Disclaimer: Charlie Bone and all associated characters/plots/ideas/etc do not and will never belong to me.
Soooo, you know how I've been tormenting you with teasing asides about a multi-chapter fic I've been working on? This is it. Yup, I've finally reached a point where I feel like I have enough of an idea of what direction I wish to take it that I can post it and guarantee relatively-constant updates. Hopefully. As it stands, though, it's been far too long since I've posted anything, so think of this as your reward for being so patient with me. This first chapter is merely the prologue, so it's rather short in my overall scheme of chapter length. I have the first "real" chapter written as well, so I can guarantee at least one regular update, haha.
I'm going to put a heavier emphasis on my plea for reviews this time around, as I want this story to be as engaging and well-thought out as possible; as such, your thoughts and opinions are what are really going to help me develop the plot and characters, so please take the time to say something once you're finished reading.
As always, though, my main intent is for you to read and enjoy!
Humming a nameless tune, Julia turned the tap on, letting the water that gushed forth grow warm and steamy before plunging the dirty dish clasped in her hand beneath the steady flow. There were just enough plates left over from her and Emma's dinner that washing was a necessity, but not enough to bother running the dishwasher, so here she stood, a glowing example of traditional housekeeping.
She stood in her homey kitchen, surrounded by growing shadows as night encroached onto evening, the last vestiges of summer light trickling in through the windows belying the lateness of the hour. Pulling the plate from the water, she inspected it with a critical eye, searching for any lingering soap suds. She dried the single lingering puff of suds with one deft swoop of her towel and deposited it on the counter.
Pushing a strand of chestnut hair from her eyes, she reached for the final plate in her stack. Before she could do anything besides pick it up, however, there was a loud bang from the direction of the shop-the telltale sound of the heavy wooden door swinging closed. Frowning, Julia set the dish in her hand aside and turned off the water, ears pricked for any more unusual noises. For a moment, she believed her fears to be for naught, hearing only the light chirping of crickets lurking outside. Perhaps it had simply been a particularly enthusiastic gust of wind...
Then, though, her nerves jumped into high alort, adrenaline surging through her body. Julia jerked, standing bolt upright at a position of intent attention, as the distinctive tread of booted feet cut through the silence. Heart pounding, eyes wide and wary, she crossed the kitchen and stepped out into the front room, casting fleeting glances this way and that as she went.
Past experiences had long ago taught her to be cautious with regards to unknown visitors.
All in the front room initially appeared normal, her possessions and merchandise calmly sitting precisely where she had left them earlier. All the books were in place and secure on their shelves, and not a thing in the shop appeared to have been disturbed; even the window through which Emma had departed—she was out in the evening air experimenting with a new feathered form—sat open, a gentle breeze wafting into the shop and bringing with it the sweet scent of summer.
But, there! A slight creak from somewhere off to the right sent Julia jumping around, arms extended in a searching gesture. She peered into the growing shadows, straining her eyes to make out any intruding form.
"Miss Ingledew, I presume?" A tall, imposing man stepped out from where he had concealed himself behind a bookshelf.
For all her alertness, Julia gasped in startlement and retreated backwards, drawing up against the wall behind her counter. Inhaling, giving her eyes a moment to adjust to the encroaching night, she took a moment to compose herself and regain her bearings. As the stranger took a step forward, Julia returned to the present with a jolt. "I'm sorry," she said, "but we're closed."
He smiled, a cold, predatory smile that did not touch his eyes. "Oh, I'm not here as a customer," he said, stepping so that he stood a mere six feet from Julia.
Her eyebrows drew together and she placed her hands on her hips, facing the stranger head-on but remaining cemented firmly behind the established barrier of her solid wooden counter. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave," she said firmly.
The man raised an eyebrow but did not move otherwise. "And I'm afraid I cannot do that," he remarked. "You have been making quite a nuisance of yourself lately, Miss Ingledew," he said. His tone was light and conversational, but his expression spoke otherwise, reminiscent of a predator moments away from striking.
Julia gripped the checkout counter, leaning forward over the register to give the intruder a fierce glare. "Please leave, sir," she repeated, with much more force. Her firm demeanor masked her internal agitation; internally, she brimmed with nervous energy, desperately wishing that she had stopped to call Paton prior to initiating any confrontation. She would not be able to force this man to do anything should the situation demand it.
Spreading his hands wide, he stepped forward and gave a slight bow—just the smallest inclination of his head—to acknowledge her foolish display of courage. "I admire your tenacity in insisting I depart," he said, still making a steady path toward the counter, "but you must understand that Count Harken answers to no one. "
Julia's eyes widened, knuckles turning white as her grip tightened painfully around the wood she grasped. "Count Harken." She mouthed the name soundlessly, mind racing a mile a minute to churn up any scrap of information buried in her brain regarding the awful enchanter standing before her.
A true smile spread across his face then, curling his lips into a gross approximation of delight. "So you've heard of me, then." He had reached the counter by this point, and it took all of Julia's willpower to remain where she stood, to refrain from recoiling from this man who had created so much mayhem and misery.
Reaching into a pocket, the enchanter pulled out a slim, handheld mirror and extended his arm, holding the mirror between them and allowing the gleaming gilded surface to capture the lingering threads of daylight, the golden streams reflecting onto the walls in gleaming strands.
"And have you also heard of this." It was not a question.
