Lamia - Chapter 56

Published at 31st of August 2023 08:47:10 AM

Chapter 56

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“Heya,” Eric greeted Mark amiably, depositing the heavy backpack of textbooks near the bottom of the stairs. “I just plugged the kettle in on my way past the kitchen, I need something warm, the wind out there has a bite almost as bad as a certain dark lady's. Want some?”

Mark glanced up from the chessboard on the coffee table. “Sure. Learn anything?”

“Not especially.” He came nearer, and perched on the arm of the couch to study the board. “That looks familiar.”

“It should, it's the game we played yesterday. Not surprising you don't remember. You won, as usual.” It was frustrating, being able to win only occasionally, and then mostly through luck. “I'm trying to figure out what I did and what I should have done.”

“Want a hand with it?”

“Well, I don't seem to be getting far alone.” Mark sighed and sat back.

“You're excellent at any game that involves killing everything in sight,” Eric said. “Even military games where you have to build forces and fight, although you lose a hell of a lot of units doing it. Chess is a kind of combat too, but you can't produce more units to replace lost ones, you're stuck with what you have. Which means you have to plan out where each will do the most good, and make sure it's worth it if you have to sacrifice one.”

“My mind just doesn't work that way. Lamias have been evolving forever towards being better killers. Strategy and finesse don't come into it. Spreading around a whole lot of blood does.”

“Oh, come on. I seem to recall a lot of finesse involved in getting me home from Kitty Corner, way back when.”

“Seduction is another one of those things we've evolved for.”

“But you are capable of, hmm. Not subtlety, exactly, but some degree of planning. You can't make me believe that when you're hunting you just grab whoever's in reach, drag him out of sight, and sink your teeth into him.”

“No,” Mark admitted. “I'm good at manipulating people. Largely human males, and largely via their hormones, and largely on pure instinct, there isn't much thought involved.” It felt distinctly odd to be talking like this to a human other than Christian, but he had to confess, at least to himself, that it felt good to be able to just talk without having to watch what he said.

“I still think you can learn how to apply it to this. Let me grab the tea, I'll be right back. Where's Chris, anyway? Library?”

“Basement. The domovikha dragged him down there to check on something about half an hour ago. He was in a pretty good mood when he went by, I think he was in the library until then and having a lot of luck with whatever's caught his fancy this week.”

“Good. He could use it, after all the stress he's been under.” Eric vanished back into the kitchen.

Stress? Well, yes, you could call Christian's life lately stressful, between watching Eric closely to make sure Jade's baby didn't start draining him as it drew closer to birth, and watching his carefully-built local reputation disintegrate. Some of his regulars had stopped calling for readings, and requests for housecleaning were dropping steadily; Sara and Val and the other gamers and Christian's handful of loyal customers began to pass on rumours that explained it. Christian's gifts were all a hoax; his gifts were real but he used them to gain money, sex, revenge, or anything else he desired; Christian was high priest of a clandestine blood and death cult that included Mark and Eric as priests and the rest of the gamers as initiates. Complaints had been made to Christian's boss about his behaviour at work and the store being closed at times he was supposed to be on; Val's adamant defence and his history of happy customers had led to Amanda believing him that someone was persecuting him over a difference of beliefs, but it hadn't been easy. All things considered, 'stress' was probably putting it mildly.

That anyone who had ever met Chris could believe any of it struck Mark as more proof of how easily manipulated humans were.

Eric returned with a tray bearing teapot, cups, and other necessities, and the pair settled themselves to the puzzle of how a lamia could learn to play chess effectively.

Eric, Mark decided with a sigh that he kept to himself, had far more patience than he would have had, were their positions reversed.

Sid raced excitedly into the room, and skidded to a halt to grab a toy mouse in the middle of the floor. Well, his front end stopped; his back end flipped tail-over-head without his grasp on the mouse loosening at all. He kicked enthusiastically at it, and rolled to a crouch with his tail lashing wildly.

Christian stopped to crouch and peek at Sid around the corner of the doorway, to Sid's utter delight; the cat streaked off again, and Christian ran after him, narrowly missing Eric. The blond swore as he jerked instinctively away; the tea sloshed in the half-full cup he'd just picked up, and quite a lot of it ended up all over his blue sweatshirt.

“Chris!” Eric peeled off his drenched sweatshirt and glowered at the witch. “You're damned lucky that tea was from an hour ago and wasn't hot. I may still have to kill you if this stains.”

