A chill seeped through Eva as she eyed the sagging door behind him. “You’re a morpher!”
The smile melted into a grimace, and he muttered, “Fat hairy spiders! I sure hope that was meant to be an insult.”
His reference helped to spur Eva’s realization she had misidentified him. Morphers could only change their own appearance. This presumed shopkeeper had also caused the dilapidated shack they stood in to look like a spruced-up cottage until a minute ago. His magical influence was literally broader.
“No.” Her voice became hoarse. “It’s worse. You’re a realigner.”
His countenance lightened again. “Oh, good. You had me worried for a minute.”
“What the blazes are you talking about?” If she couldn’t flee, maybe she could outsmart him … somehow. “And why did you decide to look younger now?”
“It all has to do with the job I’ve given you.” He folded his arms and tilted his head. “Or rather, I need a human partner to help me accost the miscellenarian. And since we’re going to work together, I chose to look closer to your age.”
Eva stared at him. “Help you do what? I thought a miscellenarian was someone who wrote collections on various subjects.”
“In my realm, it’s someone who casts a collection of various spells instead of specializing in the enchantment he was born with. The green lightning last night that spooked everybody in your community proves he’s a threat to both our realms, which is why I’ll need your assistance. And naturally you’ll understand why I couldn’t ask for help up front.”
Naturally. Humans and hexers didn’t mix well. Too many people either feared or coveted the magical abilities of the arcane beings. And too many hexers were willing to use those abilities against people.
“That doesn’t give you any right to kidnap me.” She clenched her fists.
“I didn’t kidnap you. I hired you.” He shrugged. “If you’ll remember, you wanted a job, Miss … ah ….” There was something sheepish about his smirk. “I don’t know your name.”
“That makes us even.”
“Oh, well, introductions would be in order, I suppose. You can call me Copper.”
Of course he said you can call me. Hexers notoriously never gave their real names to humans – something about it compromised their magical power. Eva took a step to her right as she eyed the door behind him.
“I’ll call you something worse if you don’t let me go.”
“You won’t be able to help your sick brother if the miscellenarian devastates your world.”
Her throat tightened as her attention shot back to him. “How do I know you’re not in league with him?”
“Because I’m not an idiot.” He squinted. “In fact, I’m what’s known as a quester. In your realm that would be like a constable. This miscellenarian is a theurgist that took on too many enchantments to increase his powers, which always leads to delusional tyranny.”
“Always? Why haven’t I heard of this before?”
“Because it’s rare, and they don’t usually go as loopy as this loon.” Copper folded his arms. “Bringing both our worlds under his complete control is the maddest scheme I’ve confronted. If he’d stayed in my realm, I could have dealt with him myself. But because he dragged your realm into his plan, I need your help.”
Eva stared at the realigner. His statement about how she wouldn’t be able to help her brother, Jordan, echoed in her mind.
“How could I be of any help? Our only defense against your folk is potions, and I don’t have any with me.”
“Ah, that.” His mouth twisted on one side. “I have the potion you’ll need, but it doesn’t work like the others, because you’ll use it on yourself instead of on an object against him.”
A tremor rippled through her. Potions and poisons weren’t so different from each other. People never allowed such substances to even touch their skin because of the injuries it could cause, so potions were always applied to things like windows or tools.
“What hex are you trying to put on me?”
“It’s not a hex.” His smile returned, but was subtle. “I need someone who is selfless of heart and keen of wit. This potion will bring out those qualities in you and give you some protection.”
Eva frowned. “Protect me how?”
“That’s hard to explain without a common frame of reference.” He reached beneath a panel of his blue coat and withdrew a round vial no longer than her index finger. “But if you drink this, it will make you less vulnerable to a magical attack.”
“Drink it?” The container resembled a fat, copper coin, and for all she knew it could be a moldy tin cup realigned to appear as a vial. “And besides, I never agreed to help you.”
He studied her face as he held out the bottle, and then drew a deep breath before speaking.
“Do you still want to help your brother?”
Her stomach clenched. If Copper was telling the truth, then she had more to worry about than earning enough money to pay for Jordan’s medical treatment. But could she really trust the realigner?
Eva focused on his face. “You said you needed a human’s help because this miscreant also threatens my world, but you didn’t say why.”
His nod was slow and steady. “He’s more familiar with his own realm than yours. And I admit I don’t know everything about your community. You’ll be the unanticipated element thwarting his plans, and a guide to me as well.”
Was that all? His response rang as shallow, as though he was leaving out some information. But she couldn’t deny that a hexer who was powerful enough to change the color of lightning could pose a greater threat than usual.
Copper straightened his arm and held the vial closer to her. “Drink this, and you can help not only your brother but everybody else as well.”
