The Contingent


Alex goes to buy books

The plane had landed on a private runway and the acquisitions team was currently loading their bags into the cars that had been sent to take them to the museum. Alex checked her watch and did some quick math; it was only 6 pm in Philadelphia. She had been stuck on the plane for almost 11 hours, nervous about the transaction, and kicking herself for missing the chance to see Aaron before she left; she dialed his number. The phone rang five times before throwing her into voicemail. “Hey, I was hoping to talk to you for a few. We got here okay. I’m really sorry that I bailed on lunch yesterday, but there was an opportunity here beyond the books that I need to look into. I love you, and I’ll try again later.”

As they drove to the museum, Alex tried to take in as much of the city as she could from the back seat of the car. They were on a tight schedule, and it had been stressed that sightseeing wasn’t a priority. Arriving at their destination, the ASI team was ushered through security and down into the lower levels of the museum. Their guide, a Mr. Slovac, was a unpleasantly grumpy man who apparently had taken a dislike to the fact that someone under 50 was handling the exchange.

His muttering came to an abrupt halt as a female voice, heavily accented, drew his attention. “Mr. Slovac, see these gentlemen to the lounge.” She didn’t bother to look up, knowing that he was already ushering them out. “Miss Lathem, you’ll come with me, and we can get started.” She was dressed in gray from head to foot, silver hair in a tight bun, a blue-gray dress, and low heels. The woman breezed through the room with an authority that demanded immediate response. Alex promptly fell in line behind her as they left the others, traveling down a short hall into a small room where the books from the collection were laid out across two tables.

Alex wandered over to look at the books. The door shut behind her, and a familiar chill ran up her spine. “I am guessing, by what I’ve read and heard, that you are Petra Kostelac?” she turned toward the older woman who was looking at her with an odd smile. “My grandfather left me some journals. He said I could trust you.”

“And you,” Petra nodded as she took a seat at the table, “are not here because of this exchange.” She motioned Alex to join her. “Does Sharpe know that you had other reasons for wanting to come here, other than ASI’s trade?”

“I’ve not mentioned this to anyone, no. I didn’t see the point, as it’s a personal question that I have for you.” Alex had pulled a small case out of her bag. It contained a pair of silver-rimmed glasses with slightly-tinted lenses.

“These are what they give you to work with,” Petra held out her hand.

Alex passed the glasses to her with a shrug. “They serve a very specific purpose, nowhere near the range of what I could do before.”

Petra slid her chair away from the table and circled around to where Alex sat. A firm hand on the younger woman’s shoulder kept her seated. “Let’s not waste time here. We both know that Elijah Sharpe is going to get most of what he wants.” Kostelac whispered a few words and felt Alex tense as her vision opened beyond the realms of human sight. “As you can see now, the four grimoires are originals. Feel free to flip through to verify, if you want. The fifth was a copy, and poorly done at that, although it does have some interesting notations that might be of value. The other three are technical notes on what they were attempting to do, as well as detailed accounts of some of the attempts to alter the perception of those who did not possess any abilities.” She released her grip on Alex and returned to her seat. “There was one other text that was requested, but it was damaged in transit and was not salvageable. Now, what is it that you wanted to ask me?”

Alex retrieved a folder from her bag and slid it across the table. “I need another way to resolve this.”

Petra looked up after reading for a few minutes. “What makes you think that I can help?”

The normally-cheerful blonde straightened her skirt, folded her hands in her lap and gave the resident mage a serious look. “Because behind you, on your desk, is a book. There’s something more powerful flowing through it than I want to contemplate. It’s dark, powerful, and it wants someone to read it.” Her gaze drifted from the book on the desk, back to Petra. “Terrible that it was damaged in transit and couldn’t be salvaged.”

A slight tilt of her head was the only acknowledgement of the statement. “I’m sorry Lexi…Alex. The things we keep hidden are done so with good reasons.” Studying the young woman’s physical responses, she added, “I am curious. Why him?”

“So you are saying that there is a way?”

“Nothing is completely out of the realms of possibility.” Petra held up a hand to silence Alex and continued. “I knew a man who loved his family more than anything in the world. He did something unforgivable to keep them safe, to protect them, and now he is without them.” She tapped the folder on the table. “This boy, do you love him?”

Alex nodded slowly.

“And he loves you?”

“I think…yes.”

“Are you willing to risk anything to help him, even if it means you may lose him?”

Alex nodded, trying to take in what she had just been told. “I would.”

Petra Kostelac rose from her seat and walked to the shelves that lined the room. “Sometimes the cost is too great. Love can blind you to that truth.” She picked a book from the shelf and handed it to Alex. “It will be like finding a needle in a haystack. Think about this carefully before you make any decisions.”

Alex stared at the heavy tome in her hand, its cover a rich red leather. She followed Petra to the door. “You said he is alone…not was.”

“That was not the question you came here to ask.” The woman shut the door, leaving Alex standing alone in the hallway.


Mages. Giving answers to questions only to give you more questions.

barrelv melsbrain

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