Note: this story is not related to the Journal of a Cartographer story. I am posting this story on April 26, 2007 because I am unable to post a usual entry. This story originally appeared in a copy of Deep Magic, an onlive E-zine, several years ago. As far as I can tell, the e-zine is no longer around. Enjoy!

The Transference of Magic

Edwin sat back to look at the transference potion, finally done, ready, rotten. He had no idea which wizard invented the putrid brown drink, but at this stage in his life he didn’t care much. His head hurt. His mind throbbed with too many memories. He had lived too fully, too much for any one person. He would drink the bitter, acrid potion and piss the magic out of himself. Then he would be done with life.

“But not yet, eh Eighty-Eight?” he said, looking at the brown dog sitting at the room’s door. A candle on the table next to the drink provided the only light. “I’ve still got to cut my tongue out, haven’t I?”
Eighty-Eight acknowledged Edwin’s comment by raising her head three inches then giving a quiet, “Woof.” As a puppy she had eaten a carrot with legs, which had grown in soil fertilized with transference piss. The magic had given her understanding that it would be nice to have a little more intelligence, but it had not granted her the ability to speak. Other dogs had gained speech capabilities, but that didn’t mean they were intelligent. They could babble and jabber with the craziest of humans, but she could understand things better than most. She lowered her head onto her paws, ears settling back onto the floor.

“And I know exactly what I’m going to do with it, don’t I?” Edwin responded. “Not exactly a tough choice.”

Nine hundred and seventy-six years of life had taught Edwin a lot, and he had been planning for over eighty exactly what he was going to do with his magic. Once he drank the potion of transference, all of the magic in his body would be drawn into his urine, so that a day after drinking the potion he would literally piss the magic out of himself. Whatever living thing came in contact with or drank the urine would absorb his magic, inherit his powers. For many years he had planned to die on his thousandth birthday, but had long since abandoned the idea.

With a sigh Edwin clamped the lid onto the jar. Once, over a year before, when Edwin had started brewing the potion, the container had been clear. Now a thin film of brown mold grew up the inside and an occasional small insect burrowed into it, to be seen through the glass—which kind of insect Edwin didn’t know; the potion required too many variants to keep track of.

“Yes. I can’t give the magic to Broady, can I? Not to that twit, that dullard. The man couldn’t conjure a cup of water if he had a lake and a cup. No, my magic is too much for him. I’ve drunken too much transference piss to pass on to him.”

Eighty-Eight snorted, but did not move or twitch an ear. She closed her eyes.

“And those wizards that give their magic to Celeste—they’re plain fools, aren’t they?  I’m glad I won’t be around much longer to see what she decides to do eventually. Benevolent! Ha! Charitable! Ha! She wants the magic for herself, doesn’t she? Nobody even knows how long she’s been getting a sip of magic here, a taste of magic food there. For all we know, she’s just biding her time, getting as much magic as she can until the day she can declare her own supremacy over every living thing.”

The dog shifted slightly, pretended not to understand.

“No, we’ve got something better in mind, don’t we? Something poetic.”

He stood from his chair, stuffed the jar under his armpit, and then shuffled past Eight-Eight and out of the room. Tomorrow he would begin in earnest his journey toward mortality and death.


* * *

Broady sat on the floor of his hut, his back against the jagged rock wall, his legs against his chest. Except for a small fire in the room’s center, a mat in the corner, and a few small jars and vases lining a wall, the room was empty. The firelight made the walls glow a soft orange.

For a long time, Broady stared at the emptiness of the room. Until late into the night he thought about how he had spent the years of his life. The days, the hours, the minutes. What did he have to show for it? Nothing but a one-room house with a dirt floor so hard it hurt to walk across.

The room had been empty for years. Forty-six years, to be precise—the time he’d observed and studied under that fat, lazy bastard Edwin. For so long he had watched and learned, prepared and waited, worked to make himself someone worthy of receiving the blessing of magic and immortality. He had all the knowledge. He knew the words and gestures to hundreds of spells. He understood the required ingredients to defeat a demon, the pieces of a food necessary to duplicate the food, the timing of an incantation that would conjure an apparition capable of leveling armies. He’d seen Edwin do it all. He’d committed it to memory. He’d practiced in his empty hut.

