John is.. not in Medford at least? [3.3]

ourIceMain.jpg You can make a family business out of anything you know?
‘Family business’ can mean many things though, most of them annoying usually..

Events unfold including but not limited to:
John being weighed in value and importance against food.
(which is completely understandable, it’s good food)
And Hannah reluctantly opens the door on Arista’s life, while finding out more about her ‘kids’ then she could ever want to know.


 

It took me a few minutes walking barefoot on the sidewalk until I was in a nice hidden wooded area on the other side of the interstate.
Not that I’m paranoid or anything but with the Klamath Falls waypoint beacon down I don’t particularly fancy trying to find somewhere mildly isolated within the motel near the Hub to warp from.

I sunk into my mage senses and searched around for the ‘taste’ of Medford.

If you’re going to travel long distances as a mage you have to start cataloguing waypoints in your head.
I’ve had Medford memorised since I was eighteen luckily, strong cheese, sour cream and chives.. not the most appetising of ‘flavors’ but then again it’s not the most appetising of cities honestly.
While Medford’s definitely bigger then Klamath Falls, the general consensus here is that it’s full of ‘big city’ folk with more money than sense.
Ashland is a bit better, certainly cheaper at least.

I’ve been to big cities, Medford’s not even up to Portland’s standards in size or scale truth be told but it’s still not my favourite place in the world because it FEELS so ‘big city’.
I’ve heard they have nice art exhibits.. apparently.. that’s something I guess?

I only go there for my dead drop post-box.
That’s kind of why I set it up there honestly, it’s not like I’d be in the area for any other reason normally so it helps hide its location rather well within my usual travel patterns.

The beacon for Medford pulsed slightly to signal that it was clear for an incoming warp so I dipped into my lines, activated warp and let the beacon take me.
It feels REALLY weird the first time you warp by beacon, it’s bad enough turning yourself into a cloud of sentient atoms in a bubble of magic then flinging yourself off into the distance, it’s even worse doing it when you’re not the one in control of where you’re going.
Although.. I kind of prefer waypoint warping over normal warping these days?

It’s safer for a start, and a lot easier on my stomach.
I’ve never been one for travel of any sort aside from my feet or possibly the Icarus wings spell but warping the ‘normal’ way just does something to my stomach, it’s like motion sickness but a thousand times worse!

The vague blue haze of warp came to a jarring halt and like EVERY damn time I do this I collapsed to my knees.
The guy manning the waypoint didn’t try to rush me off to make way for someone else at least.

When my stomach finally settled down a bit I glanced around to get my bearing in the dingy little waypoint room.
Medford doesn’t have its own Hub, they share the one about thirty miles up the Pacific Highway in Grants Pass, I always found it amusing that the ‘rich folk’ in Medford didn’t get one of their own but we did.
..teach them to call our town ‘K-Falls’.. it sounds so bloody STUPID!..

Sorry.. I may have some issues with people from Medford.
To be fair THEY started it!

We were shopping at Medfords local ‘mall’ when we were kids, the imaginatively named ‘Medford Center’ and I kind of got separated from Mum and Sarah.
A group of old busy-body ladies found me and took me to the security office, which I was ALREADY going to!
They treated me like I was an idiot, talking to me in that annoying baby voice adults do to little kids for AGES before Mum showed up.

To top it all off they tried to tell Mum off for not keeping an eye on me properly!
The moment they saw Sarah’s little ‘Klamath Falls Pelicans’ backpack that dad got her they all turned on the smiles and played nice suddenly.
It wasn’t until we were walking off that one of them muttered about ‘those poor girls, having to live in K-Falls with all the trailer trash’ while another one said something about ‘no wonder the mother’s such a mess’..

Logically I know that was just one incident with a bitchy group of old lady’s in a mall and if I wasn’t an un-awakened mage at the time I probably wouldn’t have even heard what they said, I probably would have come away from it all thinking how annoyingly nice and helpful they were.. but I AM a mage and I don’t CARE about logic.

Medford sucks and little old ladies are mean!

Anyway.. I’m getting lost in thought again.
The waypoint guard’s been surprisingly nice about it all?
He doesn’t seem at all bothered that I’ve just been standing here staring into space for who-knows-how-long..

..oh..

My eyes tightened into a glare and I cupped arms around my exposed belly defensively.
Bloody pervert!

With quick steps I was out of the waypoint room without a backwards glance and weaving my way through the back hallways of the Medford Center’s ‘Sears’ department store.
I swear whoever thought to set up a waypoint in a disused back corridor of a big public shop was an idiot!
The population of mages in Medford is probably even lower than the tiny amount of us in Klamath Falls BECAUSE of where they put this waypoint.

Mages aren’t exactly known for being subtle!
Most of the ‘traditionalists’ in their robes and hooded cloaks would stick out like a sore thumb in the Medford shopping district, that’s not even going into the Furrys!

Can you IMAGINE the chaos that would happen around here if a seven foot tall human/animal hybrid decided to chance a daylight trip home through Medford’s Sears store?!
There’s a REASON those people tend to live, work and socialise within the Hub!

It’s not that I have anything against them or their lifestyle choices of course.

