Are You Afraid Of The Dark?

A Bookstore owned by the D’Estelle family

From the outside, it looked like nothing more than an empty bookstore, settled in between various other shops that had been locked up and deserted long before. The lights still lit from within cascaded onto the walkway even though the store was closed as dusk had fallen. The door remained open as well, the breeze cooling the otherwise stale air and mingled with the scent of ink and parchment.

Great care had been placed into the workmanship within. The inside was clean, the wood floors polished and the shelves built from the walls when the building was made, were well light so that customers could view the titles easily. Colorful runners had been placed upon the floor of every row, each one depicting scenes from different stories, fairy tales and legends.

A desk was placed unobtrusively in the back, and an elaborate design that was found throughout the store was carved into the edges. Here a female sat there, oblivious once again that she had not closed anything up, and held an open journal in one hand and the end of a pen held between her teeth. She glanced up briefly, noticing for the first time that the streets were now dark. With a shrug, her attention is absorbed once again into the pages before her. She could always lock up in another five minutes.

The door, already ajar, is pushed further by a gloved hand. A man steps in, his boots making soundless contact with the floor of the bookshop. And if not for the creak of the door’s hinges, his entrance would have been missed.

He stays at the doorway, lingering for a while before he walks fully in, his hands moving fluidly to shut the shop’s door behind him. The miasma of scents within the shop indulge his senses and he could perceive more than just books and scrolls in this place.

The door closing startles the girl and the journal is dropped upon the floor, the fresh ink having been written only moments ago smears on the pages and the floor as it lands facedown. She rises fully from her seat, eyeing him cautiously before speaking. Only a person up to no good would be out this late.

“Sir, I’m afraid that we’re-“ Her words stop as the voice of her brother nags at her about the importance of seeing to customers regardless of the hour. It wasn’t the first time she’d forgotten to close on time. Retrieving the book from the floor, she regards him for a moment and with a sigh of resignation she addresses him. “May I help you with something?”

He gives her a silver of a smile as he is regarded, divesting himself of his gloves and bows formally to the young woman, the folds of the shirt he wore beneath his coat crinkling.

“I would gladly like help.” He begins in a slow, halting tone, his eyes, the color indiscernible, shifting to run a faintly interested gaze on the books arranged neatly upon shelves.

The languid look reverts back to back to the woman and his fingers shift, holding his gloves in one hand. “Would this shop have any books of rare quality for sale?” He inquires, his attention fully dwelling on her now and the color of his eyes seem to waver and portray a dark green gleam now he steps into a stripling of light that has splayed across the shop’s floor.

The woman smiles in response to the question posed, her chin dipping in response to greeting as she half curtsies. She picks up several books placed upon a table earlier, tucking them in her arm as she comes forward. A move that made her feel small as she came within several feet from the man.

“Quality I can assure you of. My brother prides himself upon his taste.” Stepping back for a moment, she tries to gather what he may be interested in. “Rare depends on how much time you’d like to spend this evening.” Her eyes seem to request more from him as they fasten upon his. “If you’d prefer to tell me what you seek, I can have them delivered to you tomorrow.”

The only thing that moves about him would be his gaze and it does, traveling with her motions as she selects one book after another; as if he could read the titles as she picks them out. “Delivery would be an asset if my purchase is large.” He speaks with a small hint of pleasure towards her, drawing in the focused look in her eyes towards his own dark green ones. There is a delicate scent about her that he found endearing, amidst the musky familiarity of books and tomes.

“I do not have a preference as long as they are rare and there is a variety of topics covered.” The man entreats her, pivoting slightly to glance over her head, his fingers lacing in a hypnotic fashion into each other. “Would you have a table where I can peruse these books you’ve selected?”

It takes her several moments to pull herself away from that gaze, finding something curious about the way they remained upon her. It would have been extremely unsettling if it weren’t the voice the seemed to fall about her. Blinking for a moment, she nods in response, not trusting herself to answer after she’d rudely stood there for a few moments staring.

She turns from him, gesturing with her palm outward toward a table away from the windows where others could see. As she moves, the lamplight cast streaks of gold through the auburn hue of her hair before she turns toward him again. “I can look for others while you take a look, please take your time.” Intending to give him quiet, she steps away from the table so he may be seated after she places the books down. “You may call me Anique if you need anything.”

His invitation to her comes equally as fast as she provides her name to him. “Then come sit by me, fraulein.” He makes short steps towards the furniture she has pointed out to him and stops by the table, dipping his head and lowering his eyes upon Anique. “So you may tell me what these books each harbor and that you know their secrets more than I would.”