And for what? What had it all availed him? Nothing. Like so many of Edwin’s understudies, he had nothing to show for his poverty, toil, and dedication—and he might die that way. With each passing day it looked more likely that Edwin would not give him the transference piss. He had never mentioned anything to Broady about it, despite the fact that the potion had festered in his laboratory for almost a year. And he wasn’t the type to surprise Broady with an announcement and the drink.

“Tomorrow, Broady, I will start my transference fast and the day after I will cut out my tongue. In a few days you’ll be drinking my magic, and you’ll have all my power, won’t you?”

No. Edwin would never do something like that. If he had planned on giving Broady his magic, he would have warned him a year ago to start preparing. Each day it looked more and more like Edwin would deny Broady his rightful inheritance.

But Broady had waited too long, worked too hard to die. If anyone ever had, he deserved the immortality that enough magic provided. He should not have to suffer because the random assigning of understudies to magicians had matched him with a selfish man.

He would not allow himself to be such a victim. No, he would not let fate treat him so cruelly. He would have the magic. After Edwin had deposited his powers into a container, he would have no magic, no voice to call for help when Broady descended upon him to steal the cup and drink its contents. And that’s what Broady would do. No matter the cost, the violence, or the betrayal necessary, he would have the magic.

Quiet voices from outside, in the front of his hut, snapped his attention back to his surroundings. The fire had died. The ashes rested dark and cold, like the air in the room.  A soft gray light shone between the floor and the door. The voices came again, but this time from behind his hut. The hunting party leaving the village. Day approached.

Broady stood, his knees popping, his resolve thickening.

* * *

As the sun came up over the distant red-rock cliffs, Celeste scampered out of the light, into the spaces of a large pile of boulders and rocks. Her claws clicked and scratched on the stones. She found a comfortable spot in the shade that allowed a view of the adobe village—specifically of the largest hut. She took care to make sure that her tail kept out of sight. Carelessness had gotten that chopped off more times than she could remember.

The night had been so cool, so nice. Soon the heat of the day would beat down on her furry body like the brooms had once broken her back. So many times the woman of a house had beaten her, tried to kill her. But magic had allowed her body to heal from about any wound. That was so long ago she almost couldn’t remember, back even before she could talk.

She wasn’t used to this climate, to the dryness and the temperature, the sand and the prickly cacti. She longed for the grassy north countries where it actually snowed in the winter. She would be glad when, in a few days, she could begin her journey back.

She watched as the hunting party left the village on foot. Six men with spears and bows, and no fewer than ten dogs. It had taken her two mornings to learn that the hunting party always left through the north end of the village. Both days she had fled from a particular hound that must have had a keener sense of smell than the others. The dog had made such a fuss at the entrance of the hole in her rock that a few other dogs and a man had come to investigate. Only quick feet had allowed her to avoid detection.

Without moving, she waited throughout the morning, watched as the village awoke and people emerged. Most were of only mild interest, a source of amusement and pity. As usual, Celeste derived the most pleasure out of the way the children tormented their mothers.

Around noon, when the majority of villagers had gathered on the opposite side of the village for lunch, the door to the largest hut opened. A dog came out first, stopping about ten feet out to look back. A man followed.

Celeste stood. That man had something she wanted.

* * *

 Edwin left his hut when he knew very few people would see him. He greeted and waved to those who saw and acknowledged him, but did not go out of his way to draw any attention. In only a minute he had left the village, and in another five he had crested and started to descend a ridge that would have prevented him from seeing the village had he looked back.
For several hours he strode west, over the red dirt and rocks and through fields of sagebrush and cacti. Though he sweated in the heat and relentless sun, he never tired, slowed, or paused to reevaluate his direction. Neither did Eighty-Eight. Periodically the dog would walk close enough to Edwin that his swinging hand would brush the dog’s back, but mostly Eighty-Eight ran ahead or lagged behind.
Shortly before sunset they stopped in the foothills of the dry mountains, at a river that flowed down out of the still snowy peaks. No where else in the world had Edwin seen flowers, shrubs, and plants like those that lined the banks. The river had always been a special place to him, a place of solace and peace. The water flowed slowly, without interruption of rock or debris; to the right and to the left as far as Edwin could see, there was no whitewater—just clear rippling, not even enough to obscure the view of the fish and river floor a few feet below.

As Eighty-Eight leapt in, Edwin sat on a rock and dangled his feet into the water. Fish darted away from both of them.

“This feels good, doesn’t it?” he said. “This leaving. This starting a new life of sorts.  What a relief to know that soon I’ll be able to die.”

