigh escaped Sadie. “I say this because I adore you, but I’m not seeing why you called me in a panic. Your tablet could have just glitched and corrupted the file.”
“That’s what I thought but uhm—you know what. Hang on.”
Sofia tossed the book on her bed, already spinning away from it. As soon as the book had landed on the bed however, a flash of blue made Sadie look over. She frowned, looking at the bed.
Which, before had been a simple Ikea frame. Now however, a four-poster bed rose up, thick embroidered blankets and downy pillows replacing the bedding Sadie knew had been there.
It didn’t exactly match the rest of Sofia’s room either. “Here.”
Sadie scrambled to catch the green frog Sofia dropped in her hands. “Uh—”
“He’s not poisonous, I checked. He’s just a frog.”
“Did not know you had a pet frog.”
“That’s my neighbor,” Sofia said.
Sadie looked at the frog in her hands, who seemed just as concerned and wild about the situation as Sofia.
“Your neighbor Frank?”
“The one who fixed your tablet?”
“Yes.” That came with an emphatic head bob which threatened to knock the clip out of Sofia’s honey blonde hair.
“Your neighbor is a frog?”
“He is now. See, I was trying to read the new page out of the book and then there was this weird blue smoke and the next thing I know, Frank was gone and there was this frog hopping all over the place totally freaked out.”
Sadie had to look over at the bed, out of pale as it was in the pastel green décor of Sofia’s room. Her motion served to make Sofia look over. Sofia did a double take and gasped.
“What happened to my bed?”
“Well, this is Bright City so you’ve either developed superpowers, or we need to know where you got that book.”
“The antiques shop down on Gardener,” Sofia answered. “I go there at least once a week. And…Mom kind of banned me from going back after I brought home a mummified bird. That’s kind of what set her off on the no-more-weird-stuff kick.”
“Which means you going there is going to cause trouble.”
“Oh, I got the book after Mom already banned me. Mom doesn’t know about the book yet.”
The frog in Sadie’s hands finally succeeded in freeing itself and managed to land on the bed, hopping around several times before it came to a rest on top of the book, croaking in displeasure.
“Let’s take this one step at a time,” Sadie advised. “Starting with how we’re transporting Frank.”
Tucked into a plaza half-hidden by larger office buildings, the antiques shop would have been easy to miss with a casual look. Approaching however, Sadie frowned at how dim it seemed. It lacked the lighted displays of its neighbors, only a simple wooden sign hanging from the one window declaring that it was the Magician’s Tower, Purveyor of Genuine Antique and Vintage Finds.
Looking at it, Sadie wasn’t sure it was actually open. “I don’t see any store hours.”
“They’re never posted.” Sofia shrugged it off. “I think it’s between eight and six though.”
Sadie glanced at her watch, noting that it was just passed ten. Sofia seemed confident enough that this was where she’d gotten the book and at this point, Sadie wasn’t willing to discount any possibility. Not after the last three years of keeping up with some of Bright City’s unusual events.
Sofia’s phone rang and she sighed. “It’s my Mom,” she said. “Give me one minute. Two, Mom talks a lot.”
Reminded of the times she’d chafed under her own parents’ sometimes-suffocating care, Sadie smiled as Sofia took a couple steps away, turning her back to Sadie.
Deciding to just poke her head into the shop, Sadie tried the door. Rather than opening when she pulled it, the door held fast, rattling in a way that indicated it had been locked.
She frowned at it. It was gone ten, and a Tuesday besides.
Pushing produced the same results. Sadie gave it one last tug and hummed a little before pulled her own phone out.
A quick search opened no answers. The only possibility Sadie could think was that either it was closed for lunch, or it opened much later than she and Sofia had thought.
“Okay. Yeah, I love you too. Bye. Yes. Bye Mom.” Sofia rolled her eyes as she hung up and shook her head before she smiled at Sadie. “You didn’t have to wait for me.”
“The door’s locked,” Sadie answered.
“Really?” Sofia adjusted her hold on the mason jar they’d put Frank in. He seemed relatively calm, and with airholes poked in the lid, Sadie wasn’t worried too much about him running out of air.
Although, as a frog she wasn’t sure she trusted the mason jar for more than a couple of hours.
“I tried both pushing and pulling,” Sadie answered.
“It usually pulls,” Sofia said and reached out to pull on the handle. The door swung open, a bell chiming as it did.
Sadie had to take a step back while Sofia opened the door a little wider, frowning. “That was definitely locked,” she said.
“Doesn’t seem to be now,” Sofia said, and stepped inside, holding the door for Sadie.
If this sort of shenanigans was common to the shop, Sadie could see why Sofia’s mother would bar her from it.
Despite that she couldn’t see any lights from the outside, stepping into the shop proved it to be bright. A classical hush filled the shop as Sadie followed Sofia’s wandering.
A glass cabinet housed hundreds of tiny figurines. Sadie paused for a moment to examine them and read the sign on the door.
Absolutely NO photography of any kind.
