Wayward: Chapter Eight

A glint of metal sucked up any nearby light, outlining the curving corkscrew blade the Badger drew out of her coat. A dimly lit but perfectly outlined figure of a long-eared creature stood, the soft points of the ears gave away the Rabbit in a way nothing else could. Sephera held her ground, she could feel the Erkinan well up inside her and ready to be unleashed. It was an option, almost always an option, but she had a mind to preserve it less she needed it for the guards ahead. As the pause grew to a stalemate, the Badger summoned her voice, “Well?! Well, what are you waiting for? Have you come to fight or were not expecting someone to defend themselves?”

 “I wouldn’t expect you to go down without a little kicking and screaming. In all honesty, if you gave up without even the hint of a fight, I would be rather distraught.” Despite it all, the stranger’s tone was utterly devote of emotion, withdrawn in a way that seemed so cold and harsh that it could be something beyond a mortal’s capability. 

Squinting against the dark of night, Sephera tried as she might to glean anything more about the Rabbit that she could from their appearance alone. Almost as though aware of the Badger’s searching, the Rabbit stepped a bit closer, still a few spans away but enough that the light finally struck her. Beneath the light seeping from the inn’s window and the sickly gray hues of the portal, Sephera began stripping the woman down from the most basic details to the most nuance of identifiers. Her ashen and pale ears hung low, tied off with a ruby red ribbon with any excess hair on her head, the gown she wore may have borne very light markings in something close to aqua though they barely stood out against the snowy hue of the fabric itself. A strap ran diagonally across her chest, the shadow behind hinting at some sort of pack containing what, Sephera could only guess. Something reflective danced around her waist, a dull, brass belt perhaps, but the same soft metallic reflection was present on what little of her paws that were visible. She was simply stumped by this character, their sudden appearance, and all that made them up. What she had expected was a thug, maybe a few, possibly Bears or Raccoons, something from through the portal but not a Rabbit. Most especially perplexing was that she was a woman, not only a woman but one with a slender physique, from what her figure could imply, and not a single guard or means of defending herself in sight. Finally, Sephera’s eyes narrowed, her mind kicked back what the woman had said, and the realization she was struck with was more incredible than the force she had felt just moments prior.

 “So she told you about me or all she thought she knew about me, I take it. Probably passed on everything she knew to you and gave you whatever control over that power she had too. But you make a very grievous mistake to chase me, little bunny, because I didn’t decide to kill your mother, she decide to die by my paws. I wouldn’t want to take that path twice if I could help it, so do yourself a kindness and run along. I won’t come chasing; I have so much more to worry about that I won’t even think to put another of Talon on it,” in a gesture of good faith, Sephera slid the knife back into her coat. 

Silence radiated from the Rabbit, the slightest jingle of metal against metal sounded as she neared. As she came within arm’s reach of the Badger, Sephera didn’t think to act, it would ruin what little confidence she had built in the girl for her trust her. Perhaps she could see through the visage, it could very well be that she knew that Sephera wouldn’t leave her alive after such a slight. There was a perfect opening for an attack yet, rather than throwing another blow, the Rabbit only locked eyes with the woman. Holding her gaze a moment, the Rabbit allowed her own poison tongue to slither freely, “You haven’t changed a bit, not from when we first crossed paths, not from when I tried to stop you from killing the others, not even from the last time I drew real breath. I’d like to say I’m not surprised, but even I thought you could become something more than a gutless, cold-hearted murderer. That makes things easier, I suppose, so don’t count this as revenge; rather, it is an attempt to cleanse the world of such awful things as yourself, Sephera.”

“You fake pretty well for a stand-in, I could almost believe you to be the woman herself. But my offer remains, turn tail now and walk far away. I won’t hurt you and I’ll forget your face, you can live the rest of your life knowing that you didn’t try and fail but that you chose to live. There’s no dishonor in the wise choice, wouldn’t you say?” Sephera fought to keep any hint of paranoia from her tone, she couldn’t honestly believe this was Haven herself come back to life. The possibility coursed through her mind, and as soon as it sunk in, the worry felt real. At once, she would have to reach out to Narothepp and demand answers. So wrapped in her own thoughts was the Badger that she nearly missed the Rabbit’s retort.

 This time the girl’s face was a tense mask, trying to work away the fury but only barely containing it, “You listen to me, I don’t know who you think I am. Maybe you think I am the daughter of your great enemy but you’d be wrong. I am Mi’laynn Haven. I could show you the exact spot where I die atop that temple, how I burnt to death, and how you barely managed to survive. However, I’d rather show you the exact spot where you will die, crushed utterly to death, and I will easily survive this time.”

Sephera backed away a pace or two, neither footfall including her heel, she wanted to keep ready for hasty movements should the Rabbit go berserk. Her paw fondled the handle of her weapon, the Erkinan rose in her ready to be utilized, and the plethora of smaller counter-measure weapons in her arsenal flashed to mind as usual. Controlling herself, forcing calm where she hadn’t had even the slightest bit of peace of mind seconds earlier, Sephera relaxed. An otherwise perturbed look molded into a confident, almost smug expression as she reached into her coat. The other woman was unmoved, but it had been perhaps due to the Badger’s simple and slow motions. From an inside pocket, Sephera produced a folded bit of paper, it was stiff and sealed tight enough to be nearly waterproof. To the Rabbit, she projected a smile that should have torn her face wider than it had a right to go, “For you. If we are to go to war, if this is to be the end, then at least one of use should go about making propriety a concern.”

