Thursday, August 16, 2018

Elementally Bound: Part 13

Elementally Bound: Part 13
----- Unique -----

Valandra was a difficult read, and while Ember wasn't one to dwell on the motivation and reasoning, she found herself frequently analyzing the ice queen.  The woman seemed to fluctuate from extreme coldness to an almost warm flirtation, and it baffled Ember.  Having been separated from society at an age when such people skills are learned, Ember often had difficulties in understanding the complexities of others - especially Valandra.

But, Ember had to admit that she, herself, was also a torrent of emotions: extreme heat followed by gentle warmness and playfulness.  And, the bitterness she felt when they had first met had gradually been replaced with something else.  Ember looked upon this with worry and trepidation, but genuinely wanted it to blossom and wanted to pursue what it could potentially become.  Now if she could only figure out if Valandra wanted it too…

The environment was, as Valandra had stated, very harsh and unforgiving.  There was a small corridor created by two outlying cavernous walls that extended down into the heart of the desolation, with streams of sulfuric wastes and acidic rivers below.  Even upon their griffons, high above the terrain, radiation could still be felt from the poisons below.  The sensation was unsettling to her, caused Ember to shift irritably upon her mount.  She winced at the brightness reflected from the yellow sulfur below and tried not to breathe in the atrocious fumes.

"Are we there yet?"  She groaned.  When Valandra either didn't hear her, or ignored her (Ember couldn't tell which), she raised her voice louder.  "Ice queen!  How much longer?"  Her words echoed off the cavern walls.

Valandra cast a sharply annoyed and agitated look back.  She pulled her griffon to match that of Ember's and spoke softly, even though it was obvious if she could have, she would have yelled at the woman.  "Quiet, you fool!  These caverns have ears!"

Just as the words left her mouth, an arrow found its way into her shoulder.  Valandra cried out at the unexpected pain and stumbled over, causing her griffon to dive deep into the corridor.  Ember screeched, as did the harpies hovering along various pores in the outlying walls.  They'd heard Ember's disturbance, come out to fire arrows and rid themselves of the trespassers.  Ember's eyes grew large as she narrowly avoided another arrow.  She glanced down to where Valandra had plunged and without hesitation, she dove after.

The sulfur fumes and hazardous yellow gasses would have been overwhelming for an experienced rider; for one of Ember's inexperience, it was devastating.  She quickly lost concentration of her mount, began choking and coughing as she spun a downward spiral.

Having caught control of herself, Valandra and her griffon had positioned themselves on a nearby rock jutting from the vile below.  She readied their ascent, when to her horror, saw a tumbling Ember splash down into the pool of waste.  Her mount of fire took the initial force and exploded on impact, leaving a crater in the thick liquid, which Ember quickly fell into and was covered by.

"Ember!"  Valandra yelled, jumping from her mount.  She poured her frost and ice onto the acidic surface, praying it would work.

Ember breached the surface, choking and vomiting bile, waved her arms desparately.  The liquid quickly penetrated a fire barrier she'd managed to throw up before landing, burning and searing her flesh as it touched.  She screamed, scrabbled to stay afloat, grasping in desperation.

Valandra grasped onto the woman's arm, lifted her onto the ice bridge she had created.  Ember writhed in agony at the liquid which clung to her; Valandra quickly called upon wind to gust the remnants off.  She laid both hands upon the woman, who had ceased choking or moving.  A cleansing wave washed over them both, forcing the toxins from Ember.  She sat up, shocked.

"You… You saved me?"

Valandra grumbled.  "Let's not make a big deal of it," she said, the slightest smile worn.  "We… have more pressing matters, at the moment," she said, gesturing to the large crack in the ice bridge.  "The wave did more than just heal you; it also broke down my ice.  We will be afloat any second.  Can you… conjure…"  A look back to Ember answered the question before she asked: Ember was in no shape to attempt another manifestation.

The crack expanded, moaned at the stress.

Valandra looked back to her mount formulating a plan.  "There is a chance we can make it out of this, but it's going to take faith.  Do you… Do you trust me, Ember?"

Ember was recalibrating, in a half-attempt to stand.  "I… I mean, yeah.  Um… Sure.  Just, you know, don't get us killed.  What… What do you have in mind?"

"This corridor ends abruptly ahead, with a drop.  We can…"

The crack broke in two, sending both women and the large chuck of ice they stood on into the sulfuric pool below.  Both fell back on their haunches; Valandra was the first to regain her footing on the ice.  She hurried to Ember, without warning hoisted her up, wrapped her arms around the woman's waste.

Despite their immediate peril, Ember blushed at the icy touch and felt comforted by the woman's grasp.

"Hold on," Valandra howled.  "We do this right or we die!"

The iceberg approached the brink of the sulfuric waterfall.

"What's the plan?" Ember cried.

Without hesitation, the ice went over the edge.  Valandra leaped, bringing Ember along with her.  Time suddenly froze; all movement ceased as the women jumped, holding onto each other tighter than they ever had before.  Ember's heart stopped as she looked up at the ice queen who looked down at her.  The two remained suspended for a lifetime…

Time resumed; both continued to plummet, and for a moment, Valandra wondered if her plan was flawed.  In an answer, her griffon came, as commanded.  It dove and swooped down to catch each woman within its talons.  Both were jolted from the abrupt stop, ash falling from Ember's hair, a frosty breath exhaled by Valandra.

Ember cheered, while Valandra looked worried.  "We're… We're still descending!"

"Well, use your wind power already!" Ember said, as if it had been completely already discussed and decided upon.

Valandra looked bewildered.  Her plan hadn't incorporated the weight of both women, and she hadn't planned ahead.  Yet, Ember, in her crazy impulsiveness, already had the solution.  She couldn't help but smile as she began tracing the runes in the air.  Winds abruptly burst upwards, the gale expanding the griffon's wings.  The beast caught air and was quickly propelled upward, out from the desolate wastes and treacherous corridor, and onto the mesa of one of the surrounding walls.  It landed ungracefully, flinging the women forward before it lost cohesion and fell apart.  Both women tumbled until stopping in clouds of dust in front of a small hut.

Ember groaned for a minute, coughed for a bit, then looked around excitedly.  "We're… We're alive!" she squealed, then remembering her previous mistake, lowered her voice.  "You did it, miss ice queen!"

Valandra was barely on her feet when Ember flung herself bodily onto her.  Her initial response was to repel the woman, yet, she was elated to have saved her, and looking down into Ember's reflective red eyes made her pull the woman closer and squeeze.

Ember melted into the woman, looking up expectantly.  "See?  I knew you loved me," she said, lost in the moment.

Valandra released her grasp, took a defiant step back.  "I… do not," she said, folding her arms.  "I simply… need you.  That is all.  You are… perhaps the… strangest opponent I have ever come to know!"

"You mean, I'm the only one that has made you melt (and I'm not just talkin' 'bout my fire)," Ember flirted.  She moved her blouse to expose her shoulder.

Valandra blushed.  "You… You have done no such thing!  Look, despite what happened," she paused to clear her throat, "on the island… and beneath the waterfall…"  Her words faded as she took a step forward toward Ember.  She looked the woman over, then sighed softly.  "I… I don't know what this is,"  she whispered as she ran chilly fingers along Ember's shoulder.

Ember shivered, both from the icy touch and from the electricity it sent throughout her body.  "Do you… like my form?"  She almost moaned the words.

"Your… form?"  Valandra brushed Ember's hair from her face, staring at the woman's features, before she closed her eyes, leaned forward and pressed her frosty lips to Ember's fiery lips.

Ember wrapped her arms around Valandra, pulling their bodies close, the touch sizzling steam from the opposite elementalists.

Valandra suddenly disconnected and pushed Ember away, covering her mouth.  "What… What are you doing?" she said, alarmed.

"Wh-why are you pushing me away?" Ember looked amazingly perplexed and confused.

"Why are you… You're kissing me!" Valandra said, as if in shock.

"Wait… What?  You… You kissed me!"

Valandra took another step back.  "Why would I kiss you?  You called me a bitch; cursed more things than I've heard Joko say!  Then you… you seduce me?"  The ice queen stormed out of the tent.

Ember blinked for a moment in confusion, then grew angry at the woman's reaction.  She followed.  "Wh- Why would you just push me away?  You wanted to!  What… What is it you want from me?"

"I want nothing from you, save your powers," Valandra snapped, in a purposeful attempt to convey anger.

"I don't believe you!" Ember said, grabbing the woman's arm.

Valandra was reluctantly spun around; she would have preferred the woman not see the frozen tear on her cheek.

Ember laced her fingers with Valandra's.  "Look… You and I are connected!  You don't have to hide from me anymore!"  She pulled the icy hand to her warm cheek.

"I… I don’t know what has happened.  Something with the suits?  Something that damned rat did to us?" Valandra said in an attempt to convince herself.

"Is that a bad thing though?  We are so very far from where we started…"

Valandra breathed heavily.  "Yes… Yes it is.  My mission… My mission was so clear; my purpose resolute.  Until you…"  She pulled her hands from the fire mage's.

"Your mission has changed, okay?  Now we have us!  We will have Demitra!  We have a chance to be… to be happy!"  Ember said in earnest.  For the first time in a long while, she had a purpose, a goal, a lead on Demitra, and she felt something she'd missed ever since: hope.

"Demitra?"  The ice queen sighed.  "Our relationship; it was very different from what you seemed to have had with her.  From what I've seen in your fantasies while you slumber (and I do not just refer to the lustfully pleasure-filled ones) you two truly… trusted each other."

Ember frowned, almost in tears. "You… You don't want this, do you?"

Valandra either misunderstood the question, or chose to interpret it differently on purpose.  "To find her?  I… I did.  I expected to see her; to be my rescuer from that monster.  After many nights had passed, I… I finally gave up.  She didn't come."

