Monday, November 26, 2018

An Essay on Setting

A mini essay on setting in creative writing. Thanks to the west side half-price bookstore I am now the proud owner of a complete set of the Writer's Digest ' Write Great Fiction' how to do it books. The one on the desk beside me is titled Descriptions & Settings. The how-to page that I am writing about states that everything you include in your description should advance your plot and story. In other words your written description should not just be a collection of what you see around you. When I look over to the corner of the room where I am writing this I see a poster of Robert Doisneau's Kiss at the Hotel De Ville. Suitable for a story about a street photographer who finds himself in serious trouble after snapping a picture of – fill in the blanks. Or it could be the grumpy old grandpa stuffed teddy bear complete with a cane. Suitable for a memoir about my very creative granddaughter after she wins her first Tony award. Not impossible fiction. I just contributed a significant amount of money to help pay for the professional crew coming in from New York who will make the high school girl playing Mary Poppins float around the stage in a play where my granddaughter is the stage manager. And if she finishes her own first play and her teachers approve it the school's drama department will stage it next May. Her high school, now that the family moved to Nashville, is very big on the creative arts. Or the overly expensive digital pen that works with my new Win10 surface book. A pen in the box that is sitting near a stack of large envelopes that might contain a long-lost novel. Only this is the digital age, not the paper age. When I went down into the cellar to find a carrying case for the notebook among the seven several obsolete laptops I had collected over the years I discovered one with an ancient memory stick. Much to my surprise this contained a folder entitled 1994 novel. This novel was so long-lost I had forgotten that I had written it. After some creative format shifting so I could print it out – this was written pre-Microsoft office in the near-forgotten WordPerfect. I showed an early chapter at a casual critique last spring. And listened as Kristin and Anthony pointed out everything that had left them confused in the chapter. Big take away – I had written a fantasy novel and had forgotten to include the most important setting when writing in that genre. The part that explains how the magic works. For example, the magic in Harry Potter is quite different than the magic in the Game of Thrones. I should've started with: The Talisman of the Wildflowers is the first novel of a fantasy series about honorable Men, smelly Dwarfs, ferocious Elves, irresponsible Fairies, and brutal Trolls. Sound familiar? Let's vary the basic plot. In about ten minutes the electricity goes out forever, magic replaces science, and homo-sapiens begin to divide into the five competing Peoples. We pick up the story seventeen years after the Change in a world both magical and ordinary. Zombied dogs and chocolate chip cookies, frenzied demons and bureaucratic politicians, compulsive love spells and zoning regulations-- all become important during the story. For heroines, heroes and villains: Maggie Weaver appears to be only a magic-impaired street peddler and boarding house keeper, but with much hard work and some unsuspected magical talents, she amasses a considerable fortune. With the death of her protector, Mage Fatso Freddy, she faces big problems. Chief among them is Dun&Brad, her banker, who wants to steal her money. In this society were magical talents equals status, Maggie gave up dreaming of respect; she will settle for being left alone. Instead two uninvited magicians become unwanted house-guests. Amy Parker seldom hampers her romantic imagination with mere facts. Forced to assist in her Ma's execution when she was eleven, the teenage street-thief uses her considerable if untrained grasp of high magic to harass anyone with authority. Amy wants to be a magic-warrior, the rock stars of the age, but as she might settle for a dreamy boyfriend. When she get both wishes, she comes to regret it. As Amy gains a matures and begin to understand and use her talents. Her stumbles help drive the main plot. Archmage Allen Devlin seeks the cause of the Blight, a corruption of magic so subtle he still doesn't know if he battles an Elf warlord, Fairy joker, Dwarf high priestess or an other adept. The somewhat chauvinistic mage (he's the type of hero you want to kick occasionally) has everything he wants: more money than he can spend, the freedom to wander about in disguise, and a convenient network of girlfriends who think he's someone else. What he doesn't want is a permanent address, a more or less permanent girlfriend, or the drudge work of being part of a government. In a humorous sub-plot he ends up with all three. Mage Eric the Engineer, is considered a joke by some adepts because of his efforts to apply the discredited techniques of science to magic. Then he discovers power-matrixes, a short-cut method of devising new spells. He wants to impose his version of law and order on the world. When he fights Amy in the Battle on the Cliffs at the climax of Zelda's Comb, will experience and power-matrixes overwhelm youth and raw talent? Evita the Beautiful, the Mistress of Illusions and Eric's cohort, is obsessed by her physical deformities. When she accidentally releases Demon Emil, she is forced to Distances herself and becomes a sea-lion-like serf-breeder in an aquatic alternate universe. She wants to be reincarnated into a better body. In Spice Inc, Evita enchants her and Eric's spirits into Amy's unborn twins. (Amy won her dream boyfriend... for a while.) Can Amy exorcise the evil adepts? Or will she be forced to destroy her own children? A few of the supporting cast: Corrine, Maggie's orphan niece, used to be the "nicest kid in the world until she got her hormones." Then she became cursed with Urges, magical compulsions that turn her promiscuous at inopportune moments. Justin the Magic Thief blames Devlin for the death of his girlfriend, yet reluctantly becomes the Archmage's trouble-shooter-- because that's where the action is. Someone enchanted Lori to hate all male magicians-- including Micky, her baby boy. And Micky's pa, Bluey the Wizard, AKA the Archmage in disguise, has eleven magical prodigies that prove that the gene of magic doesn't skip generations. The snobbish Furgerson clan provide comic relief. Blushing Jimmy, the only nice one, maybe loves Amy and maybe doesn't. Rachael, Amy's future tutor, thinks a little hanky-panky with the Archmage can only help her career. April, a world-class shopper and the Archmage's permanent girlfriend, doesn't agree.

Monday, August 20, 2018

bloodstar-Magic in Madison

 When Baldy came out of the accessory shop Bloodstar was squatting down in a filthy doorway across the street ignoring the piss smell so she could study the passers-bys for a likely target. Baldy didn't look like he had the coin to shop in such an expensive store. However, when he stood in the doorway seemingly unable to decide which way to turn, she saw the top of a gift wrapped package stuffed carelessly in the floppy side-pocket of his robe. When he strolled away she followed him.
A clerk she decided, a boot-licking, servile soul.
One who'd been in his master's money bags, an embezzler who stole so he could-- Blood star considered the various evil the man could have done: gamble his boss's gold? (no, his type was too cheap to risk a dime), or tithe an anti-magic old-believer cult? (maybe), or buy some girl's time (and the poor girl would spit on him, disgusted with him for suggesting one of his foul, boat-licking perversion).
That was her habit, to discovered her target's crimes. If she didn't hit the right ones-- everyone had something they should be punished for. If she thought their crimes were big, she'd go for the big swipe. If she didn't, even if the swipe looked easy she might even passed them up.
Once, when she joked about doing this before joining up with Velvet-Knife, he had looked at her like she was a few bricks short of a load. "Girls who work for me don't pass up easy swipes" he told her.
Now that she was part of his gang she still intended to do it. Mousy clerks, who shopped in expensive stores where they didn't belong, rated a moderate swipe, a gift wrapped package worth. She wasn't taking his family's grocery money since he had already spent it. No kids would go hungry because of her.
With her conscience clear Bloodstar stalked him, keeping an eye out for greens and staying behind a dozen of cows being herded to the butcher's market. Perhaps he had bought a hair comb to pay his unwilling girl-friend, a big expensive one inlaid with shell and silver, a bribe so the unwilling girl wouldn't tell his big, muscular wife about his filthy perversions. Mousy clerks always had big, muscular wives. Only Velvet-knife would never let her keep a really expensive hair-comb. Several combs then. Velvet-Knife would be so pleased he would let her keep the second best one.
