A/N: Sorry for the patched-together fight scene….I'm a bit rusty so just warming up for the big event.
Oh, what big event you ask? Zeez I'm not telling you!
Oh, and glossary entry (I don't have a glossary just yet, maybe I should…):
zeez = is similar to geez, which is a corruption of "Jesus." (People wouldn't say "Jesus" since it was blasphemous and hence pared it down to "Geez." Like "darn" from "damn.") Hence, Zeez is a corruption of "Zeus." Just an interesting tidbit. I don't use it often since it sounds weird….but there it is!
Xuan bent down and reached the toes poking out of her sandals, trying to touch them and succeeding. She smiled and straightened, leaning forward and pushing her foot back but never letting it rise off of the grass. After Nico had left them, she walked all the way from the Holy Quarter to the school and then back to the menagerie. Even then, she knew there were certain parts of her legs she hadn't used, and it wouldn't do to strain them on a whim.
Well, not just any whim. Rather, the junior chronicler knew she had to be prepared for almost anything after what happened to Aneska. Some threats were closer to her than she had ever thought…for earlier that day, Rem had shown her and the others something that shook her deeply.
Before they left the safehouse for the Agora on their shopping trip, Rem gestured to them to stay a bit longer, and not just for a drink.
"Oi, lasses, there's somethin' I hafta show ya," he said, bouncing over to them with a light globe in one hand and some scrolls in the other.
Nico crossed his arms and did not move, as he was a man now and not a lass.
Xuan leaned against her walking staff, tilting her head at him. "What is it?"
Rem handed the globe to Aine and unfurled his scrolls. "So I've got these posters that I thought you three might—" He paused, frowning over at Nico and impatiently beckoning to the lass-man. Nico smiled faintly at that face and walked over to him. Satisfied, the Halfling continued. "I thought you three might wanna see this." He lifted the posters to the light.
Aine noticed the quality of the paper. Definitely city-issued. But Xuan couldn't catch that detail as she stared in shock, for printed on that paper was a rough ink drawing of two people: one, a young woman with half of her face hidden by a dark lock of hair, her one exposed eye narrowed and face scowling; and the other, a young man, face devoid of emotion and hair a bit of a mess.
Xuan's brows knit as she looked hurriedly to Rem for answers. "Who are these people?"
Rem pulled down the bottom of the curled paper. Melina. Gyles. WANTED for theft and assault. 300 Drachma for arrest. The Halfling peered at the Kalnasian, her emotions easy to read. "You know 'em, don't you?"
Xuan nodded, frowning worriedly. "Yeah…I saw them, one over at the grove, and another at my…school…" She trailed off as she realized what that meant. She had encountered them and didn't even know who they were—what they could do. Three hundred drachmas was no joke, enough to feed a family for a couple weeks! Now she looked seriously at Rem, her brows lowered. "What do they want? Do they work for anyone?"
Rem immediately scowled. "The worst—they work for Takis!" He paused. "Well, that's not the worst…but the worst for right now!" He quickly looked over to Aine and Nico. "Any of you guys seen 'em?"
Aine closely studied the posters. "No, I haven't."
"Me neither," Nico replied. He motioned to the scowling woman. "I'd remember that face."
Unfortunately, Xuan did. "I can't believe it," she muttered with a frown. What were they up to? But more importantly, "What should we do if we run into them?"
"Beat 'em up!" Rem snapped.
Aine frowned at Rem in the place of her mentor.
At that Rem paused. "Well…maybe try to get some info out of 'em? But if it's dangerous, then don't!" He looked pointedly at Nico.
"Well, that goes without saying," the human man said with a faint smile. Then he winked at Rem.
Xuan smiled to herself at the memory of the Halfling jumping up and down, and she stretched back down to touch her toes. But then the smile quickly disappeared as her worries flooded back to her. She had to be more prepared than she was right now. Aneska depended on her, whether the stubborn woman knew it or not. Even at their peak strength, Xuan knew she played a key piece in their team. Of course, they'd be able to back her in a tight spot, but she knew she had to handle things on her end, too. How else would she help when they were incapacitated, like Setiri said? It was no secret Xuan was the weakest when it came to physical defense…so she decided to test out other means of defense—and hopefully offense.
