In the Eye part 2

In the Eye... continued from part 1

     “There you are.” Casimir rounded the circling staircase where Nadia stood looking out a window. “I thought you’d be preparing with the others in the open cellar.”

     She smiled as she looked at him. Her face always lit up with that smile.

     “I needed a break. They’re working us like mules!” She laughed and looked back out the window.

     “Tell me about it!” Casimir peered over her shoulder at the wavy grass in the meadow and the jungle canopy stretching up the mountains like a great arm. The attack yesterday seemed no more than a dream. 

     He breathed in the scent of her hair and let it hang in his lungs. “I’m part of the scouting party, the one sent to find good places for protection beam anchors.”

     “Out there? With those things?”

     “Not a problem.” Casimir pulled out his marbles and floated them in the air beside her. She turned, giggling softly as he spun and arced them like a juggler in an acrobatic show. “If I spot an imp, I’ll spin it in the air like that. If they still come, I’ll toss them high and let them fall.”

     “Can you lift things that heavy?”

     Casimir shrugged. He didn’t really know, but he could shoot the marbles like a slingshot. He killed a drunkard brandishing a knife behind the bar that way. A marble punctured his throat.

     “You have to be careful out there, and don’t tarry. A storm’s coming tonight. A big one.” 

     If her tone showed any hint of the affection he felt for her, he wouldn’t have been so annoyed by her concern. “Look.” He pointed. “There’s the other scouts.”

     “Oh, there’s Devlin!”

     Why did she keeping pointing him out? Casimir looked at the mage wearing fir green robes. Did she like the dark blonde hair? Casimir remembered seeing the man whittling wood during his free time. Half mage, half carpenter. Hardly a match for Nadia.

     “Yeah, and twenty others too.” He turned slightly, trying to read her face without drawing attention. “What’s going on with Devlin? Do I hear courtship music drifting on the wind?” He tried to keep the edge out of his playful tone. He didn’t think he’d done well, but she didn’t seem to notice.

     “Of course not!” She rose from the window, eyes wide. He’d seen her use that look on her father many a time. 

     Leaning back onto the ledge, Nadia looked on the group below. “Well…” She paused. “We’ve talked some.”

     Casimir frowned.

     “He seems nice.” She brushed at her lower lip with a finger.

     “He doesn’t look too bad either,” Casimir added, pushing down frustration.

     “If he were to notice me, I might give up touching the stone to marry him.” 

     Casimir choked on the remark he’d planned to dissuade her misplaced affection. He coughed, covering the reaction, unable to speak. She’d give up power in her magic by refusing the stone. It left mages barren, but what was that to power? Nothing! 

     Serious mages never would consider such a slight to their profession. You give it all, become a rogue, or drop out completely. Some women drop out to have families, but not Nadia. She never hinted she’d even consider it. Casimir fantasized about the two of them, hand in hand, rising to great power. They could trust each other like no one else.

     She looked up at him. “I’m surprised. I thought you’d be mad, say that I’m wasting my life. My talent.”

     He smiled, his cool mien hiding the rage within. Her face was anxious as she waited for his reaction. 

     “He’d be a lucky man to have you.” 

     Nadia smiled, her shoulders relaxing. Her face brightened. Beautiful.

     “I’m late,” he said. The words tasted like sand. He hid his fists in his robe, his waxen smile held firm as though braced with puppet wire. She didn’t notice. He left her staring out the window and rushed down the stairs.

     Casimir joined the group in the meadow. When the time came, he volunteered to pair up with Devlin. The mage in charge gave them a map showing their assigned area, and a measuring stone to assess suitability of the area for the magical anchors. 

     Once the protection beams were anchored and spread like a net, no trespassers would be able to approach the tower. They’d be repelled.

     Casimir fell back, letting Devlin take the lead. Every time the man glanced behind him, Casimir smiled. He felt a burning in his stomach, rolling like a fireball.

     “So you’re Nadia’s friend?” Devlin swept back brambles from an overhanging plant as the steep slope ended. He turned right, along a narrow trail.

     “That’s right.” Casimir toyed with the marbles in his hand, working them round. He took comfort in the familiar sound of them scraping against each other.

     “You came with her from the coast?”

     “Yep.” Leaves and twigs crunched beneath their feet. The air smelled wet.

     “What’s she like?”

     “What do you mean?”

     Devlin waved his hands in the air. “Is she nice?” He paused. “I don’t know,” he mumbled, flustered.

