In another world, Veronika might have been a little surprised that she was having tea with a gorgeous woman with horns curling out of her skull. In this life, and especially today, she was rather impatiently waiting for said woman to answer her.
Why was she doing this? What was this test all about?
Was it really trying to kill her?
“The answer is at least three fold: If you cannot handle small things, like, say, the skeleton room, you cannot work here, because those things are an everyday fact of life in this place. If you cannot, if not get along with, at least manage to not get in a screaming fight with, most of the members of the staff already here, then you cannot work here, because we all have to work together. If you cannot accept that this place has supernatural elements, well, then you just do not belong here, and we would likely have given you a strong recommendation to a more mundane location. And.” She was clearly stalling. This time the little sandwich she picked up was a clearly-chewy one and she took her time with it.
Veronika nibbled on a little sandwich herself. She might as well, she thought, although she picked something she could swallow quickly. She would not be caught in that trap.
And, indeed, only when she’d started eating did Amanana start again. “If you get caught up in something that is going to kill you, or something that can kill you – well, then we’ll be very sad and if you leave, we’ll give you a very strong recommendation. Or a funeral stipend, all things considered.” Her hand gesture suggested all the things Veronika already knew and a whole ream of others she hadn’t encountered yet. “But to work here, you have to be able to accept that sometimes, this place might want to kill you.” Her smile was still a smile, that was the odd thing. But it was a very sad one. “And a lot of people, that’s the point where they leave.”
Veronika swallowed her sandwich. “One way or another, yeah?”
“Exactly. People can accept the idea that there are strange things. They can accept that there are supernatural things, sometimes. But when you present them with, say, a werewolf…”
“So are you trying to get me to run?” Veronika raised her eyebrows at the other woman. “Mysterious tales of people leaving feet-first, of werewolves – it feels like you’re trying to get me even more worried.”
“Well, yes and no, but again yes, and again, no.” Amanana ducked her head, “Let me see. So, no, I do not want you to run, but I do want to know if you are in shock or if you’re actually coping with matters-“
“I’d say shock is a way to cope with things,” Veronika cut in, despite herself.
Amanana chuckled without humor. “It’s a way, but not necessarily a way good for survival. But yes, I do want to know what’s going on here. I do want you to be a little afraid, because worry will, hopefully, lead to caution, and as you’ve seen, caution is useful. And no, because you are so young and so bright, you shine like a sun, and besides, I need help up here. It’s a mess, and I could use someone with your tidy mind to help me.” She aimed one of her endearing sweet-little-me smiles at Veronika. “You’ll find everything on the list, and I have a feeling you’ve already charmed many of the staff – well done, that – and you’ll get back to the front desk.” She leaned over the table to pat Veronika’s hand. “But just in case you run into more trouble, I’ve got a gift for you.”
“Please not more biscuits-” Veronika stopped herself. “Oh, I’m sorry, that was rude.”
“No, not at all. And no, not more biscuits.” She slid a slender, narrow silver box across the table. “Use this if you run into something you think might kill you. And, I don’t think I have to say, only then.”
Amanana stood up before Veronika could look in the box she’d just handed over, turned to move through the shelves before Veronika could ask any questions. “So, what was it you were looking for here again?”
“Oh, ah!” Veronika, much to her chagrin, had to check her list. “I am supposed to get a talisman of binding – this part says Sumerian.”
“Of course. It’s not like I’d give you an Egyptian talisman of binding or something. Those are going to be back in the locked case, and I’m sure you know not to be going in anything like a locked case around here without the proper precautions.” She turned to hand Veronika something that looked like a beekeeper’s bonnet and, once she had put that on, long, thick gloves. “It’s best to have had an herbal shower, too, but since you’re just observing this time-“
“An herbal shower, wait, what is the box-“
“No time for that, not this close to the locked case. Here, come watch.”
Veronika pocketed the case and stood where Amanana indicated. They were looking at what, in another place, she might have assumed was an empty aquarium.
Well, not empty, exactly, but it had no water, as far as she could tell. Instead, it had a number of items floating in the middle of it. While it was large and glass, it was lidded and framed with heavy iron bars; the lid had a large padlock closing it.
Amanana slid on her own beekeeper’s hood – this one had little casings built for the horns – and thinner gloves before she unlocked the case. “Many of the things in here are only dangerous if they are mishandled, but since ‘mishandle’ can be a very broad definition, depending on the item, we choose to lock them up. This one will not harm you, unless it so happens that you are a demon, a half-demon, or a djinn.” She paused, looking Veronika straight in the face.
“Unless there are things about me that I do not know, I am none of those things,” Veronika assured her.
Amanana clucked. “You know your mother?” she demanded. And it was definitely a demand, not like her normal amiable tone.
“I do,” Veonika agreed slowly. “And her mother,” she added. “And her mother.”
“Then you are not a djinn, and I would know if you were demonic. Thus you should be safe.”
Veronika found she was less reassured than she’d have liked. “Good?”Want more?