Guild of Tokens, Chapter 15
Chapter 14 recap: Jen experiments with freeing herself from Beatrice’s compulsion, with limited results, as she prepares to meet her for the first time face-to-face.
“You’re late,” said Beatrice, ignoring the look of shock on my face. “I take it you have the book?”
I nodded, unzipped my backpack, and set the tome onto the table.
“Umm, yeah. You told me to bring it,” I said.
“Oh. Right. Sorry, force of habit,” she said, before turning to the little boy next to us. “Jack-Jack, Mommy and her friend have some things to discuss, so you can use your iPad now as a special treat.”
Beatrice dug an iPad in a blue rubber case out of a tote bag and handed it to her son, who immediately began tapping away.
“I wouldn’t normally bring him, but my sitter canceled last minute.”
“Oh. No problem, I guess. Just, umm, didn’t realize you had a kid.”
“Yeah, well, we’re both not what the other thought, it seems.”
She ruffled Jack-Jack’s hair, but he ignored her motherly affections, his eyes glued to the screen. I was still taken aback that this woman who had attacked me, who had invaded my mind and forced me to wear this ring, was actually a mother.
An awkward silence fell over us and I took a moment to study this woman, who had caused me so much anguish but whom I had never actually met.
She had dirty blonde hair done up in a ponytail and was wearing a plaid pleated skirt with a cardigan that clung to her figure. Her green eyes were paler than they had appeared during our first encounter. If it hadn’t been for the slight laugh lines around her mouth and the tiny crow’s feet around her eyes (not to mention her son), I would have pegged her as a Catholic school girl on her way to a pep rally.
“So, should we get down to it?” she said. “You read the diary, I assume?”
I shook my head.
“No. After I read your note and you made me put on the ring, I locked the book away.”
I wanted to unload on her, tell how I was going to spend every free waking moment I had trying to get this ring off, but for some reason, I held my tongue.
“Oh. Fine. You already know the truth. That much I saw in your head. And you already know the diary’s true value.”
“Yes. The ink. My note. You really didn’t read any of it, did you?”
“No. Just the last entry about test subjects at Valley Forge. And the Compendium.”
Beatrice took a sip of coffee out of the oversized mug and I saw it on her left index finger: the twin to the cuff on my right index finger with the same inscribed initials. I felt my right hand slowly drift toward her hand and I pulled it back, as a spark of anger ignited the rage inside me. She had brushed off what she had done as if it was normal, as if she had merely lent me some fancy jewelry for a night out.
“Ah. Well, you missed the par-”
“Why did you do it?” I shouted. The other patrons of the cafe turned towards us, but Beatrice maintained her composure and just smiled, which made me even angrier.
“Calm down,” she whispered. It was so soft I almost thought for a second that her voice was back in my head. “You’ll scare Jack-Jack.”
“I don’t give a fuck about your-”
“Don’t,” Beatrice said, holding up her left hand, and I again felt my right hand inch towards her. “I knew this was a bad idea, bringing him here. I thought maybe it would temper your anger toward me, seeing me here as a regular mom.”
“The only thing that would do that is if you let me take this stupid thing off my finger.”
“I can’t. Well, I can. But it would be a waste.”
“A waste of what?”
“The ink. Do you know how valuable it is? Did you stop to think what else it’s capable of?”
I shook my head.
“Besides,” she said, “it’s a good way of keeping you in line. I’m sure you’ve felt it by now. Our rings are linked. Like there’s an invisible string between them. I can tell when your ring is off. Every morning you try to remove it, only for the ink command to kick in again and you put it back on. You’ll drive yourself insane if you keep trying that. Just do what I say and we’ll get along swimmingly.”
“And what if I don’t? You’ll kill me?”
“Please, Jen. Do I look like a killer? I’m just a simple stay-at-home mom trying to find enough hours in the day to get everything done.”
I didn’t buy the frazzled mom act for a second but antagonizing her more was not going to get me anywhere, so I took a deep breath and tried to just stay in the moment.
“So now what?” I asked. “You said in your note that you needed me. For what? To run experiments on, like back at the party with the apple pie?”
