|"A Dangerous Game"||Transformation Contest 2, Category 2||"Kindest Regards"|
by Tal Greywolf
(Prize Winner - Category 2)
Henry Voss, more properly named Heinrich Voss, walked down the darkened and rain-slicked streets aimlessly. He was searching for something, something only he would recognize as being valuable, essential.
Along the sides of the street the sounds and smells of Bourbon St. drifted in the rain-laden air, muffling but not drowning out the energy of this one place. Bourbon St., filled with bars and jazz, hopes and dreams, life and death. Blue uniformed police wandered up and down the old boulevard, mounted high on horses to watch over the never-ending crowds. The flow of the crowds ebbed and surged, depending on the mood. Catcalls came from the balconies, hawkers pitched the allure of what waited inside of darkened rooms, street dancers played without care attracting audiences then quickly losing them.
Henry ignored most of what went on around him. His attention was not focused on the crowds, or even the allure of the French Quarter. What brought him down here this night was something more important, not just for himself, but for another.
Ahead was a small bar, halfway down Conti between Bourbon and Royal. The music was softer, the bar devoid of the usual crowds elsewhere. Folks here talked quietly, eating meals and sipping at their drinks while the serving staff worked efficiently. It was here that Henry knew he'd find what he would need.
He ordered the house special and waited patiently. One thing time had taught him, things truly do come to those with the patience to wait. It wasn't a long wait, as the object of his interest arrived.
She walked into the bar quietly, unassuming. Perhaps all of 19 years old, she looked tired yet held about her an air of determination. Long brown hair fell to her shoulder, while emerald eyes surveyed the room. Henry nodded slightly to her, and she walked over with a bit of hesitation.
"Ummmm... hi." Her voice sounded a bit rough, and she coughed slightly. "Were you the one who left me the note?"
Henry nodded again, and tilted his head towards the seat. "Please, sit." She took the chair slowly and he smiled.
"Yes, I left the note for you at your employment. I wished to talk with you, and thought that might pique your curiosity."
She blinked at his language, then nodded. "Yeah, I'm wondering what you'd want with me. But I'll warn you now, I've told my roommate where I was going."
"Prudent." Henry looked pleased at her, again making her puzzled. "Would you like something to drink? Eat? Nothing alcoholic, I'm afraid, I won't purchase anything for you in that respect."
"Just a coke, then." She looked a little less worried, but the curiosity remained in her eyes. "And how did you know I was under the legal age?"
Henry smiled warmly. "Magic."
She snorted softly. "Come on, magic isn't real."
"Is it?" Henry leaned forward. "Suppose I prove to you it's quite real? Would you be willing to listen to my proposal?"
There was a look of disbelief on her face, then it was replaced with a different sort of gaze, a touch more introspective. "Ok, I'll listen."
Henry leaned back, raising his hand for the waitress. She walked over and refilled their glasses, then left. He took a sip, then placed the glass down.
"Your name is Tara Williams," Henry began, surprising her. "You're 19 years old, working at the A&P down on Royal St. You've been there for six months now, living in a small shotgun apartment down on Chartres St. You were forced to move there because your parents threw you out of the house."
Tara had a bitter look on her face. "They didn't throw me out, they robbed me THEN threw me out." A sharp edge coated every word she said, then she looked apologetic and looked around from her outburst.
The rest of the bar didn't seem to have reacted to her shout at all. In fact, everyone behaved as if she hadn't said anything. Tara looked back at Henry, clearly puzzled.
"They can't hear anything we say," Henry replied to her unspoken question. "Nothing we say will go past this table."
Her eyes widened a bit, and she whispered a single word. "Magic?"
Henry nodded. "Magic. Real magic." He smiled slightly, and winked. "Now you'll listen to me?"
"I... ok." She swallowed and nodded. "I said I would."
"You're a very intelligent young woman," Henry said gently. "And yes, I know about what your parents did to you."
She shook her head. "I still can't forgive them for that. Almost $5,000 of my own money, money I've saved for years, and the day before I turned 18, they walked into the bank and take it from me."
Henry sighed. "Thanks to a law in Louisiana that allows the parent of a minor legal custody of their accounts." He took another sip and shook his head. "Which, while very much unethical in my view, they were within their 'rights' to do. And the next day, they evicted you from home as their way of saying thank you."
Tara blinked at his phrasing as well as the venom it held. "Well, I've managed to make it on my own, a place to live and all. But I still wanted to go to college, to get out of this city and learn."
Henry nodded slowly. "I know." He looked straight at her, and his expression was serious. "That's why I wish to propose an arrangement with you. I will help you get a college education, as well as teach you whatever else you wish to learn."
"And in return, what? Be some kind of companion for you?" Tara made it sound like a joke, but was surprised by his eyes narrowing.
"Of a sort, yes." He coughed a bit and looked a bit flustered. "As a mage, I'm capable of many magics. But for some more intricate spells, I need what you could call an assistant. Not an apprentice, but rather a channel for magic. What you might call a familiar."
Tara's eyes widened a bit, then shook her head. "A familiar? Like a black cat you always see a witch with?"
"Exactly." Henry's expression softened slightly. "The problem is this: by tradition, familiars are not to be human. And our... council, you could call it, generally enforces the rule stringently."
"Generally." Tara leaned back in her chair, thinking about what Henry has said so far. "And the catch?"
"Mmmm." Henry chuckled a bit. "Well, you're going to have to stretch your imagination a bit here."
The plantation was some 40 miles out of New Orleans, along the old river road. The driveway was tree-lined, while the rest of the land surrounding the old home was well tended.
Inside, Heinrich entertained his guest, a fellow mage from England. Richard was slightly older than him, but had an interesting sense of humor.
"So, did you solve your problems?" Richard asked, pouring himself a cup of tea.
Heinrich nodded. "Pretty much, yes. Of course the council might grumble about the way I handled it, but it's working out well all around."
Richard chuckled deeply. "I can imagine. But since it was voluntary and willingly, they can't really fight it, can they?"
"Not without making a public spectacle of it, and by then it'll be well past." Heinrich sipped his tea and placed it on the table. "Besides, I have not only a familiar, but a future apprentice to look forward to."
"Speaking of which, where is she?" Richard glanced about the room, trying to spot Tara. "You said she's usually around."
A raucous cry came from one of the bookcases, and a small falcon took flight, zooming over Richard and making him duck. Heinrich laughed and shook his head at the sight as Tara dived at Richard again.
"That's enough, dear." Heinrich held up his arm, and Tara quickly perched on the offered arm, talons lightly holding her in place. "That's no way to treat a friend."
Her head turned to Richard, then back at Heinrich. He held his gaze, and suddenly the falcon bobbed in apology.
"There, that's better." He glanced at the clock, and shook his head. "You're late for your lessons, so you'd better get to your room. Shoo."
He moved his hand upwards as incentive, and Tara quickly took wing, flying down the hall then pulling up to the second floor. A door creaked open, then shut itself as she went into her own room. Heinrich looked off in the distance for a moment, then grinned.
"She'll be fine, she's just amused you didn't see her earlier."
Richard laughed again. "Well, offer my own apologies for not seeing her earlier. She did a good job of hiding herself."
"I will." Heinrich chuckled deeply and picked up the teapot. "More tea?"
Copyright 1997: "Tal Greywolf" <firstname.lastname@example.org> . If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask the author for permission first. Thank you.
|"A Dangerous Game"||Transformation Contest 2, Category 2||"Kindest Regards"|