Chapter 1.2


She felt so small.

Small and quiet.

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


Not REALLY silence.

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

Aw, who cares

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

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

…Thinking this stupid knife was dull.

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

Then she saw.

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

A girl. It was just a girl.

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

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

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

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

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

…Maybe it was just that ridiculous haircut she had?

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

“There’s the beast!”

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

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

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

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

She smiled, showing all teeth…

Continue ReadingChapter 1.2

Chapter 2.3


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

“You were muttering something about rats.”

“I was not.”

“You were asleep.  How do you know?”

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

“So you’re saying I’m right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just stared.  “…Pardon?”

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

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

“Self-taught. That’s amazing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

“Yeah. You got it.”





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

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

I was already wary.  “What’s that?”

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

“…That’s it?”

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

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

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

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

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

I found I welcomed it.

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

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

“Will it take us closer to him?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your business?” the guard asked.

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

“Who’s your friend?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You aren’t a turtle, Nyx,” she said.

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

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

“Yeah,” I said, glancing at her.

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

“I suppose…”


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

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

I looked at her, skeptical. “Oh?”

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

“Is that because of your curse?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

She felt so…small

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

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

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

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

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

Elmiryn let her arm drop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…a marriage next week…!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Perhaps they just need someone more skilled.”

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

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

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

“But you’re a—”

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

“No, no we aren’t interested in—”

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re kidding,” Nyx deadpanned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That hurt!” she snapped irately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m all ears.”


Continue ReadingChapter 2.3

Chapter 2.4


That wretched cocksure witch made me want to scream.

How dare she.

How DARE she?

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

Hypocritical bitch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You sound disappointed.”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re going to Gamath.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ailuran faltered. “…Sorry?”

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

Elmiryn trusted the contact.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elmiryn was beginning to feel small again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good night, Elle…”

Continue ReadingChapter 2.4

Chapter 3.1


Amaiden asleep in her canopy bed.

A poor picture.

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

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

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

The man came towards her menacingly.

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


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

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

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

Elmiryn rubbed her eye in a brief show of exasperation.

…Rats?  Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

“Go back to sleep and I’ll tell you.”

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

“That’s the idea.”

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

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

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

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

“I like to make the most of my days.”

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

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


“Ah, ah!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it one of those public baths?”


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

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

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

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

“…Really? You’d do that?”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Nyx gave her a hard look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“So aren’t you?”

“You’re ASKING me?”

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

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

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



“So what?”

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

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

“Only it isn’t a good joke!”

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

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

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

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

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

“You won’t?”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elmiryn closed her eyes and smiled.  “Good.”

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

Continue ReadingChapter 3.1

Chapter 3.2


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, wait.

They weren’t ‘men’.

They were ‘boys’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elmiryn blinked, uncertain of what she saw.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What the HELL are you talking about?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“His boots,” she said, pointing.

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

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

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

“Nothing?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A pause. Neither of them moved.

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

Continue ReadingChapter 3.2

Chapter 4.1


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

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

So vile.

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

The city could be seen in the distance.

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

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

She had looked like the dead deer.

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

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

Nyx had been like that for fifteen minutes.

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

And it was too terrible.

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


Elmiryn stirred from her thoughts. “Huh?”

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

Right now, Nyx was feeling afraid.

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

The Ailuran gave a mute nod.

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

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

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

“Do you know why he cursed you?”

“…Again, I don’t really know.”

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

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

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

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

“I…I don’t know.”

“I guess we’ll see then…”

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

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

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

At the limits of Gamath, they stopped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The girl mumbled something, then gave a cursory bow.

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

“No, I think we’ve got it.”

“Mmm…Fine.  Follow me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I swear.”

“Good.” He stepped out of the room.

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

“Nyx…here, drink some of this.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue ReadingChapter 4.1

Chapter 4.3


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But…the humor.  I found it.”

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

Elmiryn snickered as she fell onto an idea.

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

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

“What word?”

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

“…You’re lying. That’s not a word.”

“Fine. What about pestiferousness? Chimerical?”


“Cantankerous? Eruditeness? Paralytic?”

“I…I don’t KNOW!”

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re completely human again, Nyx.”

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

“Not a fucking clue,” Elmiryn said cheerfully.

Continue ReadingChapter 4.3

Chapter 4.5


(where is she, where is she)

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

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

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

(where is my protector)

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


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


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

…Aw, who cares…

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

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

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

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

…It felt thick.

Then her heart gave a twist.

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

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

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

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

Do ghosts bleed?

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

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

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

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

“Have at me.”


Her jaw tightened.

“Go on,” She growled.

Still nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Run! Run girl, run!

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

It was Sedwick.

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

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

“Wait…just wait.”

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

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

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

“You don’t know?”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(…i’ll kill you…)

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

(…i’ll rip you apart…)

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



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

(i can’t. he won’t let me.)

(he won’t let me.  he won’t let me!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stop it.”

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


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

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


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

[The Other is forcing her way forward.]

(…you aren’t…no…you can’t…)

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

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

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


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

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

Continue ReadingChapter 4.5

Chapter 5.1


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

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

From where she stood it reeked…it smelled like…

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

Elmiryn decided she was hungry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A low hiss.

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

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

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

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

The chamber’s light shifted to crimson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last thought caused her pause.

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

So what was she doing?

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

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

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

“…The guardian isn’t following.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

A screech.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The guardian was surging toward her again.

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

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

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

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


I was mortified.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Instead I found Elmiryn.

Continue ReadingChapter 5.1

Chapter 5.2


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

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

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

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

…No, of course not.

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

“Hey!” She shouted after it.

Her voice parted and echoed around her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


My snout hurt.

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

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

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

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

“I’m really glad you’re back, Nyx.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elmiryn stretched and crawled onto the outcrop with me.

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

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

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

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

…I looked back at Elmiryn with a long face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside, I could hear the other hissing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was almost there.

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

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

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


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

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

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

…by any definition of the word.

Continue ReadingChapter 5.2