The four men who appeared in the alley were in their mid to late twenties. All wore hoodies and jeans, sturdy and scuffed boots. The color differences were the only thing that stopped them from looking like they were wearing uniforms. Their appearance was literal, an empty alley suddenly populated by four men.
“Damn Dav, that was only, what, like five minutes.” Dav’s twin Damien shook his head.
Dav shrugged. “The more people I Cloak the less time I can hold it. Mobility affects it too; if we were just standing around I could’ve held it for at least another five. Let’s go.”
Jak held up a hand. “I need a minute, hold on. That Cloaking thing screws my frequency up.” He closed milk chocolate eyes and stood stock still, holding his breath. He blinked and smiled at the group. “Okay, let’s go.”
They crossed the street towards the doorway that Jilly had been watching. Tommy grabbed Jak’s arm just above his elbow as they reached the opposite curb and stepped up; Jak’s eyelids began fluttering and he almost stumbled as he reached out to the door. He laid a heavily scarred hand on the plate that held the deadbolt in place on the other side. Tommy tried to stifle a snicker as he watched his friends face squinch up in concentration. “It looks like you have to take a shit, dude,” he whispered. Flinched as Damien’s hand came up and flicked the back of his ear, hard.
Jak shook off Tommy’s hand and reached into his jacket’s inside pocket for the standard tools of the lock picking trade. “I got it, back up please.” With two bent pieces of metal inserted into the lock, Jak concentrated on what he had seen when he looked into the mechanism. A snick, a click, a clunk, and Jak pointed behind him to Damien. “Go.”
Damien’s face hardened for a moment, a tightening of the muscles, and they heard the deadbolt turn through the thick glass pane of the door. “Whoop,” he whispered with a grin at his brother.
They opened the door just far enough to squeeze through sideways in single file, sidled into the shop with eyes peeled in all directions. The air was stifling and smelled of old paper, spices. An invisible amber light source gave a sepia toned almost awkwardly one dimensional feel to the space. Tommy glanced around at the small room. Four walls, uncomfortably close together, covered floor to ceiling with bookshelves laden with old newspapers and strange bric-a-brac. No other points of entry or exit, no open arches or closed doors, just a small room, maybe 30 x 50. “Why the fuck is it always books? The old guys have no imagination at all anymore, it’s ridiculous. The stairs are right there,” he added, pointing ahead and to the right.
Listening hard for any noise that would indicate the Shifting of the illusion the four started slowly towards where Tommy had pointed. They kept their footsteps light; if you disturbed even the dust motes too much in an illusion being held in stasis it could Shift on you, leave you standing over an open pit that was real enough when you were falling into it.
As the toe of Tommy’s boot bumped gently into the bottom shelf in the right corner of the room it twinkled and morphed into the top step of a set of stairs that led downward at a steep angle. A glimmer of light snaked away and tried to run the length of the room, to Shift the bookstore into something undoubtedly more confusing or dangerous, but Dav’s boot caught its tail end and snuffed it out. “Whoop,” he whispered back to his brother with an identical grin.
They clattered down the stairs, careless now that they had broken through the illusion without setting it off. There was shoving and muffled laughter as they all tried to be the first into the room below.
“I should go first, I’m the only one who can see,” Tommy argued as he tried to strong arm his way past Jak.
“You’re an idiot,” Jak growled, shoving him sideways into the wall. “We can all see, you broke it.”
“Yeah, well, you’re the idiot,” Tommy laughed, as he snaked under the forearm Jak threw up and leaped the last few steps to land triumphantly on the dirt floor first.
“You’re all idiots.” Dav called from the back of the line. “Find the Compendium so we can get the hell out of here. These guys may not have much imagination but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything else in their bag of tricks, yeah?”
It’s one hit wonder 90’s band 4 Non Blonds on my headphones this morning; the weirdness of the vocalist has always appealed to me when I want to think about things on a different plane