Read Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures) Online

Authors: Terry Kroenung

Tags: #Humor, #Fantasy

Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures) (7 page)

BOOK: Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures)
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Funny, then, how I so trusted a talking mouse and a shape-shifting sword and their story about evil Bullies coming to take me away.

The great battle scene began. Blades, shields, and spears slashed the gaslit air, their sweet noise even louder than usual because of my Jasper-enhanced ears. I dearly wanted to stay for it, but Ernie kept tugging at my overall cuff to keep me moving toward the fire exit. We slunk past a couple of stagehands who were admiring the Shakespearean carnage and then eased out the door, being careful not to let it slam. Drawing the sword, I started to look for enemies. After all of our careful slinking I nearly undid us by almost stepping on Ernie. That made me jerk my leg back. Unbalanced, I hopped on one foot, Jasper clutched in one hand, feeling for the wall to steady myself. Instead I fell full-length through the half-closed door.

And stopped in mid-air.

Well, this sure seems magickal. I’m floatin’ like a Hindustani fakir.

I looked down. A huge shiny hand, standing on a single iron foot, held me like a baby. Balanced horizontal, as if flying. The stage door bumped against my shoulder, trying to close. No one in the theatre had noticed me yet, so I eased back down off of Jasper’s new form and gently shut the door. He melted like quicksilver back into his sword self. After letting out the breath I’d been holding, I turned away from Ford’s Theatre into the alley.

My vision turned so sharp that it almost seemed like day. Just a slight bluish haze and shimmer gave away the magick. The medieval fight on the other side of the wall sounded near as loud as it had when we had stood in the wings. A light breeze itched my skin like tiny lizards clawed their way across it. Unlucky for me, my sense of smell now grew many times better than before, too. I stood in the wrong city at the wrong time of year for that to be any fun. It occurred to me that wandering the streets of Washington carrying a sword was bound to attract attention. Jasper sensed my question before I could think of it.

“Here, let’s make us less conspicuous,” he said in a whisper, which struck me as funny since nobody could hear him but me. The sword shrunk down. I thought for a second it would vanish all the way, but it stopped when the blade folded into the hilt. Now I held a simple tin cup. But it felt warm, with a pulse.

Shaking my head, I said in a hush, “Don’t think I’ll ever be able to get used to that.”

“Wait’ll you hit puberty,” Ernie snickered, next to my ear. He’d climbed up me while Jasper had been shifting. “That’s somethin’ that really takes some gettin’ used to.”

“What’s puberty?” Jasper asked.

“Search me,” I said, almost shrugging the mouse off of me. “I thought you knew everything.”

“I’m only twelve, too, you know. My Master just gave me the knowledge he thought I’d need to help you. The rest I have to find out on my own.”

“Can you tell the future, then?”

“I think no one can. Not with certainty. Some great mages can see several possible futures and guess which is most likely. The Grand Mage sure seemed to foresee this night, though. At least so far.”

“Except for the part about her bein’ a whiny pain in the backside,” grumbled Ernie.

I protested with feigned outrage. “Hey! I’m standin’ right here.”

“Right, lovey. You’re standin’ instead of walkin’. We need to get to the river. Let’s go.”

“Okay. Hang on.”

The alley would take us onto 10th Street. From there we could move west to the Potomac, much like me and Eddie had done that afternoon. This time I didn’t plan on cutting through St. Bart’s. In fact, I expected to take a twelve-block detour. If these Bullies were as scary as they seemed then we sure didn’t want to add Horace and his loonies to our troubles.
That’d be more than this girl can handle.
To tell the truth, between falling into the chamber, getting zapped with magick, and trying to understand all of the impossible things that had started happening to me, I felt near to falling over in a dead heap.

Just as we were about to leave the alley we ran smack into Mad Molly. She popped up out of a niche in the wall of Clemens’ Dry Goods store, offering me a flower and muttering something that made no sense. Her dark rags and smudged face made her hard to see, even with my new eyes. I had no trouble sniffing her, though. The stench could’ve knocked a buzzard off a privy. Did she smell that bad all the time? Like something dug up from a festering graveyard? Molly’s smell didn’t distract me for long, because something new happened.

My Legacy Stone became cold as a January icicle against my chest.

The Stone’ll let you know, Jasper had said
.
But this is harmless old Molly. We’ve known her since we moved here from Maryland.How can she be a ---?

