“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 pinstriped dress lived. By the time she had taken her fourth step, Senta no longer wondered at the strange turn of events that 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 were 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.