Ember sniffed, wiped her nose, chose not to linger on their future as a couple.  She sighed, then held up the gloves.  "These were hers!  I know she's close.  We find her, and… and then she can save you.  It's not too late!"

"I was like this once: naïve," she said, melancholily.  She raised her hand to call forth her lightning-imbued mount, and did so unceremoniously and with little fanfare.  "Look, let's just save this (whatever this is between us), until after we find Demitra.  Dealing with the Djinn there will be… most unpleasant and we need to keep our wits about us.  If we're not killed on sight, a battle of the mind would most likely be fought, as they enjoy their riddles."

Ember conjured forth her mount, this time with less effort than it took before; Ember was a quick learner of magic, especially that of fire.  She boarded her beast.  "You certainly do know a lot about these Djinn," she said, considering.  "Why do they hate you?"

Valandra took in a breath.  "They wish to see me dead due to the power I took from the Elder Air Djinn I absorbed; they undoubtedly want it back.

Ember face-palmed.  "You stole it by killing one of their elders?"

"Not quite.  I absorbed the Djinn into me and bound it there."

"Like you tried to do with me?"

"Yes, in a sense.  But, you are a mortal being comprised of flesh and bone.  The power needed to be extracted and converted (hence the suits and the need for Kievaa and her machine).  The Djinn aren't like us.  They are most likely kin to elementals, only much more advanced.  The powers they possess: it is raw primal power.  Their magic comes from something… ancient."

"Yeah, me too," Ember shrugged.

"Actually, yes.  You are right.  You too, and me too.  Do you recall when you and I first met?  I spoke to you of our uniqueness, and how there are very few with whom can hold onto such powers.  You are one.  You feel the dragon Primordus's power coursing through you, do you not?  It is different than just simply using fire magic…"

Ember interrupted with a delighted grin.  "Then we're special!"

Valandra groaned at the woman's ineptitude.  "No, we're not special; simply unique.  There are degrees of magic users, and various sources to which this magic is drawn.  The raw elemental power we yield is… different than most.  Like the Djinn, we tap into that raw power, and while such ancient powers usually counteract each other - like the fires of Primordus and the ice of Jormag clash - there are some of us which have the power to weave them, intermix them, make them complement each other.  This is what I would have done with yours; as I have done with the Djinn.  But…"  Valandra frowned.  "My mission has gone awry."

"See?  So we are special!  You're a special snowflake!" Ember joked.

Valandra shot a cold piercing look at the woman.

Ember cleared her throat.  "Well, in any case, your mission's not failed; it has just changed!  We can still combine our powers - even if they're not all within.  Let me help!  Me and Demitra, both!  I'll use my fire, you use your lightning and cold, and Demitra will use her… mirrors?  Illusions?  Sands?  (Actually, I'm not sure what.)" She slightly giggled.

Valandra raised an eyebrow.  "Sands, you say?  I've… I've been seeing and hearing it too.  Demitra in a…"

"Waterfall of sand?" Ember interrupted.

"Yes," Valandra looked both surprised and relieved.  "I worried it was a trap set by the Djinn to reclaim the power I procured.  Scared, I believe you accused me of being?  It is smart to use caution, and we're not in our top form after your bath and my…" she rubbed her shoulder for a moment, grimaced at it.

"You okay?  You took an arrow to the shoulder and haven't event tried to heal yourself.  We can stop here a bit longer, if you'd like."  Ember offered concern cautiously.  The ice queen had a habit of slapping her way.  A quick look at her exposed shoulder revealed a black oozing liquid sustained in the wound.

"I'll be fine," she said nonchalantly as she commanded her griffon forward.

Ember was tired of the subterfuge and half-truths.  "Hey!  No!  Tell me what's going on with your shoulder.  What… what is that stuff?"

Valandra paused, but she didn't look at the woman.  "It's Joko's magic.  You saw me throw myself from the bone wall and the ice stalagmite I formed impale me, yes?  Joko brought me back to his palace, and… fixed me."  Her tone was ominous, more upset with having to recount the experience than the wound itself.

"I was impaled once.  Demitra brought me back."  She chuckled at the similarity.  "Guess we're a bit more alike than…"

Without a word, Valandra's griffon flapped its wings and took to the skies.  Ember's nose wrinkled at the woman's rudeness, but she reluctantly followed behind.  The two said nothing more.  Whether the silence stemmed from dangers like the harpies before, or simply because Valandra was upset, Ember couldn't tell; Valandra was a difficult read.

Their griffons finally landed upon a vista with open skies above.  In the air sat the fortress, suspended above a lake of acidic sulfur.  No visible way could be seen to reach it and Valandra had already started devising a way to ascend, when Ember pointed to an outlying landmass with an upright swirling portal of sand.  It was a gateway to the floating sanctum ahead.  A guard stood watch beside it; Valandra's concerns made real: a greater air Djinn.

"Friend of yours?" Ember teased.

Valandra was not in a playful mood.  She scolded her companion, put out a final warning of caution, then began her approach, accepting little input from Ember.  There was a seriousness in the woman's unblinking sapphires that chilled Ember, reminded her of the conviction the ice queen had when they first met.

The couple approached the guard, dismounted, and readied themselves for a fight.

The Djinn floated, without legs or feet on upon the winds of a localized tornado.  Air swirled around him, creating a rhythmic dance on the rag fragments he wore.  Debris snared by the wind was struck by lightning as it came in proximity, the arcs and bolts defending its master.  His top arms were folded, while the bottom two rested comfortably at his hip and he only slightly turned his head to acknowledge the couple.

Valandra was puzzled at the being's inaction.  She drew her weapon, shouted a slur in Elonian over the howling wind.  Ember followed suite, pulling out her ice sword.  While she'd seen Djinn during her time in Elona, she'd never fought them.  If what Valandra said was right, it would be a gloriously hard-fought battle and her head began to smoke at the prospect.

The Djinn pivoted a bit, held up a hand and inspected talon-like nails.  He seemed disinterested and disingenuous, despite the women's aggression.  A ghostly sound came from him, speaking a in an ancient Elonian dialect, then he turned and slowly floated off.

Valandra blinked in bewilderment.

"What'd he say?"  Ember asked.

Valandra shook her head.  "Um… He said, 'Ahai, Thaljia Okht'."

"Right.  And that means?"

Valandra approached the swirling sand portal.  "Thaljia is Elonian.  It is the name I took upon binding the Djinn within me; it means 'ice storm'.  Before this, I was known as Valandra Dejarin."  She paused, glanced back to Ember.  "But, that's not the concern.  What I do not understand is why he called me Okht.  Okht means 'sister'."  She said as she turned and entered the sand portal.

Ember blinked in shock, was completely at a loss for words.  "Wait... you're a Dejarin?  I know Dejarins!" she said, but Valandra was already gone.  Ember took in a deep breath and stepped into the gateway of swirling sands.

[To be Continued]


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Elementally Bound: Part 12

Elementally Bound: Part 12
----- Compression -----

Valandra approached Ember from behind, placing the box upon the table in front of her.

"H-How?" Ember stared at the small chest in disbelief.  "How did you get it from that little…"

"It matters not," Valandra interrupted.  "What is important is that we have the object."

Ember creaked the lid back.  Inside lay the gloves… Demitra's gloves.  She took in a deep breath, then smiled warmly at the surprise.  "They… They still smell like her."

The ice queen raised an eyebrow, looked baffled.  "To what are you referring?  Who do they smell like?"

"These gloves were Demitra's, you dork," she said as she ran her fingers over them.  The sensation was a numbness and tingling in her fingertips - the very same feeling she felt every time Demitra touched her with those sparkling blue fingers.  The gloves, however, were fingerless, Ember noted.  "Huh.  I guess it was her own finger-tips that glowed?"

A soft whisper entered the both women's ears.  "Come," it said.  Valandra looked around, expectantly; saw Ember do the same.

"I guess I'm going crazy again," Ember mumbled.

Valandra cracked a grin, seizing the opportunity.  "Again?  I was quite certain you were already this way."

Ember paid no attention, her stare was locked onto the bracers.  She knew they held the key… somehow.  This was the closest the woman had been to finding Demitra, after all those months of searching.  Now, before her, was the first clue as to what happened to her love.  Without explanation, and with the impetuousness Valandra had come to expect from her, Ember shoved her hand in one of the gloves.

A powerful surge of energy swept over her suddenly, coursing through her body.  She felt as she was being pulled apart, like sands scattering in the wind.  Yet, at the same time, she felt herself combining, compressing, solidifying her core.   Ember gasped and doubled over, holding onto the table desperately trying to keep cohesion; she felt like she was losing herself.  Her core compressed, shoving itself together and formed a ball of molten rock, collapsing into its own weight.  Until finally, it violently exploded, breaking down into the very sand it had been before.  It pushed outward, forcing itself through Ember's skin until the woman, herself, was a figure of Ember made of sand.

Alarmed, Valandra stood and tried to help the woman.  To her, Ember was still her normal self, but in some type of trance.  "Ember?  What's… What's the matter with you?"  The gloves were the obvious cause; yet, as Valandra reached to remove them, she hesitated.  If Ember was receiving another of these visions, it would be advantageous to let it play out - despite the peril it may cause the woman.  Valandra clenched her fists, watching over her, secretly hoping for her well-being.

Ember's eyes darted upward, and in her mind, she exploded.   The dust and sand that was Ember flew over the Unending Ocean, across the crystal desert, and beyond the bonewall.  It arrived and swirled around a floating stronghold buried deep within the Desolation.

