I almost wasn’t going to go running. I was going to be a lazy ass piker and sit on my duff. But my dog hadn’t done a thing all day except wait patiently for me so I thought, ok, a walk around the field. But then I got outside and it was all quiet and grey, still humid but cooler thanks to not-a-hurricane-now Earl. Merely a tropical storm or depression, or whatever they heck they called it. Anyway, it was perfect running weather so I went, thinking, a short run. But then I came around to the power lines where I always get my second wind and it wasn’t really that much farther so…I ran. And while I ran it occurred to me I might offer an excerpt, something fun. Hopefully, you’ll like it.
[The Stage: it is January 1806 and Arlen, the heroine of our tale, has recently arrived in London, having accepted the fact that she is a witch. She has just returned home from her first ball when the imp she conjured returns from the task she sent him on...]
“The hour was closer to dawn than dusk when Arlen returned to her room. She was completely exhausted. Her feet hurt from dancing, her stomach was full from indulging in too many lemon tarts, and she had a bit of a headache from all the champagne. She was glad Darcy hadn’t chosen this night to make another attempt on her life. She wouldn’t have been able to stop him; she was too tired to do anything except sleep.
But no sooner had she closed the door when Vathek popped into existence, glaring at her from her desk in the corner, his amber eyes looking very feline and very predatory. She didn’t even have time to be surprised by his sudden appearance.
“You didn’t tell me there was an Adept involved,” he hissed.
“I…I don’t know what you mean,” Arlen said, backing up a step, the door at her back,“I don’t even know what an adept is.”
“How could you possibly not know?” Vathek asked, looking at her as if she were the dullest of persons.
“I didn’t even know I was a witch until a ghost told me,” Arlen said, “This is all new to me. Remember?”
He narrowed his eyes at her until they were mere slivers, tipping his nose upwards and sniffing in her direction.
“Hmm,” he said after a moment, “Sit then, take those ugly shoes off. They’re pinching your feet.”
“How do you…”
He grinned that grin, making her shudder. “I can smell intent, remember? And the intent of those shoes is not comfort, it’s style.”
Arlen sat down gratefully on her bed, pulling the shoes off and then the stockings, rubbing her feet until the soreness began to abate.
“Lord Wyndham wishes to make a bargain with me.”
“What kind of bargain?”
“One in which we both tell each other the truth.”
“That could be dangerous.”
“I know,” Arlen said, “But he said you would vouch for him.”
“Well? Would you?”
“He doesn’t mean you any harm,” Vathek said reluctantly.
“Does that mean I can trust him?”
“You might,” the imp allowed.
“And what about Cato? He said Cato was his advantage.”
“He was correct,” Vathek said darkly, his gaze narrowing again.
“How is he an advantage?”
“I told you, he’s an Adept.”
“Yes, but I don’t know what that means,” Arlen reminded him.
“It means he has been trained by a master and is now a master himself.”
“A master of what?”
“Who knows?” Vathek answered crossly, “But he found me out before I had a chance to look about.”
“Is he a witch then?”
“Not exactly. Your power is inherited, like the color of your hair and eyes. His power was trained through study and discipline. Witches make mistakes; Adepts seldom do.”
“How were you discovered?”
“I don’t think I care to speak of it,” Vathek said with a wounded sniff.
“Surely it can’t have been that bad,” Arlen said, pulling the pins from her hair, “After all, you’re still here.”
“No, not bad at all – unless, of course, you enjoy being caught by your tail like a rodent and held up as if you were some specimen your captor was thinking of pinning under glass. No, not bad at all, in fact, I’m sure I must’ve enjoyed it.”
His amber eyes narrowed to angry slits and Arlen stifled a laugh, forcing herself to sound contrite. “I’m very sorry you were subjected to such…manhandling.”
He glared at her again.
“Really, I am,” she said with as much sincerity as she could find. “If I’d had any idea I wouldn’t have sent you.”
He sniffed one more time before settling back on his haunches. “I would be careful of those two; they are up to something and I am not sure it is good.”
“I thought you said I could trust Lord Wyndham.”
“That doesn’t preclude the two of them from having their own agenda. And Cato could easily have cast a MisKnowing. I’m afraid I’m not powerful enough to overcome something like that, not coming from an Adept.”
“Then what should I do?”
“Go fishing,” Vathek said with an evil smile, “Who knows? Perhaps you’ll catch something interesting.”
Next up: A Review of Dianne Salerni's We Hear The Dead.