Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 27)

“The world is far bigger than you can possibly imagine, and the only proper way to describe the madness of it, is magic.”

Amidala Kain, the Warlock of Raydorn, 448 A.C.A 


The salt dug into her wrists a little more every time she moved. If she were able to turn back to a human completely, the salt would be more aggravating than painful, but alas, once the salt touched her octopus skin, it drained all the moisture. It forced blotches of her skin across her arms and face to stay in her beast form, and experience the pain of the salt digging into her skin.

Lucy hung from the ceiling, chained by the wrists, with salted manacles at her ankles. These people… did their research, Lucy thought to herself, struggling to form a coherent thought. I don’t think I’ve ever had someone think to salt me like I’m meat.

The sea captain looked around as her eyes crept open. The world was a blur that struggled to come into few. She could only see different shades of brown, each reminding her of shit more than the last.

As her eyes focused, she noticed that she was surrounded by stacked boxes, forming what looked like a maze. 

They mask most of the noise I can make in this place. Looks like a warehouse. Most of them are usually on the water, and they couldn’t go far dragging me through the streets.

Lucy turned just a little the wrong way and her wrists sent this sharp pain through her arms. It was like running her wrists along broken glass.

“<Hurts doesn’t it?>” she heard someone ask her, not in Susannan or Uzuri, or any other language that finds its home on Gronina. No, it was Hidu, the language of her homeland of Endica.

That’s right, my ex-countrymen… what the fuck are they doing here?

“<I know you’re awake,>” he said.

“Doesn’t… doesn’t mean I have to look at you,” she said to him, naturally falling to Rayne.

Lucy hung onto the silence until it was interrupted by the footsteps, and the sound of something swinging.

Splash!

Holy shit cow!” Lucy cursed as a freezing cold liquid washed over her, but didn’t smell like water. It stung her wounds and set most of her skin ablaze. The freezing the temperate made sure she was wide awake to feel it.

Her sight cameback to her, and the need to move had her twisting in her chains, letting the salt add to her pain.

She saw how she only hung a foot off the ground, and was surrounded by more people than she realized. Half a dozen, four men, one woman, and a kid with long disheveled hair.

She listened to them laugh at her as she she realized how shredded her clothes were, and the yellow tint the liquid stained into them.

A seventh set of hands grabbed her chin and made her look him in the face, a man of Endica as well. “<Speak the language you born to, quim, or we’ll refill the bucket.>”

“Fill… <fill the bucket?>” she asked, the man’s face hardening at her language hiccup.

That question was met with more chuckling. A man grabbed his junk and gloated, “<We all pitched in.>”

Lucy’s tongue touched her lips instinctually, and tasted a bitter salt. She gasped, and nearly threw up in her mouth, which only made them laugh. The one closest to her laughed, but when his head leaned back, she pulled her legs up and kicked him.

They stopped laughing as he stumbled a bit, but showed little signs of being hurt. He patted his shirt, making sure there was no piss stain from her. Then he looked up to meet her eyes. “<Is that all?>”

“<Who the fuck are you people?!>” Lucy screamed as she struggled in her chains, much to their amusement. 

“<We are Halle’s will, we are progenitors of the Great Punisher.>”

Great, more mad believers.

“<Oh, what the hell am I being punished for now, you hallow hootshits!>” 

The insult garnered disgusted expressions, but one man, who picked upt a stick, came over and poke Lucy’s side with it. It burned with the sting of salt, and she grinded her teeth in an attempt to hold back her cry of pain. She didn’t succeed too well as the man told her, “<I’m surprised you remembered our insults. Or is that what the rotten dragons call us?>”

Rotten…? Okay, Stick man, I think I know what this is all about.

“<You want to punish me because of my father,>” she struggled to say.

The salted stick was thrusted into her side again, burning her ribcage some more, making her shake in her chains. Her chains finally broke skin, making her bleed watery blood down her arms and into her shirt.