If the girl had been observant, she would have noticed Christian’s edging away from the lamp as he finds his way to the table, and a certain flickering of shadows across the side of his body nearest to the light. He waits by the table’s edge now, not at all looking at the books stacked by him but straight at the young woman.

Anique smiles wistfully as she glances at the books, knowing full well what contents they held, unaware of the man’s lack of attention to them until she glances up and again finds his gaze upon her. A chill runs down her spine, both frightening and thrilling at once as she again pulls her gaze away, unable to withstand the feeling of being read like the pages before them.

“Perhaps I have not read them.. or there are no secrets at all.” Returning to the table, she caresses a slender finger over the cover of a book and pulls the lamplight closer to her so that it is away from the pile. Turning the handle on the side the bright glare of the flame within is dimmed, both of them now cast in a softer form. “I would be happy to sit with you though and find them.”

The man’s movements startle as the light diminishes in its radiance but he feels more comfortable now. He undoes his coat, shrugging it off now like a river of night and pulls the garment over the back of his chair.

His hands hold onto the corners of the chair’s back, crumpling his coat a little. He says nothing and merely offers her that silver of a smile again before sitting and picking the first book off the pile.

“How long have you worked here?” The man asks, now his gaze no longer lavishes itself on her but on the writing of the first page he has turned to. He flips the book with utmost care, his fingers almost willing the pages to move by themselves. The light and shadows in the shop cut a odd weave across his profile, accentuating his features and making them look as if a master has chiseled them from ice.

The question contains simple interest and has always been his attempt at conversation with the various owners of the bookshops he visited, this one as well. It is a good thing he has fed on a wanderer sleeping by the road on his way here. Most other owners he visited ended up unwell the day after.

She seats herself beside him, the material where her dress is gathered at the back falling neatly in a cascade of light blue. Her attire was not that of a store worker, her features more delicate and without the harsh lines of someone who labored. “I grew up here.” The answer is simple enough without giving too much away. “This store belongs to my brother, Nikolas D’Estelle. You’d have met him tonight instead if you’d arrived a bit earlier. “ She watches in interest at the care he takes, wonderingly.

”Why would he let his sister man a shop thus so late at night?” The man smiles wonderingly, shaking his head a little perhaps at the brother’s negligence of his sister’s safety. “There are things that come with the night and are not exactly welcome.” Christian ends, drawing back her glance with eyes suddenly green like rain-soaked grass and he lifts his head to take a very swift observance about the shop. It does not look to him that this family is a superstitious one and he felt no barricade and could enter freely.

“You are not afraid of the dark, fraulein?” He strokes the cover of the book set infront of him with long fingers and shuts it with a mute thud. “Few women have the bravery to sit here in the night alone.”

She laughs softly, the sound a mixture between amusement and nerves. “Things that come with the night are bound to be trouble. Should you then be unwelcome?” She inquires, the teasing gesture of a smile faltering as he turns his attention toward her.

“I have found far worse things in those books than I have from being alone in the dark. There is no fault to Nikolas though, I should have closed the store quite some time ago.” Her eyes lower to his hands before glancing toward the door, assuring herself that it was now closed. “My ‘bravery’ can be summed up in forgetfulness. I prefer this time when I can write and candlelight seems a much more intimate setting.”

Anique quiets suddenly, her eyebrows furrowing at the man seated beside her in confusion. What on earth compelled her tell him that? She was unable to find a flaw in any part of him. He seemed to her in that moment a living statue of sorts and she was telling him things that could put herself in danger.

Her replies to his question were amusing enough to elicit a laugh from Christian, shattering the ice about him, rendering the man a touch of simple humanity. He leans back against his chair, his back meeting the soft layers of his coat, noticing her withdrawal. “There are worse things that could come out in the night and written of in books.” He corrects her in a gentle fashion without slight or derision, his hands moving like a puppeteer to will the next book upon the pile before him

He takes one look at the cover and shakes his head, turning and leaning at an angle close to Anique, “Does this shop have fairytales?”

“Fairytales lie on the carpets and are etched into the very woodwork, Sir.” She remarks, his laughter pulling her out of her own thoughts. “You speak as if you know of such things,” She murmurs, “I should wonder exactly who you are..” Her tone might not have been heard if she were not seated right beside him.

Instead of moving toward the shelves again, she instead goes behind the counter and retrieves a volume with silver lettering along the spine. Placing it down before him, she seems uncertain but considering the topic at hand, it felt appropriate. “People do not want to read tales when the prince on the white horse does not win. The darker side of fairytales perhaps?” She seats herself again and waits for his response before speaking of the book itself.

