The knock came when Jinx was up to his elbows in suds, attempting to scrub hardened green goo off of what felt like half the solid objects in the house. He sighed quietly and left the plate he'd been working on to soak (the best plate left in the house after numerous 'accidents') and went to go see who it was. They very rarely got visitors - Master Shari worked very hard to ensure that - so the fact that someone was at the door at all couldn't mean anything good.
He wiped his hands off on his apron as he padded across the all-purpose kitchen, dining room, sitting room, and whatever else Master Shari declared it to be room, maneuvering effortlessly around the torn spots in the threadbare rugs that Master Shari seemed to be constantly tripping on yet could never be bothered to fix. Maybe it was just one more method of deterring visitors.
Whoever was at the door knocked a second time just as Jinx got to it, his hand still slightly raised as the door swung open. Jinx took one look and tensed, a low growl sounding deep in his throat as his tail lashed back and forth in annoyance. If he'd been in his feline form, his fur would have all been standing up.
"Whitney," he snarled.
The wizard smirked, an unpleasant expression making his sharp features appear even more distasteful than usual. "Ah, the pretty familiar. Shari have another accident?" he inquired, eyeing Jinx's apron and the leftover green goo still sticking to it.
"Go away Whitney," Jinx hissed, flexing his hands and contemplating shifting to his feline form so he could put his claws to good use. Maybe give Whitney a few new scars to match the old ones Jinx had left when the idiot wizard had attempted to 'acquire' him.
"Now now, little familiar," Whitney said patronizingly, making Jinx growl. "You're getting above your station again. Run along and tell your master that I've come to call."
Jinx bared his teeth. "Master Shari left specific orders on what to do if you showed up again, wizard. He doesn't want to see you. Ever."
Whitney's smirk slid into something that might have been considered a smile on a less slimy man. "That was merely a misunderstanding, little kitten. If you'll just show me in, I'm sure Shari and I can clear it up."
Jinx snorted. "Once is a misunderstanding. Four times is not. You're a thief and a sorry excuse for a human. Go away, before I make you."
Now Whitney's expression couldn't be called anything but a sneer. "You? Make me? I am a wizard, and a powerful one. You are nothing more than a weak familiar who cannot use his own magic. You would do well to be more respectful to me."
"A 'powerful' wizard wouldn't have to stoop to stealing spells from my Master," Jinx pointed out, rewarded when Whitney scowled at him. That was better. Better still would be Whitney leaving, preferably in a hurry, but unfortunately Whitney was right about Jinx's capabilities. He really wished Master Shari would work a third form into the shapeshifting spell, a panther or some other dangerous animal with teeth and claws he could use on annoyances like Whitney, but he had to be satisfied with just two shapes.
Which was more than most familiars had as it was. The spell that let Jinx take on a humanoid shape (though not completely human, as he retained his ears and tail) and didn't limit him to merely being a talking cat was one of Master Shari's original spells that no one else seemed to have been able to duplicate. Though Whitney had tried. The spell on Jinx was the reason Whitney had tried to abduct him, and consequently wore permanent scars on one cheek.
As well as other places.
"Familiar," Whitney ground out, his very tone reinforcing the fact that Jinx was something between a servant and a slave, "Inform your Master that I have come to call."
"Inform him yourself," Jinx hissed. "That is, if you can get that far."
Puzzled, Whitney took a step forward into the cottage. When nothing appeared to happen he smirked in triumph, taking another step in - and crossing the threshold. There was a brief orange flash (Master Shari was still trying to figure out why that happened) and the wizard screamed in pain. He flailed wildly at his own clothes, stumbling backwards out of the house and heaving in breaths of air as he left the spell's area of influence. A pity. Jinx had rather been enjoying the show.
"Wh... what was..." Whitney stammered.
Before Jinx could do more than smirk in anticipation of explaining Master Shari's "Keep Out" spell, a voice spoke up from somewhere behind him.
"Jinx? Who set off the..."
Jinx turned as Master Shari trailed off, feeling the prickle of magic in the air as Master Shari's temper promptly crossed the boiling point.
"You!" Master Shari snarled furiously. In perfect counterpoint to his anger his already brilliant red hair went from hot to flaming - literally.
"Your hair is on fire again," Jinx pointed out calmly, unsurprised when Master Shari ignored him in favor of stalking past the front door and glaring furiously up at Whitney.
"You were told never to come back," Master Shari hissed. His expression reminded Jinx of an angry, dangerous wild animal about to maul someone. It never failed to leave him feeling utterly bewildered when the people it was directed at didn't flee for their lives. But then, fleeing would be the intelligent thing to do. Maybe he should call this Master Shari's Stupid People look.
"But Shari," Whitney oozed, "I had new spells I wanted to share, and a trinket I picked up for you in-"
"I don't care," Master Shari spat. "I want you gone, now. You have until I finish chanting."
He grasped one of the small objects hanging on a cord around his neck - the bat-wing one if Jinx wasn't mistaken - and began to rapidly intone a series of words. Whitney paled, attempting to stammer out platitudes before apparently thinking better of it and making a hasty retreat.
Jinx counted to twenty, backwards, then stepped outside next to Master Shari. Wordlessly he offered his hand, only wincing a little as Master Shari gripped it tightly. All the magic Master Shari had built up for the unneeded spell flooded through him in a hot rush. Like bathing in liquid fire, only not painful.
For Jinx anyway. Jinx was a familiar, and designed for such things. Anyone else attempting to absorb that much magic would probably die from the agony.
If Master Shari's temper didn't kill them first.
"My apologies, Master," Jinx said quietly once Master Shari's hair had died down to merely giving off trickles of smoke rather than full flame. "I should have been able to get rid of him before he reached the Keep Out spell."
Master Shari snorted and looked at him, the wisps of smoke billowing up from his head finally beginning to die as well. "The spell was designed for chance idiots, not supreme imbeciles. I can hardly expect you to get someone to see reason when they have no brain to reason with." He spun on his heel, tattered homespun robes twirling out before settling back down, then stalked back inside.
By the time Jinx padded back in, he only caught a brief glimpse of Master Shari's heels disappearing upstairs as his master headed up to his workroom. He shook his head, a faint smile upon his lips, and went back to the sink to resume his battle with the dishes.
It was a fairly ordinary day, as such things went, Master Shari blowing something up and Jinx having to clean it, new spells requiring his presence either so that Master Shari could tap his power or try out the spell on him, weeding of the garden, and things like that. Ordinary, that is, until the knight arrived.
Jinx had been curled up in his favorite spot in the garden (just between the castor beans and the foxglove) when he heard the dull clopping of hooves coming up the trail to the cottage. No one in the tiny nearby village owned a horse, and none of them were foolish enough to come so near to Master Shari's cottage in the first place. So Jinx uncurled and stretched, then padded his way on silent paws to the edge of the garden where he could get a better look.
Slinking underneath one of the broad rhubarb leaves where his black fur blended in nicely with the shadows, he watched in astonishment as the knight rode into view. The horse was rather nice, to judge from Jinx's limited knowledge of such things, though the knight seemed slightly less well kept. He stopped a few paces from the cottage door and dismounted, then drew his sword.
Jinx gaped. Could the knight really be that dumb?
Apparently so, for he strode up to the door, kicked it until it buckled and opened, and strode inside.
Well, partially inside. Master Shari's Keep Out spell was very aptly named, after all. Jinx watched in fascination as the knight stumbled back out again, tripping over something (probably one of the horrible rugs) and landed hard on his butt. Well, that had been strange.
Abandoning his hiding spot in the rhubarb, Jinx raced along the edge of the garden and leapt up into a windowsill where he began diligently washing one paw. For appearances, mainly, but also because he'd stepped on a bug during his dash to the house and bug guts between one's toes was very uncomfortable.
The knight switched from gaping at the door to gaping at him. Jinx finished washing his paw and sat up to pin the man beneath his gaze. (However pinning a small black cat's gaze could be, anyway.)
"That was a very stupid thing to do," he informed the knight, who jumped and scrambled for his sword. Jinx sighed, waited until the man had gotten to his feet, then nudged the window open and jumped inside. From a nice safe distance of several feet beyond the door, he sat down on the rug a few inches from one of the torn spots and tried again.
"Now then, may I inquire what possessed you to kick in the front door of a witch's cottage?" Jinx asked politely. "That's a very good way to get yourself cursed."
"Begone foul demon!" the knight exclaimed, rushing through the open doorway past what remained of the front door before collapsing on the floor in a screaming pile of pain.