“No. You’re too valuable to just be a lab rat. Although I’m sure there will come a time or two where you’ll need to provide that service. Honestly, it’s my own fault for not reaching out sooner. Polly told me about you months ago, but I had my hands full with … other things. We could have avoided all that unpleasantness at the party if I had.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Polly’s been one of my scouts for a few years. She keeps her ears and eyes open for any promising newbs and sends them my way. Did you think it was purely a coincidence that she had the call number for the diary?”
“I…” I stopped, my breath faltering. Had I just spent the last several months of my life as a puppet on the end of her strings?
“I don’t know what to think. About anything anymore.”
The tears started to pool in my eyes and before I could bring my hand up to wipe them, they spilled forth down my cheeks.
“Oh, keep it together girl.”
Beatrice dug a pack of tissues out of her mom-bag and handed it to me. I turned away to wipe away the tears while Beatrice rolled her eyes.
“If you’re done with your little crying fit, we have a business arrangement to solidify.”
Beatrice pulled two stapled sheets of paper out of her bag and handed them to me. On the top of the first page, it said in printed letters:
“This Novice Agreement (the ‘Agreement’) is made effective as of November 21, 2018 by and between Beatrice Taylor (the ‘Alchemist’) and Jen Jacobs (the ‘Novice’).
1. Description of Services
Novice will provide the following services to Alchemist (collectively, “the Services”): Raid assistance, Questing research, alchemic experimentation feedback and assistance, and additional miscellaneous services to be determined at a later date. Novice will make herself available to complete the Services upon request of Alchemist at times and places of Alchemist’s choosing. Novice will use her best efforts to such comply with Alchemist’s requests.
In exchange for Novice’s performance of the Services, Alchemist agrees to pay Novice a monthly retainer of three bronze tokens, plus additional token dispensations for extraordinary performance at the sole discretion of Alchemist.
The term of this Agreement shall be for one year from the effective date. At Alchemist’s option, the term of the Agreement may be extended by one year provided that Alchemist gives Novice notice of such extension at least 30 days prior to the expiration of this Agreement.
Alchemist may terminate the Agreement by providing 30-days written notice of said termination to Novice.
Novice shall keep the existence and contents of this Agreement and services provided hereunder confidential (‘Confidential Information’) and shall not…”
I stopped reading and looked up at Beatrice.
“Is this a joke?”
She shook her head.
“No. It’s a necessity I’ve had to implement after a recent string of trainee failures. And as a show of good faith, I’ve bumped you up to the rank of Novice, with all the perks that entails. Normally I’d be starting you out dealing magic Adderall to the kids at NYU, but I’m cash rich at the moment so we can skip that.”
Great, so I didn’t have to be a magic drug mule. I just had to be at Beatrice’s beck and call in exchange for some bronze tokens, and what was I supposed to do with these tokens? See how many I could stack on my desk before they toppled over?
“How generous of you,” I said, my voice dripping in condescension.
“I could just make you agree, you know. It wouldn’t take much ink. But then you’d hate me even more. And that’s not what I want. I’ve been dealt too many setbacks so far and I can’t afford another one.”
She took back the contract, pulled out a pen, and signed her name on the second page, and then handed it back to me.
“Look, go home, read through the diary and the contract. Think things through. I’m confident that you’ll see that the path I’m offering you is the only way forward. Then meet me back here tonight at 10:30. This place has a speakeasy in the back that makes a mean martini.”
“Fine,” I said, glad to have at least the illusion of choice, if only for a few hours.
“Great. It’s a date.”
Beatrice tapped Jack-Jack on the shoulder and the kid broke out of his iPad daze and looked up at his mom.
“Sweetie, iPad time is over. Let’s go down the street and check out the math museum.”
“Just one more minute!” he whined in response. “I just want to finish this level!”
“Jack-Jack, I said no. Don’t make me count to five.”
Beatrice began slowly counting down from five, reaching one before switching to fractions, until at 0.5 the kid finally gave in.
I tried to suppress a laugh at this woman, who wielded power I couldn’t even have fathomed, being outmaneuvered by a toddler.
“Say goodbye to Mommy’s friend,” said Beatrice as she started to push the stroller out of the cafe.
“Goodbye to Mommy’s friend!” the little whelp said.
Next: Jen considers her options and makes an important decision. Read it below, but first subscribe to get future installments directly in your inbox.
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