- October 22, 2023
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 51)
“It’s easy to die when the one you love abandons you, and all you have left to give is the meat on your bones.”
Astrid, 448 A.C.A.
The wine in Amidala’s hand whipped around the rim with the slump in her walk, if it could even be called that. She stumbled to her room as the bard was beginning his song, and she mumbled some curses his way, not that he could hear.
She barely made it into her room before she knocked the earplugs out of her head. “God, that man, and his antics are insufferable. Just had to bewitch the whole castle for one-”
Even while thoroughly sloshed, the warlock noticed the things on her desk being out of place. Being thoroughly sloshed did make her slow to notice the sound of a poker stirring firewood in the fireplace. It took almost as long to remember that she didn’t leave a fire going.
When she turned, she saw a rather short Susannan woman, stirring the fire with a poker in one hand, and a metal rod in the other.
“So, now you notice me,” Astrid muttered as she hung the poker back on its rack.
She didn’t say much with her lips, but Amidala understood enough from the look in her eye. I should really keep a list of the enemies I’ve made, the warlock thought to herself.
Amidala proceeded to not pay Astrid much mind as she walked over to the desk with a wine bottle and a shot glass. The combo drew an arch of Astrid’s brow, but the warlock didn’t see it. She was too busy pouring wine into the wrong kind of glass.
Then she sat the glass down and took the bottle with her. Astrid remained silent as she watched the warlock come and sit in the chair by the fire. She took a swig of the wine, looked up at Astrid, and shrugged. “Well?”
Astrid rested her arm on the mantle above the fireplace, her hand rubbing and twisting against some twine as her face remained as straight as can be.
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
Amidala scoffed and took a sip. “Should I?”
That garnered a roll of the eyes.
“Well, if you say so, but humor me while I drink myself a bottle and remind me who…” Amidala had taken a gander at the intruder and stopped short of finishing her sentence.
Come on potion, sober yourself up some more.
“You’re Black Legion,” the warlock surmised, gesturing over her waist area, I can tell by the Jitari Blade you wield. You used it to cut off the arm of one of your own.”
“It was his hand.”
Amidala could feel the buzz start to burn from her mind after drinking that added portion of the wine. The potion was outpacing the effects of the wine, but that didn’t make it fast.
I have to stall.
So she said one word. “Semantics.”
Work your mind, Kain, the warlock told herself. You saw this woman fight when she was in her element. At the Eilean Tribus Senso, she cut men down left and right with that invisible axe. She felled men twice, maybe three times her size without struggle, and she did it all with a smile on her face.
Yet now, she’s cold as ice, so cold she makes my blood freeze. What that says about how she thinks of me… If only I could remember this short little thug’s name.
“You’ve never cut a man’s arm off before, have you?” Astrid asked Amidala.
Who asks that? She makes it sound like she’s part of a big club. I’ll remind her of what club I’m in.
“I prefer to smite people, perks of being a warlock.”
That came off more snooty than I wanted.
Astrid twirled the metal rod in her hand rather slowly for how much it appeared to weigh. Then she clasped it, and light began to burn from the edges of the blade. The warlock could see how big it was.
Perfect for my head.
“As someone well versed in the art of cutting people’s arms off… it’s different.”
God, this wine tastes so bad now with the potion in it. I might throw up, and then I’d really be fucked.
“Ugh, well,” Amidala mumbled as she set down the bottle and proceeded to clasp her hands in her lap, “clearly, you have a doubly personal vendetta against me. Do you want to monologue, make threats, have a flashback, whatever you need to do to remind me of who you are?”
Astrid’s expression was unmoving. Her eyes did not drift from the warlock in her chair. She let the silence ring.
Amidala rolled her eyes, “If you can’t tell, I’ve done this before,” and proceeded to gesture for her to continue like she was a child who paused halfway through a reading lesson.
Astrid’s lip quivered ever so slightly as her mouth slowly opened. It took even longer for the first word to escape her throat.
“Měilì…” she said, sounding each syllable as if it were a venomous spell and Amidala would implode upon hearing it.
She didn’t, but the light bulb did, and should not stop her expression from tightening up.
‘Ah, I see,’ said the blind man.
“Měilì Shǎguā…” Astrid repeated, slowly raising her head as Amidala gave herself away, “that’s my mother, once married to Chǒulòu Shǎguā, before he killed himself.
“You remember the names of my parents, don’t you?”
Amidala had to consider whether or not mere movement could set this woman off. She’s not sure if she were brave enough to reach for the ruined wine, just to have something hold, to center herself as she had a conversation that could spell her death.
Oh, it’s so unfair, I can’t be drunk for a moment, can’t be vulnerable, or else… I find myself in this position.
With her… this little…
“You’re that little sack of dirt Meili left behind,” Amidala said, failing to hold back the natural venom that entangled itself in her words.
