Chapter 1.1

Available on Amazon

Features several new scenes, new dialogue, and a much better reading experience.  Support the story and buy a copy today!

For the original “cover” for Tributaries, click here.


i see you all.

but so apart

am i

spread apart:picked apart:far apart

am i


On a tower of metal and light, I saw the span of a great and perilous land.  Overhead, three small suns raged in the sky.  I was a shard of night beneath cold steel and rusted iron.

The wind rushed to me the scents of damp rosewood, fertile soil, pearled barley, bay leaf, musty fur, and chimney smoke.  The miscellany of a simpler life.  I crouched on the platform and the lids of my tawny eyes narrowed against the glare of the sun-lit Earth. The village of Toah lay in the valley below; it was a small and peaceful place, nestled like a babe amid those cold forests. Children played kickball near the horse stables and the women washed their laundry in the nearby stream.

Clouds rolled forth from the horizon reaching hopefully Westward as the storm before me fell over the village and claimed daylight in its smoky fingers.

With bandaged hands and sure boots, I climbed down the watchtower. This place would suit me fine. The rainfall would cover my trail and mask my scent, leaving the villagers ignorant as they cowered from the downpour. If I was good about it, a jug of mead would very well be part of the meal. My mouth watered at the thought of biting into the hen’s neck—snapping it—the hot blood splashing over my parched tongue as I tore it apart. The thought of all I would be tasting almost made me fall out of the tower.

But my fatigue was making it harder to keep from slipping.

My feldgrau gambeson bunched as I fell from the last foothold and landed onto the uneven dirt, the shock of a twenty-five foot drop piercing up through the soles of my boots. A cloud rose at my feet—scents came with it—the typical wildlife smells: sparrows, local cats, rats, spit from a small boy who drank cider, as well as the faded smell of a drunkard’s piss. To Toah, this tower was a place of congregation and socializing. I took a risk climbing it, but I had to see what I was to expect. My luck had not been good to me, and I didn’t want to take the chance of running into a large dog or, worse, a small militia.

I brushed my dark hair away from my face and stood upright. I last cut my hair with a pair of shears found in a garden shed…but I had gotten clumsy and my bangs were now at an uneven slope, so that only one eye was covered and the other completely exposed. I couldn’t wait for the hair to grow out so that I could mend my mistake. Even in a practical sense, it was annoying to march about the way I looked.

My brown cotton pants were baggy, and the seat of them molted with wear. My boots were dusty and worn, and the soles threatened to separate all together. I looked like a pauper, and that was all I could hope for, as people tended to ignore me. But I couldn’t take all the credit for my appearance. My clothes had once been my mother’s clothes. I came to acquire them when she passed away not long ago. It wasn’t until the recent year that I could fit into them…and I did so awkwardly.

I could still smell her in the fabric.

I was tired from walking all day, and didn’t wish to be seen by anyone, so I slinked off into the cover of the woods to find a berry bush and a soft patch of ground to rest on. I waited until the suns were out of sight before I came back again.


Darkness. The new moon. I knew this even with the cloud cover.

I took off my boots and hid them near the berry bush, along with my other meager belongings. I had to take them off, or I’d tear through them.

Contrary to your assumptions, I am not a human.

Amid the bay trees, under the blanket of shadow that fell with Night’s passing, I shifted.

Now you can take that word and dissect it. Pick it apart however you like. Peek under the definition and garner whatever idea you’d like from it. Did I shift position? Did I shift demeanor? Did I shift motive?

No. I shifted. I changed. I transformed. I, being one thing, became another. …Or was always the ‘one thing’, and had only made it possible to gain a better perspective on the matter.

But shifting hurt. It always hurt. Payment to the One for use of her gifts. It led me to wonder…was my ability really inherent and unavoidable? Or just a privilege? If the latter was the case, could I renounce what I had? Would that make life easier? …But something resisted this thought, and in me came up a feeling that tasted of anguish.

My skin rippled and tingled as—beneath—my muscles shifted and bones snapped and curved to their new places. The transformation always began in the torso and spread its way out all at once, debilitating me completely before it was done. The nerves screamed. The muscles felt like they were tearing, ripping, shredding themselves as I shifted. I bit the inside of my cheek. Fur sprouted along my body. From my tailbone sprouted a tail, which forced its way through a discreet opening in the seat of my pants. Blood pounded in my ears and hot-cold flashes ravaged me until all fell quiet. When I stirred I was on the ground. My clawed hands sought placement in the dirt and I pushed myself up from the ground like a drunkard stirring from sleep.

I tried to clear my head. Changing always left me face-down in the dirt. I tried not to think about the aches that lingered as I reoriented myself using my new senses.

Though dazed, my mind already perceived the world through a different view; eyesight became fuzzy around the edges and color became dull, but I could see better in the dark now, and farther into the distance; my ears had become large and pointed on either side of my head, and they twitched at the slightest bit of sound; my nose processed my surroundings, not missing a single smell; my whiskers, which sprouted from my fleshy chops, tickled with the changes of the wind; even my tongue was privy to relating information to my brain as I tasted the dampness of the air. Soon it would rain, and by soon, I meant in a matter of seconds. Sure enough, droplets of water began to fall from the heavens through the forest canopy.

I loved water. I tilted my furry head back and spread my mouth wide, and fat drops splashed onto my tongue. I was in what my kind referred to as the waxing crescent form—or ‘near-human’. As I was, a person in the distance would perhaps only make out a very hairy person with bad posture.

The ignorant would call me a ‘cat person’…but anyone who knew better would know that I was part of the Ailuran race. For my part, I tried to be quiet, cautious, and unassuming. For a little over a year, I worked hard to be in control of myself at all times—and in my solitude had gotten quite good at it. I knew when it was necessary to tap into my other self. The feline half. Not many of my kind knew how to do that.

Then again, not many had to.

My transformation complete, I slunk near the ground and my fingertips lightly touched the Earth. I panted a little. I felt excited. It wasn’t often that I allowed myself to change other than the full moon. I flitted amain, down the slopes that dipped into the heart of the valley. By the time I entered the field surrounding the village, the rain came down in sheets. The water tried to repel me, and it pounded against my down-turned shoulders and furry head. The heavens overhead thundered and howled with a strong wind. I flattened my ears and bared my teeth.

I would not be deterred.

I came upon the village empty; all the denizens had retreated into their stone-wood homes, and warm glows seeped through the cracks of shut-up windows. With a cursory glance around me, I crossed the village square to the storehouse on the Western side. It was a medium sized wooden barn with no windows and only one way in. The double doors were bolted shut with a menacing padlock. I took my right hand’s pinky, extended its thin sharp claw, and inserted it into the keyhole. After a moment’s work, the lock opened and I pushed my way inside.

Over the years, through curious circumstances and a certain tendency toward rebellion, I had learned the various arts of thievery. As a child,  I had crept past town guards to go swimming at night in the local lake; had snatched back toys my brothers had taken from me in a fit of sibling rivalry; infiltrated areas where adults spoke of dire things children were not supposed to know. These days, my shady skills were used for more serious affairs. …Like basic survival.

Bags of grain lined the floor and shelves inside the storehouse. I could smell the different kinds even without reading their markings. I plucked up two empty bags from a nearby rack and went to the grain sack that smelled of rice. With a scoop left on the rack, I shoveled enough into my bag to last a week. Deftly I tied it and slung the rice over my shoulder and went back out into the rain.  I locked the barn again. With luck, the villagers would never even notice what really had happened.

My mouth watered at what I knew would come next. My claws extended in anticipation as I stalked toward the hen house, the empty bag I held in my other hand swayed like an unfulfilled promise with the motion of my arm. Inside the little shack, the hens clucked and tutted. They probably sensed my intentions.

I went to the locked door and meant to open it, as I had done at the food store. But there was a gasp, barely audible over the rain, that made me halt in my actions.

With bared teeth I whirled around, arms up and crouched low, ready to spring away. A man in a heavy cloak stared at me, his face hidden by the dark of his hood.

What was he doing?

No one was supposed to be out. No one. Yet, there was my unhap. I had shifted in order to sneak better, to use my claws, to see better in the dark…but my new form made hunger my master, and my distraction coupled with the rain had prevented me from noticing anyone was near. He could’ve been out to search for something precious he lost, maybe to fetch a tool he needed inside, or to double check that the hen house was properly locked. No matter what the reason was, I knew…

I had to run.

My clawed feet dug deep into the mud, and I tore off into a panicked run. I vaulted over the wooden fence. Behind, I could hear the man let out a hoarse yell as he slopped through the mud to get help. Inside me, the animal half of my soul growled low at the denial of meat. In the state I was in, my human nature still reigned supreme, but I could better hear the discontent of the feline beast within me. She was not a brave or ferocious warrior…but she was hungry, and well aware that the man could’ve been taken care of with a powerful swipe from our paws.

I wasn’t prepared for that.

I used my speed and agility to get me to the forest beyond Toah. I was on the other side of the village and would need to sneak my way back to the berry bush where I had left my other things. When I was deep enough in that I felt safe, I shifted back. Maintaining the waxing crescent form for a long period of time required a strong will. Without it, I would shift to my full form. I needed to keep quiet and focused—I needed to revert back to my “sapien” form.

The change back hurt just as much as it did the other way. I felt spent and nauseous, my limbs rebelling against me as I tried to rise to my feet. At first I only fell. The bag of grain I had spilled onto the wet earth. Normally after a shift, I would rest, fatigued.  Did I run far enough ahead that I could afford a few seconds to catch my breath?  No, I could not stop.

I forced myself up again, my body wet and my limbs feeble. I tried to keep steady as my vision lurched and I careened further into the forest.

I seemed to go on for some time, in a daze, trying to find a place that smelled of safety and comfort…but there was no such place. Try as I might, the angry call of those I wronged chased me quick and fierce like a monster all its own.

I plunged further into the darkness.

Continue ReadingChapter 1.1

Chapter 1.2


She felt so small.

Small and quiet.

Against a plane of havoc wrought thinking, she dashed lithely between rows and shelves of contemplations, concentrating wholly on herself—her one true sense gone—breaking beneath the weight of silence.


Not REALLY silence.

Just…none-speaking, none-moving, none-acting, none-changing. Static, punctuated by the rainfall. Gods crying. Who were they crying for?

Aw, who cares

Elmiryn sat beneath the cover of the maple tree. Her spine was protected from the harsh surface of the bark by her leather bustier. Beneath she wore an opaque-white cotton shirt that helped keep out the cold. The sleeves stopped a little past her steel shoulder guards. Going up her arm were emerald thick gloves, fingerless. Over these were leather braces with steel plates to match the guards.

The area simmered and hissed with the sound of the rain as it poured through the canopy. Where she sat, she still was victim to some of the rain, but here it was not so bad. Here, she could whittle her little stick in peace, with eyes glazed, thinking…thinking…thinking…

…Thinking this stupid knife was dull.

Then came the heavy footfalls. Elmiryn’s back stiffened and she leaned forward to gaze about with sharp cerulean eyes. The corners of her lips twitched, but her mouth seemed uncertain of itself. She sheathed her knife and rose to her feet, retrieving her bow and quiver from against the tree trunk. Quiet as a bog that crept through swamp, she went forward—over the roots and rocks and damp leaves.

Then she saw.

A vague shape, one that shifted and displaced the darkness, moved rapid through the forest; but its speed came from panic, and panic made it clumsy and careless. Whoever it was stumbled and nearly fell face first into the dirt. Elmiryn ventured closer and she strained to see. Water seeped into her eyes and left them dry and wanting, but she resisted the urge to blink.

A girl. It was just a girl.

The rain began to let up. Elmiryn could hear better—there was the tramp of boots as others gave chase. The warrior could see the amorphous shadow of the ragtag mob of farmers even from where she remained still, hidden behind a tree. “What are they doing?” She wondered with a soft frown. “It’s raining, and there isn’t moonlight to guide them… Why are they chasing this girl? What makes any of this worth it?”

Elmiryn looked back to where the youth had been only to see that she had resumed her fevered run.

With furrowed brow, the woman followed, running parallel with her quarry. Though clearly out of it, the girl was unusually quick. Interest piqued, Elmiryn picked up her pace so as not to be left behind.

The girl came to a small cliff where a rock, placed there by time, jutted out like a little plateau. She peered over the edge, her shoulders bunched, hands and fingers tensed in an unusual fashion.

Elmiryn again stopped just far enough away that the girl could not hear or see her. Her clear eyes, lit with an intensity, narrowed as the warrior tried to make sense of this peculiar scene. There was something about how the girl moved, how the others chased her that painted this entire situation as unique…or maybe…

…Maybe it was just that ridiculous haircut she had?

The warrior’s thoughts were interrupted by a hoarse yell.

“There’s the beast!”

Elmiryn’s eyes snapped onto the group of men charging toward the small girl. “Farmers,” she thought with a roll of her eyes, “They have no tact…”

She looked back at the youth to see what she would do. Fight or flight. If the woman’s suspicions were correct, the girl would fight back or jump over the edge of the plateau. To Elmiryn’s surprise, the girl held her hands up and fell to her knees. “Please!” she begged, her voice hoarse. “Please, I was starving! I’m sorry! I meant no harm!”

Jeers from the men. One particularly large man, apparently the leader, brandished his axe. “Filthy animal!” he thundered. He raised his weapon with both hands. The girl, startled, scrambled to her feet and retreated to the edge where she swayed.

Elmiryn’s lips, which had twitched and quirked with her observations, finally seemed to make a decision of what to do:

She smiled, showing all teeth…

Continue ReadingChapter 1.2

Chapter 1.3


I was dead.


Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead.

Or on my way to it. Being cleaved in half was synonymous with my demise, I thought. If I were to look up my end like it were an idiom in a scholar’s text, I was certain I’d find, “To be axed; To be hacked; To be chopped, etc.” Fear charged through me quick, like a viper strike. This was not as I had felt before. That was a stumbling, ignorant fear of the consequences. This, however, was fear for my life.

Aelurus, if I had fur, I’d have been a round ridiculous thing right then.

It made me angry too, I was surprised to find. I was cornered…by farmers. A fat thick man who probably never swung that damned axe on his own at home was about to take the sharp edge of it and whack it into my brain. That was unfair. I imagined something a little more…dignified. As dignified a way to go as anyone in my position—rueful as it were—could hope to have. Maybe dragged to death by a soldier’s horse, or torn to pieces by werewolves, or crushed beneath a glacial avalanche…during summer

But to be hacked to death by a peasant over grain and some scared hens?

The great oaf in question grinned victoriously amid the folds of his sweaty face. I was surprised he kept pace with the others. He wheezed and rasped as he tensed his arms, prepared to swing down the axe. I stood precariously at the edge of the plateau, aware of the other men that stood behind the fat farmer, blocking my only escape. My last hope, it seemed was to—

But that idea never finished.

I sailed through the air, and my wet hair whipped out a trail of rainwater as I spun right over the edge of the plateau. The fat farmer let out a squawk of surprise—as did I. I crashed into the Earth at a funny angle, and the breath rushed from my lungs. I tumbled like a rag doll down yet another slope, this one steeper than the one I had descended when heading to Toah. So steep, that I may as well have been falling through air. I burst through bushes in an explosion of leaves, and felt my limbs painfully clip tree trunks as I continued to roll. Finally, I came to the end of the slope and stopped face down.

Ye gods.

Everything hurt. My eyes rolled in their sockets and I tried to focus my gaze to make the world stop spinning. I spat the leaves and dirt out of my mouth and turned my head away from the ground only to see an arrow had been shot through my collar. I stared. It had narrowly missed my neck had gone completely through the fabric. The force of the arrow hitting must have been what sent me over the edge. Did one of the of farmers fire it? I tried to move to remove it, but screamed when I found my left shoulder was dislocated.

Therians, the species my race belonged to, had a heightened rate of healing, but for this I was going to have to do it myself.

