Chapter 10: The Emporium

Chapter 10: The Emporium

“Breathe, X’andria. You have to remember to breathe,” Elias reminded her persistently.

The great tome hovering several feet above the table came crashing down, and X’andria let out a gasp of frustration.

“It’s so hard,” she complained. “When I seize it with my mind, it takes all my concentration just to keep it there, and it feels like I’ll lose it if I do anything else.”

“Which is why you’re going to practice it again, right now,” Elias said patiently. “Because here’s the thing, X’andria. You know how you were describing the crushing feeling you get when you levitate? Like the weight of the object is pushing directly down onto your brain? What you’re feeling is the force of the energy you have gathered pressing on your mind.” He spoke more deliberately now, “Air is the only thing that dilutes that power, X’andria. If you are going to practice without pain, get stronger, and survive the focus of even greater power, you have got to master your breath.”

The Emporium was located in Watertown, the seaside district between Hillcrest and the coast. Almost anything could be found in Watertown. Home to Rockmoor’s sailors, not only was there a constant influx of exotic goods, there was also a voracious appetite for all manner of food, drink, and entertainment. The largely transient population brought rich talent, diverse taste, and a particular disregard for decency. The sailors and thrill-seekers coexisted in lukewarm symbiosis with the merchants and barkeeps who bought and sold the visitors’ wares each day and filled their cups each night.

There were shops with furniture or furs or hardware of all kinds. But sometimes cargo came off the ships in the dead of night that was not for general consumption. Sometimes these items were too precious or too powerful, or too dark and nefarious for the light of day. And when treasures arrived that possessed abilities of their own, with personalities and desires embedded in them by their makers or bestowed upon them by magical beings, the cloaked sensates of The Emporium would materialize out of mist and shadow on the docks and make persuasive offers on behalf of the Sorcerer of Rockmoor.

The Emporium was famous. Even situated down an alley off a side street in Watertown, intrepid tourists and curious kids would stumble upon it from time to time in hopes of witnessing something miraculous or of altering their minds more dramatically than the dull and fuzzy escape that came with draining horns of ale in the seaside taverns.

And they would find both of those diversions at The Emporium.

When, on her second day in Rockmoor, X’andria first pushed through the doors of the small dimly-lit shop, she saw two young men giggling over a stick on a shelf that would hiss at them like a snake any time they reached for it. An older woman with sagging, red-rimmed eyes and tangled grey hair leaned heavily on a counter, behind which a bored-looking dark-featured man absentmindedly paged through a large book. A vial of electric-green liquid stood half-drunk in front of the woman, and X’andria could see many more just like it for sale on the shelf behind the attendant.

Disappointed by the whole shabby scene, and ready to turn around and walk back to Westwood, X’andria’s sharp eyes halted over the illusion. In the back corner of the shop, an empty table and the wall behind it were only half there. Her eyes saw them, but her mind did not. It was a strange duality she had experienced before when witnessing Gnome’s phantasms. A lesser intellect would not even register the distinction, but X’andria’s powerful cognitive reasoning overcame the spell.

Still standing just inside the shop, she glanced again at the clerk behind the counter. He gave her the slightest of nods, before returning to the book that lay open in front of him.

So she slid past the young men, now fully absorbed in watching a mechanical dragon stalk jauntily around its wire cage, and she slipped unnoticed straight through the table and the wall into the space beyond.

Books.

She arrived in a network of cozy rooms featuring gorgeous and ancient-looking polished wooden floors, exotic and ornate carpets, and couches and chairs of all kinds. There were several people strewn throughout the space, in various states of slouch, each of whom glanced up as she entered, but none greeted her or looked away for long from whatever they were studying. While each room had a different feel, all had floor-to-ceiling shelves filled completely with books.

Wandering from room to room, it was several minutes before X’andria came to her senses, closed her slack mouth, and swallowed the saliva that had liberally accumulated with the total immersion of her imagination. Glancing about nervously to make sure no one would chastise her, she randomly chose a medium-sized book with a faded green binding and sat down to read.

Twelve hours passed before she looked up again, hunger clawing weakly at the edge of her consciousness. She was dimly aware that others had come and gone, but none had spoken to her. In fact, she did not think anyone in the entire space had said a single word all day long.

It was a magnificent feeling, being surrounded by knowledge and wisdom stored in countless volumes. She had only made it a few rooms deep into what she now realized was a vast labyrinth of connected chambers yet to be explored. At the end of that first marvelous day, she gingerly placed her green book back on the shelf where she had found it. Her head was swimming with the precise details of alchemical preparation: the drying times and storage procedures for roots versus leaves; the diets to feed toads, lizards, rats, bats and creatures she had never even heard of, before harvesting their organs, eyes, claws, and tails for purposes she could only imagine.

She was stepping slowly back toward the invisible portal to the shop-front and the banal world beyond, when she noticed a tall blonde man exiting purposely across the room before her. More precisely, she noticed he was leaving with two books tucked under his arm. X’andria froze! Could it be permissible? she wondered, barely daring to hope.

