ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS
The king and queen looked down from the Floral Gate, their features bereft of emotion as the people of Kingshold celebrated in the street before them. Mareth stood at the side of the cobbled road known as the Lance (both for its arms and armor merchants and that it stretched in a dead straight line from the Inner to the Outer Wall), considering the scene around him while giving passing attention to the ache behind his eyes. Another late night at the Swallow and Sixpence.
It was said, when King Ronald had wed the then Lady Tulip, that Kingshold had really partied. Hundreds of bonfires, minstrels, dancing. Good old cavorting. Unfortunately, Mareth had missed out on that particular celebration, not being in the city at the time. That was back in his adventuring days, but he had heard about it on his return, after all it was his job to gather stories as a Bard from the College of Longford. Well, the impromptu party across the city (outside of the Upper Circle of course, the rich preferred their parties indoors) Mareth had just woken up to promised to make the royal wedding look like a harvest festival.
But the king did not smile to see such joy in his subjects. And the queen wore her distinctive frown of disapproval. She was known to detest the sight of commoners, as she would put it.
Five years ago, the king’s reign had begun with much enthusiasm from the general populace, nobility to royal servant, merchant to thief, what with Roland being the beloved son of King Randolph, who had been widely regarded as one of the wisest rulers of Kingshold in a thousand years. Mareth didn’t know if things went downhill because Roland married Tulip, or if it just took him a little while to get into his incompetent stride, but after a year, the honeymoon was over. The hike in taxes, the associated crucifixions for non-payment of said taxes, and the stories of excess that seeped from the palace like pus from a boil created a hatred of the royal couple not experienced since the Red Queen killed hundreds of citizens over one weekend centuries past.
Mareth looked up to gaze at the royal couple in the evening sun. It was nearly the summer solstice and the days were long. Long enough where he would wake up in the light of the afternoon, usually hung over as he was now, stay up through the night and head back to his flop house after the sun had risen. But he had told himself many times, those were the hours of a bard. When people drink, they want to hear song and story and people drink through the night. He didn’t need the ale, or the whiskey, but no one wanted to mix with someone in a drinking room that wasn’t drinking. Obviously. And so, the occasional headache, and maybe some nausea, were just professional hazards. He shielded his eyes as he looked up, considering how he liked the royal couple much more today than he had yesterday, or even the day before. And it seemed like that was the opinion held by most of the throng around him. One man, obviously drunk, with a scraggly black beard over a pockmarked face, shouted something incomprehensible in the direction of the royal couple, and then hurled a turnip. It whistled past their faces with nary a batted eyelid.
It was always amazing how a head or two on a spike could improve the mood of so many. And it wasn’t everyday that it was the king and queen who were crow food.
Of course, this could be a short-lived exuberance. Who knew what tomorrow would bring? Would they be trading one turd for a big steaming cow pat?
Mareth took a stogy out of his pocket, half-smoked already, and asked a smith’s assistant for a light. Leaning against the wall of the smithy, the smoke made his head spin and his throat rough. He closed his eyes, lights dancing against his lids and his dream from last night resurfaced. He had dreamed he had written a poem, which was so eloquent, so vivid and heart wrenching, it started a civilian rebellion. Thousands of common people rose up against the king and the nobles of Edland, all motivated by his words like the bards of old. Mareth didn’t necessarily think of himself as a revolutionary, after all he’d grown up in relative comfort compared to most. But it had been a long time since he had left his father’s house, and made his way out into the world. What he had observed since then, literally and figuratively, stunk. No, not a revolutionary, more of an agitator or a herald of what could come.
And then he had woken up today, later than probably nine tenths of the city, to find the object of his hatred cast down! How inconvenient! He considered it a shame he had not finished that poem. One particular stanza causing many lost months and numerous visits to the Giant's Toe in Fourpoints to attempt to lubricate the words to the page. And now, someone else would take the plaudits for the deaths of the twisted pair. But who? The deaths of the royal couple had not been accompanied by street fighting or fires in the palace or other evidence of a coup.
The stogy had made him feel ill. Mareth dashed around the corner into an alley and vomited, but nothing but bile was forthcoming.
He should have eaten.
He should stop smoking.
He needed a drink.
He needed more to his life than this squalid existence!