Jinx sighed and triggered the spell that allowed him to transform into his humanoid form, grabbing hold of the writhing knight's armor and dragging him back out the front door. The man continued to scream for another minute, apparently not noticing that the pain had ceased the moment he was past the threshold, then gradually the noise faded and died. Jinx waited patiently as the man sat up, gingerly touching himself, then looked up.
"Now then," Jinx said calmly, "I suggest you not attempt violence again, and answer my original question."
"What kind of demon are you?" the knight asked suspiciously.
Jinx heaved a sigh, the end of his tail twitching back and forth the only outward display of his growing irritation. "I am a familiar, a lesser demon summoned and bound to an animal form for the purpose of aiding and providing power to the witch who called me. My Master, being a particularly powerful witch, cast a spell upon me that allows me to assume a human form for the ease of interaction with others." He crossed his arms. "I answered your question, so would you please answer mine now?"
The knight got slowly to his feet, eyeing Jinx with a wary expression. "His Majesty the King has decreed that all witches are to be put to death immediately," he declared in what he probably thought was an imperial manner, but came off as rather whiny to Jinx's ear.
"Right." Jinx snorted. "Good luck with that." He turned around and walked back into the cottage, propping what was left of the door up against the door frame. Master Shari wasn't going to be pleased when he had to fix it later.
A startled shout sounded outside, but Jinx ignored it in favor of pondering what to make for supper. Master Shari tended to eat whatever Jinx made without a word, but he'd noted a definite preference for certain things...
The door clattered to the floor in a loud crash - and several pieces - though the knight appeared to have learned at least one lesson as he was standing just on the far side of the doorway. With his sword drawn. Jinx grimaced.
"Demon! Do not ignore me!" the knight bellowed.
Jinx rolled his eyes and was about to ask if all knights were as stupid as he was when Master Shari's voice rang out.
"You are going to wish I did ignore you when I'm through with you."
It was about time. Given the racket and the number of times the idiot set off the Keep Out spell, Master Shari must have been involved in some fairly complicated spellwork that he was only now coming down to investigate. Jinx returned to his cat shape and hopped up onto a table to watch.
Master Shari's hair was smoking quite a bit as the knight spouted off Knightly Drivel and such, but his annoyance with the man never quite managed to snap his temper as no flames ever appeared. He stood just out of range of the knight's sword, intoning his spells in a voice that was remarkably calm for Master Shari, finishing with a sweep of his hand through the air that Jinx knew scattered some sort of powder over the knight. Dried frog lips or powdered hens' teeth, maybe.
"Dendrobatidae," Master Shari finished. There was a puff of orange smoke, a startled yelp, and the knight was gone.
Master Shari drew a small glass jar out of one sleeve and stepped forward to kneel in the doorway, the bulk of his robes obscuring what, precisely, he was doing from Jinx's view. Jinx hopped down off the table and padded over, peering around Master Shari's knee at the jar.
Which now held a brightly colored frog.
"Master?" Jinx queried.
Master Shari's hair had ceased to give off even a hint of smoke. In fact, a slight smile was beginning to quirk his lips. "Much better," he commented, petting Jinx's head before standing and turning back toward his workroom. "I needed a new poison frog."
Jinx wondered if he ought to mention the door, eventually deciding that it could wait. With all the spells on the house, it wasn't like they really needed a door after all.
They did, however, need supper, so Jinx changed back to his human form (hands were really very useful things, even lacking claws) and went in search of his apron.
Unfortunately, the Stupid Knight was only the first of many who came to fulfill the king's edict. Master Shari called a wall of wicked thorns to surround the cottage after the third knight, which succeeded in keeping them out rather well for a few months until someone managed to get ahold of an enchanted sword and began chopping through.
In a way, Jinx was rather glad to see the thorn wall go. Getting supplies from the village was a huge pain when he had to take them underneath the thorns one at a time in his cat form.
He supposed he ought to consider himself fortunate that the villagers would still trade with them even after the king's proclamation, but the stress of the never ending stream of knights and soldiers had severely worn down his inclination to be charitable. Besides, the reality of Master Shari was much more frightening than some vague distant king in his castle. The villagers knew what Master Shari was capable of, and exactly where his boundaries lay, and were quite diligent in their mindfulness thereof.
In return, Master Shari ignored them for the most part, and his presence kept many of the nastier monsters out of this area of the kingdom. Few were those creatures foolish enough to take on a witch of Master Shari's caliber.
Unfortunately, humans were ever more foolish than even the dumbest beast. After Master Shari's thorn wall failed, he simply began turning his would-be killers into whatever creature struck his fancy at the time. A few of them he kept for his spells, though most of them he had Jinx send back to the castle by way of the village messenger. Not too long after that the number of idiot knights seeking Master Shari's head dropped off considerably.
Though not completely.
It was almost luncheon and Jinx had been soaking up the sun in his cat form, drowsily contemplating going back inside to begin fixing a light noontime snack, when the knight arrived.
The difference between this knight and the ones that had come before was obvious, even at a distance. He was absolutely perfect, not a speck of dust on his shining silver armor no matter how much dirt he had to have kicked up on his journey. His pristine white horse was meticulously groomed, its tack as spotless as the knight's clothing, and both of them appeared to be attempting to embody the very essence of man and horse. Of a knight.
They stopped at the edge of the garden path, the knight dismounting and removing his helm. Jinx stared. Bright blond hair that didn't appear to have suffered for its confinement, even having the audacity to show a hint of a wave. A handsome face with a touch of tan from time spent in the sun. He certainly looked better than the other knights Jinx had seen. Now if only he was smarter too.
The knight walked boldly up to the door and Jinx winced, then blinked as the knight merely knocked upon it. Maybe there was hope for this one after all.
Jinx stood and leapt up onto the windowsill, slipping inside the cat way. Once in, he shifted back to his human (more or less) form - just as Master Shari came down the stairs from his workroom.
"Another knight?" Master Shari asked, making a face.
"At least he knocked," Jinx pointed out. "And he's quite handsome."
Master Shari blinked, the expression of annoyance on his face shifting to one of surprise. He went and peered out one of the windows for a moment, then looked back at jinx, appearing thoughtful.
"Master?" Jinx asked curiously.
"Hmm..." Master Shari said, crossing over to the door (miraculously missing the holes in the rug for once) and opening it.
The knight was still standing there and eyed Master Shari with a neutral expression. Master Shari regarded him for a moment, then crossed his arms.
"Well? Not going to lay claim to my dead body?"
The knight appeared faintly surprised, though his expression swiftly returned to neutral. "I have no desire to spend the rest of my days as a lizard," he replied. His voice was just as nice as the rest of him, Jinx noted.
Master Shari stared at the man for a long moment, then snorted. "Actually, I was feeling more like spiders today."
The knight blinked, then chuckled quietly. "Having grown accustomed to this shape over the course of my life, I find I'm rather attached to it. If you don't mind."
"Hm," Master Shari said, contemplating. "Jinx?"
"Yes, Master?" Jinx asked, curious.
"Prepare luncheon for three. The blackberry today, Jinx."
It was hard to say who was more surprised, Jinx or the knight, but both recovered swiftly.
"Yes, Master," Jinx acknowledged, going over to the section of the room set aside for cooking and getting out his apron. He had no idea what Master Shari was up to, but that was none of his concern. If Master Shari wanted luncheon, then it was Jinx's job to see to it.
As he worked he heard Master Shari inform the knight that while he was allowed inside, his weapons were not. The knight put up less of a fuss than Jinx would have expected, for sooner than anticipated he felt Master Shari deactivate the Keep Out spell.
When the tea was ready (blackberry, as Master Shari had requested) he carried it and the light luncheon he'd prepared over to the small, rickety table where Master Shari and the knight were sitting.
"This is Jinx," Master Shari announced as Jinx sat down. "I am Shari. Whatever creative descriptions you and your cohorts might have come up with to describe us, you will address us by name while you are in my house."
The knight blinked slowly, then the faintest hint of a smile crept across his face. "I will keep that in mind," he replied. "My name is Byron."
"Byron, then," Master Shari acknowledged, taking a sip of his tea. "Since you seem to be less idiotic than the rest of those fools, perhaps you'll see fit to tell me why your king has suddenly decided to rid his kingdom of witches." He eyed the knight pointedly over the rim of his teacup.
The knight - Byron - shrugged. "The king's newborn daughter was cursed by a witch at her naming ceremony."
"Cursed?" Jinx echoed, glancing at Master Shari.
