The Master sits at a cafe across the street, sipping spiced wine despite the far southern heat. The shadow of a smile dances across his lips. He thinks he’s escaped. That he’s made a clean break. Hard to believe that just six days ago he stood over me, covered in my innards, binding me with incantations while he harvested his due: one liver, one kidney, two pints of blood. I finger the scar on my abdomen and pat the visa papers in my pocket.
I don’t bother to hide my approach, though I keep my blade sheathed. A cadre of city guards stand at the corner. Besides, I’m prohibited by geas from hurting Losius without his express permission. Just as well. A quick death is too good for a wizard. Ten used to say that before he was butchered, while we practiced the spell we’d stolen from Losius’ grimoire. As I close on the cafe, I wonder which parts of Losius Acharya used to be Ten. Ten’s strong arms, thick with muscle from chopping wood? His emerald eyes?
Losius looks up finally when I pull a chair out at his table and sit across from him.
“Nine!” he says, smiling. He has the gall to bare his perfect teeth. Whose teeth, I wonder? Six? “You followed me all the way here? That’s terribly adorable, my pet.”
“I’m not your pet.” I stay calm. I’m not stupid. Losius Acharya could leave me paralyzed with a single word. That’s his power over me. His homunculus.
“No?” He takes a sip of wine. “Then, why are you here?”
“I’m here to make amends.”
“I wanted to… apologize.” I maintain eye contact. Will myself to relax. “I know we can’t go back to the way things were. But I wish it hadn’t happened that way.”
He raises an eyebrow. “You butchered the rest of the homunculi like animals, Nine.”
I shake my head. “It was their choice. Our choice. Our only way to be free.”
He chuckles. “I admit, I admire the resolve. I thought the geas was airtight. You couldn’t hurt me, you couldn’t hurt yourself. It hadn’t occurred to me that you would kill each other.”
“They were in pain, Losius.”
“Can you really feel pain? I was careful about that bit. You don’t really have a proper nervous system. Not like a human.”
I grit my teeth, remembering what it felt like when Ten lost his sight, his arms. His voice. When I lost Ten. The sad shuffling of the older homunculi, missing parts. The despair of our harem, the smell of sweat and salt and sadness.
The smell of humans.
We’d all decided together, though. What we needed to do to escape. It was only chance that Losius caught me, at the end, forced me to live.
“We can feel pain,” I say.
He shrugs. “As you say. So why did you follow me here, really? Do you wish to rejoin my service? Like the old days?”
I shudder. “I came to ask a favor.”
He raises an eyebrow, waiting.
“I want you to remove the geas. To let me die.”
“Truly?” He clicks his tongue. “I’m disappointed, Nine. I was saving you for your heart, you know, for that tenacity. Before you went rotten. All that work and I can’t even use your heart.” He licks his lips. “Do you see Ten, when you look at me?”
Bastard. But I do. In his eyes, and his arms. I try not to think about how much of Ten might be inside him. It will make this harder.
“This is tenacity.” I say “I won’t stop following you while I draw breath. I’ll follow you across deserts and mountains. I’ll chase you over the sea. I’ll watch you at every cafe, at every inn and tavern. I’ll listen to you fucking your painted women, and count your breaths as you sleep alongside them.”
“And if I killed you now, instead?”
My turn to shrug. “Then I get my wish.”
“Oh! You are a clever one. Tragic, really, that you developed a taste for Ten. Very well. I’ll grant your wish. I’ll enjoy watching you snuff out your own life. Seems appropriate.” He whispers something under his breath, and my skin crawls suddenly, like being bathed in spiders.
“May I use your blade?”
He chuckles and places his dagger on the table. I take it and set it to my stomach, right where he’d cut me earlier, through shirt and into shining scar tissue. I push it in. There is pain. Not in my stomach, but in my heart, for all the evils visited on my lover and my friends. On me.
Then I begin whispering the spell I practiced with Ten.
Losius frowns. “What’s that? I can’t hear you.”
I ignore him, continuing the incantation. Losius’ eyes widen when he realizes what I’m doing, but too late. The spell of silence is cast. He gasps like a fish and leaps from his chair. He’s mute now. No more spells for Losius.
“Help!” I scream. “I’ve been stabbed!”
The guards run at the disturbance.
“My homunculus!” I yell. “He’s turned on me!”
The guards wrestle the mute wizard down. “I’m Losius Acharya.” I say, pulling out the visa papers I’d stolen from the wizard’s room earlier. “You won’t get much out of him.” I nod over at the real Losius. “He’s mute.”
At first Ten and I had despaired. What good would a spell of silence do?
A guard scans my papers and grunts. “You want to put him down yourself?”
I shake my head. “No. A quick death is too good for him. Let him rot in the cell.”
The guards nod and wrestle Losius to his feet. They frog-march him away, down the street and into silence. I take a sip of spiced wine. Malgenot, ’32, notes of cherry. It had always been Ten’s favorite.
Daniel Patrick Rosen writes speculative fiction and swing music. He grew up on a tiny farm in northern Minnesota, nourished by raw venison and Earl Grey tea. His short fiction has appeared in Apex, IGMS, and many more.