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Son of Spellsinger
By Alan Dean Foster
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Thranx, Inc.
All rights reserved.
MAYBE NOTHING WOULD HAVE happened if Talea hadn't found the demon in the breadbox.
She'd baked six loaves of fresh humberpine the previous day and had left them in the metal-lined wooden container to cool. It sat on the tiled kitchen counter just to the left of the big oval window cut in the south side of the tree, overlooking the riverbank and the willows that clung there like tipsy spectators at a fishing tournament.
Half a dozen was a lot to make all at once, but thanks to a petite, highly domesticated preserving spell thoughtfully provided by Clothahump, the bread would stay not only fresh but hot for as long as was necessary. It was also more energy-efficient than refrigeration.
When she opened the breadbox to remove some for supper she was startled to see, seated against the nearest loaf, a perfectly formed six-inch-high homunculus. Two curved horns protruded from the sides of his skull, a single smaller one from his forehead. Gossamer rose-hued wings lay folded against his back. He wore long maroon denim pants with matching suspenders, and his clawed feet protruded beyond the ends of thick rubber sandals.
He also owned a hearty appetite. Half the loaf he was seated against had been devoured. She'd caught him red-handed (of course, with demons this was not an especially difficult task).
Startled, he jerked around sharply when she raised the lid of the box, a double-handful of steaming fresh bread clutched in one tiny fist.
"Azmac! " the creature shouted, waving its free hand at her. "Poreon faytu! Begone, or I shall make of your life Purgatory resplendent!"
"Get out of my breadbox!" Talea was not in the least intimidated by the baroque threat. Fumbling in a nearby drawer, her fingers wrapped around the handle of a small iron skillet and thrust it toward the loaf.
Dropping its aromatic prize, the demon scrambled toward the back of the box. "Emarion! Sacarath sanctus!"
"Never mind that." Reversing the skillet, Talea used the handle to dig at the back of the box. "Get out of my bread!"
Though not very big, Talea was deceptively strong, and the demon, sated on humberpine, was decidedly overfed. There was a loud poing as he lost his grip on the rear of the box and went flying, arms and legs akimbo, across the kitchen. He soared neatly over the central butcher block to smack with a slightly wet splat against the rhomboidal window on the far side of the room. There he seemed to hang for an instant, suspended, before sliding down the glass into the dish basin.
Hefting the skillet by its handle, Talea rushed to the sink and peered down among the dirty plates and cups. "What were you doing in my breadbox? Does somebody have it in for me, is that it? I'll bet it's that stuck-up possum Mrs. Genfine up the river. She always stays upside down when we visit." She watched while the dazed demon struggled unsuccessfully to stand. "You're not much of a curse."
Something buzzed loudly past her head and she twisted sideways, the demon in the dishwater momentarily forgotten. This new specter was smaller than the homunculus, with four bright emerald-green wings and a long snaky tail trailing behind it. A face once removed from toad roadkill sneered back at her. From its four hands hung the crystal saltcellar that had been a wedding gift from her mother.
She snatched for it but it darted just out of reach, taunting her with a high-pitched buzz-accompanied version of some cabalistic mantra that sounded very much like "My Darling Clementine."
"Now what?" Taking aim with the edge, she swung the skillet. The toadbuzz dodged once, a second time, and then there was a loud bang as the skillet connected. The song faded as the apparition fell on the stove, bounced once, and tumbled off to land on the floor. Unharmed, the saltcellar rolled clear. Ignoring the dazed buzzing of the would-be thief, she knelt to recover it.
"What the hell is going on here?" she mumbled to herself as she put the skillet aside and pulled the big broom from storage. Now, where was the dustpan?
As she bent over to search for it, something smacked her in the rear. Clutching the broom in front of her, she whirled.
It couldn't be called a demon, though it wore a demonic grin. Considerably larger than the pair of intruders she'd already coped with, it squatted before her on thickly muscled, kangaroo-like legs, its flat fish face regarding her blandly. Lavender scales covered the naked body except for the pair of turquoise tentacles that made swimming motions against the air. Sprouting from the top of the head was a bright, rotating blue searchlight.
She hefted the broom and inspected the newcomer. "What are you supposed to be?"
"Beeble," it burped. It made another rude body noise and took a tentative hop toward her.
"Keep away from me." She made a threatening gesture with the broom as she started edging sideways, away from the broom closet. "I'm warning you."
The bread demon had recovered and was now busily poking through the kitchen cabinets, looking for something else to eat, its red belly hanging pendulously over its belt line.
"What's going on here?" she muttered. "Jon-Tom!" There was no response. Her husband wasn't due home from work for a while yet. She was isolated in her kitchen. "Somebody! Anybody?"
She dodged as the hop-searchlight took another bound in her direction, extending toward her face a vile and obscene tongue.
"I warned you." She swung the broom and smacked the tongue sideways. The protruding organ whizzed several times around the hopper's head before the tip smacked its owner square in the right eye.
