After the girls had received their hot chocolate they walked down the main street, taking in everything the winter market had to offer. Alice stopped once or twice at the jewelry stands, tempted by the skillfully crafted necklaces and bracelets. Here and there they passed an obviously magic stand, the items for sale wrapped in layers of threads that shone brightly through the snow. This was so obvious to Alice that it was a wonder the non-magical people (or Regs, as everyone insisted on calling them) that walked past didn’t spot it. At the very end of the street there was a crowd gathering, as a pair of tall women in matching black dresses began to set up some kind of street show.
Alice and Maya joined the crowd just as the first woman held up a pair of sticks and carefully waved a lighter beneath the ends. The flames caught quickly, and the woman straightened and passed the lighter to her partner. Then she stood back and began to spin the sticks hand over hand, creating a constant flow of orange rings around her head and shoulders, fire that cut through the glistening snowflakes and dissolved them in a sizzle of heat and light. Alice watched the spectacle in awe, even more impressed when the second woman began spinning, matching her partner’s movements exactly. It was almost like a dance. Dancing with fire.
She was completely mesmerized, and felt it had only been seconds when the women stopped and bowed low, letting their sticks drop into the snow to extinguish the fire. Maya glanced down at her watch and said, “Wow, it’s been twenty minutes already. I guess we should head back soon.”
Alice tried to take another sip of her hot chocolate only to find the cup empty, “alright, let’s go back.” She felt more relaxed now. There’d been something calming about watching the fire spinners, something about it felt as though it had wiped her mind completely blank, and now she could start over and feel whatever she wanted to.
Maya was giving her a sideways look, “you look more cheerful.”
Alice smiled at her, “I am. Thanks for dragging me here, this was fun, and I actually feel way better.”
“Good,” Maya paused to throw her empty cup into a garbage can as they were passing, “I’m glad. You just needed something to take your mind off it for long enough to gain a little perspective.”
“I think you’re right,” Alice chucked her paper cup in, heard it hit the rim and kept walking, “I’m not mad at Altair anymore, since it wasn’t his fault. But I can’t guarantee I won’t slug Sara again if she has the nerve to come back into my shop.”
“You could turn her into something really horrible,” Maya giggled.
“A toad,” Alice mused, “or a ferret.”
“I think she would suit a ferret.”
They were rounding the corner now, and Alice caught sight of the shop windows, the soft glow of the threads strung over the roof like multi-colored Christmas garlands, the light bathing the top shelves of magical items in flickering rainbow lights. There was movement in the shop, someone walking back and forth past the windows, and when they got closer Alice could see it was Altair. He was pacing back and forth, chewing on his fingernails and glancing up at the far wall every now and then, in the direction of the big clock on the wall.
She suddenly felt horrible.
Behind her Maya said softly, “I guess you two will want some privacy?”
YOU ARE READING
Alice Cunningham is back! First stop is Prague, a city drenched in ancient magic. It's beautiful, haunted and full of history. Maybe too much history. When Alice is confronted by a deranged and powerful witch with a grudge, she decides it's time to...