“Another attack?” Pax asked.
I nodded. “You know how it is for us. There’s no one to turn to. Is there anything you can do?”
Tox grabbed his parcels. “We’ll keep an eye out, make sure the Others report anything suspicious. Don’t want our favourite tea-shop shuttin’ down.”
Pax’s beady eyes shot open in alarm. “You’re not gonna shut shop and run are ya? Your speedin’ tea is the only thing that keeps me faster than the Balrogs when I go huntin'”
I shook my head. “Not a chance Pax. I appreciate the help, though.”
“Don’t mention it. You know you’ve earned your place here and you’ve looked after us. We’ll keep an eye out.” I knew he meant it—Otherworld creatures took things like honour and loyalty seriously… even if they didn’t have the same respect for concepts like ownership or personal boundaries.
Pax and Tox handed over their chips, the currency of the Otherworld, and I busied myself getting their orders ready. I made a quick note of the sales in my ledger and waved goodbye.
Outside, tyres screeched as a car slammed on its brakes. I looked up to see a nine-foot-tall half-giant waving a sheepish apology to the car she’d nearly stepped in front of. Despite the vehicles having been around for over a century, the Otherworlders still struggled with the basics of road safety. Mavis waited for the car to pass, then headed into the shop.
“Mavis, I haven’t seen you for weeks! Is everything well?” I wasn’t sure how else to phrase the delicate question.
Mavis, hunched over to fit her large frame into my tiny shop, blushed. “Yes, m’lady. I’m with child. Three, actually.”
I flew around the counter to embrace her. Having brewed various teas for the local Giant clan for a while, I’d been surprised to get a request such as hers. Mavis, being a mixed-breed of two different clans, had been having trouble conceiving. A standard human fertility tea would have helped somewhat, but I’d tweaked the spell I’d used on it to account for the slight variance in giant anatomy. I hadn’t been sure if it would work. “Three? Is that typical?” I didn’t think it was.
“No, m’lady. If all goes well and they survive, I’ll be able to gift one to each of the major clans. I’ll be looked upon quite favourably after that.” Despite my discomfort at the child raising customs of the giants, I was happy for her. She spoke little of her personal situation, but I’d gathered her place in the giant hierarchy was quite low because of her mixed birth. That was something I was painfully familiar with.
The day continued, all manner of creatures visiting my little tea shop, and not all were coming in because of the rumours I’d had a brush with a serial killer.
London was a busy place, a central hub that acted as one of the major thoroughfares between the Otherworld and our world. Though this made for an interesting mix, we generally existed together in peace. Generally.
Trouble came a short while before lunch. I’d just waved over Jacoby, one of the few Talented lords who frequented my shop. Old and wheelchair-bound, probably due to some magical disease or curse, he seemed to have more empathy for half-bloods than most of his kind.
“Bye, Hent,” I called, waving to the Kobold on his way to the door. He ducked his head as he reached for the doorknob just as a small, flying piske flung the door open with a spell. It caught Hent in the face.
“Oh, gods,” I whispered.
Hent grabbed the piske with lightning fast reflexes but was immediately blinded by a sparkling bomb to the face. He roared, letting go of the smaller creature, and stumbled around trying to swat him out of the air.
“STOP!” I screamed.
This did not bode well for my shop. The piske, determined to fulfil the orders given to him by his master, didn’t leave. He zipped around, staying just out of Hent’s reach as he lumbered around the tiny, enclosed space.
Hent swung an arm and I ducked to avoid being hit. He crashed into a shelf of boxed teas, and I screamed as it came crashing down, just missing my head.
“So help me, Hent, if you don’t stop this right now…”
I raised my wand despite having no idea how to stop an enraged kobold, but paused when I saw Jacoby’s already out, tracing a delicate pattern in the air. I waited, my own defences at the ready.
His spell took about a second and a half to trace. Both Otherworld creatures dropped to the ground. They were conscious but woozy, and neither could stand. Jacoby wheeled his chair over to them and looked down. “You both have about twelve seconds until you can walk—or fly.” He looked at the piske. “At that time, it would be best if you both left, in a calm and orderly manner. My next spell may not be so gentle.”
True to his word, the two were shortly up, and out of my shop. Jacoby turned discerning eyes my way.
“Thank you so much,” I breathed. “I may have been able to stop them myself, but not before they caused more damage. I’m in your debt.”
“Nonsense, my dear,” he said. “A simple spell. Cast in my own interests, I might add, as I don’t have my own order yet.”
