"Well,I don't know," Islinn replied reluctantly. "Let me see."
"Just look,okay? Don't touch me. It's not you; it's me. Other people touching me gives me the willies."
Alora tilted her head back so Islinn could get a better look at her blood-encrusted face. She was unaware of the naked here's-everything-I-am expression on her face and, once again, Islinn looked away, feeling cheated.
Evil, as she'd envisioned it, was a gibbering dark mass of hooves and horns seated on a throne of decayed flesh that meted out tortures and sins with a flick of its scaly fingernail. This woman asking if her "dose was dusted" was screwing up her lifelong definitions of heaven and The UnderRealms.
"Well? Is it or isn't it?"
Islinn frowned. Blood, mingled with tears and dirt, sheeted down one side of The Twiceborn's face. Islinn was so overwhelmed by the situation she could only shrug.
"Well,shit." Alora muttered. So far, her expensive new purchase was proving to be as useful as tits on a boar hog. She raked her fingers through her sodden hair and knelt down in front of Loki. Loki was none the worse for wear but the slice would definitely have to be cleaned and packed. Blood had darkened his chest and front legs. Alora led him a few steps forward then back to see if the bleeding started up again. Duran was going to have his work cut out for him when she got back.
"Aren't we a pair?" She whispered in one black fuzzy ear as she dug through her leathers for a piece of tobacco for him. She patted and played with him for a few minutes then turned and eyed Islinn with all the enthusiasm one reserved for dog shit on the bottom of a good pair of boots.
"Are you all right?"
Islinn slowly looked up from a thoughtful contemplation of her scraped knees. She wondered if the question was an attempt at humor.
"I'm standing here with a rope around my neck and thinking about being purchased by you. How the fuck do you think I am?" She thought angrily.
"I'm great. Just great." Islinn replied, unable to hide her bitterness. Alora mounted Loki and stared warily down at Islinn. She didn't know a lot about people but she knew sarcasm when she heard it.
"She's just a kid." Alora reminded herself and wondered just how many times she'd think that same thought in the days to come. She leaned over, one elbow propped against her knee.
"How old are you?" She asked. Islinn remained silent.
"Look, I don't think you'll be dragged down to the UnderRealms for telling me your age. Trust me on this."
Islinn almost smiled. Almost.
"Sixteen. I've seen sixteen winters."
Alora waited a few minutes but Islinn was done speaking. It wasn't hard for her to recognise the point the girl was at. Alora knew there were basically two kinds of fear in the world: There was your everyday, rational fear: being robbed when you walked about in a crowd with your purse full or not knowing what might happen if you wandered down a dark alleyway at night.
And then there were your big,giant galloping ghosts of irrationality. This type of fear made moving and breathing acts of valor and sucked every strand of spit out of your mouth. Islinn had obviously put her right smack in the second category.
"Look..." Alora struggled for words. She'd never before been in a position where she felt she needed to explain herself or her actions.
"I'm not a big boogie,all right? I'm not the Allamagoosalum, or the Feaster of Souls or the Demon Whore. I'm none of that shit."
"Then what are you?"
Islinn stared at her with a sudden boldness and the unexpected question forced Alora to answer with a truthfulness she would have actively avoided under other circumstances.
She looked at the girl,stunned.
Alora was her "ki", her dark dayname. It was a name she'd heard spoken only in her mind until this moment. Until her mouth had opened and just tossed it out there. It was something never meant to be shared and now that Islinn knew her true name,it elevated the girl above the ranks of everyday people.
Alora leaned over angrily and caught the end of the rope that still hung around Islinn's neck. She took a small, mean pleasure in yanking the girl up by Loki's flank. Silently, she urged Loki forward and he plodded out of the alleyway. Every hoof beat sent a bolt of pain through Alora's head.
Islinn walked along, her mouth prudently shut. It wasn't hard to figure out she'd angered The Twiceborn; that anger was stamped in the rigid outline of the woman's shoulders and the stiff tilt of her head.
Islinn's heart picked up its cat-quick beat and the rest of her emotions wearily stretched to accomodate a new rush of fear. Oh, she'd been afraid of Behrin and what his own odd sense of love might cost her and she had feared walking roads without knowing what lay beyond the bend but genuine fear, she now realized, had been as absent from her life as genuine love. The fear of losing something elemental to her existence had never been so strong and she wondered how much she could take before being driven mad.