|Written by Margaret L Carter / Artwork by Marge Simon
A tangle of vines shrouded the cleft in the rocky hillside.
While tethering her rented horse to a tree, Lorita
studied the opening. The gap looked just wide enough
for her to squeeze through. Closing her eyes, she
conjured up a mental image of the scene she had
viewed in Mistress Odelle’s crystal globe the day before.
Yes, below this hill lay the pool she had seen in the
“Here goes.” After a final pat for the horse and a glance
at the late morning sun, Lorita strode to the crack in
the rock. “The things I do for rent money.” Not to
mention her brother’s tuition as an apprentice archivist
at the temple school.
She smiled at the memory of Mistress Odelle’s dry
remark, “What I’m paying you is well worth it to me.
After all, I can hardly collect the item myself.” A magical
accident in youth had left the wizard’s legs too weak
for any physical exertion, much less squirming into a
Lorita resisted the urge to suck in her breath and
tighten her stomach. The passage wasn’t that tight.
She whispered a cantrip. A fist-size ball of light
materialized over her head. Although not a mage
herself, she’d learned enough magic from Master Arlen,
her former guardian, to perform a few simple spells.
She turned sideways and edged through the gap, the
light floating with her. It illuminated an alcove about
six paces across, with damp walls and a smooth stone
floor. Opposite the crack where she’d entered, the
ground slanted downward. What she thought of as her
“finding sense” assured her the pool lay in that direction. Although the pack she’d left on the horse contained a coil
of rope, apparently she wouldn’t need it.
“No snakes, spiders, or lizards. Good so far,” she said aloud as she stepped from level ground onto the ramp. Her
voice didn’t echo, so the cave couldn’t be a vast cavern. She could only hope it wouldn’t grow too narrow farther in
for her to reach her goal.
With her left hand on the wall, she picked her way downward. The air, sharp with a metallic odor, soon cooled, a
relief from the summer heat outside. At intervals a faint breeze stirred her short hair, probably from cracks that
vented to the outside. Her legs ached as she tensed them to keep from tripping on the steep slope. At last the
floor leveled out. Shutting her eyes once more to orient herself, she sensed the nearness of her goal. The
passageway bent to the right.
Around the corner, it opened into a high-ceilinged chamber with the pool in the center. The still surface reflected
Lorita’s floating light. She sank to her knees on the rocky verge of the water. Three iridescent objects rested on
the bottom of the pool, just as she’d seen them in the crystal. “Eggs. I wonder what kind.” The wizard hadn’t
deigned to explain anything beyond what Lorita needed to accomplish the job. She reached into the water to test
its depth and gasped at the icy cold. Gritting her teeth, she plunged her arm in until she touched bottom.
Fortunately, it wasn’t too deep for her to reach. She walked around the edge to the nearest egg, knelt again,
braced herself for the chill, and picked up the object.
Seated on the stone floor, she examined her prize. Big enough to cover her palm, it felt leathery, not hard like a
hen’s egg. Rainbow-hued flecks on its surface emitted a prismatic glow. Despite the cold water it had lain in, it
radiated warmth. “Where’s your mother? And what is she?” The last thing Lorita wanted was a clash with some
enraged exotic beast. She reassured herself she’d seen no sign of any living creature. Most likely the animal,
whatever it was, crept into the cave to lay eggs and left them there unattended.
From the breast pocket of her tunic, she took out a padded pouch her employer had enchanted to protect its
contents, big enough to hold one egg. With the treasure safely enveloped, she returned the bag to her pocket.
“There, you’ll be fine until we get to your new home.” Collecting a specimen for a wizard’s hoard might not be high
adventure, but it was one of the most exciting jobs she’d undertaken in a long time. She typically used her finding
gift to trace lost purses, stray livestock, and the occasional runaway child. Any of those, at least, were less tedious
than the lessons with Master Arlen in her teen years, poring over dusty volumes and endlessly repeating
experiments on insects and house plants. Whenever she’d begged to go along on his expeditions, he’d insisted the
work was too dangerous for an apprentice. She couldn’t deny how much she owed him for adopting her and her
younger brother after their parents’ death, but she’d finally decided she didn’t want to be a wizard if the craft
required that kind of drudgery. She’d expected magic to offer more adventure than that. She’d left to make her
own way in the world five years ago.