She needed a hair-comb. Everybody was doing their hair up in the April. Blood-star felt a twinge of envy. Some girls had all the luck: the tax-money of the city to spend, a mage who was madly in love with her, and big tits too.
Yesterday, when she agreed to join up with Velvet-knife's gang, the sarcastic pregnant bitch, Butterfly-Dagger, had made fun of her. What are you doing, man, the woman demanded. She's too young, just a green kid with mosquito bites. Blood-Star almost died of the embarrassment. Well, once they saw how good she was, we'd see who was laughing at who.
In a few weeks she would be boss-girl, not B-D. Well, maybe a few months. Working with a gang would take a few adjustments. She liked her independence, but right now it was safer. A Demon was on the loose; the streets were jammed with the leftovers from Evita's short rule, Velvet-Knife among them; and street-girls were disappearing almost every night. When they found Crazy Mary, the blind beggar girl who slobbered, in the lake with her heart cut out, Blood-Star finally admitted to herself that she was really scared.
The crowd thinned out when the target turned up a side street. She stepped around two fresh cow-patties the cows left in the intersection and followed him, skipping up the street and swinging her arms. Looking like she was twelve, instead of a mature almost fifteen, occasionally had its advantages. She lay down her distraction spell, timing it so it would take full effect when she brushed by him. Today her magic was so good she knew she was plugged into the power-station. Baldy would day-dream for blocks before he realized his package was gone.
Just as she reached for the package the blast of his magic rattled her teeth. Shit! A green in the grass!
Blood-star hadn't lived on the streets for a year and a half without learning how to handle a green in the grass. She slumped into magical equivalent of a terrified faint. When she felt Baldy relax slightly she sent a fire-blast at his balls. She'd picked up that Magic Warrior trick the time she slipped into the Warrior guild's practice arena and watched for a half hour before they chased her out. That trick would show Baldy not to mess around with Blood-star.
Baldy didn't finch. His answering blow felt like some-one raped her with a cactus. She screamed both magically and physically.
Holy Mother! He had her. She felt him probe directly into her aura. Baldy was no damn green in the grass. To withstand her fire-blast he had to be a magic warrior in disguise.
She jumped to the magic-warrior mode, to deaden the pain in her loins. He didn't expect that. She used the opportunity to jam her best defense spell back along his own probe-vector, packing it with every evil she could wish upon a male. To avoid it he broke off his probe.
She fled back down the street, bouncing against an ink peddler and getting a black spill down the side of her robe, as she flung every defensive spell she knew behind her.
He didn't attack. As she bounded into the intersection she thought her last spell had frighten him off. Wait until she told Velvet-knife. Wouldn't he be impressed. It might even be worth the pain she knew was coming. You didn't take on a magic warrior without risking being hurt some.
One foot slipped on the fresh cow patty. With her arms waving, she toppled over on her back into the second one. When she twisted on her side she had cow-crap all over her shoulders and bare neck and hair. Between the leg of the passers-by who found her predicament hilarious, she saw Baldy standing where she left him, his expression full of disgust and contempt. He turned, giving her his unprotected back. He didn't even bother to set a defensive barrier against her.
Blood-star struggled to hold herself in the warrior mode long enough to find a place to hid and to endure what she now knew was coming. As soon as she reached her feet she lost the mode. The pain hit her, worse than she feared. With tears splotching her face make-up, bent over with her hands clutched between her legs, cow-crap smeared down over her back, Blood-Star staggered thought the roaring, thigh slapping crowd that surrounded her.

By the time she reached Velvet-Knife's place, a third-floor two room walk-up in a half burnt out building, she had been almost run over by a freight wagon. And she almost had her eye poked out by a drunk day-laborer carrying a stack of nail studded boards. He staggered out of a tavern and she ran into him. Everything else on her body ached so badly, she hardly felt the deep scratch one of the nails dug into her cheek.
What had Baldy done to her? Had he? she would have felt that kind of magic. Nobody could lay an evil-eye on her without her knowing it. That great fear couldn't have happened. She just hurt so bad she wasn't watching where she was going.
Butterfly-Dagger cackled when Blood-star collapsed on the floor by the door. The girl patted her big belly, and stared vacantly at Blood-Star. "Look what we got here, baby-sweets. The world's best street thief. Right out of the honey-pot wagon."
B-D must have bought herself a High from the old hag down the hall for her to talk to her un-born baby that way. Whenever she could afford one of those mind-altering spell she paid the hag to enchant her. Blood-Star ignored her. She hadn't decide who she disliked most, B-D sober and sarcastic or B-D stoned and cackling.
Now she was safe she concentrated on a pain-killing mantra. Slowed, as the spell generated pain-killers in her body, she went from agony to hurt. When she could stand without winching she emptied the water-skin in the bucket that served as a communal wash basin.
She hadn't gotten half the cow-crap off her neck and out of her hair when Velvet-Knife stormed through the door. He smelt boozy. He must have been drinking in the tavern across the street. "Well?" he demanded, staring at the crap in her hair.
"My magic was off."
"What the fuck do you mean, your magic was off. What the hell did you get."
"My target turned out to be a magic warrior and-"
"Don't tell me you're so stupid you tried to swipe a magic warrior."
"He was in disguise. Honest, he looked just like a clerk, and when-"
Velvet-Knife curse her. And B-D. He jerked her out of the chair, slapped her, and when let her drop on the floor. The pregnant girl lay there, giggling.
"One bitch can't even function. And the other can't swipe a damned clerk without falling into cow-shit."
"He was a magic warrior!" Blood-Star yelled. "A good one. He would have creamed you too."
Velvet-Knife slapped her hard. "Don't you ever talk to me like that. No-body creams Velvet-Knife."
She touched her face, shocked. Some-body must have slipped a Nasty into his drink. This wasn't the Velvet-Knife she know, this was someone else with a Nasty circulating around inside him. The real Velvet-knife respected her, respected her magic. "If we combine our powers, we'll set the world on fire. Those other girls are nothing compared to you." he told her a dozen time before she agreed to join up with him.
"You got five minutes to get cleaned up," he ordered.
She didn't like the sound of this. "What do you mean."
"If you're too screw-up today to swipe a clerk, you can pay this week's turf rent."
"I don't do that," she said between clenched teeth. "I told you that from the beginning."
He slapped her again. She tensed to go into the warrior mode but almost doubled up. It was too soon after her defeat. His third slap brought her upright.
"You try that again and I'll kill you, bitch."
Velvet-knife had formal magic warrior training and held a () belt. That was what attracted her to him in the first place, the hope he would agree to share the secrets of the warrior guild.
"Listen to me and listen good. 'Cause I'm only going to say it once. When you bring home your day's rent, maybe you don't put out. Or maybe you do, depending how I feel. But when you fuck up like this, you do exactly what you told. Now get the cow shit off you. Five minutes and I want you ready."
When he stomped back down the stairs after slamming his fist on the door of old hag, B-D started cackling again. "McCormac's coming baby. And he is going to stick his fat sausage up tiny-tit's ass-hole. And she's going to lick it clean afterward. And we're going to watch, baby-sweets. Won't that be fun."
Like hell you are. Blood-star rushed about, collecting her things and stuffing them in her pack. Nobody got away with treating her like that. What had she seen in that pawn-shop warrior; that's where he got his belt. With his big ears he wasn't even good looking. And now she had seen what a real magic warrior could do, she knew the arrogant bladder of pig-piss couldn't teach her a damn thing. She just took on someone good--and got away. If Velvet-Knife tried to take on Baldy, they would still be stepping around his body laid out on the street. If she had the time to recover, she could have taken Velvet-Knife. Easy.
