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Practice Makes Fire

- by Langley



The stack of paperwork was thicker than an arm, and slammed against the heavy oak desk from its own sheer weight. Towering above the impact was the smiling face of Shame, holding back greater mirth with sealed lips. Byron Langley raised an eyebrow and licked a fingertip, leafing through the neat pages with skepticism.

To his surprise, not one of the order forms was doodled on. To his further surprise, each was properly filled out, with fine handwriting and correct spelling. Shame allowed some teeth to gleam in her smile, arms crossed. Byron let out an explosive sigh.

"All right, I admit it" he grunted, looking to the side with a grimace.

"I can't imagine what you'd admit, sir" Shame said politely, fingertips to her lips, eyebrows up.

Byron frowned outright, waggling an index finger at the woman. "It's considered poor manners to exult in victory, Shame"

Shame wore a look of pristine innocence, eyes wide with concern "What victory, sir? I only performed the task which I knew I was capable of. I'd never expect some sort of verbal or physical token of gratification from you."

Byron sighed, rolling his head back to gaze at the ceiling. He threw his hands in the air "I suppose I'll have to make a memo of this event, otherwise some other unscrupulous person will spread the word around."

Shame nodded sagely "That sounds logical, sir. I'm glad you've reached such a critical decision."

Byron grinned and pointed to the door "Now out with you, eminantly capable thing that you are. I need to finish my work and lock up. Drink on my tab, or something"

Shame turned serenly and waltzed towards the door, the glimmer of a smile briefly visible as her face left his vision. Byron Langley grimaced - he hated being wrong.

That evening however, he would not be locking up in the conventional way. He shuffled through the cement hallways of the Dun Morogh plant and bolted the doors, made sure the lamps were off and the forges were low, saw to it that all the employees were gone and the equipment stacked neatly. Finally he re-entered his office, bolted the door, closed the curtains and crept to his bookshelf. With a feeling of childish excitement he pulled out a tattered old grimoire, slid to his desk, sat down and slammed the oak surface with an exposed palm. The wood glowed with purple lines and unearthly light, gurgling and grumbling echoing softly.

An imp appeared on the desk, tired looking and old. It had a long wispy beard and tufts of grey hair protruding from the ears and pointed nose. The eyes were rhuemy, striking for the skittering fire behind the glassy exterior. Looking down at an antiquated, glowing watch, it wagged a finger at Byron, shaking its head. "That was a slow summon - I could have been out four seconds ago, and think of all the fire I could have made!"

Byron rolled his eyes "Between you and Shame I'm just a damned idiot-savant tonight. Ask me if I practiced, go on, ask!"

The imp sighed, tapping his watch. "Did you practice, Byron?"

The gnome grinned, hands on hips "Why of course I did, Nalkin, and I'm damn proud of myself."

The imp rolled his eyes "Who would have guessed." Nalkin clapped his hands, ran a finger along the watch, and chittered in demonic. With a purple glow and the sound of brass hitting brass, he stepped to the side of the desk and looked at Byron. "Show me then."

The gnome nodded, turning to the empty floor in front of the desk. He levelled his arm at chest height, clenched his fist, and muttered. A small gong sound eminated from the hand, followed by a second of rattling chains and a femenine yelp of indignation. A human woman appeared, at attention, dressed in a business suit. Her hair was a flamboyantly cut red, her eyes an oddly gleaming green.

Byron grinned with pride. Nalkin eyed his watch "All right. All right. A second. A noticeable improvement. Now what's done next? Mordaine is charging at you from the left, axe up - he's gone mad!"

The gnome turned and made a series of gestures, each attached to a 'ribbon' of fel energy. Within these wisps were commands, each designed to hit like a lash. Cloak, drop back, turn, whip low, spin, whip high. The woman vanished, reappeared facing the door, swinging a wip low, snapping it back, and lashing again a foot or so above the initial strike. Horns stood from her forehead, and a tail peeked out from under her skirt, barbed and black. Her eyes gave off a luminous blue where the dim desklight did not illuminate.

Nalkin crossed his arms "Oh it was fast, I'll give you that, but didn't you forget something?"

Byron sputtered, surveying the now immobile succubus. "What could it be? That was perfectly executed - everything done in concealment, and then the strike, both whiplashes-"

Nalkin interrupted "The tail, the horns, the eyes"

The gnome turned with alarm, and then drooped, noting each faulty feature. "All right, so I forgot a couple of points. Hang it all."

The imp coughed, cracking its back, peering at the succubus. "Succubi rely first on stealth and disguise, then on attack. One must come before the other, else you may as well just blast your opponent yourself"

Byron sighed and nodded "All right. All right. Thank you for that, Nalkin."

The imp nodded, shuffling back to where he appeared. He bent down and patted Byron's lowered hand, face almost kindly in its age and weathering. "At least you got the business suit right. She looks like she's been tailored by a pro." The imp vanished in a small puff of smoke.

When Byron looked back up, his succubus had managed to turn her head, gazing at him hungrily with glowing blue eyes. Alarmed he clenched his fist and waved it to the side. "Dismissed, Hettie!"

In the seconds before vanishing, she managed a grin, a predatory exposure of teeth.

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