The bus rumbled, keeping inconsistent time under the low, murmured conversations of the other passengers. Air moved in tense curls from a cracked open window, coiling through Garnet’s hair in increasingly wild patterns and cooling her skin against the combined efforts of the noontime sunlight, and the condensed breath and body heat filling the bus.
Idly, Garnet swept her thumb over the card in her pocket. A spark of magic danced across her senses - tasting of light and sounding like flower petals - and settled at the base of her skull. The cardstock ran thin and worn beneath her fingertips as she gently probed across the network of ancient creases. The texture faded and feathered near the edges, scarred by time and use.
Aside from the twined magic, there wasn’t anything out of place about it. It seemed like a typical, if old, business card.
But Garnet knew better. She’d received the card only days ago, and she’d felt the wash of magical sparks that afflicted crisp new cardstock with the weathering of years.
No, the card in her pocket - along with the circumstances surrounding it - were far from mundane, and if all went according to plan, things would only grow more interesting from here.
Garnet frowned down at the card in her hand, the residual static folding quietly away into her bones.
She’d been admittedly skeptical when the unknown (glitched? Her phone spoke in symbols and garbled static rather than numbers or a contact name) number called her. She was no stranger to scams or a prank calls. But an odd weight she’d come to associate with her new precognition squeezed once around her.
A coaxing pressure.
Then Sapphire walked in, a curious Ruby behind her, and the both of them sat down by Garnet’s side, falling into expectant silence.
While Garnet still doubted her own predictions from time to time, she trusted Sapphire’s. So she’d answered, and here they were, each of them with a card in hand that hadn't been there mere seconds before.
“Wonderful!” Their mysterious caller - Pearl, she’d called herself - said, and there was a small shuffling sound as she moved things around on her end of the call. “The Garden should recognize your magical signatures now, so it won’t warp away if you try to open it.”
Garnet felt her stomach lurch when she heard their destination. She pursed her lips over the first sentence to stumble upon her tongue, and the second, barring them entry into spoken word. This was not the time, and Pearl didn't deserve misplaced anger spawned from circumstances long past and likely unknown to her.
So Garnet didn't speak. She took a breath, rolled some of the tension out of her neck and jaw, and reached to tap the back of Sapphire’s hand, telling her the conversational floor was hers to take.
Even now, days after the conversation and with ample time to digest the information, Garnet’s stomach coiled with conflicting emotions on the subject. That the woman had introduced herself as a magical practitioner was uncontested. The cards materializing from Garnet’s phone, along with the call itself, were clear enough proof of that.
That she’d offered to help mentor them into mastering their own powers, while a less substantiated claim, was at least believable. It was likely one of the only ways new practitioners would be able to learn while in this town, outside of self-study. They were far enough from any Nexus that there just wasn’t enough of a power boost to draw in enough magicians to warrant a school.
In fact, if Garnet remembered correctly, the last few people to publicly Wake had left to one of the nearest Hub Cities to study.
That hadn’t been an option for the three of them. Dropping their jobs and moving to an entirely different city - it wasn't monetarily feasible. Maybe Sapphire could have, if her family hadn’t been steadfastly anti-magic, but as it stood…
Garnet shook the thoughts from her head. Thinking of the might-haves did no one any favors. That someone had offered to mentor them was quite frankly a momentous opportunity, and Garnet’s trepidation had little to do with that. It had almost everything to do with where Pearl had asked the three of them to meet her.
Even thinking the words soured the back of Garnet’s throat. It was something of an urban legend in town. A room - or in some accounts, a building - that had no fixed entrance. It travelled across the town, hopping from doorway to doorway at a whim. Few people were seen entering, even fewer leaving, though there was the occasional rumour of someone in a far off town with the same name, the same face, but doing things so fantastical that it had to be a different person.
The room stole people, some whispers said. Stole them and wove itself into them: flesh, bone, and sinew. Drained their souls to wear their bodies like puppets in pursuit of unknowable deeds for unthinkable masters.
Garnet hadn’t believed the story in quite a few years. It was preposterous, a tale spun from the paranoid hearts of anti-magic citizens in another attempt to demonize the ‘unnatural’, that took on a life of its own long past its time.
But there had been a time, it felt like ages ago now, when a young girl with tinted glasses and curious ears heard the rumours and considered a different story. The door took people, they told her, took them and changed them into something they were not. But Garnet wondered, and searched, and wove her own conclusion.
Perhaps the Garden didn’t steal, she’d thought, but instead released. Maybe it shattered the chains that held its patrons back and helped them become the people they’d only imagined they could be.
That girl had dared to hope, to think she could be one of the few to leave her life here behind, to step across the threshold of that traveling door wreathed in flowers and light. To imagine herself coming out the other side more herself than she’d ever thought possible.
But the door did not come for her, and her heart grew over and around that fledgling hope, smothering it and burying it until she convinced herself it was dead and gone. Instead, she took matters into her own hands. She set herself to carving a new life out of the old. It took time, and hard work, and it was imperfect, but it was better than what was. It was somewhere she’d made for herself.
She’d been content, if not entirely happy.
Then came the night, only a short couple months ago, when magic came calling, and wove itself into her: flesh, soul, and marrow.
Then came the night she’d met Ruby and Sapphire. The night their souls Woke in terrifying unison, and magic rose to their defense.
Garnet heard the scrape and crunch of cracked pavement - grit and trash crumbling beneath approaching feet. How many were there? Five? Seven? It was hard to tell with the adrenaline coursing through her system, making her thoughts race and her senses sharpen to the point of discord. Minute details crashed together and tangled like birds flying into power lines.
It didn't matter, in the long run. The three of them were outnumbered either way, doomed even if their adversaries hadn’t wielded the magic she could feel like cold rain biting into her skin. If she could feel it this clearly, without magic of her own, then it was powerful enough to be incredibly dangerous.
She didn’t know what they wanted, but the slant of their laughter gave her no illusions that it would be pleasant, and the magic told her they were prepared to use force to get it.
She wanted to run. Escape the encroaching line and bolt to the safety and familiarity of her home, but she didn't know these streets well enough to make the run, and was unwilling to leave the two strangers trapped with her. Besides, there were too many people between her and the alley's opening for a viable escape route that way, and as she took a cautious step back she felt the line of a wall press against her heel.
That left her with two options: give in, or fight. Her thoughts raced over the options as danger crept closer.
