Sickle & Spear

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When you first become a dark cosmic entity, the mortals do all this handwringing about how you got to be that way. But give it time, eat a couple galaxies, and they forget that you were ever one of them. I suppose it's the kind of thought that soothes the tiny mind: That could never be me. I would never...

But the truth is that all great and terrifying beings in the multiverse were once babies. I, for one, was a frumpy little girl who loved drawing comic book characters with great boots, long capes, and big swords.

Naturally, this was before I actually saw a sword in action. When you're a nine-year-old sketching the sweep of that katana, you're not thinking about what that sharp edge is really for. You're not thinking about how much blood comes out of a person with a flash of that steel through flesh. At least, I never thought about it until I was fourteen years old, watching Shademare of the Xin Volta drag her katana across a man's throat.

I screamed.

Or I think I did. At that point, I couldn't really hear anything over the shrill "oh no, oh no, oh no!" of my own internal monologue.

The smoky tendrils that formed Shademare's dress lapped at the dying man like snake tongues, absorbing what little energy was left in his body. His life force vanished into her ink-black aura like starlight into a black hole. The hand on his trident went limp, and the weapon slipped from his grip to clatter down the rocks into the sea.

Quenched, Shademare let out a sound of satisfaction and cast the guy's armored body after his weapon—like an empty soda can. I flinched as he crashed limply off the rocks to break the waves in a froth of foam and blood.

"Well, Wren Li-Lazzaro." Shademare turned her gaze on me, eyes steely cold beneath the hacked line of her bangs. "Looks like it's just you and me."

Panic set my brain jittering in circles like a busted wind-up toy. Twenty feet of seething ocean separated me from Shademare, but I didn't think for a moment that a little water was going to slow her down. I took a step back, my bare foot slipped on the wet volcanic rock, and she let out a chuckle.

"If you want to fly away, I won't mind. That is, if those newbie wings will even carry you."

Oh god, would my wings carry me? They'd get me into the air, sure, but not fast enough to escape a Volta like Shademare.

"Go on." She smirked. "I won't follow. What I really want is behind you."

That should have been my cue to make a break for it. Instead, the words made every muscle in me clench. They reminded me why I was there: to protect what was behind me.

I met Shademare's eyes, planted my feet, and breathed in power. Energy burned a pair of lines against my shoulder blades and rushed to fill my chest. When I exhaled, my aura flared purple around me—for all the good it would do me.

"Are you sure about this?" Shademare sounded as amused as she was surprised. "You know you don't have the power to fight me."

She was right, of course. My few hundred volts were no match for her nine thousand—or whatever the heck she was at after magically cannibalizing that guardsman. But not every fight had to come down to raw power. Eight years of karate had taught me that much.

Hernandez Sensei said that most martial arts weapons were just farm tools, adapted to fight well-trained, well-armed samurai tax collectors... I spread my fingers at my sides, visualizing steel, mentally sketching the arcs of twin sickles. The glow of my aura raced to my hands and concentrated there, ready to fill the shapes in my mind.

At my limited power level, a Volta had to choose between flight, shielding, and summoning. Forming weapons would mean fighting Shademare grounded and unarmored. But what difference would that make, really? At its strongest, my aura wouldn't protect me from Shademare's blade any more than a denim jacket would protect me from... well... a regular katana. It didn't matter how I allotted my voltage; if Shademare got a decisive cut in, I was fish food.

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