The Old Switcheroo: Part Six
The Moehog freed Alhana but made sure that Katie was still restrained. He took a spear and pushed Alhana into the middle of the hold. "I bet you dance as fancy as you dress," he said with a sneer.
Now that she had to fight with around one fifth of her usual muscle mass, Alhana was having second thoughts about taunting the thugs. Katie was staring at her as if she had gone mad. Alhana checked her pockets for the weapons she had found in Sandro's cabin that morning. The dagger had already been taken from her, she had no use for the compass or the scarabs.
The Moehog thrust his spear towards her. She dived to the side to dodge it, hoping not to pull a muscle. He continued with a series of quick jabs of the spear, aiming for Alhana's legs so as to force her into ridiculous movements. She kept hopping and skipping with no other option than to dodge. Sandro's tailored trousers were really not helping. On any other day, she could have knocked out the thug with a single punch.
"Quit... moving!" grunted the Moehog, who had lost his mocking expression and was getting impatient. The Scorchio looked entertained.
"His footwork! Study his footwork," said Katie. The Scorchio shushed her. Something clicked in Alhana's mind. As confusing as it was to be in someone else's body, she had to use her own experience.
The Moehog thrust the spear more forcefully, already looking triumphant. Alhana waited for him to put more of his body weight forward. When a particularly powerful blow came, she caught the end of the spear, pulled it and made him stumble forwards from his own momentum. The spear was knocked out of their hands and onto the floor, but the Moehog shoved Alhana away before she could catch it.
She got back to her feet hastily. The Moehog was closing in on her, fists raised. Behind him, the Scorchio had finally joined the action with a spear of his own and was preparing to jab at her from behind the Moehog.
Alhana could feel blood thumping in her ears. Sandro's muscles were aching, pushed to their very limit by Alhana's more strenuous moves. She had to finish this fast. She saw the spear coming towards her. The moves came to her mind naturally.
She placed her feet carefully, wrapped her hands around the spear's handle, leapt high and flipped around it. The spear twisted the Scorchio's arms as it spun and he found himself with his arms locked, stumbling into the Moehog and making both of them crash forwards. Wasting no time, Alhana jumped over the thugs, hoping that her aim would be right. Her feet hit the Scorchio squarely in the back of the head and she heard the satisfying crunch of two skulls knocking hard into each other. She repeated the move twice, to be safe.
"Sandro, look out!" Katie shrieked suddenly. Alhana only had time to duck and heave the unconscious Scorchio up as a shield. The Tyrannian Nimmo had finally decided to step in with his trusty blowpipe, and looked utterly confused after hitting his boss with a sleeping dart. Now that she was finally free to use the spear, Alhana threw it at the Nimmo. Katie averted her eyes, but the well-aimed spear pinned the Nimmo's sleeve to the wall like a giant dart. He stared at it with his mouth wide open, then he fainted, dropping the blowpipe.
Alhana found her dagger in the Scorchio's pocket and immediately went to hack at Katie's bindings. It took some time, but the blade eventually cut through the thick rope.
"You. I don't know which book of quotes you are living by today, but you are absurdly and ludicrously reckless," was what Alhana got for thanks. "Are you hurt?" asked Katie as she stood on shaky legs.
Alhana had to admit that the girl had been remarkably calm during the ordeal. "No. Are you all right?"
"I am. Let's get out of here while we can!" She hurried out of the hold and Alhana followed her, ready to catch her if she stumbled while climbing back to the deck. Alhana was used to ignoring the ache of her muscles after particularly strenuous battles, but Sandro's body felt dangerously tired after everything she had put it through. She hoped that they would find safety quickly.
They came out onto the deck and were finally back in the sunlight and wind. The ship was moored to an abandoned pier in a little cove. Alhana prepared to help Katie onto the pier, but the Kacheek had gone off to inspect the crates on the deck once more.
"I thought you wanted to get out as fast as possible?"
"I'm not going anywhere without my supplies! Help me find them," Katie said impatiently as she stood on tiptoe to read labels.
Cursing under her breath, Alhana obliged, hoping that they would find it quickly. After the adrenalin of the fight, she had forgotten the purpose of their trip.
"No amount of danger can keep a proper scholar from her research. Aha! It's this one." Katie ran to a small deck crane and began to maneuver the crate onto the pier.
Alhana watched the tiny girl commanding the machine, her eyes wide with disbelief. She turned to check that no one was coming towards them from the hold. Instead, she heard a clatter of hooves from the shore and spotted a cavalcade in a cloud of dust. "People are coming for us!" she told Katie.
It turned out to be the two Unis who had pulled their carriage. After negotiating the chaotic Tyrannian roads that led to the harbour, they had arrived just in time to see the ship sailing away. A sleepy fisherman had seen the two Seekers climbing aboard the ship and confirmed that it wasn't scheduled to leave so soon. The Unis had then searched for the Tyrannian authorities, who had been watching the battle and cheering on the factions along with most of the local population. They had managed to bring back a small squad, who had immediately gone into the ship to rescue its real crew.
"How incredibly convenient that the guards arrived right as we managed to escape the ship," commented Katie. When they had returned to the airship, she had insisted that Sandro go to Gladstone to have his injuries patched up. Alhana had put a few scrapes on the Gelert's body and guaranteed that his muscles would be sore for the next week.
"By the way, Sandro, a letter arrived for you from the Brute Squad's camp," said Gladstone. "We ran it through the usual tests, and it seems fine. It's on your writing desk."
Alhana thanked him and went back to Sandro's cabin. She wondered what the letter was about. Could it be that her fellow Brutes had discovered the switch? Perhaps they were sending instructions on how to use her position in the Seekers' base.
The letter was written in flowing calligraphy. It read as follows:
I trust that by now you have understood the nature of our unfortunate condition. I assure you that I have not damaged your body or used it to mar your reputation in any way. I do hope that you will be so amiable as to respect my identity in the same fashion.
I was able to convince your colleagues that I was simply feeling a little odd today and that I needed some space, which they kindly granted me. I promptly put this time to profit by doing a little research.
According to some experts on the subject - I have not indebted you to the Order of the Red Erisim, rest assured - our bodies and minds have been interchanged temporarily. Our condition should not be dangerous and the spell should stop naturally in an indefinite amount of time. How long exactly, the mages' calculations could not quite agree, however, my own intuition hinted that we should be back to normal within a day or two, and between you and me, my intuition has an extraordinary tendency to be correct.
I would be very much obliged if you could follow my dietary requirements of -"
Alhana skipped a few paragraphs of details concerning Sandro's eating habits, sleeping habits, various morning exercises and grooming products.
"I look forward to meeting you again on the battlefield - or out of it, who knows.
Your Temporary Self.
P.S.: I must confess that I am thoroughly impressed by the spectacular state of fitness in which you keep your body."
Alhana tried to picture the sophisticated Gelert walking around with her muscles, coping with all the Brutes who came to her for help every day, and stopping to write her a letter with a quill and ink. She had no idea how he could manage it. She would probably know how much damage he had caused once she was back in her own body and had to face her comrades.
Though it was hard to admit, Alhana was relieved not to have been sent on a sabotage mission by the Brutes. Being on the Seekers' airship with Sandro's appearance was a ridiculously good position for a spy, but she couldn't bear to fight in such a underhanded way. Even if it brought victory to the Brutes, she would feel sickened every time she remembered the details.
Alhana truly believed that only the strongest faction should be allowed to access the Obelisk. Not the faction whose agent had taken an enemy's appearance by complete chance. True warriors could annihilate their opponents using only their strength. Dirty tricks were for the weak, the unworthy. If the Seekers could prove their might on the battlefield, then by all means let them open the Obelisk. They would need to prove themselves worthy to the Brute Squad, though.
Alhana's thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the cabin door. "Yes," she said. The door opened and in came Katie.
"Hi," said the Kacheek. "I was talking to Uncle, they've made some progress today. I told him how you escaped the ship. I didn't give too many details, but he thinks you were pretty heroic. So I've come to say thank you, from him, and from me." Alhana gave her a smile and a nod. Katie shuffled her feet. "Um, I'll go and finish my work on Tiny before going to bed. I'll let you get some sleep now. Good night Sandro."
"See you on the battlefield," Alhana replied.
"Alhana? Oh, good, you're awake." Though Commander Flint's countenance was formidable as always, he seemed slightly less assured than usual. "You will be fighting today, won't you? We were a little worried yesterday, but Martha told us to let you be. Ladies..."
The Skeith marched out of Alhana's tent, reassured, and began to call the troops into order. Alhana soon came out of her tent, fully armoured and stretching her muscles with delight. An enormous magma Kau walked up to her.
"It's good to have you back," said Martha with a meaningful look.
"It's great to be back," said Alhana.
Hanso was skipping merrily along the wharf of the Tyrannian port. He had been told that he could find Brynn there, and he couldn't wait to show her his latest catch.
He and Kanrik had miraculously switched back to their own respective bodies after dark, and they had made it back to Hanso's hotel without being mobbed by fangirls. Kanrik had been surprisingly cooperative, taking full responsibility for everything he had said and done while in Hanso's body. He had tactfully left the duo alone for a more intimate conversation, though not before making Hanso promise that he would keep the whole incident secret.
It had been embarrassing and sappy, but Hanso was back on good terms with Brynn, and he intended to keep it that way. She could only be pleased that he had managed to retrieve a dangerous shape-shifting teapot from a choleric orange Yurble.
When he found Brynn, however, Hanso's spirits were slightly dampened by a cloud on the horizon, a guyliner-wearing cloud shaped like a haughty red Kyrii. Jazan was standing on the deck of his ship and Brynn was speaking to him from the dock.
"Hanso! I was just seeing King Jazan off," Brynn explained. "He came to check on the battleground, just like us."
"We meet again, thief," said the king.
"We're just drawn to each other like that, killjoy," said Hanso.
"I hope he's not giving you too much trouble," Jazan told Brynn.
"I'm no trouble!" Hanso protested, "I'm just a bundle of fun!"
"Yes, I imagine you had a lot of fun last time you were in Qasala, ringing the sandstorm alarm at random times of the day and raising the curtain while I was still preparing to give my speech."
"So what, your audience got to see Nabile helping you apply your guyliner. I'm sure they found it very cute."
Jazan struggled to keep his cool. "They certainly did. Nevertheless, you will be thoroughly guarded if you ever have to come back to Qasala for a mission. I have also told the Tyrannian elders a few things about you."
It was things like this that made Hanso want to prank the royal spoilsport so much. He really had no business spinning tales of Hanso's evil deeds to the Tyrannian elders.
Then Hanso remembered what he was carrying in his coat. The teapot.
"We're about to go," Jazan was telling Brynn. "Nabile is feeling unwell and there's a situation in Qasala I am anxious to resolve. I'm sorry we weren't able to speak longer. Next time, perhaps."
Jazan was just about to sail away in his royal cruise ship of luxury, Hanso could see sailors beginning to undock. Brynn knew about the body swap, but Hanso hadn't told her anything about the teapot yet. Jazan didn't have a clue about the body swapping spell.
The temptation was overwhelming. What would you have done in his place?
"Hey, Jazan! Check out this artefact I retrieved!" Hanso held out the teapot.
Jazan raised an eyebrow, but he looked at the teapot with interest. He reached out and took the handle.
To be continued...