Mallisun held his stare on the Kobold in the way he might challenge a rival cat. His ears were flat, his tail was fluffed, and the hair on his back was up to give the illusion of an inch more of height. Though Syphacia held the firepelt to the floor with pressure from her hand, the cat seemed ready to throw her grip off at any moment to spring at the little reptile.
Enga had a similar coil to her lithe frame. Her scaly hands clenched tight on the shaft of her spear, her knees bent to give her mobility, and her brow knitted with concentration. The more she stared down Mallisun, the more she seemed ready to hurl the spear in their direction. It was some surprise to Syphacia that Enga had held her attack so long.
Syphacia ran a soothing hand down Mallisun’s spine as she searched for any remaining spiders that could avoided her detection earlier. She leaned close into Mallisun’s neck as if examining a particular spot, and begged over their mental link,_ Please stop provoking her_.
She started it, Mallisun returned in a thought.
There was a crashing sound in the hallway outside, and everyone in the room lurched in alarm. Syphacia’s companions reached quickly for their weapons and shields, while the Giantress Conna rose from her seat. Even Enga turned her spear to the hall for a moment, as if ready for attack.
There was some cursing in booming giant speak from beneath the door, and then the sound of an ogre’s cry as he was punished by his overseer. The tension in the room bled away. Mallisun and Enga turned back to their staring contest.
“Why does it stare?” Enga demanded suddenly, “Will angry kitty try to bite Enga?”
“No,” Syphacia said plaintively, “He’s just a little on edge.”
“Enga kill cats before,” the kobold boasted with a heft of her spear, “Big cats…bigger than your orange fur. I make arrows from cat teeth.”
“That was very clever of you.”
“Of course,” Enga replied proudly, “Enga master hunter. Enga has fought cats, bears, wolves, snakes…all creatures…even dragons.”
“Yes,” Enga agreed, “Enga will write song about it one day. Will be sung for all clutchkin. Enga will be legend.”
Syphacia smiled, “I can’t wait to hear it.”
Enga responded to the expression with momentary confusion. After a second or two her yellow eyes narrowed with suspicion, “Why you no frown like other fools? Why you smile?”
“Because I like you Enga.”
Enga coiled back into a battle stance, “Smiling elf is trying to trick Enga.”
Syphacia felt Mallisun’s jaw clench and his shoulders tense, but she managed to hold him from rising. Syphacia said calmly, “I doubt you would fall for any tricks.”
Enga thought on this a moment, and satisfied, returned to her full height, “Yes. Enga no fool. Greatest of warriors, Enga is. Spearlord…master of battle…greatest of all Scalefolk.”
“I’m sure you’ll make an impressive queen someday.”
“Yes,” Enga agreed, “On silver throne…with pretty blue stones. Enga like the blue stones…and red stones…and sometimes green.”
Syphacia looked down to Mallisun thoughtfully, then back up to Enga. She said, “If we kill Mokmurian, what will you do next?”
The kobold shrugged, “Maybe hunt mammoths, maybe hunt orcs. Maybe hunt orcs riding mammoths. Enga will find something to do. Enga is smart.”
“You won’t go home?” Syphacia asked softly.
“Is not time yet for home,” Enga replied, “More to do here.”
“Killing, stealing, normal things. Enga must be stronger before she returns.”
“Master of my tribe is old dragon. Blackhorn has watched over us for five hundred years. Enga will need much skill to kill him.”
“You’ll have to fight him?”
Enga’s laugh was like the clucks of an angry chicken, “How else you kill dragon?”
“No Enga, I was asking if you have to fight him to go home. Can you not return until he’s dead? Can you not make peace with him?”
“No,” Enga snapped, “No return without victory—not in Enga’s world.”
Syphacia raised an eyebrow, “Are we not in the same world Enga?”
“Never,” the kobold hissed.
Syphacia was surprised by the answer, but more surprised by the spite she heard in it.
Enga came closer, her hands tightening again around her spear, “Your world, elf world, is world of words. You speak and argue, and tell world what it is. You think words have meaning, and so words do. You think life has meaning, and so it does…until words fail.”
The kobold thrust her spear forward suddenly, close enough it could have grazed Syphacia’s cheek had the kobold wished it. Syphacia fought to hold Mallisun from rising, while she struggled to keep herself from flinching away from the serrated edge.
Enga sneered with mismatched fangs, “Enga’s world is world of power. The strong take, the weak die. Enga learn by living, not by silly words, not by stupid ideas. Life is struggle, life is battle, life has meaning. Life is not lies, is not words. Life is real.”
Syphacia’s eyes slipped toward the spearpoint. She said, “I’m sorry you feel that way Enga.”
Enga made an expression that was probably meant to be a smile. She pulled back the spear and rose again to her rigid warrior pose. She said, “Pretty elf has lots to learn.”
“I suppose I do,” Syphacia responded coolly.
“Mokmurian will teach you,” Enga said confidently, “You’ll see.”
With this Enga laughed again, the sound echoing against the high ceiling. She then darted away on running steps. Enga stopped at the doorway, reached to the handle with a long stretch, and then cracked the door to stare beyond. Enga slipped away as the massive door levered shut on its own weight.
Mallisun put his head against the floor, She’s right.
“I know she is,” Syphacia whispered in answer.
In the far corner of the room, Syphacia could hear Razan, Aramil, and Redgar arguing among themselves. Coram added sarcasm, Piotr added pessimism. The sound of their rushed voices grated in her ears.
She tried to trust that their words would find a way.