The inner debate ended with a violent jerk on my right ear. Ernie yanked hard on it, hauling my head and shoulders in that direction.
Ow!
Just as he did so, the ancient withered face distorted. Its jaw unhinged like a hungry snake’s and three rows of jagged teeth shot forward to snap at the air where my head had been. I felt the thing’s steaming drool graze my cheek, leaving it numb. Molly Monster slashed at me with a clawed backhand. I brought up the tin cup in a sad effort to protect my tingling face. She moved quick as a panther. Her talons bounced off of a round metal shield two feet across.
Thanks, Jasper!
Stumbling backward, I tripped over a cat and went down, scraping my rear end on broken glass.

“Bloody cat!” Ernie snarled. He leapt off my shoulder onto the animal’s head. “I told yer he was no good!” I heard a terrible commotion of screeching and spitting, commingled with sturdy Britannic cursing.
There’s one kitty who won’t relish catching his mousie.
That was all I had time to think about, as my attacker tried to pounce on me while I lay sprawled on the ground.

My boot met her belly, which felt solid as an iron plate. The shock went all the way up to my hip. That foul thing flew above and beyond me, bouncing off the brick wall. I turned to see where she’d go next while scrambling to my feet. My eyes widened to see her launch herself across the alley and crash into the opposite wall, her claws digging into the stone and holding her there like a fly on a window. Yellow-green eyes with vertical pupils glared at me, smoke bleeding out of them. A mouth the size and shape of a coal scuttle held those deadly teeth now and they clicked with excitement, slime dripping from the lower lip. No hair to speak of grew on the long leathery skull. Of course, the ears were pointed. I’d have been disappointed otherwise.

The assassin creature climbed the wall to get more height for its next pounce. What had remained of Molly’s tattered rag dress fell off. Seeing the whole body of the monster didn’t make me love it any more. I could now see that it was female, in a unsettling and misshapen way.
Ick!
It had leathery lumpy skin like an alligator hide I’d seen in the Smithsonian. A bony ridge ran along the middle of its broad back. Her belly hung swollen and pulsing, like she’d just swallowed a large dog…or worse. All of the thing’s limbs were longer than they should have been. The lengthy feet had splayed toes with four-inch black claws. An awful, curved spike grew from each heel.

Right then I really wished that they’d made Jasper into the Righteous Revolver of Retribution, instead of just a sword.
Sheesh, this is 1862, fellers. Modern times.

The reptilian thing on the wall hissed, its black forked tongue slithering out of that disgusting mouth.
How could I not know that such dreadful things are loose in the world? And what else is waitin’ for me that might be even worse?

I saw the haunches bunch up for what I just knew would be a fatal leap. My mouth dried up and my knees shook. I knew that the shield I held couldn’t protect me forever. But I also figured that this thing had grown used to overcoming its prey with fear and not having to work hard. Maybe I could rattle its cage.

“Jasper,” I whispered, “what is that ugly thing?”

“Venoma,” he told me with disgust. “A dearth-demon from the other side. The Bullies use her for their dirty work, to soften up their enemies.”

“Soften up? How tough are their enemies if this is just their skirmish line? Who can stand up to this monster?”

“Don’t worry. She has a weakness. Everything that lives has one.”

“Yeah? Good. What’s hers?”

Jasper laughed in my head. Somehow that simple sound steadied my nerves. “Me.”

My shield melted down and stretched out until I held the gold-hilted sword again. It seemed to give off a slight glow. The same fiery letters that had covered the wall of the underground chamber now danced down the length of the blade. As soon as Venoma saw this she shrank back up the wall. That made me feel ten feet tall. I hoped that would be big enough, but I couldn’t be sure.

“You’ve seen this sword before,” I said to her. “And you’re afraid of it.”

Venoma’s voice rasped, hissed, croaked, all at the same time. It felt like hearing a dead thing while it rotted, complete with worms. Now it was my turn to shrink back. “Thou puny man-spawn, dost thou ken how to wield yon blade?”

Scared as I was, I burst out laughing.
The Evil Ones talk like Shakespeare?This gets weirder and weirder
. “It seems simple enough. I swing it as hard as I can and your head falls off.”