Valandra placed two icy hands on the woman's back, sent a wave of cold into her.  "Ember?"  She had been gone far too long, and Valandra instantly regretted allowing the event to unfold.  "Ember, return to me!"  She grabbed onto the bladed gauntlet, accepting its sharp edge as it pierced her skin, and yanked it off forcefully.

Ember's eyes sprung open and she was on her feet instantly.  "I know where to go!"

An unintentional sigh of relief came from the ice queen.  "What?  You… You fool!  You put the glove on!  Why would you do such a foolhardy thing?  You blacked out!"

Unconcerned, Ember shook her head.  "I… I felt.  I don't know what it was.  Something… Something primal…  But, I was in Elona!"

"Um, no," Valandra folded her arms.  "You were right here, drooling on the table.  (Something I'm sure you've done many times in bars across Tyria.)"

Ember swiped the gloves from the box, cradled them.  "Come on!  We've… We've got to go to the Desolation!"

"The Desol… Why in Joko's name do you want to go there?  You really are out of your mind!"

"Look… Demitra is there (I think).  She needs us.  Or, are you just going to let her waste away?  We've both seen her, and I know she's what's been guiding us!  So, come on!  We have to go!"  Ember was already marching off.

"She's… She's in the Desolation?" Valandra hurried along to catch the rambunctious lady.

"Yeah, I think so.  In a stronghold of some kind.  Like a fortress… in the sky; it floated!"

Valandra stopped and grumbled.  "Oh no," she moaned loudly.

Ember paused, looked inquisitively at the woman.  Hesitation and nervousness was written on her face.  "What's the matter?  Are you scared of it or something?"

"Scared?  No.  I am most assuredly not scared." Valandra huffed.  "I've just had… dealings… with the beings which dwell there."

Ember was practically bouncing.  She'd already turned and continued on their path.  "Great, then let's go!"

"You want to go to their stronghold, to do what?  You simply blacked out and…"

"Yes!" Ember said with serious conviction.  "I think she's there.  In that floating fortress… Somewhere.  (I think.)  Besides, we can take whatever's there!"  Her head tilted as the conversation caught up.  "Wait… what beings live there?"

"The Djinn," Valandra exhaled a cold, foggy breath.  "And you should know… They hate me.  I expect they will unleash their magics upon just laying their hollowed eyes upon me."

Ember feigned a shocking gasp.  "I don't see how anybody could ever feel that way about you!"  She laughed at the joke, then reached out and took Valandra's hand.  "Come on!  We'll be fine!  Let's just get a move on!"

The woman was nothing, if not driven, Valandra thought.  When Ember had a purpose, she let little - even logic - impede her.  An admirable quality, to be sure, but a thoughtful approach, a plan, would always be in Valandra's arsenal.  How the fiery woman could control her magic with such a reckless impulsiveness was beyond the ice queen's understanding.

Ember glanced back after a few minutes of sprinting.  She smiled, reassuringly.  "Look… I know we started spending time together because of you wanting to kill me and all, but…"  she took in a deep breath, slowed their pace to a quick walk.  "I'm just, you know, glad to know you… to, um… you know, have someone to adventure with."

Valandra looked at their folded hands.  "You… are?"

"Yeah!  I've never been to a festival before… and I never used ice magic… and we are on our way to find Demitra… and really, that's all thanks to you!"  Ember exclaimed excitedly.

"Are you not upset with me having tried kill you?"  Valandra tilted her head.

Ember tapped her chin a moment, considering.  "I mean, sure, but you haven't stabbed me, so, you know… I count that as a win!"

"I haven't tried to stab you yet," she said with a smirk from the corner of her mouth.

Ember giggled.  She could relate to the woman's off-putting attitude.  It was not long ago that her own dark passenger made her distance herself from others; lashing out at them both physically and cruelly.  Life was a rocky road, and sometimes, some people just needed a bit of understanding to see them through those rough patches.  Ember had found salvation in the arms of Demitra, lost it in the devastating events that happened.  Yet, now there was hope…  Now it was time to save her!

She again grasped Valandra's hand, who had wiggled it free and pulled her along toward a departing airship.  It wasn't hard to find ships headed to and from various points around Tyria and they were delighted to find one who's destination was back to Elona.

"Now if we could just get some clothes…"


The vessel flew to the southern regions of Elona, Vabbi.  From there, its destination would touch by Amnoon on the way back up.  The Desolation lay somewhere in-between these domains, and the captain was taken aback when the women asked if they could depart over such a horrendous place.  After a bit of convincing, he finally agreed to lower the vessel on the outskirts of the bone wall and before the torments of the sulfuric wastes.  The couple were to descend to Bonestrand, a small settlement just shy of Joko's wall.  They wandered into the village and found a merchant with… 'less than desirable clothing,' a comment Valandra made a few times.  The merchant surprisingly accepted the few festival tokens they had leftover, and the two dressed and headed out of the city.

Ember looked at a map posted on local village bounty bulletin board.  "So…"  She tilted her head as if trying to determine the proper way to read the map.  "Where do we start?"

Valandra laughed.  "You do know I am from here, correct?"

"I… Sure.  Well, then lead the way.  Let's get a move on; the floating fortress awaits!"  Ember said.  She was practically bursting with excitement.

Valandra rolled her eyes, folded her arms.  "Well, we'll need more than just our footing for the journey."  She held out a smoking frosty hand to create another set of magical ice creatures, then she paused, a thought occurring to her.  "Ember: use your fire.  Conjure a mount from it."

Ember raised an eyebrow.  "You know… You do know that fire isn't solid right?  It's not like your ice.  How would I even ride it?"

"You fool; despite you consistently calling me 'ice queen,' I do not create ice without water."  She strolled to a small puddle.  "I conjure water and freeze it to create beasts that can sustain my weight.  Standing here in this water, I feel it coursing through me.  It longs to be formed.  Do you not feel this when you are exposed to fire?"

"I… It heals me; comes to me when I call it.  I… I don't know how I'm expected to shape it like you do to water."

"Fire can solidify sand into glass; cooled molten can become lava rock.  With enough pressure, the fire you control can be compressed into solidified pyrite.  It will make up the core of your mount.  You say you don't squander your powers, then show me; show me your capabilities,"  Valandra urged.

Ember sighed, "What would I even make?"

"Something to avoid the sulfuric wastes here," Valandra said as she walked toward a bridge with two braziers on either side.  "Use these; allow the fire to empower you.  Boost yourself and compress the heat into lava and then into a solid core."

Ember nodded, reached out to either side of the fire.  It danced and waved toward the woman.  She exhaled anxiously.  "Drakenfist magic has always been based on emotion.  I can't just…"

"Then use your emotions!" Valandra shouted, shoving Ember.

"Hey!" Ember stumbled back, almost lost her footing.  "Stop that.  That's not the way to teach…"  Another shove from the ice queen had Ember's feet planted as she stood her ground getting angry.  "I'm warning you: stop that!"

Valandra pulled out the fire sword.  "You're warning me?"  She laughed.  "Let's see that fire within you!  Don't squander your powers; embrace them!  Perhaps a sampling of the flames from your own blade would motivate you?"  She waved the sword in front of the woman, taunting her.

"Listen here!  I have plenty of power.  Power you haven't even seen!"  Ember scowled as her hair burst into flames.  The nearby fires began to flame toward her, traveling to an unheard melody.

"I haven't stabbed you yet?  I'm about to!  And what are you going to do about it?  Nothing!  You are weak!  The fires of Primordus, reduced to such a weakling!"  Valandra goaded.

Ember's eyes smoked as the fires flew into her; her entire body engulfed.  "I am not weak!" She screamed at the brink, almost unleashing her fury on the ice queen.  The anger matched the fires and she was but a moment away from killing the woman.

"Now!"  Valandra yelled.  "Use the fires; push it outward, thinking of the object you wish to manifest!  See the blazes form it, compress it, and make it solid.  Shape it.  Focus and feel it!"

Ember held her hands outright, unleashing her powers.  She expelled the fire, forced it together, angrily doing as instructed.  "Ahhhh!" she screamed as the flames compressed.  A ball of fire turned bright orange and black as the lava flowed.  She moved her hands around, as if manipulating clay, forming the shape into an avian creature.  A final burst of energy was thrown at the shape, catching it's outward shape ablaze.  A griffon made of molten lava and fire wings stood before her.  Ember fell to her knees breathing heavily.  The fires on her person dimmed, then extinguished.

Valandra's smile was too big to contain.  She found herself reaching for the woman to give her a celebratory hug, but Ember sharply turned an evil red eye to the woman.  "Shut up.  You are still a bitch," the woman spat.

The ice queen pulled back, tried to brush away the insult.  "Well…  You did it though, didn't you?"  She said, hesitation and hurt buried beneath her words.

Ember plopped down disdainfully on her mount, not giving the woman any satisfaction at her delight at the newly created beast.  "Let's just go then."

Valandra said nothing more.  She held her hands aloft, spoke an incantation and swirled in the air as winds increased and lightning struck into the ground.  The arcs formed the shape of a griffon, and a blast of ice filled in the innards.

"Show off," Ember mumbled grumpily.  She looked at the beast beneath her and sighed.  "Let's… uh… Let's go?" she asked it.

Valandra raised an eyebrow, mounted her lightning griffon.  "These are merely constructs.  You do not ask them as you would an animal.  You simply command them and they obey."

"I was asking you, not the animal!  Besides… I… I knew that!"  Ember lied.

"Of course you did," the ice queen smirked, then she looked into the distance.  "You should know though, the way is wrought with perils.  We are near Joko's sanctuary and Balthazar's minion still roam the Desolation: there are both Awakened and Forged, in addition to the hazardous terrain."

