Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
Oh, I landed the blow all right. But she had been paying closer attention than I gave her credit for, and she jerked back just in time so the spearhead merely caught her in the shoulder instead. She shrieked twisted like a skewered fish, yanking the shaft back and forth as she tried to free herself.
Grunting, I pressed forward, angling her down towards the water. I couldn’t get any leverage with her feet floating above the surface, though, and she wasn’t doing me any favors. With an ear-piercing scream she pulled the Spear out.
“Fiend!” Her eyes glowed as fiercely as her wound bled. “How dare you!”
“I dare.” Another thrust, although she was out of range down. I still had to try. “We have enough rogue gods running amok.”
Her teeth flashed, pointed and glistening with saliva. “So we will rise.”
Wet, hairy tendrils curled around my ankles. They yanked, nearly upending me face-first into the marsh, as she hissed in delight. I stumbled, blindly stabbing at whatever creature lurked beneath the water.
“These waters are ours.” The witch cackled. “We claim them as our domain.”
“You’re going to…have to ascend first,” I grunted. Bony fingers wrapped around my exposed shin bones, burrowing into the ever-increasing strands of hair. I was nearly rooted in place merely by the weight, and the hairs threading my ankles together weren’t helping the matter any.
But the fingers betrayed the direction of the creature’s head. With an effort, I twisted and plunged the Spear into the water. The head glanced off the black-haired witch’s thick skull, grazing her ear as it embedded in the hollow behind her collarbone.
Instinct made me vanish my Spear as I collapsed into the water. Although the fingers withdrew, the cords of hair did not, and I nearly lost both legs as the witch thrashed away from me. Her injury bled far less than her sister’s, however. In a flash she was above me, pushing me deeper into the water as she glared at me with dead eyes.
I laughed. “Your merrow impression is very good. Unfortunately, I’m a poor victim.”
“You mock us.” She bared a mouthful of fangs in my face. “Yet here you lie, beneath the swamp, while we swim.”
It took her far too long to realize we were sinking. My ribs and spine buried themselves in the muddy bed as I leadened my bones. Her hair was a rat’s nest wended around my skeleton by now, anchoring her with me as much as it ensnared me. I let her panic as she realized she’d trapped herself.
“You’re in way over your head.” I gave her a skeletal smile and enjoyed the way she jerked, failing to flee. “I’ve been holding back. Come to my level. Achieve godhood. I’d love to go all out.”
Her fingers—talons now—scythed between us, severing the strands that bound us together. In the most undignified way she swam to the surface, launching herself at her sister to get away from me. The bushy-haired sorceress recoiled herself when I unveiled a bit of my power. I hadn’t been bluffing about holding back, but I wasn’t as adapted to fighting in this environment as they were. Sloshing through the water, I stumbled towards them and exuded power.
“Punching down could propel us up.” The witch hid behind the statement, shying away from me.
“We’re past that point already. Best thing now is to put you down before you get too full of yourself.” I leaned heavily on my Spear as I closed the distance between us. Their aura swirled around them in a steadily rising rhythm, close to spilling over into godhood. If I found an opening, I could chop off the base and drain it all away. But the dark-haired enchantress darted underwater, diving this way and that in search of more hydra eggshells. I’d have to pin the floating sorceress first, then worry about fishing the second out of the marsh.
The bushy-haired one stared at me, wide-eyed, and raised her hands. Fronds of swamp weeds shivered in response, threading together to form stringy figures. Not quite sylvans—telmans?—the creatures moved in whip-like jerks that splashed small plumes of water. Living snares the telmans were, and I’d had my share of entanglements for the day.
A sweep of my Spear took the first rank down, a backstroke clearing the second just as easily. Still they rose, delaying my advance on the slowly retreating Serynis.
Growling, I vanished my Spear and darted forward. Enough delays. I was ending this, now.
Something big and fleshy slammed into me. Staticky power splashed over me, washing around the mass that pushed me under the water. Whatever power that was, it hadn’t come from the thing that’d collided with me, but I disliked it all the same. Sputtering, I struggled against the slippery, muddy bottom of the marsh. Then the weight lifted, and strong hands pulled me out.
Hair dripping, Hasda held me up and gave me a concerned look. “Sorry. You okay?”
I glanced down at the floating mass, which turned out to be a portion of the hydra’s neck. Quenching a shiver, I patted his shoulder. “Yeah. You should take better care of that.”
“Sorry.” He winced. “I’m trying—”
I shoved him aside as the above-water witch launched herself at his back. Clamping my bony fingers around her arms, I plunged her under the water and held her there. She fought, but couldn’t dislodge my grip.
“Can you handle the mongoose?” I asked. The witch thrashed harder, nearly knocking me over. I winced as the djinn’s purple aura shrouded him.
“Maybe.” He had a look in his eyes I didn’t like. “We have to, for her. It killed her young.”
I nodded. “Do what you must. Just don’t lose yourself in the process.”
He blinked, and a little of that unnatural look cleared from his eyes. Sheepish, he turned to go back to the hydra. “I will.”
“Good.” The witch bucked harder than I’d thought her capable. “Will you—”
An aurora of power bloomed beneath the surface, scattering the swamp scum as the oily light dispersed.
I dragged her up and threw her halfway across the swamp. Hasda looked confused, but I shooed him away with barely a backwards glance. This was going to be a nasty shitfest, and he’d be safer with the hydra. Relatively speaking.
Her coppery hair, now drenched, curled around her head like a skullcap. A pulse of power surged through her, flinging her arms out and her head back. The aftershock dried her, her hair springing into frizzy contortions. Beams of light burst from her eyes as her bond with her sister blazed. Now as thin as spider silk, the silvery thread pinpointed the black-haired witch, hidden beneath the severed segment of the hydra.
The little shit slithered out, streaks of blood ringing her mouth from where she’d feasted on the hydra’s flesh. Nothing I could’ve done to stop that, but it was extremely unfortunate that she’d found a new source of power. The fresh meat had more than enough divine essence to tip them past the point of demigod. And with that influx of essence, they crossed the boundary into divinity.
Thanks to their ascension, the Serynis Sisters would have a brief period of unbridled power as they came into their own. They were an infant, unworshipped deity, though, and the worst that would happen was they’d claim the Ibithian marshlands as their own and become a swamp bogey. But if they decided to roam, they’d most likely sow chaos and destruction in their wake. And with the impending Paeden conflict, I really didn’t want an unclaimed deity terrorizing our flank.
Their bond was nothing like mine and Malia’s, though. It quivered as the Sisters wrestled with their newfound power, tying their identities together into a single entity. They were still unsettled on their particular form, whether they would share an identity or be aspects of themselves. Apparently they hadn’t discussed it beforehand, because I managed to skewer the bushy-haired one and pin the other beneath her while they squabbled and hissed.
The copper-haired one looked almost vampiric as she snarled at me, her eyes bloodshot and angry. Trapped beneath her, her sister squirmed and pushed. It took a moment to register that the warm, rusty tongues dancing on her dark eyes were reflections of the jets of flame streaking above us.
A blast knocked me off my feet. Amber fire dashed across the water, apple-sized fireballs skipping along the surface. Two more geysers of flames joined the first as the hydra reared its heads and boiled the marsh. In my skeletal form, I didn’t much mind the heat, but the flames were blinding and the pressure nearly oppressive.
When the flames cleared, ash fell like heavy snow. Trees all around me stood charred, their limbs stripped of bark. Wisps of steam fogged from the swamp, raising the stink of burnt wet foliage.
The Serynis Sisters were gone.