“Sorry,” Christian said contritely. “I'll get the stains out for you. Sid really wanted to play, and I'm done in the basement.”

“What were you doing?”

“We had the extramundane equivalent of termites. Or one big termite, anyway. It was very slowly munching its way in through the shields, and incidentally through the foundations. I killed it no problem, most of the work was fixing the damage. The domovikha was some pissed off at it for having the gall to try to get into her house.” He collected a handful of Sid's toy mice, and sat down to toss them in the air, laughing over Sid's physics-defying acrobatics as he leapt for them. “All taken care of.”

Well, it didn't sound like it was much of a problem, but Mark couldn't help wondering whether it had really been random chance. A hole through foundations and shields would probably make at least some of the Fellowship extremely happy. There was no way to find out for sure, though, he'd simply have to stay alert.

Mark stretched, and glanced at the plate to see if there were any cookies left—there weren't. “Maybe we should start thinking about supper?”

“I'll make that honey-garlic pork stir-fry you like so much, if you'll come help me chop vegetables,” Eric offered.

“You were going to anyway,” Mark laughed. “I saw the pork in the fridge soaking.”


“Whatever. I'll help anyway, though.”

“Me too,” Christian said, and they all migrated in the direction of the kitchen, Sid included. “So. How was your chess game?”

“I suck at chess,” Mark growled.

“You're doing better,” Eric said, from the fridge. “I didn't get it overnight when Jade taught me, either.”

As usual, at any mention of Jade, Christian gave Eric that slightly unfocused look that meant he was checking for any drain on his life-energy.

“I'll start the pork,” Eric added, depositing an armload of vegetables on the counter. “Start chopping.”

Christian saluted playfully, and collected two knives and both the large and small cutting boards.

“I think I found a really cool book,” Christian said conversationally. “It's all about how to create amulets. There seems to be a definite trick to being able to push a particular action into a static object, backed with enough power for it to function without being fed or being tied to a stream. If I look at it from the perspective of what my grandmother used to do, working magic into afghans and sweaters and things, it actually makes some sense.”

“Is this something you're expecting to need?” Eric asked. Sid hopped up on a chair and peeked over the edge of the table to see what they were doing; apparently deciding that it was uninteresting, he bounded off in the direction of his porch.

“I'd like to put some heavy-duty healing and protective spells in cat collars and give them to my ferals. I could probably talk Amanda into letting me sell them at the store, too, for cats and dogs. If I can make enough to cover the cost of materials by selling a few, and maybe help a few pets stay healthy at the same time, that'd be great. But it's the ferals I'm worried about.”

“Hey, for that, I'm more than willing to donate towards materials. And I doubt I’m the only one.”

“Good point,” Mark said. “What do you need for materials, anyway?”

Christian shrugged. “A piece of string with a decent-sized gemstone bead on it would probably do the trick, when it comes right down to it, although I’m pretty sure that it will last longer if I actually craft something and work the spell into it while I do, even if it’s just a simple wire-and-bead pendant. It's going to take me a little time to figure out how to do it, and then precisely what medium will work best for feline and canine healing and protection, and how to do it in a form that won’t create the risk of a cat getting caught on something and not being able to get free, so I might need to use breakaway safety collars which is going to bump the expenses a lot. Probably there'll be multiple stones and designs that'll work in slightly different ways, in which case I'll lay 'em all out and let the ferals choose for themselves which one feels best.”

“You'll need to make them look pretty to sell them,” Mark commented.

“I know. Maybe Val or Sara will have some ideas. It's something to work on, anyway.”

“Something to consider,” Eric said. “If you’re comfortable with selling them, we could get you set up online where you’d have a wider potential customer base. People pay electronically, and you mail them whatever they bought, then they rate it so others can see what earlier customers thought. You’d have to figure out approximate shipping costs, inside Canada and outside, but it allows for shipping costs being based on destination. You could even use the money to order materials online to be sent here.”

“You’re really trying hard to get me to join the twenty-first century,” Christian laughed. “Let me master making them, then we can maybe talk about that.”

“Any time. I’ll take a bit of a look into the details, just so I can actually answer questions and make sure we’re using the best approach. But obviously, working on making effective amulets that are, as Mark says, pretty, has to come first.”

And Chris was unquestionably happier when he had something to work on that he felt was going to be of use to someone. Eric glanced at Mark, and they shared a smile—Mark probably had the same thought. It was good to see Christian intent on something instead of gloomy from the rumours.

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