The stick was pulled back for the moment, giving Lucy the chance to quiet herself and listen. 

“<What’s the last name they gave you? Nero? I wouldn’t dare use your old one, the shame and stench a once great name carries now,>” said the man Lucy named Stick man. “<You were once a respected family, one of the few among the Brahha,>” the Endican noble caste, “<and then you all threw your lot in with the dragons. You, your father, and the rest of your family betrayed Endica, and for what?!>

Whack!

He hit her with the stick in the stomach, making her cry out.

Stick man beat her mercilessly as he screamed and yelled at her, his shaved head letting them see more of the wrinkles rage brought to his face. “<Was it money?! Was the promise of wealth all it took?! Or did you all become dragons just because you were afraid, cowards?!>”

Aaahhh!” Lucy cried out, breaking under the stick, “Stop, please stop, I-I was just a kid, I didn’t know why we were leaving,” but they didn’t even understand her words.

Instead, another, larger man but not of muscle, the one who grabbed his junk at her, told Stick man, “<She’s no dragon, do you know what they call people like her?>” They listened close as she dangled, appearing lifeless as they spoke of her. “<Wyverns, false dragons, nothing more than traitorous whores.>”

The woman was the first to agree, “<Every last one of them, did you hear wyvern?!>” The woman called but when Lucy didn’t answer, she yelled, “<Wyvren!>”

The kid, whose voice revealed himself to be a boy, held his ears in pain. “<Don’t yell, we’re all right here.>”

The junk-grabbing man snapped at him. “<Man up, sound ain’t gonna hurt ya.>” The bandages around the boy’s head and ear had Lucy questioning that.

Lucy thought of a name for the leader, the man who poured the piss on her. The Piss man, I’ll strangle him until his brain pops the first chance I get.

Piss man walked up to her, and grabbed her head by the hair, pulling her head back as she tried to pull away. He tugged so hard she felt like he was going to pull her hair out. He twisted until she was stuck doing nothing but looking at him and his ugly mug.

Lucy got a good look at the scars on his face, a bunch of small ones. There were these little burns around his cheeks, and a bunch of scratches going up his arm. She didn’t know what to make of them.

“<I’m sure it all hurts now, wyvern,>” he whispered, but loud enough for his compatriots to hear, “<but for all you and your family has done, betraying out people to the dragons, helping them enslave swaths of our people–women and children, our families–you will suffer.>”

“<I. Didn’t. Do. Shit.>” She tried to spit out her last word, to get him in the eye, but she couldn’t with how he was holding her head back. 

He gave her head one last twist before letting her go and turning his back. To his back, she said, “<I didn’t know what my father was doing when he made us pack our bags and move to an ugly new land, I didn’t understand. All I saw were the pale-faced reptiles who saw me as something they couldn’t kill but wanted to. I’m an innocent, I was child unable to make decisions, and girl at that, in case you forgot how little you ballsacks let us do.>”

Piss man chuckled. “<Huh, well the Krones said different.>”

Lucy growled, “<Krones are liars.>”

Stick man jabbed her in the side with the salted tip, making her hiss as he told her, “<Yet, they trusted you with their curse of war. You could have come back to us with that power, helped our people… and instead you were the captain of their ship.>”

Lucy barely took a breath before she tried to speak, “<A ship I stole->”

But Stick man wasn’t going to let her. “<For yourself, after years of servitude–you had to earn captain-hood. You were a little brown girl, an ugly-souled wyvern, who earned their trust for that privilege.>”

The woman scoffed, “<On her knees no doubt.>”

“<Grow up,>” Lucy snapped at her, “<shit happened to all of us, but torturing me won’t bring back anyone you lost, and it won’t make you feel better.>”

“<I disagree,>” Junk-grabbing man said, “<seeing you covered in piss made me feel better.>”

Piss man held up a finger, and the rest went silent. “<It’s not about feeling better,>” he said, “<it’s about Halle’s will being done upon a traitor, before you meet the final fire.>”

God’s wrath, huh? When will the small-dicked pricks learn some new material, she thought herself, sounding aggressive in her mind, and her words as she muttered with shallow breaths sounded tough too. “<Do you think I’m afraid?>”

But Piss man, he looked at her ankles in manacles, and her wrists about her head. He saw her toes and her fingers, the ones she couldn’t see, the ones that pain made easy for her to miss. 

