In the Eye part 1
In the Eye     Without joy or animosity, Malica watched Big Sister sit by the spring in the mountain jungle. Malica knew the place well, knew the animal pit, where she crouched among the sharp wooden stakes pointing up for prey. This place had been hers before Big Sister pushed her out. Malica’s territory shrank at an alarming rate to the large imp’s advances. Soon there’d be nothing left but the cliffs.

     Big Sister took scoops of cold water into her hands and washed her leathery brown-green skin. She was tall for an imp; her head nearly reached the top of the short bushes. Her Little Men splashed along the bank like so many birds. Little Men never have much sense. Two Little Sisters, still young enough to need looking after, sat near a boulder throwing rocks. The child’s game consumed their attention. Good.

     Climbing to the lip of the pit, Malica edged her small crossbow through the brush growing along the edge. Running water hid the sound of leaves brushing against each other. She aimed at Big Sister, waiting for the imp to face her before pulling the trigger. Malica parted her lips, flashing her teeth as the bolt raced through the air and stuck the eye socket with a squish and thud. 

     Big Sister screamed and roared. Her imp clan stopped to look. The Little Sisters turned toward Malica, ears flattened behind their horns. The Little Men rushed about in circles, the fight-lust confusing them with no instructions from Big Sister.

     Malica didn’t wait for Big Sister to orient on her. She’d see the retreat, and that was enough. She needed an ample lead to make it to the cliffs. It’d be easier if Big Sister stayed back with the Little Men. 

     Malica didn’t like ifs.

     Dropping the crossbow, she jumped out of the pit, feet pushing the edge, tumbling dirt down the hole. Her tail swung in an arc, gaining balance as she dashed on all fours through the underbrush toward the cliffs. Malica heard the peal of anger and the ripping of leaves, but not enough; Big Sister ran ahead of her Little Men. Big Sister could rip Malica to shreds while fending off Malica’s Little Men.

     Maybe if she’d aimed for the heart instead? Malica tossed the thought from her mind. Big Sister’s hide was too thick, and her Little Men would have swarmed while she reloaded the weapon. No. This was the right way, the only way. 

     Malica willed her limbs to move faster. She entered the meadow and aimed for a clump of shiny mica on top of a large rock. Peeking up through the tall grass, it winked at her in the sunlight. Big Sister followed close behind. 

     Warm breath brushed on her heels. Malica reached the grassy ledge and grabbed the corkwood rope. She jumped out into the nothingness of sky. Big Sister, befuddled with rage, didn’t slow but barreled into the blue behind Malica. They fell. 

     Malica clung tightly to the rope as Big Sister clawed at her. Hitting the wall hard, she gasped with pain. It was worse than the times she practiced the maneuver. She looked down and saw Big Sister, mouth full of teeth, hanging on the rope’s end. The wounded eye coursed with yellow fluids and matting green blood. In the center hung the bolt, pointing up at Malica, in accusation. 

     Swinging up hand over hand, Malica reached the top. Her Little Men leaned over the edge, rocks in hand. In the darkness of their silhouette, she knew muscles tensed and tails swished as they fought back the fight-lust, waiting for their moment. They had their instructions. Malica pulled herself over the edge and grabbed a loaded crossbow hidden in the grass. At her signal, the Little Men threw rocks, pelting Big Sister. One cut at the rope. 

     She couldn’t watch; the others were coming, trampling the grass and throwing up dust in their wake. Malica aimed toward a Little Sister and released the bolt. It swooshed through the air, hitting its target in the chest. One fell, and in response, the other Little Sister turned and ran, tail flapping. 

     Big Sister’s scream faded as she fell through space to the jagged rocks below. Big Sister’s Little Men heard it too. They stopped and looked at each other for direction. Little Men were nothing without a Sister. 

     Malica raced after the last Little Sister. Now things reversed. Malica was the faster one. She caught up to Little Sister in the tropical forest and leapt on her back, pinning her. 

     “I offer you a truce, if you pledge your oath to me.”

     Little Sister growled. “I’m no male.”

     Malica released her but kept ready.

     “You would-” The imp paused. “You’d let me live?”

     “You’ll be my own daughter, my Little Sister.”

     “Of course. To live, I’d do anything. I’d-“ Little Sister leapt onto Malica, claws extended. “You’re weak! You’re nothing!”