To each their own and everything.. I passed a rather gorgeous looking Fox-man in the Hub’s hallways once when Sarah first brought me in for an induction.. his fur.. let’s just say that I can kind of see the attraction of having a boyfriend AND a pet all in one soft, furry tailed bundle.
..let’s also never bring that up in conversation again please?..

The point still stands that putting the waypoint for a wannabe mini-city of Medford’s size in the back of a major department store is STUPID!
..stupid Medford people..

As I passed by one of the aisles on my way outside a pair of middle-aged woman inspecting some rather dated looking flower-patterned black dresses sneered at me.

Message received loud and clear!
Turns out short girls in short-shorts, bikini tops, bare-feet and long hair platted with flowers aren’t welcome in Medford.. big surprise?
Well screw them!

I’m busy!
I don’t have time to go clothes shopping.
I need to get to my post box, get my phone and get a trace on John mapped out before I move on!

What the hell are they doing shopping this early in the morning on a Sunday anyway?
Bloody nosey housewives!

The only concession I made on my way out was to pause at the front doors of Sears and pull my sandals out of my bag.
A wave of my hand cancelled the lingering ‘velox ped’ spell on them so I could drop them to the floor and slip my feet into them.

I may not be THAT self-conscious or anything but have you ever looked at the streets in a city?
I don’t fancy getting my feet THAT dirty!
Who knows what the hell they could have on the streets of Medford?!
..disgusting fake-city..

I crossed the parking lot and took a right from the Sears front door, trying to ignore the second glances I kept getting as I walked along, mostly from men.
You’d think they’d never seen a girl with flowers in her hair before or something!

The smell of poorly cooked but still tasty food drifted out of the Red Robin Dinner on the corner.

I was kind of tempted to stop for a moment but I steeled my resolve and marched on to go under the flyover along East Jackson Street.
I know this route pretty well.. I should, I’ve taken it enough times over the years.

Along past the Taco Bell on the left and the small family run dinner on the right.
I swear the food gods are taunting me!
I’ve never noticed how many places there are to eat around here before?!

Finally I reached the Garage on the corner and swung a left onto North Central Avenue.
It’s only a few blocks up to the ‘Medford Mailbox’ where I have my dead drop set up from here.

Hopefully Frank’s working today, he usually is.

Frank’s a dick..
Well.. no.. he’s a nice guy, but he’s a dick too?
..is it even possible to be both a dick AND a nice guy at the same time?..

Okay.. he’s lazy, disinterested and kind of bad at his job?..
He’s also never asked questions when I’ve turned up as ‘Hannah’ to collect my mail in the past.

It was pretty obvious when he realised that ‘Hannah’ was just ‘Al’ with some makeup and a different outfit on but he didn’t even flinch about it even slightly.
It’s rare in life that I’ve found people that could just accept the whole dual nature of who I was as Al so easily without at least questioning it in some way.

He win’s points with me for knowing that I’m a mage but not making a big deal about it either.
I think he’s a mage too.. maybe..
If he is then he’s a weird one, but he seems to accept everything as just ‘normal’.

When I had to have a six foot tall Fertility statue held in the backroom of his store for a month until I was ready to use it he didn’t bat an eye before telling me that storage cost was calculated on weight, not size for foreign imports.

Don’t ask what the statue was for!

It’s a long story that may have started with a tentacle monster in Japan and ended with a literally, and metaphorically, ‘horny’ square-lipped Rhinoceros trying to find a mate before the next full moon in order to help purify the waters of a small African nation, which would counter a potentially lethal contaminant before it reached the main water supply and killed millions..

Hi, I’m Hannah, have you heard about my life yet?..
..that was sarcasm by the way.. in case you missed it..

So yes.. ANYWAY..
Frank takes ages to get things done, he’s a slob and a lazy prat.. BUT he’s a nice guy, ya know?

Cutting across the parking lot next to the ‘Medford Mailbox’ my feet almost took me on a wild detour when my nose picked up the smell of Chinese food coming from the ‘New Far East’ Restaurant on the other side of the lot.

Damn it!
I KNEW I should have eaten something earlier!

I just went through a life or death situation and used a fair bit of magic, of COURSE I’ve got the munchies.. I always used to get the munchies after missions.
It’s just one of those things, probably something adrenaline related or just ‘me being weird’ related.

I need to stay on track though!
John’s counting on me.

Reluctantly I turned my feet back towards the mailbox and walked in through their dingy little front door.

When my eyes got accustomed to the gloom inside I let out a sigh of relief.
Perched on his little stool behind the long ‘receiving’ desk, bag of chips in one hand and eyes fixed on the little portable TV under his desk that I think was originally meant to be for security but that he usually uses for watching Honeymooners re-runs, was Frank.
His crisp blue uniform shirt was open showing off a food-stained white vest and sizable beer gut.

“Frank!”

He jolted as if someone had electrocuted him, bag of chips going flying and his legs kicking up dangerously as if he was going to fall off his stool in surprise.
With wild eyes he turned to look at me and a moment later his eyes went somehow even wider.

I’ve never gotten THAT particular reaction before?

“Lady Arista?”
..ah.. crap..

Frank frantically started moving.
His hands fumbled to try and do up his uniform shirt while he ran a wide hand over his the desk to clear some of the spilled chips off of it before dipping down and turning off the TV in a surprisingly smooth, possibly practiced, motion.

