The Loneliest Traid

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  • Published: 2 Apr 2017
  • Updated: 13 May 2017
  • Status: Complete
Love and death and war and Gods and blood and magic and dancing and rest and revenge and kings and fate.
Don't worry, within these three stories you'll know yourself,
And I will put you back together again.

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49. Pretty is No More Than Petty

“A map?” the shopkeeper, a goblin, said, “Well, passer bys don’t usually sell things like that here,”

    Estha blinked her doughy stranger eyes, “So is there nothing we can do?  We’re awfully lost.”

    Ichais leaned against the stable tent’s columns.  Her accent was good, she had to give her that.  She remembered that Estha had learned covering and morphing spells for her face a while ago, but this was both incredible - her talents unparalleled for someone not of wicca blood - and also…

    She shifted, watching Estha try to con the map from the man who seemed already almost eager to give it to her.  She couldn’t describe what it made her feel.  A stone pillar rising from her stomach, piercing her heart, making her head spin and her eyes gloss over white whenever she had to see how Estha’s fingers fluttered over the man’s chunky, farm work bronze arm.  Sadness, maybe?  Or blinding anger.  She had enough of watching this conversation flirt over and back.

    “Do you have a map?” she barked.

    The man’s eyes flittered from Estha’s chest, to Ichais’, and finally her face.

    “Sure I do!  And what kinda man would I be if I didn’t give it to such pretty little lost ladies such as yourselves?”

    Estha giggled, her hand swelling and blistered like a steamed fish.  Ichais knocked it off the table, seeing how Estha’s face fell and her hand ducked under her robes, but the man seemed unphased.

    “Here you are, this is my only copy so you two be good with it, you hear?  Think of me whenever you have it out,” he laughed.  Ichais pressed her nails into her heel to deter the rising sick in her throat.

    “Thank you so much, we wish we had more to offer you,” Estha smiled.  They had been given one hundred gold, Estha just knew value, and how to use it.

    “It’s no problem,” the man waved the thought away, grip landing back on the one hand Estha had that was still peachy and clear, “And my offer of staying the night still stands.  We have beds and baths - I won’t charge you a thing, travellers such as yourselves deserve to be treated.”

    Estha looked at Ichais, not uneasy, but unsure, “It is getting late.”

    “We’ll walk through the night.”

    “Ichais-”

    “Thank you for the map, we’ll be on our way-”

    “Ichais!”

    She raised an eyebrow to Estha.  Her nose was swelling like a yam, but her eyes stayed as firm, a new authority rising from within her.

    “Can I talk to you for a moment, Ichais?  Please excuse us.”

    Estha grabbed her arm and dragged her out into the desert a step or two.  They both pulled their scarves around their lips, Estha’s a little higher still.  Although they were only on the hotland border, the sandstorms were already blowing hot and heavy and leaving so many wanderers trapped until it cleared.  The tavern, the connecting and well-earning cousin of the stables and inn, was packed to the brim, drunkards crashed under the canopies and dusted with sand, carts and crates lying in good nature and faith on the door steps and music playing faintly in from behind the open windows.  The sun pecked the rolling dry hills, and the light sparkled up so bright it would leave you blind in moving flashes of gold, like dragons under the surface.

    “I’m tired,” Estha croaked, her voice returning with it’s slight toll of holding it so high and false, “We need to rest, and I don’t know anywhere else we can go.  Do you?”

    “We can just keep walking and sleep in the morning.”

    “And where will we be in the morning?”

    Ichais crossed her arms, looking away into the eye of the storm.

    “Hey,” Estha tapped the inside of her arm, pressing closer, “It’s just one night.  We can stay in the tavern, keep away from the stable keeper if you’d prefer.  Afterward, we’ll walk for half a week any which way, but if we walk now I’m afraid that I’ll end up collapsing like him there.”

    A drunk man a few metres away waved to the girls in wide arm sweeps, his head then falling back against the wooden porch steps with a crack.  Estha waved back.

    Ichais pulled away from her lingering touch, “Fine.  We’ll stay.  But don’t even try flirt with me again to get what you once.”

    “I was not flirting with you.”  Estha said, and even through her scarf Ichais could see the shock on her face, her cheeks flaming red through the natural lime hue of her skin.

    “Yeah, alright, let’s just check in, shall we?”