Heading for the ramp, she glanced at the light that still hovered over her head. Without Master Arlen’s interminable
lessons, she had to admit, she wouldn’t have possessed those small but useful skills.
She trudged up the incline, her legs and chest aching by the time she reached the exit. When she edged through
the gap into the forest clearing, the sun stood at a little past noon. She extinguished her light spell. For a minute
she leaned on the horse’s flank, sweaty and laboring for breath, then took a gulp of water from her canteen. “Time
to go. We’ve got a three-hour ride back to Mistress Odelle’s place.”
As she reached up to untie her mount, something stirred in her pocket. Flinching in surprise, she fingered the
padded lump through her tunic. It pulsed.
She took out the pouch and opened it, cupped in her hand. The smooth surface of the shell rippled. A hair-thin
crack bisected it from tip to tip.
“Stop that! Don’t you dare hatch now.”
The egg broke apart to reveal something tightly coiled in half of the shell. “I told you not to do that.” She poked
the thing with a cautious fingertip. It quivered. “You don’t bite, do you?”
Unwinding partway, the creature raised its upper body. It looked like a flat, translucent ribbon flecked with
multicolored sparkles. A faint glow like the one that had surrounded the egg emanated from it. Any fear that it
could bite vanished with the observation that it had no visible mouth. Six dots adorned what appeared to be the
head, which swiveled toward Lorita’s face. The elongated, undulating form tapered to a point at the other end.
Before she could stop it, the animal flowed onto her wrist.
Dropping the eggshell, she let out a yelp of alarm. She tried to shake the thing off, but it clung to her skin. It
turned out to be long enough to wrap around her forearm twice, which it immediately did regardless of her flailing.
She drew deep breaths to calm her racing heart. After all, the creature wasn’t hurting her. It emitted soothing
warmth and was actually rather lovely.
The next instant, clusters of painless needles pricked her skin where the animal’s underside gripped her. The
warmth surged up her arm and radiated through her body. A wave of euphoria swept over her as if she’d just
gulped down a goblet of wine. Leaning on the nearest tree to steady herself, she shut her eyes.
A vision popped up behind her closed lids—her own face framed against a leafy branch. I’m seeing through its
senses. She opened her eyes. The exhilaration faded to a mild tingle. The creature rippled, and she felt a kittenish
pleasure that she recognized as its emotion. She ran a finger over its silky length.
“Enough, into the bag with you.” Gentle prying detached the animal from her arm. Where it had clamped onto her,
a band of minute, red spots discolored her skin. When she transferred the creature into the pack slung behind the
saddle, she felt its disappointment and caught a brief glimpse of the dark interior of the pack. Shaking her head,
she untied the horse and mounted up. Within seconds, the traces on her forearm faded to nothing. In their natural
habitat, did these creatures bond with wild animals the same way?
As the horse picked a path among the trees a minute later, Lorita sensed movement behind her. Glancing back, she
found the creature oozing through the tiny space between the inside of the bag and the flap that covered the
opening. She should have realized its boneless body could doubtless squeeze through almost any gap. It slithered
up her side and wrapped around her arm again.
“All right, I guess you can stay there for now, Taper.” Not a very inventive name, but then it wouldn’t be with her
long enough to need one.
~ * ~
Three hours later, she rode onto Mistress Odelle’s property along a tree-lined lane. The wizard lived in a red-brick
manor surrounded by spacious grounds, with a workshop in a separate one-story structure next to the house.
After tethering the horse, Lorita walked directly to the smaller building, where she knew she’d find her employer at
this time of day. How would the wizard react upon learning the egg had already hatched?