In a moment of brazen courage, she retreated back to the shelf that held her precious green book, retrieved it swiftly, and walked briskly from the marvelous rooms with sweat beading on her scalp, feeling like the whole world was watching her. I’ll bring you back tomorrow, she thought, as she cradled her prize and stepped out into the moonlight over Watertown.

X’andria passed several glorious days in The Emporium’s library, from which she came and went freely, devouring as much information as she could. At first she went about it randomly, pulling whichever book struck her fancy, and curling up with it for hours on end. The third day, however, she walked slowly around the five rooms comprising the library and began to recognize categories like Materials—from which her little green book had come—Techniques, Theories, Runes, Potions, Scrolls, Memoirs, and Worship.

There were many books she could not read because the language was unrecognizable, and some books simply would not allow themselves to be removed from the shelves. One large black volume with a red symbol painted in slashes on its worn cover, gave her a massive headache the instant she opened it. She slammed the tome closed and then teetered back across the room to return it to the shelf.

It was in the middle of that third day that she looked up to see the tall blonde man for the second time. She noticed his high black boots first, because they strode into the field of her peripheral vision and stayed there. When she finally looked up, she was surprised to find that he was gazing back at her, a curious smile playing on his lips.

“Do I know you?” he said.

“I don’t think so,” X’andria whispered self-consciously—several people had lifted their heads at the sound of their voices. “But I saw you here a few days ago.” She paused awkwardly and added in all sincerity, “I don’t think we’re supposed to talk in here.”

He chuckled softly and replied knowingly, “No, I suppose we’re not. But listen, my name is Elias and I am going back to Practicum. If you get to a good stopping point,” he gestured past the next room, “come back and say hi.”

Then he was gone.

X’andria tried valiantly to concentrate on her runes for several minutes, but it was no use. Somewhere between intrigued and annoyed, she eventually stood up and ventured beyond the final room of the library, to find what Elias had referred to as “Practicum.”

Four days had passed since then.

Practicum, it turned out, was a honeycomb of nestled narrow spaces in which practitioners could try out techniques with relative privacy. At his invitation, X’andria met Elias each afternoon, and they had decided he would teach her how to move objects with her mind. Since The Alchemist, Elias was the most intriguingly knowledgeable person she’d come across.

Breathe, she kept telling herself. Here we go.

Levitating an object required compressing the power latent in the atmosphere all around her and forcing it to obey her command. To do so, she held a small loop of gold wire that conducted her will into the ether. Elias, it seemed, was able to do this easily, and he demonstrated the technique repeatedly for her while breathing noisily in and out and holding his eyes open wide.

X’andria had always focused best with her eyes closed. Her eyelids and brows squished tightly together, her lips pursed, and her diaphragm seized, she would pour all her concentration into focusing her will.

But according to Elias all that had to change.

“I don’t care if it doesn’t even lift off the table, X’andria,” Elias was pressing. “At this point, it is more important that you relax, keep your eyes open, and breathe, than if the book even twitches.” Elias, X’andria had learned, could be quite moody, and at this moment a bit of frustration tinged his words.

“Alright, Elias, I’m trying as hard as I can,” she retorted.

X’andria breathed slowly. As she drew together her power, she resisted her natural inclination to close her eyes. She became aware that her shoulders were tensing and hunching, so she relaxed them. It was odd, actually. X’andria sensed the elements responding to her will, yet she felt like she wasn’t really working that hard to make it happen. She imagined the book rising from the table.

The book popped into the air. Breathe, X’andria. This was way too easy! She could see it, too, because her eyes were open. She spun it several times, the pages flopping open and closed as it rotated. Breathing steadily now, X’andria realized she had made an enormous breakthrough. 

It’s not as hard as I thought it was. 

She pulled the book toward her in the air. She positioned it in front of her face, and she willed the cover to open.

It hovered there, open to page one, for about two seconds and then crashed unbidden to the floor. But the plunge did not result from any error X’andria had made on her own; it came about because Elias had reached out and placed his hands on her shoulders. The unexpected shock of his touch had been the surprise that caused her concentration to fail.

“You are just extraordinary,” he was purring as she whirled incredulously around to face him. Her first emotion was anger. She did not like being touched without warning, and she was mad at being interrupted just as she was beginning to succeed. But as soon as she saw him peering down at her, she was reminded that his guidance had brought her to this next level, and that she ought to be thankful.

Elias casually floated the book to its original position on the table with a flick of his fingers.

“What really excites you, X’andria?” He looked at her with an odd expression that she could not quite place, and, for the first time, she noticed dark circles beneath his eyes. “What do you want more than anything?”

The anger drained. His question caught her totally off guard. Her nature was to plunge fully into any mental challenge laid before her, and this question presented a new challenge indeed. What do I want more than anything?

“You know what I want, Elias?” she said firmly after some time. Elias leaned closer. “Fire.” Her eyes were shining now. “I saw a man pour jets of white hot fire from his fingertips and turn it…”

“Hush, X’andria!” Elias interrupted with a conspiratorial whisper, and looked all around them as though expecting the very walls to come alive.Composing himself quickly he continued in a normal voice, “It’s a beautiful day for a walk, isn’t it? What say you and I get some fresh air down by the sea?”

READ CHAPTER 11

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