“Where did you get to at the market today?”
“You told me to keep out of sight.”
“No, I told you to stay out of trouble. It’s not as if I take any pleasure in looking at you, but I’m not sure I like it when I can’t see you.”
“You can’t have your cake and eat it.” Vermin had found that a ridiculous expression since if there was cake within tongue’s reach he’d usually ate it and had it before anyone had thought to offer him a slice. “Hurhur.”
Kiala shook her head and emitted a despairing sigh, as she set about unpacking her purchases and stocking up the kitchen cupboards.
Vermin enjoyed it when she despaired of him. The way he saw it, this jumped-up Sorceress – not even a full-fledged practitioner of magic, in fact, but a pupil, green as twenty-three-day-old bread with none of the age or wisdom – had summoned him, Vermintazaroth, Sewer Demon Of The Seventh Netherplane, against his will and now he was stuck with her. In a rare quirk of getting a spell right, she’d spirited him away from very important duties to aid in some battle, then confessed to having no idea how to send him back. Since he was stuck with her, he made it a mission in life to make her fully appreciate the extent to which she was saddled with him.
She frequently rewarded him with complaints about how annoying he was and compliments on his appearance. Like calling him Sludge, because in her eyes that was what he most resembled. Which he knew were meant as insults and were rich coming from a girl whose pretty Sinoan features made him want to retch. Only his reluctance to let go of any meal enabled him to resist the urges.
Still, he didn’t want her getting suspicious and following him one of these days. “If you must know, I’ve been entertaining the local kids. Telling them stories. Of our adventures and so on.”
“Hmm. You don’t like children?”
“Who does?” He shrugged. He considered a line about liking them well enough with gravy, but Kiala was in the sort of mood she might take his jokes seriously. He was sure he could eat a child, if forced, but in his experience they had trouble keeping still so he’d probably have trouble keeping one down. “But they’re everywhere, aren’t they. And since I’m stuck in this place, I figure I’d best get used to them. So if I tell them a few stories, I’m keeping them out of trouble and myself, right?”
“I suppose. Just please don’t tell me they get a look at you. You’re enough to give adults nightmares, let alone impressionable young minds.”
“Nah, I keep my hood down and my stories wholesome and sweet.”
She paused in her shelf-stacking to show him just how much she believed that. “Just don’t go filling their heads with horrid ideas.”
“Children are perfectly capable of being horrid without my help.” It was one of their more endearing qualities. “Today I told them a lovely story about fairies, for instance.”
“Very likely.” She stowed a fresh-baked loaf in the bread bin. Then turned to give him another look. “Fairies?”
“Yeah.” He raised his claws and mimed delicate flitting and flapping. “Gossamer-winged shrunken angel types.”
“Hmm. Only, Mister Sallowflour at the bakery said his little girl, Anisha, had been harping on about something called Fieries.”
Oops. He’d pushed his bluff too far. “Nothing to do with me. Unless she heard it from some other kid and it got lost in translation.” He scratched the nape of his neck as though giving the matter some thought. “To be fair, I’ve been telling the same story for the past few days now, so it could’ve gotten around.”
On the plus side, it meant his story was getting the circulation it deserved.
“Well, I didn’t get the full gist of it, but apparently she was very excited about it. So if it was your story, I suppose you must have done a good job telling it. You’ll just have to forgive me if I regard anything you do with deep suspicion.”
“Hey, no skin off my nose. Hurhur.” He scratched a flake of skin off his nose for comic effect. Taking care to avoid one of his most prized warts, of course. “But if you don’t like the idea of me sloping off to entertain a few poor kids out of the goodness of my heart, you don’t have to take me into town with you.”
“Oh, right. I should leave you here, unsupervised. I don’t think so.”
They shared a home here in the Sunken Spire, a prominent architectural feature in the Tortenschloss Botanical Gardens. Kiala mostly confined herself to the cosy rooms in the tower, but there was a whole castle buried under the Gardens and, give her credit, she’d found him a lovely dank chamber in the depths to call his own. Which proved she really did care about him, deep down. Her old Master – no longer resident, long story – had laboratories and libraries and all sorts down there, which Kiala had barred him from exploring, under threat of banishment to the loft. Which was dusty, but much too airy for his tastes.
“Fairy nuff, as they say. Hurhur. That mean we get to go again tomorrow?”
Kiala sighed and examined her cupboards. She wasn’t a big eater. A mere sliver of a girl under those voluminous sorceress robes of hers. But she had a piecemeal approach to grocery shopping and Vermin made sure to gobble up whatever she didn’t eat. Along with the packaging. She’d be bound to be out of something by tomorrow. “I should think about getting more organised. Switch to a weekly shop.”
“Yeah,” said Vermin. Never happen. For one thing, she’d often go out for a loaf of bread just to put off the latest daunting step in her sorcery self-teaching programme. Pro-crustination, Vermin liked to call it.
Kiala closed the cupboards, shutting the question of reorganisation away for the time being. “Well, anyway, I have plenty of studying to do this evening. I trust you have something to occupy yourself. Quietly.”
“I’ll stay out of your hair. In fact, I was thinking of taking an early night. I’m pretty bushed. Maybe I’ll just lie awake dreaming up the next instalment of my story.”
“That sounds ideal.”
“Right. Night, then. Don’t worry. I’ll tuck myself in.”
He skulked off, headed for the stairs. He enjoyed the spiralling descent into dank and darkness.
“Stay out of those labs!” Kiala called after him.
“Right you are!”
He didn’t hurhur because there was too much danger of it echoing up the stairwell.
He had every intention of staying out of the Master’s rooms. And more besides.
He hadn’t lied about lying awake. He did a lot of lying whenever he was awake. But he mostly had other plans for tonight.
[To Be Continued…]