He straightened himself up into something that may generously be called his version of ‘neat and tidy’, ran his hand through his thinning hair and offered me a nervous smile full of crooked teeth.

“How can I be of assistance today, Lady Arista?”

My breath came out in a slow, pained sigh.
Of course he knows who Arista is!
Of course he would react strangely the moment he saw me with this new soft face!

It’s just.. it’s just bloody TYPICAL, with the week I’ve had!

Next thing you know he’ll-
“I never believed my father when he told me about your founding boxes or their contents but your here and.. it’s an honor Ma’am!”
-he’ll be sucking up to me and saying I’ve got some long standing connection to his family..

I just HAD to jinx it, didn’t I?!

With a pained smile that was about as close as I’m likely to get to ‘pleasant’ at the moment I moved over to the desk properly and sighed again.
..let’s just get this over with..

“I’m here to collect my boxes along with any new items delivered for Alistor Cooper’s box as well.”

He hesitated.
I could see all the arguments going on in his head flash openly across his wide face.
He’s not in the business of giving others access to customers boxes but I’m ‘THE Arista’ apparently and I’m here to collect some mythical ‘boxes’ that have been in his family for what sounds like so long that it may even be linked with the start of their dealings in the ‘mailbox’ industry as a whole!

“I.. I can help you with that Ma’am, come into the back and I’ll get your space ready to move for you.”

He walk over to the little lift-up hatch in the side of the desk, with a few loud crunching noises as he obviously stepped on a few of his fallen chips, and flipped it over so I could come through.
He seemed to almost drop into a light bow as he waved me through.

..why do I get the feeling this is going to be a headache inducing five minutes all of a sudden?..

Damn Arista!
The woman got around if nothing else?..
Saving werewolves from captivity here, helping fledgling mailbox company’s there!

Next thing you know she’ll ha- NO!
I’m not chancing it again!

Learn from your mistakes Hannah!
If you tempt fate then it will personally come to kick you in your now non-existent balls!

That’s just how my life WORKS..

Oblivious to my inner monologue Frank turned from me and hitched his pants up a bit higher on his overflowing waist.
He led me through the back door and into a secure cage of metal built into the very foundations of the building to help protect its contents from theft.

His hands fumbled nervously with his key bundle as he unlocked the door and moved quickly inside, making a bee-line for a far corner that seemed to be full of clutter.
It took me a moment to realise that the ‘clutter’ was actually assorted mail packages in big mailbags stacked awkwardly against something.

Frank paused and laughed nervously to himself before grasping onto one of the mail bags on top of the pile and moving it to the side a bit.
When he moved the third bag it finally became clear that there was a doorway hidden behind all the clutter?

It seemed to be standing upright but obviously lead to nowhere.
Considering it wasn’t connected to any walls behind it or anything I’d assume as much at least?

He managed to reach above the mess and turned the doorknob letting the door creek open slowly.

Inside was.. a hell of a lot of paper?
The whole area was stuffed to the brim with letters and small packages!

Frank turned to me and grinned proudly as if he’d just done something awesome.
I stood there a little mystified for a moment before it clicked in my head what was going on.

How the HELL did Arista get THIS much mail?!
Even worse, the bitch left ME to deal with it!

“You’ve got to be kidding..”

Franks smile dimmed a little at my obvious lack of enthusiasm but he perked back up again and seemed to almost bounce on his toes like a worryingly large toddler in excitement a moment later.

“We’ve used the room you set up to hold everything for you as requested. When my Great-Grandfather emigrated to America my father was a little worried that you wouldn’t be able to find us again but Great-Grandfather was sure it wouldn’t be a problem for you and here you are!”
He grinned happily, seeming to gain back some more of his enthusiasm by the second.

My hand came up to the bridge of my nose and I squeezed it hard to hold off the headache I could feel forming.
I KNEW this was all going to lead to something stupid!

After mentally counting down from ten I opened my eyes and gave Frank my best fake smile.
He brightened again despite how obviously fake the smile was.

For a moment I had a wild flash of him being some kind of ‘giant pale imp’ that somehow found Joy from my smiles just like Felix and his friends do, but that thought was beaten to death efficiently for the sake of my sanity.
I DON’T need the mental image of a big red furry Frank thank-you-very-much!

“Can you fit the last of the bags into the room and shut the door for me, then step back from it all?”

His eyes went wide but he quickly got to work trying to shove the overfilled bags into the overfilled room with a surprising amount of success.
Eventually he managed to get them all inside and just about got the door shut behind them.

When he stepped back he almost slipped on a handful of letters that must have fallen out of one of the bags.
He looked like he wanted to cry when his eyes cut back over to the door, probably trying to imagine how he was going to open it up again to fit them inside.

To save him the trouble I scooped down and picked them up, sliding them into my bag and fixing him with another smile.
He sighed in relief but smiled back at me a moment later.

After a seconds pause he realised what I was waiting for and took a few steps away from the door, watching me closely as if I was going to do some big magic trick..
I guess I kinda am?..
..huh, still sound silly..

Cycling my magic a little I stepped up to the doorway and placed a hand on its frame.
Two lines to my hand, one to my mind and one to my pancreas.
It’s technically not ‘conjuration’ but shrinking or enlarging an object falls under the same mechanics for internal magic.

