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TITLE: Sign of the Wyrm
WORD COUNT: 69,103
SUMMARY: A wyrm and his accidental assistant must stop a crazy lightning god from taking over the world.
The old gypsy woman lay face down on the fortune telling table. She was not breathing.
“I doubt it was her heart,” said Askell. “The old witch was as strong as an ox.”
Wyrd cautiously stepped over a couple of brightly colored pillows strewn across the floor of the wagon which the old woman had made her home. The wagon was as large as a hovel, crowded with shelves of strange objects and burnt candle stubs. A large dark scrying mirror stood at the end of space, along with a gilded birdcage. Inside the birdcage was a black snake with bright eyes. Wyrd opened the cage and the snake slithered out to coil around her wrist.
“Well, what do you think it was?”
The snake flicked out a tongue, tasting the air. “Bring me closer to the body.” While Askell could not speak aloud, his voice rang as clear as a bell in her head.
As she stepped back toward the table, she said, “You do know what this means, don't you? We're free. I can feel the binding fading as we speak.” The old gypsy woman had taken her and Askell from their previous master and bound her with a very old enchantment that she had believed almost no one knew. But now that she was gone, the enchantment was disintegrating.
“Yes. But it may not be as simple as it may seem.” Askell slid over the fortune telling table, scattering a stack of playing cards. He scented the air close to the dead woman. “She was poisoned.”
“I do not know. She did not eat anything when she came back an hour ago, did she?”
“No. She just went straight to the table. You saw her. She was angry after her meeting with her nephew.” Wyrd suddenly blew out a breath. “Good gods. Her nephew. I should have thought of that first.”
“We must hurry, then.”
Wyrd rushed over to the wagon door to check the locks and then brushed away a thick blue curtain to peer out a slitted window. Despite the small central bonfire and the flickering candlelight emanating from the other wagons, the gypsy camp in the forested outskirts of Whitehaven appeared dark and empty in the twilight.
“Right.” Wyrd grabbed the small sack that contained the rest of her clothes and a small chest that the gypsy woman hid underneath the large pillows that she had used as a bed. She took one of the dead woman's hairpins and fumbled with the lock. There was a small pouch of coins inside that would be enough to tide them over until she found a job or another master.
“What are you doing?” Askell had moved toward the mirror at the back of the wagon. He grimaced, showing fangs, in irritation. “Take the whole thing.”
“The entire chest will weigh us down,” she explained. “The camp is clear now, but we probably don't have much time to put as much distance between us and this place when we make a run for it.”
“Running takes too much effort. I have a more expedient solution.”
The wagon door suddenly rattled.
Wyrd momentarily froze. “He's here,” she whispered. The old gypsy's nephew was a magician. While the old woman was alive, she had occasionally been allowed outside of the wagon. The magician had seen her then. And from his oily gaze, there was no doubt that he knew what she was. If she didn't get out of there soon, she would be bound again—to a master far worse than the dead witch on the fortune telling table.
“Stop being silly and come on!”
Askell's berating tone snapped her out of the momentary paralysis and she clutched the sack and small chest as she turned to look at the mirror. Its black surface had turned smokey.
“You know mirror magic?” she said, surprised.
The black snake made a disgruntled noise. “I learned some things from Old Dearing. You could have learned it too, if you had stopped acting like a pampered little brat.”
“I was not pampered! Dearing never had a daughter...”
The wagon door shook again, with more force.
Wyrd stared at the mirror and swallowed. “Where is this going?”
Askell slid up her wrist and bobbed his head in reassurance. “Some place safe. Granted, I've never done this before, but I'm sure we'll end up somewhere close to Scafell.”
“You've never done this before? And where the blazes is Scafell?”
The banging at the door steadily got louder. The sound of splintering wood jerked her into action.
“I hope you know what you're doing!” she shouted at Askell as she leaped into the mirror.