Chapter 3.4


I was afraid for the deer.

Which was odd, because…well, I was hungry. How can I be afraid of killing something I wanted to eat? I pondered this riddle as I crouched low, behind some feathery tufts of grass. Was it empathy? Did the deer’s size somehow increase the value of its life? Was it the emotion of its soft gaze, the gentleness with which it stepped over the Earth, the beautiful gleam of its coat in the morning light?

Elmiryn had no such doubts as she notched an arrow and readied her bow, her gaze sharp and searing even beneath the shade of the alder tree. She didn’t have her armor on–she left all that at our camp–and without them, her arms and shoulders seemed bare. Her hair, usually in a braid, was pulled back into a low ponytail. Defiant strands framed her face, brushing along the ridge of her cheek and teasing the line of her definitive jaw. I could see the strain of her muscles as she pulled her bow taut, eyes fixed on her target as if nothing else in the world mattered.

…As if I didn’t matter.

Her usual shirt was discarded for another, much like the sleeveless piece I wore beneath my gambeson. Though it made my face burn, I couldn’t stop looking at her. As ridiculous as it sounded, I couldn’t get over how I hadn’t noticed all those muscles.  All that strength. The muscles weren’t bulging in the way that one would think them grotesque or unattractive.  They were just…robust, giving the woman a definitive shape that spoke of power as much as beauty.  Now I could understand how it was Elmiryn could hold the weight of my entire body with one arm. Her strength was prodigious, and the certainty with which she carried herself made me feel…made me feel…


Earlier that morning, we had come down the other side of the mountain. From where we stood up high, we could see as far as to the ocean. Gamath was easy to recognize–for the area surrounding it was a chalky white and dismal gray. Where we were, we still had a ways before we would reach the town. I couldn’t say I was eager to go.

While my thoughts drifted to our destination, Elmiryn let loose the arrow, the sound of its departure making me jump as if it had been aimed at me instead. There was that soft thud as the deer was lost in a cloud of dust…then stillness. I held my breath, my body tensed as I crouched as low behind the grass as I could while peeking over the blades. Elmiryn stood from where she was crouched next to me.

She gave me a smirk. “Nyx. I got it. You don’t need to duck anymore.”

I gave her a sharp look, something along the lines of disgust and awe welling up inside me. I hadn’t even wanted to go with her. I would have been fine at our camp just reading, but the warrior had insisted I join her. I didn’t get what purpose my presence accomplished, witnessing this.  I eat meat, and have killed prey with my bare hands before…or rather my claws…but it seemed different from the traumatic shot Elmiryn had delivered.

We stood over the prone body of the deer–a young doe–and I saw where the arrow had struck. In the animal’s back, near the spine. Only a small trickle of blood seeped from the wound where the shaft stuck out like a marker. The feline in me perked at the scent of a fresh kill. Her feelings conflicted with my own as the smell of blood and musty fur tickled my senses and elicited a growl from my stomach.

She knows how to get food,” I could feel the Beast think.  Words were beyond her, but the emotions that came through were unmistakable.  Her paws padded along my mind as she impatiently paced. “This warrior is good. This warrior is better than us. And she gives us food.

“Help me drag this thing back to camp,” Elmiryn said, kneeling.

I did, the ability to speak lost as my small hands gripped the lifeless limbs of the doe. We made it back alright. Flashes of ripping into the corpse with my claws and teeth flashed through my head as I set the body down, but I swallowed and fought the images to the back of my mind.

Elmiryn finally noticed my discomfort.

“What’s wrong? Does meat disagree with you?” She asked as she inspected the corpse more closely. The corners of her lips twitched in a suspicious manner.

“No,” I managed to say. “I just…well, it’s been a while since I’ve found myself in the presence of such a large kill. It’s getting to me a little.” I turned and crossed my arms high on my chest, taking a few steps away.

“I can cut this up elsewhere if it’ll make you feel better.”

I shook my head, my shoulders hunching around my ears. “It won’t matter. I’d smell it wherever you went. The scent’s on me, the scent’s on you…”

“How haven’t you come across this sort of thing while you were out there wandering on your own?”

I looked back at her over my shoulder, a light frown on my face. “I’m not sure. I have bad luck–so serendipitously finding a dead animal, even one that’s been dead for days, just never seemed to happen.” Then I added without much pause, “Serendipity: when one makes a fortunate discovery.”

Elmiryn made an “o” with her lips. She straightened clapping the dirt off her hands. “Well, we can use just about all of the deer. You’ve got a healthy appetite, and so do I. Whatever we don’t eat we can save for later or give to the people at Gamath. I suspect we’ll be there by nightfall.”

She went to her bag and pulled out two knives in their sheaths. When she pulled them out I saw that the shape of the blades seemed less like they were meant for combat, and more like they were intended for culinary use.

The warrior’s sharp blue eyes lit onto my face, and she brandished one of them at the dead deer. The blade was short, but the handle was long. “I suggest,” Elmiryn said as she knelt down onto the ground. “That you either take a walk or try and distract yourself. I’m about to start skinning this thing right now.”

I shifted uneasily. When I spoke, my voice was hoarse. “I told you it won’t matter if I leave.”

“So distract yourself then.”


Elmiryn thought, tapping the handle of the skinning knife on her chin. “Let’s play a game.”

I gave her a deadpan look. “While you’re carving an animal corpse?”

“You tell me about yourself. Using single words.”


Five syllable words,” Elmiryn added with a grin. Her angular face seemed a little flushed and for a brief moment I wondered if she were drunk again.  Did she have a flask somewhere that I didn’t know about…?

“Elmiryn I can’t–”

“Of course you can. I bet you can come up with a word for how you’re feeling right now.”

“Yeah. Exasperation!

The woman gave a jovial laugh.  “See?”

I placed my hands on my hips and shifted my weight to one foot.  My mouth was a crooked line.  “I really don’t think it’ll work.”

Elmiryn looked at me. Then shrugged. “Okay. If you say so.” That was when she filleted the deer from the gut to the chin.

The beast in me snarled at the sight of red life spilling onto the dirt, the tumble of dark purplish organs, the gleam of the exposed rib cage. The smell that hit me literally made me reel. I spun back around, horrified. “Disquietude! Fe-feelings of anxiety that c-cause one to become tense!!” Even I could note the lower pitch of my voice, the growl that tinged my words.

“That’s four syllables.” Elmiryn said calmly. I couldn’t see her expression, but I could imagine her smiling. Why did she find these things funny?

Fine! Pestiferousness; something akin to evil or general annoyance.

“Good!” I could hear a slop and felt my muscles pull. I lurched forward a couple of yards before I came to fall to my knees near some bushes.

“Okay,” Elmiryn said, grunting a little as she worked. “I’ll make it easier on you. Give me four syllable words.”

“Paralytic!” I bit out, my hands digging into the dirt. “A person affected with paralysis!”

“Now tell me something about who you are.

“Cantankerous. Disagreeable to deal with.”

“Oh I wouldn’t say you’re that.”

I slammed my fists into the dirt.  “Right NOW I am!”

“Alright, alright! …Next.”

I pulled at the front of my gambeson, fishing for something.  Anything.  “Eruditeness.”  I said finally. “Great knowledge.”

I could hear Elmiryn pause. “…Being a little gracious, aren’t we?”

My entire body coiled as I turned to shout, “Well if you’re going to bother me about accuracy–!

“Maybe we should get you on a topic less likely to rile you up. What about music?”

I swallowed and shook my head.  “I don’t know anything about music.”

“Think of a song and describe it to me.”

The only song I could think of was one that Elmiryn was given to humming occasionally…and I didn’t even know the name of it. Still, I put all my focus on the memory of her humming it at the lake where we had fished–trying to dredge up the melodic notes by sheer will. I squeezed my eyes shut and covered my hands over my ears, trying to block out the sound of the deer being skinned.

“Chimerical. Something fanciful.” I didn’t wait to hear her say anything else. I continued, rambling words as they came to me. “Convivial; Something festive. Euphonious…a…a pleasant sound. Mollifying…to…to…pacify…”

Without warning, my focus gave birth to an elaborate mental image.

I myself made it elaborate, out of desire for distraction, but as silly as it may sound, I surprised myself. I imagined a giant tree with branches of music, outstretching and flourishing at the tips with vibrant leaves that defied strophic confinement. The bark, the sap, the break of light through the canopy, sang to me in no uncertain terms. There was a firmness behind the rhythm and motion of falling leaves and creaking boughs–guiding my thoughts away from downward leading roads and filling my heart with lighter-than-air ideals. I felt myself sinking into the positive energy as somehow the song in my head enveloped my body, like a warm blanket. My face pressed to the grass and my arms went limp beneath the shade of comfort. All around me, a voice much like Elmiryn’s echoed the mysterious song. I could feel the beast in me recline, the press of her recumbent form like a weight dragging me down…down…down…

“Nyx! Hey! Wake up! …Wake up!

Bloody hands shaking me. The smell made my eyes open, though it still took some effort.

When my vision came into focus, I saw that Elmiryn was peering into my face, a smudge of blood on her chin and an expression I couldn’t quite place. Her eyes were wide and shiny, and her lips were parted by the harsh breaths that escaped between them. Her eyebrows were raised to a degree I hadn’t quite seen them go before, and they wrinkled her forehead unattractively.

“Wassamatter?” I mumbled, reaching up a hand to her forehead. Those worry-wrinkles of hers were really bothering me. I knew the woman was older than me, but it just didn’t suit her.

“You weren’t breathing.” She said shakily. The warrior grabbed my hand away from her face, gripping it so tightly it hurt. I winced and looked at her. “You weren’t breathing, Nyx,” she continued. Her voice was frail. “And I checked. I didn’t imagine it. You fell over and you weren’t breathing and then…” her sentence trailed away.

“Elmiryn, what are you talking about? I was just doing the game, thinking about a song like you told me!” I pulled my hand out of hers and sat up.

…When had I laid down?

“I’m fine,” I said. I turned my face away for a brief moment to pick grass out of my hair. When I looked at her again, Elmiryn’s face seemed blank, but the muscles in her cheeks and brow twitched occasionally as if they were being forced into the position they were in.

Then it really registered…

Elmiryn…was scared.

This idea was staggering, as in the short time I had known her, the warrior had shown herself to be a great number of things. Among them, one of my chief impressions was of something inexplicably beyond mortal terror. Was she a hiccuping, puerile drinker? Oh, yes. A remorseless woman of combat? Mm, hmm. A cheeky, and blithe conversationalist? Spot on. A person whose countenance could be drained of blood at any sign of trouble?

…It just didn’t fit.

And I kept thinking this, even as I reached for her wrist, giving it a firm squeeze. “Elmiryn. It’s okay. I’M okay. Honest.” I was using the same calming tones I had that night in Dame, but they didn’t seem to work. I saw them fall short of the fear that shone in Elmiryn’s eyes. Surprisingly, it seemed to make it worse.

My heart gave a small pull, and I reached forward, grabbing her by the nape of her neck and pulling her close to press my forehead to hers. “I’m alright, Elle,” I breathed. My eyes were wide and though I didn’t mean to, I must have come across as a little pleading.

The skin of her wrist was sticky and stained red, and I was sure she had smeared some of the deer’s blood onto my gambeson, but at the moment I wasn’t concerned with it. The feline in me was quiet. I felt oddly disjointed…but I couldn’t tell if it were due to my counterpart’s reticence or Elmiryn’s unsettling behavior.

Elmiryn looked at me, her cerulean eyes narrowing. “What song were you thinking of?” she asked in a whisper.

I blinked at her. “I don’t know what it’s called.”

Her face seemed to lengthen by some unknown worry, and she grabbed my shoulder with her other hand. I could feel her tremble. “What song were you thinking of, Nyx?” she asked again, her voice regaining a little strength.

Those eyes bore into mine as she waited for me to answer and I bated my breath, self-conscious under the attention. “It’s one of the songs you like to hum. It was the only thing I could think of…” I murmured.

Elmiryn sat back, her gaze widening. The separation left me feeling cold.

I watched her, uncertain of what to do. Her eyes were rolling back and forth in their sockets as she thought furiously about something. Her brows furrowed deep. Her forehead wrinkled again.

“What about the deer?” I asked after a moment.

“Forget the deer right now,” She snapped with a severe look in my direction. The woman raised a stained finger, her hair even less tame than it had been before as some rebellious strands fell into her piercing stare. Something about the late morning light on the side of her face and the intensity of her expression struck me as intensely beautiful and I was made to lean back and whisper, “Wow…”

Elmiryn didn’t notice. “You listen to me,” she said, pointing to herself. She then made a negative gesture with her finger. “Don’t you EVER think about that song. EVER.”

I scowled at her. “Why? What for?”

“Because it’s evil,” she said with a flat sense of finality.

“The song’s evil?” I repeated incredulously. “Okay…honestly, Elmiryn. I have NO idea what you think may have happened, but I’m sure it doesn’t have a thing to do with the song. You were singing it to me after all, and nothing happened before!”

Elmiryn shook her head. “That isn’t how it works.  That isn’t how it catches you.” She stood to her feet, her head still shaking, and went back to the deer corpse. “That just isn’t how it works…” she said again.

Elmiryn resumed her task and I sat and watched her, rooted to the spot. Words built up in my throat, yet I couldn’t bring myself to say anything, because somehow they didn’t seem to measure up to the situation at hand. I couldn’t deny I was feeling out of sorts, but I didn’t understand the sudden fear that had taken over my seemingly stalwart companion. I tried to recall the images I had seen when thinking of Elmiryn’s song, but all I could remember was a faint outline of a tree, nothing more.

As Elmiryn cut up the deer, her actions lacked confidence–just as much as my mind lacked its previous blood-lust and hunger. The scene seemed surreal. Inside, my feline half lay quiet and drowsy. She didn’t even perk up when Elmiryn began to fry some of the meat in her frying pan.

I remained that way throughout the meal. Neither I nor Elmiryn ate much. We wrapped up the leftovers and left the deer skin to hang in a tree.

The rest of the day was spent in silence as we made our way to Gamath.

…I tried not to think of how easily my preconceptions had been torn down within the span of 24 hours.

Continue ReadingChapter 3.4

Chapter 4.1


The cold and oppressive corruption was like ghostly palms pushing against her.

Her eyes shifted to the side to gaze briefly at her petite companion, whose mess of dark locks shielded her expression from view.  The wind was a nefarious agent, breathing death on their skin.  It chased ash around their ankles and the scent of carrion to their noses.

So vile.

Beneath their feet, the grass crunched and crumbled to dust. …So maybe it wasn’t ash? The blades were chalk white versus the fading yellow of your typical dead grass. The alder trees that sprinkled the fields were much the same, brittle clumps of leaves on their gray branches. How could anything be reduced to such a dismal state? There was stark line where this unnatural decay began, separating the green life that spilled from the sides of the Torreth Mountains from the gray death that affected the lands of Gamath.

The city could be seen in the distance.

Elmiryn’s eyes again shifted to look at Nyx. It were as if she were afraid the youth would drift away like a stray boat, out into a cold ocean that would surely swallow her whole. She felt like grabbing the girl’s hand and never letting go. And why the neediness? Why the fear?

The warrior thought of the moment back at the foot of the mountains and her body tensed. The girl’s face to the ground, her chest not moving…

She had looked like the dead deer.

Even as the details of the scene faded, leaving only the horror that shocked Elmiryn’s senses, this one picture stubbornly remained–golden–frayed at the edges and lit from behind by intensity of the woman’s feelings.

And the Ailuran had no idea what the problem was. Didn’t she feel the life leaving her? The cold that swept her skin? Did her lungs not scream for air, her mind scream for freedom, her soul scream from the molestation from evil? Elmiryn hadn’t understood immediately what the issue was. The girl had simply stopped talking, gone still on the ground. When she realized what was going on, it had threatened to throw her into hysterics.

Nyx had been like that for fifteen minutes.

But Elmiryn didn’t mention this. She didn’t tell Nyx of the illusory death that had overcome her for so long a time–too long for any living creature to know. She was certain the girl would completely shut her mind if this fact was mentioned to her. It would be too terrible.

And it was too terrible.

How long before the pestilence stole the freshness from her skin?


Elmiryn stirred from her thoughts. “Huh?”