"Ow. Ow, ow, ow!" It hop-retreated, trying to recoil the rebellious organ.
The breadbox demon was in an upper cabinet, scattering her victuals. Broom held high, she charged, shoving the hopper aside. "Damn your demonic ass, get out of my provisions!"
When she reached the cabinet the demon was nowhere to be seen, having sought the depths within. But half a dozen brand-new apparitions flew straight out at her, squealing and screeching. As they circled and darted she swung the broom in frenzied self-defense, fighting to keep them out of her hair.
"Get away from me, get away!"
They were a rainbow of colors and a plethora of shapes, none very pleasing to look upon save for one with iridescent compound eyes. It had the body of an undersize, anorexic macaque attached to the wings of a falcon. They came at her from all directions, forcing her to retreat. "Get away, I'm warning you!" she yelled as she flailed with the broom.
They were pouring out of the woodwork now: emerging from cabinets and drawers, from cracks in the tree floor, from behind bowls, from beneath the sink, and from the doorway that led to the den. Drooling, grinning, gurgling, belching and farting, laughing and hissing as they crawled, slithered, hopped, and flew toward her. They stank and they gibbered, they uttered incomprehensibilities and obscenities, they messed impertinently with her clean dishes, and pawed through her carefully stacked foodstuffs.
Dozens of the creatures filled the kitchen, and more were arriving every minute. There was a translucent winged thing that looked like nothing so much as a vampire butterfly, horrific in aspect save for its decidedly befuddled expression. It kept beating against the skylight as if trying to escape.
Something was tugging at the sandal on her left foot. Looking down, she saw a small bright yellow and pink polka-dotted snake with seven heads.
"Excuse me." The septicephalic slitherer spoke plaintively, its accent unidentifiable. "I seem to have wandered into the wrong mythology. Can you ...?"
Talea screamed and jumped backward. "Get out of my kitchen! Get out of my house!" The flailing broom knocked two of the heads senseless, while the other five fell to arguing among themselves.
Something landed on her right shoulder. As she reached up to rip it off, she saw a small fat man with a cherubic expression. He was composed entirely of layers of some resilient white substance that threatened to rub off on her blouse.
"Madame, I don't know what eez going on heere, but I have work to do elsewhere and I reesent most heartily being sucked in with the rest of theeze undeesciplined and unrefined conjurations."
"Don't blame me. I didn't conjure anything." She grabbed the puffy white arm and wrenched. The limb promptly came off in her fingers. There was no blood, only a sort of thick black goo that began to ooze from the ruptured joints.
"Now look what you have done. I will meeze my next assignment."
"Sorry." She handed back the amputated limb.
"Merci." With great dignity the creature jammed the arm back into the vacant shoulder socket. It hopped off her shoulder and bounced across the floor, disappearing into the otherworldly tumult.
The majority of phantasms were not nearly so polite. One tried to take a bite out of her left calf. Using the broom, she smashed it against one leg of the heavy wooden kitchen table. Another leaped at her face, scrabbling at her eyes. All three of its own were missing. She caught it on the rounded end of the broomstick and jammed it hard against the cooler. The big box rattled. Have to get the coolant spell renewed, she thought absently.
That was the trouble with being married to a wizard. Or in her case, to a spellsinger. It was all very well and good to go toodling off all the time to save the world or close shattered interdimensional gates or defeat hordes of ravening invaders, oh yes. But try to get something fixed around the house? No way! They never had any time for domestic mundanities.
She picked up the skillet and flung it at another advancing horror. Utilizing all six of its black arms, it plucked the utensil cleanly from the air, studied it intently for a moment, then plunked it down on its already flattened skull, exhibiting an air of considerable satisfaction.
"By the Twelve Crinoline Veils of the Most Repentant Sinner," she bawled irately, "I want you all out of here! Now!" Yanking open a drawer, she reached for the large skillet stored inside, only to draw back her hand at the sight of the four tiny imps cavorting within. They wore brightly striped scarves around their necks and nothing else as they skated on the flat metal surface. Tiny wisps of steam rose from beneath their splayed feet.
"Do you mind?" one said, upset at the interruption of his private reverie.
"Do I mind? Get out of my drawer!" She spun around to swing at something that was chewing on the hem of her housedress, then thrust the end of the broomstick at the pan. The skating imps scattered wildly.
Suddenly she felt her feet going out from under her. The broom went flying as she landed on her front, the impact knocking the breath out of her. Looking down and backward, she saw four things that resembled a cross between miniature donkeys and salamanders. Their tack consisted of perfectly fashioned miniature harnesses hooked up to downsized block and tackle, which had been fastened to her ankles.
Seated atop a matching wagon at the back of the alien team was a tiny drover who was mostly long black beard and busy whip. He bellowed orders in a deep, unintelligible mumble as he and his team dragged the frantic Talea toward a gaping, ominous, and hitherto unsuspected cavity beneath the fruit bin. Conflagrant lights alternately flared and faded in the black depths.
