Demimind: Chapter 22

Last of the super short updates, folks. Necessarily short- perhaps I should have made it a two part chapter! Anyway, enjoy as always. Maybe I’ll spend some time working on another short story this week.

-Eris

(22) More Bloody Time Travel

Summer gathers heat in her hand, but keeps it there, narrowing her eyes as her predecessor approaches. “What do you want?”

“That’s pretty simple,” Glory says quietly, her voice like leaves crackling dry in the sun. “I want you gone. I want you to go back to your own time.”

“In many ways we’re the same,” Summer points out cautiously. “Couldn’t we… work together?”

Winter cringes at the idea of that, but says nothing. Summer isn’t seriously thinking about that, surely.

“Don’t compare me with you, Summer! I am everything you can never be. I don’t want you dead- I just want you back where you belong. I’ve already paid our mutual brother a visit and convinced him of his own stupidity. I told him you were dead, and I sent your guard back to his original time as well. With a little luck, Fall can start down his own path soon.”

“You bitch!” Summer hisses. “Why the hell would you want Fall to become like Autumn?”

“It’s his destiny!” Glory snaps. “The power he’ll learn to wield will crush mountains and right wrongs- he must become the true embodiment of entropy!”

“Now hold on a second-” Casper starts.

“You’re insane. Fall can’t use that power and stay the same! You’re effectively killing the man Winter loves!”

Wait, I’m supposed to love him? Winter asks.

Shut up! Summer snarls.

“And what if I am? Winter is a spineless, worthless piece of fey trash, there’s no reason she should have anything! If Fall is too weak to survive without Winter, than maybe it’s time he evolved!”

Okay. I’d vote to kill her, but I’m not in the mood for suicide, Winter says dryly. I sincerely wish it was my turn, though.

Summer steps away from Casper, who just shrugs and backs off. Azzy steps back from Glory, who is now radiating heat like a barrier.

In unison, the two seasons begin to circle.

Summer clenches the Rose in her fist, digging sharp thorns into her palm.

“Who is Autumn?” Casper asks.

Glory answers. “Autumn is the final incarnation of the four seasons! His power has rendered Him immortal, and He has promised a world without conflict.”

“He’s a loony who tried to kill me and Winter, bound me permanently within Winter’s head. Now we have to trade places with some weird pill Spring has developed,” Summer replies grimly. “We’re trying to stop Him.”

Azzy shrugs. “It is not our business, then.”

Casper seems to think it over.

But the rest of the dragons seem to agree with Azzy.

The circling continues- now Summer stands near Azzy, and Glory stands near Casper.

Summer lifts her hand, takes a deep breath, and hurls a bolt of pure heat at Glory. In a flash, her twin grabs the power from the air as if catching a baseball, staring back at Summer with a smile. “Now, why did you think that would work?”

Heat flares around her suddenly, and Casper has to take a step back.

Summer takes a cautious step forward, and Glory lashes out, hurling the bolt back double- it leaves a hissing, smoking trail as it burns the air between them, an invisible blast of pure energy.

Summer catches it casually, curls it into a string between her fingers. She lashes the floor beside her with a flick of her wrist. It’s hot, but nowhere near hot enough, even as stone flashes into steam, and her heart snarls with anger.

“You’re a fool, Summer! All that power and what do you use it for?” Glory taunts. “We’re far from the same! The difference between a mere immortal and a goddess!”

She hurls a crackling blast of energy at Summer, a burst that would fry the meat from a normal human’s bones. Summer walks through it like a warm breeze, advancing on the self-proclaimed goddess. “You’re right,” Summer says calmly. “We are far from the same. You’re a spoiled little brat. I used to be just like you, not even two weeks ago. I used to want the same things you did, I remember what it was like to think the world was my toy.”

Summer narrows her eyes. “There’s a big difference between the two of us, do you want to know what it is?”

A second wild lash of heat energy glances off of Summer’s shoulder with more force than before, actually making her flinch. But she rights herself and strides towards Glory, who backs away. Casper has to shield her face from the heat.

