Cohost writing prompt: @Making-Up-Adventurers — Adventurer who has one foot in the land of the living and one in the land of the dead

Infantry Sorceror Second Grade Drina Bywater opens the door to the insistent knocking she knows already to be the hand of Infantry Sorceror First Grade Halcatia Julia Fernox.

The two grades of sorceror are not designed to place Empire-born sorcerors inherently above the colonised, but in practice one finds few of Drina's peers wearing First Grade stripes, and many of Halcatia's.

Drina yanks the door open and doesn't make room for the other to enter, face set like a mask, eyes flinty within it. "Sorceror First Grade," she says, in belligerent imitation of military deference.

Halcatia gapes at her. "Really," she says, when she recovers her breath. "Really, Drina. This treatment. After you walked out without a word from lunch with cousin Marcus — you wouldn't believe how much flattery it took to smooth it over. Drina, he's a Tribunus—"

"I know what he is," Drina says coldly. "We receive considerable education, we provincials, on the structure and function of the instruments of the Empire. Even if I didn't know what each of your cousins does, I can read a rank insignia."

Halcatia leans back a little, mouth drawn into a moue, and visibly searches Drina's face for clues as to why Drina's upset.

Halcatia Julia Fernox is the most beautiful woman Drina has ever met, and the soft green of her eyes is almost enough to shake her where she stands, even at this moment. Almost. She is breezily charming; she could have anyone, and Drina must reluctantly concede that it felt flattering, once, that her eye was taken by a lower-ranked caster from the Empire's hinterlands.

She is a mediocre sorceror, because she's lazy. And Drina increasingly thinks that laziness, more than any appeal of Drina's, guided her eye; if Halcatia found herself in the company of someone the Empire — that Halcatia — views as her equal, she might feel obliged to put effort into the relationship.

"I was praising you to him," Halcatia says petulantly, failing to interpret any clue from Drina's face. "Didn't I tell him you're the best in the auxilium? Didn't I—"

"You called me a necromancer to him."

For just a moment, Drina can see in Halcatia's eyes the full guilty realisation of what she did, and then Helcatia brushes her hands down herself as if sweeping dust off her clothes, and smooths her face out likewise.

"Darling, it's all necromancy, back in the capital," she says, half coaxing, half dismissive.

True; everything not misted-in-antiquity traditional to Imperial casters is disparaged and slandered and outright misidentified. True, the Empire hates necromancy — or so says its propaganda, and occasionally even its laws. True, the lazy, ignorant misidentification of every tradition other than their own as necromancy is the perfect excuse to thus persecute and destroy the traditional work of the colonised; and, true, Drina is a fully-fledged practitioner of a non-Imperial art and she is accustomed to disgust and disrespect.

"You people," Drina says, "casually do necromantically-derived workings to cool your faces when you're hungover. My people actually hate necromancy. We hate it, and you know that. Or you would, if you knew anything about me, but I don't suppose you needed to listen to a damn thing, ever, to have me on your arm. Goodness knows you don't care a monkey's pizzle to." She pulls a heavy gold coin out of her pocket, inscribed on one side with obscure mystic acronyms, stamped on the other with a traditional gorgoneion, and begins to gently flip it in her hand.

"I used the wrong word," Halcatia says, waving a hand as if to waft all this away.

"What's the word, then, Halcatia Julia?" Drina says, and stares and stares until it's pointedly obvious to both of them, with Helcatia's fidgeting and flushing, that she can't answer.

Drina closes her eyes, tips her head forward, and screws the coin in like a jeweller's lens. Opens her eyes onto the superimposed worlds of Here and After; the corridor in which Halcatia stands, pout turning truculent, and the unlit sands in which she stands encircled by Drina's silent ancestors, looking at her in stone-faced judgement, distaste, and shades of contemptuous pity for her uselessness.

"Listen," Halcatia says defensively, "I was doing you a favour. You know how few provincials make it to First Grade; a good word with a Tribunus—"

"You listen," Drina sing-songs, in her best mocking imitation of the Empire's favourite caricature of Generic Foreigner. "Empire soldier-boss wants a girl who gotta-gotta smile? Grateful for a copper coin and little pat-pat on the head?" She reaches out, fingertips gripping around the rim of a plain bone token strung on the fine links of Halcatia's silver necklace; out of place amongst her Imperial finery, elaborately worked metal jewellery.

And she slips it After-wards, leaving the chain behind Here. Unlinked, unbroken.

For a moment, under the brush of Drina's fingers, Halcatia's eyes widen, catching a glimpse of what Drina sees. And Drina holds the bone pendant up between them, so they can both see it and each other's faces, then deliberately opens her fingers and lets it fall.

"No," Halcatia says, a little airless noise, falling to her knees along with it, hands grabbing; but she's enough of a sorceror, knows enough, sees enough to witness it falling not on the floor but into cold, shadowed sand, where she cannot reach. Her lacquered nails scrabble on the tile anyway.

"Grateful girls for Empire soldier-boss by the armful, in the brothel," Drina says, and kicks her door shut.