“Měilì,” Astrid corrected, twirling her axe in her hand. Amidala managed to ignore it, to remain unblinking as the light shined in her eye, but she couldn’t help but twitch.
It had begun a game between them, seeing who would snap first, who would make the first move. The first attack one of them made would have to land because if it didn’t, they had every reason to believe the other would finish it in their counterattack.
It was a risk one of them had to be willing to take.
One of them would have to blink first, and it would not be Amidala.
“You must blame me for your family’s destruction,” the warlock told her, tilting her head, as if she were teasing the ex-legionnaire. “Being that your mother joined me in the search for Jia, and surely had a bit to do with how your father offed himself.”
“He slit his own throat.”
“Wow, impressive, that’s hard to do here,” the warlock said without missing a beat, and that was the first time she saw Astrid twitch.
There’s the line. It’s always good to know where it is so you only cross it on purpose.
Astrid, for the first time since Amidala walked into the room, looked away from the warlock. Rather, she looked down at her weapon, the metal rod, and the outline of the axe head at its end.
“It’s easy to die when the one you love abandons you, and all you have left to give is the meat on your bones.”
“Meat on your…” Amidala caught herself as she was thinking out loud, “I don’t think I want to know.”
Amidala found herself thinking of a bunch of different spells she could speak, but the axe was proving a problem. I don’t know how it works, what metal is in its blade. If I make the fire from the fireplace burst in her face, will it absorb it? Will it shield her? Maybe I’ll burn her to a crisp, but if I don’t, she may take my head off in one slice.
Amidala couldn’t ignore the sound of Astrid’s glove tightening around the axe.
Together, they looked at her hands before their eyes met again. “I assume this is where we fight.”
Astrid didn’t answer.
Oh for fuck’s sake, why do they all lose their voice when talking to me? I’m so sick of being the only one who talks around here.
“Can you tell me where my mother is?”
Amidala’s shoulder slumped a bit, before they tightened back up.
I’ve been looking at this all wrong.
Amidala leaned forward, fighting the urge to grin as she taunted the ex-legionnaire, “Why would I?”
“Because I hate her more than you,” Astrid said without hesitation. “You’re an evil, spiteful bitch, who deserves to burn, but you’re not the one who once told someone she loved them without meaning it.”
The fire beside Astrid was starting to dim, and as it did so, the light that illuminated her face had to dim as well. Her hair and the shadows each strand cast had begun to cover her eyes, and hide them from the warlock’s gaze.
“As if a snake like you could speak of love with a straight face.”
Amidala couldn’t help it. She entangled her fingers in front of her lip, to hide her smile. If only I were half as plastered, I’d be able to connect the dots so much faster. I’m alive because I have something she wants, and she can’t kill me until she gets it. But I won’t give it to her, no, I’ll be long gone before she can make me.
So she taunted Astrid some more. “Regardless, I can narrow down where your mother is for you.”
“For a price, I’m sure, but a quick death is the only thing I have to offer you.”
Amidala had the spell in mind, she just had to develop the energy without signaling to the warrior that she was gearing up.
“Oh, I’ll tell you this for free,” and the warlock did a little magic wave of her hands, which would not make Astrid twitch, “I mean, I clearly owe you, and it’s not like it will help you.”
Smoke began to burn from Kan Bujian. It was a warning that Amidala could not be forced to heed.
You’re giving yourself away, little brat.
“Where is she?” Astrid asked again.
Amidala raised her finger and then pointed down.
And at the tip of her finger, swirled shadows and moaning faces of the dead. The challenge was made, and the time limit has been reached.
“I doubt she went to Hemel,” Amidala mocked, “so where else would a dead woman go? Her corpse is in the riverbed of the Soday Mountains where I left her. Not far from that trash bin, she left you, it’s all full circle.”
“So…” Astrid muttered her eyes remaining on the shadow point of the warlock’s hand.
It was all on a hair trigger now, but even the impending threat of a battle that would end in two moves, could not compare to the scale of the task ahead of her still.
“Hmm, the realm of the dead is where I will have my revenge…”
“Uh, I… uh…” Amidala’s expression faltered as this fuzzy feeling developed in the back of her head.
Did… is… is she ignoring me now?
Suddenly, it became possible, for Amidala to feel more nakedly watched and coldly ignored than she ever had before, and in a matter of minutes.
“You’re not all there are you?” Amidala asked her.
“Tell me, warlock, do you believe in Raydorn’s gods?” Astrid asked back.
Yeah, this bitch is ignoring me now.
“Such a blasphemous question,” Amidala mocked, ignoring Astrid’s question in kind, “I like that, yes, yes I do, but do you want to know a secret about the gods? They don’t give a fuck about any of us, except for maybe one… but we don’t want her love.”
Astrid was rather deadpan in her response, “How frightening…”
What… what is this…? Is this all she wanted? She had me thinking she was about to kill me, and now… who is this bitch to start ignoring and mocking me just after my magic sobered up?! That’s- that’s…
Fuck, she got me.