“I said did you feel that.” Nyx was looking at her now, her brows pressed together. She had rather striking expressions, this girl. Elmiryn was beginning to recognize when she was annoyed, when she was genuinely angry, when she was amused or sad. It was all guesswork, of course–her curse made it difficult to judge on appearances alone. But this girl made it…fun. Like it were a game.

Right now, Nyx was feeling afraid.

“It’s what he does,” Elmiryn said, looking back toward Gamath. “Meznik has spent a lot of time here. It’s deteriorated the natural order. You’re feeling that push on your eyeballs and the knotted stomach, right?”

The Ailuran gave a mute nod.

“Yeah…it means something isn’t right. It means HE was here.”

“Do you know what he looks like?” the girl asked quietly. She was hugging herself.

Elmiryn began to answer tentatively. “Honestly…I don’t really know. He takes many forms.” She shrugged. “It isn’t even entirely correct to call Meznik a ‘he’. In this language, it’d be more correct to refer to him as ‘it’.”

“Do you know why he cursed you?”

“…Again, I don’t really know.”

Nyx kicked at a rock on the ground, her bag of trinkets jingling from the harsh action. “Y’know, I’ve only read about two other astral demons in history. No one knew what they looked like or why they came either.” The girl continued to speak, though her voice was subdued. “There was Izma, who was accused with genocide and the disruption of many royal lineages. Then there was Bao-Gar, who raped noble women and stole riches from Kings…” her voice trailed away.

Elmiryn looked at her sideways. “You’re skeptical.”

The girl glanced at her, then shook her head. “I don’t doubt your sincerity. I don’t even doubt the fact that you’ve been cursed. But astral demons have been laughed out of magical studies due to people’s inability to prove their existence–and when you stop to think about it–don’t all the stories of Izma and Bao-Gar sound like caste-related paranoia? The kind whispered between the rich and those of noble class? The fact that all these occurrences could be explained away by spiritual hauntings, shape-shifters, enchantment…” Nyx gave a shrug and looked at Elmiryn nervously. “I mean, don’t you think it’s plausible?”

The warrior looked down at her, her cerulean eyes lidded. “And the sensations you are feeling now…what can you explain that away with?”

“I…I don’t know.”

“I guess we’ll see then…”

“Elle, I’m not trying to insult you. I don’t even really think it’s that big an issue! The fact of the matter remains–I’m still in your debt, no matter what.”

The corners of Elmiryn’s lips hitched up into a fixed grin. “Thank you.”

The closer they came to Gamath, the heavier the world felt. The woman could feel her boots drag like they were lead, and her breath became labored as a cold disgust washed on the shores of her mind. Nyx fared no better–if anything, Elmiryn was certain she was doing worse. Sweat had slicked the girls ashen face and her shoulders sagged. The warrior remembered Nyx’s rule–about proximity–but in this case she found it necessary to offer the girl support by slipping her arm around her, and the youth offered no complaints.

At the limits of Gamath, they stopped.

Unlike Dame, Gamath was much more spacious, and their roads were wide for the passing of carts. The cobbled thoroughfare was strewn with dirt and hay. The pressure that fought against Elmiryn made her head throb, and Nyx had started to lean against her as if she couldn’t stand on her own. The warrior’s eyes darted between the dark two-story cottages and the abandoned merchants stands. Her eyes lingered on a large pile of animal droppings, dry and untrampled.  The buildings were shut up and quiet.

“They’ve abandoned this place,” Elmiryn murmured. “…Good.”

Nyx trembled.  She shook her head. “I can hear something.”

The older woman looked down at her with a frown. “What?”

The girl gazed forward, her brows pressing together over her watery eyes. “Claws,” she whispered.

Elmiryn heard it growl before she saw it. Several yards ahead, a large shaggy mountain dog with a black coat, a cream snout, and honey-colored paws stepped out from behind the shadow of an overturned cart. The rival suns had fled the sky, leaving the subtle light of the moon, but it was light enough that Elmiryn could see the foam dripping from the mongrel’s quivering lips, the madness that glinted in its eyes as its muscles bunched beneath its thick coat.

Slowly, the warrior disengaged from Nyx and set down her bag. She pulled an arrow from her quiver, her eyes trained on the dog, and readied her bow, pulling the bowstring as far back as her chin.

The dog started forward, its claws clicking against the cobbled road as a vicious bark tore from its throat. Nyx stumbled back, falling onto her rear. “Elmiryn!” she squeaked.

Before the woman fired her arrow, a large spear came sailing in a clear arc from further down the road. It struck the mammoth dog in the back, eliciting a short-lived cry before it crashed gracelessly into the ground. Elmiryn blinked, but kept her bow at the ready.

Footsteps echoed toward them. The woman shifted so that her weapon pointed that way. A man came into view, dressed in a noseguard helmet and studded leather armor. He held up his hands and slowed his steps. “Ho there,” he called.

Elmiryn took a moment before responding. “Who are you?”

His retort was quick.  “Shouldn’t I be asking the questions?”

“Well if you told me who you are, then maybe I could answer you.”

The man stared at her, then chortled. He placed a careful hand on his chest. “I am Sedwick. The town blacksmith.”

“And what is a blacksmith doing here? With no business?” Elmiryn asked.

“I protect the last remaining residents of Gamath from the mad creatures that stumble through these streets.” He tilted his head to the side and his smile turned crooked. “I also protect the abandoned homes from would be looters.”

Elmiryn quirked an eyebrow. “I’m Elmiryn.” She slowly lowered her bow. “You say there are others here?”

The man nodded, once again starting forward now that the threat of being shot was gone. He reclaimed his spear from the dog’s back, placing a firm boot on the corpse and yanking the long weapon out without so much as a blink of his eyes. He turned to Elmiryn. “There’s a collection of us held up at the Dripping Cloak, an inn not far from here. Forgive me for being so forthcoming, but I get a sense that you understand what’s going on here.”

“Word travels fast.  Hard to ignore one of the most important rivers of the East becoming poisoned.  Why would anyone stay here?”

Sedwick shrugged. “These are the sick and poor. When faced with the option of braving the mountains or crossing the river to the next civilized town, there was no choice.” His eyes flitted to Nyx, who shrank beneath his gaze. “And your companion?”

Elmiryn glanced at her, then placed a firm hand on her shoulder. “This is my ward, Nyx.”

The girl mumbled something, then gave a cursory bow.

Sedwick shouldered his spear and held out his hand. “Alright then.  Let me help you with your things.”

“No, I think we’ve got it.”

“Mmm…Fine.  Follow me.”

Elmiryn gathered her things again. Nyx put a hand to her mouth, then leaned forward onto her knees. The woman placed a hand on her back. “You okay?” She asked.

“It’s the air,” Nyx managed after a moment. “The smell here it’s…Elle, this place makes me feel so sick. I think I might throw up again.”

“Don’t you dare.” Elmiryn began to steer the girl forward, her eyes looking up to see that Sedwick was waiting for them. “Not after all that trouble I went to, vanquishing an animal in the name of your endless hunger!”

Nyx grinned, her head rolling back to look up at Elmiryn. “Okay. Just for you, I’ll swallow it down.”

“Good. Remember–only the girls who swallow it, get anywhere in life!” Elmiryn winked.

The Ailuran looked at her in surprise.  Then, despite her clear misgiving, she snorted into laughter, her voice echoing down the street as much as through the warrior’s head. Elmiryn offered the young girl support again and they proceeded to follow Sedwick as he led them to the only building where lights could be seen.  It looked like a tavern, but the sign was missing.

“It’s quiet,” She said, looking to Sedwick. “How many did you say were here?”

The blacksmith shrugged. “Perhaps only sixty. A few days ago, there were at least a 100 more, but they’ve all fled to Tiesmire, to the North.”

The man opened the heavy door that led inside, and as they entered, the two were met with more than a dozen baleful eyes. People seemed to be tucked into every possible nook and cranny, the heat from the collected body warmth like a wave of sweat and illness that rolled over them. Nyx, who had previously only been leaning, was now clutching to Elmiryn. The woman, meanwhile, felt her headache worsen, and pressed a hand to her head.

She felt a hand at her elbow, and she looked to see Sedwick gazing at her. “We’ve had a few like yourself pass through here recently. They fared much the same.”

“Why aren’t you affected?” Elmiryn asked, spots dancing past her eyes.

The man shrugged as he shut the door. “We’ve gotten used to it.”

The woman shook her head, then winced and touched her forehead again. She looked at Sedwick, then at everyone in the room. “This isn’t something to get used to,” she breathed, looking back at the blacksmith. “If this keeps on, you’ll be as good as damned.  I mean to put a stop to this.”

This declaration made the man’s brows rise high. “Oh really?”

Elmiryn narrowed her gaze a fraction.  “Yes. Really.”

Sedwick gave a dry laugh and clapped Elmiryn on the shoulder. “Don’t bother.”

He took off his helmet, and his overgrown sandy-gray hair flopped into his wide face, clumped and sweaty. Here in the candlelight, Elmiryn could see the color of his eyes–brown–and how stubble shadowed his jaw and upper lip. His eyebrows were uneven, one side looking as if it had been the victim of a knife. There was a deep cut across the left side of his face from the corner of his eye to his chin, and it wrinkled as he smiled at her and said again, “Don’t bother.  Really.”

He gestured for them to follow him and they did, stepping carefully over the huddled bodies and limbs.

“The last man that tried to solve our problem never returned.  Some upstart named Aidan.  We gave him the last of our gold–but for all we know he made off with it. There were more that came, seeking payment for their services–but we can’t afford it now.  Needless to say, that’s still the case.  No…it’s best to just leave this to a Legend to take care of. It’s what they’re good for.” He began to climb the stairs to the second floor.

“Legends aren’t known for their punctuality,” Elmiryn said. She gripped the railing tightly as she tried to drag Nyx up with her. The girl seemed to be losing the use of her legs.

“Look.” Sedwick stopped at the top of the stairs and turned to look at Elmiryn with a tired expression.  It looked like a tremendous weight was pressing down on him all over. “You wanna get turned inside out by the guardian? Fine. But don’t expect anyone to help you should anything happen. Like I said, we can’t pay you either…” and here he sighed.  “IF you are so gods damned set on this, then my suggestion is to get some rest.  A safe place to sleep is as much as we can offer you.”

“I intended to go during daylight anyway…Goddamn it Nyx!” But Elmiryn’s voice lacked any conviction. The Ailuran was slipping to the steps, her eyes going glassy. Her hair had turned to sweaty clumps, strands of it sticking to her face.

Elmiryn looked to Sedwick, holding out her bag.  “Here take this for a moment.”  He did, and she next handed him her bow. “Thanks.”

With a grunt, the warrior knelt down and scooped the girl up, much like she had the first night they had met. When she straightened, she groaned and squeezed her eyes shut.  The world lurched, and pain split down the middle of her skull straight into her sinuses.

“This way. There’s a spot on the floor for the both of you.” She heard Sedwick say. “I’m afraid we’re reserving the beds for the sick and children.”

Elmiryn blinked her eyes open and followed him. When they came to the last door in the hallway, the woman asked quietly, “Have you any drink?”

The blacksmith looked at her. “What…you mean spirits?”


“Sure, we’ve lots of it down below. Why?”

“I was wondering if I could have a bit of wine.”

“You realize of course that we haven’t any water to give you should you make yourself ill, right?  The same goes for food?”

“That’s fine.  Oh, and I’ve some meat there, in that bag.  Deer.  Killed just this morning.  Now the wine?”

The man let out a surprised grunt, pausing as he set the bag down to look through it.  He came up with the wrapped meat. “Thank you!”  He smiled, his scar wrinkling.  “Okay, I’ll be back in a moment with your wine…There should be a space in the far-left corner for you in here.”

Elmiryn entered the room as he left and squinted in the darkness. She saw that, indeed, the far-left corner was empty, and gingerly made her way there.  On a dresser next to their corner, a collection of candles flickered, offering a small bit of light. She rolled Nyx off her shoulder and laid her down gently in her arms. “Nyx?” she prompted.

The girl stirred, her tawny eyes rolling in their sockets before fixing on Elmiryn’s face. “Was’happenin’ ta me?” she mumbled.

The warrior brushed the hair from Nyx’s face, her gaze going soft. “The source of Meznik’s corruption. We’re closer to it. That’s why we have to take care of this quick. The longer we stay here…” Elmiryn’s voice died in her throat as Nyx began to look elsewhere, her tongue slipping out of her mouth, reptilian-like, to trace her teeth and lips. She was trailing her fingertips on the floor, her hand flexing occasionally.  She took a sharp intake of breath and arched her back when Elmiryn placed a hand on her face and forced her attention back toward her.

“…The more we see what he wants us to.” The warrior finished quietly, sitting back.

A moment later, the door opened again, and Sedwick came, handing Elmiryn two bottles of red wine. “Maybe you should drink those downstairs,” He said, glancing at the sleeping forms around them.

“Don’t worry,” Elmiryn said before uncorking the bottle with her teeth. “I’m a good lil’ drunk.”

Sedwick looked skeptical. “Swear on Halward’s head that you’ll keep quiet?”

“I swear.”

“Good.” He stepped out of the room.

Elmiryn didn’t stop to look at the wine’s seal, nor did she put into effect any of the typical customs associated with wine tasting. She simply took the bottle into her mouth and tipped it far back. Some of it dribbled out the corner of her mouth, but she managed to swallow most of it. The feel of the lukewarm drink cascading down her throat was a sort of comfort to her. She stopped to take some air, a little over a quarter of the bottle gone. Elmiryn then turned her attention to Nyx.

“Nyx…here, drink some of this.”

The girl’s eyes had fallen shut and she had her hands in her hair–she ran her fingers through the uneven strands and forced them through knots with startling force. Each time this happened, the girl would wince and whimper, but she didn’t stop. Elmiryn was reminded of a baby pulling its own hair.

She grabbed Nyx’s wrist. “Knock it off!” With a sigh, she pulled the Ailuran up into her lap and forced her mouth open with her free hand. “Open up, Nyx. You need to drink some of this.” she poured some of the wine into the girl’s mouth, and Nyx choked and let out a cry that was certain to wake someone up, but at the moment Elmiryn was too preoccupied to care. When the youth turned her face away, coughing, the warrior took another swig, then set the bottle down.

“I’m sorry, Nyx. You can scream at me later.”  Elmiryn could feel the world shift and felt a warmth grow in  her chest.  Her headache had lessened. “But for now, you’ve got to drink…you’ve got to see this…as one big joke.”  The girl didn’t seem to be listening.  The woman took her thumb and wiped away a drop of wine from Nyx’s chin.

Surprisingly quick, the youth grabbed at Elmiryn’s retreating hand, her face turning to stare at it like it were a mouse.  Then without warning, she took the warrior’s thumb into her mouth, biting a little, but mostly sucking.  The woman breathed in sharply at the feel of Nyx’s swirling tongue, warm and wet–but just as quick as the moment had come, it was over, and the Ailuran nuzzled back into Elmiryn’s lap.

The woman blinked down at her, warmth spreading over her skin.  Then she sighed and scooted over so that she could lean against the wall.

“…Y’know…I’d probably be of the mind to take advantage of this situation if I didn’t feel like it’d be one child molesting another.

Continue ReadingChapter 4.1

Chapter 4.2

“I want to speak to the despisers of the body. I would not have them learn and teach differently, but merely say farewell to their own bodies–and thus become silent.”1


Color invades my world and I feel myself collide with thoughts foreign to me. Something passes through. Weight–glorious, blessed weight pulls at my body. I know this feeling. It happens when the world shifts to truth. A mirrored gaze glints at me from the depths of my cerebral home, and it sears with fear and resentment. …In moments of anger, I’d say she were angry at me, but that’s only for the separation. Who would want to admit to such an embarrassing dimension of personality?

I am Nyx. I am night. I am the finite definition.

But something is wrong. Different. Where is the pain of birth? The transitory agony that invades and renders me whole?

I take full command like a captain would his ship (ships? captains?) shifting in a curious shape of skin known only to me through dreams and fogged visions. (i feel…longer) I had always tried to imagine the other way in which I think, the other way I feel and see and interact with the world–yet now I find I don’t have to. (what’s going?)

[She stops and wonders why she–]

“Speaks.” I touch a hand to my lips, my eyes fluttering. “I spoke!” Groggily I shove at the lap I lay in, my body feeling odd and uncertain. I manage with some difficulty to push myself upright. It’s like my limbs are in rebellion, and I lurch forward, giggling at the funny feeling in my head. “I’m speaking!” I exclaim to my knees.