He sat there for a time, watching his dog play in the water. The play soon turned to trying to catch a fish. She would climb the banks and wait quietly in the lengthening shadows for the fish to draw near, and then would leap at the opportune moment. Eventually she caught one, and settled down on the opposite side of the river for dinner.

Edwin watched jealousy as the dog ate—he had never enjoyed going without food, no matter what spell it would lead to. Before long a small rat emerged from the grasses to Eighty-Eight’s left, jumped onto a stone, and looked directly at Edwin. He stared back, furrowing his brow and frowning.

“What do you want, eh?” he asked.

“I’ve just come to see what an old friend is going to do with his magic,” the rat said. Although Edwin had heard the voice many times, it still surprised him how human the it sounded. Like a woman in her middle years, no longer as beautiful or innocent as she had once been.

“Friend! I am no more your friend than I am your father.”

After a moment, the rat said, “Then I’ve come to see what the most powerful wizard for the last four hundred years is going to do with his—“

“It’s none of your business. Go away.”

“In a cosmic way it is my business. Other wizards will want to know. The people of the world will want to know. I can tell them.”

“None of them deserve to know, do they?”

“Yes they do. Because you have given them so much, you have become a part of their lives. Whether you like it or not, you are obligated to them, now. They have become dependent on you.”

“When they stopped thanking me for me my deeds and started expecting them, they stopped deserving anything I might have wanted to give them. You should understand that, Celeste. You are no longer the prodigy and the wonder you once were, even if you are more powerful than ever. Eh?”
She did not respond, but looked at Eighty-Eight, who had paused her meal to listen to the conversation. When their eyes met, the dog licked her chops then growled softly. Edwin laughed loud enough that fish scattered away form where they had been swimming around his legs.

“Don’t even think about it,” Celeste said to the dog.

“And why not?” Edwin asked. “You’d make a tasty meal. And then the world would have a new prodigy to perform miracles for them. Why don’t you pass your magic on, eh? You’re so worried about mine—what about yours?”

“I am not quite ready—”

“And what about the other creatures you ate? The plants, the animals? Where they ready to die? I imagine more than one of them would have preferred be a human and choose when to pass their magic on.”

The dog had returned to chew on the remainder of the fish. The sun had set, and the sky grew dark.

“You have no reason to mistrust me.”

“You already have too much magic. That is reason enough, isn’t it?”

“Other wizards don’t think like that.”

He grunted.

“Giving your magic to me would be the right choice.”

He grunted again.

“You cannot give it to Broady.”

“I’m not going to give it to Broady.”

“Who are you giving it to?”

“Go away.”


“Get away from me.”

The rat hesitated for a moment, then turned and slipped back into the foliage.

* * *

The next morning Edwin began to climb the mountain. He stayed by the river whenever possible, following it upstream toward his destination. He moved more slowly than the day before; by noon he had not eaten anything for a full day and his strength had already started to wane. At nightfall he could drink, but for a day after that he would not have anything except his transference potion. Fortunately, clouds mitigated the sun’s morning heat. They cleared by afternoon, but by then he had entered a canyon, where trees stood by the riverside in enough abundance that he walked in the shade most of the time.

Several hours after noon, Celeste appeared running along side him, easily keeping up with his steady pace. Eighty-Eight had run ahead; Edwin had not seen her for some time.

“What you’re going to do is dangerous.”

“That depends on your perspective, doesn’t it?”

“It’s unpredictable, and when magic is not controlled, it is dangerous.”

“Too much magic in one being is more dangerous, if you ask me. Who knows what that being might eventually do.”
“Have I ever harmed a living thing that didn’t deserve it?”
“Not yet. Not as far as I know, anyway.”
“Why would I start?”
“I’m not giving my magic to you. You can give up.”

“Then don’t give it to anyone—to anything. Keep it. You can live comfortably if you choose.”

“I have lived comfortably for long enough.”

The rat laughed. “Comfortably? You call waging war for 50 straight years comfortable? You call taking thousands of lives and battling demons and having thousands of your own people’s lives taken—you call that comfortable?”

“I can live comfortably after I have given up magic.”

“In a dying home? That is not comfortable, either. You share a room with another old, dying wizard. A few times a day someone gives you food—not food you chose, but what they chose to make you. You sit around, unable to talk with others, communicate in any meaningful fashion. Maybe you play a game or two. But really you are there just waiting to die, hoping every morning that you wake up dead, sad when your roommate is the one that went and not you.”

