Saturday, April 01, 2006

If I Were a Blackbird

this is an audio post - click to play

I posted the lyrics on DisOrganization and decided I might as well sing a bit too. Sorry about the bad reception--cell phones!!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A cut piece from one of the versions of Heart's Desire

this is an audio post - click to play

And of course, my time ran out before I could finish the paragraph. Ah well.

This was before Josiah became the prisoner in the dungeons--oops! Did I let that slip?!

copyright 2006 Jennifer St. Clair, as always.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

This was a piece that came to me as a whole...

In my quest to rewrite Heart's Desire, I'm ending up with a lot of unusable bits and pieces. This one I don't think will fit into the current version, but who knows?

Lucas heard the growling first, a continuous undercurrent in the air that had suddenly grown still and quiet. It took him a moment to pinpoint the sound--just off the path and over a small rise--but the underbrush hindered his approach as he struggled to push past the brambles.

The growl continued, unabated. And just under its promise of vengeance, Lucas heard a whisper of a voice, the words too low for him to comprehend.

At first, when he topped the rise and stared at the tableau below, he could not believe his eyes. A Hound--oh, it was definitely one of Gabriel's Hounds--had pinned a young man to the ground, standing over him with bared teeth and a murderous gleam in its eye.

The young man--seemingly human, but that was the problem with the residents of Beth-Hill--made no move to even attempt to escape. his eyes were tightly closed, his fists clenched, and one bare arm had been torn in places almost down to the bone.

A similar wound on his leg told Lucas that the Hound's prey had tried to run.

Neither noticed him until he spoke. And even though he doubted one of Gabriel's Hounds could harm a member of the Council, he gripped his stick tightly before speaking.

"What is going on here?"

The Hound stopped growling. It glanced up with an almost comical look of panic on its face, and retreated quickly into the trees. Lucas waited a moment to make sure it would not return, then slowly made his way down the small hill to where the young man lay.

"I'll call the Healer," Lucas said as he approached. "Lie still."

The young man opened bloodshot eyes. Lucas noticed bruises around his throat, as if someone with human hands had first tried to strangle him before setting the Hound upon him. Gabriel? But why?

His face was unfamiliar, but something in his gaze niggled a thought at the back of Lucas' mind. Not necessarily the pure panic--most supernatural residents of Beth-Hill had no wish to fall under Council surveillience--but something else that Lucas could not coax to the forefront of his mind.

"She--She's not home," the young man whispered. He tried to move his wounded arm and gasped, his face white. "I was--I was just there."

"She has a cell phone for emergencies," Lucas said. "I'll call her. Lie still." He pulled out his own cell phone, which, predictably, had no service this far into the forest. "Damn and blast!"

"I didn't think they would attack," the young man whispered, his voice fading. He used his unwounded arm to help him sit up, but he did not try to stand. His red-brown hair shone in the light of the setting sun as he bowed his head, hugging his wounded arm against his chest.

Lucas stared at the leaves stuck in his hair. "I only saw one Hound," he said, well-aware of the fact that no sane person would deliberately provoke the Wild Hunt. "What were you doing?"
He could have added "And who are you?" to his question, but the boy was wounded, after all. Questions could come later, after Sennet healed him.

"I was trying to save two lives." A tortured gaze stared up at Lucas through a tangled mat of hair. "I was trying to do the right thing."

Not all that far away, a Hound howled, long and loud. Lucas jumped. The young man flinched back as if he had been hit.

"You--You're Lucas Lane." His breathing had quickened, and Lucas had no doubt that a large part of his reaction was from the pain.

"Yes, I am." Lucas turned his cell phone off and then back on, just in case it would work. It was a shame he couldn't use magic to connect to the nearest tower. Or could he?

"A member of the Council."

"Yes." Lucas sent out a tendril of searching and wrapped the end around the cell phone's antenna. Less than a second later, the screen lit up with just enough bars to call out. Quickly, before his patient died from the shock of blood loss, Lucas dialed Sennet's number.

"I need--"

Another howl drowned out his words. This one was closer, and a moment later, it was answered by a different Hound, farther away.