I packaged up the same tea he ordered every week—one for pain. It made me sad that this kind man had been reduced to using simple charms to manage in his daily life.
Though I abhorred most of the full-blooded Talents for their elitist, bullying ways, Jacoby seemed different. He was always polite, and never looked down his nose at me. Most of the Lords from the Inner City thought themselves beneath shops like mine and sent servants like the piske to collect their goods. As he left, Gibble came in. He growled at Jacoby.
“Nasssty,” he said.
“Gibble!” I snapped, alarmed. “Be nice to the customers.”
Gibble could be off-putting—he was a boggart after all—but he was generally polite. Or at least, not outright rude. Gibble had been helping in the shop since I’d opened it, and this was the first time he’d had such a strong reaction to a customer who wasn’t out to cause trouble.
The day progressed, and my shop got busier, but I couldn’t keep my mind off Keely, r her devastated father.
“I’m going out. Can you grab me a basket?” I asked Gibble when we hit a slow period. He didn’t look up, just grunted, retrieved a wicker gift basket from the top shelf and settled himself in a chair. He would handle the shop while I was out.
I grabbed the basket and filled it with teas—Heartsease, Comfort and some plain old black English tea. I whistled for Lenny and he followed me down the street. We headed to the grocery strip first. I bought some bread and eggs to add to my basket, then set off to Keely’s house. When I got there, it was still roped off with police tape. Ernest paced the footpath while Detective Greyson tried to talk to him.
I stopped a short distance away, not wanting to interrupt, but Greyson spotted me.
“You’re back?” he asked.
I nodded. “I brought this over for Ernest. I… to be honest, I thought you’d be gone already.”
According to the local grapevine, the O.C.U. hadn’t spent more than twenty minutes at the last crime scene. Come to think of it, I didn’t see any of their vans here yet.
Greyson shrugged. “This is my beat. My case.” He caught my eye. “My responsibility.”
I squashed down the flutter of hope at his words. His superiors wouldn’t let this fly, not for long.
I held out the basket, eyeing Ernest. He’d slunk over to the steps, huddled against the wall as he stared into space.
When I’d found Keely’s body he had come rushing in a moment after Lenny. They shock seemed to jolt him from his drunken stupor, but was quickly replaced by a grief-stricken fugue.
“Lattersby Street Teas?” Greyson lifted a box and read off the label. “For grief and despair. Steep in warm water for three and a half minutes. No more than three cups daily.”
“They’re enchanted,” I explained. “I sell them.”
He lifted another. “What’s this one for?”
“Drinking,” I said. “That’s just normal tea.”
“Ah.” He carefully put it down and waved me past. “Be my guest,” he said.
Timidly, I approached Ernest. “Mr… um, Ernest?”
He didn’t respond, just stared past me.
“I brought you some tea.” I set the basket down on the step beside him. “It might help a little.”
“You think I’m an addict?”
His words made me jump. I looked up nervously.
“I saw the box,” he said, voice flat. “Old Ernie. Pisshead. Not fit to look after his own kid.”
I opened my mouth but words escaped me.
“You’re right,” he said, pushing off the wall. “I am a pisshead. ‘S my fault she’s deaed. Should’a looked after her better.” A tear leaked down his face. “She was a good kid.”
“She was,” I agreed, and scurried away. His grief sent a shiver of sadness down my spine, but I didn’t know how to respond. After all, Keely and I had never been close.
Greyson snagged my elbow as I passed him outside.
“I really am sorry about your friend,” he said. “And I’ll make sure old Ernest there gets some help.”
“Can you tell me anything?” I asked. “Do you know who it might be?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t.” Greyson schooled his expression.
“Look, you know as well as I do that the Talented community outside the walls is being hunted.” The anger I thought I’d pushed away resurfaced. “The Lords in the City don’t care. The police—no offence—can’t handle this. There’s magic involved and no-one seems able to protect my people.”
“It’s a police matter. We’ve got it under control.”
“Yeah?” I asked, forcing him to meet my eyes. “Tell that to my corpse when you find it.”
Greyson lurched forwards. “You’ve been threatened?”
I laughed caustically. “The guy who did this? He’s threatening all half-bloods. We don’t know who’s next. We don’t know when he’ll stop, or if he ever will.”
I shook my head in frustration and started to walk away when he called after me. “Lattersby Street, was it? I might drop by sometime. You know, for tea?”
I didn’t stop.