He saw how they twitched and twitched. “<Oh, if you ever cared for your soul you wouldn’t be here, Lucilla, we all know that,>” he said, as he gestured to one of the silent men around him. “<Bring me another bucket, the piss jar wiped some salt off her manacles…>”

Lucy’s jaw clenched, watching the man leave, and then her arms did the same as they all began to whisper and shout, save for the woman and the boy. 

“<There are no mines here like your father’s,>” the woman said, as she clapped her wrists as the men clapped their hands, and Lucy saw how crooked several of her fingers were, “<but you will->”

Her threat was cut off the men’s chanting, and the hateful glare Junk-grabbing man gave her. 

The distraction let Lucy become embroiled in shaking, her body refusing to heed her command as ther immediate future was heralded towards her, a hell she never anticipated. She didn’t pay much attention to what they chanted, but she knew the words.

“Raajakumaaree roo mat,” they chanted, again and again.

Princesses don’t cry, not for them I won’t, she thought, but the tears were forming as the bucket came into view.

*****

Regalic Sol lied on the outskirts of the city where they own their own little Silver Spire. They had more acres of land than a hundred citizens put together, and they built a little resort with it. It gave those down on the ground a look at what they could forever aspire for and never touch.

The buildings were made of steel with this silver sheen that hid the fine wood and silk paper doors on the inside. The metal caged greenery intermittently around the buildings of the property and within. 

It had as many guards as the Silver Spire, but where they had uniforms that made them appear all the same, each guard wore armor wholly their own. Each of them having a weapon they themselves were the masters of, each bejeweled with rubies they would say balanced the blade. 

What use was money if it couldn’t be shown off at every turn? Malum thought to himself. 

With all that Regalic Sol had to protect from outsiders, Susannan and not, Andy had the idea to walk straight up to the door.

The gate to the long pale tile paths was always open. Those who walked it as Andy and Malum did were left completely open to crossbolts and guards on horses. There was nothing the Regalic had to fear from a frontal assault by two people, even these two.

As they stared ahead at the stone stairs that led to the tall steel pagoda, the red outline of its doors was only bit of metal that didn’t reflect the sun.

“You really think knocking on the door is going to work?” Malum asked him, constantly looking over their shoulder in every direction.

Andy scoffed, her eyes looking nowhere but ahead. “In Susanna, people respond directly to your actions,” she told him, as if he were not from Susanna, drawing the ire of his side-eye. 

As they walked up the stairs, Andy told him, “At some point, you’ll remember that the Regalicss don’t overreach unless they know they’ll catch something.” 

Before Malum could respond, the front door opened to them, with the guards gesturing them in. They stood aside, making way for them. 

Malum couldn’t help but stare at the face of their masks. The one on the left that of Aris, and the right that of Eritusi, but rather than have expressions carved in and painted on like his, they were shaped into that of their goddess’s face. 

Regalic Sol follows the All-mother? So much has changed since I’ve been gone. 

They went to remove their shoes, but there was a servant there in a blue floral qipao and white cloth head cloth that completely hid her expression. She told them, “You may keep your shoes in the courtyard, we only ask you remove them should you go upstairs.”

Malum was about to instruct Andy on the proper hand over fist gesture, but she was already doing it with a perfect bow of her head. 

Maybe… maybe she really does know her shit about this place. As Malum looked around the large and expansive courtyard, filled with sofas shipped from Krone, crystal glasses and lights from Raydorn, and statues from who knew where else. 

Malum recognized nothing. 

