A Diet of Worms
“A diet of worms?” Glenda allowed a small moue of distaste to cross her face, then she slipped between a narrow gap her trespassing partner-in-crime had created in the wrought iron fencing. “Are we talking about what worms consume? Or an outdated practice of consuming worms for some insufficiently worthy benefit?”
Once inside the cemetery, she patted the few wisps of hair that had come loose from her chignon back into place.
Bedivere squeezed through the gap with a little more effort. “You’d know, if you’d been paying attention. Also, the answer is obvious given the setting.” He gestured to the moonlit space in front of them.
“Of course it’s not obvious. What about worms and diets together is obvious? And where did you ever get such an appalling conversation topic?”
“Again, might I direct you to the setting in which we find ourselves?” Bedivere took a moment to scan the surrounding area. The low hanging, full moon would light their way quite nicely. He turned to her and said, “And don’t bother with the scatty witch persona. I know exactly who and what you are.”
That was one of the reasons Glenda liked him so well. And one of the reasons he could be such a bother. She turned back to the cemetery. Headstones—some upright, some crumbling, some toppled to the ground—dotted the grassy expanse. But only a few mausoleums loomed dark in the moonlight. A shiver ran up her spine. “I do know you’re trying to distract me.”
“Not at all. Besides, worm food is hardly an odd or appalling conversation piece considering our locale.”
The thought of dead-body-worm-food popped into her head, and it was just disgusting enough to keep her attention from the creeping discomfort of being in a cemetery.
Why here? She hated cemeteries. They gave her the willies. Ridiculous, given her age, but that didn’t change the fact that they were eerie, unpleasant places filled with sorrow. The sooner they found the mausoleum that hid their target, the faster she could vacate the creepy premises.
Bedivere’s gaze skimmed across the three small dark buildings in the cemetery—the only mausoleums on site. “A one in three chance. What do you say, check them all?”
She was being ridiculous. She steadied herself and said with an airy tone, “Oh, darling—magical math.” She wiggled her fingers. “Just give me a moment.”
Glenda made a sweeping gesture and flung her arms wide. As her fingers traveled through the air, sparkles of light flittered in their wake. The dancing bits of light coalesced and became glowing numbers that tumbled through the air. Then the tumble slowed to a gentle cascade, and the numbers settled into tidy lines of equations. She took a moment to savor the feeling, the zing of exhilaration that whipped through her from her nose to her toes. So delightful it was almost sinful. Now this was the way to chase away the dark. Not speaking of worms eating flesh.
Bedivere nudged her. “You’re making a show of it with the bright lights. Hurry it up.”
Trust Bedivere to ruin a perfectly lovely magical moment. She rubbed the tip of her nose. Perhaps it was just a little too chilly to hang about gawking at her own equations. After a quick scan, she snapped her fingers, pulling the numbers back into herself. “That one,” she said, pointing to the building furthest to the left.
“I hate to even ask, but what are the odds?”
“Fantastic, you grumpy old coot. Let’s go.” But five minutes later, she was willing to admit that fantastic had been a mild exaggeration. In truth, the odds had been better than even. Not bad, considering there were three locations. But she’d been honing her statistical skills on matchmaking endeavors in recent years…and that had a negative effect on her results when applying her skills to catching bad guys.
“You’re out of practice. Too much time spent—”
“Eh. Don’t you dare say it. Love is worth the small sacrifice; nothing you say will convince me otherwise. And it’s the next one over. I’m certain.” Glenda scowled at Bedivere when he looked unconvinced. “Truly. And don’t forget that it was me who got us as far as the cemetery.” She pulled the thick brass door shut behind her before following Bedivere toward door number two.
“Hm. I’m rather tired of chasing the fellow around. The council has passed sentence; he needs to accept his punishment like the adult he occasionally pretends to be. But yes, you’re right. Even with your somewhat diminished capabilities, you shaved a day off the hunt.”
“Possibly more. You used to be so much better at predicting bad behavior before your obsession with love and attraction.” Bedivere grunted and rubbed his arm.
She hadn’t pinched him that hard. And the man was a knight, for goodness’ sake. Well, a former knight. He should be tough enough for a little pinch.
Glenda wrinkled her nose when she considered what they were about to do. An unpleasant setting for an unpleasant business. “You can hardly blame the man for wanting to delay.”
“It’s not necessarily for eternity…if he behaves himself. And I hear one accustoms oneself after the first century or so.”
Glenda swallowed a laugh. They’d arrived at the door of the second building, and—while their target was likely expecting them—she didn’t feel the need to announce their presence. She grasped the handle, ready to open the door as soon as Bedivere popped the lock. He was more adept at physical magic, as his two second lock-pick proved. It would have taken her half a minute or more. Unlike locking a door, opening one required a fine touch, and she hadn’t practiced in an age.
