See Chapter One for Disclaimer
Author's Note: Eve is baaaaack. Did you miss her? ^_^
Five individuals came through the Gate between universes, flickering into existence in the sunlit mountain meadow. Three men and two women, all in lightweight body armor, they immediately sought cover against the worn grey stones that marked the portal, their exotic weapons raised and questing for targets. Moments passed with no sign of attack or prey, and two of the figures cautiously rose and scurried across the open, grassy space and into the surrounding trees. The others remained where they were, cold eyes scanning restlessly, waiting and watching. When the two scouts reemerged and signaled all clear, the hunters regrouped. A quick examination of the ground showed the path the spider construct had taken. Without a word, they headed down the trail, moving at a tireless, ground-devouring lope.
* * * * *
Harry released his levitation spell, letting the small capstone settle on top of the pillar Eve had indicated. The three-sided pyramid had strange glyphs carved into it, and the woman studied them carefully before turning the stone clockwise until it lined up with the pillar. She wasn't looking at him, there was nothing at all preventing him from raising his wand and casting a spell....
His hand twitched, then fell back to his side. True, he could cast a spell, another levitation, perhaps. Then what? All she need do was hit him with another of those odd spell effects she could somehow manage without any wand at all, and he would be unconscious again. That didn't seem like a good enough plan. Not for the first time, he wished that Ron and Hermione were with him. Together they would have been able to escape, or perhaps even overpower the woman. As it was, he felt completely useless. If it hadn't been for the lucky happenstance of the gate stones being thrown into the pool, he would already be most of the way to their final destination by now--Lord Voldemort.
Frowning slightly, curious despite the dread that hung around him like a shroud, he spoke.
"What did that?" When she glanced over at him, he nodded at the stones still lying in the depths. "You said 'those creatures' when you saw they'd been thrown in. What kind of creatures?"
Eve scowled, the expression looking out of place on her beautiful face.
"An incredibly stupid kind of creature," she said, as she moved to the next pillar. "They're called 'Crumple-Horned Snorkacks', if you can believe that, and they're just about as idiotic as they sound." She shook her head dismissively, and pointed down into the water. "Come on; that one, closest to this side. Bring it up."
Reluctantly he raised his wand, then hesitated as a fresh round of thrashing reminded him that the clockwork spider Eve called Lorne was still (somehow) suffering under the torture spell she had placed upon him. Harry also noticed that the woman winced, and touched her fingertips to her temple at that same moment. Unsure of what that meant, he cleared his throat carefully.
"Ah... could you maybe let him off, now?" She looked at him with those jade eyes that were just a few shades lighter than his own, and he shrugged uneasily. "It's sort of distracting, him jerking around back there, and I'm not the world's greatest wizard in the first place...."
To his surprise, she nodded her acquiescence, a faint look of what might have been relief joining the pain he saw lurking, mostly hidden, behind her cool facade.
kind of annoying, isn't it?" she said, as she ended the spell with a casual wave of one hand. Immediately, her metallic servant stopped convulsing, though occasional tiny twitches still passed through several of its legs as it lay there. Eve raised one perfect eyebrow at Harry, looking expectant.
"Thanks," he told her, then looked down into the water once more. "Wingardium Leviosa!
" The second stone stirred, and then rose from the mud, up through the water, and out into open air. The woman indicated which pillar was its match, and Harry guided the stone to a gentle landing there.
That left three stones, and once they were placed he supposed they would be off to complete the journey that would end with Eve delivering him to his mortal enemy. He glanced around again while she was lining up the capstone, wondering if he could somehow make it down the path and up the far bank before she could stun him again--
A movement at his feet startled him, and he nearly jumped out of his skin. A quick look down showed that the spider had extended one leg toward him, falling just short of actually touching his ankle. The crystal eyes were locked on him, and another of the golem's legs moved ever-so-slightly, indicating something in the dirt by the pool's edge. Harry considered the magical machine, wondering what it wanted of him. A glance over at Eve assured him that she was still adjusting the stone, so he took three slow steps to his right, and looked down. The soft earth had been torn and scuffed by Lorne's agonized thrashings, but there were other, more regular lines there too, which must have been scratched in after the torture was ended. --She tired now--
was spelled out in shaky-looking letters. When he looked back to its eyes in confusion, it dragged one metal leg across the dirt, erasing the words.