    There is nothing worse in this world than presuming that you mean something to you, when that is in fact not the case at all.  Worse still, is when you would want nothing more than them to have meant exactly what you had thought.

    Ichais signed in for the two while Estha ran into their powder room - no bigger than a walk in wardrobe, a single bathtub at the end that served as the perfect cauldron for her masking potions - and the keeper was needless to say, disappointed seeing her narky counterpart waiting to take the keys to their free room for the night.

    She waited an hour or so for Estha to finish, kicking the door every minute ago until she heard a higher tone in her words, and saw the handle turn.

    A puff of pink dust escaped trailing under her cloak, catching the light across her lovely blushed features, trailing up her long eyelashes and swirling pin-curled lips.  

    “Ready?” Ichais said, no longer interested.

    “Do I look okay?  It didn’t work so well this time, I think my Giant’s Palm is shriveled up.”

    Estha didn’t hear her sharp intake of breath, or how she avoided her eyes.  Ichais said, “You look fine.  Let’s just go.”

    “Are you okay?  You’re paler than usual, are you sure you want to go out?”

    “I’m fine, can we go?”

    Estha bit her newly plumped rose lips, her eyes blue this time, acidic, “Okay, sure.”

 

    The tavern was lively and wild, and unlike the stables did not smell of foreign hay and tapeworm injections.  Every table was laden with jugs and jars of rum and rice wine, paired with pickles olives and sugar crisp crackers and nettle and chili cheese wheels, and almost anything and everything that could possibly be fattening.  Most of the eyes stared at the girls, hooting and whooping in good nature.  It was rare to see a sight like that, girls so naturally gorgeous in their filled bodies and long, siren-kin hair.  Men and women offered bought drinks, and although Estha declined she stopped to chat to whoever had the confidence to try woo one of the mysterious young women.  Ichais took two drinks without as much as looking at the hands connected to them, chugging down a pint and a shot of plum cider and honeydrop liquor which felt like having a hand tighten around your throat and then wash away in a flurry of noise and people and shapes.  She felt more at ease now, and walked to the bar to ask for another, this time pulling out fist fulls of loose silvers, much to the bartender’s - the wife of the stable keeper, she expected - surprise.

    She finished a double shot in two tips of her head, and heard a quiet tutting by her side, “Those things will kill you.”

    The man laughed away her tipsy swearing, unphased.  She straightened her back, feeling him pull his stool closer.  She dare not meet his eyes.

    “You’ve felt it change too, huh, Ichais?”

    “Cinis,” she hissed.

    He was different too.  Raged, almost, not the prince he was the night she had last seen both him and Estha.  His pale skin was peeled with sunburn, his hair long enough to peek behind his ears and sway into his eyes in the patches that weren’t stuck together with knots and sweat.

    “You look like crap.” she said, passing her shot glass back over to the bartender.

    Cinis took the glass back from her hands, and gave her a flute of a thing that reeked of sugar and spice, “Two more of these, please, on me.”

    “I can buy my own drinks, thank you,” she spat at him as the bartender moved away.

    “I know that much.  Dying women tend to have enough to spare, and drinking honeydrop like that you’ll be under stone before the end of the night.”

    “I’m not that lucky.”

    Cinis grinned, and looked over his shoulder.  Ichais followed, looking off at Estha in the dark smoky corners of the bar, as an older woman wrapped her arm around her waist and whispered to her shocking stories that Estha even just pretended to entertain while men fed her fried caramel grapes, and bitter slug tails with heavy swallows of alcohol free raisin scotch, or so they said, as she coughed and spluttered through every singed taste.

    “She’s some girl,” Cinish said, his voice airy with admiration that Ichais found misplaced.

    “You were the one that sent your whole kingdom off after her in a hunt,” Ichais said, her grabbing her filled glass, “Or do you have a selected memory when it comes to pretty girls?”

    He pressed the rim of his glass to hers, “They call this Saccularius, or the honesty cocktail, I found it fitting for our chance encounter.”

    “I’ve learned that you don’t take chances, Cinis,” it tasted of turning vinegar and rotten apple core and just as strong as the honeydrop.

    He smiled, and took a long sip, “But you do feel the change, I imagine?”

    She had.  Everyone had, it was spoken about at each stop, on every wall of every bathroom stall.  Around the world, people had changed.  Something so slight, and yet so important had gone and now people were not only turning against one another, but killing for this new power that surged forward.  It was as if people were going mad for something they couldn’t name.

