Learning Definitely Safe Magic
When Willi appears from the ladder, The Attic Antiquarian tilts their head curiously, wiggling their body.
“You’re back so soon!” they say, and if they had a mouth, Willi imagines they would have a grin on their face. “I didn’t even call you this time!”
“Yes,” Willi answers as she approaches them. “I have a request.”
“Please, request away!”
“You know magic tricks, right?”
“I do,” The Attic Antiquarian nods. “I have spells of the magical and nonmagical kind, as remember, it’s only magic if it doesn’t make sense.”
“Right.” Willi’s eyebrows scrunch, not understanding at all. To her, if it’s a spell, then it technically doesn’t make sense, so it’s technically magic, right? “Actually, earlier, I had climbed out of a window and ended up in my new brother’s room, despite that window not having led there before. Was that magic?”
“It depends,” The Attic Antiquarian answers. “If the house did not move at all—physically or spiritually—then yes, that would be magic, as it has no reason to change positions. If it did move, however, then it technically made sense, even if it’s not your kind of sense.”
“How would you know if it moved physically or spiritually?”
“Most humans aren’t able to tell. Inanimate objects move in such a way that humans cannot detect it at all. And very few of you are connected with inanimate spirits to know when something has changed in them.” The Attic Antiquarian reaches out a dark hand and pats Willi on the head. “But there’s no reason to worry about it! Odd sensical and nonsensical things happen every day, all around us! It’s the natural way of life. As long as nothing is broken, it’s fine.”
Willi reaches a hand up to grab The Attic Antiquarian’s wrist. It’s soft. Comforting.
“How will you know if something is broken?” Willi asks.
“Oh, you’ll know.” The Attic Antiquarian removes their hand from Willi’s head. The absence of it feels…weird. “Is this the request you are talking about?”
“Oh, no,” Willi says, scolding herself for getting sidetracked. “I was wondering if you could teach me a magic trick.”
At that, The Attic Antiquarian quickly leans over their box counter and hovers over Willi, their wiggling getting fierce. They have no face for Willi to read, but their voice is enough.
“Really? Really?” they ask, their voice at such a high level that it hurts Willi’s ears. “You want to learn a spell? I shouldn’t. Not if you’re going to go home. That could definitely break something. Oh, but to see how you would react to it—that might be worth it, yes! yes!”
Willi steps back, The Attic Antiquarian a little too close for comfort, though their excitement is contagious.
“I won’t use it at home, if that helps,” Willi says. “I just need to get by somewhere and a shadow creature won’t let me pass without showing them a magic trick.”
“Oh ho ho! That’s good enough for me!” The Attic Antiquarian straightens, then crouches behind their box counter, placing book after book after book on top. So many that Willi is shocked that the box can hold them all without collapsing. She doesn’t even remember owning these books. Are these of The Attic Antiquarian’s possession?
Willi grabs one, her curiosity too strong, and opens it.
If you find a weapon, take it, for it foretells a disagreement.
Never complete anything important at dawn.
When you pass a coin alone, make sure to spit on it.
It continues, with these strange do’s and don’t’s, some of them even contradicting each other. Most of them are complete nonsense, and Willi can’t see any reasoning for it. But a few of them remind her of advice that’s used in writing. Such as the weapon foretelling a disagreement…it sounds much like the rule of Anton Chekov’s Gun—if the gun is introduced in one chapter, have it go off in the next.
Willi isn’t allowed to touch guns, but if she finds one and it’s expected to go off, she would much prefer to have it in her hands.
Willi looks up as The Attic Antiquarian straightens again, a small silver book in their hands.
“This should have something simple, but fascinating, but small, but fun!” they say, flipping through it excitedly.
Willi puts the book of strange do’s and don’t’s back on the box and walks around so that she’s on the same side as The Attic Antiquarian.
“What kinds of spells are in there?” Willi asks.
“Oh, little things. It’s a beginner’s spellbook. I’m surprised I still have it.” Though they say this in a matter-of-fact tone, they still urgently flip through the pages, snout buried in. “It should be perfect for you, however. I can tell you’d be a star pupil. Someone like you could master this book in no time!”
That does sound fun, and if Willi were here for more casual reasons, she’d allow herself to be as excited as The Attic Antiquarian. But she still has her house to save from being eaten, so she opens her mouth to keep them on track.
“Would any of those spells be good enough as a magic trick?” she asks.
“Yes, yes! Let’s see!” The Attic Antiquarian flips through more slowly now, actually reading the contents. “What sort of thing do you want to learn? What do you find fascinating? You could levitate something small, like a little ball. Or I could teach you how to turn a grain of sugar into a crumb of cake. Oh! stopping time for five seconds is a good one. Though I think having the ability to instantly kill a small plant would be more fun. You can stop someone’s breath for five seconds—that could help with any murdering. There’s also—”
“What’s the stopping time one?” Willi asks, feeling rude that she’s interrupting, but she gets the feeling that if she doesn’t, The Attic Antiquarian will go on and on.
