Chapter 63: The Crying Game
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“Is that really you?” Baroke asked as they marched along the path carved into the cliff face, aiming for the relatively lightly defended wall they’d given up.

No sorceress to stop him from burning everyone and everything in it, either. One more push and he’d –

“Stop poking me,” Calvin said, swatting Baroke’s hand away from his shoulder. “Yes, it’s me.”

“prove it.”

“Best time ever.”

“Nah, she could have overheard that, tell me something only you know.”

“You’re not as stupid as you look.”

“You’re not the only one who knows that.”

“Am I?” Calvin said, glancing back at Maya, who shrugged and waggled her hand. The little ranger had been attached to Baroke’s hip ever since their escapade in the woods. She might not even know she was following him around.

“Umm…let’s see. We used to bitch about being thirty miles away from any girls that weren’t related or significantly out of our age range.”

“An easy assumption to make.” Baroke said, eyeing him suspiciously.

“Kort’s mom was a slut, and he probably liked your dead cousin because she reminded him of her?”

Baroke smacked him on the back of the head, rattling his brain.

“Too soon.”

“Oww, you were the one pushing for personal information.” Calvin said, rubbing the back of his head. “I could have you whipped for that.”

“But you won’t, ‘cuz you know you were in the wrong.” He glanced at Calvin. “At least you’re not as ugly anymore, and you’ve got nice tits.”

“Those are my nice tits,” Nadia growled from her spot behind them.

“I’d much rather have my regular junk back,” Calvin said, adjusting his pants again. “Vaginas suck and these pants are practically inside me.”

“Vaginas are clearly the superior genitalia,” Ella said from in front of them, leading the way with her heavily armored body in case of an ambush. “They’re self contained, self-cleaning, get multiple orgasms, can fit entire babies through them, and are built to take a pounding. Men can become infertile from a little love tap to the groin.”

“Don’t you joke about that.” Baroke said, pointing at her. “My father had that happen after I was conceived and my grandfather beat him to within an inch of his life.”

“Nah, cocks are better.” Gulad said from the back, to the agreement of many of the nearby soldiers. “Not only does it give you a blunt weapon in an emergency, it also comes with superior upper body strength and never needing to pass a kid.” The gawky engineer crossed his arms with smug superiority as his squadmates crowed.

“Blunt weapon?” Nadia scoffed. “More like swinging target between your legs.”

“If anyone’s got a target between their legs, it’s – “

“I hate to interrupt this fascinating conversation between horny teens who’ve just recently discovered all the plumbing, but I’m going to have to ask for you to surrender.”

Charlotte emerged from behind a curve in the cliff-face, flanked by half dozen Ilethan soldiers.

“Veyers is twenty-two,” Calvin’s copy at the very front said, pointing at the lieutenant. Aside from the sergeants who kept the kids in line, lieutenant Veyers was the oldest, which wasn’t saying much. “Not a teen at all.”

“In another minute, Brendan is going to get my message, and outflank you. There’s nowhere to go. Surrender and save yourselves a lot of bloodshed.”

Her eyes were locked on Calvin’s clone. Master Baiter was working.

“I don’t think so, hag,” Calvin said, stepping forward and puffing out his chest as he attempted to duplicate Nadia’s arrogance. Or maybe she was just trying to give everyone a show. Who knows how that girl thinks?

Acting has reached Level 9!

Acting Level 9: Behave exactly as you intend. Convey emotion naturally. 45% correction.

“You couldn’t stop us then, and you’re not going to be able to do it now, not when I’ve got your Leash.”

“Yes, I heard all about that. You sound like a broken record, darling.”

“How do you think we won last time?” Calvin asked.

Charlotte’s eyes narrowed, her frown becoming malignant.

“Stand aside and you’ll get your payment,” Copy Calvin said. “Otherwise you’ll simply be defeated again, without knowing quite how it happened.”

“Seeding Doubt is the basics, former princess. You’ll have to do more than that.” Charlotte said, pointing at Calvin, then she shifted her gaze back to his copy, who was under the effect of Master Baiter.

“No, I’ll be taking you home with me. We’ll become fast friends, you and I, and you’ll tell me everything about your Bent-efficient summoning spell.”

“Oh, is that all you wanted?” Calvin’s copy asked, before lunging toward, a knife jutting out of his hand to strike at Charlotte.

I didn’t know my copies could do that.

Bent can’t be copied with Bent, but the physical properties of the bodies themselves, namely Mutations and Abilities, are easily carried over, as long as they don’t use Bent for fuel. Elliot provided a quick explanation as the Abyss broke loose in the tightly packed corridor.

The copy’s attack was stymied before it even grazed the Sorceress’s skin, the thick swirl of invisible Bent around her repelling the attack.