The door swung open the instant Lorita touched the knocker. The fragrance of incense tickled her nose. Stepping
inside the cool, dim front room, she found Mistress Odelle leaning on two silver-handled canes next to the desk,
which held a notebook, inkstand, and scrying crystal. A wide work table strewn with scrolls and vials dominated the
opposite wall. Star charts and shelves covered most of the vertical space. The two doors on either side, Lorita knew
from her previous visit, led to the library and the collection chamber. The wizard took a couple of steps toward her.
Tall, thin, and pale, Mistress Odelle wore her silver-streaked platinum hair in a tight coil around her head. Her stern
face relaxed in a brief, tight-lipped smile. “I presume you succeeded in your assignment?”
“Yes, but with a small complication.” Lorita held up the arm Taper coiled around.
The wizard’s eyes widened, and her tone sharpened. “The egg hatched?”
“Right after I got it out of the cave.”
The mage stepped closer and touched the ribbon-like body. “Rainbow worms are extremely rare and, according to
the lore, sensitive.” Taper shuddered and shrank from her fingertip. Lorita stifled the impulse to protest that the
contact was upsetting the creature. “I didn’t expect it to hatch so soon, but apparently there’s no harm done.” The
mage took a seat at the desk, opened the notebook, and dipped the pen in ink. “Before we go any further, describe
for me the exact location of the cave.”
Lorita recited the route she’d taken to reach the site, mentioning each landmark. She took pride in the precision of
her memory, honed through hours of drill from her old master. After writing out the entire account, the wizard
said, “Now, in case I later want another specimen, it won’t matter if you happen to be unavailable.” She blotted the
page and used the canes to lever herself to her feet. “This way.”
Lorita followed her employer into the collection room, which she’d barely glimpsed on her first visit. Illuminated by a
larger, brighter version of the light orb she had cast in the cave, shelves lined three walls. Glass tanks and globes
of varying sizes filled them. Animals basked, swam, paced, or wriggled in most of the receptacles.
Mistress Odelle walked to one of the lower shelves and ran her hand around the top of a sphere empty aside from a
rock in a few inches of water. As she recited a phrase in one of the languages of sorcery, a seam opened around
the rim of the globe. She detached and lifted off the cap. “Rainbow worms are not only esthetically pleasing,” she
said. “They have a nearly unique quality, or so the lore claims. It’s said they’re immune to spells. With a sample to
experiment on, I hope to learn the nature and function of this immunity.”
“That won’t hurt the, uh, rainbow worm, will it?”
“A rudimentary organism with no brain doesn’t have the capacity for painful sensations. Here, I’ll take it now.” With
her long fingernails, she tried to pry the animal off Lorita’s arm.
A high-pitched whine vibrated in Lorita’s ears. For a second she wondered why the mage acted oblivious to the
noise, until she realized it was actually inside her head. Brain or none, Taper certainly had consciousness, enough to
fear a stranger.
Mistress Odelle frowned. “Apparently I must ask you to transfer the creature to its receptacle.” When Lorita
hesitated, the wizard snapped, “Well? Go ahead.”
Stroking the rainbow worm, Lorita tried to project calm. It’s all right, Taper. I’m going to put you on that rock
now. She peeled off the creature and mentally urged it to crawl into the orb. With a reluctance she felt like itching
under her skin, it slid off the tips of her fingers into the globe. Mistress Odelle restored the cap of glass to its place
and recited the unsealing spell with a single change in the final syllable. The seam at the joining point vanished.
“How can it survive inside a sealed ball? Won’t it suffocate? And what about food?”
The wizard tapped the glass. “The globes are magically permeable to air. I can open them, as you’ve seen, to tend
the animals. From what I’ve read about this species, though, it derives nourishment directly from air and water
through its outer membrane. With the water regularly changed, it should be fine. If it needs anything else, I’ll
discover that in the course of my studies.”
Lorita suspected it needed the blood of whatever animal it bonded with, but she didn’t intend to try explaining that
to her employer. Since there was no hope Lorita would be allowed to take the coveted “specimen” away with her,
she could only hope her brief contact with Taper hadn’t made it dependent on her. Surely the accidental link would
quickly wear off. On the way out of the chamber, though, she caught a glimpse of the creature plastered against
the front inner curve of the globe. Its formerly smooth length now looked like a crumpled ribbon.