I might as well be in a foreign land. So much has changed. To think they would overindulge in the art of foreigners… 

What threw Malum as he followed Andy and the servant through the courtyard, was the people of Rayne, Krone, and even of Seca doing business with the traders of Regalic Sol. 

They collude with the enemy and then claim to be friends of the state. 

And here I was, hoping no one would try to run us out with the mask I’m wearing.

“You seem shocked?” Andy interrupted his train of thought.

“Hmm?”

“Did you not expect to see so many who look like me here? It’s honestly not all that different in the other Regalics.” She shrugged as they looked at all the different people casually trading goods and talking over alcohol. “The war comes second to matters of coin.” 

Malum’s scoff was nothing to chuckle about. “Maybe the brown-noses of this Regalic act like you say, but not regular common folk.” 

“The Regalics were all Rayne nobles cared about, they were all I was talking about.” 

“How sad.” The way he muttered under his breath had Andelyn giving him her side-eye.

Oh, as if the other Regalics were pining over the affairs of Raydorn’s peasantry, or people at all.” 

“They’re a collection of tradesmen.” 

“Regalics Sol might be, but the others are very much a family matter. They might as well be nobles houses in everything but name.” 

“Of course, because every system must be like Raydorn’s.” 

“Can you go anywhere without picking a fight with who you’re with?”

Malum shrugged. “Can’t say I’ve ever tried that before.”

“Shh, the things around us just became more interesting than you,” Andy said as they walked into the exotic section of this free market.

“Does that not happen often?” the servant asked, which immediately got a loud laugh from Andy.

“I like her, she gets it.”

Strange, you’d think with all of our sightseeing, she’d ask if we had business here, but she’s been leading us to a specific place since we got in. Is that the Regalic’s doing, or has Andy set this up without me knowing?

I don’t know which should be more frightening.

Malum watched Andy closely as she gawked at a live dragon fish as showman dumped increasingly larger things into its mouth that it vacuumed up or eviserated in seconds. 

What do I tell the shadows? Underestimate you enemies at your own peril, and your allies to your embarrassment. 

Andy stopped to look at the fish that could devour anything, requiring Malum to push her along and the servant to wait up. It happened again and again as she saw gigantic wyrm dragon scales, and a black goat called a Xiezhi that could tell when someone was lying. 

When they got away from the animals, she was less impressed and had to start pulling Malum ahead. He murmured and muttered at the weapon prototypes for poison blades and multi-shot crossbolts.

“Looks like magic doesn’t it?” Andy commented to him.

“But it is science,” Malum reiterated.

“I have no idea how one puts poison in steel or fires bolts continuously, so it might as well be magic.”

“That sounds like a ‘you’ problem.”

“Pretty soon, I’ll make it everyone’s problem.”

Malum stood straighter after she said that.

Eventually, they were led out of the free market, towards the Zhuhou, the leaders of the Regalic. They had their own little private room where they could have their own meetings with potential partners. 

This is easily the classiest bar I had ever seen. With the set tables, fine dining, and marble bartop, it was the classiest bar he would ever see in this lifetime.

The cloth-masked servant stopped and presented them to their destination. “I hope you enjoy your visit,” she said, and bowed her head lower than Malum and Andy did to her.

As they did so, a Zhuhou or a Daifu–a lesser bureaucrat–walked past them with his bodyguard. When he knocked into Andy, she scoffed and gave the two of them… a glare.

The bodyguard–dressed much like the warriors around the enormous pagoda save for the mask–brought his hand to the pomnel of his sword. Malum flashed his in turn, a jian sword with a familiar grip. 

That was a mistake.

Where it dissuaded the bodyguard from getting anymore aggressive, it had everyone muttering. 

Within moments Malum and Andy were alone, with everyone commenting on the ancient styling of his sword. The hushed sound of whispers made the hair on Malum’s neck raise.

My mother told me not to worry about what other people think, because people are truly never thinking about you. Little did she know that I would become someone who drew attention and struggled to escape it.

