“Shut your trap, Mizer!” Bex warned.
“Look what you did,” the bodyless head uttered a nasal whine. “Didja really have to do this to me? It’ll take me ages to regenerate!”
“Why’d you run then?” The hunter demanded. “I told you not to run.”
Winny sighed. “Do you really have to go all out on the small fry too?”
“What are you grumbling about?” Agitated, Bex yanked off her. “We have to eat one way, or another, don’t we?”
“Maybe so but-”
A horrified shriek came from across the room. “Wh-wha-what is that horrible thing?”
Bex turned to glare at Sumida, the other bone of contention between her and Winny. In Bex’s book, Choktoi House’s latest denizen was a most unwelcome sort. Sumida seemed content flutter about as if oblivious to the fact that two of Hegira’s most violent factions were on the verge of starting a war, due to her disappearance from the Merchant Guild’s sanctuary.
Bex didn’t even want to begin to imagine what would happen if they learned that their missing ward was just slumming it with the locals.
As if tolerating the mere presence of her ilk were not enough, Winny had cajoled Bex into ignoring the massive price on Sumida’s head and instead, providing protection and shelter. In short,
Bex was harboring a fugitive, a fugitive who had both Koros and the Merchant Guild frothing at the bit to take possession. Playing breadwinner and bodyguard to a runaway brat wasn’t exactly a headhunter’s secret for success, was it now?
The fact that Sumida regarded her with a wide-eyed kind of anxiety and skirted carefully around her only served to irritate her more. What the hell was that about anyway? It wasn’t as if Bex was completely uncivilized.
The girl was carrying a watering pot nearly half her size.
Mizer shot Sumida a hideous facsimile of a one-eyed wink. A forked tongue flicked out of what was supposedly his mouth. “Mmmm’hey,” he leered. “You look kinda tasty.”
“Shut up,” Sumida spat. “You disgust me!” Water sloshed over the top of the pot as she scuttled away. Bex vaguely wondered why someone so clearly unaccustomed to physical labor could do something like that so effortlessly.
Sumida possessed an unusual kind of beauty. Unnaturally pale, she was like an elf from one of the old faerie tales. Bex figured she’d positively glow in the dark. This striking trait had been inherited from her hallowed progenitors, the starchasers. They were said to have been human once, but no more. They’d somehow left the blue world behind early in human civilization’s infancy. After sailing oceans of stars for thousands of years, they’d done so much and changed in so many ways that they’d become too different to be considered human.
“Put that down, Sumida.” Winny called over. “Come and eat.”
Sumida had a dazzling smile for Winny, which made something inside Bex boil.
“It’s alright, I’ll finish watering the plants and the choktoi’s water has to be changed before mid-morning or else,” Her nose scrunched thoughtfully. “Its growth will be stunted, right?”
Winny nodded approvingly. “Good child.”
Bex’s gut twisted. Why was Winny indulging her? Wasn’t this little twit responsible for the exile Winny’s own adoptee?
Laila was gone, exiled to some faraway place where they couldn’t touch her or even comfort her if she was crying. She was gone because people like Sumida and those she served made her feel like Hegira was no longer a place she could call home. Laila, who had never had any grand ambitions of contesting Sumida’s candidacy to become Hegira’s next pilot. Who’d never asked to be born starchaser’s kin.
Bex simply couldn’t abide by it.
“Is this really all it takes for you?” She grumbled. “As long as she has the right kind of blood running through her veins and looks like a starchaser. That’s enough, is it?”
“You think I’m betraying Laila.” Winny fixed Bex a look of consternation. “By helping Sumida?”
“Starchaser, you say?” Mizer’s words made all three women’s heads turn. “Hell to pay when the Guild gets wind of this.”
What was left of him rolled until he tumbled right off the counter and onto the floor with a sickening splat. The quivering eye started to glitter in a most unnerving way.
“Oh no,” Bex breathed, immediately realizing the mess they were in. She’d never even considered the possibility such a small-time nitwit could be an agent of the Guild. “Shit. Winny, I think
I really messed up.”
The beastly head started emitting a high-pitched, machine-like screech.
“Ohoh! Ohohoh!” Mizer’s voice rose singsongingly in tandem with the raucous signal. He eyed Bex with malevolent glee. “Toldja you’d regret being so nasty to me.”Image Credits: Anastasiia