“We both treat the world like a toy. I just don’t want to share it with filth like you,” Summer snaps, closing the remaining distance between herself future and past. Her slap flings Glory aside like a doll.

She pulls herself to her feet, brings her hand up to finger the bruise, rage fueling a wild snarl as she leaps towards Summer.

Summer steps back once and holds her hands up to meet the blows she’s sure will follow- but they don’t.

Spring, who holds Glory by the collar of her gossamer shirt, gazes at her amiably before turning a stony glare on Summer herself. “You really shouldn’t be here,” He says quietly. “Glory here has the right of it.”

“I have business here,” Summer says sharply.

When did this green-haired bastard show up? But then, that’s always his way. Spring can be anywhere at any time he wishes- but he always turns up exactly when things are about to get out of hand. It doesn’t seem to matter whose hands things are about to leave, only that he stops the things from leaving said hands. What a twerp.

“It was an easy way out of the situation back in the Barrier, I’ll grant you that,” Spring says cheerfully. “And it’s not that I don’t approve of running, you see. But I must send you back like I sent Thomas. Neither of you belong here. You could ruin the whole of the timeline this way.”

“What about Autumn?” Summer asks incredulously. “Will He be forced back as well?”

“Of course. He knows where you’ll next be, naturally,” Spring replies gently. “Since you were destined to visit His other self- Fall- here, He was inevitably drawn here as well. It is, after all, where He began.”

“What…?” Summer starts. “But-”

“Did you think that you could stop it?” Spring asks sadly. “Don’t be ashamed- such thoughts are common, but everything that has happened has already happened. It’s called the Cycle for a reason, dear Summer.”

“Then why must we go back?” Summer asks desperately. “Why does it have to be this way?”

“Because it has already happened this way,” Spring explains patiently. “Please, just let go. The past is the past- it is the future, which, while it too has already happened, is the only place you can possibly live.”

Spring smiles pleasantly, waves a hand, and vanishes from Summer’s sight.

Unsurprisingly, so does everything else, as Summer also disappears in a flash of cold spring dew.

Spring turns to Casper and frowns. His grip on Glory is like iron- she can’t move a muscle. “And what are you waiting for, little human?”

The one thing the Cycle could not possibly account for- the works of mortals are ever being written. Only the immortals are set in stone. It was, of course, always troubling to talk to someone whose ways you could not see.

Casper shrugs. “I could ask the same of you, you sad magic sod. You look a bit like an elf lambasted with quick-gro.”

Spring smiles briefly. “Did you want to go with them?”

Casper frowns, then shrugs again. “Just take me to somewhere with humans, if that’s in your power. I think I’ve had enough of being a pet.”

Azzy steps forward, looks as if he’s about to say something, and then doesn’t, dropping his hands to his sides and shaking his head ruefully.

Casper catches the movement out of the corner of her eye and turns slightly. “I don’t belong with you people,” She says quietly. “You’ll all outlive me, you all can’t care for me. I can’t live here.”

Azzy shrugs helplessly. “Go then,” He says, haltingly. “I’ll find you eventually.”

Casper feels an unfamiliar smile on her lips, and, sheathing her sword, steps forward towards Spring. “I’m ready,” She says confidently.

“No you aren’t,” Spring replies amicably. “So long!”

Casper vanishes. Azzy sighs and shakes his head, staring at the cavern floor for a few moments. The rest of the dragons- the gray-scale and Aura- wander or limp away.

Spring, after giving Glory a gentle peck on the cheek, shoves her forward one handed. She has time to pick herself up and launch herself back at him before, smiling faintly, Spring disappears as well, this time for good.

The dew left on the cavern floor from his passage makes Summer-Glory slip and fall on her butt.

Demimind: Chapter 21

(21)Prisoner

An open, tortured plain stretches on into the distance. Withered patches of grass and old, dried mud litter the ground. Two children, a boy, tall and thin, and a girl with long blonde hair beyond her years sit next to each other. They’ve never seen each other before. In fact, they’ve just met. But the girl feels a kinship with the boy all the same.

“Summer,” the girl says uncertainly, brushing out tangles from her long hair. “My name is Summer. What’s your name?”

