Blixen pulled himself up short and stared at Alora.
"For you? You're not a lowly demon seeking favor with procured souls. What will you do with her?"
Alora shook her head, not having an answer. And if she did have an answer, she sorely doubted she'd share it with the likes of Blixen.
Blixen's already lined forehead crinkled up even more as he glanced at Islinn then back to Alora. He rocked to and fro as he studied the situation. A sudden rush of animation came over his features and his beady little red eyes took on a sly glow.
"Oh. I see. She has your soul instead." He laughed when Alora made no reply. "Innocence is quite bequiling, isn't it? So…alluring."
Blixen casually inserted one dirt-encrusted talon into his nose and rummaged about.
"So, Alora The Twiceborn, what will you do with this virture once you relieve her of it?"
Alora got up and paced the edge of the crudely drawn circle. An instant of bewilderment and anger flashed across her expression before a tight smile appeared. Blixen's apple face twisted into a wide grin at the flash of emotion.
"I'm not relieving her of anything. I want…I want to know what it is."
Blixen lolled backwards merrily and rolled about in the dirt clutching his furry sides as he chuckled.
"Oh…oh…Yzebel always said you were a somber Master to serve but I find you quite amusing." Blixen slapped a knee for emphasis as the chuckle turned into a howl of laughter. Tears steamed in the moonlight as they twisted and curved down his face.
"You and I are nothing but thralls of the night, Alora." He stopped and pointed a gleeful finger at her. "Granted I'm just an imp whereas you hold sway but when one pulls aside the trappings, we both serve the Night and we serve it well. Yet you stand there…"
Blixen paused again as he burst into a tinkling laugh that grated across Alora's nerves like glass.
"…before me and speak of this…yearning…for innocence as though you could sip of it like holy water. Bathe in it. And…what? Save yourself from yourself?"
"I don't have to justify myself to you." She replied in a sulky tone. The fact that she was allowing herself to be badgered by a minion had already sunk in and she could feel herself working towards an exquisite rage.
Blixen shook his head mournfully.
"So young, so young." Blixen commented in a highly theatrical tone of anguish. "Your inability to see yourself as you really are is innocence within itself, did you know?"
He squatted down companionably on the edge of the circle and his voice took on a more genuine tone of commiseration.
"Recognise yourself for who you are. You can no more be with her and leave her untouched than I can. You'll partake of her, possess her, then conquer that part of her that's so alien to yourself and that's your attraction." He sniffed disparagingly. "Not this weak-hearted façade you've presented me with."
"Soon you'll be saying you want to band up with the Sentinels." He concluded. The thought of this sent him off into more gales of chirping laughter.
Alora sullenly watched Blixen as he rolled about. She squelched the urge to simply step on him with her boot. Squash him like the little disease that he was.
"Why do you think you know me so well?" She finally asked.
Blixen stretched out langorously on his back and his goatish little hands resumed their burrowing and squeezing.
"Because in spite of what I said, I do remember you. Very well. You came to us after the slaughter, alone and ignorant of all you possess and Yzebel treated you like Abigor himself. She taught you and I watched you become The Twiceborn. Your heart's as black as mine but because you're too young to bear the crest of the Dark Moon, you've decided to cling to some kind of abhorrence of yourself that you think is somehow going to save you."
It was the best Alora could do. She sounded angry but inside, she was stunned by the goblin's simple observation. It couldn't be true. Her legacy was her love. That was her saving grace, not some prophetic drivel from some goblin's mouth. A goblin who's priorities started with his dick and listed everything else a distant second .
Blixen didn't know when to quit.
"Well, tis true. You really aren't much older than that sleeping baby over there you're so enamoured of. You know, Yzebel worried so upon your departure but it wouldn't have been fitting. The Last of the Tribe of the Dark Moon banding with the night hags."
"You're more observant then I give you credit for, Blixen." Alora remarked. "If I recall, during my entire stay with Yzebel, most of your time was spent in your container trying to learn a jig in exchange for ale."
"Bah!" Blixen snorted in disgust and his hands momentarily slowed. "I would have learned that damnable jig too if Yzebel had kept my hooves trimmed up."
"Anyway…" His hands resumed their slow rhythm. "Mark my words Alora. You're yearning for something you'll never have and your need makes you weak. What a shame. To toss away such power. Such evil."
"I don't need a summary of my life from an insignificant imp. Do you want to know why you were called or not?" Alora asked.