When he nodded his readiness, she hefted the ornate door wide.
They both entered, Bedivere first and Glenda on his heels, with protective shields raised. Not that they truly expected an attack. The man would have to be out of his mind to attack them at this point. It would only worsen his sentence, possibly even removing his chance for redemption.
Their target didn’t attack as they entered the mausoleum.
He wasn’t lying in wait.
No, their fugitive was eating Chinese food.
To-go containers were spread all along the sarcophagus. Their target had spread his final feast atop the remains of some poor soul.
“Agravain!” Horror tinged with just a skosh of humor made her voice tremble and crack. She couldn’t help it—it was appalling, but also appallingly funny. The man was a menace.
Agravain gave Bedivere and Glenda a grin that lacked any signs of remorse. “Last supper. My dietary needs are about to change, so it was now or…” He shrugged.
“That’s it. I’m done.” Bedivere snapped his fingers, releasing the council’s spell. He raised his eyebrows when Gwen gave him a disapproving look. “What? That is why we’ve come: to deliver his sentence. And, frankly, I’m a little tired of carrying the thing around. It’s heavier than you might think.”
As he spoke, the spell zipped along with wicked speed and pinpoint accuracy making a splat noise as it met Agravain’s chest. It seemed the council had a sense of humor.
Agravain lifted his hand. “But—”
A hacking feline cough followed.
“Oh my.” Glenda peered down at the choking, spitting beast.
Fifteen pounds? Twenty? Grey tabby fur covered Agravain’s stout new feline body. It was a handsome enough color—for a criminal.
Once he’d ceased his fitting, he began to spin in circles. It looked like he was chasing his tail, but Glenda suspected he was attempting to take stock of his new body. He finally came to a wobbly standstill. Huge feet, a big, round tomcat head, and a fat tail—it all came together to create an appealing package.
“You could have done worse.” As soon as her lips closed on the last word, she felt it. That special tug, somewhere between heart and spleen: the tying of a psychic knot so strong, nothing short of death would break it. “Oh, drat.”
A deep, rumbling laugh filled her ears.
She narrowed her eyes and shot Bedivere a nasty look. “Laugh all you like, but count yourself lucky. He could have been your familiar, but for a fickle roll of fate’s dice.”
Bedivere’s laughter turned into a polite cough, then silence. “Right. Excellent point. So sorry.” But he just couldn’t leave it at that and muttered, “Better you than me.”
The cat’s ears flattened against his head, his tail puffed out to twice it’s already fat circumference, and he bared his fangs at Bedivere.
Bedivere took a step toward the foul-tempered animal with a rather intent look in his eye.
“Stop it.” Glenda tapped him on the shoulder, just in case her words didn’t catch his attention.
He stopped dead in his tracks. “Quite right.
Once the knot was tied between witch and familiar, they were both stuck—at least until one of them died—and Glenda had no intent of keeling over or of murdering the fluffy fiend in front of her. She sighed in defeat. The Fates must be getting a giggle over this pairing. “Hiss and spit all you like, but if you’d like a dinner that you don’t have to catch yourself you’ll come with me.”
Agravain plopped down on his kitty haunches, wrapped his fat tail around his body, lifted one of his paws, and began to inspect it with great care.
After several seconds, Glenda looked down as well. It seemed Agravain had gained an extra toe in his transformation.
He lifted his other paw off the ground and inspected it.
Two extra toes, one on each front paw. Fascinating.
But not so fascinating that she wasn’t starting to get a drippy nose from the cold and damp. Time to wrap up this fiasco of a night. “Worms, Bedivere, that’s what feral cats eat, isn’t it?”
He nodded with a pleasant, polite look. “And bugs, I believe.”
Agravain halted his inspection of the extra digit and glanced first at Glenda, then Bedivere. Then he sneezed and spat. It was almost cute—probably would be if that round furry feline body didn’t house a criminal sentenced to hard time.
“Yes, I agree. Completely unpleasant.” Glenda tapped her foot, as much to get the blood flowing as to demonstrate her impatience. “So, my lovely new familiar, are you coming with me, or are you staying to feast upon cemetery worms?”
The grey tabby stood up, stretched, and then ambled to the mausoleum door.
Staring at the cat’s puffy tail and swaying feline rear, she just couldn’t see herself calling him Agravain for the next millennia. And who knew how long it would take for him to redeem himself?
As the cat sashayed to the exit, Glenda said, “New form, new name, buddy.”
Agravain ignored her and continued unhurriedly toward the exit.
With a glance around the mausoleum, Glenda quickly decided on an alternative and called out, “Poe. That’s your new name.”
Poe was already sliding through the gap in the doorway, and the only evidence he’d heard her was the flick of his fat tail.