Izirho stared out at the many lights in the bay, their feet only inches from the lazy waves coming ashore. T’rax sat on a thick piece of driftwood, eating again, chicken grease running down their fingers.
“You gonna try that shit again, eh?” they asked in between bites.
Izirho shrugged. “It wouldn’t exactly hurt me,” they replied, turning around, their cloak swirling around them like one swirls a glass of wine. “You gonna try?”
“HA! Tuh huh huh huh, you real funny, Rho.” T’rax licked the grease off their fingers, wiping the spit on their pants. “Why are we over here anyway? We should go back inside and pack up. The bus for Mistress leaves tomorrow afternoon.”
Izirho nodded but glanced back at the water.
Keep your chain close, it whispered.
Izirho’s left hand went to their right wrist, fumbling with a silver chain with a vibrant, green vine that never seemed to die going through its middle. They stared at it and sighed, walking away from the water and back into Dendarion’s mansion.
Izirho never slept. They counted T’rax’s breath every hour to pass the time or they played a solitary card game. When it was time, they went back outside and sat in the sand, watching the sun rise out of the lightning water. They pulled out an actual paper ad from the many pockets of their robe, unfolding it and staring at the figure that was supposed to be them.
Dark skin and dark eyes and the green circles, sure, but the height and hair? All wrong. Izirho wasn’t as tall as T’rax, who was damn near 7′, but they weren’t close to being that short. Izirho chose to cut the hair on the left side of their head down to a buzz, before trusting an unsavory character to tattoo sacred geometry with everchanging neon ink. The red hair was dyed black at the root and started to turn as green as their eye circles as the color worked its way toward the end. The face on the ad was the same, the sad scowl, the soft frown. Izirho folded it back up and put it away.
They didn’t turn around when they heard T’rax’s footsteps.
“Time to go?” was all they asked.
T’rax stretched and yawned, running their fingers through the rows of their braids.
“Yeah. Dendarion is packing me up a few meals for the day. Then he’s gonna have his driver take us to the bus station.”
Izirho stood up and pulled their hood over their head.
“Why are we heading Horace’s Whore anyway?”
T’rax snorted as they walked back to the busy street, standing next to the squat noodle man’s empty stall. The smell of breakfast meats frying made T’rax’s stomach grumble.
“Oh, man, I could go for a slab of bacon right now,” T’rax whined, squatting next to Izirho.
“All you do is eat, yo.”
“YEAH, I gotta eat for the both of us since you can’t! You don’t eat, you don’t sleep, you don’t drink! I have to shit for both of us, Rho!”
Izirho let out a cackle, rolling their eyes, watching Dendarion’s servants bring out their bags and suitcases. The small crowd of people that were in the street moved out of the way when an all-black SUV drove passed, stopping in front of the stall. The crowd watched with curiosity as someone loaded in T’rax and Izirho’s things into the back, slapping the door when it was closed to alert the driver to drive off.
Izirho watched the people tried to look inside the dark windows, to see who was fancy enough to drive such a vehicle down such a small street. T’rax was sitting beside them, eating a bowl of rice with an egg and half a slab of thick bacon. Izirho watched T’rax for a moment before shaking their head.
As they drove, they watched the busy Bay turn into red sandstone ridges and hills, dry and seemingly endless to the north and dropped off into the ocean in the south. The driver barely said nothing the entire 10-hour drive, only talking to ask if they needed to stop at a rest stop or if they were hungry.
Colorful leaves started to sprout from the dead and dying trees as they entered Mistress, or Horace’s Whore, territory. It is said that this region was named that because Queen Horace and her king’s supposedly hidden lover met during a dance and switched places, to see if the king would notice. The king then killed his “queen” to make his mistress his new queen, only to die of shame when the mistress revealed that she was the old queen. The queen planted flowers for the woman who died on the drive into the city.
T’rax, who had been sleeping on and off, started to sneeze when the first long bush of roses came up.
“Must be close,” they sniffled, looking out the window.