With a grimace I rolled onto my back, in the opposite direction the side the arrow was on, and with my other hand, bent my dislocated arm. I laid it on my stomach; then with several quick breaths shoved my left arm upward at the elbow, using all the strength given to me by the One Goddess. It popped back in. No, that wasn’t the proper way to do it, in case you’re wondering—but I was on my own, with men after me—and at any rate, therians could take a lot and still walk away fine.

But to be honest, the pain still made me want to pass out.

Weakly, I snapped the arrow shaft and reached back behind my collar to grab the arrowhead. I stared at it. Pewter. I let my hand fall against my chest. My body felt cold. The damp ground made my clothes wet. My face, hands, and feet itched. They had been slashed and cut, but were all ready scabbing over.

I gazed upward at the forest canopy and imagined what it would be like if moonlight shined through. Cool, bless-ed moonlight. I imagined its silver kiss on my weary skin, where I could indulge in the idea that Aelurus would take pity on her wayward daughter. My eyes started to drift shut. This damp, cold place, where drops of water pelted my sham of a body was not something I cared to stay conscious in anymore…

Then someone lifted me up. My eyes opened blearily. I was thrown over a shoulder—an uncomfortable one that dug into my gut. The feeling made me alert again. I stared down at the ground as it steadily retreated from me. I could hardly believe it. I was going up.

My mind took a second to register the grunts coming from the person carrying me. I looked at their back and noted the curves, the criss and cross of thick woven strings through the back of a bustier, the tight-fitted leather pants that griped with the movement of determined legs…

Was a woman carrying me?

…Up a tree?

I squirmed, suddenly worried I was being spirited away by some lunatic who had drank one too many enchanted potions. My shoulder still hurt, but I didn’t want to be in the hands of someone else. My protests turned to all-out struggles when the person didn’t release me.

The person, whoever they were, only gripped me tighter and said, “Idiot. Keep still. I’m saving you.”

I didn’t listen. I took my uninjured arm and struck my elbow hard against the back of the woman’s head. She sighed, but it seemed more like she were hissing through gritted teeth.

Then she shrugged me off.

By that time, we were at least twenty feet up a great old oak. As I fell through the air and saw how far I was from the ground, I thought blithely, “Wow. She’s a fast climber.” Then my fall stopped. My body jerked and I winced at the pain that shot through my still-injured shoulder. I could feel an iron grip close around my right ankle. I looked up in a daze.

Past the length of my body, I could see an auburn haired woman with light eyes smirk down at me. She held onto a piece of rope that was tied to a thick branch not far up. “Just kidding,” she said. Her voice was melodic and like steel…just as the instruments to the south of Fanaea.

“Now hold still,” the woman continued in a quieter voice, “And keep quiet. If you haven’t noticed, your friends are coming.”

I blinked up at her and slowly looked back toward the ground. I strained my ears. Sure enough, I could hear the farmers approaching, hear them grumbling amongst themselves sullenly. Not very subtle, these men, but I was so focused on the woman I hadn’t even noticed their approach.

They came closer and closer. If I was dizzy before, I was even more so now. My head felt so thick with blood and pressure that I thought it would explode. One man came beneath the tree, and his eyes swept around him. My heart thumped. He looked up.

The woman’s grip on my ankle tightened, if possible. She didn’t need to warn me. The feline within knew better than to move when in hiding, even if a threat looked her dead on. I froze, even holding my breath, and closed my eyes.

It seemed to pay off. He passed on.

After another five minutes, the men conferred somewhere nearby.

“She’s gone.” One said insipidly.

“We’ll never find her in this dark!” Another complained.

“What was it that hit her? Was it an arrow?”

“Do you think she died?”

“If so, we have no business left out here…”

“But that beast must be dealt with! She threatened our livelihood!” Ah. The fat farmer.

“It was just some grain, Humphrey. Hardly worth catching a cold over.”

“And if she comes back?”

“Didn’t you see her? That Ailuran was afraid. She won’t be coming back so soon.” Not ever, if possible.

“Let’s go.”

“Yes, let’s. My unmentionables are frozen…”

When their footsteps faded away, I let out a sigh of relief. Then I felt myself rise. “Swing and grab that branch there.” the woman said above me. Her bicep bulged from the effort it took to hold me up the way she was. I looked around and saw the branch she spoke of.

Warily I looked at her. “You won’t drop me?” I asked, my words thick from the strain of being upside-down.

The woman seemed amused by this idea. “You think I would?” she asked in a jocular tone. “And even if I did, don’t cats always land on their feet?”

I wasn’t really in the mood for jokes.

Her other hand was occupied so she couldn’t continue climbing until she wasn’t holding me anymore. If I didn’t try and grab hold of something, she’d eventually have to drop me.

Carefully, I stuck the arrowhead I was holding in my teeth, then I swung, holding out both my arms when I came close to the branch. The pain in my left shoulder had dulled to a dim ache. I grabbed hold of the branch, and the woman let go of me. My fingernails scraped against the bark for a frightening moment before finding purchase. I managed to pull myself up further and swing my left leg over. Exhausted, I took the arrowhead from my mouth. I was glad to have the blood rushing from my head. My eyes fell shut against the odd feeling this caused.

I was so tired…

Then I felt the branch quiver and my eyes opened to see the woman sitting across from me, closer to the trunk, her gaze a little too focused for my liking. She toyed with the rope in her hands, twirling the end of it around her long finger. My shoulders bunched like hackles raised, and I bowed my head with a guarded look. If I were a cat, my ears would have turned and flattened and my tail would have been lashing. “Who are you…” I asked in a low voice.

“Elmiryn,” the woman said with a wide smile. Strands fell from her long braid and framed her angular face. She seemed like a maiden…but she wasn’t. I breathed in deep. She smelled of steel—metallic and sharp. She didn’t have her weapon, but she may have hidden it somewhere in order to deal with me. I could also tell she had spent some time in the forests as I could smell the maple, bay, and oak trees on her skin like the scents were a natural part of her. The Earth was a part of her.

It was almost like she were wild.

“For an Ailuran, you’re awfully weird.” Elmiryn said, humor in her voice as she leaned back against the tree. Her long mouth shaped into a smile that teased.

I glared at her. “What would your kind know about that?”

“I’ve fought Ailurans. They’re prideful. Fiery. They would never kneel before farmers.”

I dug my fingers into the bark and leaned forward. “And what sort of warrior are you? Firing arrows at helpless creatures the way you did?”

“You’re hardly helpless,” the woman returned with raised brow. She sighed and placed her hands behind her head. She was being rather lax around me…or did she just think she could take me on? “I’m a good shot,” Elmiryn continued, “I saw my opportunity to help you and took it. If I didn’t send you over the plateau, what would you have done?” There was something smug about her tone, and it irritated me.

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t even remember what my original plan had been. “No human makes that kind of shot in the dark. I just don’t believe you.” I snarled. I sat back roughly with arms crossed and turned my gaze elsewhere. This was body language. The cat inside of me was saying, “I dislike you. I don’t want to bother with you right now. You are beneath me.” But without the tail and ears this was hard to convey. She wouldn’t have picked up on it anyway.

Her voice was quiet when she asked, “You don’t believe I saved your life, or you don’t believe I’m that good a shot?”

I pursed my lips and found I could only glare at her from the corner of my eye. I DIDN’T believe she was that good a shot…but I DID believe she had saved my life, however unintentional. The question was, what would she do now? “You must’ve had a reason to want to bother with someone like me,” I said.

The woman shrugged, her eyes still gazing intensely at me. “I was curious.” her smile turned into a smirk.

“About what?”

“Why didn’t you defend yourself?”

I looked away. “That’s a silly question. I was outnumbered.”

“Therians are naturally stronger than humans,” she countered. Something about her voice turned hard. “They’re one of the strongest creatures on this Earth. Any idiot knows that. You could’ve held your own if you wanted to. Maybe even shifted just your hands to claws to keep them at bay…but you didn’t. Why not?”

I looked at her again, my eyes wide with incredulity. “Because I’m not like that, alright? Where do you get off speaking like you know everything!?” Why did any of this matter to her?

“Because that’s just how I understand things,” She responded. Her voice returned to its curious humor. “You can’t shame me for working off my prejudices–everyone on this planet needs a way to react to something new and mysterious if they wanna keep from getting overwhelmed. Heck, you’re doing it too. You don’t trust me, because in your experience, people like me must’ve done you or the people around you harm. That’s fine. But look,” she patted the tree branch and smiled jauntily. “Here we both are. You aren’t running away, and I’m not hurting you. Between the both of us is a need to understand. So let’s get to it. The first question is–and I get to ask since I saved your life, and all–is why didn’t you fight?”

I pursed my lips and ruffled my hair with both hands. My nose itched and on the tip of my tongue danced a curse, but this woman’s logic, as frustrating as it was, made it difficult to argue. Sullenly I muttered, “I can’t fight.”

Elmiryn leaned forward and tilted her head. “Can’t or won’t?” she asked. She came near enough that I could feel her breath against my skin. I leaned back, and my body turned rigid. Who was she to go invading my space? My throat tensed and my fingers clenched. The beast in me didn’t like being challenged like that.

After a long moment I managed to bite out, “I can’t.” Then I took several deep breaths to keep my other half, my feline self, in check. This woman seemed to push my buttons on purpose.

When I regained calm, I bowed my head. The anger drained away, replaced instead by shame. “I don’t know how to fight at all…” I sighed.

The warrior remained quiet. Then came four words that would change my life forever. As cliche as that sounds, I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment for as long as I live.

“I’m on a quest,” She said in a candid chirp that sounded completely incongruous with the message that entered my ears. “An evil demon by the name of Meznik has been terrorizing the kingdoms and I mean to stop him.” She shifted on the tree branch a little, as if just mentioning her task made her anxious to complete it.

I looked up at her, bewildered.

…No, more like flabbergasted.

What did this have to do with me? And who went around announcing that sort of information in the first place?

She continued, and her smirk returned in a triumphant tilt. “It gets awfully boring on my own…so I just had an idea. Why don’t you come with me?”

Shocked silence was the only response I could give.

Elmiryn gestured at me vaguely with her chin, “You’re an Ailuran in need of food and protection, and I’m a warrior in need of some company. Who knows? Maybe I could teach you a few things?”

I shook my head, my face puckered in some expression that resembled disbelief. “You want me to go with you?? To…to seek out trouble and place myself in danger while you go around chasing astral demons!? Have you lost your mind? I don’t want to fight! I don’t want to be in the position to get myself killed! I just want to live my life in peace!” My tone was almost panicked. She couldn’t be serious?

“Oh.” was the woman’s only response. She sagged, deflated. Somehow, I didn’t trust this switch in demeanor. I gazed at her with apprehension. Elmiryn blew some strands out of her eyes and shrugged one shoulder. “Okay. That’s perfectly fine. You’re entitled to do as you wish. I just thought this might be a good way for you to repay your…ah…” and here she paused, smiling cattily, “Debt to me. For saving your life.”

“Debt?” I echoed, incredulous. But a part of me squirmed…

Those light eyes—frigid cerulean—fell on my face and I shrank unconsciously. “I was just under the impression that Ailurans honored all debts,” she said in an affable tone that belied her fierce gaze.

My face fell. She was right, of course. My people were honorable, above all things. I may have been a coward, but I was an honorable coward, damn all my luck…

I slumped, defeated. “You…You won’t expect me to help you, will you? I’m not mincing my words when I say I cannot fight, I cannot defend myself, and I have no courage whatsoever.” I said this in a tired voice. What was I going to do? Refuse? There was something peculiar about this woman warrior. Her simple gaze was enough to make me nervous.

“Now let’s not get so hasty.” She said with a raised a hand. “I’ve seen bravery come from the most unlikely places.”

I smiled at her for the first time. It was a sad smile. “Not here, I assure you.” I rubbed at my face and sighed. “I should also let you know…I’m an outcast. I’ve been…been Marked.”

Marked. I could barely get the word out of my throat.

Ailurans dealt with criminals two ways: death…or the Mark. Death was preferable. The Mark was a curse—a brand burned into the criminal’s skin by magic. The design of it varied on the crime itself. The curse that was set upon the individual made shape-shifting an agony, and prevented them from stepping into any Ailuran establishments—like temples. Others of my kind could sense it on me. They hated me for it. Other therians and other species tended to target outcasts like me, because they were such easy prey—also because they knew that the Mark was a serious punishment, and anyone with it could be a murderer. A distasteful attribute in any culture.

“Did you kill anyone?” Elmiryn asked, her gaze probing. I looked at her, startled. It seemed to be the only question that mattered to her. Did she believe then, that everything else was tolerable so long as I answered her correctly? If I told her…If I said to her…

“No.” When I spoke it was with a frail voice—but I gazed straight into her eyes. Like daring a fearsome monster to attack. “I’ve never killed a person—not in my entire life. …Directly or indirectly.” I added the last part hastily. Conspirators were apt to getting the Mark as well.

She nodded, her face suddenly somber.

Despite myself, I was surprised to find that I desperately wanted her to accept me.

Then, Elmiryn smiled, a long satisfied smile. “Well, I don’t really see what the problem is then.” she said.

I smiled back at her uncertainly.

What had I gotten myself into?

“What’s your name?” She asked, tossing the end of the rope she still held so that it stretched out to the bottom of the tree.

I hesitated a moment before answering.

“Nyx.” I said in a small voice.

She held out her hand to me and smiled, this time more warmly. “Give me your hand, Nyx…it’s time to rest. We’ve got a lot of walking to do tomorrow.” The rain had almost completely stopped. Water no longer poured through the canopy—instead there was a light mist that tickled my nose. Did she have a camp? Blankets? Some place dry and warm to sleep? And what about my boots and other belongings?

I swallowed and gave her my hand.

Elmiryn didn’t move. Instead, she squeezed and looked at me quizzically. “Can I ask just one more thing, though?”

I blinked at her. “I…suppose,” I said slowly.

She gestured at me with her chin, her eyes on my head as her lip curled in light disdain. “Who the hell did you pay to cut your hair?” When I didn’t answer right away, she shrugged one shoulder and offered off-hand, “I can beat them up if you’d like.”

I gave her a deadpan look.

Aelurus, just what in the heavens had I gotten myself into?

Continue ReadingChapter 1.3

Chapter 2.1


She split the rays of the early suns with her well-cut figure–hands planted at the base of her hips and her shoulders squared against trailing storm winds. She had taken her hair out of her braid, and the auburn locks lifted with the breeze. With my arms hugged around my head, I peeked with sleep-winked eyes from beneath them.  Her shadowed face split into a grin.

“Morning,” Elmiryn said.

I groaned and curled in on myself, hiding my face. “Already?” I whined in a low voice.

The woman warrior sighed and I heard her walk a few steps away, probably to put on her bracers and shoulder guards. “Wake up, Nyx. I won’t have you wasting precious daylight, y’know. If I’ve gotta drag you, I’ll drag you.”

I stiffened at this declaration and jerked myself upright, my eyes trained on her as she adjusted her gloves.

“Besides,” Elmiryn added as she went to pick up her other things, laid neatly out on a blanket. “We need to get out of here before the farmers wake up. They might still feel the need to look around the area with daylight on their side. I don’t want to hurt peasants if I don’t have to.”

She tightened the straps of her shoulder guards and gave them a firm pat to see if they were well secure. Satisfied, she looked back at me and quirked an eyebrow. “Well? Come on. We need to get your things. I imagine you don’t want to walk around barefoot all day.”

I rubbed at my eyes and stood, somewhat unsteady, and gave my shoulders a roll. The arm I dislocated didn’t ache anymore. I picked up the arrowhead I had saved from the night before, which I placed near my head while I slept, and held it between my teeth as I grabbed the blanket Elmiryn had let me use.  With a sigh, I folded it awkwardly.

I snuck some looks at my new companion as I did so. She was strapping a belt around her waist, with two blades holstered on it–one a six-inch knife on her right hip, the other a long sword.  From what I could tell from the shape of the sheath, the blade wasn’t very pointed–that told me it was a sword meant to be swung, not to stab with.  It also had a red-jeweled pommel and a gilded cross guard–the crescent moon variety that faced the direction of the blade, of which a phrase was etched in an ancient language.  My mind tickled with recognition at the design, and I paused in my actions with a frown.

