Herah wasn’t too surprised by Alex’s response, though the surprise that came from Max indicated that a no wasn’t expected by her. This surprise was then overtaken by malice once again as Max swiped a single card from behind her and put it to her brother’s liver, right next to the card that had hit him in that organ earlier.
“What do you mean no?” Max asked Alex, clearly lacking the patience to deal with any more bullshit from her brother.
“I mean no.” Alex words came out flat and untrusting, “I’m going to need time to think that over. Give me till the day after tomorrow, I should have your answer by then.”
“Dammit Alex! I will not let thi-”
Max turned to face Herah, who shook her head and mouthed for her to let it go for now. Nodding at Herah’s “words”, Max turned back to her brother and gave him one final glare.
“Ok then. After this conversation, I will not say a word to you until you apologize. And even after that I want something to be made clear,” Max raised her right hand and turned the back of it to face Alex. Though Herah couldn’t see it, the youngling knew upon the back of Max’s right hand sat a tattoo of a pencil writing out her name.
“This is the tattoo that shows that me and Herah are courting each other. But for you, it will gain another meaning. This tattoo marks that Herah is not just a tool or weapon for you to use and discard. Herah is not disposable. And most importantly, we’re now a package deal.”
“What do you mean?” Alex asked, sounding none too happy by Max’s words.
“If you get Herah killed, expect me to follow soon afterward.”
A moment of silence filled the clearing as Herah and Alex stared at Max in disbelief.
‘Where the fuck did that come from?’ Herah thought while also picking up on the feeling of determination that was now flowing through their link together. Herah sent Alex a sideways glance, but got no reaction from him since all of his attention seemed to be on his twin. Alex’s disbelieving look soon became a neutral one that displayed no emotion as a question was asked.
“Because I know even this conversation won’t change your mind, and until something like that happens this is my way of keeping you in line. Do we have an understanding?”
Max said nothing else to her brother before turning away from him and calling all her cards back into her hand. Sliding the cards into her pocket, Max walked up to Jeffery (who had stopped spinning at this point) and pointed towards the magma surrounding Herah. The sentient pencil quickly floated over to their creator and began to erase the molten rock that surrounded her. Once done with that, Jeffery released Herah from their Presence and began to hover just above her head. Herah offered a thanks to Jeffery, who sent her images of a thumbs up and a worried looking Rouge. Sending the pencil a mental okay, Herah looked back at Max who bowed deeply to her and began to apologize in rapid fashion.
“I’m so sorry for what Alex did to you.”
“Max no ne-”
“I knew I shouldn’t have left you two alone together.”
“Max please yo-”
“I tried to come the moment I felt your emotions go haywire, but bro had done something weird with his gift so every time I tried to enter I would end up on the opposite side of the clearing.”
“Max you did nothing-”
“The only reason I even made it in here was because Jeffery did this weird thing with his, I guess Presence, which allowed for him to just enter with me following shortly afterward. And then we came across you and the sight was absolutely terrifying, and I didn’t know what to do, then I saw red, and I felt so, so , ang-”
The human in question paused and tilted her head up to look at Herah.
“Don’t apologize to me for anything your brother does, those are his actions and his actions alone. You don’t need to take the blame for him.” Herah told her, before rising to her feet and gesturing for Max to do the same.
“Ok.” Max said, just before standing up to her full height and looking at Herah with a small smile.
“Oh and something else as well.”
“Yeah?” Max asked, with a curious tilt of her head.
“Thanks for that by the way. You know, kicking your brother’s ass and all of that for me.”
This only caused for Max’s smile to deepen, before playfully punching Herah in the arm that still had scales and saying,
“Of course, can’t just let my bro go around hurting my friend/ fuck buddy without repercussions.” Max’s eyes flashed to behind Herah, “And is Owen passed out?”
Herah turned back to the gnome and found him laying flat first on his face. Herah strained all of her senses to make sure that Owen was okay and figured that the gnome had most likely passed out in fear when seeing all of the blood that Alex bled from Max pinning him to the tree.
“Well if he, is wake him up. It’s time to talk over our plan, which means I’m gonna need a bit more information on you Herah.”
Herah turned back to Alex and found him standing casually with all of his wounds now healed, though his clothes were still ripped and had blood staining them. Alex wore an expression that showed both displeasure and confusion towards Herah. Alex stood before Herah with seemingly no issue as a single sentence of his rung throughout her brain.
‘And there is nothing you can do stop me.’
Herah looked back at Alex and felt shame, rage, and, most importantly, fear.
