"Part 0" has intro. Two worlds merge and their races have to coexist; the job market fluctuates and some breeds get left behind. Decades after the dimensional tear, people are content to live out their lives as if this were the norm. Some are less content, however, to simply accept this New World.
As Lina and Tony drove through town, they talked as if they hadn’t been to that meeting. Lina was listing off potential options for his next article and what they would need to do to accomplish the task. Tony listened, mostly, giving his two cents on what he did want to do and didn’t want to do, but she barely seemed to care about his input. It wasn’t that she was ignoring him, but she seemed to need to distract herself from the earlier events of the day. In truth, Tony just really wished she would focus on her driving for once, but he’d learned by now not to tell the woman how to drive.
More time had passed than it had felt like. By the time they got back to the downtown area, it was already after 2pm. Stopped at a light a few blocks from his house, Lina finally stopped talking. The ogre didn’t think much of it at first, but was grateful for the silence. When the light turned green and she didn’t start moving, he looked over at her to find her staring out the window with the most confused expression on her face. “Light’s green,” he pointed out.
She pointed at a building on the other side of the street. “When did they build that?”
“That shop, there. When did they build it?”
Tony leaned forward to look out the window past her. He saw the building he thought she was talking about, a grey four-story building with a shop on the first floor that appeared to be abandoned at first glance. It fit in just fine in the area, save for the dark color, and from the wear on the walls looked like it’d been there quite a while. “I don’t know, probably at the same time as everything else. Why?”
Someone behind them layed on their horn, making Lina jump a little, but she waved her hand to signal them to go around her. After the car had passed, she accelerated finally, looking perturbed. At the next block, she made a quick U-turn.
“We going to go check it out?” Tony asked. He wasn’t entirely opposed to the idea, since he was a little curious now what it was as well, but on the other hand had no interest in going shopping with a woman like Lina. He just imagined walking into the store and finding it full of dresses, and then being stuck there for the next six hours telling her what looked good and what didn’t.
“I can’t believe I’ve never noticed that building before. I drive you home every day, and I have never seen that building.”
“Do you really look that closely at the buildings here?”
“Of course I do. There are some really cute shops down this street, you know, and a lot of them sell old vintage jewelry and shoes that you really can’t find anywhere else.”
“Ooooookay,” he said, “Well maybe you didn’t notice it because it’s empty?”
They pulled up in front of the shop, parking in one of the diagonal spaces in front of it. The lights seemed to be dim inside, but the sign on the door said open. Both of them looked at the shop for a few moments before Lina finally climbed out of the car. Tony waited in the passenger seat, watching the nosy woman as she peered through the large shop window on the front of the building. She turned around to face him and shrugged, to which he replied with a shrug as well. Hopefully, there was nothing expensive in there. He really couldn’t afford giving her another advance on her paycheck.
Lina went to the front door, looked at the hours on the open sign hung in the window, then gave the door a little push. It gave, and from the car he could hear a small bell ring. Holding the door open a crack, she turned back to Tony and motioned frantically with her hand for him to come with her. Begrudgingly, he got out of the car, meeting her at the door. “I do not want to be shopping with you all night,” he let her know, but as soon as they walked through the doorway he could tell that there wasn’t really anything there for her to buy.
Inside, there was a table, and against the far wall a mess of blankets and pillows set up in perhaps the world’s most comfortable floor-throne he’d ever seen. In the mess of blues and purples was a spot of black in the shape of a person. The lights inside turned up on their own, and Lina stood staring at the figure who was so shrouded in darkness even in the freshly lit room that it appeared it was generating its own shadows. The figure wore a cloak that hid all of its limbs, with a hood that hid the top half of the face completely and shrouded the bottom in darkness. In truth, it sort of just looked like a black blob to him. The voice, however, was soft and seductive, as she greeted them. “Welcome, you are just in time. I understand you have a wish.”
“A what?” Tony said without thinking, and Lina got straight to the point.
“How long has this building been here?”
The figure seemed to lift its head, but that didn’t much help the light reach her features. “A little longer than you, but not as long as I,” she answered cryptically. A small, quiet laugh came from the black blob.
“That’s not possible,” Lina insisted. “I drive this way every day, and I’ve never seen this here. I’ve lived here for more than ten years, now, there’s just no way that it’s-”
“Reality is not limited by what you do or do not understand, child. If your mind cannot make sense of something, that does not take it outside the realm of possibility. That is, after all, why you are here, correct?”