Valandra commanded her griffon to the skies, not necessarily waiting for Ember to follow.  The fire mage commanded her griffon aloft and inadvertently squealed with excitement as she flew.  Valandra heard and tried not to laugh at the woman's mood swings.  One moment she was confessing her adoration at her company, the next calling her names, and further still, giggling and laughing on the back of a griffon.  If nothing else, Ember was a complex individual, and though she loathed herself thinking it, Valandra was also happy to have met her.

[To be Continued]


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Elementally Bound: Part 11

Elementally Bound: Part 11
----- Diplomacy -----

The bazar was lively and busy, especially for first light.  While there were the usual crowds, a sense of expediency loomed about the marketplace.  Patrons haggled, venders called out to passersby, and merchants peddled their goods with haste, in attempts to gain a bit more coin before the Festival of the Four Winds came to a close.

Valandra was completely out of sorts, and not just due to her lack of wardrobe.  Seeing this many people-certainly living people-put her in an uneasy state.  It was the complete opposite of the cold, dead, necrotic crows she was used to.  Here, vacationers laughed and chased each other around the lagoon, Char and Norn drank under a tented feast on the beachfront, and a crowd further down could be heard playing music and singing.

Ember's stomach growled and she groaned.  "By the gods, I'm hungry!"  Had it been under different circumstances, she would have enjoyed the festivities, even took a passing interest in the skimmers she'd seen racing around the lagoon.  But, her stomach had other ideas, and loudly let her know.  She salivated over the smells in the air.  "We gotta get some food!"

"Um… Yeah, we do.  But, I wonder… How exactly are we to pay for such?  I used the last coin I held purchasing the jerky from the sailor on the beach, and emptied our stomachs of that earlier."

"Ugh!  Don't remind me," Ember groaned.  "Maybe we can start a line of credit or something."

Valandra rolled her sapphires.  "You would just love this, yes?  Me being indebted to you."  She looked around at the haggling merchants and customers, then raised an eyebrow at a thought.  "Perhaps we should simply lay waste to these vendors; take what we require?"

Her monotone was sincere and Ember couldn't tell if this was meant as a joke or a possibility.  She shook her head.  "That wouldn't get us very far.  There's a lot of people here, and we probably don't want to draw attention to ourselves like that."

"Perhaps your right," she said, leaning into Ember's argument as the reason, but the ice queen looked around at the peaceful vacationers longingly.  "Slaughtering these people for our own nourishment would most decidedly not be subtle."

"Well come on, then, miss dark ice queen."

The two meandered through the crowds, inspecting various meals and meats offered by vendors.  Fruit was considered, but sustenance for their empty stomachs point them both to an Asuran merchant grilling fish in a corner of the bazar.

Valandra curled her lip.  "If I never see another Asura again," she mumbled.

Ember approached him, bent down to his level, and asked in the most sincere way she knew if they could have something.  Valandra folded her arms at the humiliating display.  The Asura simply laughed.

"Do you expect me to just hand out food to every half-naked bookah that approaches me?  You are the fourth today to claim to be some kinda noble person that can 'pay me back when they get home.'  Are all humans so clueless as to societal norms.  There's a monetary system for a reason, you know!  Show me gold or festival coin and we'll talk.  Otherwise, move out of the way and make room for customers that actually pay!"

Valandra chuckled.  "Are all your kind so ill-tempered?"

The Asura looked at the towering Valandra with a haughty expression.  "Are all your kind so slow?"

Embers narrowed eyes flashed red and her head began to smoke.  "Listen here you little shit.  Either take credit for this or I torch all of your product."  Her hand  burst into flame.

Valandra rolled her eyes and sighed.  There had been very few times in her life when Valandra needed to be diplomatic. Under the tutelage of Joko, one learned to simply take what you want.  Whether it be the excitement and hustle of the bazar, or something else entirely, it was fortunate this happened to be one of those times; the ice queen was in a negotiating mood.

She reached over calmly and collectedly doused Ember's flames with a light spray.  "Such things get us nowhere… Remember?"

Ember wrinkled her nose, cradled her smoking hand, bitterly tasting her own words.

"While we are standing here, there is a line forming behind us and I have seen several of your would-be patrons now go elsewhere.  Just give us food and this 'bookah' and her hot-tempered companion will be on their way.  Or, perhaps I should let her show you how to cook all your food at once?"

The Asura held up his hands, exhausted by their threats.  "Fine!  There's plenty of fish in the sea.  I can restock quicker than…"

Neither woman paid attention.  They each gathered sack-loads of food, not stopping to ask the merchant anything more.  Silently they slipped away, spoils in tow and found a secluded corner to devour their loot.

"That was unusual for me," Valandra said, half-stretching as she sat on a bench.  "Diplomacy… Is not really my strong suit.  While I may be cool headed and calculating…"  She paused when Ember snickered at the pun and rolled her eyes.

Ember took out a piece of meat, cooked it in her hand, then ate the piping fish.  "You know," she said, her mouth full, "Demitra would have sided with me; she sided with me in Amnoon."

Valandra retrieved a piece of fish as well, stared at it with an unappetizing frown, clearly not excited to eat the raw meat.  "What do you mean Demi sided with you?"

"When in Amnoon, the banker tried to keep our stuff.  I came at him the same way I was about to threaten the merchant, and Demitra totally had my back.  She didn't… contradict me."  Ember tossed a small chuck of meat in the air, sprayed a cone of flame over it, then caught it in her mount.

Valandra raised an eyebrow at the woman's actions.  "Here.  Be useful."  She shoved her slab of meat to Ember, then watched as the woman cooked it with a breath of fire.

"See?  You do need me!"

"Yes; I solely need you to cook my food.  I could cook my own food if I had your powers.  Well, if I had more power than whatever this little spark is."  She snapped a finger to make a very tiny flame appear, which quickly dispersed.

Ember giggled, finishing another piece of fish and winked at the woman.  "You also think I'm cute."

Valandra sighed.  "Look… what happened in the tent…"  She clearly had difficulty finding the words.

"Yeah, yeah.  It was the suit's fault.  I know."

"Yeah, the suit…" Valandra stared at her fish, then took a bite and was pleasantly surprised at the taste.

Ember smirked.  "Normally, I'd offer to season it, but… you know: given that I'm almost naked, I have very little pouches to store such things."  She stared at the woman for a hint of a smile at the joke.  When none came, Ember sympathetically sighed.  "Look… You know I'm just teasing you, right?"  She said softly.

"It's just… I haven't done that in such a long time.  Well, at least not willingly… not since… Demi."

Ember wanted to reach out to her, but didn't want to provoke the woman.  Instead she simply scooted closer on the adjacent bench.  "I… I'm sorry for these horrible things… I wish such horrible things wouldn't happen to people like us.  But, I mean… Okay, so it was the suits.  So what?  It was… I mean, at least I thought it was pretty… intense."  Her head inadvertantly caught fire.

Valandra looked up and chuckled.  "You want me to douse that too?"

"No… No thanks, I got it," Ember blushed, tried to wave the flame away, when a sudden stream of water landed on her.  "Hey!" Ember squealed.  The ice queen was standing, holding her finger like a water gun, laughing the entire time.  "S-Sto…p," Ember tried to battle the downpour, eventually laughing herself.  Giving up the futility of fighting the stream, she sprung from the bench, leaped at Valandra, and began to deploy a countermeasure: tickling.

 "Ah!" Valandra shrieked at the sudden surprise, began laughing hysterically, obviously vulnerable to the tickle powers Ember possessed.  "N-no!  S-stop!"  Valandra tried to catch her breath.  She pushed the woman off, ran away, still giggling.  "I escape!"

Ember giggled and ran after her.  "Oh no you don’t!  Not when I've just found your weakness!"

The two chased each other up the ramps of the cliff's gorge, giggling and laughing as they passed other vacationers.  Valandra ran until she came to an embankment, stumbled down into a small pool below with laughter and for the first time in a while, joy.  Ember followed behind, teasing the woman, finally pouncing on her like a predator.

"Ah!" Valandra pulled herself from Ember's ticklish grip, retreated back into the pond's waterfall.  She grinned.  "You wouldn't dare step in here!"

"Hey!  That's cheating!" Ember grumbled.

Valandra stuck out her tongue, her icy blue eyes squinting a taunting, alluring gaze.

Ember looked the woman up and down as the water cascaded off her form.  She was beautiful in a sensually commanding way, and she blushed at the sight.  She took in a big gulp, and with a wince, stepped into the waterfall.  The ice queen was frozen in shock and Ember took advantage.  She latched her arms around the woman.  "Gotcha!" she said playfully.

With a thin seductive smile, Valandra pulled the woman close; their bodies steamed as they touched.  "And what if I just decide to freeze this waterfall with you in it?"

Looking into the woman's eyes was like staring into crystals and Ember melted under their gaze.  She stood on her tiptoes and pressed her lips to the ice queen's, who returned it.
The couple stood, locked in embrace.  They could have been frozen in the waterfall; the moment lasted a lifetime.

Valandra pulled back slightly, and smiled now plump thick lips.  Her skin turned to a deeper caramel, her blue eyes turned to emerald, and her hair grew to become auburn locks.  Her features rearranged themselves to morph into Demitra.  The water suddenly shifted, turning into a waterfall made of sand; the pool in which they stood was a mound of sand.

Demitra's voice called out to Ember, her voice very barely audible.  She brought her hand to her own throat, revealing shackles upon her wrists.  She tried again to speak, yet the only word Ember could ascertain was, 'close'.

In Valandra's eyes it was Ember who changed into her ex; the only word spoken was in  Elonian.  She shook her head in disbelief and bewilderment.  "D-Demi?"

Ember gasped.  "Demitra!"  She reached out, grasping at the woman, desperate to believe.  "Close?  Close to what?  Tell me!"

Suddenly both women became their respective selves.  Ember blinked in confusion.  She would have cried had she not been so shocked.