"Hmm," Master Shari mused. "That's rather stupid of him. Suppose one of those witches he's ordered the deaths of knew how to break the brat's curse?" He snorted and took a bite of his pastry. "Humans."
"Actually," Byron said, sounding a tad affronted, "We thought of that. At first we brought in all the witches we could find, but either nothing happened or the counter-curse went horribly wrong and worse things happened. His majesty decided that they were all in on the plot together. That's when he ordered all witches put to death."
Master Shari made a disgusted sound. "Unlikely," he muttered.
"Master," Jinx said, sitting up straighter, "What if it's firewitch magic? Since firewitch magic is mostly incompatible with normal magic, that could be what made the witches' spells go awry."
Master Shari looked thoughtful. Byron just looked confused.
"Firewitch?" he asked. "What's a firewitch?"
Jinx slid a glance over at Master Shari who was back to looking disgusted again. Byron had just lost all the points he'd gained by not being a complete idiot, it seemed.
"A firewitch is a rare type of witch," Jinx explained patiently, keeping an eye on Master Shari's hair for any signs of smoke. "They're strongly attuned to the fire element, and as a whole tend to be considerably more powerful than normal witches, though their magic is more unpredictable and tends to go askew far too often." He shot Master Shari a look, though his master only rolled his eyes in response. "Normal witches, and most magicians of any sort, really, tend to be more closely aligned with water and earth. Therefore, firewitch magic and all other types of magic, except maybe dragon magic..." Jinx trailed off, looking thoughtful, then shook his head slightly and filed the thought away to ponder later. "Are incompatible. Normal magic doesn't work right on firewitch magic and vice versa."
There was a faint crease marring Byron's forehead as he thought that over. "So how does one negate the effects of firewitch magic?" he asked.
"Don't piss one off in the first place," Master Shari commented derisively.
Byron's frown deepened as he turned it on Master Shari. The two of them attempted to stare down one another for a long moment, then Byron suddenly sat up straight. "You're a firewitch."
Master Shari snorted inelegantly. "I should have thought that was obvious."
The knight shot to his feet, his chair toppling over with a rather sharp crack. Jinx fought the urge to sigh. There went another furnishing. Byron reached for the sword he was no longer wearing, blue eyes widening as he realized he was unarmed. He took a step back, reaching for something beneath his tunic, staring at Master Shari.
"Oh you idiot!" Master Shari snapped, fingers of flame flaring up at the ends of his hair. "Sit down." When the man did no such thing, Master Shari turned toward his familiar. "Jinx."
Jinx considered, cocking his head thoughtfully. "Defensive magic, I think. Amulets maybe?" Byron's eyes widened further in surprise as he stared at Jinx. Jinx snorted. "I'm a familiar. We may not be able to use our own magic, but we can detect it just fine."
Slowly, cautiously, Byron re-seated himself. After a moment he reached beneath his shirt and drew out five small amulets on leather cords. "These won't have any effect on your magic, will they?" he asked warily.
"Most likely, no," Master Shari replied, leaning forward to take a closer look at the amulets and apparently oblivious to the way Byron was eyeing his still-smoking hair. "Though it's possible. What effect they'd have, however, is entirely up to chance." He poked at one of the amulets thoughtfully, then sat back in his own chair. "Those must have cost a small fortune."
"Yes," Byron agreed, still looking as though he would be back on his feet at any moment.
"I suppose that explains why you were willing to walk into a witch's home unarmed," Jinx commented, vaguely amused. "Although the fact that you're not running madly for your instruments of death gives you a few bravery points, I suppose."
Master Shari laughed sharply, casting a fond look at Jinx.
"I doubt they'd do me much good," Byron said, sounding rather resigned.
"No," Master Shari agreed, considerably more calm than he'd been moments before. "Drink your tea. It's getting cold."
Though clearly reluctant to touch anything now that he knew himself to be vulnerable to Master Shari's magic, the knight carefully reached out and picked up his abandoned teacup. All three of them drank in silence for a moment, Master Shari finishing off his pastries between sips, before Jinx broke the quiet as he gave voice to his thoughts.
"I wonder when another firewitch moved into the area... if it is a firewitch responsible for the princess's curse, that is. It seems so unlikely."
Byron shot him a questioning look. "Why would that be so unlikely?" he asked. "Are firewitches less likely to cast curses upon helpless princesses?"
Master Shari snorted. "Hardly. If anything, our temper means we're more prone to it." He smirked. "For example, your fellow knights."
"Besides being very rare," Jinx said in response to the first question, "Most firewitches can't stand one another. Normal witches will occasionally gather together in covens to work more complicated spells. Firewitches... well, what do you think would happen if you got a group of people, all with Master Shari's temper, and stuck them in the same room?"
Byron winced again. "I see your point."
"Very funny, Jinx," Master Shari muttered.
"It is merely the truth, Master," Jinx said mildly, hiding a smile at the way Master Shari rolled his eyes.
Byron looked back and forth between them for a moment, brow furrowed again, then exhaled slowly. "So, given what happened to the witches who attempted to counter the curse, there is a high possibility that a firewitch cast the original spell. Yet you say that such things are very rare... how rare?"
Master Shari shrugged. "I was under the impression I was the only one in this kingdom. I think my cousin lives in that tiny little kingdom on the far side of the black mountains... what's its name..."
"Seravi," Jinx supplied helpfully.
"Right." Master Shari nodded. "And the last time I got a letter from my mother she was in one of the chiefdoms on the far side of the great desert, harassing the tribesmen."
Byron drew in a slow, deep breath. "Then there is likely no one within months travel capable of undoing the princess's curse." He fixed Master Shari with an intense stare. "Except you."
Master Shari blinked, then his eyes narrowed. "No."
"It is the duty of all the kingdom's inhabitants to come to the aid of its rulers," Byron stated, sounding much like he was reciting some memorized rule.
"You did notice I'm a witch, right?" Master Shari grated. His hair was starting to smoke again. "We make things go wrong; we don't fix them. And we certainly owe no allegiance to some stupid king in his little toy castle."
"If the curse is not lifted, the princess will die ere she reaches her sixteenth birthday!" Byron exclaimed indignantly.
Master Shari glared. "Good."
Byron's crystal blue eyes narrowed, locked to Master Shari's ever-changing green-brown, then the anger melted out of him all at once. "His Majesty the king will never leave you in peace as long as his only daughter is afflicted so."
Master Shari stared for several long moments, his mouth just slightly open, then his eyes flashed and his hair burst into flame. "You... you..."
Jinx's ears lay flat against his head. "That would be horrible," he expressed. The past few months had made him understand quite clearly why Master Shari so disliked visitors. He didn't think he could handle a never ending stream of them.
Master Shari's gaze flicked to him briefly, the flames in his hair muting down to a dull burn, then fading to mere smoke as resignation overtook his expression. He ran a hand through the crimson strands, sighing deeply. Byron watched him carefully as he stood and walked away from the table.
"Jinx," Master Shari said quietly, "Pack enough for a week's journey. We'll leave at nightfall." That said, he swiftly crossed the room and vanished upstairs to his workroom.
"Nightfall?" Byron questioned, frowning. "Would it not be safer to travel by day?"
"Master Shari is a witch," Jinx reminded him, rising from his chair and collecting the dishes to take to the sink. "He has no reason to fear the night."
Byron watched him as he washed the dishes and closed up the house in anticipation of their impending absence, even going so far as to follow him to the doorway of Master Shari's bedroom while Jinx packed clothing and other necessities. Other than making certain he knew where the knight was in relation to himself, Jinx ignored him in favor of making certain he didn't forget anything. Master Shari hated traveling, and would be quite furious if anything was forgotten.
"Do you always do what he tells you to do?" Byron asked as Jinx was closing up the last of the packs.
"He is my Master," Jinx replied, looking up and blinking.
Byron frowned. "But... you're a slave."
"I am a familiar," Jinx corrected. "I am far more useful than a mere slave."
"You have no choice in your life," Byron pressed. "Whatever he tells you to do, you do it. Do you never wish for freedom?"
Jinx hefted the packs, carrying them out past Byron to the main room and setting them down on the table. "No," he replied honestly. "I prefer it here. Master Shari is not a cruel master, only a difficult one. This is a better life than I had before, and I have no desire to give it up."
"What could possibly be worse than being a slave?" Byron asked, puzzled.
"Being a powerless demon in a land of demons," Master Shari announced, coming down the stairs. He'd changed his worn robes for clothing more suited to travel, sturdy garments they'd acquired from the villagers. He'd pulled his hair back into a short braid, and there were little pouches of spell components attached everywhere.
