Excerpt: Magic & Mischief

The Dragon’s Treasure

Tate made a face as the last customer left then stomped to the door and flipped the sign so that the side that said “closed” faced toward the street. ‘Pulling the key out from beneath his tunic, Tate locked the door. He turned and stomped back across the shop, retrieving his broom from behind the counter.

There was dirt and grass and all kinds of stuff, and he always swept so carefully, and still the humans messed it all up again. Stupid humans, always messing up his den. Why couldn’t they shop without making a mess? Sighing, he set to work, sweeping up every last scrap of dirt and dust, frowning as he swept it toward the door. He would have to sweep again once he was done. Then he would dump all the mess right back outside where it belonged. Sometimes he really wished Master ‘was not so nice because that meant Tate had to be nice, and he ‘did not want to be nice. He wanted to snarl and growl and make the humans leave or, failing that, eat them—though humans tended to taste kind of yuck—and Master would never let him.

He supposed Master could be the type to make him kill everything in sight and be big and mean and scary all the time. That really ‘was not fun—and it was messy, being an evil type of dragon.

Sighing, Tate returned to the counter and pulled out all his cleaning things: the bucket of water ‘he had gotten earlier, the lovely soap the nice lady next door gave to him, and the pretty polish in the blue glass bottle.

Laying everything out on the counter, he then swiftly braided his long, dark turquoise hair, grimacing to feel all the grime that had collected in it during the day.

He ‘did not like being dirty. He ‘did not like his den being dirty. The stupid humans who kept messing it up with their touching and knocking over and whining and indecisiveness… Tate growled low and tied off his hair, winding it around the back of his head so it would stay out of his way while he cleaned and not get any dirtier.

That taken care of, he began to work his way slowly through the shop, cleaning it top to bottom—polishing the crystal balls until they sparkled, dusting off the dozens of jars filled with spell components, gently wiping down the spell books, tending the magic wands, making certain all the magic charms and talismans positively glittered.

Once he was finished with all the shop goods, he set to work on the shelves, the cases, and the cabinets. He finished by giving the floor another, more thorough sweeping, dumping all the nasty dirt outside before retrieving his soap and water and going to work scrubbing the floor—twice.

Stupid humans. He ‘did not understand why Master had to get money in such a frustrating way. Why ‘could he not just make Tate go out and take it from the humans? Much more efficient, and then he could have a proper den, with everything clean and organized and pretty and no stupid humans trekking through putting their grubby hands on it and—

A sharp crack came from the vicinity of upstairs, and Tate rolled his eyes.

Master and his experiments.

Setting down his cleaning supplies, Tate stomped to the back door of the shop and climbed the stairs, throwing open the door at the top. He coughed as pale, greenish smoke poured out. “Master?”

“I’m fine, Tate,” came a gruff, easy voice, the words managed between coughs. “I used too much eye of newt.”

Tate rolled his eyes again and slammed the door shut, then tromped back downstairs.

He was going to hide the eye of newt. This was the third time this week already—and it ‘was not even half over! Grumbling about idiotic humans and even more idiotic human Masters, Tate went back to his scrubbing, finishing off the last bit of floor then fetching the polish and a new rag, meticulously going over the entire floor again so that it would be bright and shiny.

Until the humans messed it up again the next day.

It was late when he finally finished. Upstairs, everything had finally gone quiet. Master had probably fallen asleep in his chair again, since Tate ‘had not heard him trip over the piles of junk in his bedroom. Sighing again, Tate put away his things, put the dirty rags in the bin of stuff to be cleaned the next day—every third day was laundry day—and began to put out the lamps.

Tate wanted to go to bed, but his hair was dusty and sweaty now, and his scales needed a good scrub and maybe if he could get ahead in his chores tomorrow he would have time to polish them properly. That would be nice.

As he moved to the second to last lamp, the one nearest the front door, a familiar voice rippled through him, stopping him in his tracks.

Oh. Oh oh oh. It was early for Macklin to be back. Heart beating in his chest, Tate moved to the window and pulled back the curtain a bit. It was Macklin. His secret Treasure.

Macklin was so very pretty. Tate could stare at him all day. Every day. Forever. The dark silvery-gray hair, the skin that was always beautifully pale despite all the time Macklin spent outside, the bright blue-gray eyes. Tall, slender, so graceful when he moved … his hands … . The claws were long, always carefully tended, kept clean and wicked sharp. The only things sharper were likely his teeth; even from here he could see the points of Macklin’s front teeth.

He saw demons all the time, running to and fro, but none of them were as pretty as Macklin, who was so much better than jewels or gold or silver or anything else. He sparkled much, much more in Tate’s eyes.

If only Macklin thought the same of him … but Tate could only sigh sadly as he watched his demon flirt with a human who ‘had not yet gone to bed. Stupid Macklin.

When the human stepped closer, moving in a way that Tate knew all too well, he angrily yanked the curtain over the window and blew out the lamp, then stomped over to the desk. Sitting down on his stool, he pulled out the ledger and the chest which held the day’s coins, rumbling happily as he neatly wrote in the day’s numbers and tallied them up. Logging always improved his mood. Next he pulled out a clean cloth and began to carefully wipe and polish every coin, stacking them up neatly as he finished.

He was just standing to carry them into the back when someone knocked on the door; a familiar three quick raps. Tate jumped then crossly ordered his heart to slow down. It ‘could not be Macklin; he never came this late. He always came in the morning, not late at night. A quick peek out the glass in the door belied his words—there was his Treasure, smiling away.