     “She is what she presents. She doesn’t put on pretences.”

     Devlin nodded. “I think she’s great. Polite, smart, talented, and ambitious. But you never know. I just wanted… reassurance.”

     “She can be a good friend.”

     Devlin stopped. “I’m thinking of courting her.”

     The ocean roared in Casimir’s ears. The sky darkened. His heart pounded and his throat constricted. Devlin took a step back, his expression changed. 

     “She said you weren’t courting!” Devlin’s face reddened.

     “We’re not,” Casimir said, and the marbles flew.

#

     Imps prefer the ground, but Malica traveled along tree branches. She didn’t exactly follow the pair of humans, but rather, she raced behind and around, into the next tree waiting for them to pass beneath. She was surprised with how little attention the humans gave their surroundings, but then she’d seen their power. 

     She dug her claws into the tree bark as Black Fur shot little rocks at Yellow Fur. Knocked back, Yellow Fur fell off the trail ledge and tumbled down the steep slope. Malica followed Black Fur after the injured human. She smelled the blood on the ground where it smeared the earth.

     Yellow Fur lay in a trickle of water branching from a stream. Black Fur gathered his rocks as Malica leaned forward. One of her Little Men broke the jungle’s hush. He jumped into a nearby tree and disappeared into the foliage, startling Black Fur. He glanced about before heading back in the direction of the rock-tree, leaving Yellow Fur for the imps. 

     Malica stood over the unconscious human. She was reminded of Big Sister looking up from the end of the rope. Not the flashing teeth, but the ruined eye. Like Yellow Fur’s. She watched his chest rise and fall.

     Malica wondered what to do. Follow Black Fur and watch more? The blood smell would attract others soon. Malica gave a whistle and waited for her Little Men.

#

     The first thing Devlin noticed was the jostling. His face hurt, and something pressed against his chest. He opened his eyes, shocked that he could see from only one. The sky flit through the tall canopy above. 

     Lifting his head, he saw it, the imp sitting cross-legged on his chest, looking back at him. He realized the jostling was from hands, many little hands. The monsters carried him over their heads, back to their den, their home. For dinner.

     Devlin screamed.

#

     The sleeping human twitched from dreams. Malica listened to the storm unleash its fury outside the shallow den. Thunder boomed over the sound of pouring rain. The Little Men huddled in the back, not wanting to touch Yellow Fur. They complained of the smell. They wanted to eat it, but she stopped that talk with a quick fist to a mouth.

     She wondered if those rocks had been poisoned. Imp darts would have been. Humans were strange creatures. Malica had a hard time understanding their odd behaviors.

     She’d know by morning. Either Yellow Fur would be alive, or dead.

#

     “Can you dry this wood without burning it?” Casimir pulled wet rope from the fallen pulley.

     “Ha ha.” Nadia was in no mood for his sarcastic attitude. She paused to look at the tower entrance again.

     “They’ll be out soon, but it won’t matter.”

     She stared down at the wood, trying to get Devlin out of her mind. The proper ritual for the heat spell eluded her. 

     “I told you. I saw him die.”

     “The masters can bring back his body,” she mumbled.

     “If the imps didn’t eat him. Are you going to dry this? I can’t put it back in place…”

     “Are you sure he died? I mean, when the imps ambushed you, maybe you ran before seeing him escape too?”

     “I told you. He was in the lead. That’s the only reason I got away. They punched him with their crossbows and little knives. I ran.”

     Casimir paused, but she didn’t look up at him.

     “It could have been you. I told you not to go.”

     “It wasn’t me.”

     “It could have been!” She looked at him, and rubbed at her eyes.

     “Yes.”

     She leaned close and cried. Again. Nadia couldn’t believe Devlin was dead. She kept expecting to see him at any moment, and then when she didn’t, the sadness hit her hard.

     “I’m sorry Nadia,” Casimir whispered.

     She pulled away and looked into his eyes. “It wasn’t your fault.”

     He shifted his weight and dropped his gaze.

     “I’m serious Casimir. You can’t blame yourself.”

     “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had.”

     She smiled. They locked eyes for a moment. She drew strength in his friendship. 

     Turning to the wood again to start the spell, she caught sight of the masters emerging from the tower. They pointed to the forest, deep in conversation. The sound of her heart hammered in her ears. 

     “I wish I could go with them.”