    “I suppose that you know what it is?” she said.

    Cinis nodded, “We’ve heard that the God of Love has been murdered, Cupid too.”

    Ichais dropped her glass onto the counter, and it spun like a coin before tipping over and spilling down the wooden board, flowing through the cracks like through tunnels engraved, “Surely not.”

    “Scalped and stabbed in the town center in the second realm.  Who it was, the angels won’t say, they’re afraid too.”

    “And you know this because they came to you?”

    “Yes.”

    Ichais couldn’t help the upturn in her lips.  As we’ve said before - the tide carries the same driftwood, no matter where it goes, “And they came to you to say that you would have no angels or Gods watching over your world during your war, because they would be too busy with their own murderous deity to care for such little issues such as the death of mortals.”

    Cinis ducked his head into his drink, “Yes.”

    She chuckled, dark, sweet with revenge, “Funny, that.”

    “We’ll lose, Ichais.”

    “Don’t spit warnings to me as if I should care for your people.”

    “You worked for the jinn family for years, that means nothing?”

    “Not since you hurt Estha, no.”

    He looked back at her, at how she bubbled and laughed filled of drinks and cakes and potions like a queen in her palace of  dusty mats instead of chairs and spools for tables, graffitied in advertisements and recruitments for dangerous, well paid quests that each person here will risk their lives to win the riches of come tomorrow’s hungover morning.

    “You still care for her?”

    “Of course I do, don’t act the fool.”

    He ordered another round, his pockets seemingly endless, “You’re not speaking the full truth, Ichais.  Or maybe I’m wrong?”

    “The later has been true most other times.”

    “Then maybe she just doesn’t love you.”

    Ichais raised a hand to claw him, at least to draw blood, but he just laughed and pinned her hand down with the flick of a wrist.  He glowed black, before spluttering and her hand lifted up as if it was suddenly released.  She rolled it, and rested it down.  She didn’t need to hurt him, he had done enough to himself in that.

    “I’m not one to travel,” he spoke around the napkin covering his mouth, “Pray, it’s taking it’s toll.”

    “I am surprised to see you this far south.”

    “Do you not care to know why I’m here?”

    “I’ve-”

    A glass was smashed behind them, Estha’s hand slipped over the knee of some deserting elvish soldier, hiccuping and squealing as they pressed more, and more bottles to her lips.  Stronger things now,  that she had no say about.

    “I have to go,”

    Cinis grabbed her wrist, “I won’t be a moment.”

    “I’m sorry, but-”

    He swung her back with a batting hand.  He began coughing onto her lap, her grabbing at her side where it had crashed into the counter.

    “What do you want?”

    “I…” he coughed up black.

    Ichais rolled her eyes, pawing at the dent in her side, “You need to stop using magic if it’s not in your blood.”

    “I’m out of practice.”

    “Jinn are hardly magic, they’re closer to fortune tellers than they are wizards.”

    “Don’t tell me that,” he said, wiping his lips.  This was a common sight.  When Jinn themselves didn’t have the powers to try attempt what they were, they would drink potions to increase their wicca abilities.  It skipped the years of training, although had once side effect.

“You are an idiot,” she said, looking back again.  Estha was too drunk now, to easy to knock off her feet, but she was still breathing, so Ichais gave him his moment.  Her drink, although vile, was more welcomed now.

Cinis thought the same, finishing his and pushing the glass to a pile of five others by his side, “We asked her to find the same treasure you two are hunting now.”

“How do you know about that?” If something should be known about this place, wanders don’t take kindly to others knowing of their plans and hunts.

“We asked Estha to look for it before Dyrad.”

“You asked Estha?”

“We were going to ask you but-”

“I don’t care about that,” she said, “Why would you ask Estha?”

“I take it that you two haven’t talked to much on your trips here?”

Ichais turned back to the counter.  It had been a long trip, yes, but most of it was by coach.  And Estha seemed too busy reading on the treasure and planning, so - no, they hadn’t spoken.

Cinis shook his head.  If Ichais didn’t know him, she would have said that he seemed genuinely saddened.  She even doubted herself for a moment.