Byron blinked and took a step back, away from Jinx. "Demon?"
Jinx sighed and turned to regard Master Shari. "Master, are there any intelligent humans?" he asked.
"Not that I've met," Master Shari replied, picking up one of the packs and striding toward the door. This time he was not so lucky as to avoid the holes in the carpets, making a startled exclamation and dropping the pack as he lost his balance. Jinx caught him before he could fall, having anticipated just such an occurrence, and carefully moved him beyond the treacherous rug area before retrieving and returning Master Shari's pack to him.
"Thank you, Jinx," Master Shari said, grimacing.
"You really need to fix the rugs, Master," Jinx chided.
"Later, when we get back," Master Shari sighed.
Jinx rolled his eyes and hefted the other two packs. "That's what you said last spring, and the summer before that..."
Master Shari's eyes narrowed. "Behave, or you'll spend the entire trip as a cat," he threatened.
"Then you'd have to carry all your packs by yourself," Jinx pointed out.
Master Shari eyed him for a long moment, then turned and stalked out the door with a faintly muttered "Cheater."
Jinx chuckled quietly and followed him out.
Broomsticks were by far not the most pleasant way to travel. Master Shari had once made the observation that the witch who had decided they would make a good method of transportation had either no feeling in her lower body, only made very short trips, or was a masochist. Jinx was inclined to think it was all three.
Fortunately they only had to put up with the broomstick for a few hours, until a manticore had the misfortune of mistaking their little party for easy prey. After that Jinx and Master Shari rode on the manticore, and the distance between them and Byron increased considerably.
Though Jinx wasn't quite certain if it was the manticore Byron was trying to maintain his distance from, or Master Shari.
Several more night creatures saw fit to investigate them throughout the course of the night, most of them ending up miniaturized and contained in Master Shari's bottles, before Master Shari got tired of the interruptions and set up a witchlight perimeter to warn them off. Of course, Master Shari being Master Shari - that is, a firewitch - the resulting witchlights were slightly more potent than strictly necessary. Jinx didn't really mind, though, because although his night vision was weakened by the excess flame it also meant that any potential threats didn't even try to come near them.
And the distance between Byron and themselves increased again.
Dawn was still quite some time off when Master Shari called a halt, selecting a small grove off the road to set up camp in. He retrieved a worn, threadbare blanket (woven with some of the ugliest thread cats Jinx had ever seen) out of the pack he carried and laid it on the forest floor.
Byron eyed him skeptically. "What is that for?"
Master Shari rolled his eyes, hair giving off just the faintest hint of smoke as he muttered a few choice words over the blanket. It gave a reluctant shudder (the spell on it was just as old as the blanket was) then slowly unfurled into a proper tent. With little black (ugly) cats dotting its surface.
Byron stared. "That's..."
"Not a word or you'll be spending the rest of your life as a rabbit," Master Shari snapped, flames licking at the tips of his hair. "Jinx!" With that, he turned and stalked into the tent, leaving Jinx to pick up all three packs (his own two and the one Master Shari had discarded) and follow him obediently.
"What about Byron?" Jinx asked once he was inside, setting the packs down and rummaging through them in search of things with which to make supper. Or breakfast as the case may be.
"I don't care," Master Shari said irritably, throwing himself down on his bedroll and grimacing. "I hate traveling."
"Your mother's wanderlust seems to have missed you entirely," Jinx commented, setting up a little cooking pot and looking expectantly at Master Shari.
"One small blessing," Master Shari grumbled, waving his hand at Jinx. The pot obediently heated up, and in no time at all Jinx had quite a tasty stew ready. Though Master Shari still complained. He hated anything related to traveling on principle. Jinx thought that his mother had gotten Master Shari's allotment of traveling curiosity, and several other people's as well.
When they finished their meal, Jinx washed everything and put it away before changing to his cat form and joining Master Shari in the bedroll. Master Shari petted him absently, staring up at the tent ceiling.
"Jinx?" he asked after a while.
"Yes, Master?" Jinx asked drowsily, hoping whatever it was didn't mean he had to leave Master Shari's arms. It was his favorite spot to sleep. Nice and warm and comfortable.
"Did you mean what you said this afternoon?" Master Shari asked. "About the knight being handsome?" The hand petting Jinx stilled, and Jinx wished it would resume. Not just because he always developed an itch from petting-deprivation.
"He is very handsome," Jinx replied, "But he's terribly jumpy. And he has nothing at all on you, but that's his misfortune for having been born human." The end of his tail twitched.
"Me?" Master Shari asked, sounding surprised... and something else that Jinx couldn't easily identify. "You think I'm handsome?"
"It probably doesn't mean much coming from me," Jinx said thoughtfully, "Considering what we demons look like in our natural, un-bound forms isn't exactly pleasant to look at, but I have yet to meet a witch or human who could rival you." Or anything else for that matter. Maybe that was why Master Shari had such a hard time getting people to stay away from him.
Master Shari was silent for a long moment, then his hand finally resumed the interrupted pettings. "Thank you, Jinx," he said quietly, and Jinx thought the sounded a little bit pleased.
And that made Jinx pleased in return, to know that his opinion mattered to his master. When he nodded off to sleep, he was still purring.
When they finally arrived at the castle two days later, Jinx stared at the massive structure in silence. Until now he'd been of the opinion that Master Shari's tent was the ugliest structure he'd ever been in. Now, the tent was being relegated to the position of second ugliest.
"You actually live here?" he voiced aloud, unsurprised to hear Master Shari snort in disdain. Actually, he was rather impressed that Master Shari had stayed silent as long as he had in the face of the monstrosity they were being shown to.
"Royalty prefers to display its power by obscene shows of wealth, hideously gaudy structures, and the belief that the uglier something is, the more expensive it must be," Master Shari commented dryly.
"It's defensible," Byron muttered, sounding offended. "It was built with defense in mind."
Master Shari snorted inelegantly. "So of course because it's functional means it cannot possibly look appealing. Of course."
Byron stopped his horse and turned to glare at them. "And your ramshackle little cabin is just the height of beauty and splendor," he snapped.
Master Shari's eyes narrowed and little tendrils of smoke wafted up from his head. "It's comfortable."
"Master," Jinx said mildly, "Your hair."
"You have not even seen inside yet, so I would prefer you withhold your snide comments until-"
Byron broke off at the sound of someone calling his name - well, calling Sir Byron, which was close enough - followed by a man in ridiculous castle livery running up.
"Captain, his majesty requests your presence in the throne room," the man said swiftly, bowing to Byron before straightening and casting a curious eye over Jinx and Master Shari.
Byron nodded. "Inform him I will be but a moment..." He gritted his teeth. "With guests."
Nodding, the man turned and dashed off again, leaving the three of them alone once more - though only for a moment, as his departure seemed to summon people from everywhere. Jinx felt rather crowded; he suspected his fur would be standing up if he were in his cat form. They swarmed Byron, who appeared to pay them little heed as he dismounted, though they hung back at a distance from Jinx and Master Shari.
Probably because of the manticore.
Grimacing, Master Shari slid down off the beast and motioned for Jinx to do the same. A few selective words and a sprinkle of liquid, and the manticore turned around and headed back the way they'd come.
Jinx noted that the circle of empty space around them had widened.
"This way," Byron said with a disgruntled sigh, heading off in the same general direction that the messenger human had gone before. The gathered crowd parted before him - but positively scrambled to get out of Master Shari's way.
This time, it definitely wasn't the manticore.
Attempting to puzzle out humans' irrational fear of magic - and by extension Master Shari - distracted Jinx for most of the walk through the castle. He decided that he was really rather fortunate in that, as a few of the sights he had noticed during his musings left him with a rather powerful longing for home. How people could actually live in a place like this baffled him.
For one thing, there were people everywhere. Some of them did nothing more than stand at corners (for decoration?) and make a funny gesture with their hands when Byron walked by. Others bowed so low that Jinx was sure they'd topple over at any moment.
Then there were the decorations. Jinx was trying not to think about those.
They stopped outside a set of the largest doors Jinx had ever seen (maybe the king entertained giants or dragons or something) and a skinny man with fur on his lip cleared his throat before announcing loudly, "Sir Byron Lansing, Captain of his Majesty's Royal Knights."
"I'm so impressed," Master Shari muttered beneath his breath as they followed Byron down the long red carpet - which Jinx noted in mild irritation didn't have a single threadbare spot - to where a big man was sitting on the biggest, ugliest chair Jinx had ever seen. Including the one Master Shari used for experiments.
