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“I Am Brahkis” Episode 7

The Adventures of an Intellectual Barbarian

She is beautiful but not of my world, and I wonder if she is the spirit of this wood, incarnate. Her slender arms bear indecipherable, glyph-like tattoos, and beyond that, her very skin glistens like crystals in the moonlight. Her hair is pale as a ghost, as are her eyes – large and blank, reflecting the green moon while betraying nothing of her thoughts.

I cannot forget my task, though, nor fail to notice she already holds what I need. When I look up from the basket of harvested blossoms back to her face, her head tilts down to consider them as well. Neither of us has taken a step, frozen by mutual surprise, but I sense that indecision fleeing as the muscles in her right arm twitch.

A blink later she’s cast her basket aside and is raising her arms. Her lips have started moving as well, but I don’t wait to find out what she might say. Her suddenness has spoken enough. I leap forward, closing the distance between us as quickly as possible. If she is fey, I cannot allow her to ensorcell me.

Bounding like a wolf, I pounce upon her, grabbing her wrists and taking her to the ground before she can complete her enchantment.

“Ungh,” she groans as the breath is forced from her chest by the impact. Her frame is slight, and though she struggles against my grip, bucking her hips and flexing her arms, I hold her easily.

“Who are you and why do you haunt this glade at such a late hour?” We are still in Shadowwolf lands, after all, though none of my kin, save Yorilis, are within miles of us.

The woman continues her effort to break free, clenching her jaw and narrowing her eyes. I see, now that my shadow is upon her, that those eyes and her hair are not colored like the ether, but pink as the petals of fireweed. I wonder if she cannot understand me, being something not quite human, and while I determine what to do next, the call of the grackle distracts me. It has landed on a segment of choke-vine, just a few armlengths away, judging my indecision.

“You’re hurting me,” the woman finally says through gritted teeth, regaining my attention. Her voice has a lyrical quality, and I wonder what it would be like for her to sing me to sleep at night.

“So you can speak,” I say, the stab of familiarity corresponding to a relaxation of my grip.

“Of course I can speak,” she retorts, resting the back of her head against the leaf-strewn ground. “I’ve already lived two lifetimes of your kind.”

Her words strengthen my suspicions. “And what are you?” I settle my weight more firmly upon her.

“I can barely breathe,” she strains, and I believe her. I possess twice her bulk, all told, if not more. Perhaps I’m being too careful, for I could snap her like a twig if necessary.

Easing up again, I glance around the glade to make sure the wolves have not returned. We are alone, save for the grackle, who flutters to the far side of the clearing. The snowbell flowers litter the ground beside me, spilled from her upturned basket. I want answers, so compromise may be in order.

Still holding her wrists, I shift back on my heels to stand, lifting the fey woman with me. As soon as I gain my feet, I catch movement from the bird’s direction and spare a glance.

“The Founder’s blade!” A man in a black cape is standing where I expected the grackle, and I instinctively release my hold and take a step backwards, tripping over the woven basket and landing hard on my ass.

The woman moves quickest, taking in the stranger and shouting in a strange tongue while extending her palms to the ground. The choke-vine lining the trees all around the fringe of the glade comes to life, unwinding from the bark and moving, snakelike, to ensnare my ankles.

I shuffle like a dung beetle on my hands and feet to avoid it but can’t see what lies behind. Vines come from that direction as well, embracing my wrists and pulling my arms from under me. Before I can spin on my side and scramble to me feet again, the choke-vine binds my feet and waist, pinning me as surely as I had the fey a moment ago.

Taking a glance toward the newcomer, I see he’s fared little better. He is flailing about, but I can tell his cape and one of his legs at least are snagged. He spares a cold-eyed stare at the woman, who still stands in the same spot, body tensed and arms reaching to the earth. With a flash of shadow, the man’s body collapses in on itself, and he has become the bird!

The vines continue reaching into the open air, but before they can snag the grackle, it flies higher into the trees, cawing furiously in outrage. My reason fails to comprehend everything happening – the disappearance of the wolf, the powers of this woman, the transformation of the bird – and I consider whether Yorilis drugged me back at his campfire.

The pink-haired woman put her quick reflexes on display again, stooping to retrieve her basket and scoop as many of the silvery flowers into it as she can while holding the advantage.

“Are you going to let me go?” I ask, keeping my voice calm.

She laughs derisively, not deigning to lift her disturbingly unreadable eyes from her task. “Not until I’m far from here.”

I notice that, since she’s given up her pose, the vines around me no longer slither, though they remain tightly in place. Her plan sits well enough with me, so long as she leaves me unenchanted. I only hope she’s gone in time for me to gather the blooms while they remain open. The flutter of wings tells me things may not remain so easy.

Once again, the grackle turns into a man, and before my captor can notice, he speaks. “For love of the summer leaves, what does it take to get you both to simply stand still and listen?”

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