It’s tricky, trying to be bad at something that comes so naturally.

I squeeze my thumb into the clay, knowing the pressure is too much. It’s not in my nature to make mistakes. I don’t do messy work.

Yet today, I have to.

As I try to fix my blunder, I look up and once more catch the eye of the blonde on the other side of the conservatory-come-classroom. The edges of the woman’s lips curl up at me, her head bobbing to let her luscious locks bounce. It’s just a moment of contact between us, then she curses and returns to her own wonky creation.

“I’m not sure you wanted to do that, did you?” intones Ingrid, our tightly wound tutor, as she looms over me like a distressed Drakon.

“Not at all.” The lie slips off my tongue with practised ease. But then what else would you expect from the God of Trickery?

Even if I want to tell Ingrid the truth, I can’t.

Of course, I’ve learnt a trick, or three, about working around that particular burden over the centuries. Questions aren’t lies, after all, just a way to find out more about others. And as long as I don’t speak what I write, then there’s no problem there. It’s not perfect, but then what is? Certainly not any of the mortals that inhabit the Earth. But that’s what makes my life here, and my work, all the more fun.

“I really would have thought that after this many lessons, you’d be better than this!” The despair in her tone hitches up a notch. “It’s almost like you have learnt nothing from me.”

I haven’t taken anything from the lessons, because I already know exactly what I’m doing.

No matter what the doubting voice whispers from the base of my skull.

I pause momentarily, trying not to shake my head to rid myself of the unseen murmur.

Ever since the others started returning, I’ve been feeling oddly like my old self. Of course, that does come with some extra baggage.

But I’ve dealt with that before.

And I can do it again.

Just not now.

My inner torment is broken as wrinkled fingers wrench the poorly formed clay from me. Maybe it’s just the effort of sharing my skull with another voice, but I want to leap up and snap at the old bat. What she’s just done is disrespectful to any student, let alone an immortal like me. I just manage to keep my face neutral, though. I know full well that making a scene won’t get me what I want.

I share another look with the blonde, further niggling Ingrid.

“If I may have everyone’s attention.” Our teacher twirls, pulling the rest of the class’s attention away from their own attempts at pottery perfection. “Can you all see how the base of this piece tapers at the bottom—”

She doesn’t get any further in her beratement as her husband crashes through the room’s wicker door. His bulbous nose swings across the group, beady eyes surveying us with practised ease. His gaze hovers on me, clearly wondering why someone so smartly turned out is amongst the tie-dyed retirees and hippy youngsters. I resist the urge to straighten my turtle neck. I’ve got my hands dirty, and I don’t want to be leaving any mark on my clothes for later. Instead, I tilt my head to the side, offering vague deference to the fact I’m a guest in his house. The man sneers and then lets his eye continue across the group.

“He knows why you’re here.”

It’s all I can do to keep still as I mentally silence the hissed words. I return my attention to Ingrid’s husband, who is now leering at the light-haired temptress opposite me as she bends low over her work. The flick of his tongue is minute, undetectable to most.

“Gerard! You know not to disturb me when I’m with a class.”

Ingrid tries to usher her man out into the darkened hallway beyond our workspace, but he holds firm.

“Have you seen the Peterson file?”

“Why would I have?”

“It was on the kitchen table! Have you tided it away with all your other bloody rubbish? I need to leave for a lunch meeting, and I’m already late as it is!”

“I don’t know where it is. If it’s that important, you should have kept it in your office.”

“My office? That’s a fine name for the space at the end of the upstairs corridor, isn’t it!” Gerard looks around the room, and this time the movement of his tongue is more pronounced. Obvious. “I don’t have a whole extension to use, do I?”

Ingrid scowls, and the argument rages on. I let my attention drift back to the delicate creature opposite me. I roll my eyes, and she giggles softly.

“I’m sorry, class.” Ingrid thrusts her thin body between us as the room’s door thumps shut. “For both the disturbance. And the fact our time is up. Please leave your pieces for me to fire. We will review them next week.”

There is the quick shuffle of stools and minor nods of farewell between those present. I am always surprised that even when mortals pay for a class, they still revert back to their schoolyard mentality. As soon as they are told to go, they do.

Even my eye-catching colleague.

“You could be good at this, you know. If you only concentrated and applied yourself a little,” Ingrid scolds as she stomps over. The words dredge up forgotten memories of a very different time for me, but I don’t dwell on them. As the mortals would say, there’s been plenty of water under the bridge since then. “Why must you let your concentration drift, especially to Sophie?” my teacher continues. “Good looks are temporary, but experience is everything you know.”

I rise from the stool, steadily meeting her stare as I breathe.

“I’m sure I could benefit from your experience.” A complete lie, if ever I uttered one, yet it has the desired result.

Our bodies shift closer to each other, the whole world feeling like it’s grinding to a halt. A blink is all it takes. Long and slow, desire resonating from me.

Ingrid shifts closer, her gaze lowering as she rests her hand on my chest. The rough palm slowly shifts across my muscled physique, softly exploring. Her eyes inch up and lock with mine, a question in their depths. I incline my head slightly, biting down delicately on my lower lip.

Instantly she’s on me, her mouth pressing roughly against mine. She paws at my abdomen, her hands slowly shifting downwards with each caress. I pull her tightly towards me, my touch soft but firm.

Suddenly Ingrid pulls away, her chest heaving as she stares at the conservatory door.

“Isn’t this,” I whisper, “what you want?”

Ingrid presses her body forcefully against mine. Her lips are wet, breath hot on my skin, and I smile.

But my mind isn’t on Ingrid.

Nor Sophie.

I’m thinking about Gerard. I imagine the look on the man’s face when his wife confesses her indiscretion. I know that it will break him. And devastated men are much more easily manipulated. Especially when my blonde accomplice is involved.

Dolus (Andrew Harrowell)
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