It was time. Finally–Quincy hadn’t realized how starved she’d been until now.
Tonatiuh was within her grasp.
It was true that he was nearly five times her size, a solid mass of muscle, and had scorching skin that rivaled the suns, but the wizard had handled such cases before. She was more worried about getting caught in the crossfire. One beast, plus two beasts, equaled Quincy dead between three.
As they ran, Nyx vanished from her peripheral vision. When the wizard went to look, she saw that the Ailuran was gone entirely. Elmiryn had looked as well but seemed less taken aback. Or maybe she could spare little time to think about that, seeing as how she barely kept pace with Quincy. The idiot’s inebriation took a great deal out of her. In the back of her mind, the brunette agreed with Nyx that the warrior ought to have sat this one out. But Elmiryn didn’t even entertain the notion, and if Quincy were in her place, neither would she.
That wasn’t to say she didn’t have her own difficulties to deal with. There was still the cut on her shoulder that threatened to rip open every time Quincy jerked her arm too much. There was also the red stinging of her hand from when she’d overdone it with the fire bracelet, not to mention the throbbing of her jaw and the mild headache it induced from when Elmiryn had punched her. (“Wait, she’s punched me in the head before hasn’t she? Gods, it’s bad when you can’t keep track…”) She grit her teeth and fought through the encroaching pain.
Tonatiuh was within her grasp.
Quincy could see the spirit, his great big body gleaming, the muscles shifting and coiling beneath his skin as he fought to keep the dragons from tearing into him. It took all of his attention from her, which was in her favor.
As the story went, her blade came to host Tonatiuh when a nameless hero had pierced him with it. She didn’t get much more than that–not why the hero felt the need to attack the spirit, where it happened, nor even where Tonatiuh had been stabbed. But it seemed a simple enough task of trial and error. Keep stabbing, hope something happens. Keep stabbing, hope something happens. Keep stabbing…
As the dust cleared enough that Quincy could see all three giants up ahead, the immensity of what she was getting into came in full light. Tonatiuh stomped his feet, and her teeth rattled in her head. One of the dragons’ screeched, and she thought she went deaf. Tonatiuh struck with fists blazing bright, and she thought her retinas had been reduced to a cinder. The dragons’ stirred the wind, and the woman found it hard to resist the currents.
She bumped into Elmiryn during one such moment and took the opportunity to scream, “Either they come to us, or we go to them!”
“What?” the redhead bellowed back. The din of the battle was swallowing up their words.
Quincy didn’t have time to answer. When she was close enough that the reality of being crushed was very much real, the wizard ducked around the swishing tail of the bearded dragon and closed in. She felt the long tail whip over her, could swear she felt the scales skim her shoulder blades. Her fingers spidered along the earth, feeling its heat as she scuttled on all fours. The wizard hissed as the dragon stomped its foot and sent hot rocks and dust into her face. Her vision clouded and she wiped hurriedly at her eyes, because she could not afford to be blind so close. When her head lifted again, she saw the dragon’s foot descending towards her.
The woman yelled and rolled out of the way. Her shoulder protested this greatly. With a wince, she was once again on her feet in a readied crouch. The dragon had ceased moving, at least for the moment. Heart thumping, the wizard used its heel to leap up onto its rump. At the peak of its height, the serpentine beast reached three stories. Down on all fours, its long neck still had it reaching two stories. From the ground to its lower back, Quincy had to fight up more than thirteen feet. Its scales offered good footholds and she managed to hold on even as the beast started to shift and move.
Elmiryn kept running, her mind clearly set on some other plan. As Quincy climbed further up the dragon’s back, she began to wonder if she should have tried for something else. In summary, her current path sounded like folly. “Jump up onto the dragon’s back, climb to its shoulder, then leap onto Tonatiuh like a Fury.” Yes. That sounded stupid even to her now. As if to confirm the veracity of her feelings, the dragon was slammed in the chest by Tonatiuh. The great serpent reared back, nearly standing up straight, and while Quincy clung to spinal fins halfway up, she felt like she really would be crushed. To her fortune the bearded dragon slid its clawed hind foot back, its wings tilted forward, and with bunched muscles, it pushed Tonatiuh back with claws dragging along his skin. The sunny giant screamed, claw marks on his chest. Quincy cried out as the dragon landed on all fours again, its jaws snapping. She felt as though all her bones had threatened to bounce right out of her skin.
The dragon beat its wings, stirring up the air so that Quincy’s hair was sent whipping, and the wizard turned her face into the creature’s back. She lost her breath as the dragon pushed up, great wings beating even faster, and she felt gravity shift. Her feet dangled free in the air. “Oh gods, what was I thinking?” she thought as the vertigo seized her. She dared to look. They hadn’t gone high. In fact, the creature had just used its wings to gain more lift on its jump. It was kicking and whipping out its tail. It caught Tonatiuh in his flat face, cutting his cheek and jaw. Again, the giant screamed. She could see the other dragon, rear up for a strike of its own. This was the slimmer beast, with shinier scales and a gaze like blades. The bearded serpent she rode scored a massive wallop into the spirit’s chest with its tail before it started to descend, one that Quincy was certain would have broken something, but the giant was quick to retaliate. He grabbed the bearded dragon by the tail and before either Quincy or the serpent could react, Tonatiuh swung them onto the ground onto the other dragon, who was flattened with a growl.
Quincy screamed as she felt her shoulder rip open beneath the bandage. The blood felt hot and was soaking through her wrappings. The pain throughout her was one moment a throb, the next more like an all-encompassing stab. She swooned, eyes rolling as she tried to better her hold on the dragon’s back. The bearded dragon had landed on its side, but the wizard found its spinal fins a poor support to rest on. The hand that gripped the fin was bleeding from the sharp edge. Tonatiuh pinned both dragons down by their necks, using his right hand and knee. In his left hand he gripped a steaming piece of meteorite, and this he raised in preparation for a strike. She was concealed beneath the bearded dragon’s wing, the shadow over her large.
Once more Tonatiuh loomed over his next victims. He was a devourer. A parasitic agent that hungered without end. Quincy knew how he worked, knew what it was he sought. He was the very nature of a star. Consuming, consuming, consuming…he’d eat these two beasts, and the power within them would become his own. She knew this, from all the things he’d ever taken from her. If he succeeded in killing the dragons, then all was lost.
As if to spare them, the sky started to rain…With weapons. Quincy was nearly beheaded by a double axe. This sparked upon hitting the scales, but the dragon’s hide was formidable. Quincy, however, knew no such fortitude. Wild eyed, she dodged next a sheathed short sword, a billy club, and a wide assortment of knives. She was pelted by heavy metal objects at high speeds along her back and legs. “Tai’undu, what is this!?” she shouted, wincing as a naked blade cut her hip. Tonatiuh fared no better. While the arsenal fell about her in an apathetic fashion, the naked blades and the heavy bludgeons seemed to seek him out, turning impossibly in the air to strike into his flesh.
“This, my dear, is a distraction, an interruption, a diversion,” said a deep tenor voice. “I gave my magic a spin, and this heavenly fury you see is the result.”
The woman tried to look for the source, still wincing and squinty-eyed from the barrage. What her eyes fell on made her seize up. “Oh not you…”
The hail of larger weapons had ended. The sky was clearing of the assault, and the man stood like he were impervious to the trickle of darts and bladed stars that now fell. Tristi leaned on the dragon’s side with one hand, his deltaic face tilted to the side. He flashed his fanged smile and said, “Hello little fledgeling.”
Even as she gripped her sword, even as her brazen words echoed through her head, even as she felt the heat of the rubble stem up through her soles to the pit of her stomach in that pleasurable way–she knew she could not get in close. Even with her injuries, Quincy was in a better state than Elmiryn. The woman’s head was splitting apart at this point, and her stomach was lurching something fierce. Her tongue felt parched. She didn’t say them, didn’t even think them, but the words haunted the edges of her, pulsing like a heart in the dark–
Thirst Thirst Thirst Thirst Thirst
She heard him speak to her through the music in her head as she scrabbled over the destruction, her eyes vainly searching for some way she could join in the battle.
It was a bad idea.
She wasn’t surprised to hear him. Still her lip curled downward and she muttered, “What was?”
He was being unusually taciturn, and for some reason this annoyed her. “You don’t think I couldn’t figure that out?”
Given your performance history,
I don’t think you could figure out
Which end shit is supposed to come out of.
I probably should have explained things to you.
You may have recognized
That you are different.
Well let me expand on that.
You are VERY different.
“Not quite human anymore, you mean,” the redhead spat.
No. More like, “Not quite fae yet.”
She slowed, her heart thumping. “…The fae?”
What did you think I was doing to you?
Turning you into a garbanzo bean?
“The things I can see that Quincy can’t…” She swallowed and felt her throat tighten.
Yes. And the wine.
The fae cannot drink for a reason.
“Why didn’t you–DAMN it! Why didn’t you tell me all this before!?”
You’re my toy.
That doesn’t mean I have to play with you all the time.
And I certainly don’t have to play by your rules.
Elmiryn felt a surge of illness overcome her, and she stumbled to the nearest broken column she could see. She sat heavily on the uneven cement, and stared ahead with glassy eyes, her face green. A big piece of meteorite, the size of her torso, flamed and crackled just a ways before her. The flames licked the bottom of her field of vision, giving an infernal light to the battle before her. Praxidice, the bearded dragon, had leapt up with wings beating, and had scored some powerful blows against Tonatiuh. Poena, who had been turned away with a strong punch to the head by the giant, was now making to capitalize on this latest development. But the advantage turned when Tonatiuh countered by grabbing Praxidice by the tail and slamming her into her sister. Elmiryn saw Quincy still clinging to the dragon.
Quincy has a better head on her shoulders than you do.
Given her obsessions, that’s saying something.
The warrior rose again with labored breath. The edges of her vision rippled as sweat dripped from her chin. She scowled and closed her eyes. She’d learned a lot of things. Things she couldn’t tell Sedwick or Quincy. She knew, in a tired sort of relief, that she could impart these things to Nyx when the time was right, but for the moment, these secrets were hers. Things learned whilst her consciousness was free of her body.
Elmiryn responded to Meznik through the music.
Can’t you tell me what it is you want?
Why did you make that deal with my father?
What were you looking for?
She says to herself that she feels too ill and exhausted to muster up the usual hatred and fight in her words. And even if she weren’t, what would be the point? She can’t hurt Meznik. But even she can taste the resignation in the back of her throat. Meznik responds, and there’s a trill in the music, like he’s chuckling.
What a stupid question.
I wanted my toy.
Are you tiring of this, already?
What of the things we discussed?
Don’t change the subject.
Rising above your station.
Getting back at those that abandoned you in hell.
I already told you, I can get you in arms reach of Him.
I’m not your toy!
I want a real answer.
Where is that effervescent hatred I love so much?
That bullheaded drive?
What is this exhaustion that I’m feeling from you?
His music wilted. As the fight just didn’t seem to be in her this time around, so it seemed to flee him. When next he spoke, it was with a subdued voice.
Moron. Pay attention to what’s around you.
You’d better not die over this silly promise.
Remember, you don’t need any of the others to get out of here.
You just need me.
The demon that ruined my life.
A real bode of confidence.
There is a strange freedom in being so hated.
Furthermore, demons conjure up infernal beings of hell.
I thought you people didn’t believe in men with bifurcated tails?
…Men with what?
Just pay attention, or your head’s going to be crushed.
Elmiryn’s eyes opened, just in time to see a mace smash the meteor in front of her. The woman jumped to her feet and looked up. The sky was raining with all sorts of weapons, big and small. She gave shout as she parried a falling sword with her own. There was no cover close by, but the warrior figured it was better to run for it than stay and be bombarded. She ran for the nearest building with an overhang, eyes on the sky, her sword slashing out whenever she thought the deadly end of a blade was sure to hit her. She couldn’t deflect it all. The woman bared her teeth as her body was pelted. Once a sai had hit her in the middle of the back so hard, she actually fell to the ground and thought her back was broken. She wretched but found there wasn’t much in her stomach to spit up. With a push, she was able to pick herself up again and resume moving. The rain of weapons stopped before Elmiryn could reach her cover. She stood with cuts on her arms and torso, and her shirt ripped in places. Her breath came harsh and uneven. Meznik was gone from her head.
She looked down at the weapons around her, and her eyes brightened at the sight of one…
Hello little fledgeling…
“Don’t you dare call me that,” Quincy snarled at Tristi. Or tried to. The struggle of the dragon choked the fierceness from her words as she fought to stay on.
Tristi stepped away from the stamping feet and thrashing wings to regard her. “Why not? It is what your caregivers called you.”
“And they’re gone, aren’t they?” She had to shout to make sure her words were heard.
Tristi chuckled and wagged a finger at her. Somehow, he didn’t seem to raise his voice anymore than normal. “Y’know, I had bet Jack that I’d find you first. He wasn’t really in the mind for bets–nothing like his old self, the poor fellow. But the words left his lips, ‘I bet you…’ and you know what my tenets demand. Ah, sweet, sweet little bird. Do you know what agony your disappearance caused?”
“Tristi this is hardly the time for this,” Quincy bit out. Her throat was tight and her breathing short. She honestly couldn’t tell if it was the commotion happening or what the champion had said.
The man inspected the ends of his copper ponytail. “Ah, Quincy. I get the feeling you do not like me.”
“The last time I saw you, you’d turned me into a bird.”
“A hawk chick, to be specific. I thought it was a compliment. Tobias didn’t seem to think so, if you remember. He hit me in the mouth. Hard. I think that was his specialty. Hitting things like a rock. He certainly had the head of one. Come to think of it, he hit me with that too.” Tristi feigned a shudder. “Scary man, when angry!”
“Cute. Can we not talk about this now?”
Tristi did not leave, even as Tonatiuh roared in frustration from the weapons that seemed to resume hitting him. They no longer fell from the sky, but jumped up from the ground. Tristi also did not go when the dragons beat their wings, and Quincy wasn’t sure if they were trying to protect themselves or to use the distraction to gain their freedom. The champion of luck gave a nod. “I had this sneaking suspicion that it would be to my good fortune to follow Nyx. When that meteorite fell and hit the dragon, I thought I was mistaken. But here I have found you. Will wonders never cease?”
Quincy went to snap something at him, but the man had vanished. She gave a shake of her head. “Damn him.”
Though the dragon’s struggled, the great giant just managed to keep his hold, and as if realizing what his distraction would cost him, Tonatiuh once more raised his bludgeon for a blow. “Tāʾsīn!!” he screamed. Die!!
His hand came down, and this time there wasn’t a massive voice to blow him off his feet.
…No this time, his own shadow started to play tricks on him. Quincy didn’t recall there ever being a shadow to begin with, since Tonatiuh’s radiance choked it from the face of the earth. Yet now, from the bottom of her vision something dark had appeared, and just before he could crush in the head of his first victim, the shadow jerked, and his arm followed. Quincy was certain she’d seen the shadow move first. She sat up and watched, brows knitted together. The flying weapons had stopped. Tonatiuh grunted, his face bunching in bewilderment as he looked down at his feet.
Quincy’s eyes turned wide. What was that small shadow flitting across the ground? She looked up. There was nothing in the sky. Tonatiuh seemed to have an idea.
“Little witch!” He rumbled. He tried to stomp at the shadow but found his own dark outline was beat back in the chest, and so his body followed suit like a puppet. Every time Tonatiuh’s shadow was moved, so was Tonatiuh. The shadow’s left knee was knocked to the side, thus knocking his aside, compromising his posture. Then his shadow was struck in the left shoulder, and for a moment it looked as though he would fall. Alas, the giant righted himself using the slim dragon’s neck as his anchor. At that moment, there was a short thwip and the giant’s head snapped back with a howl. Quincy heard laughter and turned her head.
Elmiryn stood at a distance, sword sheathed and bow in hand. She must have found it from the rain of weapons that had fallen from the sky. She drew another arrow from the quiver she had strapped to her back. She grinned and said, “Gods I love shooting people in the eye…”
Tonatiuh ripped the arrow out. Quincy was sprayed with blood. The spirit let out another howl. His mouth gnashed as his right eye bled down his face and into the spaces of his teeth. Then, without warning, his left fist flashed up to punch him in the face. Quincy could see his shadow do this a fraction of a second before he did. Then his other fist came around, this one still gripping the arrow so it left a little cut on his chin. The giant stumbled back, off of the dragons and Elmiryn shot him again, this time in the center of the throat. He did not howl, but instead let out a wet gurgle. This arrow he tore out as well.
Quincy’s stomach gave a twist as she saw the blood from his neck and eye begin to stain nearly his whole front. If he died before she could get to him–
The dragons, now freed, rose with a vengeance. Unprepared, the wizard was nearly thrown off before she once again found her footholds on the bearded dragon’s back.
Tonatiuh’s face was tight and almost orange with rage. He curled in on himself, and his body trembled. Rapidly, his body began to grow brighter. The dragons were advancing on him, and Quincy’s eyes widened. “Wait, wait! Don’t go near him!”
To her surprise, the bearded dragon slowed to a stop and craned its long neck to look at her. Its sister, however…
The heat around them grew immense. The wizard knew this heat. Knew what it meant. How many times had she used this power against others? She screamed at the dragon, “Get down!” The beast looked at the sunny giant. This seemed to validate Quincy’s advice, for the beast got down and raised its wings to shield the woman. Through the spaces of the wings, the brunette could see Tonatiuh snap upright with arms and head thrown back. His mouth was open in a silent scream.
Then the light came.