The Kalnasian frowned in determination. She just had to be ready for anything, and she didn't feel that way yet. Look, even her sandals were getting beat up from just walking across the city every day. What if they tore during a fight?
Well, she'd know soon. She looked over at the other person a ways down the lawn.
Eirene of the city guard also stretched, although her stretches seemed much more advanced than Xuan's. Her movements were loose, and she had the usual air of slight boredom around her that Xuan had noticed from the first time they met when she had arrived at the menagerie the first. Hard to believe that was just a month ago.
Eirene wore sparring materials the training school at the city guard house supplied, with tough leather bracers on her arms and shin guards strapped on her exposed limbs. She had shed her metal armor for the faster, lighter material of a chiton worn under it, the hem of the shift ending above her knee. That would definitely help in this hot weather, the air slightly sticky. Her bright blonde hair was tied back in a high ponytail, and her green eyes held some amusement as she smiled faintly over at the junior cleric. "You're really serious about this, right? I mean, we can just do hand-to-hand…" Indeed, the xiphos hanging under her arm gleamed; it was basically a long knife shaped like a leaf but sharp on one edge.
Xuan's brows knit as she stared at the sword. "I'm…not that good with hand-to-hand…" Or hand-to-anything. She wore her oldest robe today in case something happened to it. She smiled weakly over at Eirene. "I mean, realistically, I'd be up against people with weapons, so…" She eyed Eirene's limb guards and made a note that she should get some, too…
The guard scoffed, smirking. "Then why are you dulling my blade? Theirs won't be." Eirene never had been one to use magic, even though the city guards used it.
Xuan grinned, a bit nervously but still amused. "Oh c'mon, I'm holding back so you should, too, if you believe in fairness. And you might slice my hands off and I need those." Xuan herself was unsure of how much the guard would hold back. She had only requested to spar since fighting the same two people got a bit predictable…and especially since one had been incapacitated.
The guard chuckled, her resolve to holding back not that clear. Xuan didn't really know her that well…but she seemed vaguely amused. "All right. Well, I'm ready. You?"
Xuan nodded, then scurried forward to the guard. She still wore her breeches but her outer robe was noticeably missing. "We move only as soon as I start the timer globe." It would be foolish to expect that they'd be able to observe the sun's movements long enough to know when the dull-blading spell expired. Fortunately, Enezi had the appropriate globe with the right duration—ten minutes. Ten minutes to hold her own against the guard.
Eirene unsheathed her sword, presenting it to Xuan. Her green eyes flashed. "This better not be permanent, or you're buying me another."
Xuan smiled confusedly. "Isn't this sword borrowed from the training room at the main guard house?"
Eirene just smirked. "Yeah."
Xuan chuckled and then moved her hands, incanting. Funnily enough, Ares knew practice made war perfect, and lent his power to sparring. That required a dull blade—temporarily, anyway. The blade's edge began to glow orange, and Eirene hesitantly touched it. It felt smooth, and her eyebrows rose.
Xuan turned and quickly ran to the other side of the sparring lawn, staff in one hand and the timer globe in the other. She stopped, turned back around, and then rubbed the globe. She tossed it to the side and shouted, "Go!"
Eirene bolted forward, sprinting with her blade down as her lace-up sandals pushed off the grass.
Xuan knew she had barely three seconds and quickly moved her hands, speaking fast. "Blacksmith's Oil!"
The grass in front of her suddenly grew slick. Eirene's eyes widened as her feet slid under her. "Phrike—ooph!" She tumbled to the ground and slid forward.
Xuan wasted no time and incanted again, calling upon the fastest bird she could think of from Olympus. Light flashed in the sky as Xuan quickly backed up. Couldn't be too close to that sword…
Eirene swore again as she stumbled to her feet, planting them apart for balance on the oily grass. Then something slammed into her head and she slipped down into the grass again.
A silver falcon glinted in the sunlight as it flew up and swooped down for another impact. It knew not to deal damage, per Xuan's mental orders. Eirene ducked, frowning at her unsteady stance. The falcon called out and speedily wheeled back around, glowing with the light of Olympus. Xuan watched and waited, careful not to use her spells too early until she was sure of their use.
Suddenly Eirene's feet found a grip on the grass. She locked onto the bird flying at her, waited, waited, and then swung. The flat of her blade smacked into the bird. It screeched and veered away, suddenly disappearing in a bright flash of light.