‘How the ash am I supposed to beat you, if all it takes is a word for you to beat me?’
Herah used a quick flame to burn away all of the liquids that coated her face and began to speak about her capabilities.
“I can lift nearly 500,000 tons, can run over 200 m/s, and react, see, and follow at speeds 58 times faster than the speed of sound. I can fly even faster than I run, going up to Mach 88 though I usually stay around 58 because afterward it gets harder to control.”
“Interesting,” Alex said while rubbing his chin before giving her another wide smile that made her flinch once again.
‘Is it even possible?’
Alex seis méfitig
After that Herah had told Alex her physical capabilities and about her gift. Following that conversation, Alex and Owen came up with a plan with occasional insight from both Herah and Max, then everyone got to work doing what they needed to do. During this time no apology ever came from Alex, and the Max gave no replies to any of Alex’s attempts to speak with her. On the other hand, Herah and Max spent the time getting to know each other better.
Herah now knew that Max’s favorite color was red, she once lost a bet to a goddess by the name of Hathor and ended up drinking a bucket of cow sperm (Herah did not need to learn that one), that both her and her brother owned a flag making company, and other random things about Max’s life.
The previous night, Herah got to experience a few memories of Max’s, the youngling’s personal favorite being one of Max and Alex fighting each other over a red velvet cookie as toddlers. The fight had ended with Max suffering through some type of drug trip and with Alex lying in a pool of his own vomit with a monstrous migraine.
That last part brought Herah a very special sense of happiness.
It was now the very early morning of the day of the Oni attack. A cool wind blew through the clearing that Herah, Jeffery, Alex, and Max currently resided in, but Herah was unbothered by this. In fact, Herah was spending this time attempting to meditate with the words her father had taught her for it many years previous.
‘Clear your mind of anything not your own.’
Herah sat nude a few feet away from the Donneur de Frêne with Jeffery floating over her in their own dreamlike state, waiting for Herah to fall asleep and cuddle with them as usual. Herah took in a deep breath, and used the gathered air as fuel for the fire that had crawled up her throat and now stewed within her mouth gathering heat. As this happened, Herah deafened her hearing to the sounds of the twins breathing and Owen’s smithing. Herah also forced the feeling of Max’s own emotions down until they were unnoticeable so that only her thoughts and feelings were in her head.
‘Focus on your emotions.’
Herah allowed for herself to disregard all thoughts that weren’t focused on her feelings, and found that at the very moment tremendous amounts of rage, fear, and shame filled her. As Herah focused on these emotions, the youngling also willed the red flames in her mouth to seep from between her lips, through her nose, and out of her ears. This was followed by the red fire engulfing her body.
‘Now grab these feelings and allow for them to overtake you.’
Herah didn’t have to open her eyes to know that the flames around her were beginning to change color. First, the fire was red, then orange, then yellow, then green, then blue, then indigo, before finally settling on violet. As the flames changed color, they also grew in heat. Which meant by the time Herah’s fire rested on the last color, the surrounding grass had already been turned to ash and had its ashes burnt away.
‘Now stew in these emotions, ponder them and try to accept them. Only once done should your flame recede back into you.’
But before Herah could begin to do such a thing, her focus was broken by the feeling of a stick poking her in the head. Annoyed and knowing of who poked her, Herah retaliated towards the stick wielder.
“Dammit! That hurt.”
With her right fist still out in front of her the air and her body still shrouded in violet fire, Herah popped open a single eye and found herself greeted by the site of Alex looking a bit ruffed up.
Alex was laying against the only other damaged redwood tree that bordered the clearing with the Donneur de Frêne, wearing nothing but a pair of green boxers, which allowed Herah to get a better look at his body. While clearly nowhere close to Herah’s own fitness, Alex had a noticeable hint of muscles covering his body that did nothing to detract from his overall gender-neutral look. Alex (with his hair down once again) glared back at Herah as a bit of blood dripped from his mouth and a bruise began to form on his left cheek.
“The fuck do you want?” Herah asked Alex in a severely aggravated, yet slightly shaky tone while taking her newly reassembled braid (courtesy of Max) from in front in between her breast to behind her back.
Alex continued to glare back at Herah in silence for a few seconds before losing his glare and letting out a sigh.
“I’ve finished pondering on what I was going to do about your offer.”
Alex’s words caused Herah to flinch as the memory of what happened to her after returning to him with Max came to mind. Shaking these memories away, Herah lost her glare and instead gave Alex a serious stare while subconsciously feeling nervous of what his reply might be.