     Malica fell back, then jumped, knocking Little Sister from her feet. Malica attacked, ripping at skin with teeth and claws, until Little Sister moved no more. And the blood flowed. It was done. 

     Malica rubbed at a bloody scrape on her cheek as she sat near the corpse. She regretted the loss of both Little Sisters, but expected it. Malica would absorb all of Big Sister’s Little Men into her clan. She’d earned all of Big Sister’s territory on the mountain. Malica exposed her teeth. It was a good day.

#

     Nadia picked at the gold embroidery on her maroon robe, relieved the rain let up and construction resumed. She watched the many mages use magic to lift stones along the circumference of the tall tower. She stood on a pinpoint of history, seeing the magic academy built with her own eyes, and being a part of it. Nadia smiled, happiness bubbling up in her chest like tangy fruit. Thank goodness the drizzle let up. 

     Sitting on her protective robe to stay dry on the small wet hill, Nadia startled at the sudden appearance of little balls circling her head like bumblebees.

     “Casimir!” She plucked one from the air into her closed fist.

     The young man in a long olive robe caught the flying marbles in his left hand and smiled. He never went anywhere without those marbles. 

     “You shouldn’t sneak up on me like that!”

     “You should pay more attention. It’s dangerous out here in the wilds. You’re lucky I’m here to watch your back.” Casimir sat beside her. The light wind tossed his dark brown wavy hair into his eyes.

     “Aren’t you going to get your marble?”

     He reached out.

     She shook her head, one eyebrow raised. “With your magic.” Nadia felt a soft caress glide down her fingers.

     “You know I can’t move what I can’t see.”

     She opened her fist and he pulled the marble into his cupped palm. “I’m glad we came together. I have to admit, I’m nervous being around so many new people, but excited to be studying magic under the Masters.” Nadia smoothed a loose curl back into her braid. She watched a stone roll into place, high on the tower. The pulley dropped for a new load. “Just imagine. One day we’ll be powerful enough to do magic like that.”

     “More.”

     Nadia nudged his shoulder. 

     He faced her, smiling. “I’m not kidding.”

     “I know.” She grinned back. 

     The curve of his lips fell, confusing her. He was looking behind her. Before she could turn her head to figure out what was happening, Casimir grabbed her arm. He pulled her into the grass. Something came close to striking her.

     “Imps!” He dragged Nadia to her feet. They ran toward the tower as the line of dust grew close behind, stirred by racing claws.

     The mages saw the onrushing horde. They dropped the magic and all it held. Stones crashed down and broke apart, sending shards flying. Booms echoed in the valley as voices raised, some calm, beginning new spells while others shouted in panic. Casimir pushed Nadia to the ground again and covered her body with his. They were caught in the crossfire. Spells whizzed about their heads in one direction while wooden bolts flew in the other.

     Nadia struggled to rise, eyes wide, fingers clawing at the earth. Lightning zoomed close by, zapping a little green monster. It collapsed in front of her, smoke rising from its unmoving body. Its red eyes bulged in her direction. The smell of burnt flesh poured over them. She screamed and shoved Casimir off.

     Sitting up, she looked toward the jungle. The imps ran back for cover, most of them burning. Fireball, she smiled. Must have been a big one to hit so many. One day, she’d be able to produce the huge blasts of fire. The stricken monsters rolled into the thicket, smothering the flames in the wet underbrush.

     “Are you alright?” Casimir asked.

     “I-” she began, putting her finger through a rip in the sleeve of her red robe.

     “Are you bleeding? Those things are poisonous.”

     She pulled back the robe to check. “No, I’m fine.”

#

     Malica watched the burning Little Men running into the trees. She barely breathed, astonished. The Twin Sisters who bordered her territory lay dead in the field before the humans and their rock-tree.

     The humans went back to rock moving. She withdrew deeper into the mountain, pleased she hadn’t brought her own Little Men. They would have drawn the humans’ notice. They wouldn’t have been able to help it, in their fight-lust.

     Malica always watched first. It’s good to know things. Now she knew; humans aren’t food. Not only did the many mature females live communally, they banded together against a common enemy. If she could get some humans of her own like she took Big Sister’s Little Men, then she’d be safe from the other Sisters, safe when she grew too old to watch first or to fight.

     She’d keep watching and learn more.

Continued in part 2

References: Human, Imp

 
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