Feeling sick, painfully aware of how dirty and messy he looked, but unable to resist any chance to spend time with Macklin, Tate unlocked the door and pulled it open.

“Good evening,” Macklin said, flashing an easy smile—but nothing like the one ‘he had given the human earlier, the kind that made Tate tingly because it was such a hot sort of smile. It also made him sad, because that sort of smile would never be for him. “I saw you at the window and figured I’d go ahead and drop off my goods for Mad Finnegan.”

Tate growled. “Master is not mad.” Personally, he thought ‘mad’ was far too mild a term, but he would defend his Master. “You may come in, but—”

“Don’t make a mess,” Macklin interrupted with a laugh and reached out to tug at a strand of Tate’s hair that had come loose. Suddenly remembering how messy he was, Tate stumbled back and turned sharply around, stalking back to the counter and finishing up with the coins. When ‘he had locked everything up in the backroom and relocked the front door, he finally strode back the counter where Macklin had set out all the things ‘he had brought back from his latest trip.

Tate reached out and picked up the small, rather battered looking book lying off to the right. Shape-changing spells, and he recognized the wizard marks. This would bring in lots of coins. Giving a deep, pleased growl, he set it carefully aside.

Next he moved to the jewels—an enchanted hairpin, two necklaces, three talismans, and a cloak pin with travel protections laid upon it. “What is the enchantment on the hairpin?” he asked.

“Mild love spell,” Macklin replied. “Nothing too bad; it will get a girl a few extra offers of lemonade.” He winked. “Or encourage people not to track in mud, maybe.”

Growling at the jest, Tate turned his attention back to the wares. Picking out several small vials of various potions and tonics, he set them in the pile of stuff he knew Master would want and gave a final nod. “Thirty silver.”

“Oh, seventy easy,” Macklin said with a taunting grin.

Narrowing his eyes, growling more loudly than he had before, Tate fell into the bartering, his tail twitching with every infuriating smirk Macklin tossed him.

At last they settled on a price of fifty-three silver, and Macklin swiftly put away the remainder of his goods. Settling his pack, he reached out and again tugged at Tate’s hair. “Always a pleasure, dragon. Tell Mad Finnegan I’ll be back in a couple of days and will bring the silver serpent tongue with me.”

“I will.”

“Oh!” Macklin suddenly cried, snapping his fingers. “How could I forget?” He grinned. “Too busy arguing, maybe. That always gets my blood up.”

Tate wished that were true, but knew it ‘was not. Macklin just liked teasing him, the same as everyone else. He knew what got Macklin’s blood up; ‘he had seen Macklin flirt and play in the streets more than once.

Reaching beneath his shirt, Macklin pulled out something hanging from a leather cord. Pulling it up over his neck, he held his fist out toward Tate.

Frowning, Tate held his hand out—his eyes widened as he saw the large, glittering diamond which fell into it. There was magic in it, but he ‘could not tell what sort. It made his nose itch, his scales prickle, to smell and sense such strong magic. “What is it?”

“Something I’ve been trying to get for awhile,” Macklin said, a hardness settling over his face, and if Tate had any reason to fear a demon, that look would give him cause to worry. “The former owner isn’t very happy I took it, however. If you and Mad Finnegan don’t mind me borrowing your dragon-y ways for a few days, I would like you to guard it for me. Like you would a treasure. Please?”

Tate barely kept from spilling that it was guarding a treasure, because Macklin was his Treasure and so he treasured everything about and belonging to Macklin. It made him a thousand different kinds of warm that Macklin was asking him to guard something. Macklin had never… “I will,” he huffed. “You had better pay, though.”

Macklin grinned. “You can name your price, oh clean and mighty dragon of Mad Finnegan.” His teasing faded away. “Thanks, Tate. I really will be in your debt. I’d take care of it myself, but the man can be rather nasty, and if he manages to best me I don’t want him getting it back. No one looks after treasure better than a dragon. I wouldn’t bother you with it, but I don’t know any other dragons around here well enough to ask.”

Oh. Some of Tate’s warmth died. Well, that was fair enough. He supposed. Still, once Macklin was gone, he knew his ears would droop the rest of the night. Another sharp tug at his hair made him growl. “Stop that, demon.”

Macklin laughed and winked. “Don’t let it get so messy, then,” he teased.

Still growling, Tate pointed to the door. “Out.”

“Going, going. See, I didn’t mess up your floor a bit.” Macklin smiled. “Thanks for protecting the diamond, Tate. I’ll reclaim it as soon as I know the bastard will leave me alone. If someone comes asking about it –”

Tate growled loud and sharp, baring his teeth, tail lashing. “I know how to guard a treasure, you stupid demon. Now go away!” He strode over and unlocked the door, pulling it open and pointing outside.

Laughing, Macklin obeyed. “Goodnight, Tate,” he called over his shoulder.

Ignoring him, Tate once more closed and locked the door. He leaned against it and looked at the diamond in his hand. He would get Master to cast a protection over it to hide its magic. That would prevent anyone finding it.

Slipping the cord around his neck, he went to blow out the last lamp. He would get his bath, lay out his clothes for the next day, and then he could sleep.

Humming softly, he set about his plans, frequently reaching up to touch the diamond his Treasure had entrusted to him.

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