"Did you… Did you see this too?  Demitra?"  Valandra was holding her head, glancing around, trying to regain her bearings.  "She… She was here.  Did you see?"

Ember nodded slowly.  "I did… S-she said something… something about being close?  Was she close?  Were we close?  I… I don't know what she meant; that's all I heard: close."

Valandra shook her head.  "I had… difficulties understanding her too.  There… There appeared to be sand-lots of sand.  Elona perhaps?  I… I am uncertain."  She wandered away from Ember, absently trying to put the puzzle together.

"What did she say?"  Ember prodded, following alongside the woman, insistently.

"The only word I could hear was something in Elonian; the word for 'trapped'," she said, her voice almost a reverent whisper.

Ember forced her hand into Valandra's to give it a squeeze.  "Look… Let's… Let's just do this together, okay?  Let's just find what you sensed.  Somehow she's tied to all this… somehow."  Her voice was purposefully confident, even though Ember's own reassuring smile was transparent.

Valandra looked down at their folded hands.  In this moment of playful fun, whether the spirit of this place, the festival, or even something to do with the accident, she'd found something within she never realized she missed.  Leaving this spot meant  the moment would be over, and part of her, the part usually encased in ice, didn't want it to end.  The other wanted nothing more than to rid herself of the feeling and rid herself of Ember.  Valandra's actions landed somewhere in between.  Her fingertips stayed with Ember's for the last possible second, as she slowly walked ahead.

"So where do we go?" Ember asked anxiously.

"Above us; the summit of this cliff."  Her brow furrowed as she walked under the lanterns hanging from the cave ceiling.

"Don't like the décor?"  Ember teased, not understanding the woman's expression.

Valandra frowned.  "What I wish is to have a solid plan.  Following visions, following a path I feel as though I do not control… It's like being back in Joko's bone palace.  I was only allowed to come on this excursion because the god-king believed it to be to his benefit.  Otherwise, I was consistently under his decrepit thumb… among other things," her voice trailed off.

Ember raised an eyebrow, then came to understand, inadvertantly letting out a disgusted, "Ew."  She covered her mouth.  Social graces and subtlety were never her strong suit and she hadn't meant to be rude.  "I mean… Hey, listen:  You're not his anymore!  Right?  I mean, this is how we do it; this is how we beat that monster.  We save Demitra, and we go after that walking jerky!"

A chuckle came from the ice queen.  "You've… been thinking of that joke all afternoon, haven't you?"

"N-No!" Ember scoffed, her cheeks were red indicating the opposite: the pun did, in fact, take her most of the day.

The two continued ascending the maze-like path to the top of the cliff, casually exchanging banter.  On more than one occasion, Ember got on Valandra's nerves; on more than one occasion the ice queen threatened to freeze the woman in various ways.

"Are we close?" Ember asked as they reached the summit.  It was the fifth time she'd asked.

Valandra looked around, as if trying to feel which way the wind blew.  "It's… It's odd, actually.  I spent so long tracking down the source of the fire power you hold; however, this pull is something much more… direct."  She shook her head a bit.  "We are close though.  It feels as though the source is… somewhere under the tent ahead."

Without a word, Ember was on the move to the goal.  Valandra's caution landed on deaf ears: the woman charged forth with little hesitation.  Yet, upon arriving under the tent, she stood baffled.  Before her lay an assortment of goods, and various merchants picking up wares to stow for the day.  Ember tilted her head at the site.  It was much like the bazar they'd just left, except objects now sat in place of foods from the beach below them.  "What the hell?  Is it one of the merchants?"

Valandra glided up beside her, looked around then zeroed in on a table with various goods.  "I know this is going to sound strange, but… I think the pull is from…"  She leaned close to Ember, keeping her voice low.  "I think it is a some-'thing' not a some-'one'."

Ember groaned.  "Oh it better not be another lamp!"

"A lamp?  What do you mean?"  Valandra skimmed the items, found a lamp and approached.

"Yeah!  We went to this cave and there was a lamp there…  It's that place I was telling you about on the boat; Demitra and I were there, and these things popped out of the lamps.  Here; observe!"  Ember snatched the lamp and vigorously began rubbing  it.

Valandra blinked.  She didn't know whether to laugh or if Ember was, indeed, being sincere.

The merchant, an Asura, finished with a customer then hurried over to the women.  "Put that down!" he exclaimed, irritation already in his nasally voice.

Ember handed over the lantern unceremoniously, ignoring the Asura, continued perusing the table.  "Well, it was worth a try, I guess.  Just pick up stuff and rub it."

"R-Rub stuff?" the merchant interjected.  "You shall not!"

Red eyes flashed at the Asura.  "I'll torch you if you try to stop me!  You have something we need, rat.  I'm not above burning you and just taking it!"  Ember threatened.

Valandra sighed an icy breath.  "Quiet, fire-head.  That got us nowhere before, remember?"

Ember scoffed.  "Then you go use your newfound diplomatic powers."  She continued madly rubbing various objects.

The Asura continued complaining.  "You can't possibly even afford anything I sell; you obviously don't know value when you see it!  Damned bookah cretons!"

"Oh, of course it had to be an Asura," Valandra said under her breath.  She crouched down, stared at the Asura behind reflective azure eyes.  "You say we do not know value?  Nothing I see here is worth the value you claim.  My… friend here… can tell.  It's why she's inspecting the merchandise.  So why don't you show off that which you find most valuable here, and we'll be the judge.  Who knows?  You may even make a cool profit.  Despite our appearance, our bank accounts are quite full."

The little Asura glanced to Ember, then back to Valandra.  "Well, fine.  But tell her to stop touching everything!  She's getting bookah-prints all over everything!  It'll tarnish the shine!"  He wobbled past Ember, snatching the latest test object from her.  Then he waved an assistant over, who he shouted some orders at.  The young Asura came with a chest she could barely hold.  Runes covered its surface, nullification sigils etched on it to ward off thievery.

Ember almost bit her lip.  A nod from Valandra echoed the words 'stay cool-headed' to her.  "Let us see then, so we know you're not cheating us."

"I'll show you, but you should know: I've spared no expense with the protection of this item.  Your rubbing little bookah flame hands won't touch it unless I give you the unlock rune!"

"Just open it already!" Valandra said, tired of the delays, tired of the banter, tired of Asuran merchants and their snarky attitudes.

The merchant grinned at the woman's impatience; it could only mean the simpletons were desperate for the power the object possessed, and that translated into profit.  He traced something unseen on the back of the chest.  A white light came from each engraving upon the box as the chest top slowly creaked open.  Both women leaned forward in unison, peering into the box.

Inside was an indigo-lined velvet sheet, indented in the middle.  The gossamer lining surrounded two intricate fingerless gloves, affixed to golden blades running alongside their length, attached with leather straps.

Valandra cocked her head to the side, trying to make sense of it.  "This?  Just gloves?"

"Oh, these are not simple bracers; they contain powers beyond anything you've seen!  And they can be yours for only 4,600 festival tokens!"

Ember stared at the gloves, instantly recognizing them, could barely bring herself to speak.  When she did, it was barely audible.  "D-Demitra's gloves…"

Valandra hadn't heard, continued arguing with the merchant.  "Festival tokens?  Are you serious?  And for these?  Do you really expect us to… Powers beyond…"  She began to laugh.

The Asura bared his teeth.  "Yes, festival tokens!  It's the universal currency accepted here!  And the price just went up to 5,000!  And, that's still practically a steal!"

"Ember, can you believe this?  This skritt is taking us for fools!"  She glanced over to Ember; the seriousness on her face made Valandra abruptly stop laughing.

The Asura snapped the lid shut.  "Or, perhaps you'd just like to rub some more generic wares?"

Ember shook a flaming fist.  "Those belonged to someone dear to me, you thief!"

"Ah, yes!  But I'll be a rich thief, at that!  I'll have enough to buy my way into the Eternal Alchemy!" The Asura was beside himself with glee.

The flaming fist turned into a fireball, ready to launch.  "And now it just became free!"

The merchant's eyes twitched, but he didn't move.  "Burn me up and you'll never be able to rub these!  Now, go!  I'm sure there are various chores around here you can do to earn some festival tokens.  Come back when you have the proper amount.  Otherwise, you should vacate my presence and stay gone!"

Valandra laid a cold firm hand on Ember's fuming shoulder.  "Come.  He's right; if we kill him, it gets us nothing.  Diplomacy, right?"

Ember growled, extinguished her hand, then tromped away.

"Wise choice," the Asura said.

Valandra spun around, her eyes a torrent of ice and lightning.  She slammed her fist onto the table, instantly freezing everything upon it; the table snapped in two.

"My things!" the merchant cried.  "Look what you've…"

The ice queen grabbed him by the scruff of his vest, dangled him in the air.  "The rune.  Open the chest now!" She growled.

A frost began to form over the merchant.  "N-No… Don't…"

Valandra brought another hand, placed it on his head.  "Open it now, or I shove an ice spike through your skull."

The Asura struggled to stay conscious as the frost began to encase him, but a stabbing sensation at his cranium snapped him awake.  "Y-Yes… F-Fine!  Just… don't… kill me."  He managed to trace the rune on the box, which unlocked itself.  Valandra dropped the Asura, who landed with a thud, shivering, freezing, unable to move.  She turned to join Ember, their prize in hand.


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Elementally Bound: Part 10

Elementally Bound: Part 10
----- Destined -----

Ember stumbled out of the tent, followed by Valandra.  Both wore the same yellow two-piece swimsuit they found within the tent; both left little to the imagination, and both women stood awkwardly exposed on the beach.  While Valandra was used to wearing little armor and attire, she felt uncomfortably vulnerable, given what just happened.  Neither spoke a word, yet an agreement seemed to be shared between them: the events of the tent were due to the removal of the suits; a final trap created by Kievaa… nothing more.  At least, that's what they both tried to tell themselves.

