The Back Room

November 21, 2016:

Takes place chronologically after 'Another Missing Persons Case.' Zatanna returns to a family friend's shop to talk about her missing father. Originally a cutscene that is posted here to give some context to the details described in 'Another Missing Persons Case.'

White Light Pentacles - Greenwich Village - New York City

In an old, brick building located between a hole-in-the-wall calzone place and a vegan coffeeshop in Greenwich Village, NYC.

Characters

NPCs: Virginia Townsend, High Priestess of the NYC chapter of the Covenant of the Goddess

Mentions: Giovanni Zatara

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

To the uninitiated, White Light Pentacles was just another gift shop.

It took up a small corner in New York City's Greenwich Village between a Mom-and-Pop calzone place that had been there forever, and a vegan coffeehouse, just one of many in a community that thrived by catering to the Bohemian/hipster lifestyle so popular in the current times. The front of the store was crammed with the generic essentials one would expect from a peddler of all things New Age; shelves of candles in all shapes and colors dominated the room, incense and various holders were perpetually in stock and crystals that promised to cure any physical, emotional or mental malady were located in the locked glass case underneath the register. Wall hangings of famous chakra maps found places next to depictions of Buddhist deities, Ojibwe dreamcatchers and Egyptian hieroglyphics amidst the fragrant haze of vanilla smoke that escaped a black burner on top of the counter. The establishment was run by a Virginia "Ginny" Townsend, a fiesty, no-nonsense woman in her sixties, who constantly yelled warnings at her customers not to touch anything they didn't intend on buying and chased out more delinquents than any of the surrounding school districts within the last thirty years.

There was a back room, of course, but by and large, she kept the public out of that, too.

Mostly.

Because the back room was where the real practitioners tended to congregate, to purchase what they need before slipping out again in the shadows of New York's sizeable occult community, for even the most intelligent tend to ignore the facade of the stereotypical and nonsensical when hunting for something real. And in the back room, she wasn't old, fiesty, hippie Ginny, but rather Virginia Townsend, High Priestess of the city's chapter of the Covenant of the Goddess, matron, mentor and spiritual guide for more precocious souls than she ever anticipated in her life.

She could always tell when someone was the real deal after a body walked through the front entrance of her humble storefront; actual practitioners tended to look around and cringe at the sight of the mess of contradicting mystical ideologies that dominated it. A small price to pay, she thought, for visiting her back room. If they could stomach the front, they're more than welcome in the shop's darker underbelly.

It was six in the evening when she flipped the CLOSED sign on her door, picking up a tray with two small cups of tea as she wandered through the screen that separated the two halves of the store. She felt it immediately once within, the crackle of power generated by the circle she had designed herself, camouflaged seamlessly on the floor's stunning mosaic. The building was old, but situated in a focal point where several leylines converged over Greenwich Village, one of the main reasons why she decided to purchase it and resisted any and all attempts of big real estate development firms to wrest it from her.

Ginny set the cup in front of her visitor, a young woman with black hair and a pair of familiar, ice-blue eyes. Her snowy brows lifted at the sight of the book she was referencing while the girl scribbled diligently on a notebook, her hand reaching to lift it just enough to take a look at the title.

"Biblical Aramaic?" the High Priestess wondered, turning her attention to the other textbooks on the table. "Devavanipravesika: An Introduction to the Sanskrit Language….the Roman Empire's Latin and Its Modern Counterparts? Are dead languages making a comeback or something?"

Her visitor groaned, rubbing her eyes. Just a few hours before, Ginny had picked her up from JFK International on an inbound flight from Madrid, the jet lag must be getting to her by now.

"It's the double in my double major," the girl explained, tossing her pen on her notebook and rubbing her temples. "I can literally recite Shakespeare backwards and forwards, but Sanskrit, not so much. You gotta admit though, this stuff is helpful in our line of…" Work? Was that the word? "…life?"

"You're too young to talk about life with the likes of me," Ginny replied tartly, pushing the cup in front of her guest. "Drink it, Zatanna, it'll make you feel better. What's the time difference between here and Spain anyway? You should be sleeping."

"Oh, God, I really want to," Zatanna groaned, taking the cup and pulling a sip from it. "But I can't. I'm already a late admission to the university, I have a lot of material to catch up on…and mid-terms. Mid-terms, Ginny. Already." She sunk further in her seat, planting her cheek despondently on her pile of textbooks. "I'm soooo tiiiiirreeeeeeeeedddddd…."

