You can just imagine what came next after Lacertli’s statement.
Fainting very nearly happened, skirting the bright and heavy world of realization to remain in the black and misty question of “what if”. I could’ve screamed and ran–if my legs worked enough that I could even stand. I also could’ve just said “No,” or even in a wild slip of the tongue said “Yes,” when I meant to say, “No.” If I hadn’t already done so, peeing my pants might’ve been one of the options too.
But rather than any of these, I just lifted my head, blinked, and stared. Mouth agape. Nose running from snot I hadn’t wiped yet. I suppose it was a form of shut down. One can only be shocked so many times, physically and emotionally, before a disconnect hits. I even managed to forget that I had been literally torn apart by atleast a dozen monstrous dogs. That I had just seen a man shot in the head right in front of me. That I had been sucked into another realm–
When I told Elmiryn later, she wouldn’t stop teasing me. “You must’ve been going through one hell of an identity crisis.” she giggled. “‘Am I a scaredy-cat or a bad ass’?”
To which I replied, “You try facing down a–”
–Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Upon leaving the cave, Lacertli had changed. The light outside was like a veil pulled back, and without the shadowy world he had thrived in, he was something else entirely. Now he stood as a giant lizard man, with a long face and scaly skin, claws instead of hands, and a thick long tail that swept the ground. A dark tongue flickered out to taste the air.
Argos had gone rigid, but still trembled on a minute level like every part of him were tensed and tired from clenching. It could’ve been fear, and it wasn’t out of place. But his weight pressed on me as he no longer sought to shield me so much as use me as his prop. I grunted, grabbing him around the neck and persuading him with a gentle pull to roll over to my side. I shuddered out a breath of relief, but the feeling was short lived as Lacertli tilted his head one way, then another, before bowing down with his face peering into mine.
I let out a dry whine, falling backward away from him. My tawny eyes batted quick, still drying from my tears earlier.
“I must have an answer, young one,” he hissed.
My brows twitched and knitted together, my breath raking up my throat through phlegm. I could’ve fainted, could’ve screamed and ran, could’ve said “No”. But instead I said–no, blurted—
“I’m not worthy!” My chin started to tremble, but I held my face still, fighting against the new onslaught of grief. “I’m–I’m not worthy of being anyone’s champion!”
“Curious. For one who believes herself of such low station, you hold no qualms in correcting the ethereal. You would dare to say I’m mistaken? That I would confuse trash with riches?”
I winced and flared red. “Spirit, my apologies–I–”
“I am Lacertli, foolish girl. I would have thee call me by my chosen name.”
“Forgive me!” I blurted, shifting around so that I was on all fours. It was starting to feel like the right thing to do. I didn’t know what Lacertli was–or maybe I did, but I couldn’t bring myself to admit it. Shivering I pressed my forehead to the ground. “Forgive me. My confusion makes me clumsy!”
“You are frightened is what you are.”
I swallowed against the lump in my throat. “Yes,” I croaked. “I don’t know why…” I swallowed down a hiccup of tears. Droplets fell to the ground. Argos shifted next to me, panting and whining. “Your interest baffles me. I am a child of Aelurus.”
“She has abandoned you.”
I grit my teeth as everything in me flinched from the pain of this statement. I had always believed this to be true, but it hurt doubly so to have this being tell me so. “You don’t find me reprehensible? I have failed. I have done wrong.”
“Thou art indebted is all. I am giving you the opportunity to pay back to the life that has sustained you. Blood is on your soul. Walk my path and you shall be cleansed of it.”
“Aelurus may have abandoned me Lacertli, but I have not abandoned Her.” My hands clenched against the stone, awaiting his wrath. Surely, there would be retribution in such a statement?
“You confuse things. Taking up one thing does not exclude the other.” Then the lizard sighed. I heard him step away from me, and dared to lift my head. He was once more entering the shadows, his form resuming his previous appearance. “Thou art giving me excuses. Not answers. …But I am patient. I shall wait. I only wonder if you can afford such a luxury. Listen, Night Child. This world hungers for thee. Will you be able to reunite with your Ghost? Will you be able to reunite with your Twin?”
