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Chapter 5

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Snarkness Rising


library / ˈlaɪbɹəɹi / (n) 1: an institution with books for public use 2: where students in distress go to die

The walk to Medias’ office felt unnaturally long to Shikya. Probably because of the foreboding, grotesque demon wildly more powerful than I could possibly handle. Her defiant, cross-armed stance was an excuse to hug and console herself while Velzix flitted about to investigate the Grand’s architecture and décor. Each time they approached a statue or bust of a prestigious wizard, the succubus-turned-imp would fly ahead, inspecting it ever so closely. Each time, Shikya worried the demon would push the object in question on top of her with a satisfying crunch. She can’t hurt me… at least not directly. The contract is good enough for at least this.

Instead of murder-by-artistry, Velzix would land on the stony wizard’s shoulder, hold her decrepit hand to her chest, and vociferously announce their titles and status to Shikya in the style of a noble castellan at a banquet. Despite the intermittent heart-leaping fear in her throat, Shikya decided against forcing Velzix to stop using the power of the contract. She’s actually rather good at this.

“My lord, I hereby introduce the Master of Wines and Sommelier Extraordinaire, whose clarity of thought is without precedence: Lady Bam B. Oozled! She joins us this eve having found herself prostrate upon our steps, most assuredly felled awestruck by the towering quality of our libations and not by over-indulgence in the years-old, piss-riddled vomit she carried with her.”

Shikya fought down a smile at the continuing commentary as they neared Medias’ door, forcing herself to hate the petty demon. She held herself at the threshold, turning to Velzix, who was idly flapping away and inspecting her nails. I wonder if their wings are what keeps them aloft. I hope it is. I could pluck them and watch her stumble around on her grimy, grubby little feet. Shikya cleared her throat softly.

“Velz-… Vel.” The imp glanced her way with mild interest. “I’d much prefer if you kept civil with Medias Tel. And do please use his midname.”

Velzix issued an exasperated sigh. “Do you not trust your humble servant? I live only to please.” She dripped sarcasm, but continued after Shikya narrowed her eyes, “Fine. I promise I will use his midname and shall maintain civility such as his prestige and station deserves.”

“Good. Medias has always been kind to me. … And do not reveal your true nature. Or insinuate it. Or hint at it. Or… anything similar.” She forced a small bit of her remaining mana into the statements for emphasis and to temporarily enhance the magical compulsion.

The glamoured succubus grinned contemptuously. “I had not planned to, but now I might just for spite. Commands made in distress are easy to circumvent, after all…” Observing Shikya’s emotions flash from shock to anger to resignation, she decided to relent for a moment. “For fuck’s sake, why would I have gone to all this trouble if I simply reveal my trickery to the first thing with two legs and half a question?” A spindly hand rose to her tiny, gaunt chest in haughty fashion, as though the trickery were the pinnacle of subtlety. Not necessarily wrong, I suppose.

Shikya mentally noted Velzix used two forms of cadence and speech, but could not discern which was mocking and which truthful. Likely both and neither, respectively. She re-affirmed her belief Velzix would undermine the contract with an impossibly circuitous and absurd leap of logic. Why a succubus… Why not a fiend? Gods, I’d even take another damnable naga. The thought of another grouchy and altogether-too-deadly half-snake caused her to reconsider, but not retract the statement.

Tousling her hair roughly to shake the sense of dread, Shikya rapped on the door. A groaning yawn sounded from within followed by a familiar creak of wood. Dealing with unexpected circumstances had delayed her and it was already late. Maybe he’ll cancel class this morning and sleep. Would be a welcome reprieve after tonight. She already resigned herself to skipping Jalind’s morning training. Why not make it the whole morning? Why not the whole day? She glanced back to Velzix. Well, maybe being around others is a good idea. More -mancers to sling spells at Velzix when I inevitably get myself killed.

“Ah, Shikya! Bit later than expected, but… Oh! A winged imp!” Medias exclaimed at the hovering demon. “Do come in. This is an exemplary result!” He shuffled quickly to the bookshelf to the right of the vast expanse of papers which was his desk. Shikya and Velzix moved inside, one taking the chair and the other perching atop its high back, stretching her wings.

Unaccustomed to deception, Shikya noticed her hands shaking profusely. Faced with few options, she crossed her legs and shoved her hands in between them to quiet their discontentment. Oh, sure… Like it’ll do anything other than add to your shame. Maybe if you shrink into the chair far enough, you’ll pass through it into a cozy place without the burdens of consequence. Her mind would not be quieted as easily.

“So… this is the legendary ‘Medias Tel’ you spoke of?” Velzix asked, grinning mischievously at Shikya, who returned a quizzical gaze. Medias, intrigued, paused his searching to hear the answer, having no recollection of being a legendary figure of any sort. Velzix proceeded as though an answer was given and bowed as deftly as the misshapen imp could. “Then I shall count this meeting paramount among the few blessings I have been granted. For who would count themselves anything other than honored to stand in the presence of the man who carries a mighty fifteen venereal diseases and yet lives! Truly remarkable!”

