What has gone before: Andrew Weazle, the owner of a failing coffee shop on the University of Alberta campus trades what he believes to be the final Friday night deposit in return for 'magic coffee beans' from a homeless man. After dumping the coffee made by the magic beans into a potted bonsai tree, a massive ash tree mysteriously grows overnight inside the shop. Following a series of dark adventures culminating in the near destruction of the shop, a group of leprechauns arrive, with the enigmatic request to travel the Tree to rescue the Easter Bunny...
The coins clinked as they dropped on top of each other, forming a shining gold column. Lara had been stacking and re stacking them since the Andrew and the Leprechauns had departed an hour earlier. It was a way of focusing, of keeping herself from being overwhelmed by everything that had happened since that wonderfully strange first day on the job. When she'd walked in that morning, her moment to look forward to had been getting back to her sister's place, taking a hot bath, enjoying a cigarette, and updating her myspace blog to rave about the new Battlelore CD which she'd picked up on her way back from her successful interview. It had been her celebratory I-now-have-an-income-of-my-own present to herself.
But instead of posting a review of fantasy metal, she had been thrust into the middle of a fantasy. She hoped it was going to start moving along the lines of traditional fantasy, where good won out in the end. While she enjoyed dark fantasy on the page, the past few weeks had been dark enough to put her off experiencing such things. If magic was going to enter her life for real, she wanted it to be white, not black.
But it had to be good, she mused, picking up the stack of coins and dropping them in sequence yet again. After all, what dark fantasy contained leprechauns? Or a coffee shop for that matter...
She smiled, watching the coins fall. Solid gold coins, every one as big as a dollar; worth enough to keep paying the lease on the shop, run it, repair it, renovate it...and she was going to hold Andrew to his word that she could do whatever she wanted with the place. Starting with ripping that sick paneling off the wall.
Her gaze left the column of gold coins and followed the length of one of the Tree's massive limbs. It was the one Finn had determined would lead them to the North Pole. When Andrew asked how he knew that, Finn laughed and said, "sooner or later, they all would. This one will just do it quicker than others."
Finn had been watching the Leprechauns wrestle a long wooden box up the ladder and onto the limb. When Lara had asked what was in the box, he'd said it contained their arsenal, which made Lara raise her eyebrows, since from her vantage point the Leprechauns were carrying enough weapons to deal with a group of Navy Seals. When they said they were engaging the Northern Elves in battle, she'd pictured swords or bows perhaps, but each of the tiny men had strapped on dual shoulder holsters with 9mm automatics in them, then removed their buckled belts and replaced them with military web belts covered in clips and hand grenades. She'd wondered what sort of firepower they had in the box that explosives and automatic hand guns didn't provide.
All the time, Andrew was intently staring at the Tree, leaning against its trunk. Lara left Finn to his final preparations and walked over to Andrew.
"Penny for your thoughts?" she said, and then, gesturing at the stack of gold coins, "We've got a few gold ones."
In the intervening twenty four hours since the Leprechauns had repaired the shop, he'd gone back to his apartment with Blackout and two of the Leprechauns, who'd repaired the ruined door (his landlord still hadn't gotten around to it, preoccupied as he was with the gaping hole at the end of the hallway where the succubus had burst through before launching into flight), while he showered and dressed. Leaned against the trunk, drinking in its healing presence, he was starting to look himself again. Lara followed Andrew's gaze to where the Leprechauns were entering the deep foliage of the tree, passing from the shop's electric light into green shadow.
"I keep thinking to myself, this can't be happening to me," Andrew continued. "And just now, watching you talking to Finn, just as naturally as if you were talking to any normal person instead of a...leprechaun, I realized, it isn't happening to me. It's happening around me. In all the fairy tales, its the prince who's supposed to wake up the sleeping maiden. And yet, I'm the one who's been doing all the sleeping."
He stopped and looked at her. "Does that make any sense?"
Lara laughed. "You're leaning against a tree which grew overnight from magic coffee beans, recovering from having your soul drained by a succubus, watching Leprechauns get ready to go kick the shit out of Santa's elves and you're asking me if what you just said makes sense, Princess?"
