This is not meant to be a polished short story. This is a role play we did in order to explore character development for a Dungeons and Dragons Style Campaign I am setting in the Bloodlines universe. Adrian from Bloodlines meets a new shop owner in town. Go check Riley out over at his blog Riley Writing!
Hallis Mystic Books
Andrew had not actually thought he would be moving back to Chicago, and was still adjusting to the idea of being back under the Circle’s aegis. The shop, at least, was a pleasant change, and he felt fortunate to have been able to find the money, and the space, though he knew that luck had little to do with it. Only a series of events that might have been guided into place for his benefit. Whether or not it would actually work out in the long run was something else entirely.
Though Hallis’ Mystic Books was a new venture, the space itself was at least half a century old, and many of the books Andrew kept under lock and key were far older. Nothing particularly dangerous was on display, though, and quite a lot of his stock was, quite frankly, New Age shlock.
Adrian paused. This was new. Hallis’ Mystic Books. He walked down this street all the time, when did this place open? He peered through the window. Tarot decks and how to books were intermixed with books on crystal healing and dream interpretation.
Junk. Tourist shit. He sighed. What a shame. He would have liked to have a real arcane shop here in his neighborhood. As it was he had to go out to Evanston to find anything even close to authentic, and frankly the owner of the shop was a fucking nut job, who just happened to occasionally find something of value.
He moved on. The second window display looked much the same, he looked at it, disappointed again. He was about to leave, when something caught his eye. Off to the side, almost not visible from the street was a book with a leather binding. It did not look mass produced. Now he had to go see. He tossed his cigarette down before stepping on it.
The door knocked a little metal bell above the frame as he entered. It was not an electronic bell like most places. How quaint. He headed over to the book and picked it up.
Behind him he heard someone come into the shop from the back. “Oh, god don’t let them be a talker,” Adrian thought to himself. The lady that ran the shop up north suffered from verbal diarrhea. He tensed looked back over his shoulder to see what kind of person he was dealing with.
‘At some point,’ Andrew thought, trying to check inventory on one of his orders, ‘I may need to hire someone else.’ Not sure who he could trust. They’d have to be a practitioner and that seemed more an ordeal than he wanted to deal with, especially so soon after returning. Besides, working on his own was definitely preferable than the alternative.
The bell rang, and he quickly set aside the packing slip and going out to the front counter. So far, he hadn’t had many customers and those he had had been bored college students or dreamy women buying far too many crystals than anyone had ever needed.
This man was obviously something different. For one, he had honed in immediately on one of the few books of any real substance that Andrew had openly displayed. And while he didn’t like to make assumptions – his appearance could be explained as just a goth, as could his interest in the leatherbound volume- Andrew suspected that he was a practitioner, and moved slightly closer to see what he did with the book.
A man of average height came out from behind the counter. Adrian watched as he came closer. He wore thick framed glasses and what must be an intentionally bland outfit. Clearly the button shirt and clean pressed slacks were standard shop owner wear. He did notice a braided leather bracelet around one of the man’s wrists. He wondered if it were functional or just for decoration. He himself had a couple as well, but each had a specific purpose.
The man had not tried to speak to him yet so he turned his attention back to the book. It was clearly old, and the quiet thrum of power through it meant it was genuine as well. He ran his fingers down the cover , there was no writing on it, just a symbol he recognized as one used for conjuration. He open the cover and flipped a few pages in. It was written in a mixture of latin and high German. He could read Latin, but never was very good at German. It would take a while to translate.
The book looked like it was a compendium of spells for conjuring. He saw the word for spirit several times, and one written in red that read Alp. If he wasn’t mistaken, that was an incubus or vampire type spirit. Who in their right mind would conjure that?
