Walking Between Waters

Walking Between Waters

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The air was dry and hot. Tadia was high overhead, beating down on Emilod’s dark, bare shoulders. His overalls were unbuttoned and hung loose over his hips as he worked, revealing the gill slits under his ribs, blue filaments shrunken in the heat and tucked away. Calloused fingers deftly pulled the gears and cogs of the little machine from their sockets. It wasn’t entirely mechanical. Some of it was magical, and while those parts he couldn’t always fix, he would be damned if he didn’t at least try.

It was meant to be a machine that pushed air about the room. He could see why they were so popular here, but he didn’t understand why it couldn’t be a mechanical fan. That was simply two motors to fix, not a motor, two complex sigil-run blades, and a whirling device that somehow incorporated another sigil instead of relying on a power source.

He sighed. He loved a challenge, but this was perhaps too much for now.

Just as he placed the device to the side, ready to abandon the project in favor of a walk to the stream to cool off, he heard footsteps. They startled him. This was a secluded meadow off the beaten path. There wasn’t even a footpath that lead to it. He had stumbled upon the place in a dry haze the week before, settling down in the warm clearing with his projects from the nearest settlement.

He didn’t even have a chance to call out before someone was stepping out of the bushes. They were haggard and sunken, skin stretched tight over a skeleton. Papery skin, nearly so translucent as to see the blood surging underneath, crinkled into a fanged snarl. A viatzezil.

A desperate one, at that.

Emilod stood, keeping his gaze locked with the orange-rimmed eyes. They were so bright that it was impossible to tell what their colour really was. That could be a problem – a desperate viatzezil was dangerous. Their magic, if they retained any, might be a counter to his own. It wasn’t exactly strong without water nearby.

His weapons were hooked on a belt that was hung up nearby, replaced with his toolbelt while he worked. That, too, could be a problem.

That left his voice as his last defense. “Who are you?”

The viatzezil stranger stepped forward. Emilod stayed firm. Wetting his lips, he tried again. “You seem injured, or at least dispossessed.”

Another step forward. Emilod wanted to believe the best of this person. So, he tried one last time, “Perhaps I can help you?”

Sure enough, the stranger continued to advance. Their gait changed, picking up from a shuffle to a run, trying to cut him off, when Emilod made a dash for his weapons. Barely faster than them, he whipped his belt, tools and all, at his attacker as he yanked one weapon free from the other belt.

The fight was short. Emilod led with right hook that left his attacker sidestepping, bouncing off the tree in an effort to steady themself and failing. They were up on their feet in the blink of an eye, lunging at him. Fangs gnashed and claws ripped right through the denim fabric of his leg, tripping him as he tried to get behind something so he could get his bearings. Rolling onto his back, he was just time to catch a swipe of claws across the arm instead of his chest, close to the decorative membranes there. Cool, blue blood gushed from the wound.

The scent would drive this desperate viatzezil to kill him if he didn’t do something quick. Opening his mouth and gathering his breath, Emilod let out a scream. Using the tones of amplification and weaving a quick spell, his voice became a weapon. The sound shook the air around them, deafening himself briefly. It broke the eardrums of his attacker, the poor sap rolling away from Emilod to clutch his head.

He stood quickly, drawing his second weapon from the abandoned holster laying in the dirt. When he approached his attacker, they whimpered and flinched, but didn’t move away. They were a sorry sight, starving and afraid.

Pity filled Emilod. He had met his fair share of desperate folks, but a viatzezil in a state like this was dangerous. They would keep attacking until their bloodlust was sated, then do it all again. Driven by starvation, desperation was an exceptionally cruel fate for their kind.

Raising a three-pronged sai, he paused before his final strike, just long enough for the viatzezil to look up at him.

Their eyes weren’t completely orange.

“Cami,” they whispered when Emilod hesitated. Eyes wide, they begged for death.

Lowering his weapon, Emilod shook his head. “I cannot take a life in vain,” he said, words falling on deafened ears.

“Cami,” they repeated with a sob, turning from Emilod and curling into a tightly wound ball. “I don’t want this any more.”

He stared for a moment before making up his mind. Kneeling next to the stranger, he offered the gaping wound, still dripping. “Drink,” he ordered when the stranger shook their head, putting the gaping wound close to them.

One moment, they were trembling and sobbing, the next their mouth was latched onto Emilod’s arm. A hot tongue lapped uncomfortably at the edges, their enhanced saliva allowing the wound to knit closed quickly. Soon there was only the gentle sucking at the wound and the occasional muffled sob.

Taking the opportunity to really look at the person, he saw that they were emaciated. Likely, they had been starving for a long time. Not unusual for solitary roaming viatzezil. Their clothing was tattered and stained, not belonging to any particular colour or class. Probably someone who had been turned recently, but not too recent that they couldn’t heal Emilod’s wound. 

Watching carefully, Emilod allowed the viatzezil to drink until their was a scraping of fangs to reopen the gash. He took his arm back with a jerk, startling the stranger. They locked gazes. The orange around their eyes had receded, leaving the hot orange of their colour. An unfortunate coincidence, having blood so close to the orange of a viatzezil’s eyes.

Emilod spoke first. “Better?”

“Ae,” answered the stranger sheepishly, wiping the blue from around their mouth. With as much as they had drunk, their ears had healed already, though orange blood now made a lazy line from the left ear.

Their gaze flicked to the weapons still in Emilod’s fists. Warily, they asked hoarsely, “What now?”

Emilod’s words were terse and uninviting, “Perhaps you should go.”

The viatzezil swallowed thickly. Standing slowly, they nodded and echoed, “I should go.” Shooting Emilod a look, they added emphatically, “Thanyadan,” before turning and fleeing into the bushes.

He watched them go, hoping this was the right decision. Technically the stranger hadn’t left any injuries, and they had thanked him, but the encounter had left a sour taste in his mouth. The bushes settled in front of him, leaving no other trace of where the stranger had gone.

Sighing, he turned toward the mess strewn about from the fight. Gathering his bag, he headed to the stream, vowing to stay at an inn next time. Walking between bodies of water was just too dangerous.

Glossary of Terms

Tadia – The name of the sun Sigillea orbits
Maesa – A Sigillean siren or mermaid
Viatzezil – Sigillean vampire, comes from Viatze (suck) and Zilist (Blood/life force)
Cami – Please/Begging
Ae – Yeah, short for aes (yes)
Thanya dan – Thank you