Chapter 46.1


Heading to Belcliff was not a short trip. Unlike Daedalus, with his horse-drawn carriage, I had to go on foot, avoiding travelers on the main road, to arrive at my destination. The journey, while not especially difficult, took several hours. I did not arrive in the city until the suns had gone from the sky and the night had chilled. By Aelurus’ moon, I wagered it to be close to midnight when my boots met the paved streets.

This was only the second time I had ventured into Belcliff, and I felt no more at ease this time than the last. It had been over a year since the mayhem that had beset the city had taken place, and yet it did not feel fully recovered. Wanted posters for Syria, Lethia, and even myself and the others, could still be seen posted at almost every corner.

Elmiryn would have been annoyed to learn that her bounty was less than Quincy’s.

What irked me, was that somehow, someway, the frivolous nicknames she had given herself and I way back in Tiesmire had stuck. Beneath our illustrated faces were the villainous monikers, “The Twin” and the “The Ghost”. What would have been further disheartening to the woman, was not the fact that they had drawn her ears too big and her eyes too close together… but rather, that they hadn’t tried at all.

The whispers in the alleys and taverns explained some of it. Daedalus had related the rest.

The sad fact was, no one could remember exactly what Elmiryn looked like. Only that she was a woman. Only that she was a Fiamman. And only that she was associated with the rest of us. Not even her fiery hair managed to stick out in anyone’s mind. Her wanted poster was a generic outline of some vague female shape that could have been anyone. The Ghost seemed a hauntingly appropriate outlaw name for her, but not in the way she had originally meant it. No one–not myself, Paulo, or even Daedalus, who hardly knew Elmiryn–thought it wise to inform her of this.

The universe was rejecting her, and I didn’t know how to stop it.

Like most of my recent attempts at escaping my problems, Belcliff was proving to be a poor distraction. The city was just… depressing. Especially at night, when all of the vagabonds crept out.

I pulled my borrowed cloak just a little tighter around me as I slipped into a tavern called Fox Tails. It was like any other drinking establishment, but what made this one special was that Daedalus had informed me of the sort of clientele it attracted. As a rule we had all agreed on, I could not approach the same seller as Paulo had last utilized. The point was to avoid attention. That meant no solid connections, no single strong possibility of identification and exposing the others. Broader and more ephemeral contacts was the only way we’d be able to stretch out our recuperation.

Challenging, considering our access to resources were finite.

“Which means,” Daedalus had warned us all with a severe glare, “That your time here is severely limited! Sick or not, you will have to leave this region soon. Perhaps even this continent entirely! You are not safe here. Not at all.”

Trying to ease my mind of its tension, I made a rare and perhaps ill-advised choice.

I sat at the bar and ordered the hardest drink available. In this case, it was ‘fire whiskey’ to which, when I inquired as to the strength of the drink, the bartender sniffed in obvious disdain and growled through silver teeth, “We drink it for the mad, and we drink it for the moody. Tis more than enough for the likes of you!”

He brought me a small mug, which annoyed me, but when I took a swig of my drink, it burned. Not just in the way of liquor–it really felt like fire. I coughed, just managing to keep from choking outright, and the bartender smirked at me knowingly. I pushed my gold at him without meeting his eyes. Rather, it was Quincy’s gold. She’d retrieved a healthy scoop of it from her bottomless bag, and while there appeared to be much of it (if Paulo’s envious grumblings were any indication) I hardly thought that the wizard would appreciate her funds being utilized in such a way. Fortunately, she wasn’t here to harp at me about it.

I took a large swig, still skeptical of how far the drink would get me… and promptly choked. I think even a little smoke curled from my burning mouth.

Fire whiskey indeed.

Did I truly need this? The question nettled me, even as the drink’s warmth pooled heavy into the pit of my abdomen. It was simple fact that one couldn’t sit in a tavern without a drink and fail to draw unwanted eyes. But was such a powerful drink necessary? No. Of course not. I couldn’t even manage to lie to myself.

I was taking a page straight out of Elmiryn’s book. To help ease my nagging guilt, I reasoned that unlike my wayward lover, I wasn’t doomed with a curse to turn me insane.

Small comfort, Kali growled behind my eyes.

“Don’t start,” I muttered aloud.

I’ll allow you your sloppy escape, sister, Kali said with her figurative back to me. But there is a limit to what I put up with. I do not enjoy this drunkenness, and I will not suffer a hangover for your sake! At any rate, I grow restless. My time in the world draws near, I think.

I closed my eyes in suffering. “Fine,” I sighed. Having a separate conscious in my head really was starting to feel like being at the mercy of a landlord these days, despite our improved relationship.

Kali’s concern of over-drinking may have been unfounded, though. I had to make my way through three-quarters of it before it really started to take effect. That… fuzzing of your thoughts, where inhibition takes a backseat to desire. Therian-strength drinks were hard to come by, I supposed. Fortunately, this was an adequate substitute.

With my usual anxieties dulled, I found myself making small talk with those seated next to me.

“Gods!” I exclaimed naively to an elderly prostitute dressed only in a spotty gray slip, “You must be cold! Where are your clothes?”

And to the middle-aged man with cropped hair and massive biceps on my right, “Good grief! if I had a problem I needed dealing with, I suppose I’d know who to talk to.”

To my bewildering good fortune, my less-than-graceful remarks only resulted in laughter and counter-teasing. Whether they knew I meant my words sincerely or not was uncertain to me, even in hindsight. I only know that my apparent new drinking partners clapped my shoulders and continued to humor my clumsy attempts at conversation. My ability to take their taunts with little reaction seemed to endear me to the patrons, and perhaps more by luck than anything else, they were open to my questions.

To the middle-aged ‘gentleman’ next to me, I said, “I am in need of supplies–food, medicine… that sort of thing. I have some coin for the voice that can point me in the right direction with little fuss.”

When his dusky finger indicated a fellow off to a center table (Curious, I thought, that he’d pick such a central spot… Better vantage point, perhaps? Or maybe he doesn’t need the corner because he has guards…) This earned the gentleman a few gold coins. I turned next to the aged prostitute on my other side. Producing more gold and offering a weak grin, I asked her to take a drink to the apparent seller in the middle of the tavern with my regards. If there had been a server in this establishment, I would have utilized them for such a task instead, but apparently, the bartender was content to work alone. It was a small place, after all.

When the prostitute had done as I asked, I made eye contact with the shady seller, and he gestured for me to join him. I did so without hesitation… but with a freshly poured mug of whiskey all the same.

The man I would apparently be doing business with was a confident-looking fellow dressed in silk robes under his course cotton cloak. A human Higashan, if I had to guess his species and race by the way of his dark almond eyes, alabaster skin, slicked back dark hair, and soft round face shape. Still, in this place where patrons made every effort to mind their own business, I couldn’t say that with high certainty. People employed all kinds of tricks to conceal their identities.

“Generosity is rare in a place such as this,” The man said with a neutral expression. “When it does appear, there are usually strings attached. Tell me why I shouldn’t cut these strings now?”

The hairs on the back of my neck pricked up, but I managed to keep my voice steady when I said, “Because your purse would lose out on a handsome opportunity.” Then I took a drink… because Sweet Aelurus, it felt like I was trying to make a deal with an alligator who had its jaws around my head.

The man frowned at me. “What is it you think I can provide?”

I wiped at my mouth and sat back in my chair. I gestured around the room. “There are whispers that you are a person who has the means of providing for others who can afford it. Basic supplies, that sort of thing.” I looked him up and down, trying for some bravado. Kali might have been helping in this regard, like a teacher placing a guiding hand over their student’s. “And forgive me for saying so, but it appears you are a man between places. Part of a caravan of sorts, perhaps? You do not have the local color about you. This is to my liking.”

The man’s frown deepened further. His eyes narrowed a portion as he searched my features. I could feel the corner of my lip twitch even as I tried to remain unmoved. Then, suddenly, the man chuckled. It was a silky, but short sound, as if he couldn’t afford to allow even his humor unmeasured.

He extended a well-manicured hand. “I am Soga.”

I took his hand, hoping he didn’t notice the sweat on my palm. “Geld.”

This earned a bemused smile. “Ah… ‘Geld’. The Elvish word for wealth. A bit on the nose, isn’t it?”

I shrugged. “It gets my point across.”

Soga laced his fingers together as he leaned on to the table. “What has me curious is why such a petite thing such as yourself requires something so rudimentary in such a manner? After all, you make this request from a traveling foreigner, in the middle of the night, at an out of the way bar?” He tsked. “It makes one curious.”

I raised an eyebrow at him. “I could ask the same of you, sir. Why is a traveling foreigner dressed in such fine silks sitting in an out of the way bar–a bar, I might add, that has a reputation for attracting shady individuals–and entertaining requests from characters such as myself? No. I think questions are best left out of the transaction, don’t you?”

The small smile on Soga’s slim lips took on a hard slant. “Fair argument. But I’m willing to bet you did not expect to find someone of such means as myself. You should know that my business will not be cheap, nor small.”

Now I blinked. The price was not an issue… but if he was suggesting there would be a minimum of items purchased, that was an entirely different challenge altogether. Could I carry it all back without too much attention? A big rucksack I could manage, but certainly not a wagon’s worth.

“Whatever the case, I must insist we do this business swiftly,” I said. “I’m sure we can come to some arrangement. Gold is not an issue.”

Soga nodded slowly. “Understood. Tomorrow night then–”

“No,” I said with a quick shake of my head. Now I really started to sweat. I can’t stay here overnight! “It must be tonight!”

Now the man was looking at me suspiciously. “My apologies Geld,” he rubbed his chin. “I did not realize your haste was so… urgent. Afraid to stay long in the city, perhaps?”

I clenched my teeth and managed to fight down Kali’s growl. This is too dangerous, sister! She hissed in my head. This man is a jackal! We should find our supplies elsewhere!

If I can secure a deal with him, then we may be able to avoid another trip for weeks, I returned irritably. I cannot afford to miss this chance! What else are we going to find anyway? Some bandit with a crate of moldy turnips to fence?

Trying to conceal my inner exchange, I made a show of patting my fat coin purse, which had previously been hidden beneath my cloak, and started to stand. “My coins find your questions irksome, Soga. We do this tonight or we have no business!”

The surprise was clearly written on Soga’s face at the sight of my carried wealth. “Wait!” he hissed, one hand shooting up in a halting motion. I paused, scowling at him. “Forgive my rudeness. Clearly your needs are great, and you have assured me of your means to make it worth my while… Please, let me pay you in kind,” he beseeched. Then, without waiting for my reply, he motioned to someone on the other side of the bar and stood from his chair.