As the tall customer turned his attention back to the book, Andrew pretended to straighten some shelves while looking him over. He had only had enough time to consider that he was not at all bad looking when he noticed the tattoos on his arms. Definitely a practitioner, then, and one the Circle had considered worth additional measures. With that in mind, Andrew had to question whether or not he should have left that particular book out after all. The combination of languages should have been enough to keep most from using it as anything more than a collectible, but even so. He cleared his throat. “It’s an interesting collection, isn’t it?” Hopefully, he wouldn’t have been able to get too much detail from it. . .
Adrian looked up. The man looked a little nervous now.
“Quite,” he said. “Where did you get it? You don’t see many of these around.”
He did not get an immediate answer, so he closed the book and turned toward the smaller man. “Do you have anything else…interesting here?” He really wanted to know if it was fluke that the man had the book. Even a blind squirrel and all that.
“I would be interested in seeing more books like this,” he held the leather bound volume up and gave him a lopsided smile. “If you have any.” He knew that usually worked. It was one of his talents it seemed, getting people to do what he wanted. Sofia called him a manipulative bastard, he said it was simply practical. If he could, why shouldn’t he. It made his life much easier. He felt a stinging itch in the binding in his right wrist.
It had been a mistake to leave that book lying about where anyone could find it. On the other hand, he didn’t want a clientele comprised entirely of nouveau hippies. Andrew gave the man a slight smile, not really interested in going into some of his sources for books. At least not until he knew more about him. “I doubt there are many quite like it,” he says. “Though if you mean you’d like to see more useful books than most of these, I do carry a few.”
Waving him over to the counter, Andrew moved to retrieve a few of his less-dangerous books.
Adrian frowned for a moment. It had not worked. Maybe he had misread the man. Usually he was pretty good at telling if someone might find him attractive. It was a strange feeling to not be able to charm the shop owner. He went to the counter and leaned over, looking at the books, the man had stored back there.
These too were genuine, he was fairly certain, but none were as powerful as the one he held in his hand. In fact, he could still feel it there, almost humming under his fingers where it lay on the counter.
“I actually have a better copy of this one,” he took one book off the counter and thumbed through it. “If you are actually interested in real books, you may have to be less fastidious about your sources. This one is the sanitized version. The Approved version.” He wrinkled his nose slightly. “Not anywhere as useful as the original.” He put the book down and picked up the one he had taken from the front of the shop.
“This one,” He ran his fingers across it again. “This one, I do want.”
On the one hand, it was something of a relief to be able to share a common interest, on the other hand . . . Andrew sighed. This man, whoever he was, seemed awfully full of himself. As well as having tried to charm him. Which really might have worked better on someone else.
“Really?” Andrew picked up the rejected book. “I really hate the expurgated versions . . . I wouldn’t mind seeing that better version sometime.”
Glancing over at the conjuring book. “That one, I found in a flea market, actually, in the middle of the Bible Belt. I don’t think anyone who had it understood anything written in it and thought it nothing more than an odd old book.” Andrew turned his eyes back to his customer. “I think before I agree to sell it to you I’m going to have to ask what it is you intend to do with it.”
Adrian chuckled. “You had it out on display,” he ran his fingers over it again. It was not a completely benign energy in it. He really wanted to get it home and translate it to see what more it held. “I would have thought you did not know what it was.” He blinked slowly, still smiling, this time it was not just a ploy to charm the man, clearly he was not susceptible to that. He was trying to read the man’s aura now.
“Well, well, well,” he purred after a moment. “Not what I expected to find setting up shop here.” He laughed again. “Definitely not human. Does the Circle know about you yet?”
Andrew watched as the taller man caressed the book and considered it fortunate that he could not be charmed by him. “It brought you into the shop, didn’t it? Honestly, I didn’t think anyone would bother with the trouble of translating it. . .”
Whatever else he might have said about the archaic German in the book trailed off at the man’s statement, and Andrew looked him over once more. The suspicions he already held due to the man’s tattoos could only be confirmed by this. “They do. I’ve already seen that they know about you.”