Alex got up and walked up to Herah before sitting just out of the reach of her flame shroud. Alex let out another sigh before looking away from Herah and speaking under his breath.
“I’m sorry for what I did Herah, it was cruel and outta line and you really did little to deserve it. So, does your offer still stand?”
Herah blinked at Alex at a few times before saying the only words that could come to her head at the moment.
“Can, can you repeat that?”
“No. Fuck you.”
“Fuck you too then!”
“Sorry, I don’t screw animals.”
“Apparently your sister does.”
“I think it can be agreed upon that Max is a fucking weirdo.”
“I know right, like your sister nonstop asks me the weirdest things about myself and my people.”
“Do we poop and pee?”
“That is a weird thing to ask someone and should definitely be obvious.”
“I know right? Like the Cendreux evolved outta creating excrement and urine a few generations before mine.”
“Yeah,” Herah said with a nod, “My generation now utilizes everything that goes into our bodies or pukes it out. Anything that makes it pass our stomach usually never makes it past the small intestines and if it does it’s fully absorbed into our bodies before it makes it even a fourth of the way through our large intestines.”
“You know ashbrain, you have a very interesting anatomy.” Alex said with keen interest while tapping his nose, “I’ve always enjoyed learning about how the bodies of other’s worked. I think it’s weird all the shit that a body will do, and it’s useful knowledge to have when my gift is concerned. I’d love to talk about yours more if you mind.”
“Sure thing Alex and- Wait,” Herah paused and blinked at Alex in confusion before pointing between the two of them, “What just happened?”
“What do you me-” Alex did the exact thing that Herah just did, before saying, “I- I think we just started a casual conversation.”
“Yeah, I didn’t figure we’d ever make small talk. It’s weird.”
“Yeah, weird.” Alex began tapping his nose once again, allowing for the two to sit in a comfortable silence for a few minutes before snapping his fingers and saying, “Herah if we survive our battle with the Oni later today,” Alex looked up to sky,”Judging by the placements of those definitely radiation filled clouds, I’ll tell you about why I feel the way I do towards you.” Alex shrugged his shoulders, “Maybe after that, we could try that friend thing out. Cool with that?”
“Hmph.” Herah smirked at Alex, “Might as well tell me now then, because, as much as I hate to admit it, with that plan you and Owen created victory is certain for us.”
“Ahahaha,” A smile came to Alex’s face, “It’s an arrogant thing to presume you know the future.”
“It’s not arrogance. I’m just keying you in on something I know to be certain.”
This got a hearty laugh from Alex, which the human then followed up with by getting up and walking over to one of the sleeping bags Herah had created for the group with her gift. Alex shimmed into his sleeping bag, and before closing his eyes told Herah,
“Do me a favor, go get Owen and tell him to go to sleep. And also don’t forget to put that necklace he made for you on, it’s vital to our plan.”
“Sure thing.” Herah replied before standing up and allowing for a smirk to come to her face, “Night asshole.”
Herah walked out of the clearing and towards the forging noise that hadn’t slowed in tempo since it started late yesterday night. After about a few minutes of walking, Herah emerged into another clearing created by Owen and Max, with the addition of herself helping this time.
The clearing was pretty similar to the one the Donneur de Frêne sat in, with one exception: there was no tree in the center. Instead, the clearing had a few of Owen’s creations strewn about and laid everywhere haphazardly. Herah walked passed a pile of silver skulls that which was relieved of one of its many heads, jumped over a pile of bracelets that Owen had deemed imperfect, and skirted around several golden necklaces that Herah remembered Owen telling her were liable to explode if touched the wrong way. Once past all of this, Herah found Owen hammering away at something on his anvil, the forge that had previously sat in the center of the clearing missing.
“Gotta get this right Owen, can’t mess this up.”
“One of your new friends might die.”
“It would be all of your fault.”
“Don’t think about all those who are going to die tomorrow.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“It’s you or them.”
“Let their deaths be quick and merciful, please Norwe.”
“Give them that mercy.”
“I don’t want to die.”
“I don’t want anyone to die.”
“Mother Reese give me stre-”
“Owen,” Herah called out to the gnome, interrupting him mid-word and strike.
“Oh, I didn’t notice you there Herah. How can I help you?” Owen said, looking up from his anvil with a pair of welding goggles over his eyes and black gloves on his hands. The gnome also wore an apron, that smelled of coal, oil, and a variety of metals to Herah. The same could be said for Owen in general at the moment. Feeling her mouth water slightly, Herah shook her head and walked up to Owen. Smiling slightly Herah leaned down until her face was right before his and tapped him on one of his goggle lenses.