Lina stared, “E-excuse me?”
“Your wish,” the woman repeated, “That is why you are here. It troubles you to consider that reality is not what it seems, but you are at least wise enough to know that your knowledge is not all-encompassing. You realize that you cannot know everything, despite your desire to.”
“Yet another question with an answer you will not understand. Accept it for what it is. A mystery, nothing more.”
Lina’s brow furrowed. “Who are you? What is all this about wishes?”
“Ah, finally, questions you may yet find answers to. I am called the Witch. That is all that matters, and should tell you all you need to know. You are in my shop of wishes. Much as one who owns a tailor would assume that someone entering their shop is there for a suit, it is only natural that I assume you are here for a wish.”
“I didn’t come here to shop. I just came to look.”
“Much unlike one who owns a tailor, however, this is not the kind of place one comes to window shop. You looked while you were outside, and saw what you needed to see. You entered because you knew that I have what you want.”
“I didn’t see anything,” the elf insisted. “I was just curious.”
“Are you not still curious?”
She hesitated, then replied. “A little.”
The shadowy woman laughed a bit, then replied, “A little is all that it takes.”
Tony had been patiently watching this back and forth, but by now he was thoroughly confused. Keeping up with the two had been more of a chore than usual, and he was even more certain now than before he’d come in that he needed to wait outside. “Well, I can see you two have a lot to talk about. Lina, I’ll just meet you in the car,” he said, turning to walk out the way he’d come in.
“Your true wish is easier hidden, ogre, but it did not escape my sights,” the woman voiced, but he just waved over his shoulder.
“That’s interesting,” he said, putting his hand on the handle. Something stopped him, an overwhelming wave of self-doubt. He could open the door if he wanted to, he knew that, but suddenly he felt as though he would regret it the rest of his life if he walked out now.
“I had hoped you would think so,” the woman said quietly, “Since I can only grant the elf’s wish if I also grant yours.”
After standing at the door for what felt like minutes, but in actuality was only a few seconds, Tony sighed and turned to face the figure. Lina piped in with the question that was surely on both of their minds. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Simple,” the woman answered, then slid upward in what Tony could only assume was her either standing or floating out of the floor. She seemed to glide across the floor toward them, and as she got closer he could begin to see her chin and lips. “If I grant your wish, his will inevitably come to pass. Therefor, in order to make an arrangement with you, I must also have one with him.”
Tony spoke, this time, his gruff voice ringing with impatience. “Arrangement, huh? So, I assume there’s a catch?”
“There is no catch, but there is always a price. Whatever you attain through the granting of your wish must be paid for at the end of the contract. You will gain something from this, but something of equal value must be lost, or you risk losing all that you were granted. In the end, you will both be given another choice: to sacrifice what was granted to you by the fulfilling of the wish, or to pay the fee for the services rendered.”
The woman stood only a few feet in front of them, and Tony thought that he might be able to strangle her without having to even move, considering the length of his arms. Lina seemed far more calm than he was, and even incredibly intrigued. “The choice at the end,” the elf asked, “If the wish, or, wishes are granted, and we want to go back to the way things were before that, is that what you mean?”
“In a way, that will be an option. As I said, there is no catch, no consequences. Simply a price. Sometimes, the price is high, and other times, it is a small price to pay to see your wish come true.”
“Why can’t you just tell us now what the price is?”
“I cannot know what the worth of your wish granted will be until you find out for yourself. What it is worth to you now could be much more or less than it will actually be when it becomes yours.”
The elf’s soft features scrunched again as she thought the words over. “I guess that makes sense. Geeze, I wish other stores had that option. It sounds like you have a great return policy.”
The witch laughed a little, and gave a slight nod. “I suppose you could say so, yes.”
“So, is there a written contract that I can look over for this ordeal? Not that I don’t trust you, or anything, but…actually…that’s kind of exactly what it is.”
“Of course,” the woman said, and finally her hand emerged from somewhere in the mess of black. Tony noted that her skin was tight and a light brown, not wrinkled and pale as he’d expected. The hand emerged holding two sheets of paper, and another emerged from where an arm would logically emerge from with a black ball-point pen. He thought he saw black markings on her wrist as it slipped from the cloth when she set the items on the table nearby, but it was hard to tell.