     “But you hate the jungle! And you keep telling me not to go.” Casimir sat on the wooden beam. Maybe he’d given up on her drying it. “Besides, they won’t let any juniors go.”

     She peered into the dense trees at the meadow’s edge. Anything could be in those shadows. Hundreds of bloodthirsty imps.

     The grass moved near the tree line. Nadia stood for a better view. Casimir pulled out his marbles and twirled them in the air, looking bored. She took a few steps forward and shaded her eyes. Something was there, parting the grass.

     Nadia ran to the masters. They watched the movement too. Casimir followed behind her. He touched her arm, letting her know he was there. The grass grew shorter, and the thing, closer. It was an imp! A very tall imp. She shrank back, pressing against Casimir.

     It wasn’t tall, just standing on something. Nadia put her fist to her mouth.

     “It’s Devlin!”

     “No,” Casimir mumbled. 

     She didn’t pay attention. He began pulling her away, but she jerked free.

     “The imp is standing on Devlin. Imps are carrying him lifted over their heads!”

     “Yes,” a master agreed, “but to what purpose?”

     His calm unnerved her as much as the sight of Devlin being carried by imps shocked her.

     “Don’t cast!” she warned as she heard Casimir chant softly. “He might be alive, stop it.” 

     He didn’t stop. 

     Nadia knocked him down, breaking his concentration. “Stop it!”

     “No! They’re bringing him like a trophy. They’ll attack us! Hurry!” He gestured to the masters.

     Nadia looked back at Devlin and the imps. They were closer, but stopped. They set Devlin down and withdrew, all except the one standing on his chest. It hopped down and backed off a few paces, but didn’t return to the jungle like the others.

     “Kill it!” Casimir screamed.

     “No!” Nadia ran to Devlin. Dropping to her knees by his side, she looked down into his damp face with a deep wound in one eye. He was warm. 

     He moaned and shifted his head at her touch. 

     “He’s alive!” She frowned as she looked along his body. Where were the other wounds?

     The masters walked up behind her. Casimir rose from where Nadia pushed him, but he didn’t approach.

     “Devlin?” Nadia lifted the unconscious man’s head into her lap. As his neck turned, something fell out of the bloody eye socket. At first she thought it was his eye.

     Nadia picked up the round object. She wiped it on her robe as horror sank into her soul. It was one of Casimir’s marbles.

#

     Malica noted Black Fur hanging back behind the others, and wondered if he’d be the one to attack. She felt vulnerable without her Little Men, but she wouldn’t risk them. She must wait alone, wait and see this through. Exposed in the meadow, she couldn’t run from the humans’ storm-power.

     Brown Fur smelled like a Sister, and wore the color of blood. She was Red Sister, and held Malica’s hope of a human connection.

     Red Sister sat by Yellow Fur. She held the killing-rock in her hand. Malica saw the change in Red Sister’s face, but didn’t know what it meant. She couldn’t understand the human words.

     Red Sister stood, lifting her arms and screaming into the sky. Malica’s body tingled as she willed her feet to keep still. Red Sister pointed at Black Fur, and storm-power raced out of her hands, striking Black Fur with the crackling light. 

     Cringing, Malica thought she’d be next. She watched Black Fur’s body topple to the ground with a thud. Red Sister sank down by Yellow Fur, her shoulders drooping. Looking up at Malica, Red Sister rubbed her face with the back of a shaking hand. Red Sister parted her lips, teeth glaring. 

     Malica took several steps back. She’d been wrong. She couldn’t befriend these savage humans. Red Sister watched as others lifted Yellow Fur and carried him toward the rock-tree. Malica clenched her empty hands as she felt human eyes pin her down. Could she run if she tried?

     Red Sister, white teeth bared, faced her. Slowly stepping forward, Red Sister extended her hand. Malica didn’t know what to make of it. The hand held no storm-power. She reached out her smaller hand in return. The two touched, and Malica heaved an inner sigh. The human’s skin felt soft, like a flower petal. They were fragile but lethal, another perplexity. The connection was the beginning, the hope of a long future.

     Other humans gathered around them, staring and whispering, but no lightning came. Malica sniffed the air, noting the scent of human mixing with grass, and the remnant smell of Devlin’s blood. 

     Red Sister motioned to the rock-tree, and with their hands joined, she gently pulled in that direction. Malica let Red Sister lead her into the large human den. 

References: Human, Imp

 
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