Mistress seemed to sprout as they continued down the highway, tall willows weeping their leaves over patches of marigolds, silent oaks standing beside them as they stood strong and tall. As they came closer to the city gates, the reason why Mistress was called Horace’s Whore slowly crawled into view. A tall tower in the middle of the city started to grow high and higher. The tower where King Horace threw his costumed mistress from only to follow suit when the Queen rushed in to try to save her, albeit too late.
The drive into the city seemed to take longer than the drive to the gates from Electric Bay. T’rax started to get anxious, watching the people walk down the street in elegant gowns and freshly pressed suits, walking trained dogs and peacocks. The attire was so foreign and classy to the two young adults from the edges of the Split. The driver pulled up to a ruby red hotel with stained glass windows that told the story of the tower, even the possible love affair between the queen and the mistress. Bellhops rushed out of the hotel, opening the vehicle doors open for Izirho and T’rax.
The city smelt of earth and perfume, the mix not agreeing with T’rax’s sinuses.
“You didn’t get them fancy enhancements for your nose?” Izirho asked as they walked inside the dim hotel.
“I didn’t consider it at the time since flowers don’t bloom like this at the Split.”
“Welcome to Mistress,” the people at the front desk said in unison as Izirho approached. Izirho nodded and showed one of the employees a card they had gotten from Dendarion.
“Of course. Any friend of Den is a friend of ours.” They bowed their head and snapped their fingers. A team of bellhops lead T’rax and Izirho to their room with their bags. Up and up they went, to the 15th floor out of 20. As they stepped out of the elevator, T’rax stared wide-eyed, as the 15th floor was just their room.
“Well, I be damned,” T’rax breathed, opening cabinets and drawers in the kitchen. “It’s fully stocked in here,” they cried out from the refrigerator.
“That’s nice but we’re here to work,” Izirho called back, thanking the busboys and tipping them each 2 silver coins.
That night, as T’rax dined on a fat, roasted oxen leg, drizzled with honey butter and mashed potatoes mixed with huge chunks of goat cheese and side of steamed asparagus heavily seasoned, they waited for another in the hotel restaurant. Izirho watched T’rax eat, somewhat jealous that they couldn’t process food, taste it, or even smell it. They frowned, watching the combination of grease and butter drip down T’rax’s chin. They sighed sadly and looked away, rubbing a finger on the chain on their wrist. The urge to just… unclasp it—
Marl will find you if you do that.
Izirho removed their hand, placing both of them in their lap.
When T’rax was done eating, they belched and sighed, patting their stomach, pushing their empty plates away.
“God damn, god damn,” they grunted, high off meat and flavors.
They waited another hour before they gave up and headed back to their room, surprised when an uninvited guest was sprawled out on the lounge.
“Ahhh, there you are!” they slurred, slowly sitting up. They smiled at T’rax.
“My, aren’t you a sight.”
T’rax blinked and looked away, walking into their own room to pass out.
Izirho continued to stand, the hood still up over their head.
“Who might you be?”
The drunk slowly stood up. They fixed their dress, rubbing out the wrinkles of the emerald fabric.
“I’ll answer you in a moment, but first–”
To a normal human, they wouldn’t have seen this person disappear and reappear behind them, but Izirho was an abomination. They easily stepped out of the way, the would-be assassin falling flat on their face, dropping the knife. Izirho kicked it out of the way and looked down at the drunken assassin.
“I imagine you had that going differently in your head?”
“Just a little bit!” they called out, slowly sitting up, rubbing their hand over their face in embarrassment. “I’m not even assassin, I’m just quick enough to get one stab off. I bring robots back from the dead usually.”
Izirho just noticed the purple lights around their irises.
“Huh. And you can’t do that now?”
“Well, I could if I had my bots with me. Names Surath.” Surath stood up and held out her hand, smiling at Izirho.
“I promise this isn’t a trick,” Surath said with a laugh. “Dendarion isn’t the most trustworthy.”
“Oh, who you telling? I hate that guy.” Izirho shook Surath’s hand, noticing how strong such a small person could be. Surath came up Izirho’s shoulders and had hair that was as blue as Electric Bay during a storm. Her eyes were grey and bright, a trickster waiting to strike behind them.