"Harry?" His gaze snapped guiltily up to where Eve was standing, on the other side of the small pool, her head cocked slightly as she regarded him.
The woman spared a brief glance for her spidery servant, still lying helplessly on the ground, then looked back at him. "Don't feel sorry for him," she said, ignoring the golem now. "All he has to do is obey me, and I won't hurt him. He knows that perfectly well, too; I think he did that just so you'd see me punish him, and think I was a sadistic bitch."
"And you're not?" Harry answered, the words slipping out before he quite realized what he was going to say. She smiled at him, faintly, and gave a tiny shake of her head.
"Not usually, no. It's just this one specific case that brings out the worst in me." She sighed, a soft, weary sound, and closed her eyes for a moment before opening them wide and tossing her head irritably. "Come on, how about that next stone, huh?"
Harry obediently raised his wand, though not without another long look at the woman. She did
look tired, when he squinted hard enough to compensate for his broken glasses. Her hair, so glossy and bouncy before, now looked a little limp and flat. Her pale complexion was still flawless, but it looked different, somehow; sort of stretched and fragile. She saw him looking and flashed him a smile, looking as lovely as ever. Harry was left wondering if he'd imagined it after all.
The third stone stirred, then rose up through the water. It broke the surface, then slowly drifted towards the woman, dripping as it went. She indicated which pillar it belonged to, and he obediently guided it to a gentle landing. Releasing the spell, he watched as she adjusted it with finicky precision. Looking closely, he tried to see the same signs of weariness he'd seen earlier, while at the same time wondering why Lorne thought it mattered that she was a little tired.
"Ew," Eve said softly, apparently to herself, as she regarded her fingertips with distaste. The stones had apparently been submerged long enough for waterborn algae to start growing on them. The greenish slime on her fingertips contrasted sharply with the delicate pink polish that adorned her long, tapering nails. She held her hand before her face and pursed her lips, doubtless to use one of her strange, quasi-magical powers to remove the offending substance... and then she stopped short, made a frustrated pout, and instead reached out to awkwardly wipe her fingers against the rough stone of the pillar. Harry blinked, cleared his throat, and ventured a question.
"Are you... okay?" Her head turned and she gave him a sharp look, so he raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. "It's just that... I mean, um...." Shrugging helplessly, he shut his mouth. Eve's expression softened, and she smiled just a little.
"I'm hungry," she admitted. "And tired... which for people like me is basically the same thing." Harry frowned as he tried to puzzle that out; it seemed, somehow, like those words were very, very important. "I hardly even got started on my deliveries, you know," the woman continued, leaning one shoulder against the stone pillar as she spoke. "I didn't expect to have you just land in my lap like you did; and after I had time to think it over I knew we couldn't hang around long, or else your friends would come looking for you." She sighed, and spread pale fingers across the ivory satin that covered her stomach. "I barely got anything
to eat, and I was running pretty low to begin with--" She stopped short, and sent a penetrating look his way, looking like she regretted having said that last part. With a shake of her head that made her dark red hair ripple and shimmer (though not so much as it had earlier; it did
look flatter and duller now), she turned back to finish adjusting the stone.
"Don't worry about me, Harry," she said without turning. "I'll get everything I need real soon now. Although...." She tilted her head and looked off into the distance, as if considering something, then resumed her adjustments. "It might be that I'll ask you a favor, after we're done here. While you've got your wand and everything, you might be able to help me out a little...."
Harry might have answered her, would have said something brave and defiant about not doing any 'favors' for his kidnapper (despite the way he was already helping her with the stones), only his attention was diverted. Lorne the spider golem, still sprawled in an ungainly heap on this side of the pool, had been stealthily scratching more lines in the soft earth. --tired mean weaker--
He jumped, snatching his eyes up to see Eve, on the far side of the water, indicating the next stone. He swallowed painfully as she glanced at the spider, but apparently the distance and her poor angle kept the woman from spotting the message. Hastily raising his wand, he pointed it into the pool.