The oozing thing on the wall laughed right back. At least I thought so. It sounded more like a post-mortem knife cutting into a corpse. “Only one mortal canst claim the Morphageus. ‘Tis bitter death to all else.”

Morphageus?
No wonder he wanted to be called Jasper. I pulled the Legacy Stone out of my shirt and held it up for her to see. White frost covered most of it, but the muted burgundy glow still shined through. “Then this mortal claims it, bitch.”
Yeah, this girl’s feelin’ saucy!

Venoma cocked her head in silence, as if listening to something I couldn’t hear. It seemed I’d flummoxed her. This kid wasn’t what she’d been told to expect. Maybe the enemy, this Honourable Merchantry, didn’t have all of the answers, either. That made me feel a little better. Not getting eaten by this fiend in the next few moments would be good, too, because she bunched her ugly body up again and made ready to jump.

Sucking in a panicked breath, I raised the sword in front of my face with both hands. Braced for her attack, every muscle trembled. When the pounce came, I flinched.
Great, Verity. Close your eyes and hope she lands on your sword point. Why not just go hide under your bed?
I must’ve looked fearsome, because Venoma didn’t come at me but instead flew across the alley onto the roof of the next building.

“Another time, man-spawn,” she hissed. “Now my master shalt dole out thy pain.”

Just then the stage door opened and Eddie skipped out.

 

6/ Marshals of the Equity

“Who’s a pet? I’m a freedom fighter!”

I jerked my body to face the door.
Eddie? Eddie’s one of ‘em, too?
Things were spinning out of control. While deciding if I should I whack him and run for it, I felt something odd. The Stone, warm and dark. Every bit of the frost had melted away.
Eddie’s okay!
The breath I’d been holding forever leaked out of my nose. All my muscles sagged and I almost fell over.

“Hi, there,” Eddie said, shuffling toward me. “Where have you been? Rehearsal’s over. You missed a boatload of scenery shifts. Everyone’s---hey! Nice sword.”

Oops. I’d forgotten to hide it or have Jasper shift into a cup again. Before I could dream up a good explanation for why I stood in a dark alley with a flaming sword, Venoma settled the whole problem. Her claws ripped a chunk of tile out of the roof she crouched on. Hunks of clay clattered onto the ground next to Eddie. He hopped aside and looked up just in time to see a 400-pound monster leap across the alley to the next roof and disappear.

“What’s the---? Did you see that?” he yelled, pointing at where she’d vanished.

“See what?” I hoped that the gloom would make him think his eyes had played tricks on him.

No such luck. “Teeth. Claws. Eyes. Big,” he babbled, still pointing.

“Alley cat. A tom.”

He didn’t buy it. “Alley cats don’t have teeth like a shark. And they aren’t taller than me.” Eddie turned to me. “What’s going on?” He squinted. “And why is there a mouse on your shoulder?”

I hadn’t noticed that Ernie’d returned. Perched near my right ear again, he waved a cheerful little paw at Eddie. “This is Ernie.”

“You have a pet mouse now? Since when?”

Ernie snorted. “Who’s a pet? I’m a freedom fighter!”

Eddie made a sour face. “And why is he squeaking at me?”

I’d forgotten that others couldn’t talk to Ernie. “He says he likes you. Any friend of mine is a friend of his.” I mentally rolled my eyes at that.

“Whatever you say. What’s he holding?”

Turning my head as far as I could, I peered at Ernie. He held up his trophy with a smile. “Looks like a cat’s ear.”

“Ick!”

Ernie stood up to his full four inches. “Behold!” he cried. “The traitor of Ipswich has paid for his crimes!”

“You killed the cat?” I asked, amazed.

“No, lovey, but the miserable wretch is wishin’ he were dead right now.”

Eddie grabbed my shoulder. “What gives? You’re talking to a mouse. You’ve got a sword like no one’s ever made. Monsters are jumping around.”

Ernie tossed the ear behind us and tapped me on my cheek. “The monsters are still out there. We need to get to the river. Now.”

“What about Venoma?”

“Miss her already, do you? Don’t yer worry your pretty little head, ducky. She’ll be with the others by now. Givin’ a full report on us, she is. But if we can beat ‘em across the river we’ll be right as rain.”

“You keep sayin’ we have to get to the Potomac. Why?”

“’Cause their magick don’t work worth a squat on runnin’ water, that’s why.”

BOOK: Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures)
5.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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