Sophara Miris was fond of telling bar customers that she'd been an orphan, but that was not in the slightest bit true. She also said she'd been mixing drinks since she was small.
That part was true. She'd been born, unfairly, Igrulla Mur, and she'd started her first book of Sophara's Marvelous Mixes at age ten.
At the time, her parents had sighed in relief to see her spending so much time reading and writing quietly by candlelight. To say that she was a lively child would be like saying the sea was slightly damp. As her mama was fond of quipping, her twos had been terrible and the threes thrice so, and four forward had shaped up to be quite awful.
Her parents had left war-torn Vrixnia to settle in the quieter north. They'd found a decent house on a decent street of hardworking, upstanding, like-minded people, and they'd hoped for their daughter to have as quiet and unexceptional a life as they'd sought for themselves.
But her parents' first mistake had been naming their daughter Igrulla, after some long-dead great-grandmother. With a name like that, one had to become a badass or risk not surviving childhood. Their second mistake had been teaching Igrulla to make a Pink Bayou.
It was as simple as drinks could get, but her parents liked to relax with a simple libation at home after their days of drudgery, and after all, as Missus Mur was also fond of saying, why have children if you can't get them to do something useful now and again? The little darlings.
2 fingers Rose Brandy (adult fingers, mind)
1 sugar cube
3 fingers (size don't matter) sprng water
--read her first recipe.
Igrulla, that little darling, learned early on what control over her surroundings could be bought for the simple magic of booze and water. She also read books of spells when she could palm them illicitly from the restricted section of the library, because there really had to be something more interesting in store for her than a life of drudgery.
3 glugs well water, undisturbed in yellow bowl in dark/ abt 31 hrs
1 sp grd waste-not tuber, fresh or dried
2 ptls craveflower
enough vanilla moonshine to hide the taste of cf
At least 3 squeezes of will
--read one of her later and more involved recipes, the one that started the rest of her life.
The headmistress's office at school tried to be a bright and cheerful room, with its bonnet-sprigged curtains and vases filled with colorful dried flowers. But the flowers were covered in a fine film of dust, and the big windows behind the desk were smudged and fingerprinted on the inside, as if Miss Desisko had spent too much time splayed against it, screaming silently at the sunlit freedom outside.
"So, Igrulla. Why was Toma dancing naked in the school courtyard?"
Igrulla offered a slow, surprised blink, trying not to shift on the hard chair.
"Why, I suppose he must've wanted to."
"He says--" the headmistress looked down at a slate lying on her otherwise empty desk -- "that you offered him an alcoholic beverage."
"Oh, that," Igrulla said with a wave. Iotas of dust went dancing like sparkle-mites in the sunbeams.
"Yes, that. And furthermore, Nurse says she had to consult with a physicker who'd trained in magic to snap him out of it."
Igrulla felt the grin crawl up her body, curling her from toes to cheeks. "Well, that'll teach the little fucker to call me Eggroller and throw rocks at me, won't it?"
Despite the language, Miss Desisko only sighed. "Well, Egg-- Igrulla, this is an offence that is infinitely more serious than all the others. This is not Theradane, after all, where sorcery is tossed about willy-nilly. Your parents--"
"I'm going to be a wizard," Igrulla announced.
Miss Desisko narrowed her eyes for a few seconds and then shrugged. "If that's so, I suggest you begin studying languages. A lot of languages. You'll want to live very, very far from here if you're going to practice magic."
Hope or advice: did it matter? Igrulla made it home before her parents, and she had their Pink Bayous waiting when they came in the door. Her mama's side-eye was bright and white in her dark face. She flopped into a chair and took a long sip of her drink before speaking. "So what is it now, darling?" she asked.
"You need to enroll me to language school," Sophara said. "Oh, and by the way, I'll be signing all my letters 'Sophara.'"
Much to her parents' relief, when seventeen-year-old Sophara graduated from language school (with side helpings of mischief and five-dimensional math), she did not move back home but went straight into her first magical apprenticeship. Sophara may have been overeducated, but she wasn't above a bit of prurient interest: she chose Kaya and Gratius not only because they were skilled and lived in Theradane, but because they were hotter than all the hells. Kaya was as dark as the southernest Southerner, and Gratius was a blond ice-god from some island in the Ashenholm Archipelago.
They were a team, lovers, agreed in all things, and they practiced Eastern arts and surrounded themselves with pillows and intricate tapestries and incense. They taught Sophara the basics, how to pluck order from magical chaos like the most glittering bits of sand from a beach. But they had Bigger Visions. They aspired to nothing less than becoming Theradane's rulers, ousting the city's Parliament of infighting wizards and forming an oligarchy of two.