The stone rose, floated across, and landed on the next pillar. Eve moved around the pool, and again she staggered slightly as her pretty, though extremely impractical heels sank into the soft earth. Harry, watching closely, nodded to himself at this confirmation of his theory. Lorne's right,
he thought, inwardly exulting. She's tired, and whatever it is she uses for magic is running low. Earlier she was able to walk on anything in those shoes, and never trip once, but now she either can't do that, or doesn't want to waste the energy. Same thing with her hands. I've seen enough of her by now to know that she never would have left that slime stain on her fingers if she could magic it off, and she didn't do it. So maybe I do have a chance to get away!
Lorne twitched slightly, and Harry looked down as casually as he could. --jump when last stone set--
That would mean jumping through the gate when it opened, and then hoping he could get enough of a head start to get away before Eve could follow him. Tired or not, the woman had proven that she could easily subdue him with her strange abilities. Perhaps if he tried one of the few spells he knew right before he jumped? A leglocker curse would slow her down, even if she managed to break it fairly quickly--
He noticed that Lorne had continued his scratching, only the very tip of one multi-jointed leg moving on the smooth mud beside the pool. --no cast spell her--
As soon as it saw that he'd read the words, the spider swept the ground smooth again, then lay quite still. Harry stared at it, wondering. Is it asking me not to hurt her? I guess it doesn't know that I don't have any spells that really do damage. If I did, though....
He realized he didn't really have a clear idea of where that particular thought would end. If he did have spells that would wound, would
he use them on her? Probably not. She hadn't hurt him, after all; turning him over to Voldemort was still in the future, still not-quite-real. Until she physically attacked him, he doubted he could return the favor. Lorne, though.... It was odd that he/it would plead for his mistress's life, when she apparently made a habit of abusing him. Perhaps her power, that ability to make people like her, even love her, could over time gain such a hold on someone that they adored her even as she tortured them?
He shivered, profoundly disturbed by the thought.
"Last one, Harry," Eve announced, even as she moved slowly and awkwardly around the pool to the final pillar, which put her back next to him, though on the opposite side from where she'd started. He nodded, and raised his wand, but her cool, soft hand closed on his before he could speak the incantation.
"I'm going to need that wand back from you once you raise this one, okay?" He nodded again, dumbly. With her face so close he was again struck by her beauty... though he couldn't help but blink as the change registered. She was young; very young, he'd seen it earlier. Around twenty or so, maybe twenty-one or twenty-two at the very most. Young enough that not a single sign of age showed on her lovely face. Now, though her makeup remained flawless, her face was not. It was small things, tiny things, really, and still it was unmistakable. The pale skin wasn't quite
as taut, though it was still soft and smooth. There were the faintest of lines beneath her jade eyes, and around that sensual mouth. She was, unquestionably, still beautiful... just not quite
perfect. Eve looked closer to thirty than twenty, now, and he wondered how that could be even as she raised his hand, with the wand he held, and looked at it with something like longing... or hunger.
"I know you're probably going to say no," she told him, her eyes leaving the wand reluctantly and meeting his own. "But I'm still going to ask you for that favor, before I take this back from you."
"Why would I want to help you?" he asked, a bit sullenly. "I mean, except for what I'm already doing, which is helping you take me to get killed."
She shrugged, which did delightful things to the cleavage her top exposed.
"Not sure," she admitted, and had the grace to look away. "Maybe if either of us knew a spell to make you about ten years older?" She smiled, and it was partly amusement, partly sadness, and partly smoldering heat that he saw in that look. "I could at least make a man out of you, before I handed you over to the snake guy; give you something good to remember."
Harry opened his mouth to tell her that it wouldn't be worth it, but the words wouldn't come. He couldn't lie to her, somehow, not when her bottomless eyes were so close he could fall in and drown in them. She sighed, softly and with regret, and stepped back. With a gesture at the pool she turned away, as if it pained her to look at him. Confused, and not at all sure of what he was feeling, Harry pointed the wand into the water.
It came out as more of an uncertain statement than the ringing command he'd been taught to use, though it still worked properly. The stone floated upwards, out of the water, and to the waiting pillar. Eve nodded in satisfaction as it came to rest there, and reached out to line it up.
"Anyway, that favor." She glanced at him, and he froze in place, trying to look as if he'd just been shifting his feet. "I know this is going to sound weird," she continued, looking almost embarrassed. "The thing is, I'm seriously starving, and it takes someone with a wand to--what are you--?"
