Ch 43: Bats?

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[still Crane]

"Merwa," Crane spat, "your arrogance is your undoing.  To hide my sword right here above my head!"

"It won't help you," she responded, struggling to regain her composure.  "I alone control the land here.  It is all under my command."

"Maybe the land, but certainly not the creatures," Crane said with a sly smile.

"Everything!" she asserted.  Then, with less certainty, "What do you mean, Crane?  Don't speak in riddles – it's tiresome."

For a few moments Crane entertained himself by waving his sword up and down in the air, relishing his reunion with a trusted companion.  Finally he spoke again, looking Merwa straight in the eye.

"My weapon, for one.  A sword such as this, so painstakingly forged from elements of earth, water and fire, and bespelled under the auspices of the wind itself, is an unusual creature.  One such as yourself may trick it and so overpower it for a time, but you may never command it.  And then there are the bats."

"Bats?" she croaked.  "I – to what bats do you refer, Crane?"

"To the ones who lately lived in this very cave, and who I have sent on a mission of communication with my comrades.  For I have no doubt whatsoever that the brave women warriors of Susa continue to seek for me – and," he concluded ominously, "for you."

"Pshaw!  That is nonsense!  I am the woman warrior who renders the others superfluous.  Look – see MY great sword!"

And before his eyes, Merwa's shape began to shift.  Her yellow hair rose up, glowing and curling about her head like a hundred evil eyes.  She raised her right arm and her sharp fingernails pulsed with a cold blue light as they merged and elongated into a horrible parody of a blade. 

Lowering her arm, she aimed the blade at Crane's heart.

"Come now, my hero," she sneered, "let us fight as equals, shall we then?  Haha –" and she thrust most viciously, but her arm met empty air.  "And – what?  Where?"

"Behind you," he answered politely, from where he had landed when he dodged her attack.

As she turned, he used the flat side of his sword to knock her feet from under her.  She managed to land on her backside, in a sitting position, and her hair snaked out to grab Crane's hard, muscled forearms. 

He slashed at these new cords that sought to bind him, but though he severed them from her head they continued to cling to him.  Wherever they touched, the sordid strands stung and singed his skin. 

He hesitated but a moment, trying to free himself, and Merwa sunk her sword-arm into his midriff and pulled herself up with it.  Then she levered herself up even higher, rising in the air until she met his eye as his crimson blood ran up her arm.

"No, you've never met anyone quite like me, Crane of Astartha.  But I am nothing if not fair.  You climb back into your coffin, and I'll heal all your sorry wounds and we can pretend this never happened."

With a grunt, Crane grasped her sword-arm – which burned like ice – drew it out of his gut and flung Merwa to the floor.  He wrapped his tunic tightly over the wound and tied it to staunch the bleeding; then he scraped the foul tendrils of hair off his arms with his sword. 

Passing his blade over his skin a second time caused the raw red welts to disappear.  He slipped his sword back into its scabbard, untied his tunic from under his now-unscathed belly, and strode past the supine Merwa to the mouth of the cave.

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