The woman’s pale, gold-adorned hand snaked out and seized the copy, and the struggling teen suddenly went stiff and unmoving in her grasp.

“Now, surrender or I’ll – “

She blinked, seeing the murderous expression on Baroke’s face as he drew back his spring-steel bow, a deadly aura condensing around the reinforced arrow.

Charlotte dove to the ground an instant before Baroke released the arrow, weaving a shield of raw Bent over her head.

Baroke’s arrow passed beneath Ella’s elbow, and struck Calvin’s copy in the lower back, carving a hole through the decoy and three of the six men beyond him.

“No!” Calvin shrieked with a lot more feminine alarm than he’d expected.

Acting skill, coming in handy.

Playing the desperate Chained Spirit whose life was tied to their summoner, Calvin dove on top of his decoy, doing his best to stop the bleeding while Ella lunged forward, aiming her flail at Charlotte’s face.

“Damn this hurts,” the copy said, taking tiny little breaths as blood oozed through Calvin’s fingers.

“Thanks for volunteering.” Claivn said, trying to keep his tone light.

“I’m scared,” the copy said, his voice trembling in a way that made Calvin’s hairs stand on end. This is what he sounded like in mortal agony.

“We’re still gonna be okay.” Calvin said. “You’re not dying. It wasn’t scary before you existed, it won’t be scary after.”

I’ve got something to say,” he said, coughing blood as the fight raged on around them. Charlotte was back up and swatted Ella against the solid stone, knocking the Genosian girl to the ground. She pointed a finger at Baroke, who stiffened and nearly fell off the edge of the cliff, tugged back at the last moment by Maya.

“We’re kinda busy,” Calvin said under his breath as he watched the fight from his blood-stemming vantage point.

“No, this is important.”

“What?”

“I made out with Ella a little while you were off changing into Nadia. Actually a lot. She said it was a good opportunity to figure out what your weak spots were, and I enjoyed every second of it in your honor.”

The copy took a ragged gasp of air.

“I even found out where her tattoo is…come closer.” He motioned for Calvin to lean closer.

Bemused, Calvin did so.

“PBBBLLLLT.” The copy blew a raspberry directly into Calvin’s ear. “Find out yourself.”

“Godsdamnit,” Calvin said, wiping spittle out of his ear while his copy laughed weakly.

“Oh, it’s still oozing a bit, gotta put plenty of pressure on it,” Calvin said, pushing down on the wound harder, drawing a wretched moan out of his duplicate.

Ella lurched back to her feet, apparently shrugging off the impact against the stone, her skin glimmering in the evening sun.

Is it…kind of red? Before the tower, her Iron skin had always been silver, but now it was a ruddy color, almost like rust.

Weird.

In the next second an invisible blast knocked Ella off the cliffside, making Calvin’s heart leap into his throat.

Ella reached out and grabbed at the last second, hanging off the edge by fingertips that had dug furrows into the stone of the cliff face.

 Charlotte rushed forward and stepped on Ella’s fingers, pointing at her with obvious intent, making their positions clear.

She glanced over at Calvin’s duplicate, who was growing pale.

“I only want your commander,” she said, loud enough that the entire double line of Gadverans could hear her.

“If you continue to resist, he is going to die, followed shortly by you. If you give him to me now, I will make sure he lives, and allow you past me, on the condition that you return to Mujenan.

She eyed Calvin.

“Give him to us, and prevent them from following. It’s the only way you can survive this, Nadia.”

Calvin gritted his teeth in a snarl. “How do you know I wouldn’t rather die?”

“You’re a vapid social butterfly, not a suicidal warmonger. Let me take him. You’ll be a tool, sure, but an extremely well-treated one. I know how much havoc you could cause unsupervised with that tongue of yours.”

Calvin growled in feminine frustration.

“Fine! But it’s not going to go how you think, Professor. You’re not going to take The Wasp that easily.” Calvin said, standing up.

Charlotte swooped in and placed a hand on the decoy’s head and murmured a spell, seconds later, the decoy’s bleeding stopped entirely, his eyes rolling back in his head as he lost consciousness.

Some kind of stasis?

“We’ll see about that, dearie,” she said with a smile, erecting a barrier of solid Bent between them as her remaining three Ilethan soldiers swooped in to pick up their prize.

“I’ll see you again soon, princess.” She said, backing away, keeping her eyes on them until she disappeared behind the stone.

Calvin gave them a minute, stooping to help Ella back onto the narrow walkway.

“That’s a good look for you.” She said with a wink as he hauled on her hand.

Shaddap.

“Shaddap.”

Once Ella back was on the path, he rallied them

“Alright, move, move!” he said, pointing forward. “You want your captain’s death to be in vain? We’ve got work to do and we can’t afford to get caught in the ass by the guys behind us! Pick up the oaf and move!”

“Who put you in charge?” one of the sergeants asked, scowling at him.

Oh, right, I look like Nadia.

“You got a better idea!?” Ella demanded, looming over them. “We’re on a one-way path, surrounded by death.  You haven’t got time to sit around with your thumb up your ass, so MOVE!”

The soldiers hustled to comply.

“Excellent,” Calvin said as they began jogging forward. All that was left of Charlotte and the decoy was a smear of blood and some thick ropes hanging down from the cliff above.

“That’s what a real Incha Huala does,” she said, glancing at Nadia, still in disguise. The princess scowled at her.

“Maybe my entire goal in life wasn’t to be someone’s stooge,” she shot back.

“later~,” Calvin said in singsong as he tiptoed under the retracting ropes, looking out for some kind of ambush.

They passed beneath the ropes and continued on at top speed, determined to outrun the main force of Ilethan soldiers behind them.

Go, go go go. Calvin chanted as they ran, trying to ignore the way he jiggled. Being a girl is weird.

They made it all the way to the ramp up, where the path arced back upward, ending just a foot under the cliff itself, behind an inconspicuous stone formation.

Unfortunately, it looked like Charlotte was able to send word back to the remaining Ilethans, because the secret ramp up wasn’t so secret anymore.

 “Lookie what we have here,” a scarred Ilethan said, crossing his arms with a sneer “Just like Miss Charlotte said. Any last words before we execute the lot of you?”

A unit of no less than fifty archers had them dead to rights, spread around the cliff face above them, with superior positioning and a vastly better angle of attack.

Calvin touched his thumb to the Fireball component digging into his hip.

Shaping

2/15 Bent remaining.

A unit of no less than fifty charred corpses were flung out into the ocean by a series of blinding explosions, spreading them out into the waves below.

“Come on, we haven’t got all day!” Calvin shouted, marching up the ramp.

Never wearing pants like these again.

***Copy Calvin***

Sometimes I ask myself why I have to put up with shit like this, he thought as he slowly came to in the back of a wagon.

He could tell by the position of the sun that he was headed north, to Surrak. He could also tell by the position of the sun that he only had a few minutes left until he ceased to exist.

I suppose it was worth it, seeing Ella’s tattoo before myself.

Calvin groaned and looked down at the hastily sewn shut wound on his stomach, attracting Charlotte’s attention.

The button-nosed witch leaned over him with the charming smile of a young woman.

“How do you feel?”

“Like I’m missing a kidney.” He said, groaning. “A teeny bit of existential terror.”

“There are plenty of spells that can make you whole again,” Charlotte said with complete confidence. “And you’ll receive the benefit of them as soon as we make it back to Iletha.”

“Yeah, I doubt I’m gonna last that long,” Calvin said, eyeing the sun. Maybe five, ten minutes of life left, with no idea what was on the other side of it. Nothing, hopefully.

At least the pain would be gone.

“You’ll be fine. You’ve got a long career left ahead of you.” She said with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

“I just wish I could enjoy the look on your face when I turn the tables on you, but being in the same room is asking too much.” Calvin muttered. It was a shame, since when he disappeared, he wouldn’t be able to see her shocked expression.

Charlotte sneered.

“That won’t be happening. When we get home, you won’t remember any of this. I’ll give you nothing but pleasant memories of the two of us, lovebirds for the last five years. When I’m done with you, you’ll die to defend me.”

“Weak.” Calvin said, his head lolling to the side and resting on his chest.

“Charlotte!” Brendan’s voice rang through the air, and Calvin glanced over, spotting the general riding a huge guar up to them, dragging a limp body along by the scruff of his neck.

“Damn,” Calvin muttered, brows raising.

“I got him,” Brendan said proudly, holding the corpse up. On closer inspection, it wasn’t a corpse, but a copy: the one left to defend the fort.

“Easy on my neck bones,” Staying Calvin muttered, his body a mass of bruises. He peered through his one good eye at Leaving Calvin and raised a hand.

“Hey.”

Charlotte frowned.

“Hey. Same shit, different day, huh?”

“Practice with Karen is worse!” they said simultaneously.

“What?” Charlotte asked, ice in her voice.

Staying Calvin vanished, unbalancing Brendan, who nearly fell off his Guar. Calvin only had a few seconds left of life, and he glanced over at Charlotte, whose eyes were wide, nostril’s flaring.

“Haah! turns out I did get to see your fa – “

***Brendan***

The Wasp in the wagon disappeared seconds after the one in Brendan’s hand, leaving behind nothing but an obnoxious laugh echoing off the mountain.

“Fuck!”

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