As soon as the final stone had touched the pillar, the water in the pool had disappeared, replaced by a bottomless well of swirling light. Harry flung off his robes, fearing that there was still water down there somewhere, not wanting to be tangled up in yards and yards of wet cloth if he ended up swimming for his life. Eve stared at him, and fury replaced surprise as she took a step towards him.
He couldn't help grinning at her as he leapt into space, falling down through twisting light.
"No!" Eve's voice was a shriek, filled with as much fear as anger, and he had one last glimpse of her staring down at him in shock and dismay before the strangely substantial light closed over his head.
* * * * *
Harry materialized on a flat slab of shiny, irregular rock, sprawling flat between five large lumps of rust-stained iron that seemed to have been bolted firmly into the rock. Moving carefully, he stood up, squinting as he peered around. The rock slab (it was obsidian, he realized, recognizing it from one of his classes) was only twenty or thirty feet across. Beyond it lay swamp; fetid, muddy water filling the spaces between scattered clumps of moss-hung trees. Stands of tall grass were everywhere, as were clouds of tiny gnats, which wasted no time in swarming all around his face, filling his ears with their tiny, buzzing whines.
Realizing he had to go somewhere
, he hurried to the edge of the stone, crouched down, and eased himself down into the water. To his great relief he found the bottom at about the time the water reached waist-level, and he headed towards the nearest stand of trees as fast as the sucking mud beneath his feet would allow. He wasn't quite there when he heard the distinctive clickclick
of high heels on stone.
"Harry!" Eve shouted from behind him. "Come back here! Now!" Sure, right, I'll just turn around and do that,
he thought scornfully, with a quick glance behind him. He saw the woman hurrying to the edge of the stone, staring after him with her fists clenched at her sides. Behind her, the clockwork spider flickered into existence between the gate markers, though an absent gesture from Eve froze it instantly in place. He glanced back and forth rapidly, gauging his progress while keeping an eye on the woman. He was very nearly at the trees when he saw her draw in a deep breath, raise both hands to her lips, and blow a kiss his way with so much force that she was bent nearly double at the end of it. He felt more than saw the mystical energies rolling towards him like a wave, and with a last desperate lunge he dove around the thick trunks of the swamp trees.
The heavy wooden trunks shuddered, and a rustling drew his eyes upwards. Every leaf up there had curled in tight on itself, and dozens of unconscious birds rained down as they lost their grips on branches. Wow! She actually stunned the trees!
he thought, amazed, then slogged away as quickly as he was able, keeping the trunks between himself and the obsidian platform. Luckily for him, nearly all wizard spells required line-of-sight to their target, and Eve's powers seemed to obey the same rules. Even better, the world where he'd landed was particularly suited to keeping the woman from following after him. After all, if she hated getting even her fingertips smudged with pond slime, what were the chances that she'd leap into this brackish, thoroughly nasty water--? --Crack--
Just ahead of him and a little to the left, Eve appeared out of thin air, standing in the middle of a stand of thick grass. She smiled at him, her expression smug... right before it changed to startlement as she dropped straight down with shriek of dismay, followed by a somewhat turgid splash. Harry turned right and lunged ahead, trying to gain some distance before she righted herself. Luckily for him, even the places where the grass was thickest seemed to often hide deep pools of water and mud. Most decidedly unlucky
, however, was the discovery that Eve could Apparate. I'll never be able to outrun her,
he thought to himself in desperation. I'll have to get around some of these trees, make her lose sight of me!
The trees did indeed seem to grow thicker up ahead, though there was still no sign of dry ground. Instead, deep, weed-choked water lapped against their trunks, looking like it was trying its level best to pull them all down into a muddy grave. Harry moved faster, finding that the bottom here was a little firmer, the water a bit shallower. --Crack--
He felt her appear right behind him, and he turned in time to see her standing waist-deep in the water, a look of profound revulsion on her face as she raised her eyes from the mess it had made of her expensive clothing. She pursed her lips and inhaled, gathering her magic... and he swept both of his hands through the water as hard as he could, raising a huge spray of brown, tepid water that thoroughly drenched her. Whirling, he half-staggered, half-ran, accompanied by the sounds of her gagging--apparently she'd accidentally swallowed, or even inhaled, some of the water.
"Ack! That's disgusting!
" she complained loudly, and he wasted a bare moment to call back over his shoulder.
"Just go back then, and leave me alone!"
He couldn't help but grin when he saw her standing there, muddy water soaking every inch of her, sodden, bedraggled hair clinging to her pale face. She looked like a drowned rat, her green eyes glaring at him through water-soaked hair. She sputtered furiously, and he gained precious seconds as she used both hands to peel the dripping tresses back so that she could see properly.
"No way, little boy!" she snarled back at him when she'd cleared it away. "Whether you admit it or not, you're mine!
She really did look furious, and he still hadn't reached the cover of the trees. He had to slow her down somehow, so he tried one of the few spells he knew that might buy him some time.
" he cried, aiming his wand back at her. The leglocker curse wouldn't hurt her, but in the time it took her to deal with it, he might be able to....
He gaped as she sloshed forward a few steps, completely unaffected by the spell he knew
had hit her squarely, and pursed her lips in reply. When she blew the kiss at him, he could actually see it coming, thanks to the clouds of swamp midges that fell out of the air, stunned, in a line racing straight at him. At the last moment he ducked, submerging himself fully beneath the fetid water. He felt the magic pass by, and immediately lunged to his feet, trying not to gag on the foulness that had seeped into his mouth, and into his nostrils. Stumbling forward, he finally reached where the trees grew thickest, and slogged towards the nearest group as quick as he was able. --Crack--
Eve appeared directly in front of him, though she was careful to stay out of reach. Sodden and miserable as she looked, there was still triumph in her eyes. Acting on sheer instinct, Harry whipped his wand up and shouted.
The full-body bind curse wasn't a spell he had much practice with, but it was the most powerful spell he knew. If it worked, and turned Eve into a rigid, living statue, then he would have all the time in the world to decide what he should....
She ignored it, even giving a disdainful little sniff as the magic splashed harmlessly off of her. Harry stumbled backwards, horrified that his best magic seemed like nothing at all to the woman.
" he tried again, hoping that it had only been a miscasting before, that this time it would work.
"Um, Harry," Eve said mildly, even as she took a careful, unsteady step towards him in the water and mud. "If you're going to keep throwing food at me, you could at least be nice and let me actually eat
some of it." She gave a wistful sigh, her eyes dropping briefly to his wand before coming back to his eyes. "Because I'm really, really starving."
He whirled, putting his back to her as he splashed towards the next grouping of trees, and from behind him he imagined he could hear a sharp inhale, then the sound of her blowing one of her kisses. The trees before him exploded in flames; instantly and completely. Harry flung his arm up to shield his face, and turned towards a different stand of thick trunks. Moments before he reached them, that group exploded too, driving him back with the intense heat. He was rapidly tiring now, and the hopelessness of his situation wasn't helping either. Still, he tried again, his straining steps hindered as he hit an area of shallower water and thicker, more clingy mud. The grass grew higher here, at least partially shielding him from her stun bolts, though the fire would still kill him if she used it.
"Stop, Harry!" she called out, seemingly reading his mind. "I'll drop the next fireball right on top of you, unless you stop!" She isn't trying to kill me,
was the thought that went through his head. She's trying to scare me into stopping, and she's going to stun me again when she gets a chance, but she's not trying to kill me.
He came out the other side of the tall grass, his eyes moving frantically as he looked for some way to make her lose sight of him long enough to make his escape. --Crack--
Again, she Apparated right in front of him. Too far away for him to try anything physical, and yet far too close for him to have any hope of getting away.
"Can we please
stop this now, and go back?" she asked him, her voice plaintive as she struggled in vain to fingercomb her wet hair into some semblance of order. "Neither one of us wants to do this all day, do we?"
Mutely Harry shook his head, though inwardly he was profoundly shocked at Eve's appearance. The woman had aged even further since he'd last gotten a close look at her. The circles under her eyes were plain, looking dark and a little sunken. Her eyes crinkled at the corners with small but definite crow's feet, and there were lines bracketing the corners of her mouth. Even her hair looked browner, plainer, and although the dampness made it hard to tell, he was almost sure he saw strands of grey sprinkled through it. She could pass for forty, now, and a careworn forty at that. I don't think you can do this all day
, he thought cautiously. Whatever you really are, I think you're just all worn out.
Not that it especially mattered, he realized. She had him this time. There was nowhere to run, and not even enough water to duck below when she used her stun. All he had was his wand, which couldn't cast any spells that would affect her. She nodded, having reached the same conclusion, and gave him a smile that was still remarkably pretty, if in a motherish, older-woman kind of way.
"Don't worry, champ; this won't hurt a bit. And I'll make sure you don't wake up until its all over with Voldemort."
That wasn't reassuring at all, and Harry waved his wand vaguely in her direction as he struggled to think of something, anything, that might help. The thick mud was pulling so firmly at his feet that he couldn't even try to run; it would take long seconds to slog even a few feet....
His head jerked up suddenly, and his grip on the wand firmed.
His voice was clear and ringing as he called out the invocation, and one of Eve's perfect eyebrows rose into the wet tangles of hair plastered across her forehead.
"Didn't we already cover all of this, Harry?" she asked him, the amusement in her voice nearly covering the bone-deep weariness. "Your magic can't touch me, so what exactly do you expect to--"
She broke off as the bludger-sized glob of thick mud pulled itself up out of the muck at Harry's feet, to hover at the tip of his poised wand. Jade eyes going wide, she stared at him, shaking her head in disbelief.
"Y-You wouldn't dare
Harry nodded happily, even as he brought his wand hand slowly back over his shoulder, and then whipped it forward.
"Yes I would!"
The mud flew forward, straight at her. It was bludger-sized, but it in no way flew as fast as a bludger, and it didn't hit as hard as one, either. Wingardium Leviosa
wasn't an invisible arm and hand, after all; it simply floated objects. So although it could be used to chuck items with fair force, it wasn't exactly going to take anyone's head off.
Which was fine with Harry; he didn't want to take her head off.
Still, it was a lot of mud, and it did hit her pretty hard.
Right in the face.
Eve was knocked backwards onto her very shapely behind, and ended up sitting down hard in the shallow water. Her face was completely covered in mud, and she struggled to her feet even as she clawed the mud out of her eyes.
"All right," she snarled, as she got enough of it cleared to at least glimpse him once more. "You are so
going to pay for--!"
Another huge glob of mud struck her, in the face again, sitting her down hard, again. Shrieking in wordless fury she slammed her delicate fists impotently against the water several times before climbing back to her feet.
that!" she screamed, trying again to wipe her eyes clear (and her mouth and nose; there was so much mud caked on her face just then that she'd inadvertently gotten it in her mouth when she shouted).
"Wingardium Leviosa! Wingardium Leviosa! Wingardium Leviosa!
The heavy masses of mud pelted her slender form without mercy, coating her from head to thighs in thick mud that clung like glue. She screamed (and gagged on mud as she did so) stamped her dainty foot in frustration, and frantically tried to clear her eyes, but it was hopeless. The woman was barely recognizable as anything human at this point, looking instead like some child's mud-sculpture given life. Finally there came a last --Crack--
as the woman Apparated away, unable to endure any more.
Harry slowly lowered his wand, hardly able to believe it.
"I won?" A long minute passed as he stood there, waiting to see if Eve would return and resume their struggle, but nothing happened other than a fresh cloud of biting midges rolling in around him.
"I won!" he declared, raising his wand triumphantly and doing a halting, slogging jig (it wasn't a good jig, considering the mud, but he considered it a moral victory nonetheless).
After that, of course, he was left with the decision of where he should go. Back to the gate seemed a bad idea; she was almost certainly angry enough at this point to fireball him into oblivion, and he didn't want to give her the chance. The overcast sky was growing darker now, though, and night in the swamp, alone, seemed almost an equally bad idea.
It was then that he saw something, in the far distance, off beyond the trees. A flickering light, like a lantern, moving from left to right. He lost sight of it almost immediately, but it gave him a sudden renewed hope. If there were people here, then he could ask for help, beg them to shelter him through the night, maybe even guide him to another gate come morning. Cautiously he slogged in the direction of the light, and a minute later he was rewarded with another glimpse of it. Again, it was far off in the distance, but he moved with all the speed he could manage, following the elusive wisp off into the gathering darkness.
