What has gone before: Andrew Weazle, the owner of a failing coffee shop trades the Friday night deposit in return for 'magic coffee beans'. After dumping coffee made by the beans into a potted bonsai tree, a massive ash tree mysteriously grows overnight inside the shop. Following a miraculous weekend which saves the coffee shop, Andrew leaves work in the company of a fatally attractive woman. When he does not return for several days, Lara and Blackout attempt to find out what has happened to him. A dark presence attacks Lara as she attempts to enter Andrew's apartment, wounding her badly. Blackout takes Lara to the Fates, servants of the Tree, who heal her with the Tree's life-giving magic...
Have to believe we are magic
Nothing can stand in our way...
The lyrics to an Olivia Newton Song from a really terrible early 80's film kept running through Blackout's mind as he listened to Lara tell her story - the truth this time, nothing kept secret. How she'd come in for her first day of work to find the Tree fully grown, Andrew asleep in its branches. How she'd met the three women...three fates he reminded himself, and found out that she was apparently one of them, to which Terry had added, "nothing apparent about it. It just is."
Come take my hand
You should know me...
He'd figured Lara was special, but finding out the girl you're interested in is a Fate...whatever the hell that meant...wasn't that like finding out she was a Nun or something? Were Fates allowed to date?
I've always been in your mind
You know I will be kind
I'll be guiding you
Guiding me where? Blackout wondered. He was having a lot of trouble taking it all in. It was one thing entirely to desire dragons when polyhedron dice were involved. It was another thing entirely to desire them on your street. Or in your coffee shop. But it wasn't a dragon they were dealing with. Just a sex demon. He chuckled to himself.
"Something funny?" Terry asked.
"Well, earlier this evening I was imagining a world where magic was possible...and thinking how great that would be." Blackout took a drink of the incredibly strong coffee Hatima had brewed once Lara had come around to consciousness. "Now that it's really actually possible...I'm wondering if it's really so great."
"That's because your first introduction to the magic was demonic...diabolical magic," Ima said. "Imagine if the first thing you'd seen--really seen, for what it truly is, had been the Tree."
"The Tree's pretty damn scary if you ask me," Blackout said, looking up at the dark green canopy above him. "I mean, what's the point? Why is it here?"
"Like asking why the sky is blue," Ima replied.
"I'm sorry, but that cryptic bullshit's not going to cut it much longer," Lara said. "I nearly got myself killed tonight, and I think what's going on with Andrew is somehow connected to the Tree being here. If I'm really part of your little sisterhood, then I want some straight answers."
Building your dream
Has to start now
There's no other road to take
You won't make a mistake
I'll be guiding you
Blackout realized he was tapping his toe in time to the music in his head. Hatima was looking at his foot as though she might hack it off. He stopped tapping.
"You're right," Ima said. "We've not told you enough to know how to handle things. The Tree likely attracted the succubus' attention--for what reason I can't yet say, though I have my theories. All magical creatures can sense the Tree...they are drawn to it."
"But why?" Lara asked.
"It's a gateway," Ima said. "A gateway between the worlds you call reality and the ones called magic. And magical creatures can travel between the world using the Tree."
"So the succubus used the Tree to get here?"
"No," Terry interjected. "The day she came in and left with Andrew was the first time we sensed her power. She came into this world via another doorway. Likely a closet."
"A closet?" Blackout said.
"Monsters travel through closets," Terry replied. "Everyone knows that."
"And I suppose Leprechauns travel on rainbows," Blackout said.
"Actually, they do," Terry said matter-of-factly.
"But why would the succubus choose Andrew as her prey?" Lara asked. "I mean, with all the men in the world, why Andrew?"
"He's the guardian of the Tree," Ima said. "Many dark powers will want to control Andrew, and by controlling him control access to the Tree." She saw the look of confusion on Lara and Blackout's faces. "No one can travel the Tree without the permission of the guardian in the world they are traveling from."
Blackout looked over at the Tree and wondered how exactly one went about this 'traveling'. Were there magic words to be spoken? A little dance to do? A virgin to be sacrificed? He supposed the latter was unlikely...tough to find a lot of those in this day and age.
"Well, this is all fascinating," he said, "but it currently isn't doing Andrew any good, guardian or no if that thing is sucking the life out of him while we sit here discussing it all."
"Yeah," Lara said. "We need to know how to kill this thing. Do you know how we can do that?" She looked at the three fates pleadingly.
"We're in charge of tending the Tree," Terry said. "Our lore is of the Tree, not all the creatures that roam in its branches. We know some of their names, like this lilitu, but we've never had to face one ourselves."
"I might know," Blackout said. Lara looked at him with surprise and hope through those striking eyes and he felt a little nervous butterfly in his stomach.
And if all your hopes survive
Destiny will arrive
I'll bring all your dreams alive
I'll bring all your dreams alive
"I mean...it might say how to kill one in my gaming books."
"Gaming books?" Lara asked, incredulous. The hope had drained out of her eyes. "This isn't a game Mark! It's the real world!" She stopped short after saying that and wrinkled her nose. "Or a reasonable facsimile thereof."
"The guys who write those books research their stuff in folklore and legend. It's as good a resource as any we're going to have." He felt like some poor man's version of Giles off Buffy the Vampire Slayer. "It's better than nothing. Rutherford library won't be open until morning."
Lara shrugged her shoulders.
"It's worth a try I suppose."
Blackout nodded and got up from his chair, quaffing the last of his coffee in one hearty gulp. It felt good to be doing something. Sitting here and thinking about all this craziness was starting to get to him.
"I'll come and let you know as soon as I find something," he said, walking to the door and throwing his coat on. He stepped out into the night air, it's brisk chill hitting him with its harsh reality. For a moment, it all seemed absolutely mad. Perhaps it was.
But there was the blood on the back seat of his car. And the three women standing in the shop with Lara. And Andrew was still missing.
You've always desired dragons, he thought. And you might not have wanted them on your street, but now they're here, and the question you have before you is simply...what are you going to do about it?
It was like having Ian McKellen running around in his head.
He flipped open his cell phone and hit the speed dial. Three rings...
"Hello?" Riptide said.
"I'm glad you're still up," Blackout said. "I need you to meet me at the shop, right away."