She pursed her lips as she stared at it.
“After you,” she murmured.
Copper smirked. “Little fuzzy caterpillars! If I wanted to snuff you out, I’d have done so already with a method faster and more efficient than trying to slip poison to you. Besides, you need the full dose, and this is formulated strictly for a human.”
“What about Jordan?”
“My brother.” Her heart seemed to tremble against her chest. “If something happens to me, our parents would be crushed by losing two of their children.”
“If our culprit attacks your world, many children could be lost.”
“But couldn’t you find somebody else? Then I could return to my family, and help them … after whatever happens. Aren’t your chances as good with somebody else as they are with me?”
He studied her for several seconds, and then drew a deep breath before speaking. His bass voice was smooth and soft.
“Time is of the essence. I might not find somebody else before he strikes.” Copper inhaled again. “But I’ll strike a bargain with you. Help me with this quest, and if you’re … incapacitated … I’ll look after your brother’s care … assuming I survive.”
Eva frowned again. “Why should I believe your offer?”
“Don’t forget, how well our natural ability works is dependent upon the words we use. Even those with nefarious goals cannot tell an outright lie without compromising their skills. They might bend the truth, they might omit parts of it, but lies neutralize the magic.”
He snapped the vial into the palm of his hand as his other arm swung out to one side. The same low roar that rushed into her ears when the cabin changed surrounded Eva again. For a couple of seconds green mist swirled around them. It cleared to the sight of trailing, leafy vines, twisted together, replacing the beams, walls, and ceiling of the derelict cottage.
And before her, instead of a young man with dark, tousled hair, there stood a majestic ram with broad, curled horns and a coppery fleece.
“I give you my word.” His voice was the same. “If ill should befall you, I will do what I can to assist your family in trying to cure your brother.”
Despite their many ways to deceive, hexers did have their own limitations. His display of magical adeptness had to be the offered proof that he would keep his promise. And it would appear he was telling the truth….
She drew a deep breath before responding. “All right, but I’m doing this for Jordan.”
The low roar and green mist swirled around her, and then young man Copper stood before her in a ramshackle shack again.
He held the vial out to her. “That’s good enough.”
She had to extend her own arm to pluck the container from his grasp, and only then noticed her hand was trembling. Eva pulled off the cap and sniffed the contents. A whiff of moss or damp wood brushed her nose.
Might as well get this over with.
She dumped the liquid into her mouth and downed it with one swallow. It was the consistency of very thin gravy, and the light mossy aroma now lingered in her mouth. She closed her eyes as she grasped the vial and waited for what might happen next.
A warm tremor pulsed through her abdomen for a couple of seconds. Was that a precursor to burning pain? Instead, the sensation faded. Even the flavor seemed to vanish.
She opened her eyes and looked at Copper, who was still smiling. “That’s it?”
He nodded as he held out his hand. “Now you’re halfway to being properly outfitted.”
“How do you mean?” She returned the vial.
He snapped it back into his palm and flicked at her with his other hand. “You can’t run around dressed like that.”
This time the mist was blue, but there was no roar as it swirled around her torso and legs. Her clothes rustled against her skin, and Eva gasped as she clutched her cloak. She looked down as the mist evaporated.
Instead of a blouse and shin-length skirt, she wore a blue suit with a red vest. Except there was no cornflower in the vest pocket like Copper had, but blue lace adorned the cuffs and lapels. Only her cloak, donned as protection against the chill of early spring, remained unchanged. Even her shoes had been changed to supple boots.
He grinned as he folded his arms. “That is a right smart look.”
“Why the change in clothes?”
“Because, Miss – I still don’t know your name.”
Since she appeared to be stuck with assisting him, she might as well cooperate. “Eva.”
“Miss Eva, we must be swift of foot and free to maneuver. Now before we get started –”
Thunder clattered overhead. Clattered? It sounded more like pebbles cascading to the floor than a weighty rumble. Her heart fluttered as she looked at the bowed ceiling, half expecting to see a cavalcade of stones burst through and upon them.
“Great bounding crickets!” Copper frowned as he glanced toward the door. “Our time’s grown even shorter.” He grabbed her upper arm, and she was too startled to resist as he pulled her toward the entrance. “I’ll explain on the way!”
Eva gasped as they burst onto the steps. Great bounding crickets wasn’t just another one of his epithets.
Here is my contribution to #BlogBattle this month, and the word this round is Miscellanarian. You’ll notice I tossed the real meaning of the word into the story … but hey, storytelling is a magical process, and I kinda sorta realigned the word a little … yeah, that sounds good…. Anyway, if you just found this post and noticed it’s Part Two, that’s because it’s the second part of a longer short story, and you can go to Part One to catch up. And don’t miss out on the other submissions this month!