The jackal tries to play at being a puppy… but his jaws are deadly, and his pack circles you. Be on your guard! Kali warned.

Noted, I thought back to her as I eyed the two large men who approached from two separate tables. My guess that Soga had bodyguards around the bar had been correct, it seemed. Just who was I really dealing with?

Soga made a gesture toward the bar’s exit. “Come, Geld. Let us take you to my wares.”


When Elmiryn had announced her intentions to Paulo, she couldn’t help but be shocked at how swiftly this decision was acted on. As if not trusting her resolve, the boy had escorted her back to the tower to tell Quincy and Daedalus. The wizard and elf appeared pleasantly surprised at the news, but not overly so, which made Elmiryn wary.

“You were going to try and force me to stop whether I wanted to or not, weren’t you?” Elmiryn accused them with a glare.

Quincy smirked back at her. Daedalus only crossed his arms and offered a stony stare.

“Just leave it to us,” Quincy said with what Elmiryn supposed she thought was a reassuring voice. “We already have a plan. It’ll just take about an hour or two to get started.”

“Get started with what?” Elmiryn asked. Her throat felt dry. Where was her drink–?

Oh. Right.

“Just wait outside,” Daedalus ordered impatiently. “Visit Lethia for a moment. We’ll call you when we’re ready.”

Elmiryn did as she was told without argument. Perhaps because she was feeling so taken aback by what was starting to happen that she was robbed of all witty retorts.

And so, dazedly, Elmiryn made her way to the barn, where she was relieved to find Lethia was already asleep. The woman stood over her friend’s dozing form, feeling sicker the longer she went without a new beverage to nip her body back in order.

Before she was even aware of her own actions, Elmiryn was wheeling back to the tower, sweat beading on her forehead and her throat tightening itself into a giant knot. “Quincy!” she hollered as she cast her eyes wildly around her. “Daedalus! I think– I think I just need more time!” She peeked haphazardly into the kitchen before turning to go to the study– that’s when she saw the door to the cellar was open. Swallowing with effort, Elmiryn started down the stairs into the dank cellar space. “I think we’re rushing this,” she went on to say. “I think I just need more–” Her voice choked to a stop as she froze at the bottom of the stairs.

Against the back wall, there had been a simple barrel rack of four barrels. This, Paulo and Daedalus had emptied, and were in fact, carrying the last barrel into a corner, where the others were stacked. The rack had been moved aside, leaving more central floor space. In this area, Quincy had drawn what looked like a salt circle with runes chalked around it.

Everyone froze in their activities to stare at Elmiryn, and she stared back. The moment stretched long.

Then Elmiryn turned without a word and ran back up the stairs. She heard Paulo curse.

Quincy yelled, “Stop her!”

The barrel Paulo and Daedalus were carrying hit the floor with a loud thud. Elmiryn could hear the boy give chase behind her as she cleared the cellar entrance. She crossed the small foyer in one long stride, then literally leaped out the open entrance of the tower in a wild bid for freedom. Instinctively, she knew, she had a better chance at escape in the wide open than in the confines of the tower, and the boy was too quick. He was fit and tall. She was weakened and out of focus.

Though in hindsight, her wild jump out the tower entrance was a hopeless attempt at getting away. Especially because, when she hit the ground, Elmiryn fell, skinning her hands and knees. As she scrambled to get to her feet, boots sliding wild in the dirt, she only managed to go forward a scant few feet before she felt Paulo’s body collide onto hers, knocking the wind out of her lungs.

There was a mad rush to disentangle, with Elmiryn fighting to get out from under Paulo, but in her insistence on getting away, he managed to get strong grip on her wrist, wrenching her arm up and out with palm turned backward, his other hand digging the heel of his palm down between her shoulder blades, and his knee into the small of her back. The weight of his body and the leverage on her arm sent Elmiryn into the dirt into such a swift and effective wristlock that under any other circumstances, she would have been impressed. Unfortunately, the boy’s skilled technique went unappreciated.

Elmiryn screamed through bared teeth, blades of grass quivering from her furious breathing. She struggled briefly, one leg kicking in an attempt to twist her body, her free arm trying to push her body up while her torso strained against Paulo’s weight on her. He wouldn’t budge. Tired, she soon stilled.

All the while, Paulo huffed over her, “Easy, lia. Easy.”

“Paulo,” she grunted with effort. “Paulo, let me go!”

“I can’t,” he said. “Not just because I think you’d beat the hell out of me, but also because I know it’s not you talking.”

Elmiryn yelled and renewed her struggles. “Git off o’ me, shithead!”

Paulo twisted her extended arm and wrenched it back, sending pain up and into her shoulder.

“Stop it, Elmiryn!” He barked at her. Then he added with a growl, “Why couldn’t you just wait in the barn like they asked!?”

“You’re gonna trap me down there!” Elmiryn screamed. Half her sweaty red face was coated in the dirt as she spat, “I won’t let you fucking do it! That isn’t what I agreed to!”

“It’s the only way,” Paulo hissed. “Now quit fighting!”

“What are you going to do, Paulo? Huh?” She snarled. She settled back into the dirt, the pain in her shoulder anchoring her senses. Conserve your energy… Wait for your moment… “You can’t hold me here forever.”

“What about you, huh?” Paulo snapped back. “If I freed you, are you gonna run away into the woods like an animal? I won’t let you, lia! You’re doing this!”

Elmiryn heard footsteps along the ground, and soon came Quincy’s voice. “It’s ready.”

Paulo shifted his knee off Elmiryn’s body and took his hand off her back so that he knelt at her side with a two-hand grip on her twisted wrist, likely so that he could turn and speak better. “I’ve got her, but I need–”

“Raaaaagh!” Elmiryn popped up and rolled forward as fast as she could. When Paulo tried to force her compliance by re-asserting his wrist lock, she monkey kicked him in the armpit with her left foot and, with this new leverage and the added assistance of her other hand, wrenched her trapped wrist free.

Paulo was good, but he wasn’t as experienced and lacked Elmiryn’s well-trained discipline. She felt a fleeting sense of relief at this. She hadn’t completely lost her edge, it seemed.

Quincy started to shout something, but in the scramble, Elmiryn couldn’t make it out. Her focus was almost entirely on Paulo who fought hard to win back a dominant position. He grabbed her left ankle with his left hand, but she pulled herself away, leaving him holding only a boot. Now entirely freed, Elmiryn quickly rose to her feet and sank into her fighting stance, shaking fists raised as she eyed both Quincy and Paulo like a cornered animal.

“You aren’t trapping me,” she said hoarsely.

Paulo backed off, dropping her boot to hold both hands up. He didn’t just look worried, he looked… scared? “Elmiryn, we are trying to help you. Remember what you asked of me? You knew you would feel like this. I’m only doing as I promised!”

“Well stop it!” Elmiryn spat. She started to glance nervously from side to side. It occurred to her that she didn’t know where Argos was. Was he in on it too? Would he charge her? “That circle down in the cellar is a containment field, isn’t it!? Just how long are you going to keep me down there, huh? Days? Weeks!? Fuck that!”

Quincy, who had been hovering close behind Paulo, now stepped out into better view. Like the boy, she kept her hands where Elmiryn could see them. “You’re right. We don’t know how long it will take, Elmiryn,” Quincy admitted with slow and exaggerated speech. “But we won’t have a better opportunity to treat you than we do right now.”

“Is that why you tried to trick me down there?” Elmiryn asked. She heard grass rustling on her right. She dared to whip her head in that direction, but she saw nothing. When she looked back at Paulo and Quincy, she thought they looked a little closer.

“We weren’t trying to trick you, lia,” Paulo said, actually looking offended at the suggestion. “But we knew if we gave you too much warning you’d–”

“Run?” Elmiryn interjected with a strained laugh. “You’re gods-damned right!” She heard the grass rustling again on the right, and this time she jumped back, swinging a fist. Did the air ripple in front of her? “The fuck–?”

Something hard and heavy struck her in the side of the head, making her vision ripple and her knees buckle. Elmiryn was of the opinion that she had a pretty sturdy chin when it came to blows, but…

When her vision fuzzed back into view and had the good courtesy of stopping its cartwheels, it was about then that Elmiryn became cognizant of the fact that Paulo was once again holding her down, and Quincy was hog tying her with rope that was spooling out of her magic bottomless bag.

Standing over all of them was Lethia, pale, shaking, and looking anxious. “Er… Sorry, Elle,” the girl said with a wince. She lifted a large rubber mallet with her one arm. “The commotion woke me up and when I saw you and Paulo fighting, I… grabbed a mallet. And hit you with it.” She smiled weakly. “If it’s any consolation, the only reason I hit you instead of him was that you were the only one I could use my magic to sneak up on.”

Che cazzo?” Paulo snapped up at her. “THAT was your only reason?”

Lethia shrugged, only looking a little sorry. “I didn’t know what was happening. Why are you two tying her up?”

Quincy tightened the last knot. “Because, Lethia Artaud… Elmiryn is finally kicking her drinking habit,” she said breathlessly as Elmiryn thrashed and snarled in her new rope binds. “Whether she wants to or not!” Quincy added in a shout down at Elmiryn.

Just as Lethia replied, the ground cracked, her voice came out her right ear in reverse, her stomach dropped, and all she could see was a myriad of searing bright color.

And Elmiryn knew this because she’d ruthlessly pulled at the threads in Lethia’s head, cannabilizing her perception of the world. She’d tried fighting the right way. They were leaving her no choice. She had this raw power, didn’t she? How could she not use it? Consequences be damned. She knew, angrily, that none of them would submit their freedom so willingly, fae-driven addiction or not. Death was definitely preferable.

In fact, she’d almost prefer Meznik finding her again than submitting to their so-called ‘intervention.’

As the others lost their footing over the rising chunks of earth, and the light splintered around Elmiryn’s body to blind them all…as the sound around them defied time, reversing and confusing their minds as to their origin…as the rope that bound Elmiryn undid itself, and thick green shoots of some sort of plant–laying dormant as seeds in the ground all this time until her alien power woke it and hastened its growth–curled from the churning soil and lifted her bodily back upright…

As the horror overcame Elmiryn’s rage and she realized that her fae magic was getting away from her, wrapping the newly grown plant limbs around the others throats, and tugging with a mindless need at the glowing threads of life in the weaves of their existence… she knew…

Meznik may very well find her, and it wouldn’t be a moment too soon.


Soga led me to his wares, hidden in a rundown warehouse that looked–to any passerby–completely deserted. The space was mostly empty save for his four large wagons… and even these barely managed to take up a fourth of the dark and musty storage space. In its heyday, I imagined the building had once been filled with overstocked cloth, pottery, oil…

Soga had more men in his employ than I had even guessed. There were at least six other men waiting for us with the wagons. It made me wonder what some of the merchandise might have comprised of, but I knew better than to ask.