“Spring,” The boy replies quietly. His hair waves in the breeze. It’s fresh green and stands straight up, reeds growing from the top of his head. “But there are more of us.”

“How do you know?” The girl called Summer asks, staring at him. The boy frowns, and then shrugs his thin shoulders.

“I just do,” He answers lamely. “Come on, we can’t stay here.”

“Spring is a stupid name,” the girl says sharply, giving Spring a glare. “And why is your hair so weird?” She doesn’t know why she’s acting mean, and she regrets it as soon as she says it. But she can’t take it back, either, so the silence stretches on between them.

Spring doesn’t answer. He simply stands and walks off across the plain. The landscape is pockmarked with enormous craters and holes- the grass has overgrown them, twining around twisted bits of shining rock that jut up out of the ground.

Summer, not knowing what else to do, follows him.

Summer comes awake with a start. She is lying on a bed of straw. It isn’t the first time that she’s felt it under her. What disturbs her most is her lack of clothes, and the fact that she’s slept long enough to have developed another scar from the earthmetal blade that struck her.

She rolls over onto her belly, then pushes herself up to a standing position. Her hands hang loosely by her sides for a moment. She isn’t wearing an earthmetal collar, fortunately. No iron binds her. But there’s so little life around her she feels it can’t really matter. There hardly seems to be any way she could fashion new clothes. It’s quite dark here, and she simply can’t see anything from where she stands.

She concentrates, lifts a hand, and wills a flame into existence. Unsurprisingly, nothing happens. If she’d slept more than a few hours, it would probably be the lack of any living life source near her that did it. Combined with the lack of food for her physical body in some weeks… yes.

No wonder she hasn’t a speck of power left. She’s only alive because it’s still functioning on a vital level, preventing her from being hungry.

She walks to the edge of the cell and raps on the door sharply. It’s made of stone, but she barely notices. She feels weak- and it’s only confirmed when the door doesn’t snap to little splinters. The thuds her fingers make are swallowed up by the stifling dark.

And then she remembers the Rose.

She’d kept it with her. Nothing short of the works of another Season could have kept it from coming with her. She snaps her fingers and grasps it by the thorny stem as it appears. The sting as the translucent thorns scratch her hand reminds her she’s alive.

Hey- Winter says. What are you doing?

“Getting us out of here,” Summer replies quietly. “We don’t have time for this!”

She sucks in a breath, lifts a hand again, and wills the door to melt away. Threads of power, drawn in through the thorns of the Rose, thrum into action.

Heat discord vibrates through the stone. It turns molten cherry red for a moment, and then slides aside as Summer steps through. Pure energy flows through her veins- she feels giddy with it, almost consumed by it. It tingles in her arms and legs, and some of her old confidence returns.

Careful. I don’t know exactly what happened, but judging by the scar you’ve got, all that power didn’t help before. That girl cut you, and you dropped.

“She caught me off guard,” Summer hisses, and then stops, pauses in the doorway. An earthmetal sword would slice through anything she could conjure in a moment. Only true heat barriers would stop something like that, and even with all of her power it hadn’t been enough to stop that metal blade from carving her up. Whoever the girl Casper is, it seems suddenly prudent to have every assurance possible, should she run into her again.

At the same time, it feels almost as if it won’t make a difference. It still helps her steal the courage she needs to take a few more steps down the forbidding hall. It’s all made of stone, and the walls bleed wet at her as she passes. It’s cold enough that the heat surrounding her hisses and crackles.

Rose clenched in one fist, her other hand sheathed in flame, she continues into the darkness.

She comes to a turn in the smooth stone hall, rounds it, and is confronted with another long, dark hallway, as bland as the first. Presently, as she walks, she notices that the stone surrounding her is covered in marks, glyphs in the stone. She finds herself wishing it were Winter in this mess. Winter would know to read them, she’s sure. Though Eldritch had never been her strongest reading point… what she understood of it was basically limited to what she’d seen Winter read for her in the past.