Andy snapped her fingers rather than touch him for his attention. She pointed him to the bar and expected him to follow. He huffed in a way that drew a glance out the side of her eye. Malum almost ignored it, but then found the wide-eyed shock in her eye.

Is there a method to the madness that she thinks I understand? 

Andy went to the bar, and when Malum nearly went to sit beside her, she raised her hand to stop him, then waved over the bartender. She ordered the most popular drink of the day. 

Malum noted the shocked look on the bartender’s face once Andy spoke fluent Susannan.

As the bartender walked away, Malum stood beside her with his arms crossed. “Can you go anywhere without drinking or whoring?” he asked.

As if to slap him across the face, the bartender came back, and offered to take them to the first available Zhuhou, “<Lord Weisheng will see you once he has concluded his business, give you time to finish your drink.>”

Andy thanked the waiter before turning to Malum.

“Wipe that smirk off your face,” he told her, which only made her laugh as she sipped her drink. 

“Are you ready to trust me unconditionally yet?” she joked.

“I don’t trust anyone unconditionally.” 

She finished off her drink and told him, “And you tried to tell me you had a sense of humor.” Then she motioned to the waiter that they were ready, and they were suddenly being led somewhere else.

How did my mission suddenly become her mission?

Andy got up to stop Malum from following the bartender before her. When she put her hand to his chest, he went to smack it away, but her words stopped him in time. 

“Whatever you do, do not speak unless I motion you to.”

How dare…? Malum’s head tilted just a bit before he spoke. “Excuse me?” 

“You’re already doing the wrong thing. We’re not here to make an alliance, we’re here to make a sale. I’m the salesmen, and you’re providing the service.

“So stop acting like a douche.”

Andy then started following the bartender, leaving Malum behind to hesitate. I’m the product… I agreed to this, I’ve been the product before, but to hear it in person… is this how Harry would talk about us when he sold our services?

Malum was quick to catchup, and Andy barely glanced at him. The bartender led them to an elderly Susannan man with a floral Zhongshan suit so sheak that it must have felt like being naked wearing them. 

And so he fidgeted as he was still crunching numbers.

He was crunching numbers as Andy sat down on the small sofa in front of him, with Malum taking up position directly behind her, behind the coach, staring directly at the guard across from him, standing behind this Zhuhou.

The Zhuhou never looked up from his pen and paper, only looking away to add numbers on some kind of counting contraption. “<You have five minutes,>” he told Andy without looking her in the eye, “<tell me what you are trying to sell.>” 

How forward.

Andy’s smile was big for the few words she said. “<More so loan than sell for the Solistan.>” 

The Zhuhou smirked in the way that followed a scoff. “<Hmph, the only people capable of defeating a Jitari dog are fighting in a war against us.>” 

“<You should be happy I’m here then. I offer you one of the last of the Black Legion’s assassins, trained in the stolen the techniques of the Jitari Blades you so fear.>” 

The Zhuhou stopped crunching his numbers, and his eyes turned to Malum, or really the face of Eritusi. He gazed into the white mask of the assassin as Andy waited patiently in silence. 

The Zhuhou lowered his gaze to Andy then, finally taking in the white woman who claimed to be their saving grace. “<We were informed that the Black Legion had been wiped out.>” 

“<How do you think I was able to poach his services?>” 

The Zhuhou’s lips opened a bit, threatening something like an emotion, as if he could acknowledge humor. He abstained from such things and asked his question. “<And now you want to rent him out as one of the few with a chance to defeat the wielder of Fuchou and Huibao?>” The silence he was met with prompted him to put down his outdated papers, lean to the side, and rest his chin in his fingers. “<It’s a proper business you have here, but unlike Foster Lao, I have no way of guaranteeing this man’s skill. It’s one thing to dress like a legion assassin, another to be one.>” 

“<I can’t have him go around killing people to prove himself for you, and you can’t offer a wanted criminal as an champion.>” 

Andy’s interweaved humor with the truth, and that created a sort of sting just light enough that the Zhuhou couldn’t say a word of it. 