Frowning, she looked closer at the figurines and realized that several of them held cameras. The detailing on their clothes keyed her into their time frames, with a Victorian-styled dress and hat, a man in a top hat. A little further away, a figurine in a suit held a camera with the odd, circular style camera Sadie vaguely recognized as something prevalent to the nineteen fifties. Yet another however, stood in what could have been a denim jacket and held a tiny black square, almost like a smartphone.
Alarmed, Sadie took a large step back. Sofia had continued on ahead, and Sadie followed.
“Mr. Blum?” Sofia sounded almost confused as she moved towards the counter in the back. A faint meow signaled a cat as it slunk out from under a cabinet. Sofia giggled. “That’s Grey,” she added.
“Cute cat,” Sadie said as it jumped onto the counter.
“I’ll check in the other room,” Sofia said as Sadie let the cat sniff her hand. Grey shoved his head under Sadie’s touch and Sofia chuckled. “He must like you.”
Sadie chuckled, scratching at his ears while Sofia wandered a little farther back. “Too bad I’m not in the habit of carrying cat treats around. Sorry, but you’ll have to settle for chin scritches, kitty.”
He purred and then pulled back, audibly clearing his throat. “I’d say the lack of treats is a serious oversight on your part.”
Sadie froze and then looked around before she sighed. “Tell me there’s a normal explanation for this.”
Grey purred again. “I’m surprised at that. Normally Stone Holders have some grasp on the unusual.”
Startled, Sadie took a step back. “How did—”
“Formally, my name is Greymalkin, but Grey is acceptable. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Stone Holder, but I know enough to recognize the source of that power anywhere. I see that the last Magician chose well if little Sofia can gain help from people like you.”
It took Sadie a full ten seconds to process that before she inhaled. “Hey, Sofia? Can you come back here?”
A moment later and Sofia returned. “I don’t see Mr. Blum anywhere.”
The purring from Grey increased and Sadie crossed her arms. “I think I’ve got an idea why that is, and hopefully our furry friend here can help because I have a hard time believing there’s not some sort of letter or something somewhere.”
Grey stretched and yawned. “Spoilsport,” he teased.
An audible gasp escaped Sofia and she started as Grey turned, batting at a cabinet until it opened to reveal a book stand which contained only a thick envelope. Curly script on the front spelled out Sofia’s name.
“Of course I do.” Grey answered and curled his tail around his toes. “It tends to be unnerving the first time.”
“Oh no. Did you get turned into a cat?”
This time, Grey seemed speechless as he yawned again, the purr coming out louder. Sadie shook her head.
“I don’t think he did,” she said. “But I do think he can start by explaining why that letter has your name on it.”
“I thought it was obvious. The letter contains a brief explanation of why the former Magician chose you.”
“Yes. Normally when someone takes the book out of the shop it does something to alert them to their latent abilities. Strange that it hasn’t already done so.”
“Uhm. Well.” Sofia set the mason jar containing Frank on the counter. “This is Frank. He’s my neighbor.”
“Ugh. Frogs. Inedible and quite noisy.” Grey’s ears flicked as he spoke.
“He’s not supposed to be a frog,” Sofia explained.
“Hardly anyone ever is. Ah well, I believe you’ll find the reversal spell somewhere between pages fifteen and eighteen.”
“Reversal spell?” Sadie asked.
“She’s a magician. That’s normally how they fix wayward spells,” Grey answered. “I don’t recommend trying it while he’s in the jar. Compression does funny things to people.”
“I can’t do magic,” Sofia said.
“I doubt your friend turned himself into a frog. Although, if he has he should be asking the Stone Holder for assistance in shifting back to a more appropriate form.” Grey lifted one paw to clean it.
“Stone—This isn’t making any sense,” Sofia said and Sadie sighed, moving around the counter.
“Let’s start with this,” she said. “Try opening that up and seeing what it says.”
Sofia hesitated a moment before she set the book next to the jar and took the letter. The envelope hadn’t been properly sealed, only had the tuck flapped to close it.
Papers rustled as Sofia sorted through them, setting two of them down and then unfolding a third sheet of paper. She inhaled a little. “It’s a letter,” she said.
“What’s it say?” Sadie asked.
“I can sum it up if you like,” Grey noted and jumped down. “You’re now the Magician, responsible for keeping an entire library of magical artifacts in check. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for sunbathing.”
Sofia watched as he sauntered off and then returned her attention to the letter, her lips pursing for a moment before she began to read aloud.
“I apologize for the suddenness and for how confusing this must be. As a means of short explanation, this shop and everything it is now yours. I’m passing the role of the Magician to you.”
The silence fell in the shop and Sofia looked up. “What does he mean the role of the Magician?”
“I don’t know. Does the letter say?”
“Not really.” Sofia turned her attention back to the letter. “There’s keys in the third drawer, and glass stones in the fourth for the book. It—”
A drawer scraped open, and Sofia turned sharply, barely catching the ring of keys as they flipped up at her. She stared at them and then at the drawer for a moment before returning her gaze to Sadie’s face.