"The Parliament of Strife will become the Parliament of Love and Serenity," Kaya predicted more than once in a dreamy voice, gazing soulfully at the painted clouds moving across the ceiling of their flat.
"Won't it be wonderful?" Gratius would say, placing his pale hand over Kaya's and saving his soulful puppy-eyes for her.
But Sophara didn't have to spend long on the city to see that the pinnacle of rule was not one for her. Getting to the top of the mountain only meant waiting to get knocked off. She wanted to have fun.
So she did. Thanks to Gratius and Kaya, she grew in magical know-how, and thanks to herself, she learned to appreciate the little sophistications and conveniences of the city, like discovering how to change one's hair color in an instant; or to create false fruits to replace the ones she'd taken when short on cash; or to multiply one's twats, tits, and tongues temporarily to make the most of an orgy.
"Your hair is lovely. I have a high regard for that shade of tangerine, and it goes well with your skin! But we need to work on building a locus of compassionate power," Kaya said to Sophara one night as she arrived back at the flat.
"A worthy goal. But I'm going to practice silencing spells. Basics first!" Sophara told her.
When Sophara discovered the tavern around the corner from K and G's place, the Sinking Ship, she discovered a whole new world of libations and how to enhance them for reasons other than fucking with one's tormentors. The recipes in her book, which she'd brought with her, grew in number as she begged some and stole others -- and those had baby recipes when Sophara began to experiment.
"You have a wondrous natural skill, but your art is wasted on alcohol. It only ends up as piss and stupidity," Gratius said to her as she arrived home yet another night. And fuck, it was a meditation night, and she'd totally forgotten. But there they were, cross-legged on the ceiling.
"It makes people happy," Sophara said. She put down her bag, closed her eyes, and twined her fingers to join them.
Lotus of Contentment
1 jgr sunset whisky
1 t kama'ii dreamsugar
1 leaf mint
2 cbs whisper ice
mint needs coaxing to impart color
be firm w/ the ice
sprinkle dreamsugar grain by grain don't overdo it that shit's expensive!!!
--was one recipe she created, hoping to soothe their sensibilities.
One morning after soothing everyone's sensibilities to an alarming degree, Sophara arose -- late -- to be called into the front parlor. Kaya and Gratius were waiting for her there. They were both seated on chairs and were fully clothed, which meant that whatever they had to say was important.
Sophara sank into a third chair and dreamed of coffee.
"It is time," Gratius said.
"We are going to make our move," Kaya said.
"Good luck with that," Sophara said.
Gratius nodded. "We have been unsuccessful in our attempts to create a locus. But we know of someone who has directions to one that is appropriate to our needs."
Kaya raised her palms to the heavens. "The map must be liberated for the city to find its true destiny."
"They don't trust us, but they are unfamiliar with you," Gratius said. "If you help us, we'll make you a full third partner in our glorious rule."
"You had me at 'liberated,'" Sophara said, grinning.
Well, it had sounded like fun. And mostly it was! The Great Wizard Dinoa had somehow expired from natural causes, and the Great Wizard's lawyer had apparently acquired the map from the estate. He purportedly had it stored under heavy guard at his offices in preparation for probate, as several other ruling wizards were in competition to be Dinoa's heir. Sophara doused herself with matte black scales from her nose to her toes and dressed as a goblin Jolly Maid. Really, all she had to do was keep her head bowed and carry a chamber pot or two to allay suspicion, and if nobody checked to see that the chamber pots were not filled with tripsnakes and findflies, then that was all to her advantage.
Sophara's ability to create convincing fakes let her swipe the fabric astronomical map and replace it instantly. Her forays into temporary orifices served her kindly as well, because an extra hole for storing rolled charts came in handy. Too bad she couldn't read the damned thing.
Kaya and Gratius were gorgeous in their excitement. Their aura of greedlust was a little more unnerving to behold.
"Let us take the locus now!" Gratius exclaimed, his fingers curled like claws as he opened the chart.
"Why don't I make us a pitcher of Memory Mixer to celebrate?" Sophara chirped, and they were too intent on the map to notice the crookedness of her grin.
Not long after, Sophara found herself alone and on the road. It wasn't often that one could escape with one's skin and soul intact after being confronted by not two but three Great Wizards intent on blistering justice and map acquisition, but when one did, one made the most of it.