Of course, asking for Winter’s help in the matter would be pointless. For whatever reason, magic like the Eldritch language would refuse to work unless read out loud, and unless one knew the word required… well, suffice to say that a helping thought from Winter would not be of assistance. Such work would take much longer than Summer feels she has.

It wasn’t, actually, the official language of magic. No, Eldritch was drawn from even more ancient roots. It wasn’t so much that it was defined by the structures of the creatures and trees around it as it was that it defined them. Naturally only words alone would not be able to completely define a whole world, so it was that several other languages, based on sight, sound or smell, also had been responsible for creation. At least, that was the theory she’d studied, so long ago. Where had that been? She doesn’t remember, but it must have been a different age.

She’d had more time then. Now, with the dimming of immortality, it seems to slide in her memory, as if slipping away from her. So much is lost with eons.

She rounds the next corner. This hallway is not a hallway at all. A double turn. There is a small, boxed room here, opened into from the tunnel. And up above, the sun shines down, raining light from above. If Summer could fly, she could escape in seconds.

She could be free in a blink.

She can’t fly.

A door prevents her from continuing. She doesn’t even bother with the handle, instead hurling a blast of heat at it. The door is blown off its hinges, charred to a crisp and turning to ash as it strikes the stone.

Summer steps through the doorway incautiously. So, the idiots had sought to keep her prisoner?

Careful! Winter snaps. Do you want to get us killed?

And just then, the corridor opens up into an enormous cavern. It isn’t as important as the grey-scaled man standing in front of her. He looks up as she enters, opens his mouth, framing the word ‘You-‘.

And is blown backwards, a fireball blossoming on his chest and sending him tumbling. Into the cavern steps Summer, lowering her hand and staring ahead- at the far end of the room is another door.

Does it lead out?

“I don’t know.”

She walks slowly, taking deliberate steps towards the door, though every instinct screams at her to run as she crosses the open hall. A flash to her left, a flicker of wild hair, movement. The patter of bare feet on stone. Words, shouted, in a language- not Eldritch, thankfully- she can’t understand.

Summer takes a deep breath and points to her left. Wall.

There’s a yelp and a scream. Aura couldn’t stop herself from running smack into it, and now the sick-sweet smell of burnt flesh fills Summer’s nostrils.

She falters, suddenly feeling an overwhelming pang of regret, half-turning before she catches herself.

No! Just keep walking! She’ll be fine. You don’t even like her, what’s wrong with you?

“I…” Summer starts, and then curses with feeling, whirling, backing towards the door but staring at the wall of flames. Aura stands to the right of it, clutching her arm and staring at Summer in a mixture of fear and hate. Her black skin is charred from the heat.

Summer backs away slowly, fire surrounding her like a blanket. A queer, unfamiliar feeling comes over her. She feels her body begin to tremble.

Abruptly, she feels a cold blade grazes the skin of her neck. And just like that, Summer’s magic drains away. Casper’s voice, from behind her.

“Don’t move.”

She feels the heat leave her in a flood. Suddenly she’s too tired. She lets it go, feels the fire slipping out of her grasp.

“Why?” She whispers. “Why are you keeping me here?”

“The way I see it, you know something.”

“I know nothing of Aura’s sister. She brought me to the Lair and when I emerged she was gone. That’s it,” Summer says wearily. “Let me go.”

“I don’t think we can do that in good conscience,” Casper replies quietly.

The grayscale is approaching- brushing cinders from his chest, and the silver-haired girl from before appears to be tending to Aura. As the grayscaled man stands before her, Summer drops her arms to her sides. Casper withdraws the blade, and in a rush, Summer feels her magic return. Its momentary flight from her body had been disheartening.

She stumbles away from Casper, but the girl keeps her within arm’s length. “I can’t stay,” Summer growls. “A Season lies in wait for me at Everspring’s shrine. You must let me go.”

“It seems to me you are out of your league, little Season,” Aura’s voice taunts. “You’ll pay for what you’ve done to my daughter.”

“You’re a dumbass,” Summer snaps. “Seriously- I haven’t touched your stupid daughter! Don’t you have some stupid dragon trial or something? I remember that last time I was here.”

Dragon trial? Really?

