Chapter 44

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Anele saw the kick coming just in time. She let it roll off her shoulder and swept at the Windmage's standing leg, all the while keeping her grip on her collar. It left them both in an awkward angle, but the Windmage caught herself with a knee on Anele's belly. For a brief moment, Anele held up both their weight, which wasn't difficult. She probably outweighed the Windmage three times over, but a fight at quarters this close was the ugliest sort of melee.

It was all elbows and knees thrown in the rain, dirty strikes to open ribs, wrists twisted to the point of spraining, foot stomps, shoulders driven into necks, grinding ears, and the occasional bite when the Windmage tried to smother Anele's nose and mouth with her free hand. She wasn't sure who threw the headbutt, but they both recoiled a step, and Anele's grip twitched ever so slightly.

The Windmage yanked herself back for all she was worth, but a weak Earthwitch grip was still an Earthwitch grip. So she lashed out with a vicious calf kick . Anele hissed against the pain just below her knee, but the Windmage actually cried out loud.

Anele panted, bent over her aching belly, still holding a fistful of robe. "Do me a favour and break your foot next time."

The Windmage relaxed, shoulders slumping as she leaned back and crossed one leg over the other, so that only Anele held her up. "You know, this is fun. Getting kind of bored, though."

"Give me the jar or I'll throw you off this building."

The cloud floating over both of them dissolved, and the clay jar fell into the mage's outstretched hand. The robes over her face were plastered to her cheeks and brow, so Anele could just see the smile lurking there when the Windmage balanced the jar on her head.

"Take it."

She must have expected Anele to reach out, so she was definitely surprised when Anele stomped down on her foot instead. She was still quick enough to move out the way -- barely. The clay tiles cracked under Anele's heel and the support beams just under them groaned dangerously.

"That's not very sporting?"

Anele cocked an eyebrow. "What the void is a sport?"

"Oh, you know--"

Anele stomped down on the crack with her other foot, and they fell through the roof. There was a brief moment of darkness as they fell through the shattered tiles. Anele hit one of the beams shoulder first, sending them spinning. She held onto the Windmage with both hands and shut her eyes, waiting for the ground to meet them.

Three heartbeats after she stopped falling, she opened her eyes. Her head was only an arm span from the ground, but her body felt like it was floating on...

"First time on a cloud?" the Windmage asked.

"I'm going to kill you."

"What's up with your soul?" The Windmage was on her back, purple whisps of cloud floating all around her as they reclaimed on a solid mass of Cloudriver aura. Anele still had her fist dangerously close to her neck, but she no longer seemed phased. "I mean your Path is Earth-based, right? That's why you keep trying to take this to the ground, but I don't think I've sensed you cycling."

Anele almost cracked a tooth with the force she clamped her jaw with. She threw herself sideways off the cloud, and she managed to graze the ground with her toe before the Windmage sent them flying back up towards the hole in the roof.

Shit.

A figure in red robes flew through the hole and met them halfway between floor and ceiling. Salleh flexed her soul and the cloud actually shattered, so when she drove her heel into the Windmage's midriff, all three of them tumbled down through a mist of rainbow-coloured cloud fractals. 

Anele hit the ground first, landing on her feet. Orgone and her natural connection to the earth kept her knees from exploding under her. The Windmage managed to roll, taking some of the sting off her fall before she sprawled out on her back. Salleh landed so lightly between them the floor whispered under her slippers. The clay jar was a heartbeat from hitting the floor before a saffron ribbon curled out of the Seer's robes to catch it. 

"That's all the help you get on this one," she said. "Leave the town now."

Whatever Anele might have said, she didn't get a chance. Salleh leapt with barely a bend in her knees and disappeared through the hole in the roof, taking the Judge's soul with her. Anele was left staring up at the weak beam of light piercing down through the roof, and the hazy rain that dampened the ground between her and the Windmage.

Anele didn't neglect the little gift Salleh had left her though. She cycled the wisps of Kinetic aura the Seer had left in her wake and stared down at the Windmage, who groaned slightly as she recovered from Salleh's soul flex. Anele kicked the glass knife off the mage's belt and picked it up. There didn't seem to be anything else of value on her, so Anele straightened.

After a few breaths, the Windmage rolled onto her hands and knees. She tried to stand, but that was tricky when you had an Earthwitch's foot pressed gently over your heart hand. She looked up at Anele with barely focused eyes. Anele felt the heat in her own as she raised the knife between them. A knife made of a natural glass found on only one mountain in the world, carved only by a Judge of the Earthwitch Path.

"So where'd you get this, friend?"

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