Three seconds was far too short of an allowance. Far too short for Nan, at least.
Every participant besides herself displayed some form of movement trick that took a paddle to the laws of physics. Felix copied Jarohan’s spurts of thrust producing whym, Brass set a chalice on the ground from which a tide of murky tendrils erupted, carrying him without a surfboard. Rixal, Newt, and a last-minute addition, another murgumo in thick obsidian armor, threw chains and webs of solid whym to each other. The person in the lead would grab hold of the two behind, sling them ahead, and trust the next person to do the same, all before landing. Pay no mind to the improbability of such a feat.
Even with whym coursing through Nan’s legs, she only got as far as the third row of platforms. Everyone else held comfortable leads at least an eighth of the way across.
Finally, a sense of empathy could be established with the stragglers always caught first in countless variations of the “chase me game” during the age of recess. If only the feeling could have revealed itself under less inopportune circumstances. Just two seconds in, Nan regretted her decision to play. Her uneasy sense of calm around the murgumo came from the assurance that she wasn’t being hunted by them, and now she was.
Not one to be a giant spider’s appetizer, game or not, Nan improvised. She yanked on her whym reserves, willing it to speed her along in much the same manner Felix and Jarohan managed; it seemed like the simplest method. Rather than blurred vision amid purple contrails, a great flame orbited by six fellows emerged before bursting in a wave of peppermint scented air.
Her surroundings were a splatter painting superimposed on a windy meadow. The exact color and position of everyone’s whym, clear to either end of the room, seemed to parse themselves without a moment spent on examining a single presence. There were fourteen silvers, sixteen reds, twelve blues, nine greens-
The sound tore Nan away from her errant spell. Chitani’s armored form was a gleaming blur in the light. Her jump either expended no whym at all, or an amount too miniscule to perceive. The margrave, however, didn’t sail towards Nan, but far above. The girl was falling.
Odd. She could feel the surrounding whym signatures rise, or rather, she felt her own signature descend. The sense of urgency that tended to accompany a dive of any distance worth more than a short hop simply wasn’t there. Instead, she wondered why everything seemed so incomplete, so muted in comparison to a few moments before.
No other thoughts crossed her mind. No realization that she lost her balance while casting, and certainly no suggestion that, perhaps, she should orient herself in a manner that would ensure she didn’t land head first. Nan retained a distant expression until she stopped short, meeting something warm rather than the cold, solid net.
“Experiment after we finish, please.” Yara, minus a pair of glasses, held Nan aloft. Nan was far from the tallest person, yet Yara didn’t seem to have any trouble bearing her weight. It would make for a rather bizarre image, Yara was a tad smaller than herself.
“My hero.” Nan looked up, hands to her chest, eyes fluttering in a manner reminiscent of countless rescued damsels.
“I can drop you over the pool, if you wish.” She deadpanned.
“Right, I’ll stop, thanks.”
Space came apart in a mild stretch of nausea, Nan found herself deposited over a slightly malformed platform that overlooked much of room. Yara tied a strand of whym to its grav-lamp, halting the diagonal drift it was set on.
“Chitani prefers lively targets. Remain here, and you will be moderately safe.” This was said while Chitani “felled” Jarohan as he broke for the exit, the door just cracked open when she bore down on him.
“You’re very welcome,” Yara said. “But this is an act of self-interest. I believe five silvers would be fair compensation if you managed to triumph by sitting still.”
“Deal.” The two exchanged sigils, then Yara was gone.
Five silvers weren’t much. Money in the LCW took suspiciously after a great many fantasy tales: one hundred pieces of bronze to a silver, one hundred silvers to a piece of gold. She remembered Izusa mentioning that a carton of chocolate milk went for thirty bronze coins and a silver. It was nothing more than a glass taken from a wine bottle, especially when her unsolicited investment came with such a killer view.
Nan was completely aware of her hypocritical line of rational. Being chased by a murgumo was terrifying, watching other people being chased was cool in an abnormal manner.
Midfield, Brass attempted to bar Chitani’s with a wall of squirming tendrils that were torn away with a quick slash of her forelimb. The way cleared to reveal a dome of the same life-like material. It was dealt with a similar measure of ease.
Brass sat cross-legged, watching his barrier’s ruination with disinterest. He held a hand up for Chitani to tap.
Chitani quivered her fangs. “It is so very disappointing when you give up.”
Brass smirked, “Think about it this way, I just gave the try hard herd a moment’s respite.” He took a wide step backwards, tendrils rushed to ferry him to the shoulder side of the safe area, next to a waiting Jarohan.
Felix fell next, followed by the obsidian armored murgumo; she failed to latch on a length of whym constructed chain.