“There has been a change, that’s for sure,” he sighed, “Anyway, we had heard that there was a girl looking for a gem in a quest that we had in our keep, a girl named Estha, a troll.  We sent word out that we had it in my sister’s bedroom, and sure enough she came.  She had managed to get in with not a soul noticing, she’s clever like that.  But I was waiting for her, and asked that she looked for the treasure on our behalf.  In exchange, there would be no hunt against her.  We would forever be her sanctuary, as long as she came back with the God’s spell.”

“Spell?  The treasure is a spell?”

He nodded, slurping through the sixth Saccularius and moving to hers afterwards.  Honesty cocktail - of course.

“But why are you here?” Ichais said.

“Boredom, I suppose,” and lying was never the virtue of a prince.  He looked over his shoulder, Estha a diamond in a room of flickering candles, taking in their light and displaying the most beautiful colours and shapes all around her, the darkness falling flat to the radiance of the troll dripping in black magic.

“My God,” Ichais breathed out, “You’re in love with the girl too.”

“Too?” Cinis smirked.

“Shut up, you love her.”

He took her honeydrop to wash it down, leaving the glass back in her hand empty, “You caught me.”

    “You masochist.  You sadist, you are devil in skin, and don’t think that I’ll ever let you near her.”

    “Do you still think that you have a say in how she lives?”

    The soldier pressed his lips to her neck, and she pulled away giggling and reaching for the citrus in his fingers.

    “The God of Love is dead,” she stated.

    “The God of Love is dead,” he agreed, clinking their glasses together and pouring a drop or two onto the tabletop, “Do you want to know how to get the second realm?”

    “We have a lead in Mavros, I think we’ll survive.”

    “It’s not in Mavros.”

    She looked at him, at the truth in his eyes, “How do you know that?”

    “It doesn’t matter, Jinn have a few angels that like giving their loyalty around.  But it’s said to be true, and I think that it’s your best chance.  Better than taking a map of landmarks from some deprived stable worker.”

    “You saw that, huh?”

    “As I said, she’s some girl.”

    “So where is it?” Ichais said, “This entrance.”

    “A waterfall, between Pahned and Lapalpa, but closer to the former, a lake near Mavros before you reach the mountains.  That’s all I know, but with a map of that part of Mavros you should be fine.  I’d suggest keeping away from the markets, but I believe in.  I always have, you should have been royalty, Ichais, you’re like a sister to me.”

    Ichais shook her head, throwing away his drunken heart-to-heart, “You have a sister.”

    “Yes… Yes, you’re right.  I suppose I should give my last of two confessions?”

    “I suppose you should while you can still speak.”

    He lowered the glass from his lips.  He was now building a castle of cocktail and champagne glasses, shots and pint jars, the river of what Ichais had spilled funneling into the lake poured for the dead God, and of course many tiny paper umbrellas.

    “Funny.  I want you to do something for me.”

    “Of course, unless it’s about Estha.”

    “Oh, you know me so well.  I know, I’m a sadist who turned her out and…”

    “Humiliated her?”

    “Quite, but I love her still, I only made a mistake.  And I always have felt that way since the moment I went in to kiss her.”

    Ichais stopped, her heart pausing with her, “You what?”

    “But I want you to convince her to give the treasure to us, whatever it is.  If she takes refuge in our castle, well, I can right my wrongs then and see if she feels the same.  I’ll pay you for your troubles, and everything.”

    “What’s the second point, Cinis?”

    “But-”

    “The second point.” she quipped.

    He sat back in his chair.  She hadn’t even felt her teeth peak, but before she knew it she was stuffing them back into her gums.

    “My second point,” he said slowly, “Was that this is a spell, but it’s rumoured to be a war spell.  Now, I care very little about who gets it.  If Dyrad wins, so be it, how dangerous can forest dwellers be?  But I think that you should know that he wants it to destroy magic folk, and you should be ready for that, whether you can live with that shared blood.”

“Don’t worry about me, Cinis.  I don’t bother worry for others, it wastes time where I could be becoming better than them already.”

“If you’re like me, you don’t need to be better.”

“Is that way Estha hasn’t spoken to you, hasn’t even agreed to do your chores in exchange for a home in a castle?”

They didn’t need to turn around, they could here they colliding of lips from the bar.

“Just get the spell, Ichais.  We can deal with it from there.”

“You only love her because she’s beautiful to you now.” Ichais said softly.

“And you only love her because she makes you feel less of a monster,” he stood, pulling his hood tight, “Who is worse?”

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