When he had completed his studies, the dean had high hopes for him, even offered him employment at the college, but adventure had called. Back then it wasn’t enough to tell the stories. Mareth had wanted the stories to be about him. These days, Mareth still desired the fame of epic bards like Garm the Glorious and Malia Silk Tongue, those whose portraits adorned the walls of the great college dining hall, and who had also been once in a generation Song Weavers like him. But now he'd be content for his stories to be about anything but him. The adventuring life had proven too painful.
Still, the question lingered. How did the heads of the king and queen magically appear on spikes without any violence elsewhere? There had to be a story here he could be the one to write. It might not be as big something to ignite a peasant rebellion, but a bit of fame, fortune, and maybe a companion for the night would be better than his current situation. He considered this to be a good plan. But where to start?
Wiping the spittle from his beard with his sleeve, and walking back out onto the Lance, the contents of his stomach left behind, he considered where he was and the viable options. The royal couple now called the Floral Gate home, so Market Street was just up there, and the Royal Oak couldn’t be more than five minutes away. There was always a better class of drinker in the Royal Oak, and Mareth considered that would be quieter than the streets right now. Not that he was planning on having a drink. No, he just needed to eat. And where better to gather research for his new tale than in a tavern, the place where the gossip of the city flowed before circling the drain. Lovable rogues with rumors aplenty. Traders with secrets fresh from the palace ready to confide in him after sharing a tankard or two. But that was just part of the job, too. He loosely retied his shoulder length auburn hair behind his head and checked his green trousers and jerkins to make sure there weren’t too many visible stains. After all, he didn’t want to look out of place.
Mareth, feet already moving him in the direction of the Royal Oak, stopped in his tracks. He remembered he would need to apologize to Jules for what happened last time. He couldn’t recall the details of what it was he had done, though he knew it was something. But she'd forgiven him at least three other times in the past so he was sure it would be alright.
And so, he continued on his way, passing a broad tree, snapdragons sheltering underneath. A small taste of nature’s color in the stone-grey city. Mareth gathered up the yellow flowers, a gift to ease admittance into Jules’ good graces once more.
THE PRIVY COUNCIL
The big old man rapped the table with the ring adorning his right hand, stopping the murmuring and bringing attention back to him. He looked in sprightly health, clear skin with strong arms, broad chest and barrel like belly. His white hair long, full, and tied back, with a close-cropped white beard, drawing the gaze of the room to a pendant, a large blue stone surrounded by strange sigils, hanging around his neck. The Amulet of Jyuth, worn of course by Jyuth himself, the title given to all of the magi who have stood behind the throne of Kingshold for as long as the records go back. Some people said Jyuth was one man, but how could that be when there had been someone with that name as long as Edland had existed? Hoskin knew the scholarly debates well from reading every record in the palace he could lay his hands on during those interminable childhood summers when he and his mother would leave their estate and journey to Kingshold. They would stay in the palace because he was son to Huth, lord chancellor to King Randolph. Being son of the king's right hand opened almost all doors in the palace, and very few people cared about the dusty rooms housing the histories of Edland, and so, Hoskin had frequently escaped to his places of solitude to read of histories, good and bad. He remembered thinking how marvelous it would be to merely observe life and record it for future scholars without having to be involved.
But he was involved. Up to his armpits, as the animal doctor at the family estate would say. Hoskin sat at the far end of a long wooden table, newly constructed by order of the former King Roland, who had taken a disliking to the ancient one before it, from where stood Jyuth. Hoskin’s appearance a stark contrast to the wizard, appearing rather like a malnourished donkey; long, skeletal and decidedly gray. But this donkey was now chancellor instead of his father.
Another rap on the table and the other members of the privy council turned their attention to the old man.
“Stop this chattering and nattering. Stop this gurgling of worries and whinges.” Jyuth did not raise his voice, but the tone boomed deep in Hoskin’s bones. “You all know as well as I, Roland was an evil shit, not even one tenth the man of his father. And you are better off without him.” Hoskin had noticed Jyuth had been agitated since he had returned to the city not five days past, after a long absence from the court at Kingshold. “And you, Cockhead, or whatever your name is. I know what you are thinking. You’re new here. I can see it bubbling up in your brain, the way your eyes keep shifting from one of your friends to the next, wondering who will be first to ask who the fuck said an old man has the power over the throne.” And the wizard leaned forward over the table to stare down his target. “Am I right?”
