SORCEROUS SIGNALS
Written by Margaret L Carter / Artwork by Holly Eddy
Dusting Pixie
Who would have expected magic to shed so much
dust? Ardyth certainly hadn’t visualized it as a
major part of her apprenticeship in witchcraft with
her Aunt Zenobia. Tearing open yet another crate,
Ardyth sneezed at the puff of dust that billowed
from the mildewed tomes inside. She still had to
unpack three of the seven boxes Zenobia had
brought from the estate of an old friend of hers,
the recently deceased wizard Zaddok.

Ardyth set a stack of books on the floor and

paused to brush her brown curls, frizzed from
humidity and stray magical energy, off her
forehead. Most of the miscellaneous books and
paraphernalia in these boxes would probably
prove to be worthless and wind up in the cramped
chamber at the far end of the attic where
unwanted junk was stowed, never to be seen
again. Since Zenobia’s cottage, like most witches’
and wizards’ homes, was bigger inside than out,
with more rooms than the inhabitants could keep
track of, there was no incentive to throw anything
away. Still, Ardyth had to inspect every item one
by one, no magical shortcuts, in case anything
valuable turned up. Zenobia expected to find the
job finished when she returned home the next
day. She’d often said Ardyth had a strong mage
gift but needed to learn focus, a goal these
routine tasks were supposed to promote.

With a longing thought for her own experiments

that languished in the workroom downstairs,
Ardyth flipped through a tattered bestiary and
set it aside. A gleam at the bottom of the crate caught her eye. Something under the books radiated
multicolored light.

She pulled out the next layer of volumes and exposed a glowing crystal sphere. Her pulse quickening,
she picked up the orb, which rested on an ivory base etched with runes and just big enough to cup in
her two hands. A diminutive creature stared at her from inside the sphere. Mouse-sized and vaguely
feminine, although draperies of prismatic mist swirled around its twig-thin body and concealed all details,
the being had a halo of silver-blue hair that floated as if in an invisible wind.  

It, or she, pounded tiny fists against the inside of the crystal and cried, “Help! Get me out!” Her birdlike
voice sounded as sweet as wind chimes.

“Calm down. Who are you, and how did you get stuck in there?”

The sprite folded her arms, her silver eyes glowering. “My name is Iridia. An evil wizard imprisoned me in
this arcane trap.”

“Why?” Ardyth had already learned enough about sorcery to refrain from assuming all magical beings, no
matter how beautiful, were benign.

“I don’t know! Because he was evil,” the sprite retorted in an exasperated tone. “I never did anything
but toil faithfully for him. Please work the spell to liberate me, and I shall reward you.”

The prospect sounded a lot more exciting than her present job. Turning the sphere in her hands, Ardyth
noticed its base displayed two sets of runes, one spell for confinement and the other for release.

She wrapped the orb in a soft cloth and carried it down to the workroom. “Onyx? Look what I found.”

The crow who lived on a platform against the room’s outer wall, with a flap in the adjacent window for
ease of flying away and returning, emerged from his ornately carved wooden house and flapped his
wings. “What’s that, youngster?”

She held up the sphere, which still emitted its prismatic glow. “A sprite trapped by enchantment. She
claims an evil wizard imprisoned her.”

Onyx said with a skeptical caw, “I never heard old Zaddok was evil, just eccentric and crabby. All part of
the basic job description.”

“He was a wicked tyrant,” the sprite insisted. Miniature lightning bolts flashed around her and bounced
off the inner curves of the orb.

“You’re not thinking of letting it out, are you?” Onyx asked.

“Not it, she,” Ardyth said. “I’m thinking about that, yes. If she’s innocent, it would be cruel to leave her
in there.”

“And if it’s some kind of imp or gremlin in disguise?”

“I’m not an idiot. I’ll be careful, and I’m perfectly capable of casting a protective circle. We’ll be fine.”

“What do you mean we, witch girl? Don’t blame me if you get incinerated or turned into a frog.”

“I’m lucky Aunt Zenobia has more faith in me than you do.” Ardyth set the orb in the middle of the
permanent ritual circle painted on the floor and began chalking in the symbols for the protective spell.

“Hmph. If you set loose a gremlin that wrecks Mistress Zenobia’s laboratory, she’ll turn you into
something worse than a frog.”

After completing the protective circle, Ardyth cast a truth spell over the sphere, a silver net that would
blacken if the target creature lied. “Is this your true form?”

“Of course it is.” An indignant flurry of sparks emanated from the sprite.

“You did nothing to harm Master Zaddok or anyone else? He had no justifiable cause to imprison you?”

With a vigorous shake of her head, the creature said, “No, as I already told you.”