When she reached the landing they were on the stairway. The fat cop huffed and puffed as he dragged his three hundred pounds of lard up the three flights. She leaned over the teetering railing and opened her mouth. She blew one of her special tricks at them, her stink spell, male specific, reserved for occasions like this. They retreated backwards with their hands over their mouths, choking and gagging.
"You don't hit Blood-Star, you pimp," she yelled at Velvet-Knife. Two more blast of the stink spell and he would be on knees, puking over himself. She would spit in his face when she strolled pass him, and maybe enchant a little fire in his balls as a special good-bye gift.
Her magic failed. Her second blast came out body-odor, her third, hot air. Damn!
She dashed back into the crummy apartment and bolted the door. That wouldn't hold them long. The door frame was already splintered three places were the bolt had been. Velvet-Knife had kicked down the door before.
Oh, Mother! What had she gotten herself into? That staircase was the only way out. She ran to the window, jumping over a now sobbing Butterfly-Dagger.
Her luck had changed. A wagon sat directly beneath her, loaded with a tall mound of hay. The driver had stopped for a drink across the street. Before she could change her mind-- heights left her queazy-- she crawled out on to the rickety fire escape. Her pack, when she dropped it, landed right in the middle of the hay. From inside she could hear Velvet-knife kicking in the door. She pulled herself over the railing, said a little prayer and let go.
She dropped. She hit. She screamed.
She had jumped into a smugglers wagon and fallen on a big box covered with hay. The bearded man who ran out of the tavern cursed and snapped his whip at her. She rolled out of hay clutching her side. It felt like she cracked at least one rib. The smuggler jumped into the wagon and whipped his team into a trot. He was half-way up the block before she remembered her pack with everything she owned was still in the hay.
Velvet-Knife had his head stuck out the window. Because of the street crowd he didn't yell anything, but she knew she was dead if she didn't get out of here. She limped away.
He didn't follow. Maybe he knew what she now did-- that she was badly damaged goods. With the evil eye Baldy had tacked to her aura, she dripped bad-luck everywhere she went.

"Over here. I found her."
The bearded man stood just out of reach of the branch Blood-star kept swinging at him. With great skill, so fast she hardly saw the blow coming, the man brought his staff up and smashed the branch out of her hands. A second blow to her back knocked her face down into the swampy ground under the thicket where she had tried to hide.
She snarled at him, a futile wordless cry. A horrid day and a half had stripped her of all humanity. At first people had avoided her on the street. Then they began to cursed her and to drive her away, crossing their arms to ward off her bad-luck. Once when she tried steal slop from a couple squealing pigs-- she hadn't eaten in a day and a half-- three men tried to stone her. Now, in her terror at what had become of her, she could only make animal noises.
A second man ran up behind the first, a master warrior who won the right to wear a sword. Moonlight glistened off the hilt. And a third, with only an apprentice staff. He stopped, winded and huffing. "We spent a half hour chasing that!" he said once he caught his breath.
"That who he wanted. He said we'd find a little, crazy one, looking like she crawled out of a pig wallow."
The apprentice spat. "For the money, he could get better."
"That's what he wants. That's what he gets. He said the last one worked better than the rest." the swordsman answered.
"I'm not touching that filthy thing."
"Don't tell me we finally caught one too dirty for BillyBob. I thought you liked them smelly. That blind one was no perfumed rose."
Oh Mother, saved me, she prayed. These weren't male crazies, the vomit that lurked and cowered in the Great Woods that half surrounded Lake Wingra. They didn't chase her for amusement and rape. They chased her to cut out her heart! Like they did to Crazy Mary!
She tried to scamper away. The first one swung his staff again. The blow sent her reeling.
"Careful. He does want them alive. At first." The man pulled out his sword and with a poking motion to her face he forced her away from the thicket. With a practice motion the third one flung a weighted hunting net over her. She tried to rise to her knees but its magic pressed her to the ground.
"Quit your gabbing and hurry up" the first one said. "Now we got her, let's get the hell out of here." He looked around. With a Demon loose, being in the Great Woods after dark scared even magic warriors.
The swords-man laughed. "Nervous?"
"Of course not. I got a poker game to go to. So tie her up and get our money."
The swordsman laughed mockingly again, but he turned to the third one. "Gag her better this time. The last one got the gag out somehow, and was screaming when he found her. He didn't like that, at all. If she didn't work so good he would have been pissed."
"How does he know where to find them."
"You ask too many questions. As long as you get paid, that's his business."
This hulking boy crouched over her. Through the loose weave of the magic net he grabbed her hair and tried to stuff a filthy handkerchief into her mouth. She clenched her mouth. He released her hair and picked up his staff. Still crouched over her, in a spear-fisherman's stance, he raised the staff to jam the butt into her unprotected belly.
"NO!" she screamed.
The stink spell that spewed out of her mouth smelled so bad the brutish boy fell over on his back, unconscious.
"Hell Breath!" the swordsman cried out to his other companion. That man was already crashing through the underbrush. His sword out and pointed at her, he retreated backward. Once he reached the shadows of some trees he turned and fled as fast as the other one, leaving the boy unconscious or dead on the ground.
She hadn't done it deliberately. She had almost forgotten that she once had magic. The most horrible part of the last day and half had been the way, no matter what she did, her magic turned against her.
She had to get away from the smell too. This wasn't her usual male-specific stink smell that only made her nose run. Retching with the dry heaves, she ripped the hunting net off her. Something had dissipated the net's magic; now it was only a tangled mass of weak twine, poorly tied. Once it was off her, she pounded away in the opposite direction of the men. In her hurry to get away from the gagging stench, she didn't even search the unconscious or dead boy in the hope of finding some scraps of food.
She ran a quarter mile before she admitted the horrid truth. She could never outrun the terrible smell. In oozed out of her, under her armpits and between her legs. She had enchanted her own body odor into Hells Breath.
Totally un-nerved by that knowledge, Blood-Star ran unseeing: crashing through thickets, slamming into trees, out of the Dark Woods, passed the ruined homes that surrounded it and into the streets of the city. She didn't care how they killed her as long as she didn't have to smell the abomination that she had become.
Exhaustion rather then the torches made her stop running. She'd run into a nice part of the city and some magicians were holding a full moon service behind a wall. She heard a girl call out, "Hey, guys, take a look at this one." Blood-star saw a glowing bubble float above the wall and pop out of existence. A young man answer, "Your greens still have a touch of blue, Patty. But that one was better." Young, happy, magicians were practicing for the Magic Aptitude Test.
Blood-star cowered against the wall of the house across the street. Two days ago she would have thumbed her nose at such jerks. After years of boring practice what did passing the MAT get you except the right to brown-nose some bad-tempered wizard. Now all she wanted to do was get away. Except now she had fallen, she didn't have the strength to stand. She crawled backwards.
"Holy Mother what's that stink!" A man's voice
Magic practice ceased behind the wall across the street.
"You OK, John?" Another girl's voices.
"It's making me sick"
"What is it?" A second girl's voice
"How do I know." the first girl answered
"The demon!" There was fear in this girl's voice.
A long silence. "The spell walls are up. And the gargoyles haven't screamed. You stay here, Sammy."
Blood-star had backed up beside a gate. She saw a hand reach up and take down a flaming torch from one of the brackets on the posts that surrounded the practice pentagram. She had a vision of a gang of witches and warlocks surrounding her, poking her with torches and burning her alive.
