Belly of the Beast, Part 1

Hex braced himself as the guard heaved him ass over tea kettle through the hatch. He rolled across the papered floor and slammed into the wire bars. Flicking his prehensile tail in annoyance, he righted himself. The guard slammed the wire door shut, securing it with a padlock.

Brushing bits of newspaper from his brand new vest, he muttered quietly under his breath, "Excellent plan, Locksley. I’ll just sneak into the house of a suspected necromancer, find his personal grimoire, and pop back out without anyone noticing." He glanced around the dark, towering bird cage, wrinkling his nose in disgust. There was an overpowering scent of moldy newspapers, with a putrid undertone he didn't want to think about. "This had better be fresh newspaper!" He grasped the bars of the cage, glowering up at the guard shuffling away.

Hex heard the rustling of wood chips nearby, and he slid his gaze sideways. Glowing eyes peered at him from the various, dank cages lining the wall next to his little prison. One of the creatures nearby let out a low growl. Hex backed from the bars, rubbing the suddenly moist palms of his paws on his plaid knickers.

"I see you caught a lively one this time." Pridmoore sat behind a broad black oak desk, his gray hair carefully styled into a pompadour. Hex recognized the mage from the tintype Locksley had shown him. Right before Locksley shoved him inside through the pet door.

A massive bookcase spanned the wall behind Pridmoore. The shelves were filled with yellowed volumes. The occasional animal skull peeked out from between the leather bound tomes.

Squinting, Hex tried to read the distant book spines, in the off chance Pridmoore's grimoire was nestled among them, hopefully labeled Pridmoore's Private, Super-Secret Grimoire. However, none of the books looked any more suspicious than its neighbors. Hex turned his gaze inward instead, searching for even the smallest spark of magic within himself. His powers once coursed through him like electricity, but at the moment he only felt a vast, aching emptiness.

"Merlin's crab nuggets," Hex sighed, his shoulders sagging. He tugged at the iron collar digging into his platinum fur. The guard had snapped it shut around his neck, shortly after dragging him by his tail from him hiding spot beneath the butcher block table in the kitchen. Malicious energy seeped from the collar's surface, setting Hex's teeth on edge. Blood magic.

The spell's stench rising from the collar was so thick it made his stomach hurt. He tried not to think how much blood had been required to etch the spell blocking his access to his powers. He mentally kicked himself for not reacting quickly enough when the guard first clamped onto him. His tail was still sore from that thick, clammy grip.

Hex's gaze flickered back towards Pridmoore as he waved a dismissive hand in the guard's direction. "Familiars don't just wander around on their own. Make sure everyone else is on high alert, or whatever is it you former soldier types call it."

As the door closed behind the guard, Pridmoore tossed his reading spectacles onto the ink blotter in front of him. Eyeing Hex with obvious curiosity, Pridmoore pushed himself up from his leather winged chair and moved around his desk towards the bird cage.

Hex folded his furry arms in front of himself. He affected what he hoped was a look of defiant nonchalance.

"You're an interesting little specimen, aren't you?" Pridmoore leaned forward to gaze down at Hex. "Obviously some rare species of Lesser demon. Those ears are absolutely ridiculous, though."

Hex's large pointy ears warmed at Pridmoore's smirk. He opened his mouth to respond with something terribly witty, he was sure, when a high pitched wolf-whistle sounded from above him. He dove beneath the society pages, his fur standing on end. Holding his breath, he poked a hole through an article about the scandalous behavior of some tycoon's son and peered upwards.

A massive bird stared back at him from the shadows beneath the cage's peaked roof. "Fresh meat!" It squawked, flapping its wings as Pridmoore looked on with an amused expression.

The blood drained from Hex's face. He curled into a ball, his heart thumping so hard he could feel his pulse behind his eyeballs. "Don't eat me! I'm all gristle and bone, I swear!"

"Don't be ridiculous, macaws don't eat demon cats, or demon monkeys, or whatever you are." Pridmoore scoffed. "And Piper is vegetarian, anyway, despite any of his obnoxious chattering to the contrary."

"Oh." Hex slowly rose to his feet, the newspaper tenting around him.

Pridmoore rubbed his chin thoughtfully, his knuckles rasping against his well-groomed beard. He turned and moved across the room to a drink table set against the wall. "I'm glad to see they managed to collar you. We wouldn't want your master drawing from that well of power stored inside you, now would we?"

Hex cleared his throat in indignation. "Master, my ass! We're a team, puffy."

"How quaint. Next, you'll be wanting to vote as well." Pridmoore poured himself a brandy from a crystal decanter. He lounged on a tufted parlor settee nearby, a walking cane angled across the cushions next to him. Insect display cases dotted the wall behind him, their glass covers reflecting the flames from a stone fireplace facing the desk.

Taking a sip from his snifter, Pridmoore absently toyed with the silver dragon head adorning the cane's handle. "Pray tell, what is it your teammate wants, exactly?"

Hex snorted, inadvertently glancing towards the bookcase.

Pridmoore followed Hex's gaze, shaking his head. "How utterly unoriginal."

"I have no idea what you're talking about." Hex's ears twitching in embarrassment, he scratched the back of his head.

"Please. She would hardly be the first to try for it. And I don't just leave it lying around out in the open, anyway. Do I, Josephine?" Pridmoore glanced towards a mechanical komodo dragon. Josephine, evidently, lounged on an African lion skin rug in front of the hearth, brass scales shining in the firelight.

Hex could hear a small steam engine ticking and hissing softly from within the reptile's barrel-shaped belly. Excess steam from her boiler wafted from the nostril-shaped vents on the very tip of her long snout.

Josephine lifted her head, gears whirring and metal scraping. "Iss that for me?" she asked, a touch of static buzzing from her voice box.

