The Hollows series
Al is one of my more favorite characters in the Hollows. I never expected him to be anything other than the Big-Bad-Ugly—fun to hate, but nothing more. It was a surprise when Rachel began to understand him, and even more of a shock when Al responded not just by showing a softer side, but by lifting the veil on his past as well. “The Bespelled” was first published at the end of the mass market edition of The Outlaw Demon Wails, and it shows Al in his earlier mind-set of use and abuse. But the appearance of the blue butterflies gives evidence that even before Al met Rachel, he was beginning to find himself lacking and was looking for more.
Paperwork, Algaliarept thought in resignation as he blew gently upon the ledger book to dry the ink faster. Ink that wasn’t actually ink, paper that had never been wood, he thought as he breathed deep for the cloying scent of blood. Though blood made a sublimely binding document, the nature of it tended to slow everything down. Even so, if he could pass this part of his job to a subordinate, he wouldn’t. The knowledge of who owed him and what was worth a lot in the demon’s world, and familiars were known for their loose tongues until you cut them out. It was a practice Algaliarept frowned upon. Most of his brethren were bloody plebeians. Removing a familiar’s tongue completely ruined the nuances of their pleas for mercy.
Resettling himself at his small but elegantly carved desk, Algaliarept reached into a lidded stone box, dipping a tiny silver spoon for his Brimstone and letting the drug slowly melt on his tongue. The small tap of the spoon as he replaced it jolted through him like fire, and closing his eyes he breathed, pulling the air into him over the ashy blackness to bring a hundred faint smells to him as the Brimstone heightened his senses and took his mind into a higher state.
Paperwork has got to be the biggest pain in the ass, he thought as he hung for a moment in the mild euphoria. But as his eyes opened he gazed upon his opulent quarters—the walls draped with dark silk, vases painted with beautifully erotic bodies, richly shadowed corners with cushions and fragrant oil lamps, and underfoot, the rug showing a winding dragon devouring its smaller kin—Algaliarept knew he’d have it no other way. Everything about him would be missing if he worked for another.
The East was where the world’s intelligence currently resided, and he quite liked the Asian people, even if they called him a dragon there, and expected him to breathe fire. Apart from the elves making a last stand in the mountains of Europe, Asia was the only real culture in the world right now—thanks to his efforts, mostly. One must create what another will covet.
Dipping his quill, Algaliarept bent to his work again, his brow tightening for no reason he could fathom. He was a dealer in flesh and seducer of souls, skilled in training people in the dark arts enough to make them marketable, then abducting them when they made a mistake in order to sell them to his peers into an extended lifetime of servitude. He was so good at it that he had achieved a status that rivaled the highest court members, reached on his own merits and owed to no one. Yet, as his quill scratched out the interest of a particularly long-running debt, he finally acknowledged the source of his growing feeling of dissatisfaction.
Where he’d once relished watching a potential familiar agonize over wanting more and thinking he was smart enough to evade the final outcome, now there was only an odd sensation of jealousy. Though doomed, the familiar was feeling something. Algaliarept, however, was feeling nothing. He’d lost the joy, and the chase had become too easy.
Another page tallied, and Algaliarept reached for a second spoonful of Brimstone while the red ink dried and turned black. As his silver spoon dipped, his moving reflection caught his attention and he hesitated, meeting his own gaze in the gilded mirror upon the desk. Tired, goat-slitted eyes stared back at him. They narrowed, and with a feeling of unhappiness, he watched himself let the black ash sift back into the box. If he wanted sensation, he should go out and take it, not sip it from dust. Perhaps, Algaliarept thought darkly as he touched his script to see if it was dry, it was time to retire for a time. Begin removing his name from the texts in reality to leave just enough for the occasional summoning instead of the numerous summons he fielded. He was weary of mediocre dealings and fast satisfaction that gave him nothing lasting. He wanted . . . more. Mood soured, he bent to his work. This can’t be all there is, he thought as he tried to lose himself in the beauty of wants and needs, supply and demand.
Intent on his work, the soft tickling in his nose almost went unnoticed until he sneezed. His hand slammed down on the open Brimstone container, saving it. Shocked, he stared at his door, tasting the air and trying to decide where the sun had just fallen. Someone was summoning him. Again, he thought with a sigh, until he realized where it was likely coming from. Europe?
Algaliarept’s gaze returned to the mirror, and his goat-slitted, red eyes glinted. A slow smile came over his creased face. Inside, a quiver of excitement coursed through him, more heady than Brimstone. It had to be Ceridwen. She was the only one who knew his name across that continent, the only one who could call him there. Three months, he thought, his excitement growing as he gazed into the mirror while his features became younger and more refined, taking on the strong jaw she was accustomed to. I knew she couldn’t resist.
Humming a snippet of music that had never been penned, he shook out his sleeves, watching them turn from the casual silk kimono he appreciated into a stuffy European crushed green velvet coat. Lace appeared at his throat, and his hair slicked itself back. His ruddy complexion lightened, and white gloves appeared. He would be pleasing to her sight even if he thought the outfit ugly. Until she stopped three months ago without warning, Ceridwen Merriam Dulciate had summoned him every week for seven years. He was nothing if not patient, but the lapse did not bode well. That he was excited for the first time in as many weeks did not escape him, but Ceri was special. She was the most devious, intelligent, careful woman he had tried to snag in almost three hundred years, and he never knew what she was going to do.
Art, he realized suddenly. Ceri was art where everyone else was work. Was that where his dissatisfaction was coming from? Was it time to stop simply working and begin making art? But to do that, he needed the canvas before him. It was time to bring her home. If he could.