Athena watched as Scarlett grabbed a box from one of the shelves and placed its contents on the table. The contents appeared to be a scrying bowl and crystals, and packets of powder.
"To be honest, I don't really like the sort of magic that allows you to spy on other people." Scarlett said. "I like to respect people's privacy, unless there's an emergency or something. Sure, I might sell crystal balls and other such things in the front of the store, but those don't really work - you can't see what other people in the past, present, and possible future are doing with those. Those are just novelties like the so-called magic eight balls."
"The real thing is something I don't share with anyone I don't trust not to abuse it. We all know that people are worried enough about spying through technological means. Imagine how people would feel about it being done magically. Anyway, unless I'm really worried about someone or I'm trying to solve some mystery that I don't think could be solved another way, I'd prefer not to do it."
Athena nodded. She knew that a lot of the time, it was best to mind ones' own business.
Scarlett then filled the bowl with water, and sprinkled some powder. She then chanted a few words in some obscure language. Athena had seen similar rituals in the past, and even participated in a few. Some of what was done was just trappings, while other elements actually activated the magic. When Scarlett was finished with the powder and the chants, she turned to Athena.
"All right. Now, stare into the bowl, and picture either a person or a location in your mind, and speak the name of that person or place. Don't worry - unlike some other spells, you don't need to know their real name. Just the name you know them by that matches the mental picture you have. It should work, especially if it's a name many people know them by." Scarlett said.
Athena was fairly sure the people she was thinking of were people she knew by their real names, anyway. And she wasn't about to request looking in on someone she'd never met.
"Okay. Let's try this out." Athena said. She stared into the clear shiny water in the bowl, and spoke a name. "Sarah McMillan."
The waters clouded for a bit, and then a vision appeared. In the vision was what appeared to be a lower middle class bedroom. Athena recognized Susan McMillan, Sarah's mother, right away. She was standing near a horrifically disfigured figure in a motorized wheelchair. Athena knew right away that this figure was Sarah.
Or what was left of Sarah. Her face was an ugly mass of scar tissue and her hair was nearly gone. Her torso was surrounded by a tangled series of tubes and wires connecting her to life support machines. Her upper arms and legs were all that remained of her limbs, and they were immobile and useless.
Athena knew right away that this was the result of that unknown wisher's wish. Though unless the wisher had a truly deep and burning hatred of Sarah, this result was probably not intentional. The Charity Stone had chosen a specific type of ugliness in its interpretation of the wish. While some forms of "ugliness" were subjective, there were not many people in the world who could look at what Sarah had become and not think "This is a hideous sight".
It was the type of ugliness that was an uncomfortable reminder of how fragile life was. Of how many things people valued - looks, mobility, health - could be taken away in an instant simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many people didn't like being reminded of this brutal fact of life, let alone being confronted with it. And there was no way one could look at this version of Sarah without being confronted with it.
Many of the popular crowd - the jocks and the preps - disliked the Goth crowd for their fascination with dark and morbid subjects. But this was way beyond that.
Susan McMillan looked stressed and angry, and, Athena thought, more than a bit confused. "This doesn't make ANY sense at all!" Susan was saying. "These articles I've been reading say that EVERY student at the high school got hurt, not just you. Since WHEN?"
Susan went on. "And I just got off the phone with your father. He says we've been here for two months now, since we sold the house and most of our most valuable possessions. I told him we just suddenly found ourselves here a few hours ago, and he thinks the stress might be driving me crazy. He's calling for a psychiatrist."
"What are you talking about?" Sarah said weakly. She was barely able to move even her head. Athena was sure that the reason Sarah was in an even worse condition than all the other victims of the Lake Point tragedy was because her wish for everyone else to know what it was like to experience pain and suffering couldn't contradict the other wish on the Charity Stone for Sarah to be the ugliest girl in school. What had happened to the students was horrible, but in this new reality, Sarah had received the worst of it.
"I'm talking about this." Susan said, showing a phone screen to Sarah, and scrolling through it herself after a while, since Sarah was unable to do it herself. Athena could not see what was on the phone screen from the angle displayed in the bowl, but she could guess that it was a news article on the Lake Point disaster.
"What ... what happened?" Sarah asked. "Was it ... was it my wish?"
"Your wish?" Susan asked. "That's non..." Susan stopped. "Wait a minute."
Susan McMillan paused. "This doesn't make sense! I know we found ourselves here right after you said it, but..."
She stopped speaking. Athena knew exactly what was happening here. Susan McMillan had been with Sarah when Sarah made her wish.
"My wish ... it came true." Sarah said, a tear visible in her eye.
"I know this is insane, but maybe something happened." Susan said. "Maybe the machine did something else to you. Wish something else. Anything."
Sarah paused. "I wish I had never gone anywhere near that machine."
"Try again." Susan urged.
"I wish I was back to how I was before any of this happened." Sarah said.
Again, nothing happened. Athena supposed it was probably for the best, since it was such a vaguely phrased wish. But she knew what Sarah and her mother didn't: The Charity Stone only gave its target one free wish. In order for Sarah to get another free wish, someone currently in possession of the Charity Stone would have to make a wish affecting Sarah.
"I's not working." Sarah said.
"This doesn't make sense." Susan said again. "None of this makes any sense..."
Athena turned away from the bowl, and as she did, the image of Sarah McMillan and Susan McMillan vanished.
"They know less about what's going on than we do." Athena said to Scarlett. "We know Sarah's mother remembers the reality before Sarah's wish because she heard the wish, but she doesn't know why everything's changed. She's grasping at straws."
Scarlett nodded. "She doesn't know about the wishing stones. Of course none of this makes sense to her. I don't really think either of them know anything more about the Reality Branches prototype beyond the speech Mr. McMillan and company gave at the presentation. I think we'll have to look elsewhere for that."
Scarlett continued. "There's just enough energy for two more uses of this spell. Maybe you could check in on someone from the school, or from McMillan Tech Industries. See if they know anything useful."
Athena looked into the bowl, thinking of her next move.