Shikya felt the blood drain from her face as her heart stopped. Silence hung in the air in contrast to the crushing weight she felt on her chest. I’m going to die. She’s killed me. This lurching must be my soul leaving my body. I wish you well, oh cruel world.

Contrary to expectation, her mentor guffawed loudly and shook with laughter. Velzix too chuckled snidely at what she must have considered a rousing success. Bewildered, Shikya sat dumbstruck, unable to find mental purchase. Mad. They’re all mad.

As Medias calmed, he returned his attention to the shelf. “Now I’m quite nostalgic of my younger days; of my first contract. Imps have always amused me so.” Issuing a noise heralding success, he plucked a scroll from the detritus some would confuse for a book collection. Placing the scroll on his desk and sinking into his plush chair, Medias continued, “This is an appropriately enchanted request to add your and your imp’s names to the Warlock’s Registry. Once you sign, I will add a signature of my authority for validation… once I examine your new companion as a matter of course.”

Medias smiled in the direction of Velzix and winked, seemingly unaware of the transformation magic. The demon proffered a genial hand as if to say, ‘I would be so utterly thankful for your gracious endorsement, Medias Fire-bum Acid-mouth Tel.’

Shikya finally reconciled her mind with the world and her body caught up to the present. “I… You w-… What do… This is normal?!”

“Well, yes. We had discussed their style of irreverence, but I admit experiencing it firsthand is jarring. To reiterate, imps prefer to insult and mock everyone upon first meeting them… and for a good while thereafter… Whether they continue depends on you as the warlock to add to the contract stipulations on polite conversation. Of course, I found it much too enjoyable and curtailed it for only a select few friends and colleagues, though there are the standard risks of such modifications.”

Shikya slumped and sighed. Of course… She recalled their sessions devoted to post-contract spellwork. ‘The initial contract must be focused on the necessities: ensuring security and obedience. After the contract is formed, you can adjust as needed.’ Even so, the degree of Velzix’s irreverence was unexpected. ‘…and remember: the more limitations, the harder the contract is to enforce. You must place your effort where it is needed most.’

A pair of bulbous eyes peered down at her. “How very dramatic… Do verbal barbs truly wound you so? Your master appreciates the genial undercurrents of an insult well-stated. I await with bated breath his proper response.” Velzix’s diminutive form shifted to face Medias, who scribbled a few words on the enchanted paper before snapping his fingers in realization.

“Indeed! A sincere apology is in order…” Medias paused his efforts and cleared his throat. “I offer my most humble apologies. My mind was indulging itself thinking of how to best remove the overgrown knife you charitably refer to as a nose. Were it less obtrusive, I would have recalled common courtesy. As recompense, I offer you an occupation on my cousin’s farm. She would happily lash you to a stick as a makeshift scythe and cut chitin wheat three times more effectively.”

Shikya palmed her face in horror while Velzix bowed in acknowledgement. “A veritable pleasure to meet your approval, Medias Tel. You may call me Vel, Glorious Master of Magic and Trickery. ‘V-E-L’ if your understanding of basic language is as lacking as your wit.”

Without so much as glancing up, Medias retorted, “What I lack in wit, I have in wisdom, but feeble minds cannot be expected to discern wisdom when they distract themselves with the intersection of blunt objects and their more sensitive regions. ‘Tis no indictment of your proclivities, but fornicative indulgence in lieu of common sense is a regrettable loss to demonkind and the structural integrity of broom handles everywhere.”

The snide banter proceeded apace as Medias scrutinized Velzix with both questions and arcane sight. Shikya’s attention retreated inwards. How am I going to survive this… She shifted her hand off her face and to her hair, pulling fingers through it roughly. Well, at least my hands have stopped shaking. The rivalry between Medias and Velzix continued jovially. I can’t do this. I have to find a way out. Her mind paced from one idea to the next, each as ineffective a solution as the last.

“Shikya!”

Jolted from her reverie by the forceful tone, she looked up as Medias, who must have called her name several times. His hand held a parchment forward on his desk. He smiled softly. “I’ve been teaching at the Grand for the better part of two decades. Students come, they learn, and they leave, often before they understand their own limits. Too many are lost at the eastern fronts to arrogance and overconfidence…” Medias sighed and adjusted his glasses before proceeding. “The best of them, the survivors, are the ones who question their own ability. The talented who believe themselves ungifted live to overcome the greatest challenges. This institution may not commission a statue of those quiet heroes, but their silence is broken in praise sung by the lives they save.”

The thought she may yet surmount the demonic obstacle perched above her was a needed solace for Shikya’s mind. She glanced up to the top of her chair. Velzix peered down briefly and looked eager to offer such difficulties, but Shikya finally felt she may have a small chance. She stood and leaned forward to sign her name.

Research. I can research. I’m proficient enough for at least this.

***

Chapter to be continued...


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