I frowned softly and looked down to the ground. Then my eyes turned to wide discs, and I straightened so that I was upright on my knees.
“Wait, what do you mean my Twin!?” I exclaimed.
In a copse, sitting on a fallen log where a shying violet hid beneath her left leg. The woman leaned over to smile at it briefly, and the plant waved a single leaf at her before ducking out of view.
“Elmiryn. Are you ready, or do you need a moment?” Sedwick. Lingering about him like a weak aura was that air of authority he once had, a man used to having control over the toughest of substances. It wasn’t fair to say he was weak or indecisive now, but she supposed after spending time with someone like Nadī, anyone of that mentality would be muted. Nadī was, in truth, more than a spiritual guardian. She was a demigod. Why else would the Gamath lands depend so much on her well being if not for this reason? A guardian could technically fall and the lands would remain safe should the conqueror wish it. But a demigod…?
But this was just guessing on her part. Elmiryn wondered if it were blasphemous to try and guess at the identity of gods, possibly attributing the word, halved or whole, to something in error. Then she decided she didn’t care.
“Yeah,” Elmiryn said in answer to Sedwick’s question. She looked around her. Quincy was leaning on a tree near her, pulling at her cloak. She was muttering to herself again, a phrase over and over, but the warrior couldn’t hear what it was. Sedwick was to her right, arms crossed over his chest as his inhuman gaze fixed on her. And across from her was Nadī. “Can you explain what happened in detail, please?” Elmiryn asked the river spirit.
The elemental nodded. She gestured at Sedwick with a sweeping hand. “After your departure, Sedwick and I began the process of reversing the damage that had been done to the area. Thanks to your help, Gamath was once again hospitable…but not 100% safe. There were angry nymphs, poltergeists, sick nature spirits, wisps, and wayward animals to take care of.”
“We had a hell of a time cleaning these things up.” Sedwick added. “And for a while we really seemed to be making some progress…”
“But for some reason we couldn’t rid ourselves of the trouble completely. We came to a point where no matter how much we did, nothing would change. It showed at the foundations. The nymphs and the animals. The animals were still overly aggressive and would exhibit erratic behavior, leading to their deaths. The nymphs were much the same.”
“Nadī thought she knew the problem, though.”
“Yes. As you recall, in my madness, I was fixated on a tree. A perversity of nature. When it became clear that we were not moving forward, we tried looking for it.”
“It took us a while. But we found it. A little over a month ago.”
“Where was it?” Elmiryn asked, her back tensing as she leaned forward on her knees.
“It wasn’t in the physical realm. Your realm. It was here. In this place.” Sedwick pointed at the ground. The redhead frowned at the “your realm” comment. So it wasn’t his realm anymore? Well it was a fair thing to say, she just found it weird. Sedwick was still part-human in her eyes.
“What happened? How did you destroy the thing exactly?” she asked.
Nadī looked at Sedwick, who glanced back at her. The two turned to Elmiryn. “The tree was weak. It was no bigger than an average oak. Much of its leaves had fallen and turned to dust, and the bark was rotting off. There were no wards around it, no spirits guarding it, nothing. The tree felt abandoned. The spell was already inactive.”
“You mentioned that. A ‘spell’. What spell was it? What did it do?”
“We don’t know, Elmiryn.” Sedwick said, rubbing the side of his face. “The magic was foreign to us. We’ve never seen anything like it. Usually long term spells, even in this world, have some sort of anchor. Usually the animus, or some sort of physical object. This tree…had nothing. There was no anchor, and no lingering connection we could tie it to. So we just ripped it out.”
“You weren’t able to trace it to a person? To something else in the physical realm? At all?” Quincy straightened from her tree, her voice perking in interest. Everyone looked at her, surprised at her interruption. She’d been stone silent since the trade had occurred with the twig spirit.
Sedwick cleared his throat. “That is to say, we couldn’t find any of the usual anchors.”