The gate was unlocked. She pushed it open and crawled inside. She was in a big garden, on a path that lead up to a big house. The shutters were open and she could see alcohol lamps burning inside. She found the strength to half-stand and stagger through the garden and cower behind a cucumber rack. In spite of her fear she pulled an unripe off the vine and gnawed on it.
Five girls with torches gathered at the half open gate. Three dressed in white apprentice robes of a subwitch, but one wore a darker robe, red or green, she couldn't tell in the darkness, of an acknowledged witch. Except for magic warriors, she couldn't have encountered a more dangerous group. The smallest girl, a kid and the only one not dressed in a robe, pushed the gate open and moved two steps inside.
"Stay out of there, Sammy." the young woman in a darker robe ordered. "You know what Ma said." The kid didn't move.
A large man stepped out on the porch. By the moonlight she saw him glance at her when he stepped off the porch. He hurried up the path. "Sauerkraut," he called up to the ones at the gate.
"Maggie had a crock fermenting. It went bad and the crock spit open. You should see what it smells like inside the house." He herded the kid inside beyond the gate, closed it, and kicked a rock against the gate to keep it closed. Outside the gate a girl said, "Sauerkraut, my ass."
Blood-Star twisted around. A wall surrounded the garden. She was trapped.
The man carefully stepped over rows of plants into the darker shadow by the wall. When he emerged he carried a spading fork. He moved along the wall until he could see her clearly. There seemed no point in trying to hide. He gestured her out of the garden with the spading fork. "And don't crush any more of her tomato plants," he told her, momentarily dropping the arm he used to cover his nose and mouth.
From inside the house a man called out, "Bring the witchlet inside."
"She smells just like--"
"I know what she smells like."
"Are you sure?"
"BRING HER INSIDE!" The sound of retching replaced the voice.
With the fork the big man pointed to the porch. She thought of rushing straight at him. Her only defense was to get close, gag him with her stink and get away fast. But that meant facing the gang outside. Above the gate she saw torches and she knew she didn't have the strength to scale the wall. Hunched over like a frightened animal, without taking her eyes off the prongs of the spading fork, she went where he pointed.
Something had happened on the porch, something big. At first she thought her screwed up magic fooling her, but when she paused on the first step she felt the residual of magic everywhere. Failed magic. Surprisingly the knowledge that some-one else had problems gave her the strength to straighten up, to control the tremors and weakness in her legs, and to open the screen door herself.
She walked in the house like a human being, to stand in a hallway that ran the length of the house. A chubby young woman dressed in a night robe came bounding down the staircase on her left holding a candle. "What's that smell-- Holy Mother what happened to her?" The girl retreated up two stairs, covering her nose.
Blood-star forgot all about the girl when she glanced to her right. Double doors leading into a parlor were wide open. Sprawled on his side on the day bed under the windows was Baldy.
"So it's the witchlet."
"You... you...dwarf fucker. You did this to me," Blood-Star screamed. "I'll kill you."
In her fury she found strength. She rushed forward meaning to do-- she didn't know what, except pound and scratch and bite and kick the man.
His eyes rather than any magic brought her to an abrupt halt two steps from where he lay. How could she have ever thought this man was only a mousy clerk? She had never seen such power, such hatred, such fury. Those eyes held her and seemed to gnaw straight into her soul. She hardly noticed the chubby girl dash up behind her and shouted in her ear. "You leave Mr Allen alone. He's sick,"
The man was truly sick. He started to puke again. From the way his right arm flopped and the way his leg trembled when he tried to turn she could see he was partially paralyzed. Somebody had creamed Baldy, but good.
The chubby girl held a pan for him and took a cloth to wipe his mouth. Afterwards she helped him sit up and adjusted some pillows behind his back. No man should be menacing while he was puking, but in spite of everything that had happened to her, Blood-Star felt she was more danger now than ever before.
She retreated backwards. "Over by the window," the young one ordered when he came close to her. He stood in the double doors, his stance suggesting a body-guard. In the better light of the alcohol lamp she could see he wore a dagger on his belt. With considerable reluctance Blood-Star did as she was told, moving to the far end of the room away from them.
An older woman dressed in a richly embroidered night robe appeared behind the bodyguard. Blood-Star knew she had seen the woman before. She felt she should have been able to place her easily, but she couldn't. "What is that thing going in my house," the woman demanded.
"I found her in the garden," the bodyguard said.
"Why didn't you leave her there. Look what she did to my rug." With her foot the woman pointed to a blob of something that had fallen on the rug. Souvenirs from almost everyplace she had fallen into stuck to Blood-Star one place or the other. "Is she one of your," the woman asked Baldy. "Disguised as a garbage wagon."
"I'll see that your rug is cleaned, Miss Weaver," Baldy said with considerable coldness. "And no, she is not one of mine."
There was no love lost between those two, Blood-Star decided. Only it wouldn't do her any good. The look the woman gave her could have frosted lilies.
Baldy studied her, his gaze so intense and piercing she had to fight not to look away. "I met an old enemy, witchlet," he said, "and I may recover. You, I'm afraid, won't."
"You did this to me!" She couldn't think of anything wile enough to call this monster.
"You did it to yourself. Admit it." His tone was almost conversational.
The horrid thing was when she looked in his eyes she began to believe he was right.
"Give her your dagger, Justin." he said to the bodyguard. The bodyguard automatically reached for his belt but didn't pull the knife form its sheath. That was the last thing both of them expected to hear.
"It's the only humane thing to do. The garbage she's done to herself in irreversible. Her body odor is only going to become worse. In a day or so, it will be so bad she'll choke to death in it. So give her the dagger and send her on her way."
"Are you telling her to do what I think you are?" the older woman asked.
"Keep out of this, Miss Weaver. I doesn't concern you."
"The hell it doesn't. This is my house. And you've caused me enough trouble already."
"I'm sure I have," the man on the couch said in a manner that proclaimed he would love to cause her more trouble in the future.
"If you must know," he went on "the witchlet bought or stole...or somehow came into procession of a spell far beyond her ability to control." His dark eyes fixed on the bodyguard. The man looked away if he was somehow involved in what happened
"How she came in procession of the spell is not important. What is important is that she lost control of it. Now the spell warped her irreversibly. She'll never be able to do magic again. She faces an increasingly bleak future."
"I will do magic!" Blood-Star screamed. "You can't take my magic away!"
Baldy ignored her outburst. "Put the dagger on the floor, Justin. It's the only humane thing to do." The bodyguard lay the dagger by his feet and stepped over to the couch, his spading fork ready if she tried something rash.
"May the Mother receive you, witchlet. And may your next re-incarnation be a joyous one." Ritual words. The words Magic Warriors used when one of them was about to die. Oh Mother, what had she done!
With his good hand, the man gestured her to take the dagger. Blood-Star couldn't bring herself to move.
"The pity is, witchlet, you are one of the rare one. If you hadn't made such a big mistake you might have become the little hawk you think you are."
"Crap," Miss Weaver said.
"Do not interfere, woman! Leave her some dignity. She's a hawk that might have been. But her wings are crushed. She'll never do magic again."
"I've gotten along perfectly well for thirty-seven years with out doing any of your effing magic." The woman picked up the dagger and slammed it down on the table beside the lamp. "Corrine, get those old sheets up on the third floor. And every tub of soap in the house." The woman studied her. "We're going to need them. And the big wash-tub. And the bottle of lilac water on my bureau,"
"Damn it woman, lilac water isn't going to help her." Baldy snapped. "Trying to remove the smell will only make it worse. And cause her physical pain."
"I suppose sending this frightened child out on the street with a dagger and instruction to kill herself is good for her."
"She didn't get squirted by a skunk. Washing her won't work!"