“Shut up,” Summer hisses to Winter. “They aren’t proper dragons if they don’t have a dragon trial. It’s how it works!”

The grayscale stops midstep, standing right in front of Summer and staring at her. “We’ve never seen you here before, Season. Am I right in deducing that you are Summer of the Four, then?”

“Yeah, I’m Summer,” Summer snaps. “I was going to tell you before. But my name is Summer-Heat-Rising.”

“She fainted,” Casper notes. “From earthmetal.  I didn’t know you were that vulnerable to it. Not even fey are hurt that much by it.”

“To be honest, it’s just me and Winter who suffer from that. I think it’s us being bound together, our weaknesses sort of overlap,” Summer admits. “I’m not sure whose it was at first.”

“Winter-Long-Frost is with you as well?” the grayscale asks incredulously. “How did she come to be bound within her opposite?”

“Oh, it’s always been like that,” Summer says vaguely. “I dunno if you’ve ever met Summer-Glory?”

“The current incarnation of Summer has that name,” Aura says, rage apparently curbed by curiosity. “Is she still around?”

“Yeah,” Summer grumbles. “And, you know, just so it’s clear- I’m from the future. I’m the next incarnation of Summer.”

Casper rolls her eyes. “Pull the other one.”

Azzy’s voice calls from the other side of the room. “I think she’s telling the truth.”

“And what the hell gives you that idea?” Casper asks, turning. Summer watches her eyes narrow, and turns as well, to see what she’s staring at.

A woman, bronze skin blazing with long blonde hair, walks with Azzy towards Summer. Her smile is triumphant.

“Found you,” Glory says.

Oh shit, Winter whispers.

Summer couldn’t agree with her more.

Demimind: Chapter 20

I’m sorry for the long wait! It was an extremely busy week. Do enjoy the new update. In addition, I have a new story I plan on posting- all done, and of the short variety. I’ll probably put that on a separate page from the main to make things easily accessible. Remember that all additional pages may be found in the black band just below the main picture- like the Chapters page and the About section. Knight In Stone will be put up in a page of its own soon. Thanks for reading!

-Eris

 

(20)Trial

She screams, shuddering, hugging herself in the sudden light. Every part of her aches, her breath comes in short gasps, stabbing pain strikes her brain squarely.

She opens her eyes, her mouth shut again, determined to let that be the only outburst dragged from her. She pushes herself up to her knees- she was lying prone- and, shakily, looks around herself. She feels slick with something, something hot all over her naked body.

Saliva. Spit. She can feel it all over her.

It’s bright here, and for one crazed second she thinks she might be dead again. Had it swallowed her up?

No. Her hands are touching stone. She is on the floor of something stone. Beside her- no, in front of her- an immense crack nearly a foot deep spreads across. Beside her also, and, upon turning, she sees it behind her. It is grey stone. She is on… a tile.

It’s cold here as well, and smells faintly of sulfur. She finds herself shivering, despite the heat of the spit all over her. She stands up, feeling alone, her legs feeling like they can barely support her weight.

Where is here?

She stands in the middle of a pool of light from an unseen source. All around her is darkness, cut off by the tile lines.

The clack of claws on stone surrounds her. Click clack.

Shapes move in the light, shadows that slowly resolve themselves as they step closer. Black scales flash, along with teeth the size of swords.

The dragon who brought her here stands before her and stares down at her with piercing red eyes.

How she wishes she were Winter. Winter could understand what they were saying without needing to feel as if her mind were being torn to pieces.

To her surprise, however, the black dragon doesn’t talk to her first. Instead, there’s a bright flash of light, and a nude, dark, wild-haired woman stands before her instead of the dragon. Her skin is black as night and her eyes are the same red as before. She folds her arms and stares at Summer steadily.

Taken aback by the shapeshift, Winter is the first to point out that more are coming from the darkness.

Look, She whispers. They’re all different.

A slimy green-scaled dragon shapeshifts as well, into a long-haired human-dragon hybrid with blonde hair, so covered in scales that she couldn’t guess as to its actual gender.

