Chapter 26

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Salleh still knelt over Wenyanga, a slender fist half-curled as though she meant to strike at any moment. Wenyanga supposed she was looking forward to it more than her face was showing, especially after the frustrations of the morning. For Wenyanga's part, the last thing they wanted was a punch to the core. 

The divine arts had a great many treasures for human civilisation. When one mage was powerful enough to hew stone from a mountain with their bare hands and a touch of magic, a great many impressive things could be built. But most cities larger than this desert town didn't rely on ordinary stone or metal for one reason and one reason alone.

Wenyanga's gaze drifted over Salleh, to the firey soul that hung just over the edge of the rooftop. It looked fit to explode at any moment, and the first thing it would do was tear the top of the watchtower to burning splinters and chunks of molten rock. 

Salleh, with her Perfect body, would probably survive the explosion with a bit of heatstroke and the odd singed hair. Wenyanga might play a trick or two and make it out. Thula would not, and neither would anyone less powerful than a top-class Refined in the town.

Yes, the divine arts had done many wonderful things for civilisation, but so many of its insights and secrets lay in combat, and when every dead mage was a bomb... well, you learned to fight, maim, break, and destroy -- and how not to kill. Easiest way to put down a fellow mage was to disrupt their core or rattle their sensitive stoneirises with a well-timed strike. 

If you were powerful enough to punch out their heart, you'd better be smart enough to have a soul surgeon nearby. Wenyanga shifted as a cramp made their gut tighten. And preferably a surgeon without a bruised soul. Not for the first time, Wenyanga inspected Thula's runes. The golden ink scrawled on their gut was impeccable. It would do the job, as would Salleh, Wenyanga just hoped their soul would follow through.

Something broke through the base of the watchtower. The air smelled a little of rain and iron.

"She still hasn't screamed," Salleh said. "We're wasting time."

"We're gaining insight." Wenyanga tried to enjoy the breeze that lapped at their bare torso; Sanele's soul was growing uncomfortably warm. "Give her time."

"Time? To do what? She's fighting a Pettygod."

"Which means she'll scream eventually."

"Why in every voidhell is it so important that she does?"

Wenyanga shifted a little so that the elbow they were perched on was right on the building's edge, and looked down just as the Pettygod disappeared into the watchtower. "What do you know of earthwitches?"

"She's not an earthwitch," Salleh said, sounding annoyed. "The techniques for achieving that Path are impossible for a--"

"Indulge me."

"She is not--"

"Fine, she isn't, then. How is she still alive in a fight with a Pettygod?" A mage powerful enough to kill your beloved, a Judge. Wenyanga was many things, none of them cruel enough to say that aloud.

"He's weak," Salleh said, and there was no excuse in her voice, just fact. "Cote drained him of most of his reserves, I sense it. His soul should be like a thick smog choking all our senses, and yet it barely feels like a spring mist."

"A weak Pettygod is like trying to say a small mountain. It's still a mountain. You sensed her soul, it's Crude but it's also broken to the point that that's all it could possibly be really."

"Attenuation from a lack of cycling."

"Yes."

"That would weaken you to the base of whatever level you're at, not knock you down one."

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