“Err…my name is Sir Penshead…your honor?” said the knight, dressed down for him in neck to toe chainmail with a green tabard emblazoned with a white shield bearing the crest of Kingshold. The newest addition to the privy council was young and dashing, but still finding his place in court after winning Roland’s Golden Tourney last year and claiming, in the eyes of Hoskin, at least, the worst job in the whole kingdom as a prize. “I am the knight commander of the city guard. I know it is Lord Beneval who is the commanding officer of the royal guard, and so, I don't have the right to say anything here, but I don't understand why you haven't been clapped in irons. How can a ceremonial title—”
“Ceremonial! Hah! Boy, you don't know anything. You’re from some upland sheep bothering backwater, and you're too dim-witted to the take the cue of one of your elders and betters around the table here.” Jyuth walked around behind the knight and leaned over his shoulder to whisper in his ear. To Penshead’s credit, he did not flinch. “I am this city. I am this kingdom. If it weren't for me, you would all be the thralls of Pyrfew or slaves in a southern land by now. And if it weren't for me coming along every couple of hundred years and resetting the clock on whichever royal dynasty inevitably becomes so corrupted they do ugly things to dogs or small boys, then you would understand what it is like to live under a mad king.”
Hoskin had heard Jyuth referring to himself as one person through history before, but he considered it an affectation. He would not have argued that the man who was holding the balls of everyone around this table was indeed much older than he looked, but it boggled belief one person could be centuries old. Jyuth walked back to his position at the head of the table. Penshead shrank back in his chair slightly. He would likely never admit to being afraid of an old man, but Lords Beneval, Uthridge (the general royal) and Ridgton (the sea marshal) were keeping their mouths, and so, it must have finally occurred to him it might be wise to follow suit. As the wizard saw the reaction he was hoping for, he switched his attention and his eyes swept across the other men in the room. Hoskin crossed his fingers under the table and hoped he wouldn't be called out. He sat in his usual position at the other head of the table, typically opposite the king but, today, the wizard had that place. He had the three martial privy council appointees to his left. To his right sat two men who couldn't be more unalike.
Lord Hoxteth was a small thin man, not an ounce of excess on his frame, widely regarded as one of the canniest merchants in the whole of the Jeweled Continent. Which was how Hoxteth had risen to the privy council, initially as the representative of the merchants' guild, and then most recently taking on the role of treasurer to the kingdom.
Next to Lord Hoxteth sat Aebur, a tall, fat man who perspired so much it was possible to see lines of dampness in his shirt, and though he artificially enhanced his scent, the sweetness of the flower water and the sour stench of sweat created a cloying smell that irritated Hoskin from two seats away. Jyuth's gaze settled, and for once, the finger crossing had worked.
“So, it is Aebur, right? The new spymaster.” Jyuth paused and only proceeded once Aebur slowly nodded once. “I know about you, Aebur. I know the things you did for Roland, and let me make it clear. I. Don't. Approve.” Aebur mopped at his forehead with a silk handkerchief while he tried to remain calm. “I don't approve, but I will give you the benefit of the doubt you were only following orders, but you have been warned now, and I only warn someone once. Now, prove to me your worth and tell me what are your ears telling you in the city about the current situation.”
“M'lord, there are some rumors amongst the populace, from foreign assassins to sex play gone wrong, but the story most repeated is the wizard is back and he has brought the true king’s heir to replace the tainted couple who died yesterday. Of course, this story has actually occurred at least three times in the past, so no wonder it is so quick to be repeated. Is this true, my lord Jyuth? Do you hide an illegitimate son of Randolph ready to take the crown?”
“Aebur, let me let you in on a little secret. There has never been a true king’s heir. Each time, there has never been a blood relation who wasn't crooked.” Jyuth walked around the windowless room as he expounded, passing in front of hunting scenes caught in tapestry that served to make the interior room in which they met less oppressive. “So, I find a genuine soul with a smart head on their shoulders, and then I teach them how to be a good king or queen. They usually do a passing job of raising their children in the right way, but by the third generation, it often goes to pot. And so, no, this time I do not have a child hiding behind my robes.”
“What?” exclaimed Hoskin without realizing he had done so out loud. “I mean, you don't have the new heir? Then what is the plan, my lord?”
“I have decided I obviously don't have all of the answers. A millennium of repeating the same mistakes is enough even for me to realize something is broken. So, what do you all think I should do? How should we choose the next leader of Edland?”
“A tourney!” blurted Penshead. Hoskin rolled his eyes at his typical answer for any problem. Jyuth gave a little shake of his head.
