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What Fools These Mortals Be


Lord, what fools these mortals be!

—William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

THE EARTH TREMBLED under my feet, and bright light pierced my vision, blinding me. Shafts of golden rays warmed the fragile flesh that covered this new body. I studied my hand—strong, callused by hard work—as my eyes adjusted to morning. Flexing it, I wondered what it would feel like caressing a woman's body. Would she enjoy this skin? This unpolished strength?

Hunger stirred in me. It had been many decades since I'd last inhabited a human host, many decades of starving in that prison, unable to feed on the lust of others, but hunger would have to wait. I hadn't been sent here to satiate my unending appetite.

She walked in and, despite the years pulling her skin down, she smelled of desire. I'd seen her through the portal, knew the stink of her soul, and her flesh did not tempt me, but mine would tempt her now.

Stopping short, she caught her breath, showing admirable restraint in my presence. "Blake?"

I shook my head.

An evil smile curled at Rainbow's lips. "It worked, then?"

"It did."

"Do you have a name?"

None her human tongue could pronounce. "Just call me Blake. Keep it simple."

I worked my own tongue around the words as memories returned to me. Languages and technologies and sciences unique to this plane, knowledge gleaned through spying and living. I flexed my muscles, stretching my limbs as I gauged this new body's physical limits.

A residue of Blake's consciousness lingered in this form, coating my own experiences with his impressions. This was to be expected, but always a nuisance.

"What happens to Blake while you're here?" the coven leader asked.

"Do you really care?" I knew she didn't. This one had a blackened heart, corrupted by greed and the lust for power. Even my kind was loath to partner with her, but she offered us the surest way of accomplishing our own end, and so it was a necessary evil.

"He's been loyal, as few others have been. I'd rather he not suffer for his service." She had already shoved away the initial desire she'd had for me and, though I despised her, I admired her strength of will.

"He's safe, bodiless and contained in a prison of sorts. You call it the demon plane. Do you wish me to undo this and send him back?" I knew her answer, just as she did.

She shrugged. "What must be done, must be done. Let's get to it then, shall we? I need you to keep an eye on my daughter, Rose. She's shown unexpected rebellion recently, and that won't do for our plans. She's instrumental to all of this."

"You'll have to manage the affairs of your family yourself. I didn't just travel from the demon plane to play babysitter to your children."

"You insolent slug." She took a menacing step forward, pointing her finger as one might to a misbehaving child. "How dare you speak to me that way after what I've done to bring you here?"

The rumbling earth that had first awakened me started again, and rock and dirt fused together and reached for me.

I moved with what must have seemed like superhuman speed, though it felt sluggish for me, dodged the unskilled attack, and clutched her arms. Pinning her to the wall, I glared into her eyes. "I am not your lackey. Do not look at this body and mistakenly think of your errand boy. I may not have all of my powers, but I'm still more powerful than you, and we share no love or loyalty. I'm here to serve my own interests. You're a tool toward that end; that is all. If I find that you are no longer useful, I will kill you myself, do you understand?"

The fight didn't leave her blue eyes, but she nodded, and I released her.

"Now that we're clear on who's in charge," I said, "what plans have you for retrieving the rose bush from the Druids?"

She tugged at her jacket and straightened herself to full height. "We failed. My daughter sabotaged us." She spit the next words out with evident distaste. This was not a woman who enjoyed admitting weakness. "We're not strong enough to fight them alone. That's why we need you."

Her daughter sounded intriguing. I made a mental note to get to know her better. Something inside me, something left over from my host, awakened at the mention of this girl.

"I cannot singlehandedly win you this victory. You go up against powers greater, even, than my own. But I might be able to help in other ways."

She crossed her arms over her ample chest. "Such as?"

"There are objects of power that can aid us. I just need to locate one and negotiate the right deal to retrieve it. In the meantime, you need to prepare your coven for the solstice ceremony. Without every piece in place, this will all be for naught."

A gleam brightened her eyes. "I'll do my part, Demon. Just be ready to do yours. You'll have what you need for the transference of power. I've waited too long, toiled for this for too many years, to lose it all now. David O'Conner and his family will fall, and upon their ashes I will be raised up into the power I've always deserved."

Libre Baskerville
Gentium Book Basic
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