Amidala raised her hand to face, full-on palming her temple as she sat back in her chair. Astrid relaxed her grip on her axe seeing the warlock fall into such a dismayed state. She even lowered it as she baked in the existential horror the warlock was feeling.
How could I… did she have any intention of fighting me? Was she just baiting me for the information she needed to find the person she really gave a shit about? How could I fall for shit like that?
She reached over the arm of her chair, considering the wine, but then reminded herself of the hangover cure in it that made it taste several times more nauseating than usual.
Oh my god…
… I’m out of alcohol.
“No,” Astrid said.
What does she mean ‘no?’ What does she think I’m talking about? What’s going on? You won, you got what you wanted, now fuck off.
Oh, she completely misunderstood me, which… I guess is understandable but I still resent it.
“… is that fact that we have something in common, we have a shared belief you see, because I know that secret too. I know the gods are cruel, for that is the only way this meeting was allowed. But there was one who was not cruel, and through him, I shall have my revenge.”
Amidala lowered her hand to look at Astrid in utter bafflement, and as the fireplace’s flames began to fade some more, the whites of Astrid’s growing grin appeared nothing less than demonic to the warlock.
“Um, good luck?”
“Thank you, and when I’m done, maybe I’ll have time for you.”
You know what?
“Regredior!” Amidala yelled as she sprung to her feet and cast her spell toward the fire.
It caused a seismic force to spew flames and lava from it, but Astrid remained unburned.
Shadowlike tendrils wrapped around Amidala’s arms in a flash, and with two words, “Nunc mori!” they shot out at Astrid.
Halfway to the axe-woman, the tendril’s ends formed into snake heads and hissed at her before snapping for the kill.
Astrid twirled her axe in front of her, making a fiery circle to burn them away, but the spell was vague in the strongest way, and the shadows would not relent to the flames.
They slithered around her axe to get to her, but a quick blast of light propelled Astrid back out of their reach. To follow her, the shadow swirled together into one large goliath of death that stood tall above Astrid.
Consumed by the shadow of another shadow, Astrid said four words, “You look like fun.”
“Fun, fun?” Amidala repeated with immense disdain. “Is this what I am to you, a silly magician?!”
Astrid easily ducked and tumbled between the blows of the death goliath, burning it away with quick swings, but slow, burning blasts of light from Kan Bujian. “You are now! I didn’t know you’d be this fun!”
Astrid twirled her axe over her head and made it flash off and on in a way that slowly burned the shadow’s surface of the goliath. It was a being of foul death and darkness, and the axe was the light of the sun.
Every time Astrid swung the axe, it would flash, and every time it would cleave into the goliath’s dark, skinless flesh, it would burn. As the fight continued, the axe-woman would see more and more of its pathetic small head, empty eyes, and toothless mouth. It was a child trying to swat away a baby bird.
But unlike useless mortal children, most baby animals knew how to do shit.
And Astrid wasn’t young, she was just small… small with a taste for sinking her blade into its flesh.
“Come on!” she taunted the goliath. “Don’t quit now, killing you is just getting fun!”
Amidala’s hands were clenched at her sides as she grew in rage, but then she heard the axe-woman’s words and was reminded of a simple and key fact about her opponent.
That’s right, she’s fucking nuts. Let’s get the Aurora Knight to deal with this shit, I can’t take her anymore.
“You know what? Fuck you, fuck this party, fuck this shit, I’M OUT!”
Amidala turned to the wall and ordered, “Aperta,” forcing the walls to open like a door into the next room.
As she was about to walk through, the sound of rushing wind came up on her, and there was a ding! as something clanked off her vibrant green bubble shield.
Amidala turned around to see Astrid standing there and her axe on the ground.
“Did you throw it-”
“I didn’t say you could leave,” Astrid reminded her as the grin looked more like a smirk now that Amidala could see it.
Amidala hesitated for a moment until Astrid took her first step forward.
The dick-measuring contest is not worth it, the warlock told herself before raising her hands and clapping them as she chanted a spell. “Nemo sequitur.”
The walls that had magically become doors closed around Amidala started to close as Astrid booked it to her. The warlock’s eyes ran afoul of the axe-women as they were nearly on top of each other.
Astrid raise her fist and charged the wall, just as it closed back up in front of Amidala, appearing as it had before.
Half of Astrid plowed through the wall, blowing bricks, plaster, and more into the next room.
Astrid coughed as white dust covered her face and her nostrils. She tried to quickly wave the dust away as she tore her other half through the wall, making an Astrid-size hole between the rooms.
The dust took nearly a minute to disperse, and twice as long to get out of her eyes, but based on the fact that she wasn’t experiencing a single counterattack, she knew what had happened.
When Astrid looked up and found no trace of Amidala or the darkness that she walked through, she knew all too well.
“Yeah, I may have fucked up a little.”