“It should go to the closest blood relative of Randolph. I think that is the Duke of Northfield, the old king's brother.” Beneval’s suggestion was sound, but Hoskin knew the Duke of Northfield. He was seventy, had no heirs, and was unlikely to conceive of any after a hunting accident when he was a teen—a boar destined for a sausage casing instead skewered Northfield’s.
“We should declare martial law,” interrupted Uthridge without waiting for a response. “A leadership vacuum will lead to chaos. Our enemies will look to take advantage of this situation. I can lead the country in the interim, ensure it is safe, and then transition to a new ruler in a year. However, you choose to do it, I do not mind as long as we have someone who is fit and proper.”
“What about you, Lord Jyuth? Why don't you lead us now?” Aebur's simpering tone and toadying up to whoever was in charge had begun already. He had been Roland’s favorite. Hoskin was having trouble keeping his breakfast down.
“I have heard about something called elections in the city states of the Green Desert,” began Lord Hoxteth, “a situation where the people as a group choose the overseer.”
“Exactly!” Jyuth wheeled on one foot and pointed at the treasurer. “I don't have faith in my ability to make decisions, and I don't trust you six. So, we're going to broaden the decision-making group to all able head of households.”
“What!” exclaimed Ridgton aghast. “Are you saying all will be able to vote? Even the pond scum past the second wall? Preposterous. People won't stand for it. Those animals don't understand what this means and what their responsibilities would be.”
Jyuth walked around the table to stand behind Ridgton's chair and placed his hands on the shoulders of the sea marshal. Ridgton went as stiff as a board. “Admiral, we have known each other a long time, you and I. I don't want to see the great unwashed involved in this process any more than you. So, there will be an entrance test. Something very objective and easy to administer. Anyone who wishes to take part in the election will deposit one thousand gold crowns with me until after the election results have been counted. Should separate the wheat from the chaff, don’t you think?”
Ridgton nodded, eager for the wizard’s attention to move on.
“In exchange, each voter will receive one of my little demons. You will tell these pyxies your vote in the strictest secrecy, and they will then bring the overall tallied results to me.”
More murmuring around the table, except for Hoskin, who stayed deathly quiet and kept looking at his hands resting on the table.
“Gentlemen,” barked Jyuth, “my will on this is final. Four weeks from today, when we have the new moon coinciding with the solstice, there shall be an election for a lord protector of Edland. All men, women and other races may stand for election, but the one who receives the most pyxies shall be declared the winner. All head of households within three leagues of the royal palace shall be able to vote if they present themselves personally to me before the election day and deposit a thousand gold crowns into my safekeeping. And that is that. So, get back to whatever you were doing and make this happen.”
Hoskin rose, and as he pushed his chair under the table, Jyuth called out, “Hoskin, get the message out. Posters and town criers before the end of the day. And, Hoskin? You others listen up, too,” he said, regarding Hoskin’s peers as they too, got up from the table. “Until after the election, Hoskin, you are in charge. I don’t have the patience to do this every day, so you can instead. Don't fuck it up. I would like there to be something left of the place to hand over to the new guy.”
SNAKE BELLY VISIONS
The journey south and east from Kingshold, over the Arz Sea, and then across the northern reaches of Pyrfew, the independent city states of the Green Desert that clung to the edge of the Sea of Night, to eventually arrive at this sweaty, stinky jungle had taken roughly a week. Neenahwi's preferred form for a long journey like this was a goose, the wing span and aerodynamic body making the flight smoother and less arduous than if she was to take one of the other forms she used for shorter distances or for hunting.
In the days when she lived on the plains of Missapik, what seemed a lifetime ago, the arrival of geese heralded the beginning of winter. The large birds weren't native to the prairies or the hills bordering the lands of her tribe. They came from the east and disappeared to the west, only pausing to rest and take on water. Those would be a frantic few days each season, to see how many birds the tribe could take down with arrow and spear, while remembering to be respectful of the strength in those wings and what it could do to a hunter if they got too close.
Years later, after the destruction of her clan, the death of her parents and the estrangement of her brother, Neenahwi had noticed many of these large brown geese spent much of the year around Kingshold, her new home.
As she had mastered the ability to change her form, the goose had been the second one she had sought to master. The first being the wolf, to be able to remember the spirit animal of her tribe, the second so she knew she could always fly home at any time.
Nearly twelve years had passed since then, and she had yet to make the long journey back. Who knew what was left of her homeland since Pyrfew had started the steady shipment of slaves and resources from what these easterners called the Wild Continent. But that land still called to her, still drove many of her actions. If she were to trace her steps, even this journey was driven by her need to one day go home and right wrongs.
