Warnings: Slight AU
Characters: Edgar Frog, Alan Frog, Sam Emerson
Spoilers: If you haven't seen the movie you're unlikely to be reading this. But still very few if any.
Synopsis: Edgar and Alan are less than pleased when a magic store opens up on the Boardwalk, but who are the newcomers to Santa Carla running the place, and what exactly are they hiding?
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16
The uncomfortable tickling, squirming sensation of nervousness assaulted Alan as he descended the stairs, leaving Edgar and Sam behind in the bedroom. Butterflies in his stomach, his mom had used to call it. He tried to control it, but these butterflies were rabid, and very angry.
As his foot hit the bottom step, he paused and took a deep breath. Anthony had already disappeared into the front of the shop. Just like their own place, the back room was darker than the front, and cooler. The sun shone relentlessly for most of the day onto the front of the property, hitting the back for only a few hours. It was a relief after the warmth and the choking smell of burning herbs in Sophie's bedroom.
Sometimes, Alan wished he could see what was going on in Edgar's head. Really see, not just having the understanding between the two of them that Sam interpreted as telepathy, but actually be able to get inside his brother's head and take a look around, because sometimes, and it wasn't very often, but sometimes, Edgar managed to really surprise him.
Like just now, for example. Alan hadn't wanted to spend the afternoon as a magician's assistant. He agreed to do it because someone needed to, but he hadn't expected Edgar to go along with it so easily. Edgar was supposed to protest, and refuse, and rant about how magic was evil, and how it would corrupt him if he was in the same room as it.
Either Edgar was so worried about stopping Sophie that he was willing to risk Alan getting too close to a spell, or being forced to learn about his own heritage and latent abilities had mellowed him a little.
Alan felt one corner of his lips twitch involuntarily at the idea of Edgar mellowing for anything. More likely he was just hoping Alan would be able to continue convincing Anthony of Sophie's guilt, or, as he had told him to do as he left, find out Anthony's plan. The old man had seemed oddly evasive of their questions. Worryingly so, actually.
Alan allowed himself another few seconds to prepare himself, and then he pushed aside the heavy black curtain and walked through into the shop.
He found Anthony at the other side of the room, locking the door. Hearing his approach, the practitioner turned around to look at him. He nodded in greeting. “It's not exactly a busy time of day, but I don't want any interruptions,” he explained as he turned the key. “I'm glad you decided to help.”
Alan folded his arms and leaned against the wall. He wondered whether Anthony could tell how nervous he was. Just in case, he tilted his chin upward slightly and stared down at the old man through hooded eyes.
Anthony smiled politely at his display. He left the key in the lock again, both providing Alan with a means of escape if he needed it, and meaning that Sophie wouldn't be able to get in. If she arrived at the front door, she would have to knock or go around the back, either way, probably giving them forewarning of her arrival. Unless she just went straight to the back. Unfortunately, the door being locked would also tip Sophie off that something was wrong. Alan wondered whether Anthony had thought of that.
But then, Anthony probably wasn't worried about that. He was still mostly convinced that his granddaughter was innocent. Well, not innocent. A caster of black magic spells to mess with people's heads? Sure. But a murderer? No way.
He wondered who the other spell had been used on, and what it was designed to do.
Anthony made his way back through the shop to the cash desk, and Alan watched silently as he bent down and retrieved a large wooden tray from a hidden shelf underneath the counter. He lifted it slowly, taking care not to tilt it and risk displacing any of the small piles of ground and chopped herbs. He placed it down gently on the surface of the desk.
It looked like something from a cooking show. Alan smirked as he imagined the old man beaming into the camera while he demonstrated to his viewers how to perform a spell. 'Chop up all your herbs and put them aside. Here's one I prepared earlier.' Edgar's worst nightmare. Or one of them, at least.
“I was part way through the preparation for the tracing spell,” Anthony explained. He turned around to look at Alan, who was still leaning against the wall behind him, as he spoke.
Alan quickly wiped all hints of amusement from his face and replaced it with his trademark sneer.
Using the fingers of one hand, Anthony began to carefully brush some of the piled herbs from the tray and into the palm of the other. When his hand was full, he tipped the multicolored pile unceremoniously into a small trash can next to the counter, and brushed his hands together to remove any residual dust. “The new one needs some of the same ingredients, the rest can be thrown out.”
An explanation of his actions hardly seemed necessary, but Alan nodded anyway.
“Now then,” Anthony said, taking a deep breath and lowering himself into the chair behind the counter. “I'm afraid I wasn't completely honest with you a moment ago.”
His tone was conversational and non-threatening, but the words themselves chilled Alan to the bone. His body froze completely still as his mind tried to decide which of his two natural instincts he should follow; fight or flight.
