You are the BARD OF SPACE, you are 18 YEARS OLD, and you’re just about READY TO GO TO WAR.
You DON’T want to go to WAR, of all things. Not really. You used to have a PROBLEM about beating up bullies, but NOT ANYMORE. No, you’re a HIPPIE, through and through. Sure, your FATHER taught you how to KICK ASS, but he taught you to CALM THE HELL DOWN, too. Now it seems that you REALLY NEED TO FIGHT.
You haven’t been in contact with the THIEF in a long while, and no matter how hard you look, you’ve LOST SIGHT of the HEIR on your computer. Neither of them are ANSWERING you. You were worried before you left the LAND OF SNOW AND CRYSTALS, but you’re PRETTY SURE the SEER can take care of herself. As long as she DOESN’T KNOW the boys are MISSING, you can TAKE CARE OF IT.
You’re getting TROLLED AGAIN.
—frame focus: RIGHT NOW—
—tergiversantChaotic [TC] began trolling tirelessGuardian [TG]—
TC: sO yOu’Re An AlIeN?
TC: mAn, I dOn’T rEaLlY sEe It.
TC: FiNe YoU dOn’T hAvE hOrNs AnD yOu’Re PaLe As FuCk.
TC: BuT yOu AiN’t ThAt DiFeRrEnT oF a ChIcK.
TG: oh shit.
TG: you again.
TC: We’Ve TaLkEd BeFoRe FoR yOu!
TC: I gEt It!
TC: WhAt Up, BaBe?
TG: we discussed this last time.
TG: my name is vita.
TG: you know that.
TC: YeAh I dO.
TC: mY bAd.
TC: ShIt YoU aRe FiEsTy.
TG: oh god
TG: are you hitting on me?
TG: wait wait wait
TG: no horns?
TG: I’m pale?
TG: what the hell, are you LOOKING at me?
TG: where the hell are you?!
TC: HeY cOoL yOuR tItS!
TC: i AiN’t A fUcKiN pErVeRt SnEaK-a-PeEk, BaBe.
TC: JuSt MaKiN sUrE tO tRoLl YoU rIgHt.
TG: you’re making me freak out that you can fucking see me right now just to troll?
TC: YeAh KiNdA.
TC: bUt I cAn SeE yOu AnYwAy.
TG: oh what the fuck?!
TC: HeY, yOu CaN fUcKiN sEe ThE oThEr AlIeNs On YoUr CoMpUtEr ToO!
TC: dOn’T lOsE yOuR sHiT aT mE!
TG: wait, what?
TG: what are you saying?
TG: that you’re in the game, too?
TG: you’re not my server player.
TG: ...are you?
TC: nAh NaH.
TC: i CaN jUsT sEe YoU oN mY sCrEeN lIkE tHaT sPaZzY mOtHeRfUcKeR aT cAn.
TC: HeY, i JuSt WaNtEd To GeT a HeAdStArT oN tRoLlInG yOu FuCkErS.
TC: bEaT oUt ThAt BiTcH rApOtO.
TC: mAkEs HeR pIsSeD lIkE nOtHiNg FuCkIn ElSe.
TC: NoThInG lIkE hEr PiSsEd OfF, bAbE.
TC: yOu AlIeNs Do BlAcKrOm?
TG: oh wow.
TG: you are just rocketing through all the levels of creepy there are.
TC: YoU’rE a FuCkIn RiOt, BaBe!
TC: I’m GoNnA gO mEsS wItH hEr HeAd A bIt.
TC: WhY dOn’T yOu Go FuCk ArOuNd WiTh YoUr CoNsOrTs AnD hAvE sOmE mOtHeRfUcKiN fUn?
TC: LoRe It Up An’ ShIt.
TC: We’Ll HaVe EvEn MoRe To TaLk AbOuT nExT tImE.
—tergiversantChaotic [TC] ceased trolling tirelessGuardian [TG]—
She closed the window after a moment, sitting back against the wall. On her bed, laptop on her knees, she looked through the chumroll. Only Amie’s handle was bright; Hugh and Liam existed in the same dark as tergiversantChaotic. She opened the Sburb game window once more. No matter where she sent the view, she could not find Hugh. Had she the patience, she might have sat fulfilling her promise: building more and more floors on Hugh’s house. However, after an hour of doing so before, flicking back and forth between the game window and the chat she perpetually left open, she was disinclined to continue. She sat in silence, drumming her fingers on the laptop.