Neenahwi sat cross-legged on the damp earth by a campfire she had coerced to life, using magic when traditional means had been foiled by the humid air. She could tell her destination was close, but she meant to find out more.
She wore a simple silk robe of purple, wrinkled from being in the pack she had carried as she flew. Transformation only affected her physical body, so clothing was always an issue, and Neenahwi had decided a few years ago that being naked often created problems when dealing with easterners. So, she had crafted a small leather pack to use for travel, wearable over her neck while in the form of a goose, and able to carry a few small essentials. The silk robe being chief among them and the smallest item of clothing she could pack.
Her hair reached down to the middle of her back. When in Kingshold she would braid to keep it out of her face. Here in the jungle, she settled for the old methods and used fresh mud from the bank of a small stream to slick it back and hold it in place. Neenahwi's skin was olive brown with thin scars slightly visible on arms and face from a life that had held a certain amount of challenges.
One of the snakes she had caught after landing, constrictors that were far from fully grown, was already dressed and roasting over the fire. The second squirmed in her hands as she moved one hand closer to its head.
“Stay still! Bloody Snakes!” grunted Neenahwi through clenched teeth. They were always much harder to handle than rabbits or squirrels or raccoons. The squirming (and the fangs on some) was unwelcome, but the results were frequently worth the effort.
One hand held the snake below the head, pushing it down close to the earth while her other hand gently placed a large rock on it to keep it in place, belly up. A second large rock pinned the tail down, and she pulled out the small steel knife she had brought with her. She had learned how to read the entrails at the feet of Greytooth, her clans' old shaman, how to answer questions or see shadows of the future. She had loved her old teacher once, but now his memory was fractured like an image on running water and her skills greatly surpassed what the shaman knew.
Shaman, witch doctors, hedge wizards. They were all the same. They all had some connection with the unseen energies that powered this world and connected all living things. But they relied on crutches to make their magic. Ceremonies or drugs to set their minds at just the right angle to grab hold of the threads and weave.
What set real magicians apart was mental discipline, even though she had to admit she didn’t know many (mainly just her new father). Magician, mage, wizard, sorcerer. She had heard all the labels applied to her father. But it all came back to the confidence to grab the world with your metaphysical hand and mold it, and the practice to be able to use your mind like a tool that was readily available and didn’t require a roomful of acolytes singing in harmony to get you in the mood.
She brought forth her concentration, quickly releasing other unrequited thoughts and then divided her consciousness in her meditating mind. Two Neenahwi’s in one shell, both calm and at peace. One aspect of Neenahwi held the knife over the exposed lighter skin of the snake belly that continued to squirm away from its bound position. The other aspect of Neenahwi saw the energy of the nagual, the little ball of red light hovering around its heart.
It was an odd fact, certain energy sources were better for certain tasks than others. She didn’t know why, but snakes, calves, and virgins had long been the sacrifices of choice for the uncultured magic worker, their selection chosen by experiment or even luck, did not dim their suitability.
She watched detached as her arm struck down and drove the knife into the snake's body, and as she did so, the red ball of energy began to leak out in tendrils from the wound. Greytooth would have used invocations and chanting to channel and spin this energy into the needed Thread, but she knew now those words did nothing.
Her mind was in control, and it seized the living mana, pulling it forcefully from the beast's body and stretching it into a long fine filament. One end connected to her forehead and she cast the other out before her like she was fishing with a rod. The thread flew through the air and appeared to catch on something in the distance, the end wavering in her sight…
…the jungle camp disappeared and a stone door, hidden beneath overgrowth appeared…
…now a dark cavern, lit by torches, two humans, naked with tattoos on their arms and faces, feeding a captured jungle cat kept in a bamboo cage…
…across to the other side of the cavern where two tattooed naked women knelt before another woman, almost blue from ink inscribed in her skin…
…something hung around her neck…
…a red stone on a dull iron chain…
…tainted green meat forced into the mouth of the kneeling women…
…smoke from censers, stinging the eyes…
…a wet red mist exploding into the air…
The vision was brief but useful. Neenahwi knew they had what she wanted, and a few foolish demon cultists should not pose much trouble.
Nevertheless, she wouldn't take anything for granted. An approach in stealth at night would be best. And so, she looked forward to having a good long sleep on a full belly of snake.