Mistress Odelle led the way into the front room, where she took a small pouch from a desk drawer. When she
handed it over, it clinked. Lorita didn’t bother peeking inside to count the coins. She’d never heard the wizard
accused of dishonesty. A cool thanks from the other woman made it clear that Lorita’s business there was done.
As she walked out, a discontented hum buzzed in her head. You’ll be all right, Taper. You’re valuable. You won’t
be hurt. She tried not to think about the word “experiment.”
She took her time riding into town, with her mood dragged down by more than fatigue despite the money in her
pocket and the grass-scented summer afternoon breeze. The memory of Taper’s distress nagged at her. Was it
her imagination that she still felt the creature’s unhappiness in the back of her mind? How far did the link reach,
anyway? And how much longer would it last? After returning the horse to the livery stable where she’d rented it at
the mage’s expense, Lorita trudged to the tavern for a meal more lavish than she could usually afford. Maybe good
food and wine would help her shake off the malaise that shadowed her.
~ * ~
A headache woke her. She glanced at the small, round window in the bedroom half of her two-room attic
apartment. From the position of the moon, she’d slept only an hour or so. That nagging buzz reverberated in her
skull again. Taper? Closing her eyes, Lorita saw the shelves of the collection chamber distorted by curved glass. A
three-eyed fish stared back at her from the adjacent bowl. Dull pain pulsed through her. When she opened her
eyes to banish the vision, the buzzing segued into a forlorn wail.
She sat up, rubbing her face. That appeal was as hard to ignore as a whimpering puppy. Sighing, she dragged
herself out of bed, dressed, and opened the locked chest under the window. As she took out her set of lock picks,
she noticed the purse of silver where she’d stashed it. If she planned to snatch the rainbow worm back from the
mage, she could hardly keep the payment for capturing the animal. With a pang at the thought of her brother’s
monthly fee to the temple, due in less than a week, she stuffed the money pouch into her pocket. After all, she was
a finder, not a thief.
All right, Taper, I’m on my way. On foot, she’d have an hour’s hike from town to the manor. The sooner she got
started, the better. Each pace in the direction of her goal, she found, further muted the cry in her head.
She reached the wizard’s estate with no mishaps. As soon as she entered the grounds, she cast another of the
spells she’d learned before abandoning Master Arlen to seek adventure—invisibility. Unlike the light orb, it required
some concentration to maintain, but with luck she’d encounter no distractions. She picked the lock of the workshop
by touch, a task her fingers performed with little need for thought after years of practice. Inside, she trusted to
memory to thread a path across the dark room without knocking anything over. The bolt on the door of the
collection chamber, too, yielded to her skill. Once she opened the inner door, the wizard’s permanent light orb cast
plenty of illumination for Lorita to find Taper’s globe on the shelf she remembered.
The rainbow worm looked as shriveled as an autumn leaf. Suppressing a gasp of dismay, she murmured the words
of the unsealing spell she’d heard the mage recite. As the lid of the glass sphere came loose, Lorita silently thanked
the gods for her facile memory which her old master had often praised. Taper slithered onto her wrist, and the
tingle from its clusters of minute needles shivered up her arm. The same warm surge of euphoria she’d felt before
coursed through her.
“Yes, I’m glad to see you, too. Let’s get out of here.” She dug the money pouch out of her pocket and set it on
the shelf beside the vacated sphere.
Just as she turned toward the exit, smoke billowed from the center of the floor. She darted for the door, but the
gray cloud blocked her path. It coalesced into a lupine beast with crimson eyes. It lunged for her. She dodged,
becoming visible as the attack broke her focus. The thing swirled around and snapped at her leg. The misty fangs
felt as sharp as a real wolf’s when they sliced through her trousers and slashed her calf. Why didn’t I ever get
around to learning a lightning spell?