Reason - or fear masquerading as reason - told her to yield. It would be easier, maybe even marginally safer.
But her pride - her righteous anger and her sense of justice - told her to give them hell .
In hindsight, the decision was easy. Garnet never had been one to back down against stacked odds.
As if in answer to her decision, the cloud of angry, eager magic retracted from its place along her skin and a cleaner magic slipped in to take its place, sliding around her in lazy, predatory circuits. It felt just as eager for action as its predecessor, but softer, devoid of the antagonism that had before set goosebumps prickling down her neck and arms.
It made her thoughts muddy with the power she could feel there, ripe for the taking, practically inviting her. It almost felt like if she just reached -
The sound of sudden heavy footfalls coincided with the magic snapping to meet her will. An elation like she’d never felt rushed alongside a wave of power through every path in the network of her body. Thunder pulsed and thrummed in her lungs and the beat of her heart, lightning sizzled and coursed in her veins, down her throat, blooming in her limbs.
Possibilities mapped themselves out before her, as did the sudden pinpoint awareness of people’s positions in the alleyway. She felt their nerves spark with every movement and breath and heartbeat, could read the shapes of their bodies like branching clouds across the floor. It all slotted together into wonderful harmony.
She knew too, on some level, that this should be overwhelming. New senses waking in the middle of chaos. She shouldn’t have been able to make sense of them so quickly. Shouldn’t have been able to calculate to the minutiae their positions in relation to her, where they would move if this or that happened, what it would take to turn the tables and get her and her impromptu companions out of this forsaken alley and on their way to safety.
But she could, and she couldn’t bring herself to care why.
Six people blocked their way, she could feel now, and they were stronger than the few street magicians Garnet had encountered scattered across town. Moments ago, the situation would have been hopeless. Three non-magicians up against six magicians weren’t great odds. But now, Garnet had a way to defend herself, and she could feel that the threads of their magic pulsed just slightly out of synch.
It was a far cry from the way Garnet could feel her own newly-wakened magic synchronizing with her companions’ into a symphony of power.
Their three magical signatures effortlessly fed into each other. Growing. Stretching. Funneling their magic into something greater than their parts.
They might be outnumbered still, but now they were far from outmatched.
Garnet laughed - the sound a rolling stormfront - and let the melody wash over her, let the magic ride her and guide her as she reveled in the moment. She raced forward to meet her adversaries, lightning arcing from her pores, while streams of fire and frost danced alongside her.
The three of them bonded quickly after that. There was just something about surviving imminent danger that tied people together.
The first few days were spent mostly recuperating. Evidently, the fact that they were able to do anything near the level of what they’d pulled the night before was due in part to the natural buffer first-time magic causes, and partially due to draining the ambient magic from everything in a mile’s radius (there’d been a news-report the next morning reporting the failures of multiple magical devices, including cars, TVs, and in one notable case an entire house). But after the danger and exhilaration passed, the three of them were exhausted down to their bones.
They packed themselves into Garnet’s tiny apartment - the smallest of their three homes, but the only one without people to interrupt or ask questions before they were ready - and gathered their strength. Collected their thoughts. They had to figure out where to go from here.
Ruby and Sapphire went home to give their families explanations. Ruby came back pleased and with standing invitations for Garnet and Sapphire to visit their home. Sapphire came back with a small pack and a voice that tried not to waver.
The decision to take her in was an easy one, Garnet thought, and Ruby had a leftover bed they brought over. With two thirds of their trio already established there, Garnet’s home became their base of operations when they chose to explore their magic, and their spontaneous bond only grew stronger over time.
The past couple of months had been some of the happiest in Garnet’s life, with two people she cared about who cared back in turn and with a new potential slowly integrating into every part of her. So why now did the Garden choose to appear to her? Why now did it extend its figurative hands to ask its question ( Would you leave it all behind? ), right when the answer moved from a resounding yes to less certain ground? Could fate really have been so cruel? Sure, it hadn’t dealt her the best hand in her formative years, but she’d moved past it, and things had been only going up since then, bar a few minor dips here and there.
So why the stroke of painful irony now? Why wrench that hope and all its baggage from its grave after more than a decade?
But... Garnet breathed out and reached for that extra sense her magic had gifted her. The bus-goers - as well as the wires and circuits that roved through the bus and a few fast moving forms outside- floated into her awareness where they were only vague spots of sound a moment before, if they were anything at all. Garnet did her best to reign the sense in to only a tight circle around her. It wouldn’t do to let herself get overloaded by sensory information when they’d barely begun their journey.
Her awareness, thankfully, shrank to her will, until all she could feel were the two energies she was growing increasingly familiar with. Ruby sat to her left, nerves firing off frenetically, legs kicking in front of them and fingers fidgeting with the tiny fabric flowers stitched onto their headband. As if aware of the scrutiny - or perhaps the heavy thoughts that had been plaguing Garnet mere moments before - Ruby leaned into Garnet’s side gently and stayed there, head moving up to catch passing scenery.
Sapphire sat on Garnet’s other side, nerves shooting more quickly but much more rarely. She sat with perfect, patient posture, contemplating in that quiet assured way she usually had. Garnet gathered that confidence close to herself and felt it work alongside the warm pressure on her left to bolster her spirit.
Perhaps this wasn’t as bad as she was making it out to be. Whatever history - or lack thereof - that Garnet had with The Garden, Ruby and Sapphire would be with her to help her handle it.
Though, that was assuming they found the right door in the first place.
“What do you mean you won’t tell us where to find the door!?” Ruby yelped, an incredulous sound that had Garnet reaching forward to place a comforting hand on their head. Well, she’d been aiming for their shoulder, but that worked just as well.
Before Ruby could react to the touch, Pearl replied, “While we do have the capability to control where the door opens, and therefore give you directions, or simply pick you up at your home, Rose and I thought it best to let you three find it yourselves first. Think of it as… an assessment!” Pearl’s voice lilted up at the end, genuine enthusiasm changing the formal air she’d used up to now. “If we’re to mentor you, we need to know what you’re all capable of.”
“There must be easier ways to test us, though.” Sapphire interjected, “And this hardly seems to cover all our abilities.”
“That’s because it doesn’t,” Pearl admitted, unruffled. “We can test your physical cores quite easily once you arrive, but we’ll get a more accurate read on the state of your passive cores with this exercise.”