"What did you do?" Lucas asked, wary now. He listened to the phone ring, and wondered if something bad had happened to the Healer. "What is your name?"

"Tell Sennet--ah!" His breath caught in his throat. "Tell Sennet my name and that Emle is gone."

"I don't know your name," Lucas said softly.

A tear trickled down the young man's cheek. He started to raise his hand to wipe it away, then remembered his wounded arm and let the tear fall.

"My name is Malachi," he whispered, and shivered despite the summer heat. "And my life is forfeit." He shivered again, violently this time. "You would do best, I think, to leave me here. The Hounds can gnaw my bones after they kill me."

"Why do they wish to kill you?" Lucas asked. The phone continued to ring in his ear, but he hardly noticed it now. The larger part of his attention had been captured by the presence of two white Hounds standing less than thirty feet away. They made no sound, but Lucas could tell they were waiting for something. What?

Strange to see the Hounds without their Master. Stranger, even, for them to attack, especially since the binding was due to expire so soon. Gabriel had been so careful of late not to anger the Council. Why stop now?

Unless--and a new, horrible thought intruded into Lucas' mind. "What did you do to them? Where is their Master?" Using the Council's combined power, he tugged on the binding and felt nothing in response. Nothing. It was as if--as if the binding had been broken. Or severed.

"What did you do?" Without quite considering the consequences, Lucas grabbed Malachi's unwounded arm and pulled him up. He dropped his cell phone in his rush to discover Gabriel's fate, but Sennet was no longer on his list of priorities. "Where is Gabriel?"

Up close, the chalkiness of Malachi's skin made Lucas realize just how close he was to collapse. His glassy eyes were faded and dull, and as he struggled to stand, his wounded leg collapsed under him.

But even this close to collapse, he managed to hold onto a scrap of dignity, despite the tears that spilled down his cheeks.

"You think--yes. You do think that." The smallest smile swept across Malachi's lips. "Gabriel is alive. And I'm sure he'll be pleased to hear of your concern for his well-being."

Lucas released him, too angry to be cautious. Malachi landed heavily on his bad leg. Lucas doubted he could have helped the scream that tore free from his throat.

One of the Hounds moved, then, whining softly, as if sympathizing with Malachi's pain. The other one growled and snapped at its brother until the other Hound retreated.

Lucas glanced down at Malachi, who had not moved. "You can't fault me for thinking the worst," he said, refusing to feel guilty.

Before Malachi could reply, Lucas sensed a presence behind him. He turned to see Sennet standing at the top of the little hill, almost exactly in the same place he had been standing less than twenty minutes before.

"You called? Is there a problem?"

Lucas stepped aside so she could see Malachi, and watched the recognition bloom on her face.

"You know him?" His words came out harsher than he intended.

Sennet ignored his question. "What happened?"

"I found him pinned to the ground by one of Gabriel's Hounds," Lucas said. "He told me to tell you his name, and that someone named Emle was gone."

He tried to find the Hounds in the growing gloom, but they had vanished again, back into the forest. Sourly, Lucas realized he wasn't at all relieved.

Sennet's face paled. "What? Gone? How?"

"Why don't you ask him?" Lucas folded his arms. "He's been less than forthcoming--I thought that he might have murdered Gabriel, since the Hounds seem to want him dead."

But it was obvious, now, that Malachi would not be able to answer any questions for the moment. His eyes were closed, his face rivaling the white of the moon. Dark shadows had formed under his eyes, and his lips were tinged with blue.

"You'll let me approach?" Sennet asked.

"Of course." Lucas did not interfere when Sennet knelt beside Malachi and placed her hands on his forehead. He watched as the familiar golden glow streamed from her fingers into his body, repairing the damage the Hounds had wrought.

He thought he saw her stiffen a bit initially, but she made no mention of anything she might have seen.

Healers were neutral. Lucas knew that as well as anyone, but for better or for worse, he was involved in this now, and he wanted some answers.

As an experiment, he tugged on the binding again. Still no reply. Where was Gabriel?