The world outside was bright. From her window, she could see the lake in the distance, gleaming in the light from Skaia. Yet further was the volcano, still utterly befuddling to see. It smoked and steamed, but she had never felt a tremor shake the planet. She set the laptop aside and sat with one leg drawn up to her chest. Chin on her knee, hands around her ankle, she looked and thought of nothing in particular.
However much she wanted to stay and keep watch on her computer, she wanted to leave the house and do something else all the more. Frowning, she fell sideways and landed on her stomach beside the laptop. Pulling it before her, she lay and stared at the chumroll. Nothing changed; no one new came online. Sighing, she patted at the bed with both hands. Two minutes more were given to waiting for something to shift on the computer. Then she sighed loudly and took to her feet.
The alchemiter was to be her destination, but she went first to her desk. All the detritus of the week before still littered the surface. The posters and markers she ignored; the hands-free headset for her cell phone she took and put into her sylladex. It was followed quickly by a pair of sunglasses, and the last thing she took was her laptop. From her basement bedroom she emerged and to her living room she went, where every machine she needed lay in wait.
By then, so many hours in and dozens to hundreds of underlings defeated, grist wasn’t an issue, and neither was mucking up the alchemy. The first few combinations of the cards left lenses replaced by broken computer chips and wires dangling from the temples of the sunglasses, or lenses that spat sparks and an earpiece that wouldn’t stop screaming static. In the end, though, she found the proper order for the cards, and smiled at the Activist-on-the-Go Set. Equipping it set the glasses on her nose, the earpiece tucked in her ear, and the microphone settled on her cheek. She looked down at her hands, biting one lip as she lifted her fingers.
Ethereal firmness caught her fingertips, and she let out a wild giggle. Screens popped open on the large lenses, vivid from so close. Everything was controlled by touch: she opened Pesterchum and the Sburb window with quick taps in the air, and she sought out the chumroll to begin a new chat. Her giggling paused, though, at what she found. Amie had gone offline, profile dark. Again she bit her lip. Still, she opened the chat window.
—tirelessGuardian [TG] began pestering aspiringCarver [AC]—
TG: testing testing
TG: oh wow!
TG: look at that, it’s actually doing it!
TG: amie, this is so cool!
TG: I alchemized this new thing with a microphone and a headset so I could just talk for chats and it’s totally working!
TG: my type’s coming up perfectly!
TG: and it’s even coming up like I always type...
TG: that’s kinda weird, but I like it.
TG: I can give you the captcha codes for the headset and stuff so you can alchemize something like this for yourself.
TG: that way it’ll be more like talking on the phone, and we won’t have to spend all our time typing.
TG: the code for the headset’s 37hf021.
TG: so alchemize what’ll be comfy for you
TG: and get back to me when you do, okay?
TG: I’m gonna go and explore my planet, but I’ll stay online so go ahead and just message me later.
—tirelessGuardian [TG] ceased pestering aspiringCarver [AC]—
Though she shifted the system down into her sylladex, she left it at the very top. It existed as a ghost on her skin, within reach by another tap of her fingers to the air. Taking to her sandals, she went out into the world and breathed deeply. Soon after arriving, she had gone to the lake and took in its vastness; its width and breadth and depth. She and her sprite walked its circumference in what appeared to be one-sided silence.
It was only when Liam came barging through the gate that she learned that the sprite’s voice, deep and sonorous, was for her ears alone. She called him Mamorisprite, taking from her father the name, Omamori, he had used in referencing the armor. With her decision made, she went away from the lake and called his name aloud. He appeared in silence, as always, and followed at her side with the plates of the armor clacking quietly as his arms moved.
“I got trolled again,” she said.
He cleared the throat that somehow existed in the hollowness of his body; the gruffness made him sound like a bear. “The scoundrel is a persistent one.”
“I guess so,” she said. “I don’t know what his deal is. It’s like he’s forgetting we’ve talked before, but he’s...he’s really more weird than an asshole.” She made a face that blended a sneer and a smirk. “He’s such a creeper sometimes.”
“The creature dares such impudence with you? And you have not chastised him for his repulsive behavior?”
“Hey, I told him he was a creeper. He bugs me, but it doesn’t really piss me off.” A shrug. “Guess I’m trying to do what Dad wants and not get wigged out by losers like him.”