I’m just lucky the door’s perfectly ‘normal’, the connection of the pocket universe isn’t really relevant in this case, if it was enchanted in some way on TOP of the connection then the whole spell becomes a lot more complicated like when John shrunk my glasses when he finished enchanting them.

As usual I have no idea why.
I do magic, I don’t teach it!

The door shook a little when my magic connected with it and spread across its bulk.

A moment later the door started shrinking.
Luckily, unlike Trudy’s expanded cupboard/training room in the Hub, this ‘room’ of Arista’s is a pocket universe tied to the doorway for easy access by people who aren’t her.

The door’s irrelevant.
If I wanted to I could shrink it to the size of a postage stamp or enlarge it to the size of a tanker ship without actually damaging anything within the pocket dimension connected to the entrance.

I have no idea what most of the mail inside it might be but if nothing else the doorway and pocket dimension could be useful at least?
I’ve never got around to making one of my own.

The method involved in claiming a pocket universe is long and time consuming normally.
It’s always been easier for me to just leave things in a bolt-hole, I’ve got so many of them full of the spoils of ‘war’ that a bit more mess doesn’t tend to make much of a difference in the long run.

Since John found me so easily in my favourite one the other day and it seems that just ‘running off’ to hide is going to be some kind of big issue from now on with Mum and Sarah becoming so neurotic about ‘knowing where I am’, it could be handy to clear out the pocket dimension and use it as a portable private hide-away?
I can probably add an intercom to the outside of it so I can tell if someone wants me while I’m inside too, John managed it on the Martials front door so it can’t be THAT hard after all.

When the door reached the size of a cell phone I let go of it and swiped it off the floor to slide carefully into my bag for safe keeping.

I turned back to Frank with a smile but he seemed a bit lost staring at me in awe.
I think it’s safe to say that he’s not a mage at this point..
To be so surprised by a pretty simple shrinking charm, he’d have to be a completely fresh un-awakened mage and I just can’t honestly see that being likely considering his age?

Magic attracts magic after all, there’s no way a mage could go THAT long without finding out that they could use it in one way or another over the years.

“Can I leave a forwarding address for you to send any new mail too and get the contents of Alistor Coopers box for him now Frank?”

He jolted out of his awed daze at my voice and frantically nodded before moving off to the other side of the ‘vault’ area.
My eyes trailed after him as he sorted through his keys and finally found the one for my mailbox.

He got the right one, number Three-One-Four-Two.
I have no idea why they have such high numbers in here.
From what I can see, the boxes in this ‘vault’ start at three-thousand and go up from there but it’s not THAT important I guess.

His hand dipped into the box and for a moment my heart beat a little faster with worry.

What if my phones not turned up yet?
I finally got around to casting the little ‘summoning ritual’ for it on the second night in my bolt-hole, so it’s had a few days to get here which should be more than enough, but..

His hand came back out with a few letters and an A3 size padded envelope with one suspiciously box shaped package on top of them all.

I nearly snatched the box out of his hands the moment it came into view.
He seemed surprised but my eyes were on the box instead.
A touch of magic leaked into it gave me a warm surge of magic in return.

MY PHONE!
I’ve got my phone back!

I didn’t realise how much I’d missed it with everything else going on but the moment we reconnected, despite the changes to my body and magic, I couldn’t help but clutch the box to my chest tightly and almost hug it in happiness.

Sarah has her car, Mum has her kitchen, and I have my phone.
We all talk to them and look after them and.. and..
I’ve got my phone back!

I almost did a little jig on the spot in joy but a glance at Frank’s surprised face made me pause long enough to realise how silly that would look.

My bag’s a little full at this point, a critical glance at it left me doubting that the phone box would even fit in there as it is.
Given the option of shrinking my phone or enlarging my bag it wasn’t really much of a choice.

My hand held onto the little ‘golden’ clasp of my bag and a few moments later with a slight detour into my lines the bag doubled in size while leaving its contents and the strap untouched.

Frank flinched and gaped a bit more in awe when he saw what I was doing, but what’s done is done now.
I offered him a smile while slipping my phone into my now bigger bag.

The letters and packages slid out of his hands into mine so I could put them in the bag too.
Fishing about I grabbed the pen from inside and took his hand gently.
He didn’t resist at all as I carefully wrote the address of a disused warehouse sized building I ‘own’ on the far side of Ashland by the little airport.

That should keep his shop from being flooded with Arista’s mail for a while until I have time to sort something else out for him.
Judging by the fact that he didn’t ask about money I’m guessing Arista’s storage is paid for already so that shouldn’t be a problem at least.

With one more smile for him I made my way towards the front of the shop.
It’s been interesting.. annoying as all hell and overly complicated.. but interesting all the same.
I gained a pocket dimension with attached doorway out of it too!

Now I’ve got to get back to tracking John, the stupid bastard.

“I’ll see you around Frank. I’m collecting Al’s mail for him for a while so I’ll be by in a few months or so. Thanks for all your help, try to cut down on the chips at your desk, yeah? You’re getting a little pot-belly going on there.”
I could feel my eyes twinkle a bit with fun as I glanced over my shoulder at him.
He was watching me go with a rather stunned look on his face for some reason.