Ginny sighed, dropping on the seat near the young woman, nursing her own cup. "You could have saved yourself the trouble of an hours-long flight and the expense of a ticket if you just…you know." She waved her fingers vaguely in the air. "I assume you could, anyway. Your father could, after all."

"I could," Zatanna confirmed, her words muffled on a page full of Aramaic. "But I've never actually been here before, so I had no mental anchor to go by. I only heard about this place from Daddy." Pausing, she tilted her raven-haired head against the book, cracking a single, bright blue eye towards her host. "You really haven't heard from him?"

The look on the girl's face softened the High Priestess' stern expression. She shook her head, pushing away her cup. "Not since a few years ago when he called me for a consult. Zatanna, are you certain something happened? You know how John gets, after all, with his road trips."

"Pretty sure. He's always been good at keeping in touch, even when he was working on clandestine stuff with the All Stars." Zatanna straightened herself up on her chair, scrubbing her face with one hand. "But there was nothing this time. And the way he said goodbye was just…I have to find him, Ginny. I can't shake this feeling that something went wrong."

Ginny watched the girl quietly; she held her anxiety well but there were certain tells, the way her teeth worried over the dark-red surface of her lipstick and how her shoulders hunched, the slight frown she was directing at nothing in particular. The older woman drummed her fingers absently on the antiquated table, before reaching out with the same hand to touch Zatanna's shoulder. "I'm sorry I can't provide anything helpful," she said. "But I'll ask around for you, see if anyone in my list has seen or heard anything."

The change was immediate; the girl's expressive face lit up, both of her hands reaching up to clasp her single own. "You're a lifesaver, Ginny, thank you so much!"

"Nope. No hugs." The High Priestess lifted a hand to preemptively stay any thoughts on the matter. "None of that. You can repay me by finishing your tea, grabbing your bags, popping home and getting some sleep, though why you insist on keeping that big old house in a cesspool like Gotham, I'll never know."

She paused, the older woman eyeing her young visitor from where she sat. "Oh, wipe that grin off your face, I haven't even done anything for you yet."

"But you're the best," Zatanna wheedled, her grin growing instead of fading. "The light of my life, the savior of my s—"

"Stop. If you're trying to make me blush, it's not going to work. Those blood vessels died long before you came into this world."

Zatanna pouted faintly from her seat, though judging by the look in those blue eyes, she knew the cheeky child was still holding her true amusement at bay. Ginny gave the table another glance, reaching out to pick up a black, leather-bound book from the pile that her visitor had amassed in the center. "I'm glad to see there was something in my humble collection that you haven't seen," she remarked, fully aware of Giovanni Zatara's own library back in his ancestral home; the fact that the specific volume was on the table suggested that the girl was curious enough to pull it off the shelf and such curiosity was often spurred by unfamiliarity. "The Invocation of the Spirit, practically a bible for circle-building enthusiasts like myself."

"You're really more than just an 'enthusiast'," Zatanna pointed out. "Who wrote it? I didn't see any mention of an author."

"Nobody knows." Ginny flipped through the pages and tilted the book towards the girl's direction. "You're familiar with calling the corners to generate enough elemental energy to fuel your rituals, correct?"

"Of course, it's Wicca 101," the teenager replied. "Face the corresponding cardinal direction, visualize the watchtowers, invoke their specific elements. Beginners usually think they need to go by direction in order, but the trick is knowing which element to invoke first for it to work."

"Right. This text provides other methods, also. Other options." The Priestess tapped her finger lightly on the cover. "The Towers have a few celestial guardians associated with them, who you could call should you need more potency. It's more advanced, and they're not the easiest entities to deal with, but the more you learn, the better off you'll be, especially if you insist on poking into your father's business. John made as many enemies as he did friends."

"Believe me, I know," Zatanna remarked wryly. "Hopefully things haven't become so bad that I'd have to call on 'celestial beings' for help. What did you mean by that, anyway? Like…angels?"

"Certainly. Raphael, Michael…you know. The Big Four."

Zatanna laughed. "That'd be hilarious," she replied. "Standing in a weird circle, wand in hand, invoking names that sound like they came out of a Ninja Turtles movie."

"A what?"

"Er…nevermind." The girl lowered her head, muttering, "I forgot you never do anything fun."

Zatanna took the book from Ginny's hand, flipping through it towards the last chapters. Dark brows furrowed over her eyes, squinting at the text and the charts etched within. "Demon princes, too?" she wondered, reading the text out loud. "Azazel, Amaymon, Abaddon, Belial…"

"Each Tower has a demonic administrator," Ginny replied. "The term makes them sound like bureaucrats, though they can be. They're also the four gatekeepers of the Astral realm, so think very carefully before calling them. Not that it's easy, drawing their powers into yourself even as a loan is something even masters in the art can't do without some seriously awe-inspiring problems."