“And your shop has such tales of horror?” Christian replies in amusement, a little intrigued by the young woman’s effrontery in recommending other books rather than the ones he wanted. In one silken motion, his pale fingers trace across the silver lettering on the book she has put before him, shadows pooling wrymlike underneath his fingers. His smile is of quiet pleasure the moment he comes to the end of the metallic title, “Why would you offer me this, fraulein?”

She appears caught off guard by his questions and she tilts her head in thought. Perhaps she had misjudged his interests, she sincerely doubted it after having spent her life finding what people wanted but there was a chance. “We don’t usually. They came with a shipment last week and I was supposed to get rid of them. Should you want it, you may have it.”

Shrugging her shoulders as if it were of no importance, Anique leans back in the seat. This time her gaze searches out his, “I’ve offered it for the same reason you warned me of things that come from the night. You asked for a fairytale and I have given you one. It is the same as you would find upon the shelf aside from the ending. There is always a choice of what is good and evil in every fairytale is there not? If it is not what you’d prefer, you merely have to decline.”

“You can read my mind, fraulein?” The brazen temerity in her voice is close to obvious and it merely sends him into another laughing fit, albeit in his own mind while the face he possesses is clad in a charmed smile. Mortals never ceased to amuse him to no end, with their impatience and need to get things over and completed. “I would not decline such a sincere offer from you.” Christian sits up, a spark of gravity in his eyes now lightening to a peridot. “How does this tale end? If I find gratifying enough, I will buy it from you at twice its value.”

He does not tell her the ‘if not’ and his mouth relinquishes into a smooth line, awaiting her rendition.

She appears surprised by his question, “Read your mind? No, I apologize. I suppose I assumed and I shouldn’t have.” The truth was, Nikolas would be furious if he knew she hadn’t listened to him so she could read it herself.

“It is much like a normal love story. Curses, deceit, secrets, things that shouldn’t exist other than the pages of a book. There is the maiden, her lover, and the one who seeks to destroy it. She is taken to achieve her captors own means but instead of being rescued by her loved one and living happily ever after.. she chooses to stay with one who stole her away.”

As Anique finishes, her mouth turns upward slightly, now even more unsure than before after having told it. “I suppose it’s made for young girls like myself who prefer stories over.. other things.” Anything to change the topic now she asks, “Would you like something to drink?”

“Not all young women prefer such an ending to their stories.” Christian replies, patient till end to her declaration that she does not like ‘other things’. He would not be such a difficult customer; after all, he’s only here to buy new books for his own shop.

“Before that drink, what else can you show me?” His eyes drift to the rest of the dark shelves behind Anique and he rises up from his chair, the lamplight dousing the front of his body, igniting fiery tiny flames in the rubies of the dragons’ eyes of his cravat clasp. “Anything else, perhaps of more mundane nature other than rare. These ones you have selected, I will buy them and your book of faerie tales as well.”

“You’re right which is probably why I was told to get rid of it.” Anique responds, having withdrawn slightly to wonder. “After seeing so many of the same, I suppose it was interesting just to find something different.”

She watches him rise, taking a moment before doing so herself and telling herself not to talk so much. Taking a breath, she glances over the store now that shadow had fallen among most of the corners and aisles between the shelves. “There is a bit of everything, you are more than welcome to look if you like.” Her hands clasp behind her back as she stands, stretching slightly before looking for titles as he’d asked.

She does not seem so forthcoming and eager now and he shakes his head, eyeing the books placed on the table. “These will do.” Licking on a lower lip, the man withdraws a small card of black thick parch from his coat’s pocket and offers it to Anique.

White lettering marks the card he holds out to the girl; upon it printed in cursive handwriting, the name ‘Christian von Karlach’ and in smaller font, the address of a shop in the City of Irae.

Accepting the card handed to her, she reads over it and smiles softly to herself. It was strange to her that he did not introduce himself and not once had he addressed her by her name after she spoke it. The entire encounter seemed less than normal but perhaps that was because at this time she was without the company of a stranger.

She smiles at him however, closing the card in her palm. “Do you need them by a certain time? I’m sure when my brother returns, he would like to meet you since it seems you own a store of your own.” Her voice is soft and again she finds herself drawn to his movements, her expression openly curious.

“At dusk is the best.” Christian advises her promptly, perhaps already anticipating her question. “The journey from this town to the city where my shop is situated might take you two days on the trade trail.”

He returns her smile with a polite one of his own before easing his fingers underneath the collar of his coat and stripping it from the chair, “If your brother sends you on this delivery, I would be much surprised and would not hesitate to chasten him for negligence.”

Pulling the coat over his form till fitting, the man takes leave of the table’s vicinity, and the girl, the Beast in him bristling now it is denied for once, a taste of blood.

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