The wonders of a Starshield education.

“<No…>” the Zhuhou slowly agreed, “<sadly, we have to settle for the unknown ones.>” 

“<And it seems you haven’t had much luck there either, you’re one of the few capable Regalics without a champion… or am I wrong?>” 

I may not remember much about my country’s noble culture, but presumption was a sin in every house under the rising sun.

The Zhuhou acted out Malum’s thoughts when his eyes narrowed and his words grew curt with Andy. “<Do you think Regalic Sol so desperate for a champion that you could dictate terms?>” 

“<Feisty, I like that, but you’re too eager?” she said as she crossed her legs. 

That had the Zhuhou arching his brow. “<Excuse me, young lady?>” 

“<I may be younger than you, but I’m clearly more experienced at this game,>” she explained to him, motioning and gesturing with her hands as she did so. “<You talk about dictating terms and desperation, but I have neither dictated terms yet nor hinted at any. You reveal yourself to be exactly what I have yet to accuse you of. 

“<Desperate. 

“<But who can blame you for that mistake, you are in the middle of a once in a lifetime opportunity to take control of the Sol throne for your Regalic, and all the worthwhile champions have been bought up.>” She gestured to Malum as if he were the lone fruit on a platter. “<I offer you this last one, full price, enough to fill a Rayne frigate, but…>” as the Zhuhou’s eyes narrowed, Andy’s fingers closed against her palm, save for one, “<only if he wins.>” 

“<You think we would pay that money, even for the crown?>” 

“<Once you have the crown you’ll be making more than ten times the money you have now, which could already meet my demands several times over. You’ll do it because once you have the Sol throne, the money I’m asking for will be a dip in the ocean. You won’t even have to give my warrior a name, not even a face, you may have the priceless glory.>” 

The Zhuhou regained his emotionless expression as he hummed, “<Hmm…>” 

“<The only reason you should be hesitating is if you have another option, or you have no real authority to make this decision. So tell me, do we have a deal or not?>” 

“<Don’t insult me,>” he snapped, “<I must know before this proceeds, why come to us? There are those richer than us would jump at the chance for him as their champion if his supposed resume were even half true. Why come to Regalic Sol?>” 

Andy’s eyes trailed away as she nodded her head as if she didn’t already have an answer. “<I figured… if there’s going to be new blood leading Susanna, why not blood that’s fresh and untainted? We’ve heard good things about this Regalic, or really, far less terrible things. War is good for those whose business is war, but peace creates a dependency that others seem to forget, but I’m willing to bet you haven’t. Ultimately… 

“<It’s just good business.>” 

For the first time, the Zhuhou smiled. “<You are versed in Susannan commerce, as well as our tongue, báisè de huā, I’d venture a guess that you are a black sheep of the Golden Plateau, so it would be no surprise you know the art to our ways. I say this because it’s surprising that you don’t know, there is no such thing as untainted blood in this world,>” and then he offered his hand, “<but let’s see if we can taint it further.>”

And here lies the future.

*****

The archmage paced back in forth in the little dreamland he shared with the warlock and sorcerer, waiting for Kain to make her appearance. 

Rather than the fiery hells or the orgies she had laid down to distract him, he was perfectly content to pace in a white room with nothing but a chair and table between them. 

First lines formed in the wall in the shape of a door, then it shifted in, then to the side. From the white light, the warlock, Amidala Kain, stepped out dressed in the regal tunics meant for lords rather than ladies. 

Hùnxiě didn’t even turn to look at her.

“You called for a meeting and I don’t even get a hello?” she asked, holding her sceptor by its long staff. As he continued pacing, she slid it into the world until it was short enough to rest both arms atop and lean on. “Come on, Hunnie, you know how much I like my time wasted.”

“You do do that a lot,” he said, stopping his pacing with his back turned to her.

“What can I say, we commonly find ourselves doing what we’re good at, not what we enjoy.”

