To Courtney he gave a gleaming katana and a scabbard. It was worked with odd symbols she couldn't recognize, but knew weren't Japanese. "For the warrior," Father Christmas said. "It will never lose its edge. It will cut through the scales of an Ice Drake, or cleave rock in twain."
To Blackout he said, "For the Master of the Dungeon, the storyteller," and handed him a black rectangular velvet bag. Blackout could feel something inside. He opened the neck of the bag and peeked inside.
"Tarot cards?" Blackout said.
"Not just any Tarot cards. Take them out."
Blackout pulled out one of the cards; The Fool, a young man capering in blissful ignorance at the edge of a cliff. But it wasn't just artwork. This Fool was actually dancing, in motion.
"Incredible," Blackout said.
"You think that's great," said the Fool from the card. "Wait until you see some of my breakdancing moves."
Blackout was speechless as he entered the train.
"For the Pathfinder," Father Christmas said as he hung a necklace with a compass on it around Silke's neck. "It will always lead you where you need to go...although that will not always mean where you want to."
"For the youngest Fate and the Guardian of the Tree," he said, turning to the only two who hadn't boarded yet. "You both have power within you, so I have no baubles or trinkets. For you, I have a much greater gift."
He pulled a long wooden plank from the bag.
"This gift will be both a blessing and curse," he told them. "It will identify the shop as a haven, a sanctuary for beings of magic traveling the Tree, and crossing from their world into yours, and from yours into others. It has been carved from the very wood of the Tree itself."
He held it so that Lara and Andrew could read it. Lara giggled and gave Andrew a hug.
"It's perfect," she said.
Andrew nodded, grinning from ear to ear. He was about to board the train when he suddenly stopped, turned, and looked back at the man with the white beard.
"You," he said in disbelief.
"Me?" Father Christmas replied.
"You were the one...you gave me the beans."
The man's eyes twinkled indeed as he smiled and nodded.
"Why? And what were you doing in Edmonton dressed as a bum?"
"Every year I make my way south for a vacation. I leave the world of magic and then spend some time in one of the worlds I visit, enjoying living as a mortal again, if only for a brief period. I was in your neck of the woods on the errand of choosing a new guardian for the Tree's avatar in your world."
"But why me? Out of all the people in the world...?"
"I watch you all as you grow up and keep a list of all you do, and all you do not do. The sum of your life is my business. It's why I was appointed with the task in the worlds I visit. And I chose you, because I knew you would do well. Which you have."
"But I didn't do well...I nearly got the Tree destroyed..."
"And yet here you are. You're asking too many questions, and some of you still have work left to do. You have a coffee shop to run. Best you get back to it."
* * * * * * *
The first elf who entered the coffee shop found himself facing a rather fierce and unshaven looking math professor wielding a long wooden walking stick like it was a sword, and a teenage boy who was attempting two fisted fury with a coffee pot in each hand.
"Kill it!" the teenage boy shouted. "It's a Leprechaun!"
"It's an elf," a familiar voice said, stepping out of the shadowy foliage of the Tree. Blackout smiled down at the two vigilant watchmen. "Leprechauns have rounder faces."
The ladder was put in place, and a group of weary travelers, both elf and human alike climbed down into the shop. Geo and Mikey shook hands, embraced friends they'd given up on seeing ever again, and laughed through tears at seeing how many changes were written on the faces of Andrew, Sunny, Courtney and Ripper.
"We have gifts," Andrew announced, taking the book of Magic spells based on mathematical formulae Father Christmas had intended for Geo and the boots of Stealth he'd had made for Mikey.
"These really work?" Mikey asked.
"You'll make no sound while you're in them. You can sneak out the front door of your house now," Ripper said.
Geo looked up from the book's parchment like pages, inscribed with mathematical formula and esoteric symbols, tears in his eyes. "I always knew the universe worked this way. I just knew it."
"But what about Blackout?" Mikey asked. "And the new girl, Lara...what happened to them...they're all right, aren't they?"
Andrew and Ripper exchanged knowing looks and grinned. Courtney playfully punched Ripper's arm, and said, "They're both all right."
"I'd say they're better than just all right," Ripper snorted and he and Andrew broke into peals of laughter.