“That they do,” Adrian admitted, a little bit of bitterness in his voice. He unconsciously rubbed at his right wrist. The binding had just been replaced and it still hurt and was far too new to try to break yet. The power it bound was supposed to be a minor one, but any binding hurt, not just the physical pain of the tattoo, that didn’t bother him, it was the psychic pain that made it so bad. He would give it a month or two and break it again. He always did.
“How long have you been here?” He asked.
The gesture was one he recognized, and Andrew wondered at how recently the bindings had been done. His own had been renewed as soon as he returned to Chicago, and he was certain the Circle had somehow known he was coming, as quickly as they pounced on him.
“I grew up here, but was away for a few years. I only moved back a few months ago. And you . . ?. I’m sorry, I’m Andrew.”
“Adrian,” Adrian offered his hand, but the smaller man’s was almost swallowed up by it. “You must not have grown up in this part of the city,” he said. “Surely I would have met you before.” He considered for a moment. “Or you are a lot older or younger than you look. I am certain that there were only two other students around my age when the Circle first got a hold of me.”
“Let me see your arm,” he said suddenly, reaching across the counter.
“Pleased to meet you, Adrian,” Andrew said, and he did mean it. The rest of the magic community he was aware of were the elder members of the Circle, and while he had no desire to aggravate his relationship with them more than his mere existence did, he wasn’t on particularly great terms with them. (Aside from perhaps his former mentor.) it was nice to know someone nearer his own age, though Andrew did wonder exactly how old Adrian thought he looked. “Not in this part of the city, no,” he replied, shaking his head. “Not then at least. I’d guess we would have been in training at around the same time but I never saw anyone close to my age back then.”
At the sudden request that verged exceedingly close to demand, especially considering Adrian was already reaching for his arm, Andrew frowned. He guessed his intent a moment later and held up his hand, palm up. “I’ve been bound, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
Adrian pulled Andrew’s wrist closer and looked at them. He ran his thumb over one. It tingled, but it was clearly not a strong ward, and the symbol was definitely not for anything particularly dangerous. At least not in the hands of someone like Andrew.
Adria took it on himself to undo the buttons on the sleeve cuff and push the shirt up higher. As he suspected, he found another binding rune. It matched the one he had on his own right forearm. He never knew what that one actually did, but thankfully they had left it alone this time. When they did too many at once he found it hard to function until he could get rid of a few.
He placed his whole hand over this one and tried to get a feel for what it was. He had never been able to figure it out on himself. He let a little power slip into it, and nothing happened, though he felt Andrews muscle twitch slightly. This one was mostly inactive. Curious. The other felt recent though.
“They are still a little new, but looks like mostly harmless stuff. If it is bothering you, it is easy enough to break it.” Adrian blinked and suddenly dropped Andrew’s arm. Shit, he had not meant to admit that. What if this man was like his parents and willingly allowed the bindings? What if he told the Circle?
It took a great deal of focus to remain indifferent as Adrian studied the runes tattooed into his arm, and even with that Andrew felt his skin warm slightly. The tingling sensation when Adrian used some of his power on it surprised him, but he didn’t pull away, curious over what he was looking for.
Even more curious at the following remark. Andrew looked over his own arm once Adrian released it; nothing appeared different. “Yes, I did notice when they applied them.” The sarcasm more an effort to regain some control, than anything else. Buttoning his sleeve back, stunned. “I hadn’t ever considered . . . break them, really? And the Circle doesn’t notice?”
Adrian looked away and fidgeted slightly before answering. “If you are careful, no they don’t notice. They re-apply them every so often anyway. They hardly ever think to check how active they are before whatever schedule they have runs out. At least they have not ever checked mine.” He really hoped he had not just messed up. Last thing he needed was the Circle redoing all of them at the same time.
“Look, forget I said anything,” he straightened stepped back from the counter. “If they are not bothering you, then there is no reason to mess with them.”
In his head, all he heard was Oh shit,Oh shit, Oh shit over and over.
It was more than a little concerning that this man, Adrian, was breaking his bindings and wanted the book that Andrew had never had any intention of selling, though now he was wishing he hadn’t lied about where he’d gotten it. He placed a hand on the book as Adrian backed away.