Xuan knew that her spell expired, not the bird itself, but that didn't matter—it was gone, along with Hephaestus' oil. She couldn't help but stare as Eirene darted forward toward her, face stern and filled with concentration. Xuan lifted her staff and braced herself with her widened stance.
Used to impacts of light elves and summoned creatures, Xuan still wasn't ready for the force slamming into her staff. It almost flew out of her hands. Xuan struggled to keep herself from flinching with each swing of Eirene's sword. The Kalnasian found her parries coming from instinct rather than rational thought. She did just basics, though, and the more calculative part of Xuan's mind far far in the background knew it was just time before basics wasn't enough.
Eirene, skilled with fighting beyond basics, quickly recognized Xuan's limits and pushed. She swung with broader, stronger, strokes, and Xuan found herself losing ground. Her hands full with keeping the staff steady, she decided almost impulsively to change tactics. With one reckless swing she threw the staff at Eirene.
As the guard deflected with her arm bracer, Xuan already finished a spell, casting as fast as she could. Sweat dripped from her face, her clothes soaked as a large circular shield glowing gold beamed into existence on Xuan's arm. Surprisingly she did not stagger from under the weight, but she couldn't believe she tried to summon offensively and got this thing.
Not to offend Lord Ares, Xuan tried using it as he would and lifted the shield. She braced it against Eirene's blunted sword, deflecting each blow. How was such a light shield so dense and strong? Xuan didn't know, but she knew she had to use both hands for that shield. Not good.
Eirene noted Xuan's weakening stance and pushed on, frowning.
So Xuan did what worked best for her and threw the shield at Eirene's head right after a deflection. The guard's sword swung too far out for Eirene to block. The shield slammed into the woman's head and she staggered back as if a brick had hit her.
Xuan's brown eyes widened. It was that heavy? She quickly brushed her confusion aside and moved her hands. This time she did something surprising—she ran to her opponent.
Eirene shook off the impact. She scowled at the advancing Xuan and ran at her as well, sword swinging. It smacked hard into Xuan's arm, and the junior chronicler cried out—but not before she finished her spell.
As Xuan stumbled to the side, head reeling from the pain, her hands glowed. Suddenly a bright burst of light streamed out, all the colors of the rainbow shooting into Eirene's face.
The guard swore and winced, staggering back as she blinked rapidly. Her vision swam with colors, and she swung her blade around wildly. "You bitch!"
The Kalnasian allowed herself a small grim smile at her success. Blame Iris, not me. Then she moved her hands in the air. She called now upon Pan, and a strange tune carried upon the breeze that suddenly swept through the sparring field. The sound of wind blowing through reeds, of rustling and moving water sounded faintly.
The sky came into focus for Eirene, and that was enough for her. She whirled around, finding Xuan and took a step—at least, she tried.
The grass around her feet had suddenly wrapped around her legs, pulling her down. "Godsdammit," Eirene growled. She pulled, tearing the grass up.
Xuan stared. No, the grass wasn't strong enough! Her hands fumbled for a spell and Eirene, in her desperation, threw the long knife at Xuan.
The long knife flipped in the air. This time the junior cleric couldn't help flinching. This was going to hurt!
Xuan stumbled back with a cry as the hilt slammed into her left shoulder and bounced off. "Phrike!" Her brows knit in pain as tears pricked at the edge of her eyes. She glimpsed Eirene finally tearing free from the grass— when suddenly a loud ringing echoed in the field. The timer globe.
Xuan blinked and stopped her hands from moving. She continued to breathe rapidly from nerves, her whole body shaking and ready to run or fight, and she gazed at Eirene with her wide, anxious eyes.
The guard shook her head as she brushed grass off her legs. She had none of that shaking, and seemed to shrug off her spar mode easily. Eirene smirked at Xuan, a few long blonde tendrils of hair sticking to the side of her face from sweat. "That's it, huh."
"Y-Yeah," Xuan managed, smiling weakly. She twiddled her restless fingers as she came back down to Gaia, and she blew out air. "Well! Uh…nice fight?"
Eirene shrugged as she wiped sweat from her brow. "I've had better. But you're a surprise…not as soft as that bumbling girl with those book piles when we first met." She rubbed her eye, frowning. "What the hades were those rainbows?"
