- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 1
- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 2
- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 3
- Malady Place – E102 “The Roomie Rules” Act 1
- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 4
- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 5
- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 6
Winter felt a heavy, soft blanket dropped around her shoulders. She hadn’t heard Renee or anyone else leave or enter the room and there had been no blankets in the room where they met with Yu, so she could only guess where it came from.
It wasn’t helping much. Only half her shivering was from cold and that cold seemed to emanate from inside her; something being generated rather than the mere absence of heat.
Next, an unfired clay mug of some hot, dark liquid was thrust into her hands.
“Drink it.” Renee’s voice was uncharacteristically soft. “Investitures are rough even when you’re prepared for it. You’ll get over it though.” She put her hand on the bottom of the mug and pushed up to maneuver it up to her mandatory best friend’s lips.
Winter let it happen, parting her lips just enough to allow some of the drink int her mouth. Somehow, she’d been expecting tea, but it was coffee. Good coffee and just the way she liked it: no cream enough sugar for a sweet aftertaste and a hint of the hazelnut syrup she added whenever she went to a coffee shop.
She glanced at Renee only for her boss to shrug and say, “Magic.”
That shouldn’t have even been a surprise anymore. Winter swallowed, the hot coffee sending heat down into her freezing core and wetting her dry mouth. “What…” She started, but her throat wasn’t yet moist enough to manage real speech.
“What did I do to you?” Yu Lung shifted in font of her, reminding her that the cherry wood decoration in front of her was an actual living being. “A better way of putting it is what have I done for you. Very few mortals can say they received an investiture from a member of the Court of Dragons.”
Renee smirked. “The fibbies don’t even know there is a Court of Dragons, Yu. Give the kid a break instead of going all Sin of Pride on her—you know who it makes you sound like.”
A hiss like steam being released came from Yu, making Winter jump. It was followed by a more human-sounding chuckle. “Perhaps, Faust.” He lowered his head to examine the shivering young woman. “Winter, you say your name is?”
Winter nodded through the shakes, taking another sip of coffee to try and soothe them.
“Then Winter, you have now been given a piece of my power. Where other humans can only draw upon this world’s magic and the spells it can be used for, you are now connected to me and thus draw power from my Realm instead.”
There were so many questions she needed to ask just from those few words, but before she could ask even one, Renee was pushing the cup to her lips again. While she drank, the demoness watched pensively.
“Look, Snowy… I’m not good at admitting my flaws—that’s one of my many flaws, actually. But usually, I’m strong enough or quick enough that I don’t have to deal with the consequences, so I just say ‘yay me’ and ‘boo consequences’, then go out for gelato.”
The bewildered and put upon expression Winter was giving her over the rim of her mug prompted her to cough nervously and cut to the chase. “So yeah, there’s usually no real consequences… but this time… this time you got hurt. Not just hurt, you nearly became a minion of Hell. Worse than Hell—Zaimiel.”
She scratched her arm, suddenly finding that more interesting than looking Winter in the eye. “What I’m trying to say is that I’m sorry. Really sorry. Which given the minion of Hell thing, isn’t nearly enough. So if there’s anything you need from her on out; money, training for your new magic, moving a couch—you just ask me.”
Winter gripped the mug in her hands. It had been a very long time since she felt quiet so emotionally drained. In fact, she was certain she’d never been so drained. From the disappointment over what her job really entailed, to deciding to prove herself, to the giant, messy blur in the middle where there were imps and her forehead was burning and now she apparently almost became a minion of Hell, but was now probably the minion of an animate, wooden dragon…
“No. Oh come on, no.” Renee put her hands on Winter’s shoulders, awkwardly holding her at arm’s length. “don’t cry Snowy. Everything’s okay now, I promise. Zaimiel’s mark is gone, you’re going to learn cool new spells—hey, Yu is going to teach you how to breath Creation Fire. Doesn’t that sound fun?”
Winter hadn’t even realized she was crying until Renee called attention to it. She was so preoccupied in stopping herself from doing so, that she missed the next part.
“When did I agree to that?” Yu huffed and the comatose man sitting across from them snorted in his sleep.
Renee shot Yu a dirty look. “She’s crying, Yu! Come on, give her a break and teach her how to use your people’s most sacred power!”
“Even if that wasn’t a serious line I would be crossing with the Court, one cannot simply teach—“
At that moment, Winter slammed the mug down on the table and wailed, “I have no idea what’s going on! My life exploded into a big cloud of complete insanity, now things keep happening to me and no one bothers telling me how or why any of it’s happening! With the beaked demon and now the dragon and… I’m cold inside—am I dead? Am I even human anymore?!”
Completely spent, she collapsed, head nearly striking the mug as it hit the table. She stared at it as she lay there. “Just someone please tell me what’s happening to me. I won’t even complain. I just…” Unable to continue, she just sniffed.
Unexpectedly, she found herself enveloped in a hug from behind. Renee seemed to have draped herself over her back like a very large cat.
“Aw, it’s okay, Snowy. Like I said, it’s done now. Zaimiel tried to put his mark on you to blackmail me into doing some shady job for the Lightbringer. That’s… the burning forehead thing. IF we left it, you’d… well turn into a demonic thrall Zaimiel controlled.”
A small whimper escaped Winter, which prompted Renee to hug harder.
“No, no, no. It’s okay. I brought you here so Yu could fix you. And he did, Snowy. He fixed you and made you even better.”
“Better?” Winter asked in a small voice.
Renee was quiet just a little too long, but finally came back with. “Well I think it’s getter. Now that you take power from his world, you get much better magic than humans usually get: conjuring and transmutation.”