“That you are, kitten.”

I twist around, peeking through my mane to see the candle lit face of the woman warrior.

She looks at me, her eyes like reflective pools, and smiles. “I take it yer feeling better?”

[She takes a long time to answer. Words mash and tumble in her head. She wants to say–]

“They’re MY words,”

[But she can’t.]

“They taste different,” I whisper.

“What tastes different?” The warrior is looking at me, frowning a little. She seems drowsy, leaning her head back onto the wall behind her as she gazes down her nose.

I only shake my head. The feel of my bare skin (wait, what?) brushing along the inside of my gambeson feels horrid. I grimace and pull at my collar, looking down. I tingle. I go to scratch my collarbone, but pause as my hand (hand?) comes into view. I frown at it. Clench it. Give it a nip with my teeth and feel not sharp canines, but dull flat tipped things scrape against my skin. (it’s…mine.)

“You okay, Nyx?”

The warrior woman is looking at me again. I hear her sit forward, and she places a hand on my shoulder. I look at it, see the bandage that covers it. Then look at her apprehensively. What do I say to her? She is my companion in dreams, why not in my reality? Why do I hesitate under the feel of her touch?

[Because it is the first time.]

My bewilderment is lined with a feeling of disorientation. The world does not smell right, the world does not look right, the world does not sound right. I take a deep breath, willing my senses to work, but at most I can only pick up the basic scents–finer details eluding me.

Nevertheless, I feel this place is foul.

The warrior is still looking at me, waiting for an answer.

I nod at her.

She takes my chin and turns my face softly so that I look at her full on. “It’s just that you keep staring at your hand. You keep staring at it like it’s new to you.” She sounds uncertain.

“…It’s just this place.” I say quietly. The words feel thick in my mouth. They come with little effort, but they are foreign to me. This is not my language.

The woman smiles sardonically. “You know…sometimes I look at my hand the same way. I mean, I see that it is attached to my arm, and I can FEEL it…but sometimes I just can’t get my head around the fact that its MY hand…Have you ever had one of those moments? Before, I mean, when things were normal?”

I look at my hand again, and flex it slowly. The fingers seem long and grotesque. Then I furrow my brow and purse my lips. “No.” I answer firmly.

I don’t understand what is going on. I am not as myself. My skin is bare, my face feels flat and wide, my shoulders feel awkwardly placed, and my legs are these silly twigs, with my feet stuck in what I know to be boots, but which I don’t inherently get. Aelurus, why would anyone want to wear boots?

The world I see is not my world…it is wavering and smoldering. I try to breathe in deep again, but the stench of sweat and illness makes me gag and I cover a hand over my face and try not to think of the length of my fingers, the wet palm that presses against my fat lips–



I tense up at the voice in my head. It echoes from deep down, from a place that tastes of my sanctuary. This voice (my voice) is using the words I so awkwardly express myself with. “I wasn’t speaking to you!” I snap.

The warrior blinks at me. “Well apparently not.”

“These words were never yours to begin with!” I hiss. “If anyone is the thief, you are.” I try to shift to my hands and knees–sitting on my tailbone feels wrong–but find my face planting into the ground for all my efforts. The Other roars.




“Stop accusing me! I don’t know what happened!” I shout lividly. There are some complaining groans from the others in the room, and the warrior jerks me back into her lap by the back of my gambeson. I give a surprise mewl, freezing in fear of what my punishment would be for making her angry.

Quiet,” she whispers sharply, her breath a hot tickle at my ear. “I promised Sedwick we would bother no one.”

A derisive snort in my head. I can feel The Other pacing…four paws, claws lightly clicking on the floor of my mind. (what is this?)



Her anxiety (my anxiety) is getting to me. I squirm in the warrior’s lap, feeling confined and hot.

“What is going on with you, Nyx?” I hear her snap. She lets me go and I slide to the floor, panting a little. I am curled, uncomfortably so, with my chin to my chest, my shoulder blades digging into the adjacent wall, and my legs parallel to my companion’s. My hair is a damp mess, my eyes rolling around in their sockets as I try to sort out my thoughts. Eventually my gaze falls to a fat fly buzzing near my knees. It scuttles backwards haltingly, like it’s confused.

I stare at it for a full minute before blowing it with one powerful puff. The thing flips to its back, the legs squiggling in the air dazedly.

“Not even the fly can make sense of itself,” I murmur. Then I start to giggle.

[Then she realizes she’s giggling.]

And I begin to laugh.

(because this is impossible)

[Then she notices that Elmiryn–Elle–The Warrior, is looking at her like she’s turned a funny color.]

Then I laugh harder, and have to bite down hard on my lower lip to contain the noise. The warrior’s skin, Elle’s skin, Elmiryn’s skin, is painted the color of her soul, the way I am dressed in the skin of my dreams.

And I just think that’s hilarious.

I hear the woman shift next to me, and a second later her shadowy form is hovering over my shaking figure. She seems a little unsteady, and I wonder for a moment if she will fall.

“Hey…Nyx. Relax. Shh…don’t go crazy on me…” She says quietly, stroking the sweaty strands of hair away from my face.

My mind tickles with a memory I hardly recognize, and I look at her. “But…the humor,” I say through a smile. “I found it.”

“What do you think is so funny?”

I point at the fly, then grin. It’s still on its back. Elmiryn looks at it, then back at me with a quirked eyebrow. “The fly?”

I nod.

“It seems weak,” she remarks.

I shake my head. “Confused.” I blow at the bug again, using more force than necessary, and the thing is pinned to my leg from the force of the blown air, but then manages to scramble to its feet again. I make like I’m going to smash it, but stop, palm literally close enough to feel its wings, then pull my hand away. The fly hadn’t moved.

“It’s confused,” I say again.

Elmiryn gave a nod and sat back, this time so that her back was against the same wall I was against. “Well maybe you can keep it as a pet,” Then she snickers and covers her face with her bandaged hand.

I twist around and look at her. In my head, I sift through piles of unusual words. One word jumps out in particular.

“Anacreontic.” I say it slowly, carefully.

The warrior looks down at me, sleepy-eyed again. This annoys me. “Hmm…?”

“Don’t sleep!” I snap, clumsily pushing myself up.

“I’m not sleeping, just closing my–”

I nip her on the shoulder.

“Ow!” She looks at me in bewilderment. “Did’joo jes’ bite me!?” she says hurriedly.

“Don’t sleep!” I say again, ducking a little as the weight of her gaze presses down on me.  I’m reminded of the time I bit my mother’s tail, because she stopped grooming me.

“Nyx, I think YOU need to sleep.”

I shake my head, putting my whole upper body into the action, then giggle again when I have to steady myself.

Elmiryn crosses her arms and frowns, as if thinking. “Hey…what does…anack…anock…anickry…oh damn, what was the word you said earlier?” She looks at me squinty-eyed.

I grin, excited that I know the answer. “A-nack-er…er….” I blink.

[You guessed it.]

“I forgot.” I say sheepishly.

( i can’t remember ever being sheepish about anything)


Downstairs, the ceiling is higher and there are support beams disrupting my line of vision to the other side of the room.  The bar is covered with empty bottles, candles, and bruised fruit.  The bedrolls and the blankets and the pillows have vanished.  Some of the citizens are still inside, passing the time conversing in low tones, reading, or playing a game of some sort.  Outside, beyond the wavery views of the windows, I see that some children are playing near the inn, and some adults are standing there watching them.

I listen as Elmiryn and some young-something with ruddy hair and big dark eyes argue.  The adolescent (can’t be more than that) wants to join her to see the river guardian.  He’s terribly short, dressed in mismatched chainmail, and keeps fiddling with his over-sized sword belt.

Sedwick joins in.  He’s trying to persuade the boy to stay.  I pick up a name.  Baldwin.

I sit quiet to the side, nursing a jug of mead because my inebriation was fading and somehow I got the sense that the people around me wanted me dead.

A-quarter-of-a-jug and one-face-plant later I see Elmiryn standing over me with a critical expression.  At some point I guess I tried to stand again only to find that moving in this form requires a lot more practice and a little more sobriety.  The floor feels comfortable though.  And I see that underneath the bar children have stuck candy there.

Lovely.  Snacks for later.

“Nyx, I had you drink a bit to numb your discomfort and to keep your morale up.  The suns are well over the horizon now.  You shouldn’t need anymore!”  She stoops to take the jug.

I only hug it closer to my chest and bare my teeth, glowering at her.

“Your friend doesn’t seem quite right,” Sedwick says, appearing next to Elmiryn. “Perhaps she should stay?”

“I can go in her place!” Baldwin says.  I agree with him.

Elmiryn, to my dismay, shakes her head as she straightens again.  “She has to be with me.”

“But why?“I whine.  “This boy looks far more capable than I am!  Let him go in my place!”

Elmiryn looks at me as if I slapped her.

(i’m sorry.  i’m…scared)



“But she WON’T be by herself–” I begin to say, touching a hand to my head.



I wince and grip my head.  The jug slips from my hands and spills to the floor.  Heat flashes across my skin, I can hear The Other growling.  I slowly rise to my feet, recalling how Elmiryn had to half-carry me down the steps because I felt so unfamiliar with my limbs.  I steady myself, mead dripping off the ends of my hair on one side, and look up.

“I’m sorry,” I say, looking at the warrior.  The words fit better in my mouth, but my joints burn and ache.  “I wasn’t thinking clearly.  Don’t worry, I’ll be with you, Elle.  I won’t desert you.”

Sedwick and the adolescent stare at me, mouths agape.  The young one has even taken a step back.

Elmiryn frowns and cups my face with both hands.  “Nyx.  What’s wrong with you?”

I frown at her.  “What?”

“Your face…it’s gone all cat.”

From “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, by Friedrich Nietzsche. First published in Germany by Ernst Schmeitzner, 1883–1885. []

Continue ReadingChapter 4.2

Chapter 4.3


She took her hands and traced the more bizarre features of her companion like a blind woman.  Her mind jammed, like a broken cog, on this sudden information.  “Nyx looks different.  Nyx has changed…is it even Nyx?”  Smooth skin beneath dry fingertips caused Elmiryn’s eyes to slip shut for a brief second before they fluttered open again.

This was her companion, Elmiryn reasoned.  She couldn’t logically be replaced by anyone else without first vanishing from sight completely, not even with the aid of magic.  It wasn’t a trick of the eye, either.  The Ailuran had indeed shifted her form.

Nyx’s fine, round-tipped nose had changed to a low-sloped, dainty thing that was pink, wet, and heart-shaped. Her eyes slanted further upwards and were now host to a slitted bestial gaze. Her lips had turned thinner and pinker, the upper lip gaining a low curve that overpowered the lower lip at the ends. Barely visible from the shadow of her parted mouth were sharp canines and a rough-looking tongue that seemed to pulse with every anxious exhalation.  Elmiryn even forced the girl’s head to the side and found that her ears had become pointed and fuzzed at the tips.

After suffering this for ten seconds, Nyx pulled away and fell clumsily against the bar. “Stop it!” she snapped.  A clawed hand touched her flushed face.  She paused at the feel of her sharp nails against her skin, and Elmiryn could see her tongue go to feel the points of her canines uncertainly.

The warrior stared at her, her hands still in the air where she had felt the girl’s ears. “Why didn’t you hurt when you shifted?”

“She’s…she’s a therian.” Sedwick breathed.  He took a small step forward and shook his head. “I don’t know why I didn’t notice befo–”

“She’ll kill us!” Baldwin squeaked. He grunted, and Elmiryn’s ears tickled at the sound of a sword hissing out of its scabbard.

She turned hard on the ball of her foot and grabbed the boy’s arm before he could fully draw his weapon. Sedwick jumped back, his hands tightening on his spear as he held it before him. Elmiryn only glanced at him before looking at the boy. “Keep your head on straight,” she breathed as her eyes looked resolutely into Baldwin’s dark ones. “You think hard about drawing out that sword of yours. Doing so commits you to a dangerous situation. This girl,” Elmiryn made a vague gesture over her shoulder with her chin. “Is with me. You hurt her, and you find yourself answering to my blade. Given how there are bigger things at stake, maybe you ought to reconsider getting yourself killed before we head to the guardian?”

Baldwin blinked at her.  His face dripped with sweat. “You…You mean you’ll let me come?”

Elmiryn nodded. “Yes. But only if you listen to what I say and think.

The ruddy hopeful looked from Sedwick, to Elmiryn, and back again. The blacksmith relaxed and gave a stern nod.

Baldwin sheathed his sword. “Okay. …But if she does anything–!”

“She won’t.” Elmiryn turned back to Nyx. The girl was staring into a reflective plate she had picked up from somewhere on the bar.  Her face had gone slack.

“What’s…happening to me?” she breathed.

“Elmiryn, I think we need to have a serious talk.” Sedwick said firmly.

Elmiryn gave a brief look around the room.  Those inside the inn were now staring their way, most on their feet and with uneasy expressions.  With a sigh, the warrior took her stunned companion by the shoulders.  “In a moment,” she said to Sedwick before she guided Nyx to the darker side of the inn, where they sat at an empty table away from the others. The warrior sat across from the girl, with her elbows on the wooden surface and her hands interlaced.  She pressed them to her lips as she gazed levelly at the Ailuran.  “You didn’t feel the shift happen?” she asked quietly.

Nyx looked at her, still holding the plate.  She was shaking, and her eyes shined with tears. “I…didn’t.” Elmiryn noted how the girl’s head seemed unsteady and her gaze fogged.

The woman took a deep breath and closed her eyes.  When she opened them again, she said, “…Were you lying to me about the Mark?”

There was a great pause.  Elmiryn’s eyes fixed onto Nyx’s flushed face, and the table seemed to lengthen between them.  The youth’s mouth curved downward at the ends, and her eyes narrowed.  In anticipation, the warrior leaned back.  Her eyes blinked as she saw Nyx stand roughly, her chair knocking to the floor.  The image of Nyx, her animal countenance, became irresolute.  But Elmiryn’s attention was drawn away from the girl’s face when the Ailuran took the plate she held and threw it to the floor, where it shattered loudly. “How DARE you!” she screamed.

Baldwin made a move for his sword again, and Sedwick started forward as if to intervene.  The others in the room fled outside, curses and exclamations falling from their stuttering lips.

The woman was on her feet, hands held up.  She looked at Sedwick and gave a harsh shake of her head.  The man ceased his advancement.  He looked to Baldwin and made a negative motion with his hand.  The youth soured, his chubby face going red, before he sheathed his sword again.  Elmiryn looked back at the Ailuran across from her.  “Nyx. Sit. Down.

Nyx began to pace, her hands tensed so that her clawed fingers curled.  “To even suggest that I’d willingly claim such a shameful burden–for ANY reason!!”

“All right, I get it.” Elmiryn slowly sat down, hands still held up. “I get it. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

The girl kept moving, her shoulders hunched around her ears.  She didn’t take her eyes off Elmiryn.  “No.  Elmiryn, I don’t think you get it at all.”  She growled, and ran her hands through her wild hair.  “I don’t feel…like…this skin is right…”  She hugged herself, pressing her chin to her chest so that her head seemed to retreat into her body.  “Not right…at all.”

Elmiryn’s head tilted to the side.  Her eyes were bright cerulean pieces of glass that saw and filtered by short means of conception.  They took in the sight of Nyx, a picture of frustration and anger.  Those were easy enough things to relate to.  But, in the literal sense, the woman wasn’t sure if the youth’s ears were disappearing into her hair or if the strands had simply shifted to obscure them from view.  The way Nyx kept moving, details were hard to grasp.  Was her nose migrating higher up her face and turning rounder at the tip?  And were her full expressive lips returning?

The warrior rubbed her temple, trying to remember the previous night.  Moments came to her, slippery shapes and washed colors emerging from the back of her mind.  She could hardly set them straight in her head.  …But the voices rang clear.

“But…the humor.  I found it.”

From what she could recall, the warrior attempted to draw some form of a conclusion.  Elmiryn at first considered an escalation in aggression–the shattered plate and the shouting last night her main reasons.  But as she shifted in her seat and felt the small stab of pain in her muscle from where Nyx had bit her shoulder, her mind turned, and she found herself traveling up another path of reasoning.  She glanced at her friend briefly.  The girl’s fevered movement was familiar.

Elmiryn snickered as she fell onto an idea.

