With the words ‘mystic arts’ Ryu and Aaron gave each other a brief look. Interesting. The store wasn’t very wide but appeared to be rather deep. Shelves lined the walls from the ceiling to the floor, packed so tight with volumes one could barely see the faded wooden paneling that hid behind the jagged lined made by the book tops. Several tables and stands made a simple maze about the room, each covering different subjects. New Fiction. New Non-Fiction. Self Help. Coffee Table Art Books.
There it was. The words ‘Mystic Arts’ engraved in white on the black plaque above a full set of shelves a bit inside and to the left. Aaron was already on his way toward the books. Ryu peered into the back of the store looking for something, anything to go on. Nothing but books. Not even a sound. He sniffed the air. He was becoming disturbingly comfortable with his Aaron’s abilities, but it all still felt a bit odd. The musty smell of old paper and that sterile smell of new paper overcame him. It took him back.
Ryu followed suit behind Aaron, taking the maze left, glancing over the titles that stared back at them until they were standing under the black and white plaque. They skipped over the bright and glossy spines. “So… anything?”
Aaron shook his head. “Not really. Just a dull buzz.” His brow knitted, eyes going from spine to spine. A few of them were in English, but the majority were written in Asian scripts, mostly Mandarin characters. “Doesn’t seem to focus. Or I can’t focus it. Something like that.”
Crouching down to get a better view of the lower shelves, Ryu nodded. “Don’t worry. It takes time.”He almost added ‘You’ll get the hang of it’ but caught himself.
“Hmm…” There was a faint pop along his spine as he looked over one of the larger volumes. It was newer with a bright red cloth cover with embossed black writing down the spine. Aaron ran his finger over the characters but could not make anything of them. “Hey.” Ryu pushed on his bent knees and stood up. “Can you read this?” he asked, tapping at the red book.
“It’s Greek to me,” he replied, shaking his head as he pulled it from the shelf. “I can’t even place the script.” Even with its large size the book had an amazing weight to it. The same single file black writing decorated the cover as well. “It’s heavy.”
“Books of the Arts often are.” Both managed to contain their surprise at the voice that had snuck up on two men very unaccustomed to being caught unaware. Turning, they found an unpainted pleasant smile and an almost unnaturally bright pair of green eyes behind the voice. It was almost imperceptible, but Bluewolf swore there was something in the way she read each of their faces. Not even a second before the expression had faded. A quick look to his side and he knew that Capin had caught it as well.
Ryu looked the shopkeeper over. Dark black hair fell down over her shoulders, framing her face. With a simple black dress and gray sweater over her slender frame, she could not have been much more than thirty. He returned the smile.
Aaron winced, as that dull buzz became a four-alarm fire at the base of his skull. He leaned forward some, unconsciously trying to move from the burn that was spreading throughout his nervous system. The change was so drastic he couldn’t tell what Enry was trying to tell him about her, but friend or foe, she was clearly the reason they were there. His molars ground together, trying to focus.
Catching his friend’s apparent shift, he looked over, giving Aaron a concerned look. “Are you alright? ” Aaron nodded, looking back to the shopkeeper. She was still smiling.
“Just a little pain in the neck,” Aaron replied. Enry jabbed him in the kidney. “Must’ve slept funny or something.”
“Or something,” Melody winked. She extended a hand to Aaron, “Melody Chang, welcome to the Peking Bookstore.”
Aaron took Melody’s flawless olive-toned hand in his own. A warm wave traveled up his arm, sweeping through his shoulder and settling over his chest and abdomen – everywhere that Enry had skin-to-skin contact. The symbiote pulsed back an irregular acknowledgement. Aaron had the distinct feeling that more than one introduction had just passed. He glanced at Ryu who raised an eyebrow in silent reply.
“Uh… Ryu. Ryu Kokezaru,” he motioned to the man next to him, “And this is my friend, Aaron Matthews.”
This time, it was one of Melody’s eyebrows that shot up. “I’m not so sure about that, but,” she tapped the book in ‘Aaron’s’ hands, “I do know that isn’t the particular book you’re looking for.” She turned abruptly and went to the narrow staircase behind the check-out counter that led to the upper levels of the store, “If you’ll follow me, please, I’m sure I have something that will help you out upstairs.”
Ryu slid the book back onto the shelf. “I hate sounding cliché, but I think she knows a tad bit more about us than we do her,” he said following after her.
“You have no idea,” Aaron replied falling in line.
The second floor of Peking was a variation of the first. Save a desk complete with computer to the side and a few small reading tables, it was wall to wall books. This time there were no engraved sings or bright glossy covers or jackets. With bindings held together by string, hand woven, clearly this is where the ‘rare’ came into play. And yet every cranny seemed recently dusted, every book in its place.
“I apologize for the mess,” Melody Chang said as the two men joined her in the room. The wooden floor creaked underfoot. “I don’t use this often enough to remember exactly where I put it last.” She pursed her lips, biting them from the inside, as if lost in thought.
Ruy gave Aaron a look, but he didn’t seem any more sure of what was going on. “I’m sorry, Ms. Chang was it?”
“Please, call me Melody.” Melody crossed the room and started inspecting a shelf of books.
“Right, Melody. If I may be so bold to ask, Melody, how do you know which book we’re looking for?”
“The book you were about to look at was a book of reprints.” She took something from the shelf she had been inspecting and straightened up. It was a smaller book with a light tan cover that seemed to flake as she ran her thumb along it. “All old magics, nothing really heavy. Illusions mostly. It’s very rare you’ll find a reprint book with the good stuff in it.” She paused a beat. “That’s probably for the best though.” Melody pulled a chair out from one of the reading tables and sat herself down. “And given your current situation, an illusion is the last thing you want to create, I think.” She motioned them to join her.
“What do you mean, our situation?” He sat across from her. Ruy grabbed one of the other chairs and took his place beside him.
She slid the book across the table. “Be careful of the cover. Sheepskin. It gets everywhere and is a pain to clean off. I’d like to have them rebound, but it’s difficult to find someone I trust these days. Mystical Binding can be so expensive.” Aaron picked the book up. It couldn’t have been more than 200 pages but it weighed nearly as much as two hardcover dictionaries.