Where was the bone rending bite? Nan was expecting a grotesquely horrifying bone rending bite.
No crunch, or slice, or pop presented itself. Was she too much skin and wire to consider eating? Nan peeked one eye open, then the other, just in time to see Chitani draw her limbs back. A dull thud resounded; the sound of her feet landing safely on the floor, decidedly ungobbled yet a tad wobbly.
It took exactly four seconds and thirty-two hundredths to crack open the proceeding sheaf of ice. A miniscule span of time, but more powerful than its size warranted. At least, when accompanied by the realization that recalling the events of a day not even half-finished would have Nan smashing her head against the nearest wall for a decade.
She played the part of everything she didn’t want to be; bumbling, irrational, jumpy at every little thing that evoked fear. Her self-respectability was in the ER with a low chance of survival. Even worse, the pure mortification sinking its teeth into Nan’s spine couldn’t be anything close to how Chitani must have felt. The only thing worse than fearing a false monster was being treated like a real one.
Chitani was a giant spider. This was true. First and foremost, however, she was a person. Still, Nan’s mind whispered, “Run, run, run.” While her heart hammered like a desperate thing. As long as they drew such a reaction, half her smiles around any murgumo would carry on as cardboard cutouts taped over an expression of silent terror. No relatively innocent person deserved that. Nan opened her mouth.
“You have my apologies, Ms. Beauchamp. I thought you were acclimatizing well, Rixal said as much. It wasn’t my intent to cause you distress.” Chitani’s limbs tacked against the floor, one at a time.
Some malicious, sunglasses donning piece of Nan’s subconscious struck a match against its thumb, delivering it to a gasoline filled patch within her mindscape via over the shoulder toss. It walked away slowly, illuminated by the conflagration that was her blushing cheeks.
“No, I’m sorry,” Nan said. “I overreacted. I’ve been on the Vespa far too long for this.” Unacceptable. She needed to take responsibility for not being calm, collected, and personable, not make someone else suffer through an apology. Why was she being treated like a kid who didn’t know any better?
“I understand, I’ve been there before. My first few planetfalls away from home were a tad embarrassing. Many hunts amount to ‘follow the warm, slow-moving mammal’; stalking lone travelers at night became a quirk of muscle memory. Of course, it wasn’t all bad. I ran into my honeykins that way.”
Chitani swayed from one side to another, eyes no longer quite focused on Nan.
Dear God, the former mercenary captain was lovesick. She didn’t need any kind of guidebook to discern what her posturing meant. Everything was there; the change in pitch, the vacant gaze, the way she blinked rapidly when she came back down to the metaphorical ground.
Two solid taps rang out from the same forelimb. “Anyways, keep your head up, those are molting pains you’re feeling, Ms. Beauchamp. And It’s perfectly fine to laugh.”
Normally Nan wouldn’t. She’d wait until she was alone, or at the very least, privy to a conversation that wasn’t as close to the heart.
It was too bizarre, marrying someone that resembled food, it was like smooching a box of cereal. She put forth a valiant effort; hands over her mouth, quavering with her shoulders, but it was too little, too late. Her inhibitions were already a smoldering wreck. The boss’ okay was the final straw.
Laugh she did, for all of a very slight moment; companionable or not, the laugh of a murgumo was a long, unsettling screech.
“No, my apologies, Margrave Chitani.” Nan would work on that. Even if she had to get Izusa to help her record the sound and play it over a pair of earphones strapped to the side of her head.
Yara and Brass arrived in a flash of whym. Mercifully late for the imbroglio.
Chitani shifted to her full height, previous talks about social skills, and the apparent dearth both managed to display, were tossed to the wind.
“Time?” Chitani asked.
Brass held out his wrist, producing a string of illegible scrawling via hologram. Cool yet confusing at the same time. There wasn’t a watch or projecting device in sight, nor a tracible whym signature. An implant?
“I don’t know why you keep asking,” Brass said. “Three and twenty-two seconds at the time of Nan’s scream. We lost, like we did last time, and the time before.”
That short? She could have sworn she was running forever.
More importantly, Nan didn’t scream. It was a surprised shout at its worst. She wasn’t going to start a debate, that would be childish. She knew the true truth, that was all that mattered.
Yara said, “That time is far from terrible, you needn’t be crestfallen.”
Brass dismissed the strand of alien numerals. “I’m not unhappy, just tired of getting dragged into games I can’t win.”
“That kinda bugs me. Why did we, but mostly you, Newt, and Felix, lose so badly?” Nan dipped her head at Yara “I thought being named made you a big shot.”
If providence this, blessed that, and the importance of having so many named mystics available was complete bunk, or worse: ceremonial bunk, she’d be disappointed. An adventure appealed to her in some sense, circumstances notwithstanding. Of course, nearly anything was preferable to an exciting career in the ever expanding field of red road paint.
“Shifting would put the Margrave at more of a disadvantage than we faced at the hands-” Yara paused, looking over Chitani for a moment. “forelimbs of her natural talents.”
“It’s the truth, as frustrating as it is. I couldn’t take on a complete greenhorn with a name, even if it was a complete slugging match, not without a good strike frame and some extra weapon mounts at least.” Chitani said.
They existed in a sort of Morton’s Fork scenario. Whatever they decided to do ended in an unfair competition. Murgumo physiology only got better with age, and Chitani was at the point where she could outstrip most mammalian race’s normal sports stars without trying. A named mystic though, could laugh at those stats, say something akin to “Hold my beer.”, and fly circles around the Margrave until they ran out of whym to sustain their shift, whatever the details of such a thing entailed. “Unfair by principle” Soother Brass called it.
Nan had to admit, as long as it didn’t involve her hair turning yellow and half an hour of yelling, the ability to outrun Chitani sounded pretty desirable.
“How soon can I get a name?” Nan said. Name, name, name. She would never quite get used to how the word felt, scratching at her consciousness with a certain pressure that demanded recognition, it even cared to differentiate itself from its less high-strung twin, the humble name. Something told her that the translation spell had nothing to do with it.
“As soon as you feel ready, Ms. Beauchamp.” She might have been imagining it, but Chitani sounded rather pleased. The Margrave did seem like the kind of person that valued initiative.
“With your reserves, I doubt a herald would reject you outright, but…” Yara placed a hand on her chin. “Are you certain about trying so soon? There’s no shame in gathering your bearings.”
“Absolutely certain,” came her reply. Perhaps Nan put a bit more conviction than she intended behind it, but she preferred that over sounding like an awkward duck. Unless she was seeing the trend incorrectly, power was a means of obtaining greater independence.
Besides, she needed to pull her weight as soon as possible. The less handholding she forced on others, the better.
Author’s Note: Worry not, I’ll fulfill the other update promises within the day. This just felt like a more natural resting spot than a scene break. I’m currently looking at 2.6K more words to release after editing.