A cold blue-eyed man steps forward from the shadows beyond her pool of light to stand at the edge of her tile. He wears naught but a belt, breeches and a sword at his waist. His musculature is impressive, but Summer is more focused on the glow from the scabbard. The sting from Autumn’s attack on her legs has long since faded, but she finds herself still feeling wary of the weapon. The one her brother had carried deflected her spells.

A few others step forward- a grey skinned, brown-haired man with a few snow white scales on his arms. A silver-haired girl, shorter than the rest with pure white eyes and a short stubby tail.

But they all stand to the side of her, even the wild one who brought her. They stand and stare expectantly into the dark. And even though she tries as hard as she can she is unable to hear a sound. Its approach is so silent, that when a hand grips her around the neck gently, and from behind, she doesn’t register it until something clicks into place. There’s the flash of a dark cloak in front of her. An old, old man, hair so grey it’s almost white, skin wrinkled with age, strides to the front of her tile and turns with frightening speed.

Someone so old shouldn’t be able to move that fast, Summer thinks to herself.

And then her legs buckle underneath her, strength sapped through the earthmetal collar around her neck. Her head is very heavy, but she lifts it to stare up at the dragons surrounding her.

How are we going to get out of this? Winter whispers. Weren’t we going to visit Spring, and from there head to Season’s Refuge?

Fate seems to have other ideas, Summer directs back weakly. And I can’t grab on to a pocket world like this. I suppose if you were in control you could kill them all-

I’m tired of killing, Winter says warily. I hate it.

Well that’s fine, because there’s no way that plan would work anyway. They’re highly resistant to magic- protection given long before we Seasons were born.

“So,” The old man says, facing her and shrugging his shoulders. He wears a long cloak that covers what must be a truly massive body. He stares down at Summer with something like kindly disdain, as if she were insignificant, but nevertheless to be pitied, like a tiny fly with its wings cut.

Summer half-closes her eyes. All of her strength is being sucked out through the damnable collar- what is it made of, bronze, iron?

No, worked metal like bronze wouldn’t hurt her. Iron, though… she’ll have welts there, blisters there for ages. It stings abominably.

“Why is such a pathetic creature disgracing the council with its presence, Aura?” The old man asks. His voice is deep, rich and strong, belying his obvious old age.

The wild-haired one, with her dark skin and burning eyes, answers. So she must be Aura, Summer thinks blurrily.

“It has information pertaining to the whereabouts of my sister,” She says, and there’s a sharp, bitter tone to her voice, etched firmly in place. It sounds like a cold night.

“I see,” The elder says quietly. “Does anyone have anything to say before we begin?”

“What are you going to do?” Summer asks, feeling dread stir in her belly.

“The poor thing has no idea where it is,” The grey-scaled one drawls drly, arms folded. He looks incredibly bored. “Perhaps we should inform it before it dies.”

“You are in the heart of the Council of Ten,” The old man informs her solemnly. “And to answer your question, we will burn you- or I will, at least- and glean the information from your ashes.”

At that, Summer suppresses a lunatic smile. Burn her. An ironic death. She once claimed to be master of fire. That was so long ago- well, relatively. Now she suspects it’s only been a short while. Summer-Glory is testament to that. She wonders, through a haze of panic, whether or not the flame will hurt her if she is touching iron…

“Now, if that is all, shall we begin?” All of them nod as one. It’s almost comical- human gestures from human-shaped dragons. Perhaps the myths were true and they were growing soft.

There’s surprisingly little fanfare. The old man steps forward to the very edge of the light.

“Don’t worry,” the silver-haired girl says brightly. “It will be over soon.”

The old man says no magic words. Dragons don’t need magic words to work their spells. He doesn’t wave his hands or otherwise indicate that he is about to hurl fire or call down lightning- he simply stands there, and, as the dread peaks in Summer’s heart and she lifts her head, he nods- just a fraction.

Fire leaps up around her, heat, incredible, overwhelming, bone-searing heat. It’s there for a flicker, for an instant. Any longer, any hotter, and it would’ve killed her instantly. Instead, it vaporizes the earthmetal collar around her neck.

