-B10-

Fragrant odors of confectionery drift through the warm air. A floury and arid breeze radiates from the opening oven. With a delighted smile a younger woman with braided raven hair, hoists up a wooden oven spatula, deftly slides underneath a dozen buns, and carefully lifts them up. She steps back with a graceful twist and guides the bounty to the counter. An eager grin graces her pale face as she masterfully shakes the buns down upon the counter top into a neat arrangement. She smiles with pride, sweeps up her wide brimmed, black pointed hat, and dons it as she walks behind a glass counter display.

Another youthful woman with flowing blonde hair pushes through the back door leading to the kitchen, balances a large tray of cupcakes, and eases them down to a nearby table. “Here’s the apple spice cupcakes, Agatha! Took a little longer than I expected.”

Agatha nods as she surveys the treats. “They look absolutely lovely. I’m sure they’re going to sell nicely today.”

An older woman’s voice calls out from the back, “Gladys! Need some help back here, this one is a bit heavy for me.”

Gladys glances behind her, and sighs while rolling her eyes. Agatha pats her shoulder, and shakes her head. “Bear with it for now. She’ll get better soon. You know how it goes.”

With snort, Gladys smirks with a nod and pushes back through the kitchen door. Agatha adjusts her black witches hat, brushes off her apron, and stands behind the register patiently. Minutes of peaceful ambiance pass in the warm morning light and airy hints of sugar and spice fill the front lobby. A dark outline shadows the glass door. The chime above rings loud as the door swings hard and fast open. A tall imposing, armored man with short, red hair stomps into the business. He snaps his gaze around the room, locks his glare upon Agatha, and points his gauntlet covered hand. “There you are! Foul WITCH!”

Narrowing her sheer unamusement, Agatha tugs the corner of her mouth, narrows her green eyes, and sighs loudly. “Well, hello, Damien. Another baseless accusation today?”

Shaking his head, Damien dons a bold smirk, and laughs confidently. “Oh, no! Not today. I got you dead to rights this time. I’ve have proof and everything!”

Resting her hands on her hips, Agatha frowns, straightens her pose, and sneers defiantly. “Well, what questionable evidence do you have THIS time?”

The back door leading to the kitchen opens up. Gladys peeks out, spots Damien, and contorts her disgust. She crosses her arms, tilts her head up, and stands near Agatha expectantly. Damien sides steps, and motions to a small boy standing nearby. “I found this very child caught in a large trap you placed around the back of your evil establishment. He says he found a trading card in there! The means, the location, and the intent to capture children.”

Agatha curls the corner of her mouth, shifts her weight to the other foot, and snorts. “Please. That’s the best you’ve got? How do I know you didn’t grab some kid off the street and bring him in here to go along with your story.”

Fishing through his pocket, Damien fumbles to his phone, struggles to tap a few buttons through his gauntlet, and turns the screen towards Agatha and Gladys. The video plays a clip of the same child trapped in huge cage. Agatha and Gladys struggle against reflexive shifts to uneasy expressions. Damien grins widely, stands up confidently, and laughs boldy. “You are NOT weaseling your way out of this. Not this time. I don’t care what you say. I’ve got all the evidence I need.”

With a count upon each finger, he recites a list. “You’re magic users. You wear those hats. You run a bakery. Pfft... nice cover there. I’ve heard cackling coming from that kitchen. And now, I’ve recorded you trapping children. Now, if you come clean with me, I’ll recommend the sheriff might make it a quick execution.”

Narrowing her irritated glare upon Damien with silent glance over to Gladys, Agatha draws in a long breath, and retorts with ire driven gestures. “OH! So, all you got is a string of coincidences and the flimsy justification of some outdated, bigoted stereotype! I swear, you try to succeed in this world and someone is out to bring you down.”

Gladys huffs, and narrows her blue eyed stare. “In case you have been living under a rock for the last eon, magic users are common these days! There’s colleges for the stuff now. There literally two in this city. One is a few blocks down the street even!”

Agatha nods, shifts her sneering gaze upon Damien, and growls out. “And the hat is part of the THEME! It’s a theme bakery based on a FAIRY TALE! Gods almighty. Read a book! You can do that right? Or do you only like the ones with pretty pictures and large print, single syllable words?”

Frowning resolutely, Damien motions towards the back room and turns his nose up towards Agatha and Gladys. “How do you explain the cackling?!”

Agatha and Gladys exchange a awkward glance, and think quietly for a moment. Gladys twists her mouth, rolls her eyes with embarrassment, and shakes her head. “That’s Morgana. She’s been listening to a new book on her phone. It’s some comedy that’s she’s absolutely hooked on and well... She doesn’t know how loud she is with her ear buds in.”