Hùnxiě raised a finger towards her, pointing the shaking digit at her without looking at her. “There’s… there’s so much truth to that. I do too find myself constantly thinking and doing things that are a waste of my time, and far too often… for you…”

The warlock’s lip twitched up. “So you have her?”

“I found her, but have her? Not yet, why bother? I don’t want her for anything.”

“Because you love me?” 

“As if there were anything to love.”

Cold… but I’ll forgive you if you give me my girl.”

Hùnxiě’s wandering finger slowly turned itself upward. When he turned around and looked at her, his eyes were so wide she could see their whites. “I learned great deal about that girl you know… one Andelyn Stella.

“Once the twin eldest child of House Stella, swornmen to House Starshield. After a brief pass by power, she was stripped of it, and in response, she abandoned her land and her owed riches because of it. 

“Then she was… a wandering drunk, reveling in her status as a deviant,” a term that made Amidala’s brow twitch, “she moved from place to place before being taken in by the collector of all forgotten things, Harry Thorn. 

“I know why someone would want Andelyn dead, she’s a disgusting traitor to her house, country, and morality.”

Hùnxiě paused as he outstretched his arms, and put on the longest shrug of his life. “What I can’t, for the life of me, understand why you want her.” 

The twitch in the corner of Amidala’s mouth had moved firmly to her eyebrow, leaving her lips in a fine line.

“Don’t worry about things that aren’t your concern,” she warned him, standing up and letting her staff grow back to their normal size. “Get me the girl, and you’ll have paid me back for the warning about Malum Chun.” 

Hùnxiě eyes glanced away way towards the floor as he chuckled. “Are… are you telling me what to do, Kain, again?

She was about to answer before he held up a finger to silence her, but that gesture only awakened the fire in her eyes.

“And I would hardly suggest that I owe you anything for telling me what I already knew.” 

Amidala’s words wiggled off her tongue, as her eyes were nothing but unyielding and harsh. “You make it sound like confirming the arrival of your enemy is a little thing.” 

Enemy is a harsh word, one born of assumptions, something I once thought you above.” 

With the fakest of smiles, Amidala said, “My mistake.” 

“One of many you’ve made, so why don’t we talk about righting them?” Hùnxiě pulled a chair from the table for himself right before gesturing for her to sit.

Amidala let out this quiet gasp, “Oh…” as she snatched the head of the chair, and pulled it out from the table. She sat in it, crossed her legs, leaned forward, and rested her chin on her hands. 

“And what did little old you have in mind?” 

“How about something more than a weak offer for the girl?” 

Amidala’s eyes nearly rolled into the back of her head. “And what is it you want?” 

“The secret to your so-called… ‘magic,’” he said, which wiped the sour look off her face. He leaned over and stabbed his finger down into the table as he made his demands. “We’ve had this go around before, I can do without the grand-posturing you and your predecessor liked to partake in. 

“I want the formulas, I want the ingredients, the materials– everything that has to do with the charlatan work you call magic and spells.” 

Amidala’s mouth slowly hung open, as this chattering sound slowly rose from her throat. “Charlatan…” she repeated in a whisper, “is that what you called me…? How desparate you must be to make your name, little Hunnie.” She leaned over the table that shrank at her command. 

She whispered right into his ear, “You are as dumb as you look.” 

Hùnxiě turned to whisper right back, “I wouldn’t mock the one with all the cards, Kain.” 

Amidala turned away to let out this little laugh that sounded like the squawk of some bird. In a snap, she turned back to grab him by the chin. “I hold the card that is your life, little man.”

She held his face under hers as fire erupted from her face, and filled the room with smoke. Hùnxiě knew it was all fake, her subconscious trying to take over the Empty Room. He knew the smoke couldn’t actually fill his lungs, that the fire couldn’t actually burn his skin, and that she couldn’t actually hold him there… 

Yet, the smell of prickly smoke filled his nostrils.

