Post Tue Dec 13, 2005 7:33 pm

Savant's Blood: Hecate's Bounty -- Chapter 6

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Paybacks aren't fair, they just feel good...<BR>
<DIV ALIGN="RIGHT"><font style="font-size:12pt">—Sindra</DIV>
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<div align="center"><font style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: 18pt;">Chapter 6<BR>
<font style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: 16pt;">Unnecessary Roughness</div>
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Heart hammering, Wren threw her arms around Desiray’s middle, hoping and praying that Gaea knew what she was doing. The morning light reflected off Sindra and Drucilla’s metallic armor and weapons. The breeze stirred their hair, loose strands teasing the chiseled perfection of their faces. The phrase ‘lethal beauty’ was coined for creatures like these two. If they were anywhere near as powerful as Wren guessed, it would take an army to stop them.

Wren found it hard to imagine that she and Desiray could become that army. They had no choice. Either they fought their way clear or they’d get herded into whatever trap waited for them below.

She heard Desiray draw a breath, and felt her hands clamp down on her arms. <Here it goes!>

She hadn’t known what to expect, but never imagined it would hurt. It felt like she’d been doused with acid. Her vision blacked out and all the air left her lungs in a stunning rush. She tried to cry out, but couldn’t move. Force seemed to slam down all around her as if she were a piece of parchment being crumpled into a ball. Something slammed, then hit again, and again. All the while—she burned, and the burning went on and on…

In the instant it felt as if she would be torn apart by the pain, it stopped. Everything stopped. She couldn’t feel anything. Couldn’t sense her body—wasn’t even sure if she still had one. There was no light or dark—no aspect of distance or that time was even passing.

Slowly, a light seemed to filter around her with growing strength. As the brightness intensified, she realized that the illumination wasn’t around her, but from her. She did have a body. With that awareness came a warmth that gradually grew more pronounced. The stronger the sensation became, the more she liked it.

Her eyes fluttered open. She was on her back. What happened? Rays of light stabbed down through a ragged gap in what looked like a high ceiling. In a warehouse? She lay at the center of a shallow blackened crater with fragments of wood scattered all around. Desiray must have lost consciousness and fallen. They’d been close to thirty paces up. She should have been broken to bits but she didn’t feel hurt. She didn’t know how, but she felt great.

What had happened to Desiray? She sat up and pushed the debris off her. Wren rubbed at her face and froze—that wasn’t her hand. The nails were too long. She hadn’t been wearing bracers on her wrists.

She drew a breath. With the air came a flood of strength. It hit her so hard and strong she couldn’t contain the moan that escaped her lips. Every muscle twitched and seemed to swell.

“There you are,” Sindra said off on her left. “That move was inadvisable.” The big D’klace floated up from behind a line of crates and drifted down to stand close by. “Where’s Wren? If she’s dead, Mother is going to be really ticked at you.”

Wood creaked and the other D’klace stepped into view on her right.

Wren took another deep intake of air. It felt like being charged up on bloodsong and biophase at the same time. She could feel Gaea’s arms folding around her like comfortable blankets. She moaned again, and rubbed at the back of her neck.

“That was a pretty long fall, perhaps you shouldn’t move,” Sindra said, stepping forward. “Where’s Wren?”

The third deep breath made a ripple of sparkles shimmer all along the surface of her skin. She could feel the energy of Starholme Prime so immeasurably distant flowing through her. In one smooth motion, she rose to her feet.

“You stay—put…” Sindra’s voice trailed off and her silver eyes narrowed. “When did you get so big?”

Wren realized that she was indeed a great deal larger, only a few hands shorter than either of the giant D’klace women. She took a step and felt the dirt compress under her—bigger—and far heavier.

Sindra scowled. “You better start talking to me, or I’m going to drop you.”

Clenching her fists, she shifted her stance. “You’re so tough, Lady? Come on.”

The reaction was instantaneous. Sindra was no green warrior, the first lunge was a feint. She aimed a punch low, pulled it, and spun to bring a spiked elbow home in Wren’s forehead. The D’klace moved so fast the air cracked with the speed.

Before the merger, Desiray was already unbelievably quick, able to snatch an arrow out of the air with little effort. Sindra hadn’t completed her spin before Wren drove her knuckles into the small of the woman’s back. The wall of crates exploded as twenty stone of super-mortal flesh pounded through them, punched through the next line and smashed a hole in the brick wall behind them.

Wren winced. “Ow. That had to hurt.”

She stared at her hand. Was she really that strong? She barely even focused, simply moved with the flow. Her attention was diverted as something whipped toward her.

She sidestepped as Drucilla’s sword seared through air where she’d been standing. She leaped forward out of the path of the big woman’s lunge. As big as these big ladies were, they were amazingly fast. Without the power of Eternity boiling through her, she would have been slammed by that elbow, and sliced in half by the first cut. She knew where they would strike, actually felt the air moving ahead of the attack.

As Drucilla pressed, Wren remained defensive until she sensed another body moving behind her at high speed. She waited until the last instant then leaped up and flipped backward. Let Sindra deal with that pointy sharp object her sister was waving around.

Both women screeched and slammed into one another, far too big and massive to stop quickly. Drucilla didn’t impale her sister like Wren had hoped, but they did make quite an image with their arms tangled around one another.

Observing the thrashing of the two women she realized that something wasn’t quite right with herself. She was moving and reacting differently. Certainly with more poise, but not just the confidence of having this stronger and faster body—but with the instincts of someone long used to it. She couldn’t help but smile. Seeing those two over-confident witches falling all over themselves was pretty funny.

<It’s more than funny, Wren, it’s hilarious. Made them look like a pair of greens.>

That sounded like Desiray’s voice. <Desiray? Is that you?>

<Of course, this is my body.>

<Where have you been?>

<Enjoying the ride. Damn this feels good.>

<We have to calm them down.>

Desiray chuckled in her mind. <Good luck, they’re really hacked.>

“Look, let’s cool down before someone gets really hurt.” She said raising her hands in a placating fashion. “You struck first. I’m not sticking my head in Aarlen’s trap, okay? It’s staying here on my shoulders where it belongs.”

Sindra made a hissing sound. “You dare mock us?”

Her voice changed becoming deeper and more resonant. “Of course I dare, I’m standing ten paces away. Sindra, we’re not going to just roll over for you.”

<Damn it, Desiray, don’t antagonize them!>

<Sorry, I’m feeling pretty good right now.>

“Fool,” Sindra snarled. “I’ll—” She stopped when Drucilla grabbed her arm. She glared at her sister and her silver eyes widened. She looked back to Wren. “We?

“Let us go, Sindra. Remember, we’re family.”

The big woman straightened. “Sorry.” She drew a breath and squared herself. She clenched her fists and a sparks spiraled around her limbs.

<Watch out, she turned on her enhancements.>

<Turned on?>

<You want an explanation or to stay alive? Here she comes.>

The D’klace woman launched forward in a blur. Wren ducked out of her path.

Sindra skidded to a stop and turned. She flexed her fingers and grinned.

Wren looked down, four gouges and been raked out of her armor.

<Damn, she’s tripled her speed.>

<I warned you. You better figure out how to counter or she’ll have us for lunch.>

<Okay, let’s try drawing on a little of our power.> She remembered the way Dorian had probed in her mind and found the part of her that saw the world in pastels of motion and energy. As she concentrated, the lines of force and spread across her vision. She remembered the biophase lines, and was startled to see how much bigger they were here. She hoped they could handle it.

Sindra surged forward as Wren mentally took hold of the magic. It rushed through them like a tidal wave. She felt the force of the woman’s impetus, knew its strength and vector—and made it hers. She moved so quickly her skin burned as she pivoted out of the attacker’s path and swung a round-kick into her posterior.

Wren’s momentum assist fired Sindra at her sister like a ballista bolt. The silent twin raised some kind of screen to protect herself, and the two of them smashed backward through three rows of crates. The shock of the impact blew out the wax paper windows and cracked stone.

The two women lay collapsed together amid the shattered husks of a dozen storage containers. Sacks of spoiled grain, broken stoneware, and copper pottery spilled down over their bodies.

Wren realized she was breathing hard now. Her heart speeded. Up until now, it had been easy. The room began spinning in her vision. She staggered a few steps and leaned against a crate. Her stomach tightened and in a muscle riveting surge, she vomited. Light-headed and dizzy she stumbled a few more steps and hugged a support pole.

“Oooh, this is bad.”

<What’s wrong? What did you do to my body!?>

<How should I know!? I’m as new to this as you. I sure hope they’re down. I’m not—feeling—so well.>

<Dream on, Wren. That just put a twist in their tails.>

Wren looked up. She managed to focus through her spinning vision. She saw fingers twitching and their heads beginning to move. <How in Hades can they be that tough!? After that, there wouldn’t be enough of a normal person to pick up with an ink blotter!>

Desiray’s tone turned dry. <They aren’t anywhere near mortal. That ishtite force armor of theirs helps a lot too.>

Supporting herself along the edges of crates, she made her way to the hole in the wall made by Sindra’s explosive exit from the building.

Stepping out into the sunlight helped. The fresh air flicking through her hair seemed to push back the illness she felt in the pit of her stomach. She felt like a broken clockwork. The tremendous strength that had been buoying her up was gone. Now, it was like she was in her old body with its relatively feeble muscles trying to push this far more massive form.

<Desiray, can we fly? It’s the only way we’re going to be able to move. I am done.>

<Sure. Relax.>

She eased back on her control and let Desiray take over. She reached up to the amulet on her chest and focused. The weight that was crushing down on them relented. Rising a pace from the ground they glided out of the alley and turned onto the main street. They weaved a path around startled people, skirting stalls and rising up over wagons.

**You two are annoying me,** the moderator rumbled in their minds. **I gave you specific instructions.**

“Moderator, if you told me to slit my own throat I wouldn’t do that either.” Desiray growled. “The game is supposed to be inviolate. You’re breaking your own frelling rule. ‘Outside grudges, business, and obligations are to be left outside the grid.’ Those are your words.”

They both felt the Moderator scowl. **Seeking to lecture me is a risky proposition.**

They turned a corner into a small park, found a stone bench and settled down. The queasy feeling had not gone away, it had only grown worse. Desiray gritted her teeth. Wren could feel the woman thinking—calculating the right words. Diplomacy was not Desiray’s strong suit.

Wren felt her mistress decide on a course of action.

“Moderator—Aarlen—seeking to tick off all twelve players and their spouses is expensive. You risk turning Gabriella, Brin, Loric, Dame Techstar, plus all of us children against you. Is what you’ll get for Wren worth what that will cost? I know how much wealth you gain from distributing recordings of this game. If all of us stop playing, you’ll have just stabbed yourself in the foot twice.”

The air was silent.

<What do you know, I may have gotten through to her.>

<What’s this about recordings? People are watching the game?>

<Lots of people. That’s why you’re bound to the game. There’s millions of gold riding on this—gambling especially. That trick you pulled with the gem no doubt has a lot of odds makers on edge.>

Wren swallowed. <Millions?>

<Yep. That’s why everything is so stodgy and formal. That money is what pays for the prizes.>

**You make a valid point,** the moderator admitted in her deep tones. **I will postpone pursuing this matter until after the game—provided both of you return to play—immediately. Fail to comply and I will take this matter up with you—personally.**

Desiray did not hesitate. “Moderator, we agree to your terms.”

**Acknowledged. Proceed to grid E-6 to join the rest of your team.**

Desiray moved to stand up, wavered, and thumped back down on stone bench with the sound of groaning rock. <This isn’t going to work.>

<I think it’s me,> Wren thought to Desiray. <I’m the one making us sick. Can you undo what you did?>

<Let me try.>

She closed her eyes and focused. Wren felt Desiray composing energies down deep and channeling images in her mind. She sensed every iota of her being come alive and begin to buzz and vibrate. Their body began to melt and change.

Wren felt that burning sensation again, only this time it wasn’t as bad. She felt herself shoved down into darkness, and her body sense went away. Currents seemed to push and pull at her, gathering her up, compressing, folding—reshaping…

No time seemed to have passed from the moment she had closed her eyes. She was lying on her side. She ached. Her joints and muscles felt stiff. She had to be back in her own body.

Opening her eyes, she was lying sideways on the bench. She drew a breath. She blinked. It hurt. Everything hurt. Was there really that much pain—or in that short time had she grown used to a body where simply breathing felt good? She decided it must be the latter.

With effort, she pushed herself up to sit. Khairhavkul the Krill dagger fell out of her hand and clanked onto the ground. Desiray who’d been staring down at her hand looked over. “I guess it worked,” she said. The woman looked pale, her hands were shaking.

“You don’t look so good,” Wren said.

“I’ll get over it,” she said. “I have a bad case of body envy I guess. Gaea warned me.”

“Yes, she did.” She looked down and picked up the dagger. “This was actually inside of us. Could that have…?”

Desiray took the dagger from her hand. She frowned. “You know—it might have. With other shape unions, it might not have been an issue—but with us.” She shook her head. “Next time, I’ll make sure it’s a clear joining without anything that could possibly cause interference.”

“You think we’ll need to do it again?”

The guildmistress shook her head. “With Aarlen, anything is possible...”