Cumulos Capers - Excerpt
Cumulos Capers - Excerpt
Dim firelight flickered on the walls when I opened my eyes to Frost’s darkened guestroom. What had awakened me? Surely not another attack already! I curled my fingers around the wand beneath the pillow, scanned the room without moving.
I felt eyes on me.
As I inched to a sitting position, a shadow moved. With a shriek, I scrambled behind the bed and, after a couple of botched attempts, activated the globe lights.
A bald, skinny, tattooed rat sat on its haunches on the nightstand, little front paws hanging over a disproportionate belly. Little rat eyes watched me, the crystal that hung from its collar reflecting flashes of firelight. A faint memory rose from the fog of sleep. Where had I seen this specimen before?
We seemed to be at a stalemate. I watched it as it watched me. Finally it heaved a little rat sigh, thin chest flexing.
“Good evening, Miss White Raven.” Though its voice was thin and nasally, it sounded male and like it could be an English speech instructor.
I held my wand between us and scrambled further back. “Who . . . what are you?”
He spread his little arms (front legs?). “I’m obviously a rat, Raven. An outstanding specimen but definitely a rat.”
“What do you want?”
“I made a recent move to Cumulos Castle in search of a new challenge. Imagine my surprise when I spotted you earlier? A completely uneducated magelet! How could I refuse?”
“Why, the opportunity to become your familiar, of course!”
“My familiar what?”
He pursed little lips. “Do you know what a witch’s familiar is?”
I searched my memory. “Aren’t they animal companions, black cats or something?”
“That is correct.” He tilted his head to the side and twitched his whiskers. “I have decided to become your familiar,” he repeated.
I must’ve gaped as my brain froze. I stuttered. “Wh . . . why?”
“You are in need of one even though you aren’t a witch.”
“Well, you aren’t a cat either!”
“True.” He straightened and gave his tattoos a loving stroke. “You’d never see a cat with the likes of these!”
I agreed. No self-respecting cat would deface itself in such a manner.
“So, what does a familiar do?”
The rat settled back onto its haunches. “He lives with and teaches his witch. Since I believe it is my destiny to exceed normal limitations, I’ve decided to link to a mage, but I never imagined I’d have the good fortune to find one so adorably clueless. It will be a wonderful challenge that I expect will bring greater satisfaction in the end. Just think of me as your Professor Higgins.”
I couldn’t remember the name of the story, but knew it had to do with bringing a young woman from the streets of London and training her to speak like a well-bred society woman. It confirmed my original observation of his perfect speech patterns.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “I recall Higgins was ready to toss her back into the street after he’d won the bet!”
His whiskers twitched and he gave a little condescending laugh which showed tiny pointy teeth. “I’ve no intention of trying to pass you off as upper class, my dear. That would be too amusing.”
“Then what the hell do you want?” My back teeth ached. I noticed he was about the size of a football and envisioned a perfect punt down the hall.
“To bring an under-educated stray to realize her potential, of course. It has always been my dream to perform the impossible.”
My eyes were slits. “You pompous, arrogant little . . . Wait a minute. . . You said, lives with?”
“Of course, Raven. That’s how it works. How could I teach you otherwise?”
“No you don’t! I hate roommates! I’m selfish and messy, up at all hours, and I’m told I snore.”
“Who told you that?”
“None of your business!”
“Not to worry. I can fix that. Familiars are magic, after all.” He swiveled his little head. “That spot by the fire looks warm. I’ll bring my things from the library.”
Of course! I did a mental head-smack. The rat in the library! But that didn’t mean I wanted the arrogant creature to become my new best friend! In desperation, I raised my voice. “I don’t want a familiar, either cat or rat! I need my solitude!”
His round black eyes turned back to me. “By the way, the name’s Cyril. See you in the morning.” And he was off.
I sent him a parting shot. “Don’t think you’ll be sleeping in my bed!”