Byron knelt, a position that looked like it would get quite painful rather quickly. "My liege."
"Captain," the man in the chair said, nodding. His eyes drifted up from Byron to Jinx and Master Shari, narrowing slightly as he looked them over. Byron stood again, not quite managing to suppress a sigh.
"Majesty, may I present the witch Shari, and his... cat... Jinx."
The man in the chair, who Jinx assumed was the king given all the formalities, frowned. "Witch? I ordered you to dispose of all witches."
Byron winced. "Yes, Majesty. As you will recall, my men were having some difficulty with a particular area of the Tresnom Forest region..."
The king's frown deepened. "You told me you were going to take care of that."
"Yes, Majesty," Byron repeated. "However, this particular witch is apparently of an unusual variety and could very likely be able to break the curse on your Majesty's daughter."
Hope skittered briefly across the king's face before it clouded once more in annoyance. "I have no wish for any further Incidents," he declared.
Master Shari stamped his foot. "You two do realize I'm standing here, right?" he asked, smoke rising up from his head. "You-" he pointed at the king, "Need to get off your high horse and realize that maybe there are things in this world that you know nothing of. And you-" He whirled on Byron, flames dancing up the long red strands of his hair. "You hauled me all this way from my nice cozy home to break some brat's curse that I don't care about in the least but I am doing as a favor so you could at least let me get on with it so I can go home and not have to listen to this arrogant nonsense!"
"Master," Jinx said mildly, "Your hair is on fire. Again."
The king was staring at them. Byron looked like he wanted to be anywhere but where he was. Master Shari twitched, turning slowly to look at Jinx, the fire in his hair gradually banking until it was only a muted glow.
Jinx turned toward the king, his ears flipped back. "King or majesty or whatever, please try not to make him angry. Master Shari tends to set things on fire when he gets angry, and you have many things in your home that would burn easily."
The king stared at him for a long moment, then at Master Shari's hair (which was doing little more than smoking) then back at Jinx. Finally he sighed and settled back into his chair, casting a vaguely irritated look at Byron.
"You believe you can break my daughter's curse where so many have failed?" he asked, looking at Master Shari again.
Master Shari shrugged. "If your knight there explained things correctly, then there is a very strong possibility." He shot Byron a rather dark look himself. "But I won't know anything for sure until I can actually see the br-" He grimaced. "Baby."
The king hesitated still, then sighed quietly and clapped his hands. A human in more of those ridiculous clothes appeared, and the king sent him off to fetch the princess. They all waited in tense silence - well, Jinx wasn't tense but everyone else seemed to be - until at last the princess was brought forth.
Along with a small army of attendants. It baffled Jinx to think of why one small baby human would need so many people to tend to it.
The king gestured to an older woman carrying a virtual plethora of bows, ribbons, and flowing fabric. After a moment's puzzlement, Jinx deduced that somewhere underneath all of the frills must be the princess. He padded over to the bundle, ears flicking back in annoyance when the humans all flinched at his approach (honestly, he wasn't that strange looking. He'd seen all-black humans before, and his ears and tail were barely noticeable) and peered closely at the sleeping bundle of baby.
"Well?" Master Shari asked, coming up beside him and peering as well.
"Firewitch magic," Jinx replied smugly. "It's subtle, but I think you should be able to pick it out if you get close enough."
"Hmmm," Master Shari mused, digging through the layers of cloth until he could gingerly touch one of the infant's small hands. He frowned in concentration, hazel eyes going blank for a long minute, then slowly he reached out blindly for Jinx.
Jinx took his master's hand automatically, bracing himself for what was to come. This was what familiars were meant for, though Master Shari only used his power on rare occasions for intricate or difficult work. Unlike when Master Shari bled off his excess power into Jinx, the taking away of Jinx's power left him feeling empty and cold. He fought not to shiver.
Finally Master Shari smiled in triumph - and the baby's wrappings abruptly caught fire. Master Shari scowled and waved a hand at the flames, which obediently died out, leaving the formerly pristine white fabric a bit singed.
"Why does it always do that?" Master Shari muttered.
"What happened?" the king demanded. "What did you do?"
Master Shari shot him a look. "Broke the curse, what did you think I was doing?" He stepped closer to Jinx, probably to put some distance between himself and the infant princess. Master Shari had never done very well around babies.
"You broke it?" the king repeated, with a vague air of surprise. "So easily?"
Master Shari snorted and gestured at Jinx. "Having a familiar makes many things easier. Do you people really know nothing of witches and how we-" he broke off as all the doors and windows crashed open, wind swirling in and sending everything flying. Jinx blinked, eyes wide, but Master Shari merely snorted again and spoke a few words.
The wind died.
"Who would dare-" a voice boomed out, dripping with arrogance. Jinx stiffened. He knew that voice. Beside him, Master Shari's hair went straight from off to full flame.
"You," Master Shari hissed.
Whitney, dressed in rather flamboyant clothing instead of his usual drab robes, stared for a moment before his face twisted into its customary arrogant smirk. "Shari. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. You're the only one in months' journey even capable of breaking my spell." His expression dipped into a cross between a frown and a pout. "I thought you never left that little hut of yours."
"I don't," Master Shari spat, "Unless someone decides to do something stupid that results in more than a dozen knights showing up on my doorstep trying to kill me." He glared. "And since when are you a firewitch?"
Whitney shrugged. "My great-grandmother was a firewitch. I inherited just enough to make my magic unique, but not much more than that. Not that it matters. Even a weak firewitch who knows what he's doing can best a magician whose spells cannot affect him."
"That's why you were always after Master Shari's spells! Another firewitch could actually use them!" Jinx exclaimed.
Whitney scowled darkly at him. "Yes. Though you keep getting in my way. Stupid familiar."
Master Shari stamped his foot impatiently. "Jinx did nothing but obey my instructions to keep you out of my house. You are nothing but an irritating, pompous egomaniac who needs to stay away from me and what belongs to me!" He flung something at Whitney - it looked like a small ball of mud but Jinx knew there had to be more to it than that - and spat a word. The ball of mud erupted into a plethora of dark green vines and wrapped tightly around the startled Whitney. Oh. A tangle-vine. Of course.
"What on..." Whitney exclaimed, struggling futilely.
"Did you think my garden was just for show?" Master Shari said derisively. "I wouldn't struggle if I were you. It gets... affectionate when you struggle."
Whitney's eyes widened, then narrowed. He muttered something beneath his breath, then the vines suddenly burst into flame. In moments, there was nothing left of them but ashes. Although Whitney's clothing looked rather the worse for wear. Apparently he hadn't bothered to fireproof them. And speaking of...
"Master..." Jinx said, frowning.
Master Shari grimaced. "I know, I know. I didn't think to fireproof the plants. I'll do it when we get home."
Scowling, Whitney threw something (Jinx saw a flash of light - a bottle?) at Master Shari, who flung up a handful of powder. The bottle turned into a butterfly and fluttered around, looking very confused. Jinx couldn't blame it. It must be very disorienting to spend your life as an inanimate object and suddenly be given wings and a brain. Such as it was.
Whitney and Master Shari made a few more exchanges, Whitney growing increasingly irate, Master Shari seeming to relax, oddly enough, and all the humans huddled in the corners. Well, those who hadn't fled. And Byron, who had his sword drawn and was watching the confrontation carefully. Huh. Maybe Jinx had to give him a little more credit.
There was a sudden flash out of the corner of his eye and Jinx turned - just in time to get hit in the chest with a spell of some kind.
Pain. Overwhelming pain.
"Jinx!" Master Shari shrieked, staring at him as he collapsed.
"Now the stupid demon can't help you," Whitney announced triumphantly.
Even through his agony, Jinx couldn't miss the way Master Shari's eyes flashed a vivid orange. "How dare you," he snarled.
Showing some semblance of sense for the first time in his life, Whitney took a step backward. It wasn't enough, not even close; only twice before had Jinx seen his master this angry. The results... hadn't been pretty.
Master Shari drew a handful of something from one pouch, then yanked out a few strands of hair and added them in. Last, he took out a tiny dagger and slashed his hand, allowing the blood to mingle with the other items.
"What are you-" Whitney started to say.
Master Shari cut him off. "I was going to turn you into a mouse for Jinx to eat," he said coldly, "But this seems more... fitting." His words were hard as ice as he chanted them, devoid of the heat that usually infused everything he did. They made everyone recoil, and not just Whitney.