“Breaking them had never occurred to me, to be honest,” he said. “And you’re still breathing, so clearly the Circle hasn’t discovered you doing anything too dark, and therefore it would be too much bother if I happened to mention anything to them. They have enough on their minds, don’t you think?”
Adrian eyed him wearily. “Do they not bother you?” Personally he found them almost unbearable, but Andrew was acting as if it was no big deal. “The one on your forearm is nearly inactive. You are telling me they simply forgot to re do it?” He wanted to ask if he knew what it was for, but was almost afraid of the answer. Neither Rei, nor Gerard had been willing to tell him what it did, but they were very insistent on making sure it was checked regularly. He was actually surprised they had missed it last time. Rei’s demeanor that day was uncharacteristically scattered and Gerard was busy complaining that he did not want Adrian around the new students, and insisting that they hurry.
Only the one on his wrist and one on his left shoulder blade had been checked even. Not that he complained or had any interest in correcting the oversight.
Did they bother him? As he had never considered whether or not he had much choice in the matter, Andrew had never really thought about how it would feel to be free of them. “They’re not my favorite thing, now that you mention it. How on earth did you figure out you could break them?” He wasn’t sure if he should be impressed or horrified the other man had been brave or foolhardy enough to even attempt it.
He rolled his shirt sleeve back again and considered the rune. “I suspect they decided I no longer needed it.” Andrew looked up at Adrian again, trying to determine whether he had any idea what the rune was meant to do.
“It wasn’t too hard once I started trying,” Adrian shrugged. “You have to wait a few months though or it just hurts too much.” He rubbed at his wrist again. “If you do it before the magic has had a chance to settle it leaves a residue and it is the worst of both worlds until they redo it. You can’t use it right and it hurts all the time.”
“I kind of assumed that most everyone tried it at once. Though I don’t know very many that have it. They have been getting more strict about unknown lines. Right now I am only aware of one other they allow who has the binding runes.” He gave a half smile.
“Two now, I guess.” he watched Andrew for a moment and then added. “Either you are a known bloodline, or are mostly harmless in their eyes. Which are you?”
Andrew resisted the urge to roll his eyes, but he wasn’t sure if Adrian was bragging or just honestly hadn’t found it difficult to break the Circle’s work. “I see.” Frowning slightly as he contemplates how he is going to answer the question. He was guessing Adrian had no idea the nearly inactive rune was meant to bind necromancy – and wasn’t about to draw attention to this fact. Not that he had any real desire to do anything with it, but the less the Circle considered him capable of, the better. Whatever Adrian might think, Andrew doubted he’d be as adept at breaking the bindings himself.
“Mostly harmless,” he replied, eyes flicking to the book that’d brought Adrian into his shop in the first place. “I have very little idea of my own bloodline myself. . .” why he was lying to Adrian he wasn’t really sure. They both had secrets they would rather the Circle not know, but that wasn’t quite enough to trust each other, was it?
Adrian eyed the shop-keeper suspiciously. “Fair enough,” he said finally. “Though that is very interesting reading material for the mostly harmless to have in their possession.” He gestured toward the book. It was clear Andrew had no intention of letting it leave with him.
“You should put out one of the more acceptable books,” he suggested. “ You never know when one of the assholes from the circle might come poking around. You definitely do not want them to see that in your possession. They may rethink the mostly harmless verdict.”
Both of his hands went to the book as Adrian gestured towards it, and Andrew felt foolish. Foolish for leaving it out, for caring about it in the first place. Of course, he had no intention of using it . . . “I’m sure you’re right,” he said, reaching for the book Adrian had scorned with Approved Version. “Something like this, then? I’d still like to see the original version, if you have the time to bring it by some day.”
Andrew gave him a slight smile. “Who knows, I might even let you look at the conjuring spells for a bit.”