“Can you see me well with those on?”
“Nope, you’re just the only person I know that can be on fire and as tall as you are. Let me take these off real quick.” Owen reached up to his goggles and ripped them off of his head along with his hat allowing for Herah to see his hair in its now dirty and messy state. “Now with those off, what did yo- you- your- WHERE ARE YOUR CLOTHES?”
Owen looked away from Herah as quickly as possible with a blush dusting his cheeks, though the youngling noticed him give her a few quick glances. Herah smirked at this and began to taunt Owen.
“They’re back in the clearing, why do you ask?” Herah said in faux innocence, rocking her body just enough to make her breast jiggle from side to side
“Well put them on! You shouldn’t just walk around naked!” Owen proclaimed, giving Herah a few more side glances which caused him to blush even harder.
“Why not? Am I making you uncomfortable?” Herah asked, still playing up an innocent act while rocking even harder from side to side.
“Yes you are, now will you please put some clothes on?” Owen said sounding even more embarrassed, stealing a few more side glances from Herah and blushing even harder.
Herah appeared to ponder this for a few moments before shaking her head and saying,
“Because I came to tell you to go to sleep, it’s early morning and you need your rest.”
“Really, I never noticed.”
“Yeah, about that,” Herah rose to her full height and gestured for Owen to follow her, his tiny and soft footsteps signaling his compliance. “What were you working on?”
“Just a little something that might help you out with your side of the plan tomorrow.”
Herah perked up at this.
“Yeah, it should- A-A-ACHOO!” Herah heard Owen rub his nose, “Stupid allergies. They make me nervous.”
“Because it makes me think about the changing seasons back on my homeworld since whenever spring comes around another war tends to start.”
“The Fae and the Trolls. Both sides usually come to us gnomes to create weaponry. I’ve always hated how my people tend to supply those meaningless battles. It’s why I rarely ever create weapons for either side, usually enchanted armor and gear to keep them alive.”
“Like the stuff you made for us.”
“Yeah, it makes me feel like instead profiting off the deaths of others I’m profiting off of the survival of those who buy from me.”
“You do realize you’re doing both either way, right?”
Herah heard Owen scoff at her words.
“Of course I do, I’ve been doing it for a few centuries now. I just tell myself that so as to not feel as bad as I know I should.”
“Speaking of feeling bad, what was that about before I arrived?”
Owen, still looking away from Herah while stealing glances towards her, let out a sigh and asked Herah a question.
“Will you not look down on me if I answer your question?”
“Of course not.”
“That makes sense. Of what exactly?”
“Dying. You guys dying. The Oni dying. Death.”
“All rational fears, but don’t worry about them too much. Stress won’t do you any good later today.”
“I know, I know, but- It’s just-” Owen threw his hands into the air in frustration, “I don’t like the options I have.”
“Do tell me,” Herah said, turning her head back so as to look at Owen.
“We either let the Oni walk up and destroy the Donneur de Frêne, which is likely to end up with the four of us dead and our universes all the more likely to be destroyed. We could fight and lose, which would end with all four of us dead and our universes more likely to be destroyed. Or we could fight and win, which would end with the death of the Oni. None of these options have happy endings. Two leaves us closer to the annihilation of our homes, one ends up with us dead, and one leaves us as assistance in the genocide of a species. All of them make us selfish assholes.” Owen turned his head towards Herah, making direct eye contact as his fingers twiddled together. “How are you so calm about this, do you not care?”
“Of course I care. It’s just that I care a lot more about my family, my mistress, and all of those that La Flamme loves a lot more than I do the Oni. And in my eyes, I can make that trade without problem because though I’m damning an entire race, I’m also protecting what I love. And that’s a lot more important in my eyes.”
Herah faced her head back forward, and the pair walked in silence until they reached their home clearing. Once there, Herah turned back around to face Owen, who immediately averted his gaze once Herah did that.
“Owen I don’t have anything to say that might make you not feel bad about what’s going to happen tomorrow and even if I could I wouldn’t tell them to you. Why? Because you should feel bad about what’s going to occur, all those who die had things they wanted to do, dreams they hoped to achieve, and probably someone or something they loved. What you gotta do is be able to look past all that, however, and instead see that you no lesser of who you were before for it.”
Owen nodded at Herah’s words solemnly and began making his way towards his sleeping bag. But before Owen could pass Herah, the youngling set a hand on his shoulder. Bending her knees until at the same height as the gnome, Herah offered Owen a kind smile and said,
“But I can alleviate your fear of your own and the deaths of everyone else on our team. Why? Because I promise you that we will all make it past tomorrow.”