Nyx looked at her sharply at this sound.  “What?” she snapped.  She ceased her going back and forth in favor of rocking side to side.

This made the woman giggle again, and she wiped at her mouth as if to try and remove her amusement.  She toyed with a stray spoon on the table.  “I remember the word from last night.”

“What word?”

“THE word.  You can’t remember?” The warrior sat back and breathed harsh onto the spoon.  She proceeded to clean it with her shirt.

The Ailuran growled again, and this time the sound came from deeper within her throat.  “Well tell me, and maybe it’ll jog my memory!”

Elmiryn grinned as a chortle came bubbling up.  From across the inn, Sedwick and Baldwin watched.  Sedwick’s jaw was set, and he gripped his spear with both hands before him.  Baldwin fidgeted nervously, closer to the door.  He glanced back at it occasionally.  The warrior felt their eyes and she thought it amusing they were so frightened.  Her grin turned to a full blown smile.

“Oh I don’t know, I don’t want to give it away if you can’t remember,” she said to Nyx.

Nyx leaned forward onto the table as a long, loud exhale hissed through her bared teeth.  “Why are you playing games now!”



“That’s what you said to me. Do you know what it means?”

“I…” Nyx blinked. Once. Twice. “…I think I–”

“You either do or you don’t. Go on. Tell me.”  Elmiryn looked at the spoon with feigned interest, her tongue between her teeth.  She winked playfully at her own reflection.

The girl straightened with a huff. “What a silly word! Did you make that up?”

“Well of course not. I’m not of the habit of making things up.”

“…You’re lying. That’s not a word.”

“Fine. What about pestiferousness? Chimerical?”


“Cantankerous? Eruditeness? Paralytic?”

“I…I don’t KNOW!”

“You think I forget the things you tell me just because I find it hard to remember what things look like?  These were all words YOU readily gave me yesterday. Are you still so drunk that you can’t even make use of your own vocabulary? Are the words even YOURS–?

Nyx slammed forward.  “They are ALL mine!!” she screamed.

Elmiryn’s smile turned more curved, and she quickly reached, grabbing Nyx hard at the nape before she could pull away again. The girl relaxed, and her body clumsily fell over the table as her body reacted to the strong contact. The warrior traced her fingers over her friend’s facial features as before and gave a small, “Huh.”

“What?” Nyx asked in a breathy whisper, her eyes wide.

The older woman smirked and held up the clean spoon.  The Ailuran gazed into it, her mouth falling open a little.

“You’re completely human again, Nyx.”

The warrior released the girl, and Nyx slowly slid off the table, taking the spoon and gazing into it with what appeared to be disbelief.  She touched her nose, which was again round, and felt her smooth ears.  Her lips pursed and she looked sharply at Elmiryn.  “So do you understand what’s happening, then?” she asked.

“Not a fucking clue,” Elmiryn said cheerfully.

Continue ReadingChapter 4.3

Chapter 4.4


“What are we going to do?”

“About what?”

“About HER.”

“…And what would you propose to do? Sit and have a talk about how she’s NOT a two-legged creature and should quit behaving as such?” Elmiryn looked my way. “Nyx, get on all fours. Sedwick doesn’t appreciate your silly human antics.”

I scooted to the edge of my seat, ready to follow her orders when she reached over quick to pat my hand.  She had bit down on her lip so hard the skin turned white. “I was being sarcastic, kitten.”

I frowned at her bemusedly and sat back. I was NOT a kitten. I had been alive for over two-hundred and forty-seven moons. I would have had a mate by now if it hadn’t been for…

But then it occurred to me that Elmiryn was perhaps not being serious again.

I gazed, glassy-eyed, across the round table where Sedwick and Baldwin had joined us, mind mulling over the idea of saying things one did not mean. I got the concept–had even found myself doing it without thinking, as if some aftertaste of my other persona still clung to the newfound sapien faculties that had been dropped into my paws…er, hands (wait, i’m supposed to say ‘lap’ right?)

Belabored thoughts, lined with mead, tittered here and there.  Meanwhile, the discussion between Sedwick and Elmiryn grew more heated.

I felt spent.  My outburst had rippled through me–and I found it so confusing.  There had been an odd pull at the back of my head, and my thoughts had turned fuzzy and dim.  Then all at once, things were clear for me again.  (clear in what sense?  i feel lanky and weak, with ears that don’t hear, and a nose that can hardly smell.)  Now I sat, wishing I could go to sleep, wondering why I didn’t get a better chair, and cursing the stench of this place and these people.

Across from me, Baldwin stared, like he were waiting for me to lunge across the table and chomp off his head.  I peered at him with heavy lids, and couldn’t help but giggle at the idea. (he probably wouldn’t even taste good)

This seemed to set the boy on edge, and I could see his hand twitch as if he wanted to reach for his sword again, but a look from Elmiryn kept him still.

Sedwick sucked loudly at his teeth. “Elmiryn, you are taking one of our young ones into the company of an unstable therian. I can’t just ignore that!”

Funny. From where I was sitting, it seemed he was ignoring me pretty well.

You’re the one who gave him the okay!”

“But the girl has no grasp of herself! One second she’s raging on her feet, hissing and roaring like a beast–the next, she’s as daffy as an estranged aunt from over seas, gazing with avid interest at the floorboards!”

I was looking for my mead jug, you pontificating poop…

“Where are his parents? Talk to them if you are so uncomfortable about it all.”

“They’re dead, Elmiryn.”  Baldwin interjected.

The warrior blinked at him. “Oh. Sorry.” She gave a shrug and looked back at Sedwick. “Look, if it bothers YOU so much, then just come with us.”

Oh sure. The more the merrier.

“And who will protect the people here?”

“You forget that if this doesn’t get fixed soon, there won’t BE people here to protect.” Elmiryn barked.  “You’ll be the guardian of a graveyard. Do you understand, Sedwick? A fucking graveyard.”  She stood to her feet, as did the blacksmith and the boy.  I looked at them all sullenly.

This was stupid.

“Look outside. The city is EMPTY. These people here are at their wits end. You’ve no water and your food is dwindling. Merchants refuse to come here. Anyone who would’ve helped would’ve done so by now. You. Are. Alone. If it doesn’t get done now, this never gets done.”

“But why does SHE have to go?” Sedwick pressed stubbornly.

…I was kinda wondering that myself.

“Because. I won’t help you unless she’s there. Is that enough for you?”

“You’d let these people suffer just because–”

“I’ll let your people suffer if they can’t abide the way I work. I’m doing this at no cost to you, I really don’t see how you’re in the position to demand anything of me.”

Well, see if he got on his KNEES–“They can’t hear anything, you stuck up witch,” I snapped back.

Everyone stopped and stared at me.  Heat crawled up my skin, and I ducked low, peering over the edge of the table.  I wasn’t sure why, but I felt like an idiot.“Uh…” Elmiryn wiped at her mouth and shifted her eyes as if not certain she wanted to say what was coming next.  Then she seemed to think better of it and waved her bandaged hand through the air.  “No.  Never mind.”  The woman rapped the table with her knuckles and made as if to leave.  “Come on, Nyx.  If you’ve got everything, we should get going.”

Sedwick stared at her.  “After that, you’re just going to take her with you?”

I could almost feel her eyes sweep past me and onto the man’s face.  He made an odd noise from the back of his throat, but didn’t move.

“The discussion is over, Sedwick.”

I made to get off my chair quickly, not wanting that tone of voice directed toward me, but I forgot myself and ended up falling backwards off my stool.  Elmiryn barely broke stride as she picked me up by the front of my gambeson and continued walking.  Like a doll, my feet dragged, but I got my footing.  My companion then let go of my top and instead kept me steady by gripping my shoulder as we marched out the inn’s main doors.  Baldwin followed us shortly, the sound of his armor a terrible racket in my ear.

Outside, the peasants stared at us.  As we passed, the adults pulled their children close and I felt a mingling of pity and shame toward them.

The dumb fools…didn’t they know they had more to fear from Elmiryn than I?

Though my nose wasn’t as I was used to, it could still pick up some scents.  Drawn close to my companion, I could smell the wilderness on her.  With only my eyes, I peered up at her through my bangs and leaned into her touch.  This woman was strong.

She was strong, and she was my new guardian.

(funny how meeting her has increased my potential in getting killed then.)


I had no use for aesthetic pleasantries, or poetic lengths of expression.  Complex communication?  Tempered thinking and voices of self-restraint?  It was all just silly fluff.  What words could possibly convey the mind-biting horror that tore my nerves asunder?  What had been experienced before, the unnaturalness and the illness and the wind-rushed scent of carrion, paled in comparison to what could be found out in those dead, ugly fields.  The brittle grass turned to ash at our feet and the sound of a terrible monster roared in the distance, the sound of its voice a blade that cut across the gray cold canvas of Gamath’s lands.

We were almost to the river.

And yet I found a comfort in my words, (her words) that eloquent locution… for to let loose the wail that built up in my throat would leave me open–I was certain–to whatever evil that infested this place. To save myself from that fate, I bit down hard on my tongue, and buried my face into Elmiryn’s side.

The warrior stood rigid, her strong body like a rock that defied the atmosphere that pressed against us. Glancing at her, I could see the veins in her neck, the tenseness of her jaw, the glassiness of her eyes. “We’re close,” she said tersely, her voice deep and rough. I missed the lyrical playfulness.

Behind us, there was the wet sound of slop hitting the ground. Coughing. Though the wind was blowing against us, a brief circulation of the air brought the acrid smell of vomit to my nose. I placed a hand over my mouth in an attempt to stop the bile from coming up my own throat.

Baldwin appeared at our side a second later, his young face now ashen and drawn. He had pulled out his sword. “Someone’s coming behind us,” he said weakly.

“Sedwick.” Elmiryn said, without turning around. “I figured he would join us.”

“Should we wait for him?”

“He’ll catch up.” Then she started walking again, her grip on me pushing me forward with her. I quickly tried to keep step with her long legs.

Ahead, white, grotesque-looking things and dark lumps riddled the grass.  As we neared, I saw that they were skeletons and decomposing animal corpses.  The bones were of varying sizes and shapes–belonging to such creatures as gophers, birds, cows, and deer–and were bleached white.  The corpses were animals that had died in the recent days.  These were fewer.  But as I looked at the body of a dead dog, I realized something unsettling.

“No flies…no maggots,” I whispered.  Elmiryn’s grip tightened.

We came up on a hillock.  At the top of it, we saw the Medwin river bend toward us, then away again.  It was wide and dark, and though the land appeared low and largely flat, the water turned white and swirled in places from little dips and the rocks that peeked beyond the surface.

Together, we ventured near the river’s edge, our gaits slow.  Once close, Elmiryn let go of me, and without thinking I slumped to the ground, ash and dust coming up in a startled cloud.  She went to the water and knelt down, where she dipped her hand into the current.

“What are you doing?!” Baldwin squeaked.

“Relax, Baldwin,” the woman said.  “Nothing happens to a person who touches the water.  It matters only if you drink it.”  Elmiryn withdrew her hand and sniffed her wet fingers.  Her eyes slipped closed and she clenched her fist.

“Would you drink it if you believed it were harmless, despite evidence to the contrary?” a new voice called.

We all looked to see Sedwick coming over the hillock, his helmet back on and his spear firmly gripped in both hands.  His pace was quick, and though I couldn’t see much of his face, it seemed the most the atmosphere did to him was set him on edge.

Elmiryn stood and I could see her lips twitching.  “Sedwick.  Good to see you decided to join us.”

He stopped near Baldwin and patted the boy on the back.  “I came to make sure this was finished once and for all.” He nodded at the boy.  “And to make sure he came home all right.”

The warrior woman gave a shrug.  “Fair enough.” She gestured toward the river.  “You said to come to this place, where the hillock overlooks a horseshoe bend in the river.  Well, we’re here.  Now what?”

“This used to be where the guardian would hold audience to any who would wish to speak to it.  It’s abandoned this place for some reason.  But the adventurer before you mentioned a cave entrance not far from here.  He seemed to believe the guardian had retreated there.”

“It’s on the other side, isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid so.”

Elmiryn sighed.  She looked down at me, and I slunk low to the ground, certain I would not like what she would say next.  “Nyx, you aren’t afraid of water, are you?”

Soon, we were all standing on the edge of the river.  Sedwick stood to my right, and he kept staring out of the corner of his eye at me.  Baldwin stood on his other side, gripping his arm.  He looked like he was about to throw up again.  Elmiryn was on my left.  Her bow and quiver were discarded on the ground behind her.  “Rain, it can handle.  Being dunked into a river–not so much,” she said with a wry grin.

The warrior shook out her limbs and said, “Try and keep calm, Nyx.  This is just like any other swim.” She then looked at Sedwick.  “I trust both of you have swam across a river before, and the current isn’t particularly treacherous here.  The threat mostly lies in accidentally taking a swig of water.  Keep your mouths shut, no matter what.”  She took a deep breath.  “Ready?”

“Let’s go,” Sedwick said solemnly.

“Yeah.  All right…one, two–”

In unison, we all jumped into the water.  There was a brief moment where I didn’t move and let the water carry me.  Panic had set into my limbs at the feel of the water streaming past my lips.  It…was terrible.  In all my days, I could not recall a time when water had ever felt so abhorrent to me.  But I saw Elmiryn’s kicking legs and I set forth, pushing against a rock in the river bed to propel me forward.  Even as I broke the surface, I didn’t trust opening my mouth and taking a breath of air.  By the time I reached the other side, my lungs and head felt ready to burst.

Sedwick and Baldwin made it a second after I did, crawling onto the land and panting.  I wiped at my mouth, mindful not to let any of the water fall into my mouth, and looked up.  Elmiryn was separate from us, all ready on her feet, with her head bowed and her hand to her lips.  Dread set into my stomach.  I crawled on all fours toward her and swiped softly at her leg as an odd, inquisitive noise came from the back of my throat.

She looked down at me, blinking.  The edges of her mouth twitched again before she smiled a long curling smile.  “It’s okay, Nyx.”  The warrior reached down and pulled me to my feet.  “It’s all right.”

Sedwick and Baldwin came to us.  The woman looked at the blacksmith.  “Will you lead the way?  You know the land better than I.”

The man nodded.  “As I said, it isn’t far from here.”  He brushed past her, and Baldwin followed close, sparing a wide-eyed glance in my direction as he passed.

Elmiryn chuckled, though I didn’t know what was so funny, and we followed.

Just as Baldwin said, it wasn’t very far.  After following the river northward, we came to a point where a wide, uneven trail of dry mud led into the mouth of a cave set into a little hillock some yards from the river.  We stood at the jagged mouth of it, where pitch darkness barred our sight from seeing too far into its depths.

“It-It looks like it goes s-straight down…” Baldwin breathed shakily.  He took a step backward.  “I wo-won’t do it.  I wo-won’t go in there!”

I hissed at the boy.  After all his blustering, now his courage fled him?  Damn him.

“Sedwick,” Elmiryn said, not taking her eyes off the mouth of the cave.  Her eyes were wide and glassy again, and her voice seemed brittle and faint.  “Take Baldwin and leave.  Now.”

“What’s wrong?” But even as the blacksmith asked this, he and Baldwin were all ready backing away.

My ears tickled as I realized that the river had gone quiet behind us, like it were holding its breath.  I looked back and my face fell.  The two men behind us saw this and looked back as well.

The river had swelled into an impossible wave, one that grew and loomed over us until we were lost in its shadow.  I felt my stomach drop, and I would’ve fallen to a heap on the ground if Elmiryn hadn’t grabbed me by the armpit.  Baldwin screamed, and Sedwick muttered some sort of prayer.  But all was lost when the water came crashing down on us, its frigid arms carrying us into a world of ink and confusion.


(…i feel cold…)

[Bones reconnect, bruises fade…]

…And I was aware again.

I felt like the nerves of my body had been frayed and grated, the muscles sliced apart.  My limbs were in bizarre positions, like I were a doll that had been dropped unceremoniously on some child’s floor.  I registered blood in my mouth as I lay face down on a damp and uncomfortable surface.  My fingers flexed, scraping.  It was rock, and it dug into my ribs.  I shifted and groaned as my eyes blinked open.   Wherever I was, there was a dim light coming from all over, causing a pale glow.  I couldn’t say for certain what the source of the light was–there seemed to be patches on the rocky walls that produced it.  Sight was still poor here, and much of everything seemed like vague shapes, even after my eyes focused.