She dug at the floor, yelling and screeching, while all around her wee monstrosities and diminutive horrors gibbered contentedly as they reduced her kitchen to rubble.
"That's enough!" she roared.
Rolling over, she leaned forward and kicked with both legs as hard as she could. The block and tackle snapped, and both drover and team went flying. Still mumbling and babbling to themselves, they vanished into that abiding black maw.
"My sword," she muttered as she struggled to her feet. "Where'd I store that damn sword?"
Since marrying Jon-Tom she hadn't had much occasion to make use of her old weapon. During holidays it was handy for making spectacularly short work of a big roast. Otherwise it slept in storage, her thieving and fighting days being far behind her. But she hadn't forgotten how to use it.
Was it in with the cutlery? No, not enough room. Behind the stove? No, it would've stuck out there. She finally located it jammed unceremoniously in the back of the broom closet. Except for a light glaze of kitchen grease it was perfectly functional.
Hefting the familiar old grip in both hands, she turned in her housedress to confront the room full of clawing, cawing demons. Pots and dishes were scattered everywhere, food containers had been upturned and their contents dumped on the counters, while piquant liquids pooled on her painstakingly polished floor.
"Chaos repossess all of you, Spawn of Hell!" Swinging the sword in broad, powerful, horizontal arcs, she waded fearlessly into the babble.
Heads, limbs, and interesting other body parts went flying as blood of dissimilar colors spurted, mixing with the spilled honey and milk and household cleansers. She knew it was going to take a heavy, not to mention expensive, housecleaning spell to scrub away the carnage, but she was damned if she was going to clean up this mess manually. Jon-Tom was going to have to drop whatever he was involved with and do something about it.
Squealing and striking out with long, pointed arms, a giant blue spider rushed her on stiltlike legs. Skewering it neatly, she swung the sword and bashed its brains out against the baking counter. Green ichor and pink brains bubbled from the crushed chiton, getting all over the batch of sprinkle-topped cupcakes she'd made just the week before. At that sight her fury knew no bounds, and she laid about the kitchen with a will.
Demonic shapes struck at her, or scrambled to get out of her way, or sought escape in cabinets and drawers. Yet despite her successes, progress eluded her. Mocking her efforts, fresh furies materialized whenever another was destroyed. They kept coming at her: oozing up out of the floor, dropping down from the skylight, spiraling up out of the sinks—an endless procession of horrors that reinforced themselves even as she demolished their predecessors.
Gradually she found herself forced to retreat by the sheer weight of numbers. Backed up against the broom closet, her sword strokes inevitably grew shorter and weaker as her assailants pressed their attack.
She'd always envisioned herself perishing on some grand quest of Jon-Tom's, or at worst while comfortably retired amongst the widows of the local Thieves and Cutpurses Rest Home. Not like this, not in her own kitchen, brought down by a conjuration she'd had no part in and couldn't comprehend.
What had happened to the carefully crafted home protection and insulation spell that usually shielded her sanctum from nefarious external influences? Admittedly it was primarily designed to vacuum and deodorize, but it should have restricted the access of demons, gargoyles, and their ilk as well. That it had failed so spectacularly suggested an even more powerful sorcery was at work.
Her hair tousled about her, housedress in tatters, she continued to cut and thrust with the sword. It was just like old times, except that her arms weren't nearly as responsive as they used to be, her strokes not quite as economical of arc.
Just when she thought her trembling legs and arms were about to give out completely and that the fanged and taloned mob of necrotic intruders were going to take her down for the last time, there came the sound of a thump from beyond the kitchen doorway.
"Hi, honey," boomed a cheery voice, "I'm home! Clothahump and I finally got the old Toolawhip bridge braced with a decent suspension spell. Of course, it's only temporary, but ..."
Jon-Tom strode around the corner and into the kitchen, whereupon something compact and violet leaped onto his chest and thrust a belligerent bulbous blue nose into his face.
"Youse better stay outta dis if you know what's good for you, buddy. Da broad givin' us enough trouble as it is, see? We don't need no interference from no kibbitzers, see?"
A startled Jon-Tom clutched the creature by its short, thick neck. It gurgled, and its eyes bulged hugely. Without a word the spellsinger drop-kicked it halfway across the kitchen. It struck a shelf, breaking one of Talea's favorite fairy vases in the process, and fell motionless to the floor.
"What the hell's going on here?" He gaped at the bedlam, eyes wide.
"Don't just stand there." Talea redoubled her efforts, reinvigorated by his appearance. "Do something!"
Stunned by the scope of the turmoil, he found himself hesitating. Had he left his duar in the cart? No, he'd brought it in with him. It needed some restringing, but it ought to suffice to deal with this. It had better, he thought, seeing how hard-pressed was Talea.
Excerpted from Son of Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster. Copyright © 1993 Thranx, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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