For the past two days, including much of the night, Juxxa had committed to Minah’s new passion heavily, in order to satisfy her as quickly as possible. They did not stop to rest, energized by the joy of being together. Father and daughter remained moving, always surprising citizens with the opportunity to escape as they appeared through magical holes in their adobe homes. They all knew better than to question a chance to escape through the wall only a few paces behind them.
It was now sunset of their second day together, and they were more than a little worn, having exceeded their natural limits. Still, block to block they went. Resting in the homes they left empty, even briefly, would cause them to succumb to a long, vulnerable sleep.
By near-dark, one of their visitors wasn’t surprised at all to see them warp through the wall. This old man lived in one of the larger adobe homes, with only soot-blackened beams for a roof. The tools and spark-sprays of a sunken furnace confirmed that this was the home of a blacksmith.
“I know who you are,” the man said, arms crossed. “The man and girl saving people.”
“Is that all you know?” Minah asked, pointing a thumb back to her father. “Because he’s also Headsplitter, and I’m his daughter.”
“Minah!” Juxxa said. “You can’t just go around saying anything you please.”
“Last I heard, that’s what freedom is.”
“You’re the champion?” The man laughed and wiped his face with his leather apron. “What happened in the last battle? You couldn’t stop that monster, the Fey, was it?”
“It dissolved my halberd,” Juxxa said. “It was a chance to leave anyway, and save my daughter.”
“So the King…” the old man stopped himself, clearly not willing to hear anything negative about his last hope. “Is the King still out there? Had he fled?”
“Seems so,” Juxxa said. It would disappoint me if he was dead now, after all this work. “Do you make weapons? I could use one.” He held up the useless baton.
“Well...” The man motioned to the far wall, which had a counter that served as his shop. Behind it was a long board of pots, wheels, rolls of chains in many sizes, and other pragmatic objects. There were a few pig iron swords, likely sold to haughty teenagers, that Juxxa could snap in half with his bare hands. “However, you’re welcome to rest here. And I do happen to have a weapon that you’d find interesting, I think.” He held up a finger, suggesting they wait, and retreated to a basement under a trapdoor.
When he returned a moment later, the dancing reflection of the blade caught both of their gazes. The raggedy blacksmith held the ornate blade out, like it was still glowing from the forge. It was a great sword almost as tall as Juxxa, wide at the hilt and narrowing organically, like a long silver leaf. The man offered it by clumsily grasping the guard, letting Juxxa take it by the goat-head pommel.
“The sword’s been both forged with magic and imbued with it,” he said, as Juxxa casually tested its weight in his right hand, like a child with a stick. In front of them was a simple wooden pole decorated with nicks and chips, a dummy to test the edge of axes and other tools. “It holds a Torrach barrier over the blade that constantly pushes objects away. That alone makes it unnaturally good at parrying a foe’s swipes. But swing it hard enough, and that barrier turns into an unimaginable cutting power. But you need the strength to swing it fast—”
Juxxa tore himself to the right and swiped the blade, making the air shriek, and cooling his skin. He tapped the top half of the wooden dummy, and it fell away like it had always been a separate object.
“By the Seers!” Minah said.
“Not really my style,” Juxxa said, studying the steel grain, as consistent as butter, “but it should serve.”
“You’re welcome,” the man said with a cough, “it was only a family heirloom, after all.”
Juxxa nodded curtly, “Whose was this?”
“An old mage-warrior’s from some distant family line, one I hold no blood connection to, of course. Having it here was risky enough, but with the state of the city, I think it’s time to bring it out.”
With Minah around, Juxxa could only hope the weapon wouldn’t see any use.
Cloverra felt ten times heavier. The day was done, the line completed, and the being dropped to a knee as the ring of elven archers went at ease.
It had consumed hundreds, and all that remained was a chaotic pile of worn or sought-out treasures torn off the victims before absorption: gold bracelets, pendants, personal journals wrapped in drake skin… and richer, larger treasures that had been brought over deliberately to bargain. The pile was taller than Cloverra itself.
