Juxxa’s whole left side, arm, ribs, skin, all felt shifted and loose. Whatever Reginald’s hammer was made of, it was the perfect material for smashing opponents. Smooth, and hard as marble, but with a tactile grip that sent him flying.
His eyes were ready in the dark, and he charged for the crater. Its flames were fueled by the remnants of the furnace, and they shone on some of the pig iron swords and pans.
“Get away!” Minah shouted from the top of a hut.
Reginald reduced a corner of the adobe building into powder, and screams erupted from the poor souls inside. The guard captain then rushed for the next corner and reared back to swing straight through it again.
“I’m just going to hop to another house!” Minah taunted, doing just that as the destroyed side of the home collapsed into a ramp of roof straw.
“Suit yourself,” Reginald said, as more cries came out from under clay and shoddy wooden beams. Juxxa saw Minah delay, biting her lip as the screams were cut in half.
Keep moving, Minah!
He sprinted back up the crater with a pig iron sword and flung it at Reginald. It was a good throw, but the tip clattered against his side and fell to the ground, leaving only a skin-deep puncture.
“Haven’t you figured it out yet?” Reginald reached down to grab the little sword with his free hand. “I am reborn in sky-metal, just like my new weapon. You two are Ozarians. Despite the magic in your blood, it makes you pitiful before me.”
“Feel like talking now, huh?” Minah shouted, which turned the sky man’s focus back to her.
“Torrach!” Juxxa roared, swiping the air in front of him and releasing an arc of reddish light. The fourth rank was exhausting, and it was where he met his limit, but he’d use anything to keep Reginald’s attention away from Minah. However, what should have been a deep, cutting spell diffused into little more than a minor lash against Reginald’s back, unfit to even break through the leather cuirass. “Leftivacus!” Switching to rank one, Juxxa blasted teal flames in the shape of a cone, aiming them for Reginald.
You may be resistant to magic, but heat is heat and fire is fire.
The flames caught the homes and piles of straw and garbage in its path, lighting the little square far better. Then Juxxa’s heart stopped as Reginald’s annoyed expression zoomed at him from beyond the flames, and the hammer swung up and into his stomach, catching him by the bottom of his ribcage and flinging him into the air. From that vantage point, he saw black smoke rising from Reginald’s armor.
Juxxa crashed halfway through a straw-hut roof, sinking as the fragile sticks cracked like old wicker. He pulled himself over, rolling face-down onto a stable section, and vomited. It was dark—he was further from the crater and now-burning homes—but he could taste well enough how much blood was leaving him.
“Father!” Minah jumped from one roof to another to reach him, and then Juxxa felt a pig iron sword pierce through his stomach, under one rib and out the other.
However, it was not his body that had been hurt. It was what his body felt when he saw the blade land inside his daughter, thrown so hard that it changed the direction of her jump.
Juxxa thrust forward so suddenly that the roof collapsed. He crashed head-first right through the wall. Several soft clay buildings were dissolved in his wake until he could get to her. The sword had disemboweled her, opening her belly like a ripped sack of grain.
There were no words or feelings. Her chest fluttered up and down, and he pulled the sword out. There wasn’t much flesh for it to hold onto.
Eyes burning with tears, Juxxa hastily put her intestines, many of them severed, back inside her, and he heard her wet, gargling whimpers.
“Vextrus,” he stammered, sealing the skin.
“It’s not your place to release this city’s people,” Reginald called from across the street. He was only a short walk across from them, and there was only a narrow alley of clotheslines and spare building materials between them, “Nothing will interrupt the revival of Latalla. You will both die for interfering.”
“Gurrendal,” Juxxa whispered, summoning the third rank for darkness and cold. He was no expert, and he was already exhausted from his wounds, and the toxic presence of the skymetal man, but he would use everything he had.
“It’s an amusing coincidence, however, that the one who sent me to my masters is now my first victim after they’ve birthed me anew.”
Juxxa screamed and dug his fingers into his own bruised skin until it broke. It conjured enough intensity all at once to blast Reginald with his other hand. The wave of darkness was like a balloon of ink bursting underwater.
Before Reginald had finished recoiling in mild shock, Juxxa was already into Street Three, sprinting with Minah’s barely-sewn body in his arms. He ran with mechanical consistency, keeping her level as he reached the divide. Every footfall jostled the stones as he raced for the colosseum.
Meanwhile, in the growing nursery of Chosen infants, Cloverra was on its hands and knees on a gilded blanket of flax. Each Chosen baby came out like a giant, fleshy drop of water from the Fey’s midsection. It heaved and moaned as the small object grew more defined and drooped farther from its body. The skin tone darkened into one unique to itself, arms and legs formed, and soon there was nothing to the little tendril connecting them but a false umbilical cord that withered instantly. The elven handmaids, dressed only in shin-covering skirts of thin scintillack, were there waiting for a child to be gracefully handed to them for a first feeding.
The handmaid rose and shushed the perfectly clean baby girl, nudging her to accept the milk of her breasts, walking down the rows of soft, makeshift beds from the near-endless supply of comfortable furniture in the homes of Street One.
That was the tenth child that night. If the experience proved consistent, Cloverra was due for another ten at least. It was so doubled over and overcome with the feeling of being overfilled that it did not notice the screams until they were nearly over.
The Ozarian fighter who had nearly killed Kimora stood before the Fey, and a girl who looked quite similar to him lay between them. Every handmaid was collapsed on the stone floor, neck snapped.
“What are you—”
“She’s hurt,” Juxxa said, his chest heaving and causing him to falter in his speech. “Her stomach was cut. I sealed her belly, but she’s torn up on the inside. Save her.”
“I have very little energy—”
“She’s going cold, please!” He knelt, holding his daughter. “I know it was you who healed my leg!”
Cloverra lay a hand over the girl, feeling the wrong ways that blood flowed through her insides. “It takes energy for me to cast the kind of spell you want, and I simply don’t have it.”
“You defeated dozens of men!” he roared.
“That was destroying! Mending flesh is a greater task!”
“What if you absorbed me?” Juxxa said. “Would that help?”
“I couldn’t absorb anyone else, not for hours.”
“You can absorb her, if it saves her!”
“I’m telling you, I can’t cast the spell she needs.”
“I won’t let you die,” he mumbled, as his tears fell on Minah’s now-emotionless face. The infants were all crying, enveloping their conversation like rain. Cloverra knew that he was almost as badly wounded as her. His organs has been shuffled and crushed to almost as dangerous an extent as hers. Yet he had sprinted here, half the length of the city, judging by his exhaustion, to deliver her and possibly save her in what little time remained. It ripped at Cloverra to think that it couldn’t help a girl loved so dearly.
He was a man of unbelievable might, even for an Ozarian. Though near the point of death by magical draining, his power shook the air around its sensitive Fey-skin. This man had nearly killed Kimora, one of the strongest of the Chosen.
Cloverra started. “There may be a—”
“Do it.” His pupils nearly encompassed his irises, as if his head leaked water from two wells of darkness, where Cloverra saw reflections of itself. “Whatever it takes. I will do anything.”
“I will have to transport her somewhere else.”
“Just save her,” he said, his head shaking.
The Fey looked away for a moment, and then nodded. “Watch the south end of the colosseum at the middle hour of every night. It may take a few days, but I will return with her, alive or not.”
Juxxa, eyes shut, nodded with as much patience as any parent could muster.
“You must do something for me,” Cloverra said. “I am trying to save this city. Help me. For now, avoid this place. If Glaradalle is pushed too far, he will do something that will doom us all, including you and your daughter.”
Every further second was precious, and Cloverra knew the father would take the words to heart. It carefully laid its body over the girl, and they both vanished in a swarm of bubbles. They were slower this time, and collected like suds over the two of them, before lifting away all at once.
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