“I’m sorry I stumbled into your space like this, but y’all were gone for hours.”
“I thought we were supposed to meet you down in the restaurant.”
“Shit, probably, but I probably either didn’t listen or… didn’t listen.” Surath let out a laugh that sounded like the sun bursting through the clouds during a hazy day. It made Izirho smile.
“So, Den tells me you’re going after Marl. For why?”
Izirho ran their tongue over their canine, sitting down on the lounge.
“How much time do you have?”
Marl stood in the center of his war room, looking over his 20 guards.
“My trusted guard, it has come to my attention that Deviants are also looking for Lu’Riza’s child.”
The 20 androids talked amongst themselves, wondering how this could have happened.
The 20 used to be 30 but the deviant 10 violently left when Marl told them of his plans to take over the humans. It was a war the had lasted half a decade, the last three Deviants having gone into hiding while the others had been slaughtered.
Marl put up a hand to shush them.
“I am not worried about them. I am worried about the child finding them before I do. We cannot let the child know about them. We must send them back to the Code before the child takes their words as law.”
“I volunteer to hunt them down,” X said from the back of the room.
“No, dear friend, you are to stay here with me. I have other important work for you. I will send Ghost and Animal to find them.”
Ghost and Animal stepped forward and placed a hand over their chest and bowed.
“It would be an honor, Highest Marl,” Ghost said, their blindingly white android skin glistened against the lights in the room. Animal nodded, the red and black colors of their skin danced with each other.
“4598-PYE and DX-9172, you two are to report to Electric Bay. I have heard that someone had been shooting down our bounty advertisements. Find out why. Jester and Siren’s Widow should have done that, but there hasn’t been a word from them for quite some time. I want the Lovers to find out why.”
4598-PYE and DX-9172 didn’t bother with fancy skins, looking like they had just rolled off the assembly line with their metal skeletons. They bowed to Marl and left the room. The Lovers, Tab A and Slot B, were a queer couple; Tab A seemed to be dressed in a tuxedo with their skin with Slot B was adorned in pink and gold.
“It will be done, Highest Marl, right my beloved?” Tab A cooed, taking Slot B’s hand and “kissing” it.
“Oh, yes, darling! Highest Marl, we shall do this!” They strode out of the room.
“The rest of you, please wait for me to call you if I need you. X, please stay here.”
As the other androids left the room, X and Marl stood face to face.
“What is it you need of me, Highest Marl?”
“I need you to find a way to stop Lu’Riza’s ice magic,” Marl said, annoyed. “I want to know why every attempt to crack out is met with more ice. The gel we have her in is barely containing her. Go to the Dry Blessings and find the Gardens. Find the witches. By the Code, I should have killed those ugly witches.”
X said nothing, only listened.
“Find the witches and bring them here. They can’t tell me about the ice magic if they are dead.”
“It will be done, Highest Marl.”
In a small cave at a place known as Wound, three ancient androids stared out into the icy waters, the grey skies telling them everything and nothing.
“Marl seeks us again.”
“What shall we do?”
The one in the middle turned around and walked deep into the cave, walking up to a seemingly empty chest. They opened it, pulling out a long chain made up of silver and vine. They broke it into three pieces, keeping one for themselves and handing the other two pieces to the companions.
“Keep it close. If you break, drop it, lose it, Marl’s Maw will find you. They will kill you.”
The shorter one took their chain and looked at it before clasping it around their neck.
“If they are looking for us then that must mean they already have Lu’Riza. And if they have Lu’Riza then they are probably looking for her child.”
“It’s a shame we couldn’t help her all those years ago. We could have kept her safe if–”
“There is no time for what-ifs right now. We must be in the present and look for her kin. All that matters right now is that child’s future. Our past doesn’t matter. The sooner find that child, the sooner that child is safe. The sooner their people are safe.
There was a pause, the only sound was gulls screaming outside and waves crashing.
“Will we fail?”
“We have already failed if we ask that question. We must try.”
“What if it–”
“No. No more what ifs. We must do what is right. That was always the plan. Do what is right.”