"Who is Emle?" He had waited long enough for answers.

"I can't tell you that," Sennet said, not looking up from her work. "Patient privledge. You know that."

"For saving his life, I think I deserve to know something," Lucas snapped. "I'm fairly certain he would not wish the Council to investigate whatever is going on."

"At the moment, all I know is that Emle is gone," Sennet said after a moment. "She's nine months pregnant, and due any day. I don't know if she's dead, or missing--" She gently smoothed a lock of hair away from Malachi's eyes. "Or worse. And I won't know until he wakes up and tells me."

For one short moment, Lucas wished he wasn't a member of the Council. Fighting the distrust had grown old over the years, and he had no stomach for the bare truth that the Council just wasn't trusted. That particular tide had started to turn twenty years ago, after the tragedy that had claimed far too many lives. The Council had not truly recovered from that blow.

And now, the result of that long-ago mistake was that no one trusted the Council or its members.

"Then I will wait for him to awaken," Lucas said quietly, keeping his temper in check. "I need to know what's going on, Sennet. And it looks like Malachi might well be the only one who can tell me."

"You cannot persuade him by magic if he refuses to talk to you," Sennet said. "And we're not staying here. I'll bring him to my house. He'll be safe there."

"No." Even before she had spoken, Lucas had made up his mind. "Bring him to my house. He'll be just as safe there." When Sennet would have protested, he held up his hand. "And I swear not to coerce him to tell me what I want to know. My house is closer than yours."

"And if he refuses to talk to you?" Sennet shook her head. "Will you let him leave?" She stared down at the blood on Malachi's clothing. "There is more to this than you realize, Lucas. And I'm not sure the Council needs to be involved."

"Then pretend, just for a moment, that I'm not a member of the Council," Lucas said. "I will let him leave. But I--" How much should he tell her? And then, all of a sudden, he was weary of secrets. Weary of beating around the bush when a good mowing was what the situation really needed. "The binding the Council placed on the Hunt is set to expire three nights from now," he said. "And Gabriel has been very careful not to anger anyone these past few months. For his Hounds to attack someone is very disturbing, even if they have good reason to attack. And I've tried to use the binding to summon Gabriel. He isn't responding. I need to know what happened!"

The light of Sennet's power vanished when she raised her hands from Malachi's body. "You can usually feel him through the bond?"

"Not as such," Lucas said. "But I always get a response. He is bound to respond. He cannot disobey." He hesitated. "That's why I thought Gabriel was dead."

"And Malachi said he was not?" Sennet carefully pulled him to a sitting position and lifted him up before Lucas could even attempt to ask if she needed his help. She smiled at the look on his face. "Healers don't just heal. I have other talents of my own, and one of those allows me to lighten heavy burdens."

"If you say so," Lucas said, considering that Malachi was probably taller than Sennet. "Yes. He said Gabriel was alive. But something had to have happened. He cannot ignore a summons!"

Sennet hesitated. "I'd suggest not trying to summon him again until Malachi wakes up. Not yet, at least. Give him a little time."

"You saw something, didn't you? When you touched him?" Lucas had always wondered if that particular legend was true about Healers.

Sennet sighed. "Lucas, Healers are neutral for a reason."

"I know," Lucas said. He scanned the forest one more time for any sign of the Hounds, then turned around. "If you're certain you can carry him, then follow me."


Malachi awoke with a gasp as a ghostly Hound went for his throat. He lay rigid for a moment, his heartbeat thundering in his chest, and strained to see through the murky darkness.

He lay on a bed in someone's house. The sheets were soft cotton, and an old quilt lay over his body, a perfect tableau of normalcy that awoke the cauldron of panic that bubbled in his chest.

He was in someone's house. Without thinking of his wounds, he slid out of bed and discovered that he wore someone's nightshirt and little else. His clothes were not evident in the room.

In the mirror beside the bed, he saw fading bruises around his throat, and remembered Gabriel's wrath. He had to hold on to the bedpost when he remembered the mad flight through the forest--and the pain of Seth's sharp teeth tearing through both the skin and the muscles of his arm and leg.

