Senta turned around to look at a strangely dressed woman standing in the shadow of the building. The woman wore knee-high black leather boots and black leather pants. She had a red and black corset, cut low enough to expose a large star tattooed atop each bosom. Her arms and shoulders were bare, though she wore a spiked collar. Her short blond hair was formed into spikes, pointing in every direction, and made her look frightening—an effect enhanced by her black-lined eyes and deep red lips. The most remarkable thing about the woman though was the ring of sparkly, brightly colored, gem-like objects which floated around her head, making a circle about three feet in diameter, like a large rainbow-hued halo.
“What’s so special about that house?” the woman repeated. Her husky voice reminded Senta of Geert. She wondered if he, now living with that unknown distant relation, still went to the King’s warehouse for apples.
“I just like to watch it,” said Senta. “I like to watch the people there.”
“Mm-hmm. Me too.”
“Are those real diamonds?” asked Senta.
“Are what real diamonds?”
“Are those things floating around your head real diamonds?”
“There’s nothing floating around my head.”
“Uh-huh. I can see them.”
“What do you see?”
“I see those sparkly things. They’re like diamonds. There are red ones and blue ones and green ones and clear ones. And there’s one purple one.”
“My, my, my…little girl. You are an interesting one.”
“My name is Senta Bly.”
“Yes, I know. And you live with your Granny.”
“Oh? I see,” said the woman. “So who do you live with now?”
“I live with the neighbor… Mrs. Gantonin.”
“None of the rest of your family took you in? And you’re still looking at the glamours.”
“What are they?”
“You’ve seen magic spells used before, haven’t you? Hedge wizards showing off in the park?”
“Well, I am a sorceress. I can cast magic spells—spells more powerful than you can possibly imagine. I can also cast spells that will wait until I need them to take effect. That’s what you’re seeing—my spells which are waiting for me to activate them. Except you’re not supposed to see them. No one else does.”
The sorceress stepped forward and knelt down in front of Senta. She stuck out a finger and poked Senta on the nose.
“You’re pretty, too. Are you afraid of me? No… you’re not. You should be, but you’re not.”
“I’m not afraid of too much,” said Senta.
“That’s very good. That’s very good indeed. Because, you see, my little Senta, you are going to come and live with me. And if you are very good and do everything that I tell you, I am going to teach you things. Ponderous things.”
“I don’t know what that means,” said Senta.
“I know you don’t. My name is Zurfina the Magnificent.”
Zurfina stood up and took Senta by the hand and led her down the sidewalk, away from the palace where the woman who had once worn the white pin-striped dress lived. By the time she had taken her fourth step, Senta no longer wondered at the strange turn of events which had overtaken her. By the time she had taken her tenth step, she no longer thought of pulling her hand from the grip of the blond sorceress and running away. By the time she had taken her sixteenth step, it seemed to Senta as if she was exactly where she was supposed to be, walking down the street at the side of her mistress.
“Come along, Pet.”
Zurfina led Senta on a long walk through the city, finally turning south on Prince Tybalt Boulevard and passing Hexagon park. Throughout their trek, none of the many people on the street seemed to notice the strangely dressed woman leading a small child along by the hand. No one turned a head at all. Just past the park, they turned west on Prince Clitus Avenue and came to a small storefront. There was a sign above the door, but Senta couldn’t read it. It seemed to be written in a strange language. Zurfina opened the door and led her inside.
The shop contained counters and shelves filled with goods, though Senta couldn’t make out what they were. Several shopkeepers scurried about to help the half dozen customers making purchases. But something was very strange. The customers, the shopkeepers, the counters, and the shelves were all translucent, as if they were made of the same stuff as rainbows, gathered together and transformed into the semblance of people and things one would find in a city shop.
“What do you see?” asked Zurfina.
“I see ghosts.”
“They aren’t ghosts. They’re illusions. To everyone else, they seem real enough. To the people on the street, this shop is just one more emporium of useless mundania. No one ever questions it, and no one ever comes in.”
Zurfina, still holding Senta by the hand, walked through the shop, and through a doorway in the back, to a staircase leading upwards. At the top of the stairs was a landing and a door, but the sorceress continued up a second flight of stairs to the third floor, where the stairs ended in a blank wall. The sorceress waved her hand and a door appeared. She opened the door and led the girl in to a large and dark room, filled with all manner of strange things. More of the translucent people were moving about. Here they were packing away items in large black steamer trunks and stacking trunks into great piles. Unlike downstairs in the shop however, the steamer trunks and the items being placed within them were not, like the people, partially transparent. The items being packed and moved here were real, opaque, and completely solid.
The first thing that caught Senta’s eye in the room was the dragon. It was almost an exact replica of the dragon that sat in front of Café Carlo—about three feet long, with a wingspan of about four feet, sitting on a stone plinth. Instead of a burnished brass color, though, this dragon looked as though it were cast from steel. The effect was that this dragon looked far less lifelike than the brass one at the café. It looked far less lifelike until it moved. First it blinked its eyes, then it yawned, then it folded its wings and curled its neck up, exposing the underside of its chin. Zurfina rubbed the bottom of its long neck with her fingers, but when she pulled her hand away, it snapped at her with a mouth full of needle sharp teeth.
“Cheeky twonk!” said the sorceress.