I hope I didn’t break him?

Imagine the stories he’ll tell his friends about meeting THE Arista, hopefully he doesn’t embellish it too much?
I’ve got enough stories going around about me lately as it is..

With a casual wave over my shoulder I eased out the door and left the Medford Mailbox behind.
For a moment I took in a deep calming breath which happened to fill my lungs with the smell of freshly cooking Chinese food.

..damn I’m hungry..

I need a flat surface to mark the location information onto the map anyway, right?
Ten minutes isn’t going to make much difference in the long run while hunting for John, right?

I could just pop into the restaurant, borrow a table and maybe order some chicken balls with egg fried rice to go.. maybe some crispy duck too.. and some egg rolls.. and a drink.

My lungs filled with another whiff of Chinese food at practically the same moment that I made up my mind.

I’m coming to find you John!
..Just.. ya know.. a girls gotta eat, right?

With a happy little hum and a pat to my phone buried in my now big bag I made my way across the parking lot in pursuit of food and a flat surface.. but mostly food.

======

The waitress smiled at me awkwardly.
I don’t think they’re used to having many people in this early.
There’s an old couple over in the corner chatting and a college girl by the window eating noodles of some kind but that’s about it.
I must look a bit weird too, it’s not exactly warm out yet and I’m hardly dressed for the morning chill.

“I’ll have a number five, two number seventy-eights, three one-hundred-and-six’s.. annnddd four number thirteens please.”
Her smile seemed to get a bit more awkward but she didn’t say anything if something was wrong, she just wrote it all down on her pad and nodded to me before going off to the kitchen.

For a moment I relaxed back into the nice warm leather of the booth that I’d claimed, one with a clear line of sight on both the front and back entrances.
..old habits die hard..

Reluctantly I stretched and dived into my bag for the map.
When I had the map laid out next to the compass so I could get my bearing’s I paused for a second to think of a good excuse to stand up.
A glance at my bag solved that one pretty quickly.

Playing up the ‘ditzy’ young girl act I stood up from the booth, frowned and squinting my eyes down as if I was frustrated about something.

It took me a moment to dip into my lines and find the thread that started at my Brand and ended somewhere behind my core.
When I had a good mental ‘grip’ on it I started patting down the pockets of my short-shorts and turned in a smooth circle like a dog chasing its tail.

I’m not sure if someone was watching but if they were they probably thought I was some kind of idiot, not that I care much but it always helps to make weird things look at least semi-understandable to normal people when you’re a mage.

When I finished the full circle I threw my hands up in disgust and plopped back into my seat heavily.

My nimble fingers snagged the red pen from the table and, careful to make it look like bored doodling more than anything else, I sketched out a roughly forty-five degree angle on the map starting at Medford and facing near perfectly east.

As it turns out, wherever he actually is, John’s somewhere east of here.
That’s a start at least?

Where should I go next?
My eyes scanned the map thoughtfully for a second.

They seemed drawn towards one point in particular.
..I’ve always liked New York in the summer..

It would give a good counter point and thin out a lot of map space if I can narrow his location down to somewhere in the mid-west within my first two scans.
I’ve got a rough plan to hit at least five spots by nightfall, depending on the distance involved obviously, that should give me a nice small area to work on tonight.

Targeted searches should be a lot easier to do under the cover of darkness.
I could put some kind of perception ward on an item I’m wearing then go for a fly right now but those wards feel nasty!
It works for animals like the Gryphon Handy Man called into the clearing as part of his ‘grand’ escape plan because THEY can’t bitch to you about how annoying and oily it makes their skin feel or work out that you’re the one causing it.

I’d much rather just wear something dark and fly high up tonight honestly.
It’s not like I can speed up the process by any appreciable level if I try to use the perception ward method anyway.
It would take me an hour or two just to work out if I can manage it on something like my clothes, let alone make it reliable enough to not just fail on me at the worst possible time!

My focus on the map was broken when the waitress came back followed by two assistants all carrying food.
With a careless sweep I sent the map and everything else sliding onto the bench-seat beside me.
The smell of food practically overwhelmed my brain to the point that I couldn’t care less as long as I got some of it SOON.

The waitress smiled at me again and started putting plates out for me.
The college girl by the window watched them chain along plate after plate for me with shock pretty obvious on her face but the old couple carried on talking as if nothing unusual was happening at all.

When they finished loading me up with food I smiled and bowed my head slightly to them in thanks.
Judging by the fact that none of them actually looked Chinese I’m guessing they’re just some kind of morning crew of students and cheap labor, but that probable fact isn’t related to food and therefore it’s unimportant at the moment!
With almost a purr of happiness I grabbed my chopsticks, cracked them apart and dived in.

Ohhh.. their Hoisin Duck tastes amazing!

======

My head rolled back against the nice padded leather of the booth’s seats and I let off a long contented sigh.
Chinese food for breakfast is the food of champions!

The college girl gave up all pretence of eating about twenty minutes ago when she finally seemed to realise that I was planning to eat ALL of the food on my table by myself.
Even now she’s ‘subtly’ watching me from her window seat with a weird mix of amazement and disgust.

I couldn’t honestly care.
LET her stare.
That food was AWESOME!