The clear silver of the net didn’t grow any darker. “If I release you, you won’t hurt me or anybody else?”

“I would not think of doing such a thing. I will reward you for your kindness.”

“What reward?”

“I’ll clean this house for you. I shall restore it to its proper perfection.” Still no change in the truth spell.

Glancing around, Ardyth recognized the house had a long way to go to reach that state. Dust motes
floated in sunbeams from the window opposite Onyx’s niche. Books and potion bottles were shelved in
random order, neither she nor her aunt being much inclined to pause for such considerations while
working. Unidentifiable stains and smudges marred shelves, tables, and floor. The guilty thought flitted
across her mind that Aunt Zenobia expected the floor to be swept and the dishes washed before she
returned, at least. Ardyth did keep her experiments in order, although the order followed a system
peculiar to herself. At present she was working with time. Three potted violets sat in a row, each at a
different stage of flowering. Each one progressed at ten-minute intervals in the complete cycle from bud
to full bloom, then reversed itself and started over. Inside a translucent, green bubble, she held a half-
melted ice cube in stasis, not melting any further for the past ten days. She’d managed to reverse a
chick to an egg and a plant to a seed. Those spells hadn’t turned out quite perfectly, though. Both egg
and seed had disintegrated to small piles of ash.

Ardyth reflected that with the cleaning done for her, she’d have time after unpacking the boxes to
update her spell notes. “That would be wonderful,” she told the sprite. With a wave of her hand, she
dismissed the truth spell, then erased a symbol to break the confining circle. Next she chanted the
releasing spell on the orb’s base. The instant the last syllable flowed from her lips, the crystal rippled like
the surface of a pond, and Iridia flashed from inside the orb to the floor beside it.

“You have my eternal gratitude.”

“Eternal isn’t necessary.” Open-ended deals with supernatural creatures could have pitfalls. “I’ll be thrilled
if you just get the place in shape today. Could you start with the kitchen?” She gestured toward the
door to her left.

The sprite flitted into the kitchen with a spray of iridescent light fanning in her wake. Ardyth followed,
watching Iridia scowl at the pile of dirty dishes heaped on the sideboard. The sprite waved her hand, and
glittering dust covered the plates and pans. A second later, it vanished along with all the crusted-on
food. With another wave, she sent the gleaming utensils floating upward to stack themselves on the
shelves. A second and third burst of scintillating dust banished grime from floor, walls, and shelves.
Ardyth grinned in delight. On the few occasions when her aunt allowed her to clean with cantrips instead
of the laborious scrubbing and sweeping that were supposed to build character, the process took longer.

Iridia flung a sparkling sandstorm at the rows of jars filled with herbs and spices, which shuffled around
until they'd arranged themselves in alphabetical order. Singing in her wind-chime voice, she flew into the
workroom. There she scattered dust over the bookshelves, which also rearranged themselves. Ardyth
had never seen the tomes in such order since the day she'd moved in. “That's perfect. Could you sweep
and dust in here, too?”

In a shower of glittering sand, the dirt vanished. She glanced up at Onyx, who glared from his perch with
ruffled feathers. “See, I told you she wouldn't cause any problems.”

“Don't be so sure.”

Whirling around, Ardyth caught sight of Iridia hovering over the work table. A miniature cyclone of
sparks swirled over the bottles and open books. Before Ardyth could yell in protest, the books slammed
shut and drifted to join their companion volumes, while the potions floated to the shelves Iridia had
already started alphabetizing. Seconds later, the table was bare except for the ongoing experiments.

When Iridia swooped toward a butterfly cocoon that had lain unchanging in a bubble of magic for
months, Ardyth shouted, “No! Stop!”

The sprite frowned at her.

“No more. That's perfect,” Ardyth hastily added.

“Good. My goal is to reward you with perfection.” She fluttered to Onyx's platform, which he'd adorned
with gems, colored feathers, and shiny coins in a decorating scheme known only to him. “Master crow, I
shall now restore your home to pristine tidiness.”

He squawked and swatted her with both wings. “Don't you dare, imp, or I'll eat you.”

“Eat me?” A rainbow-hued tear slipped from one of Iridia's eyes.

“Why not? I've eaten plenty of mice, and you're about the same size. You'd make one good gulp.”

“You're as cruel as the evil wizard Zaddok. I only wish to serve.”

Ardyth stepped between them. “Stop scaring her. Iridia, maybe you should tackle the bathing room
next.” What harm could she do there? Hang towels according to color? Sculpt the soap into flower
shapes?

Ardyth turned to the shelf above the work table and started hunting for the potions she'd painstakingly
sorted out for her projects over a span of weeks. A few minutes later, Onyx interrupted her with a caw
of warning. “Heads up! That sparkly insect just went into Mistress Zenobia's study.”