The flames of his hair turned blood red, throbbing rather than flickering. A shadow seemed to coil around him, casting the entire room into darkness - all save for Master Shari, and Whitney. Those two figures were illuminated with more of that twisting, sickening red. Master Shari spoke the final words, flinging his wounded hand out toward Whitney and spattering blood across the floor between them.
"May you never return," Master Shari said quietly, almost too quietly to be heard.
Black and red swirled around Whitney, tighter and tighter, pulsing and throbbing, smaller and smaller until at last there was nothing left.
The room returned to normal.
"Jinx..." Master Shari whispered, turning toward him and getting all of one step before exhaustion overwhelmed him and he crumpled to the floor. Around them the humans slowly began to stir, Byron being closest and having less distance to travel to reach Master Shari. He stopped, staring down at Master Shari's unconscious form for a long moment, his naked blade still in his hand. Jinx's stomach twisted. He wouldn't...
But Byron merely grimaced and sheathed his sword, kneeling down to gather Master Shari into his arms. Relief flooded Jinx, and then the world went dark.
When he woke, it was to the sensation of being petted. Only, it wasn't quite right. It took him an abnormally long time to figure out why that was, as he seemed to be waking up far more slowly than usual, until he finally remembered what had happened just before he passed out.
"Mast-" Jinx attempted to jump up, only to find himself held down rather firmly.
"Stay," Master Shari declared firmly, his fingers tightening in Jinx's hair before resuming their petting.
That was about when he realized he wasn't in his cat form, but Master Shari was still petting him. It was nice, having skin so very dark. No one could see him blush.
"Master?" he ventured, trying to figure out exactly where they were. From what little he could see, given his odd vantage point, they were still inside the ugly castle. He could see part of a slightly-less-ugly room, along with the edge of what felt like a fairly comfortable bed. He was lying mostly on it, though his head was on something much firmer - something he eventually realized was Master Shari's lap.
And Master Shari was still petting him.
Jinx blushed hotter, even more grateful he was just as black as a human as he was as a cat.
"Master?" he tried again.
"I sent Whitney to the demon plane," Master Shari announced, his voice hard. "I hope the demons enjoy their present."
Jinx winced. "Master..."
"He deserved it," Master Shari said firmly, hands tightening briefly before relaxing. "He hurt you."
"I'm fine," Jinx protested, trying and failing to sit up. "You overdid it. I saw you collapse." He frowned. "You shouldn't have cast that last spell without my help."
Master Shari laughed softly. "Sometimes I wonder who is actually in charge when you start lecturing me."
Jinx flattened his ears. "I'm sorry, Master..."
"No, no..." Master Shari's hands left him briefly, then wrapped around his upper arms, tugging him until he sat up straight. "Jinx," Master Shari said softly, catching his chin and preventing him from looking down, "I was teasing you. I don't mind."
"My duty is to obey my master always," Jinx mumbled, trying to avoid his master's intense hazel eyes. "I shouldn't be correcting you."
"Why not?" Master Shari asked. "Isn't it just one more way you take care of me?" He smiled, such a rare expression that it took Jinx's breath away and scattered his thoughts. It took him quite some time to recollect them in the face of such a rare gift.
"I don't think I'm a proper familiar," he said at last.
"Who cares?" Master Shari sniffed. "You're my familiar, and I prefer you just the way you are."
Jinx blinked. "I, oh." He blushed again, looking away as much as Master Shari's firm hold on his chin would allow. "Thank you, Master..."
The hand restraining him eased, then slid away, coming up to toy with the ebony strands of his hair instead. It was different than when Master Shari was petting him, though not unpleasant. After a moment the long fingers moved along Jinx's face instead, slowly tracing the line of his jaw before sliding up to brush across his lips.
Jinx held his breath. "Master?"
Master Shari leaned closer, his eyes holding a focused intensity that Jinx normally only saw when his master was working on a complicated project. "Jinx..."
Three sharp raps sounded upon the door, startling both Jinx and his master. Master Shari swore darkly, low flames creeping up the strands of his hair, then he surged out of bed and stormed across the room to fling open the door.
"What?" he snapped.
Byron stood outside the door, though he took a hasty step back at Master Shari's vehemence. "His Majesty was wondering how you and your familiar were doing," he said respectfully. "Is he awake?"
"Yes," Master Shari replied tersely, the flames in his hair growing ever so slightly.
"Ah." Byron took another step back. "His Majesty would like to express his gratitude for both the breaking of the curse and the nullification of the originating witch. He was most impressed with your skill and would like to offer you a position here at the castle if you were interested in staying. It would be very useful to have someone around who could counter magical threats."
Master Shari stared, the flames in his hair banking to little more than a dim glow as shock temporarily overrode his anger. Temporarily.
"You want me, a nasty, irritable witch who turned half your knights into wild animals, to live in your precious castle and do magic tricks for your precious king."
Byron winced. "Ah, well, about those knights..."
"You really wouldn't want Master Shari here," Jinx said, sliding out of bed and padding across the floor to stand at Master Shari's side. "He'd probably burn the whole castle down the first time someone made him really mad."
Byron and Master Shari both blinked at him, then Master Shari started laughing quietly. "There's that too," he said around snickers. "I almost want to do it just to rid the world of this monstrosity."
"Maybe you can set fire to the worst parts before we leave," Jinx supplied helpfully.
Byron blanched. "Please don't."
"Spoilsport," Master Shari muttered. He drew in a deep breath, drawing himself up to his full height (which really wasn't very much, about the same as Jinx, but Byron was very tall) and scowling up at the knight. "You can inform your king that, provided he leaves me alone and no more knights show up on my doorstep after my life, I'll spare his ugly castle. I will not be staying here, and Jinx and I will be returning to our home as soon as we can possibly leave. As for you..." he held his hand out expectantly. "Give me those amulets."
"I..." Byron blinked. "What?"
Master Shari gestured impatiently. "Your amulets. Give them to me."
Slowly, reluctantly, Byron reached under the collar of his tunic and drew out the small collection of amulets. He slid their cords over his head, cautiously holding them out toward Master Shari who snatched them roughly away before peering closely at them.
"Mmm... health, luck, strength, magical warding, protection..." he mumbled. "Fairly straightforward, nothing particularly fancy... Jinx!" He reached out with his free hand toward Jinx.
Jinx obediently took his hand, closing his eyes as the feeling of his master's magic washed through him and back out again, taking with it a portion of his own power. Curious, he re-opened his eyes to inspect what Master Shari had done to Byron's amulets.
At first glance they looked the same, but then he could see where there were glittering spells subtly interwoven with the existing magic. "I see... you made it so they work for fire magic too..."
Master Shari shrugged. "There are so few firewitches that it's probably rather pointless for that, but knights have a tendency for getting mixed up with dragons and dragon magic tends to be fire based." He looked up at Byron again, his eyes narrowed. "It's a thank you for not being completely stupid. Don't make me regret it by turning stupid again later." He held the amulets out toward the knight.
Byron took them, a bit gingerly, holding them as though not quite certain whether or not it was safe to put them back on. Master Shari eyed him for a moment before snorting and turning around, stalking back to stand next to the bed.
"Jinx," he ordered, "Come pack. I want to go home."
"Yes, Master," Jinx said obediently, pacing over and kneeling down next to where their three packs were casually lying on the floor. He reached out for them automatically before stopping and blinking. His ears pricked up with curiosity, then he tilted his head to look up at Master Shari. "They're already packed..."
Master Shari's eyes flicked toward the door, then back down at Jinx. Confused, Jinx looked toward the door as well. Byron was gone, though the door still stood open.
"Jinx," Master Shari said quietly, his voice sounding... odd somehow. "Would you please close the door?"
Even more confused, Jinx obediently rose and went to the door, closing it. When he turned around again, Master Shari was only a few steps away. "Master?"
"What do you want, Jinx?" Master Shari whispered softly. "You do everything without complaint, but surely there is something you must want for yourself..."
"I..." Jinx blinked. "I am grateful for everything you have given me, Master. Truly, I could not imagine a better Master."
Master Shari grimaced. "That is not what I asked."
Jinx shook his head. "What more could I want for, Master? As long as I have you, there is nothing more I desire."
Master Shari's face went blank, and he nodded once, slowly. "Of course. Why should you?"
He turned away, moving back toward the bed and their packs. Jinx watched him with a strange feeling, like something was off-balance inside and the further away Master Shari got the more unbalanced he became. Before whatever was wrong inside him could reach the point where it tipped over he was moving, silent cat feet carrying him swiftly across the intervening space toward the one person who could set it all right.
