"Lash of Spite"
Weapons of Darkness, Part 3
by Matt Deffer and Edward Bolme
Read Part 2 "Blade of Grass"

"I win again!" Qwade shouted at Orthea. They floated in the still water of the deep sea. An underwater volcano added a reddish tint to the light and warmed the water. It was a favorite spot for young Magi to practice conjuring and challenge each other to games of skill.

Qwade floated with his five octopus-like legs fanned out beneath him. He grinned at Orthea. Orthea's bright red hair soaked the color from the volcano and seemed to become a ring of fire around her head. She floated on her back so she could get the most heat. Her blue tail lazily moved in the odd current to keep her in place. Her head hung down facing Qwade so that he appeared upside-down when she looked.

"I won, so now you have to get me something to eat!" Qwade crossed his arms across his chest and stuck his tongue out at Orthea. She returned the gesture then rolled over to warm her stomach. She rested her head on her crossed arms.

"No I don't, you cheated!"

"I did not, I won! You have to do what I say!" Qwade yelled and swam closer to Orthea.

"Oh yeah? I bet you're hiding something!" Orthea huffed and spun so that she faced Qwade with her tail pointed down towards the sea floor.

"Am not!"

"Prove it!" Orthea pointed at Qwade's tentacles.

"I don't have to, I'm the winner. Go suck on a sea slug!" Qwade's tentacles wound around each other beneath him.

"I'll never play with you again and I'll tell everyone you're a cheater unless you show me you're not hiding anything," Orthea placed her hands on her hips.

"Fine, fine, if you're going to be a whiny little girl!" Qwade lifted his tentacles one at a time to show her the empty suckers underneath.

"That's not fair, you have to show all of them at once!"

"You’re stalling! Now do what I say," Qwade pouted.


"If you don't, I'll--"

"You'll what?" Orthea swam up close to Qwade so that her nose nearly touched his. Qwade growled and flashed his teeth at Orthea.

"Orthea, Qwade, what's going on here?" An old Magi with bluish-purple hair and a crown of red and blue coral raised an eyebrow at the two quarreling. He leaned a twisting trident of green and brown coral but his eyes shone with a strength that made the two quiet immediately and back away from each other. After a moment, Qwade inched closer to the Magi. His voice trembled ever so slightly when he spoke.

"Elder Mobis, Orthea won't do what I say! She never listens to me no matter how often I prove I'm better than her. She's jealous she's not as good as me!"

"He's a shellhead and he cheats every game! He's hiding something under his tentacles right now!"

"Am not! I already let her look and she didn't find anything. She has to listen to me, tell her to respect her betters."

Mobis sighed. He frowned at the two young Magi.

"You little ones need to learn to work together. Soon, you'll both be called to use your talents to protect Orothe. How can you guard your family and your friends if you bicker over meaningless trifles?" Mobis raked his gaze across the two.

"You, Orthea, I'm especially disappointed with," he said. Orthea could see Qwade behind Mobis waggle his fingers in front of his nose at her. "You are older and have trained more... diligently. There is no respect to be had in picking on Qwade; he is difficult enough without you and Ebylon constantly trying to show him up."

"What?" Qwade blushed and grabbed Mobis's arm. It was Orthea's turn to make faces at him.

"They only beat me when they work together... and then only if they surprise me and I'm tired from all the important things I do. They can't stand the fact everyone looks up to me. Sometimes I just let them win so they don't cry like the children they are. Obviously they couldn't really..."

Mobis raised a baleful eyebrow at Qwade. Qwade let go of his arm.

"I mean, well, you know what I mean," Qwade puffed out his chest and swam to float next to Orthea.

"See? He's always like that, it's impossible to be nice to him or he thinks you want to be his slave!" Orthea huffed. "He's not even brave enough to walk on land!"

"Am too! I learned way before you and got bored with it because only barnacle-brains would want to go up on land," Qwade shouted, the color in his face rising until he nearly glowed.

"Everybody knows he's the only one who doesn't go up to see the Naroom carnival in spring."