Blixen's hand slowed and he gazed at her with renewed interest. Moonsilver flashed in his eyes.
"Oh,yes. I do ramble don' t I? Tell me, why do you need me so?" "
Alora snorted with derision. That was another thing about Blixen she'd forgotten; his conceited, snotty little way of talking
"Don't magnify your importance. I'm on my way to Lochedge and I don't have time to take care of this matter myself so I thought of you."
"Lochedge? You received a message out of Lochedge?? Blixen's voice took on a shrillness that was close to a scream. His hands stopped their avid exploration. Alora was silent for a few moments as she studied the imp. His loyalty to Yzebel was his first and foremost concern but if she commanded, he couldn't deny. Alora seated herself on the ground outside the circle and gave Blixen a darkly charming smile.
"What's going on there, Blixen? Why is she using the hynti?"
Blixen paced his inner confines. He snuck a longing glance at Islinn as he absently pulled vermin from his coat. He popped the tidbits into his mouth and chewed, his puffed up arrogance gone.
"There were messengers allowed out but they were enthralled to call Sentinels because the souls of the pious are so dear to own but when the rumors started that the town was trying to contact you, Yzebel closed the road with Hynti. Who summoned you?
"Dosen't matter. I received the message. Darius wants me as a sin-eater for his brother. Why is that?"
Blixen shook his head fearfully and backed away from Alora's inquiring eyes.
"I don't know, Alora The Twiceborn. Yzebel sent the hynti out but I don't know why. I do know that we had quite the celebration when Alain went under, I can tell you. "
Blixen's little gravelly voice smoothed out and his words tripped along with a nervous patter.
"I was never so weary before that night, the dancing and all the wine and ale and Yzebel told me that if I fucked too much, it would just wear away and I was worried but I just couldn't stop and I was so afraid that I'd reach down and grasp only a nub and what would I do then but…"
Alora held up her hand impatiently and the imp fell silent. There was actually more being said by Blixen's nervous show than by all the useless words that had fallen out of his scabrous little mouth.
Yzebel had blocked the roads.
She watched as Blixen steadfastly stared down and drew in the dirt with one back hoof. His beady little eyes refused to lift up from his task as she glared at him and his sudden intense interest in his drawing ability.
Her mouth was suddenly dry. She rose, on unsteady feet, and went over and got one of the waterskins. Blixen's offhand remarks had told her just how suddenly the game had changed.
Had she really thought she could go to Yzebel and casually ask her to stop doing whatever she was doing then just ride into Lochedge and pick up some easy coin?
Part of her truly thought it had been possible. A light breeze rustled the nearby brush and Alora felt its caress along her sweated cheek. Of course, it was more complicated because things usually just were. Grif's reaction to her questions had confirmed that. But she'd blithely overlooked all the subtle warning signs but now she had an inkling of what it all might come down to.
Yzebel had schooled her; that she would readily admit. Her clan shared similarities with the Night Hags and the peasants considered them kin but there was no loyalty among the thralls. There was something Yzebel wanted and she didn't want Alora involved. Simple as that. And even though they shared respect for each other, it was a fragile civility. One that stood up under the test of time as long as they stayed out of each others' way. Alora allowed herself a tiny bitter smile.
Yzebel had become like a second mother to her but Alora knew what it truly came down to: the only thing that mattered was gaining favor from a higher evil. And there were still many that were higher than her.
She thought of all the times she'd looked to Yzebel for favor, and how the woman would purse her lips together and give her a single nod of silent approval when she picked up a certain lesson or spell. And how on the nights when Alora's dreams grew teeth, Yzebel would come to her and hold her, smelling of spices and rich earth. And it had been more than enough to hold…and be held.
Alora took another sip of the water and grimaced at the warmth.
The night hag had been able to run rings around her when it came to knowing the ins and outs of the UnderRealms. Alora allowed herself a smile. And she remembered Yezbel treating her exactly as Blixen had said: like Abigor himself. But now in the soft glow of the moon and thinking about how she'd underestimated her trip to Lochedge, she wondered if she'd underestimated Yzebel as well.
Maybe she took me in because I simply had nowhere else to go.
She turned back towards Blixen, who had ceased drawing and was now studying his testicles with perverse fascination.
"Are the Hynti still being held off with fire?"
"Huh?" Blixen's head jerked up.