“How do you mean?” Elmiryn asked, glancing at Quincy again with a slight frown. The wizard had started pacing with her head bowed.
“I mean that the magic wasn’t coming from a person. It wasn’t anchoring in any flesh, or the earth, or the plants…”
“It was anchoring itself in the sounds.” Nadī said, scowling in disgust. “All around it we could hear the magic, and it tried feebly to taint us once more. We tore the damned thing out and the magic vanished. Silence had never sounded sweeter to me.”
Quincy halted, her head lifting up with a snap. “A completely sonic spell?” she shook her head. “But sound holds no weight or inherent power. It is just a component of a greater formula, never the foundation of the spell itself. That, and you can hardly control it! It travels through space until it peters out, swallowed up by…” she stopped, sucking in breath.
“Until it’s swallowed up by another sound,” Elmiryn finished, closing her eyes. “Or it echoes, or it enters someone’s mind and stays there in their memories.”
“Life is filled with sounds. The wind, the animals, the people, the ocean, or even the muted hum of energies,” Quincy mused. “These are so prevalent, that a sonic based spell would need a great deal of power to keep it going…and even more to keep it controlled.” Her hands went to her hips and a russet lock of hair slipped forth from beneath her hood. “It would need someone practically omnipotent.”
“Perhaps not omnipotent, but certainly something with a widespread consciousness. Like a spirit,” Nadī said, closing her eyes. “This idea alone isn’t new. I had considered this possibility the moment I had been cured of my mental malady. But what spirit could possibly enter this realm with such power without my knowing? What spirit could be capable of this and have reason to wish it? That is still the mystery…”
“Roots.” Elmiryn said, eyes still closed.
Everyone looked at her.
“Roots.” She opened her eyes and gestured at the end of the log she sat on, where the bark twisted into a tendril–once the beginning of a tree root. “Think about it. A sapling may be small, but underneath the soil are roots that anchor it–small things, but strong and important. They keep the tree from falling over when a storm wind wants to knock it down. They keep the tree fed and growing.” Elmiryn stood, her jaw tight. “I think Quincy is right. It can’t be the sound, or even the tree you found that was the foundation of the spell. If it was, then Nadī would have sensed it before it got as strong as it did. She would have been able to have sensed the caster. What we dealt with? That was just above the surface. ”
“The tip of an iceberg,” Quincy said with a nod.
“Then the magic is still active somewhere…” Nadī sighed.
“Elmiryn, I told you we’ve had an influx of spirits coming through.” Sedwick said, narrowing his eyes. “These are refugees. They’re fleeing from something up north, something that is still there. You were heading up that way. Now you’re here. Is there something we should know? Is it related? Can we expect trouble again?”
Elmiryn rubbed the back of her neck and sighed. “Maybe. But…it’s not like you think.”
Nadī and Sedwick glanced at each other. The redhead felt Quincy’s eyes on her. “Elmiryn, what are you saying?” the wizard asked, her voice hard.
“I’m saying there could be more than one ‘iceberg’ to worry about,” She looked at Nadī next. “The stuff up north isn’t Meznik’s doing.”
“Meznik?” Quincy looked to the others for clarification.
“She believes it was an astral demon who was behind everything,” Sedwick said with a tired shrug. Elmiryn glowered at him for the note of disbelief in his voice.
But to Elmiryn’s surprise (and delight, she found) Quincy didn’t scoff at the idea. She just said, “Hmm, yes, Hakeem mentioned this…” and looked to the ground.
Nadī crossed her arms, shifting her weight to one side. “Elmiryn, why do you believe the trouble to the north isn’t Meznik’s doing?”
The woman shrugged. “Because he told me so.”
All three present snapped their eyes on her, faces turned long. “He what!?”
Lacertli was once more dressed in the disguise of a dead man, his body long but graceful as he draped himself along the stone floor. He spoke, the eerie inhuman voice gone and replaced with Marq’s, “Your Twin, as you have taken to calling Her, is not with you.” He propped his head up on a hand.