The remainders fought to stay in the air valiantly, but were forced to spend longer and longer intervals of time on the platforms. The work and burden of two seemed less efficient than that of three. Shouts of “Left!” or “Right!” or “Back!” crossed between Rixal and Newt, a twinge of desperation finding its way into their tones. They were no longer capable of landing too far from Chitani, leaving them with less time to recover after each toss.
Abruptly, Chitani laid a plate of silver-blue under herself to catapult towards the pair while both parties were airborne, a “double jump” many would call it. Rixal and Newt made the mistake of bunching together, the former payed the price.
With the rest of the chain/web gang gone, Nan considered Newt finished. The assumption was far from the truth. In the moment between another one of Chitani’s great leaps, he summoned his sapphire sigil, strumming it with a flick of his thumb.
No sound came, but whym coalesced into four finned constructs, two for his forearms, two for his calves. Just as Chitani reached his position, he primed and shot forward, leaking an excessive amount of whym in exchange for an even more excessive burst of flight. Chitani gave chase, aiming for angles that put her between Newt’s destination rather than taking a direct route.
Two times, Yara warped the man out of harm’s way who, in turn, dove to throw Yara out of danger moments later as Chitani redirected her attention.
The bait and switch came to an end when Chitani retargeted Newt, prompting Yara to reach with another familiar strand. Nan witnessed the spell enough times to identify its unique feeling. First a solitary string formed, then a rush of bubble shaped whym swelled around its target. This time, though, there was no bubble. Yara’s spell contorted like a long balloon squeezed at the middle until it burst. Newt couldn’t change directions fast enough to avoid predation.
This was no small thing, for his place of defeat happened to be very near Nan’s little platform.
“Brrrrph, Ms. Beauchamp! I nearly forgot about you!”
Nan’s heart attempted to achieve escape velocity, deterred only by her pesky set of ribs.
The closest platform that wasn’t in Chitani’s path was too high and too far away to consider. Game over.
But it wasn’t. A flare of green whym and a mildly unpleasant pulling sensation saw her to a space behind and rather far away from Chitani. Yara still had her palm held out to her while she channeled another bubble of whym around herself, slowed quite thoroughly by the weight of fatigue.
Once more, Chitani’s silver-blue whym curled around the mote of wispy green. Chocking it, and Yara’s half finished spell. There was nothing Nan could do to intercede. If only she had the ability to place something of her own between the two, Yara would be safe.
A flame stood, circled by four. For the briefest moment, the detachment of Yara and Chitani’s whym became clear, focused, and almost understandable. The strands were clumps of whym shaped into different words that weren’t words. They were more like commands or requests of something given an almost physical form. This something obliged, but asked for payment in return; a cocktail of will, and yearning, and pure want in addition to a certain amount of whym. Yara wanted to be somewhere else, Chitani wanted Yara’s request ignored, though the something that Yara beseeched was a different something than Chitani’s.
Nan fed Chitani’s strand until it burst, much too fast for something to continue its instructions despite the cost being paid in more than full. Yara disappeared, and Nan’s reserves were completely and utterly empty.
She felt everything. The floaty sensation from staying attached to Slowsilver, aches and pains in her joints from exerting herself after being sedentary for so long, and a hollowness that cried to her very soul for salvation. The response, which only took a fraction of a second, felt terribly slow.
Her reserves swelled, first igniting her dimmed sigil, then rushing to take away the weakness bound in her corporal form. She felt two shakes better than normal, but missed the ghost of a third. Nan rose without remembering the sensation of placing her hands on her knees.
Yet again, Nan was met with the image of Chitani cornering Yara, two spells in a deadlock while the murgumo closed in. She only succeeded in delaying the inevitable.
A strand within Nan’s sigil brightened, she felt as though she could do it again, whatever it was. Grimacing, Nan pushed her influence towards the renewed battle of energies, this time aware of a certain lethargic discomfort that ebbed into a token effort. There was the clarity, the greatly cleared perception of green struggling against blue and silver, but Nan couldn’t pay to go any further, not with a tank half-filled.
Yara paid her a glance, a small smile pressed its way past her lips as she likely registered her presence, what she was trying to do with it, and the fact that she failed. With her effort spent on prepping another spatial jaunt, and her hopes spent on trusting Nan to make it possible, Yara signed her own certificate of defeat.
From the sideline with the rest of the “dead”, she flashed an unfurled scroll. Yara said something that Nan couldn’t hear or lipread. It could have been an oath of vengeance or something along the lines of “the rest is up to you” if it was a line important enough to deliver with accompaniment by a sigil. She would never find out.
