They were facing a bookshop, the blue woman behind the counter looking both surprised and worried.
“You!” Liv complained. “You! You took my life in a book!”
“You gave me your life in a book,” the woman countered. She gestured at the book on the shelf. “And because you did, you can come back here. Because you have written down your story, you’re anchored to this world.”
“Wait.” A Vic stepped forward. “Wait. Wait, you’re saying if we didn’t do the thing with the book-“
“Then it is much harder for you to find home, but much easier for you to step into another home. Which it seems that you are doing, yes? I would suggest, if you wish to travel without this young lady, that you leave a book here of your life to pin you to this world. You’re going to want something of the sort, I assure you.”
“So you-” Abseil frowned at her. “You’re – you were doing us a favor.”
“Why yes. And as for the rest – well. The mall is neither evil nor good, but it can be turned, colored, as you’ve seen. Now, is there anything you would like to leave or take before you go?”
“Thanks.” Liv stepped forward. “I want to leave some gratitude.”
The woman bowed from a sitting position. “I accept your gratitude with pleasure. I hope that I will see you – all of you – again. I hope to write more of your lives; I hope to see more of your adventures. And I am very glad that you have made it back here, and that you have helped the mall to heal itself.”
“I like that. Helped the mall to heal itself.” Abseil nodded. “We go this way-?”
“You do, yes. And that will take you towards your home. The time passed should be such that your ride will not yet be annoyed at you, although there will be at least a couple questions, I’m sure. The last twenty minutes out there have been quite interesting.”
“Twenty minutes?” Abseil stared at her.
“I did say I would return you to whence you came – and to when you came. Now, I would suggest you hurry past Anto. There are better things to do with your time.”
“Anto,” Abseil hissed, but the woman was right. They had better things to do. “Everyone met Anto the first time?”
There were some affirmative noises and some negative. Abseil was about to explain; Liv beat her to it. “Don’t take free samples. Any sort of free sample. Trust me.”
That seemed to do it. The headed through the passageway to Anto’s shop, where the person in batik was waiting for them.
“Ah, here you are, returned! And from strange and wondrous places indeed! Tell me, how did you find the fauns?”
“Unfriendly.” Liv nearly growled it. Abseil put a hand on her friend’s arm, but she didn’t actually want to stop Liv.
“Ah, now that is a pity. And the beavers?”
“Rabbits,” ‘Via snapped. Their group crowded up around the two Olivias, filling the store.
“Ah, I see, hrmm, and yet, here you come, a much larger group than when you left, and isn’t that interesting?”
“I think of it as a silver lining.” Olly’s voice was smooth and icy.
Abseil steered them through the store a little more quickly.
“Ah, but another sample, perhaps?”
Abseil had never heard so many voices say no in complete unison before.
They left Anto and the spice store behind in a hurry. For a moment, Abseil stared with longing at the book store.
She stopped, however, at that first store she’d been in. “Just give me about a minute and a half, okay?”
“You sure? This place-“
“I’m sure.” She stepped in, to find the woman at the counter waiting for her, looking curious.
“Ah, the sensible friend. And what can I help you with?”
Abseil pulled one of her two amulets from around her neck and dropped it into her palm. “I want to sell you a regret.”
“And what would you like in return?”
“Oh, maybe that skirt,” she pointed. It really was a nice skirt. “The regret is the important part.”
“Ah, so you’ve understood that. And you wish to lose a regret?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I do. I want to get rid of my regrets for going in there. Going into The Mall.”
“But people died, did they not?”
Abseil glanced out where her gaggle of friends were waiting. “They didn’t die because I went in. And my dopples… they made their own decisions. Me? I got friends out of it. I don’t ever want to regret that.”
“Indeed. Well, then, miss. That regret, for this skirt. I think you will find it will suit you well in your travels.” The woman took down the skirt and wrapped it in tissue before setting it in a bag. “I hope that we see you again here.”
Abseil already felt lighter. “I’m sure you will.” She took the skirt from the woman, smiling. “But not if we don’t get to our ride soon.”
“Abb- Abseil! Mom’s buzzing me!”
“Hurry then, hurry, and we will see you again.”
Abseil hurried out to her friends. She held her breath and two hands as they made it to the door they’d come through, and from there, using the hand she was holding Liv’s with, nudged the door open.
A step, another step, and one more door and they were crowded around a potted plant. Across the hall was Vic Carter, looking a little odd. She looked over at their group of people, her brow furrowing, and looked back at Sandy, standing next to her.
Abseil held her breath.
For a moment, for a very brief moment, the air seemed very thick and very cold. The mall itself seemed to grow smaller, tighter around them.
Then Vic – their Vic, presumably – smirked. “Went shopping for your own, hunh? Figure that-“
“-lets them in the mall? Figure it does,” picked up the Vic with them. “I mean, they might be a little freaky, sure, but they’re my freaks.”
“…I am not even going to argue with being called a freak,” Liv muttered.
The Vic from their world shifted, like she was calibrating. “Good,” she sneered, just a heartbeat off. “You can have ’em, you can deal with ’em. Never wanted ’em anyway.”
“You’e a pretty lousy liar,” one of the Sandies with them put in. “But you always have been.”
“Our ride’s waiting.” Liv cut in with a surprisingly firm tone. “See you in school, Vic, Sandy. Have a good weekend.”Want more?