His wounds were healed. The scars were still red and angry, but the terrible wounds had healed.
That meant Sennet had been there. And that meant Sennet had touched him, and that meant Sennet probably knew he was a Hound.

His life was forfeit, then. Gabriel would not let him live this time. He slid down the bed post and sat on the floor, staring down at the rug beneath him. Hardly daring to breathe, he cautiously probed his mind for the bond.

Nothing. He could no more feel his Master than he could the other Hounds. And that meant--that meant Zachariah's death had been true, not a terrible nightmare. Malachi bent his knees and buried his head in his arms. Was Josiah dead as well? And Emle? And the baby as well?

The sound of the door only caused to increase his panic, but he stayed where he was, sheltered by the bed.

He smelled Sennet before he saw her, and smelled food as well, something both hot and nourishing. And tea?

"I brought you something to eat," Sennet said. She did not sound perturbed to find him out of bed. "You lost a lot of blood. You need to regain your strength."

"No I don't," Malachi whispered. "My life is forfeit. You--You shouldn't have healed me."

He felt her approach his side of the bed, but she did not draw any closer. "This is not your house."

"No, it's Lucas' house. He insisted."

Malachi heard a clink as she lowered something to the floor. His stomach growled, surprising him.

"May I ask you a question? Lucas isn't listening, and there are no active spells at work in this room."

Malachi didn't realize he was shivering until she draped a blanket over his shoulders.

"You did lose a lot of blood. You should be in bed."

"My health does not matter," he whispered. "My life is forfeit." He glanced up at Sennet, dry-eyed. "You know."

She nodded. "Yes. I saw when I healed you. I'm sorry." She sat in front of him, relaxed and serene. "May I ask how that is possible? That you are a Hound? And what happened to Emle?"

"We all have human forms," Malachi said. Since she knew, then why did it matter what he told her? As soon as the bond returned--or he set foot outside Lucas' house--he would be dead anyway. "Our Master used to let us interact with the humans--and sometimes the Council. But we haven't been able to do that for a long time."

"He let you shift shape to guard Emle?" Sennet guessed. "What happened to her, Malachi? Did Gabriel--"

"No!' The shout surprised him--he didn't think he had enough strength to yell. "No. Our Master would never harm a hair on her head. I think--I think he truly loved her." More tears. He wiped them away, but they continued to spill down his cheeks. "He left Josiah and Zachariah to guard her, and obeyed Lucas' summons. But Lucas wasn't there and we headed back home. And then--" He felt the sharp streak of pain again that was the breaking of the bond that was shared by every member of the Hunt. He felt the disorientation, and the fear when Gabriel began to run.

Malachi had followed his Master. The rest of the Hunt had milled around uncertainly for a moment, but they had caught up fast enough, especially when Gabriel had stopped at the body of a Hound--Zachariah--right outside the cave entrance.

He had been shot twice in the head.

"Josiah lay inside, in the house. He was still alive, so I thought I would get you, but My--Our Master forbid me to go."

"He forbid you to save a life?" Sennet hands clenched. "Is he still alive?"

"I don't know. The bond between us is broken." Malachi clutched at the blanket, remembering an earlier blanket, when he lay naked on the floor and Emle had covered him. "I hope not."

"And Emle was gone?" Sennet asked.

"She wasn't in the house or the gardens. None of us could find her trail past the back door into Faerie. I shifted into human shape to plead for Josiah's life and--and--" He touched the fading bruises on his throat. "I disobeyed. I ran to your house, but you weren't home. So I thought I would try Lucas' house, just in case you were there." He bowed his head. "Seth caught me first."
"Seth is another Hound?"

"He--He harbors resentment towards me," Malachi said, which wasn't the entire story at all. "And without our bond, I'm certain he thought I would betray the Hunt to the Council."

"Your Master could not control him so he went after you?" The food smell sharpened. "Malachi, at least drink something. I think you did the right thing. Hopefully Gabriel will think so as well."