Suddenly, something came toward me and I clumsily pulled my right arm out from underneath me and pushed myself onto all fours. An unintelligible sound slipped from my lips as I pressed against what appeared to be a stalagmite.

“I thought you were dead!” A familiar voice exclaimed.

I squinted.  It was Baldwin.

He was bleeding somewhere on his head as blood dripped down his neck.  He had black circles around his eyes, and his skin seemed to visibly sag, making his young face seem old.  He limped closer and knelt down, his silly armor making noise the whole time.  I tensed and looked around to see if anything would come investigate the racket.

“I don’t know where the others are,” the boy started.  His lip trembled and he rocked back and forth.  “Sedwick tried to grab me but the water…it pushed us apart.  I woke up here after my head hit the rocks.” He bit his thumb and then looked at me.  “We should find the others, don’t you think?  We have to get out of here!”

I stared right back, my lip curling.  Moron…why did he want to come at all if he were going to fall to pieces?

I carefully got to my feet with a grunt, and looked around.  We were in some sort of chamber.  The ceiling was high, stalactites baring down on us like fangs.  From where Baldwin had come toward me, I could make out what appeared to be a passage that lead into another chamber, one lit differently than this one.  In the center of the chamber we were in, there was a puddle of water.  I ventured near it.

Why was this the only trace of water left here?  Didn’t a huge wave just wash us down into the this hellish place?  I peered into it, holding my wet hair back with both hands, and I realized–

I couldn’t see my own reflection.

Behind me, Baldwin stumbled forward, the sound of his mismatched armor like a death knell.  “Hey!  You dumb animal, I’m talkin’ to you!!”

I turn and hissed loudly at him, my hands clenched like claws, but it was too late.  I saw a small rock fly past my face, saw Baldwin’s arm follow through with his throw, his face contorted in anger and frustration.

The rock hit the water with a loud splash.

Horrified, I looked back at it.  The ripples were so strong they caused the small puddle to flood onto the area surrounding it.  Slowly, I walk backwards, my heart thumping.

“What are you doing?  What’s the matter?” Baldwin asks, a little panicked at my sudden behavior.

“You’re an idiot,” I say shortly.

The water bubbled and frothed, rising higher and higher until it became clear it was taking the form of some creature.  Its rippling body was tall and rotund, little bubbles swirling around inside of it.  It seemed like a man with no arms, and its head, faceless, sprouted barbed tentacles.  The tentacles were long and lashed about angrily.  The thing’s torso twisted and writhed, and from it a gurgled wailing echoed off the rocky walls.

At the terrible sound, Baldwin and I were snapped out of our trance and took off running toward the only exit from the chamber.  Naturally, the boy made it to the passage before me, but as the red glow of the other room painted his face, something hit him in the back with a ‘shlop’, and he fell to the ground with a nasty crash.

As I passed Baldwin, I reached down and grabbed him by the back of his armor, dragging him from the chamber entrance.  I didn’t pause to look back this time, but I heard what sounded like water splashing against the rocks.  I stopped some yards away to inspect him.  I saw no wound in his back.  Confused, I rolled him over.  He was conscious and breathing, and he looked at me, his eyes wide and teary and his nose running with snot.  I shook him, growling.

…But then his back arched and his mouth parted open.  He gurgled once before his eyes bulged.  The moisture I had previously thought to be tears turned out to be just water, and it streamed down the sides of his face profusely.  I let him go, as if bitten, and when his head rolled to the side, more water gushed out of his mouth and nose, and I saw that in his ears it also pooled and trickled down onto his bloated face.  Blood appeared like a dark plume in the water.

The gurgled wail echoed around me again and I felt it rattle in my skull.  Trembling, I looked around for a way out.  There were other passages behind me on a higher level, and my only obstacles were a collection of thick stalagmites.  Without pause, I began to climb.

I had to find Elmiryn and get out of there.


Continue ReadingChapter 4.4

Chapter 4.5


(where is she, where is she)

[Her hands sting and bleed as she runs on all fours, the rocks slicing her with vindictiveness. With her growing distress, it becomes harder to think with words–but this is natural to her. It was a borrowed process to begin with. Now in this dire situation, she can only conceive thoughts she feels relevant–short clipped things that sear boldly in a canvas of white.]

(i have to find her, i have to find the warrior.)

[The size of these strange caverns alarms her. Her nose, weak in this form, cannot grasp a proper scent. All she knows is that she is at the source of wrongness, and she wishes to leave.]

(where is my protector)

[As she flees, she registers the nearing wail of the water creature, and it makes her fevered and clumsy. The sound stretches and warbles, echoing off the rocky walls and causes dust to drift from the ceiling. She cannot name the thing for certain. But as a being born of spirit as much as flesh, she knows that no attack against the monster can hope to stop it. Without this last defense, she feels helpless.]


[She hears splashing and whips around to see that other creatures have emerged from the shadows.  They twist and they gurgle, and she thinks she can hear them cursing her in some ancient tongue. They bare down on her from all around, bizarre forms trickling past stalagmites and large rock formations. She hisses, back bunching, hands tensed in an attempt to extract non-existent claws. They’ll make her drown from the inside. Make her face bloat–make her eyes, mouth, and ears flood. The monsters’ tentacles fire deadly barbs with a harsh whip. Baldwin’s face flashes in her brain before she roars beneath the rain of water.]


She told herself to scream, because she figured it would make her feel better. But where would that sound go, in this terrible place? What would that sound mean here? It hardly meant a thing to her, after all… She was dead. A ghost…right? So what did it mean when the sound of anguish curled out of her mouth like a desperate hand?

…Aw, who cares…

Elmiryn pushed herself upright, and her limbs shook with the effort. She came to an angle her spine disagreed with and fell back again, pain incising itself into her nerves. That dubious noise came to her lips once more, but rather than take flight, it clung there, shuddering, before it was lost in a sudden bark of laughter.

She had always wondered if Halward, moral god, would see fit to cast her in some dank hell. Well…she got her answer. How could she have survived such a crash of water? It cast her into dark–shattered her completely beyond recognition, like glass, like a mirror…

An emerald glow diffused from stark, jagged grins, and stony visages–quiet, quiet sentinels that leered at her as she tried to make sense of her surroundings. Or perhaps she was inside the mouth of a larger monster? Perhaps this creature was an amalgam of wrath and pride, crafted by Halward himself, to contain her for eternity?

Her scabbard dug into her leg, and her clothes clung to her skin. Though it hurt, Elmiryn lifted her head to look down at herself. Her skin was damp–naturally–she had just been killed by a wave after all. Only…

…It felt thick.

Then her heart gave a twist.

“No…” She whispered. She fought against the base sensations of her body as a new pain, a new horror, took precedence. Nausea washed over her and she felt as if her head would split in two. “No, no, no!!

She rolled over so that she were on her knees, and she felt the scales of the monster she was trapped in scrape and bite into her flesh. “Meznik!” The woman’s voice broke as she almost fell over from the agony. “Meznik!” Elmiryn forced the name out of her mouth as she shoved to her feet. “Meznik, where are you! You bastard!” She trembled. She wiped at her face roughly.

She had to get the slime off…the illness…the sickness…it was on her skin…

Elmiryn looked at her hands. Water, clear water, dripped from her fingertips. She would have breathed a sigh of relief had she not noticed the dark stain that blossomed on the palm of her right glove. With a scowl, the redhead took off the bracer and peeled the glove away to reveal the bandaged hand beneath. The cloth was also dark.

Do ghosts bleed?

“I don’t feel it…” Elmiryn whispered as she slowly unwrapped her hand. The stitched skin–previously a source of discomfort she only just managed to ignore–seemed as far removed as any unrelated image. The skin had become puffy and purplish, the stitches stretched apart over an angry valley of crimson that came flowing out in eager currents now that there wasn’t the barrier of a bandage. She figured she should have felt it. Everything ELSE hurt…so why then…why then did this…not register?

Elmiryn looked around, her eyes glassy. “Meznik,” she called in a calmer voice. “Where are you? I know you’re here, I can feel you.”

Ahead of her, there was a space of impenetrable black. Fangs and uneven gums marked the passage to that place. By some twist in her stomach, the woman was certain her tormentor was in that darkness. She took a tentative step in that direction, breath shallow as she fought to remain on her feet.

“You gave me your name. But you still hide your face,” She whispered. Steam seemed to exhale from the fangs. This smoke curled with a current of air she was unaware of. “…Well…you won,” Elmiryn said. She dropped her glove and bracer and spread her arms apart.

“Have at me.”


Her jaw tightened.

“Go on,” She growled.

Still nothing.

Fucker. She was here, she was dead. Whatever scheme he had, it had succeeded. There was nothing left to do now but to take what he had always wanted. Yet here he was, continuing to play games. Toying with her. The warrior was certain she could hear the demon–reveling in this monster’s insides–festering like a wound in his black sanctuary.

Elmiryn screamed, and she could feel it pierce into the hellish atmosphere. “HAVE AT ME, I SAID!”

The smoke, which seemed to screen the passage, swirled at her voice, and the woman blinked as her mind briefly registered what appeared to be a rictus grin.

Then she heard the echo of a roar that tore her assertions down with staggering efficiency.

Elmiryn’s eyes widened and her head turned slightly to the side. “…Nyx?

But her attention was reclaimed when the smoky grin dispersed in a startled hiss, and a crimson tentacle of muscle and veins speared toward her…


[She’s certain of her end. Inside her, The Other is screaming. They drift further apart, anger and blame ripping a chasm as far as a mile between them. Then suddenly, She is knocked to the side, the splats of a dozen missed barbs hitting the hard wall. She crashes onto her shoulder, neck and jaw taking a sharp jolt of pain before she finds herself dragged to her feet by broad hands.]

“Run! Run girl, run!

Leather armor, studded. His helmet was gone, probably lost from the wave. A name came to me, and within a moment I found my words again.

It was Sedwick.

He carried me off, more strength in his form then could be guessed by looking at him. Still, as we avoided more of those insidious barbs, I could feel his grip slipping, and I worked harder to keep pace. Whatever the things were, they were slow, and as luck would have it, the passage we took didn’t lead into a dead end. As we ran, the glow from the rocks shifted–from cobalt, to yellow; from red, to violet–like the cavern itself was a living creature, and our fleeing set it into a frenzy.

It was disorienting. Sedwick kept stumbling, and even I found it hard to keep my pace steady. We came to a large chamber, and here there were no pools. Blue light painted our skin. The blacksmith slowed to a stop, panting.

“Wait…just wait.”

I looked at him and snorted. My eyes were wide, and I was certain that my skin was plagued as much by my own fear-induced sweat as the poisonous waters of the Medwin. I gazed back through the oval shaped passage we had just come from. From it echoed the wails of those water monsters.

“Where’s Baldwin?” Sedwick suddenly asked, looking up at me from his bent position.

I looked at him, startled. After a brief pause, I shrugged.

“You don’t know?”


He sighed and shook his head. “He shouldn’t have come.”

I looked away. My throat felt tight, but I tried to ignore it. “Let’s go.”

The man took another second to take a breath, then straightened, shouldering his spear. “Yes. Let’s find the others.”

“The others! The others! They have to find the others!

Laughter echoed through the chamber. Both Sedwick and I jumped–he settling into some fighting stance, while I simply ducked and tensed my hands. (i miss my claws)

A shadow danced over the walls before a man came into view, from behind a tall set of stalagmites. He had a strong chin and a full, flat face, with short black hair and elfish ears. His eyes were slanted, dark and shiny. His generous lips were parted to reveal large horse teeth. He came toward us, gait loping, like a person running across a room where a party was being held.

Sedwick didn’t lower his spear as he stared at the man. “…It’s you…” was all he said.

“Hey! Aren’t you that fine gentleman I spoke to a while ago?” The man wagged his finger. “You’re late! Tsk, tsk! I’ve been waiting in this place for what seemed like ages for someone to come get me.”

The tip of Sedwick’s spear dipped a little. “We…thought you were dead.”

I moved a little behind the blacksmith, my mouth parted as I panted anxiously. I didn’t like the look of this newcomer’s eyes.

Sedwick looked at me. “It’s all right, Nyx. This is the man we hired before Elmiryn.” He looked back at the adventurer. “Aidan, I think the name was, right?”

With alarming quickness, the man grabbed the blacksmith by the neck with both hands and gave him a rough shake. Spit came dribbling out of his insane grin. “You remember my name!” Sedwick grunted, his eyes wide as he tried to push the man away with one arm. Aidan didn’t let go, didn’t even seem phased as he giggled. “I’ve had nightmares! Nightmares, man! Afraid that I’d be forgotten in this hell hole! That not a soul would remember me! Not a one!” His smile vanished and at once all the muscles in his face tightened. His hands wrapped themselves around Sedwick’s throat. “But you remembered me…you knew I was here. You just didn’t come.”

Veins, like creeping plant vines, appeared beneath the collar of his cotton shirt. They were thick and purplish, and spread onto his face just as water would across the ground.

He slid one foot back, and with incredible force, drove his knee into the blacksmith’s gut. The man was lifted into the air briefly before he crashed onto the ground with an “Ooph!” He didn’t move again.

Aidan then turned to me. “And you are supposed to be my competition? You think you can stop the guardian? You bitch. I’ve fought trolls, werewolves, and witches! What can you possibly do but insult my memory with your pathetic efforts!?” He advanced on me, shoulders squared and fists clenched, his grotesque face contorted in rage, all pretense of jovial humor gone. I found myself falling backwards, scrambling.

Spit flew from his mouth as he roared, “I’ll kill you!

His foot came up and he moved to stomp my chest. I rolled out of the way, moving back to all fours. I saw his other foot come around toward my face but didn’t have time to react before…

[It connected. Her head snaps to the side, pain smashing into her like a hammer that knocks away her prose. She falls to her side, and he assails her again–stomping fast and hard with the heel of his foot until she’s coughing up blood and feels her sternum crack. The agony stabs at her, and her vision fogs. She is forced upright by the front of her clothes. Her head is slammed into the rock. Again and again. She’s certain he could kill her outright, with one blow, but he’s purposefully holding back. Making her hurt. Aidan is giggling as he straddles her.]

(…i’ll kill you…)

[The feeling, enters her heart. Aidan stops slamming her head, and instead back hands her–perhaps because of the strangled noise that had slipped her stained lips.]

(…i’ll rip you apart…)

[The Other, her ghost, her other self, speaks, and she just barely manages to hear her through the ringing and pounding in her head.]



[Her back arches, and vainly she claws at Aidan’s face. She feels her dull nails scrape into the uneven flesh. Disgust rises in her and she grabs one of his arms instead.]

(i can’t. he won’t let me.)

(he won’t let me.  he won’t let me!)

[She gnashes her teeth as she feels Aidan’s hands enclose around her throat. He leers at her, his eyes like dark stones that wink at her from beneath the short crop of his hair. Then she roars, vocal chords–though short of the animal ferocity she knows–still carries out in a note that rattles her audience.]

[She grips Aidan’s wrist and places her other hand at his elbow. There is a brief pause from him as he feels her shift beneath her, as he sees the wild determination set into her scarlet face. She bares her teeth for a moment before she digs her shoulders back into the rocky surface and pushes with all her might at Aidan’s elbow, forcing it in the opposite direction of its bend.]

[His eyes widen at the sudden brute strength that fights him, and he resists with a grunt. At best he manages to keep his arm straight, but She dredges up all she has in her and presses in. His arm shakes and shudders before it gives.]

[There is the snap of bone and the wet tear of flesh ripping. Aidan’s scream sends her into a frenzy, the blood that sprays her face cold and stale. This man is not alive. And soon, his charade will end, she will make certain of it.]

[He collapses on her, his arm–with its bone poking through the skin–no longer able to support him. The death that encloses her throat is gone, and she gasps, shuddering, before weakly shoving the lunatic off of her. He lies there, speaking to himself in dazed gibberish, the veins in his face pulsing red and angry.  The light of the cavern has shifted to a pale yellow.]

[She sits up with much effort, body battered, her chest hurting. Her vision blurs and a part of her wishes to remain still and never move again. …But the desire to live and see her threat gone wins out. She crawls on all fours toward Sedwick, who only just begins to stir. She does not wait to see what he does or if he is okay. The threat is still there. Still liable to do them harm. She takes his spear, forgotten on the ground, and with it pushes herself to her feet. She growls inaudibly, forcing her sapien chords to work in ways it was never meant to.]