“Death will come, eventually. That is all that matters, isn’t it?”

They walked along for a few minutes. Edwin stopped to sit on a dead, fallen tree in the shade. Celeste sat opposite him on a stone, observing his face. He tried not to look at her or to show any emotion or interest in anything, though he actually had started to look for his dog.

“You are resolved, then?” she asked.

He nodded.

“You’ll cut out your tongue tonight?”

He nodded again.

“No going back after that, you know. If you change your mind once your tongue is out, you will live forever, unable to complete the transference potion at a future time.”

“I know that, now don’t I?”

“Broady is following you.”

“Is he?” This came as a genuine surprise. “I hadn’t expected that.”

“He will try to steal the transference piss once you have put it in the cup.”

“He won’t get it.”

“You will be helpless at that point. Perhaps I should stay with you to prevent him?”

“As you said, I will be helpless—convenient for you, eh?”

“I only take magic that is given to me.”

“Well, I’m not giving you mine, so you can just stay away.”

“You will be help—“

“Go away.”

“I can help—“

“Get away from me.”
The rat snapped her jaws closed, narrowed her eyes at Edwin, then scampered off downstream.
A few moments later, Eight-Eight jogged up to Edwin from behind. She nuzzled her nose into her master’s hand. Edwin did not notice for several seconds. He continued to stare at where the rat had sat. The dog gave a soft, “Woof!”
“Ah, you’re back. Tired of walking alone? Well, let’s move on.”

* * *

The third time Celeste came to Edwin, the sun had barely set, and the sky was growing dim. Edwin lay with his head on a rock, his mouth open, the transference potion below his face, waiting for a tongue. He held a curved knife to his mouth, but had not yet cut. In his other hand he held a crumpled dripping cloth. Eighty-Eight stood near him. She’d watched silently until Celeste’s arrival, then stood and growled just loud enough to be heard. Her hackles raised.

“You’re going to do it,” the rat said.

Edwin whipped the knife out of his mouth and stretched his arm toward the rat; the blade stopped several inches from her face. She did not move. “Get away.”

“This is your last chance.”

“I’m well aware of that, aren’t I?” His words were slightly slurred, matching the faint blur at the edges of his vision. A day and a half of fasting had not been easy for him. It would not get easier. “Go away!”

She did not move, but looked past the knife into Edwin’s eyes.

“You cannot change my mind. Now leave.”

She obeyed this time. Edwin watched until she had disappeared into the mountain’s rocks and gathering darkness, and then brought the knife back to his mouth. In two quick movements, he cut the skin holding his tongue to the bottom of his mouth, then twisted it and sliced his tongue. Red flesh and blood spilled out into the cup. Edwin rolled onto his arching back and half screamed half gurgled blood. He jammed the wet cloth into his mouth, and began to weep.

* * *
In the morning Edwin drank the transference potion before starting off. He sat in a grove next to the river, on the trunk of a fallen tree. Dust danced in the sunlight as it angled down through the trees to play on the moss, shrubs, and flowers that covered the ground. The bloody blade still lay where he had dropped it the night before.
Once he raised the glass to his lips, he did not lower it until the drink was gone. It was quite an odd sensation to drink something without a tongue in his mouth. He’d never realized just how much the tongue helped liquid go down. Magic had already healed the wound, so it no longer hurt.

It tasted less foul that he had anticipated, perhaps because of his extended fast, but also because most of his tongue was in the cup. It smelled worse than it tasted, and looked worse than it smelled. Bugs, flower pedals, herbs, and roots floated in the yellow and bloody liquid, making it hard to drink. The chunks and how his tongue slipped up against his lips bothered him far more than how his throat stung.
After finishing, he looked at Eighty-Eight, who stood before him, watching, never taking her eyes from her master’s face. Edwin opened his mouth to speak, but what came out was nothing the dog could understand.

With a frown he shook his head and stood, put the lid back on the cup and the cup back into the pouch at his side, and headed up the river.  He used a crooked stick for balance, and squinted to focus his eyes. His stomach churned in protest at the sudden disgusting drink, but he ignored it.

It wasn’t far, now, and wouldn’t be long before he started peeing.

* * *

He tried to keep a look out for Broady and Celeste, to watch his back and his sides. He would have liked to ask Eighty-Eight to do the same; having no tongue had already proven itself a rotten experience. He could only hope the dog had learned enough listening to his conversations with Celeste to know to watch out for them. But he couldn’t remember if the dog had been around when Celeste had told him about Broady.