"I just don't want to, it's so dry up there, and the Naroom Magi are so ugly," Qwade said with his eyes cast towards the ground.

"You're the ugly one, Qwade!" spat Orthea.

"Beauty is skin deep, but true power comes from within," said Qwade haughtily.

"That's 'true beauty comes from within,' stupidhead!" countered Orthea. "You can't even get that right, and you never will, because you're ugly inside and out!" Then she turned and started to swim away.

"Did you hear that?" Qwade asked Mobis angrily. "Make her take it back! Make her say I'm not ugly!"

Mobis started to open his mouth, then paused, then turned and slowly swam over to where Orthea sulked.

The two spoke for a few moments, then Orthea turned to Qwade and yelled, "Mobis says I should be nice to you so you won't cry! But you're just an ugly spoiled brat! You're head's so swollen I wish it would make you fly away to Arderial and never bother us again!" Then she turned and swam away as fast as she could.

Mobis shook his head and followed her, leaving Qwade alone by the volcanic vent.

Qwade let his arm drop and fought back the tears.

"Maybe..." he said, "maybe that's just what I'll do."

* * * * *

Qwade looked back toward his home from just off the coast of Naroom. He carried a staff of blue coral and elegantly twisted driftwood. On a belt of knotted seaweed hung a bag that carried some food and large flask of seawater.

"Think I'm ugly? I'll show you. I'll get back at you all. Especially you, Orthea. You couldn't just treat me right, you were jealous of my power. True power lies within, not in a pretty face. How could any of them give me the respect I deserve when you keep mocking my looks? I'll punish you until you learn proper manners, and then I'll make Mobis lock you up in Hubdra's Cube in front of everybody for being so... for being so... so mean!" Qwade shook a fist at the rippling ocean, "All of Orothe will pay for not respecting me!" Qwade looked up the beach towards the huge trees of the Naroom forest and said, "I just hope that any pathetic locals will know how important I am."

Qwade started out of the water. When he was far enough up the beach that the water only touched his lower waist he stopped and looked at the forest looming just beyond the sand. He smacked his lips and looked back across the rippling ocean.

"I see they were all too afraid of me to bid me farewell. Hmph. I'll search the drylands, and reveal my true greatness to whomever I meet. And then I'll be back, I'll come back and everyone will see that I am the best Magi that ever was and they'll carry me in parades and feed me and beg to do as I say."

He stopped at the edge of the forest and looked one last time at the waves lapping against the shore. He took a step towards the water. He squared his shoulders then turned and slithered into the shadows between the trees.

Unseen behind him, Bria floated in the surf and watched his departure, tears in her eyes.

* * * * *

Two shadows stepped out of the trees by the beach. Light brown strips of cloth wrapped their legs and feet. The rest of their clothing was dark; even their skin was green so that they seemed a part of the forest. The woman had long green hair that reached past her waist and covered her eyes. The man covered his lower face with a dark green cloth. Their eyes glowed an evil yellow in the dim light. They looked at each other, and their cold snickering sounded like a snake slithering across leaves. They disappeared down the path behind Qwade, silent as the onset of night.

They followed him easily. His broad lower body forced him to go around most of the trees. He wasn't used to traveling on land so he often tried to force his way through underbrush thinking that it would move gently aside like the soft seaweed he was used to. He was sitting with his back against a tree looking thoroughly miserable when they caught up to him. His flask sat nearly empty on the ground and his satchel of food rested in a nook between the roots of the tree.

"Why doesn't someone help me? I am the great Qwade, those wicked Naroomese are hiding nearby and won't help me because they're jealous, too! Just like Orthea. I bet they want me to starve in this dirty forest. They'll pay too," Qwade scratched his jaw and grumbled. He stuffed a seaweed cake into his mouth and fished around in his satchel for another. The empty bag clung to his hand as he tried to pull it out. He flailed his hand, and the bag flew off and landed beside the tree. He glared at it.

"No matter, I'll simply get food from the next Magi I come across. If I find one of those stupid Naroomese, I'll teach him I'm not to be trifled with. He'll beg to give me whatever I desire! And if he doesn't... well, I'll make sure he never forgets his mistake," Qwade chuckled. He looked behind him at the tree and patted it with his hands, imagining it would turn into a soft bed of sea sponge. He sighed and rubbed his back against the bark, wishing it would fluff and form to him like a pillow.

"What have we here, sister?" came a hiss from directly above his head. Qwade looked up to stare directly into the glowing yellow eyes of the male. He hung upside down from a branch and his hair splayed all around his face so that for a moment Qwade thought he was going to be eaten by a horrible fuzzy forest monster. At the same moment, a young woman materialized out of the shadows facing Qwade. She made no sound, and she moved with such grace that Qwade was sure she floated across the grass. Her lips were pursed in a wicked smile that caught Qwade's eyes and wouldn't let go. He felt stuck in a trance until her hand touched his cheek. The moment shattered and he squealed and jerked his head back, bonking it into the trunk of the tree behind him.

The woman's smile widened.

"Why, brother, unless my eyes deceive, it must be the great Orothean Magi Qwade, cast out by the jealous lesser people of the sea. Look, his power shines in his eyes," the woman spoke in a whisper that reminded Qwade of the dark of a cave, mysterious and dangerous. Qwade had never liked caves.

The man back-flipped off his branch to land on his toes next to Qwade. He grabbed Qwade's jaw and forced him to look at him. Qwade grimaced under the scrutiny.

"Sister, I believe you are right. Why, he is obviously too good to be out here in the muck and dirt of this forest, we should take him home with us and treat him as he so obviously deserves," the man chuckled and let go of Qwade.

"How-- how did you know my name?" Qwade couldn't help cringing from him.

"Why, we all know your name, stories of your obvious greatness are easy to find for those with the ears to hear them," the woman lightly ran a sharp fingernail across Qwade's shoulder.

Finally, thought Qwade, people with proper manners towards their betters. And they obviously have some skills or they would not have been able to sneak up on me. They could be useful, but...

"You seem to know my reputation, but who are you?" Qwade asked as he tried to stand tall, not knowing that the tree branch above him was an unmoving as the shrubs and tree trunks. He exhaled sharply and rubbed the new bump on his head. The woman stepped so close to Qwade that he could look at nothing else.

"I am Warrada and he is my brother Hrada. We have some small power ourselves, though of course not as strong as we've heard about you," she smiled as Qwade nodded. Behind him, Hrada quietly looked through Qwade's satchel. He grimaced and shook his head at Warrada and threw the bag and Qwade's flask far back into the shadows of the forest.

"Oh no!" Warrada gasped and pointed, "Some Naroomese devils have stolen your food and water!"

Qwade whirled and stared at the place he had left his supplies. Hrada leaned casually against the trunk with his arms folded across his chest.

"My dear sister, I don't know how they could have done it, I haven't moved from this spot. Obviously they are crafty devils, it's lucky this Orothean was here or we might have been taken captive as well!" Hrada yawned.

Qwade whined, "But aren't you from Naroom as well? And what about my food?"

"Oh, we would never be part of the vile people of Naroom. We represent a band of Magi that have been wronged by people too jealous or stupid to recognize that we simply want what we deserve. Together we will force them to respect us. We've been looking for you for quite some time; the stories say you have the power to lead. But they seem too good to be true. No one could be that strong," Warrada pulled away from Qwade and hugged herself as if warding away false hopes. Under her bangs she winked at Hrada.

"No, no, everything you've heard is true," Qwade reached out to comfort Warrada, "and if you've heard it from those dirty Orotheans, it's probably not anywhere near as great as I truly am. Jealousy clouds their eyes and makes them tell ridiculous stories to bring down their betters. The best they can come up with is to say I'm ugly," added Qwade grumpily.

"Oh, you must come with us," she replied. "We'll give you a comfortable place to rest and all the food you desire," Warrada extended a hand to Qwade and smiled, revealing a pair of wickedly pointed fangs. Qwade nearly flinched but managed to hold still.

"But if you're not from Naroom, where are you from? And what are you doing here?" Qwade's eyes narrowed. He pulled himself to his full height. One of his legs slowly reached and coiled around his staff.

