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Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas

Sator's was a more attractive store, when Megan and Watson crossed the threshold, than any of the shops they'd previously visited. It smelled lightly of a dry, musky incense and the chimes on the door made deep, soothing noises. There were a number of glass cases full of jewelry and crystal balls with pewter wizards and witches and dragons scattered among the other wares. A display of swords hung on the walls above packed bookcases lined at the top with stuffed ravens and owls, and a line of overstuffed bookcases split the room down the middle. Across the back wall, taller glass cases displayed colorful Egyptian statues on the top shelves, populated by Asian bronzes and Greco-Roman resin statues below. Both the countertops and statue cases were agreeably cluttered, leading one to believe that if one looked hard enough, one might find a treasure amidst the multitude of Anubises, Ganeshas, and happy Buddhas. An unobstructed doorway offered tempting glimpses of the room beyond.

Watson rambled to the far side of the bookcases, studying the titles and swords, while Megan cruised the jewelry counter curiously. Crystal necklaces dominated, starting from relatively inexpensive faux crystal points and proceeding, as one got deeper into the store, toward precious stones and more ornate settings of silver and gold. There were a few sets of rings, none of which, Megan noticed with amusement, came close to being of a size to fit her hand. There were wands made with wooden sticks or copper tubes, sometimes tipped with a quartz crystal, sometimes encrusted with stones. She and Watson rendezvoused at the doorway, and they drifted through into the next room.

This room was darker and closer and more muddled, and Megan felt like she needed to stoop most of the time to avoid some of the random bunches of decorative objects that hung from the ceiling. Bookcases were obscured by stand-up displays, or tucked into a corner behind an umbrella-holder full of hand-carved staves. A glass case contained Tarot card decks, with more recent decks, like the Wonder City superhero deck, overlaying older cards, backed by a giant-sized Rider-Waite deck with a thin layer of dust on its top edge. A display of incenses and herbs took up an entire corner, flanked by spinning displays full of booklets that looked like they'd been produced on early copy machines, given their fonts and art. Megan had to move carefully in this room, as the aisles were apparently designed to only allow humans about a foot wide to pass unscathed. Even Watson was having trouble getting into some of the corners.

More interesting was the next room, achieved through a narrow, low-linteled doorway. It was Spartan compared to the previous room, with a high ceiling and indirect lighting. Chinoiserie cabinets stood open, displaying books in heavy leather bindings, or statues and wands and daggers that appeared to be actual Art, rather than mass-manufactured objects. Several swords, discreetly labeled with the smith's name, were displayed on one wall. The back wall of the room was innocent of displays, and a heavy purple velvet curtain hung over a doorway.

Megan drifted near enough to overhear a man saying, "It appears that, at this time, you may indulge either of your desires for the best result." She twitched away reflexively, not wanting to overhear anything else of a personal nature. This reflex also kept her, a few moments later, from looking up when a person emerged from behind the velvet and stalked straight out. She caught just a glimpse, seeing only a male shape in a gray hoodie.

A few moments later, a comical little man in a suit of antique style pulled back the curtain and stepped out. His hair was white and enthusiastically expansive in all directions, though the top of his head was bald. He wore muttonchops along his jawline, and peered at them through a pair of wire-rim glasses. "Good day, ladies," he said cheerfully, and Megan recognized his voice, if not the tone, as the one she had overheard.

"Good day, Mister... Sator?" Watson said.

"No mister, just Sator, please," he said. "Are you Ms. Holmes, then?"

"Yes," Watson said. "This is my associate, Ms. Amazon."

Megan braced herself, but he merely bowed and said, "Pleased to meet you both. We can begin the consultation immediately, if you wish."

"Yes, thank you," Watson said. He gestured them back and held the curtain for them.

His consultation room was wallpapered in dark gold and cream stripes. One wall was dominated by an intricately carved walnut mantel and a working fireplace that put out a great deal of heat and but little light. They seated themselves in comfortable chairs -- one even large enough for Megan -- as their host did the same across the laquered card table.

Megan, upon examining his face, decided that he looked like Isaac Asimov. She wasn't sure whether this was reassuring or off-putting.

"How can I help you?" he said, picking up a narrow deck of cards and shuffling it idly.

"We understand that you offer assistance with cases of possession," Watson said.