"I said…are the Hynti still being kept out of Lochedge with fire?" Alora repeated patiently.
"For now." Blixen gave a nonchalant shrug and went back to his grooming. "The Hynti are precious to her. She uses them sparingly. Will you still ride?"
Blixen's rheumy eyes glittered at the thought of the confrontation. Alora remained silent. She had come a long way from being the raggedy scared girl who'd run barefoot through the woods, her feet covered in ash and the smell of burnt flesh clinging to her like a second skin. That was some time ago.
And Yzebel had shown her a thing or two, Alora would give credit where it was due. But it had been the blood flowing in her veins that had taken what she'd been shown and turned her into what she was now, an angel of death that could wind her way through every inhabitant of a town and leave nothing but bones in her wake. And, unlike Yzebel, she didn't need corpses to do it.
Would Yzebel kill her? Yes. She would try.
"Yes, I'll ride." She softly replied. "I was brought forth by Sylvan and one of the highest minions of the UnderRealms. Yzebel needs to remember that. Make sure when you go back, you tell her I'm eager to see her."
"You'll abandon your own to service those worthless peasants?"
Alora laughed. There was a mixture of fear and bravado in the laugh, one Blixen picked up on instantly. He gave her a calculating look.
"Blixen, you and I are nothing but soul-less creatures. Yzebel would expect no less of me."
Blixen shrugged, bored with the topic. Something else was afoot but he'd have time enough for that when he got back to his Mistress and told her everything there was to tell. With some embellishments to boot. His hands pawed restlessly then became motionless as his head snapped up and his eyes narrowed.
"So…what's in this little venture for me? And what is it you want me to do?"
"I'm being followed by two riders. I want you to…"
"Kill them!" Blixen interrupted happily as he clapped his hands together with delight. Alora scowled.
Blixen raced madly around the circle and switched his stumpy tail. He paused for a moment and looked at her, his eyes bright and expectant.
Blixen dropped onto his back and writhed obscenely, his eyes closed in ecstasy.
"Kill them…" He muttered.
Groaning with intolerance, Alora snatched the imp up and held him at eye level as she glared at him with distaste. He gazed back and cackled then gave her a drippy wink. His keening laughter turned into a frightened yelp as Alora adroitly pinched his scraggly tail and dangled him upside down. Why she engaged in any kind of back-and-forth with him she truly didn't know. He'd always been an obstinate little bastard. Her cut hand throbbed in agreement.
Blixen released his precious hold on himself and waved his little hands maniacally in the air as she smiled at his discomfort. Goblins were like little tiny versions of Loki, always wanting to play tricks and irritate when she had little time for it. Everyone assumed minions bowed and scraped around her but Alora had found they appeared to go out of their way to get under her skin. Her smile widened as she gently swung Blixen back and forth.
"Listen to me Blixen. I said delay. And the only thing you'll get out of this venture is I don't squash you like a bug."
"Upright me! Upright me!" He shrieked as he kicked his back hooves. Alora gave a throaty laugh.
"I'll let you go as soon as you understand me. And keep it down. I don't want you waking Islinn."
"I understand! I understand!" Blixen whimpered as his eyes began to bulge. Alora tossed him up onto her shoulder where he clung to her with desperate hands.
"You know how I detest that." He wheezed as he shakily stood up. "All the blood rushes to my head."
"It must feel strange to you to have it shift so suddenly from down below." Alora remarked.
Blixen contemplated this thought for a moment then nodded in agreement. He gave her a toothy little grin then buried his pear-shaped nose in her tresses. He gave a deep snort.
"You're quite beautiful, Alora." He wheedled. "You reek of malevolence and so young…so puerile...I tire so of Yzebel's hideous features…a night hag in every way but you, Alora…are resplendent. So dark…sooo wild. "
Annoyed, Alora swatted at him as he possessively ran his claws through her hair.
"Quit sniffing me and don't touch me with your slippery little hands or I'll toss you down. Now, you understand what I told you?"
Blixen sighed and folded his hands demurely around his belly.
"Why can't I kill them?" He asked, crestfallen.
"Because I want to do it myself."
Alora couldn't hide the excitement in her voice and Blixen, feeding off her elation, roared with laughter. Unable to control himself, he grasped a strand of her hair and swung merrily from her shoulders. Cursing, Alora untangled him and sat him back down on her shoulder. He immediately began jumping up and down, his hooves thumping painfully against her collarbone.