“Ah!” The Attic Antiquarian flips back, then sets the book down on the box for Willi to see. “Stopping time! Keeps everyone and everything from moving, even time itself, and the only one who can move around is you!”
“That could be useful,” Willi says, thinking already of the things she’s had to run from. Perhaps this could give her a head start. “Is it only for five seconds?”
“It starts as five, but you can make it stronger to go for longer. I would recommend staying at five for now. Stopping time is a dangerous feat, you know.”
“I’ll be careful,” Willi promises.
“Yes, of course, must be careful,” The Attic Antiquarian says absently. Usually, when talking about safety in projects, Mother and Father are attentive, repeating things over and over again and questioning Willi to make sure she understands. The Attic Antiquarian, however, doesn’t seem to mind if Willi is actually careful or not.
No matter. At least they’re helping her, and Willi doesn’t plan to use it for more than absolutely necessary.
She turns her attention to the book, her eyes reading over the spell. “How do I cast it?”
“Let’s see here,” The Attic Antiquarian mutters as they lay the book flat on the box. They point to a small passage and read aloud.
“To stop time, you will need two herbs. Thyme, to call it to you, as it will think you are calling its name, and black heyor, to poison it.“
“Poison?” Willi repeats.
“Well, of course,” The Attic Antiquarian tells her. “Don’t worry, Time is much too intangible to kill. However, it knocks it out for a bit, like it’s asleep. Then you’re able to move around while everything else is stopped.”
“I suppose that isn’t so bad,” Willi says. She would much rather not be a killer of Time. That sounds like one sin she would never be able to repent. But if this only puts Time to sleep, then maybe it’s actually a good thing. After all, it probably hasn’t had a nap in a long, long time.
The Attic Antiquarian continues. “Crush the herbs into a fine powder and mix them together. Take a handful and hold them out, as you would to a small animal. In a blink, the herbs will be gone and time will be stopped.“
“That sounds easy,” Willi says.
“Incredibly so! Though you do have to make sure you grab black heyor and not white heyor,” The Attic Antiquarian tells her. “White heyor is much stronger and could have Time asleep for many days, months, years, evers!”
Willi nods, mentally repeating the information in her head. Black heyor, not white heyor. Black heyor, not white heyor.
“What is heyor?” Willi asks. The more she repeats it, the more foreign it sounds.
“Dear, weren’t you listening?” The Attic Antiquarian scolds. “It’s an herb.”
“Yes, but I’ve never heard of it before.”
“And you’re aware of every herb?”
“No. I just want to know where I could find it.”
“Where do you usually find your herbs?”
“In the kitchen. I suppose I’ll start by looking there.” Willi takes The Attic Antiquarian’s hand in both of hers and squeezes it gently. “Will you come with me? You know what we’re looking for better than I do.”
And, if she is completely honest, Willi does not like having to go through her house alone once again. Not when there are so many strange creatures about that could potentially eat her or each other. Not when her house can spiritually move itself around and take her to nonsensical, horrifying places. The Attic Antiquarian is the kindest one she’s met since coming here and they are so intelligent—surely they could keep Willi safe.
Alas, The Attic Antiquarian pulls their hand away and shakes their head.
“I’m afraid I can’t leave my store unattended,” they say as they start putting the spellbooks away. “But you’re smart, clever, and friendly too. Even if you cannot find it, I’m sure you can find someone around to ask for help.”
Willi huffs, getting sick of being told no.
“But I like you,” she whines, then winces, as she does not want to throw a tantrum in front of her favorite creature right now.
The Attic Antiquarian pauses during clean up and, if they had had eyes, Willi would have thought that they glanced at her. Of course. They heard the whine and are ashamed of her. Whiny brats don’t make friends—that’s what Aunt Mira always told her. Why is it always so hard to control her tone?
The Attic Antiquarian doesn’t scold her, however. Instead, they place their hand on her head again and ruffle her hair.
“I like you too, dear,” they say, their voice low. “More than I had planned to. Perhaps, after you find what you need, you can come back here and we can search for that deed together, hm?”
It’s a pleasant thought and Willi briefly smiles before remembering what Hungry Grandma said.
“I heard that the deed may not exist in the first place,” Willi tells them, to which The Attic Antiquarian shrugs.
“That’s always a possibility. But the only way to know is to look. Or perhaps we’ll find something even better than that deed.”
Willi smiles again and, this time, it stays. She nods, eager now. Of course, she won’t be needing any deed once she scoops House Thief off of her walls, but she will need some way of getting home. And if anyone could help her, it’s The Attic Antiquarian.
This is my favorite chapter. Although, honestly, I think every new chapter with The Attic Antiquarian is going to be my favorite chapter. I just love them so much; they get so excited!