He saw neither of them, but most of the time he had to watch his footing as the terrain grew steeper and the plants and mosses gave way to rocks that covered most of the ground. Somehow, trees still grew out between the rocks, dense enough that he could use one for support, take a step, and use another one for support; he always had one hand on a tree, and another on his staff.

After no more half a mile of climbing along the rocks, he stopped following the river; the mountain became too steep along the riverbank, practically making the river a miles-long waterfall, and he would have to climb to the riverhead a different way.

Not long later, he stopped to pee.

He got out the cup. The tongue sat in the bottom, still a little moist and bloody, partially covered by flower pedals and herbs. He steadied himself against a tree and took aim. Eighty-Eight sat on a particularly large rock to watch, her tongue hanging down, eyes sharp.

It took a moment for the piss to come—such a long life would stretch out and weaken any bladder—but the second it started, he felt different. Weaker. More vulnerable. With each drop he could feel the magic leaving his body, draining the vitality and power out from him. Pain crept into his muscles and joints. Breaths came heavier and harder. The distant sound of the waterfall, the rustling of the trees and singing of birds became muffled, as if someone had put hands over his ears. His vision became even more clouded, so that he could barely see his own feet.

But more than anything, he felt weary of life. Motivation and desire were foreign concepts, dreams from a distant time and another’s experience, like something he’d once heard about as a child, in a story. He thought he’d wanted to die before, but now he understood the depth wanting to die could reach. What purpose was there in going on, in doing or thinking anything? Why had he lived so long? Why couldn’t he just die right then and get it over with? Everything was pointless.
The suddenness of the despair overwhelmed him, and he began to sob. Soft whimpers rose from his throat. His body and hands shook. Some of the transference piss spilled onto his hands, reminding him of the inheritance he held. Through his tears he capped the glass and put it away. Unable to continue on, he collapsed against a tree. He raised his eyes toward the spots of sunlight and sky he could see through the branches, and released a wail that embodied the enormity of the weariness and weakness that had gripped him.
Eighty-Eight, who had hopped down from her rock, nuzzled her nose in his hand. He reached out and put his arms around the dog’s body, pulled the animal close, and for a time cried into her tangled fur.

* * *
From the West, across the river, Broady heard what he first thought was a wolf howling. He halted, standing on a large rock, one hand on a tree. He held his breath, not wanting his panting to drown out another possible noise. He tilted his head toward the river, from where the howl had come from. Not a wolf’s howl. There were no wolves in this area. As far as Broady knew, no animals large enough to make a noise like that lived in this rocky forest. It had to be something else.
When the noise did not repeat itself, Broady headed off in what he thought was the direction it had come from. He could only hope that it would lead him to Edwin; otherwise he would have to head straight up to the waterfall and hope Edwin hadn’t done anything with the magic by the time he got there.
He stepped carefully across the river on slick rocks, and headed deeper into the forest. He climbed up and away from the river at a sharp angle—more up than away, keeping his eyes and ears alert. He climbed through the rest of the morning and into the early afternoon, but never again heard a noise or saw anything that might indicate Edwin had passed by.  He decided to head straight for the waterfall’s head, and adjusted his path accordingly, taking a wider angle away from the river before heading straight up the rocky mountain.

Eventually the mountain began to level off, and he knew he had neared the plateau. Though the trees prevented him from seeing, he knew that a mile or two further along, the mountain rapidly grew steep again, leading to the highest peaks of the mountain range, where the water for the river originated. The rocks and trees continued to dominate the terrain in the plateau, and he headed back toward the river. He quickened his pace, worrying that Edwin had beaten him there and already peed the magic out and dumped it. To his left the ground became steep, eventually reaching the point where no sane person would come up that way.

Although trees muffled the roaring of the river and waterfall, he knew he was getting close. The rushing grew louder with each step, eventually blocking out any noise of the forest or that Broady made. Visually, the river emerged suddenly between trees. The ground on the opposite side of the river went almost straight up just a few feet back from the river bank, a cliff of jagged granite. At its base was an entrance to a cave, perhaps four feet tall and two feet wide. It looked like someone had chiseled out a misshapen, small door in the cliff’s side. He scanned up and down the banks of the river, searching for Edwin, but saw no indication that the wizard had passed by or come here.

What if he had guessed wrong, and Edwin was taking the magic somewhere else?