* * * * *
Eve appeared on the edge of the obsidian platform. She would have tottered unsteadily on the rough surface, only she'd lost her shoes somewhere out there in the sucking mud, and was now standing in just her stockinged feet. Not that she could see her feet, or much of anything else. Still spitting out mud and trying not to whimper out loud with fury and frustration (and, humiliation), she felt her way to the edge. Sitting carefully, she reached out and scooped up some water, and began splashing the filthy liquid over herself. Repeating the process at length, she finally got her eyes clear, and at least the majority of the thick mud scraped away. Her clothes were ruined, obviously. Her hair was a rat's nest of muddy tangles, and she had also managed to break two nails off to the quick, which hurt. Feeling sullen, and angry, and worst of all, ugly
, she got up and hobbled over to where Lorne still waited, frozen in place. Reaching into one of the dimensionally-expanded packs he carried, she found a clean towel and began wiping at her face.
"All right," she announced to the empty air. "If you want to get away that much, fine!" Mud was still falling off her in clumps, squishing obcenely between her toes as she moved. "It's not like I need this or anything," she contined, digging through the pack with more force than was really needed. "I've got a business, and people who...." Her words trailed off into silence, because even though she would have liked to put 'love', or 'care about', or even 'like' at the end of that sentence, none of them would have been true.
"I've got people who respect me," she muttered eventually, even as she gave up on finding any significant amount of clean water stashed away at the bottom of the saddlepacks.
Getting clean here, where even the water was horribly dirty, would be an arduous process. She was wondering if she should even try, or simply leave and find a nice clean stream in a nicer world, when she saw the odd twitching of Lorne's head. Frowning, she made the graceful gesture that unfroze him, wincing at the sight of the jagged stub of her broken nail, and the blood that oozed from it.
"What do you want?" she asked irritably. The spider couldn't speak, of course, but over the years they had worked out a fair vocabulary of gestures and postures. Lorne was pleased about something, his eyes sparkling more than usual as he looked at her, despite the darkening sky overhead. Frown still in place, Eve dug into the saddlepack one more time, and came up with an ornate handmirror. Holding it up to her face, she looked at herself in silence for a full minute, and then put it away again.
"Well, yeah, I knew that much without looking." Still, she couldn't help but sigh. "I hate
it when I'm old. If that brat had just come along quietly, or at least fed me like I was going to ask before he ran off...." She fell silent again, doing some quick mental math. It was at least two world jumps before she would be in a place where there were mages who could help her... and that was no guarantee that they would
help her. In a pinch she could usually count on her feminine wiles to sway a mage into feeding her, but at the moment that was fairly iffy. Her only sure bet was to go all the way back to Nocturne Alley, and that was a long, long trip when she was feeling this hungry and tired.
Eve sat down with a thump (determinedly ignoring the fact that her backside had lost much of its youthful firmness) and propped her elbow on her thigh, and her chin in her hand, staring off into the depths of the swamp. Looming over her, Lorne's head bobbed up and down rapidly, his claws clicking against the obsidian of the transport pad. She looked up at him with narrowed eyes, hating the way she could feel the small wrinkles form beneath them.
"What are you laughing about, you moron?" She gestured out into the swamp. "What, are you happy he got away? Glad he outsmarted me?" The metal head bobbed up and down more emphatically, and she shook her head sadly. "Idiot. He didn't escape. He just traded one bad ending for another one." Her fingers working methodically at untangling her muddy hair, she gazed off into the gathering night. "This isn't the world we were heading for, not at all. He jumped into the pool before I could finish aligning the stone." Her bleeding fingers hurt, and the broken nails snagged on her hair, but she wasn't paying attention. Her eyes blurred briefly, but it was only the mud she'd gotten in her eyes.
Only the mud.
"You don't know what lives here, but I do," she said softly. "Little Harry won't make it till morning. Not a chance."
The spider stopped its silent laughter, and regarded her for a long while before looking out into the darkness. In the far distance, scattered lights were visible, tempting, calling out to the unwary.
The woman and the spider sat unmoving, too wise to answer that call.
* * * * *