“How do you know that? There is no possible way for you to know that.”
“Because you and Alex made an airtight plan, and I trust in you enough to know that even if it goes wrong we’ll still make it through.”
“Really, now head off to bed. You need to be well and rested for tomorrow.”
“Yeah, yeah I do need some sleep.” Owen said nodding to himself with a happy little smile on his face. Owen then walked to his sleeping bag and got in, and told Herah a quick thanks before quickly falling to sleep.
After a few moments, Herah returned to her spot in front of the Donneur de Frêne and let out a yawn.
“Did you tell the two of them that you trusted in their plan to alleviate any worries they might have or to alleviate your own?”
Herah turned to look at Max, who had been laying against the Donneur de Frêne the entire time.
“What do you mean?”
“While you believe what you say is true, you still have the tiniest bits of doubt in this plan they have devised, don’t you?” Max told Herah with a smile, now wearing one of Herah’s old shirts (That was too big for her) and an old pair of Herah’s underwear, “Thanks for sleepwear by the way.”
“No problem and you should already know the answer to your question, shouldn’t you Max?”
“True enough,” Max said with a quick nod, “But, I’d love to hear my thoughts confirmed.”
“Then yes, I still somewhat doubt their plan.” Herah smiled at Max before nonchalantly stating, “But I’m pretty sure it’ll work so it won’t bother me too much. Think you can do what you got to do tomorrow?”
Herah noticed no visible change in Max’s demeanor, but with a quick scan of their link to each other Herah knew that Max was feeling conflicted. It was only after going through a torrent of emotions that Herah felt Max settle onto one.
Nodding at Max’s nonverbal answer, Herah asked her another question.
“Anything else you want to know before I head off to sleep? Meditation was sorta a bust.”
“Why did you feel so ashamed when you saw Jeffery after Alex had attacked you?”
This caused Herah to flinch before looking down and thinking back to when Jeffery had appeared after Alex’s attack. It took a few moments, but Herah lifted her head up and asked Max a question.
“I haven’t told you about how Jeffery works yet, have I?”
Herah then walked up to Max and sat right in front of her. Letting out a sigh, Herah then began speaking in a somewhat uncaring tone.
“Jeffery will only ever interfere in a situation without my calling of them for two reasons, and for two reasons only.” Herah brought up her left hand, “Because they think they might have a bit of fun.” Herah raised her right hand, “Or they think that there is no possible outcome to a situation where I win.” Herah’s voice became bitter and angry, “Guess Jeffery’s reasoning for last time.”
Max didn’t say a word, instead, the human reached over to Herah and patted her on the shoulder while smiling at her. Herah returned Max’s smile somewhat, before letting out another sigh.
“Seeing Jeffery was like a slap in the face. It told me just how far above me Alex truly was.”
“Why do you want to beat my brother so much? Is it because you don’t like the fact that he has such control over you?”
Herah shook her head no.
“At first, it was because I thought Alex was an asshole and I wanted revenge for the stabbing. During the fight to determine the leader, it was because I couldn’t stand the thought of following someone who lost all of their will to fight so easily. After that, I wanted to prove to him that I wasn’t just fodder to be rid of or a useless part of our team. But now,” Herah raise her right fist up and stared at it intently, “After that little show of his gift, I want to defeat your brother to prove to myself that I’m still strong, that I’m not weak, and that I’m not just something to be used then discarded. I want to prove to myself that I can stand on my own, and the only way to do that is to beat him. Whether Alex likes it or not, I now consider him my rival and will continue to do such until either I’m dead or I’ve beaten him.”
“Well Herah, allow for me to alleviate one of your fears. You’re not weak at all, in fact, you’re pretty fucking powerful. Bro just has more advantages than you, and those aren’t impossible to overcome. I know you can beat him and if I can, I’ll be there when it happens, so I can laugh at his face alongside you. He’s been in need of an attitude adjustment for a while now, it’d be even cooler if it was because of you.”
Herah chuckled and smiled at Max once again.
“Thanks, any more questions.”
“Just one more.”
“Ok, what is it?”
“You down for some spooning, it’s a bit chilly tonight and you’re the hottest thing around.”
Herah began to answer Max’s question but paused once a realization hit her. Herah’s shroud of fire had receded. Smiling once again, more to herself than anyone else Herah gave Max her answer.
“Nah, Jeffery might get jealous.”