With Friends Like These...
The pretty hermaphrodite, looking far too pretty and far too fae for the grubby soon-to-be-battlefield where they were standing, and far too poised for being wrapped in poison manacles and chains, shook its head woefully up at Shahin. “Regine is not the enemy, you know,” it tsk’d.
“I know,” Shahin snapped. “The enemy is a sick little godling with a fetish for eating its worshippers. But Regine’s minion, that would be you, is the way of me fighting my enemy.”
Shouts outside stopped the argument in its tracks. “Later,” she snapped.
“Intruders in the camp, sa’Ice-Rapier!” a breathless guard declared as she stepped from the wagon. Indeed, she could see a pair of distant figures, loosely ringed by her tense soldiers. They seemed to be conversing, unconcerned by the armed men.
“Qorawiyay Kwxe,” she whispered, bringing their voices to her ear.
“...not here,” a woman’s voice said, adding wryly, “These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.”
She knew that voice, a distant memory of an earlier age; the man was replying, though, and Shahin tensed. She knew that voice, too.
“Then there’s no sense stopping. We move on, and if these people get in our way we remove them.”
Shit. Shahin’s people were under orders not to let strangers move about unimpeded, and she suspected they’d be no match for these two, if they were who she thought. If they were actually working together, for gods-only-knew what reason.
They were Masked, of course, he looking all the more innocuous, she looking as lean and lazy as Shahin remembered her. But a Mask wouldn’t stop them from ripping through her soldiers like tissue paper.
It wouldn’t do for her to run, not when there was no battle being joined yet, but she moved quickly towards the grouping, raising her voice to carry across the field. “Stand down.”
“Well, well,” the man said, turning towards her with a broad smile that went just a little too far, showed just a few too many teeth. “What have we here?”
The woman stepped forward, setting a hand on his arm. “I’ll handle this.”
Shahin smiled at the pair, glad in a way she’d never show for the strength of Willow and Arturo flanking her. “Eris. Ib. It’s been a long time.” And which side are you on, now? They both bore scars; they both looked a bit battle-worn around the edges, and Eris was wearing a bloody scrap of a man’s shirt as a headband.
“du’Ill Wind.” The woman’s smirk hadn’t changed at all, though, turning up her cheek just so as she calmly studied Shahin. “The Demon Prince and I are hunting someone, but it’s not you…?”
“du’Ice Rapier,” she answered coolly; if they were going to be formal, they were going to be formal. “If you mean me or mine no harm, that route,” she pointed, “is the quickest out of our camp.”
“Good. Perhaps you’ve sighted our quarry? A would-be godling with a scar on its hip?”
Only in a vision. She studied them thoughtfully for a moment. Eris, she’d shared a cy’ree with, once upon a time. The girl had always been a bit odd, but never evil. Ib, on the other hand, had been a straight-out bad seed. But that had been fifty years ago, and they were still, as far as she knew, Shenera Endraae.
“I have intel about them,” she answered.
“We could use some intel,” Ib murmured.
Eris’s eyes flashed in irritation - she always had been hot-tempered, and Shahin wondered what had riled her this time - but she nodded curtly. “Let’s talk, then.”
There was a chained-up hermaphrodite in her wagon; she didn’t want to take them there. Willow saved her, gesturing at the table someone had set up on the edge of the camp, up against the base of a giant tree. Shahin nodded, and led that way, trying to ignore the itchy feeling on her neck, with these dubious allies behind her.
She sat; Arturo stood near her, looking so much like his father, glowering at their visitors, that he could be Emrys’ clone. “The godling calls himself Heracles. He’s coming this way with a small bevy of followers, some Ellehemaei, some well-armed humans.”
Ib took in her camp with a calculating gaze. “You were planning on fighting him yourself.”
“There’s more you should know, then,” Eris put in as she took a seat. “He’s powerful with energy, body, preservation.”
“Fighting monsters is what we’re here for.” She looked over the two of them, the pieces beginning to fall into place. “You’ve fought him?”
“I’ve fought him,” Eris corrected her quickly, her tone low and fierce. “The Paladin made me promise to get the Kitten away safely. My Mark,” she finished, suddenly quieter.
“Aah.” Shahin nodded. She knew that pain; there was nothing to be done for it but wait for it to subside. She held the older woman’s gaze for a moment, empathizing silently, and then turned to Ib. “And what’s your stake in this?”
“Our arrangement is purely business,” he replied, setting his clasped hands on the table. “I owe the lady for services rendered. And of course, there’s going to be a nice vacant space where this thing’s control was established.”
“Of course,” she answered dryly. And here was hoping that she didn’t end up having to fight him, too, some time down the road. “Well, it seems as if we have a common goal. We all want this monster dead.”
“You have numbers and support,” Ib said. “Clearly we’re the superior fighters, but the backup will be useful for engaging his minions.”
Clearly. She raised an eyebrow at the insult.
Eris smiled smugly in reply. “We’ll see. You didn’t see her after her first year. Regardless, we need a battle plan. Here’s the way I see it...”
Shahin drew her blade back from the final minion of the soon-to-be-late Heracles, finishing her coup de grace tidily and trying to ignore the mess that Eris was making of the their former foe. There was blood everywhere; she’d never seen a messier battlefield, but there was no questioning the woman’s efficacy or determination.
She did not jump as she felt Ib come up behind her, but only because she was the Ice Rapier, and did not do things like jump in fear. “You fought well,” she commented idly, without turning to look at him.
“Likewise,” he said, some hard-won respect, however grudging it might be, showing in his tone. “You’ve been doing this for awhile.”
“We have,” she agreed quietly. Eris’ scream of grief and rage undercut their conversation. “The human witch-hunters will be here soon.”
“What kind of numbers do you expect, around here?” His attitude was exactly the same as during their previous tactical planning.
She shook her head. “The general idea is not to engage the human forces. If you make them aware of you, they will bring in sufficient forces to bring you down, just like they’ll do with a Nedetakaei.”
“I wasn’t planning on engaging them in a hostile way. I do have my share of charms.” He smiled again, and memories flashed unbidden to her mind; thoughts of Callista that first year when Ib had been around, and then the second, without him.
“So I’ve heard,” she answered him dryly. “You said you wanted Heracles’ territory. What do you plan to do with it?”
“I think it’s time I settled down a little. This minion thing you’ve got going has its perks, after all.”
She looked over her soldiers thoughtfully. “A lot of them are my family, you realize.”
“Breeding up an army?” He chuckled darkly. “Maybe taking after Regine, there. I could try that, get myself a wife or ten...”
She met his eyes coldly, not caring that he was taller than her (most of the world was taller than her). “Don’t make it so I meet you on the other side of the battlefield, Ib, Demon-Prince,” she warned him.
“Oh, I’ve no need to be after your folk,” he replied with a dismissive wave.
She rolled her eyes. Some things never changed. “We’ll stop by and visit then, make sure you’re doing all right.”
“Won’t that be lovely. I’ll show you my famous hospitality.”
“I’m sure.” She smiled sweetly at him, wondering, thoughtfully, if he understood the threat. ”Will you collect Eris, or should we?”
“My business with her is done.”
“Right.” If she hadn’t already had reason to dislike the man, she certainly did now. ”We’ll collect her, then. Have a nice day.”
“Oh, I’m sure I will. It’s been fun, maybe we’ll do it again in another fifty years.”
“It’s a date.” She shook her head, hoping she wouldn’t have to kill him (and maybe hoping he’d give her an excuse) and gathered her family to see if they could talk Eris down from the bloodrage before the hunters showed up.
Copyright © 2009-2011 Lyn Thorne-Alder with Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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