Master Shari started and whirled, spinning around to face Jinx. Unfortunately, the decorative rug underneath him spun with him, sliding out away as Master Shari flailed and fell. Jinx lunged, catching hold of his wrist and pulling. At any other time it would have been easy to set them both right, but the moment he pulled the rug slid again and not even his feline balance could keep him upright.
When the world stopped spinning, Jinx found himself lying half atop Master Shari across the bed which had fortunately managed to break the worst of their fall. It was... a very strange position to be in. He felt like he was still falling, though he was fairly certain neither of them was moving any more.
Master Shari's eyes were wide, a beautiful mix of greens and browns that reminded Jinx of their garden in the autumn. So close, Master Shari was, and so warm. It was always the heat that got to him first, making him want to wrap himself all around his master and press up as close as he could, savoring that feel, that smell...
Too close. Master Shari was too close. Always Jinx made certain to be in his cat shape when he was this close to his beloved master, for fear of what would happen if he wasn't. Master Shari had given him everything. It was the height of hubris to wish that Master Shari would give Jinx himself.
"Master..." Jinx swallowed, knowing he should move, run, change... do anything but stay where he was and stare into the face of the single most important person in the world.
He shouldn't. He couldn't. But Master Shari wasn't scowling or pushing or telling him to get off. He was just lying there, watching, waiting.
"I'm sorry, Master," Jinx whispered quietly, leaning down just the tiniest distance to press his lips to Shari's.
Shari's lips parted ever so slightly and Jinx had the terrible feeling that he was about to get turned into something very unpleasant, then Shari's arms wrapped around his shoulders and pulled him down further, mouth opening up and drawing Jinx in deeper. It was like nothing he could ever have imagined, the taste and smell and feel of Shari mingling together and threatening to drive his senses wild. Shari was magic and fire given form, hot and tingling and everything he'd ever desired.
It wasn't until Shari broke off the kiss, struggling with laughter, that Jinx realized he was purring. That was new. He hadn't known he could purr in his human form. He made a face, opening his mouth to apologize, and abruptly found he couldn't as Shari's tongue was in it, tasting, exploring, caressing. Jinx shivered, tingles running up his spine. Which he realized after a moment weren't tingles at all, but fingers. Shari's fingers, dancing across his skin.
This time, when Shari broke the kiss, he was smiling. "I think if I ask again, you'll answer me this time."
Jinx blinked. "Master?"
Shari held a finger to his lips, still smiling. "What do you want, Jinx? What do you want more than anything else?" The finger fell away.
Jinx flushed, ducking his head although he knew Shari couldn't see his blush. Of course, that only served to give him an excellent view of the way the laces of Shari's tunic had come undone and were showing entirely too much smooth skin beneath.
"You," Jinx whispered. "All I've ever wanted... was you."
"Good," Shari proclaimed, fingers wrapping around the back of Jinx's neck and hauling him down again, kissing him with a kind of fierce possessiveness that Jinx recognized immediately - because he was intimately familiar with it in himself. It made him dizzy to think that Shari would want him, who was nothing more than a lowly familiar, when he could have anyone in the world...
Well, perhaps not anyone. It took a certain kind of person to deal with Shari's unpredictable temper.
Slowly, tentatively, Jinx shifted his weight to one arm so he could reach down and lightly trace his fingertips across the planes of Shari's face. Everything he'd ever wanted, and more besides. And now he was allowed to touch. Where should he start? There were so many choices, so much of Shari to caress, to memorize.
He started as a loud sound filled the comfortable silence, recognizing it belatedly as a knock on the door as Shari swore and sat up, his hair already burning with singular intensity. He glared darkly at the door, then slid his gaze to Jinx, expression turning focused.
"Jinx," he said slowly, the impression of flames flickering in his eyes, "Get our things."
Jinx slid off of his master, helping Shari to his feet before turning and kneeling to fetch the packs. He heard Master Shari open the door and snarl something, but by the time he stood with everything in hand the door was closed again. He wondered which forest animal had been added to the castle's collection.
"Is that everything?" Master Shari asked, walking back toward him.
Jinx nodded. "Yes, Master."
"Good," Shari said, wrapping one arm around Jinx's waist and reaching into one of the little bags at his waist. He tossed something into the air - crushed bay leaves, if Jinx's nose didn't deceive him - and smirked. "We're going home, right now, and I am not patient enough to take the long way back." He spoke a series of sharp words, energy draining out of Jinx as Shari tapped it, then the world began to twist.
The last thing he saw before the castle vanished from sight was the rug they'd tripped on going up in flames.
Despite the threadbare rugs from hell, after their stay in the monument to ugly their little cottage was just about the most beautiful thing Jinx had ever seen. Well, second most beautiful. The most beautiful still had his arm around Jinx's waist, his body pressing up in all the wrong places for Jinx's sanity. This close, every breath he took was filled with the scent of Shari, strong and spicy, making him shudder and ache.
He was dimly aware of dropping their packs to the floor - hopefully there was nothing breakable in them; he couldn't focus enough to remember - and then his arms were around Shari and their mouths met, tongues twining and stroking and meshing, scrambling his thoughts so that he couldn't think, couldn't concentrate on anything other than the overwhelming taste, smell, and feel of the man in his arms.
Shari's hands slid slowly up his back, the heat from them making Jinx want to melt and shiver at the same time. He moaned quietly into Shari's mouth, making Shari laugh softly and nibble at his lips. Jinx licked him, making him laugh again before once more claiming his mouth.
When they broke apart Shari's hands were on his shoulders, lingering there for a moment before slowly sliding down his chest, caressing lazily. Jinx shuddered, wondering for one inane moment if perhaps this was why Shari never bothered to make him wear a shirt. Then Shari's thumbs slid just beneath the waistband of his pants and his breath caught.
"Is the bed still made?" Shari asked, his voice low and full of something that made Jinx shiver again.
Jinx opened his mouth, but he couldn't quite manage to organize his thoughts into any semblance of words. Instead, he took a step backwards, then another, his hands sliding out from around Shari's waist and up, brushing the length of Shari's arms until their hands met, fingers tangling together. Jinx led him one step at a time across the room, careful to avoid all the holes in the rug, and through the doorway into Shari's bedroom.
Shari's bedroom, though Jinx preferred to sleep in here whenever he could. Usually curled up in the curve of Shari's neck and shoulder, or snuggled in the crook of his arm.
This time would be very different. This time he would be a man, not a cat.
There were no rugs in here, just as there were no rugs in Shari's workroom. Rugs in places where Shari tended to be focused on something other than where he was going were generally a very bad idea. So there was nothing to trip over as Jinx led his beloved Master across the smooth wooden floors to where the bed was tucked snug in a corner, coverings still perfectly made from before they'd left.
At the edge of the bed, Jinx hesitated. "Mas-"
Shari cut him off with a finger to his lips, looking oddly impish for someone who usually had only two emotional states - thinking and pissed off. "I am thinking I should forbid you from wearing any clothes at all," he said idly, freeing one hand to trace his fingers down Jinx's chest, "But then I probably wouldn't be able to get any work done..."
"Yes Master," Jinx said, then frowned. "No Master?" He scrunched up his nose. "Ah..."
Shari snickered, the fingers on Jinx's chest pausing a moment before drifting over to lightly encircle one dark nipple. "The correct response would be, "I'll take these far-too-distracting pants off now so you can properly admire,"" he said teasingly.
Jinx blinked, glancing down at his pants - black, like the rest of him - and caught Shari's hand before the maddeningly light touches could drive him insane. He considered for a moment, then smiled slowly.
"I believe that, as I am less dressed than you, it is you who should be taking clothing off, Master." He bared his teeth in a feral grin. "Preferably very soon."
Shari arched a brow, attempting to cross his arms rather ineffectually since Jinx still had one of his wrists. "As I am the master here, shouldn't it be you obeying my wishes?" he asked dryly.
Jinx considered for a long moment, the two sides of him in conflict with one another. On the one side, he was a familiar, and therefore bound to obey his master's every order. On the other, Master Shari had never bound him so tightly that he couldn't think for himself, preferring to have 'a helper, not a flaming puppet'. He felt no compulsion to obey. Not now.
Shari didn't want a puppet; he wanted someone who could make his own choices. And right now, Jinx chose to ignore the implied order.
He leaned close, curving his head around to carefully lick the curve of Shari's ear. Shari shuddered, then shuddered again as Jinx blew softly over the wetness he'd made. Leaning closer still, his lips only a breath away from his master's ear, he whispered, "Shari."