“What?” Nobody, including Ardyth, was allowed into that sanctum without invitation.

She dashed through the door that now stood ajar. With luck, she'd find parchments, scrolls, pens, and
grimoires strewn in the usual artful disorder.

Too late. A layer of iridescent dust coated every surface, including the desk top, now bare of everything
except a single black rose in a vase, relocated from its normal niche in the bookcase. She shrieked in
horror.

Iridia flew at her face. “What troubles you, my kind deliverer? Is it not much tidier?”

Ardyth sneezed at the puff of glitter dust that hit her in the face and choked out, “Tidier than ever
before.” She shooed the sprite out of the study, slammed the door shut, and muttered a quick locking
spell. “The wine cellar needs dusting. Right this way. Remember, dust first. And double-check for
cobwebs.” She ushered Iridia down a corridor into the cellar, then closed and wizard-locked the door.
The sprite couldn't do much damage by rearranging bottles in the wine racks.

Rushing back to the workroom, she wailed, “Aunt Zenobia is going to kill me!”

Onyx bobbed his head in agreement. “I can't wait to see what she'll turn you into.”

“Oh, shut up.”

“Well, it's clear why old Zaddok stuck that pest in the crystal. Can I eat her now?”

Ardyth folded her arms and scowled, spoiling the gesture with another sneeze at the residual glitter
dust. “How about coming up with some useful suggestions?”

“The solution is obvious. Put her back in the orb.”

“No, that would be cruel, too. The poor thing really means well. There must be something else I can do
with her.”Ardyth spun around, scanning the chamber for inspiration. Her eyes lit on the endlessly cycling
violets. “I've got it.”
      
She neutralized the locking cantrip, and the sprite flitted out of the cellar in a spray of fireworks.

“Sorry, the door was stuck,” Ardyth said. “Iridia, I have another difficult task for you. Please follow me.”
She marched up three flights of stairs to the attic with Iridia hovering at her left shoulder. Tugging open
the slanted door of the never-visited storeroom under the eaves, she said, “You see all those nasty
cobwebs? And the boxes are in a horrible jumble.”

Iridia sparkled with obvious delight. “Trust me, my deliverer, I shall not rest until this chamber achieves
perfection.”

“That’s what I’m counting on.” The moment Iridia darted inside, Ardyth softly shut the door and wizard-
locked it. With arcane gestures that made her fingers seem to blur, she chanted her time-loop spell. A
violet cloud emanated from her hands to settle on the door panel. She grinned with satisfaction as the
mist faded into the wood, signifying that the enchantment had taken effect.

When she walked into the workshop, Onyx cocked a beady eye at her. “What have you done?”

“I fixed it so Iridia will be perfectly content without bothering us. As long as this house stands, she’ll live
the same ten minutes of cleaning over and over in perpetuity—and it’ll seem new to her every time the
loop re-starts.”

“In perpetuity? That would take a lot more magical energy than making a flower cycle between bud and
bloom.”

Ardyth sighed. Trust the crow to puncture her bubble of satisfaction. “Oh, all right, it may not last as
long as the house stands. But it should last long enough for me to find the right moment to explain the
situation to Aunt Zenobia.”

"I still think it would have been simpler to let me eat the pest.”

“On the bright side,” Ardyth said, “I can get back to my experiments, since she did get the place
straightened up.”

“Including Mistress Zenobia’s study,” the crow reminded her in a doom-laden croak.

“Oh, gods, my aunt is still going to kill me.” She hurried to the workbench and frantically flipped the
pages of her notebook.

“Now what disaster are you about to perpetrate?”

“Remember the time reversal spell I was working on? If I can just get the kinks out of that before
tomorrow, I could cast it on the desk and un-straighten it…”

Onyx flew out the window with a caw of disgust.



Dusting Pixie
Margaret L. Carter specializes in vampires, having been marked for life by
reading DRACULA at the age of twelve. Her vampire novel DARK
CHANGELING won an Eppie Award in the horror category in 2000.
Other creatures she writes about include werewolves, dragons, ghosts,
and Lovecraftian entities with tentacles. She has had stories published in
Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Darkover" and "Sword and Sorceress"
anthology series. In addition to her horror, fantasy, and paranormal
romance fiction, she has written several nonfiction books and articles on
the supernatural in literature, including DIFFERENT BLOOD: THE
VAMPIRE AS ALIEN.

Explore love among the monsters at her website,
Carter's Crypt.

Her books and some anthologies she has appeared in can be found here:
http://www.amazon.com/Margaret-L.-Carter/e/B001HOM9JI