Anna turned to Rufus with her hands on her hips.
“You think you’re pretty smart, don’t you?” She asked the large dog.
“Woof.” He stood and shook himself before pacing toward her and nudging her hand with his nose.
“Then the least you can do is help me set these wards again. I’m going to need to include you on the list of welcomed guests.” She said, sighing dramatically and looking around the small bookstore. The windows were clear again and only the faint glow from the distant street lamps illuminated the space. With a murmured incantation, Anna settled a dark grey fog around the inside of the windows for privacy. She slipped her shoes off and felt the cold tiles beneath her bare feet.
Rufus watched her with his head tilted to the side.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve had to reset these.” She said, feeling suddenly nervous; as if it were her first spell. Carefully, she tapped into the earth energy beneath her feet and drew it up through her body.
If only she could let the energy of the earth flow through her all the time! Something in that current made all of her aches and pains disappear. It was like being twenty-something again – but Anna knew the minute she sent the current out with her intention the familiar pangs of old joints and tired muscles would return. In fact, given the experience of being knocked onto hard tile by an eighty pound dog, she was sure she’d feel even older than usual once she dropped the current.
She pulled the energy up and channeled it into the fairy light, carefully untangling the energy signatures she’d created for her family. She wove each signature into a tiny ball and added the energies one by one back into the ward. When she was satisfied that the wards would recognize all of the former permitted people, she wove the energy from Rufus into a tight ball and sent that into the ward as well. When she was certain that the magical wards would permit everyone she intended, she closed the channel and felt the energy seep back into the tiles.
“One down, three to go. Don’t take this personally, old boy, but I’m not letting you into the vault.”
Rufus lay down on the floor with his nose between his paws and his ears pricked forward. Smiling at him, Anna slipped her feet back into her shoes and walked to where the leather bound book lay and gingerly picked it up. The thrum of magic in the leather cover was familiar, and she suppressed a shiver of revulsion. It was in defense of the Crux Crucio Orbis that her husband, Marco, had been killed decades earlier. For that reason alone, Anna wanted nothing to do with one of their secret texts.
Determined not to dwell on it, Anna gripped the book tighter. She turned her dark eyes toward Rufus and held out her palm. “Stay.”
The muscles in Rufus’ face twitched and it appeared that he regarded her with one raised eyebrow. He looked somewhat contrite as he watched Anna retreat into the back room.
Anna glanced behind her to make sure Rufus hadn’t followed. She swept her hand in front of her at the stack of cardboard boxes and they vanished like the mirage they were. Stepping toward the stairs to the basement, she pulled back the electrical veil that would repel most thieves and stepped over the threshold. Her silver hair stood up from her head as the static raced around her body.
Once she was standing on the first step, she replaced the mirage of boxes and the first barrier. Had she been alone in the shop, she wouldn’t have bothered. Rufus was still very much an unknown entity so the added precaution made sense for the time being. As soon as Anna stepped off the first step into the void beneath her, the static electricity dissipated and she raised a hand to smooth her hair back into place.
“Marco would have known him. Humph!” She muttered, walking down stairs that wouldn’t be visible to anyone’s eyes but her own. The reflection spell was a nice touch she had added when she had bought the shop. It took courage to step out into space and trust that there were real stairs beneath you when all you could see was a twelve foot drop onto rough stones below. Most agents form the Alliance weren’t known for their courage. At the core of the organization was a ball of cowardice wrapped in greed. If Anna had no use for the C.C.O. she had even less for the Alliance.
At the bottom of the stairs, she turned and faced the glass encased grimoires which were her livelihood. The mainstream store above paid the bills alright, but the ancient magical texts made sure Anna had all of the extras she wanted in life. From the beautiful apartment above the shop to all of the trips to visit her parents, sister, and daughter who were scattered around the globe, the illegal sale of the texts provided well for her.
Each case glowed a slightly different color, from deep magenta to bright lemon yellow; each spell had to be unraveled individually to slow down anyone clever enough to get near the cases. Anna had managed to keep her shop completely theft proof for almost twenty years. Even if someone managed to get down to the vaults, the average thief would only be able to take one or two manuscripts in an evening; there wouldn’t be time for more. The talent required to unravel the individual spells made a massive theft impossible.