Xuan grinned at that. "From the Goddess Iris, of course." She walked over to the timer globe and bent down to pick it up. "Ow! Oh phrike," she swore as she grabbed her arm. She craned her neck and looked at her shoulder, the swelling now apparent. And that huge bruise further down her arm…she looked disappointed as she picked up the globe.
Eirene herself walked over in the grass and picked up her xiphos, testing the blade's returning sharpness before sheathing it. "My sword is supposed to stab. Your arm might've been hurt pretty badly if this was real."
"I know," Xuan sighed, a little down. She grabbed her kronos bag and sat down, trying to catch her breath. "I guess that's the whole point of sparring, to see where my weaknesses are before the real deal…"
Eirene snickered as she smirked at the Kalnasian. "They tell us that day one of training. Speaking of which, I better get back to mine." She rolled her green eyes. "Super exciting guard duty."
Xuan nodded, smiling. "I'm sure. Hey, we should do this again sometime?"
The guard frowned at her, asking flatly, "Was that a question?"
Xuan blinked and smiled sheepishly, stating, "We should do this again sometime. Oh, and it's gonna rain."
Eirene glanced up at that sure statement, and indeed, the sky had grown cloudy and grey, with darker clouds lingering on the horizon to their west. "Yeah." She looked back at Xuan, smirking again. "Next time." Then she jogged off toward the menagerie, fast as Artemis now that she didn't have her armor on.
Xuan sighed, back slumping slightly as she gathered her things. Truly, she was able to hold her own against the guard…but not the way that she wanted. The increasing humidity made her face and skin grow sticky, and the sweat didn't evaporate like it should've—it just stayed plastered on the skin, adding to the muggy feeling. She ran a hand through her sweaty black hair and quickly stood, slightly shuddering at the extreme discomfort. In her head she ran through the list of spells she still hadn't used and hurried onto the road, heading back to the school where the baths waited for her.
A thick white fog of steam filled the indoor baths at the Medicus dormitories, the dim globelight barey penetrating the fog. The baths weren't usually this steamy, but Xuan found that the added cover from her spell was quite useful during her bathing. Not that she was conscious of her body…she just didn't want to see anybody else's. She saw enough in anatomy books…
Some laughter echoed in the chamber from other students conversing. Water gurgled softly out of the openings in the stone walls, a continuous stream splashing into the basins below. One was to scoop out the needed water to wash, and the excess water drained into small holes in the stone floor.
Xuan could barely see the fountain as she sat by it; the fog was so thick. It wasn't thick enough, though, to hide her bruises from herself.
She frowned at them, disappointment washing over her as the water did, chasing away the soapnut bubbles on her skin. The junior chronicler knew what the bruises meant in a spar. They could represent stabs, slashes—real wounds. Getting bruised during a spar was not uncommon, but recently every failure of hers loomed so large in her mind. She sighed and scrubbed with the fibers of a mature luffa gourd. Then she rubbed a soapnut into her hair before dousing it with a bucketful of water. She squeezed out the extra water from the ends of her hair and stood, patting herself dry with a slightly damp cloth. She pulled on a loose indoor chiton. The sleeveless tunic ended above the knee and was not at all indecent considering the weather.
Xuan dropped her luffa and bag of soapnuts in her pack and slung it over her unbruised shoulder, then walked out of the baths. Her black hair clung to her neck in a very annoying way but she tried to get over it. She needed a hairtie…
Other students also drifted to the baths after the end of a long day's study. She saw some, her eyes widening, and she fumbled in her pack for a certain scroll. The junior chronicler scurried over to a pair of students, smiling. "Hey, guys, I go to the medicus school—well, I mean, I guess that's obvious since I just used the bath chamber—um," Xuan laughed weakly. "I had a quick question for you, do you guys have a couple seconds?"
The male and female student, nearly Xuan's age, gazed back at her in surprise. The guy started to smile amusedly. "Uh…sure?"
Xuan unfurled the papyrus scroll, revealing her ink copy of the poster Rem had shown them. She had spent almost an hour replicating it, and it was very close to the original, she was proud to say. However, she showed none of that pride now, only a serious frown. "Have you seen this guy around the school?"
The girl student peered at the drawing. "No, I haven't seen him…" She smiled. "He's cute."