He scrambled down to the riverbank, tripping and scraping his shins several times in his rush. He made his way toward the edge of the waterfall, nearly falling into the rapid waters twice, and getting his right foot wet one of those times.  A boulder hung out over the edge, and he stopped on it, laying down and peeking over the edge. In the late afternoon light, the rocks’ white color caught the light just right, almost making it look like they glowed, and the mist that spayed up from the waterfall glistened in the sun. At the bottom of the waterfall, the river sloped steeply away, gradually leveling out miles below. Whitewater was so prevalent that it created the illusion that the waterfall did not end for several miles. Beginning at the base of the falls, a canvas of trees covered the mountain on both sides of the river. Much further down, where the mountain was less steep, the green gave way to browns, eventually disappearing into the barren, brown valleys below.

Broady scanned the rocks and water far below. He saw no one. No Edwin. No Eighty-Eight. Gritting his teeth and swallowing hard, he tried to consider where Edwin might be, what he might be doing. Thinking wasn’t easy, with the roar of the water pounding in his chest and ears. Until now he had thought that Edwin would come to this very rock and dump the magic over the waterfall, let it spread its powers throughout the world, then jump after it. He could be wrong. He hoped that either he was, or that he had beat Edwin here.

After a moment, he decided he was right—he really had no other option to decide on; if he was wrong, there was no chance he would ever get the magic. This was where Edwin was going. Broady had beaten him here, or—

He turned his head and looked back at the cave. Perhaps Edwin wasn’t done getting the magic out. Perhaps he was resting in the cave.

Broady stood and headed back toward the cave, his heart pounding with excitement and fear. He could not find a place to cross the river until a few hundred feet up, where enough rocks sat close enough together and in enough of a row that he could use them as a bridge. He approached the cave’s mouth more wary of being seen than being heard over the river’s noise. The nearer he drew, the slower he walked, so that eventually each step took a few seconds. His heart beat violently. His hands shook as he placed them on the rocks at the entrance. He leaned against the wall. Licked his lips. Swallowed. He moved his head toward the entrance until his left eye was looking into the cave.

It took several moments, but once his eye had adjusted to the darkness, he saw, perhaps twenty feet into the cave, a figure move in the dimness.

He clamped a hand over his mouth, stopping a shout of joy. He jerked his head back, leaned closer against the wall.

What was he to do? How would he get the magic? Plans formulated and disappeared in rapid succession. It took only a moment for him to know that he would have to strike swiftly and quietly. But, should he go into the cave, or wait for Edwin to come out? Either way, all Edwin would have to do is tip the cup, and the magic would be gone.

* * *

Eighty-Eight watched silently as Edwin fumbled with the cup, mumbling tonguelessly, quietly to himself. Although she lay still in the cold dirt of the cave, she was ready to move at any moment—she kept her muscles tense, her ears open to the sound of anyone coming into the cave. The roaring of the river and waterfall, muted by the cave, still drowned out most noise.  They had seen Broady outside, by the waterfall.

Edwin swayed slightly where he stood. He held the cup in two hands close to his stomach. His eyes darted through the room, looking for something he could do, somewhere he could put the magic.

Eighty-Eight understood the situation perfectly. His master was going to die and get rid of his magic. He did not want anyone to inherit the power. Broady was outside of the cave, presumably looking for Edwin and the magic, and would do anything to get what he felt rightfully belonged to him. And Celeste surely lurked nearby. The dog did not know what to do, but her animal instincts and human understanding told her to protect her master, to be loyal. It was the right thing to do. The noble thing. And she would do it. She was a dog, after all—a mutt, certainly, but nonetheless one of the noblest of creatures.

“Ah!” Edwin said, one of the few intelligible words he could say. The intensity in his voice and his sudden movement toward the cave wall startled Eighty-eight, made her jerk to a half-standing position. With shaking hands he took the lid from the jar and knelt. Near the dirt floor, a vertical crack in the wall only a few inches thick created something of a basin inside the wall. The crevice was small enough that Eighty-eight would not have been able to put her nose into it. A rat could fit her head in, but not her body. Many such cracks marred the wall of the cave on all sides.

Edwin brought the jar to the lip of the crack. It clanked against the rock as he tried to steady his hand, then tipped the jar. In the dim light, Eighty-eight saw the piss pour into the basin. A little dribbled down the rock, shiny and glistening. But most of the urine made it into the crack, creating a small pool inside the wall.

“Eh, eh.” Edwin said. Still on his knees, he turned to the dog and beckoned by patting his leg.