At the first wagon, the Higashan merchant loosened the wagon’s bonnet coverings at its rear to reveal bushels of grain, thick animal pelts, and of course– weapons.

“I have storable food, precious skins, and the means to protect it all,” Soga said with a grand sweep of his hand that didn’t match his unvarnished tone of voice. “I also have pickled foods, but they are for… refined tastes. Less the commoner’s day-to-day pantry-fare you seemed to be seeking,” he said with what looked almost like an apologetic half-shrug.

I motioned at the exposed wagon. “May I?”

He glanced at one of his guards standing closest to me, the one with the lantern, then nodded to me. The guard approached with his light to help with my vision.

Using the spokes of the tall wooden wheels, I pulled myself up onto the sideboards to peek into the wagon’s opening. The grains were closest to me. It seemed he had rice and flour, but of the sort I’d never seen before… The rice was white and the grains were long, unlike the short and brown grains so common on the Sibesonan continent. A Higashan import, perhaps? The flour was also not as fine as I expected it to be, though it was white. Suspicious of its quality, my mild inebriation afforded me enough gall to stick my pinky into the lumpy powder and taste it. It turned out it was finer than it looked on the surface, but… it didn’t taste like white flour. It was actually sweeter.

“Coconut flour,” Soga said behind me, sounding amused. I heard scattered chuckles among his men. When I looked back at him, he was smirking. “You see that my stock is not of typical variety. I assure you, this does not take away from its quality. Think of it as a, ah… break from the norm.”

I nodded, a gleam in my eye. “Give me ten pounds of the rice, and five pounds of the flour.” I would be paying a higher price, but quite frankly, I was getting tired of the monotony of flavors I’d suffered these past few weeks. (Tired of the monotony, are we? My! How far we’ve come from the days of being happy for a single carrot flower and a dead frog! Kali quipped.) I ignored my sister’s sanctimonious sarcasm and asked next: “And your pickled goods?”

But Soga was not one to lose out on the chance to up-sell. “No new weapons? You seem capable on your own, but I find myself doubtful you’d need so much dry food just for yourself… Surely your compatriots–”

“The pickled foods,” I said firmly.

Soga pressed his lips in a show of disappointment, but he led me to his next wagon.

We haggled over the prices of his pickled oca, kohlrabi, salsify, and fiddleheads… all vegetables I’d never heard of, but given their similarities to yams, potatoes, and other basic greens, I figured Quincy might be able to manage something with them (the unofficial cook that she had somehow become). I quibbled over the price for the final jar until Soga, disgruntled and maybe even a little impatient, agreed to throw in a cowhide (clearly the least valuable of his skins) so long as I agreed to either another jar of oca or another five pounds of flour. Unsure of my ability to carry everything without being completely vulnerable to attack by bandits, I reluctantly agreed to the extra jar.

The deal was struck. His men wordlessly began to set aside my supplies. As they did so, I counted out Soga’s gold at a rickety table near the warehouse entrance. Five hundred pieces worth–nearly twice what Quincy probably would have expected, but I was really and truly so sick of eating her grass and lentil soup that I was more than happy to bring in some new ingredients. The cow skin could also serve as the starting pieces of a new outfit to Elmiryn–

I froze, the last coin pinned under my finger as I stared through the table. I could feel Soga’s questioning gaze.

“Problem?” He asked, trying, and failing, to keep the impatient sigh out of his voice.

“Spirits,” I murmured.

“Come again?”

I looked at him, feeling uncomfortable. “You’ve shared much of your merchandise with me, but not all. Have you any spirits?” At his blank look, it was my turn to become impatient. “Liquor, Soga. At least a bottle?”

The man’s brows rose. “Ah! Yes. I do. Forgive me for not mentioning. You seemed to be reaching your limit as to what you could carry.” Soga snapped his fingers, and one of his men went to the wagon furthest into the dark. A moment later, he returned with two armfuls of bottles, all of different shapes and colors.

When they were placed before me, Soga quickly (hurriedly, I even ventured) pointed out what each bottle contained. “We have Fiamman wine, Higashan sake, Indaban rice beer, and the rest is of the local whiskey variety.” He straightened, like he was done, but then looked sharply at the dark blue bottle in the middle, with the crescent moon stopper. “Ah! And Ailuran absinthe. Forgive me. I tend to forget this one. Its potency has left it in my possession for longer than I’ve liked. Not many can withstand a therian drink, and they make up so little of my clientele.”

I pointed at the wine, sake, and (trying to make it as an afterthought) the absinthe.

But Soga wasn’t fooled. He’d seen the way my eyes had lingered on the Ailuran bottle. I told myself I was buying it for Elmiryn. So that she wouldn’t suffer her withdrawals. But I knew better. That was to be mine alone, and Soga, the keen merchant he was, sensed it.

“Two hundred,” he said.

I balked. “Two hundred! Why these are worth seventy-five at most!”

At that moment, I heard someone speaking at the warehouse door, but I didn’t turn to look. So irritated was I at having been seen through, that I was lucky to register the newcomer’s presence at all as I haggled furiously with Soga.

“A hundred!” I spat, throwing the coins down in disgust.

Soga chuckled as if my offer was hardly worth a counter-offer.

Feeling my blood flush my cheeks and neck, I threw another fifty coins worth onto the table, only now becoming aware of how light my purse was becoming.

Soga smirked at me and crossed his arms. “Two… Hundred.”

I growled at him. Audibly growled, like an angry mountain cat.

Kali pulled at the back of my mind. You are letting your newfound malice get the better of you! We are overstaying our welcome, can you not see? Another buyer comes! Soga is leveraging his shrinking time on you, fool! Accept his offer, or leave now!

I whipped my head around. Who was this new buyer undercutting my bargaining power, anyway? Surely he could wait a little longer!

I froze, feeling every muscle in my body tense.

That mountainous mass of muscles… the studded leather and black fur… the massive saber with red ribbons tied to the hilt… the metal ingots on that sturdy belt…

I was staring straight at Karolek, the metal sorcerer. The bounty hunter. The man who had very nearly bested Paulo, Lethia, and myself a year ago in this very city.

He was the reason Soga had been in a hurry all this time. They must have scheduled an appointment, but me, in my drunken haze, had failed to see what the night was leading to with all my long-winded haggling.

I looked at Soga and said with what sounded less like my ferocious growl from before and more like a sickly mewl: “Two hundred. Done.”

I fumbled to retrieve the required gold. A heavy hand fell on my shoulder, and I turned deathly pale. I couldn’t bring myself to look, and even then I could feel Karolek’s gaze, like weights, on the side of my head.

“Now, now!” his boisterous voice said over me. “Do not rush your business on my account!” Did he recognize me? My hood was off, but my face was turned and my hair was notorious for getting in the way. Maybe he didn’t–

Then he leaned down. “We have much to catch up on,” his grip on my shoulder tightened painfully and his voice dropped to a whisper meant only for me. “Nyx, the Twin.”

Continue ReadingChapter 46.1

Chapter 46.2


If Soga heard what Karolek said to me, he hid it well. With a snap to one of his henchmen, a large package was given to the bounty hunter from the first wagon– the one that had held all those weapons. Karolek took this with a nod, his other hand untying and handing over a pouch of coins from his belt.

I grabbed my large bag of goods and cursed its size and weight. This would make it harder to run…or fight.

I tried to slip away while the sorcerer appeared distracted, but just as I reached the door, I felt my bag get tugged back. I looked to see Karolek grinning at me, the light scars on his face wrinkling as he held me with just a pinch of his fingers. His newly acquired package he’d wrapped in cloth and slung over his shoulder.

Seeing those scars on his face… I had given him those a year ago, when we first fought. I had raked my claws from his cheek down the side of his right neck. It was an ugly reminder of that time. My Twin and I had been at odds. The rage inside of us ran amok.

“Now, now, friend! We have much to catch up on, you and I!” Karolek said with cheer. “My business is already done. Come, let’s walk together.” The large man gave a two-fingered salute to Soga, who answered it with a half-bow.

As Karolek escorted me to the door, his large hand never leaving my shoulder, the Higashan trader called after us. “We shall be here another three days should either of you require anything else!”

I didn’t even look back as we cleared the door to the dark muddy streets outside.

Fighting had occurred to me. Of course it had. But I refrained for much the same reasons I imagined Karolek did. If Soga found out about my bounty, he might think turning me in to be a far more profitable venture.

We strode in silence, me just a little ahead while Karolek trailed close behind, one hand still holding my shoulder in a soft but unrelenting grip.

Finally, I said (because I still felt a strong buzz from my drinking before) “I’m sorry about your face.” Then I added with a sullen glance. “We were fighting for our lives that night.”

Karolek only raised an eyebrow at me, his friendly smile gone. “I am beyond caring for such things. Life is more than what we see.”

My face tensed in a scowl and I tried to shake off the man’s hand. “Then listen to me when I say that I am not what you think I am!”

Karolek’s grip tightened, and he said, “Oh ho! The kitten has me all figured out, does she?”


I let go of my bag, the heavy thing crashing to the dirt street, before I grabbed Karolek’s massive wrist with both of mine and twisted. I shifted away as I did so, but he tried to grab me again. His momentum shifted toward me, so with a quick sidestep and a strong pull, I launched the man past me. To his credit, he only went two steps before he stopped and swung around with a fist. I ducked under this, and buried my fist in his gut–

As hard as I could.

His body cleared the street, smashed into a crumbling wall, and slumped down. He grunted, his face tensed with pain but his eyes still alert and locked on me. I could see his hand reaching for the ingots on his belt.

To me, our last encounter had been just a few short months ago. I still remembered how it felt when Karolek’s blades had sliced my achilles tendon, the blood filling my boot, the stench of the dirty snow hastening the rise of my gorge. My death stared me in the face, my fear growing in its shadow. I had been a kitten then.

I was so much more than that now.

“Stop!” I screamed. The force of my intention wrenched out of my throat so hard it hurt. The air rippled, cutting a swath through the dirt. In the fraction of a second before my sonic power struck, I thought I saw Karolek’s eyes widen before he was driven and buried in the rubble that once had been a border wall.

In the ringing silence, the dust rose. It was like a curtain, falling on Karolek. It said, He is defeated! Now you may escape!

But could I really? He knew I was here. He would come hunting for me. Had I truly dissuaded him enough to secure our safety for the time we so desperately needed to heal? To plan? To escape?

It was true that Lacertli favored all paths to survival, including fleeing.

I did not feel this was that moment.