Andrew smiled at the jibe. Lara realized with a start it was the first time she'd seen him do that. "The old man gave me the beans," Andrew said. "Maybe he knew something like this would happen." He paused again and looked away from Lara. "Maybe he knew I needed something like this to happen."
"And here I thought it was just me," Lara said.
Andrew looked back at her. "But you've accepted it. I don't think I have. So I'm making a decision...to let whatever all this is...happen to me."
Finn walked over to them, stepping over the debris of the ruined coffee machines. "The boys are all off...and I'm ready to go meself."
"Let's get started then," Andrew said.
"Are ye sure ye want to be travelin' the Tree boyo? It's not like a walk in the river valley ye know. Magical journeys are dangerous voyages for your folk."
"You were sent to guide me...and Jack said I needed to learn to travel the tree," Andrew said. "Besides, it's not like the shop will be open for business right away..."
"Now that we have the money to make it look pretty!" Lara exclaimed, dancing over to the pile of gold coins.
"No major renovations until I get back," Andrew said, pointing a finger at her for emphasis.
"You said I could do whatever I wanted!" Lara said with a mock pout.
"That was before we had enough gold to do whatever you wanted," Andrew said. "I don't want to come back and find this place looking like a dominatrix's dungeon."
"I'm not into that!" Lara exclaimed. "Just because a girl wears black and fishnets doesn't mean she's into kinky sex. Way to stereotype me. You're as bad as all the assholes who keep messaging me on myspace. You forget I'm all about the flow of nature...Wicca baby, Wicca."
"Fine," Andrew said. "Do whatever you like. But no pentagrams on the floor."
"I'm serious," Andrew replied, spreading his arms to indicate the tree. "Just think of what would happen. We had a succubus on Valentine's day, Leprechauns near St. Patrick's, the Easter bunny's just around the corner..."
"It'd make for one hell of a Halloween," Lara grinned.
"If yer comin', then we need to be legging it already'," Finn interrupted. "The boys will be thinkin' I'm having a toss or somethin'."
"Right," Andrew said. "I'll grab my coat...seeing as we're going to the North Pole."
He ran into the back room and grabbed his coat and the essentials he'd gathered at his apartment while Finn climbed up the ladder and onto the Tree. Lara packed up a bag full of biscotti and muffins from the shop's baked goods, and added the chocolate covered coffee beans for energy. She handed the bag to Andrew and smiled.
"Packed you a lunch," she said.
He looked inside. "Just what my dietician told me I should be eating."
"Ye are a skinny bastard," Finn said from the Tree limb. "Could use some fat on ye."
"This is so bizarre," Andrew said, looking at Lara. "I mean, it's all so fast. There's no time to think about it all."
"Wouldn't do you any good if you could," Lara replied. "Get going."
And with that, Andrew turned, climbed the ladder, took one last look at the shop, and then followed Finn into the green shadow of the Tree's massive boughs. At first, their voices were clear and close, but then they became more distant, as though they were speaking from across a street, and then finally, they were gone, and the shop was silent.
She had turned and sat at one of the stools by the bar where the gold coins were stacked. On Monday she'd take them to a goldsmith's, get an appraisal, and then see about selling them. A quick trip to the Student's Union, and the month's rent would be paid, followed by a phone call to some friends of hers who worked in interior design. They knew building contractors, installers...they could get it handled.
Visions of what she was going to do with the shop flowed through her mind as she repeatedly stacked the coins. Her first impression when she'd seen them was that they looked exactly like the chocolate coins you could buy at a candy shop. They certainly didn't make the same sound. They didn't make that satisfyling 'clink!' Those just made a dull thud.
Like one of her coins just had.
She stopped, holding her breath. She'd been too lost in thought. That was all it was. She dropped the next one.
With mounting horror, her heart in her throat, she peeled back the edge of the gold foil of the last coin in her hand, to reveal the chocolate beneath...
"This was supposed to be a good fantasy," she whispered.