“You must be fit to burst!” Glaradalle shouted, his voice supported by the colosseum’s spells. He was up in the throne of Sallith’s viewing platform, and waved to his beloved ancestor. “Could you make the effort to fly over to me, and address a few remaining issues?”
Cloverra was never meant to absorb people to create Chosen this quickly. The night would be no rest whatsoever, as it would once more heave and birth dozens of mind-reading infants out of its putty stomach. But despite its deep, terrified hatred of what Glaradalle was doing, it was hard to imagine what it really felt. Not a hatred of its own actions, but of Glaradalle himself. Cloverra had thought it could only ever feel such a vile emotion toward the Ven Quari, but Glaradalle had adopted their attitudes.
I don’t want to hate anyone. I don’t want to fight. I want this to stop!
As Cloverra buzzed closer, it recognized the female elf among Glaradalle’s retinue. It had thought she was kneeling out of desperation, like she had displeased her leader. Far from it; she was quite engaged in pleasing him, performing her duty as if the two were alone.
“Oh, don’t give me that look,” Glaradalle said. “You will never know these needs. Besides, it is for everyone’s benefit that I am kept satisfied and calm.”
Cloverra fidgeted with its hands as it noticed the other present being: a human girl, most definitely not a woman, huddled at the corner in a Rose Amon pearl-lined dress with a broken strap.
“A few of my lesser soldiers did not take their duties to heart, and saw fit to keep a human female for their pleasure,” Glaradalle laid back and sighed. “Worst yet, a child, due to our natural size differences. I have made an example of them. Please absorb her as intended, if you would.”
Fighting the urge to sob in front of Glaradalle, Cloverra extended an arm, like an ever-growing branch of flesh, let it broaden at the end into a flat surface, and enclosed it over the girl. She did not struggle whatsoever, or even seem present in the moment. That was the only solace Cloverra could take, as all of her being was taken in.
“Please,” Cloverra whimpered, wings slowing as its arm returned to normal. “I could not possibly take in anyone else tonight.”
“That’s the last one, I promise. You know, you caused us a lot of trouble, letting the King and his boys go free. Especially Cole. We gave him much knowledge to make him trust Yindel. And now not only has Yindel forsaken me, but I’m getting word that people are fleeing the city walls, as if one of your transferred spells were being used to let people through them.”
“I would have no control over such things.”
“I know. I’m merely ranting.” He let a hand wander to the elf woman at his crotch and rustled her hair—a dark silver, like storm clouds flashed with lightning. In his other hand he pulled a steel case up by a hatch and opened it from the armrest. Inside, coated in overflowing velvet, was a round-yet-edged egg of hardened gel with a dark metal seed behind its transparent ruby flesh.
“Relax!” Glaradalle said, as Cloverra instinctively sharpened both hands into jagged bone spears. “This is a second, lesser one. See? It’s smaller. This is merely a half-measure, in case of difficulties. The larger one is only to be used if we truly cannot attain the fate we deserve.” He squeezed the fleshy pod, and it popped with coarse red grains down his hand, like wet sand made of ground rubies. The round metal sphere between his thumb and forefinger emanated a perfectly medium tone, on and on like a tuning fork, as the elf woman turned her face up and lapped at the falling sand-blood of the pulverized object.
“Do you like the taste?” Glaradalle asked his consort.
“It is like a perfection of taste,” she said, laughing. “I will forever taste this perfect sweetness! You must try it, my lord!”
“No,” Glaradalle focused on the metal seed, cleaning it with a slide of his thumb and exposing the lines and bends of a language Cloverra knew well. “I am the one who chooses whether to use these nuggets of destiny. I must not become biased toward doing so.”
“So wise!” the elf woman finished swiping the grainy, wet blood-sugar past her lips and went back to work in great haste and gratitude.
Cloverra then understood: she was motivated to taste the juices of the laxxar, and would do anything for it. “What happens now?” The Fey murmured.
“Juxxa is in my way. I wanted the spell to transfer to Juxxa and follow him for just this sort of unfortunate circumstance,” the elf said, his nose almost as long and sharp as his ears when tilted down. “The spell serves as a target, and I have triggered the launch.”