With my vermagus magic fraying my vocal chords to the point of pain, I stalked through the whorls of dust to where Karolek lay stunned amidst the crushed bricks and pulverized cement.

“Hear me, Karolek,” I said. “I am not, and will never be your bounty. I am not the mewling kitten you cornered, nor the savage beast you unleashed whose hope bled out onto the street.” I reached down and grabbed him by his solid chin, my fingers digging into his skin. His eyes blinked and squinted up at me. He made a move like he was trying to reach for something on his belt. Again. The stubborn fool!

“Cajeck,” I spat, before I shoved him deep into his own shadow.

I followed him into the ether, the resistance stronger than what I remembered it being in the Other Place. In that dimension where universal law was often absent or turned on its head, slipping into shadows felt like something as simple as dipping into water. Cold water, but water all the same. Here? It was like pushing through shifting sand or even thick mud. The shadows did not yield so easily, and I could feel something pulling at me, like the world was trying to stop my departure.

The Umbralands was just as I last remembered. A dark and shifting mirror of the real world. By now, I felt comfortable here. Perhaps moreso than I did in the real world.

Karolek did not seem to share my feeling.

The large man, having been forced up and backward out of his position in the real world, tripped and stumbled away from the rubble of the ruined wall and into the street. His face was pale and his features drawn as he stared around him. He even held a hand out like he could stave off what he was seeing somehow. The other hand still stubbornly held onto his package, the long rectangular item hanging down at his side from where it was slung in its cloth.

“What is this?” he said, a small tremor in his voice.

I approached him, stepping carefully over the debris. His eyes snapped sharply onto me, and with a series of quick movements, he lifted his package, ripped away the cloth and the paper coverings, and held it aloft before him. A hammer blade. The length of the weapon was thick but had razor edges, and the tip was like a two-headed mallet with serrated faces. A brutish and graceless weapon in anyone else’s hands, but with Karolek’s metal sorcery I shuddered to think what he could get up to with it.

That’s why I had to get him to see this wasn’t worth it.

“Karolek, stop,” I ordered. My voice was turning hoarse, and I had to fight to keep the grimace from my face– my vermagus magic was wreaking havoc on my throat. “You can’t defeat me.”

“What have you done!?” he spat. His gaze was turning wild as his sweat traced lines of worry through the mask of dust on his face. “Where are we?”

I gestured around us. “This is the Umbralands. It is the boundary between the mortal world and the Somnium, the universe’s dream.” I stepped closer, my eyes finding and holding Karolek’s growing eyes. “You see, since we’ve last met, I’ve changed. I’ve fought things twice your size. Seen creatures that few mortals have ever seen. And I did this all under the banner of my patron.”

“Patron.” Karolek twisted the word, but I could still see the bewilderment in his eyes. He moved backwards away from me, his new hammer blade pointed at me like an unspoken threat. “Speak plainly! Umbralands? Somnium? These things mean nothing to me!”

I frowned at him. “Don’t they?” I stopped and put my hands on my hips. “Karolek, my bringing you here should have made it quite clear to you that you are dealing with something beyond your depth. On some level you have to know that, or else you wouldn’t be backing up from a girl you tower by a good two feet!”

He stopped his slow retreat, his eyes glancing down at his feet in what seemed to be surprise. Anger tensed his features and darkened his gaze. He brandished his weapon at me and yelled, “The truth! How did you bring me here? What are you!?”

“I am the champion of Lacertli, the god of survival,” I said, my voice vibrating with such intensity that I could feel my words down to my toes. My eyes narrowed as I watched the comprehension creep slowly across Karolek’s pale face. “He is the Lizard King. The Shadow Walker. The Umbralands are part of his domain.” I placed a hand on my chest. “As his champion, I have power here. Certainly more than I do in the real world.” I tilted my head to the side. “So if you wish to do battle, I should warn you that you will be doing it where I am strongest.”

Karolek still did not lower his hammer blade. He stared at me as though I couldn’t possibly exist, but I knew he heard the truth in my words. Then, finally, he lowered his weapon and groused, “I’ve never even heard of Lacertli!”

I shrugged. “Neither did I until he found me. He doesn’t care much for being worshipped.”

Karolek turned on the spot, his eyes taking in the hard shadows and the stark lights in the colorless border world. “Umbralands, hmmm?” He looked at me sideways. “You will return me to our dimension if I agree to leave you alone?”

“I will agree to return you if you agree to leave the past in the past, regardless of whatever boons you may gain in the present.”

His eyes narrowed. “The past in the past, eh? Then I suppose you really aren’t here alone, are you?” He pointed at the bag of supplies I’d dropped in the street. “Why else would you need so much supplies?”

My heart beat a little faster. “The supplies are for me alone. I don’t know where the others are.”

Karolek tsked, a shaky grin appearing on his haggard face. “A heavenly champion you may now be, but not so good at lying in a pinch it seems!”

My jaw clenched. Damn! I hadn’t focused enough of my magic to aid in my lie. “Do I or do I not have your word?”

Karolek shouldered his hammer blade and shrugged. “To leave the past in the past and to not pursue bounties in the present? Mmm…” he tapped a finger on his chin. Now I was glaring at him. Was he toying with his answer just to make himself feel better, or was he considering some angle I had neglected to account for?

If this was the case, then he still hadn’t noticed Kali lurking around the corner of the shadowy building across from us, her claws extended in preparation for a surprise attack. The shadows were where we could exist independent of each other for a short time.

Between the two of us we would need no time at all to slay Karolek.

After some time the man nodded. “Very well! Clearly I am outmatched. If your companions are hereabouts then doubly so! Such a shame… I could have used some more gold to my name.” He held up a hand, some of his jovial energy already restored. “Such is the way of things! As it stands, I came here pursuing another bounty entirely. Why risk being dead when there is easier prey to be sought?”

I let out a quiet sigh of relief. I wasn’t entirely sure I could trust Karolek, but for the moment at least, he seemed perfectly dissuaded from trying to cross me.

I held out my hand. “Come here.”

The sorcerer hesitated, one brow arching up. “Must we hold hands?”

I rolled my eyes and thrust my hand out again.

Karolek smirked wryly and approached slow, his eyes on my face and his hammer blade held up and back like he was afraid it was some kind of trick. Behind him, Kali nodded at me and faded out of sight.

When his extended hand came close enough, I grabbed it and stepped over onto a particular stark shadow being cast by a building across the street. “Stand here.” Karolek did as asked and I willed the shadows to take us.

We emerged from the other side, me somehow feeling both physically spent but anxious of mind, and Karolek looking as though he wanted to vomit his last meal. I looked at him with some pity as he leaned over onto his knees, dry heaving, and said, “Don’t feel bad. Everyone else ends up feeling sick too.”

He coughed and spat onto the ground, then looked around at me with faraway eyes. “Really? I can’t imagine why!”

A little smile appeared on my lips, despite myself.

The large man straightened, his hammer blade held down at his side while his other hand planted itself on his hip. “Phew!” He looked at me again and said, “I’m a man of my word. I’ll leave the past in the past. Your friends are safe.”

My expression soured. “I told you, it’s just me.”

He chuckled roughly. “Of course.”

I went to retrieve my bag from the street. A quick peek revealed that the pickled food jars had somehow remained intact. I smiled, glad.

“You know… now that I think on it,” Karolek started behind me. I turned to look at him, my eyes blinking with bemusement. The sorcerer was gazing up at the night sky. “When I was a young boy, there was an old man in my village. He used to throw scraps of meat to the lizards just before dusk every day. His son used to beat him for it. Said he was wasting meat on a dead superstition.” He looked at me, frowning deeply, the scars on his face wrinkling as he did so. “When I asked the old man why he did it, he said it was offerings to the ‘king in the shadows’.”

It wasn’t a question, but I could feel Karolek’s searching gaze was looking for something.

I gave one brief but assertive nod.

Clarity and wonder lit up the man’s face. He gave me a little bow.

I turned away from this. “Don’t bow to me.”

Karolek gazed at me quizzically. “Then what am I supposed to do?”

“Leave me alone.”

The man threw his head back and laughed. “Fair enough!” He turned and started to walk away, but paused. “Actually,” he looked back at me, his eyes squinted. “I wonder if you know…”

When he didn’t finish, I snapped at him, “What?” I was tired and eager to be home. My throat was also throbbing painfully. The cost of using magic I had no formal training in.

“I’m not sure where you’ve gone, little champion, but things have taken an odd turn on the Sibesonan continent.” He held up a finger. “Rumors have been spreading from the west… Whispers that the Kreut Forest has started to turn green again… and no one seems to know why.”

My eyes grew wide, despite myself. When I had cleansed the Kreut Forest of the possessed nymphs and lost spirits that had sucked the life out of it, Lacertli had told me it would once again return to normal. But never had I imagined it would be so soon. And as stupid as it sounded, it astonished me that anything I did would be noticed by anyone.

Karolek raised another finger. “The dwarves to the north say that one of their long abandoned cities has been cleansed. Travelers have spied them migrating into the mountains in droves, looking to reclaim what their ancestors had built.”

That was what Elmiryn and Quincy had gone through. Still, I didn’t know what Karolek was leading to with all this.

He held up two more fingers. “In Fiamma, a Halward statue was destroyed during one of their most auspicious festivals. And in the Lycan forests to the Southeast? The tribes were battling some unknown monster that mysteriously vanished. You’d think they would have been pleased about this, but they hunt for the ones they say are responsible… as if some great crime was committed.”

My gaze dropped as my eyes pricked with surprised grief. Gudahi and Sanuye. Elmiryn had been forced to kill them both in an effort to keep me safe. Gudahi especially had been a friend to me. The pain of that time was still fresh.

Karolek was now gazing at me with such intent I was on edge all over again. “All of these things occurred within the last year. They have caused such a tumult that it has drawn prestigious attention!”

I was impatient with this. I crossed my arms and bit out, “And what attention is that?”

Now the metal sorcerer was smiling so wide he looked as though he had won a great prize. “Why, it is one of your peers! The champion of Njord has been traveling the continent in the wake of each of these events, and where do you suppose his travels have led him?”

My stomach dropped. My hands curled into fists in the crooks of my elbows.

The champion of Njord. The man Tobias had named Wind in his tales. The man whom Quincy had called father.

“Jack,” I breathed. “He’s here?”

Karolek held up his hands, but his fierce smile remained. “I have not seen him, but the city folk have been buzzing about his presence in the region for the last week.” He scratched at the scars on his cheek, his smile turning slanted. “Seems to me that the only business he’d have here is to investigate the business that took place here so many months ago. How does it connect with everything that has happened? I haven’t the faintest…” his eyes narrowed. “But I’d imagine he would very much like to speak with those who freed Syria.”

