Lagressa felt many eyes settle on her. There were at least a dozen people who were painfully aware of her presence. A dozen people who’d thought they were safer than they were. A dozen people who had been warned that everything in the Shadow Worlds was dangerous.
Lagressa hadn’t stopped to consider how well armed the party that she was approaching was. She made a mental note of that as a forest of blades appeared in the hands of those she was addressing.
Not all of the weapons were aimed at her, of course. Several were held in position to deflect attacks from the side and rear of the group. For what looked like a rag tag group of travelers, they had surprisingly sensible reactions to the sudden appearance of danger.
“You don’t want to stab me,” Lagressa said. She’d been taught since she could understand language that the first reaction of any sunlight dweller would have to seeing her was likely to involve violence. From the stern edges of the expressions that faced her, she was beginning to believe those lessons had been correct.
“What will your friends do if that happens?” Wynni asked.
“That’s not why you don’t want to stab me.”
Lagressa didn’t have any friend waiting to strike back against any harm done to her. She didn’t really have any friends at all in fact. She was horribly outnumbered but that didn’t mean that she was in danger. Not with what she’d been designed to do.
“I don’t bleed,” Lagressa said. “If you stab me, I will touch you, and if I touch you, you will drown.”
“We’re not going to stab her,” Iana said, moving to stand in front of Wynni and putting a hand on the taller woman’s arm. “Why did you stop us?”, she asked, giving Lagressa her full attention.
For a human who looked so young, the girl Iana seemed to take command more easily than seemed proper. What was stranger was how the rest of the people with her listened to her commands.
“You spoke of needing to return to the sunlight lands,” Lagressa said. “I can be of assistance in that.”
“How and why?” Iana asked. The plainness in her tone made it less a challenge and more an invitation. That it was an invitation to avoid being stabbed was something not lost on Lagressa.
“The how is simple enough, I have been crafting a tool to breach the barriers between the worlds. The why is simple as well; I need someone to test it for me.”
The other young human girl laughed.
“That’s an awfully convenient story,” Yuehne said. “We traveled randomly into the shadow worlds and just happen to wind up on the doorstep of someone who has a tool to help us get back?”
“You are not the only ones who have arrived here,” Lagressa said. “Nor is this a random destination.”
“What do you mean?” Wynni asked.
The others in the party were shifting around, watching the darkness that surrounded them for more foes. A few weeks ago, that would have been a necessity for their survival on the mountaintop. Lagressa had worked to make the environs safer, but their watchfulness was still a wise choice.
Without a sun to light the sky, most of the Shadow Worlds had only moon and starlight to provide illumination to them. The nameless fragment Lagressa had fled to supported bursts of of glowing flowers as well, but their light was all pale violets and pinks. It would have been a perfect spot for an ambush.
Lagressa had made her sanctuary on the outskirts of the flower lit grove for just that reason. She’d expect her own people to chase after her and she wanted the best chance at surprising them that she could get.
“Another of your kind arrived here, days ago,” Lagressa said, watching both Iana and Wynni carefully to gauge their reactions.
“What did you do to her?” Gendaw asked, surprise showing on his fact where it was masked on Iana’s and Wynni’s.
Lagressa had expected the party would know of her earlier visitor. It wasn’t as if anyone arrived on the mountaintop by accident, and two groups fleeing from the sunlight world in desperation were more likely than not to share other things in common than the direness of their straits.
Those connection, Lagressa hoped, might be fortunate ones. If these new people were affiliated with the one who’d arrived earlier it might make it easier for them to trust her.
“I left her alone,” Lagressa said.
“She was injured. Badly.” Wynni’s grip on her blade tightened.
“Yes,” Lagressa said. “That’s why I made sure she was alone.”
“You let bleed out!” Wynni advanced forward a step.
“Wait,” Iana said, grabbing her arm. “You didn’t leave the other Shadowfolk woman to die. You protected her from the things that would have preyed on her, didn’t you?”
“Yes, and left food where she could discover it,” Lagressa said.
“I don’t understand?” Wynni said.
“Do you know what this woman is?” Iana asked.
“No,” Wynni said. “I’ve never seen her kind before.”
“Neither have I, but I believe her about drowning if we touch her. She’s not a nereid, but she could be a predecessor to their race. That limits the kind of things she could have done for your compatriot.”
“I am not one of these nereids that you speak of,,” Lagressa said. “There’s nothing of the sunlight races within me. I was constructed to be as I am. I was built to be a weapon, and my touch is death.”
“Well, that’s a comforting thought,” Venita, the dwarven woman, said.
“If we can’t stab her, and she can kill us with a touch, should we be standing this close to her?” Daggrel asked.
“First fire and now water,” Gertrude complained and adjusted her grip on the kitchen knife she was carrying while stepping back two paces.
“A better question,” Venita said. “Should we be helping someone who can kill with a touch to move out of this place and on to our world?”
“Yes,” Iana said.
“How can we trust her though?” Venita asked.