"Indeed," Sator said, smiling a little. "It is a distressing situation for both the possessor and the possessee, though perhaps the former does not always realize the peril of the situation."

"Yes," Watson said. "I'm glad we agree on the subject. Do you realize how few of your colleagues in town share your perspective?"

Sator shrugged and laid out a trio of cards quickly. He glanced down at them and picked them up almost as quickly as he'd laid them down. It happened fast enough that Megan couldn't figure out what cards he'd been looking at, but thought they weren't standard Tarot designs. "They're simply afraid, of course. The laws regarding supernatural interventions are notoriously vague in wording, and there have certainly been some spectacular cases of malpractice in recent years."

"You make it sound like surgery," Megan said.

"It is surgery, of a sort," Sator said. "After all, if an alien object -- say, a bullet -- enters a human body, isn't the best way to remove it to cut open the flesh and extract it if doing so does not further endanger the patient?"

"In this case," Watson said, "the possessor claims that her removal will endanger the possessee."

"They often claim that," Sator said, plucking a single card from the deck and studying it. "It is rarely true, and is unlikely in this case." He shuffled the card back into the deck. "The most important thing to remember, when dealing with an invader, is that there is generally some advantage for them being where they are. If there is an advantage, then it is also to their advantage to lie. They want their host to believe that they are somehow necessary for the host to continue to live. Most such situations are almost never really symbiotic; almost all, in my experience, are purely parasitic."

Watson glanced at Megan with a look of relief. Here was a man, Megan thought, who could and would likely help them.

"Now," he said. "Is the host paranormal or supernatural in any way?"

"She has minor para powers," Watson said.

"Minor invulnerability and an edge on strength," Megan said.

He nodded and dealt out another trio of cards. Megan could see runes or glyphs or something on the cards, nothing readable by someone passingly familiar with many of the available forms of divination. "Yes, I see," he said, pursing his lips over the cards. "And the... ghost, I see, not a demon or other invading force. She is also paranormal?"

Watson raised her eyebrows. "Yes," she said. "All that from the cards?"

"The cards are merely a focus for me," he said, shuffling them back in and riffling the deck expertly to shuffle. "They help me determine some details remotely that would be obvious if I were to meet her in person. I perceive that their powers are working in a gestalt of sorts, enhancing each other. This may make it difficult if she chooses to struggle."

Watson and Megan both nodded.

He stopped shuffling and set the deck aside. "Well, then, we must take her by surprise, if possible. I can't really help you there; you know your friend best, and will know how to catch her off-guard. I cannot create a trap to lay in wait for her or anything like that. The removal must be by my hand, as there are often complications that must be dealt with on the spot. However, I value my shop."

"Yes, we understand," Watson said.

"Honestly, we've been so focused on finding someone willing to help us," Megan said, "that we're going to have to think about how to manage the rescue now that we've found someone."

"That's often an issue for my clients," Sator said, smiling broadly.

"Then there is the issue of your fee," Watson said.

"I despise discussing finances before I have performed what I view as my duties," Sator said. "I assure you that I will not charge more than you can afford."

There was something about this assurance that made the hairs on the back of Megan's neck stand up, but what choice did they really have, after all?

---

From the Author:

Finally, I get them to Sator's! And finally they get someone who's agreeing to help. (With many thanks again to my wife, who suggested the outing to Salem last fall to gather material for this description and the other shops I've described. None of the shops of Wonder City are replicas of any one shop anywhere; I've jumbled many elements together for effect.)

Remember to stop by and vote in the poll for the next prompt I can offer to Meeks. And don't forget to leave feedback on the Molly and Hel sketch.

Vote for us at Top Web Fiction.







Date: 2012-01-28 07:20 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Yay palindromes! :) I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

Date: 2013-01-12 03:27 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
What are you talking about? Aren't palindromes those literary devices wherein a phrase can be written backwards and still say the same thing?

-----
Well, signing an open-ended contract like that couldn't possibly backfire. Especially from someone who was overheard promising that "both desires" can be fulfilled.

Date: 2013-01-12 07:57 pm (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Yeah, the title of the chapter is a palindrome.

Not more than you can afford

Date: 2013-02-26 08:31 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Yeah.

And maybe as payment he will get what he deserves.

JN

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