My eyes drifted over the table and settled on the few remaining egg rolls at the far side.
I can’t.. I honestly.. honestly can’t eat them right now!

My eyes carried on and settled on my bag.
For a moment I hesitated but I’ve put it off long enough by now.

A lazy hand drifted down from my little pot-belly to reach blindly into the bag for the bundle of letters inside.
My other hand cleared the plates in front of me by stacking them up in the center of the table.

The top letter happened to be an ‘Al’ one.
It was kind of obvious by the name on the front of it, also I recognise the handwriting.

It’s from my freelance magical gossipmonger.
They call themself is ‘Jack Spice’, I have no idea if that’s a man’s name or the short version of a woman’s name honestly.
I did a job on the side for them a few years ago.

It was a simple information gathering job, no killing needed.
Quite a nice little break from all the mess I was getting involved in for the Hub at the time.

In thanks for my going above and beyond to bring them ALL the information they needed, not just the stuff they requested, they pledged me ten years of information updates about the rumors floating around the Hub’s that I might normally miss due to just generally being my usual anti-social self.

I tore the envelope open without hesitation.
Jack’s always good for a few laughs about the infighting and petty squabbles that happen around the world if nothing else.

My eyes scanned the pages rather than reading them properly.
There’s plenty of time to really get into the details after I’m done running around the country hunting for an injured idiot.

Let’s see.. Samson and Delilah are on the outs again, she wanted him to try getting a perm apparently and he lost it, the guy’s always been picky about his hair..
..Caesar’s awakened again? That’s got to be the sixth time he’s awakened in the last hundred years!
I think someone’s got a vendetta out on him or something?.. maybe Mamurra’s just in a bad mood..

Another high ranked awakening.. Arista de la Morte, Empress Eternal of the Bimabdn Imperium, Queen of the Highlands Spring, Holder of the keys to Avalon.. blah blah blah.. long rumored ‘Mother of Magic’..

Well crap.. what do ya know?
I made the Gossip Columns!

Wonder if I can sue my own unofficial black-market information broker for slander?
I most certainly do NOT hold the keys to Avalon!
Never heard of a ‘Bimabdn Imperium’ either, let alone been inducted as their Empress!

..damn Arista..
She really DID get around didn’t she?

Rather than keep going I tossed the stapled sheets over with the map and moved on.
Seeing her name and exploits being listed kind of soured the fun of catching up on the magical world for me, go figure.

The next letter was just a bank statement from my off-shore account.
No point reading that one for now, I can’t even access my accounts at the moment due to the whole ‘new body and identity’ thing.

The last item on the little ‘Al’ pile of letters was a padded envelope.
I leaned the package away from me and slit it open with a sharpened nail.

Letters are one thing but who knows what people could get past mail screening in a padded envelope?
No puffs of smoke, blasts of powder or annoyingly loud audio messages came out after a few seconds, so it looks like it’s safe at least.

I tilted the open envelope towards my face and peaked inside.
My shoulders quickly slumped in relief.

Feeling a little stupid I reached in and pulled out a clear plastic bag with wide, flat interlocking gold-looking rings inside it.
I forgot I sent off for this bloody thing!

It’s a belt, one of those chunky metal chain belts with disk sized rings strung together to wrap around your waist?
I had an idea for a covert way to hide some useful glyphs on my body if I was going incognito as ‘Hannah’ on a mission by inscribing the runes on each plate-like ring’s inner edge so they weren’t visible when I was wearing it.

Kind of pointless now I guess.. although the belts still kind of cute?

I can probably put some useful daily runes on there, tuck in a few emergency ones too around the back just for safety’s sake?

I might even put it on in a minute.. it should fit in the belt loops of my shorts and the 'real gold' color should work well enough with the clasp on my bag too.
..forget that last bit..

Lets rewind back to the ‘useful for hiding runes’ bit and stick with that reasoning shall we?..
It feels less inane and stupid in my head if we go that route with it.

Following that logic I put the belt to the side too and took a deep breath.
Only the letters for Arista left to go through now I guess?

The first one looked simple enough, just ‘Arista Morte’ written on it in flowing handwriting and the public address of the Medford Mailbox.
For some reason it feels like I’m going to regret this but with a wince I used my sharpened nail to slit the envelope open and gently pulled a thick card out from inside.

Turning it over I cringed and realised what my instincts had been trying to warn me about.
‘Happy Birthday Mommy’

“..ah crap..”

Pushing that letter to the side I grabbed the next one and with a wave of certainty, slit it open to revel a slightly more adult version of the same item, a birthday card..

I flipped it open and scanned the words inside briefly.
It was made out to ‘Mother Arista’, wishing to see her soon and that she has a happy birthday from ‘Your loving son, Leonidas’

“..crap..”

This time being gentler about it, I let the card settle on the table and moved on to the last one of the pile.
I’m not even going to hope that ‘Leonidas’ isn’t THAT Leonidas, the warrior King of Greece.

I’ve seen the movie ‘300’, let me tell you, it was terribly inaccurate!
I don’t remember much more than that fact from my past-incarnation memories sadly but I KNOW it was inaccurate to an almost insulting level just from the emotions I felt while watching it!

“Please don’t be another card from her kids.. please don’t be another card from her kids..”

