Cuttlebutt perched at the forest’s edge, idly carving wood for a new wand. The air cooled with the setting sun, his breath misting the blue-black dusk. His hand froze midway down the stick.
The scent of lilacs cut through the animal musk, decaying leaves, and Cuttlebutt’s own smell.
The voice came next. Soft as moss. Clear as a snow-melt spring.
Cuttlebutt tucked the almost-wand into his trousers and smoothed his matted mane.
“Milady,” he said when she came into view. “I find myself in need of employ. Might’n there be something I can do for ye?”
“Kind sir, I am merely a girl journeying to my grandmama’s. I have no job to offer.”
She stepped around him, but Cuttlebutt shifted into her path.
“Ah, but I am a magician. I offer more than labor. Spells.”
The maiden tilted her head. “Dark magic?”
Gold coins were gold coins. But dark magic cost an ounce of his soul. He’d shed some over the years. Was it worth letting go of more?
“Aye, but lass, are ye sure? It costs too much of yer soul.”
When she smiled, it was like the sun shone only for him. “You needn’t worry about my soul. Think of a roof over your head, a warm meal in your belly. Shoes on your feet.”
She continued down the trail, her scent and hummed tune dragging him along.
It was only after several minutes of following that Cuttlebutt noticed the forked tail snaking from under her dress.