[As she stands over Aidan, she sees that the veins have spread to his wound and now wrap around it–knitting the flesh back together. But he is still prone on the ground, lost in his pain. She raises the spear high before she stabs downward, into Aidan’s chest. His head raises from the ground, and he gurgles. She does this again, and again…and again.  The muted noise of his decimation is sweet to her, but not quite enough to satisfy her anger, to chase away her disgust…to quell her fear.]

“Stop it.”

[Sedwick. Or The Other. She isn’t sure. The voice seems far away and unimportant. The man hurt her. The man had sought to make her feel as much pain as possible before he killed her. The bastard.  The man had to hurt. He had to suffer.]


[She screams defiantly against the dubious protest, before burying the spear in Aidan’s throat. She leans into the weapon, twists it, wiggles it–feels the tip of the spear finally scrape the rock on the other side. She wills for the head to come off completely–]

[But then she is knocked from behind and her body falls to the ground.]


[There, her strength leaves her.  She feels her sternum knit back together beneath her chest. Her body is healing, but the pain does not go away. Her bones ache, her skin burns.]

[The Other is forcing her way forward.]

(…you aren’t…no…you can’t…)

[She screeches as she feels the bones and muscles of her chest shift beneath her fevered skin. Sedwick reclaims his spear and looks down at her in horror.]

(…i…am the only one…the only one! the blood that was shed was mine!)

[Her boots are kicked off to reveal padded, furry paws. Her fingers retract, claws protrude; her nose turns small and wet, fangs gnash in her mouth, and porcelain skin is lost to black fur.  She is confused.  She is…]


[Her back legs are short and bend the other way.  She feels a tail sweeping the seat of her pants.  She snorts and swipes at her nose with her paw because she feels the odor of this place assail her on a level that she had only conceived of in dreams.  The closest she knew of this life–this unique perception–was when she turned into the cat woman, as she had done at Toah.  Then, she could stand on hind legs and still had opposable thumbs.  But this…this…]

…Sweet Aelurus, I had come back…but in the wrong body.

Continue ReadingChapter 4.5

Chapter 5.1


In a flash of heat and scarlet, something smashed out of the canvas of black before her.  It tore through like a parasite engorged on her misconceptions.  She jerked her head to the side and backpedaled away.  Her feet tripped on the uneven ground as a monster came sliming forth into the emerald light.  Veins and angry dark flesh, riddled with cancerous tumors that pussed and bubbled, crept along the cavern floor.  When the thing stopped a few yards from her, Elmiryn found herself staring at a thing that drew itself up nearly ten feet tall…and had no head or mouth to speak of.

Her head tilted to the side and she squinted at it, her previous frustration replaced simply by confusion.  The thing reminded her of a slug, but she didn’t believe it were a slug anymore than she believed it were Meznik.  She wasn’t sure…but was it posing itself in some semblance of haughty pride?  Or was it simply trying to seem as intimidating as possible by pulling itself up to its full height?

From where she stood it reeked…it smelled like…

…Raw uncooked meat, cut from a diseased animal, left to rot in the hot summer sun.  Her mouth watered.

Elmiryn decided she was hungry.

So it was startling to hear the giggle of a stream in her ear.  There were little whispers within the noise that begged and asked for clarification on mysteries she knew nothing about.  She began to shake her head with a frown as she looked around her.  Where was that noise coming from–?

The melancholy sweep of water on land.  The sound came much like the other, but this echoed and reverberated within her bones.  For a brief moment she thought she were drowning…only to realize that this was the pain and torment of the raw meat before her.

“My gods…” Elmiryn rose to her feet, a surprised grin spreading across her face. “You…you’re not uncooked meat!  You’re the river guardian!”  She went to clap a hand to her head when she realized the one she lifted up was the injured one.  Her cerulean eyes fell to it, and the grin vanished.  The blood flowed thicker.  It came down her forearm to drip at her elbow, where she saw her life splatter onto the ground like sloshed drink.

She looked slowly up again.  “I don’t suppose you know what’s going on?”  Furtively, the warrior allowed her eyes to leave the creature before her to search for her missing glove and bracer.  She spotted them a few feet away, the discarded bandages next to them.  Tentatively she took a step in that direction.

The moment her foot touched the ground, there was a sharp screech, and she jumped back with a wince. The guardian’s body, grotesque and amorphous, rippled violently.  Limbs branched out from its upper body, like plants, and curved upwards. It seemed to suck in its trunk, letting its base slither and root themselves into the floor in thick tentacles. Elmiryn stared. “A tree?”

In her ear, she heard the splash of water and startled bubbles. The woman blinked again and touched a hand to her ear. She frowned and shook her head. “What? No. It isn’t me. I’m not the one to ask about that.”

A low hiss.

Elmiryn took a step back and held up her gloved hand, the other she cradled to her chest, in a vain attempt to keep more blood from flowing.  The guardian’s body was turning darker, and steam now emitted from the tumors that ruptured on its putrid skin.

“Now hold on a minute…I have no fucking idea what you’re talking about!” The woman shouted. She couldn’t explain why, but she suddenly felt angry. “I didn’t put that slime on your skin! I didn’t do it!

The branched limbs collected together. They formed two sets of arms and hands, and between them something like a head sprouted. The guardian leaned forward, and its head spread apart in an angry maw of veins and pulsing muscles. Its body coiled.

She didn’t pause to stop and wonder if the thing would attack her or not.  Elmiryn only knew she wanted her glove and bracer back.

The chamber’s light shifted to crimson.

When the roiling flesh leapt toward her, its body a single stream of movement that stretched a good sixteen feet, she dived to the right.    The warrior rolled to a stop, close to her things, and picked them up hurriedly with one hand.  Behind her, she could hear the river guardian slime along the cavern floor.  She stood to her feet as her mind raced.

“Rivers, rivers, rivers…wait…this thing’s a river?  No, no!  It’s a guardian! What are guardians?  Immortal!  But it answers to a higher being–so that means…shit, what does that mean!?”

She began to backpedal toward the dark space where she had seen the creature emerge, when she saw a large “B” shaped passage lit in an indigo glow just across the chamber.  Then Elmiryn realized she backed herself into a corner.  She cursed.

The river guardian surged toward her again with a roar that shook dust from the stalactites above.  The redhead jumped to the side as she frantically tried to wrap the bandage back onto her bleeding hand.  When she managed to wrap a few layers, the fabric was already drenched.  She next went to put on her glove.  Her head began to feel light, and her excited movements caused spots to dance before her eyes.

“I’m feeling dizzy…kinda funny…like…like…”

Her limbs felt immaterial.  They shook and disagreed with her as she struggled to avoid the guardian’s advances.  It streamed, it snaked, it followed through in a clear line of force and wrath that–with each successive attempt–narrowed their separation.  The chamber they were in was mostly circular, the edges of it lined with thousands of little stalagmites on ascending rock beds.

“I’m running around in a ball of death!” Elmiryn thought with a snicker as she nearly face planted onto the ground.  On hands and knees, she glanced behind her.  Not once in this evasive dance was she able to find an opportunity to leave the chamber.

The guardian too, appeared tired.  It warbled, before it slithered slowly toward her.  It seemed to sense its impending victory.

She looked at it and grinned lazily as she snapped on her bracer over her gloved arm, and scooted so that the small of her back was pressed against the edge where the floor began to curve upwards.

“This is as good a hell as any to die in…” Elmiryn thought.  She blinked as the guardian drew itself up again, and spread its body so that it seemed like a large river with many tributaries.

In her head, she heard Nyx break down the word that had become all that mattered in the world.  “Death.  To die.  To cease to exist.  To lack life.”

The last thought caused her pause.

…Life?  She had life.  She had it.  It was slipping away from her, yes, through this cursed hand of hers, but it was still there.  She was not dead yet.  She was not in hell.  She had not been defeated by Meznik yet…technically.

So what was she doing?

“Surrender.  To give up.  To quit.  To yield to a greater power.”

Elmiryn sucked in breath, her eyes flashing.  “I’m doing what!?

Just as the guardian crashed downward, ready to tear her apart, or swallow her, or…whatever it would do, the woman scuttled backwards and up, onto the rocks that lead her up and away from danger.  The little stalagmites poked like a bitch, but it was as she found herself several yards up, and in what appeared to be a spiny bed of dogtooth spar, that she noticed something.

“…The guardian isn’t following.”

It roared at her, and circled around the chamber floor once before it rushed toward her direction.  It crashed ineffectually against the base of the chambers edge like water against a cliff side.

Elmiryn’s mind toiled over this curious observation.  “This thing’s a river guardian.  It’s immortal, but it still answers to a higher being.  That means…it means…” her eyes widened.  “It works under a spiritual ban!”  Gingerly, she drew her sword and tried to stand on her feet only to find herself much too wobbly to do so.  Instead, she sat crouched as she grinned down at the livid immortal.  “Since you oversee the rivers of the East, you must behave as a river yourself!  Fuck, how brilliant!”

Carefully, the warrior began to make her way toward the other end of the chamber, toward the indigo passage.  She was careful to remain high up, where the guardian could not reach her.  “Rivers move in one direction,” she thought to herself, with tongue caught between her teeth.  “They can branch off, but unless they meet again in some body of water, they can only go so far.  Rivers never flow uphill…is that why it hasn’t left the cavern?  Because the entrance to this place was a slope that lead downward?”

Elmiryn looked at the guardian, then shook her head.  “No.  It thinks I poisoned the river.  It wants to go back, but sounds less like a prisoner so much as someone just homesick…So there must be another way out.”

She finally reached the other end.  All the while the guardian had followed her, bubbling and gurgling violently.  The warrior looked down at it as it drew itself up again in a wavering pillar.

“Okay, here’s the deal,” Elmiryn began, brandishing her sword.  “You need to pull it together.  Madness doesn’t suit you.”

A screech.

“Look.  I told you I didn’t do it…in fact.  I think you’re failing to grasp the exact reasons for your behavior.  You think you’re protecting your river?”  Elmiryn tsked and wagged a finger.  “You’ve REALLY gotta learn the difference between fighting and protecting–”

Then, without warning, she jumped, her sword slashing as the guardian moved to meet her mid air.  The blade connected, splitting the being in two.  It felt as if she were cutting through water, resistance there but no real sense of permanent division.  The split allowed her space to slip by, and she turned her head slightly to see that the creature did not turn mid-air, but simply continued going, as she’d expected.

“Unless something forces it, it cannot make that sharp a turn so quickly,” Elmiryn thought.

The woman landed harsh and fell to her knees with a grunt.  Her vision tunneled and she remained there panting before she forced her body forward with an unsteady lurch, through the indigo passage to what could only be freedom.  Behind her, she heard the river guardian roar.  It sounded like it had made a pass at her while she was on the ground.  If that were the case, it would have to circle around before being able to follow her.

She stumbled through a tunnel before she came to another large chamber.  Ahead of her were three passages.  The one on the far left was lit crimson, and echoed with suspicious wails.  The one in the center was emerald, just as the room before her had been before the color shifted.  The passageway next to it was a pale yellow.

Elmiryn blinked and scratched her head as she tried to think.  “These lights must mean something.  The room behind me turned crimson when the guardian attacked.  So, what…does it mean danger?  Okay, that works…but the room was emerald before that.  The one in the center is the same…only, the room behind me had only one way out.  Maybe it means a dead end?  The passage on the end…what the hell does that mean?”  Elmiryn looked behind her and cursed.

The guardian was surging toward her again.

“To hell with it…three’s my lucky number anyways!”

The warrior charged toward the large passage.  She felt ready to give out.  Her limbs were weak, her head hurt, and her skin felt cold.

“To surrender, or die.”  As she came into the new chamber, her feet tripped and she fell to the floor, panting.  Her brow seared with pain where her head slammed into the rock, her hip ached, and her sword–which had slipped from her grip–lay a few feet away.

She gave a sigh and closed her eyes.  “I’m still not sure I have the option of choosing…”


I was mortified.

My clothes had shifted with me, thanks to the enchantment cast on them, but this was wrong…this was…

Sedwick bore down on me, the sharp end of his spear pointed in my furry face.

“You…” he started in a querulous voice.  His scarred countenance was drawn as he blinked rapidly at me.  “…You’re completely unstable…you killed that man, and now…”

I could smell the fear on him.  Through the pestilence of this place, I could practically taste it.  But that did nothing for my nerves.  I was up against a thin column.  I could see past his legs where Aidan’s corpse lay, and thought to myself, “I don’t want to be here.”

Sedwick’s eyes narrowed and he jabbed the spear at me threateningly.  “You were with Baldwin, weren’t you?”

My muscles bunched and I panted anxiously.  Some form of expression must have passed my face as the blacksmith’s lips grew thin and his brows pressed together in an angry scowl.

“You tell me where he is!  What happened to him!?” he shouted.

I growled as he jabbed the spear at me again.  I found it hard to think as…

[Her mind slips to base emotions.  Fear curdles.  She wishes to flee.  She wishes to run.  But this man…stops her.  She could escape if she–]

I stopped those thoughts before they can go any further. “No!  I am not like her!  I have to think properly!  I need to–!”

Sedwick howled and stabbed at my head.  I shifted to the side, the spear’s blade tearing through my clothes and scraping down my right shoulder and foreleg.  I limped away with a low yowl.  I was no longer pinned against the column, but it hurt so much to move.  I looked behind me.  Another passage seemed to suddenly appear, and it was lit indigo.

“You killed him didn’t you!” Sedwick shouted as he advanced on me.  He raised his spear again.  “Just like Aidan!  You killed him!”

I looked back at him and shook my furry head.  The action felt awkward because my neck was much thicker than the form I was used to.  I tried to form words with my mouth only to find a silly chittering sound escaped my lips.

Sedwick sneered.  “You’re not human…you’re not even an Ailuran…you’re just a monster.”  He pulled back his arm, ready to throw his spear.

I turned and loped with pathetic stride toward the indigo light.  Then, I heard a clatter and a scream, and I stopped.

I looked backward again to see, to my horror, that unbeknowest to either of us, veins had proceeded to spread from Aidan’s body along the cavern floor.  They latched onto Sedwick’s leg and crept up his pants, and I could hear the parasitic flesh merge with the blacksmith’s skin.  He reached down, screaming in pain and terror, and I slowly backed away as he pulled back his pants to reveal the veins migrating upward.  Sedwick tugged and pulled in an attempt to break free only to fall to his side, where beneath his armor, the alien flesh blossomed forth to consume the rest of his body.

I fled–through the indigo passage and onward to a place that I hoped would be safer.

…Instead I found Elmiryn.

Continue ReadingChapter 5.1

Chapter 5.2


She felt something wet and cold push against her face. Elmiryn’s eyes creaked open. She was met with a furry visage. The woman grinned and lifted her head.

“Am I dead yet?” she asked the creature next to her.

Whatever it was growled. Before she registered what it was doing, it clamped its teeth around her ear and began to pull and tug. Elmiryn yelped as she felt a canine fang dig into her ear lobe, and incisors uncomfortably press her cartilage. Her bright eyes flew open wide, and she tried to keep up with the beast as it forced her to follow it. It gave an impatient yank every time she slowed. When she crawled rather than dragged, the creature let her go. It turned and fled onward, and the redhead watched its retreating form with a look of scandalized bewilderment. That’s when she saw the gambeson, and the baggy brown pants.

Her mind unfolded with odd considerations. Her first immediate impression was that Nyx was a trendsetter in animal couture, but then this idea was discarded when she remembered that her companion had a crappy haircut and hand-me down clothes. …Unless it was some new trend she hadn’t heard of.

…No, of course not.

Elmiryn stumbled forward into a run after the animal, and she moved to sweep up her lost sword as she went by. As she did so, spots erupted in her vision and she fell to her knees, where they scraped painfully. Her brow still hurt, and she could feel blood drip down the side of her face. Her ear throbbed and she was certain the large panther (a term she used lightly) had managed to make her bleed a bit there too.

“Hey!” She shouted after it.

Her voice parted and echoed around her.

She was aware the guardian was still in pursuit. She spared it a glance when she took off again. Its inhuman voice reverberated around the oddly lit chamber, lacing with hers in some unholy matrimony, and its body stretched out in bloody rivulets of tendons and flesh. But she felt unconcerned with it. Even with the gain it had managed, the guardian still seemed to lag. Perhaps it was due to exhaustion, or illness, or it could even have been its spiritual ban at work. Regardless, the animal took precedence because Elmiryn couldn’t get her mind over it.