A weighty silence hung in the air after that. Garnet heard the shift of fabric as Sapphire toyed with the hem of her skirt, turning the possibilities over in her head, and the muted staccato of Ruby’s fingers drumming along their forearm.
A light nudge as Sapphire silently asked Garnet’s opinion, a stiff rise and fall of her shoulders in reply. Uncertain. Unwilling to reach for her precognition in her state of agitation and self-containment. Maybe later, after she got used to the idea of her childhood daydream showing up twelve years too late, the three would talk it over, but for now Garnet just wanted the conversation to finish. She trusted Ruby and Sapphire’s judgement here.
“... And if we don't find the door?” Sapphire asked at last. Ruby shifted beside them, and Garnet could practically taste the words waiting on the tip of their tongue.
Pearl cut in easily before Ruby could say a single one, “Then Rose or I will retrieve you, and we'll work from there.”
Sapphire released a steady breath, and Garnet knew the decision they'd make in the end.
“I hardly think we'll resort to that though.” Pearl continued, “The three of you are practically made for these kinds of tasks.”
Pearl had sounded certain, and it seemed to settle at least Sapphire’s doubts. Garnet, however, wasn’t so sure they could pull it off. While she and Sapphire both had some sort of precognition, their finesse with the ability greatly deteriorated after the initial rush of magic.
The visions were far from seamless now, coming and going in odd bursts with or without prompting, and the information fluxed from small feelings or whispered knowledge to full on immersion trances.
Nevertheless, the two of them had scoured the future where they could the entire week prior, interpreting and comparing their respective experiences until they'd pinned their destination to the downtown area of the city.
Sapphire had said in no uncertain terms that they would find the Garden there, voice level and smooth with finality. She’d taken to her Sight far quicker than Garnet, dissecting and accepting the visions as they came like she’d lived her entire life with glimpses of the future swimming through her mind.
For Garnet, figuring out the premonitions was easy enough, but taking them for truth was going to take a bit more time. She wouldn’t say that out loud though, not yet. Their collective confidence was still only just finding its footing after their world shifted on its axis, and Garnet refused to jeopardize that.
So she’d wait and bide her time. The worst thing that could happen was they’d wander around town for a couple of hours and come up empty. If they did happen upon the Garden, then...
Static rolled its way along Garnet’s spine towards the nape of her neck. Her senses began to flutter and fade as the beginnings of a full premonition formed. Maybe if the setting were better - somewhere safe like her home with nothing to do, instead of on a bus crowded with too many people and with a quest to demand her attention - she would have let the fortune unfold and tell her what would happen in the confines of The Garden.
But it wasn’t safe here. There were too many people and they had too little time to allow herself to disconnect and fall entirely into a fugue. Instead, she swallowed the sensation down like a bitter pill and felt it sizzle into her extremities.
The full premonition didn’t come, but impressions remained. A distant peal of phantom laughter, the smell of new growth and clean wind, a brush of warmth - security - and, oddly, the taste of chocolate.
“We should get off at the next stop.”
Sapphire's voice cleanly caught Garnet’s attention, and the last vestiges of her foresight faded as she nodded an acknowledgement.
Her attention turned to the hum of the bus, listening to the whir and rumble of the engine as it began to stop. The sound of squeaking plastic and shifting feet queued her to rise alongside Ruby and Sapphire, and she took her cane in hand as she filed her way down to the bus entrance.
She murmured a thank you to the bus driver as she exited, then slipped out into the muggy afternoon street. A web of heat and noise flared into place around her, no longer held at bay by the bus’s metal walls. With the absence of a narrow and predictable path, Garnet put her cane to work, bouncing it in a practiced two-touch on the pavement as she maneuvered her way under the shade of a tree.
Ruby and Sapphire settled into place alongside her, and there was a beat where they simply stood together, waiting, before Ruby broke the silence.
“So… which way do we go now?”
There wasn't an immediate reply from Sapphire, so Garnet could only assume her vision hadn't reached past when to exit the bus. With her mouth dipping into a frown and a hand rising to adjust her shades in thought, Garnet reached for the threads of her own precognizance, trying to coax them into action instead of letting them snare her at their own whimsy.
The bustle of the city hovered, the only thing filling her senses for a moment, then three, then five. Frustration coiled and she dug deeper, reached just a little farther until -
A nudge, a pulling sensation not altogether physical and only just within the realm of her perception. A brief exhilaration filled her before doubt bled in. The sensation was so muted. Could she be sure it was her magic at work, and not just a particularly strong impulse? The last thing Garnet wanted was to lead them on some wild goose-chase because she had mistaken guesswork for true precognition.
But the silence stretched on, and if Garnet waited any longer she was sure they’d go from possible to certain guesswork.
She seized on that thought, anchored her confidence upon it, and moved before she could find something to stay her hand longer.
“This way.” She said, turning to follow the tug at her attention and trusting her companions to follow.
For a brief moment she only heard the rush of traffic to her left, the rhythmic clack of her cane against the cracked concrete, and the sounds of people moving around her. Then came the sound of slightly rushed steps approaching her: Sapphire and Ruby catching up and falling slightly behind her without question.
She wasn’t entirely sure when over their acquaintance that these two started to put so much faith in her, but the trust bolstered her confidence towards steadier ground, and a seed of a resolution took root in her core.
She would do everything in her power to make sure that trust wasn’t misplaced.
The sound of cars whirring by started in front of Garnet for the fourth time at this particular crosswalk, signalling another change in the lights since their trio had lost the trail to their destination.
The delay weighed heavily on Garnet’s shoulders. Grew with every second that passed with nothing but the equivalent of magical static when she tried to search out the door.
It was too hot. Too crowded. Simultaneously too close and too far from their destination. Garnet could feel the proximity in her bones, knew that if she backtracked, her premonitions would lead her right back to this crossroad and leave her stranded once more without insight.
But where to go from here?
Garnet cast her magic as deeply as she could, searching for any coherent direction, but the threads frayed in her hands and left her drained without a thing to show for it. Slowly, deliberately, Garnet let out the breath she'd been holding before shaking her head, pulling off her shades to rub at her face.
“I've got nothing.” She said at last, feeling the admission weigh only heavier upon her shoulders.