Slowly, Chitani faced the sole survivor, the easiest prey, the girl who most definitely had no plans of getting tackled. The platform Nan was situated on may have been stationary, but the nearest unblocked one was not, she’d have to wait for it to float in range. Not happening.
Down. Down was the fastest safe route, so down Nan gladly went.
She hit the net bum first. The wave of pain she expected from such a fall never came, though she did lose a negligible amount of whym.
Margrave Chitani was completely and utterly insane. The net had holes larger than the space occupied by her limbs, she would surely get stuck.
Nan witnessed her descent with a mild sense of interest that took a U turn and crashed into the town hall of Horror City. Whym flowed, the scent of salt and metal spread, and ribs rattled against a web. Solid dots of silver-blue filled the spaces between the net, right before it undulated with the force of Chitani’s impact.
“You get an accolade for creativity, Ms. Beauchamp. Shall we continue?”
She couldn’t run. Not fast enough to avoid Chitani, but she was close enough to roll into a space between the wall. Again, she plunged, this time met by a welcoming rush of chilly water. Strokes hastened by whym, she pulled herself up on the pool’s edge. She didn’t care about the shouts of swimwear clad folk, she was safe.
On second thought, their condemnation didn’t sound annoyed or frightened. No, it wasn’t condemnation at all. They wore grins and pointed to a spot above and behind her.
Nan shook the water out of her ears. “Whua?”
“Run!” Came the unanimous reply. Nearly unanimous, at least. A murgumo in red was rooting for the former merc captain.
Nan should not have looked back. Years of movies prepared her for this exact situation, though her wisdom was lost in the aftershocks of misbegotten relief. What better image to drain its entirety than Chitani running down the wall. It was almost as if she was a giant spider, or something.
Nan took the briefest moment to remember that Chitani was, in fact, a giant spider.
A giant spider that closed more than half the distance between them in the span of time it took to remember that the giant spider that was now within spitting range was a giant spider that coiled all eight of her giant spider legs (armored joints clinking) for a giant spider pounce.
She had no time for the sliding door’s antics, pulling it along its path so she could slip though a narrow hallway that smelled of metal and cleaning solution. She had no time for the lian in a lab coat that opened her mouth to say something as she rushed by. She had no time to make heads or tails of the sign hanging over the intersection she came across, straight was the path of least resistance.
The dead end, a door much larger than others she saw on the vespa that was bolted shut and warded by yellow tape and a trickle of whym cared not for how little time Nan had.
“Well hunted, Ms. Beauchamp.”
A single limb touched her neck, bringing the tension, her thrumming pulse, and the sense of mounting dread to an irrational crescendo. Nan’s legs turned into gelatin. It had absolutely nothing to do with physical acclimatization or lingering discomfort from Slowsilver. Three more cold branches steadied her. No, they captured her, held her into place so that her taste would be unmarred by the floor. She thrashed, unable to break free, but more than capable of bringing her sight to bear on a massive set of fangs and forelimbs.
Her sigil, a flame orbited by two, then three, then eight, appeared and dispersed impotently. Unfulfilled images of a pressure wave, a shell of pure whym, and a column of flesh melting heat flashed across her mind, forgotten before they could be brought into existence. Her fit of panic was reflected clearly in Chitani’s eyes.
Nan most definitely did not scream. Nope. Anyone who said otherwise was a liar.
Author’s note: This chapter felt a bit hard coming out, though I enjoyed writing it. The scene may seem a tad drawn out to some, especially given its low-risk nature. I do, however, think this builds upon the characters of those brought into focus (not every named character, unfortunately).
Bits of the magic system were also set up here, I got to experience the results of my notes and musings written into the story and perceived by a character that doesn’t have access to said notes. I hope any confusion generated was the right kind of confusion.
In-universe, incontinence is a large part of any untrained magic user’s life as magic (at least its initial activation sequence) is in some ways like entering commands into a computer. Except everyone is working on a different OS, the keyboard is a mix of impulses and conscious thought, and the same set of keystrokes that says 3.14 for one says Adf408こんにちわ727 for the other. This is seen where Nan tries to copy Jarohan’s spell, only to get something completely different. Also, panic casting is typically no good. When caught, Nan was doing the (partial) equivalent of smashing in a random string of console commands without paying the cost to manifest an effect. (This clip from Dean Dodrill’s “Dust an Elysian Tail illustrates her train of thought eloquently (colored hyperlinks appear to be broken for me, or I’ve grown incompetent, they’re the bold words)
In any case, your input is greatly appreciated, be it a simple “Keep going dude.” Or a stinging critique. Be sure to tune in next time, for I shall present to you: soul symbiosis, a transformation sequence (kind of, maybe, but not really), and social awkwardness.
Thank you for reading, may providence guide your path.