"The Core, of course," Hrada stepped away from the tree to stand next to his sister, "Where else would we be welcome. Don't you see? All the Magi up here are too selfish, too jealous to treat you like you deserve. And, as my dear sister said, we've come to find you."

"But the Core is evil. The stories of Agram..." Qwade shivered. Faster than the twins could react he tossed his staff from his tentacle to his hands and spun it into a horizontal bar between him and the twins.

"Oh, Qwade, how misinformed you are. Those are silly tales told by ignorant people," Warrada said as she and Hrada slowly moved apart. Qwade's eyes darted between them and he pushed back against the tree. Above his mask, Hrada's narrow eyes grinned at Qwade.

"These Magi just want to keep you from getting what you deserve, and the power of the Core can give you that," Warrada reached past Qwade's staff to rest lightly on his forearm. The warmth in her hand surprised him and he relaxed in spite of himself, "Why else would they tell a Magi as powerful as you to beware the Core? What have you to fear? They are selfishly trying to keep that power for themselves so that you will never get the respect you deserve."

Qwade nodded and let go of the staff with one hand and rested the tip on the ground so that it stood up straight next to him. He looked up at the sky; it was all coming together for him. He would go to the Core and lead these poor people to victory over Orothe and he would be treated as he should. Everyone would finally do as he said.

"Yes, yes, I see now, I knew it all along. I will help you in your time of need. It is good that I found you before those nasty Naroomese. I knew you would need my skills to lead you to victory," Qwade said and gestured all around him. Warrada giggled when Qwade's gaze fell on her, but she frowned and made a gagging gesture at Hrada as soon as he turned away.

"Now, you said something about food and a place to sleep?"

"Follow us and you'll get what you deserve."

* * * * *

"Wow, now he's ugly," said Harror as the Dark Twins brought Qwade in to meet Agram.

"You're just jealous of my power!" shouted Qwade immediately. "Just like all the rest!"

"Silence," murmured Agram, seated upon his throne, and so powerful was his bass voice that immediately all noise in the room stopped. Qwade was afraid his heart might be beating too loud.

The undisputed ruler of the Core looked at the new recruit. He cast a spell and drew the memories out of Qwade, teasing them like a fish on a line. You're the ugly one, Qwade... you're ugly inside and out. The words whispered in the air of the throne room, an echo of the painful past.

"Hmm," Agram ran a taloned hand across his chin as he looked at Qwade, "I may have something to beautify your face and let your inner power shine through," he said.

"But sir, I don't need anything, Orthea was just lying because she's jealous," Qwade growled.

"Nevertheless, I believe you deserve to have this. It's an ancient relic made by one of your forefathers, you should be proud to wear it," Agram snapped his fingers, and immediately Jalex appeared at his side, bearing a very old coral box, covered with barnacles. Agram reached in and removed a slightly curved plate that had two leaf-shaped holes, each with two red stripes painted beneath.

"It's a mask," Qwade said as Agram put it into his hands. Above the eyeholes the mask curved out to look like smooth eyebrows. Just under the jaw a ridge extended outward and five smooth triangles, like wide, dulled teeth jutted down. Qwade ran a finger across the triangles then looked closely at them.

"These... these are tentacles," Qwade touched the back of one that showed a multitude of tiny engraved circles. Agram nodded.

"That's right. It was made by one of your ancestors, one without fins. Only an Orothean with a character such as yours can use it. Now if you will excuse me, I have other matters to attend to."

Qwade stared at Agram as he departed. His knuckles turned white where his hands gripped the mask. The muscles along his jaw stood out and he breathed heavily. Then he looked at Warrada standing coyly beside him, and he suddenly relaxed and flashed her a smile that didn't touch his eyes.

"See? Even Agram knows I deserve the best. The sooner you and the others realize it, the better. And so saying, he placed the mask on his face. It adhered to his skin with a curious sucking sound.

"Woah," said Qwade. "Is it darker in here, or is it just me?"

"It's you," said Warrada with a smile.

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