“So I can do that and warding?” The nervous chuckle from her boss was all the confirmation she needed that this was not the case.
“What?!” She sat up so fast that Renee was caught off guard and tumbled to the floor behind her. “You mean I spent years studying how to protect and heal people and now I… I can’t?!”
“Technically, the Fire of Creation can heal?” Renee said from the floor.
“Be thankful that you sacrificed so little for so great a gift.” Yu interjected. “You would have lost that and your humanity had Zaimiel’s mark taken you.”
Not having given that much thought, Winter’s tirade ground to a halt. “Oh.” was all she could manage.
Rolling into a sitting position, Renee grinned at her. “Yep, we saved your life—well the parts worth living at least. And seeing as you don’t have horns or a lust for human blood, I’d say having to spend time learning new spells isn’t really so bad a trade, right?”
“I-I guess not.” Winter relented. Tears were still pricking her eyes, but they weren’t falling anymore.
Renee’s grin subsided when its was clear that Winter wasn’t sharing her enthusiasm. She sighed, realizing just how far she was removed from the humans she’d been trying to blend with for longer than she could remember. “Look, I know this is really hard for you… and us not explaining anything probably made it worse. So how about this: well answer any questions you might have.”
In the back of her head, Winter wondered if there was enough time between then and when the sun burned out to fulfill that promise. She decide to start small, with something she hoped wouldn’t disturb her over-much. “O-okay… who’s that?”
She inclined her head toward the sleeping man who was partially wrapped in Yu’s coils.
The dragon purred, seemed to remember himself, and laughed instead. “That would be me. My public face at least. Kentaro Yuegami.”
Winter narrowed her eyes. “He’s Chinese… with a Japanese name?”
Yu huffed. “That… is a long story.”
“I helped him steal this place from another dragon.” Renee chirped. “The last guy was Japanese, Yu is Chinese, and it takes a while for his influence to overwrite everything the other guy made here.”
Winter stared at them. That didn’t even begin to make sense and she didn’t know how to convey that to the pair.
Yu huffed again, which seemed to be his version of Renee’s nervous cough. “We—and that now includes you to a much—much smaller extent—alter our local reality. For the humans and other less attuned beings, this is now and has always been a Chinese establishment.. with a few minor details that luckily the locals attribute to cultural cross-pollination.
“Eventually, they will not remember any of the elements my predecessor put into place, Kentaro Yuegami will have always been Yu Dai Ling, and that will be that. If one of my European compatriots had taken over, this would likely be a French restaurant with bits of Japanese cuisine inexplicably on the menu.
“Have you ever wondered why every few years fusion cuisine becomes popular? That would be them.” said Renee.
Winter tried to process that and failed. The FBI knew nothing about dragons, or alterations to reality. The repercussions were enormous if they or anyone could use that ability freely. She held up a hand and stared at it. There didn’t seem to be anything different about it, but there was—she could feel it.
“And… I can do that sort of thing too?”
Yu laughed, doing so correctly this time. “Not on that scale, of course. You are still, after all, a tiny human with a sliver of my power. But with training, you will be able to affect small changes against small numbers in close proximity.”
Winter continued looking at her hand. “What would happen if I tried to cast a spell I know now?”
That gave Yu pause. His mouth opened and closed a few times as he tried to find an answer. “I… you know, I have no idea. Investiture is rare and almost never done to trained spellcasters.”
Renee’s grin returned, manic with glee. “Oh, try one, Snowy! Let’s see what you can do!” She was clapping like a child excited to see what her birthday party magician had in his magic hat.
Knowing there was little chance she would get away with refusing, Winter nodded and raised both hands, pressing them against an imaginary barrier. She closed her eyes and filled in the details of a basic shield spell to ward of direct physical attacks. It was simple, it was fast, and she hoped that even with a new power source, it was safe.
But instead of the solid nothingness the shield spell should have conjured, she briefly felt the kiss of metal against her palms—which promptly fell away. Something heavy hit the table with a bang, startling her out of her concentration.
Her eyes flew open and she found before her one shattered mug of very good coffee… and a medieval iron shield straight out of a King Arthur movie. It had the familiar shape she recalled from the covers of a thousand fantasy novels, and was painted green with a white heraldic griffin in the center.
Yu glared down at the offending object, then at Winter. “A griffin? Is that the thanks I receive for saving your humanity?”
“It wasn’t on purpose!” Winter squeaked. “I was trying to cast a shield spell and…”
Beside her, Renee burst into laughter. “Snowy,t his is great! You can make things and humiliate Yu!” Before the sentence was out of her mouth, the shield started to lose coherence, its edges becoming undefined and hazy until it suddenly flew apart in a swirl of vapor.
“Extremely temporary on both counts.” Yu rumbled.
“And yet still so much better than wards.” said Renee. “We are gong to have to experiment when we get home.”
Winter had been staring at the place the shield had been, marveling at the strange new ability she’d been given. That was cut short when she heard what Renee said.
“When… we get home?”
Renee opened her moth, then thought better of it, becoming sheepish. “Well… the thing is, until I get to the bottom of—until we get to the bottom of what Zaimiel and the Lightbringer are up to, they might still come after you.”
That made Winter flinch.
“Oh, don’t worry. They’re not going to get to you. Last time I wasn’t prepared and Zai-Zai got the jump on me. But from now on, you’re under my complete protection.” She smiled in a way Winter was sure she thought was reassuring but it really, really wasn’t. “And since my place is likely bigger and in a better location…”
She held out a fisted hand and opened it to reveal an old-fashioned brass key. “What do you say… roomie?”
End “Meeting Miss Faust”