Suddenly I was feeling nauseous. Karolek, whether unaware or indifferent to the effect his words had on me, turned and started down the road, back the way we had come. “Just thought I’d share that with you! I may not be any match for your particular talents, but the champion of the wind god?” he tsked, shaking his head.

I watched him go for a time, my fear clenching around me. Then I turned and ran up the road.

Continue ReadingChapter 46.2

Chapter 46.3


Elmiryn was sorry. She felt sick with apology. (She felt sick with a lot of things, but chief among these was regret.) Like many times in her life, she hadn’t thought this through. She had trusted her instincts for so long, and they had so often carried her to triumph. All she had wanted was for the others to leave her alone. To hold onto her freedom for just a little longer.

Freedom to see the skies, for the basement would trap her from the stars.

Freedom to run without borders, for the containment circle would seal her in.

Freedom to change her mind, for the others would force her from numbness–

Now, as her wild power slipped from her will, the plants that had sprung up–mutated and made monstrous by a fae power she still barely comprehended–gripped her, held her, and trapped her. But the plants weren’t trying to suffocate her like they were the others. They weren’t wrapping around her neck, squeezing, nor trying to reach deep into her mouth and throat to flower in her lungs. They weren’t trying to unravel her very existence.

She could feel it. The others’ horror. Their desperation.

Elmiryn tried to reign it back. Tried to pull the threads and change the weave of what was happening.

But it wouldn’t change. She tugged and pulled, but the threads had become tangled and taut. Her head ached the harder she tried. The plant threads–glowing translucent lines in her mind’s eye–seemed to pulse tauntingly.

“Fuck,” Elmiryn whispered the word, bleak in its surrender.

Then as the plant vines, thick and rubbery and a putrescent green wrapped about and took her vision, she found herself visited by an entirely new sight. Even with her eyes closed, Elmiryn could sense the pattern of the world and all its weavings…

She could feel the suspended forms of the others, arched and twisted before their struggles were stilled by the green grip of the mutant plants. She could feel the Fake Hakeem (Fake-eem?) and Daedalus pulling at the plants from outside, but they could do nothing. These monstrosities had been created against the laws of time and nature. One moment seeds… the next, hulking giants with mindless murderous intent.

I’ve really done it this time.

Tears welled in Elmiryn’s eyes as a fist of shame and self-disgust clenched in her throat. Was she a coward afraid of the hard road? Was she weak and unable to overthrow her fae nature? Did it matter?

She couldn’t save herself. She couldn’t save anyone.

No, no, no!

From the pit of her stomach, Elmiryn screamed. The sound wrenched her throat raw. Her skin flushed hot. Her muscles ached and burned the more she pushed and pulled against the plant’s embrace. She was distantly aware of the men outside jumping from her primal cry, and she fought for another breath to scream again, only this time it came out more like a banshee screech.

A pulse of energy, like a small fast wave, went out with her piercing voice through the surrounding air’s flowing pattern. In but a moment it was gone, having traveled over the mountains to where she could no longer sense it anymore. It hadn’t really been her intention to send a ripple through the world’s weave, but would someone sense it? It was a dim hope that was fast discarded.

Even if someone did sense it, who would be able to understand it and act on it? Or even act on it in time, for that matter?

When Elmiryn’s cry petered out, she found she had to fight for breath. The plant was squeezing in on her, she realized. Her veins burned in her right bicep. Her left foot started to tingle. She choked on a sob and was very briefly glad that none could see her.

As she fought to take in each humid, musty breath, her mind perked to a ripple in the wind’s flowing weave nearby. It was small and far off at first, perhaps as far as the gates, and coming from the east the woman guessed. More ripples came, faster and faster, and they drew closer, shuddering the air current in their wake, until–

Elmiryn sensed a voice echo around her as though from far off, but the words were calm. Curious, even. It wasn’t correct to say she heard the voice, for it wasn’t actually a sound. It was more like she felt the voice.

A bug? Fat one. Who?

The woman didn’t answer. She didn’t know how. Did the ripples carry some sort of pattern she had somehow missed? The threads moved so fast she couldn’t quite make it out. Was it like the pulse of energy she had just sent out when she screamed? Did she need to make a ripple and send it back?

Uncertain of herself, but desperate, Elmiryn hastily drew up a small pattern of wind and a thread of dust from the ground. To anyone else’s eye, it would have appeared as nothing, but the warrior embedded a desperate message with the dust just before urging the wind eastward as far as she could make it go.

I’m Elmiryn. Can you see me? the message said.

She wasn’t sure if the wind would be swift enough, or if the wind’s pattern was strong enough to even go as far as it needed to. Elmiryn guessed whoever was on the other end of the ripples was very far off.

She felt Quincy had passed out. She thought she heard shouts for an axe, but wasn’t sure the men would act in time to save everyone. She needed to release the others…but she didn’t know how.

The seconds ticked by. Elmiryn felt her hope flicker. Just when she was about to send another message, the ripples returned with a contemplative hum.

Go still.

Go still!? Elmiryn thought with a growl in her throat. She whipped up the wind and dust, and answered:

If you can see this, then you can fucking tell me what to do!

The ripples returned, smaller, less energetic. Sleepy. Too sleepy.

Angry, the woman shot back: Hey!

The response came even slower this time, punctuated by what felt like a yawn. Out of reach. Go still, fat bug.

Elmiryn ground her teeth. One more message: Tell me how to save them, damn you!

Then a wave came, rumbling the earth, and whipping the winds up around them. The woman felt her skin flush cold.

Struggle kills! the entity snapped. The words echoed–almost vibratedGo. Still. Or die! Do not care. Just shut up.

This startled Elmiryn into silence. Was her panic making it worse?

Who are you? She wanted to ask, but a new voice, one more familiar, caught her attention. It came from within her head, like a thought, but it was clearly not her own. Elmiryn perked up at it. The voice, a girl’s, was indistinct, but getting clearer and clearer. Her headache flared.

Lethia Artaud…?


Dear Jydel,

I know I’ve gotten up to my own share of trouble in the last year or so– but these people! My gods! Even when convalescing they can’t seem to help allowing some catastrophe to strike!

(Though to be fair, me voluntarily losing an arm was no easy thing to handle.)

I’ll try to be as detailed as possible about this latest drama while everything is still fresh in my mind, but I am not the storyteller Nyx is. I’ve read enough novels, I suppose, to make a decent account of things…

The latest commotion started in the afternoon. I was resting after another trying session of Daedalus’ brand of doctoring (I know his salves and tonics work wonders, but heavens do they reek and burn!) when I heard shouting. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but I recognized it to be Paulo and Elmiryn. When I peeked outside, I was shocked to see that they weren’t just arguing, they were wrestling one another… and not in a sportive sort of way! I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I decided to try and put a stop to it. So I grabbed a rubber mallet amidst the tools and made my way to them.

As I went, I got a sense that things were serious. Elmiryn was cursing and fighting wildly. Her mind was like an angry tangle of snakes vibrating the intellectual cluster so hard it was liable to give me a headache. Paulo looked determined, but I could feel in his aura the worry and fear. Quincy was also there, but she seemed to be only supporting the boy, not a primary actor in whatever was going on. She shared his emotions. Paulo glanced at me as I approached, and right then my target was chosen for me. His power as an enchanter made his awareness too keen for me to avoid. Elle became the only aggressor I could stop. Which was fine, I suppose, because she looked like the one least in control anyway.

Using a technique Syria had taught me (but which I’d not had the confidence to use till now– getting this particular enchantment wrong could lead to a person becoming deaf, blind, or dumb after all) I suppressed portions of Elmiryn’s awareness to the point that she could not easily detect me. But even as wild as she was, the closer I got, the more she suspected something was there. She nearly swiped me in the head at one point!

Paulo and Quincy had the good sense not to give me away. Then WHAM! I hit Elmiryn in the head with the mallet. It was a strong blow, but no worse than a good punch. Elmiryn dropped and I revealed myself to her.

I’d like to say that was the end of the matter. That everyone calmed down and worked out their differences. Gods, I’d have settled for a truce! Of course it wasn’t that simple. When is it ever? Sometimes I wonder if this group would have benefited greatly from a course in conflict resolution. At the mere mention of therapy, my head must duck their rebukes!

The trouble was explained to me. Paulo and Quincy were performing an intervention. The time had come, they said, for Elmiryn to quit her dependence on drinks.

But Elmiryn’s fae nature was not willing.

I could feel unnatural energy pulse through the soil as I tried to reply to something Quincy had said, but my voice came out of my right ear in reverse. My stomach dropped, and all I could see was searing bright colors. The ground cracked open, the unnatural energy rising up, and I felt things grow explosively. Before I knew it, I was entangled by monstrous vines. They gripped us all like giant hands!

They started to suffocate me. Squeezed my still-healing stump for an arm. In my dwindling consciousness, I did the only thing I could think to do– I retreated inward, inducing a dream-like state on myself so as to buy myself time. I didn’t imagine anything elaborate. Just an empty white space where I stood as I last remembered myself– no discernible ground or sky to speak of. It didn’t need to be fancy, I needed only its function.

The interesting thing is, Syria didn’t teach me this. Elmiryn did.

You see, when my mistress had me observing the others in the Other Place, she used her power to reveal Elle had created a kind of… lucid dream that she could access at will. Elmiryn did this to escape her circumstances at first, but there was an unintended effect that she later came to rely on: time moves more quickly in dreams, allowing for more time to think.

Now in my own lucid dream, I fretted over a solution. How could I get Elmiryn to stop this madness? How could I protect myself and the others?

Then Paulo’s ishin stumbled in.

More like BURST in, the fool.

I tell you, Jydel, that boy is as reckless as he is stubborn! How many times have I told him to set aside his powers until he could be trained? His essence nearly overwhelmed me as he barreled into my dream state! Into my bloody mind!

“Lethia, she’s killing us!” he yelled. Oh the headache that caused…

“Not if YOU kill us first! Paulo what are you even doing in my head?” I snapped at him.

He crossed his arms and glowered at me. “My apologies, lia. I thought the situation warranted a little initiative.” He swiped at his nose with his thumb and smirked gallingly. “And anyway, your precious mental barriers were down.”

Instead of rising to his obvious baiting, I took to pacing. “Now that you mention it… If you were so easily able to enter, then that means unconsciousness can’t be far for me. Damn! I thought I’d retreated here sooner.”

“So what shall we do?” Paulo asked. “Maybe we can pay Elmiryn’s mind a visit?”