Adrenaline sang through her, and her heart pumped hard in her chest. Her glove felt wet and sticky. The warm moisture actually made her skin itch, but she fought to ignore it. She just couldn’t get over the animal.

…Animal. It was an animal. It was a four-legged…well, wait a moment. It could be a two-legged creature simply running on all fours. It certainly appeared that way.

As the panther ran, it had an awkward motion of the body that rolled, then bumped, rolled, then bumped. First it would push forward with its back legs and stretch its front legs out a bit too wide.  Then it would land with an uncomfortable jolt, because it would not bend its forelegs enough. The rear paws would swing forward and tuck in, then the process repeated. It was like a demented leap frog.

Elmiryn got the sense that the creature was holding back so that she could catch up. She thought this awfully obliging, but it was a bizarre consideration coming from a panther…or a cat…or…whatever.

The warrior ran no more gracefully than the creature before her, with her face turned ashen and drenched in sweat–but her abdomen tensed and her throat constricted in barely contained laughter at the absurdity of her situation. Then she got an idea.

They entered a new chamber, but this space still glowed with the same color of light as the last. The rocks here seemed bulbous and undulated in blossoming formations that layered and dipped. As they jumped down from a small plateau-like rock, the woman leaned down (and nearly fell head over heels before she steadied herself) and through harsh pants said, “Hey, did I ever mention to you that I’ve got a thing for hairy women?”

The panther did a curious cross between a growl and a squeak as it turned its broad head toward the woman with jaw hung low and its eyes opened wide. Then its great paws tripped on the uneven ground and it face-planted, rump in the air. Elmiryn beamed and stumbled to a stop before she rounded back and picked the dazed creature up by the back of its clothes. She had to use both hands to do this and leaned back with all her weight to effectively help the creature, who was quite large for a feline. She took note of the damp clothing, and the familiar smell of rusted copper.  Belatedly, she wondered where Sedwick was.

When the animal was up again, they took off through a set of limestone columns that reminded Elmiryn of tapioca pudding, and scaled up a rocky wall about ten feet tall that had few footholds. At the top, they went through a small crawl space that could only accommodate one of them at a time. The beast went first. Then Elmiryn followed. She smiled at the being before her, whose ears had been turned flat against its head. Beyond it, she could see nothing but darkness. Still, she felt a warmth in her heart, knowing that she was not alone.

“I’m really glad you’re back, Nyx,” Elmiryn said.


My snout hurt.

I tasted blood in my mouth, and it made me want to snarl. One of my fangs, it seemed, had pierced the inside of my upper lip in that embarrassing misstep. The bleeding had already stopped, but the taste remained just as a ghost haunting me. It didn’t help that I could smell Elmiryn’s blood on her skin. She reeked of it. I suspected that somewhere she was seriously hurt, because the amount I could smell did not match the bit that trickled down the side of her face. My clothes, too, stunk of stale life. It made me crazy.

I scaled the rock wall with a great jump and my claws scraped at the top before they found a crack to grip into. I pulled myself up and slunk through the narrow crawl space that led into darkness. No light illuminated the way. I didn’t pause to consider this as behind me I could hear the creature enter into the chamber. It screeched, and I could hear it slop and slosh against the wall Elmiryn and I had climbed.

My eyes adjusted to the lack of light in this new space, and my whiskers quivered at the slight change of air current…that is to say, I sensed there WAS an air current. I hadn’t even realized it, but where I had been before had lacked any true circulation of air. The environment seemed only to move as I moved, startled out of its complacent drifting as something alive and harried barreled through it. Perhaps that was what contributed to the stench of the caverns. It made me panic for a moment, to think how deep those caverns went, and how far we were lost in them.

My mind was in a flurry, and I thought about all these things. I didn’t glance back to see if Elmiryn was okay.  Her breath came in harsh gasps behind me, but her exhaustion didn’t earn much sympathy from me.  I couldn’t believe that she was still capable of tomfoolery when we were being accosted by possible death. (doubly so, for my ability to still be bothered by such things, given the situation)

“I’m really glad you’re back, Nyx.”

This, however, made me pause. I turned my head, not quite ready to look at her full on yet. Did Elmiryn know that it was ME, the civilized Nyx, that resided in this bestial body?

I reached the other side of the rock wall. I stepped down onto a slim bit of rock that dropped off clean on one side, as if something had broken it in half, and which sloped gracefully on the other.

Elmiryn sighed. “Nyx, you’ll have to help me. I can’t see shit.” Then she added, like it were just an afterthought, “Oh, by the way. That thing that’s following us? It’s the river guardian. Doesn’t it remind you of that deer we had the other day? It kind of made me hungry.”

I had this overwhelming urge to bite her again. Hard.

“Anyways,” Elmiryn continued, sitting on the little ledge with a sigh as she caught her breath. “I think we can relax for a second. The guardian can’t follow us up here.” She paused and I could hear her shift as she looked back. “Yep. There it goes, back the way it came. It’s bound by a spiritual ban, so that means it has to behave as a river. Rivers don’t flow uphill.”

This was a small comfort. These caverns had proven to be quite confusing. I didn’t doubt the guardian would find us again.

My eyes caught what little light there was, and I saw that this chamber, unlike the others, did not have a clear path to walk. The floor had no even surface, and was littered with sharp broken bits of rock.  There was also a lot of water, which I could only sense because of the stagnant smell that came up to my sensitive nose. This made my back bunch, but I could not tell, from where I was, how much water there was exactly, or if a reflection could be seen.  There just wasn’t enough light. Overhead, stalactites of great sizes hung from the ceiling. Some came down so low they obscured my view of the other side of the chamber completely.

Despite these daunting obstacles, I made out some flat surfaces that I and Elmiryn could safely use to reach the other side. There were two huge outcroppings on the left, as well as some stalactites that seemed to have been broken off that trailed out of sight. It made me think someone else had been here before, but whatever the reason, it gave us a way to move forward.

I looked at Elmiryn and without thinking I attempted to speak. I tried to tell her, “Grab my tail and follow carefully. Use your hands and feet to feel around.” What came out instead sounded like a small moose calling out as it licked its teeth.

She gave me a bemused look. “Sorry, I don’t speak…whatever that was.”

I growled and whacked her side with my tail as hard as I could. Elmiryn gave a start and stared at it for a moment before she sheathed her sword and grabbed the tail gingerly with her left hand. “Um…” she scratched her head, “Isn’t this kind of a big deal in your culture?”

I looked forward again with a ducked head. In my culture, an Ailuran’s tail, despite widespread misconceptions, was not so much a sexual object, but rather, a means of intimacy. My brothers pulled my tail whenever I bothered them, and my mother used to brush her tail along my side in a show of affection. I did not let myself dwell on the fact that Elmiryn was holding it. I tried to think of it in a practical sense. Like keeping balance or marking a trail.

I carefully padded down the smooth slope of the rock I stood on, and resisted the urge to yank myself out of Elmiryn’s grip when I felt her caress my fur a bit.

My companion followed well enough, but her breath was shallow. We had to move slowly so that she could see where to go. I was lucky that we didn’t need to jump any huge spaces. I wasn’t sure how to get the warrior to follow me safely if we did.

I gave a little hop to the outcrop and I felt Elmiryn’s grip on my tail tighten. “I can kind of see…what is that? A boulder? Nyx, is that a boulder?” She asked.

My only answer was to jerk my tail. She hesitated. I wondered how well she could make out her surroundings, given her curse. We had been together for so little time when you thought about it. How much faith did the warrior have in me to trust my judgment, especially given the state I was in?

Elmiryn stretched and crawled onto the outcrop with me.

“Hey, why are we crawling around up on these things for, anyway? What’s down below on the cave floor?” the woman asked. It wasn’t as if I could give her a real answer. The way she spoke though, made me hesitate.

In the few days I had known her, I had heard Elmiryn’s voice take on many dimensions. This was one I had not yet encountered. It was a voice not weak in spirit, but in body. My mind returned to the heavy stench of blood that emanated from her, and I realized with a great spike of anxiety that she had lost a lot more than I thought. So much, that I was no longer certain we would even be able to safely cross the room together.

On the second outcrop, I stopped and looked back at the woman. Perhaps it was the fact that we weren’t running anymore, that the monster wasn’t bearing down on us, or that our concentrated efforts were no longer focused on just running fast, but moving carefully…whatever the reason, Elmiryn’s adrenaline and energy seemed to be giving out. I could see her body shake, even as she sat crouched like a gargoyle against the backdrop of dark shadows.

I looked toward our destination. From where I was, with my view no longer impeded by the stalactites that seemed to plague the center of the area, I realized that the chamber actually continued further than I thought. Through a jagged arch, I could see many passages yards away, and they stood out in the sea of ink with natural light. I know it was natural, because it did not glare in sharp contrast as the other routes had…instead, the light seemed feeble, like it spilled from a more open source further on.

…I looked back at Elmiryn with a long face.

She smelled so close to death…so much so that the unnaturalness of the caves seemed to eagerly become one with her.

I wasn’t even sure about the pools of water I saw down below. I peered down at them, leaning over the edge of the outcrop as much as I dared. There still wasn’t enough light on this side to offer a proper reflection. Were the river guardian’s familiars lurking below, waiting for us?

I felt Elmiryn’s grip on my tail disappear and gazed at her in alarm.

She had sat back onto her rump, one knee bent, the other leg tucked beneath it. She rested her head on her bent knee and I couldn’t see her face. “Nyx…” she said quietly. “I think…I know…what you’re thinking.” Elmiryn looked at me, and though her eyes landed on me, they didn’t focus. This was hardly surprising–it was so dark I imagine her human eyes could barely make out a thing–but in them was a distance I found disturbing.

“I want you to go. I decided…” then she smiled a smile that spread far across her face. “I decided I’m going to die.”

My guts turned to ice.“Hey.  No look, really.  It’s fine.  I’ve got it all worked out.  I’m not surrendering, or anything.  That definition is different.  It’s completely different, so it’s all fine.”

Inside, I could hear the other hissing.

I shook my head and my eyes burned. I turned around fully and pawed at Elmiryn’s knee as a mewl came from the back of my throat. She reached up to pat my head, then seemed to think better of it and brushed the side of my face with her right hand instead. Tears matted my fur, and the warrior wiped these away, tsking.

“Cut that crap out. I don’t appreciate your silly human antics. Cats don’t cry, remember?” Then she grumbled in a darker tone when I butted her hand with my head, “Seriously. Quit it. You’ve no fucking reason to get upset. Just run.” She gave me a little shove.

I’m not sure which hurt more. The fact that she was speaking in such fatalistic tones, or the fact that I wanted to do exactly as she asked. Inside, I could feel my other self pace anxiously. As far as she was concerned, Elmiryn was of no more use to us.

I hesitated. Elmiryn seemed so beyond me, which must sound odd, but I find it difficult to put into words. …Given my state, I suppose that would’ve been appropriate. But the heaviness that seemed to weigh down on her, like life was threatening to crush her…I became afraid. I stared at her, nose flaring, trying to find a scent that would tell me there was a chance for her.

All I could perceive was my own end.I took one step back and felt my chest pull. I could feel baser instincts urge my legs to move, but I wasn’t sure in what direction. Elmiryn had turned her face away from me. It wasn’t shame really. Her face had turned to the cavern floor in what appeared to be a lazy interest, and she leaned forward to get a better view. It was like I didn’t matter anymore.

…Which wasn’t fair at all.I turned, claws scraping on the rock, and bounded away to the broken stalactites where I balanced on them awkwardly like little stepping stones. I then leaped up onto a rocky bed, which was some five feet from the ground.

On the other side, I was met with a floor that seemed to be made of glass.  There were many smooth and reflective surfaces, lit by a light that came to the chamber to die.

Nervously, I touched down to a dry spot on the ground and leaned over to gaze in one of the many pools that stood between me and freedom. I gave a start for a moment, before I realized that the face I saw in the water was indeed mine. I blinked and straightened. The uneven ground separated the little bodies of water. I moved cautiously forward through the spaces in between, head low as I glanced into each pool to see my dark face stare back at me. The minutes ticked by, and they felt like forever. My paws tread on lit rock, and my heart lifted in bittersweet joy.

I was almost there.

Then I heard a splash behind me and a giggle that faded into some drawn out alien sound. I stopped and looked back with a whip of my head, my ears perked and strained in the direction of the noise.  It unraveled in the air around me, and I didn’t hear a person, but an animal lost.

Before I could stop to consider what it was I was doing, I began to run back the way I came.  Haste and worry dispelled my consideration for the waters I had been so fearful of, and my bandaged paws splashed through them.  The thought of Elmiryn dying put me in such a state that–

[Her words became nebulous and distant.  Inside, she was in conflict.  She wished to live and wished to be rid of that nightmarish place…but to go on alone in a world eager to swallow her was just as terrifying.  She sought out her only friend.]


I grasped at the word and clumsily made a return to myself as I come again to the jagged arch.

I didn’t understand the woman who hid a lover in her voice, a child in the gleam of an intoxicated gaze, and an unflinching soldier by the sweep of her sword.  But she was sincere, even in her risky attempt to save me, and beyond our conflicts in character, there was one thing I was certain of.

Elmiryn was my friend, and I didn’t want to see her die…

…by any definition of the word.

Continue ReadingChapter 5.2

Chapter 5.3


She laid quiet on her side.  I knew the fall must have hurt–should have–but I didn’t know if she had any broken bones.  She was conscious, I knew that.  Knew it, because she just kept humming.  Elmiryn was smiling…and humming.

When I looked down at her in that pool of shadow, I could hear her voice.  It was a swirl of surrealism, and perhaps, to a human, it would’ve been inaudible, but I could hear her.  Elmiryn’s knees were curled to her chest, and she hugged them to her curled lips.  Her eyes were closed, and the blood that stained her skin had been washed away by the water she lay in…no, rolled in.  I’m certain she had been rolling in it.  I became afraid that she had drank some of it, but her behavior was more reminiscent of a child drained from hours of play then a person close to death.

I jumped down to a small spot where the rocks that littered the floor didn’t seem so menacing, but water pooled in large amounts.  I only suffered a sharp poke for my trouble, and the startled water splashed my muzzle, leaving it to drip as I hovered over Elmiryn’s prone form.

I recognized the song she was humming.  The one she had forbade me from even thinking of.  Just as before, no adverse effects came from hearing the melody from her.  This confusion only lasted a moment though, as I found myself confronted by another problem.

The wall that I had jumped down from was approximately five feet high.  Elmiryn was taller than that, and when I stood on my hind legs, so was I, but there was that bothersome detail of how to get an unconscious woman over such an obstacle without opposable thumbs.  I sat on my haunch, furry face scrunched in anxiety as I looked from my companion to the wall and back.  I then tried to paw at her, to see if that would rouse her out of her stupor.  I shook her a bit, but she didn’t respond other than smiling a little wider.  I then tried to nuzzle her arm, but she only hugged herself tighter.  For a brief second, and without a hint of malice or irony I might add, I thought about biting her ear–but I was pretty sure I nicked her last time doing that, so I decided against it.

She had lost a lot of blood.  Despite the water I could still smell it.  So I wondered…Why wasn’t she completely unconscious?  She was out of it, yes…but still lucid.

…But even going beyond that, why wasn’t Elmiryn dead?

These mysteries aside, my thoughts turned to an unsavory idea.  My heartbeat quickened just to think it, but I was at a loss as to what to do.  How much time had been wasted in this space?  How much longer before the river guardian cut off our escape?  How much longer before Elmiryn…before she…

I clenched my jaw.

“There’s no way around it,” I thought.

Ailurans and Lycans were the only two therian races to have five shifting forms.  On the spiritual spectrum, it ranged from the two forms closest to anthroporthic thought to bestial instinct.  Then there was the full form–the one in perfect harmony both with the man and beast in all of us.  In my native tongue, we call it, “Ekilluos” and it is reserved for special ceremonies and times of war, due to the great strength and heightened sense of passion one feels.

I tried to access this part of me, to actively shift the shape of my body to become that which I had become only once in my life before.  In my schooling, I was taught to recognize and respect that part of my soul.  It writhed, like a tangle of snakes in a burlap sack–and it was coarse on my mind.  On my thoughts.