Backing up, she groped for the empty sphere on the shelf. Yelping at the sting of a second bite from the smoke
beast, she hurled the glass globe at its jaws. The sphere shattered. The guardian disintegrated into a cloud of gray
She lurched for the door, fighting to ignore the pain. Already the creature was re-forming. She raced through the
front room and barely made it outside with the beast on her heels. She slammed the outer door behind her and
stood panting for a few seconds, wondering whether the thing would pursue her. To her relief, it didn’t materialize.
Doubtless the spell that generated it confined it to the space it guarded.
Just as she prepared to re-cast the invisibility spell, a ball of bluish flame drifted across the courtyard from the
manor. The light hovered over a rug that floated about waist height off the ground. Mistress Odelle spoke from her
seat on the carpet. “Didn’t it occur to you that I’d have a magical alarm linked to my spectral guardian?”
Yes, Lorita had considered that possibility, but it hadn’t occurred to her—as it should have—that the infirm wizard
would have a means of quick transport from the house to the workshop. Lorita had counted too much on her own
ability to make a fast getaway. Before she could sprint out of range, the mage intoned an incantation that froze the
intruder on the spot.
“What possessed you to steal my specimen? Do you have another buyer?”
Lorita gulped a deep breath, relieved that the paralysis chained her only from the waist down. “I’m not stealing. I
left your money on the shelf in there.”
Mistress Odelle greeted this protest with a snort. “We’ll let the Watch sort you out.” She muttered another spell.
Lorita regained the power to move her legs, but only in the direction the wizard commanded. Her captor marched
her to a slanted trapdoor at the side of the manor, shoved aside a wooden bar, and flipped the door open. “Will
you descend of your own free will, or must I force you?”
Since her muscles ached from the pressure of the magical coercion, Lorita climbed down the ladder into the
underground space on her own. First, though, she silently urged the rainbow worm, Go, Taper! Run away and hide.
Although she sensed its reluctance, it slipped off her wrist and crept into the shadows of the surrounding garden.
As Lorita reached the bottom of the ladder, Mistress Odelle noticed the rainbow worm’s absence. “Curse it, where
did the creature go? No matter, I’ll find it in the morning—after I call the Watch to arrest you.”
“On what charge? You don’t have any better claim to the rainbow worm than I do, and I returned the money you
“Breaking and entering, damage to property. And you owe me for losing the beast if I can’t retrieve it.”
“You haven’t lost anything. It would have wasted away and died in there.”
“As if you know more than I do about exotic creatures.” The wizard slammed down the trap door. The scraping
noise of the bar followed.
Left alone in musty-smelling darkness, Lorita conjured a light and found herself locked in a cellar for storage of
firewood and root vegetables. No potential weapons here. She emitted a rueful laugh at the image of knocking the
wizard over the head with a log. Huddled on the dirt floor, Lorita mentally ranged in search of the rainbow worm,
hoping it had escaped.
To her dismay, when she made contact with it, she glimpsed the outside of the trap door above her. What are you
doing here? If you hang around, Mistress Odelle will catch you. Crawl to the forest and find a deer or something
to bond with.
Lorita’s twinge of sadness at losing the creature surprised her. Better for it to roam wild, though, than to be
trapped in the wizard’s collection. But it ignored her command. Instead, a glimmer of its iridescence seeped through
the crack between door and frame. Seconds later, the paper-thin shape oozed through that gap into the cellar.
In bemused wonder, she watched Taper undulate across the floor and twine around her wrist. “I had no idea you
could squeeze through a space that small. Now you’d better squeeze right out again.” The seed of an idea
sprouted in her mind. How much strength did that flexible body have? The bar hadn’t looked heavy, doubtless
meant only to keep vermin out of the food supplies. “Could you shift that?”
She had no idea whether Taper understood language. Standing and stretching her arm toward the top of the
ladder, she stared at the underside of the trap door. She visualized the rainbow worm creeping out through the
crack and slithering to the bar. The creature projected reluctance to leave her. It’s all right. Do this, and we’ll
It slowly unwound from her wrist, undulated up the ladder, and slipped outside. She concentrated harder, fixing the
image of the wooden bar in her mind’s eye. She closed her eyes to immerse herself in the creature’s perceptions.