"We'll see." Pridmoore sipped his brandy.

Josephine rested her chin on the lion's head, her polished eyes staring at Hex through the thin wire bars.

"Fresh meat!" the macaw squawked again.

Hex was suddenly relieved his will was in order.

"So, what's this sorceress of yous like?" Pridmoore asked. "I do hope she's not boring."

"No one has ever described Locksley as boring," Hex said, not bothering to correct Pridmoore's assumption that Hex was a familiar and Locksley was a sorceress. He suspected if Pridmoore knew Locksley was Hex's familiar, and that she had Fury blood running through her veins, Pridmoore might be a little less smug. Doubtful, though.

"I'm glad to hear it." Pridmoore crossed his legs and leaned back into the cushions. "It's so hard to find entertainment these days."

"Yes, well..." Hex snuck a glance at the tiny pocket watch peaking out of his vest pocket. The corner of his mouth quirked into a smile. He covered his ears with his paws and hunkered down beneath his newspaper mantle. "Best of luck!" he hollered as the clatter of shattering glass rang from the front room. The macaw screeched, rattling the cage as it flapped its wings in alarm.

His glass paused half way to his lips, Pridmoore turned towards the door. A series of gunshots sounded throughout the house, each one closer to the study than the last. There was a single shot from the hallway outside the door, followed by a strangled cry, and then silence.

Pridmoore shook his head sadly. "I was hoping for an actual challenge this time."

"Careful what you hope for, ass-face."

The study door splintered inwards, landing in a mangled heap in front of the desk. Splattered with crimson constellations of blood spray, Locksley crunched over the remains of the door.

Pridmoore gaped at her.

"I believe you have my minken."

"Ah, so that's what that thing is!" Pridmoore snapped his fingers in excitement. "How exotic."

Hex slapped his paws against the cage bars to get Locksley's attention. "Your minken? I just got done telling him we're a team!"

Locksley rolled her eyes. "Do you mind? I'm trying to make an entrance here."

Pridmoore frowned at the blood dripping onto his Oriental rug from the tip of the telescopic steel truncheon in Locksley's hand. "That seemed unnecessary."

Locksley shrugged, wiping her bloodied truncheon on her pinstripe trousers. "It's not my fault your security didn't shamble away when they had the chance. And now they're all dead. Well, more dead." Locksley glanced towards the cage as Hex lifted his head, newspaper crinkling as he waved his paw. Locksley's gaze lingered on the iron collar and her eyes narrowed.

Pridmoore pulled a gold pocket watch from his vest, flipping it open to adjust one of the hands on the clock face. "Well, considering the ridiculous amount of money I paid them, I should certainly hope not. But I was actually talking about the door. Do you have any idea how hard it is to come by Agarwood?" He snapped the watch shut, and the door slammed back into place, whole and unmarked.

Hex's jaw dropped.

Locksley blinked, glancing towards Hex. "Can you learn how to do that? Because it would be really handy."

"Uh, no."

Pridmoore cleared his throat. "I assure you, it's much harder than it looks."

Locksley held up an index finger in Pridmoore's direction. "Hold that thought. I just need to confer with my monkey for a sec."

"By all means," Pridmoore murmured, a bemused expression on his face.

Locksley crouched down by Hex's cage, whispering, "What exactly was that?" she asked, jerking a thumb over her shoulder towards the door. "I realize I'm not the expert on magic here, but that didn't look, by any stretch of the imagination, like necromancy."

"Some sort of elemental magery? Perhaps he healed the wood, or something?" Hex whispered back, shaking his head in confusion.

"Or something? Isn't this supposed to be your area of expertise?"

Pridmoore tucked the watch back into his vest pocket. "You are aware I can hear you two, right?"

"Anachronism!" Hex snapped his fingers.

Locksley rolled her eyes. "Don't make up words, Hex."

"He can manipulate the timelines of inanimate objects," Hex said, sighing. "Aging them or returning them to their original state, or anywhere in between."

"That doesn't sound like something a mage should be able to do," Locksley said, glancing sideways towards Pridmoore.

Pridmoore waggled his fingers at her, smirking. "You know, if your kind didn't rely so much on you familiars, you might actually learn a bit about magic."

Hex ignored Pridmoore's interjection. "It's not. It's a type of sorcery, not magery." He shook his head, rustling newspaper. "And it's not even supposed to exist anymore. Sentinels hunted down the last anachronistic sorcerer during the Purge. They thought that kind of power was too dangerous."

"Typical," Locksley muttered. She turned back to Pridmoore, pointing her truncheon at him. "But it begs the question, how did a mage come by an extinct form of sorcery?"

"Oh, including me in the conversation now, are we?" Pridmoore looked up from inspecting his cuticles.

Hex pressed his face against the bars, his ears perked. "Exactly what kind of mage are you?"

"A complicated one." Pridmoore stood, cane in hand, and adjusted his smoking jacket.

"Fine, just tell me where your grimoire is hidden, and we'll figure it out on our own," Locksley said with a wintry smile as cerulean flames radiated from her hand, flowing down the length of her truncheon.

Cocking his head, Pridmoore returned a smile equally lacking in warmth. "Your little furry friend was right, you are not boring. I'm really going to enjoy taking you a part piece by piece to see what makes you tick." He tapped his cane on the floor. The dragon's amethyst eyes flashed, filling the room with a blinding, lavender light.

Hex shrieked, covering his eyes, but the flash of light was gone as quickly as it came. His vision swimming, he shook his head. He glanced around the room, his eyes widening. Locksley and Pridmoore were gone.

"Now teleportation?" Hex breathed in awe, rubbing his eyes. "Who is this mage? And where in the twelve hells did they just go?"

"Away."

Hex flinched. "Crap." He had forgotten about the shining brass komodo dragon.


To be continued in Part 2.