Abby was about to step in front of her friends when she found ‘Via stepping in front of her. “You leave her alone. We’re not selling anything, we’re not buying anything, we’re not giving anything. We’re just passing through. That’s it.”
“Oh,” the woman clucked, “but I have information. And I am willing to give it in exchange for something – if you have something you want to sell me.”
“That sounds-” Now Olly, too, was in front of her “-a lot like buying something, and we don’t want to do that. Not here.”
“And that’s wise. It is always wisest to never take anything that seems like too good a deal at the moment. So let’s see. Well, or too dear a deal, of course. If you want information-“
“We didn’t say we did.” ‘Via took a threatening step forward. “We didn’t say anything like that.”
“But I have a feeling that you are on a bit of a quest, no? And those are aided by information – not to mention, your quest might aid all of us.”
“Wait, what?” Liv pressed forward. “What do you mean? How are we-?”
“I think you – no.” The woman shook her head. “I would ask you to step into my store, but I understand that you are distrustful. How about -” She cast about the area and gestured off to an area with trees and tables. “There. We can sit at a table.”
“All right,” Abby agreed, before the Olivias around her could get overprotective and say no. “We can do that. Right here.” She tugged Liv; the other two followed on their own, and soon all four of them were sitting around a table with the strange woman.
“Now.” The woman steepled her fingers, and then shook her head and offered her hand out between the four of them. “My name is Yadira.”
“Abby.” Abby put her hand on the woman’s. “And Liv, Olly, and ‘Via.” They all followed suit, more like a yay-team sort of gesture than a handshake. Yadira smiled.
“I thought it was likely that you were Abigail and Olivia, yes. So let’s see, I want to explain as much as possible – but this place is not all that safe for you in any iteration, I’m afraid, so I’ll have to be fast.”
“We’re listening.” Olly shifted uncomfortably in her chair, looking around them.
“There have always been routes between the worlds, and there have always been bazaars hidden behind the malls. That much is true. But when I first opened my store, the behind-routes went to other worlds almost identical to my own. I could step over and borrow a cup of tea or some spare stock if I needed or wanted to – and back then, we did.
“But something untoward happened to the connections – I believe it was about a year ago, but time is a strange thing back here, and more strange in the connections.”
“That long ago?” ‘Via whispered.
“But what about-” Liv trailed off
“Time is very strange in the connections.” Yadira cleared her throat. “I don’t know who you are asking about, but I can tell you that I have heard people come through who tell me they have been here for over a decade. And then there are people who have been here only a day. But — and this is important, I believe — I have seen only two other of your dopplegangers, Abigail, and only one of yours, Olivia. That’s why I knew I needed to talk to you.”Want more?