Taper crawled to the bar and stretched its full length along the bottom edge. Good! Now push. Lorita climbed to
the top of the ladder, struggling to hold the image of the result she wanted.
Taper strained, hunching its flexible body. The bar inched upward. That’s it, harder! Taper pushed again. The bar
shifted just far enough to clear the edge of the trapdoor. Hang on. She extinguished her light and shoved at the
door. When she’d raised it enough to open a gap she could fit through, she clambered out.
Kneeling on the ground, panting, she waited for Taper to wrap around her forearm. Again the tingle of the minute
needles suffused her with warmth. Rather than feeling weakened by the tiny amount of blood the creature required,
she felt energized. She heaved herself to her feet and cast the invisibility spell.
Striding along the tree-lined lane from the manor to the main road, she stroked the silken, iridescent living ribbon.
“Well, there goes the tuition payment, not to mention the hit to my reputation if this tale gets out.”
An hour later, relieved at the absence of pursuit, she reached the town. Exhausted from the confrontation and the
long walk, she tiptoed up the back stairs, letting out a tensely held breath when she got into her rooms without
waking the landlady.
“Looks like I’ve acquired a pet.” Lorita poured a bowl half full of water and set a smaller bowl upside down in the
center of it. Taper unwound from her arm and slithered onto the makeshift platform. She considered covering the
bowl with gauze but decided not to bother. As she’d seen, Taper could ooze through the smallest crack. If it
wanted to escape, it would do so. “But you don’t want to leave, do you?” An aura of contentment radiated from
After changing into her night shift, she blew out the candle and stretched face up on the bed. From the corner of
her eye, she glimpsed her new pet’s prismatic glow on the bedside table. “I’ll have to leave town tomorrow, won’t I?
And look for some finding jobs at the next hiring fair I come to. I hope Mistress Odelle won’t track me down. With
luck, she’ll decide it’s too much trouble. After all, she got her money back, and now that she knows where the cave
is, she can always send somebody else for another egg.” If the wizard could pinpoint the exact location of objects
or people as easily as she could view them in her scrying crystal, she wouldn’t have needed to hire a finding
specialist. As a last resort, Lorita knew she could appeal to Master Arlen for protection against the other wizard.
Crawling back to the guardian she’d abandoned, though, was the last thing she wanted to do.
“Hiding from an angry mage is more adventure than I needed, but I think we’re safe for tonight.” A flicker of
uneasiness from Taper brushed the edge of her mind. “Nothing to worry about right now. You’ll warn me if she
gets anywhere near us, won’t you?”
Taper curled into a ball, subsiding into calm.
“It’s been a strange day and night. Master Arlen would say I put myself in danger for nothing.” She ran a finger
around the rim of the bowl before letting her eyes drift shut. “But it was worth it.”
Margaret L. Carter specializes in vampires, having been marked for life
by reading DRACULA at the age of twelve. She earned degrees in
English from the College of William and Mary, the University of Hawaii,
and the University of California (Irvine). Her dissertation included a
chapter on DRACULA. In addition to her horror, fantasy, and
paranormal romance fiction, she has had several nonfiction books and
articles published on vampires in literature, including THE VAMPIRE IN
LITERATURE: A CRITICAL BIBLIOGRAPHY and DIFFERENT BLOOD:
THE VAMPIRE AS ALIEN. Her first vampire novel, DARK CHANGELING,
won an EPPIE Award in the horror category. Other creatures she
writes about include werewolves, dragons, ghosts, and Lovecraftian
entities with tentacles. Her stories have appeared in anthologies such
as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover and “Sword and Sorceress”
volumes. With her husband, retired Navy Captain Leslie Roy Carter,
she has collaborated on a sword-and-sorcery series, beginning with
Explore love among the monsters at her website, Carter's Crypt: