(( This happened last week, before the Zombie Raptor Plauge, but after Erehwon had returned from Babbage and discovered she had turned an minty-ish green from head to toe. ))
Mr. Arnold had called on Erehwon for a fencing match. The last time she had seen him, he was fading away, in the triage room of Wilde Hospital, as Dr. Sonnenstein struggled to keep him from vanishing.
“I thought this would help me,” he said, as he checked the balance of the blade.
Erehwon laughed nervously, “I have no doubt you’ll make a pin cushion of me.”
Despite a rushed trip to Babbage the evening before to consult with Doctor Sonnenstein, Erehwon was still green.
Arnold won the first point easily, as Erehwon mused about several potential causes and solutions to her skin problem.
“Have you gotten trapped again?” Asked Arnold as they started the second point.
“No, I haven’t tried using the bottle again.”
Sonnerstein, the night before, had wondered if Erehwon had become more djinn-like, the skin changing to match her ears. So she had entered the bottle and found herself unable to leave of her own will.
Arnold had to free her.
Reflecting on that he asked, “Last night, when you asked me if I wanted a vole, did you feel like you would not have to grant me a boon after I said I wanted nothing or before?”
“No, but I think if I did have to grant a boon, I would had insisted upon granting it. That is, after all, the risk one takes opening djinn’s bottles. You get a wish, even if you don’t want one.” Erehwon replied, still distracted, and allowing Arnold to gain position on her.
“You can wish for nothing three times and be done with it.”
Erehwon smiled, baring teeth, “Then I could interpret that as a wish for the void and make everything go away.”
“Depends on the wording of course. I wish that you would do nothing but count this as my boon. For example.”
Arnold paused, and lunged, forcing Erehwon to retreat back.
“For some reason though, I doubt anyone ever has.”
“But then the universe would conspire to drop a safe on you, and I’d let it fall on you, as you asked.”
Arnold shrugged, “I do believe that I have had enough safes that have almost dropped on me, and dodged them.”
“Well, if not a safe, a something.”
“All you’re trying to tell me is to never let you out of your bottle again.”
“Asking for a vole would be a safe choice?”
Arnold remembered all the voles they used to shore up his missing soul during his illness, “I can’t eat them anymore… It would feel like cannibalism.”
Erewhon scored a touch at last, stalked back to her side of the piste, and settled into her stance.
Arnold saluted, and Erehwon cackled. Not the tittering laugh when she was amused, but a menacing laugh.
Arnold stood up from his position at the other end of the fencing piste, “I beg your pardon?”
Erehwon’s sabre arm dropped to her side, “just, just a moment of giddiness?” Her voice squeeked on the “-ness.”
“Is there a problem?”
“No, none at all.”
Before Arnold could salute, Erehwon charged at Arnold, slashing with her sabre.
Her attacks, as violent as they were, were also sloppy, allowing Arnold to fend each blow off with a ringing parry.
He glanced at her, and thought he saw fangs.
Erehwon stopped her attack, sliped back into her stance, growling like a ferral beast.
Despite this, Arnold scored another touch.
“I’m letting my frustration get the better of me.”
“Should we quit playing. I think you’re losing control of yourself.”
“I’ll be…” Erehwon paused, “I’ll be fine.”
She walked back to the end of the piste, clutching the key on a cord she wore around her neck, quietly praying.
Arnold watched her, and prepared to use his blade to stop her if she charged him again.
Erehwon turned to face him. She had relaxed, her sabre held loosely at her side.
“Mondrago. It’s not Babbage that did this to me.”
“What,” called back Arnold, “the loss of Mondrago?”
“That’s why you’re green and djinn-like now? Because what you had lost?”
“The Lady gave me my gift to help nurture Mondrago, and now that it is gone…”
“It is shaping you instead?”
“Yes. I’m the exotic stranger now. The one with the funny ears and the odd clothes, and I let that get to me.”
Arnold squinted as he listened.
“Bianca adjusted by embracing Babbage, but that almost got her killed.”
“I let myself be read as exotic, and now look what has happened. I’ve taken on protective coloration.”
Arnold shifted back and forth, listening.
“So I must remember myself as I am. The daughter of a great land, and not a refugee dancing for coins in the market.”