Zatanna's brows furrowed at that. "But wouldn't knowing their names make it easy?" she wondered. "I thought you could hold dominion over a demon by knowing its name?"

"Their /true/ names," the High Priestess corrected. "You're part of the entertainment industry, you're familiar with the concept of a stage name. What, you thought your father went around calling himself 'John' because Giovanni was too hard to pronounce? Native Americans across tribes have such elaborate naming rituals that one is given only after paying due sacrifice to their elders; in Ancient Egypt, carving off the hieroglyphs of a dead person's name meant dooming his soul to wander the Earth unable to reach the afterlife."

She reached for the book, closing it decisively. "The monikers you find in the book now have been around forever, but if they really did hold the secrets to their powers, the world would be a very different place than it is now. Names - true names - always hold some power, girl. It might be less apparent these days when you could just Boogle your entire life on a computer, but it has been that way since time immemorial."

"…you mean…Google?"

"Yes, yes, that." Ginny waved her hand impatiently. "You know what I mean."

Zatanna scratched the back of her neck lightly, a small smile curling up on her lips. "Well, don't worry, it's not like I'll be able to find out any 'true names' of demonic princes any time soon, plus the ritual itself sounds more trouble than it's worth. I just want my dad back, Ginny. I'm not really in this for…you know. Phenomenal cosmic powers."

"You might need the help of 'phenomenal cosmic powers' soon enough," the High Priestess huffed, pushing the book into Zatanna's hands. "Take it. Consider it a gift, and to make up for my lack of information."

"But…" The girl turned the volume over in her hands, hesitation writ over her alabaster features. "I don't know, Ginny…"

"The look on your face now isn't really convincing me to change my mind." The white-haired woman gave Zatanna a sidelong glance. "I suppose I ought to have some faith in John, if he took the trouble to teach you the most important lesson of all in our world."

"What? A potently beguiling stage presence?" Zatanna grinned, knowing full well that she was tooting her own horn, and was being incredibly unrepentant about it. "A dazzling smile? Flawless choreogra—"

"/Restraint/." Ginny gave her a look. "Really, if you simply said 'okay!' and ran off with it like a thief in the night, I would've been more hesitant. Even if you don't have a use for it now, you might later on down the road, so keep it safe for me."

"I will." Zatanna stuffed the book along with her other ones in her backpack, reaching out to take the older woman's hand and giving it a squeeze. "Thank you, Ginny. For everything….even picking me up from the airport."

"You mean /especially/," the woman muttered. "Asking me to come get you in the middle of New York rush hour, the balls on you, child."

She looked down at the smooth, long-fingered hand on top of hers, feeling it; the thrum of power, that certain sense of something, more felt and tasted at the back of her throat than seen and heard. It made goosebumps mottle on her aged skin, forced the hairs at the back of her neck to stand on end. Her own wrinkled digits covered Zatanna's for a moment.

"It scares me every time I touch you," the High Priestess said quietly, in a rare bout of solemness. "Your potential is so raw, it's almost savage…like too much of a good thing, something more inhuman than not. You need to be careful, from now on."

She felt it, the slight tremor, as if culled by an electric rush - fear, excitement, or both, perhaps. Zatanna drew her fingers away, hitching her backpack on her shoulder and pulling her luggage towards her. A smile, perplexed and uneasy, curled on the dark red lacquer on her lips; always the sort of girl who put on cheerful airs despite feeling otherwise.

"What are you talking about, Ginny?" the teenaged magician asked lightly. "What else would I be other than human?"

She turned around at that, rolling her suitcase with her, digits of her spare hand pointed forward. "I'll keep in touch, okay? And don't be a stranger! You'll keep me posted, right?"

Ginny lifted her hand in a slight wave, watching the teenager as she traced the air with her left hand, carving an invisible rectangular outline as she said the words.

"Tsercwodahs ot Annataz ekat!"

After stepping through seemingly empty air, Giovanni's little girl was gone. The High Priestess let out a loud, exasperated exhale, rolling her head back as she stared at the ceiling, her hands on her hips.

"If I ever see you again in this life, John, I'm going to throttle you," she groused under her breath, setting the spent tea cups back on her tray. "Disappearing at a time and age when she's bound to ask questions…you better hope I don't find you, first."

Reaching out, she flicked off the back room's light switch, plunging the space into darkness.

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