I tore open the top of the envelope and cringed again when another card came into view.
Pulling it out and turning it over made things even worse.

“Well.. so much for that wish..”

Note to self, I HAVE to start being more specific when I beg the universe for things!
The words almost taunted me as they glared out from the happy little white card with flowers drawn all around its border.

‘Happy Anniversary’

Flicking it open I cringed and let my head sink down in defeat.
‘From your loving husband, I miss you dearly, Thor xx’

I didn’t know what I was expecting from the front cover but it’s somehow so much worse..

Thor..
THE Thor.. comic-book and movie character played by Chris Hemsworth in all his gorgeousness?..
Thor.. the Hammer swinging, lightning throwing ancient GOD Thor?!..

Okay.. from what I know of Norse mythology that means Arista was either his wife ‘Sif’, his giant lover ‘Járnsaxa’ or that one other woman who’s name.. was.. never record.. ed..

Sometimes I REALLY hate my life!

I shuffled the card on top of the rest of the pile and sunk my head into my hands.
I’ve definitely got a headache now.. can this day get any worse?!
..did I really just think that?..

“Craaaapp...”

For almost half a minute I stayed in position with my head in my hands in the vague hope that maybe for once no-one was listening when I said something stupid.

Amazingly after the thirty seconds were up nothing had happened?

I couldn’t resist the urge to perk up and smile slightly.
Maybe my lucks changin-

DAMN IT!
I need to stop doing that!

My own thoughts aren’t safe enough to think something like that!
Something which is so blatantly tempting fate!

Especially on a day like today, where everything I even consider going wrong seems to do exactly that moments later!

After another painfully long half a minute, nothing happened again.

I’m kind of getting twitchy with things NOT happening now?
..where’s the giant demon bursting through the wall with a tentacle full of flowers for me and an anniversary card?
..where’s the floor full of babies being dropped off by child services in tractor loads because they finally tracked me down after all these years of looking for a ‘Arista Morte’ to take them back?
..where’s the-

..okay, I think I’ve tempted fate enough at this point..
I’m not normally a big believer in that sort of thing anyway but every time I’ve expected something to happen today it has so far, ya know?

Maybe it’s finally over?

I’ll pay for my meal, find an isolated area and warp to New York’s waypoint so I can get a better lock on John and when I finally do find him he’ll be sitting in an easy chair watching Honeymooners re-runs like Frank was while laughing his head off like an idiot.

“S’better than most of my plans usually are at least..”

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat and dropped one of my hands so I could start loading things back into my bag to make a move.
My eyes drifted over to the few surviving egg rolls on their plate.

With a put upon sigh I dropped my other hand and stretched over, grabbing one of the egg rolls to munch on as I packed up everything else.

I’m such a glutton sometimes.. good thing I’m a mage.
Without the enhanced metabolism that comes with that fact I’d probably be the size of a house at this point!

Not that it really matters I guess.. but if I’ve got to be female I want to have a nice figure at least, ya know?

Speaking of which, I wonder if there’s any truth to that old rumor about milk making you grow taller and making your boobs grow bigger?.. probably not.
If there was then Sarah would have bought her own dairy farm years ago for personal consumption only.

Everyone’s got their hang ups and for Sarah it’s her ‘dancers figure’.
There’s a REASON people struggled to tell us apart in our teens, even though I was completely flat-chested, after all..

When I got down to just the map left out of the bag I squinted at it to make sure that it’s about as accurate as I can make it.
Rather than stand up again and spin around like an idiot to scan for the ‘tugging’ feeling, I just focused on the line connecting us and twisted my chest to face in the right general direction until the feeling eased like last time.

..Yeah, that feels about right?..
I’m not going to get it dead-on without a proper sensor charm or some kind of ‘magical mind-controlled GPS’ system.

huh?..
That might not actually be that bad of an idea honestly?
It would take a bit of work, it’s a fair bit more complicated in concept then the basic ‘map’ system I made on the back of Felicia’s tea tray at least.

I might even have to make my own magical Satellite and send it into space somehow?!..
Now wouldn’t THAT be an interesting project?

I’d have to make it invisible to basically everything as well as protecting it from any kind of impacts that might happen in space.. then there’s the whole ‘recreating technology with magic’ side of it.. and the general ‘how the hell am I going to get something into space?’ side of it too..

I wonder if a propulsion rune, with a ninety degree launching slide and some ‘velox ped’ enchantments on the payload would be enough to get it up to low earth orbit at least?

My hands moved automatically to slide the map back into my bag and then proceeded to grab another egg roll from my quickly dwindling pile of leftovers so I could chew something.
It helps me think better.

..would I have to invent a brand new wide-ranging broadcaster Glyph?..

Maybe I could take the useful bits from the magic used to make waypoints?
Waypoints can send their ‘tastes’ across the world after all, that would be kind of useful to be able to replicate..

Come to think of it, Edith has her own personal waypoint in the backroom of the shop doesn’t she?
That’s totally illegal, hence why Fena was in such a rush to turn it off, but if they have one then they must know how to MAKE one too, right?

Ohhh.. this could be FUN!
I LOVE new magic!
I coul-

“Miss? Are you okay?”

My body jolted in surprise before I was fully out of my ‘creating daze’.
The waitress was standing near the edge of the table looking at me with some worry.
After a moment to catch my surroundings I offered her a tight, awkward smile.

“Sorry about that, I have..”
Mental problems?.. no!
Aspergers?.. no, wrong symptoms.
The thing when you fall asleep randomly?.. would help if I could remember what it was called!

“uh.. I’ve got problems?”

The waitress grimaced but seemed to understand that whatever was wrong with me, I wasn’t willing to talk about it.
Instead of carrying on our now awkward conversation she smiled at me weakly and left the bill on the table before moving off to check on the old couple to see if they wanted another drink.

I groaned and sunk my head into my hands again.

One of these days I’ll manage to talk to a girl without making a fool of myself.
Becoming a girl myself hasn’t helped THAT problem in ANY way apparently, if anything it’s even worse now!

With a deep fortifying breath I pulled my head upright and snatched the last egg roll from my plate, stuffing it in my mouth to make myself feel better.
As I tried to chew it awkwardly I happened to catch the eye of the college girl who was watching me with a worrying amount of interest at this point.

Don’t suppose I’m lucky enough that she’ll turn out to NOT be some kind of mage that would NOT have recognised me as ‘Arista’ by any chance do you?..
..yeah, I didn’t think it was that likely either..

The college girl went to stand up while looking at me directly in the eye.

She’s going to come over here and confront me isn’t she?
What’s the bet that I’ve got a ‘birthday card’ from her in the pocket dimension, held behind the shrunken door tucked away in my bag?

The front door beside the college girl opened with a smooth ‘swish’ that actually sounded surprisingly loud for some reason, like a wave breaking on the coast or something.
Either way it made her pause in her steps and me stop chewing to gape at it in shock.

A tall, dark, dashingly handsome man stepped in to the restaurant with a dramatic flair worthy of some kind of award.

He had thick black hair, neatly trimmed to perfection.
A well done goatee in the same shade of black and aristocratic features that I’m not ashamed to admit made my new twin ‘Hannah likes’ indicators decide to ‘pop-up’ randomly.
He had a VERY expensive looking suit on with a decorative cane in his hand and a suspiciously ‘turn of the century mage’ looking dark gentleman’s cloak draped over his shoulders.

..Hello.. secret government facility?.. I think your perfect specimen of ‘man’ escaped!..

The wind ruffled his hair and his sharp piercing eyes scanned the room making my heart beat a little harder.
I’ve got a rule in place on a semi-permanent ‘NO’ for the whole ‘Me, as a female, with guys’ thing.. ..but it’s more of a guideline really?..

The moment broke and he shifted his hips slightly in a way that woke me up from my sudden hormone driven love-daze.
..there’s something definitely not right about the way he just moved his hips?..

Oh powers.. that’s just not FAIR!

I spend my adult life as a reluctantly bisexual male and the minute I turn into a woman the PERFECT man comes along.. and he’s bloody GAY!

Well.. I mean.. I think he’s gay?
He’s got the whole ‘flare for the dramatics’ thing going on that I vaguely remember being a common thing with gay actors and entertainers that I’ve met in my past-incarnations.

His hips.. his whole body has just SHIFTED effortlessly into this really effeminate pose suddenly?

Maybe.. maybe he’s just the world’s most effeminate, while secure in his masculinity enough to not care, straight man?.. please let him be that!..

He shifted position again and I cringed when not only did he bend his wrists in a way I’ve never seen a straight guy do before but he also finally laid his eyes on me.
His whole face lit up in joy at the sight of me!

..maybe he’s a vampire?..
Vlad was very ‘effeminate’ after all.. and he had a flare for dramatics.. and he wore a cape.. and.. and.. but he was attracted to me!

A vampire wouldn’t be perfect but we could work something out.. please powers..
If you’ve ever cared for me before show me a sign!

Please.. a vampire, actor ex-husband of Arista!
I’ll take THAT over him being gay at this point!
He opened his mouth and out came a voice that was possibly more girly sounding then MY new one!

“Motherrr!”

Oh yeah.. he’s totally gay, no question left on that one!
Even Vlad couldn’t roll an ‘R’ that mu-

wait.. what did he say?
SCREW YOU POWERS!

I don’t ask for much, damn it!
You couldn’t make him straight and just to kick me while I’m down you made him one of Arista’s bloody KIDS!!

Quick as a flash, his hips swinging wildly, he made his way over to me and pulled me up into a tight hug that literally lifted me off my feet.

I sucked in a sharp breath and pulled a mouthful of forgotten egg roll down my throat.

“Uggh!”

..can’t.. breathe..

So this is how it ends, huh?
Choked to death by an egg roll that went down the wrong hole when my, possibly a gay actor, son tackle/hugged me unexpectedly while calling me ‘Mother’..
Bravo powers, even I didn’t see THAT one coming!

Bloody powers, see if I ever use you as a replacement for the word ‘god’ in fear of your wrath EVER again!

“Aguuhhh!”
He eased off his hug on me at least but looked into my slowly reddening face in confusion instead of.. ya know.. HELPING ME!

I NEED AIR DAMN IT!

I’m NOT gonna die like this!
I REFUSE to die like this damn it!

It’s not even bloody DIGNIFIED, let alone NOBLE!



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