“Did I do that?”
“I think you might have,” Sadie answered.
“Probably the same way you turned your neighbor into a frog.”
Concern contorted Sofia’s round face into a grimace. “I’m not sure how I did that either.”
“You remember what I said earlier, about either developing superpowers or needing to find out a little more about the book?”
“Yeah, but this doesn’t sound like a superpowers. We’ve got heroes on the news all the time—there’s shapeshifting and fireballs and flying but…turning people into frogs? A talking cat?”
A soft chuckle escaped Sadie and she bent to open the fourth drawer and retrieve two or three small glass stones. “Trust me. They hardly ever feel like superpowers. In this case, just…see if you can use one of those to find that reversal spell Grey mentioned.”
Hesitation trembled in Sofia’s fingers as she selected a stone and then glanced at the mason jar before she opened the book, flipping through to page fifteen.
She consulted the letter for a moment before she set the stone on top of the page, moving it slowly over the top of the page. To Sadie’s surprise, the letters in the glass were different from the marks on the page.
“You need to read it through a reflection,” Sofia murmured. “That’s a memory spell…huh, spell of finding? Could be useful. And…Oh! Reversal! Here it is. Page seventeen.”
Sofia hesitated for a moment and then looked at Sadie. “Are you sure about this?”
“Fairly sure,” Sadie answered. “Especially since to me, those just look like random letters.”
“They kind of are? But it’s…almost like old English, I think. Or something. Super old. It doesn’t read like English. It—I’m not making any sense, am I?”
“Not exactly, but we’ll worry about explaining it some other time,” Sadie advised. “As long as you understand it. You think you can follow whatever instructions those are?”
“Maybe? I won’t really know until I try, right?”
“You won’t,” Sadie answered and reached out to open the mason jar and tip it until Frank slid out onto the counter. “Let’s try this, okay?”
Sofia nodded a couple of times, picking up the book. She paused for a moment longer before she began murmuring, moving the stone with care over the page to reveal it.
Bits of blue smoke formed at the edges of the book, and Sofia glanced at them nervously as they swirled towards Frank. Though almost inaudible, her voice held steady. The smoke glowed as it began circling the frog.
Sofia’s voice grew steadily, a slow crescendo into firm words full of confidence. Thickening, the smoke congealed around Frank.
A pop and a bag and Sofia yelped as the glass jar on the table fell off and shattered at her feet. The smoke flooded the room and Sadie coughed, waving it away.
“Hello? Sofia? Hello?”
Through the thinning smoke, Sadie realized there was someone else in the shop, sitting on the counter. A bell rang, and the smoke sucked out, vanishing and giving Sadie a decent look at the unlucky man who’d suddenly appeared in the antiques shop.
He was of an average height. At a guess, Sadie would have said he was thirty-five or so. A strong jaw complimented the round face and he’d combed his dark, thick hair to one side.
Judging from the wideness of his earthy brown eyes, he was also very thoroughly confused.
“Mr. Frank!” Relief pitched Sofia’s voice upwards, and he turned.
“Sofia! How you doing?”
“Great, actually,” Sofia said. Sadie smiled as she eased back around the counter, shutting the cabinet on the way by. “It’s nice to see you.”
“Good to see you too.” He looked around. “Where’s this?”
Alarm crossed Sofia’s features, and Sadie stepped in. “It’s the Magician’s Antique shop. Sofia was saying you needed a unique gift for someone?”
Surprised, Frank spun towards her and frowned. Sadie smiled and held out a hand. “Sadie Lewis, Bright Day paper.”
“You’re that reporter,” he said. “The one that gets all the articles on the heroes.”
“That I am,” she agreed. “But Sofia mentioned you were looking for a gift. Said something about you needing it to be unique. I couldn’t really think of anywhere else that would have something as unique as an antiques shop.”
“Yeah, yeah! My daughter’s birthday is coming up,” Frank said. He shook himself a little and looked at the floor. “What happened to the glass?”
Sadie lifted a hand. “Me, being the giant klutz I am. Mr. Blum was just grabbing a broom real quick while Sofia helped you look for that gift.”
“Here! Your daughter likes flowers, right?” Already Sofia was off, asking questions and leading the somewhat-disoriented Frank a little deeper into the shop.
A purr and Grey reappeared, jumping onto the counter. “I would have let the kitten figure it out on her own.”
“It would have taken longer and someone would eventually file a missing person’s report,” Sadie answered.
“Ah, people. Always concerned with where other people are. I don’t see what it matters. Though, I do have to wonder how you plan on covering the fact that my dear Blum isn’t in the shop.”
“You said it yourself,” Sadie replied. “If it’s shapeshifting help you need, ask the Stone Holder. I’ve got this covered, but I want to know. What’s the story with the talking cat?”
“I’m a cat and I talk.” Grey stretched out. “There’s no story there. There is however, a broom in the cupboard you might need.”