Afternoon Tea: Story #11 (30 Stories in 30 Days)
By Cherie Ann Turpin
“Would you like lemon and honey with your tea?” asked the waiter, a waif-like lad with long, blond hair pulled back in a bun. Dressed in a standard waiter’s uniform, he looked far younger than his deep, baritone voice. I nodded quickly, and watched at he disappeared behind the double doors.
Lunch rush ended two hours ago, leaving the main dining room and bar empty, save for an elderly couple in a booth near the back. The restaurant was housed in a narrow, white brick building near the corner of Connecticut Avenue and Nebraska. Named after an obscure Civil War general, John Buford Tavern, the dark wood and red brick interior was dimly lit with dark orange lighting, casting odd shadows throughout the dining space and bar.
This was a spot that happened to be located on an unusually active Ley line in the middle of a city full of spirits, entities, ghosts, and other creatures of the mist. We were close enough to the edge of Chevy Chase Circle, another energy point, to draw even more energy; being near a crossroad, this restaurant tended to draw an unusual set of customers. I usually came here to gather intelligence from passing spirits who passed through and wished to talk, and on occasion, to throw a few tarot cards to the few clients who dared to sit at my table. Save for the occasional hipster or yuppie couple looking for something less expensive than the overpriced steakhouse across the street, most customers were regulars like me, and most of them were magical people–like me.
Those few who were not magical were in search of answers to questions most wise folk would say were best not answered, but nonetheless end up cast into the air in search of an answer that under most circumstances would most likely lead the person who brought up the issue in even more confusion and in need of clarification. In other words, the questioner would find himself or herself in a perpetually fixed state of confusion, and more or less unable to make manifest his or her desires because of a fear of consequences. Inaction is also a decision, one that also leads to consequences, my mentor used to say to me many moons ago. The trick is to act and not look back.
The man who walked into Buford Tavern was not a spirit. He was not a local, however, and from the determined expression on his lined face, he seemed to have a purpose in coming into this small spot in the city. Rush hour had already begun, and as he opened the door I could hear the cars rushing past towards the Beltway. I kept my eyes on the card layout on the table while taking note of the stranger’s physical specs. He wore a dark blue suit and black tie, and his gray hair was cut closely to his scalp, revealing the receding hairline and bald spot at the crown. His shoes were black with a spit shine glow. He wore sunglasses, ostensibly to shield his eyes from the sun, but something about his gait as he walked in made me suspect another possibility, one more sinister. My spine began to tingle and it shot out into my hands like invisible threads. He was magical, all right, and not of the friendly sort. I felt my spirit protectors gather around me like shields as he glided towards my table with his odd gait. Not here, I whispered to myself. This was neutral territory. Even soldiers like him knew the rules.
“The Mistress requires your presence, immediately,” spoke the soldier in a raspy, hiss-like voice. I could see the red eyes behind the shades, and wondered how long he could stay manifest in his current form. I didn’t want to find out what it would take for him to shift.
“What for, servant? I don’t like impromptu invitations without a good reason to disturb my days of rest,” I responded casually, without looking up from my cards. I felt the heat gather in the palms of my hands as the magic began to build momentum. This would not be pleasant.
“She wishes to commission use of your services on a matter of some urgency. I have been sent to escort you to her estate as your driver and bodyguard,” the soldier hissed, and with that emphasized his intent with a low bow and outspread hands. His fingers were webbed and I could see a small sigil on his left wrist. Narmonyamon House. She sent her First Soldier to fetch me in broad daylight. This was no ordinary errand.
I looked around to see who was watching us, and I noticed the elderly couple staring at us with eyes that were no longer human. They began to shimmer as both of them stood from the booth, and seemed to grow taller and grayer. Their bodies grew into twisted bodies with leather-like wings, gray fur, and black talons. I looked back at the Soldier who smiled at me, revealing two rows of razor-sharp teeth and a red, forked tongue.
“Get behind me!” hissed the Soldier, who pulled a Taurus G2 from a holster beneath his crisp suit and aimed at the head of one of the Scavenger rapidly closing in on my table. I heard a series of crackling pops as he rapidly fired two rounds, watching the Scavenger’s head disappear into a cloud of molten grey matter. The remaining Scavenger sniffed and snarled, “Gold ammo! The Council will hear of this, Soldier!” It shimmered and disappeared before the Soldier could respond with gunfire.”
The bartender and waiter had disappeared from the scene, no doubt cloaked to avoid crossfire of bullets or magic fireballs. It was just as well. I would not be welcome here for a few months. I swept my cards into a blue felt bag and pulled my wrap around my shoulders. Standing up at last, I faced the Soldier, who stood at least eight inches taller than me at nearly 6 feet tall. He seemed slightly surprised at my height, clearly not used to tall women. I smiled, and focused on the red eyes behind the tinted glasses.
“If your Mistress sent you to protect me, then this matter must bear enough weight for her opponents to send assassins before I’ve had a chance to consider her offer. That, all by itself, is enough to whet my appetite for trouble. Lead the way, Soldier.”
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