A beat of silence stretched slightly too long before Sapphire broke it, moving to lean gently against Garnet’s side. “I can't see anything either.” She said, quiet and remote in a tone she rarely used around them anymore. Garnet felt the stiff lines of her posture and the steady rhythm of her hand toying at some piece of fabric, and leaned subtly back against Sapphire, taking and giving comfort, as they waited for Ruby’s addition.
Ruby paced. Back and forth and back again with a stream of only occasionally audible words tumbling from their mouth to accompany the beat of booted feet on pavement.
After a few moments, their rhythm slowed and trickled to nothing until they arrived back where they started, their monologue trailing away as their thoughts settled.
“Maybe....” They started hesitantly, “Maybe this isn't a bad thing?”
Garnet pursed her lips and furrowed her brows. Sapphire pressed harder against her side and Garnet could practically feel the disbelief rolling off the both of them in waves.
“Just hear me out, okay?” Ruby pleaded, “I don't like not knowing where this place is any more than you two. But if you can't find it anymore, maybe that means we're close.”
That gave them both a moment’s pause as they took in the implications of the statement.
“It would make sense for the Garden to have more than just one defense mechanism.” Garnet said after thinking it over. “The door-hopping is the most obvious one, but some sort of obfuscation or block on tracking wouldn’t be out of the question.”
“Exactly!” Ruby crowed, “So we're probably on the right track. All we need to do is walk around until we find it!”
“It’s a better plan than loitering here for the rest of the afternoon.” Sapphire admitted, thoughtful. “But if they really have defenses against scrying, we could be in the wrong area entirely.”
“If you guys led us here, then we’ll find it.” Ruby assured with an unshakeable, burning faith Garnet was only just becoming accustomed to. “And besides, I’ve always had the best luck finding things when I’m just wandering.” Abruptly, they took Garnet and Sapphire’s hands in their own, warmth radiating off them as they gave a gentle squeeze. “Trust me on this.” They implored. Soft and trusting and coated in steely determination all at once, “They wouldn’t give us this as a test if they thought we couldn’t do it, and I have a good feeling.”
The hair on the back of Garnet’s neck rose as she became aware of the slow moving strings of magic twisting their way along Ruby’s skin. There might still have been something blocking her sense of fortune, but even through that muffling cloth Garnet could feel the raw potential from those thin lines of magic like a heady bassline. Whether they knew it or not, Ruby’s magic was gearing up to do SOMETHING.
Garnet wasn’t sure what that something would be, but Ruby hadn’t steered her wrong yet.
“Alright. I’m convinced.” She said, squeezing Ruby’s hand back and grinning slightly.
“Lead the way,” Sapphire concurred, and the two of them laughed as Ruby leapt into the air with a happy whoop.
The threads of magic spun once, twice, three times in a dervish of movement before jettisoning themselves skyward, splintering into smaller motes of intense magic. Though she was still unfamiliar with the nuances of it, Garnet could feel something shift in the fabric of fate.
Garnet felt Sapphire nudge her hand once questioningly - she’d noticed the odd display of magic too, then - but Garnet could only shrug in reply. They weren’t experienced enough with any of this to properly speculate, and it only made Garnet more eager to find The Garden. They could only learn so much from the meager collection of basic magic books in the local library, and internet searches only took them as far as they knew how to look. They needed a mentor to fill in the gaps in their understanding.
Ruby showed no signs of having noticed what their magic had done in the slightest, and casually strode into the depths of the city.
A few minutes into their walk, Garnet felt a burst of clarity turn in her chest. She faltered as she inspected the feeling, noting the sudden absence of the cloud of mixed signals she’d been getting since she’d stepped into this part of downtown. Instead, there was a single clear bundle of impressions.
Water. Children laughing and squealing. Old metal and older wood. Restrooms often-used and less often-cleaned.
Then the cloud descended again, and Garnet lost the thread.
“Sapphire.” She said as soon as she returned to herself, disoriented by the sudden shift into a fugue and back.
“I saw it too.” Sapphire confirmed, and the three of them pulled to the edge of the sidewalk. “A park?”
Garnet nodded, “That’s what I was thinking. I didn’t hear a name though.”
“I didn’t see one either.” Sapphire tutted briefly to herself, then seemed to realise something, “Ah, there was a fountain though. That should be distinctive enough.”
“You guys have something, then?” Ruby cut in, sounding equal parts excited and confused, “I thought you were getting blocked here.”
“We were. We are. ” Sapphire explained. “But for a split second the interference was gone, and we got… something . I’m not sure what it’s for yet.”
“It could be the door.” Garnet added, “But it could be something else entirely. It’s hard to tell, since we weren’t actively trying to find anything at the time."
“Well if you both saw it, it has to be important.” Ruby said, hopping slightly in place, “Let’s go check it out! I think I know the park you guys were talking about, and it’s only about five streets over.”
They were already turning to leave before they’d even finished the sentence, and Garnet could only laugh and follow along.
“Always on the move, that one.” Sapphire said fondly.
“One of us has to be.” Garnet shot back.
They made it to the park in record time, and Garnet took in the sounds of water and gallivanting children. She adjusted her glasses, “This is definitely the place.”
“Now we just have to -” Sapphire cut herself off, and Garnet had only a moment to wonder why before she started down a new track “Ruby, your headband.”
“Your headband.” Sapphire stressed, “The flowers...”
That sparked a memory.
There were signs, people said, that one could look for when in search of The Garden.
The first, on clear days, was a circle of light more intense than the rest. It was the easiest to miss, and the one most easily explained away if noticed.
The second was the faint roar of crashing waves and the scent of the sea, each one stronger the closer you got to the door.
The third, and most obvious, was a tendency for nearby plants and plant-imagery to unfurl into full bloom.
Garnet felt the tangled emotions in her chest loosen, and she grinned at the prospect of The Garden, of their goal , so close at hand. “They’re blooming.”
“What??” Ruby squeaked and felt for their headband, “How the -"
“Plant magic.” Garnet interjected. It was the only plausible explanation, and now that she knew what she was looking for she could feel the strands of magic curling through the air. Light and growing things and the subtlest hint of “look the other way.” If she hadn't been looking for it - and if she hadn't had magic of her own to push through it - she would have been hard pressed to notice the signs for longer than a second or two.
But as she was, ignoring the glamour was like walking through a thin sheet of water. She followed the trail the magic left her, her cane tapping lightly against the ground, and Ruby and Sapphire walked close behind.
They followed it along the sidewalk, across the park and around throngs of children, and finally up a set of brick stairs to a small building. The sound of flushing toilets and running faucets filled the air, and Garnet wrinkled her nose at the whiff of mildew and waste she could smell from her spot at the edge of the walkway.
A public bathroom. Joy.
“Thaaaaat's the men’s bathroom.” Ruby pointed out, and the three of them shuffled uncomfortably for a moment. The door in was already propped open, so the door they were looking for was either a stall or a maintenance closet. Either way, they’d have to go inside.
“... I'm not going in there.” Garnet said decisively after a few seconds.
“No arguments here!”
The three of them quickly about-faced and beat a hasty retreat down the stairs, and Ruby took the lead again. “So... you two haven’t been to this side of town often, right?” They asked as they curved along the parkway.
“My parents weren’t keen on going out with the general populace.” Sapphire answered, and Garnet shrugged.
“I never saw a need.”
Ruby made an acknowledging sound, and their footsteps skittered audibly as they bounced lightly in place, “Then since we’re already here, why don’t I show you guys some of my favorite places?”
“We should focus on finding the Garden.” Sapphire retorted, though not unkindly, “That’s why we came here.”
“We can do both!” Ruby returned happily, hopping in place more vigorously, “You two can’t see your way to it from here, so why don’t we just explore while we look?”
“They have a point,” Garnet said, tilting her head in Sapphire’s direction, “If we’re going to be wandering around anyways, we might as well have a little direction to it.”
“Well... “ Sapphire trailed off, hesitant, then hummed a resolute affirmation, “Ok. Let’s do it.”
“Woohoo!” Ruby crowed, giving one last leap into the air before starting a renewed pace down the path, and the three of them were off again. “C’mon! I know just the place to show you guys first. There’s this awesome pet store just the next street over…”
Garnet felt another star of clarity streak across her senses, and her hand stuttered to a stop along the neck of the large iguana draped over her shoulder.
The sound of luggage across hard floors. The clink of keys changing hands. Elevator doors. Someone muttering the number 353 over and over.
“Again?” She asked, eyebrows drawing together as the clarity faded once more from her grasp.
“Is everything alright, ma’am?” The employee who’d taken the iguana out for her asked, and she quickly cleared her throat and gently dislodged her passenger, holding him out for the employee to return.
“It’s nothing, I just remembered something I’d forgotten to do. Would you mind putting him back for me?”
With the iguana safely handled, Garnet went to join Ruby and Sapphire by the birds. “Ruby, is there a hotel near here?”
“Yeah. There’s a few, actually.” Ruby answered, “We’re trying to narrow down which one it could be right now.”
“Ruby hasn’t been inside any of the hotels, and I only got glimpses of the interior in my vision.” Sapphire supplied.
“We live close enough that we didn’t have to get hotel rooms here.” Ruby defended, a little indignant, “Besides, they’re all overpriced anyways.”
“I wasn’t blaming you,” Sapphire soothed, “Just explaining the situation.”
“Are any of them older?” Garnet asked, “I heard keys, and the newer hotels all have magic based locks now.”
Ruby thought for a moment, “That could narrow it down to about two, yeah.”
“Great, then we can just go to the nearest one first and -” Garnet cut herself off when the static fell away again, leaving another set of impressions in its wake.
The whirring of pressurized doors and a -
Warm light. The sound of a busy city far beneath. The feel of curtains billowing in the -
A cheery bell. The feel of an ice cream cone in hand. Children laughing and a chorus of discordant but earnest voices singing “Happy Birth-”
Bubbling water. The smell of fish -
A door -
A hand -
The mingled scents of garbage and popcorn coiled lazily around her. The sound of muffled gunfire. Thematic music playing behind her, distant.
Garnet rubbed at her head, trying to rid herself of the faint vertigo she was still feeling from the several rapid shifts in perspective. “I don’t think it’s at the hotel anymore.” She grunted and shook the last remains of the vertigo away. “Or something else is interfering with what I can sense, I’m not sure.”
“I’m not following.” Ruby said, and a warm hand pressed to Garnet’s arm, “Is there something blocking you guys or not?”
“A little of both.” Garnet said, “We’re getting bursts of things sometimes, but the rest of the time it’s static. It’s like... ” She paused, uncertain of her own theory’s validity, but it was the only thing that made sense to her, so she pressed forward, “When someone opens the door, there’s a moment where it’s between places and the interference lets up.”
Sapphire and Ruby both made small noises of realization.
“And since we’re looking for the door already, even if we aren’t actively trying to access a vision,” Sapphire said, “We get a glimpse of where it will land next.”
“That’s great!” Ruby enthused, “We can just figure out where it landed and go find it, then.”
“That might be harder than it sounds.” Garnet cautioned, “We’re getting split-second impressions from these, not full visions. The most I got from the last one is an alley near a movie theater, and that was after it bounced past at least five other doors.”
“Oh.” Ruby tutted as they thought, “That is a little vague. There’s a few of those, and they’re pretty scattered across town.” She turned to Sapphire, “Did you see anything else?”
“Nothing useful. Just dumpsters and some windows.”
“Did they look like apartment windows?” Ruby pressed, and there was a brief moment as Sapphire tried to recall.
“It’s… possible. I didn’t pay them too much attention, but I think there were some curtains.”
“Good enough for me. There’s a movie theater a block away, next to an old apartment building. It’s not the only one, but it’s the closest.” Ruby said, and they trotted towards the exit, “Hopefully we can get there before someone needs to throw anything out.”
They didn’t even make it to the right street before another fluttering impression told them the door had moved again.
A couple minutes later it moved again.
And again. On and on as the sun swung to its zenith and crept back towards the horizon.
Each time, the three of them changed course, using Ruby’s knowledge of the area to pinpoint the new destination, picking up the pace now and again in the hopes they could reach their quarry before it whisked away to another door. They never quite made it.
Hours passed, grinding down their determination like a river wearing down rock. Trail after trail proved fruitless but for the occasional taste of The Garden’s magic on the air, and even their idle chatter seemed to slow with their mood.
Eventually, Sapphire convinced them to stop for dinner. “We can’t keep running on fumes like this.” She said, pulling them both gently behind her down a particularly restaurant-heavy street. “Let’s sit down and eat something. Then we can keep going.”
Ruby grumbled a little, and Garnet thought maybe they could go on for at least a little longer if they pushed themselves, but they both conceded under the onslaught of delectable smells and Sapphire’s insistent pull.
They stopped at a little Italian restaurant on mutual agreement, and all three of them debated over pizza toppings before settling for half pepperoni and half pineapple and ham.
The relaxed atmosphere was like a balm to their moods, and they fell into easy banter, talking about anything but their strenuous afternoon. They talked about their favourite shows, recent music, a new restaurant that was going to open up close to their little apartment building. Ruby relayed to Garnet the way Sapphire squeezed lemon juice and hot sauce over each of her slices of pizza before eating them, sounding awed and afraid in equal measure. Sapphire threw a piece of pineapple at their head in retaliation.
It was the most fun they'd had all day, and Garnet felt a little of the desperation and discouragement melt from her shoulders
“I’m just saying.” Sapphire said, as the three of them crowded out into the considerably cooler street. “You don’t need to know the future to see that George is the murderer. The evidence might look like it’s pointing to Thompson, but that gun was an obvious plant, and the witnesses were all too far away to have seen anything clearly enough to identify the shooter.”
Garnet scoffed, “Oh, because George absolutely had the time and energy to sneak off and kill his cousin when he was preparing for the big show.”
“He has plenty of motive, and he wouldn’t have been gone for more than an hour, two at most.” Sapphire said simply, “And Thompson wasn’t even on the same side of town during the murder.”
“But he has no one to back up the alibi.” Garnet insisted. “Just because he says he wasn’t there doesn’t mean he wasn’t, and it won’t hold up in court without proof. Especially not with all the other evidence stacked against him.”
“No, you’re right. It won’t hold up in court, and that’s the whole point. He was framed ,” Sapphire stressed. The three of them turned down a road, “and elaborately so. They’ll dole out his conviction next episode, and then something - probably a guilty witness or some ‘misplaced’ dna-testing that doesn’t match Thompson - is going to cast doubt on the verdict and put them on George’s trail. After all, if it was just a conviction, they wouldn’t have had to split it into a whole second episode.” Garnet could hear the subtle smirk in Sapphire’s voice, and grumbled in minor concession. She couldn’t deny they’d pull something next week. But she wasn’t going to be placing any bets on George of all people being the convict.
Unwilling to say as much out loud though, Garnet instead turned to Ruby, “Who do you think’s guilty?”
There was a startled, bemused pause before Ruby shrugged. “Well, I haven’t thought about it nearly as much as you two have, but if I had to put money on it…” They hummed as they thought it over, “I think I’d go with - oh, what’s her name … - Patricia! She’s just got that vibe, y’know?”
Garnet nearly opened her mouth to argue. But then, with dawning horror, small snippets of information flashed through her mind: Moments when Patricia had been missing. Moments where she’d left with reasons that, in hindsight, seemed flimsy at best. Her vendetta against Thompson’s family as a whole for ousting hers from the spotlight, and George’s cousin in specific for his rising popularity. All the puzzle pieces slotted into place, and the whole of the shape became clear.
Garnet looked back at Sapphire. “ Patricia .” She hissed, vindicated when Sapphire said a small, “ Of course .” in concert with her, and they comisserated in their obliviousness. It was so obvious . How had they both missed the signs?
A small, squeezed out snrrk broke through their stupor, and the two of them turned to Ruby, who hiccuped once before breaking into breathy giggles. “I’m sorry!” They said between breaths, “It’s just - your faces. ” They hiccuped out another round of laughs, and, after another beat, Garnet began to laugh along, and Sapphire wasn't far behind them.
“Alright, let’s get back on track.” Garnet said once they’d all calmed a little. “We’ve got a while yet before I think I’m ready to call it a night.”
“Ok, but I reserve the right to make us all take a break again.” Sapphire declared, and Garnet couldn’t really argue with that. The three of them started down another road, keeping their attention spread to catch the by now familiar flare of The Garden’s magic or a fleeting impression once it changed doors again.
The heat of the day wasn't nearly as stifling now, having cooled as early evening set in, and the urgency to find The Garden seemed to have gone with the heat. They searched still, but there was a new ease to the air. They joked and bantered, took detours and pet the occasional passing dog, and on the rare occasions they were mostly alone on a street, they experimented with small flashes of their magic. It was easiest to manifest their magic in their respective elemental forms - their active cores, the books on magical theory called them - but with a little concentration they could manage minor telekinesis and glamours, and they sent leaves dancing around each others hair and experimented with different sounds and scents and images they could conjure.
It was good, Garnet decided as the three of them laughed, their combined magic singing lazily in the air around them. This was Right . Whether they found The Garden or not, Garnet couldn’t regret today.
“And that's how Leggra accidentally set off a flash mob.” Ruby finished with a laugh. “We wouldn't let her live it down for weeks. ”
Garnet chuckled warmly, remembering the somewhat awed and awkward younger cousin from her infrequent visits to the Berns household. “You know downtown really well.” She observed. “How many times have you been here?” While Garnet had lived in this town for as long as she could remember, she didn’t often travel to the downtown area. There were a rare few products here that she couldn't find closer to home and more cheaply, and she'd declined the few invitations to ‘nights out’ in her school days. She felt herself regretting that now, if only slightly, but shrugged the feeling away easily enough. She’d had her reasons at the time, and she was here now.
“Oh, well… A lot.” Ruby said, faltering and trying to affect nonchalance. “More than I can remember. We have a pretty big family, you know, and none of us can sit still for long when we're together, so my mom and aunts brought us out here to burn off energy.”
A grin bloomed on Garnet’s face. It wasn't hard to imagine the wave of sheer exuberance that was the Berns family taking the downtown streets by storm.
“That sounds nice.” Sapphire offered, “Is that still something you do?”
Ruby let out a thoughtful sound before they answered, “Sometimes, but we do it a lot less now that most of us have other things to do. We haven't had the whole family out at once since.... Thanksgiving?” They laughed then, “But it's always an event to remember. That's for sure. Maybe you two can come with us, next time. I'm sure everyone would love to have you.”
The invitation settled warm in her chest, and Sapphire made a small happy hum that let Garnet feel no uncertainty when she quirked a smile in Ruby’s direction, “I think we’d like that.”
They turned a corner, and another flicker of impressions jumbled Garnet’s thought process. She bit back a groan. The eagerness from earlier in the day, though renewed with the companionship of dinner, was beginning once again to wear away under the tiring pattern of finding and subsequently losing the trail over and over again.
