The small, second-hand bookstore was not unlike many others of its kind. It was just a little dark and smelled like paper, the fresh and old scents mingling together in a not unpleasant way. There was a bored young man at the counter reading the newspaper, head undoubtedly filled with thoughts of better, more exciting places than this drab, dreary shop in a drab dreary town in the middle of nowhere.
The grandfather clock in the corner chimed once, signaling the coming of the first hour in the afternoon.
Any person other than a bookworm would call the bookshelves too tall, too looming and ominous. The books on its shelves, while organized by genre a author, were an eclectic mix of new and old, the shining sleeves standing out among the darkened and age-dulled spines of their elders.
The shop itself was crowded, more than it should ever have rights to be. There were books shoved sideways on top of others in an effort to avoid adding to the piles of books on the floor. Some books had turned into a barely-stitched-together pile of paper and old fabric. Dust, where it could, liberally coated surfaces here and there where hands were too lazy to reach to.
The bell at the door rung, and the man's head raised lazily to look at the newcomer with curiosity. He didn't get many customers around here, and the ones that came regularly often came earlier in the day than this. After catching sight of the person's face, though, he looked down again. However, curiosity had him looking up every few minutes in a discreet manner.
The red-haired girl glanced at the clock by the window and scowled a little before turning to the man at the desk.
"Has a woman with long brown hair and blue eyes come in before me?"
Looking her fully in the face for the first time, he couldn't stop his eyes from tracing the prominent scar that ran from the left side of her forehead to a couple inches below her right eye. By the slightly annoyed look that appeared in her eyes, she had realized that too.
"Uh, no. Nobody's come in for about an hour or two." And that, he added in his mind, was the old, hunched-over man who lived across the street from him. That man had come in to complain about the young man's choice of color for his fence.
The girl nodded sharply. "Do you mind if I stay here until she does?"
"Be my guest." Uncomfortable again, he stared a little to the left of her face and shrugged his shoulders. Movement in one of the pouches at her side caught his eye, but once he focused on it there was only stillness. He dismissed it as a trick of the light.
Inclining her head, she turned and busied herself with examining the books on the shelves. She went through them methodically, favoring the older, more worn books than the newer, glossier ones. He was torn between paying attention to her (she was new and those scars on her face spoke of some sort of history) and to his newspaper (it was from one of the bigger cities, there was bound to be something interesting in there) for a total of about ten minutes. After that, he simply went back to his newspaper, too intimidated by the silence and by the way she carried herself to talk to her.
Iria finished examining the book in her hands and replaced it on the rickety shelf carefully before looking back at the clock she could barely see around the shelf concealing her from the view of the store clerk. It read 'One twenty-five'. Arlyn wasn't often this late; did something happen, or was it a simple train delay?
Then again, she mused as she moved on past a couple of newer books, the train that Arlyn said she would catch to this town was a Bumblebeenotorious for is slow speed and the habit it had of stopping in every single town it came across. It wouldn't be unheard of for it to be about twenty minutes late.
Still, she couldn't help but worry. Arlyn, though older, was far more gullible and kind-hearted than she was. Furrowing her eyebrows, she reminded herself that Arlyn, if assaulted, could take care of the assailants with ease.
The stoat in her pouch wriggled in annoyance, worming its head partially out of the flap. The jeweled eyes glinted in the dim light.
"Sssh! Stay put!" she whispered furiously, placing her hand over its head. Before she had the sense to keep it in the pouch, she had been pursued several times by greedy persons wishing to tear its eyes out. While that was exactly what the giver of the stoat suggested she do, she still felt a little squeamish about tearing out its eyes for her own gain. With a barely felt snort, it settled back down into the pouch, resigning itself to yet another long nap.
Lifting her hand and turning a page of the novel, she sighed and gave up on the book. She closed it softly before sliding it into its previous place, shifting her weight from one leg to the other. The red-head was about to move on to the shelf below when embossed letters caught her eye.
The World as we Know it.
Though it was improbable, impossible even, that anything about The World would be in this little shop, she still reached up to it and tugged it out of its place. It was nearly falling apart, pages hanging on by threads and little remnants of glue. She frowned at it, wondering why this hadn't been repaired yet, but opened it to a page in the middle nonetheless.
After reading a couple of paragraphs, she nodded her head decisively, pleased yet a little disappointed that this was not about The World she had once been in. As she flipped the page, a sheet of paper fell out of the back of the book. She closed the hardback as gently as possible and bent down to pick up the paper, curious at how it seemed a little more worn than even the other pages of the novel.
The moment she touched the page, the stoat in her pocket got agitated and started thrashing. Iria stood up all the way to make it hush, and when she glanced at the bookshelf, she noticed things going a bit blurry. She opened her mouth to wonder at it out loud before there was a splitting pain in her head and she was simply no longer in the store.
A woman in a tan trench coat entered the bookstore, looking a little hurried. She gave the shop a cursory, curious glance before asking the young man behind the counter, "Is there a girl with red hair here?"
He nodded, eyes flickering from her eyes to the bookshelf to his left. "Yeah, she was just around that bookshelf over there."
There was a soft 'thunk' and the whisper of scattering pages. Arlyn frowned and, after thanking him distractedly, went to the bookshelf and peeked around it.
All there was on the ground was a book, some of the pages torn from the spine and scattered all over the floor.
The grandfather clock in the corner signaled half past one.
Elsewhere, the chime resounded in a red-haired girl's head before fading away into silence, and the page of a book fluttered in the gentle breeze, pinned to the ground under her hand.