I scoffed. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Elmiryn’s mind is like an upside down whirlwind of bat dung and angry mongooses vomiting rainbows. If we try to enter into her thoughts, we could lose our minds.”

“Well we can’t stay here! Time is still passing out there, and we’ll die if we take too long!”

“I know that! Just… give me a moment, will you?”

Paulo’s pressuring didn’t help my focus, but he was right. Every minute that passed was another second closer to death in the real world. Give or take. I hadn’t exactly gotten this lucid dreaming down perfectly.

We had to reach out to Elmiryn. She was the only one who could make this stop. Could we pull her into my dreamstate? Doubtful. Only enchanters could visit one another’s mind at will. Delving with our ishin into Elmiryn’s consciousness felt like such a gamble, but I was doing a poor job of coming up with alternatives…

“All right,” I sighed, looking at Paulo. “We have to try and connect with Elmiryn. Perhaps if we can combine our ishin–”

“Our what?

Jydel, I tell you, never have I begged the gods for more patience than right then. We were on the brink of dying, for heaven’s sake, we didn’t have time for enchanting lessons! But what could I do? With my dwindling consciousness came less power. I was going to need Paulo’s help.

Ishin,” I started, “It’s a measurable power unique to enchanters. Think of it like an extension of our consciousness.”

“Oh,” Paulo said. The look on his face suggested he didn’t get it at all and I had to take a very deep breath.

I tried again: “Imagine ishin as an invisible arm extending from your head. When you want to reach into someone else’s head, you extend your ishin. Clearly, you have that basic ability down or we wouldn’t be talking. Now we just need to do that together, but to Elmiryn. Preferably with more care! Or–”

“Or we go crazy?” Paulo finished with a grimace.

I shrugged. “Or we could die. Or we could go into a coma first, and then die. Or we could make her go into a coma, and then die–”

“All right, all right, I get it! Careful is better!” He scratched his head and frowned down at his boots. “Mind, uh… showing me how?”

I nodded. I didn’t want to, but I suddenly felt self-conscious. I’d never actually taught anyone something before. Advised on life matters, maybe, but I’d never fully instructed anyone on anything!

Fighting for aplomb, I beckoned Paulo closer. “Come here.” He did so. I tried to look at anything but his face– his shoulder, his stomach, his boots– “Now hold my hand.”

“You mean your only hand?” he muttered.

Trust Paulo to go picking at old wounds.

I chose to ignore his dig and tried not to flinch when I felt his calloused grip. Even as a figurative sensation, the reactive jolt that went through my spirit was… strong.

I cleared my throat. “Now close your eyes. Feel the thoughts of those around us. Find Elmiryn’s–”

“How can you miss her? She’s practically screaming over there!”

“Well it ought to be easier to focus on her then!” I snapped. I took another breath, and then said as calmly as possible, “Seek out her thoughts. Imagine yourself pulling closer to her. Slowly. Feel my hand and know that I’m with you.”

Jydel, have I ever described entering into another person’s mind before? It can be a messy affair, but doing it with someone else can be even messier.

The best that I can explain it to non-enchanters is that each person’s mind is like a cloud of thoughts. This is their “mindscape.” The thoughts can be understood as images, or sometimes like floating words from a page. Whatever thoughts that has a person’s attention the most will usually be found in the center of this cloud. And then, of course, there are those buried thoughts or memories that a person protects with jealousy. Most do it unconsciously for psychic wounds, like abuse suffered as children, but there are others who have trained to protect areas of their mind from prying. Not that I’ve tried it, but I suspect Quincy and Hakeem to have such protected memories. It’s rare that I can even catch a stray thought from them.

Now the deeper one presses into another person’s consciousness, the more that person’s animus will try to push them back out. I’ve been taught to understand them as matrices that thicken and expand, like a wire mesh that sieves out unwanted visitors.

Note, that is what a normal person’s mind is like. Elmiryn’s mind is far from normal.

I could feel Paulo tense up next to me as our joined ishin crossed the outer barrier of Elle’s mind. It wasn’t pleasant for me either. It was like… diving into scalding hot water. After the initial burn wore off, we then had to dodge a wild array of ideas and memories. They twitched and zoomed about like angry hummingbirds. I avoided these as best I could– paying attention to any one thought too long draws you into it, after all. Unfortunately, Paulo was less disciplined.

“So this is what Elmiryn was like when she was younger…” he murmured, his eyes fixed on something I couldn’t see.

His presence started to drift from me, drawn to an old memory of childhood. I pulled his ishin away from it, and said as stern as I could, “Focus! Ignore these stray thoughts! We need to press in deeper if we want Elmiryn to hear us!”

Paulo at least had the good sense to feel sorry. It thrummed from him to me, and my annoyance shrank. As I write this, Jydel, I must admit that though the boy is naive and clumsy in his enchanting powers, he has a proficiency in it. I am both impressed and a little jealous at his natural talent. With proper training, he could be a force to be reckoned with.

In fact, it was because of Paulo that we noticed the curious white square at all.

“What’s that?” He exclaimed, pointing at the blazing shape near Elmiryn’s core thoughts. “It’s not like the other thoughts.”

“That’s because it’s not a thought,” I replied with delight. “Let’s get closer!”

As we delved deeper to the center of the woman’s mindscape, the expected reaction from her animus started. The strange thing was, the expanding matrices were warped and twisted, allowing for us to slip through their defenses with ease. While it served in our favor, I was worried.

Without proper psychic defenses, anything could pierce into Elmiryn’s brain. I made a note that this had to be mended, and soon. Her mindscape was enough of a mess as it was.

When we neared the white square, I let out a sigh of relief.

It wasn’t just a square–it was a window. Upon looking inside, Paulo let out a gasp of astonishment. He’d never heard about Elmiryn’s dream realm. Like my own, it was vast in its seeming lack of boundaries–no walls, ground, or ceiling. But that’s where the similarities ended. Elmiryn’s world was a wavering place of shadows–as though light were filtering through rippling water. It was dense with sparrows and black kittens, all falling horizontally in the same direction, but in slow motion.

Elmiryn had disavowed being responsible for the helpless creatures. I struggled to remember if she had ever attempted to make them go away.

“What the hell is this?” Paulo murmured.

“Come on, we need to go in,” I said, feeling breathless.

I tried to enter, but Paulo held me back, his ishin pulsing with alarm. “Woah, are you crazy!?”

“You said it yourself earlier, we haven’t the time!” I pulled at him, but he resisted still. Clearly, I had to show him.

With all the strength I could muster (and I could feel that fading fast) I called into this window. “Elmiryn!”

My voice didn’t echo. Silence followed. My grip on Paulo tightened as I tried to bolster my ishin. I could feel my body in the real world losing its grip.

Paulo started to pull us away, and I didn’t have the strength left to stop him. It was all I could do to keep this mental connection active at all.

Then we heard her:

“Lethia? Lethia Artaud!?”

“I’m here!” I called. My voice was weaker, but I was smiling. Jydel, our salvation was at hand!

Paulo grumbled but followed me in through the window. Once fully inside Elmiryn’s dream realm, the shadows buffeted us like choppy waves.

“Still think this was a good idea?” Paulo snarled. His hands gripped my shoulders tightly as I lost my sense of balance and knocked into him, a particularly rowdy streak of shadow having struck my hip.

“We’ll have to see,” I answered. “Elmiryn? Come and still the shadows please!”

“Done,” Elmiryn said, suddenly right before us.


Paulo and Lethia’s presence in her strange little mindfuck was beyond what she could hope for. Who better to put her back in control of the situation then the two people capable of forcing order on her mind?

“I can’t make it stop,” Elmiryn blurted, suddenly feeling out of breath. “I tried–but the pattern I pulled has gotten all tight and knotted up and–” the shadows around them shivered and started to close in, forcing her to shove them back.

“But how can we help, Elmiryn?” Paulo asked. “We came here to ask you to stop this, but if you aren’t in control, what can we possibly do?”

“I need to relax.” Elmiryn thumped a hand on her chest. “I have to stop feeling like I do! I don’t know if it’ll work, it didn’t explain it to me but–”

“It? What is ‘it’? What told you this?” Lethia interjected.

“I don’t know!” Elmiryn snapped. Her hands wheeled through the air. “It was a, uh, spirit or something!” She stomped her foot and buried her hands in her hair. “All I know is I need to calm the fuck down! Now! My emotions are probably what’s turning everything into a mess!”

“Nevermind following the dubious advice of ‘spirits’,” Lethia even made air quotations with her fingers, “What you’re asking is quite impossible!”

“It is?” Elmiryn and Paulo asked her simultaneously.

Lethia glared at them both in annoyance. “Yes! It took my and Paulo’s ishin combined just to pierce deep enough into your mind to be able to communicate with you! I’m afraid with our consciousness fading, we simply don’t have enough strength to do what you are asking, Elle!”

“Well we have to do something!” Paulo argued. “Or else what are we here for?”

“I’m with Paulo. You maybe don’t know it, but I’m just as trapped as you two are,” Elmiryn added.

“Serves you right for using your fae magic on us,” the boy hissed at her before turning away.

“Enough of that!” Lethia chided. “I need to think!” She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples.

Elmiryn sighed, her eyes sweeping over this abstract corner of her mind. “I’ve really messed up.” She felt the rippling shadows flow in around her, and she didn’t stop them as they gathered about her feet and legs.

She needed to stop this… but she couldn’t. They were trapped, because of her.

The shadows built up around her, and other thoughts came. Thoughts of her mother. Thoughts of her father. Thoughts of Nyx.

I’ve ruined everything.” This she had spoken only in her head, but given where they were, it echoed all about them. Loud. Accusing.

The shadows came up over her head. They carried her up and away, bumping into the helpless forms of the kittens and sparrows.

“The boy is right. I deserve this,” she murmured.


It’s difficult focusing when you are in someone else’s mind–doubly so if you are in a foreign mindscape partially on the power of yet another’s will. Paulo’s growing unease was clouding my ability to assemble coherent ideas. One would come close to me, only to shiver away on concerns of death.

When I heard Elmiryn murmur that she deserved what was happening to her, I didn’t think much of it–self-pity is not uncommon in these situations, particularly for ego-centric types like Elle–but when I finally opened my eyes again to glance at her, I remembered something I had learned long ago.

Dreams are simply mirrors reflecting an individual’s life as-is.  A nightmare, however, is a figurative tool used by the animus to catch the attention of the intellect. People have nightmares for many reasons. Though the nightmare may frighten or disturb–this does not mean its only purpose is to warn of immediate or future danger. It could simply be an attempt on the part of the animus to bring about a fundamental change in the intellect.  It could also be an attempt by the animus to answer what the intellect cannot.