“Don’t I get any say in this?” he asked, looking to Lina.
She glanced up at him with a blank expression for a few moments, then smiled that same smile she’d held when she was pretending to be his wife in that warehouse earlier. “Think about it, Tony. If I get my wish, you could potentially get the story of a lifetime. Which, I’m sure, is what she meant by granting my wish would lead to granting yours.”
“You think my wish is to have the story of a lifetime?” he asked, challenging her assumption despite already knowing the answer.
The elf placed a hand on her hip and gave him an ‘oh come on’ expression. “You are a nobody reporter working for dirt at one of the biggest newspapers in the country who has lately been known to go out on wild expeditions to find any kind of lead that will give you something more interesting than sports and gossip. What else could your wish be?”
“I’d hardly call the meeting today a wild expedition, but I see your point,” he conceded.
He hadn’t noticed, but the witch was now standing directly in front of him. She pressed one of her dark hands on his chest, and he almost pulled away. As big as he was, she was creepy, and creepy was enough to make him jumpy sometimes. His ego, laced with this inexplicable need to see this through, wouldn’t let him pull away at the touch of a woman shorter than his elf assistant.
The woman spoke quietly, “Do not let her determine your wish for you. You know what it is that you want more than anything. When you sign, be sure that you write in the proper request, otherwise you may end up paying for something you do not truly desire. This chance will come only once. Do not waste it.”
Lina was already filling out the form, which was fine because there was only one pen. The woman removed her hand from him, and returned to her bed of pillows without another word, sinking back down onto (or possibly into, he still wasn’t quite sure) the blue and purple pillow throne. Maybe he would wish for a throne like that. No, that was silly, he could easily just make one.
She was right, though. Come to think of it, he didn’t really care about writing some big article for everyone to notice him. The whole reason he’d gone to that meeting today was to find a challenge, a story that would be hard to crack, something that would make life exciting again. When Lina had finished filling out and signing her contract, Tony started on his. It was a simple form, requesting name, date of birth, address, social security number (for tax information, probably, though he didn’t know how you could tax a soul or whatever this was all about), email, phone, wish, sign and date. There were other sections, but they were all optional, so he didn’t even bother reading them.
“What did you wish for?” Lina asked, excited like a little girl who had just found her first wishing well.
“A challenge,” he said proudly, though he wondered if she even heard him.
“I wished to know the truth about what CCI is doing in this city. No matter what those crazies at the warehouse say, we’re going to be the ones with the best information, now.” She snatched his paper from out of his hands and rushed both sheets over to the witch. The woman reached up from her shadows and took them, and they disappeared inside of the cloak with her hands without her even looking at them. “What now?” Lina asked excitedly.
“Now, you continue your life as usual. Return to me when your wish has come full term.”
“You mean…I’m not just going to know everything?”
“Oh, you will have the knowledge you asked for, but it will not come overnight. You will learn it, the events are already set in motion.”
“Oh,” Lina replied, sounding disappointed.
Tony rolled his eyes, certain now that this was some kind of scam. “So, what if we don’t come back here once the wish comes full term? What if we just take the granted wish and don’t come back to pay you off?”
“That is…not recommended. The universe will find balance one way or another. You will find that having someone guide which manner that balance is found is far preferable to the alternative.” The lights in the room began to dim again, and Tony once again resisted the inexplicable urge to pick up the table and throw it at that woman’s head.
“We’ll be back, don’t listen to him, he’s just grumpy because he’s hungry,” Lina replied, grabbing his hand in both of her little ones and pulling him toward the door. She didn’t thank the woman, and probably wouldn’t until she saw some proof that something had actually come of this little adventure. As the two left, Tony noted that he didn’t feel that terror anymore when they walked out the door. As soon as the mid-day sun hit his skin, all of the rage and frustration he’d felt in there seemed to dissipate.
“What a weird lady,” Lina mused as she climbed into the car.
“Yeah,” Tony replied, pulling the band that held his beard neatly in place out of his hair. The bushy bundle of bristly black beard spread out across his chin and neck as he let it move freely and scratched at it a little to loosen up what had been pinched in weird positions all day. “You don’t really believe all that crap about wishes and the universe, do you?”
Lina started to drive, but gave a little shrug of her dainty shoulders. She seemed in high spirits. “I could go either way, really. It doesn’t hurt to try, though. What’s the worst that could happen?”