She obeyed, and he scratched her scalp. She focused her eyes on his, tried her best to make sure he knew that she understood and would help.

He held her head in his hands, so close to his face that she had no choice but to look into his eyes. Sunken and hollow, tired, nervous. So many emotions she saw in his eyes. But no fear. He did not fear death. She licked his cheek, and he embraced her, saying something that she thought should have been, “Good girl.”

He stood and she turned toward the narrow, low entrance, about twenty feet away, then looked back at him, waited for the word to go. Her heart pounded.

As Edwin looked at the mouth of the cave, he licked his lips, gripped the jar more tightly, and swallowed. He cleared his throat quietly, then in a whisper, he said, “O a e, a.” He slapped her back softly. “O!”

She leapt forward toward light, and in a few bounds was out of the cave, squinting her eyes in the brightness.

She had not counted on two things. First, was the riverbank, spotted with rocks, being so near—maybe six feet from the cave mouth. Second was how close to the entrance Broady was—leaning against the rock wall.

He jumped back in surprise as she passed him. She dug her paws into the ground at the river’s edge to stop and turn. With a roar she leapt at him. He cried out in fear and held his arms before him even as he lashed with his foot. The kick glanced off her side. Her claws dug into his forearm. He screamed. She tasted blood and flesh, and whipped her head around and backwards, pulling him down to the ground.

But too late she realized that she had pulled to the wrong side—toward the cave instead away—because at that moment Edwin stumbled out of the cave toward the river, holding one arm to his eyes against the brightness and the holding the jar close to him with the other. Broady reached out with this spare arm, and caught the wizard’s leg.

Edwin fell, his head cracking against a sharp rock with a spray of blood. The jar flew from his arm toward the river, Eighty-eight dove at Broady’s neck.  Her muzzle struck his chest because the old man was too fast in moving toward the hurtling jar. It turned top over bottom as it splashed in the rapid water. She made one last attempt to stop him as he dove in after, but her teeth clamped shut over air instead of his leg or foot.

She ran along the bank next to him, barking and growling, watching the jar bobbing, moving downstream toward the waterfall. Broady swam to catch up, his arms and legs flailing in wild panic. He reached the jar about twenty feet from the falls. While trying to stay afloat he jerked the lid open and put it to his lips. His eyes widened in horror and he wailed as the water carried him over the edge. Eighty-eight watched over the falls for only a moment as Broady clutched the jar and plummeted into the mist below.

She turned and ran back to her master. He lay on his side, a rock poking into his head and blood running down onto it. His eyes stared vacantly and his mouth hung slightly open. Although she knew that he had gone, and that it was what he had wanted, she nuzzled his face once or twice, then raised her head to the air and howled.

As her howl faded, she remembered that the business was not done. Celeste might still be around. Knowing she could probably do very little to stop the rat from getting the magic, she turned and went back into the cave. There, in the dimness, at the base of the wall, he could see Celeste’s fat body. The rat’s head, Eighty-Eight saw, was in the crack. The rodent was making odd, pleasureful noises. The fur of her body quivered as her muscles seemed to spasm.

Without even thinking, Eighty-eight leapt forward. Her teeth closed around the rat’s body, pierced her fur and skin and muscles, her inner organs. She ripped the rat out of the crevice and threw her against the wall. The rat’s body convulsed as it thudded against the floor, and Eighty-eight dove on it with her paws and her jaws. She ripped some flesh away.

And something happened that she had not considered: magic flowed into her. Like the time she had eaten the carrot grown in magic soil, a tingling started at her lips, bolted down her neck and into her body and legs. She quivered in pleasure as she absorbed the power.

When she had first attacked the rat, it had been out of rage and sadness. But as she began to eat the rat in earnest, her motive changed—she wanted the pleasure of the magic.

It took her hours to eat the rat, so great was the magic. A single bite would render her unable to move for minutes at a time, as the magic became part of her. She could feel herself changing, becoming a different creature. She now understood that the pleasure she felt was a polar opposite to the agony her master had endured while getting rid of his magic.

When the eating was done and the tiny bones cracked open and sucked dry, she left the cave. Edwin lay there, pale and still in the moonlight, still staring. She lay next to him, close. His body felt cold. She knew that with the magic she possessed she could get his magic, now. It would not be hard to drink his powers and have them become part of her.

Until morning she lay next to him, thinking and pondering, and then made her decision.


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