K and G, those assholes, had tried to pin it all on her. Before they'd been blasted into living crystalline dust and stored in bottles, that was. Very pretty, but not for Sophara. She'd only barely managed to convince the wizards that she was but a poor, young maid, fresh from the country and ensorcelled into a life of sexual depravity and theft at the bidding of her masters.
That would only work once. So she'd quickly decided that eighteen was a great age to get started on one's own career and had taken the road north. She'd wanted to visit Tirdanya for a while, anyway.
Known more commonly and prosaically as Mt. Lake-Seaport City, Tirdanya was famous for both its stupendous unmagical quality and the production of raw materials of an unparalleled purity. The place was reported to nullify all sorcery within its borders, but nonetheless, magicians intent on the precisest spells sought out its wood, metals, and single-essences.
It seemed like a great place to nab an arsenal of startup materials. It was also quite scenic, very natural. True to its stupider name, it nestled on a strip of land between a gleaming lake at the foot of a lushly green and long-dead volcano and a sparkling ocean bay. She did the tour: snowmelt provided the lake of virgin water undirtied by fish; the mining operations downstream produced the fine, famed ores; and favorable currents brought food from the clean NorthernSea and swept all the dirty stuff down south where it belonged.
And, as she discovered on her first night there, Tirdanya had the most amazing booze she'd ever encountered. Sophara acquired a room at the quaintly named Ole Log Inn and hit the bar right away. She ordered a Pink Bayou because she wasn't above a little sentimentality. The merest sip of the damned thing nearly knocked her off her stool, mostly from surprise. It tasted like heaven, like an ocean of pink, sweet, thornless roses.
She licked her lips and grinned at the ancient, one-eyed fellow behind the bar.
"Okay. What's the story with this stuff? It doesn't need magic, and I can't believe I'm saying that."
The old guy smiled. His one eye crinkled at her. "Your eyes don't match."
"No, they don't. So tell me why the rest of the world isn't drinking this hooch? It's amazing."
He shrugged and toweled out the inside of a glass. "The export tariff is jagged steep. Mostly we enjoy it here, in the clean air."
Sophara would bet a joint like the Fallen Fire had a few bottles in its collection. Not that she'd ever been able to afford a drink there. "A bunch of sailors and loggers? No offense intended."
"None taken. Besides, sailors know their booze! They drink all that stale crap on board, and when they stumble onto land after a long voyage, they appreciate the good stuff. Spend all their money here. Like everyone else. Ain't cheap being an environmentally conscious principality."
Her side-eye rivaled any of her mama's. "You marvelous old fart. You're going to teach me, aren't you."
So during the days Sophara cased -- or rather, perused -- the exploiters and sellers of polished crankwood and purest mercury and herbs fresh, dried or distilled, and nights she earned a slightly more honest keep by attending basic booze school. She learned to make a Toadstool, and a Fuck-Me-Gently, and a potent Willow Switch. She started her book of Marvelous Mixes afresh because she'd been forced to leave her old one behind.
And working the bar, really, one heard absolutely everything. What one didn't overhear, astonishing cocktails could pry out, syllable by syllable.
Late at night, she kept one eye focused on her work and the other on the two cuties hunched over a corner table, whispering furiously to each other. Well, the one was a cutie at least, black-haired, her va-va-voom bod loaded with weapons, at Sophara's guess. The other certainly looked hot from behind, more willow-slender but showing flashes of lavender skin that caught the scant lantern light.
Out-of-towners for sure. Sophara desperately wanted to check them out more closely. And if she could catch any of their conversation, well, that would be a bonus.
2 fingers Red Nightkiller
1 splash chartreuse
globe of frozen elfweed smoke
roll gently in good glass, don't stir this motherfucker
--was just the thing, something she'd devised herself, no magic at all, uh-uh, just pure, distilled goodness. She piled a couple on a tray and snaked her way to the table at the back. The gals gave up whispering when she approached. The black-haired hottie blinked up at her.
Sophara posed, arching her hip just so. "Hello, ladies. Care to be my test subjects? I call it the Molten Firelight."
"Pretty name," the pale lady said and turned to smile up at Sophara. And holy fuck, what a doll. Her goggles only made her golden eyes huger.
"Why, hello, there," Sophara said.
"You've already said hello," the doll pointed out.
"So I did." So sue her, Sophara was in love! That didn't happen every day.
The other woman slapped a hand on the table. "Well, I'll drink anything this place wants to pour down my throat. If it's on the house."
"I'll charge it against my educational expense fund," Sophara said, making that item up on the spot.