Enough of this, Winter says quietly. The heat is making her dizzy. She finds herself thanking Spring profusely in her head, the pain coming over her in a hot, fierce torrent. Summer is drenched in sweat.

Summer’s skin bakes as the flames disappear. Heat rises off of her like steam, rippling the air around her, washing over her in waves. And she stands. The old man seems uncertain for a moment. Then,

“I don’t know how you survived that at first, but this time I’ll-”

Summer draws on the life of every dragon near her, all six, their power flashing through her and making her truly giddy. She does it without words. It’s innate to her, unique to her, and it floods her like fire in her veins. Winter is unconscious now, naturally, passing out from the force of the power within her sister.

But Summer doesn’t care. She’s laughing, giggling helplessly, as if the impotency of the flames around her had been the world’s biggest joke.

The tile beneath her, unscathed by the intense fire before, melts and bubbles under the sheer power which blazes from Summer’s body.

“You should better learn to understand those you capture, Aura, if that is really your name,” Summer says sharply. “I am Summer, mistress of all heat and life. You can’t hurt me with fire.”

She tosses her long hair and stands straighter, no longer feeling naked, but rather confident. She’s at her peak, here, at her strongest with the life-energy of such magnificent, powerful creatures surrounding her and flowing through her. Magnificent- and stupid.

The old man arches an eyebrow, but says nothing.

The way the dragons seem unimpressed eats at her confidence a little.

And then, in the blink of an eye and a roar of noise, she’s on her side, clutching at her ribs and trying to catch her breath. And her ribs are smoking. There’s steam rising off of her where her sweat flash-evaporated, steam rising from the stone floor beneath her. And that can’t be right, she’s staring at the tile she was on, and the semi-circle of dragons, from forever away, meters and meters.

She was flung. The echoes of the thunder shook the stone. She was sent tumbling by a bolt of lightning with the force of a titan’s swipe. She’d skidded to a rest here.

Her back feels raw and her skin, tough though it is, had been unable to reject the heat of the bolt. She pushes herself to her shaky feet and stares as the blue-eyed, bald man breaks from the group and strides towards her, sword still sheathed. Or recently sheathed- the scabbard is smoking. She stares at him as he advances, watches him raise a hand.

There’s a flicker of his attention, the feeling that his look is piercing her right through. It’s the only warning she gets.

That, in itself, does nothing to prepare her. A moment later, she’s again gasping, trying to catch breath from lungs that won’t work. She tries to stand, her legs and hands, her arms twitching, crackling with electricity. Lightning. He had struck her with lightning. Yes, she remembers now. Her heart begins to beat again, faster, too fast, erratic and wild. It sends arcs of pain through her, her hands clenching spasmodically.

It hadn’t been as strong this time. Did the distance have something to do with that?

She rises again. Is it a duel? No other dragon is bothering with her.

“How dare you still live, mortal?” The blue-eyed man asks softly. His voice is deadly. “After mocking my sire your life is forfeit. I don’t know how you think to match one of the Seasons when a little lightning is enough to break your bones.”

She stands straight. He’d lowered his hand again, a mistake.

“Of course I’m Summer!” She snaps. “What human has power like this?”

She snaps her fingers, shouts a Word: Strike.

Her eyes indicate her challenger, and she doesn’t notice the sound of footsteps on stone until a boy- how did he appear here?- suddenly appears right in front of her intended target. She registers several things. His manacles, his height- had she ever seen a man so large? He’s as tall as Autumn!- and his sword, grasped in thin arms, long and sharp. His hair falls about his shoulders, a pale, sickly brown.

Then she releases her power, gathered into a lightning fast whip of energy. It snaps out in a blink, and just as fast flashes into nothing, seemingly before it can touch either of them.

Did she misjudge? No. It was a Word. How could she have misjudged? The formula for it is timeless. It does not allow for error.

Winter stirs again, for the cavern itself is cool without Summer’s power heating the air around her.

And she’d gathered it all into that strike, hadn’t she?

Where did it go?

She focuses on the blue-eyed man, whose cold demeanor has broken into one of shock, and… fear?

And the next words, all on their own, explain everything.

