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Lamia - Chapter 65

Published at 29th of September 2023 11:40:51 AM


Chapter 65

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Christian settled himself comfortably on a pillow, stretched to loosen his muscles, and arranged himself with legs crossed and back straight. Across from him, on the opposite side of the inlaid pentagram, his grandfather did much the same.

This kind of formal summoning varied depending on what kind of liminal one was targeting. If it was less an invitation than a demand, then the other factors mattered much less, but to get on their good side, some kind of effort was usually required.

Eric was taking care of that. Near one corner, but not crowded into it, he was waiting patiently on a thick rug with four flat cushions neatly arranged on it. He’d been up early making the oatmeal cookies that waited on a plate covered by a linen napkin and arranging the rest. The tea mix that waited to go into the magically-hot teapot was one he’d learned from Jade, an herbal mix of mainly berries and berry leaves with a hint of mint, and he’d searched local stores for the ingredients; kitsune, he’d assured Christian and Seth, loved it, and even more so as a gift.

Eric was adamant that kitsune had little patience with pretentious formality; they made their own rules and respected those who could do likewise while still maintaining courtesy. If one did answer an overly-formal invitation, it would be purely to make mischief. Thus they’d all chosen to dress well but with moderation. After much thought and some agonizing, Christian had chosen his green cotton pants and an unbleached cotton tank top, clothes that were comfortable and suited him, and as always his pentagram-and-cross necklace.

“Ready?” Seth asked, brushing a couple of black cat hairs off his dress slacks absently. After a lifetime with Ruth and her cats, he probably hadn’t even really noticed he was doing it.

“Any time,” Christian said.

“Let's get started, then.”

Tapping into the nearest river took Christian no time at all; he felt the rush of pure power, and opened his eyes to see it dancing around them as faint halos, making the dust in the air sparkle. Seth connected with one of the streams that fed into the river, and the power-level in the library took another jump, the sparkling dust brightening and the halos strengthening. The pentagram inlaid in the floor between them shimmered with its own rainbow luminescence.

Raw power they had, and to spare; now they just had to focus it.

Christian closed his eyes again and built an image in his mind of a red vixen, banishing all thoughts save those of how graceful she was, how wise, how beautiful, how powerful, how compassionate... No other thoughts must be permitted to intrude. He backed that image with all the power he had, sent it out into all the universe as an invitation.

A low but definitely feminine laugh prompted Christian to open his eyes again.

A woman stood in the centre of the circle. Like Jade and Pearl, she wasn't more than five feet tall, and slender; unlike Jade and her loose white silk or Pearl’s fitted pastel dresses, this one wore close-fitting emerald tights, low black heeled boots, and a black halter-top under a white vest with red foxes all over it. Her vividly-auburn hair was cropped stylishly short.

“Well, that was the nicest invitation I've had in quite a while,” she said merrily. “Hello, pleased to meet you, I'm Tigerlily.”

“Welcome,” Seth said. “I’m Seth. This is Christian.”

“And the others far away who are behind you?”

“That’s my mother Rosa and my father Jacob,” Christian said. “And my mom’s sister Lillian and a couple others from their family.”

She glanced at Eric, and her smile broadened. “And you need no introductions to anyone from Jade’s clan, Eric.”

Eric just answered the smile. “Welcome. We won’t ask where you were, but you went out of your way to answer. Would you like a moment? There’s berry tea and homemade oatmeal cookies.”

“Oh, I’d love that, but only if we all share.”

“Of course.”

Eric knew what he was doing. His upbringing involved less diversity of liminals, but as much depth with kitsune in particular as humans were ever likely to get. Nervous as Christian was, he could have confidence in that.

Tigerlily washed her hands in the repurposed punch bowl of warm water without splashing a single drop, dried them neatly on the towel Eric offered, and knelt on one of the cushions with her back straight. Seth and Christian followed suit, Christian reminding himself repeatedly that Eric had said not to rush, that fumbling was worse than a deliberate and careful pace. Eric took the fourth place. He flipped the linen cover off the plate of cookies in the centre and offered it first to Tigerlily, who chose one and took a small bite.

“Mm, delicious.” Her next bite wasn’t quite as small. “And fresh from the oven, unless I’m losing my touch, and made by hands that know kitsune tastes.”

