The stench in the dim tent was atrocious. Mugwort smoke, sulphurous flatus, something sharp- turpentine? I stooped to enter, pulling the flap closed
behind me. The interior was now lit only by the rusty light filtering through the battered old canvas. "Hello?"
I cupped my sleeve over my nose and squinted to make out details in the small enclosure. There were stacks upon stacks of jars filled with murky
fluids, with fungi, with vapors and dried seahorses. Jars filled with cat's eyes still shining in green clusters through the dark, and jars filled
with quicksilver. A cracked amphora lay next to an empty case of Genessee Light.
"Hello?" I asked again, impatience edging my voice. A pile of odorous rags stirred in the corner, and a sly, wizened face emerged from the folds.
"Have you got it?"
His (her?) voice was gravelly, almost sub-audible. Finding a clear spot to place the cooler I was carrying, I suppressed a brief surge of nausea at
the thought of its contents, and the things I had done to procure them.
"Bring it here."
Scowling, loathe to even touch it again, I picked it up and approached the figure. A pair of filthy talons struck from out the shapeless snarl of
cloth and snatched the cooler from my hands faster than my eyes could follow. Lips peeled away to expose raw gums as the old sorceror smiled in glee
and cracked the lid open. A sickly green light pulsed from the opening, bathing (his? her?) face. As I watched, it seemed to me that another face
altogether was limned in the ghastly phosphorence, a hideous mass of polyps and insectile eyes overlaying the human features like a mask of
radioactive light. Then the sorceror snapped the lid shut, and placed the cooler aside.
"It is well. Your payment."
It snapped its fingers and a small child, likewise appareled in rags, stepped out from behind a stack of jars. She was five or six years of age, no
older. Her hair was a tangled red cascade that picked up the meagre light and reflected it back in a muted blaze. Her eyes were enormous and solemn,
the eyes of a refugee.
"What is this? Some kind of joke? Where is the grimoire?" My hand inched toward my concealed holster.
"The girl is
the Grimoire. Allow me to demonstrate." The sorceror lashed out with a cheap plastic backscratcher and prodded the girl in the
ribs, growling a command at her in a gutteral tongue I didn't recognize.
She winced and then stretched out her arm to me. As I watched in amazement, green glyphs began to etch themselves across her skin, as though she were
being tattooed by an invisible hand. My astonishement redoubled as I recognized the provenance and meaning of a few of those signs. I became faint
An unpleanasant, oily laugh wheezed from the sorceror. "Here are instructions for her care and feeding. She will grow like a human child, she will
learn your language, she will feel and want affection as a human child does. But you must remember: she is not human
. If you become her father
rather than using her as your tool, as is correct, you will regret it. Do you understand?"
I took the hand-typed manual and tucked it away in my satchel. I felt a tug on my shirt. Looking down, I was taken aback by the heartrending trust
with which she extended her arms upward: she wanted to be carried.
I hoisted her onto my hip, and her arms twined around my neck. She smelled faintly of milk. I felt a strange constriction in my chest as we walked
away through the shimmering heat of the noonday slums.
edit on 21-5-2012 by Eidolon23 because: light clean-up