My mouth went dry and a cold sweat broke out over my skin. “What?” I croaked.
He glanced at me with his golden eyes. “Thou art repeating thyself, which I find tiresome, but I will clarify for thee nevertheless. This realm is a collection of isolated shards–ghostly impressions of your realm forced onto a raw and basic energy. Travel to the edges of this place and you will find that the ground falls away to nothing, like a floating island. Your Twin is not on this shard. Comb these forests as much as you’d like, and you would never find her.”
“How is that–”
“Girl, this is a place of divided things. In its natural state it is a place of chaos and disconnection. The local realms, by the strengths of their spiritual energy alone, has forced a sort of order on this place. But that does not take away its baser qualities. Upon entering here, each of your companions were separated, and in kind, each of you were divided, losing something that was inherent to you.”
I glanced at Argos, who had taken to licking and nibbling at the fur on his right shoulder.
“Yes,” Lacertli said, sounding amused. “Even the dog. He has lost his raison d’être.”
“You mean…Lethia?” I reached a hand out to scratch at the dog’s head. His ears perked my way and he licked at my arm, his stinky breath rushing to me and making me grimace.
“His need to be at her side. With you, he is content to settle for as a companion.”
I frowned at him. How could that be? Somehow the idea of losing something so conceptual was beyond me.
I turned to Lacertli, my heart clenching as a thought occurred to me. “If She is really gone…what happens if she dies? Here?”
The being shrugged, his eyes on the fire. “Then thou wouldst be trapped here, your animus gradually unraveling as, already divided, it is unable to resist the punitive powers that would take thee apart. You will not just die, you will cease to exist, never to return again to the cycle of life.”
I felt ill. “Do…do you know where my Twin is?”
Lacertli spread his homodont smile, and it glinted in the firelight. “Night Child, you think so little of me. I wonder, if I were to appear to thee in full, would I impress upon thee the nature of my being? I doubt thou wouldst survive the power of my presence–and I say this without conceit. I choose to appear in my avatar to spare you from this. What do you think I am, girl?”
There was something hard in his voice, something that reminded me of my mother when she scolded me for getting lippy. My shoulders hunched and I stared down at the ground. When I spoke, it was through a stutter. “I–I–Ah–I mean,” I winced and bowed a little. “I don’t…rightly know. I confess, I haven’t the slightest idea of what protocol is appropriate here. I wish to call you Spirit, but you say you are not one. Your name alone feels far too personal, and I worry I am disrespecting you.”
“I would have thee cease your quibbling. I am Lacertli. Fret not over the conventions of society–that is not my domain, and I care nothing for the illusions that extend beyond the natural state. I do not hate these things however. That said, vermagus, I recognize thine need for proper etiquette. If thou truly desire it, you may call me Dreamwalker or even sir.”
“Thank you…sir.” I bowed lower, then raised myself, blinking.
“I am an old being,” he continued. “I have seen the creation of the universe, have seen the rise of sentient beings–and with their rise found my followers dwindle. But I am humble, and my concern rests not in whether I am known, feared, or loved. I simply am. It does not surprise me that you were unaware of my existence. Most are, in this age.”
I was beside myself. This was so much to take in, so much for me to deal with, I felt myself on the verge of entering hysterics. I struggled to keep a grip–aware that it was necessary. I couldn’t fall apart.
“Lacertli are you…?” my voice trailed away, the word on my tongue but my courage failing to send it out. It seemed too fantastic to say.
The being laughed. “Vermagus, you are a transparent thing. I shall remove thy doubts. I have hunted with Artemis. Quarreled with Eate. Flown with Njord. Kissed Atargatis. Lain with Tellus. Supped with Halward.” He paused, and something gentle overtook his features. “I have also run with Aelurus.”
My breath caught, and I fell to my knees again, my countenance lost.
“Night Child, now that you are aware of my nature, what wilt thou do? I have told you the state of this place and your circumstances. Walk a path girl. Any path. But walk. This stasis will be thine undoing.”