Adrian gave a snort of amusement. “I can bring it by some time,” he agreed. “I come by here nearly every day to get my daughter from school. I think you will see that they took out most of the interesting parts.” He looked around the shop now. He had really not looked at anything other than the book and behind the counter.
“I am sure she would be interested to see the place as well,” he said. Samantha was strangely adult at times, and the curious shop might amuse her. She loved to read, so it would probably appeal to her.
Andrew’s (mostly) bibliophilic pleasure that Adrian would be returning was diverted slightly by the following sentence. Of course, Andrew had been fairly confident that his mild attraction to the other man would not be reciprocated but Adrian simply hadn’t struck him as a father. Especially not a father who was actively involved in his child’s life.
“Yes, of course,” he said after a few moments had passed. Unless Adrian was much older than he looked, his daughter couldn’t be very old, but there was nothing really breakable nor dangerous now he was taking his mother’s old book out of the way. “If you think she’d like it, feel free to bring her by.” Andrew smiled at him. “I look forward to seeing you again, Adrian.”
“Don’t worry,” Adrian said noticing the shift in tone. “She’s not a typical 6 year old. Her mother was not human at all.” He felt his wrist itch again. It was bothering him far more than normal this time. Though it had not been as bad before he came into Hallis’ Mystical Books. It made him wonder if he actually knew what it binding. He had one that was meant to keep him from some of the more destructive elemental magics, and when it was new it would bother him more when he tried to use it. What was he trying to use that the rune may be blocking?
It was something to think about. Normally, this one made him feel out of sorts and irritable, so he stayed away from as many people as possible when it was fresh Normally he would have simply walked to the school, picked up Samantha and walked home. The most interaction he would get would be the glares or creepy admiring looks he got from the (mostly) mothers also picking up their kids.
He debated whether he should ask Andrew if he knew what it was, but he didn’t want the man to think he was stupid. Rei had always told him that one was very minor, but he wondered now. It was obviously something he did not realize he was using. This would require some experiments.
Having expected Adrian to leave after reassuring him about his daughter, Andrew was somewhat surprised that the other man remained, and checked his watch, even though he had no idea what time a 6-year-old would get out of school these days. He raised an eyebrow at the explanation of her parentage, trying not to look as curious as he was. He’d never had a chance to meet anyone else with even remotely the same degree of . . . well, he was only assuming Adrian’s daughter had a demon for a mother, which probably wasn’t fair.
“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Andrew said. “Considering how I was when I was a kid, I’m sure there’s plenty here to entertain her.” And that was as close as he was willing to admit to not being mostly human, himself. Though of course, Adrian probably already knew some of it.
“To be honest, I have no idea what is normal for a child like her. I have no idea what her mother was like as a kid. I can’t really picture her as a kid to be honest.” There was definitely something very strange about Andrew. Maybe he had not been around enough others like himself. The Circle had been careful to make sure he did not come into contact with anyone with demonic heritage wherever possible. After the mess with Lilith, he could see why. Not that he would admit that to them.
“I’ll bring the book by next week,” Adrian said patting his pockets, found his lighter but no cigarettes.. Crap. he was out. He forgot. He would need to stop before he picked up Samantha.
“I guess it’s time to go spend quality time with the bored housewives and insecure mister moms,” he snorted. “You have no idea how much drama happens while waiting for your child to get out of school.” Why was he still talking? Why was he telling this guy all this. He definitely needed to get out of here.
He still had the lighter in his hand and fidgeted with it and he turned toward the door. He was feeling more than a little off balance right now. What a strange place.
For a moment, Andrew considered a full demon as a child and found he couldn’t either. Not that he’d ever knowingly had any contact with one. The change of topic back to the books was a welcome one.
“I’ll look forward to it!” Andrew chuckled at the comment about the other parents, he could imagine Adrian stuck out like a sore thumb, whatever else about the circumstances he didn’t know. “It was nice meeting you, Adrian.”
“You too, Andrew,” Adrian said and was surprised to find that he meant it.