716 Cylus 10...
Quacia was never, truly dark. Blood kept the city lit; it coursed through the streets, those winding veins and arteries. There was a pulse to be felt in the air, in the silent emptiness and the steady beat of feet against the cold stone paths. There was even an odd warmth – the sort that was not what one would readily associate with life so much as the fading of it; it was that final, lingering heat of the spirit drifting from its earthly coil; it was the whisper on the wind.
Though, as Mads kept pace a step and half behind the Madam Graciana Moreno, the whisper was more than a metaphor.
“They’re comin’. You’d best get outta the way, I dunno how many there are.”
Neither the chalky-haired woman nor the young blonde man slowed their pace, though, with a brief wave of her hand, Graciana bid him walk alongside her. “Are your personal wards in place, darling?”
He had spent the better half of season prior working on both strengthening his replicative shields and shortening the time needed to erect them. It had been a lengthy process of trial and error, one which still had kink enough that confidence needed to be feigned as he replied, his own quiet, whispery words matching his caretaker’s. “They will be, soon enough.”
She left him to it, hastening her gait for two steps following, positioning herself in front of him to allow him time to prepare himself. Though he began to focus on his own spark, he couldn’t help but catch the heady, aromatic scent of magic in the air. It wafted off of Graciana, cold and cool like smooth, sculpted marble.
Steadying his breath as he moved, the balls of his boots tapping firmly against the ground in an unfaltering mora, Mads pressed his consciousness against the similarly chilly surface of his own inner spark. Like he, it was the child of the woman who confidently led the way before him, and it shared similar qualities to the stone it had been carved from. Drawing his ether through the spark’s able hands, he began to carefully layer his ether over him, wrapping himself in thin layers of his own aura, a cocoon of clone upon clone.
Unlike his barriers, which were often focused around and about a specific part of his body, replicative magic was far more encompassing. The ether flowed out from him, naturally molding itself to his body’s current. Unable to guide the invisible, wispy layers of the rapidly hardening shields with his hands and fingers, Mads kept the image of his own body in his mind, his clothes included.
Each layer was meticulously crafted. Every footfall matched to a shift or change. Each rise of his foot a solidification of one area before moving on to the next. Though initially, the spell had begun as loose, wispy slivers of clouds wavering about in a general mass around him, as the pair rounded corner after corner, nearing that which they pursued, the fine filigrees of ethereal fog began to settle into a slight shimmer around him.
“I am ready.”
Graciana glanced at him, turning her head just far enough she might glimpse him out of the corner of her eye. “While you leave something to be desired in legerity, I cannot fault you for your impeccability.” She offered a short nod, her lips moving to form another sentence but her voice never sounded as she was interrupted that same whisper on the wind.
As they turned the final corner, Graciana came to a halt, gloved hands folded neatly atop one another over the front of her grey-toned dress. Mads followed suit, a step and half behind her and to her left, though his arms hung loosely on either side of him, fingers relaxed but ready.
It was the first time Graciana had taken him with her on one of her assignments. Though she was not an official member of any one group or faction, as an abrogant, her services were always in demand – so much so, she tended to pick and choose precisely what it was she wanted to do. That trial, it had been to hunt down and detain a stray aberrant.
Mads had never seen an abrogant, nor had he ever had the pleasure of sampling the corrupted magic’s scent before. It was something akin to an overripe fruit – not quite rotten but so sickly sweet one could not help but taste the bitter putrefaction beneath the cloying, syrupy miasma. Though not wholly unappetizing, there was something cankerous about it – made all the more apparent by the woman’s bloodshot eyes and far-too-wide grin.
Three bodies lay strewn about the alley, their eyes empty and lifeless – yet somehow still horrified.
“Oh ho?” Her voice was hoarse and raspy, laughter dancing in the undercurrent of her low alto. “You’re a dangerous bunch. I bet- what’s that?” She teetered in place, hushing herself for a moment. “That one? The old bitch?” With a cackle, her voice swelled and rose, her dilated eyes seeming to stare just to the right of Graciana’s head. “Granny’s gonna give us a fight then?”
“Me? Oh, no, darling. I am merely here to observe.” With a deliberate step to the side, Graciana allowed Mads to move forward, her smile painfully polite, though just shy of condescending.
“A runt? A little bastard bitch boy?” Another cackle. “Oh, but he’s a looker, he.” Pale, bony fingers ran through her dark, shoulder length hair, straight as straw. She looked almost well-kempt; it could not have been longer than a trial or two since her last bath, yet she appeared so alarmingly greasy and degenerate. “Come here, you. I wanna get a little taste of those lips.” She hissed the final “s” as the same sickly sweet scent of her magic intensified.
Two gray-green balls of sickly ether manifested, seemingly out nowhere, on either side of her. Without moving a muscle, aside from the slight twitch of her eyes, the fist-sized spheres darted forward at an alarming speed. Graciana remained where she was, her left brow raised just slightly, as one of the spheres crossed the threshold into her limited field and immediately blinked out of existence.
No field of his own established – the time it would have taken him far outweighing whatever benefit it might have offered – Mads kept his gaze set firmly on the eerie, shifting sphere that darted toward him, shifting to left as it whizzed by. It brushed against his arm – the sphere itself traveling right through his replicative armor – and the grey fabric of his shirt suddenly burst into flame.
Eyes widening in surprise, Mads quickly slapped the small plume of red and orange out, the heat noticeable but hardly painful. Across the way, the dark-haired aberrant let out a wail of laughter, but Mads didn’t have time to pay attention to what it was she said afterward.
“Behind you, darling.”
Casual though she was, he’d learned quite young that the Madam’s advice was never wise to ignore. Without hesitating, Mads pivoted on his heel, shifting so, though he could see the aberrant out of the corner of his eye, he might search for the impending danger about to befall him. By its alien nature, the sphere was easy enough to spot. It had just completed its own arcing turn and had begun to plummet back toward him.
Curious, Mads quickly crouched down, eyes fixed on the sphere that – as he had suspected – shifted its trajectory to match his altered height. Fingers splayed, he fumbled on the ground for a trill before he felt his hand brush against something thin and long. Gripping what he presumed to be a discarded cane, Mads stood up once more, estimating about three trills left before the sphere would make contact. Again, its path shifted, targeting a specific part of his body, somewhere near his chest – presumably his heart.
Just before it could reach him a second time, Mads dropped to the ground, thrusting the splintered half of a cane high enough that the sphere passed directly through it. To his minor irritation, it was a bit faster than he’d anticipated, and though it didn’t touch the skin of his hand, it did pass through the outer layer of his shield, much closer than he’d wanted.
As the sphere zoom through the air to stop just shy of a now somewhat more agitated aberrant, Mads rose back to his feet, his free hand brushing off the flecks of dirt-stained snow that clung to his coat while he stared with a perplexed frown at the broken cane in his hand. It hadn’t caught fire, as he’d expected, but rather the wood had gone from merely a bit water-logged and splintered to complete and utter decay. The wood had rotted within a matter of seconds as the sphere had passed through, and he watched as it split in half with a sickly, squelching sound, not unlike a ball of cold oatmeal hitting the ground.
“Peculiar.” He studied the half – or quarter – that remained, his frown far more investigative than displeased.
“Eyes on your opponent, darling.”