Moving nothing but his eyes, he glanced around the shop, calculating the best way to escape. The front door still had the key in the lock, he could get out that way, but he needed to warn Edgar and Sam. He tried to remember the layout of the back room, where he had been just a few minutes earlier. The door was closed and he didn't know if it was locked, but going that way would give him the opportunity to shout upstairs. Or if he ran out through the front, he may be able to shout up to Edgar through the window. But that would mean his brother and Sam would be trapped in the building...
“Alan, it's okay, I think you misunderstand me.”
Anthony's voice cut through his planning just as he was about to bolt.
“You're in no danger from me. It's just that when I said you didn't need to do any magic, I'm afraid that that wasn't exactly the truth.”
That wasn't better. The alarm bells in Alan's head grew a little quieter, but were not silenced. He remained very still, watching the old man carefully, still ready to run if he needed to. “What?” he said.
“It's a simple spell, but I need you to be the one to do it.”
Alan tightened his arms across his chest in a subconscious defensive gesture, as though they could create a barrier between himself and the old man, or the things he was saying.
Anthony nodded. “I know you're afraid of magic, but if you'll just listen to what I have to say, then you...”
“I'm not afraid,” Alan interrupted. “Just... No.”
He shook his head. He turned and his eyes flicked to the curtain leading to the back room, to the stairs. Edgar was up there, trusting him.
Anthony noticed the subconscious flicker and nodded.
“Okay, not afraid, but apprehensive at least. And I know how your brother feels about it too, but I need you to at least prepare the spell. If things go according to plan, you may not have to use it. If you do have to, this one small spell will be vitally important.”
Alan made a conscious effort to relax his muscles slightly. He allowed his arms to drop to his sides, where they hung nervously. He resisted the almost overwhelming urge to fold them again, and walked slowly around to the other side of the counter. He slouched into a chair, and tried not to look as terrified as he felt.
Suddenly, he felt hyper-aware of everything that was happening in his body. The position of his hands as he moved them from by his sides to resting on the desk, to the chair. He could feel the increase in his heart rate and breathing to the extent that he was sure Anthony could see it. He was sweating, and he could feel the greasy moisture on his brow. The temperature in the shop suddenly seemed much too high.
He knew how this conversation was going to end.
He could hear the truth in Anthony's words. He did need to do this, and he knew that he was going to agree. In his head, he could hear his brother begging him to say no, ordering him to turn and run before it was too late. He couldn't. It had been too late the moment he had opened that spell book. Everything from that moment on had led him to this point. He had caused this mess. Yes, Sophie would probably still have murdered those people, and yes she might even have come after him, but by experimenting with magic, by dragging Edgar and Sam into it, he had become responsible for them, and if now he had a chance to fix it all, even if it involved doing magic, he had to do it.
The only question remaining was should he argue for appearance sake, and waste valuable time fighting a battle he had already decided to lose, or should he simply agree and hope that if he ever did tell Edgar about this, his brother would pretend he didn't notice that he was lying when he claimed that he had?
Edgar folded his arms around his body, squeezed his hands into fists and held his breath to ensure minimum contamination as he got close to the alter. He peered at it closely, then backed away to the other side of the room before he took a breath. “What do you think we should do?” he asked.
“Dismantle it,” Sam told him. “Like the guy said.”
Sam shrugged and shook his head. “I don't know. Just...” He reached out hesitantly and picked up one of the glass jars, in a previous life, it had probably contained strawberry jelly, but now it was home to some murky looking water with... things... floating in it. The top of the jar was covered in wax, the leftover parts of a candle that had been left to burn unattended for too long.
Edgar watched, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
Sam smiled nervously. “You don't think it's going to explode, do you?” He took a breath and unscrewed the lid. Water slopped onto his hand. He froze and looked at Edgar with an expression of horror.
“Shit. Okay, bathroom, now.” Edgar told him. “Lets get that hand cleaned, and pour the rest of that crap away.”
Holding his wet hand, still clutching the jar tightly, out ahead of him, Sam walked out of the room as quickly as he could without risking spilling more. Edgar hesitated before he picked up the second jar and carried it with him as he followed Sam.
“Do you remember the first spell you performed?” Anthony asked. “The flower petals?”
Alan nodded. He was still slouching in the chair feigning nonchalance. The fingers of his left hand apparently hadn't gotten that message; they drummed on the side of the chair, ignoring his attempts to make them stop.
“The only one I did,” he corrected.
Anthony nodded. “The only one you were aware of, yes. I need you to think back to it, remember the connection you made between your own mind and the flower whose petals you changed. Do you remember how it felt?”
A sense of unreality had descended the moment Alan had agreed to this. It felt like a fog had collected around his mind, blocking him off from what was happening around him. Anthony's words took a moment longer than normal to penetrate. When they did, he frowned.
“What do you mean the only one I'm aware of?”
Anthony leaned forward as he replied. “Sometimes, people unaware that they have talent will use it without realizing,” he said. “I don't know that you have, but it is very possible. Learning how to control your gifts would prevent that. But think of the one you performed deliberately.”
