Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
I set my hand on the armor and let the haze wash over my bones. Bit by bit, I tugged wisps of energy into my marrow. It tickled, pin pricks of spice on the cold of the apkallas spirit. But it was difficult to consume its spirit, nothing like harvesting a soul. I wasn’t sure I could actually collect the entirety of the djinn with how much effort it took just to snatch these scattered pieces, but he didn’t need to know that.
“All right! I believe!” The djinn recoiled from my hand as if magnetized.
“Then you'll promise not to harm Hasda?”
“I cannot swear that no harm shall befall him, surely you understand.” Its voice was whiny.
“That's not what I said.” I folded my arms and leveled my weightiest stare at the djinn. “Neither through guile nor pact, inaction or misdirection, shall anything within your power cause harm to hasda. An absolute, soul binding Oath that everything you do is only for his good.”
The djinn hissed. “My aide doesn't come from nowhere. To fulfill wishes, to provide power, prices must be paid. That is unalterable.”
“Then you'd best make sure he gets the best prices, eh?” I had the spirit practically pinned beneath my gaze. “I sense a cent of profiteering, and I'll rip you out at once.”
“As you say, Old One!” The djinn’s tone was sour. “But I cannot contract with any other, besides the binder which has bound me.”
“Have you ever pissed off a god?” I lowered myself to one knee, my eyes level with the djinn’s. “I don’t give a shit about your code, or tradition, or whatever oratory you want to hide your sorry ass behind. So you will swear, or I will carry your soul within my frame and let you fester in the knowledge that any day could be your last, and only my whims keep you from oblivion.”
“Maybe that’s a bit much,” Hasda said. He looked uncomfortable being little more than a mount for the djinn in this conversation.
I grunted. “I’ve had few enough dealings with efreets, but what I know of the stories makes me justifiably wary of their deals.” I jabbed a finger at the djinn, who flinched away. “This one is going to mind itself, or it’s going to learn the hard way about circumventing oaths.”
“We stand by our bindings always,” the djinn hissed.
“My interpretation is the only one that matters.” I put a bit of my power into my voice, making them both flinch. I hadn’t meant to hit Hasda with that, but it was unavoidable. “Are we clear?”
“Yes.” Its purple energy churned at the edges of the chestplate. “Anything else? Or are you going to incessantly vex me with your endless taunting?”
I poked the fringe of its aura and smiled as it squealed. “For now.”
As soon as the words left my mouth, the djinn slipped back into the jagged scar on the breastplate. It might have been my imagination, but the unnatural weld didn’t look as angry or out of place, the metal lumps withdrawn and closer to flush with the surface. What wasn’t imagined, however, was the splash of color that returned to Hasda’s face after the djinn hid. I pulled myself back to my feet and smiled at him. “Much better.”
He didn’t look convinced. “Was that really necessary? He hasn’t hurt me, and he’s been nothing but honest with me.”
“Thus far.” I gave him a look. “When was the last time you looked in a mirror?”
I grunted. “That’s what I thought. You’ve been growing progressively paler ever since you and the djinn bonded. Now, I trust you to be able to handle yourself with it, so I need you to trust me when it comes to mortal limits.” I glared at the armor. “It putting you on the edge of your grave before your time is where I draw the line.”
“Oh, when we established the contract, I made sure he couldn’t kill me with any of his prices.” Hasda rested the eggs against his sides and smiled.
Well, I had to give him credit for that much. But he still had a lot to learn. I tapped the armor, which seemed to vibrate at my touch. “That would only prevent it from outright killing you. Slowly sapping your strength and letting you fall in combat because you spent too much on it? A letter of the law execution of your agreement.” I sighed. “But you did good, putting such a clause in.”
“Thanks.” He beamed.
I jerked my head at the eggs. “So. More lizards in my temple?”
Hasda barked a laugh. “I haven’t thought about them in years.”