"He will kill me," Malachi said, and heard no tremor in his voice. "I have no doubt of that. He should have killed me last time, and I--" He shook his head. "It doesn't matter anymore. My life, indeed, is forfeit." With the utmost of care, he slowly pulled himself to his feet. "I might as well get this over with."

"Take me to your home, then," Sennet said. "Show him you meant well."

Malachi shook his head, imagining how Gabriel would react to the Sennet's presence. "I'll go alone, if Lucas will allow me to leave."

"He said he would." Sennet, too, stood up. "Please, Malachi. Take me with you."

Malachi hunched his shoulders, still hanging onto the bed. "I won't make it anywhere near to home," he whispered. "You shouldn't have bothered to heal me." He took a careful step, then released the bedpost. With care, he thought he might be able to make it out the door.

"Josiah might still be alive," Sennet said, and that was the clincher, right there. "If I come with you, I will heal him as well."

Malachi grabbed the bedpost again, and closed his eyes. "If I am punished, then, you are not to interfere. Just heal Josiah and leave." Could she do that? Could she leave, knowing Gabriel would more than likely kill him?

"Agreed," Sennet said after a moment of silence. "Let me talk to Lucas first. And then we'll go." Before she left the room, she set the tray of food on the end of the bed. "Eat something. I don't want to have to carry you all the way to your home."

"It's not my home anymore," Malachi whispered, and sank down on the bed.

In the end, though, he obeyed, even though the food tasted like ash and sat in his stomach like a lump of lead. At least he would have had one last meal before death. Zachariah and Josiah--unless by some miracle Josiah was still alive--had not even had that luxury.


"You want me to allow you both to leave without any guarantee that I'll ever know what happened?" Lucas shook his head. "The Hunt is the Council's responsibility, Sennet. I can't ignore the fact that a Hound attacked someone. Malachi could be guilty of a horrible crime, but that doesn't condone their actions."

Sennet tried to think of a good argument--or, failing that, one Lucas would accept. "Can you at least trust my word? This matter has to do with the Hunt. If I can get Gabriel's permission to tell you what happened, I will tell you everything I can. I swear." When he still would have argued, Sennet folded her arms. "The word of a Healer is not to be taken lightly, Lucas."

"Nor is the word of a Council member," Lucas snapped. "Very well. But I don't like this. I don't like this at all." He hesitated. "Will you at least let me talk to him?"

"This is your house," Sennet said, wondering how Malachi would react to Lucas' presence. "I certainly cannot stop you. But--There are other wounded in this, Lucas. And I may have a chance to save one of them. According to Malachi, there are dead as well."

"What happened?" Lucas asked, but it was more of a response to her words than an actual question.

"I intend to find out," Sennet said.

"Then go," Lucas made a shooing motion with one hand. "I certainly don't want the Council to be blamed for someone's death. We've enough bad publicity as it is."

"I will tell you what I can on my return," Sennet promised.

Lucas had not put up much of a fight. Malachi didn't ask Sennet what she had promised him, but he had not attempted to keep them prisoner. He had even provided Malachi a new set of clothes--or washed his old ones. Malachi couldn't tell.

Would he have acted any differently if he'd known Malachi was a Hound?

"Should you stay in human form?" Sennet asked. "If the others attack you--"

Malachi took a deep breath. "Only Seth attacked. I don't think Nathaniel meant to bite me." He stepped off Lucas' front porch and stared at the dark forest. He did not want to face his Master. He wanted to turn tail and run back into Lucas' house and beg sanctuary from the Council, if such a thing were possible.

"We'll find out soon enough," Sennet said as a white shape appeared among the trees.

Malachi stepped forward. "Is Josiah--" He couldn't finish. It was enough, for a moment, to be able to believe that he was still alive.

"Why don't we move away from Lucas' house?" Sennet suggested. "If you still don't want the Council to know that you can shift shape, we can ask him beyond the trees."

Malachi touched his forehead. "I feel nothing from them. Usually--Usually we can communicate. But not anymore." He did not resist when Sennet took his hand to pull him into the safety of the trees. "Is Josiah alive?"