With a long sigh, Agatha grits her teeth, and groans. “You have no idea how embarrassing it is., and jarring it can be.”

Cracking sly smirk, she lets out a singular laugh and lifts her brow. “So, wannabe hero... Got anything else you’d like to try?”

Damien squints his eyes, sneers his upper lip, and directs his voice to the boy. “You should get out of here and head home. This could get dangerous.”

The boy glance up at Damien, shrugs his shoulders, and wanders back out the door while sorting through trading cards. Damien returns his attention to Agatha and Gladys. “I got something... Yeah...”

Snatching a handle at his waist, he draws out a sword, levels the blade towards Agatha, and readies himself. “A MAGICAL SWORD! It can detect if the person it is pointed at is making a false statement!”

Both Agatha and Gladys flinch and exchange uneasy glances. They slide their focus back to Damien and frown. Damien chuckles pridefully and grows a grin wide on his pale face. “You are NOT going slither your way of this by smooth talking me! You are going to tell me the truth right now!”

Agatha narrows her glare, crosses her arms, and shouts. “Am I?!”

As the blade glows faintly, Damien settles the sword tip’s aim at Agatha. “Oh, yes you are! Oh, I bet you are just plotting right now, and trying to figure out how to cook me in one of those pastries.”

Gritting her teeth, Agatha rolls her neck uncomfortably and sighs. “Here we go.”

She draws in a long breath and states. “We are magic users. We are not going around kidnapping children to cook into our baked goods. The trap is not for catching children. And, I would NEVER cook you into a pastry.”

After long moment of awkward silence, Damien glances uncertainly at the blade and the faint glow upon it. Curiously, he pulls the sword back, eyes the tip, and aims it at his free hand. “My hair is black.”

The weapon flashes a red for a few seconds. Damien twists his mouth and ponders a moment. “My hair is red.”

The sword continues its idle glow. Noticing Agatha rolling her eyes, he points the blade back at her. Agatha sighs and smirks dismissively. “My hair is red.”

The blade flashes a dull crimson for a moment. Damien withdraws the blade, holds it in both hands, and puzzles at the device. Shaking her head, Gladys snorts dismissively and glances with a sly smile to Agatha. “We actually have been trying to catch some strange creatures that have been quite the pests.”

Springing his eyes wide, Damien swiftly readies the blade and points right at Gladys with an expectant grin. “Then describe them to me.”

Blinking her surprise, Gladys twists her mouth and glances around nervously. “Well, um... They typically large, bulbous beings. Often heavy, hunched over... Agatha?”

The blade snaps its aim over to Agatha and she searches her mind. “Their traits vary, but from my experience they often have an odor to them. They’re heavy breathers, hairy, and move awkwardly. Very obsessive with collecting things. They tend to favor basements or dark areas.”

Damien keep the blade level and waits. He glances down at the constant, unchanging faint glow upon the weapon. Seconds pass, and he gradually lowers the sword down. He twist his mouth awkwardly, sighs, and sheaths the blade. “Huh... Okay... Gods almighty, I think I owe you all an apology.”

The tension ease in Agatha and Gladys, and they share a quick glance. Agatha brushes off her apron, rests her hands on her hips, and slowly shakes her head. “It’s quite alright. Mistakes happen. And it was quite the odd set of circumstances.”

Damien slowly nods, and his mind searches through his thoughts. “Yeah... Hmm. From what you described it sounds like some kind of goblinoid. Maybe a trollkin? Might be either of those now that I’m thinking about.”

While Damien ponders out loud, Gladys sneaks a cupcake from the tray into her hand, and slowly traces out a symbol with her finger upon it. As traces of magical glow sink into the treat and fade inside it, she deftly slips the tiny cake into Agatha’s awaiting hand. Agatha lifts an eyebrow, dons a charming smile, and presents the cupcake out towards Damien. “Just to show there’s no hard feelings about misunderstanding, try one of our specialty cupcakes for free.”

Damien blinks back to awareness, notices the treat, and cautiously takes it. He sniffs it, slowly peels the paper wrapping off, and examines it closely. After some hesitation and deliberation, he shrugs his shoulders and takes a bite of it. Chewing slowly, he arrives to a nodding approval and complimentary tone. “This tastes really good. You can really taste the apple and spice in it.”

A sly grin cracks out from the corner of Agatha’s mouth, and she projects a suggestive cadence. “If YOU think there might be a strange goblin or troll around, I think YOU really need to take care of it. YOU seem to be the most qualified one around.”

Damien’s eyes flutter a moment with a brief flicker of magical glow. Cocking his head to the side, he sorts through his thoughts. “You know... You’re right. If something that terrible is roaming around this city, I should really take care of it.”

A new spark of drive lightens his mood, and he grants the Agatha and Gladys a small bow. “Thank you for your understanding. I’m going to investigate these creatures wandering around. If you have anymore information let me know. You all have a good day.”

With a pivot, he steps quickly to the door. He pauses halfway through the door, blinks, and glances back. “Um, if it’s not a problem, could I come back and buy a dozen of those cupcakes?”

Gladys grins wide and giggles happily. “Of course. We’re not ones to turn away good business.”

Damien grants a final nod and departs. Agatha and Gladys watch through the front glass windows and observe Damien walk down the street until he’s out of sight. Both women search around the room, and then sigh long and loud. Gladys groans and shakes her head. “Oh my gods! He was SO persistent! And, that damned magical sword. I’m so glad he focused on you first, I was trying to figure out something to say.”

With a roll of her green eyes, Agatha dismissively tosses her raven black, braided hair. “Not the first time some adventurer has tried some bargain bin magic truth sword with me. Those things are so easy to work around.”

Gladys snorts and leans close towards Agatha. “I can’t believe you got him chasing some kind of goblin or troll.”

Agatha smiles tightly and snorts. “Well, if you cherry pick the description there really isn’t that much of a difference between what were trying to catch.”

Twisting a flit of frustration on her tan face, Gladys grumbles and shakes her head. “We’re going to have to change the bait again. We can’t be attracting children again.”

Stepping towards the kitchen door, Agatha pushes it open and gestures Gladys through. “I think it’s more location than anything. We really need to set up around the comic book shops like we were before. But to fair, who’s letting their kid wander around the back alleys in this town?”

Walking through the kitchen and moving down the aisle next to Agatha, Gladys rocks her head side to side, and shrugs with her hands out. “Who knows, some parents. Oh well, I wanted to see if we could get anything closer to us. These things are always so heavy to haul.”

Agatha turns to the right, places her hand on the wall, and recites an incantation. Her hand passes through, and both women phase through illusion onto a flight of stairs. At the bottom landing, they travel into a large, carved stone chamber. Cages line the outer walls, and an old woman with tends a huge oven covered in radiant arcane symbols. Gladys grins widely at the white haired witch. “Are we ready, Morgana?”

Morgana glances over her crooked shoulders, and parts her jagged grin. “Yes! I can feel the pure childish energy in this one. Such a tight, unrelenting grip on his childhood. Despite his size, there’s barely any adult in him.”

She steps to the side as Agatha and Gladys join her. The three woman stare hungrily at the hefty man bound tightly upon a huge cooking sheet. Struggling against his bindings, he coughs between heavy pants as puffs of flour and spices plume up from his stained anime themed shirt. He glances around at the gathered women through nappy hair, and sniffs while scoots around on his cargo shorts. “Enough is enough, my ladies. I pride myself on being a gentlemen, and can easily forgive beautiful women like yourselves. So, if you would please untie me, I will take my katana and leave peacefully.”

Agatha, Gladys, and Morgana share a long eye roll. Agatha steps next to the oven door and grips the handle. “Oh, Morgana, we need to change up the bait again. Some stupid child wandered into the trap.”

Gladys works her hands through a series of gestures and recites a chain of incantations. Traces of symbols flicker to life upon the floor, and the massive cooking sheet hovers up to illuminated life. Morgana quirks her brow and mumbles out. “Well, shit. I thought those old trading cards about those pocket monster things would have worked a little better. Back to the drawing board on that one.”

Shifting her attention to the manchild on the floating platform, she squints and pokes hard with her twisted finger. “You. What’s the latest fad in collectibles?”

The rotund man mumbles to an answer. “Um, uh... My friends on the forum I run are waiting for the latest figurines from the last season of So I Reincarnated As A Toaster In Magic-”

Morgana groans loudly in annoyance. “Ungh. Heard enough. Door please!”

As Agatha drops down the oven gate, Morgana boots the cooking sheet with strength beyond her form, and sends the giant cooking sheet with manchild in to the magical cooker. Agatha brings up the door, taps the timer start, and giggles over the faint screams. “I always love when you do that.”

Gladys skips up next to Morgana and gazes through oven window into the maelstrom of arcane activity within the twisted confines. “I can’t wait! Once you get your fill and your youth back, I’ll have to sample. This new recipe sounds great!”

Morgana glances over to Agatha and cracks a sinister smirk. “Oh, by the way, did you deal with that hero type finally?”

Agatha inspects her finger nails, and chuckles darkly. “Of course. A little selective truth telling and he really didn’t know what to think anymore. Perfect opportunity for a cupcake.”

Blinking as she remembers, Gladys cocks her head to the side and inquires. “So, when you said you would never cook him into a pastry, you meant it?”

With a dry smirk, Agatha sighs and rolls her eyes. “Oh please, that much ginger? That’d ruin any you cooked him into.”