Stepping toward the end of the row, Anna passed her foot over the stone floor in front of the case. A shimmering glyph glowed in the center of the stone and she placed one foot carefully on each side of the symbol. With the book in her hand, she tuned the energy around her body to match the ward protecting the case. The ward popped and sizzled, but did not fall.
Tilting her head to the side, Anna looked down at the glyph. It had burned a clear blue when she’d tripped it, but when she tried to tune the energy wall, it had paled to an awful burnt orange. Anna stepped away and placed the leather bound book on the floor. Stepping over the glyph once again, she found she had no trouble making the electrical charge of the ward in tune with her own energy. It was the addition of the book that made things grew complicated.
It took Anna three tries before she found a case that would accept the small volume.
“Isn’t that something?” She muttered when she successfully placed the book alongside another ancient text from Greenland. “The silly thing’s tuned to a certain frequency and it won’t be budged.” Anna reset the ward and climbed the invisible staircase back to her shop, wondering at the enchantment on the book.
Rufus lay where she’d left him and stood and stretched as Anna entered the room.
“It’s safe and secure. I’ll get you some dinner and you can answer a few questions.” She unlocked the door to the small closet behind the cash register and swung the bookshelf out, revealing a staircase to the second floor.
Anna cooked chicken in olive oil with tomatoes and spinach as Rufus watched. After it had cooled a little, she placed it in a large bowl which she sat on the rug in the dining room, next to a large bowl of ice water.
The dog ate with enthusiasm and when he was finished, he stood and padded into the living room, sitting on the floor and looking expectantly at Anna.
“You may sit on the furniture, if you’d like.” She said, indicating the deep purple L-shaped couch.
Rufus jumped up and sat facing her, an expectant look on his face.
Anna turned toward the dog and held out her hand. “My name is Anna Cerasola. It’s very nice to meet you, Rufus Albrecht.”
Rufus held out his paw and as Anna took it, he bent his head and brushed the back of her hand with his wet nose.
“I understand you knew my husband?”
“Woof.” Rufus chuffed softly.
“I assume you are a member of the order, as Mr. Pon indicated.”
Rufus replied in the affirmative again, looking expectantly at her.
“Did you intend to bring me that vile book?”
After many questions, Anna managed to get what was nearly the full story from the former Mr. Albrecht.
“You want me to secure that book so it will not be taken by the thieves who broke into your office?”
Rufus nodded again.
“Will they follow you here?”
Rufus tilted his head to the side.
“Then tomorrow we will hide it somewhere they will not be able to find it.” Anna said with resignation. “In the morning, you and I have a few errands to do. Will the spell which turned you into a dog wear off?”
Rufus looked sad and shook his head.
“Do you know the counter spell?” Anna asked, feeling a stab of pity. The poor man had turned himself into a dog to escape from the thieves and now it appeared as if he were trapped. Rufus tilted his head to the side again.
“Well you can’t stay like this!” Anna asserted. “We’ll have to find a counter spell. You can’t live out the rest of your days as a dog.”
Rufus smiled a doggy grin and wagged his tail.
“Then it’s settled. We’ll take care of the book and then we’ll fix that spell. Once you’re back to normal, you can explain this whole thing to me. Maybe by then, Kingston Pon will have decided that this little mystery is just as important as his other errand.”
Anna slept fitfully, even with the door to her bedroom locked and a ward set to alert her should anyone try to enter, she didn’t feel entirely secure. Rufus had settled into the center of the guest bed down the hall, and the moment Anna closed the door, she could hear him snoring.
A tinkling, like tiny bells, woke Anna from her restless sleep. Instantly, she was on her feet and placing a thin cotton robe over her pajamas. She pulled down the ward and peered into the dark hallway.
Rufus stood a few feet away. Even in the dim light Anna could see his hackles were raised and a snarl curled his lip slightly.
“What is it?” She whispered.
Rufus let out a low growl and began pacing in front of the door to the downstairs bookshop.
Anna ran back into her room and pulled open the tiny drawer in her nightstand. Grabbing two vials of what looked like dried herbs, a taser, and a battery-operated personal fan, she shut the door quietly and pushed her feet into rubber soled canvas shoes.
Rufus watched her with a wary expression from the doorway.
“I may be old, but I’m not defenseless.” Anna said, smiling at the dog. “I can take down an elephant with this stuff.” She stuffed her unlikely arsenal into the pockets of her robe and tiptoed out of the room and toward the kitchen.