Elmiryn caught me staring and followed my line of sight. She smirked. “I got it through combat,” she said, bending to pick up her own blanket. “I liked the sword, so I took it. The other guy didn’t need it anymore.” She looked at me again, an edge to her gaze, as if daring me to question further.

I blinked at her, and looked down. She thought I knew where the sword was from. I wanted to ask her, but feared what would happen if I did. I handed her the blanket and she took it, along with hers, and placed it in her satchel. She came up again and turned, tossing me an apple.

Startled, I caught it.

“That’ll have to do until we find some food later. Right now, let’s go get your things before the village wakes up.” she said. Elmiryn shouldered her bow and quiver, grabbed her satchel, and began walking away.

I looked at the apple, then her. I rubbed it on my gambeson–trying not to think about the futility of that action considering the cleanliness of my clothes in general–and bit into it. Juice dribbled down my chin. After a few quick strides I had caught up with the woman and we walked in silence.

Dawn. A creeping warmth on a cold land. I thought about these things when dream and reality hazed together in my head. Light was peeking past the hills and splintered through the leaves in shafts. Mist carried the rosen glow about our shadowed forms as we marched over the damp leaves and tender roots. My breath came in light fogs before my face. The hark of a bluejay made my ears perk. It felt incongruous in this sleepy setting.

I didn’t walk quite alongside Elmiryn, but rather, just a little behind. I didn’t want her to think I was calling myself her equal. She was a warrior, a strong one, and had clearly experienced enough in life to walk as surely as she did now. But of what class was she? Was she a noble on a quest for enlightenment? Was she a soldier following orders from her king? Was she a simple peasant, a common person, making a name for herself through brave deeds and other such heroic acts in the hopes that she could escape the banality of normal existence?

…Was…Was she like me?

This last thought brought me no comfort. Instead, it made me nervous. The apple in my hand dwindled like my certainty as I gazed at Elmiryn’s back. I didn’t want to mingle with thieves, murderers, or charlatans. I stole, yes, but only from those who could afford a loss. I only resorted to theft out of necessity, not greed.

I told myself these things often at night.

I scrunched up my nose and frowned down at my apple. I had finished it–even eaten half of the core. I tossed the thing away, thinking firmly, “And what would an evil person be doing saving kittens and fighting demons?”

The answer eluded me.

“Hey, Nyx. As much as I like having you staring at me like the answer to life is hidden in my backside, d’ya think maybe you could lead? You’re the only one who knows where your things are.”

I gave a start and looked at Elmiryn, who stared back at me with an expectant look. Blushing, I mumbled an apology and went ahead of her.

My back tensed as I felt her gaze on my back. Did she have to stare? …Oh, well I suppose it was only fair. I peeked a glance at her over my shoulder and our eyes met. Nervously I looked forward again. Elmiryn started to hum. I felt like she were teasing me for my skittishness.  The tune was a curious one, and at first I was a little perplexed that someone like her would know it.

It was too innocent and frivolous to come from such a source, I thought with pursed lips.  I hadn’t even seen the woman draw her sword, and I was certain she could incapacitate me permanently with one strike–TWO if she wanted to draw it out with some flourish. But she had as much reason to trust me as I did her…right?

“Your clothes are enchanted, aren’t they?” Elmiryn asked me suddenly.

I looked back at her, then turned forward to properly duck beneath a low branch of a bay tree. “Yes,” I said.

My mother’s clothes were specially made by an Ailuran tailor, who knew the spell roughly known as, “Second Skin.”  It allowed a therian to shift into any form, and not tear or lose his clothes in the process.  Whatever shape I took, my clothes would fit to my body perfectly.  It was practically a necessity in therian cultures to have clothes blessed with Second Skin.  The lives of shape-shifters had many risks and dangers, the kind that other sentient creatures couldn’t possibly comprehend.  They were expensive, and in the case of the poor, were treasured items that were passed down from generation to generation.

I thought of my mother, and felt a surge of audacity channel through my veins.  “You put a hole through my gambeson,” I said in a churlish tone.

…The fact that Elmiryn saved my life by doing so, not withstanding.

I could hear the smile in her voice when she asked, “Well, considering the state of your clothes I didn’t really think a–”

“It belonged to my dead mother.” The amount of force I put into those words surprised even me. I stopped and glared back at Elmiryn, my hands clenched at my sides. Inside my chest, my heart pounded hard against my ribs–but my fear was overshadowed by anger.  There were certain things that I  just couldn’t ignore.

To my astonishment, Elmiryn actually winced at my harsh look. Then her face went blank and she looked away. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you…or your mother.” She rubbed the back of her neck and gestured at me with her chin–a habit of hers it seemed. “I’m no tailor, but I’ve some needle and thread with me. I can sew it up if you’d like. That won’t mess with the enchantment, right?”

I stared at her. She knew how to sew? I guess even warriors cared whether their clothes were torn… “It won’t.” I said. I really was establishing myself as quite the lengthy speaker, wasn’t I?

She smiled and nodded. “Okay, then.”

I gazed at her for a moment longer, then continued walking. I felt more certain of myself somehow, and the tension in my back eased.

…Evil people don’t care about dead mothers

Continue ReadingChapter 2.1

Chapter 2.2

“Oh, Heaven, it is mysterious, it is awful to consider that we not only carry a future Ghost within us; but are, in very deed, Ghosts!” – Thomas Carlyle


We tromped through the tall grass, and blades of moisture and morning chill clung to our flanks. I had my things again–my boots were securely fastened, my small bag of trinkets was pulled nervously on both shoulders by the thin straps of cloth I had stitched in myself.  I had added to my collection the pewter arrowhead Elmiryn had shot at me.  I considered throwing it away.  The memory of that moment tied my guts into knots, and I preferred having my insides settled and ordered.

Then it occured to me that the little item was special.  There were the obvious reasons of course:  the arrowhead had saved my life in a sensational manner, the little item marked the first time in over a year that I found myself in the company of anyone, and as superficial as it sounded, it just plain looked interesting.  But beyond those lines of reasoning rested other things.  They were mystifying, and a little unsettling.  If I thought about it long enough, I was certain I could figure out the greater motives that guided me to keep the trinket…but I didn’t want to.  It tied my guts into knots.

There was a heaviness in the silence around us as Elmiryn and I walked.

Questions, like the feeble fragments of startled dandelions, drifted between me and that straightened back before me, lost and at the mercy of the cool wind that upped and carried them elsewhere. Elmiryn intimidated me still, despite my assertions regarding her lack of inherent evil or intent to do harm, for there rested something haphazard and unsettling in her regard to life and peace and will. Pale irises beneath the morning suns lit up aspirations that both bewildered and concerned me.

At first I felt afraid of the possible situations I may be cast therein; but then (I think it was just a little past Toah and the place we bivouacked, near the area where the poison oak and buck eye trees seemed weaved passionately together) I tried to imagine what Elmiryn had faced herself, alone, and felt my stomach twist in that loathsome way. With a dry swallow, I let my mind wander to less mystifying things.

Somehow my existence–lonely and dangerous and desperate–had been something I deemed only for myself, as if my dry petite hand could lay a claim to a way of living and shun all others skittering towards it. It seemed too cruel a thing to allow such a life for anyone else but me. As melodramatic as it sounded, I wanted that pain to be mine alone.

But beyond my unreasonable sentiments, I sensed something further amiss, and it was that untouchable something that kept drawing my gaze to the tall woman warrior, even as we stopped at the line of trees where the grassy hills and dense wood had given way to a rocky ravine and light mists of water. Elmiryn tilted her head back, her eyes turning lidded as she took in a deep intake of breath. She sighed, in what appeared to be satisfaction, and turned to look at me with an upbeat grin. “This leads to a lake. That stream we saw before must empty out there too.” she said.

I shrugged, looking at her. “You mean to fish?” I asked.

Elmiryn gazed back at me and placed her free hand on her hip. “You aren’t going to help me?”

Startled, I mumbled something along the lines of, “I don’t think I can.”

“You hate water.” She said flatly.

I glared at her.  “No.”

“So what’s the problem? You’re really going to tell me you can’t fish either? Can you even hunt at all?”

My cheeks turned red, and I crossed my arms and slouched. “If I could, do you think I’d be stealing from farmers?”

Elmiryn shrugged. “Point taken,” she conceded.

Then she put her arm around my shoulders and steered me forward, parallel with the ravine, and made a tutting sound befitting a long-suffering mother. “I guess I’ll have to teach you then,” she sighed.

“You don’t have to teach me everything, y’know…” I said contumaciously, and my eyes flashed up through my uneven bangs even as I felt her laughter reverberate through me. For some reason this made my blush worse; I could feel the heat spread from my face and creep down my neck and back like fire. Stiffly, I shrugged out of her touch and tromped ahead.  My bag bounced and jangled behind me.

Elmiryn continued to walk at a more leisurely pace, silent at first, before she started to hum a song.  This was different from before.  It was the same in nature, but more complex.  A melody of humor and frivolity that’s arrangement beckoned at my tense back like a playful call.

Odd as it sounds, it made my ears warm.

I glanced back at her, wary, but Elmiryn didn’t quit.  She only smiled when she saw that she had my attention.  Before I knew it, I had slowed my pace so that I walked along side her again.  The tension had sloughed off like an extra weight, and I sucked lightly at my teeth to keep the corners of my mouth from turning upward.

Earlier I had thought it bizarre that someone like Elmiryn would know such jocose music.  Now I felt it only too appropriate.

The ravine marked an invisible line along the land, so that beyond it a sparse collection of thick old trees and many wild bushes and weeds ruled–not a dense army of any one thing. Out there, it felt like there was more space, and light came easier to the ruddy Earth. Elmiryn stopped humming and the only thing that seemed to fill the silence was the conversation of leaves and the giggles and hisses from the stream of water carving through the rock.

Ahead, I thought saw the familiar glint of a body of water.

“Y’know, I guess it’d be good to try and get to know each other, seeing as how we’re going to be stuck together for a while.” Elmiryn said suddenly, as if the thought had just occurred to her.

I gazed at her sidelong, but didn’t say anything.

Bemusedly, she looked my way. “Don’t you think so, Nyx?”

“Yes.” I said, after a moment of thought.

The taller woman smiled, almost languidly. “Good to know you agree.”

But the conversation, if one could even call it that, stopped there, and I grew nervous wondering what it was Elmiryn was thinking.

The ravine fed into a fair-sized lake where large bugs skimmed and danced across the surface. It was large enough that if two people stood on either side of it, they’d have to really shout to be heard. The center of it was dark, and around the shallower waters tall slim plants I couldn’t name stood proud over the surface. The smells of algae and fish tickled my nose. Elmiryn went ahead of me and sat down on the rocky shore, where she began to take her boots off. I went to her and sat, setting my bag on the dry log next to me.

“How are you going to fish?” I asked. I hugged my knees when Elmiryn glanced at me, and for some reason my blush came back.

With both boots off and her pants rolled up, the woman stood.  Her hair draped free over her shoulders as she stooped to pick up her bow and arrows. She gave a grin as if that were all the answer I needed, and then proceeded out into the water. When the lake was up to her knees, she readied an arrow and stood still, only her head moving as she searched for any sign of fish.

She didn’t fire a shot for a long time.

My stomach growled at me from beneath my gambeson and I slouched, grumpy, as I watched her.  With the time passed, I found myself emboldened enough by boredom to ask her a question. “Are you one of those folk heroes who are altruistic just for the sake of it, or was there an impetus to this quest of yours?”

Elmiryn paused in her quiet hunt to slowly turn and squint at me from over her shoulder. “Say what?

I resisted rolling my eyes.  At the risk of sounding pompous, I really hated having to simplify things I said.  “What I was asking was: why are you after this…um…demon? Meznik, you said he was called. Are you doing it for yourself or some noble sense of duty?”

Elmiryn shook her head, and a dubious grin spread her lips. “My, my. You’re quite the speaker now!”

“I’m asking a fair question, I think.”

She sighed and swiped at her nose with her arm. Her gaze had fallen downward, and I got the impression she was focusing on her reflection in the water.

“He cursed me,” she finally said. Her normally melodic voice became somewhat subdued, and I strained to hear her. “It’s hard to explain to you.”

“You’re the one who said we should talk and get to know each other.”

“I know.”

“So why not try and explain to me this curse of yours? Maybe it’ll affect me.”

“No. It has nothing to do with you. Not really.”

“Then what is it?”

Elmiryn’s eyes narrowed and I saw her ready her bow again. Some part of me tensed, afraid that I was being too pushy about the topic. But when she suddenly let loose the arrow, I realized that she had only seen a fish.  Blood appeared through the murk, and soon I saw the fish float to the surface. “Verisimilitude. Know what that means?” she asked.

I frowned at her.  I tried not to sound surprised when I answered. “Something that has merely the appearance of truth.”

“Hey, you’re pretty good at my language!” She exclaimed, with a brief smile in my direction. A warmth blossomed in my chest, and I barely was able to conceal my pleased grin. So maybe she wasn’t beyond appreciating a good education.

Elmiryn stooped and grabbed the fish, then pulled the arrow out of its side. When she turned to me and tossed the fish onto the rocks, she smiled sadly. “That is my curse, Nyx. Verisimilitude. …Or something.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.”

The fish slapped against the smooth rocks, blood and guts coming out of its wound, and my eyes went wide with delight at the sight of it. Though I preferred cooking my meat to some degree, fish I had no problem with eating raw.

“Go ahead and start cutting the fish,” Elmiryn said, “My knife is there with my bag. Don’t start eating without me though.”

I smiled eagerly, and the conversation we were having fled my mind as I washed my hands and set to work. But soon the question came bubbling up my throat as I pondered over what the other woman said. “How is verisimilitude your curse?” I asked. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Another strike. Another fish. Elmiryn paused to toss it back toward me before she shrugged and said, “Every sentient creature has the ability to believe in themselves and their experiences. He took that away from me. Among other things. I mean to get it back.”

“You don’t…believe in yourself?” I said, pausing in my actions to give Elmiryn a nonplussed look.

She laughed and shook her head. “Not like self-confidence. Something more important than that…” she wiped her face on her arm again and looked skyward, tapping the end of an arrow on her chin. “What I mean is the ability to believe that you impress on the world something…uh…lasting, I guess.  Like memories.  We all have memories–some more vivid than others, but memories all the same.  Then there’s the feeling that we’re noticed and acknowledged.  A sense of…um…” Elmiryn looked at me uncertainly, and I stopped what I was doing all together, transfixed.  She pointed at herself and squinted her eyes.  “It’s like when you know who you are and what you’re place in the world is.”

“A sense of self?” I offered with an awkward shrug.

Elmiryn nodded.  “Yeah.  As in, you look in the mirror and you’re certain that what you’re seeing is correct.  ‘Oh look, there’s my hair, styled just the way it is supposed to be.  And the look in my eyes matches just the kind of emotion I’m feeling.  And I look just as old as I feel.’  Y’know, that sort of thing.”

I thought about it for a moment, and felt an understanding settle in.  I looked back as Elmiryn began to continue.  I got the sense she was talking less to me and more to herself.

“Meznik took away my belief of the past and therefor took away my hope for the future.” She said, arms now lowered at her sides as she stared ahead blankly. “All I have is the present moment–the current feelings and current sensations–because all in the past becomes fiction, and my passion and trust in it fades.  But even the present feels a little hollow.  So…I guess…I…I don’t feel real. I feel like all the things that make up who I am could break and give way to apathy.  I mean, why care about a world you don’t believe in anymore?” she said all this quietly, her voice almost overpowered by the sound of the water coming into the lake. It was like she just realized what her curse meant for her.

She remained quiet for what felt like a long time, and it seemed like I was supposed to say something, but I wasn’t sure what.