Then she erupted in a burst of light that was quickly consumed by the all-powerful darkness. His mind’s descent through and away from the Empty Room was far swifter than it had ever been before.

When his head snapped back out of the pond, he was gasping for air and shivering from the cold. His new assistant was waiting with a towel that he hesitated to offer.

“Give me that,” the archmage snapped as he snatched the towel from him. 

He wrapped it around his neck as he placed his two hands on the rims of the bowl and used it to support the weight he just placed on his neck.

His new assistant, paced around him so he could look up at Hùnxiě’s face, and see the popped blood vessel in his right eye. “Is something the matter…?” he asked, only to be met with a sideways glance. 

I should dismiss the imbecile, Hùnxiě thought to himself, and nearly raised his hand to, but he didn’t.

“Maybe…” he started muttering, “maybe I pushed her too far… what do you think, Ho-ling?” 

His assistant twisted his head in bafflement. What would he know of what his master was talking about? He opened his mouth to ask his master what he was talking about, but then it happened.

Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.

Hùnxiě looked down at the chalice bowl as it began to turn green. He peared down to look at the growing light that seemed to emanating from it, and slowly growing bigger. “What in the… world…?”

Ho-ling managed to pull the curious cat away before he lost one of his lives.

Plume! BOOSSH!

First, the boiling water splashed over Ho-ling, then the explosion knocked them both to the ground. Hùnxiě was sent onto his back in particular, his head reeling by this even in his lab. 

He heard her fingernails curl around the bowl’s brim as he lifted his head and opened his eyes. The archmage’s jaw dropped, as he stared up at Amidala where she stood atop the chalice, her feet on the edges of her portal.

Their eyes locked as Amidala stuck her chin up at him, letting the fire illuminate nothing but her chin and the irises of her eyes. All that could be seen of Hùnxiě laying in her shadow was his eyes as well.

Ho-ling made a move before either the warlock or the archmage made a sound.

But Amidala reacted with one. “Fulmen.” 

Electricity crackled off her fingers and flew at Ho-ling, wrapping him up in a prison that set his every nerve on fire. He let out one scream before his screams were silenced by the pain.

Together, Amidala and Hùnxiě turned back to each other. She jumped down from the chalice.

Hùnxiě started crawling backward on the ground as he muttered, “You can’t truly be here-” 

Amidala flexed her arms, letting the electricity flow through her in the ever-changing colors of the rainbow. With the enhanced strength and definition it gave the muscles in her arms, she grabbed Hùnxiě by the throat before he could say another word. As he choked on spit, she lifted him off the ground and above her head. 

“Does this seem like the work of a charlatan to you?” she asked him as his feet swung back and forth through the air. 

Hùnxiě hold onto her hand so he didn’t choke, but still, he attempted to speak. He tried to ask, “How… how is this even possible?!” but it came out as undignified garbling.

So Amidala squeezed a bit tighter. “Do you think that just because you deny it, that makes it not real? You know nothing, little man. It’s why you’re always chasing after the successes of greater men, men who accepted what I know to be true.” 

She brought him close enough that he could feel how cold her breath was. 

“The world is far bigger than you can possibly imagine, and the only proper way to describe the madness of it is magic.” 

Then Amidala tossed him to the ground and turned back to the chalice, which formed a staircase for her with its green fire. As she positioned herself to stand over it again, she stared down at Hùnxiě as he rubbed his throat.

“Bring me, Andelyn Stella,” she ordered him, “and do not call on me again before you have her.” 

Then she glided down through the portal, and with her left the fire and lightning that came the room lit. 

The archmage and his assistant were left in darkness. 

Oh shit, he thought to himself as his assistant rolled over onto his back. 

Sir…” Ho-ling whispered, his glasses cracked but still on his face, “what just happened?”

The archmage turned to his assistant and turned away towards the chalice the warlock of Raydorn just used to invade his home. Not just his home, but his country, and go back to her own in a matter of minutes. 

“What happened? The gap just widened.”

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