All this time, we thought we were in Elmiryn’s lucid dream. But what if this was actually Elmiryn’s lucid nightmare?

Right then, everything in this seemingly chaotic place had new meaning. The shadows, the kittens and sparrows, even the endless sense of void… Elmiryn’s human mind was trying to speak to her! Wasn’t it interesting how she seemed to access it at these critical moments? Jydel, I was willing to bet everything that this revelation held the answer we needed…

And bet everything I did, because if I couldn’t get Elmiryn to face what was at the heart of her problems in the next few minutes, we would all be dead.

“Elmiryn, why kittens and sparrows?” I shouted up at her. “Why are they falling slowly through shadows?”

“Why not?” was her despondent reply. The shadows were so thick around her her, I couldn’t see her face.

“It matters because this place was not created in a void! It arose from your subconscious! Your human subconscious! I think it’s rooted in the very fear that’s keeping you from regaining control!”

Paulo leaned in and whispered to me, “Where are you going with this?”

I waved an arm at the small animals falling around us. “It’s weakness, Paulo. Vulnerability. Defeat. Except it’s drawn out to perpetuity. These kittens and sparrows fall, helpless, presumably to their doom, and nothing saves them. Kittens, black kittens. Remind you of anyone?”

“Nyx,” he said. For once, the boy was quick to grasp on to the matter, Jydel!

I nodded. “A symbol for potential loss. She’s afraid of losing Nyx. Or failing to protect her. Or both. I’m afraid I’m less certain about the sparrow. My initial guess was that it stood for Quincy. She was frequently referred to as ‘the fledgeling’ in her youth… But it seems unlikely, even when taking into account the story Nyx shared from that man Tobias. It lacks narrative significance to Elmiryn’s psychological identity–”

“Her family,” Paulo murmured. He looked up at Elmiryn, his eyes wide. “When I got a glimpse into her childhood memory, I saw it. Lethia, sparrows were part of her family crest!”

I grabbed him, excited. “Really? What else did you see in the memory?”

“Her mother. She was in the study. The crest was on the wall above the fireplace.”

“But what was her mother doing, Paulo?”

He put a hand to his head and squeezed his eyes shut. His form wavered. My grip on him tightened. He was starting to fade from consciousness.

“She was…” the boy struggled to get the next words out. “Painting. A tree. And… drinking wine, I think?”

There. It was small, Jydel, but it was something to go on. If the kittens represented what Elmiryn feared losing in the future, then the sparrows stood for what Elmiryn had already lost in the past.

I looked back up at Elmiryn and tried to quell my shock at seeing the shadows had all but condensed around her, till it was like she was in the center of a black hole. Somehow, the direction the animals were falling had suddenly changed.

They had changed to fall toward her.

Hadn’t she always had to fight to keep the shadows from closing in on her in the past? Her fae nature made it possible for her to control the nightmare to some extent, but in doing so, it stopped the message her human subconscious was trying to scream at her. The shadows that she was always fending off? Jydel, those shadows were her guilt and self-loathing.

“Elmiryn!” I cried out. “Your mother always counseled you to hide your true feelings until it was safe to express them! But your father made certain you never would be safe, didn’t he?”

No answer. My body started to tingle all over. Slowly, so very slowly, Paulo and I began to float back up to the window. Our strength was leaving us. I had one shot at breaking through to her before all was lost.

Every word became harder and harder to make.

“So you hid your fear! Your anger! Your sadness! You bottled it up inside, just like your parents taught you to do! You never could rely on anyone! You never could trust anyone! And how did they handle that kind of stress themselves, Elle? How?”

Still no response.

I was feeling sluggish. Elmiryn was growing smaller and smaller from us.

“They drank! All the time! When you saw your father in the Other Place as a drunkard, you felt ashamed! Not just because he was disgracing himself, but because you were face to face with a family practice that you were a part of! And did it work? No! Misfortune still befell them! You couldn’t protect your mother. You couldn’t meet your father’s demands! They became lost! And yet with Nyx, you still try to do the same thing, don’t you? The drinking and the self-denial are one and the same.”

Elmiryn said not a word. My words may have slurred, but I fought to keep going as our ascent to the window began to speed up:

“Elle, that practice will kill you! It could kill all of us! Your parents were wrong! It’s not your fault what happened to them! You can’t stuff your feelings down! You can’t drown them with drinks either! If you’re afraid, that’s okay! If you need help, that’s okay! This is a nightmare, Elle, do you hear me!? A nightmare! It’s time to stop fighting it and let it end–!

And then we were gone.


Elmiryn felt tired. Tired in a way she hadn’t in a long time. Even being continuously drunk, sleep had escaped her, leaving her to wander about the fields at night. Just like those days spent lost in the wild, with only the daesce for company, her every waking hour had become–

A nightmare.


This place was a nightmare. How had she not seen it before?

Yes, of course.

Elmiryn nodded sleepily, feeling herself growing colder, feeling her body in the real world growing fainter.

She thought she had intentionally made this place. But how could she have when she had not even half the control over her fae powers as she did now? No, this place was something her subconscious had dug up. Her human side. But the fae in her had seized it, twisted it, and she had mistakenly assumed it was hers to command. It wasn’t really. Not in the way that counted.

Without realizing it, Elmiryn had managed to pause her own nightmare. It was like a stage play forced to remain in the same scene, the actors stuck in the same places, doing and saying the same things, as if unto infinity. She had done this and turned her nightmare into some kind of twisted refuge.

A place to hide when she was afraid. At a loss. Desperate.

“This is a nightmare, Elle, do you hear me!? A nightmareIt’s time to stop fighting it and let it end–!

Lethia, sounding drunk herself, had hollered these words mere moments ago. Elmiryn wasn’t quite sure how long ago that was.

Go. Still. Or die! Do not care. Just shut up.

That’s what the strange spirit had said. But that was part of the problem, wasn’t it? She was thinking too much to let things end. To truly go still.

Elmiryn was accustomed to fighting her way through her problems. Sometimes even laughing her way through them. But perhaps Lethia and the strange spirit were right. It wasn’t about not feeling certain things. It was about accepting them. And it wasn’t as if she hadn’t done this before. Hadn’t she stopped fighting Nadi the river guardian all that time ago outside of Gamath? What had allowed her to do that? To see that she had to accept what Nadi was trying to do just to reveal the lies Meznik had contaminated her with?

Stop fighting. Go still.

She needed to change her perspective.

Elmiryn gently touched the ground, flat on her back. When she got over her surprise that there was a ground, she sat up, and the shadows sloughed off of her like dark mud. It was daytime, but all around her was a thick fog. As she gazed down at herself in wonder, she saw that there were mangled lumps in the mud. She picked one of these up and gasped at the feel of twiggy scaled legs and stiff rachises of feathers. A dead sparrow, its eyes clouded white and gray. She set this down in her lap, and with two hands, she carefully picked up another lump. This one was black with matted fur that she tried vainly to wipe clean, her throat clenching.

With gentle hands, she picked up the sparrow and held it up alongside the tiny kitten.

“I wasn’t enough,” she barely managed to murmur, her voice hitching.

A wet sound, like raw meat dropping in porridge, tickled her ear. When Elmiryn turned to look for the cause, her skin went cold.

A kitten struck the dark mud. Then another. Then a sparrow.

She shook her head, tears clouding her eyes. “No.” One struck her on the shoulder. Another bounced off her back.

Elmiryn hugged the two dead animals to her chest and ducked her head as corpses rained down on her. They piled around her, and she curled up, praying for the torment to stop. They came up over her head, then steadily piled on her, pushing her down into the mud.

She couldn’t breathe.

She cried out a single word.


Quincy was as taken aback as everyone else when the monstrous plants erupted from the ground and seized them. Before she could get to her magic bag, the vines gripped her arms and wrenched them back. They squeezed her chest and throat as little green creepers spread across her face. They pried at her lips, and she clenched her jaw shut. The creepers webbed over mouth so thickly, she couldn’t even catch breaths through her teeth. Her lungs screamed, and she felt her head throb from the poor blood flow.

Unable to take it anymore, she wrenched her mouth open and took a desperate gasp of air–

The vines seized the top and bottom of her jaw, wrenching them apart till it hurt, and then the creepers invaded her mouth, her throat, her lungs.

Unconsciousness felt like a sweet mercy.

Then someone was shaking her. Quincy coughed raggedly, spitting out bits of plant and dirt from deep within her throat. Her body ached. Her lips were moist. When she managed to open her eyes, she saw Hakeem gazing down at her, his face ashen.

Mweze! Breathe!”

She tried to reply to him, but only coughed more.

“Just breathe,” he said to her in his native tongue, stroking back her hair.

Quincy finally started to register the sounds of the others coughing and gasping.

After a long moment, she gripped her husband’s hand and rasped, “The plants–?”

“Gone,” Hakeem said, his brow knotting. “They simply… vanished. Back into the ground, where they came from.

Quincy made to sit up. Hakeem pursed his lips as if to show what he thought of this decision, but he helped her anyway. The brunette gazed about her, her eyes blinking in amazement.

The ground had been churned violently beneath their feet. Paulo was on all fours with Daedalus awkwardly reaching down to pat his head. Lethia was still on her back, but was moving–she was trying vainly to fend off Argos and his anxious face-licking. And in the center of the destruction…

“Elmiryn,” Quincy said, her eyes narrowing.

The Fiamman warrior was kneeling in a small pit, her back slouched as she stared down at her hands.

“Elmiryn!” Quincy said louder. Though spots erupted in her vision and her limbs felt cold and shaky, she fought to get to her feet. “How could you–!?”

“Help,” Elmiryn said. Her voice was flat, dispassionate.

Quincy’s tirade petered out as she felt a surge of surprise. “Help?”

The redhead turned to look up at her, and Quincy’s heart wrenched.

Elmiryn’s eyes were red and puffy, and their gaze was far off.

“I am… afraid,” she said slowly. Then she closed her eyes again and said louder, “I need help.”

“Elmiryn we were trying to help you.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I…” Elmiryn trailed off as Lethia sat up. Her eyes closed and she turned her face away again. “Lethia and Paulo helped me to realize… that I’ve been putting off a nightmare.”

“Did you finish it?” Lethia asked, a small cough chasing her words. Argos sat close behind her, casting her in shadow.

“I stopped fighting it.” Elmiryn said with a slow nod. “I let it finish. I saw that… I wasn’t enough.”

“Enough for what?” Quincy asked, daring to take a step forward. Hakeem put a hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged him off. She needed to know if this was possible. She needed to know if Elmiryn would cooperate.