Feeling free for the first time since they'd met, Ember took in a deep breath.  Even the salty sea air was agreeable.  She glanced to Valandra, then slowly began to walk away, an attempt to leave this crazy adventure behind her.  Despite what they'd shared, there was little doubt Valandra would continue her insane ploy.  Ember was almost certain she'd failed to convince the woman to work together.  So, if the ice queen wanted a fight, she would just have to wait.  Ember needed to get away, get out of the ridiculous swimsuit, and find her armor.

Valandra stared at her counterpart, contemplating the outcome of what would happen if she stopped her.  And this hesitation angered her.  Ember had seen her at her most vulnerable; had almost cracked the ice around her cold exterior wall.  And, in her quest, that was a liability.

Since the moment they had met, things hadn't gone according to plan.  First, there was Ember's involvement in her past.  She had been a lover to Demitra, her own first love.  Then, there was the betrayal of the rodent, Kievaa, and the extraction process: something that nearly ended them both.  Whether the Asura knew the suit would confine the ice queen and if she even knew the process would not work, Valandra was unsure of the skritt's actual goal.  It was dubious and despicable regardless.  The results had them bound in the suits and they had been forced to endure a link, a bond, that eventually led them to this moment… to this tent.  The events therein were embarrassing, pleasurable, flattering, and disconcerting all at once.  Ember was only supposed to a shell holding the power she needed to capture, and Valandra knew involvement with the woman was counterproductive to her goal… Yet, she found herself wanting to stop her - and for a different reason than she should have: a reason of the heart.  She cursed her feelings, then circled back to place blame on the initial reason for the plan's derailment: Demitra.

Demitra had betrayed her after their romance blossomed, pulling Valandra from her destiny.  If she hadn't, Valandra's sacrifice would have pleased the god-king, Joko.  Her village would have been spared his wrath.  Now, Demitra's involvement, again, had interfered.  She had somehow gotten involved with this pyromancer-the very same fire wielder Valandra had been drawn to absorb.  Had Demitra known this?  Had she orchestrated their fate?  The questions flooded the ice queen's mind.  Since their arrival to the cliffs, Valandra felt as though she had been destined to end up here, and she couldn't help but think the visions and dreams, their destination, their very meeting, was somehow… arranged.

Interrupting her inner turmoil came an outward densely sickening feeling within her stomach.  Snapping her attention back to Ember revealed the woman doubled-over, knees in the sand vomiting.  Valandra vomited herself, and after the dizziness calmed, she clumsily approached a groaning Ember.

"Yeah," Valandra muttered.  "Me too."

Ember wiped her mouth.  "Balthazar's ball sack!  We're still… stuck together?"

Valandra sighed.  "It would appear that way.  Whatever this is… It apparently didn't go away with the suits."  She made no attempt to help the woman, instead she glanced around the beach, an attempt to avoid the awkwardness.  She turned her attention in the direction of the celebration.  In the distance, merchants could be heard shouting advertisements for their wares at the bazaar.

Ember stood.  "You're going to blame me for this again, now, aren't you?"

"You did blow up the machine," Valandra said tiredly.  While tired of the argument, her stance was solid.

Ember continued the fight, "And you made me go into the machine!  So how is this my fault!  This was all your doing!"

Valandra sighed.  "I wonder about that, actually…" She seemed to linger a moment on the thought, then shook her head.  "Regardless, let us not go down this path again.  We're here, stuck in this place.  I suggest we get food to replace what little we had in our stomachs before we heaved."

"I… Fine," Ember conceded, kicking sand over the mess.  "But… I get to pick what we eat."

Valandra cocked her head to the side.  "As long as it is not spider legs… Fine."

"Oh you haven't even tried them.  They're so good!"  Ember began their walk, prompting Valandra to follow.

"I am quite certain I would not 'have to try them' to know I do not like them, any more than I would eat an Awakened chicken!"

Ember giggled nervously.  While still elated to be free of the suit, she found herself dancing around just how to speak to the woman after events of the tent.  "Um… Well, hey, don't knock it till ya try it!"  She said in sing-song, not necessarily meaning to.  "Or maybe they'll have some kind of barbeque!" she said, salivating.

"Barbeque?  Oh!  You mean like shawarma?  Dolyak shawarma or…"

The next word was Elonian and something that sounded as unappetizing to Ember as Dolyak meat.  "I… Guess?"  She blinked slowly, pausing to look at the woman.  "You know, Demitra did much better at not looking so much like a foreigner."

Valandra rolled her sapphire eyes.  "I am not Demitra, as much as your dreams want me to be…"

Ember's face flushed at the accusation, knew it to be spot on.  She hadn't even taken the time to consider the dream; the events following were too chaotic and quick.  In truth, this was the second dream in which Demitra had turned into Valandra, and while she couldn't take the time to analyze the dream, she was annoyed at the ice queen's presumption and intrusion.  The water around Ember began to heat up and bubble.  "Look… I can't control… Why don't I see your dreams?  It's not fair for you to peek at mine!"

Valandra's voice took an ominous tone.  "I.. I used to dream.  I haven't dreamt since… Joko…"  Her voice trailed off as she glided past the fire mage.  "Your dreams… have made me realize just how much I missed it."

"Valandra…" Ember absently reached for the woman, pulled back when she saw herself doing it.

"I think…" the ice queen was still lost in thought, "I think beyond my search for you and your powers… I think we were always destined to meet; like an unseen hand guiding us to this path… to this place."

"Destined us to meet and fight, you mean?  Destined me to lose?"

Valandra turned to face the woman.  Her cold unblinking eyes piercing Ember's shield of fire.  "Perhaps so.  But, why do you think you lost?  Do you believe a lack of power caused your inability to stop me?  I was drawn to the absolute power you wield, yet I overpowered you."

"I… I honestly think I wasn't strong enough," Ember admitted.  She'd been playing out the scenario since her defeat.

"You have the power within you.  You squander it, and it is not just that you do not know how to tap into it… You're afraid of utilizing it."

Ember shook her head.  "I've… I've seen what I'm capable of: I've burned camps of enemies and… and schools.   It took all I had to recover and then finally rid myself of the dark passenger, and I… I don't want to lose control again."

"Exactly.  You are afraid to lose yourself.  I am not.  I have seen what I am capable of as well; I've slaughtered entire villages in the name of Joko.  And in that cave, I cared not about the establishment, the patrons, the very cave the bar was in.  When I fight, I do so with no hesitation, no compunction.  I was willing to bring the entire thing down on us both… I almost called forth the lightning to do just that!"

"See?  That right there!  Your lightning; why do you have lightning too?  That pisses me off!"

"Because I took it!"  Valandra growled.  "Just as I was to take yours!"

Ember blinked.  The woman's primal rage in the statement mirrored Ember's own usual speech.  Valandra was, from what Ember had gathered, very cold, collected, and calculating; exact on what she said and what she was doing.  Even in a situation where they were without clothing, food, or a sense of direction, the woman seemed to keep her cool.  The reaction surprised Ember, but it was the first time more of Valandra's plan had been revealed, so the short pyromancer pressed on.

"You took it from someone like me?"

Valandra was already a few steps ahead, returning to their walk.  She responded vaguely, in an attempt to focus on navigating the coral formations and regain her senses.   "Not someone like you.  Not a human.  Well, at least he hadn't been human for quite some time, in any case."

"So you… cheated?" Ember was as careful with the accusation as she was with the coral.

"Cheated?  No!  I took what I needed.  I was enacting a plan to call forth thunder bolts onto Joko.  Freezing him doesn't work… I tried that when I was younger.  A spell-the same that tracked me to you-was used to find the most magical concentration of the one with whom commanded those elements of wind and lightning."

"And you just took it?  How did you take it?  Who was the guy you took it from?"

Valandra grumbled an Elonian swear, wondering why she had already gone into more detail than she should have.  "Didn't matter in the end anyway; Joko is an undying lich.  Lightning and cold do not affect him.  I thought that incineration…"

"So you hoped frying him would work?  I mean, if electrocuting him and freezing him didn't work, what makes you think fire would?"

"Fire leaves nothing but ash if it is hot enough."

Ember tapped her chin for a moment.  "Well, yeah, hopefully that would work.  If not, we can always toast him into Joko jerky and eat him.  Let the bastard come back from that!"

Valandra let out a hardy laugh.  It was the first time she had even cracked a smile since their engagement.  "Yes… Let's call that a secondary plan, yes?  I think I'd rather eat spider legs first, than to devour an enemy!"

The two continued their walk with light banter.  Valandra had misgivings about Ember; Ember had misgivings about Valandra.  Yet, both women seemed to enjoy the other's company, and on more than one occasion, each let their mind wander back to the tent.  Approaching the last island's shore, the cliffs lay just ahead, with a lagoon and a ship between them.  There was music and laughter, and a general buzz of excitement as the Festival of the Four Winds was well underway.

Valandra was silent.  As they came closer, she felt an unmistakable pull, the same tugging she'd felt that led her to Ember.  Yet, the boon upon her was no longer; the spell had run its course.  This was something… different… something familiar and majestic.  It felt like destiny.

"So what now?" Ember strained to see the sights.

"Now?  Now it looks like you get your wish, after all."

Ember blinked.  "Food?"

Valandra grinned.  "A vacation."