The Hound hesitated, and glanced at Sennet.

"She knows," Malachi said impatiently. "She healed me. And I was unconscious, so you can't blame that on me!" He pulled up the sleeve of his shirt to show him his scars. "You know I'm doing the right thing. If you're not going to answer my question, then let us pass!"

He took six steps before Nathaniel spoke behind him.

"I apologize for biting you. And doubting you. I did not realize what you intended."

Malachi turned around. "Why can't I feel you anymore? Is the bond broken only for me? Did our Master cast me out?" He did not want to voice that question, but it hovered in the back of his mind.

"No. He didn't cast you out," Nathaniel said, brushing a lock of hair out of his eyes. "It is like that for all of us."

"What about Josiah?" Sennet asked. "Is he still alive?"

"We don't know," Nathaniel said. "Our Master carried him into the bedroom and we haven't seen him since. Thomas is waiting outside the door. He will try to send word, but without the bond--" He shrugged. "There is little we can do."

"Will you prevent me from bringing Sennet to our home?" Malachi asked. "If Josiah is still alive, Sennet will heal him."

"I won't stop you," Nathaniel said. "But Seth might try." He hesitated. "You were in his house, Malachi. Does he know?"

"He doesn't know," Sennet said before Malachi could speak. "And we're wasting time. The longer we stand here the less time Josiah has to live."

"If he's still alive," Malachi whispered.

"He won't be if we delay any longer," Sennet snapped. "Let's go!"

Blindly, Malachi started walking, the maelstrom in his head too loud to pay attention to anything in front of him. He would have stepped off the bank of a creek--a drop of twelve feet, at least--if Nathaniel had not caught his arm and pulled him back.

"What is wrong with you?"

"This is my last night on Earth," Malachi growled, and snatched his arm away. "Leave me be!"

"If he didn't kill you for betraying us before, he won't kill you now," Nathaniel said quietly, and turned towards Sennet. "Follow me. He certainly will not kill us both."

His words shook some of the panic loose from Malachi's mind. He blinked, swayed, and would have fallen if Sennet hadn't appeared to steady him.

"I'm not leaving without Malachi," she said. "And neither should you."

"I'm--I'm okay," Malachi murmured, and took a deep breath. "Do you really believe that?"

"Death is more permanent than punishment," Nathaniel said.

For a moment, Malachi saw no sign of fear in Nathaniel's gaze. But then his eyes shifted sideways, and Malachi saw that he did not quite believe his own words.

For some strange reason, that made him feel a bit better.

"Let's go. Sennet is right. We're wasting time." Before his panic could smother what little courage he had left, he set off through the trees. Nathaniel and Sennet were right behind him.

copyright 2006 Jennifer St. Clair

Thursday, September 08, 2005

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Illusions--a reading from my third novel--a really moldy oldie, and quite amusing. :)

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Monday, August 22, 2005

Audioblogging my pieces of string--a cut piece from Fire and Water

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Um. Early "Nine Lives and Three Wishes". Really, really early.

A "Lost in My Documents" find--this was written on my birthday in 2001. It didn't make the final cut, or even the second cut of Nine Lives and Three Wishes. However, I kind of like Brutus. He's ruthless in more ways than one. Perhaps a sequel is in order? Hmm.

When Brutus was three weeks old, his human, an old man who stank of tobacco and whiskey, gathered up Brutus and his brothers and sisters, dropped them into a stained pillowcase, and threw the whole lot into a drainage ditch on the side of a lonely highway. Of the nine blind, defenseless kittens, six survived the initial impact. Four managed to claw through the fabric before they starved. Two were killed on the road. One was carried off by a hawk.

Brutus alone survived, more by luck than any divine providence. He survived and grew into a rangy black killing machine, cold eyed and feared by cats and dogs alike. Brutus was the only cat in Beth-hill who had fought a rottweiler and survived to tell the tale. Brutus was the only cat truly above the law; a wild embarrassment on the fringes of polite society.

