“Money, money, money, money, money,” he chanted. He failed to conjure any, and the tabletop remained bare. From a darkened corner came the clicking scrabble of claws on tile. A lone candle burned low and guttered in an errant gust. The sorcerer cursed and spat at the dwindling flame, and his flying spittle burst into tiny green balls of fire. He rose, scratched at his ass with ragged fingernails, and removed a heavy pendant from around his neck. He dropped it onto the table where it fell with a dull thud, the tiny links of iron chain followed to form a neat pile. He stretched, spread his spindly arms and opened his bony chest wide, and his stringy fingers of muscle strained under the motion. The tattoos that covered his grey flesh were all but invisible in the dying candlelight, but the stylized eye of Myrr’klon stared balefully from the protruding expanse of his fat belly, its iris lost in the well that formed his bellybutton.

“Irakan, to me,” he rasped, and snapped his fingers. A small ball of straw-colored light blossomed to his right, like a gob of bile caught in mid-air. It expanded, grew gangly arms and dangling legs; tiny insectile wings sprouted from its misshapen back, and a cherubic face unfolded from a doughy ball of a head. It was a beautiful face, sprouted in sharp contrast to the grotesquery of the body beneath it.

“Master?” it asked, cocking its head to one side. Its voice was a cacophonous mélange of sound, like the scrape of metal on stone buttered with the dulcet tones of a harpsichord. It whispered and shouted in the same breath.

“What is the matter with this damnable thing?” the sorcerer asked. He splayed a wizened palm over the top of the amulet. “I paid a dear price for this, and I insist that it work!”

The homunculus buzzed over the table and flew tight circles over the object in question. It squinted its dark eyes. The baleful yellow light that emanated from the creature washed everything out and cast hard black shadows that shifted and danced with its furtive movements.

“Well?” the sorcerer asked.

The creature looked from the amulet to its master, then back again. Once more it circled the clump of iron links, then moved to hover over it. It dangled one tiny toe down and hooked one of the links with a blackened claw of a nail. It rose, iridescent wings straining, and cleared the chain away so that it might have a better look at the talisman beneath. As the detailed face of the rude chunk of metal became more apparent the homunculus gasped, then dropped the chain and flew up to the ceiling of the room.

“No, no. No, no, no, no!” it squealed.

“No?” the sorcerer roared and craned his head to peer up at the mewling creature. “No, what?”

“Master,” the creature whispered, and flew closer, but avoided the table before hovering behind the sorcerer. “You, you paid coin for this?”

The sorcerer stumped around to face the homunculus. His eyes burned redly in the yellow light. “I did! I was promised it would allow me to conjure further wealth from the very aether itself!”

“And perhaps it has, oh master, but not for you.”

“Speak not to me in riddles, creature, or I’ll banish you back to the base bits of flesh and carrion from which you were formed!”

At the threat, the creature covered its face with its chubby hands and shuddered. “The amulet, master, is worthless. A raw chunk of iron with fancy sigils graved upon it, but nothing more. Even these supposed runes explain the nature of the thing.” It uncovered its face and flew around the sorcerer to hover over the amulet. It squinted and read “Made in Toran, it says. There’s even a date, next to this maker’s mark.”

The sorcerer coughed, and the cough turned into a gurgling chuckle. He plucked the amulet from the table and held it close to his face, then nodded and tossed it into the shadows. A meaty thunk followed by an angry squeak exploded from the darkness and the sorcerer outright laughed.

“Fooled again, I suppose,” he said, once the merriment left him. He frowned and dismissed the homunculus with a clap, causing it to disappear in a puff of yellow smoke. The candle sputtered and went out.

2014.08.28 – 2023.04.24

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