“The same as you can trust me,” Iana said and strode forward.
Lagressa had no idea why the girl was walking towards her until Iana raised an empty hand and reached for Lagressa’s shoulder.
Lagressa tried to flinch away, to roll back before Iana could touch her. No one had ever been foolish enough to risk the curse that Lagressa was under. Killing the apparent leader of the group that surrounded her, even if Lagressa had no interest in doing so, was not going to endear her to them at all.
She felt warmth spread through her shoulder. It was an alien sensation but not an unwelcome one. For a moment the strangeness of it fuzzed the edges of her awareness as she asked herself what was happening.
Someone had touched her.
And then the sensation was gone.
Iana stepped back. In her hands she held a dagger that pulsed with a soft light.
Had that been the cause of the warm sensation?
No. Lagressa’s thoughts came back into focus. Iana had reached up with her empty hand. She’d touched Lagressa on the shoulder. It was a simple gesture. Lagressa had seen other people do it on many occasions. It just wasn’t something she’d ever expected to experience for herself.
“Her touch can’t kill me,” Iana said after spitting out a mouthful of water. “Not with the protections that Dae’s given me.”
“What about the rest of us?” Daggerel asked.
“Any one of us could kill any of the others,” Iana said. “Some of us may even still want to.”
She looked at Yuehne, who frowned and looked away.
“But none of us are going to do that,” Iana continued. “Because we need each other, and because I will personally slay anyone who harms anyone in our unit here.”
“We’re a unit now?” Wynni asked.
“A poorly organized and temporary one, but yes,” Iana said.
The talked about something. Maybe who would lead them. Or what their next steps would be. Lagressa wasn’t sure. Her mind was wandering in and out of its fuzzy state, recalling the warmth that came from being touched.
She struggled with the memory, and managed to tuck it away only when she was asked another question.
“I’m sorry, what was that?” she asked, having missed the words up until attention returned to her.
“You said you needed to experiment with the tool you created,” Iana said. “What can you tell us about it?”
“It is called a Silence Breaker, and it is tied to my nature, to the magics that empower and define me,” Lagressa said.
“What does it do, exactly,” Iana asked.
“Light can dispel shadows,” Lagressa said. “And water can find the weak points in any structure. By capturing moonlight in a blade of water droplets, I can slice a hole between any two worlds.”
“How large is the hole, and how long does it last?” Iana asked.
“It varies, from what I’ve been told,” Lagressa said. “Bigger holes close faster but the rate of closure isn’t constant.”
“Will there be enough time for all of us to get through one hole?” Iana asked.
“There should be,” Lagressa said. “If I’ve forged the blade properly.”
“And if you haven’t?” Iana asked.
“Then the rift may appear to go where its intended to, but anyone crossing through it could fall into a rift-within-the-rift.”
“And that would drop them off almost anywhere I’m guessing?” Iana asked.
“So long as a survivable destination is focused on when the rift is made, all of the world that are adjacent to it should also be survivable,” Lagressa said.
“So worst case we step through, wind up someplace we don’t want to be and we can cut open another rift to get out?” Iana asked.
“That’s far from the worst case,” Lagressa said. “Cutting a rift open puts strain on the Silence Breaker and if we wind up in a realm where there’s no moonlight at all then there’d be nothing to reforge the blade with.”
“We could help with that perhaps?” Wynni said. “We can travel the shadows on our own. If we inspect the rift before going through it we may be able to tell if the passage is stable or not.”
“I can’t say I’m a fan of this idea, but it sounds better than our other strategy of ‘waiting around here until we die of old age’,” Venita said.
“I thought the eyeless people were going to be able to get us back home?” Gertrude said.
“Shadowfolk come back from the deep realms fairly often,” Gendaw said. “And usually when they don’t its because they arrived alone and injured.”
“Speaking of that, what happened with the injured woman who arrived here before us?” Iana asked.
“She’s still here. Recovering,” Lagressa said.
“Did you provide her with any weapons?” Wynni asked.
“No. I chased off the predator beasts from the area so she wouldn’t need any,” Lagressa said.
“Then she’ll be using the ones she was sent on her mission with,” Wynni said.
“Is that a good thing?” Iana asked.
“Yes. For a surveillance mission, Miaza wouldn’t have been carrying poison coated bolts,” Wynni said.
“That should make approaching her easier,” Iana said.
“Approaching her won’t be a problem,” Wynni said. “According to Silian she’s already here.”
“Does he know where she is?” Iana asked.
“She was moving,” Wynni said. ‘Trying to get into position for a decent shot on you.”
“And she heard us talking her,” Iana said.
“And still hears us,” Wynni said.
“Who would she have to shoot through at the moment to get to me?” Iana asked.
“Gendaw,” Wynni said.
“She’s hesitating because she doesn’t want to kill one of your own?” Iana asked.
“No, I think she’s hesitating because she can’t believe we’re standing together and talking calmly,” Wynni said. “Unless I miss my guess she’s trying to decide which of us needs to die first.”