Brutus hated humans. Even with his scars and battered face someone always wanted to take him in, and he had played the same scam over and over again at the animal shelter. Time after time he would purposely be caught, only to play on the sympathies of humans who didn’t know any better. Time after time, he would be taken home, pampered and cared for, until he exacted revenge and was eventually driven out of the house.

He had a collection of flea collars hanging from a tree near his hideout, a testimony to his power.
He batted one now and the little bell echoed across the silent forest.

"Boss!" A filthy white kitten who looked more like a rat than a feline scampered up the tree and quivered for attention. Brutus blinked lazily and turned his head. The kitten shrank back.

"Boss, I was scrounging around behind the wizard’s house, you know? He leaves scraps out sometimes, and I thought I smelled garlic bread last night. But those damn birds ate it all."

"Your point." Brutus liked to see his subjects react to his growl.

The kitten ducked down. "Point, yeah, boss. My point! So there I was, sitting on the compost heap, and here comes Misty! You know that calico chick with the toddler?"

Brutus narrowed his eyes.

"Yeah, boss, the point. She comes running down the road yelling for Tib and babbling about fairies."

Brutus cocked an ear towards him. Encouraged, the kitten straightened up.

"She said fairies had kidnapped her kid, and the kid’s mother was missing. She wanted to know if Tib could help her find him."

The feud between the wizard’s cat and the mainstream felines had not really interested Brutus. He was not a member of their parliament; he made his own rules. But it did pay to know what the rules were, so it meant something when he broke them.

"Tib told her… he told her…" the kitten almost wet himself from the excitement. His voice dropped to a whisper. "Tib told her he could change her into a human. To get the kid back."

Brutus stared. He was rarely shocked, preferring to know everything that would happen in advance. But this… this was something new. And it had the possibility to become something good. He gave the kitten a tight-lipped smile and rose, stretching to his full length. "Walk with me and tell me more."

The kitten bounced along beside him as he dropped down to the ground and slithered through the underbrush. A couple lazy sentries watched them pass; Brutus made a note to deal with them later.

"Tell me everything you heard," he instructed as soon as they were within five feet of the waterfall. The noise would ensure that no one would overhear their conversation. "Was there anyone with you? Did you tell anyone else about this?"

"Nah, no one else likes garlic bread," the kitten said, full of self-importance. "Only me, Tib, and that Misty chick knows anything about it."

"Did you see her as a human?" Brutus asked. He did not want the kitten to realize the import of what he had overheard, but he also needed to know everything before the kitten met with a fatal accident. He moved closer to the waterfall, just in case. It would not do for spies of the parliament to find out what Tib could do. They would sentence him to death, and then Brutus would not be able to exact his revenge.

"They went inside," the kitten said. "And I thought you’d want to hear what I heard, so I didn’t stick around."

"I see." So he had no way of knowing that Tib had been telling the truth. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to kill the kitten anyway and find out for himself if Tib could change a cat into a human.

"Let’s go over it one more time," he suggested, moving even closer to the edge of the bank. The waterfall’s roar almost drowned out his voice.

The kitten followed him blindly, as always.

Brutus waited until he heard the whole story before he made his final decision. "Come closer. You’ve done well."

Quivering, the kitten crawled towards him. Brutus licked the top of his head. Startled, the kitten jerked backwards, his paws scrabbling in the soft soil of the bank.

Brutus snagged his tail before he could go over the edge. "Is it so bad?" he asked. "I only wanted to thank you."

The kitten stared at him for a moment, still clearly frightened. It took him almost a full minute to crawl back to Brutus, who licked him again.

Five minutes later, a rusty purr rumbled out of the kitten’s throat. His eyes were closed, his guard down completely.

"Roll over," Brutus suggested. "Let me get the rest of you clean. The kitten tasted faintly of garlic and greasy dirt, but Brutus didn’t mind. He wouldn’t have to lick him for much longer.
The kitten obediently rolled over and stretched out on the soft ground, closing his eyes and exposing his throat for Brutus’ pleasure.

He made sure it was clean before he bit down as hard and he could and tossed the body over the cliff and into the waterfall below.

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