Elmiryn let out a shaky breath and stood. One of her feet was bare in the dirt after she lost it in the struggle to get away from Paulo. She wiggled her toes once, then said with head bowed, “I’m not enough to do this alone. I never was. I need help. I’m afraid.” Slowly she turned and held out her arms with wrists touching. “Tie me up. Knock me out. Drag me down there. Do whatever you have to.”

Quincy crossed her arms. “We tried!

“Quincy–” Lethia started, but the wizard silenced her with a wave of her hand. Setting her eyes back on Elmiryn, Quincy went on: “You weren’t in a mindless fae-driven frenzy when you attacked us, Elmiryn. When you made those things grow. You fought against our help. I want to know that the human part of you will stop fighting us! Otherwise, this will be for nothing!”

“Quincy, dejala. She’s asking for us to help her now!” Paulo argued.

The brunette shot him a withering look. “Like when she accepted your help before?”


“She’s right,” Elmiryn interjected. She looked at Quincy and held up her hands. “You’re right. I wasn’t completely out of control. I fucked up.” She clasped her hands together and pressed them to her forehead. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I want this. I do.” Her face crumpled and Quincy’s heart wrenched again. “I’m tired, but I can’t sleep. I hear voices whispering to me. Everything I see feels like a lie. None of you trust me anymore. The thought of giving up drink and facing all of that scared me, still does, because what will keep me from losing my mind without it?” Then her lips, quivering, fought to spread across her face in a wan smile. “The nightmare showed me… I am not enough to keep the people I care about safe.”

“You were not enough to visit misfortune on your family either!” Paulo interjected hotly.

“And believe it or not, you are not enough of an asshat to completely turn Nyx away,” Lethia added gently.

What did they see in Elmiryn’s head? Quincy wondered as she gazed back and forth at the teens.

Elmiryn closed her eyes and fat tears spilled down her ruddy cheeks. She wiped at them, smearing dirt on her face before shrugging helplessly. “I am afraid, and I am not enough. When I realized that, the pattern I used to make the plants just unknotted itself.” She looked at Quincy and held out her hand. “I know I mean it this time because the plants wouldn’t have gone unless I stopped fighting those two facts.”

Quincy took another step forward, one hand tentatively raising. Her eyes were fastened on Elmiryn’s. “You’re afraid? You are not enough?” she said as one seeking to confirm.

The redhead chuckled, but somewhere in the middle of her weak laugh a small sob broke through and more tears fell. “Ergo, I need some gods damned help!”

With sure steps, Quincy cleared the last remaining distance between them and took Elmiryn’s hand. She looked at the others. Lethia was on her feet. Paulo approached on the redhead’s other side. With a glance at Hakeem, she nodded.

Together, she walked with Elmiryn and Paulo back to the tower. They guided her down the steps to the cellar where the candles kept the space lit.

As they approached the spell circle, Elmiryn spoke:

“I’m not sure what I’ll do or say once my fae-side starts to take over.” She looked at them both, her eyes earnest. “Remember that it isn’t really me. Remember that I want this.”

Quincy patted her shoulder. They were toeing the line of the circle now. “We know, Elle. And we won’t leave you alone down here. Someone will always be with you. We’ll take turns.”

Elmiryn stared down at the line, her brow glistening with sweat. For a harrowing moment, the wizard wondered if she needed to shove her in.

Then the warrior crossed the line. Behind her, Quincy made the necessary hand gestures to complete the ritual spell–tracing in the air a circle, a slash, then naudiz, the rune of need and constraint.

There was a small rush of air. Quincy looked up at the ceiling where she had placed additional protective spells. Just in case Elmiryn, in a frenzy, tried to escape through the floor. It had almost seemed overly cautious before, but now she was relieved she had thought of it.

“I’ll stay with you first,” Quincy said. She looked at Paulo who was gazing at the woman with a look she couldn’t quite identify. Awe? Pity? “Paulo, can you please bring blankets and a pillow–?”

“Not that I won’t appreciate those, but I should warn you… I don’t sleep anymore,” Elmiryn said.

Quincy frowned at the other woman. “When you said that, I thought you meant insomnia?”

Elmiryn shook her head. Even from where she stood, the wizard could see the Fiamman’s body clench up. “I mean I never sleep. And I don’t really feel hot or cold. I think… I think the fae never did either.”

Oh. Thinking of that, now the wizard could better understand Elmiryn’s initial resistance.

Having to be down here, in this cellar all night? Alone?

“I’ll take first night watch then,” Paulo volunteered. He had lingered by the stairs, a warm smile on his face. “Oye, this place is gonna need a table and chairs! Maybe I can bring a deck of cards?”

“I’ll take tomorrow night!” Lethia shouted down the stairs.

“No you won’t!” Quincy shouted up, as Paulo snickered on his way.

“No she most certainly will not,” Daedalus confirmed as he came down the stairs past the boy. The man stopped on the last step and pursed his lips. He folded his hands behind his back and said, “Elmiryn, Quincy and I believe we have a regimen that might help your body quit its drink dependence. Given the severity of your dependence, we have tried to lengthen the usual treatment mortals must go through. If we are being honest, however…” He sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “There is no telling what will happen. Normal individuals may suffer seizures as early as the first day. This can quickly be followed by hallucinations, fever, rapid heartbeat, respiratory complications, and of course, heart complications. I have what we need to get started, but I’m afraid Quincy will have to be the one to begin administering the needed medicines at first. I have no choice but to risk going into town to obtain the remainder of what we need.”

Quincy bit back a rebuke. She wasn’t sure how well-timed this was, but she supposed Elmiryn was in the containment circle, so it wasn’t as if they were going to scare her off now. It also wasn’t fair to subject her to such rigorous treatment without first informing her.

Clearing her throat, the wizard added, “Our hope is that within the next two to four weeks you might recover. It… It won’t be easy, Elmiryn. But we’ll help you through it. If we succeed, then this will be worth it.”

“If we don’t succeed–” Elmiryn started.

“We will.”

“But if we don’t,” the redhead continued, louder, “Then you have to promise me something.”

Quincy crossed her arms, her brow tensing. “I won’t promise until I hear what it is.”

Don’t you dare…

Elmiryn’s cerulean eyes met hers. “You have to kill me.”

The wizard closed her eyes. Damn it, Elmiryn. “No.”

“You have to, Quincy.”

Quincy shook her head, her eyes still closed.

“Do you honestly think we have two weeks for me to get better? A month? Our time here is running short. Sooner or later, someone will find us and try to hurt us. How are you going to move me? How are you going to get me to cooperate when I’m frothing at the mouth and trying to kill you all?”

“We’re doing this to save you, idiot. How can I agree to this?” Quincy’s voice became hoarse. She opened her eyes again to find Elmiryn was standing at the line, her eyes blazing, her fists clenched. Tears had cut lines through the dirt on her face. The woman was like an open wound as the wizard had never seen before. Quincy said next, almost desperately, “Nyx won’t let us!”

“She’s half the reason I’m asking,” Elmiryn murmured. “If this treatment is going to be as hard as you say, I may not be the same at the end of it. I may be even worse. Letting me out, or even leaving me here, would be a mistake.”

“You’re too hard-headed to let this beat you, Elle,” Quincy hissed back. Her lip quivered. “Don’t put this on me.”

“No one else will do it,” Elmiryn pressed. “It has to be you.”

Damn you!”

“Promise me. With Daedalus here as a witness. Promise.”

Quincy jumped as she felt Daedalus hand on her shoulder. She looked at him wildly and was surprised to see his tender gaze.

“Quincy, Elmiryn has made a strong argument. Remaining here even the minimum approximate time has its risks,” he said.

“It’s easy for you to say, elf!” Quincy snapped, brushing his hand away. “You hardly know the woman!”

“She almost killed us mere moments ago. What will she do if the fae in her takes over and she’s nursing hatred for our denying her addiction? Can we risk letting her free or abandoning her when the times comes to flee this place?” His words were gentle, but they felt cold.

“You don’t know her!” Quincy yelled. Tears were clouding her eyes. “She is a crass, foul-mouthed git, but she has helped us! Each and every one of us! She has helped me, and that’s why I cannot possibly kill my–” she broke off and pressed her lips tight.

“You cannot kill your friend,” Daedalus said with an understanding nod.

“Quincy,” Elmiryn called softly.

The wizard looked away, toward the stairs. She wiped the unshed tears from her eyes with her sleeve.

The Fiamman tried again. “Quincy.”

With a rough sigh, Quincy finally looked at Elmiryn.

The other woman was smiling. “Believe it or not, I don’t have many friends. So I’m happy you’re one of them,” she said.

“Then how can you ask me this?” Quincy asked. It almost came out as a whine.

“The same way I can say that the man you think is your husband is not, and that the real Hakeem is alive and somewhere safe.” Elmiryn looked down. “I’m sorry I didn’t say it sooner. I didn’t really know what to do. But now that I’m in here, there’s nothing I can do but warn you before I’m incapable of thinking straight.”

Quincy’s mouth fell open. Her arms, which had been tightly crossed all this time, fell slack at her sides. She looked at Daedalus and found he was busy glaring suspiciously at Elmiryn.

“How do you know this?” Daedalus asked her.

“His pattern,” the redhead replied readily. “I can see the weave of the world. His pattern is not Hakeem’s. In fact, it’s not even human.”

“Elmiryn, you are making a dangerous accusation!” Quincy was shaking. Her skin felt cold, but her fists clenched tight. “If the man above isn’t Hakeem, then who is he? What is he?”

“A golem. It was sent from Izma, I think.”

“To do what? Spy on us?”

Elmiryn shook her head. “Maybe to split us up. Maybe just to hurt you.”

“This is insane,” Quincy huffed. She paced once along the front of the containment circle, then she jabbed a finger at Elmiryn. “I don’t believe it!”

The Fiamman rubbed at her face and groaned. “Look, I figured you wouldn’t! But I had to tell you, do you see? Because I care what happens to you and the others! I need you to be on your guard!”

“So that I can kill if you necessary?” Quincy snapped.

“So that you jackasses don’t get backstabbed!” Elmiryn threw her hands up in the air. “Don’t you get it!? What I’m asking for and what I just told you are coming from the same place– making sure all of you are safe!” She clasped her hands together again. “Do you need me to beg again? Fuck, I’ll get down on my knees if I have to! But you’ve got to understand that what I’m asking is almost like a final wish! I won’t be in my right mind soon! I can already hear the whispers! Just do it! Just promise me while I’m still capable of understanding you!”

Quincy paced again. She felt faint and ill.

When she heard Paulo start to come down the stairs with the pillow and blankets, she felt weary beyond her years.

The words came almost as if on their own.

“All right, Elmiryn. I promise.”

Continue ReadingChapter 46.3