As he drew back he saw Shari's eyes widen, his breath falter. Jinx smiled, leaning in once more to steal a kiss as his hands deftly slid along the front of Shari's shirt to loosen the laces. Shari didn't even make a token protest as he broke the kiss to slide the shirt up and over Shari's head, dropping it to the floor.
Oh, that was lovely. Seldom did he actually get to see much of Master Shari's skin, as Shari had long preferred to dress and bathe himself. That was unfortunate. Jinx would have to convince him to change his mind on that so he could enjoy the view more often.
So much to admire. So much to touch, to taste. He wanted to savor it, except that his pants were getting rather uncomfortable just from the looking. So beautiful, and his to do with as he pleased. He only had to decide where to start.
When Shari laughed quietly Jinx took a moment to figure out why (Should he be laughing when Jinx was pondering all the ways to ravish him senseless?) then flushed when he realized he'd started purring again.
"I thought that was something I did as a cat," he muttered darkly.
Shari smiled and reached up to wrap his arms around Jinx's neck. "I like it," he murmured. "It makes it obvious that what you see pleases you."
"Everything about you pleases me," Jinx replied.
"Everything?" Shari asked, arching a brow. "I can't imagine my temper is particularly likable."
"Hmm..." Jinx wrapped his hands around Shari's waist, lifting him and twisting to deposit the blinking redhead on the bed. "I have nothing to fear from your temper. It is very seldom directed at me." He grinned. "Besides, you fireproofed me."
Shari rolled his eyes. "I enhanced your natural resistance to fire. That's a little different than fireproofing the rugs or the wa- aaah!" He trailed off in a soft moan as Jinx knelt between his legs and licked a slow trail up his chest, taking his time tasting all that had once been beyond his reach.
He wondered absently if it was Shari's magic that made him taste faintly spicy, or just something unique to Shari. Certainly he'd never noticed a tingling taste like this on the occasions where he'd had to bite someone before - although most of those had tasted so foul he wasn't sure he would have noticed so subtle a flavor underneath all the ick.
Shari's head fell back as Jinx laved at his nipples, the most delightful little sounds falling from his mouth. For someone as naturally prickly as Shari, he seemed to have been perfectly crafted for pleasure. Every gasp, every moan, every cry sent blood rushing to Jinx's groin; he was going to have to lose the pants very soon or they were really going to hurt.
Yes, that was probably a good idea, because if he removed Shari's first... he winced and made a silent wish for pants that weren't quite so tight.
Standing swiftly, Jinx undid the simple fastenings of his pants and wriggled out of them, having a far more difficult time of it than usual. He kicked them away irritably and turned back toward the bed, pausing to find Shari watching him with almost singleminded intensity. His hazel eyes slowly roamed up the length of Jinx's body, tongue darting out to wet his lips.
"Admiring what you crafted?" Jinx asked, amused, turning around in a graceful circle for Shari's benefit.
"Thinking that I may have had... certain things in mind, even then," Shari answered, reaching out toward him.
Jinx moved closer, kneeling once more between Shari's legs and leaning in for a slow, easy kiss. Shari's arms slid around his neck even as Jinx moved his own down to undo the simple drawstring of Shari's pants. Convenient, that. He hoped Shari's usual robes were equally convenient. Or maybe he could convince Shari to just walk around naked... no, no, not a good idea, that. He'd never get any of his chores done if he was staring at Shari.
He took his time removing Shari's trousers, sliding them down a little bit at a time and kissing each new sliver of skin he exposed. It pleased him, the way Shari shivered and panted, and Jinx was fairly sure that growing glimmer in his hair was the beginnings of fire. Interesting. So it didn't happen just when Shari was angry.
Jinx kept an idle eye on Shari's hair as he pitched the pants aside and began licking his way back up, starting with Shari's ankles. Shari squirmed, and it amused Jinx to no end that his feisty master was ticklish of all things, though the squirming changed to writhing as Jinx got past his knees and took his time licking and caressing the inside of Shari's thighs. Shari's hands landed in his hair, pulling almost painfully at first, then easing up as Shari began petting his ears.
Though they promptly tightened back to painful when Jinx licked the length of his cock in one smooth motion.
"Yes?" Jinx asked, hiding a smile as he licked again, and trying not to wince when Shari tugged painfully on his hair.
"Quit teasing, you damned demon," Shari growled, eyes flashing.
Jinx smirked, surging up suddenly to knock Shari flat on his back on the bed, bracing himself on his hands as he leaned closer. "Is that an order?" he asked, purring again as he leaned down to slowly lick Shari's lips before taking a proper, deeper kiss. When he drew back again Shari remained where he was, face flushed, panting quietly.
Beautiful. Though Shari was always beautiful.
He ran his fingers slowly across Shari's face, marveling at the feel of the skin, the silken texture, the fact that he wasn't, for once, scowling. His fingers dipped lower, brushing across soft, kiss-swollen lips, and Shari's tongue darted out to lick them.
Jinx's breath caught. Shari licked his fingers again, then leaned up just enough to take them into his mouth, sucking lightly. Jinx let his eyes flutter shut, trying to keep his body still but unable to entirely halt the involuntary grinding of his hips against Shari's.
Shari cried out softly around his fingers, shuddering, his green-brown eyes partially lidded.
Jinx drew in a slow breath, opening his eyes again. "Shari."
Shari shivered, eyes falling closed. His lips moved soundlessly, though Jinx had seen his own name on them often enough to know exactly what Shari said. He kissed his way slowly down Shari's body, feeling each muscle tremble and jump beneath his lips, silently nudging Shari's legs apart when he got down that far. His fingers were still wet and slick as he slipped one inside, distracting Shari from the intrusion by licking once down the length of his cock, then mouthing at his balls. He licked and nuzzled at random, never favoring one particular spot over another, purring in pleasure at the gasps and moans his Shari made.
When he slipped the second finger in, he didn't think Shari even noticed. Shari was too preoccupied with Jinx's mouth around him, his hips giving little involuntary thrusts, hands clenched painfully tight in Jinx's hair. Between the gasps and moans and pleas were a few coherent words that consisted primarily of a string of swearing followed by something about purring. What?
Oh. Oh. Unable to smirk, Jinx settled for increasing the intensity of his purrs, feeling the vibrations all through his chest and throat, immensely pleased when Shari shrieked in response.
Maybe it was time to stop teasing. He couldn't resist one last lick as he pulled off, amused more than he probably ought to be by the way Shari's muscles quivered in response, and settled into position between Shari's legs. He took a long moment to admire what he'd wrought - Shari was always beautiful, but Shari flushed, panting, and needy was utterly breathtaking - before taking his time slowly working his way in.
"Ah!" Shari gasped out, hanging onto Jinx's hair like a lifeline. When Jinx was fully seated they both paused for a moment to catch their breath, Jinx taking the opportunity to steal a brief kiss, then he began to move.
With each thrust Shari met him, making him move harder, faster, pounding into his master as the bed creaked and groaned beneath them, threatening to give way at any moment. Jinx barely noticed; his attention was all for Shari. He it knew the moment before Shari came, and then Shari clamped down hard around him, spilling hot fluid across both of them, his hair flaring up with an intensity that was only rivaled by his worst rages. He was beautiful.
Jinx only thrust once more before spilling himself, the sight of Shari's exquisite bliss searing away whatever endurance he'd had left. He held perfectly still until he trusted himself to move again, pulling out carefully and claiming a rough kiss before getting up and padding into the kitchen to fetch a wet towel to clean up the mess.
Shari rolled his eyes as Jinx returned but allowed himself to be carefully washed, snapping an arm out and yanking Jinx down before he could do more than turn to return the towel to the kitchen. Ever balanced, even in this form, Jinx managed to avoid landing on him, bracing himself over top of Shari instead.
"Maybe I should change my mind about that damn purring," Shari muttered, pulling him down for a kiss.
Jinx chuckled into his mouth, lowering himself down and partially wrapping himself around Shari. "Are you saying you disliked it?" he asked.
Shari snorted, his hand seeking out and idly stroking Jinx's tail. "Cheeky. When do I get my nice, obedient familiar back?"
"Hmm..." Jinx mused, nuzzling the side of Shari's neck. "Later."
"Cheeky demon," Shari muttered, snuggling closer.
"Yes," Jinx agreed, "But I'm your cheeky demon."
"Hmph," Shari grumbled, though he sounded anything but displeased. "Remind me to reinforce the bed in the morning."
Jinx smiled. "Yes, Master."