Monday, August 6, 2018

Elementally Bound: Part 9

Elementally Bound: Part 9
----- Removal -----

Tyria's moon, while majestic, never quite seemed to shine as it did in the Labyrinthine Cliffs.  There was a halo around what looked to be an eclipse, which shone on the surrounding islands and lagoon, illuminating all it touched with a soft blue glow.  Valandra sat on the beach, basking in the vivid moonlight, a welcomed reprieve from Tyria's sun.  While she hadn't enjoyed their time there, the day had produced results and she was relieved at the prospect of ridding herself of Kievaa's suit.  Their contact was supposed to meet them on the beachfront, so they had procured shelter with the last of their collective coin, forcing the two to sleep uncomfortably within the same tent.

What bothered her more, however, were the thoughts projected into her mind as she finally did close her eyes.  The dreams from Ember beamed visions of Demitra in her slumber.  They crawled through her subconscious: Demitra's soft pouty lips, her alluring eyes of emeralds, the intricately stained patterns of runes along her long sultry legs...  The two embraced, entangled in the throes of passionate love.  Yet, as the exchange continued, Demitra's auburn hair changed to short and white, her voluptuous body grew taller, breasts smaller.  She morphed into Valandra, herself.  Her bright blue eyes looked up, staring back at Ember, who, although confused, gave into the desire to continue.

Valandra shoved a finger in the sand.  She scoffed and drew a sigil design as water from her fingertip filled it as she traced.  She couldn't quite understand why the dream upset her so much; why she had sought refuge from the embarrassment in the quiet dawn.  Perhaps it had just been so long since she had felt wanted and desired for something other than the powers she possessed and the resources she brought to the lich.  Other than that abomination's violations, she had only ever been with Demitra… back before she interfered.

A scowl came to the woman's face, a flash of anger from her own thoughts, prompted by Ember's illicit dream.  "That's enough," she said.  Standing, she held a hand toward the tent, calling forth the cold within.

After a moment, Ember emerged from the tent, covered in snow.  "The… the hell?"

Valandra didn't hide her devilish grin.  "You have a habit of sleeping in, don't you?"

Ember shook the snow from her hair, her internal core additionally melting and steaming the rest.  "You… You could have just woke me up, like a normal, sane person!"

"Oh no!  Your dreams were… much too involved for me to wake you.  You may have tried to seduce me had I attempted to wake you from your libidinous dream."

"L-Libidi…." Ember's head was already on fire, her face as red as the flames.  "Get out of my head!" she yelled.

"Even if we didn't share the tent… If we didn't share this bond, I would have still heard you moaning!  Half the beach undoubtedly heard your cries of ecstasy."

Ember was beside herself, clenched fists and growled.  "You really wanna be incinerated this early in the morning?  Or do you wanna go about getting these damned suits off?"

Valandra glided to Ember, almost whispering in her ear, tauntingly.  "If you're done dreaming of me, sure."

"I… I can't control my dreams!"

"Especially when you desire me so?"  Valandra teased.

Ember sighed, her flames retracting.  "Look… Let's just focus on… what we came here for."  She cleared her throat, trying to get rid of the lump that had formed from her embarrassment.

The ice queen giggled slightly.  Ember was so easily rattled, it was difficult not to continue the banter, but their priority was as she'd said: the suits needed to be removed, and nothing-not even Ember's ill-advised attempt at overloading them with an embrace-had worked yet.

"Just where is this little skritt at, anyway?"  Ember changed the subject.

Valandra looked further down the beach, where a small Asura paced back and forth along the waterfront.  "I… I hope that's not our contact," she said disillusioned.  "I think we've both had enough interactions with Asura to last lifetimes."

"Not my first choice either, but…"  Ember began walking to meet the Asura.  Valandra followed with a sigh.

"Are you sure you left them here?" the Asura could be heard talking as the women approached.  The only other occupant on this side of the beach was a chicken.  "Okay, Okay, Calm down… I was just asking!  What? No, I didn't take them!  What use would I have for th-  That was three years ago!  And, I really needed to… Don't change the subject!"  Apparently the one-sided conversation was with the chicken, and the Asura hadn't noticed the tall women of red and blue glowing outfits next to her.

"She's… She's arguing with a chicken," Valandra rubbed her forehead.

"Don't matter to me; as long as they can get us out of these things!  Hello there!" Ember called out.

The Asura continued pacing, ignoring her.  "We'll just have to make a new pair for you.  What?  Yes, I know they were your favorite pair, but what do you want me to do?  We're days away from our lab.  Besides, we're on vacation; that means no work!  Remember?"

The chicken clucked.

Ember hesitated, then tried again, this time bending down slightly.  "Hello there."

The Asura jumped and toppled back, startled by their seemingly abrupt appearance.  "Oh!  Hello!" she said brushing the sand off.  She wore a black leather suit, complete with a cap and goggles all outlined with dark maude seams and lining.  A practical ensemble for an adventure; impractical, perhaps, for a vacation (though it mattered little to the Asura).

"We need…" Valandra began, then was quickly cut.

"Whoa!" the Asura was already inspecting the suits.  She looked at the chicken, then back to the women.  "Yes!  I see it.  Are those… mhmm, indeed!"

Ember stood, placed her hand on the hilt of her weapon; Valandra folded her arms at the scene, convinced the batty Asura was a waste of their time.

"Amazing!  Astonishing!" She paused, considering, then whispered to the chicken.  "I know.  I know it.  They're incredible!  Where did you get those?"

"My wings?  I manifest them; an extension of my power: ice shards ready, at my beck and call." Valandra half-heartedly shrugged.  She knew to what the Asura referred, yet found it humorous to derail the pointless endeavor.

"I knew it was something vain!"  Ember seemed to speak to the chicken.  "'Oh look me... I'm the ice queen!  Look at my at my ice-wings, they're so amazing and pretty!'" she mocked.

Valandra rolled her eyes.

"No, no… I meant the suits.  Er… Wait.  I forgot." the Asura paused, conversed with the chicken again.  "Yes, yes, I will!  I was just getting to that!  Introductions!"  She did a slight courtesy.  "I am Jinx Fizzlespring.  Yes, yes, of the Fizzlesprings!  Oh, and this is my trusty assistant, Mister Cluckles!"

Ember played along, whether to placate Jinx or because she truly believed the crazy Asura could help, Valandra couldn't tell.  "Hello Mr. Cluckles.  I assume your work is… most delicious."

Jinx glossed over the joke.  "Oh indeed!  He is quite talented in his field.  So what brings you here?  Are you two on vacation too?  You make such a lovely couple, paired in such attire!"

Valandra stared unscrupulously.  "No.  Most assuredly we are not on vacation."

Ember sighed.  "I'm Ember, and the grumpy one there is Valandra.  (She woke up in a foul mood.)"

"Disturbing dreams have a way of doing that.  Shall I elaborate on the nature of it?"

Jinx shook her head, wanting to hear the story.

Ember blushed.  "No, no… That's alright.  Um, Jinx, we're actually looking for one of your kind to help us undo another skritt's work."

Valandra cleared her throat, corrected Ember.  "Another Asura…"

"Oh trust me!  You don't want to hire skritt to do work for you.  It's utterly disastrous!"  She looked to her chicken, then gasps at nothing.  "No it wasn't!  That was all you!  I didn't hire them; You did!  Nevermind.  Nevermind, we can just discuss this when we get home.  No, we're still on vacation.  I mean later!"

The two women exchanged glances, both uneasy at the display.  Valandra shrugged, arms still folded.  "If she's just going to argue with the chicken, we should just go.  I was told someone would meet us here; obviously it's not this one."

"Oh we can help!  Definitely!" Jinx offered.


Jinx ran to the chicken, placing both hands on either side of its head, to spare the bird humiliation.  "Hey now, may not be the bravest, or the smartest… Or the most dependable… But Mr. Cluckles here is no chicken!  You want things done right?  You will find no better than a Fizzlespring, I assure you!  (We have a reputation to uphold!)"

Valandra inadvertantly chucked.  "No chicken, huh?  Well, if he can get us out of these damned suits, I really don't care."

Jinx's eyes widened, a huge smile on her face at the challenge.  "You want out, huh?  Lemme see…" She circled the women, mumbling incoherent technical jargon neither quite understood.  "Oh yes.  I see.  Quite extraordinary!" Her eyes beamed.

"Yes; extraordinary.  But there's the problem: we can't get them off ourselves.  Show the little one what happens when we try, Ember." Valandra had an impish smile.

An attempt to remove the inhibitor was quickly met with a shock.  "Damnit!" Ember swore.

"How peculiar!" the little Asura marveled.

"Do it again," the ice queen's provoked, then smiled when Ember almost did so.  She stopped herself and frown

"Wait no!  Let me go get some equipment I brought!  I can get some statistics; run some diagnostics!"  Jinx scurried off, along with her chicken.  "What?  So I brought a few things; so what?"

With the same baffled look, the women watched the Asura run off.  Before conversation could be exchanged, Jinx was already returning, a rather large suitcase in tow.  "Seems like I'd already brought my stuff."  The chicken clucked.  "What?  I know that Mr. Cluckles!  I know!  I promise we will afterwards."  She plopped down in the sand, opening her case, pulling out devices and books.  "I know it's in here somewhere," she muttered, her face buried in the case's interior.  She emerged with a small handheld device, and an ocular apparatus affixed on one eye.  "Aha!  There we go!"

"What do you need us to do?"  Valandra awkwardly asked as Jinx leaned closely into her bottom half.  She inadvertently blushed at the scrutiny.  Without warning, the Asura reached up and pulled a panel off at the woman's hip, revealing a mess of wires and a few receptacles.  Expecting a shock, Valandra braced herself.  To her surprise, the opposite effect happened: an almost tickling sensation came from it.  Her face flushed at the feeling, tried not to let Ember see her discomfort.

"Okay, so, there must be a power device of some sort.  With that much energy…"  She paused, nodded to the chicken.  "Yeah.  I think so too," she said in awe as she connected two wires to Valandra's hip.  "I would very much like to meet the designer," Jinx said as she unraveled the wires, hooking them into her pad.