…But just as I was about to submerge myself completely in this energy…

She blocked me.

My back bunched and I felt my lip curl back to show my fangs. “I need to!  It’s the only way!”

“NO.”  I could already feel her intent.  My paws itched with her desire to run.  If I gave her control, she would abandon Elmiryn, I was certain of it.  “This isn’t a discussion.  Fade back into the darkness and sleep, cretin.”

[She feels the beast pull on her body.  She pulls back and a dangerous growl rumbles from her throat.  The tug of war continues as they talk.]

“Shut up.  You may have access to my Expression, but the words are still mine!  Do you hear me!?”

“Stop it, just stop it! I have to save Elmiryn before–”


[The beast laughs, but it is a bitter sound that is devoid of any true satisfaction.]

[She roars, and sediment is startled from the ceiling.  Elmiryn stirs, and her eyes creak open.  Nyx, the girl trapped in the animal’s body, curls in on herself.  Her muscles shake and she snarls and pants.  No more words, no more dressed up thoughts.  Just the present obstacle–the one inside her, that denies what she wants.  It makes her infuriated.  She backs up until she finds herself against cold damp rock, then falls to the side as something gives out.  Nyx’s eyes slip shut.  She is no longer aware of what’s around her.  She has retreated inside, to better deal with the usurper.  This coup of the body will stop, she swears it, even if it means losing a part of herself forever.

In her head, it is a ghostly cold place that stretches and warps with abstract reasoning and sensations.  They pierce and part her as she delves down deep to where She is hiding.  The animal, upright but still as a cat even on the inside, looks at Nyx startled.

She is shocked to see The Other has risked all just to gain control–and for what?  Here, Nyx–a name they quibble over, but by right belongs to the two-legged half–looks as a human does, but scuttles on the ground like an animal.  Her teeth gnash and she leaps with hands tensed like claws.  The two personas collide.

Disorientation rules as they tumble through a cascade of memories that leaves them without breath.  Cold winters.  Mourning.  Stumbling fear.  Unable to deal with the complexity that comes with these gray pictures, the animal faints, her lack of control over her newfound faculties proving to be Her downfall.  As a creature of nature, she knew pain, but it was never so vast and overwhelming as the concerns of a two-legger.  The Other, though, braces against these images and feelings.  She understands this pain already.  For many nights, it had been the only thing to put her to sleep.

No longer blocked, Nyx lopes to the place in her soul that is warmest.

Her hopes rest there.  In her eyes, she can perceive worse fates with inaction, than in the risk she takes.  In a sense it has all become relative.

To prove herself worthy of her Mark by fleeing, or to remain at the risk of horrible failure.  Those were her choices.

Her decision leads her to burn herself with her own passion.

Her muscles pull and expand first in the chest.  Because of her rash haste, her body is confused.  The skin stretches and tears from the flesh that pulls it apart, and the bones strain against her heart and lungs, which in turn become larger as well.  This pain is excruciating, and she can’t even manage breath to scream.  But the skin and the bones begin to shift with the rest of the body, as if pushed into action by an obnoxious parent.  Her clothes shift easily with the form that grows and changes beneath it.  Several minutes later, Nyx opens her eyes to find Elmiryn has rolled to her back and is gazing dreamily up at her.]

“…So turnip’s can grow after you pluck ’em?  What a thought!“

Lip pulled back.  I snarled.




I hated her for this trouble.  But she tried.  I owed her.

So now I would try.

Continue ReadingChapter 5.3

Chapter 6.1


Elmiryn cared about as much as anyone could care, with their mind drifting in a primordial soup of half-formed ideas and dark static. Where was she? Who knew. What was she supposed to be doing? Who cared. She was wallowing in the tears of gods–wretched beings who screwed her over because of her penchant for drink and biting steel. No faces, no images, no damned misconception haunted the woman, even as she felt herself lift up out of the pools of sadness.

Ghosts can never be haunted themselves, after all.

She giggled at the idea.

…can’t see me… Elmiryn slurred as a rope of saliva slipped out the edge of her mouth. She felt like she were hanging over something, and she thought she heard a grumbling and a rumbling. Her nose rubbed into a fabric that smelled familiar–dusty and wild. Her mind distilled with an idea, and because nothing else sounded plausible (or interesting) she stuck to it.

…I’m being carried by a turnip.

She tried to shift and lifted her head, eyes barely open, to better see whatever it was that now had her. “Arr…arrrr…” she snickered and made a hook with her finger. “Yar.” But Elmiryn shook the humor from her head. She had an important question. So she willed her mouth to work.

“Turn-ip. Oi, turnip…have you…aren’t you…yeah, that’s it…aren’t you thirsty? Gotta drink…right? Try the tears…gods tears…hey turnip…heeey….” Elmiryn tried to force her voice to a level she thought reasonable, but then this concern became irrelevant.

“Ah’m talkin’ to a fuggin’ turnip…” She muttered, as she allowed her head to drop again. “Why’m I…y’know I don’t remember drinkin’…so wassamatter…wif me?” Her ears were ringing. She swiped at them. “Damn noise. I think I’m s’posed to be something. Not doing something…not…no, that’s different… yeah, I’m being something wrong, aren’t I? I’m wrong…I’m all wrong…”

Then she remembered. “Nyx?” She pushed away from the wild fabric, hands planted shakily, and felt it shift beneath her palms. Elmiryn blinked and thought she saw feet flashing in and out of view, but they didn’t look human. “…Hey…Nyx…where are you…?” Her eyes teared up. “You didn’t go did you? Fuck…I didn’t think you’d actually do it…or at least I don’t think I did…”


Elmiryn kept talking. Thought she was unconscious. Or close to it.

Kinda wished she were all the way unconscious.

Wouldn’t stop wiggling.

But then–


I halted my steps.


Shadow in my light. Blocked the way out.

Don’t know where he came from.

…He smelled like rotten meat.

“You…bitch…” I heard him say. He held up his spear and screamed.

I dropped Elmiryn and screamed back.

…I hated all of this...


She felt herself crash onto a hard surface, as if unceremoniously dumped. Spots and pain wracked through her. Elmiryn blacked out, and she slipped through a grate of existence that could no longer hold the grains of her being. She was in an inky void.

One that sang.

Elmiryn, reduced to a collected consciousness that ebbed and flowed, considered her situation. (“I know this song.”) Melodious black. (“I sing it to others.”) Had she finally discovered death? Funny how even in her stupor, she managed to rebel against the simple concept of laying down to die.

…But something was amiss. She could feel something foreign and invisible root its way into her being. And why, in all this space, did she feel like she were being crushed?

The haunting melody of this dark nothing world threaded and weaved into her–she could feel it. Words within the notes came and stirred within her as they spirited away things she could not name. (“I thought there were no lyrics…”)

This isn’t a pretentious sojourn into human psychosis.

Your thoughts are suspect. Your feelings are suspect.

Callous as an animal, it’s no wonder you make friends with the deranged.

So…our intrepid heroine NOW finds appearance important.

Without the ‘appearance’ of sympathy, you risk your soul decaying faster.

Pretend to care, pretend to want, pretend to feel.

It was clever getting thread to stitch and hold yourself together.

…but if the thread was poorly spun?

Her consciousness swirled, fury stirring it like water in a cup.



(“Bastard, I’ll kill you!”)

Why are you angry at me?

Her thoughts seemed to expand. She resisted the music and fought the roots of its melody as it attempted to suck her away. To what she didn’t know. She didn’t understand any of this, she just knew…

(“I’ll have your head!”)

Without a proper reason for it, I see no way for it to fall into your hands.

(“Why are you doing this?”)

Ah. It’s true. You want me dead, but you don’t even know why.

(“I bet you get a kick out of all of this.”)

Not true. The essence I’m harvesting from you is hardly enough.

I’m feeling empty.

You leave me feeling empty, Elmiryn. I figure this is only fair.

(“What is?”)

Your companion will die. She’s powerful as she is, but her inability to control herself will soon prove her mishap. And the guardian isn’t even here yet.

Isn’t this amusing?

(“I’ll get free of this…”) The roots burrowed in deeper. Her thoughts became fractured and maligned. (“I…will…free…”) Sentences broke apart. All she was left with…

…Your hate isn’t acidic, or even bitter. How is this possible? Your loathing is just this effervescent mass.

…I take it back. You may fill me just yet.

Elmiryn felt herself get pulled up–as much as she had an understanding of up or down–and she became aware of a warmth in the conscious darkness. Close by was a tightly tangled, nettled knot of pulsing green light. Beyond it, a loose blue and white bundle of threads that squirmed like worms in a bucket. Still further on, but closing in fast by some curious weave and path of its own, was a white hot stream.

Alarmed, Elmiryn’s thoughts condensed and wrapped around two concerns.

What were these things? And what was that white light coming towards her?

Why concerned, Elle? Do you even KNOW if the light is coming for you? Maybe it’s coming for something else?

Then what will happen when it will come? She wondered.

Consumption, I suppose. I don’t know. I’m not controlling this scene anymore than you are.

But you are, is the wordless feeling that caused Elmiryn to condense further. (“…All…your…doing…”)

MY doing? I shift some mirrors and backdrops around and suddenly this is my fault? It was the guardian’s choice to go mad, just as it was your choice to hunt me.


Yes. Choice. Someone as willful as you, Elmiryn, knows all about it, I’m sure.

(“But this…can’t…doesn’t make any…”)

Of course it makes sense. You just lack perspective.

The word echoed, like vocal percussion, beneath the melody that now seemed as one with her. (“…I can’t…see from here…”)

See what?

Her thoughts hardened completely, locking inside them the Unnamed Song. She became aware of limbs, of breath, and of the heart beating feebly in her chest. Though black still shielded her gaze, she made to stand. Her body didn’t seem to understand her command, or was too feeble to comply, but the simple fact that she could try, made her double her efforts.

If the attempt could be made, chances were…she could succeed.

“I said…I can’t see…from here…”


She began to hum, to block him out–that leeching bastard. She matched him, note by note, like a wife hogging the sheets. He could not reside in the music. Not if she pushed him out.

“Gaze through your slime, asshole…” she thought with a curled lip. “I know now that’s how you’ve been watching this whole time. By the slime on the walls. That’s why they kept changing color, like signals. You wanted us to end up here, didn’t you?” She started to pick things out of the black fog in her vision.  Her lidded eyes stared through damp locks as she saw a battle rage between two phantoms–Nyx and Sedwick.  The image only grew clearer.

What good…opening your eyes…can’t see?

“I can see fine,” she said with a grin as she pushed herself up to her knees. Elmiryn removed her bracer and, with shallow breath, peeled back her glove. Her eyes blinked, then she grinned wider. Feeling returned to the wound on her palm, and it was not puffed up at all. Even the stitching had managed to hold. “I see I’m not really bleeding.”

With a few quick breaths, the warrior shoved herself to her feet. Her vision erupted in spots, and she reeled for a moment before a shake of the head steadied her. Elmiryn ran her tongue over her lips where a few drops of water had clung to. It tasted of sediment.

“I see that the water is not really poisoned.” She drew her sword.

One foot before the other. Elmiryn felt her center of gravity leave her, and the air about her wavered like curtains in the breeze. She assumed the large form she saw in front of her was Nyx. The Ailuran battled against the shorter, but stockier form of Sedwick, whose armor and voice (though strained as it was) gave him away.

“I see that Nyx is still here.”

They had trailed away some yards, Nyx with the blacksmith backing steadily toward a misshapen wall as she spat and hissed at him. She gave great swipes with her claws, her body crouched low to the ground. The man parried her attacks and never lost his footing. Upon her third swipe, Sedwick ducked low and thrust upward.

Nyx roared as the blacksmith’s spear dug into her left shoulder. With a strength that belied his size, the man pushed the Ailuran back, a roar of his own betraying his countenance of self-control and confidence.

Elmiryn, who had been dimly advancing toward them, lurched forward with her sword held up and a spark ignited in the dark of her eyes. Feet away, she thought she registered some rotten odor, and it was in the poor light that she realized something was wrong with Sedwick’s face–like it had been deformed and twisted.

Uncertain of the circumstances of this situation, the warrior opted to swipe at the spear first. With one stroke, the wood splintered. Nyx stumbled back, snarling. Sedwick let out a scream at his decimated weapon and turned menacingly on the woman. Some of his spit landed on her collar bone. Elmiryn, blank in expression, moved instantaneously.

As Sedwick thrust the broken end of his spear toward her gut, she stepped aside and wrapped her free arm around his. With the tender flesh of his forearm against the side of her ribcage, Elmiryn kneed the blacksmith in the stomach, and before she brought her foot down, twisted her leg so that she hooked the back of the man’s left leg. She pulled then stepped down at it harshly. This forced Sedwick into a kneel.

Still with his arm trapped, Elmiryn then took the hilt of her sword and seriously considered slicing the appendage off before opting instead to simply strike hard at his elbow. He grunted as his arm spasmed and released the broken shaft.

The redhead placed the blade at Sedwick’s throat. “What do you think you’re doing?” she asked quietly. She could feel her blood rushing through her, but it was a curious feeling–and one she realized she wasn’t supposed to be conscious of.

Behind her she heard the scrape of claws on rock. Elmiryn shoved Sedwick to the ground and stood between him and Nyx. Her eyes had adjusted well enough to the darkness that she could see the contortion of anger in the Ailuran’s face. Was it even safe to call her a girl anymore, now that she could tower over Elmiryn with little effort?

Nyx skittered to a halt, nose snorting in obvious frustration. Blood stained her gambeson. Elmiryn shook her head as the Ailuran stepped almost nose to nose with her and snarled something unintelligible.

“No…Nyx,” she said slowly. “We can’t kill him.”

The woman gazed at her companion for a moment longer before turning around to gaze at Sedwick. The man had curled into a ball and whimpered under his breath as his body trembled. His exposed hands pulsed with thick, dark veins.

Elmiryn knelt by him. She recalled the white threads she saw, intertwined with blue ones. Her lips pursed. “Sedwick. You and the river guardian…you’re somehow connected aren’t you? That’s why you’ve changed…right?”

The man peeked out from the folds of his arms. The woman couldn’t see his eyes, but was certain a level of humanity was gone from their shine forever.

“I know things…as she does…” He breathed. “Not…it…it isn’t harmony. We aren’t connected.” He sniffled and turned briefly to wipe his nose on his shoulder. Then with a grunt, he sat up. Elmiryn helped him, only vaguely aware of the growl that came out of Nyx when she did so.

“But I understand.” Sedwick continued. “Her madness. And I have her strength, and I have her rage.” Sedwick began to sob, and his scar wrinkled as his shoulders shook hard. “And I understand…her pain. It’s overwhelming me. I can hardly make out myself in all that’s stuffed my head now…” He wailed and buried his face in his hands. “And I let that other adventurer here to rot and die,” he cried into his palms. “And I brought that young boy here to die, and it wouldn’t have gone this far if that monster,” he straightened and pointed at Nyx, his expression turned ugly. “Hadn’t come here! If you hadn’t come!” He yelled next at Elmiryn.

The roar of water crashing against rock.

Elmiryn turned her head at the sound. “Sedwick, you said you understood what the guardian was thinking as its flesh became a part of you?”

He nodded his head, then turned his face away. “I’m only just controlling myself now…but I feel like I’m fading into the background. The guardian’s knowledge is my knowledge now. That’s how I found you. There’s another way in here from the right, past that boulder. She’s coming through there now.”

The dim light of the cavern was blotted out as the river guardian spilled out of the very entrance Sedwick pointed out and drew itself before the lit archways. It screeched. Elmiryn somehow knew it was a sound addressed to her.

She stood and took slow steps toward it, and her boots made ripples in the puddles she trailed through. The ground smoothed as she came nearer, and the puddles ceased to be. She stood on dry rock, the guardian’s wayward sanctuary. She wanted to meet it with little aversion. It would not touch the water. It was repelled by the water, though it suffered without it.

Disconnected. Fractured. As Elmiryn was.

The answer was in front of her. She could see it, clear as day. So she spread her arms wide and let her sword clatter to the ground.

Elmiryn smiled, showing all teeth.

“Meznik, I can see…that the guardian doesn’t really want me dead.”

And quick as a flash flood, the spiritual creature surged forth and swallowed her beneath its crimson waves

Continue ReadingChapter 6.1