“What would you give one who is only moments away from crushing your vile skull into the frosted earth? You think I’ll open it? Allow you to distract me? I’m not so foolish,” she nearly slapped the card from the Badger’s paw, revealing now with better illumination the makeshift gauntlets wrapped over wrist and palm.

Keeping her expression mild, Sephera persisted with the piece, “I have some honor, you must trust that much Haven. After all, I’ve slain you once, and I will do it again so simply in a second, but should you survive, or at least your body remain intact, I want others to know who’s paw lay the final blow on you.”

 “A little signature, just to show how ruthless and horrible you truly are. I should not be surprised,” skeptically Haven took the card and popped open the seal. It had clearly sat long or been carried about in a pocket well overdue for a cleaning as dust filled the seem. On the left was the simple and all too notorious sign of the Iron Talon, three claws descending from the curve of a crescent moon encompassed in a circle. Noting it and moving on, Haven’s gaze found and fixated on the imprint of a flower, blooming like a starburst on multiple levels where it sat on a lily pad. A bit confused, she studied the water lily a second longer, unsure if the mark had been inked or if the dust she had seen before was, in fact, colored and made to fit in the grooves on the paper. All in one quick motion, a small gust, the Badger’s breath, blew across the page, sending the powder up into Haven’s face. For a moment, her vision went entirely red, fading for only a second to a pink, then the blank blur of white that she had known long ago when her fur was truly that of her own. 

 A powerful strike to her solar plexus, not just that of a paw well trained and strengthened by the work of an assassin but bolstered by the might of Erkinan sent Haven reeling. Stunned and breathless, the Rabbit spasmed on the cold ground, fighting for air and to clear her eyes of whatever stung them so. Taking up her card, pressing the edges tight while making sure it was clear of her face, Sephera grinned all the more smugly, knowing her plan to have gone without a hitch. Ready to deliver a final blow, Sephera stopped a moment and instead chose a far lower road. Mercy was a thing of weakness at this moment; she instead force the woman to live, “I liked you better when you couldn’t see eye to eye with me, Haven. I hope you gain a new perspective on it all, because it’s not over for you now. No, you get to keep going, knowing you’ve failed again and again and again because you think you can beat me. So you have fun, I know I will.” Not waiting for any kind of rebuttal, Sephera turned tail and made for the portal, feeling utterly indestructible. Now it wouldn’t matter if she had to push her way through guards, she would take on a whole army, the militia, and the naval forces sitting in the harbor and come out without a scratch. I don’t know how she did it, she did it alright and I think Narothepp knows how. But how can I be stay mad? It’s grown so dull with no one to battle with any worth to them, no one to trade blows with using Erkinan. I hope the others found their way back too, I look forward to meeting them again. 

  Clawing at the dirt, Haven shuttered as the overwhelming agony in her eyes set in but was only to be outdone by the horrible reality it meant for her. There had been a surreal moment when she realized upon returning to the world that she would be able to see it once more with real, genuine sight. To have it robbed from her, with such a hasty and precise action, by her foremost enemy no less, it was just too much to bear. Though around her, she knew there stood plenty of occupied buildings and homes, countless parties entirely oblivious to what had transpired outside those walls, Haven could not stop her rage. Allowing the excessive build-up of Erkinan to take her, the Rabbit tightened herself into a ball before launching her limbs outward, releasing the immense force. All around her, in a perimeter, the equal of a modest-sized home, a destructive wave crushed and crashed against anything in its path. The nearby inn lost a portion of its size, the dock broke away from the shore as the boards were pried up and flung into the water, boats shook and began to float towards open water only saved by the moorings they remained fastened to. For some of those that had started to push off, the mooring served as nothing more than dead weight, not heavy enough to be an anchor to keep them in place. With the utter drain of her Erkinan, almost to the point of danger, Haven dropped limply into the crater her own might had created. Wrath and despair so mingled to this perfect storm, defeat and regret all too much for her mind to bare, Haven dropped from consciousness. 

 Hardly pausing for a moment, Sephera only regarded the violent scene behind her from her periphery. Ruminating on it for only an instant, she couldn’t help but feel a touch of disappointment at seeing all of that Erkinan go to such an utter waste. There was the more forward route of fighting Haven, letting her stand on an equal footing to her and truly having it out to see who would come out the better. Instead, she had taken the low road to see to it that the only woman who had ever been an accurate match for her was handicapped once more. Such an action was deplorable, and there wasn’t a single part of Sephera that could deny that truth. Soldiers cut around her like a rushing river passed a boulder, they were quick to respond to the outburst. Looking back to the fortification around the portal, Sephera couldn’t see a single soul in sight that had only been a vague shadow before. Though it had been at a price, one of pride and honor, her job was one step closer to being done. Taking her opportunity, Sephera made for the portal as hastily as she could without drawing the attention of any onlooker who might see her. Whatever awaited her beyond the waves of silver light, she could not know but had a certainty it would be an enticing enough challenge to sacrifice her ancient rivalry. 

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