Alan chewed on his bottom lip as he thought back to that night in Sam's bedroom. After everything that had happened, it seemed like a lifetime ago now, but in fact it was little more than a week since he had thought that playing around with magic might be fun. It was hard to believe now that he had ever been so stupid. He gritted his teeth. “Yes, I remember.”
“Good. The connection you made there was directly to the thing you were affecting. This is slightly different. If we had time, I'd explain about the different kinds of spells, let you try them out and get a feel for them before we moved on to something like this, but as it is we're just going to have to skip to the advanced class and go back to the other things later.”
The fingers of his hand increased the speed of their tapping. “I'm not your student. I'm not going to be coming back for classes. Just tell me what to do and get this over with.”
Anthony nodded. “Of course. What you're doing is preparing a potion. Unlike with the flower petals, the thing you want to affect – Sophie – isn't here at the moment, rather than connecting straight to her, you need to focus all your attention on the potion that you are making.”
“Potion.” Alan echoed. He shook his head in disbelief at what they were doing and hoped fervently that Edgar would take his time with destroying the spells and not appear at the door just in time to see him stirring the big metal pot.
Almost as though he had read his thoughts, Anthony smiled at his reaction. “Now, don't worry, we're not going to use a cauldron and throw in some eye of newt. Those kind of things do have their place in the practice, but this is something much more simple. What you're making is really just a kind of tea.”
Alan forced his fingers to sit still. As soon as he made them follow his commands, he felt his left foot begin to tap on the floor. He scowled and ignored it.
“The only difference from any other tea, is that it is made from bindweed. And that you're going to push a little magic into it as you brew it.”
“I don't understand why you need me to do this,” Alan said. “You're spending all this time telling me about it, so it's not going to make this go any faster.”
Anthony reached to the shelf behind the counter and pulled a handful of some kind of dried plant from a jar. He placed it on the desk in front of Alan. “Because you will be the one performing this spell. Someone else can help with certain kinds of preparation, but when it comes to the actual creation of a potion spell, the one who makes it is the only one who can control its effect.”
“But why do I need to be the one who performs the spell?” he asked. If it really needed to be done, he was willing to do it. No matter how distasteful he found the idea, if it was the only option he would do as he was asked. But if Anthony was using this as an excuse to make him do more magic just because he could, that was unacceptable.
Anthony looked pointedly at his wristwatch, then back to Alan. As he spoke, he picked up a pestle and mortar and began grinding whatever it contained to powder. He sounded tired, and old. Alan wondered how old the man actually was. Old enough that he should be worrying about getting to his bridge game or whatever it was old people did with their time, not having to deal with the idea that his granddaughter was a murderer and having to stop her. Alan couldn't help but feel sorry for him.
“The only reason I'm going along with this is that when I looked at Sophie's alter, I learned that my granddaughter has been using magic to influence the way I think. She has been altering my memories and making me trust her. It's a dangerous and illegal spell, and I don't know why she would take that risk unless there was something worse that she needed to cover up.”
“So you do think it's her?” Alan asked.
Anthony shook his head. “It's...possible. But I find it hard to believe. Before I do anything, I need to be certain. I need to talk to her. Your brother is destroying the physical part of the spells at the moment, that will weaken them, but not destroy them. Depending on how much power Sophie has, she may still be able to control me.”
He paused and handed the pestle and mortar across the table to Alan, reached for his scales and began to measure the next ingredient. As he thought through the implications of what he had been told, Alan continued to grind whatever was in the bowl into a finer powder. “But you're the only one who can stop her. If she can control you...”
“If that happens,” Anthony continued, “I need you to stop her. The bindweed tea will restrict her her magic, breaking her hold on me. It would be better if you could get her to drink it, but splashing it on her skin will do the trick.”
Alan set down the bowl and picked up a piece of the dried plant from the desk. It was a long stalk, that had been green once, but had faded as it dried to something closer to brown. Shriveled leaves were still attached. He held it between his thumb and forefinger, and rotated it slowly. It didn't look look like anything special. “This will stop her magic?” he asked.
“Temporally, yes. Long enough for me to do what I need to do.”
“Then...” he paused, a spark of hope that things may be able to go back to how they were before began to burn in his chest and the butterflies started to flap their wings again. “Could it do the same thing for me?”
Anthony shook his head. “It doesn't work like that.”
Alan squashed down his disappointment and allowed the stalk to fall from between his fingers and drop onto the desk in front of him. “Yeah, I thought that would be too easy.” He sighed. “So if she is the murderer, what is your spell going to do?”
Anthony looked uncomfortable for a moment. He shook his head. “I'll explain that later. It's more important that we work quickly.” He slid a sharp knife across the table toward Alan. “Chop the bindweed into small pieces, as small as you can,” he said. “Then I'll tell you how to mix in a little magic.”
As he picked up the knife and began to slowly cut the dried plant, Alan watched the old man out of the corner of his eye. Whatever he was doing, it was much more complicated than the task he had set for Alan.