"The Mirror of Amoret!" Julia exclaimed. She gasped audibly, her conviction to remain stoic forgotten as she took in the smooth, whole piece of glass nestled snugly in the beautiful frame. "And it's whole!"
The count trailed a finger along the unblemished glass. "It is indeed," he affirmed. "And do you know what its first task shall be since being repaired?"
Julia's eyes widened with dawning horror, but she only shook her head, slowly backing away until her shoulders bumped against the wall. "No," she said defiantly, glaring up at him, "I don't."
Harken's lips curled into a cruel mimicry of a grin, pulling away from unnaturally white teeth bared in a savage snarl of a smile. "Why," he said, as if explaining to a small child, "I'm going to get rid of you." He tilted his head slightly, contemplating the mirror. "The only question that now remains is how…"
As his gaze flitted from shelf to shelf, Julia began to inch her way towards the door in the desperate hope that she might escape into the back living quarters, that she could call for help, call Paton, call someone.
It was, however, to no avail. Harken's eyes snapped back on her at the slightest movement, narrowing to pin her against the wall with the sheer force of their contained malice. Julia stiffened, knowing that she was trapped. Her eyes fluttered close as she succumbed to a momentary flood of helplessness. She despised being forced into a situation in which she had no options, loathed the fact that this man had complete and utter control over her fate.
As if he could read her thoughts, Harken uttered a soft laugh, reaching out with his free hand to trace her cheek. "Yes," he said lowly, smirking as she recoiled, "it is hard to come to terms with one's demise, is it not?"
His gaze flitted over to the small bookshelf that sat by the doorway to the back room, a small, innocuous thing that contained an every-changing roster of reference books, altered on a week-to-week basis as Julia's interest and research shifted from subject to subject.
Julia followed his line of sight, brows puckering in confusion as she realized the focus of his gaze. "How…" Her voice failed her, and shakily she wet her lips, trying to recall moisture to her throat so that she might speak. "What do you intend to do with me?" she asked, throwing all of her remaining courage into voicing that question.
Harken's answering chuckle was just loud enough that it drowned out the soft patter of the bird alighting on the sill of the open window that sat high in the room's corner. "Why," he said, "I believe I'll send you on a little journey." He tapped one long index finger against the rim of the mirror. "Yes," he said decisively, "that is exactly what I shall do." He pursed his lips, eyes focusing on some far off point that he could see. "Let's see just how much you love your precious books," he murmured. A fell grin pulled at his mouth. "Or, rather, let's see how much they love you."
The mirror began to emit a silvery glow that grew to encompass the entire corner of the room in which the two currently stood. From its vantage point at the window, the bird uttered an agitated screech and fluttered over to a tall bookcase where it stood, out of sight, and watched the proceedings below.
The mirror's luminosity had reached the point where it was nearly painful to look at. Even with her eyes squeezed tightly closed, Julia was all but blinded, the world beyond her lids glowing molten silver. A cool feeling trickled across her skin, seeping across every inch like a viscous, watery ooze, constricting her where she stood. Her last thought before her consciousness fled was of Paton—that he might be safe from this madman and the havoc he wreaked. Then the mirror pulsed, and she knew no more.
As Julia Ingledew disappeared in a burst of silvery light, quite a few things happened. Harken, delighted in his moment of malicious triumph, began to laugh, the sound echoing darkly throughout the mostly-deserted shop. He turned from the corner, casting one last, amused look at the small bookshelf favored by Emma and her aunt, and began to pick his way through the maze of shelves to the front door. Giving the mirror a loving caress, he tucked it carefully into a side pocket beneath his cloak, the handle just protruding into the open air.
Distracted as he was by his success, he failed to take note of the small blur of feathers that swept down from the shelf where it had been hiding, biding its time until the opportune moment arrived. Deftly, with talons more like fingers than anything else, it seized the Mirror of Amoret and disappeared back into the shelves in a matter of seconds—Harken never noticed a thing.
He reached the door and swung open the heavy wood as though it weighed naught but that of a feather, and turned to survey the shop one final time. Robbed of its owner, it seemed as though a dismal haze hung over it, a gaping chasm that could not be filled. The only signs of life were the few candles that still flickered feebly in their holders, valiantly struggling to maintain a semblance of habitation. A wave of his hand quickly quenched that hope, and the candles sputtered and died, the room sinking fully into darkness.
Harken gave a satisfied nod and swept across the threshold, slamming the door shut behind him.
The loud bang of the heavy wood on the frame reverberated through the empty shop, shaking the building in its very foundations. Emma trembled where she stood perched among a series of biographies. Birds had no tear ducts, but she found herself nearly defying nature anyway. She forced herself to wait a few moments, ensuring that the deadly count had truly departed, then fluttered down to the floor and returned to her human form, feathers receding and wings slowly giving way to arms and fingers.
Her auntie was gone. Julia Ingledew had disappeared before her eyes—and she had no idea where. Overcome with despondency, Emma allowed herself a moment to simply sit and despair. Her breath came in shallow sobs, and she looked blankly at the floor, pale hair hanging about her face in a ragged mess.
As some semblance of reason slowly returned to her, she became aware of something clutched tightly between her fingers, the hard metal cool against her feverish skin—the Mirror of Amoret. She had all but forgotten it in her anguish. As she looked down at it, her face hardened into a mask of determination. She would get her aunt back, or find someone who could. She had to.
Cradling the mirror in her arms, she dashed out the door, headed for the home of the one person she trusted to rescue her aunt, headed for Number Nine—and for Paton Yewbeam.