“Five hundred and four daisies.” Garnet said into the now expectant silence. “And a big dog.”
“A duplex house with 504 on the front.” Sapphire added, “Daisies might be the street name.”
“Daisies… Daisies… Daisies Lane?” Ruby asked after tapping out something into their phone. “Google Maps says that’s -” They whoop, “Right after this next turn! Come on!”
They made it to the turn, and Garnet felt the subtle swell of The Garden’s magic brush over her like water over a duck feather. It was the closest taste they'd gotten of The Garden in the past hour and a half, and Garnet felt her flagging spirits rise to fill her chest.
“518, 516, 514…” Ruby muttered under their breath as they went down the street, and somewhere ahead a dog barked with deep bass. Briefly, Garnet wondered if walking up to someone's house with the intent to open their door was too much a breach of etiquette, but it was unlikely the residents would even notice their entrance either way. After all, it wasn’t like they were going into the house itself. They were just... borrowing the door.
With those thoughts in mind, it was easy for Garnet to fall into step alongside Ruby and Sapphire, the three of them picking up the pace. The thrum of magic - their own and the layered magic of The Garden both - swelled and tugged, turning into something nearly magnetic Garnet hadn’t felt before.
She thought she understood, now, why some of the old rumours painted The Garden like a trap, luring in the unsuspecting and stealing them away. If someone not in the know felt even a fraction of this -
The sound of a door creaking open coincided with the snap of that magic dying out and a vision passing too quickly for Garnet to parse through in her bewilderment, and the three of them stumbled to a dumbstruck halt.
“Oh! I didn't mean to startle you, dearies!” A high, grainy voice said. “I'm just an old woman getting her mail, don't mind me.”
There was a beat of silence where disappointment crackled palpably in the air, then the dog started barking again, and the old lady called a sharp, “Boris! Be nice!” and the dog stopped with a beseeching whine. “No, don’t look at me like that young man. You know better.”
There was a put upon huff, and then the sound of nails clacking against hard flooring as the dog wandered away from the door. “You’ll have to forgive him,” The lady said, turning back to the three of them, “He’s been picking up bad habits from the dog across the street. How Magnolia lets her go on like that, digging holes and stealing Boris’s toys, I’ll never know.”
Garnet drew herself up and managed a workable facsimile of a smile, “It’s not a problem, ma’am. He’s just watching out for his house.” She moved past Sapphire and Ruby, brushing their shoulders with a hand as she went, and led them forward. “We were just passing through anyway, so we’ll get out of your hair.” They passed the house, at a much more sedate pace now, and she called a quick “Have a nice evening” behind her to wrap up the social niceties. Her tone only fell a little flat at the end, so she counted it as a win.
Sapphire and Ruby followed her lead, bidding the woman short farewells of their own, and they managed to turn a final corner before their façade broke. Ruby cursed and kicked a nearby wall, Garnet leaned against the wall and flexed and relaxed her hands intermittently, feeling sparks of static dance in and out of her pores, and Sapphire sagged against Garnet’s side, taking slow breaths, released as puffs of cold, frosted air, until she collected her disappointment and filed it quietly away.
This had been the closest they’d gotten all day to finding The Garden. They’d almost had it.
“Stupid fucking magic door .” Ruby muttered as they began pacing, “We've been walking around town for ages and it didn’t even have the decency to stay put for ten more seconds. Nooooooooooo. The little old lady just had to come get her mail and it fucks off to who knows where!” They growled out a frustrated noise, and Garnet could practically hear them tugging at their hair, fingers burrowed down to its roots. There was silence for a few moments, save for the sound of Ruby’s pacing and, Garnet realized, the hiss of steam, then they walked over to slump next to her on the wall. Garnet searched out their hand to give it a gentle squeeze, and felt the unnatural heat of it ebb away and her own electricity fizzle out from the contact.
“I think...” Garnet started, tasting the words in her mouth for a moment, “We should stop for the day.”
She huffed away the momentary discomfort as the temperatures to either side of her fluctuated for a flicker of a second. But neither Sapphire nor Ruby immediately protested, and she could feel the expectant tone of the ensuing silence.
“We’ve been going at this all day, with nothing to show for it. We’re tired, physically and mentally, and we have to be ready for work tomorrow.” She continued. She heard Ruby grumble. Their job pulled them out of the house in the early hours of the morning, and while the three of them had managed to get today off, they’d be going back to their normal schedules the next day. Ruby could afford a late night the least out of the three of them.
“Besides,” Garnet offered, “No one's come to get us yet, so either we weren’t expected to find it in a day, or they aren’t coming to get us at all.” Garnet frowned a little. That last bit was a slant more bitter than she’d meant it to be. She continued before Ruby or Sapphire could comment on it. “Either way, there’s no reason to run ourselves ragged tonight. We have time.”
A moment, as Sapphire and Ruby shifted and turned the thought over in their minds, then twin sighs and two hands squeezing hers in agreement.
“Alright.” Sapphire said, “Let’s go home.”
“Let me just make one last stop.” Ruby added.
“Fair enough.” Garnet laughed. “Where to?”
They walked down a few blocks of the city, and Garnet studiously ignored the occasional flashes of insight that still tried to catch her attention. While Ruby hadn’t said where exactly they were stopping, Garnet could tell they were getting close. For the past minute, Ruby constantly inched forward and shuffled their feet, doing their level best to stop themself from simply bounding to their destination.
“Go on ahead, Ruby.” Garnet said with a shooing motion, an amused smile curling her lips, “We’ll catch up.”
She could practically feel the grin being shot her way, and with a quick ‘thanks,’ Ruby was off like a shot. Garnet laughed, then leaned towards Sapphire, “Can you see where they’re going?”
“It looks like a chocolate shop.” Sapphire murmured back, “They were saying something earlier about getting something for their family. Looks like they decided on sweets.”
Garnet hummed her acknowledgement and walked a little faster, her cane tapping easily across the concrete. “I might get something too. We all deserve something nice, after today.”
“Well if you’re both getting something, I guess I will too.” Sapphire laughed, a full sound that was becoming increasingly common these days, and kept pace. “We just need to cross the street here.”
The two of them checked for cars - once, then again - before they crossed and skirted around the few cars parked along the edges of the road. The doorbell jingled merrily when they pushed their way inside, and the scent of chocolate filled Garnet’s chest with something like bliss.
