If the bar had an air conditioner, it must have been broken. The air inside was hot and stagnant. Since it was also the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday, the place was practically deserted. Only the bartender and another patron, a man sitting at a table by himself, shared the room with Sarah.
She was sitting at the bar, nursing a glass of chardonnay. It wasn’t her preferred drink, but she thought it fit better with her disguise. She checked herself in the mirror behind the bar. She made herself look like a rich, middle-aged woman who had a plastic surgeon on call. The spell itself was simple enough, but it was the little details that really sold the look. The slightly smudged mascara, the bead of sweat on her forehead. She took pride in her work. The disguise was probably unnecessary, since she was unlikely to be known by anyone in the area. Still, it never hurt to be cautious, and it gave her an excuse to practice her craft. The last few days hadn’t left her time for her own studies, and it felt good to be using her skills again.
“Is it usually this hot around here?” Her attempt at starting a conversation with the older man behind the bar was met with a brief, empty smile before he turned back to whatever he had been doing before.
This trip had so far been a waste of time. It had taken some work to figure out where Rebecca’s cult was. Sarah’s other talent, gathering information, came in handy in that regard. Asking Rebecca directly might have upset her, or worse, so Sarah used less mundane methods. When she had left, Rebecca was trying to return David to his body, Julia was still holed up in Jason’s room, and she didn’t feel like talking to Thomas. After resolving to get away from the house for awhile, she decided to find out what she could about Rebecca’s “family.” The appearance of this Peter at the worst time made her suspicious of some link between this group and what had happened. At the moment, she had nothing more than that suspicion.
The group owned land a few miles outside of this town, so Sarah hoped to find out a little more about them but had had no luck. The bar was her last hope for information. The bartender’s reticence signaled the end of that hope.
The bell just above the door chimed as another customer came inside. She was a young woman, probably mid to late twenties, with short, sandy blonde hair. She was on the shorter side and probably got mistaken for a teenager, or younger, a lot. What really caught Sarah’s attention was how she carried herself. If her face said twenties, and her body suggested teens, her bearing was that of someone older. Confidence exuded from her. Sarah couldn’t help but wonder if this person might also be a mage in disguise. There was no obvious magic at work, but there wouldn’t be if the mage was any good.
The woman sat down at the bar, one seat between her and Sarah, and motioned to the bartender. He brought over a small glass already filled with a clear liquid and set it down in front of her.
“I haven’t seen you before,” the woman said looking at Sarah.
“My first time here. I’m just passing through.”
“You must be taking a strange route. The place isn’t on the way to anywhere.”
“I like to take back roads. See more interesting parts of the country that way.” She couldn’t get her bearings with this woman. Something was certainly off, but Sarah couldn’t identify what it was.
The woman nodded and took another sip from her drink. “Makes sense.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes. Sarah tried to think of a way to get into a conversation that might reveal some information, but her thoughts wouldn’t stay put long enough to organize them. Some sort of illusion spell made sense, but she had never been affected like this before.
Finally, the other woman spoke again. “Where are you headed?”
Sarah used the words to steady herself. “Nowhere in particular. Just going wherever the moment takes me.” A specific lie might be more believable, but it also carried the risk of being uncovered. Sometimes, simply being vague was easier.
“Do you have a home?”
It was an odd question. “Sometimes I wonder.” There was a little more truth in that than she liked. She also did not fail to notice the bartender’s reaction to the conversation; he seemed almost alarmed.
“You look a little lost.”
“Maybe I am.” Why was she saying all of this? She was giving away too much information.
“There are good people in this world. Friendly people. People who care. You just have to look for them.”
“Do you know me?” Sarah’s voice was more brusque than she intended.
The woman shook her head. “No. Just people like you. Lots of people lost these days. I’m sorry if I upset you.”
Sarah immediately felt guilty. “No, I’m sorry for snapping at you. Guess things are bothering me more than I want to admit.”
“That’s alright. If you ever want to talk about it, about anything, I have a place just outside of town. If anyone asks, just mention my name. Marie.” She held out her hand.
Marie? Rebecca’s old friend? Could she be the same person? She was nothing like Rebecca described her. She must have changed quite a bit in the intervening years. Sarah took her hand. “Sarah. Nice to meet you.” Why did she tell this woman her real name?
If Marie noticed Sarah’s confusion, she hid it well. “It is nice to meet you, Sarah. Enjoy your stay.” Marie finished her glass and left the bar. Soon after, the other patron left as well.
“Be careful, miss.”
Sarah was taken aback by the bartender’s sudden willingness to talk.
“That woman. Marie. That group of hers is weird. Bunch of hippies or something. They are nice enough; don’t bother anyone. But there is something odd about her. I wouldn’t go visit if I were you.”
“Thanks for the advice.” The bartender shrugged and walked away.
What should she do? Continue on her own or go back and inform the others? She wanted to go alone, but the urgent desire made her suspicious. She had already revealed more to Marie than she meant to, and she would normally not be so reckless. Wanting to take a risk in going alone suggested some sort of outside influence. Better to go back to the house and regroup before going any further.