But suddenly Elmiryn was smiling again, and she resumed her watch for fish along the water.  There was an eagerness about her–the way her gaze roved, the tense readyness of her arms.  Her eyes were lit bright and intense by the reflection of the suns in the water. “I guess that’s why I’d like you to come with me. To be my anchor. To remind me of who I was, so that…”

I frowned at her, suddenly nervous of this responsibility I now had. “So that what?” I prompted.

The warrior fired another arrow.  The water splashed and rippled before blood billowed in a dark cloud toward the surface.

“So that I don’t turn into something else.”

Continue ReadingChapter 2.2

Chapter 2.3


It was a two-day journey to the town known as Dame, and in that time I discovered three things: if a tree branch squeaks, I probably shouldn’t rest on it; Elmiryn has no concept of personal space; and apparently, I talk in my sleep.

“You were muttering something about rats.”

“I was not.”

“You were asleep.  How do you know?”

“I find myself a bit concerned over the fact that you were close enough to make out what I was muttering.”

“So you’re saying I’m right.”

“No.  I’m saying you have alarming ideas of what’s permissible between two people who hardly know each other.”

“You can’t remember what you were dreaming.  Are you really going to argue with me?”

I settled for looking sullen and avoided Elmiryn’s gaze. “My hazy mutterings aside, what made you think hovering over me like you were would be interpreted as anything else but creepy?”

I sat at the base of an old poplar tree, where I picked twigs and dirt from my tangled mess of hair.  The bandages wrapped around my hands were smudged with the pollen from the catkins.  I tried to wipe it off, but it seemed to only set it deeper into the sweat stained fabric.

Elmiryn stood over me, her arms crossed and the corners of her lips turned upwards at the ends.

“You were crying,” she said with a twitch of her mouth.

I glanced at her with sullen eyes.  “I must have been thinking of something else.”

“You fell out of the tree.  It was kinda like you were trying to get away from them.”

I grit my teeth but made it a point not to look up at her again.  “No. The branch broke. And it broke because I jumped when I saw you were hovering over me.”

Elmiryn shook her head with a chuckle and palmed her face.  “Nyx, you wouldn’t wake up when I was calling you from the ground. How else was I going to wake you? Throw a rock?” Then she looked upwards as if something occured to her, and the smile that had been only a concept became fully realized.  “…Hey, wait a minute. You think I’m unsettling? As in, ‘Gee, I hope she makes a go for my pants’, or as in, ‘I think this crazy wench is going to shiv my hide’?”

The way she said this had a tone of absurdity that I’m sure she entirely meant for.  It caught me completely off guard.  I looked up at her with cheeks tinged pink and my mouth open, ready to speak.  It was an instinctual reaction after being posed a question.  …But nothing worth saying came to me until I could see the mischievous glint wink in her morning-lit eyes.

I shook my head and squeezed my eyes shut.  I felt like a bug beneath a magnifying glass.  “By the four winds, what is the matter with you?” I grumbled.  My hands went to rub my temples.  I could feel a headache coming on. “Do you like making me as flustered as possible?”

I heard Elmiryn sit on the ground and opened my eyes to gaze at her warily.  When our eyes met she tilted her head to the side.  “You make it so easy.” she said.  There was a note of fascination in her voice that made me squint my eyes a little.  “I mean, you’re the first one of your kind I’ve met that doesn’t know how to hunt or fight, and…well…” her voice trailed and she seemed to reconsider her next choice of words.

I braced myself.  Any sentence that trailed off like that had something unpleasant to unveil.  I let my hands drop to my lap, where I sprinkled away the dirt I had between my fingers.  “Well what?” I prompted uneasily.

“You speak funny.” She shrugged after she said this.

I just stared.  “…Pardon?”

She held her hands up, but there was no sense of urgency in the action.  Elmiryn wasn’t concerned with insulting me, it seemed.  “Easy.  I don’t mean it in a bad way.” Her eyes trailed from my face to my hair, then my hands.  She looked at me again and her expression went soft. “Where did you learn my language?”

“…Reading.” I paused and fiddled with the collar of my gambeson. “Before I was Marked I read a lot to pass the time. Human literature had…um…lots of nice stories.”

“Self-taught. That’s amazing.”

“Are you trying to distract me from the fact that you just spooked me off the high branch of a tree?” I gave her the driest look I could manage.

Elmiryn didn’t wither.  Instead, she seemed to brighten at my passive aggression.  “No, honestly, Nyx. I mean it.”  I pursed my lips as I stood and walked a few steps away.  She made as if to grab at my ankles, but then refrained.

“C’mon, look at me,” she said–not asked. “I really mean it. So will you accept that I’m sorry?”

I crossed my arms and tapped my fingers thoughtfully. “…Yes. But I think it’s clear we’ve got to establish some things if I’m going to travel with you.”

“Okay, great. What do you want established?”  Elmiryn leaned back on her hands and grinned up at me.  I consciously avoided looking at her.

“First of all, quit remarking about how I’m not like such-and-such or like so-and-so. Having my short-comings pointed out to me all the time is driving me mad.”


“Second, I’d appreciate it if you’d quit staring at me. It’s making me nervous.”


“And third, you’ve got to give me my space. That means no messing with my things and no putting your hands on me just for the sake of it. Okay?”

“Yeah. You got it.”





“…Have you got anything you’d like to tell me?”

Elmiryn held up a finger.  “Just one thing.”

I was already wary.  “What’s that?”

“If you’re going to use fancy words, you’ve got to tell me what they mean.”

“…That’s it?”

“Sure, why not? But you can’t give me the wrong definition. If you do, I might pull a sword on someone who was otherwise just telling me how well my pants compliment my ass. Granted, anyone who told me that would still have my blade at their throat, but the worst I’d do is slap their rump with the broadside of my sword.”

A crooked grin spread over my lips.  “Sweet Aelurus…conciliation really comes naturally to you, doesn’t it?”

“Well see, if I knew what that meant…”

Despite myself I giggled. Whenever Elmiryn spoke, it always seemed on the verge of laughing somehow—sometimes I was certain because of me, but other times I wasn’t so sure.  My guess was that she was aware of something I wasn’t.  Perhaps because of her condition.  Certainly, with every restless pass of her eyes, I believed more and more in her curse.

Since our time at the lake, all conversation between the two of us had been purely chit-chat: general observations about our surroundings, the weather, what it was we’d do for food, where we’d sleep, etc…. Now, as we entered the flat golden valley and could see Dame in the distance, our polite ease seemed to be slipping into something else. Something less inhibited.

I found I welcomed it.

“What are your plans in Dame?” I asked Elmiryn as I pulled absently at the straps of my bag.

She glanced at me and smirked. “To ask some questions. Get information about the territory and what is going on here. I suspect that Meznik’s come to this land. If he has, I’m certain he’s already done something to cause trouble. That’s what I’m expecting to learn about.”

“Will it take us closer to him?”

“Hopefully. I’m working against him, so anything of his I can undo is something in my favor, but what I’m really seeking is a way to get to Meznik himself. He’s an astral demon and exists on a different level than you or I. That means that taking a sword to him is about as effective as trying to cut shadows.”

I swiped absently at a daisy on the ground with my foot. “What sort of things did you do before you met me?”

“Oh…those are long stories. Complicated too. I get impatient telling them,” her voice changed, dropping a note.

I glanced at her, through my bangs.  “Can you tell me one thing, at least? If my job is to help you remember who you are and what you stand for, then maybe I should get an idea of the woman you were before Meznik?”

Elmiryn smiled, but the curl of her lip seemed a hair’s breath away from a snarl. “I was a fool.” she said, and the conversation ended there.

The gate to Dame was guarded by two men, and I could see between the crenelations of the town wall there were archers keeping sight of all who came near. Elmiryn walked ahead of me and approached one of the armed guards, an amiable smile on her face. “Hail,” she said.

“Hail,” the man returned, his squinted eyes shifting to rest on me. I tried hard to seem unobtrusive, turning my gaze elsewhere.

“We’d like to enter your fine town,” Elmiryn said, nodding toward the gate. “Will you grant us passage?”

“Your business?” the guard asked.

“Food, drink, a place to rest…we won’t even be here long.  One night, at the most.”

“Who’s your friend?”

I tensed and kept my head down. Better to seem bashful and timid than to let him see my eyes. It had, of course, occurred to me that perhaps he had seen them already, but I still I didn’t lift my gaze.  Perhaps it was a childish logic.  Pretend hard enough and the world would pretend with you.

I could hear Elmiryn shrug, the metal of her shoulder guards hissing. “She’s my ward.”  There was a sense of finality to her words, as though any more questions on the matter were unneeded–and unwelcome.

The guard took a moment to consider. Then he said, “You’ll have to check your weapons at the garrison. Those aren’t allowed within town walls. You can retrieve them when you leave.” then he gave a whistle and a second later the gate doors opened inward.

I followed Elmiryn as she passed through. As we proceeded further into town I breathed in deep, taking in the scents. I could smell the smoke and ash from hearth fires, dung from horses, the hay used to feed them, roasting meat and stewing vegetables, freshly dyed cloth, and potpourri. Thatched homes, many of them two-stories, were set neatly side by side in what appeared to be a planned arrangement. Importance seemed to shape the town in an orderly way of business—a trait most trading hot spots shared. Everyone there was so well dressed. Dame was a prosperous town.

I fingered the hole in my collar and decided I’d take Elmiryn up on her offer to mend it.

The both of us entered the garrison, a cold stone building that smelled of steel and sweat. As Elmiryn checked her weapons, she glanced at me and raised an eyebrow.

“You aren’t a turtle, Nyx,” she said.

“I realize that,” I returned, looking up at her. When we left the garrison I continued in a low voice, “If our first encounter was any indication, this area hates my kind. I was actually on my way to leave for someplace safer when we met.”

Elmiryn smiled in a way that made me nervous. “And instead, you met me.”

“Yeah,” I said, glancing at her.

“Go on, lift your head. My job is to keep you safe. If you’ve got to hide all the time, then I must not be doing a good job, right?”

“I suppose…”


With a sigh, I laboriously straightened out, my eyes gazing straight ahead. “I like being inconspicuous. Just about everything about me is easy to forget except for my eyes.” I fussed with my bangs, irritated over the fact that one side was so long it tickled my nose, yet the other side had grown only an inch from my hairline. I vowed never to get ‘creative’ with a pair of garden shears again.

“I wouldn’t say you’re easy to forget,” Elmiryn said, clasping her hands behind her back.

I looked at her, skeptical. “Oh?”

She shrugged, and gestured at a group of young girls hovering near a merchants cart. They were cooing over foreign fabrics and giggling at the merchant’s extravagant attempts at getting them to buy his product. “Take those girls for instance. For me, they blend into the background. They are common and easy to ignore.”

“Is that because of your curse?”

“I think the curse just makes it worse. I’d have passed them by without a second look even if I didn’t have this problem.”

“I know you’ve told me what it’s like for you, or tried to, but somehow I can’t even imagine it,” I said, crossing my arms high on my chest and tilting my chin down just slightly. I felt a little exposed walking with my head up like I was. “Has your perceptions changed greatly?”

The woman chuckled.  “Well of course they have! I can’t rely on what I see as I once did.”

I gazed at her in wonder. “So it’s like your blind…”

Elmiryn blinked. Then she smiled and a stronger laugh came up her throat, deep and raw. “I guess I am,” she said. She gave me a nudge, “But it’ll help having someone to lead me, won’t it?”

I glanced at my arm as if she slapped a manacle there. I felt like I was in over my head. Wishing to change the subject, I pointed down the way at a shop sign squeaking on its hinges. It read, “The Red Shield,” and offered a helpful picture for the reading impaired. “Look. There’s an inn,” I said lamely.

The warrior turned her head and nodded. “Good. Let’s see if we can stay the night there.”


Brown ale wasn’t her favorite choice of drink, but the nutty, bitter-sweet taste seared through her conscious like a sensual streak from a painter’s brush. The taste filled her, and after she swished the drink sufficiently in her mouth, she swallowed it down and took the mug to her lips for another gulp.

The inn was clouded with tobacco smoke and dust, the patrons there conversing amiably amongst themselves with little regard to those around them. A trusting town. She had almost become used to the shifting glances of skittish customers, the barely contained snarls, the flatulence, dirty faces, and visible weapons. She leaned against the bar, eyes slightly squinted as she regarded a fragile sight at risk of falling away.

Nyx sat on a high stool next to her, slouched and with her back to the room. She was hunched over a bowl of stew, curls of steam brushing the sides of her face as she chewed on a large chunk of beef. The bulge in her cheek tempted Elmiryn to poke it, but she restrained herself with a small grin.

They had secured a room without trouble.  Two beds, but a small space.  The woman didn’t plan on turning in soon.

With one elbow on the counter behind her, Elmiryn swirled the liquid in her mug with a frown. Not the best drink she’d had, but so long as it did what she hoped it would, it didn’t matter.

Sometimes she imagined, when she allowed herself too, that the world before her stood only because she let it. If she wished, a simple push was all that would be needed to send the theatrical backdrop tumbling. The woman wondered what would lie behind the flimsy perceptions. Would there be black nothing, or a radiant truth?

She felt so…small

When she felt the depth of the room suddenly stop at her nose, Elmiryn closed her eyes and pressed herself further back into the counter, so that the edge dug into her spine. It felt like her face were against a wall. She took two deep breaths and reminded herself that this was an impossibility, and her belief could easily be disproved by simply stretching out her hand. So she did so, and felt it press against nothing; no backdrop, no curtain, no wall, just…nothing. She didn’t open her eyes or drop her arm, but instead let her other senses take over.  The sounds of people yards away, the tremble of the floor from footsteps, the brush of air against her face…

“Elmiryn? Something the matter?” Nyx. The girl’s stool squeaked as she turned to regard her. It was sweet, that concern. She let the girl’s voice echo in her head.

“She’s not just a picture, Elmiryn. She’s a living, thinking being.”

A ghost from the past came to haunt her through the present, but she could recall nothing of who they really were, and so, let the warning slip through the sieve of her attention.  Wasn’t it funny, how she could banish these melancholy shards of hushed voices and vague portraits and feel banished from life herself?

Almost as if by will, the warrior made herself feel the room expand. She heard the sound of chairs and silverware scraping ahead of her; felt the thud of goblets and fists against the counter, as well as the circulation of air that teased her face as the inn’s door opened and closed. She took another swig of her ale and felt all right again. Warm even.

Elmiryn let her arm drop.

“Don’t worry, Nyx,” she said, eyes still closed. “Just listen—we’re bound to hear something.”

“I’m not used to these places.” the youth answered.

“To be honest, neither am I,” Elmiryn said. “This place is very tame.”

A small snort. “Oh, I bet you’d love a good bar fight. …Hey, why are you keeping your eyes closed?”

Settled in a zone of comfort, Elmiryn resisted a chuckle at Nyx’s dry comment and gently let out a, “Shhhh,” in answer of her question. She then turned her full attention to the conversations around her.

“…see the new baker’s wife? Boy, I’d love to fill her bun with my…!”

“…been word of a forgetful girl up north, who seems to be looking for…”

“…a marriage next week…!”

“…storms are getting worse. So odd. They aren’t even in season…!”

“…some new parchment going around. People can’t stop buying it…”

“…past the mountains. Word has it that the Medwin River has become poisoned. The people of Gamath are suffering…”

Elmiryn’s eyes snapped open and she looked to her right, where two men sat two tables away, grim looks on their faces. She took another second to listen to them—to watch their lips move—just to make sure she got it right.

“I hear they are having great trouble. The storm passed them by without a drop of rain.” The eldest man said, turning his cup idly. “They’ve been resorting to using fruit to keeping hydrated, but the supply is running low and they lack good meat.  Most of the plants in that area have been killed by the river, and the animals have turned rabid. It’s horrifying how quickly that place has come to smell of death.” He shook his head, liver-spotted face pale and drawn.

“Won’t Tiesmire help?” the other man asked, younger and with a bushy beard.

“King Brice is taking advantage of the whole thing. Tiesmire’s economy has flourished since this tragedy began. No ‘competitors’ to rob them of trade.”

“Has anyone gone to speak to the river’s guardian?”

“The last one that went never came back.  No one knows what happened to him.”

“Perhaps they just need someone more skilled.”

The two men looked up with a start, their eyes resting on Elmiryn’s beaming face. “Hullo. Care to tell me more about this issue?”

The gray-haired man frowned at her sharply. “Who’re you?” he grunted.

The warrior pulled out a chair and sat next to the stranger, her elbows resting on the table. She felt Nyx reluctantly sit on her other side. Elmiryn felt pleased that she didn’t need to tell her to join. “I’m the one who’s going to help Gamath. My name is Elmiryn. I’d like it if you could tell me what you know.”

“But you’re a—”

“Warrior. Yes. You’re right. Do we need drinks?”

“No, no we aren’t interested in—”

Elmiryn snapped her fingers and called over her shoulder.“Inn keeper, can we get four drinks here?”

Nyx began to protest, her tawny eyes going wide. “Oh—no, no, no! I don’t want one!”

The warrior waved off her protests with a crooked smile. Oh yes, the ale was doing its duty. “You’re old enough.” she said jovially to her companion.

The Ailuran grit her teeth. “That’s not what I meant!”

Elmiryn leaned in and muttered out of the corner of her mouth. “It isn’t a big deal. I’ll take your drink if you don’t want it!”

“You’re kidding,” Nyx deadpanned.

“You’re an Ailuran…” the bearded man said, his gaze going narrow.

Nyx paled, and even out of the corner of her eye, Elmiryn could see the girl’s muscles go tense. “No, no. She’s a turnip,” the warrior said, without skipping a beat. All at the table blinked at her. Smiling goofily, she rubbed at her face and said through light chuckles, “She’s my ward. Completely harmless. Doesn’t have the slightest idea how to throw a punch let alone kill a person.”

“No Ailuran is harmless,” The bearded man argued obstinately. “I’ve seen them in battle.  They killed my friends without a thought!”

Elmiryn quirked an eyebrow at him. “You really don’t believe me?”

He slammed his fist onto the table, making Nyx jerk as though she were about to launch into a run.  Elmiryn snatched the front of her gambeson and gave her a sharp look.  The youth looked at her, equally startled by this sudden action.  She fixed the woman with a bewildered stare.  Elmiryn slowly let the girl go, and made a point of raising her eyebrows.

“Trust me, damn it,” she wanted to say.

“Of course I don’t believe you!” the man snarled, going red. “I’m shocked you were even allowed to bring that thing into the town!” He pointed a shaking finger at Nyx.  People around them were beginning to watch.

The warrior shrugged and leaned back. The world shifted as she did so, and a giggle built up in her throat before she brought up her palm in a quick strike upside Nyx’s head. The girl snapped forward from the harsh contact as a loud yelp escaped her lips. Nearly all the tavern stopped and stared now as Nyx rubbed the spot she had been hit, a look of dumbfounded anger on her face.

“That hurt!” she snapped irately.

Elmiryn snickered and raised her hand as if to say to the men, “See?”

With a bang, Nyx stood, her breath coming quick through her nostrils. With a sneer she stormed out of the inn, but not before the warrior noted a glistening at the corners of her eyes. Elmiryn gazed after her, suddenly sorry for what she did.

The woman looked disdainfully at her empty mug and thought, “…If only I’d had two more of these. That may have turned out better then!”

The bearded man shook his head, clearly impressed. “Gods…I’ll admit. I’ve never seen one of her kind take an insult like that so lightly. She behaved more like an embarrassed child!”

“It doesn’t matter about her,” the older man said firmly. He looked at Elmiryn with furrowed brow. “If you want to know about Gamath I’ll tell you all that I know, but I really don’t think you can do anything. The situation is just too terrible.”

The warrior rested her chin on her laced hands and smiled at the man sweetly.

“I’m all ears.”


Continue ReadingChapter 2.3

Chapter 2.4


That wretched cocksure witch made me want to scream.

How dare she.

How DARE she?

No debt was worth that humiliation, I thought to myself. The nerve, doing that to me in front of those men, as if it didn’t matter? If she made any attempts to explain the issue later, I certainly wasn’t going to indulge her. No clever reasoning could ever forgive the blatant violation of trust. And what of her expectations from me? How did she expect me to take my duty to her seriously after having my pride stepped on like a belly-scraping roach?

Hypocritical bitch.

My skin tingled and my clothes felt tight. Heat flashed over me. Anger and fury played games with my misplaced pride, calling up the ghostly vestiges of self-respect I’d once had.  It seemed to appear from nothing, like sparks from flint, and if I’d thought about the situation more, I’d have seen the gross hypocrisy that existed not just in Elmiryn, but in myself.  I was a Marked therian.  What respect did I deserve from anyone?  But I’d been away from others for a long time, and to have my trust violated in such a way made anger a slow thing to cool.

I closed my eyes and breathed in deeply—taking in the human scents around me. Things to hold onto while my other self writhed. I leaned back against the inn behind me and wondered why it was I separated my current state from my bestial one. ‘Her’, versus ‘me’. Us. Like two things could ever really ever occupy such an uncertain shell. Bitterly, I thought of how my animal counterpart would have stood up for herself given the great insult I suffered. My shoulders deflated with a sigh, and I shook my head, allowing my eyes to open.

“If She were in charge, I wouldn’t be here to begin with.” And this confession seemed enough to quell the stirring creature into silence.

All around, the smells and sounds of town life called to me, draped over me; it was warm like blanket—one that wasn’t mine. I stood awkwardly for a moment before deciding a small walk wouldn’t hurt. Ruffling my uneven mop, I stepped out onto the street. I could hear Elmiryn in my head, saying with amusement, “Good. That’s the first step. What do you do next?”

Gods, she was already becoming a voice in my head.  How pathetic was I?

A group of teenagers stampeded past me, knocking me around in their haste to get by. As they continued out of view, I muttered shakily, “You try not to get run over.”

“That can be quite a task in this busy little town, miss,” a new voice said.

My head turned, and between the passing bodies I made out one man whose gaze locked with mine. Instinctively, I shrunk in on myself and took a step back. I didn’t look away, though. He had already seen my eyes—seen the otherness that colored them. Better to see what he did and react appropriately.

But the man only smiled, his mature countenance wrinkling with mirth at my reaction. Dark eyes peered from beneath a barely connected unibrow—a trait that on anyone else would have seemed brutish or unkempt, but somehow rested regally on him. He extended a hand to me and I could see the blisters in his palm. My suspicion increased and I took a deep breath through my nose. I managed to make out his scent from those around me. Citrus, oil, and earth mixed together with the common scents of a warrior; the scent of leather, metal, and sweat.

“Don’t be afraid, kitten. This lanky oaf means you no harm,” he said. His voice was calm and deep. I was reminded of my mother’s heartbeat when I slept beside her. Reluctantly I came closer.

“What do you want?” I asked, my eyes wide and wary.

“You seem upset,” the stranger said, brushing his overgrown coal-gray hair away from his face. He was seated on a thick honey-colored wicker basket, which was turned over and strained beneath the weight of his long body. His legs were bent as if he were ready to spring away at any moment, and the cloth of his crimson aketon was tinged a darker shade in some places. “I saw you come in with your friend,” the man continued, nodding toward the direction of the gate, “And next I know it you’re outside that inn with the most puckered face I ever laid eyes on.” He shook his head, looking at me sympathetically. “She did something brash, didn’t she?”

I crossed my arms and frowned at him. “Do you know her?”

The dark man chuckled. “Personally? Oh, heavens no. But her eyes say a lot. Sharp eyes, yes, but eyes that wander—like she’s looking for something. A little aimless. Careless in their own way. You could say I was just waiting to see you come out of that inn by yourself.”

“And of me? What did you gather from seeing me?”

“That’s a trap, young girl. I won’t go tripping that anytime soon. Too many men have stuck their foots in their mouths from a question like that.”

I shook my head and waved him off. “This is silly. I shouldn’t even be talking to you.” I started to walk away.

“I bet your life makes it hard to speak casually with anyone, kitten. But you should know that not everyone in this region wants your kind dead.”

I turned and glared at him, my eyes searing. “Shh!” I hissed. I went back to him and said through tight lips, “Most haven’t noticed what I am, and I’d like to keep it that way! And stop calling me kitten, for gods sakes. I hardly know you!”

“Sorry,” the man said. He held out his hand, “I’m Tobias. Not from around here, as you can probably guess.”

I didn’t take his hand. “Leave me alone,” I snapped. I stalked back toward the inn, deciding that finishing my bowl of stew seemed a lot nicer than dealing with odd men.

“I’ve got something I think you’d like. Something that might take your mind off things when they get hard.” he called after me, his voice carrying easily through the bustle that surrounded us.

Against my better judgment, I stopped. I looked back at him over my shoulder, trying to seem indifferent despite my curiosity. Tobias smiled, his large upper-teeth a little crooked but otherwise endearing in an honest, openhearted sort of way. He reached behind him, rummaging through things I couldn’t see, and a moment later he straightened again with a worn, leather-bound book in his hands. I frowned and turned fully as he stood and crossed the stream of passerby to hand it to me. He towered over all he passed.

The man stopped just short of arm’s length and held out the book. I thought for a moment before I took it gingerly from him, half-expecting him to grab me as soon as I did so, but he didn’t move. Instead, Tobias only gave a satisfied nod and went back to where he had sat and picked up a traveler’s bag from behind the basket.

“There. I hope you enjoy that,” he said, returning to me. He shouldered his bag.

I blinked at him. “Why give me this? What is it?”

“Poetry, thoughts, small stories. It has a little of everything,” Tobias said with a shrug.

“That’s it? This is what you planned on doing all along?”

“You sound disappointed.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I just…I mean…why?

The man quickly tapped his long finger on my head before I could react. “Because you seemed like the grounded, intellectual sort. Or perhaps, a person who could be one.” He winked before walking away. I stared after him, mouth slightly agape.

“When you tire of the book,” he called over his shoulder, “Trade it for another! It’s the only way things like that should be shared.” And after that, even my keen eyes couldn’t make him out of the smear of the crowd—colors and scents melding together in a great and formless herd as the suns crept closer to the horizon. I looked at the book in my hand skeptically. There was no title to it.

I went to the basket and sat down. It didn’t sag nearly as much as it did with the man. Nervously I looked around me before I opened the book and began to read.

‘There was not enough in me to speak lest I drown. Any other dawn and this man would have been as brave as a minute—knowing nothing more than that moment’s charge of exhilaration and fulfillment by the sweep of his sword…’


There is no barring imagination from reality when walls shift and waver, and humor makes a home in bruises and dust. She delighted in the weight of her limbs. Lyrical language and capricious phrases darted about her head in a game of tag. Her tongue tingled with want of speaking these nonsensical fragments, but Elmiryn refrained, aware she lacked an audience.

When she came outside of the inn, the air was cool and the sky had shifted to a glorious velvet. The merchants were long since packed and gone, only a small crowd of folk wandering here to there, taking care of things before they were expected to retreat for the night. The warrior spotted Nyx across the way, sitting on a basket with her head bowed down and what appeared to be a book in her hands. She cantered towards her.

“Hullo there, my kitten in cutie’s clothing. What is that you’ve got?” Elmiryn chirped. She bent over and tilted her head to one side, her body swaying. “Is it because of what you are that you can read out here with so little light?” the woman asked.

Nyx sighed and stopped reading, her tawny eyes rolling up to glower at her companion.

Elmiryn pouted. “You’re still mad at me,” she grumbled asininely.

“That’s very astute of you, considering your head’s drowned in ale.” Nyx looked back at her book. “Step back, please. I’ve got a sensitive nose and you’re making my eyes water.”

Elmiryn knelt down with a flop before the girl and blew wisps of hair away from her forehead. “My head isn’t swimming just with ale, you know,” she said matter-of-factly. “It’s also swimming with information!

“Lovely. I can just imagine what that would look like,” was the dry response.

“We’re going to Gamath.”

“Fine. Go to bed. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Elmiryn shifted so that she could stare up into Nyx’s face. She blinked a lot, trying to get a fix on the girl’s face, which just didn’t seem to sit still.

The youth looked up at her in annoyance. “What?” she snapped.

“I don’t want you to be mad at me,” the woman said, cerulean eyes lidded. She leaned forward unsteadily, her neck straining as she tried to look at Nyx full on. The girl sat back with a curl of her lip. “C’mon…please don’t be mad,” Elmiryn beseeched. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. Honest!”

The girl frowned at her. “Sweet Aelurus, you’re just like a child!

“Sweet as a babe when drunk, my mother says,” Elmiryn said proudly. “It’s also been said that I’m more attractive when tipsy. I’d say I’m beyond that state, right? So what would you make of me now, Nyx? Am I…desirable?” The woman waggled her brows.

Nyx stared. Her cheeks became flushed, so much so that even Elmiryn noticed it in the poor light.

“Hey, it’s working!” The warrior said, her voice strained as she held back a giggle. “And to think, I didn’t expect that line to go anywhere!”

“It hasn’t!” Nyx huffed. She stood to her feet and began to stomp away. “Gods, I can’t believe you! I thought there was some level of respectability in you, but here you are acting like a callow, fatuous nincompoop!”

“Wait! Come back! I’m still apologizing!” Elmiryn stumbled to her feet, limbs in seeming rebellion; but as she fixed her eyes on Nyx, she shifted her weight and followed through with her momentum, her mind caught up with her desires and she found herself moving purposefully in a calculated line. The woman managed to stop before the girl, successfully cutting her off. Nyx stared at her in surprise.

Elmiryn held up her hands, her breath heavy. “Now wait! Just wait!

“No.” Nyx said vehemently, the muscles in her face strained. “You’re acting like a buffoon, and I’d rather not talk to you like this. It’s shameful.”

“Shameful.” Elmiryn’s face fell.  She rubbed the back of her neck and looked down at the ground. “How is it that you take words and give them so much meaning? Am I really so blind…that it has to be brought to my attention all the time?”

The Ailuran faltered. “…Sorry?”

The woman looked up at the girl, her wavering gaze somehow brighter by the drink in her system. The space between them seemed so great, and there was something vibrant, but flat about Nyx that made Elmiryn’s eyes water. She slowly stretched out a hand toward the girl, and when the youth didn’t pull away, she stroked her cold cheek.

Elmiryn trusted the contact.

“I like drinking. It isn’t a very admirable habit, but I do it when I can.” Elmiryn’s face went blank and she took back her hand. “I think differently like this. Sometimes what I come up with isn’t the brightest of ideas…but there’s sincerity here,” Elmiryn pointed emphatically at her head and looked at Nyx pleadingly. “I’m sorry. I’m. Sorry. It won’t happen again. I swear on my mother’s life.”

Nyx flinched and hurriedly took the woman’s shoulder. “No, no, no! Never do that. Ever. Not for me. The way you’re acting it’s as if you’re afraid I’d leave. I still have my debt to you, remember?”

“Your debt.” Elmiryn rubbed at her eye and placed a hand on her hip. Her nose tickled, and she wiped at it a little more forcefully then necessary. “That’s right. You’re still indebted to me. For saving your life.”

The youth nodded, now watching Elmiryn carefully. “Yes,” she said slowly. “That’s right.” She indicated gingerly toward the inn. “Let’s get inside. We should rest if we’re to set out tomorrow…”

She led Elmiryn by the arm toward the inn, where they entered. The company inside had dwindled to those that were staying the night. The stairs that led to the second floor were at the back across from the bar. Nyx pulled the warrior along to their room.

Elmiryn cherished this. The sudden care that rested in her companion’s touch. There were dying embers of anger in the girl’s eyes, but a softness was coming over them that the warrior wanted desperately to believe in. She wouldn’t say it, but Nyx was sobering. Perhaps because the woman rarely found herself in the company of such a person, or because any individual she found herself with in the past had never been expected to remain past morning.

“Nyx,” Elmiryn whispered as they entered their room—two beds on either side of the modest space, their things at the foot of each. “I lied earlier today. I did.” The warrior muttered as she was led to her bed, where she sat on the edge ungracefully. The world was getting too heavy. It didn’t swing or sway in an ideal way, but a way that made the woman wish to close her eyes and fall to nothing.

Elmiryn was beginning to feel small again.

Nyx placed her book on her bed and knelt down onto the floor, where she began to untie her companion’s boots. “What is it, Elmiryn,” she asked, distracted with her task.

“There’s some more conditions. Besides the one I told you. You’ve really gotta know.”

The girl looked up at her, her eyebrow raised. “Yes? What are they?”

“Stay with me. As much as you can. Please.”

Nyx frowned at her. “Elmiryn, I am with you. I told you, I won’t leave.” She tugged off one boot and set on the other.

Elmiryn shook her head, brows pressed together as she leaned down. “No. I mean stay with me. You don’t leave my side unless you’ve got to, okay? You’re my anchor. You’re my anchor now, and if staying with me means getting angry and calling me an unfair bitch in front of other people, then so be it—but don’t you go. Please promise me.”

The youth gazed up at her with a look that Elmiryn couldn’t quite pin. “All right… Okay, Elmiryn. I…I promise.” she said quietly.

Nyx pulled off the last boot and the woman shook her head, a smirk now flashing on her face. “And that’s another thing…” she began, voice low and thick as she laid back onto the bed.

“What?” the girl asked, pulling the sheets over her.

“Call me Elle. Having someone like you calling me by my full name just makes me feel old.” Elmiryn’s eyes closed for a moment. Then they snapped open again. “…And y’know, it really isn’t fair that I can’t call you a cute pet name. Your name’s already short. So unfair. That is just really unfair! …And hey, wait a second! You didn’t tell me what callow and fatuous meant!”

Nyx offered an exasperated smile and patted Elmiryn’s arm.

“Good night, Elle…”

Continue ReadingChapter 2.4

Chapter 3.1


Amaiden asleep in her canopy bed.

A poor picture.

Elmiryn reached out and touched her cheek.  Cold beneath the fingers.  Skin, once smooth like a babe’s, now sticky and rubbery as if a thin layer of mucus covered her.  How could thought reside here?  How could life reside here?  The warrior smelled almonds and rotting wood.   Her eyes strained vainly to see more than fine white lines in a canvas of black, the definitions feeble and shifting as she leaned in closer.

“What are you doing here?  Cursed child, you aren’t supposed to be here!”

Her father’s voice.  She turned in the direction she heard him from, and saw a vague outline of a man.  Elmiryn blinked and opened her eyes wide.  Her head hurt from trying to see him fully. “Father?”

The man came towards her menacingly.

Startled, the woman stepped backward with hands before her.  “Now wait a minute, I–” Her words were cut short as her foot fell through air.  Her body careened backward into a dark pit, where she lost all sense of self.


Elmiryn awoke with a small shout, her body shooting upright as she stretched out a hand.  Confusion flashed quick over her face, and she gazed at her own arm before letting it fall against her again.  She glanced over at her companion.  Nyx was still asleep.

“Nightmare,” Elmiryn muttered to herself.  She let her eyes glaze over as she unbraided her hair, the motions of her fingers somehow comforting in a way.  When she finished, she stood from the bed and left the room.

The inn keeper was up, already preparing for the day.  She took a moment to prepare the bath for the warrior and Elmiryn tried to relax in the water.  Afterward she came back up to the room to find that Nyx was still asleep.  Elmiryn went to her bed and crossed her arms, her damp hair framing her face.  The youth was frowning, her hands clenching and unclenching, faint whimpers coming from the back of her throat.

Elmiryn rubbed her eye in a brief show of exasperation.

…Rats?  Sure.

“Nyx.” She shook the girl’s shoulder lightly. “Nyx. Wake up.”

A groan. Nyx shifted so that her face turned into the pillow, away from Elmiryn. “Mmmrph.”

Elmiryn rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “How is it that I’m awake before you are?”

“You’re right.” Nyx mumbled, turning her head enough to offer a sleepy glare. “You should correct this grievous mistake and get back into bed. You ought to be hung over worse than a opossum.”

“What does a opossum have to do with it?”

“Go back to sleep and I’ll tell you.”

“You can’t tell me if I go back to sleep.”

“That’s the idea.”

Elmiryn’s shoulders shook with laughter as she tried to keep quiet. The battling suns had barely colored the sky with their blood and the streets were still delicate in quiet.  Elmiryn shook Nyx’s shoulder again. “Hey, c’mon.  Get up.  …Nyx, I will drag you out if I have to.”

Nyx whined and hid her head under the blanket. “You always come with the same threat!”

Elmiryn placed her hands on her hips and quirked an eyebrow. “Well! I didn’t know I was being judged on creativity!

“Why do we have to get up so early every day? What’s the point?

“I like to make the most of my days.”

Nyx poked her head out and glared squintily. “Aren’t you even a little ill from all that drinking you did!?”

The warrior feigned anger. “I was not that drunk. Sheesh.”


“Ah, ah!”

An irritated sigh. “Elle. You could barely walk in a straight line. That’s fairly inebriated in my book.”

“I could so walk in a straight line!” But Elmiryn grinned coyly and suddenly took an interest in the ends of her hair. “…I just…y’know…needed a running start.”

Nyx snorted into laughter, “That makes no sense whatsoever!” She looked back at the woman, her smile spreading so far that dimples appeared in her cheeks.

The warrior grinned triumphantly.  “HA! I made the morning grouch laugh!”

The shapeshifter growled and looked away.  After a moment, she looked back at Elmiryn in what appeared to be earnest. “Would you really drag me out of bed?” she asked quietly.

Elmiryn paused and locked eyes with Nyx.  She leaned down and planted one hand next to the girl’s head. “Would you like me to do something else instead?” she breathed.

Nyx kicked the blankets off and scooted upright, the sleep leaving her eyes almost instantaneously.  Elmiryn jerked back to keep from knocking heads together.

“Fine. I’m up,” the girl said stiffly.  Her cheeks were red again.

Elmiryn stepped away and began to braid her hair.  She didn’t lift her gaze. “I suggest you take advantage of the bath. I took the liberty of heating up some water for you.”

“Is it one of those public baths?”


Nyx shook her head, looking away. “No. I’ll bathe elsewhere.”

Elmiryn gazed at her critically. “Where? We aren’t near the stream anymore and there isn’t going to be a spring up in those mountains.”

“I don’t want anyone…to see…” Nyx pointed weakly at her back.

The warrior shrugged. “I’ll keep watch. Meanwhile, I’ll fix that hole in your collar.  Like I promised.”

“…Really? You’d do that?”

She gave the girl a smirk. “I just said, didn’t I?”

Nyx hesitated a moment. Then nodded. “Alright.”


When they entered the trail that led through the mountain range, Nyx had still refused to lift her gaze from her newfound book, and Elmiryn was becoming bored.  The warrior looked at the younger girl out of the corner of her eye.  “Where did you get that book?” she asked eventually, voice a little flat as she regarded the item like a dog who had sat in her favorite chair.

Nyx glanced at her, then looked back at the book.  “Some man gave it to me in Dame.  It’s like a collection of writings.”

“A man?  Do you normally accept gifts from strangers?”

The girl was quick with her riposte.  “Do I normally go journeying with warriors who shoot holes into people’s clothes?”

Elmiryn did a light face-palm as a chuckle bubbled up her throat.  “Oh fuck me.  It’s been, what?  Three days?  I’ve already apologized AND mended the hole.  But you’ll never let me live that down, will you?”

Nyx gave her a hard look.

The warrior crossed her arms and gazed back at her with a smirk.  “What did I do now?”

“Nothing.” The girl looked away, her lips thin.

“No.  Clearly I did something…again. So tell me, what did I do?”

The Ailuran sniffed delicately and turned the page of her book.  Elmiryn marveled at the fact that she had been able to read all this time and not trip or stumble once.  It was enticing in a way.  The girl could keep herself ordered and moving despite a shifting environment.  She tucked this observation away for later use.

“I don’t like foul language,” the girl mumbled finally.

“You’ve never cursed?” Elmiryn asked, disbelieving.

“Well of course I have.  …When it was appropriate.”

This made the woman laugh outright.  “When is cursing ever appropriate!?”

“When someone behaves like an ass hat, Elle!” Nyx snapped, glaring at Elmiryn pointedly.

Elmiryn held up her hands a light smile playing on her lips.  “Okay, okay.  I know how grumpy you people get in the morning.  I’ll leave you to your reading.”

The girl gave her an incendiary look, her arms falling so that the book slapped against the top of her thighs.  “What do you mean…’you people’?”

The warrior looked back at her, unconcerned.  “Ailurans.  Your kind tend to sleep in.”

“We do NOT always sleep in.  We aren’t lazy.”

Elmiryn shrugged.  “Now who said that?  It’s common knowledge that most cats are nocturnal creatures.  There isn’t anything wrong with that.  If an Ailuran was working all through the night, then I say, LET him sleep in!  He’s earned it!”

Nyx’s eyes narrowed.  “Fine.  But now you’re insinuating that I’M lazy.”

“…Insinuating?” Elmiryn repeated, her expression nonplussed.

The girl sighed and rolled her eyes skyward.  “‘Insinuate.’  To subtly suggest something.”


“So aren’t you?”

“You’re ASKING me?”

The girl brandished the book at the woman.  “Well I want you to admit it!”

Elmiryn was unmoved.  “But you just said I did it!  Why would I have to fess up to something already pointed out?”

“I was only accusing you, alright?  It was not a statement of fact.



“So what?”

Nyx grit her teeth and her grip on her book visibly tightened.  “Did you or did you not insinuate that I was lazy?”

Elmiryn placed a hand daintily on her chest.  “…But if I fessed up to that, it would ruin it!  Like a good joke!”

“Only it isn’t a good joke!”

The warrior snickered.  “Not to you it isn’t.”

Nyx hissed in the back of her throat, and her shoulders and back tensed like a feline puffing up.  Then, suddenly, she took a deep breath and walked a little faster than Elmiryn.  This was amusing to the warrior as the girl had shorter legs, so her quickened pace looked more like she were trying to restrain herself from running.

“I know what you’re doing, Elmiryn,” The girl said primly over her shoulder.

Elmiryn raised an eyebrow.  “Oh?  What’s that?”

“You’re bored, so you want to make me curse.  Well I won’t.”

“You won’t?”


“Not even a small curse?  Can’t you call me a cunt?  Or a cream-basted sow?  What about a shit-faced ninny?”

Nyx turned the page she was looking at in her book, her ears red.  Elmiryn was certain she hadn’t finished reading it.

Aware that her game was over, the warrior’s gaze trailed from her companion to their surroundings, where the climbing path led them through large collections of rocky crevices, around dusty boulders, and past defiant juniper trees.  It was past one of these old marvels that Elmiryn’s eyes lit onto an irregularity.

One of the small branches of a low, but aged juniper was snapped off, the branch nowhere to be found.  The exposed wood was still bright and damp.  Elmiryn slowed her steps to gaze past the juniper to the narrow space beyond it.  The place was dark in morning shadow, and no strange sounds came forth.  After a moment, the warrior continued walking.  Perhaps it had only been an animal?

Nyx glanced back at her, only now aware that Elmiryn had slowed down.  “Something the matter?” she asked, her voice still somewhat tight.

“Not really.” The woman looked up to see her companion gazing at her with sudden worry.  She smiled at the girl and walked past her.  “There’s nothing to worry about, Nyx.”

The shapeshifter trailed after her, and the warrior could feel her eyes on her back.  She looked back, and with no real plan in her head, she asked quietly.  “Nyx.  You aren’t afraid of me, right?”

Nyx blinked at the sudden question.  “Afraid of you?” she hugged her book to her chest, her tawny eyes turning away.  “I suppose…” she paused and brushed a strand of hair from her eyes.  “In a way, I guess I’m getting used to you.  But you are intimidating at times,” then she added, timidly, “Alot of the time…”

“Can you trust that I’d keep you safe?” Elmiryn slowed her steps so that she walked at Nyx’s side.

The girl looked at her.  Then nodded.  “Yes.  I believe you can do that.”

Elmiryn closed her eyes and smiled.  “Good.”

That was when she grabbed Nyx by the nape of her neck and threw her roughly to the ground.

Continue ReadingChapter 3.1

Chapter 3.2


A bolt embedded itself into the splintered wood of a tree, the line it cut through the air slicing the place where Nyx’s head used to be.

The weight of her knife was an assurance as she turned, dropping her bag and bow onto the ground. Already the heart quickened with the promise of action. Elmiryn slid her right foot to the left and heard, rather than saw, the second shot coming. With an instinctual swipe of her blade, she felt the projectile knock away–but the sound that entered her ears and the shock that traveled up her arm made her pause and blink. The attackers were firing heavy steel bolts.

Elmiryn’s cerulean eyes turned, glinting toward the spot she suspected her assailants were hiding. A little further back the way they had come, where the clean break from juniper branch had been. Somewhere there. There were other small spaces between the rocks, little crevices, and just enough shadow from the rising suns to conceal someone.  So many places to hide here.

“One more. Go on!” she barked.  Elmiryn’s enemies seemed to pause at her bravado.

Quickly, the woman assessed the situation. She didn’t know how many of them were out there, but their hesitation brought up a number of possibilities: the men (assuming they were men) were few in number–small strike teams, though experienced, were typically more cautious; they were inexperienced and so were easily spooked by her lack of hesitation; or they had heard of her by reputation.  It was also possible for a variant combination of those.

Whatever the case, Elmiryn sensed she had some sort of an advantage.  The next step was just exploiting it once it became absolutely clear.

Nyx scuttled on the ground behind her, dirt clinging to her chin and nose as her breath came in harsh gasps. “Oh nine hells…Sweet Aelurus, please…ah…” Her voice trailed away as she tried to gather herself. “Elle, where–”

The girl’s words were cut off as Elmiryn leaned back far, and with her free hand, snatched out at the next crossbow bolt that was fired. She felt a sharp sear of pain. Hot blood trickled down her bracer and her elbow through a slash in her gloved palm. The woman’s gaze sharpened and without even pausing to look at the projectile or her cut, she bowed her head and stalked toward the place she now was certain the shot had been fired. There was a curse. “Fool!” someone said, before the sharp ring of swords being drawn could be heard.

Two men came out from their hiding places–one from where the juniper tree had been, the other from down atop a jagged rock near it. Elmiryn blinked at them.

No, wait.

They weren’t ‘men’.

They were ‘boys’.

Perhaps in their late teens yes, but still too young to be attempting something this dangerous on their own. The warrior’s eyes widened when she heard a scuffle and a squeak behind her, and mentally kicking herself, she whirled around.

Another man, much older with a leathery face and short dark hair that seemed stuck in a puffy state of shock had Nyx held close to him with a knife to her throat. Elmiryn tongued her cheek. She had always been told that ‘fighting’ and ‘protecting’ were two different things.  Offense and defense.  Offense was only employed in the instance that all parties could reasonably be expected to keep from failing.  Nyx, though she was a therian, was hardly a warrior.  She’d really have to remember that from now on.

“Drop your weapons, Elmiryn,” the man commanded firmly.

The warrior didn’t move, her mind trying to find a way out of the situation.

That was when one of the boys behind her cried out in a voice that cracked, “Father! FATHER! It’s a therian!”

The man stared at who was apparently his son. He took Nyx’s hair and yanked her head far back to get a proper look at her eyes. The girl in question stared up at him fearfully. Without even hesitating, the man raised his knife with the intent of stabbing her exposed neck, fear flashing across his face. Nyx screamed and thrashed, like an animal caught in a trap.  Her compromised position afforded her no leverage to utilize her natural strength.  The girl’s voice didn’t sound right to Elmiryn, but it occurred to her later that it was because she was trying to attribute the noise to a human, not a therian. An Ailuran no less.

The next few moments Elmiryn found hard to tell anyone in any certain terms. Fighting, at its most heatest, was always a visceral activity. The pull and shock of limbs, the guttural cries, the smell of sweat and dirt mingled…In truth, much of the details of the fight had to be procured from Nyx later, who recounted it with ashen expression and a voice so meek that it felt entirely appropriate to call her a kitten. When asked why it was she could not recall the exact details of the event, Elmiryn explained in ironic tones that the images of the battle had already faded and the only thing left was an aftertaste of emotions and sensations that tingled her body.

She could recall, for instance, the instantaneous pull of her stomach at the sound of Nyx’s inhuman screech. She remembered the thrill of the risk she took, turning her back on the two armed boys behind her and flinging the steel bolt at the father like it were a throwing knife. Pain–which shot down her arm from the deep cut she had received. She remembered the sound of crunching dirt as one of the brothers behind her started forward, a growl rumbling in his throat.

When she saw Nyx dodge the man’s knife through a timely twist of her body, Elmiryn felt a brief moment of relief warming her otherwise cold skin.  The girl, finally in a proper stance, knocked her captor’s hand away and evaded his attempts at grabbing her again.  Seeing this, the woman remembered feeling impatient with herself.  She had to remind herself that her companion was still in danger.

This fact in the forefront of her mind, with adrenaline pumping hot through her veins and a vicious grin spreading across her long lips, Elmiryn drew her knife.  She ducked low, then launched herself backward into the charging boy, stabbing back with both hands.

There was that satisfying dig, the jolt at the hilt of her blade as Elmiryn felt the blade sink into flesh. She wasn’t certain where she had got the boy.   Perhaps his hip?   His stomach?   His thigh? Wherever the place, he screamed. Not accustomed to pain. Not accustomed to battle. Elmiryn rocked against him to shift forward, aware of how the knife wiggled and dug in further from the motion.

“Phillip?” the boy’s brother said in a querulous voice.

The woman drew her sword next, a hiss escaping her throat as she held the weapon in her uninjured hand. Rather than holding it out in the customary fashion, the warrior instead turned the sword the other way, so that the blade rested against her bracer. Crouching, she held out her sword arm like it were a shield, while near her chest she held her knife in her bleeding hand, ready to fence with it. She smiled viciously, her cerulean eyes locking onto the other brother, who took a step back at the sight of her.

Without hesitation he threw down his sword and held up his hands. “Please,” he begged, “Let me just get my brother and leave! I didn’t even want to do this!”

Elmiryn quirked an eyebrow at him. She waited a beat, as if weighing her options. Then she heard Nyx scream again, but this time her voice had gravel and weight to it.  The sound was feral, and there was anger in it, one that threatened to spill over if not contained. Without looking at the boy again, the warrior took off at a run towards her friend.

Nyx and the mercenary had managed to migrate from their previous position further up the trail, so that the warrior had to struggle to reach them quickly.  Given her recent assessment, she was surprised to discover what she did.  Surprised, but not displeased.  Looking back with her limited memory, Elmiryn recalled the Ailuran had been doing a fine job of evading the skilled swordplay of the older mercenary. There was the whistle of Nyx’s limbs as she did a backflip over a rock, the sharp twang as the man’s sword came down and missed. His frustrations colored the air with curses, and every successive swipe of his blade only made them worse.

Elmiryn had been ten paces from them when the man managed to land a blow, however insubstantial, over Nyx’s brow.  From where she was, the woman couldn’t tell if the cut was deep, but it did begin to bleed profusely. The girl gasped, stumbling back as the blood trickled into her right eye. She squeezed her eyes shut with a groan. The man raised his sword, prepared to deliver a fatal blow.

This particular moment Elmiryn remembered feeling the pull in her stomach again as she readied her knife to throw it.  It wasn’t a throwing knife, but she wouldn’t reach the man in time otherwise.  She set her sights on the back of the man’s skull, but then something happened.

Nyx opened her eyes, and they had changed. Slits where round pupils should have been narrowed against the glare of morning light, and the rich tawny color had turned a brighter and more vibrant shade.

The girl took a deep breath…and roared. Really roared. Or screeched. Or something along those ferocious lines. The sound rattled the warrior’s head so much that she actually dropped her knife. Hours later, when recalling the noise, it would make her body tingle and the hair on her arms raise, something scintillating but frightening about how such a sound could come from someone so small. The mercenary stopped too, actually taking a step back when the savage noise hit him full force. That was when Nyx lashed out, her voice spitting from the back of her throat, her hand swinging up from low at her side as she put all her body into the motion.

The blow connected, striking the man on the side of his face. The mercenary was hit so hard, not only did his head snap, but his body spun once before crashing gracelessly into the dirt.

Elmiryn blinked, uncertain of what she saw.

This was when the trance of battle had gone, and the warrior was better able to recall the details of the events afterward. Like the panicked look on Nyx’s face in the moments of quiet that fell.

“Oh gods…” she breathed, her hand, still tensed like a claw as blood dripped from the tips of her fingers. She blinked rapidly, eyes reverting back to normal. She held her bloodied hand close to her chest and looked at it. Then her eyes flitted to the man again, her face scrunching up as tears welled in her eyes. “Oh I’ve killed him!” she wailed.

Elmiryn stooped to reclaim her knife and went to the prone mercenary. He was lying face down in the dirt. She laid her sword down momentarily and turned the man over, eyes narrowed and with her knife at the ready in case he pulled something. Nothing. His eyes were rolled into the back of his head, and at the side of his face were four bloody gashes. The warrior put her ear to his nose and mouth.  She pressed her fingers to his neck, feeling his pulse. He was breathing and his pulse was a bit fast. She looked back at Nyx. “He’s alive, and he’ll stay that way. The cuts you gave him are deep. They’ll leave scars, but that’s hardly fatal.”

Nyx didn’t seem convinced. She held her hand at the wrist as if afraid to let it go anywhere else. “I could’ve killed him,” she breathed shakily. “I used all the strength I had. I could’ve killed him.” She looked to the ground, and muttered something in her native tongue, then grit her teeth, as if furious. “You loathsome beast…” Nyx hissed lowly.

Elmiryn shook her head, “No, Nyx. An Ailuran at their fittest could kill a human with one well-placed strike. No offense, but you aren’t at your fittest. You didn’t even hit him in the right place. Warriors typically strike their opponents at the temple, to better shatter the skull and destroy the brain. If that doesn’t work, then the damaged temple vein would be enough to kill them later if not treated,” she gripped the man’s chin, and gave it a harsh jerk to the side, eliciting a squeak from her friend, “The other place they would’ve struck would’ve been the jaw. Hit it right and either the jaw is dislocated or broken.”

Elmiryn looked at Nyx and shrugged, her hand resting on the man’s arm. “You don’t have to worry.  You hit nothing vital, and your attack was all claw–you went through him like butter, but that doesn’t provide the force necessary to snap the neck.”

Beneath her touch, the woman felt the mercenary stir. It wasn’t quite shifting, more like a jerk. Eyes flashing, the woman turned lighting quick and with a steadying hand on the man’s armored chest, she raised her knife for a fatal strike.

As her hand came down, she felt Nyx’s hand stop her. The girl may not have been at her fittest, but she was still incredibly strong. Despite Elmiryn’s protesting pull, she didn’t let go. Bewildered and somewhat angry, the warrior turned to glare at her. “What are you doing!?”

“What are you!?” Nyx shouted back incredulously.

Elmiryn looked at her as if she were stupid. “I was going to kill him. What does it look like?” Beneath her, the man gasped, shifting under her hand. The woman turned her attention back to him, striking quick, and gripped the man by the throat with her fingers pressed in around the esophagus. She could feel his heartbeat, quick, under her fingertips. He gripped her arm, but he was weak and under her control. Her lips curled into a sneer.

Nyx’s grip tightened painfully. “Stop it.” she hissed.

Elmiryn looked at her again, teeth bared. “Why are you protecting him!? He was trying to kill you!”

“But the fight is over! Let him go back to find his sons!”

“And let this snake try another fast one on us!?”

“What the HELL are you talking about?”

“He just tried to pull some stunt just now. I swear, he has a knife hidden somewhere.” Elmiryn looked at the man, her eyes like blades themselves. “You do, don’t you?” she growled, increasing the pressure on his throat. The man gurgled, his face turning a deep red.

Then Nyx punched her in the ear. The blow hurt, but not much. It was enough, however, to send Elmiryn off the man and onto her side on the ground. Flabbergasted, the warrior held her ear and looked at the Ailuran as if she had gone mad. “You’ve really lost it, haven’t you!?”

Nyx stood over her, shaking her head. Her eyes held in them a bewilderment to match Elmiryn’s, but in them was also a strange combination of fear and resolution. “I can’t let you kill him, Elmiryn,” the words barely seemed to make it out of her mouth. She was shaking so much.

The warrior blinked up at her. Odd how tall the girl seemed all of a sudden.

The Ailuran turned her gaze away from her and looked to the mercenary, who was coughing and blubbering pitifully. Slowly she went to him, and he let out a yelp as she knelt by him. “Sit still, unless you want me to hit you again,” her voice was grave as she said this. Any other time this threat would’ve been laughed away, but the man blanched and sat frozen as he looked fearfully at Nyx.

The girl patted him down, even taking off the man’s armor to check beneath it. Elmiryn realized that she was searching for the hidden weapon she had claimed was there.

“His boots,” she said, pointing.

Her mind pulsed with the absurdity of this–if the man had taken the blade from his boots, he would’ve had to sit up to reach it.  She had kept him down the whole time.  Still, she felt like she had to argue her point to the ends of the earth.  Otherwise…

Nyx gave her a brief look, then took off the man’s boots. It was such a weird scene, this small girl stripping this grown man of his things while he looked at her in terror. It was easy to disconnect from, and Elmiryn did just that. The feelings she had been experiencing slowly faded into nothing, and she watched the events unfold with better clarity, like a person at a play. It was only when Nyx spoke to her that she made a concentrated effort to reconnect to what was happening.

“There’s nothing Elle.” The girl looked at her and Elmiryn stared back.

“Nothing?” she asked.

“Nothing.” Nyx looked at the man. “Go.”

The man fled, haphazardly collecting as much of his things as he could. Elmiryn frowned and looked down at the ground. “But…I was certain…”

“What evidence did you really have? I mean really?” There was an edge to Nyx’s voice.

Elmiryn looked up at her in confusion. The moment the man had stirred was already becoming hard to visually recall. The images in her head were blurred and bland. She touched a hand to her ear again, which was throbbing. “It just…seemed that way,” she muttered.

“It seemed?” Nyx echoed. “You were just working off an assumption then!?”

The woman clenched a fist. “In such situations sometimes that’s all a person has! I couldn’t sit and debate whether or not I was right when–”

“But that’s the problem Elmiryn! It didn’t even SEEM like he was going to kill us! I was watching him, same as you were!  How could you read the situation in such a dangerous way?  You’re a skilled fighter, can’t you tell the difference!?”

“But he really looked like he was going to do it!” Elmiryn argued stubbornly. She shook her head. “It…it really did look like he was...trying to…”

A pause. Neither of them moved.

Then Elmiryn gave a derisive snort. “Fuck, Nyx. Who on Halward’s Plane strikes a person in the ear like that!?”

Continue ReadingChapter 3.2

Chapter 3.3


I would just like to say, for those curious, that I find violence execrable. Occasionally my temperament can be found slipping into less than docile tones, but when push comes to shove…I don’t fight. Ever. Whether in self-defense, whether out of anger…I just cannot bring myself to raise a hand.

This might inspire in your minds a number of assumptions labeling me as a “craven idiot” or a “sanctimonious hypocrite”. Normally, I’d let you think what you will about me. It isn’t as if I have much right to change anyone’s minds in that regard. But in this particular instance I feel like I have to say something. It isn’t so much an excuse as an explanation.

After the incident with the mercenaries had passed, Elmiryn and I resumed our trek through the mountains. She gave me a handkerchief to wipe the blood from my face and I rubbed it away, eagerly scrubbing at the bits that had dried onto my skin until it was pink and stinging. When I saw the flakes of red fluttering away with the wind, something in me clenched and panicked. We had to stop for about ten minutes as I went off to the side and wretched. My skin burned and my bones ached. Inside, my feline counterpart was snarling, and my hand itched with the memory of striking flesh.

The moment had been so quick.

I remember the fear. The palpitations of my heart which threatened to tear out of my chest as the mercenary brought his sword down–there was that insistent spitting and hissing in my head as She grew frenzied in her confined state–

Cut him, slash him! Idiot!

Then the pain, the white hot sensation that split my terrified mind in two. Blood flowed into my gaze, and I squeezed both eyes shut as my body became weak.  The world grew distant.  I felt cold and restrained.

Then She roared.

It was my own mortification that managed to wrestle her back into place before she could do any further harm. The sight of that man’s face, the feel of his blood dripping from my fingertips.  It was like a nightmare.  One far too real.  I flashed briefly to a cold lonely shack draped in snow–salty tears on my tongue–a room stained in red–

The situation that arose afterward perhaps helped me compose myself, if only for that moment.

During the rest of the day, there wasn’t much conversation, and I couldn’t bring myself to read anymore of Tobias’s book. Night fell. We found shelter in a small den and had jerky and bread for dinner. I could barely eat anything. As the day drew to a close, my mind wandered elsewhere, and I found myself remembering things I didn’t want to. Images came in a swirl of hot ash, and my ears tickled with the sound of a deep baritone voice echoing deep within me.

As any middle-classed child in any society, I had gone to school. The equivalent of what some cultures may call a ‘teacher’ or ‘mentor’, was what us Ailurans called a ‘Navi’.

…My Navi, Leander, hated me.

He was a big broad man with great gnashing teeth, a goatee, and small ears that seemed pinned back. You could hardly ever see them beneath his great mane of wheat-blond hair, which was swept back.  I liked to whisper things behind his back, because I was certain he couldn’t hear me–He, who was too damn big and tall to understand reality from my perspective–a child’s.

If he’s been my size, he’d know about the gaze of spiders, or the scent of irises in the cold of winter. He’d never hidden under a bed, I’d decided, and been afraid of the sounds coming from his mother when a young Tom had come visiting. I doubted he even knew just how much blood could cover the ground after a big battle, how bodies piled over one another in horrific abandonment, or the things dying soldiers whispered in their fading delerium.

He, who was too damn big and tall to understand that all soldiers suffered just the same.

So during lessons depicting tales of valor and honor and other such propagandic nonsense, I’d whisper my own ideas under my breath. There was greater satisfaction in sending these thoughts out into the air versus voicing them in my head. It was as if saying them made them real, and by being real, they were also true.

“Ailurans don’t thirst for battle, we hate it. Ailurans don’t lust for blood, we gag on it. Ailurans don’t deserve power, we deserve peace.”

One moment came to me, like a well-lit scene on an actor’s stage.  I was nine years old, with longer hair.  During one of Leander’s lessons, he went on spinning a tale of how the Unnamed One battled against the evil Champion of Fiamma, the human warrior Legend. I grew annoyed at the biased story, having read more neutral accounts myself from outside books I had, ones that made more sense than anything my illustrious Navi said. I began muttering under my breath again. “The Champion was not a ‘champion’ so much as a ‘defender’. He was no more affiliated with the Fiamma then Leander was. He was hardly evil.” I breathed this, and all at once…I found I simply couldn’t breath.

Leander had me by the throat, before my classmates, up in the air and flailing wildly. In his amber eyes, I could see a fury burning. In my culture, it is said that a true Ailuran warrior need never shift for the Beast within him to be known. Fixed with those terrible eyes, I believed it. With all my heart.

He bared his teeth at me, then looked at the class. “This,” he boomed, “Is a race traitor. This blight on Aelurus’s fame belittles her gifts and sympathizes with well-known enemies.” He gave me a rough shake. I became frightfully aware of how easily he could break my neck. “Doubtless,” he continued, “You have heard her hissing beneath her breath, like the filthy serpent she is–mocking our race’s history and our most glorious patrons. She is a shame to her family.” He looked at me, and I could see his face had shifted now, smooth like water, to become more feline-like. His slitted eyes narrowed and he flared his wet nose. “You don’t think I’ve heard your trash all these days? Heard you speaking blasphemies behind my back? Do you wonder why I’ve let you continue for so long, traitorous snake?”

He squeezed.

My fingers dug into his arm in panic and a whine came from deep within me.  His claws were digging into my skin.  Inside, She yowled.

Leander brought me close to his face, and the harsh growl that emitted from his throat nearly made me kick away from him. “Because,” he breathed, “Somewhere beneath all your misguided posturing, your other self knows you are wrong, and the day it comes to correct you will be the day blood clouds your eyes. You turn NO minds here. If anything…you only harm yourself.”

He dropped me to the ground and I remained there gasping. I looked to my classmates, shame on my face and my cheeks wet with tears I hadn’t realized fell. None looked at me. All attention was on Leander as he continued his lesson without a hitch. Numbly I returned to my seat.

This is what I thought about as I stared into the fire Elmiryn had made.

I saw her through the glow of embers and wavering heat, her eyes colored a different shade that made me want to pull my legs to my chest and hug them tightly. The den we were had once been the home of an animal. There were some bones off in the back, and I could smell the dry marrow from where I sat. Outside, the winds howled.

Elmiryn was sharpening a stick with her knife. She had a blank look on her face, and though her eyes were directed towards the stick itself, she didn’t seem to focus on it. She had treated her hand without asking my help–simply cleaned it with her bottled water, stitched it up, then wrapped it. The way she worked on the stick made it seem like her injury barely fazed her.

The fire between us crackled and spat. The stone walls and the sandy ground were painted in its warm glow, but the effect of the dancing flames was unsettling–nothing seemed to sit and remain in one place. I wanted everything still, as I was.

I took the heel of my palm and dug it into my right eye. The cut above my brow had all ready healed and left no mark, but the horror of having my own blood blind me still caused my eye to tickle as if something was in it that wasn’t supposed to be. My mind flashed back to that terrifying moment, but I shook the memory away. I didn’t want to dwell on the experience.  It led to darker things and I didn’t want to feel such thorny recollections.

But then Elmiryn’s voice broke the silence.


I looked at her and tried to relax. My heart began to pound when I found her eyes looking my way. “Yes…Elle?” I was finding it a little difficult to remember to use her silly nickname. It felt incongruous in my mouth.

“What happened exactly…during the fight from before?” she asked slowly.

I blinked at her. “You don’t remember?”

“I remember feelings. Sensations. There’s a few choice moments in my head that I can vaguely recall but for the most part…” Her voice was flat. The sharp melody that was uniquely hers wasn’t so much gone as just…tucked away, beneath a blank expression and concentrated stare. Her eyes reminded me of glass.

I went to rub my eye again and found that my hand shook. “Do we really need to talk about it….I mean…must we?” I didn’t like the tinge of desperation in my voice. Shamefully I looked away, toward the mouth of the den where I could see faint light from the burgeoning moon illuminating the Earth.

“You were scared.” Elmiryn stated, resuming her stick sharpening. “Don’t you think it might make you feel better to talk about it?”

I shook my head. “I don’t want to talk about it, Elmiryn.” I closed my eyes and corrected myself. “Elle.”

“It’s important,” the warrior pressed, her voice hardening. “A conflict like this can be good in pointing out issues in a group.  Put simply, we’ve definitely got issues.”

“Why bother?”  I snapped acerbically.  Even as the words left my mouth I wished I hadn’t said them.  I wasn’t a contrarian, by nature.

“Because you’ve got to learn how to defend yourself,” Elmiryn said, a steel edge to her voice that wasn’t quite contempt, but it wasn’t very forgiving either. “And I’ve got to get used to having someone to protect.  We’ve got to help each other out and be prepared for an instance in which we get separated.”

“And what?  You propose planning for the unplannable?  The variables that could arise in any given situation are just too much to factor in to any general strategy.”  Okay, so maybe I was something of a contrarian.

“Not so.” Elmiryn answered. I could feel her eyes on me again.  “If you could throw a proper punch, than you could incapacitate any enemy threatening you.  I’m a decent fighter, but I’m not omnipotent.” She quirked an eyebrow and her lips curled into a teasing smile.  “I mean, if you go punching people in the ears all the time, then hell, we’re both screwed.”

I crossed my arms and huffed, my eyes narrowing, “Well it worked well enough on you!” A growl crept into my voice.

“But on someone else?  Someone who hasn’t got their back turned to you, who’s maybe wearing a helmet, and has a big, big axe?”

“I told you I can’t fight.”

“And that’s fine.  But you’ll need to learn.  Otherwise it’s unrealistic for you to journey with me.  Come on, Nyx.  Don’t tell me you didn’t think about that!”

“Well you didn’t exactly perform so resplendently yourself.” There was a brief pause.  I elaborated, but not before a brief eye-roll. “Resplendent; brilliant or splendid.”

“Okay, okay…now that you’ve sufficiently recovered from your…ah…shock, I guess you’d call it…why don’t you tell me what happened today in detail.”

“You want me to re-tell what happened?  You know, half the time I was trying not to be cleaved in two, right?”

“I know you remember more than I do.  Go ahead and start.”

I stared at her, dumbfounded.  Then I recalled what she had told me before about her curse, and one of the things it affected.  Was her memory really so faint?  Chagrined and anxious, I recounted the conflict, as best as I could.  She nodded to some things.  To others, her eyes seemed to grow more distant.  These moments made me nervous.

“Who would want you harmed?” I asked.

“They didn’t want me harmed, they wanted me to go with them,” she corrected in a tone that was a little too placid for me.

“Elmiryn!” I snapped, feeling my anxiety break over. I buried my hands in my messy locks and pulled hard, trying to reign in my frustration, then took a deep breath. Recounting the ordeal from earlier that day really made me uneasy. How could I handle being at Elmiryn’s side if I couldn’t handle this one thing? “Who would want you kidnapped…” I asked as I exhaled the breath I had been holding.

The warrior was undoing her long braid.  She took a moment before answering, her gaze lowered to the ground. Then a light smirk lit her face and she said with closed eyes, “I am wanted for performing illegal witchcraft.”

I stared at her. “Black…black magic? You??”

“I’ve been accused of it. But I think you’ve been with me long enough to know I don’t know an ounce of the stuff.”

“But that’s a serious offense! Whatever society you go to, black magic is abhorrent! Just where exactly was the offense brought up!?”


I paled. My gaze flickered to where her sword lay next to her, the jeweled pommel winking at me in the firelight. “Elmiryn…Elle…when you say you got that sword from…from someone…else…”

She gazed at me levelly.  Then took her sword up into her lap.  With her hair down about her shoulders, she looked…feminine.  In a way that was awkward, but not altogether bad.  Elmiryn began to stroke the scabbard where the blade was sheathed and said with a hint of laughter in her voice, “I got it from a Fiamman soldier.”

“Why didn’t I recognize it,” I muttered rapidly to myself, a sense of panic overcoming me as I shifted where I sat. My limbs and spine tingled. I looked to the mouth of the den, my mind thinking the word, “RUN.” All day, in my anxious state, my skin had felt hot and stretched. The creature in me was clawing at the surface, angry at me.

Weak-minded, poor excuse for a–

“I guess I don’t have to tell you that there’ll be more of those kinds of men looking for me, then,” Elmiryn said. Her voice seemed to be returning to its usual alacrity, but it did nothing to make me feel better. “Fiammans are pretty dogged about carrying out the law.”

“Why didn’t you tell me the Fiamman kingdom has a bounty on your head!?” I screamed shrilly, finally jerking up to my feet. I was shaking harder than ever. My fists clenched to the point that my nails threatened to break the skin. “And for something so serious! They’ll hunt you to the ends of the Earth!”

“So I guess you aren’t the only outcast.”

“That doesn’t make me feel better!” I jabbed a finger into my chest. “And for the record, no one is hunting me!”

The woman’s eyes narrowed a fraction. “Nyx, you don’t need to shout, I’m right here.”

“I think I have every reason to shout! You weren’t honest with me! Surely you were aware of that little thing called the Fiamman-Ailuran war, which, by the way, is STILL going on!! Did you know, that just for being near you, they’ll skin me alive?  They want me dead on principle.  It doesn’t even matter that I’m Marked!  Did that ever go through your addled mind!?”


“They’ll kill me just for BEING with you, don’t you get it!? I’m dead! Is your discernment so impaired that you couldn’t even figure that out!? You couldn’t protect me against some amateur mercenaries–just what in the nine hells do you think you’ll do when they send professionals after you? Assassins, wizards, PALADINS–”

“Nyx!” Elmiryn was on her feet. She was blinking rapidly at me as an uncertain frown came over her features. She held up her hands. “Would you just rela–”

“I’m not going to relax. I can’t now–knowing that my death’ll come following around a flagged felon on a suicidal quest! They’ll kill me, or you’ll kill me, or maybe I should just kill myself and save everyone the trouble! Oh sweet Aelurus how did I get into this mess!? I didn’t ask for this, I didn’t ask for any of it!  I was starving. I just wanted chicken for one night, but instead I get you–

In my rant I had gone to my things, picking them up in a sort of rabid fervor. I was speaking so fast that there was hardly breath left in my lungs, but I knew what I had to do. I just needed to run. I was a fast runner, who could catch me? I could fade away and things would be okay again. Everything about me was hurting, and the pain was making me clumsy, but in a strange way it drove me. If I ran, I could outrun the pain, outrun the nonsense and the confusion and the death that was surely going to catch me here…

But a vice-like grip around the back of my neck literally made me stop in my tracks. I was half-way out of the den when my tongue stilled in my mouth and my body went limp. Elmiryn pressed me down to the ground into a kneeling position, using all her strength.  She didn’t need to.  My breath slowed until my chest rose and fell in an almost sleepy rhythm.

“Relax, Nyx.” Elmiryn murmured over me after a minute.

She stayed there for a moment longer, her cold hands holding me in place, before she released me and stood to her feet. I rose slowly and rubbed the back of my neck, the calm still over me as I gazed at her wonder. “How’d you know to do that?” I mumbled. “That…I haven’t had someone do that to me since I was a child.”

Elmiryn shrugged and went to sit next to the fire again. “I heard somewhere that if you managed to hold an Ailuran firmly by the nape of their neck, they’ll sort of go limp and calm. I wasn’t sure if it’d work.” She crossed her legs and looked up at me. “Your eyes went cat and you were kind of…panting…like you were close to losing it. I wasn’t sure if that was the case but you seemed pretty out of it anyway.”

“My eyes shifted?”

“Yes. Y’know…I’ve been meaning to ask you. You said that shifting hurts for you. Because of that Mark. But you don’t seem to notice if your hands or eyes change. Why is that?”

I blinked at her, then looked at my bandaged hands. I never really had given it any thought. Of all things for the body to shift, the eyes and hands were always the easiest. But given my curse, wouldn’t even that hurt me?

“I don’t know.” I said finally. With legs that felt heavy and stiff, I went to sit back in my previous spot near the fire, laying my bag onto the ground gently.

Elmiryn gestured toward it with her chin. “If you don’t mind my asking, what have you got in there?”

I glanced at her, then picked up the bag. “This…it just has a lot of little trinkets. Nothing special, or particularly important.  Well, I mean–to me they’re important.” I emptied the bag and laid the contents out before me in a neat line. Elmiryn came to sit closer to me as I explained each item.

“This,” I said pointing at a small jade figurine of a nude woman with a cat’s head, “Is my goddess Aelurus, blessed in one of our temples. It serves no other real purpose aside from protection and comfort…I’m beginning to wonder if it even works for me anymore.”

Next to it was a dented tea strainer. It was rusting in some places.

Elmiryn pointed at it. “And why do you have this?”

“Uh,” I rubbed the back of my neck and my cheeks burned. “I traded for that when I was younger. An elf merchant had come by our village and he had so many weird things. This one caught my eye.”

“But why did you want it?”

“It makes a whistling sound when you twirl it through the air…” I mumbled incoherently.

Elmiryn seemed to get the gist of what I said and giggled.  I continued, a little sullen. “This is a pebble I took from Ebon Lake, near my home…this is a whistle I got as a gift from my mother–it doesn’t work anymore…this is an amulet of the three suns I bought a little bit before I was Marked, and this…” I faltered as I came to the last item.

The warrior looked at me intently. “Nyx?”

“This belonged to my little brother,” I finished quietly, picking up a simple gold ring. “He died.  The government had auctioned the ring off after they burned him.  I stole it back.”

“I’m sorry,” Elmiryn said automatically.

I put my things away, all but the book. Gingerly I picked it up and stared at the cover.

My companion shifted next to me. “What is that book about?”

“Huh?” I looked at Elmiryn.  I’d been lost in my own thoughts.

“That book,” she said pointing at it. “What’s it about? You never said.”

I rubbed the back of my neck again. “I’m not entirely sure…it has poems, some loose stories, and random thoughts scribbled in…but it all seems to be about a man.”

“Is it about the man you spoke to?”

“Yes…well, no. I don’t know. I think so. Sort of.”

Elmiryn offered a bemused smile. “Well which is it?”

“The person the poems and stories talk about is never described in detail. Just the things he does. He’s only referred to as ‘Earth’. There are others too, but it mostly follows that one man. He sounds like a Legend.”

“Can you read me something?”

I gave her a startled look. “Read you something?”

She propped the side of her head on her fist and her smile curled more at the corners. “Is that too hard?”

“Well of course it isn’t,” I snapped. I flipped open the book to where I had left off. My cheeks colored and I cleared my throat as I began to speak.

We three of the Earth, Wind, and Flame stood on the precipice overlooking a city whose white glow diffused–


“Spread out.”


Whose white glow diffused like a sigh into the dark chilly air. Said I to Flame, ‘Doth thou hear the singing, dear friend? It comes from that place there, nestled and warm in its light.’

‘Aye,’ said Flame, whose bronze hands drew her curved sabers without pause. ‘I am fain for a chance to test my new companions,’ Fain; eager or ready. Whoever the writer is used an older and more formal form of speech, much of the time.” I explained before Elmiryn could ask again. “I’d say he speaks this way all the time, but I’m guessing this was written recently as even the writer can’t seem to keep the speech pattern throughout. He comes across as something of an amateur.”


I continued reading, eager to find what happened next. It was nice to have something else to focus on. “‘I prithee, Flame,’ Wind sighed, ‘Douse your passion. We have come with a goal, and that does not include the death of an innocent.’

‘This being is no innocent,’ Flame spat, ‘If my sentiment be conjecture, then so be yours. I’d rather be at the ready then allow myself to be cozened like a babe.’

‘Let us go, anon,’ I interjected before the argument could escalate. From our places up high, we traversed down low, into that wondrous valley of sight and sound. The city, was in fact, not a city, but mountains of books that pulsed and hummed with their own ethereal power–of which all Three of us felt. Flame was humbled, Wind was stilled, and I…I trembled.

A shadow fell over us, and as one we looked up to see that great winged-being descend from his perch from the highest mountain of collected thoughts…

I continued reading, even as the fire grew faint and the den dark.  I didn’t stop until I realized that Elmiryn had fallen asleep next to me.  It didn’t annoy me.  I covered her with a blanket, but didn’t go to sleep right away.  Instead I gazed up at the crescent moon near the entrance of the den.

Reading and speaking with Elmiryn had indeed calmed me a great deal.  It made me remember simpler times, when I’d read a book to Atalo before bed.  I felt secure in my skin–safe in my state.  But one thought continued to nag me…

If life were more than base propaganda and less than effulgent fantasy, then why did I feel like the moral to a story?

Continue ReadingChapter 3.3