* * * * *
Shit, I'm not ready for this. Neenahwi's mind raced. There had been no one on watch when she had entered the caverns through the stone door she had seen in the snake vision. That in itself was not too concerning, so she had crept down the tunnel, walking barefoot and able to feel every contour of the floor. She sidestepped three different alarms, crude but effective bone and string contraptions that would create quite a racket for anyone blundering through them in the dark. Neenahwi did not make a habit of blundering around.
There was no one on guard at the end of the passageway which seemed more unusual, someone should be on watch during the night, especially with five of them. She considered if they were even more amateurish than she had anticipated, which wouldn't be a bad thing, five cuts of the knife in the dark was better than a fight any day.
That was when she saw a glistening darkness on the wall opposite, by a tunnel leading from this chamber. As she stared, it became apparent it was blood, and what she had first mistaken for lichen and mold on the rocks was bits of flesh and hair.
Shit! What had those idiots done?
Neenahwi's hand went to the quiver tied to her waist by a thin cord. She pulled out three identical arrows, sleek pointed tips without barbs, a foot of thin steel, flights made of sharp razor blades instead of feathers.
Stepping slowly forwards, she crossed the chamber and into the short tunnel beyond, being careful not to be heard. From the dark, she could see the cavern beyond, a large hexagonal space, apparently carved by some sentient creature, with tunnels at each angle. She counted three bodies around the room and saw a fourth cultist leaning against the wall across from her. He moaned, pawing at his pale face, losing blood from a leg that ended without a foot.
In the middle of the room, contained within a circle protected by runes stood a large figure, female from the waist down with the broad chest, long taloned arms and the head of a jungle panther. The demon, because that was clearly what the cultists had done, only gone and summoned an actual demon, and likely a queen by the size, paced her circle of confinement looking for ways of escape.
It seemed like the cultists had set the circle warding correctly, a pentagram with a binding rune at each corner, but they must have done it with them on the inside. And they were strewn across the cavern once the demon had appeared and attacked. The remains of the one Neenahwi had seen on the wall would have been smashed into it with tremendous force.
The type of mistake you only make once.
The blue-furred face of the demon sniffed at the air, eyes turning to where Neenahwi lurked in the shadows. “I see you, mortal. I have no fight with you. Come out into the open and let me free. I will bring you such wealth you never dreamed of.” The voice was deep and proud. The R sounds vividly reminded Neenahwi of her cat at home, the sound it made when she rubbed behind its ear.
“Demon,” Neenahwi called, “I am not as foolish as those scattered about this cave. I have imprisoned and killed your brethren before, and I have no interest in doing so today. You are bound, and you can stay bound for all I care.”
Neenahwi stepped out from the tunnel and ambled toward the runed circle. The cat beast turned to face her fully and proceeded to bang her claws against the shimmering shape of force surrounding her. She spat and snarled at the affront of being caged.
Around the cat's neck was the gem she had traveled such a long distance to obtain, the object of years of research to track it down. She was not going to let it stay imprisoned with the demon. So now the question was, would she have to do this the hard way or the really hard way.
She split her mind once, one aspect staying focused on the demon, the other focused on the cultist at the back of the room who was not yet dead but getting close.
In humans, some thought the equivalent of the red ball in the snake as the soul, and it may well be, but it's still the same basic magic that can be used by someone skillful enough. And as Jyuth had taught her, all magic has to come from somewhere, and it's better it comes from someone else other than you. So, she weaved a thin thread of mana from the cultist to her, and then back to the cultist, creating a delicate lattice across all of his body, the bloodflow slowing from the wounded leg as it became encased by the invisible energy.
“Maybe I have been too hasty, oh queen of lies, countess of codswallop. Tell me what you will give me. Tell me, how you think we can make a deal…”
The rage in the demon subsided, and the feline head tilted to one side as it considered Neenahwi afresh. The look it gave her reminding her of the camp cats from when she was a child, hoping for a treat from the dinner bowl. She needed to stop thinking this thing was like a tabby.
“Your words are mocking human, but you should know, in your language you would consider me royalty. I have thousands of minions who do my bidding and fight my wars. I am not to be fucked around with—”
“That may be, but you seem to be short of minions right about now,” interrupted Neenahwi, “and I am pretty sure they don't know where you are. It won't take long for one of your ambitious captains to see there is an empty throne that needs keeping warm.” As she spoke, Neenahwi twirled one of the arrows nimbly in her fingers, the other two clasped in her left hand.