Suggested By: Me
"Serenity's Light, Part 5"
The woman with dark-red hair sat placidly on the bench in Central Park, hardly conspicuous in the neat smoky-blue top she wore, sunglasses covering her eyes as she flipped through a magazine, purse strap nearly dangling from her shoulder.
Inconspicuous, except for one thing: It was currently the dead of winter in New York.
Nerissa concentrated on the warmth radiating from Serenity's Light still hanging around her neck, to keep from shivering. Why couldn't she have swallowed her pride and kept the cloak she had worn in the Middle Ages?
The answer seemed simple enough: the reason she wasn't wearing it is because it was from the Middle Ages, and anyone who saw it would doubtless know and get suspicious and she would be inviting both attention and trouble and she could afford neither at this point. Was it her fault that the portal she took had dumped her into one of these people's gigantic enclosed marketplaces, so she bought the nearest articles of clothing without bothering to determine the season—or purchase a covering of some sort as well? No, of course not; she had been hoping to return to the Forgotten Wood with the Relics, but apparently something in the atmosphere affected the portals; she could only move within the same day, to different locations on Earth, through a portal. Nerissa was cut off from the other dimensions. She would have to find another way.
Sitting alone in the cold and dreary greyness, Nerissa chanced a surreptitious glance toward the oblong case at her side. No one questioned it, she discovered; apparently they assumed its contents to be a musical instrument, as ordinarily it would. No one could guess that the case contained an antique sword, a crown, and a collar. Nerissa sighed and turned her gaze to the grey stone path beneath her feet.
That was the other effect of what Nerissa could only assume was a lack of magic in the air: the Relics were nothing more than baubles to her, literally nothing more than a crown, a sword, and a collar—at least, as far as she could tell. The sword gave her no miraculous strength, and she was already predisposed for longevity, so the crown was of no use... And she knew better than to try on the collar, for fear that she might forget her mission.
Nerissa pursed her lips and glared at a crow hopping around with a piece of brightly-colored trash in its mouth; the mission... She had to find the Lore-Master. He alone could activate the Relics and combine their true power to open a portal to her world and return Serenity to its rightful place.
Someone stopped in front of her. Nerissa surveyed the thick clothing the person wore. It added so much bulk that she couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman till it spoke in a deep voice.
"Are you cold?"
Man, then; Nerissa eyed him closely. He seemed to prefer staring at her when she wasn't staring back, shifting his eyes away when she tried to hold his gaze, yet examining her closely when she focused elsewhere.
She felt the sensation of fingers on her skin and nearly ripped his arm off with the force of her reaction.
He stepped back and tucked his arms close to his sides. "All right, I'm sorry! Your skin feels like ice." His green eyes filled with concern. Judging by the wrinkles around them, he was likely an elderly man. "I live in the apartment just behind you there," he pointed. "You're welcome to come in and warm yourself. I am sure my wife can find you a coat for this weather." His gaze dropped to the case at her side. "It's probably not good for your instrument, either. The cold could warp the wood."
Nerissa almost corrected him, saying that the contents of the case were not made of wood, but she remembered what it was supposed to look like and refrained from saying anything. She accepted the man's invitation with a nod as she stood.
The man grinned. "I'm Paul; what do we call you?"
"Neris—" The word was almost out of her mouth when Nerissa remembered: if there had been someone else trying to acquire the artifacts to release the Darkness in this dimension, then that someone was likely already here. Revealing her name would give an unknown enemy power over her.
"Nerys?" Paul repeated. "That's a wonderfully unique name." He smiled and gestured toward the building across the street. "Come, let's get you inside, Nerys."
Nerissa clutched the violin case in both arms, trying to keep the metal objects from clanking as they moved through doors and up some stairs. They came to a door with the number 309 on it. Paul didn't bother knocking, but opened the door and walked right in. He gestured for Nerissa to follow.
The moment she crossed the threshold, a warmth surrounded Nerissa, so strong and real that it made her shiver to think how she had convinced herself that Serenity's Light was keeping her warm. Here was true warmth. Once the shivering began, her whole body quaked violently. A silver haired woman rushed forward with a heavy blanket that brushed the floor. Nerissa hardly noticed Paul taking the case from her hands as she snatched at the banker and pulled it around herself.
"That's my wife, Betty," said Paul. Now that he was hat-less, Nerissa noticed that his hair was grey like the woman's. "Betty, this is Nerys; I met her in the Park."
Betty surveyed the quivering woman askance. "In that?" She remarked, clicking her tongue. "Oh, you poor dear!"
Nerissa relaxed into her hostess' sympathy—until she heard the latch on the case crack. Leaping up and casting aside the blanket, she lunged for Paul.
He finished the other latch. "I just want to see if your violin is okay—" The words died on his lips as the light from the electric lights reflected on the shiny metallic surfaces.
Paul stumbled backward. Betty covered her face with her hands.
"Wh-wh—" he spluttered.
"Please," Nerissa felt the fatigue of her ordeal weighing on her for the first time. "Do not touch those things!"
Paul looked over to her slowly. "Why? What are they? How did you get them?" He stepped toward her. "Who are you? Where did you come from?"
"Those are dangerous Relics from the land I call home," said Nerissa slowly. "They are powerful things—but that power will only corrupt if it is not used correctly. I am trying to find the man known as the Lore-Master, because only he can wield the Relics." She looked between the elderly couple. "The search for him has brought me here. Do you know where I can find such a man?"
They stared at her for a long time. She had tried to make her story as credible as possible; the realm of Earth wasn't known for having a commonplace knowledge of the existence of magic.
Paul spoke first. "No, we don't know of anyone like that—"
Nerissa nodded and closed the case. "Well then, thank you for your hospitality; I will not trespass on you further—"
"Wait, Nerys!" Paul stopped her, placing a hand on her shoulder. "You can stay with us; out there alone, you'll die. You can trust us." The emerald gaze held hers.
Nerissa didn't know if she wanted to take that chance. "I'm sorry," she said. "You are most kind, but the longer the Relics stay in one place, the more danger you are in, not just because of my enemies who are searching for them, but also from yourselves. No human save the Lore-Master may touch these Relics. They need to be kept safe, and the only way that happens is if I am alone to guard them."
Betty came to stand beside her husband. "What if there was another way?" She suggested.
Nerissa opened her mouth to object when the woman handed her a piece of glossy, folded paper with the words "Museum of Fine Art" printed on the front.
"Our daughter works there," Paul explained, understanding what Betty was trying to say. "It would be the safest place to store your Relics, in plain sight with plenty of security."
"But what is a museum?" Nerissa asked, staring at the pictures in confusion. "With so many people, one of them could accidentally touch—"
"Not if you leave explicit instructions not to," Paul recommended. "A museum is a place where people go to look at pieces of art. If they are valuable or dangerous, the museum can display them in a glass case and nobody will ever touch them. And the donor is allowed to give specific instructions on handling and display of the pieces: handle only with gloves, maximum security measures..."
Nerissa gasped and stared at these people, these perfect strangers willing to aid her quest. She smiled.
The Williamsons were both grinning.
"You can send the Relics to the museum as an anonymous package," Betty suggested. "They will be right there safe from everybody while you search for this person you need to find." She handed Nerissa a thick coat and a woolen hat to keep her warm. "And you will always have a place here if you need it. We will never tell."
Nerissa nodded her thanks and turned away.
"Nerys," Paul called after her, "where are you going?"
Nerissa slipped her arms into the coat and pulled the hat over her freezing ears.
"My name is Nerissa," she called back to them, waving the brochure. "And I have a shipment to place!"
Previously in This Series: