Post Tue Dec 13, 2005 7:33 pm

Savant's Blood: Hecate's Bounty -- Chapter 7

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Initially, I didn't like the idea
of playing against my husband...he's
so competitive. Again, I have to admit
there is a tantalizing lure to getting the
opportunity to kick his arse...<BR>
<DIV ALIGN="RIGHT"><font style="font-size:12pt">—Terra Falor</DIV>
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<div align="center"><font style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: 18pt;">Chapter 7<BR>
<font style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: 16pt;">Line of Scrimmage</div>
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After separating from the shape union Wren and Desiray were shaky on their feet. With her magic-enhanced body, the mistress recovered in a matter of a few long breaths. Wren was considerably slower to get back to normal. Her mind whirled at the possibilities that had been revealed to them. That was what it felt like to be a First-one—and only a baby one at that. Desiray had only one fifth of the capacity of the original beings who gave rise to the pantheon lords.

Fractional or not, they barely touched the potential available to them, and easily kept pace with D’klace twins. That was until the powerful elders turned serious and began tapping into their magic. That forced Wren and Desiray to reach beyond the native strength of their combined bodies. That’s when things had gone wrong in a big way. Desiray surmised that when they co-joined, magic from the items Wren had been carrying had somehow interfered with the integrity of their fusion.

Desiray talked Aarlen the moderator into a temporary truce. However, they had to agree to play the game—immediately. It wasn’t the best solution, but Wren had to agree it was far better than nothing. They were now proceeding to where they would join Desiray’s partner Bertram.

The two of them cruised along close to the ground, weaving through the increasingly more crowded streets searching for the man. Their passing was attracting a lot of attention as onlookers openly gawked at them as they drifted by. Wren couldn’t help but wonder if the moderator would really withhold any further action. In any event, her best bet was to stay close to the players. The last thing she wanted to do was give Aarlen an excuse to get involved, she remembered her words. Fail to comply and I will take this matter up with you—personally.

“So, I guess now we have to play,” Wren said. “I really hadn’t been planning on it. I’ve only been participating in self defense.”

Desiray blinked at her with emerald eyes. Wren could tell the Mistress was still a little dazed from the joining. “Some pretty sharp proxy play for simple self defense. That dead-eye dagger shot of yours has everyone whining about how you’re a ringer.”

“Me—a ringer? Oh sure. The only one who doesn’t know the rules.”

“Knowing the rules doesn’t help you cut someone with a dagger. You’ve scored on four people. Usually you only hear about poachers scoring on that many people this early in the game.” She chuckled. “Damn, that has to be playing hades with Aarlen’s odds-makers. You’re a total unknown, they probably had you set as fresh meat for the others to score on.”

“Great, just what I wanted to do—tick off an elder—”

Wren’s words were cut short as a light flared in the air in front of them. Desiray pulled up to a hover and started backing away. Patrons on the crowded street ducked into doorways and dodged behind carts.

With a crack like thunder, two huge figures emerged from the light. The illumination faded out with rasp of displaced air.

Hovering a pace off the ground Sindra and Drucilla glared at them, faces scratched, hair mussed, and uniforms covered with dust.

“Ticking off an elder is indeed unhealthy,” Sindra growled. “As you are about to find out.”

Surprised people scattered with yells and warnings. It didn’t take the smarts of mage to recognize a big fight was about to break out.

“Hey, hey!” Desiray held up her hands. “Your mom called a truce!”

“Frell that,” Sindra growled. “You hurt me.”

“You hurt yourself!” Wren snapped. Her voice dropped. “Okay, maybe I did kick you a little hard...”

“That’s the last damn thing you kick.” She surged forward.

**Sindra!** The moderator’s voice boomed in their minds and audibly from the air around them.

The D’klace woman halted and looked around.

**You will desist. Otherwise, I shall call you proxy and points-worthy.**

“You want to do that, Moderator?” Her eyes narrowed. “Go ahead. Then we can drub these two good.”

**If you join the game, failure to comply with the established rules will have dire consequences.** The voice warned in a rumble. The emphasis put on the word ‘dire’ made Wren’s skin prickle. This Aarlen did not make idle threats. **You are judges—you know the rules. Put aside your differences until after the game. You are advised to return to your duties—NOW.**

The D’klace woman stiffened and let out an animalistic growl. Drucilla grabbed her shoulder, silver eyes wide.

“What a couple of over-grown greens,” Desiray remarked to Wren. “Great big babies. Take a couple of hits and they throw a tantrum!”

Sindra’s lips pressed to a line. She brushed her hair back and her hands tightened into fists. “Desiray your mouth just bought you a bunch of trouble. I’m going to beat you like a dirty rug.”

Desiray lowered Wren and herself to the ground. She thrust the krill dagger into Wren’s hand. She bared her teeth in a cold grin. “Bring it to me, Sister.” She made a coming gesture. “I’m right here.” Desiray flipped the edge of her cloak out and wrapped it around Wren. The cloth when it touched her shoulder felt hot and damp, clinging to her exposed skin like something alive. “Get ready,” she whispered.

Wren’s heart tried to flip in her chest. She clutched the woman’s arm. “Desiray!” she gritted. “Are you crazy!?

Silver eyes flashing, Sindra yanked a glowing weapon from a sheath on her side and streaked forward.

Eyes fixed on the giant woman, Desiray swung the other edge of the cloak in front of herself. With the woman only arm-span away she turned and the cloak flashed. To Wren, it felt much like teleporting only they didn’t move—the air itself seemed bend and twist.

Sindra appeared to realize what Desiray was doing and dodged around them. She hissed to a stop a dozen paces past them and spun around. “What—you think I’m an idiot? Don’t insult—”

Like a meteor, a hammer exploded into the ground and Sindra’s feet. The impact shattered glass and made rocks rumble. Debris pelted the area, hunks of smoking rock hissed at Wren and Desiray but passed harmlessly through them as though they were made of air. Wren was certain that anything less durable than the powerful elder would have simply collapsed. Sindra only staggered back a few steps gripping her ears.

“Free points!” A man bellowed at the top of his lungs.

Shaking her head, Sindra was just orienting in the direction where the hammer came from just as Tal streaked out of sky. The burly warrior moved so fast he was only a blur. The D’klace raised some kind of glowing screen between them but he tore through the colored force as though it were paper. Sindra’s silver eyes went wide as the big man hit her in the midriff with his shoulder. The impact made the air shudder as though two huge boulders had smashed together. The giant woman flew back, crashed through a tinker’s cart, and collapsed the building behind it.

The moderator’s voice dark and final spoke in their minds and in the air. **Team clash, E-6. Team Falor defeats Frielos. Sindra neutralized. Scores updated. Move logged.**

Behind them, Drucilla began to glow. Her perfect doll-face had an angry set and her silver eyes burned like flames. Wren felt lines of force all around them bend toward the huge D’klace.

“Oh no, this is going to hurt!”

“Tag!” Algernon appeared out of no-where behind the woman. A black radiance shimmered around him, his arms, legs and chest seemed to thicken and a blue glow filled his eyes. His fist crackled like lightning as he drove it into the small of the Drucilla’s back.

Wren thought Tal had hit Sindra hard. Algernon raised it to a new level. He disrupted the spell Drucilla was casting and sent her catapulting down the street knocking cart-sized divots out of the cobbles.

How could anything that even looked human hit that hard? Seeing the half-dozen smoking pockmarks down the street, she had to wonder how a woman as soft and attractive looking as Drucilla could knock chunks out of cobblestones and still have a single bone intact. Wren could only shake her head in wonderment as the big D’klace clawed back to her feet only instants after being slammed with such incredible force. What in Hades were those two made of? She’d been touched by them, it sure felt like flesh and blood. No wonder Mishaka hadn’t been able to hurt them.

**Team clash, E-6. Team Falor defeats Frielos. Drucilla neutralized. Scores updated. Move logged.** There was a short pause and the tone of moderator’s deep voice turned dry. **Apologies to the players, we have a mid-game rules shift. Elder proxies have been admitted to the milieu. Handicapping is now in effect. Higher level shields, sensory indicators, and magicks have been dampened. Full contact approved for clashes with elder proxies.**

Sindra exploded out of the side of the building, collapsing what remained of the good wall. She glared at Tal who was openly grinning at her. “Mother! You did that on purpose!”

The moderator’s voice turned to a glass crunching rasp. **Your point being?**

“You can’t do that!” Sindra screamed.

**Moderation advisory. Fifty bonus points to the first team to score a full contact defeat on proxy Sindra Frielos. Medium level magic and enhancements have now been disabled for elder proxies.**

Tal clapped his hands together, a feral grin on his face. “Here kitty kitty kitty...”

Fists still glowing, Algernon advanced on her. “Bring on the fresh meat.”

“Oh no you don’t!” Sindra yelled, dodging Algernon’s lunge. She whirled and pushed him past. She pulled a dark sword from its sheath with a shriek. The weapon disappeared from her grasp.

**Unlimited class weaponry has been disallowed for elder proxies.** The dark metallic uniform on her body sparkled and was replaced with what looked like common chainmail. **So has class twelve force armor.**

“Yahhh! Mother!”

**Proxy Sindra Frielos is advised to start playing—unless she wishes further handicapping. If she attempts to escape the game grid, the moderator will be there to PERSONALLY to escort her back into play. The award for a full contact defeat of Sindra Frielos has been increased to 100 points.**

Desiray grinned and pulled the cloak from around them. “That should keep those two busy.” She grabbed Wren around the waist and streaked toward the alley where the hammer that initially stunned Sindra came from.

Bertram stood in the shadow of the building slipping a hammer into the ring on his belt and strapping it down. Desiray let Wren drop and flew directly into his arms. The blonde man pulled her close in hug.

“Thanks for the save, Partner!” Desiray laughed.

“Why of course, Darling,” Bertram responded, kissing her on the cheek. “I wasn’t going to let that ogress touch your pretty face. Beat you like a rug? I think not.” He cringed as a loud crack shook the air, and they caught a glimpse of Algernon bouncing past the mouth of the alley. “Aie, that can’t have been pleasant.”

“Looks like those two bullies have recovered enough to stop being punching bags,” Desiray said. “We better blow out of here.” She took Bertram’s hand and led them out of the alley in a different direction.

“What strategy now, my Dear?” Bertram asked as they ran.

“Damned if I know,” the white-haired woman admitted. They had to force their way through a crowd of on-lookers all peering down the alley, trying to get a glimpse of the fight taking place on the next street. Eyes wide, they seemed to recognize Bertram and immediately stepped back with gasps and apologies. “With a hundred points being offered for punching in Sindra’s head, you can bet everyone’s going to give it a try. Those are easy points compared to some of those nightmare item hits that Brin arranged. I’m going to stomp on his foot next time I see him. The hits this year are next to impossible!”

Wren laughed. “I didn’t think it was that hard.”

“Oh, shut up,” Desiray growled. “Show off.”

“So, she has not persuaded you to share in your find,” Bertram asked Wren.

“No. My price is too rich for her blood.”

“That price being?”

“Mishaka’s head on a pole, and the whereabouts of my family.”

The paladin raised an eyebrow. “An admirable sentiment. It is, as you say—a trifle—pricey.”

“I don’t know, that price gets pretty attractive once you think about it.” A breathy female voice said from above and behind them.

Bertram and Desiray spun.

Wren whipped out the Krill dagger and drew back to throw. She oriented and found the two figures. She started to throw and recognized two things, first that it was Cassandra and Arabella hovering in the air as though standing on a platform, second that both of them had ward energies wrapped all around them.

“No, wait—!”

Desiray and Bertram had already released their weapons. Wren dived aside as the paladin’s hammer and the guildmistress’ dagger struck the web of filaments hovering in front of the two players. The instant the items struck, a blast of sound and force erupted outward in a fountain of color and scalding air that knocked both of them staggering backward.

Wren rolled to her feet and focused on Cassandra.

Desiray flailed in front of her and clutched at her face. “Damn you, Cassandra!” She growled. “I can’t see!”

“That’s the idea, Darling. It’s only temporary of course—it is just a game after all.”

Bertram staggered to one side and clutched the wall for support. “A foul strike nonetheless, Milady!”

Dressed in the same city camouflage as the others, Cassandra had her dark hair tied back and wore some kind of thick clear crystal strapped across her space black eyes. To Wren’s special vision, the gold mage was shielded everywhere by the ward except for two tiny windows around her outstretched hands, probably so she could cast spells through the barrier.

She could hit a target that size with her eyes closed.

Adjusting her stance, she aimed to bring the dagger across the mage’s shoulder that was in her line of sight. She had yet to throw this Krill dagger of Desiray’s but she could feel its balance.

“Cassandra,” Arabella warned. “Watch out, Blondie wasn’t affected.”

“Get her, Wren!” Desiray yelled. “Take a stripe out of her butt!”

Cassandra waved a hand at Arabella. “She can’t hit us.”

Wren threw. Khairhavkul left her hand with a shriek that sounded like a herald arrow whirring across a battlefield.

“Spit!” Arabella lunged and knocked Cassandra aside, interposing the large gold band on her arm. The spinning blade knocked a hunk out of the metal with a clang that sounded like a hammer striking an anvil, and veered away.

“Aieeeeyowch!” Arabella danced in the air, shaking her arm. “Don’t you frelling ever listen!”

Wren bet if the Krill was anything like Dorian’s blade it would work in a similar fashion. “Khairhavkul.” She whispered, imagining the blade resting in her palm. Sparks spun around her hand and in a flash, the blade reappeared. She nodded, spoke Vectra’s name and snapped her fingers. The other weapon appeared in the opposite hand. While Arabella was dancing around and Cassandra was disoriented, she might as well try again.

“What happened!? Did you get her!?” Desiray called.

“Not yet...” She drew back to throw.

Cassandra made a sweeping gesture just as Wren snapped her arm forward to release. Force pressed in around her with a rasping sound and sparks jumped and danced down her skin. Even before Wren released the dagger, it felt like someone had grabbed her shoulders and spun her. The weapon flew out of her hand in nearly the opposite direction, exploding into a building wall.

Her feet left the ground. “Whoa! Hey!” Her stomach lurched as the surroundings whirled around her like she’d become a child’s top. “Whoa! Wh—oa! Wwwhoa! Casssandra!

“Little snip,” she heard the mage rasp. “Try and hit me now.”

Her surroundings were nothing but a chaotic blur and a rush of air. Her insides knotted up, and blood thundered in her temples. “Stop! Stop! Stop! I’m going to be-e-ee-ee si-ii-ick!

“Better back up, Arabella,” Cassandra remarked. “I think she’s going to blow.”

The other woman laughed.

“Damn it, Cassandra!” Desiray yelled. There was a sharp cracking sound and a hurt gasp. “Owww!”

“Mind the ward, Desiray.”

“A-aa-ah!” Wren groaned. Her vision flashed red and green. Her head felt ready to explode. “Ple-ee-ee-ease!

“Concede, Wren!”

“Ma-ah-ah-derator! I fre-el-ling conce-ee-ee-de!”

**Team clash, E-5.** There was an uncharacteristic pause in the moderator’s speech and she could almost feel the distant woman grinning. **Team Felspar defeats Tarrantil—** The voice paused again, like someone drawing a breath and trying not to laugh. **Proxy Idundaughter neutralized. Scores updated. Move logged. Ten bonus points awarded for highlight worthy play.**

“All right, Cassandra!” Arabella cheered.

Wren stopped spinning with a jerk, and dropped to the ground. She might have stopped turning, but the world continued to pirouette and dance in a stomach churning blur. She staggered backward flailing for balance, knifed forward to correct, stumbled sideways and careened into the building. Wren clutched the bricks for support and slid down to the ground. “I—hate—magic—users.”

“All right, Wren, you’re on our team now.”

“Come near me, and I’ll bite you,” she growled. “Lords, my head.”

“Cassandra,” Desiray snapped. “I still can’t see!”

“Concede and I’ll release the spell. Otherwise, you’ll have to figure out how to lift it yourself. The spell obeys the rules. It can be lifted without magic—but you have to figure it out. That might take a while.”

“The rest of the game, eh, milady?” Bertram chimed in with a growl.

“Could be. Guess it depends on how brilliant you think you are. Decide fast, there are others after Wren, I’m not hanging around to fight them.”

“Are you sure she’s worth getting chased around the rest of the game?” Arabella grumbled brushing back her red hair.

“Of course, you can never have too many free points. She’s good for easy defeats on anyone not watching for a long range shot. Tal and Algernon found that out. Check the replay—phenomenal. I don’t know why Dorian’s team didn’t get highlight points for that double takedown.”

Arabella snorted. “Because our impartial moderator, Aarlen, hates her guts, that’s why. I don’t think she likes Dominique much better.”

“A valid observation,” Cassandra agreed. “You two conceding or not? I feel players on the way.”

Desiray growled.

“We have to,” Bertram determined. He raised his voice. “Moderator, team Tarrantil concedes for spell countering.”

“Bertram!”

** Team clash, E-5. Felspar defeats Tarrantil. Desiray neutralized. Bertram neutralized. Scores updated. Move logged.**

“Good choice,” Cassandra said with a grin. “See, Arabella, I told you it would be worth it. Thirty points.”

“I’m still going to bite you when my head stops spinning,” Wren warned. “I hope you’re ready to deal with the Sen’Gen chasing me around.”

“Sen’Gen—chasing you?”

“Cassandra, lift the blasted spell!” Desiray demanded.

The gold mage snapped her fingers. “It will take a little while to fully clear. That gives us time to leave.”

“Cassandra, be careful. Wren’s not kidding, and Sindra and Drucilla are mighty cranked up. We hurt them bad and they’re ticked.”

“You two—hurt them. I obviously missed something marvelous. Oh well, Wren, tell me on the way.” Wren felt that firm pressure close on her limbs and raise her into the air.

“I haven’t bitten you yet,” she growled.

“I’m certain you’ll get your chance,” Cassandra answered with a grin.