“I don’t like where you’re going.”
Igneous stopped and felt a chill for the first time in weeks. She looked over her shoulder, and saw only the alien plants, mostly purples and yellows in this patch of the jungle. She was closing in on the primitive city filled with the snake-like creatures, and was just about to dive into the river that seemed to be the only way into their land that wasn’t carefully watched, probably because it was so visible that no one would think it to be a security risk anyway. All of the vegetation here was sparse enough that she felt confident that no one could sneak up on her, and certainly no one who spoke Pyrhian so fluently.
“You don’t want to go home?”
She had said it. She didn’t like that she’d been the one to say it, but she had.
“Still a lot to do,” she said, ignoring the fact that it looked like she was speaking to herself. It reminded her of an opera she had seen when she had been a young gust, an opera where the Pyrhian hero had confronted both her inner demons and the literal demons through soliloquy.
“That hasn’t stopped people before. In fact, it’s the primary thing that I hear when they don’t want to go home. There’s still so much undone… and as much as we would love to oblige, we just can’t. Not for everyone.”
“Quiet,” said Igneous, moving closer to the river. She stepped out of the underbrush, and felt exposed. The uppermost part of a wall of the city was visible just over a hill from here, and anyone on top of it looking in her direction would doubtlessly see the bright orange glow from her cracked hide.
“Why should I stay quiet? What will you do to me? Pummel me with your fists? Which do you think will harm me… the stone? The fire?”
Igneous neared the water. It was a reddish gray thanks to the soil Mandrake had in this region. There was another danger she faced when entering the water, but it was more a danger of discovery. In some ways, she was looking forward to it.
“And we’ve gone from verbal challenges to silence. Very well… continue playing outside a bit longer, but it’s growing dark. You’ll need to come in soon. Have fun playing with your human friends while you still believe in them. They’ll be gone soon enough when you’ve grown up and admitted that your real life has begun.”
Igneous scowled but refused to say anything more. She wasn’t sure why her own voice had betrayed her. She’d forgotten to check in the water’s stream to see if her own mouth had been moving or not, and wished the thought had come to her before now. After a few minutes, she was convinced that the voice wasn’t going to say any more.
She lowered a toe into the water and a jet of steam rose into the air. It grew bigger as she fully submerged. The water was cool, and while not as cold as the ice she’d grown accustomed to using over the previous few days it flowed over her, bringing new coolness before her own internal temperature could warm the water that was touching her. It was warmer than she wanted, but not stagnant.
She looked up through the surface of the water and worried about the cloud. It was so much larger and louder than the tiny smoke clouds that her feet had been leaving in the foliage everywhere she walked through the jungle, and the griseous steam would be more noticeable by far. After some time the steam reduced to a gentle amount that dissipated sooner.
She cautiously lifted her head above the water. The worst was over, and any damage that could have been done had already been done. She put one massive arm in front of the other and began swimming toward the nearby city.