The male student scoffed. "Yeah, in a creepy way." And thinking Xuan was done, he walked off toward the baths.
Xuan waved to the female student and walked on, trying a few more times with other students. No luck. She sighed, adjusting the pack on her right shoulder and wincing at the strain in the left one. She'll need a salve for that…Xuan bit her lip and walked on, her bare feet padding across the stone floor.
She walked a ways, getting lost in thought again. As Xuan distanced herself from the baths, however, a low voice crept from a stone corridor. "I believe you have something of mine."
Xuan paused and looked around for the voice. "Hello?"
The speaker stepped forward from a shadowed corner of the corridor, his subdued tone matching his apathetic expression. His eyes had the same vacant look and his hair a mess like in his picture.
Xuan froze and stared. Gyles. She stepped back, her hands moving with a slight flick as she whispered. Hermes lent her the power to hear thoughts, and she glared at the rogue. She barely hid the accusation in her tone, as she just couldn't stand anything to do with Takis right now. "What do you want?"
Gyles carelessly clacked his boot heels against the stone floor as he rocked back and forth in front of the Kalnasian. He nodded at the scroll Xuan clasped in her hand. "What're you doing with that poster?" He sounded barely interested.
Xuan's brows lowered as she glared slightly at him. Still his mind just whispered…nothing coherent yet. "Trying to find you. But I already did that, so answer my question—I asked it first. What are you doing here?" She took another step back, both hands free without her staff. That meant no defense…but she knew a quick spell if she needed one.
The man observed her posture, sighing as he looked away, "You wanted to find me." He simpered, "Why are you backing away?"
The junior cleric gave him a look, lips thinning as her eyes flashed. "Isn't it obvious?" she said, voice rising. "Your leader did something horrible to my friend, and you're wondering why I'm wary of you?" Her eyes narrowed. "Just…leave us alone. Why are you doing this, anyway?"
Gyles raised an eyebrow. "Horrible?" he murmured. "Didn't Takis give her what she wanted?"
"To be a man?" Xuan snapped, frowning. "To have your very own nature changed against your will? I don't think she wanted anything to begin with."
The rogue narrowed his eyes, frowning slightly. "No, that doesn't sound like what Takis had intended…" He glanced at the poster before looking back at Xuan.
True, she sensed confusion from him…but not much else. She waved her hands in the air, whispering in case he could hear her. Suddenly a silver dog appeared in a flash of light, and it growled at Gyles with its ethereal but sharp fangs bared at him. Was this the object of the hunt?
Xuan shook her head at the dog and frowned at him. "Whatever Takis intended, he still caused trouble. Her powers are all but cut in half!" She glared accusingly at him. "You're probably here to mix things up, but I'm not going to let you. Please leave," she asked sternly.
Gyles smirked faintly, tilting his head. "Well, since you asked so nicely…" He cast a dull glance at the young woman.
Xuan's eyes narrowed, the thought spell achieving its full potency with time. She heard him wonder what he could get away with without causing a scene. Deciding that teasing her wasn't worth the minimal effort, he shrugged, walking past her.
She quickly backed up, eyes never leaving him as she frowned in suspicion. Artemis's hunting dog also eyed the man warily, growling softly. But Xuan's sense of urgency and anxiety was soon replaced with confusion at this new information. Gyles confirmed Enezi's suspicion about a curse going awry…but was it true? Or was it only engineered to make them think that's what happened? What else could it possibly be? It seemed Takis wanted members that were as wild and crazy as he was….or just as creepy.
She frowned deeply as the figure of Gyles retreated into the shadows. Well, good riddance. She patted the silver dog beside her, scratching it behind its ear before it disappeared. These creatures she summoned were just earthly models of what resided on Olympus or a deity's plane…she wondered who exactly fueled the curse Takis cast. And did such a deity plan for things to go wrong?
Xuan continued walking, a thoughtful look on her face even though she still shook from nerves. Indeed, it would be amusing as a deity or being of power to see Takis flounder…but it would be even more satisfying for Xuan and her friends to undo what he did. Maybe she could set up a spell that was triggered by hostile presences like Takis, or a ward to warn them. She started to jog down the corridor, her thigh muscles burning and begging her for a rest. Xuan acquiesced.
It was her mind's turn for a work out.