“Yes, well, I spent many a night with your forest finds scurrying across my lap while you slept.” I shuffled past him to sit on the fountain and patted the stone next to me. “You going to tell me how you managed to get those from the hydra?”
He set himself carefully on the ledge, struggling to balance the eggs without exacerbating their cracks. “When the mongoose attacked, she split her brood among her heads and hid them in her mouths. That was why she wasn’t breathing fire and acid everywhere at first.” He rubbed the left egg. “Since she still has surviving eggs to raise, she couldn’t abandon her brood to help us. But she offered me the weakest as a reward for protecting her young.”
“So knocking the eggs together was to determine which of the runts was the weakest?” I wasn’t sure that the thickness of its shell was a good indication of the strength of the hydraling inside, but I also wasn’t a hydra myself. Yet both had given before the other, a near miracle.
He nodded. “She wasn’t expecting both to break. It had never happened before.”
“Did she tell you how to raise them?” Even as I said it, I had a feeling this was going to be a group effort no matter Hasda’s intention.
He shook his head. “She said they wouldn’t be much work, I would just need to keep them well fed.”
I let my fingers dangle in the water behind us. “Mm, she makes it sound so simple.”
“They eat a lot?”
“Yes. But that’s a worry for when they hatch.” I nodded at the cracks. “Will those hurt the younglings before they’re ready to come out?”
“I hope not.” He ran a hand over the left bumpy blue shell, tracing the break with his finger. “Perhaps I should swaddle them? Oh!” His eyes lit up. “Maybe Phaeus will let me incubate them in his forge.”
Now there was a thought. I smiled. “I don’t think they’ll need that much heat. But here.” I took one egg from him, wincing as it crinkled. As steady as I could, I lowered it into the fountain water and let the cool liquid bathe the breaks. The water couldn’t repair the damage, but it could seal the cracks until the hydras were big enough to hatch. I hoped, anyways.
“I will see if Seppo knows anything about keeping hydra eggs.” I left one egg to float as I handed its twin to Hasda. Though bumpy, the shell was still slick from its dunking, and my fingers lacked the flesh that made dexterity less difficult. “We can worry about their nurture once they’re hatched.”
Hasda nodded, a motion punctuated by a crack splitting the air. He jerked, clutching the eggs tight.
I was on my feet and had the hilt of my Sword half-formed in my hand when I saw the silver portal glowing a few feet away. Silver? Whose sign was that? While Seated gods had a variety of colors tied to their symbology, none of us had chosen a precious metal. I was even more surprised when Phemonoe walked through.
She gave me a tight smile. “I’m sorry we didn’t get to discuss my vision before. I’m afraid it’s a little too late now.”
Oh, right. Phemonoe had been about to tell me about her sudden vision when she’d burst into the Spinster’s garden. I frowned. Come to think of it, she’d come through a portal then, too. I hadn’t paid attention to its color, but generally mortals required a deity to open one for them. In the rush, I’d thought she must have followed me through mine, but then, I would have closed mine behind me. Especially since the Spinster was a threat.
“Yes, the portal is mine.” She seemed to read my thoughts on my face. “Your presence is needed in the throne room. Seppo has convened a meeting of the Seated gods.”
“That’s bad, isn’t it?” Hasda cradled the eggs as he leaned forward, worry tracing lines on his features.
The High Oracle nodded. “Congratulations on completing your Trial. Unfortunately, I fear the celebration will be postponed due to current events.”
“Care to give me a rundown on the way?” I shouldered on some extra pounds, feeling the satisfying weight of muscles settle onto my frame as I strode towards her sparking portal.
“Bring those with you.” She nodded at the eggs in Hasda’s arms. “The feast might be delayed, but Seppo isn’t going to ignore your accomplishments.” Sighing, she gathered her robes and met me at the portal. “Your maas has a nice smell.”
“Thanks.” I swept an arm through the portal and waited for her to go first. “So, what news?”
She frowned as she passed under. “Bad, and not just omens. The Paedens have invaded Tingin again.”