She dipped into the nonexistent fund twice more before the ladies stopped hushing their conversation when she dropped by. The third time, she learned their names: Amarelle, and the slender goddess was Brandwin. The fourth time, Sophara just stayed for a while and flirted shamelessly. She might have overdone it.
"Scavius would like this one." Amarelle swirled a mouthful of Blink-And-You'll-Miss-It around her tongue. She swallowed and offered Sophara a lopsided grin. "I wonder where the hell he is, anyway?"
"Probably as done working as we are," Brandwin offered.
Sophara flipped her fingers in the air over the candle and watched the nothing happen (except maybe Brandwin was watching them, could be). The candle flickered quite unmagically. "So I'm a magician on a temporary bartending fellowship. That's my story. What does your group do?" she asked.
"We're procurers. Procuring shome ... materials for a job," Amarelle slurred.
Brandwin was only slightly more forthcoming. Good booze had grown her eyes all ginormous and luminous behind her amber spectacles. "Know where we could find the finest copper tubing? Something even some dwarfs would appreciate?"
"Dwarfs! Honey, they make a triennial trip here just to deal with Berney's operation. Best copper on the coast, and in my trade, I'd know. What do you need copper for?"
"Stuff," Amarelle said, frowning at the dregs of her drink. Sophara went back to the bar.
The Whumping Whomper
1 oz Tirdanya vodka
2 oz pathos wine, driest shit you can find
1 splash jangleberry liqueur (2 spl for real whomping)
--was what finally did it.
"We're going to steal something very esoteric and tan-- inter-- intangible and shuperbly valuable," Amarelle drooled onto the table.
"Theft! You saucy little criminals. I'll help," Sophara said.
Stealing the sound of the sunrise was the most fun Sophara had ever had. And the next job was even funner, and the one after that, too. The fortune Sophara amassed was icing on the fairycookie. If she shipped a few bottles of rose brandy back home anonymously now and again, sans tariff, well, she'd earned the right to do it.
The best part, though, was Brandwin. She was an orphan, which was a crying shame because she'd have made someone a wonderful daughter. Metallurgical chemistry was a difficult trade to teach oneself, but she'd managed, out on loan from the workhouse. And she was such a helpful soul! She never stole for herself, only created the mechanisms that powered their schemes.
Sophara thought she'd make a wonderful girlfriend. But such an unsullied sullied soul was rare, and Sophara wanted to tread carefully. She tried the subtle approach several times.
"Want to review these plans at my place, Brandwin?" she'd suggest.
Or, "What do you think of my new hair? It matches the color of the insides of your elbows."
Finally she'd just said, "That's an utterly adorable and functional armored suit, Brandwin. I'd love to see it on your bedroom floor. This very instant."
Drop Yer Knickers (four wills)
tumblr of chilled whisky
a shot of kickstarter
dollop of mountain goat cream
build in legs up the glass for stripey effect
sparkles for pretty
opt cherry soaked in brandywine (ha ha)
--was her favorite for many months.
When you were with the right person, one twat and one mouth were more than enough, and the magic generated by two pairs of hands clasped in quiet happiness made the world go round. But gobs of money and worldwide notoriety and a hot girlfriend got a lady to thinking.
Sophara curled with Brandwin in bed, in yet another hush-hush underworld inn in a nowhere city, brushing her lips against a shoulder that looked like window frost but tasted like warm dreamsugar. She was getting mellow.
"Amarelle and Scavius are slowing down. Jade is making more no-no-no-not-again noises. Have you thought about become the leader of your own gang, my love?" Brandwin had just asked her.
"I've only ever liked being the leader of me," Sophara admitted. She twirled a fingertip over Brandwin's pale nipple, already knowing what it tasted like but considering exploring it further to be sure
"Mmm. Shraplin suggests it's time to retire," Brandwin murmured. "To take sanctuary."
"He's a smart automan. Takes destiny into his own metallic hands. I admire that." All of them, all their gang, were admirable for that, in fact. They made a fantastic team, but they'd always known the time would come when they'd need to seek other lives.
Brandwin, as always, had the perfect solution. "I think I'll do the same. Take my own hands and lead myself to a jurisprudence office and sign a certificate of marriage. You'll have to come with me, of course."
"Of course," Sophara said, and smiled into Brandwin's skin. A little house, big enough for a couple of workshops? Lovely. Her parents would be proud. Then a horrible thought struck her. "But if I do that, I'll have to divulge my real name, won't I? Before I change it. Legally. It's fucking awful, let me warn you."
"Oh, I already know it," Brandwin said, and if Brandwin said it, it must be true. This retirement thing promised to be marvelously interesting.