Chapter Ninety-Six: In All Worlds

A row of explosions rocked the right flank of the Harvest.  Ssanyu looked askance at James.

“That pair of old codgers is up to something.  I didn’t know they’d stolen that pillar though.  I have to watch them closer.”

She laughed, and turned her blade back to the task.  Every one that fell was one step closer to victory.

Hariel and Thor were still fighting.  They had thought about keeping count, but they couldn’t stop telling jokes.  Even as thin cuts criscrossed their faces and the telltale bruising of muscle damage started to bloom on their skin, they laughed as they struck down their foes.  Hariel was halfway about one about a drunken washer-woman when a stone the size of a large cat struck him in the back.

“Let’s see if you bleed sap, or blood.  I always wondered what it would be when I made you.”

The tosser of the stone was dressed in the black leathers of a high-ranking Harvest, his enhancements invisible as he stood in the early morning light, daring Hariel and Thor to do something about the thrown stone.

“Made?  My parents made me.  You have, however, made me angry.  I take it you’re responsible for this?”

“Pah.  This is a trifle.  We wanted the ores from their mines and the fish from their nets.  They didn’t want to give them to us.  We decided to express our displeasure.  You’re simply seeing its aftereffects.”  He spoke true, for a long metallic rod jutted from the earth behind him.  It looked more like a tree trunk than a simple rod, though-its surfaced was baked with reentry heat, and even from their distant vantage point it was still hot.  “Be glad we weren’t angry.”

Hariel scuffed the toe of his boot.  “You talk a lot.  You should stop talking.”

“I don’t see anyone here strong enough to make me.  All I see is a pair of kids who need a bath, and a slap on the rear.”

Thor grunted.  “Kids, huh?  First time I’ve been called that in a long time.”  He slung his hammer at the man.  “Let’s play then, old man.”  The weapon struck his outstretched hand and stopped.  None of Thor’s force could avail him against the man’s outstretched hand.  He snatched the weapon from Thor.  With the back of his hand, he slapped Thor to the ground. 

Thor sensed that this man was as far beyond him as Irian, at least.  He steeled himself for the final blow, but it never came.  He looked up at the slender stranger.

“Come back in a few years.  However, I’d get better toys.  This one is all messed up.”  He buried the head in the street.  As he pushed, the head cracked and spilled its poisonous contents on Thor.  He scrambled to get away, but he had already received a dose of mercury.  He made for the treeline, where he disappeared.

“If you ever learn how to get that out of your system, come back and see me.  Maybe you’ll have gotten strong in the meantime.”  He unbuttoned a flap on each shoulder of his combat attire, and a working pair of gills could be seen, trying to purge his body of the poisonous metal.  “Some of us have more elegant ways of handling such setbacks.  Such a ferocious little boy.  Let’s see how he likes that.”

Hariel unslung his sword.  The mystery assailant studied it for a moment.  “I like that.  I want it.”  He reached to snatch the sword from Hariel.  Hariel rebuffed him.  “Stronger than your friend, I see.  Think you can stop me from taking it?”

Hariel looked at him for a moment.  Then he grabbed the man by his wrist and tossed him over his shoulder.  The man rolled and popped back up, laughing.  “In all the worlds we’ll ever steal, I think you’re the most fun I’ll ever have.  But you’re going to give me that sword.”

“Over my dead body.”

“Most likely, yes.  But at least you can take solace in the fact that you’re worth the killing.”

The slender man reached for the hilt of the sword, and Hariel swung it back over his shoulder.  He kicked him in his face and knocked him sliding across the cobblestones.

“Didn’t your mother ever teach you to say please?”

“All right then, please.  Now give me that weapon.”

“All right…”  Hariel hit the man as though he were swinging at a melon on a stump.  He caught the edge of the blade and was hurled a good twenty feet by the impact.  He rolled to his feet and popped his neck.  A thin line of blue blood ran from the front of his uniform.  A mean look crossed his face.  “If you don’t mean to give it to me, I will take it.”

Hariel shrugged.  He swung the blade in an overhand arc as he closed the distance to the man.  Just as it looked like the man was going to be split in two, he reached out and caught the blade.  A simple twist of the hand broke it free of Hariel’s grasp.

Hariel’s mouth was agape.  He had never seen strength like this-not even from Irian. 

“Close your mouth, you’ll draw flies.  Or butterflies.  Or bees.  I’m not sure what exactly you’ll draw, but it doesn’t matter.  I hate insects.”

Hariel made a move to recover his blade.  The slender man slapped him down to the cobbles with the flat of the sword.  He didn’t move afterward.

“Sleep it off.  If you ever get up, come see if you can take this from me.  Just be glad I didn’t plant you.  In all worlds, I’ve never seen a plant-human hybrid.  Aether is truly strange.  Wonder what will happen the next time I try the experiment…”

He walked calmly toward the edges of the battle.  By his judgement, he’d have to walk for a few days to catch the next regiment.

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Published in: on October 20, 2012 at 11:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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