Ember scoffed.  "Yeah; I'd like to meet her again too!  The Asura that put us in these things was a friend of hers."  She gestured to Valandra.

"Being trapped in this suits was not my doing; if you hadn't blown up the machine…"

"Oh my gods!  Will you just let it go, already?  You put on the suit yourself.  No one forced you into it!  You put it on willingly!"  Ember was tired of the accusation, tired of the situation, and furthermore, tired of being trapped.

"Oh my!  Not good.  Not good, at all.  76.54… Carry the three…  Are you seeing this?"  Jinx held the device up.  The Asuran writing was filled with numbers and jumbled to both women.  "When did you notice you couldn't get out of these contraptions?  How long have you been in them?"

Valandra thought a moment.  "We… We didn't notice until a few days ago that neither of us could remove them without injuring ourselves."

"Mmhmm… mmhmm."  Jinx was busily inputting calculations, then jarringly stopped.  "You've been in these things for a few days?"  She looked appalled.  "Where did you... You know... Go to the restroom?"

Both women blushed.

"Look, that's um... Not important, but there is this other thing you should see."  Ember launched a fist at her own face.

Valandra staggered backward, nearly knocked off her feet at the unexpected invisible punch.  "Th-The hell?"  An icy glance was cast at Ember, followed by a retaliatory strike upon the ice queen's own chin.

Ember almost fell over.  "Don't do that!  I was just showing her!"  She took a breath.  "These damned things like… transfer the impacts we each feel," she explained to Jinx.

The Asura's eyes were bigger than seemed to be possible.  "That's fascinating!"

"You say fascinating; I say annoying," Valandra huffed.

"Well, it's fascinating that they are completely independent, yet… somehow connected.  Oh my, this complicates things, doesn't it Mr. Cluckles?"  The chicken was busy pecking at the sand.

"Complicates things how?" Valandra asked, certain she wouldn't like the response.

"Well, it… It just does!" Jinx nodded, as if this explained everything.  "Mister Cluckles can give you more details, if needed.  Hey!" She slapped Valandra's hand away from the wires connected to the suit.  "Don't touch those!"

Valandra looked extremely agitated.  "Just get these things off if you can't help, before I freeze them and the damn rooster!"

Jinx looked shocked.  "He's a chicken, ma'am!"  She waddled over to the opened suitcase and began to look for another device.  "And I thought you were crabby, Mr. Cluckles!"  After a minute of rummaging, she stood upright holding a larger electronic pad, connected the wires to it, then slid down a set of goggles to shield her eyes.  "Okay, let me try something…"

Valandra looked worriedly at Ember.  A zap was sent into the woman's hip and she suddenly shrieked from it.  Ember felt the need to reach out, but refrained from doing so.

"Oh sorry; wrong button!  See?  Let me tell you: I don't know how designed these things, but it's nothing a Fizzlespring would cobble together, let me assure you!  Okay, let me just adjust this," she tapped a few commands on the pad.

"So, these suits are linked.  You wanna know how they got that way?  This one was trying to steal my magic," Ember explained to Mr. Cluckles.

"Yeah, keep talking to the chicken.  That'll help," Valandra rolled her eyes.

"Well, I dunno, he could be an engineer turned into a chicken, for all we know!"

"Calibrating to 9.35… and…"  Jinx was suddenly knocked to the ground, a small zap of energy, feedback from the suit.  "Woah!  Okay… Okay, I didn't expect that!  I mean," she stood, dusted herself off.  "All according to the plan!"

Valandra shook her head in disbelief.  She didn't know who the Asura was trying to convince, but was almost ready to pull the plug - literally.  The sun had finally risen, and standing on the beach while this Asura experimented on them further added to her annoyance and discomfort.  And then, there was the chicken...

Jinx shook her head at what was presumed an idea given by Mr. Cluckles.  "Okay; that sounds good.  Okay, I'm going to stand way over here and tell you what to do, mkay?"  The Asura moved quite a distance from the women.  "Okay, so, You see the green wire inside the panel, next to your hand?  The green one?  The one that's the color green?  Inside the panel?"

"Arg.  Yes, I see several green wires!"  Valandra was exasperated.

"Yeah, no!  Don't touch those!" Jinx yelled.

Valandra pulled her hand away, her brow furrowed.  "Just tell me what to do then, not what I shouldn't do!"

"Just past the green wires, there should be a small crystal!"  Jinx lowered her voice so only the chicken could hear, "No, the blast radius shouldn't be that big.  We're safe, but you'd better come closer to me."  The chicken wander in her direction, came to stand beside the Asura's three-toed foot.

"What?" Valandra struggled to hear the tiny voice.

"Nothing; nothing.  Okay!  You see the crystal?  Good!  Don't touch it!"

Valandra cried out in frustration.  "Damn it!"

"Oh, you know what?  I have an idea!  You there!  Red one!  You need to reach in and take that crystal out.  On her suit; not your own!  Okay?  Just reach in there and take it."

Ember came to stand by Valandra, who was a statue.  She knelt down to examine the opened hatch.  Contained therein were a wide variety of wires, different sizes, different colors, further beyond was a small crystal with a soft blue hue.  "So, I can touch the other wires though right?"  She began to reach in.

"On her suit?  Yes!  Sure.  Well, the red ones.  No wait.  I mean green!  Green wires!"

Ember already had a hand in the suit, navigating the maze of wires.  She was convinced she'd touched the green wires more than once, but concentrated on getting to the objective.  Her fingertips slightly touched the crystal, then reached out and grasped it.  At once, a wave of pleasure crashed onto Valandra and she let out a loud moan, unexpectedly.

"Well, that was certainly unforeseen; at least they didn't blow each other up, right Mr. Cluckles?"  Mr. Cluckles squawked.

Ember looked up as Valandra's yearning eyes met hers.  "Oh it doesn't take a bond to know you love this," she said seductively.

"Okay!  So, slowly take out the crystal.  Do it slowly; that means not fast!" Jinx instructed.

Ember began wiggling the crystal gently with an impish grin as Valandra gasped and whimpered.  She enjoyed the control.

"Sl-ow-ly." Valandra said through pants.

Without warning, Ember yanked the crystal out.  Valandra cried out in pure orgiastic ecstasy, dropped to her knees, head landing on Ember's shoulder as she tried to catch her breath, bodily spasming.

Ember whispered in Valandra's ear.  "Was it good for you?"

"Y-you knew it would do that, didn't you?"  The woman was done convulsing, not yet able to stand.  The neon of the suit began to dim and fade.

Ember softly giggled. "Oh you loved it."

"Okay, you can do her now!" Jinx called out.

Valandra grinned at the realization, while Ember blushed.

"Now then… You don't have to do it so…"

Jinx had already opened a panel and returned to her safe spot; Valandra already weaved her hand into Ember's suit.  She found the crystal, wrapped her fingers around it, staring up expectantly at the woman.  She lightly caressed the top of it, to gauge Ember's reaction.

"J-just d-do it…" Ember's face flushed.

She ran her fingers around it a few more times, grinning.  Ember arched her back, bit her lip to stifle a moan.  "Just… P-pull it… out!"

Valandra yanked the crystal from Ember, a wild smile splashed on her face as Ember fell to her knees, a moan escaping.  Valandra stood, watched the woman tremble in the sand with a smirk.  "Oh come on now, we both know you loved it."

Ember tried to catch her breath.  "I… Shut up."

"Now, you two… This is the important part.  Are you paying close attention?  There is still a large amount of energy and charge built up in these suits.  If you touch your own, you could cause a… Well, let's just say that big of an explosion would ruin everyone's vacation here.  So, you will have to carefully, slowly, methodically take each piece off of the other's armor.  Okay?  Very careful-like."

"Sure," Valandra had a mischievous grin.  She clearly had no intention of following the instructions.

"Oh no!  This time I mean it.  Carefully and slowly!  Well, not too slowly!  'Cause, you know… KABOOOM!  Balmo!  Kaboom!"  Jinx flailed her hands in the air, walking in a circle.  "Ahhh!  Fire Everywhere!  Gahhh!"

Ember's suit dimmed; Valandra stared at the power source.  "What do we do with these crystals?"

"Whatever you do, don't throw them in the salt water!"  Jinx hurried over with a small bag.  "I'll take them; you know, as payment!  Yeah!  If anybody can put these to use, it's a Fizzlespring!"

"So, now we have to dismantle thse things; and you say I must deconstruct her suit as she does mine?"

"Yes!  And quickly!" Jinx exclaimed.

"Or… Kaboom. (Yes; I heard.)"  Valandra handed the crystal to the Asura.

Ember was trying to stand.  "I… I thought you said slowly."

Jinx bobbed her head up in down.  "Yes!  So slowly.  Piece by piece!"

Ember was extremely puzzled to find Valandra helping her to her feet.  "Um… Thanks," she said awkwardly.

Jinx was almost done packing her things back into the case.  "Now, once you start, you're going to have to keep on going.  Slowly!  But, just… you know, don't stop, or we become another Bloodstone Fen, mkay?"  She started to walk off, then called to Mr. Cluckles, who inexplicably came to his master.

"Huh.  What do you know?  The chicken actually listens to her," Ember mused.

"Crazy little Asura; she's probably going to make us blow each other up, you know?"

"Well, she's gotten us further than we were.  But, I feel no different… yet.  Other than… you know… What just happened."  Ember rubbed the back of her neck.

Valandra nodded, also cheeks a bit flush.  She turned, began walking to the tent.  "We… We need to get started."

Ember looked at herself.  "I'm… Not sure if I have anything on under this."

Valandra blushed profusely.  "I know I don't," she said, as her wings melted away and she entered the tint.

Ember gulped, following her in.