"Than you be right and I'll be wrong. You've had such a good track record recently, 'Mr Allen.'" By the sarcastic emphasis the woman put on the name Blood-Star know she meant to say that wasn't Baldy's real name.
The man on the couch looked like he would explode with rage. Instead he got sick. The chubby girl ran to get the pan.
"Move, Corrine. Justin can take care of him. It about time the big hunk did something useful."
"Now Maggie." the bodyguard protested.
Maggie ignored him. "We'll wash her by the pump. She's stunk up the house badly enough as it is."
While muttering under her breath about magicians and their effing magic and what an evil one this effing bastard was, Maggie pointed her to the door. Blood-Star offered a prayer to The Mother for finally giving her a ally. That feeling lasted until the woman saw the crushed tomato plants. After all that had happened to her, to be roundly bawled out because of stupid tomatoes seemed obscene.
As Blood-star feared, Baldy was right. Maggie made her pump a bucket of water. "I sure as hell aren't going to pump it for you. And I'll have you know I started those tomato plants you ruined in January." And she made her strip. "We'll burn that junk, Corrine. Now we'll show that idiot man what it takes to clean her."
However when Maggie poured a bucket of water over her, the smell got so bad, the two woman jumped back. "Get the rose water, Corrine."
"Aunt Maggie, he said the rose-water won't work."
"It for us, not for her. Rose water is too expensive for her. Not after she destroyed half my garden." Maggie ripped two strips of cloth off the sheets, doused them liberally with rose water, and tied one around her nose.
This time Corrine pumped the water. If anything the smell got worse after the second bucket. With a gesture of disgust Maggie said, "We'll have to get close and scrub her." Before Blood-Star could protests, the woman jammed a bath-brush into the worst of the bruises on her back. Blood-Star yowled.
"Had to jump in a hay wagon and hit a smuggler's box. Fell off three walls. Got chased by pigs. Got stoned by some drunk bastards. Got hit by magic warriors. Got..." As the litany continued it was all Blood-Star could do to keep from bawling.
The body-guard, Justin, came running out of the house. "He said stop it. You're turning her skin to acid. You're only torturing her."
Maggie snorted. "You burning up with acid, kid?"
In spite of being called by that hated word, 'kid' she only said a weak, "No."
"Now that you've had your eye-full, go back an tell him that he's wrong. Again."
"You shouldn't go out of your way to irritate him," Justin said.
Instead of answering the woman said, "Get back into the house. The kid isn't here for you to ogle."
In defiance, Bloodstar assumed a stanch, her hands on her hips. She didn't particularly want to be ogled either, but after being called 'kid' twice in a minute, she wasn't about to let the woman tell her what to do. After all she was a registered street-person. Besides, in the moonlight the man couldn't see much anyway.
"Maggie, I was just delivering a message."
"You delivered it."
After three more buckets of water and much scrubbing, the niece volunteering to come in close and gently scrub the parts of her back she couldn't reach, Maggie stepped back and poured more rose water on her mask. "Any better?" she asked even thought all three of them knew the smell had gotten worse. When no one answered, she said without much conviction, "Burn sauce to the bottom of a pot and it always smells worse when you scrape it."
Justin came back out on the porch. He called out, "Rub her with tomatoes. That what he said."
"That suppose to be some kind of magic."
"No. He said he cleaned a dog that way. After she cornered a skunk."
"I thought he said she wasn't squirted with a skunk."
"Use the damned tomatoes," Baldy yelled through the open window.
"Men! I don't know which one it worse? Justin or the other one? I'm still fuming over the way he humiliated me." Maggie said. She and Corrine went off the collect un-ripen tomatoes after Maggie ordered, "You don't move a step. You've already done enough damage to my garden."
While they were collecting tomatoes off the damaged plants by moon-light and laying them in the center of the torn sheet, Corrine said something Blood-Star couldn't catch.
"I was dealing with men like Justin when you were still in diapers. I know Justin isn't-- how did you put it?-- a keeper."
Again Corrine said something.
"I feed the damned lummox so he could help me in the magic part of my business. Not to find him bare-ass in my garage with Patty Pussface the only time I needed him."
Again Corrine.
With considerably more anger Maggie answered, "They weren't practicing magic tricks."
Amazingly the tomatoes worked. Even the little juice they squeezed out of the un-ripe vegetable cut the smell. Blood-Star sat in a sea of crushed tomatoes before she washed the last of the stink out from between her toes; but when she poured the last bucket of rinse water over her she smelt like an original-sapiens woman again.
Maggie almost cackled with glee when they finished. "This will show him," she said, apparently forgetting who suggested using the tomatoes.
When Blood-Star knew she would be clean again, some of her fears had fallen away. Since Baldy had been wrong about this, he was wrong about the rest. She would show him. Get her revenge too some day. Even before Corrine went in the house to find some clothes for her, Blood-Star know what she would do.
When Corrine brought the clothes and, the Mother be praised, a thick slab of roast beef between thicker slabs of wheat bread with a pitcher of cider to wash it down, Blood-Star refused to dress until she ate. When the woman became impatience, Blood-Star protested between mouthful. "I haven't eaten anything in two days."
She dawdled at getting dressed. The pants and shirts they gave her were much too large. Even if they fit they were so incredibly dowdy, without a trace of embroidery or decoration, she wouldn't have used them even a disguise two days ago. She fumbled with her sandals and pretended to search for something among the smelly rags her best outfit had become.
From the crouch she dashed sprinter style across the garden for the gate. She wasn't about to face Baldy today. The Weaver woman screamed at her to stop and the body-guard came rushing out of the house, but she beat him easily to the gate. Free at last!
'Watch out, Baldy,' she vowed to herself. 'Once I get my magic back, I'll come around and cream you for trying to frighten me so bad.'
Five steps down the road, the stink hit her again!
Much stronger than before, the stench almost felled her. Coughing and gagging she fell back inside the gate.
If the Weaver woman could have held he nose long enough to stay close, she might have pounded her into a pulp. She certainly screamed at her long enough: for trampling more of the garden, for ruining her niece clothes, for having the audacity to be born.
With Justin the bodyguard watching her every move, she was forced to strip again-- no warning against ogling this time. The shock of having the stink come back really rattled her. Without being fully conscious of it, Blood-Star found herself attempting to covered her loins and small breasts with her hands and arms. She became even more mortified when the woman grunted, "At least she has the decency to be embarrassed this time." She went back in the house.
Bloodstar pumped buckets of water until her arms ached. Even with the tomatoes the new stink took much longer than before.
The Weaver woman came out to inspect her. After deciding she just might not be too smelly to be allowed in the house, the woman tossed what was left of the old sheet at her. She snapped, "Wrap yourself in this."
"He was going to do something bad to me again. That's the only reason I ran away," Blood-Star protested. "It was horrible. I was minding my business when I saw him leering at me. And when I tried to get by him, he--"
The woman snorted. "You were trying to pick his pocket."
"He's lying!"
"I doubt it. Since you're the brat who's been swiping pastries of my cart for weeks. You like my chocolate chip cookies and rhubarb pies. That seems to be what's missing every time I catch a glimpse of you."
Damn! How could she have missed recognizing her? Blood-Star thought. The woman was that natural cook, the one she always swiped every time she saw the woman's cart, the one with a big enough sin, her notorious hatred of magicians, to justify breaking her usual rule of never swiping the same food peddler more than once. A lot of them were widow women who need every dime they made to feed their kids. The fact that the woman's cookies and pies tasted so good didn't have nothing to do with it.
"You got me mixed up with somebody else."
"You can't believe him. He's an evil magician. You said so yourself."
"He only does big evils, kid. If you hadn't tried to steal the silk scarf he bought for me, you would been beneath his notice."