“Could we do less for you and still be anywhere short of rude or unfriendly?” Eric said, while Seth took a cookie, then Christian. They really were very good, sweet and chewy, and the small wild blueberries mixed into the dough gave them an interesting flavour.

“If I expected either, I wouldn’t have come,” Tigerlily said. “What you could do and what you choose to do are not necessarily the same thing. This is an impressive setting. The famous, or possibly infamous, Terevan library, hm? There are liminals out there who would love to have free access to this room. It’s a lovely place to work in. It feels very peaceful, and the plants make it welcoming.”

“My father worked hard on the garden in the loft,” Christian said. “He has a really strong affinity for the earth and plants. It’s easier to concentrate in a place that feels safe.”

“Absolutely.”

No talking business until after they’d shown proper hospitality, Eric said. That kept the conversation to small talk, which made Christian’s over-stretched nerves twang, but Seth at least appeared to be much calmer, and Eric was positively serene while at his most charming. At least Tigerlily showed every sign of genuinely enjoying herself, through the cookies and a cup of Eric’s hand-mixed kitsune blend which elicited an exclamation of delight. The trio of small flawless maple leaves of maple sugar that Eric had managed to find made her laugh, but she nibbled happily on hers.

“That’s a new way to finish, but it works perfectly with the rest. It’s been some time since I’ve met humans who made me feel so welcome and had such a lovely moment.” Her forehead furrowed in thought. “Let me see, what can I do to show you how very much I've enjoyed this. I know! I'll give you, hmm, three wishes.” She giggled.

Eric looked expectantly at Christian. When he glanced at Seth, his grandfather was also watching him and waiting. Apparently that was his cue.

“My mother's kin live in Scotland,” he said, choosing words carefully. “A part of my family's land was once a battleground, where untrained magic caused many deaths. Recently, blood was spilled there.”

“Ooh. And now the taint in the land has woken stronger than ever. You're asking me to heal it?”

“Please. We could certainly use some help, my family can't do any more than they have already.”

“That's a very large wish.” She considered that, while Christian prayed. “That's worth more than a single wish. It's, oh, a wish and five-eighths. You have one and three-eighths left.”

Christian hesitated, and looked at Eric questioningly. Refusing the remaining wishes would probably insult her, but what else could they ask for?

“The one thing I wish most is good fortune for Jacinth and Jade,” Eric said quietly.

“Hmm. A four-tail is quite able to give plenty of luck to herself and her child. But perhaps I can arrange to be Jacinth's teacher for a time, once she's old enough. Is that fair?”

“Very fair. Thank you.”

“That's not even a full wish, it'll probably be fun. Jacinth is already adorable, and the very rare half-human kitsune are always... interesting. Let's say, oh, three-fourths of one. You have five-eighths of a wish left. There must be something else you'd like. Even if you don't think I can do it or you think it’s too big to count, tell me.”

What on earth could they do with slightly over half a wish? When he glanced at Seth, his grandfather just shrugged slightly. They had to come up with something.

“Our friend Sara,” Eric said, “was forbidden by her parents to talk to any of us, because they have entirely the wrong idea about Christian. We miss her, but more than that, we've been worried that she's alone and probably unhappy. Is there anything you can do...?”

The thoughtful look came back, even more intensely. “I can't choose the course of her life for her, or those of her parents for them. It wouldn't be right to make her happy when she isn't. I think I'll be able to do something to help, though. Done, and I think I can call that five-eighths of a wish.” She bounced to her feet, and gave each a hand up with astonishing strength considering her dimunitive size. Christian started as she threw both arms around him and kissed him soundly; Eric accepted his with no particular surprise, even picked her up to make it easier, which made her giggle again. “Thank you. I do hope you invite me back again, just to relax over tea and those lovely cookies. So. The problem is at the place where I felt your family supporting you?”

“Yes,” Seth said. “Very near it, at least, since the actual location wasn’t safe for several people to do serious witchy work. They’ll be able to show you the precise place.”

“That will do nicely as a landmark,” Tigerlily said. “It won’t take me long at all to get there. You're all so very thoughtful. I do like it when people are so friendly and courteous. Be well.” She vanished.

Countless orange and black tiger-lilies rained down from the ceiling, carpeting the library floor.





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