Ruby was already at the counter - poring over the choices with a stream of consciousness mutter - and Garnet made her way over to lean by Ruby’s shoulder, startling them out of their deliberation.
“Garnet, Sapphire! You didn’t have to come in, I was only going to be a few more minutes… Probably.” They giggled nervously.
“Wasn’t you. We just wanted some chocolate too.” Garnet said, nudging their shoulders together in an attempt to soothe Ruby’s burgeoning agitation. “Besides,” she teased with a cheshire grin, “You probably wouldn’t be able to carry all of it yourself, anyways.”
Garnet heard Sapphire muffle a giggle behind a gloved hand, and Ruby scoffed in mock indignation. “Is that a bet?”
“Maybe it is.”
“Oh-hoh you’re so on. ” Ruby puffed, “I’ll carry it all the way home just fine. All of it. Just you watch.”
Garnet’s grin widened, “Five bucks says you won’t make it to the bus stop.”
“Easy money.” Ruby snorted, bumping Garnet’s side lightly as they turned back to the case. “Now what do you want? We might as well all order in one go.” Ruby turned some more and beckoned Sapphire closer, “That goes for you too, Sapph. Let’s save this guy some hassle.”
“Do they have strawberries?” Garnet asked, and Ruby hummed for a second as they looked over the options.
“Yeah, they've got regular, cookies and cream, sprinkles, and…. Nougat?”
“That’s toffee, actually.” The attendant supplied.
“Oh. Toffee, then.” Ruby amended easily.
Garnet adjusted her shades before nodding decisively, tilting her head towards where she'd last heard the cashier. “I’ll take one of each.”
“And I’ll have two of the moonshine truffles.” Sapphire said from Garnet’s side, and a bag rustled as the cashier began gathering their orders.
Ruby stayed quiet for a moment more, still muttering quietly to themself as they pored over the selections. It wasn’t until the cashier finished bagging that Ruby seemed to be satisfied, and they began rattling off an impressive list of chocolates.
The rest of the transaction took up a couple of minutes, and Ruby took the bags off the counter with a mild grunt and a thank you.
“Alright, let’s get home. I’ve got five bucks to win.” They said as they passed Sapphire and Garnet on the way to the door.
“You’re in a hurry,” Sapphire hummed, and Garnet snickered at the sly curl to her voice, “Having doubts?”
Ruby blew a raspberry at them, “As if. The sooner I get home, the sooner I get the money, and the sooner I get to rub it-”
A bell chimed, high and fleeting, at the same time a rush of by now familiar magic filled the shop. Sunlight pooled on Garnet’s tongue as flowers petals roared in her ears. There was a moment of stillness, and the ball of emotions too tangled to unravel just now rose to clog her throat as understanding dawned.
They’d found it. The Garden was here. Distantly, she heard the sound of bags hitting the floor.
“Oh!” Came a voice from the decidedly not-a-street space beyond the open door. Somewhere beyond the shock, Garnet linked the voice to the person who’d been calling her phone. This was Pearl, then. “Hello there! I - uhm - hmm.” Pearl paused for a moment, a disgruntled noise rolling past her lips. “I honestly wasn't expecting you until tomorrow at least, at the rate you all were progressing. I don't even have snacks out.”
“Pearl? Are they here?” Another voice called from a distant room, sounding excited and eager. Garnet blinked. Someone else? She had a nice voice: a soothing alto to counter Pearl’s soprano. Maybe this was the Rose Pearl had mentioned in one of her phone calls?
“Yes!” Pearl called back, “Oh, Rose, it’s terrible. There’s nothing out for them, this isn’t the first impression I wanted to give them at all!”
The other woman, Rose, chuckled and the sound of footsteps followed her into the room. “Nevermind that, Pearl. You’ll have plenty of time to make a good impression. We’ll be teaching them, after all!” She made it to the door, pulling it open further, and broad, soft hands coaxed the three of them in by the shoulders. “Welcome! Come in, come in! I’m so happy to finally get to meet you! We have so much to talk about.”
The jovial greeting finally broke through some of Garnet’s shock, long enough for her to lean in Ruby’s direction while the other frantically picked their bags back up to whisper, “You owe me five bucks.”
The door swung shut, cutting off Ruby’s indignant reply, and the little bell atop the door sung merrily in the silence left behind.
Jeoffrey stared for a long moment at the empty street beyond the door. There was no hint of the warm room it had opened to before, and not a glimpse of his mysterious customers. The only confirmation they’d been here at all was the receipt still sticking out of the register and the heavy blooms of flowers garnishing the doorframe, soft and real and flourishing when moments ago they’d been nothing more than plastic and fabric.
He looked down at the phone clutched in his hands, the video he’d managed to take playing on a loop.
Three figures, standing with their backs to the camera in front of a wooden door that decidedly didn’t fit the sleek glass interior of the chocolate shop. Flower petals spun in the air around them, cascading from the quickly growing blooms along the doorframe, and soft light glowed around the seams between wood and glass. Three bags of chocolate sat askew on the ground beside one of the smaller figures, and all three of them stared into the open doorway.
But that’s where the clarity stopped. Where Jeoffrey remembered a cozy looking room lit with what he would guess was mid-afternoon light, the video showed a shifting, dizzying haze. At some point, a figure comes out through the door, arms wide as it makes its way to the original three figures. Though it is obviously humanoid in shape, its features and fine details are lost in a soft, pale pink glow that shifts and moves like vines. Jeoffrey couldn’t actually remember what the figure had looked like in real-time, either. His eyes had slid off of her whenever he’d tried to get a good glimpse. He remembered pink, waves and waves of pink, but that was about it.
The figure ushered the three into the door, fading into that dizzying haze as they stepped over the threshold, but one of the figures stopped just before entering, staring into the doorway for a moment before turning to look point blank at the camera. Her face started out as a clear image, dark brown skin and two blue eyes, one clouded over, with blue-black bangs askew to show them both plain as day. She smiled a small, secretive smile, then stepped backwards towards the haze, putting one finger to her mouth as her face lost definition, melting into the distortions, and she pulled the door shut behind her.
The wooden door disappeared as soon as it hit the frame, and the street outside showed clear as day through the glass.
“Martha’s going to have a conniption when I show her this.” He muttered, still dazed as he grabbed a broom to begin sweeping up the flower petals scattered across the floor.