It was a surprise, the sort of sanctuary such problems presented to my mind. This was something I could contend with, something that I could handle. The overwhelming realization of Lacertli’s nature was passed for a moment.
I looked over my shoulder. “I have to leave this place,” I whispered. “To reunite with my Twin. To reunite with Elmiryn. To get back to my realm.”
“Yes. But the creatures here wish to keep you. You can avoid some, but not all. The obstacles will have to be cleared from your path.”
I thought of the inhuman dogs and curled in on myself. “H-How?” I stammered. “I don’t know if I can–” I gripped my shoulder, where my flesh had separated with a sickening pop–once again I was hit with flashes of gore, flashes of horror, and I felt ill. I wretched from the fear and disgust.
Lacertli spoke, his voice low and taking on a gravelly edge. “I can help thee, but my assistance comes with a price. I must have my champion, vermagus.”
I bit my lip and glanced off to the side. Argos bumped my shoulder with his head and whined in my ear, his tongue lolling. I ignored him. A war raged in my head. Amidst my back and forth thoughts, something nibbled at me.
“I sense a question within you,” Lacertli said.
I looked up through my bangs. I hesitated one more beat before asking, “Sir, why do you keep calling me vermagus?”
Here Lacertli chuckled, the sound dry and fast. He looked at me. “Because thou art one.”
I shook my head, a hand reaching up to rub at my brow. “No–I–I mean–” I sighed and tried to word the question right. I tried again. “What I meant was, what is a vermagus?”
The being smiled lazily. “A vermagus is a bit archaic, I confess. Forgive me, it has been an age since I’ve had to speak personally with any mortal.” He sat up, his head bowing a little as he let his lips curl at the corners, where they speared into his cheeks and left his face lined and sinister. “Long ago, a vermagus was the word used to describe those whose voice was laced with the power of their animus. It was once a well known and practiced magic art. But vermagi were born, not made, and the pure line was lost. There had been descendants, but there was none with the ability to utilize the true power of the vermagi. Their powers were such that they could inspire whole armies or terrify spiritual beings, all by their voice alone. Today, the legends do not call these people vermagi…” Lacertli flicked his long dark tongue and his smile gained a slant. “They call them bards.”
My breath had turned short. Even before Lacertli had said the word, I had thought it. I had read stories of these ancient people, these bards of the arcane.
…It made me scared.
“Think on it, Night Child. Your Ghost…she suffers a rare curse, damaging her ability to perceive, does she not? But is there ever any question upon the nature of your Words? Upon the nature of your Meaning? Does she not hear things within thine voice that tell of more than thou wouldst seek to divulge? Whereas others fail to reach her, you shall always succeed, because it is your power that pierces the veil of her damaged reasoning.”
All this talk was turning my stomach into knots. I had another question, and since he seemed open to answering them, I wanted to change the subject. Fast. “…Sir, may I ask something?”
“Speak, young one.”
“Sir, you say you are the essence of survival…if on the surface it appeared necessary, would you seek to have me abandon my friends? The people I love? All just so I can keep living?”
Lacertli sat up, leveling a stare at me. It had weight–not metaphoric, but literal–and I swallowed, afraid I had offended him. “I am not survival for survival’s sake. I am not the essence of self-preservation at the expense of all else. That is vanity, girl. Dost thou think me vain?”
I bowed, trembling. “My apologies Lacertli, I wasn’t trying to imply–!”
He went on with little pause. “I am the preservation of Life as a whole; of Harmony and the keeping of it. I propagate the cycle, and this cycle furthers the make and matter that shapes thine world. I have told thee this. I am not the Pathfinder. I am the Path. My role is not to tell thee where to go, but how to go. I am not a being of the future or the consideration of it. I am always in the present. Choose what path you would, and I shall give you the strength and wisdom to survive what comes. If you were to seek thine friends, I would not stop you. But if their survival goes against Life, if they create great disharmony, I would have thee collect their debts.”
“I can’t bring myself to kill them…” I murmured.
“The first thing thou must understand, child, is that every mortal has debt. The simple act of birth places them there, for they borrow from Life to exist. Upon death, they return all they had borrowed back to Life. A person, whilst still in mortal existence, can undo their added burdens by restoring Harmony. If you insist on seeing yourself as beyond salvation, then so be it. Morality has no place in my domain, just the keeping of balance. Your Mark signifies but a moment in your past to me, nothing more. But I would have thee think on thine Ghost, young one.”
I lifted myself and stared at him, lips parted. “Elmiryn…?” My hands flexed on the ground. “She…is at risk?”
“Her circumstances do not factor into my judgment. Only what she gives and takes away from Harmony. She takes more and more as she descends into madness. She is at a dangerous point, vermagus. In her delusion, she has mistakenly taken an innocent life.”
My gut fell to my soles. “What?? When!?”
“At Holzoff’s Tower. She slayed an innocent. She also allowed the deaths of all those men at the hands of the daesce, despite having the power to stop it. Those monsters are abominations, negative energies, knots in the Greater Weave, and she allowed the feeding of those beasts. Beyond right and wrongdoing, this is against the basic principles I represent. If you truly care for her, then take up my standard. I can help you alleviate her debt, before her actions bring her to an early end. Vermagus, what will you choose? Time grows short.”
My eyes clouded. I stared down at the ground.
When I lifted my face again, the fog was gone from my eyes and I opened my mouth to speak.
“Lacertli, I will take up your standard. I will be your champion!”
“Elmiryn you spoke to him? You spoke to this being, Meznik?” Sedwick stepped forward, his mouth a downward curve. “Why didn’t you say so!?”
“What does it matter?” the woman returned, standing from her log. “Unless you can find a way to slay a song, there’s nothing we can do now is there?”
“But what did he say?” Quincy snapped. “If he was somehow involved in all of this, don’t you think this would’ve been good information to share?”
“He didn’t tell me much, and I didn’t ask him alot as I was a bit busy trying to make myself whole again.” Elmiryn rubbed at her face, then her neck. The anxiety and anger she felt in Meznik’s presence rushed back to her. “All he told me was that he wasn’t behind Albias and…I believe him.” It made her sick to say this, and the woman spat on the ground. She took to pacing, her hands resting high on her hips as she glared down. “He’s vain. He’s always thinking of himself. He hasn’t always been forthcoming with information, but whatever he’s told me has been true.” She paused and took a breath, eyes slipping closed. “Meznik seems to think my struggle with him is some sort of performance, and he fancies himself as the director, maybe even a fellow actor. He gets upset whenever my focus isn’t entirely on him. He even got mad with me for getting involved in Albias. Said that I ‘wasn’t supposed to’. Like I was going off script.”
“He sees himself as an artist,” Quincy said.
Elmiryn nodded, lifting her head to gaze at the wizard. “He wants me to be a certain way. He’s really concerned with how I think of him, too. He feeds off of it, I think…” the warrior clenched her jaw and glanced off to the side, eyes low.
The wizard tapped her chin. “You said he exists in a song? Could we conjure him if we sang it?”
“No.” Elmiryn said firmly, her eyes flashing. “If you sing the song it can harm you. It does nothing to me, probably because Meznik is saving me to do…whatever it is he wants me to do. But if anyone else sings it, even thinks of it, they go into a death-like state.”
“How do you know this?” Nadī asked, her brow gently furrowed.
Elmiryn looked at her. “Before arriving at Gamath, Nyx thought of the song. She…passed out, even stopped breathing. When she woke up, she was perfectly fine. It isn’t so much just mentioning it as actually recalling the melody or singing the music itself.”
“Is Meznik still here, in this realm?” Sedwick asked.
“I don’t know. But he said we were in danger. Both me and him. If there really is another astral demon in the north, then they don’t get along.”
“And they work the same way?” Quincy asked. “Music and trees and all that?”
“It was what got me confused in the first place, so I imagine so.”
Nadī held up a hand. “I think we’ve heard enough. Unless there is anything else to add, we must now decide on a course of action.”
“My priority is finding Nyx.” Elmiryn crossed her arms as though she could not be moved on this.
Sedwick raised a brow at her. “And after that?”
The woman shrugged. “Look for a way out of here and handle things as they come. Unless you two can tell me how to leave now?” The elementals exchanged looks. Elmiryn smirked. “Lemme guess…not that easy?”
“It’s easy enough for beings like us.” Sedwick said apologetically.
“But for you two who are human mortals…” Nadī went on.
“The process could kill you.” The blacksmith finished with a wince. “You’d be fleeced through the very fabrics of your realm. Imagine trying to stuff a melting one pound slab of cheese through a needle’s eye.”
The woman grimaced.
Sedwick nodded grimly. “Exactly.”
“So then what can we do? Are we stuck here?”
“There is one option.”
“Returning to Albias? Where we got sucked in to begin with?” Elmiryn tried.
Quincy was quick to answer this. “The portal must’ve closed by now.”
“Quincy is right,” Nadī said with a shake of her head. “What I was going to suggest was finding the caster who had opened the portal to begin with.”
“…Syria?” Elmiryn scowled, her hand going to grip her sword just at the mention of the name. “What good would that do us?”
“Clearly she knows how to get here. Make her open a way back.” Sedwick smirked at her. “Unless you have a better idea?”
Elmiryn looked at the wizard. “Well? You’re the magic user, not me. What do you think?”
Quincy let out a harsh sigh. “I think I’ve been very patient in waiting for this discussion to address my situation.” She turned to Nadī. “Can we atleast travel safely from these shards you both mentioned?”
“Hell, I did,” the warrior said with a shrug.
“Your way left you short of a voice. I want to get back what I find important. I’m not keen on losing anything else in this place.”
Here, Elmiryn smirked. “Oh yeah. Sure. When my sword stopped trying to possess me, life just didn’t feel complete anymore. I totally get why you’d want your homicidal spirit back.”
Quincy glared daggers at her. “I was talking about my husband.”
Here the woman paused. “Oh.” She frowned, but her eyes held a mischievous glint. “Oooh.”
Sedwick was kneading his brow, eyes closed. “Elmiryn.”
Quincy placed her hands on her hips. “What, Fiamman?”
Elmiryn smiled, the ends of her mouth curling like a cat. “It just explains alot.”
“What does?” Quincy went to Elmiryn, her shoulders bunching like hackles raised.
“I’m sensing we’re losing control of this, Sedwick.” Nadī whispered as she went to stand by his side.
The redhead chuckled and gestured at the wizard. “I mean, y’know it’s just in the way you talk and move. You’re like…y’know…”
“Elmiryn!” The man snapped.
Only faintly aware of their talk, the warrior stepped toward her rival, nearly face to face, eyes locking as she smiled, showing all teeth. “Quincy, you’re like a fucking mud man.”
Quincy moved, pulling back her rusty sword with one hand, and so did Elmiryn raising her arm.
When the pain registered and the ringing started to subside, Elmiryn’s mind caught up to the fact that despite her high block, the wizard had still managed to clock her in–
“My ear!” Elmiryn shouted. She reared back, hands going to the side of her head as the pain stemmed along her jaw and temple as well. “FUCK! What is with everyone and hitting me in the ear!? Is there a conspiracy to turn me into a fucking cauliflower!?”
“Stupid mkundu!” Quincy hissed, pointing with her sword. “Matokeo mkulima ya utafutaji kwa!”
Elmiryn turned and jeered at her, hands still at her ear. “Oh, I’m sorry, maybe you should throw in a few more clicks and grunts for me, maybe then I’ll get you!”
Quincy ripped her hood off, her face a deep crimson. “I said your mother was the farmer’s favorite sheep.”
Elmiryn’s face turned red and she stood drawing her sword. “Take that back or I kill you now,” she seethed.
The wizard gestured for the woman to come at her. “I’ll beat you to death with this rusty sword first, you lunatic.”