“Casper! How on earth did you get here?” The words come from Aura’s mouth, as if she can’t believe them.

The boy’s voice, and with a shock she realizes the ‘boy’ is a girl the moment words escape, is accented. “First why don’t you tell me what the bloody hell you idiots think you’re doing?”

She stabs her sword into the ground, and it sticks, sliding through solid stone like dirt. She lifts her eyes and stares at Summer steadily. Clearly she’d just done something distasteful by interrupting the duel.

“When did the whelp get here?” The grey-scale asks dryly. “Wasn’t it you who was to keep an eye on it, Azzy?”

The blue-eyed man responds, so Summer can only assume his name is ‘Azzy’. “She was in her quarters sleeping when I came down,” He says cooly, but his voice is hiding something very close to anger. “I’ll deal with her-”

“Actually, I think she should stay,” The silver-haired girl says quietly. “She shares at least some heritage with our new prisoner, does she not?”

The girl called Casper shrugs her shoulders and draws the sword out of the stone. “I’m not a child anymore,” She says irritably. “And I’m a human- from what I’ve seen, this… thing isn’t. Are you stupid or something? It’d take years and years of training to become anything like as skilled as it’s shown, and it can’t be more than a few years old. Probably just a bloody fairy or something, we’ve already got enough of those.”

She pauses a moment, then grins. “I’ll handle it.”

The one called Azzy stands back, staring doubtfully. “If that’s what you wish.”

The elder remains silent.

Casper advances on Summer, sword at the ready. Her manacles seem earthmetal- was it mere coincidence they’d been set on Summer? Or had they known her weakness to it?

It seems likely that it was a coincidence. Summer backs away slightly. Winter is being loud and obnoxious.

You can’t kill her! She’s a girl!

“So?” Summer hisses. “She’s trying to kill us!”

Well at least try to reason before you blow her fool head off!

“Fine. Hey! Come any closer and I’ll blow your head off!” She shouts at the advancing child. She can’t be any more than fourteen. Underfed and malnourished, but she carries the sword as if it were a toy. Summer is dwarfed by her, too- the girl is tall and lean. Instead of answering, she changes tack, striding quickly. It’s clear she’ll try to end it in one blow.

Summer thinks for a moment. “We’ll do things your way,” She whispers. She gathers her power and flings it at the girl’s feet. Burst, She commands.

The stone under the girl ripples and explodes, hurling the skinny frame a good twenty feet into the air.

“Whoops,” Summer remarks callously. “Didn’t mean to hit quite that hard.”

But Casper lands on her feet lightly, doesn’t seem fazed in the slightest. She wasn’t even injured, and Summer barely has time to register that before the girl is a mere ten feet away, sword raised.

Summer gathers her power again, lets the strength of the dragons fill her in an eyeblink, and holds up one hand to stop the arc of the blade as it falls towards her. Casper, however, just isn’t there anymore.

The blade strikes from behind. Summer whirls in time, can feel it pass a hair’s breadth from her face. She reaches out and grasps Casper’s arm as it passes, yanks the girl close, wraps her other arm around the teen’s thin neck, and begins to squeeze.

The girl’s strength is unreal.

Casper breaks free with apparent ease, turns and brings the sword down. The tip whistles through the air and draws a line of singing agony across Summer’s midriff, carving clean through skin and clipping a rib before she draws the blade away. Blood drips from the blade. And the blood is red.

Summer claps a hand to the wound. Red oozes around her fingers, and her lips clamp shut. She suddenly feels weak in the knees. She expects the bite to come again, expects to be killed, but her opponent is distracted.

Casper stares at the edge of her sword. She lowers it after a moment, then turns a glare on the elder, who shrugs.

“She’s human,” Azzy says quietly. “Interesting.”

“She’s not fey, at least,” Casper grumbles. “But if she were some kinda sorcerer, how did she learn that kind of magic so fast?”

Tell them, Winter says grimly. Now is the only chance we’re likely to get.

Summer opens her mouth to respond. She really does mean to say something.

But suddenly, it’s too much just to stand up, and she collapses into darkness.