"So where are they?" Mikey persisted.
* * * * * * *
"You and Lara need to take our place at the Grotto to bring Spring.” Eostre had told him.
“You mean have sex?” Blackout had asked, his mouth having gone completely dry. "Why us?"
"You're the only two with a strong enough bond amongst your friends. None of the others could work this magic."
"Sunny and Ripper?"
"Sunny is still too badly wounded...and Ripper's heart is not fit to the task--yet."
"None of the elves either?"
"Not the menninkäinen, no. There are elves who can, but we have no time to seek them out and make arrangements, nor is Dieter fit to travel to work the passing ritual. The solstice is coming soon. You are here, and we need your help. Is there a problem?"
“I don't think so," Blackout said. "It's just...I wanted to get to know her first...you know?”
Eostre paused, her whiskers twitching. “I think I can help you,” she said at last. A furry paw reached into a leather satchel and produced a rock, which was handed over to Randy. “An amulet,” the hare told him.
“Is it magic?” he asked.
Eostre said nothing, her brow furrowed. Then she nodded. “Oh yes. It will help you make her understand the depth of your feeling for her. But,” she added, “there are a series of rituals which must be performed right prior to making love. They have to be performed so Lara can see them done or the amulet won’t work.”
As Blackout cooked a meal to Eostre's specifications, he and Lara talked. About everything. What had happened, what they'd do when they got home, and in uncomfortable jokes, about what lay before them. Finally, the meal was ready and they ate in silence, looking at each other occasionally, speaking with their gazes.
“That was wonderful,” Lara said when they were finished. “What’s for desert?”
“The second ritual,” Eostre had told Blackout, “is to rub this ointment all over her body. This is to clothe you in the essence of Spring...the force which lives within Dieter and I.”
The ointment was a golden, translucent liquid with the consistency of honey. Blackout produced the bottle and smiled at Lara. She raised here eyebrows and asked, “What’s this?”
Instead of answering, Blackout began laying out their sleeping bags on the Grotto floor. He didn’t exactly know how much of his body needed to be touching the earth when he and Lara finally...did what they were there to do, but he wasn’t interested in trying to make love on wet grass or moss. This accomplished, he went back to Lara and helped her to her feet. Then, slowly, deliberately, gently he undressed her.
The smell of the oil was wonderful, filling the air with it’s thick, sweet scent. Blackout’s hands worked up and down the entire length of Lara’s body. At times, she made little noises of pleasure, making it all the more difficult to complete the ritual. Finally, her entire body covered by a light layer of the oil, Lara was ready for the third ritual.
“Can you sing?” Dieter had asked him.
“Can't carry a tune in a bucket,” Blackout replied.
“That complicates matters," Eostre said. "It would help if you could sing. Or recite a poem.”
“Something about love.”
“A poem about love,” Blackout said. "I don't suppose you could 'vague that up for me'?"
Lara’s eyes were still closed when Blackout recited the first words...
"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" Blackout intoned, "Thou art more lovely, and more temperate..." Slowly, her lids raised and she turned her head to look at Blackout. He was shaking. He missed a line. He stammered. He was beautiful.
Blackout was absorbed with trying to remember all the words he screamed and jumped and cried out when Lara kissed him. Deeply. Passionately. He opened his eyes to see her, one of the sleeping bags draped around her shoulders for warmth.
“I’m cold,” she said in a husky voice. “Come warm me up.”
“I love you,” he whispered in the darkness. "For quite some time now, I think."
"I suspected as much."
They slept in the embrace of the earth that evening. In the morning, they woke to a Spring sunrise.
* * * * * *The elves hung the sign Father Christmas had made in place of the old one, which had simply read "Coffee Shop". With the same exquisite craftsmanship that had transformed the interior of the shop from a typical modern cafe into a sacred space filled with decor that evoked enchantment, they mounted the sign, casting spells on it to illuminate it; passersby would marvel at how the sign seemed to be lit from within, and how the letters glowed a faint eldritch green on nights of the New Moon.
The letters could be seen by more than just human eyes. They called out to the fairy folk who walked through the campus, those who were coming for a cup of good strong coffee before commencing their journeys to other worlds, and other branches of the Tree.
Magik Beans, the sign read.