Double damn! The package would have to have been for her. And how did a magic-less cook ever fall in with someone like Baldy. Magic warriors like him didn't go in for women so magic impaired. With a MI just laying down a distraction spell was a big chore. Yet he bought her an expensive scarf even before he got creamed. And how in hell did she ever get such a big house?
Blood-Star had to put aside these very interesting questions. Flanked on either side like a criminal being dragged to the be-heading block they led her into the house to face Baldy.
Baldy hardly looked at her. "I'm tired, Miss Weaver. If you brought her here to show that you were right and I was wrong, I admit my error."
"What I brought her here for is to find out what I'm supposed to do with her."
"Whatever you like. She won't run away. Even a total idiot like her wouldn't flee the only sanctuary she has in the world twice in a night."
"If she does, she better not come back. Half my tomato crop is ruined. "
"I'll buy you a couple cases of tomatoes. Good night, Miss Weaver." Baldy struggled to turn on his side.
"Is this sanctuary bit you're doing?"
"For that two-bit nuisance, don't be silly."
"How did she end up here?"
"Your first good question."
"How the hell do I know."
"I though you know everything?"
"Anyone who claims he can predict what happens when a spell fails is a fool or a fraud. Good night, Miss Weaver
"He's really awfully tired, Maggie" Corrine said. She pulled a sheet over him. Baldy didn't thank her. He expected to be waited one. For some reason, that irritated Blood_Star.
"Is she going to stink up the house tonight?" Maggie asked.
The woman grimaced. "Can't walk out on by back steps any more without finding another one," she muttered. "Well, this one is staying where we found her."
Blood-Star found herself banished to the back porch, to spend another night battling the mosquitoes.
She curled herself up in a miserable ball. She told herself she was glad they had left her out here. Once her magic came back and she figured out what to do about the stink, she would be gone in a flash. She would show them, show them all.
She didn't even try to listen to the quiet argument in the kitchen between Maggie and her niece. It ended when Maggie said, "Ok. But use the stained one rolled up in the basement. She's cost me enough already."
The stained thing turned out to be a rolled up mattress that Corrine lugged out on the porch along with sheets and a mosquito net to lay under. She also brought a big mug of hot milk.
"Want to talk about it?" the girl asked.
Blood star shook her head. She drained the mug in a couple gulps. That must have been what made her eyes water.
Corrine pulled a big men's handkerchief out of her pocket.
"The smell stung my eyes," Blood-Star said angrily. "I ain't crying."
"I understand." Corrine said. She stood up to leave. "Maybe tomorrow your eyes will feel better. And don't you let Aunt Maggie get to you. Her bark is a lot worse than her bite."
Blood-Star snuggled up between the sheets and pulled the netting over her. Corrine was nice, even if everyone treated her like a servant and she didn't know how to dress. Her aunt must be too cheap to buy her decent clothes. Give her a few tips, maybe, on what to wear, Blood-Star thought. Might take a few days to figure out how to get away from this hell-hole. That thought and the chirping of a nearby cricket was all Blood-Star remembered before she fell into an exhausted, fitful sleep.

Bloodstar woke well after sun-up. She looked around, momentarily confused, until she remembered the horrid things that happened to her. She stuck her hand between her legs and under her armpit. When she raised it to her nose, it smelt like she had been running. She flopped back on the lumpy mattress.
It was all a big, damned lie. It had to be. Baldy somehow planned it all out, to lure her here. So they could slave her. That was it. The stink was laid on her, so she would be too frightened to leave. All she had to do was find a way to get her aura scrubbed. She lay on the mattress, trying to figure out a spell sequence Baldy could have used. That is seemed almost impossible only made her more determined.
Justin and Maggie were talking in the kitchen. After wrapping a sheet around her she crawled over to the open window so she could hear better.
"You really shouldn't irritate him so much," Justin was saying. By him, Justin must mean Baldy.
"What about him irritating me. I didn't invite him here, you know."
"He won't be sick forever. He could be useful to you. If you cultivated him right."
"Sure, I know how useful that ass can be. Right now he owes me a hell of a lot more than I owe him. And before he leaves I'm going to collect some of it."
"Maggie, he does have money. Lots of it."
"What he owes me, money can't pay. Even before he keeled over on my door-step he owed me a very special spell."
"You can't ask for that." Justin lowered his voice she she had to strain to her "Don't forget he is--"
"You out there," Maggie shouted. "Are you going to come in and have breakfast? Or are you going to sneak about and spy on us?"
Blood-Star scurried back to the mattress as quietly as she could. After a loud fake yawn she said, "I just woke up."
"I got good ears, girl. And I don't like sneaks."
"If you don't want me to hear, go some place where I can't."
"Get in here!"
Wrapped in the sheet, she stood in the door way. She was hoping to see Corrine but didn't. Maggie stood by the stove frying some ham. The sizzle and smell filled the kitchen, reminding Blood-Star how hungry she still was.
"Slave spells are illegal."
Maggie and Justin exchanged looks. "So is picking pockets. And swiping chocolate chip cookies." the woman said.
"I'll report you."
"If I was going to slave you," Maggie said, "I would have got you up a hour before dawn, stuffed some cold mush in you, and sent you out to chop some fire-wood, feed the chickens, and slop my two hogs. I wouldn't have done it myself while you snored away."
"I don't snore!"
"Sure sounded like it. Are you about to break out in whatever you got?" the woman asked.
Maggie pointed to a door off the kitchen with her spatula. "There's some clothes for you. On the ironing board."
Blood-Star was appalled when she saw what was laid out on the ironing board. The woman couldn't expect her to wear this! She picked up the offending garment and and stomped over to the doorway.
"Well," Maggie said from the stove.
"It's a dress!"
"I can see it's a dress."
"Only little kids and county girls wear dresses." Didn't the woman know anything?
"You're not running around the house bare-ass. The lummox got a good enough eye-full last night."
"Now Maggie, I explained what happened. And how was I to know you were going to need me them?"
Blood-Star had to bite back her cry of joy. Her magic was coming back! She could sense Justin trying to lay down a Charisma spell. Good luck, she thought. It won't work on that MI. But Justin was good, something that shouldn't have surprised her at all, she supposed. This whole house smell of magic, and it wasn't from Maggie the Natural Cook.
The spell calmed the woman down. She didn't comment when the man spun his tale of some magic working better when done naked, which might be true since she heard it before, and not just from men or the type of women that liked to see girls naked. The rest of the tale, about helping a pretty girl from across the street so she could pass her MAT in the hope it would patch up some feud, sounded preposterous. If Velvet-Knife, the bastard, tried it out on her, she wouldn't have believed a word of it.
Unfortunately the spell didn't do her any good. Maggie turned to her and started being sarcastic about Maggie's boutique being closed for renovations and she was so sorry the dress was in this years style, but that was all she had at the moment.
In the middle of it Corrine came in from the garden carrying a basket of green tomatoes. "I got them all, Aunt Maggie. We can pickle them, I think." It seemed a good moment to slip back into the laundry room and put on the dress.
The dress wasn't all that bad, she decided after she put it on. It covered the worst of her bruises. And the Arch-mage's mistress, April, caused a lot of comment by showing up at a rock-show wearing a simple dress. Of course, hers was all expensive silk and so shear you could see her hair when she stood in the light just right. That part didn't make the news-rocks, but B-D heard it from somebody who heard it from somebody whose cousin had tickets.
Maybe dresses might become fashionable again. People seemed to copy everything else April wore. Like the hair combs. Some girls had all the luck. If she ever got close to a sorcerer, just think of what magic she could learn.
Breakfast turned out to be ham and eggs and pan-cakes and honey, enough to feed three people her size, which worked out just about right. Otherwise the breakfast was a pain. Baldy wanted to see her after she ate. When she introduced herself as Blood-Star, Maggie grunted and said, "It figures." The woman kept going on about the stupid garden, like she'd come deliberately to trash it. If she wanted to keep people out of her garden why didn't she keep her gate locked. Then, if the gate had been locked-- Blood-Star didn't want to think about that right now. She endured the harangue in silence. Besides she was too busy eating.
When the woman went off to the pantry she whispered to Corrine, "Is she always like this?"
"Aunt Maggie had a bad night. We all did." Her voice carried a bite. Blood-Star almost said, if you thought you had it bad you should have been in the middle of it like me. But she didn't.
She brought up next month's Magic Warrior exhibitions-- a platoon from Southern Illinios was rumored to have challenged the local guild to a free-for-all-- but Corrine had never even been inside the guild's show arena. Didn't her aunt let her go anyplace? Still she kinda liked Corrine, even if the only thing they had in common was magic-western music. And talking about The Howlers and their concert last year that turned into a riot took her mind off her meeting with Baldy.
Baldy sat in an armchair, a shawl draped over his shoulders to cover his paralyzed right arm. It didn't hide his right leg, which trembled continuously. A second armchair had been placed directly opposite his. He motioned her to sit there and let the others find seat where they wished. He didn't waste time on pleasantries. "You find out her name, Miss Weaver." he asked, as if she couldn't tell her own name.
"She says it Blood-Star."
"Now a days they all think they are magic-warriors. Tell us about your recent battles, Blood-Star."
He cut short her speech about how he had it all wrong, she wasn't trying to swipe nothing from nobody, with a curt, "We both know what happened."
When she launched into her tale of all the horrible things that happened to her, he interrupted when she got to her fall into the hay wagon. "You looked into your own evil-eye. Naturally you had some bad luck. How did you acquire your rather unique body odor?"
This part he listened to without interrupting, except to demand a more complete description of her attackers. Maggie wasn't so patient. In the middle of it, she said, "Human sacrifices! Hearts cut out! Isn't that a little far fetched, kid? Evita is gone."
"And her legacy remains, Miss Weaver," Baldy said very coldly. "There remains a lot of evil in this city of you. Go on Blood-Star." For a moment she almost liked Baldy
"And where did you learn this little trick of yours?" he asked when she finished. "This male-specific stink spell."
"I picked it up."
"One of your friends showed you how to do it? Sold you the magic?"
"I said I picked it up."
"Is it the spell of the month out on the streets? Are we going to have an epidemic of girls with that unique body odor, before word gets around that it might not be the safest spell to use." His voice became tight. "If you are the luckiest young woman in the world, there might just be an antidote-spell to your problem. Answer me truthfully this time, Blood-Star. Your whole future depends on it. Who sold the spell to you?"
"Nobody sold me the spell! I saw a wizard do something like it. He got some meat he didn't like in a greasy-spoon. He added a stink to it when he pushed the cook's nose into to the plate."
"But that wasn't the spell you used?"
"I fixed the spell up a little."
"Your cute little distraction spell. You fixed that one up too. Using a spell you happened to see, once or twice."
"And your even cuter little evil eye. You added a little pizzazz to that one, too."
Baldy was being sarcastic, but she said "I'm good at that. Don't have to buy spells from nobody."
Because of Baldy's fierce scowl when he studied her, she decided that wasn't the best thing to say. Why that answer angered him, she couldn't figure out. Magic warriors were always swiping spell from each other. When Fur-Hat discovered how Barbarian-Girl did her triple ball attack, he creamed her in the arena, two months ago.
After a long silence Baldy said, "We seem to have ourselves a budding magic thief, Justin."
"I ain't no magic thief! I never sold a spell in my life."
"Appropriating magic you're not licensed to use is the crime, Blood-Star. Selling it afterwards is only a detail. Isn't that right, Justin?"
"I believe that's the way the law is written, sir." The sir at the end surprised her. Justin never struck her as being the sir-saying type.
Baldy's fierce eyes didn't match his little smile. What was it between these two? Until now she had thought they were partners.
"Do you know what you smelled like last night?" Baldy asked her.
"The men who attacked me called it Hell's Breath."
"An interesting spell, discovered in Year Eight. Its discoverer thought he had the ultimate weapon. Get up wind of your enemy, release it, and watch them run away. Unfortunately for its discoverer, the spell comes in two version, one of which diffuses against the wind, and he was the one that had to abandon the battle-field. As a weapon it was so unreliable it has been largely forgotten."
"A few of us, myself and apparently Justin since he was able to stay in the same room with you last night, have the powers to tolerate the odor even though we find it highly offensive. And since it is somewhat male specific, Maggie and Corrine could get reasonably close to you. Most men, however, would try to destroy you. From a distance of course. And most likely with fire-balls. That's why I offered you the dagger. But it has a more interesting history."
"In the time of metamorphosis, when the Mother decided to separate the Peoples, Elves, Faeries, and Troll became quite different than us, either physically or physiologically. However, we and dwarfs are similar in many way. They are squatter and huskier than we are, and tend to have more body hair, but there are a fair number of a original-sapiens's that could pass for a dwarf. Except of course for the body-odor. We find each other's odors so offensive, there is hardly any physical contact between us, even though we do trade with each other."
"Every body knows that." Blood-Star said.
"When was your last period, Blood-Star."
"That's none of your business!"
"Tell him," Justin said with some force.
"Was it ten or twelve days ago?" Baldy asked.
"Something like that," Blood-Star finally admitted.
"That explains the pungency of the odor. You have or are about to ovulate."
"What are you talking about?"
"You smelled like a young dwarf woman during the fertile period of their cycle."
"What! You're lying. You gotta be lying!"
"He's telling the truth." Justin said.
She stared over her shoulder at Justin. He looked so sympathetic she knew he was telling the truth. Oh Mother, what had happened to her? She had smelt like a filthy dwarf cow! What was she going to do?
Almost as if he could read her thoughts, Baldy told her,"If something should happen and you are forced to leave us, I would advise you to head south to the Appalachians. If you can learn to tolerate the male smell, you might be able to survive. In certain trades you might be able to prosper. Male dwarf find that odor irresistible. That is one of the reasons their population is increasing twice as fast as ours."
She was so confused and horrified by what Baldy told her she almost didn't hear him say, "Put her to the Question, Justin. Look for anything foreign in her aura that can be extracted easily."
The Question!! Blood-Star jumped out of the arm-chair, more horrified than before. He eyes darted about looking for the faint lines of a hidden pentagram they might have tricked her into entering with out seeing any. Once they drew and enchanted one they would have to drag her into it screaming and tie her down to keep her there. And she would spit on the questioning amulets they'd drape all over her and use her magic-- only her magic was working good-- and what was she going to do except yell, "Nobody's going to look in my aura."
"Sit down, girl. No one is going to hurt you. Justin has to look and see what sort of mess you've made of yourself. That's all. If you relax and don't tense up it won't even hurt. Justin has the reputation of being very good."
Blood-Star sat back in the chair. It would take them some time to draw and enchant the pentagram. She wondered briefly where they stole the questioning amulets, before she drew on all her mental resources and forced herself to forget the horrors she just learned and concentrate on every trick she heard about on how to avoid the Question.
Concentrating on your love-life, remembering everything you'd ever done to a man and everything they did to you, that was supposed to work. The red-headed dolly-mop she knew from the arena once told her that she used the trick once. The one who hung out with that corner worker, the one with all the pimples. She said she got picked up for soliciting, and took to Lock-up, and when she used the trick, the Green who questioned her got so horny he missed almost everything. It was worth it, the dolly-mop said, even if she had to do most of those disgusting things to a bunch of Greens afterwards, since they let her out of lock-up the next morning without even making her pay a fine.
Only what could she think about that was so sexy and bad a man with a good Charisma spell would find so distracting that he would--
The dwarf-humper was already doing it! It felt like mice were scurrying between her ears! She twisted in the chair to stare at Justin, her mouth slack, her eyes wide. His eyes were distant,m his face furrowed, with the concentration.
"Face me, Blood-Star," Baldy's orders, seemingly issued from a high and distant place, caused her to slowly to turn her head back. "Relax, girl. It will soon be over." She found her self drawn to his dark eyes, eyes that seem to ask what are you capable of standing, young woman
And then it was over. She shook her head violently a few times and the feeling of possession was gone
"See, it didn't hurt at all. Did you get a good scan."
"Towards the middle when she first became aware of it, things were a little iffy. Otherwise, it was a good scan."
"But...but...he didn't use amulets, or a pentagram, or anything."
"That's Justin specialty, the Full Question without a pentagram."
Blood-Star flushed bright red and covered her face with her fingers. It was all she could do not to burst into tears. Now the dwarf-humper with the Charisma spell knew everything. How was she ever going to face him over the breakfast table.
Baldy laughed. This time his eyes were amused. "Justin is a professional, Miss Blood-Star. He avoided probing anything that wasn't necessary. I was impressed, Justin."
"Thank you, sir." Suddenly Justin sounded like an apprentice who finally did a chore that pleased his employer.
To her, Baldy said, "While a list of your crimes, and your other peccadilloes might prove interesting, those secrets are yours alone." His eyes hardened. "As long as you don't lie to me, that sort of Question may not be necessary. However, if I find you have been lying, I promise you the Question will be through. And it will hurt." He slipped into street slang. "Got that beetle between your ears."
She nodded: yes, she got the message. Anyone really into street-speak would have asked if her 'hive was buzzing'. That expression, 'beetle between the ears,' had gone to nest in citizens-ville so the ancients, like Baldy, could pretend to be street people, but the knowledge made for a very small consolation. Baldy didn't need to talk street-speak to let her know he was dangerous.
Working the Question without the amulets and a pentagram, that wasn't just damned good magic, that was sorcerer magic, mage magic; but instead of bristling with his power, Justin acted like a meek apprentice. What kind of people had she fallen in with? Who the hell was this Baldy?
"What did you find?" Baldy asked Justin. Blood-Star managed to put aside her fears; she was going to have to watch herself more carefully with this one.
"A lot of strange stuff. But it all seemed to be integrated."
"What do you mean by strange stuff?"
"What is a young girl doing with a castration fear in her aura."
"That was meant for me."
He focused on her. "So you've been running about, putting that fear on every man who looked at you cross-eyed, you pitiless little bitch."
His rage was so frightening she could only shake her head, no.
"Who else did you use it on!" he roared.
"Nobody," she answered in a barely audible voice.
"Why not!"
"I... I... was saving it for an emergency," she stuttered.
"A good thing too,' he answered, his voice conversational. "If you had tried it out on anyone else with any sort of powers, most likely he would have killed you on the spot."
To Justin: "Did you find anything easily removable?"
"I should have but... I know i don't ave that much experience in this part of it but can I suggest something, sir"
"Go ahead."
"Perhaps she suffers from the timothy problem."
"It's quite possible."
"And she's bound to someone or something."
"Some one? Or something?"
"That the--" he paused and changed his word, "That her odor came back as some as she ran beyond the gate is significant. I think she is bound to this house."
"What are you saying?" So far Maggie had sat on the love-seat, watching every thing but not say anything.
"Justin is saying the that the girl is bound to this house. This is the only place she can function. I'm afraid you have a long term house guest. Possibly for the rest of Blood-Star's life."
"What!" the two women said simultaneously. They stared at each other.
"You could kick her out," Baldy said casually. "I doubt she would live much more than a day or two. But as you've said before, this is your house and it is your option."
"Why and hell, is she bound to my house."
"Most likely because you were the first one to show her any kindness."
Before Blood-Star could open her mouth and protest that statement, Baldy said, "She did you know. Most women would have screamed the second they smelt you and driven you away with a broom-handle. Miss Weaver went to considerable trouble to decontaminate you. Twice. At the cost of half her tomato crop."
Was she ever going to hear the end of those damned plants?
"I'll get myself scrubbed." Blood-Star stated. "I know of somebody that is good at it." The things the hag up on Johnson Street would make her do to pay for that expensive procedure-- she didn't want to think about that right now. However, anything would be better than listening to the woman complain about busted tomato plants for the rest of hr life.
"No back-alley witch-doctor can fix you, girl." Baldy snapped. "Tell her what she did, Justin."
"Used part of her own aura in the evil-eye?"
"Exactly. It certainly give the spell pizzazz. But the instant the spell was turned back on you, it was instantly absorbed. Because it was part of you to begin with, not some foreign influence, it can not be removed easily. Or at all."
He went on in some loud harangue about you just don't go about mixing parts of this spell and parts of that spell like your making a stew, that even the slightest change should be care fully field tested, but Blood-Star hardly listened. The horror of what happened to her was beginning to sink in.
"Can someone really good fix me?" she asked the instant she thought he finished his lecture. By the annoyed look on his face, he probably hadn't.
"In something like this, anything is possible. Possible but not probably."
"It would take some like you. Whose better than just real good."
"I am not a witch doctor with a back alley practice. As soon as I recover from my problems I have numerous and more serious commitments. And quite frankly you haven't given me the least reason to take on such a long term commitment. And right now I'm tired. We'll talk about it again later. I'm assuming you can find some use for her in the meantime, Miss Weaver?"
Why the hell doesn't he just say no, Blood-Star thought. Too damned arrogant to say he doesn't have the power, most likely. Baldy might go around talking like he was important like a big wizard or a sorcerer maybe, but he wasn't nothing but some arrogant magic warrior. He was wrong about her not ever getting clean, so he is wrong about this too. She clung to the idea. Give me a couple days to get my head back together and I'll show you what I can do, she thought. You ain't no stinking mage, not by a long shot.
"One more point, Blood-Star, one of curiosity." Baldy called out as they are leaving, "Like most men I have my quirks. The fact that I have lost a certain amount of my hair doesn't particularly bother me but in the long run your endearing nick-name for me might become... a little tedious."
"I never called you--" The truth hit her. He had been in her mind too.
"It was necessary for me to probe you, young woman. To see how he was doing and to discover a few thing myself. While you have a juvenile habit of attempting to cover your misdeeds even after they've been exposed, and an equally juvenile habit of self-exaggeration, when pressed on the essentials you told me the truth. Otherwise I would have had to treat you as a problem, rather than a minor nuisance who thought up an uncomplimentary nick-name."
"From now on, you think of me as," he paused for a minute, "Mr. Joe Allen, a minor teacher and translator of... lets say Tibetan, that obscure enough. And I've been licensed to write a text-book on Tibetan, and have come to stay at Maggie's excellent hotel where I had a relapse of an aura-wound I suffered during the Dwarf Wars. That ought to serve as a cover story. How do you street people say it?... put a leaf over me."

"Dress you in fig leaf." She managed to get that out before she bolted. Knowing he could rummage around in her mind without her even sensing it had un-nerved her. "Everybody leave me alone," she cried out when Justin came running after her. On the porch, she threw herself down on the mattress. She settled down to have herself a long cry.