The redhead crowed up at the sky, but the noise was filled with incredulity, not humor. She slashed her sword through the air as she jabbed a finger into her chest. “You impale yourself with a possessed sword and somehow I’m the lunatic?”
“You’d pick a fight with anything just to get a thrill,” The other woman snapped. “You have no respect for life.”
“I have more respect for it than you do, you emotionally stunted halfwit,” The warrior snarled. Every part of Elmiryn’s body was coiled, and she slid one foot back as she brandished her sword. “Wizard– Take. Back. What. You. Said.”
Quincy flicked the underside of her chin with her fingers and went on babbling in Fanaean. The foreign noise incited the redhead further. She started forward, intent on chopping off the wizard’s head for her blatant disrespect–but a whip of water lashed out, effectively stopping her in her tracks. A cursory glance told her that as hands off as Nadī and Sedwick were being, they would not allow for violence. If it were Sedwick alone, the warrior would have probably just pressed on–but Nadī was the true buffer. The air tingled as the elemental spirit narrowed her eyes at the warrior, offering a silent warning. She held domain here. Elmiryn knew she would fail if she tried to contend with her.
Reluctantly, she stepped back again. Quincy, who had assumed a stance in anticipation of attack, relaxed. The warrior couldn’t quell her need to voice her desire however. “I should’ve fucking killed you back in Belcliff,” she barked, her voice all steel.
Quincy was quick to respond in kind. “And I should’ve killed you–”
“Well atleast we agree on something–”
“Not likely. You kidnapped my husband–”
Elmiryn scrunched her face in vexation. “Oh please. You stabbed me in the shoulder–is that fair!? We never caused Hakeem any great harm!”
“I didn’t know that then! At any rate, it’s your fault my reputation is ruined. I’m never going to find work as a bounty hunter again!”
“Did I make you help us at Holzoff’s? You stole our friend away from us for a sack of gold, then changed your mind just so you and your husband could get more gold. We, on the other hand, were trying to stop the magical corruption at the roots whilst helping Lethia. Tell me, which sounds worse?”
“You are not a fucking folk hero! You didn’t even like Lethia Artaud when you met her! You’re a madwoman!” Quincy stomped her foot, but when she spoke again her voice touched a note higher and her eyes were shiny bits of glass. “And for your information, you idiot, I’m a bounty hunter! I was doing my job–”
“Guess what?” Elmiryn held her arms out at either side of her. “I was doing mine!”
Both women stopped, huffing.
Then Elmiryn grinned suddenly. “…No seriously, take back the comment about my mother. Or you’re gonna meet the pointy end of my sword.”
Quincy quirked an eyebrow at her, her lips puckered. “Take back your racist comments and maybe I’ll do that.”
Elmiryn looked put out. “I was just fucking with you.”
The brunette’s jaw jutted forward as she glared at the woman down her nose. She was trembling at the shoulders.
The warrior pouted. “Fine. I’m sorry. I won’t say it again.”
The bounty hunter didn’t respond right away. She exhaled harshly through her nose, hands going to grip her arms with white knuckles. Her swallow was audible. “Then…” The woman brushed back her hair with both hands and inhaled. When she spoke, her voice sounded taut. “Then I apologize as well.” She looked up at the sky. Then down at the ground. Then without warning, Quincy turned on her heel and started to walk away. Over her shoulder, the wizard said with a terse voice, “But now I’m absolutely certain I can’t travel with you without feeling like killing something. Rather than tempt fate, I’ll just leave. Goodbye.”
Elmiryn stared after her. “Hey, what?” She looked at Sedwick, then Nadī. “Did I miss something? I apologized, didn’t I?”
Sedwick just rubbed at his face in exasperation. “Elmiryn, are you confused about the homicidal tendencies you inspire, or the fact that she’s not going to put up with it?”
The warrior opened her mouth to say something. Then she closed it with a snap. Her hand went to rub at her neck and she smiled at the man sheepishly.
The elemental made a show of rolling his pale eyes as Nadī shook her head next to him. “That’s what I thought,” he muttered.