“Hrmm. A wise choice, to be sure.” His hand, shapeless but for the mold of the guard, patted her shoulder. “Even surpassing what would be expected of you as the Bard.”
She smiled. When his hand left, though, her lips returned to evenness. “Um...he said something I wanted to ask you about.”
“He said something about lore and consorts. What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Hrmm. Peculiar that the rapscallion has knowledge of the game, is it not?”
“I guess, but whatever. What’d he mean?”
“Each realm is home to creatures that dwell there naturally. They are peaceful things that desire to be left in their peace. However, with the great war on Skaia, the monstrous denizens have had their way. They run rampant, and the consorts suffer for it.”
“Wait, are you serious?”
“Why aren’t the consorts doing anything for themselves? They’re still alive and kicking—they should kick at the imps!”
“They are small creatures. Little more than sentient animals.”
“That makes it worse!” Vita said. “If they can think, then they should know better! They shouldn’t let anyone stomp on them—they should fight back!”
“They are few and small against a great swath. Ogres, basilisks. You have seen the sizes those beasts can attain.”
“Yeah, and I beat them up. Tiny little hippie from Seattle me, with just a wooden sword. There’s no reason for them to not try.”
“They fear death, child.”
“Well, they’re gonna die anyway if they don’t do anything.” She stopped abruptly, standing on her toes and shielding her eyes from the star sunlight. “Where’s some consorts?” She paused, rocking back down onto her heels. “Um...what are they, again?”
A pause. “Huh?”
“The closest approximation is an iguana from Earth. However, they can speak and walk like any man.”
“That’s...that’s totally weird.”
“You take issue with lizards capable of speech and not with being transported to another plane of existence?”
She pursed her lips and muttered, “Shut up,” quietly. Sighing, she stood on her toes again. “C’mon, seriously, where are they?”
“The consorts often gather near the rivers. If you seek them, search there first.”
“Rivers, got it.” As she started off, she turned to wave back at him. “Pretty sure I’ll be okay talkin’ to the lizards by myself.”
“You have but to call, milady.” He bowed at the waist, vanishing in a flash of green.
With the volcano in the distance and Skaia bright above, the planet was warm. With the lake and the rivers, it was suffused with damp. Droplets of water clung to the grass and washed over Vita’s bare toes as she walked. A very soft breeze broke the surface of the nearest river, making the water glisten in ever-moving cascades of diamond shards. In that brightness, she could see small shapes of dark. Walking on her toes, squinting slightly, she could resolve the shapes into clarity. The iguanas, as promised, were bipedal, green little beings, gabbing around the riverbank. Large yellow sunhats with floppy brims sat on their heads, rustling in the breeze.
Thought she meant to call out in cheerful greeting, one iguana spotted her with her mouth open and words not yet formed. It let out a squeal, arms pinwheeling a moment before it clutched its hat and pulled it down hard over its face. The others spun about and followed suit within seconds, and she stood with her mouth open and one hand lifted for a long while. Bringing in one corner of her mouth to her teeth, snorting out a sigh through her nose, she put her hands on her hips and went to the closest iguana.
“Hey,” she said.
The iguana squealed in a higher pitch than before.
“Hey, c’mon.” She crouched down until she was forced to set one knee on the ground. The iguana shook its head spastically, squeaking when she caught hold of the edge of the hat’s brim. “C’mon. I’m not here to smack you.”
Cautiously, tentatively, the iguana tilted its head up enough to see her face. “R-r-really?”
“Aw, geez.” She smiled. “You guys are so tiny that I’d feel like a jackass for even looking at you meanly. Seriously, stop acting like big wusses.”
The other iguanas began to lift their heads, though they shifted their clawed feet in the sandy mud at the sight of her. The one she knelt by, though, let her take its hat off in stages. It clung to the brim at first, and lifted its arms jerkily as she carried it up. She grinned suddenly and plucked it from the iguana’s hands just as quickly. Bolting to her feet, she plopped the thing on her head and danced backward as the iguana hopped after her and scrabbled at the hem of her shirt.
Snickering, she let the iguana grab her shirt, but rubbed its head when it tugged. “Don’t freak out, I’ll give it back. But first—” She took the brim in both hands, tilting it rather artfully over her face. “How do I look?”
The iguanas stared. They looked to each other in jerks of their heads, flicking back and forth and glancing at her time and again. A tiny smile appeared on the face of the iguana holding her shirt. Grinning all the broader, she crouched down, took the hat off, and flipped it over once before dropping it on the iguana’s head. She put her hands on her knees, balanced perfectly, and tilted her head to one side. “Well?”
The iguana furthest from her spoke up and asked in a shaking voice, “Who are you?”
“My name’s Vita,” she said. “But I guess my title is the Bard of Space.” She held out one hand. “Hi there.”
A louder squealing scream she had never heard in her life. The closest iguana launched itself at her, catching her round the neck with such force that she fell to her rear in the sand. The others clustered around her in an instant, jumping up and down so wildly their hats threatened to fly from their heads. With her hands in the sand, holding her up against the weight of the creature in her lap, she looked up at the sky and blinked. When she attempted to sit up properly and lift the iguana from her, it wiggled out of her grasp and wrapped its arms tightly around her head. She flailed and managed to catch herself on her elbows.
“Ge’off!” she sputtered. She pushed an arm between them and shoved it down into her lap. Coughing, shaking her head, she stared. The iguana’s mouth was split in a massive, utterly dopey grin. “What in the hellfire are you guys freaking out about?”
“You have arrived!” the iguana squealed. “We’ve been waiting for you for so long!”
“You can make everything right! You can make the denizen stop filling the rivers with poison!”
Another piped up. “The denizen is killing the water! We can’t find any water bugs to eat! But you’re here now!”
“Okay, slow down a minute.” She sighed, and her lips curled slightly down. “You guys have seriously been just waiting for someone to come solve your problems?”
Their smiles did not die, but they began to look nervously to each other. The iguana in her lap looked back up at her, hands coming together as if in supplication. “You...you’re the only one with the power to defeat the denizen. It’s said that only the Bard will discover the way to beat him.”
“Look, you’re asking me to take down what you’re saying is the biggest monster there is all by myself. My sprite told me a long time ago that beating the denizen isn’t even the most important thing to do.”
The iguanas started, gasping quietly. They looked to each other once more, whispering in frightened squeaks.
“I mean—no, don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to abandon you guys, but...but I don’t even know what he was talking about when he said that.”
“He speaks of genesis.”
“The Bard of Space does have another goal.” One iguana, bent and wrinkled more than the others, stepped closer. “You are the creator.”
“Creator of what?”
She lifted a brow, sighing through her nose. “Oh, Christ on a pogo stick. This game and its dumbass symbolism.”
“You must create the perfect frog.”
She slapped a hand to her forehead. “Oh, come on. What in the hell is that even supposed to mean? Frogs are—frogs are totally dumb.”
Another gasp, much louder than before. “You can’t say that!”
“Uh...why?” She shrugged. “They’re just goofy little squishy things that croak and jump around.”
“But they’re how everything starts!”
Instantly, their mouths snapped shut; the one on her lap went as far as to put its scaly hands over its mouth. After a long while, it whispered, “We can’t say.”
“We can’t tell you your greater purpose.”
“That is seriously stupid.”
“You need to discover it on your own. That’s how Skaia works.”
“You guys can’t even give me a hint?”
They shook their heads as one. The oldest said, “We can’t. We don’t really know what exactly the genesis’s creation means.” It lifted its hands helplessly. “We don’t know how you can defeat the denizen. We don’t know how to find him. We...we don’t even know what your title means. We just know it means you’re our savior, and the creator of genesis.”
Gently, still urgent, the iguana in her lap took her shirt in hand and shook her. “Please. Please? We can’t do it on our own.”
“But I can’t do it on my own either! It’s not like I’m a god or anything!”
Vita grumbled a sigh, rubbing the back of her head. “Look. I’m not going to just walk away to do weird things with frogs and leave you alone. I wanna help, but...I’m just gonna say it. You guys need to do something for yourselves. I’m not always going to be here for you.”
Her frown grew deeper. “You’re getting stomped on for no good reason. You need to fight back! We all need to do something, okay?
The iguana in her lap was the only one that did not look away. It held its breath a long while, staring at her from beneath the brim of its hat as the others found the ground more engaging. It swallowed hard, got off her lap, and took its hat from its head. Turning the brim this way and that, the iguana swallowed once more and met her gaze. “I’ll help.”
She grinned broadly and held out her fist. “Then you get daps, little guy.”
“Make a fist.” It did. “Now bump mine.” It did, and she laughed. “That’s daps. Now you’re my buddy proper.”
“I’m your buddy?”
“Hell yes.” She got to her feet, brushing off her jeans. “We all can be buddies.”
Despite the smile on the creature beside her, the others began to mumble and grumble amongst themselves. They slowly began to draw away. With a snort, the iguana beside her grabbed her hand and held tight. “She’s not wrong!”
“We should do something! If she’s going to create genesis and defeat the denizen, then we can do at least something to help!”
However slowly they did it, the other iguanas still left, shuffling through the wet grass with slick hissing tails. Soon enough, only Vita and the lone iguana remained in the quiet of the river’s noise. The creature sputtered and stamped its feet; its tail made dull thwacks in the sand. Smiling wearily, she crouched down and tapped its nose.
“Chill out, buddy,” she said. “I’m super-excited that you’re still here.”
“But they should be here! You’re right!”
“Aw, c’mon. I am so totally used to getting brushed off when I do my activist thing. I actually got someone to stand up today. That’s huge for me.”
“But...” It frowned, jamming its hat on its head with another indignant sputter.
She laughed. “But nothing, buddy. It’s cool. At least now they can go off and tell other folks that the Bard of Space is here. And that she says to get off your butts and fight back. Things’ll change. Until they do—” She took to her feet and shook the hand wrapped round her own. “We do a lot.”
It did not look at her for a time, head aimed at the ground. When she flicked the hat’s brim, it squeezed her hand; when she started to walk, it followed at her side. She slowed from her normal pace, allowing its two steps for her one not be frantic. They went away from the river, but she did not turn them toward her house.
“Can I ask you something?” Vita said.
“Are you a boy or a girl?”
She hummed, looking up in thought. When she returned her eyes to the ground, she was smiling anew. “Can I call you Martin?”
He tilted back to look at her, holding his hat to his head as he did. “Uh...okay.”
She snickered. “I can call you your normal name, don’t worry. What is it?”
“We don’t have names.”
“Oh.” She blinked. “Well, I guess your name’s Martin now. Is that okay?”
He stared a moment before returning her smile. “Yeah!”
“So. Martin. You guys said something about frogs. Where all do you keep ‘em?”
“They were everywhere on the planet, once. But the denizen and its underlings have poisoned so much of our water that it’s hard for the frogs to breed and live.”
She groaned, rubbing the back of her neck. “Okay, this denizen guy is a total asshole. You’re making me want to go kick his ass first.”
He closed both hands around hers, tugging at her arm and forcing her to halt. “No, you can’t! Not so soon!”
“Cool your jets, buddy,” she said, patting her free hand on the air. “I’m a righteous ass-kicker. I’ll be okay.”
“No!” He tugged at her even harder. “No no no! No matter what you do, you can’t fight the denizen until the end! I’ll do everything I can to make everyone understand and to help you, but you have to promise to not try and fight him now!”
She hesitated in opening her mouth, and it was because of that hesitation that a loud, booming voice broke into their conversation.
“Yo babe, fuck that noise!”
Her head snapped up. The voice’s owner stood at a distance that could barely be considered far. She could see the holes in his faded black jeans, and the frayed edges that spoke of how his black shirt had once had sleeves. Many of the buttons had popped, and the cloth fluttered to reveal a chest almost entirely devoid of muscle. He danced from foot to bare foot, hands crammed in his pockets. His black hair was upswept and short, and she could see the massive curling horns she had seen only on rams before. His skin was gray, and in his grin she could see a mouth full of teeth that could rival a shark’s.
“Man, I told you to go fuck around with them, babe!” he said. “Never said shit about lettin’ ‘em make you be a fuckin’ baby wriggler coward!”
She stared. Her mouth remained open.
He laughed, throwing back his head as the sound rattled out of his chest. When he let his hysterics calm to giggling, he lifted a hand out of his pocket and brought it near his temple. “Babe, back when I was just barely level ten I was goin’ around and fuckin’ throwin’ shit at my denizen!” He snapped his fingers, and a writhing flame of purple surrounded his hand. He parted his fingers only to curl them into a claw, and the flame shot into the air above his palm. With another wild laugh, he brought his hand back and threw the fire.
Vita grabbed Martin and dodged. The flame, though, smashed into the ground far away from where they had once stood, rending the grass into ash and char. She stared at the man, eyes wide and brows knitted, and stood straight. Gently, she put her hand on Martin’s head.
“You go back to my house,” she said quietly, “and you find Mamorisprite. Tell him...tell him that he needs to make sure nothing happens to you or anyone else.”
“C’mon, I already told you I’m a righteous ass-kicker.” She snapped her fingers and caught her wooden sword when it fell out of nothingness. “I’ll figure out a way to handle him.”
He bounced his eyebrows and cooed, “Ooooh, babe. You are so damn feisty! Gotta fuckin’ love that in a chick!”
“The lord Jesus Christ above, if you’re seriously who I think you are, you are totally hitting every creeper button there could possibly be.”
He spread his lips in a wide smile to show every pearly fang possible. “And who do you think I am?”
“The guy whose ass I’m about to beat.”
“I am shakin’ in my pants, babe.”
She frowned. “How many times am I gonna have to tell you that my name’s—”
“Vita.” He snickered, lifting both hands and shrugging. “I know, I know. But you know my name, right? We should start this off right!” He began to dance from foot to foot once more. “Kijani Nijole, at your motherfuckin’ service!”
“Vita Hiroyuki, at the service of beating the shit out of you.”
He laughed, bouncing up and down. “Yes! Here we motherfuckin’ go, babe!” He jumped up and spun once around. The second time, though, he landed facing the other way and sprinted off.
Her mouth fell open, but she paused only long enough to shake off Martin’s hand before chasing after him. With his laughter ringing loud, it was easy enough to stay on his trail. His skinny legs belied the strength in them, though, and she was forced to shift her sword down to run as fast as possible. All her focus was aimed at his back, and she ran without looking at anything else. Her feet slapped at the ground, knees rising high to keep her from any stumbling.
The grass began to die off. Her sandals started to pound on a dusty trail. Around her, all along the new rolling hills, were caves, were small decrepit buildings. Her breath was beginning to burn in her throat, and she snarled aloud when Kijani leaped over the hill with a peal of laughter. Vita expected to lose him in the distance. She crashed into him and his waiting arms just beyond the hill’s peak, and they rolled down the hill in a bundle of skinny limbs and swearing.
He cuddled with her, letting out his laughter into her hair. The discovery when they had come to a stop made her shout and punch his chest as hard as every muscle in her body would allow. Laughing even louder, he snapped the fingers on both hands. Her breathing halted as the flames surrounded her. She was thrown completely off of him, but she did not land painfully. A push that could have been playful let her roll back over her shoulders and bring her feet to the ground. As she lifted her head, he shot to his feet and began to bounce on his toes.
“You are so much more fun than Rapoto!” he cackled. “Shit, babe!”
Vita frowned, rising to her feet and taking hold of her sword. From so close, she could see the orange in his irises, and the two circles that resided in the gold of his left eye. She made them her target as she rushed at him. The purple swept up around his forearms, and he blocked each swing without so much as a wince. The swipes at his head he slapped away; the low swings at his legs he jumped over. As she advanced, he dodged away. When she stabbed at his chest, he brought up one foot covered in fire and stamped down on the sword. It clattered from her hands and was caught under his foot.
Hacking out a cough, wheezing all the worse from her running, she stumbled back. Grin spreading, eyes widening, Kijani advanced in turn. He slid one foot forward to hook his ankle behind her heel and pulled hard. When she fell, he caught her wrists and held her up. He stepped back to bring her upright, lifting one arm and spinning her as gracefully as any dance. Grimacing, she wrenched one hand free and swung a punch at his head. He caught her hand once more, shaking his head with a snicker.
Kijani lifted his arms and whipped them backward as he snapped his fingers. Vita’s knees collapsed, bringing her down to kneel before him. He crouched and caught her chin in one hand. There was weight on her shoulders; her arms were pinned to her sides. Her sword lay uselessly on the ground under his foot.
“You are,” he whispered, “the best chick I have seen in a long fuckin’ time...you know that?” He flicked his eyes up to her hair. “Don’t even bother me that you ain’t got horns.” He tapped her chin. “Or fangs. You are fuckin’ awesome.” He smiled, slow and warm, and brought up his other hand. “And I am gonna give you so fuckin’ much, Vita.”
She could not keep herself from wincing when he reached over her head, and again when he tapped her nose. She opened her eyes to find a diamond shaped crystal, glowing bright blue and trailing sparkling light, held before her.
“I stole this a long fuckin’ time ago from Rapoto and Branko and Makram,” he said. “They found a bunch of these things somewhere, and I decided to fuck them over and steal some. When we started playing, they used these in their alchemy. Made the best motherfuckin’ weapons I ever did see. Now you get to have one.”
“I don’t fucking want anything from you!”
“Aw, babe, don’t be like that.” He let his eyes close halfway. “We ain’t gotta be all black. Nothin’ wrong with a little red in your life, right?” He chuckled. “I got enough black to go around back with my main motherfuckers. Haven’t had much in the way of red, but—” He leaned close, and she could feel his breath on her mouth. “Babe, I think I could be real flushed for you. All proper pity and makin’ you happy.”
“What the fuck are you—”
“C’mon. Don’t have to go black with me. You have this, you go be a badass and fly up your echeladder, and then we’ll be the biggest badasses anyone’s ever seen. Better than Rapoto, better than Makram, better than anyone. Don’t even have to ascend, we’ll be so fuckin’ great.”
Kijani chuckled again, and stroked her hair tenderly. “All this? This was a play-fight. I wanted to see how badass you were, and damn you are great for not being a troll. So I’m not gonna fight you again, not ever. All pretty flushin’ and sparkly gifts for you, babe. Don’t have to worry about a thing. Not gonna let anythin’ happen to the girl I want.” He leaned even closer, and his lips nearly brushed hers. “Listen, Vita. I been pissin’ you off, but—”
A tiny pop sounded; a body unfolded out of space behind him. He jerked back, spinning about and looking up. A small woman, dressed in a dark blue skirt and a black shirt with a sign Vita did not recognize, stood there. Long horns, bent in a single waving curve, came from her flowing hair. She looked at Kijani with weary green eyes. In a voice barely more than a rasp, she said, “You idiot.”
His eyes widened; his smile became a sneer. “Oh, fuck—”
She grabbed one of his horns, pulling him away with such a fierce jerk that he let go of Vita entirely. Another pop rang out, and the two of them were gone. Gasping for breath, she fell forward and slammed her hands on the ground to keep from collapsing. Between her shaking hands lay the crystal, gleaming and shining. Her sword was within reach. Gritting her teeth, she took neither. Her Activist Set buzzed as a ghost on her ear. Swallowing, she put her hand to her ear and made it appear.
—guilelessCollaborator [GC] began trolling tirelessGuardian [TG]—
GC: oooookay, so...
GC: azriel says that we’re going to try and make kijani nnnnnnot be a creep to you
GC: as much as we can anyhow
GC: sorry he’s...such a freak like that
GC: are you
GC: you know
GC: at least a little?
TG: you ffffffucking
TG: you godddddddamn fucking TROLLS
GC: are you
GC: are you crying?
TG: I am not CRYING you fucking idiot!
TG: I’m so pissed off that I can’t calm down!
TG: if I ever hear that you’re messing with my friends
TG: I am going to use this fucking thing that kijani gave me to beat the shit out of all of you!
GC: just so you know
GC: we’re not all really trying to troll you guys...
GC: kijani’s just reeeeeeeeally stupid about redrom
GC: i think...
GC: he’d probably have said sorry if
GC: you know
GC: i didn’t teleport us away
TG: yeah, I’m REALLY going to believe you.
GC: don’t hate all of us, okay?
GC: kijani’s just a dumbass...
GC: and i really think he’d say sorry
TG: I don’t
TG: I don’t care.
TG: go the fuck away.
GC: before i do
GC: my name’s galina tenoch...
GC: i’m the maid of space for us
GC: go ahead annnnnd
GC: ask me anything you want
GC: i’m sorry
—guilelessCollaborator [GC] ceased trolling tirelessGuardian [TG]—
Vita shoved the set down as far as she could in her sylladex, and crammed the crystal even further. She rose to her feet, holding the sword so tightly her knuckles bleached. As she turned about and started back, her shoulders were hunched; every muscle was taut.
The first underling that crossed her path was met with her oldest and truest method of retaliation: she abandoned her sword, tackled the imp to the ground, and pounded her fists into its face.
Meet your contact in the Land of Blaze and Stone