Chapter 4.2

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


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

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

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

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

[She stops and wonders why she–]

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

“That you are, kitten.”

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

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

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

“They’re MY words,”

[But she can’t.]

“They taste different,” I whisper.

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

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

“You okay, Nyx?”

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

[Because it is the first time.]

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

Nevertheless, I feel this place is foul.

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

I nod at her.

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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




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

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

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



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

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

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

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

[Then she realizes she’s giggling.]

And I begin to laugh.

(because this is impossible)

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

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

And I just think that’s hilarious.

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

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

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

“What do you think is so funny?”

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

I nod.

“It seems weak,” she remarks.

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

“It’s confused,” I say again.

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

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

“Anacreontic.” I say it slowly, carefully.

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

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

“I’m not sleeping, just closing my–”

I nip her on the shoulder.

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

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

“Nyx, I think YOU need to sleep.”

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

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

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

[You guessed it.]

“I forgot.” I say sheepishly.

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


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

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

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

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

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

Lovely.  Snacks for later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elmiryn looks at me as if I slapped her.

(i’m sorry.  i’m…scared)



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



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

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

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

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

I frown at her.  “What?”

“Your face…it’s gone all cat.”

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

Continue ReadingChapter 4.2

Chapter 4.4


“What are we going to do?”

“About what?”

“About HER.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh sure. The more the merrier.

“And who will protect the people here?”

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

This was stupid.

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

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

…I was kinda wondering that myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The discussion is over, Sedwick.”

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

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

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

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

She was strong, and she was my new guardian.

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


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

We were almost to the river.

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

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

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

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

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

“Should we wait for him?”

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you doing?!” Baldwin squeaked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s on the other side, isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid so.”

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

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

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

“Let’s go,” Sedwick said solemnly.

“Yeah.  All right…one, two–”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


(…i feel cold…)

[Bones reconnect, bruises fade…]

…And I was aware again.

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

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

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

I squinted.  It was Baldwin.

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn’t see my own reflection.

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

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

The rock hit the water with a loud splash.

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

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

“You’re an idiot,” I say shortly.

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

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

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

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

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

I had to find Elmiryn and get out of there.


Continue ReadingChapter 4.4

Chapter 4.5


(where is she, where is she)

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

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

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

(where is my protector)

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


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


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

…Aw, who cares…

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

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

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

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

…It felt thick.

Then her heart gave a twist.

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

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

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

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

Do ghosts bleed?

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

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

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

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

“Have at me.”


Her jaw tightened.

“Go on,” She growled.

Still nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Run! Run girl, run!

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

It was Sedwick.

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

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

“Wait…just wait.”

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

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

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

“You don’t know?”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(…i’ll kill you…)

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

(…i’ll rip you apart…)

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



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

(i can’t. he won’t let me.)

(he won’t let me.  he won’t let me!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stop it.”

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


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

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


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

[The Other is forcing her way forward.]

(…you aren’t…no…you can’t…)

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

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

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


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

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

Continue ReadingChapter 4.5

Chapter 9.1

Eikasia Book 2: In Sight, In Mind

“Our realities do not end in ourselves, but in the hearts of others.”  – Tobias

Light feet dashed through grass.  Moisture laid cold kisses on her bare skin, where the breeze chilled in its envy.  She held the book close to her chest.  Her heart hammered against the thick cover, the tome so large it knocked her chin and pressed into her waist.  Petite hands desperately clung to it, trying to find a firm grip.  Her little arms could barely encircle the book all the way, and the edges of it pressed into her muscles, cutting off circulation, and making the veins in her wrist and hands burn with want of blood. Still she didn’t stop.

Overhead, great misty giants from the north draped across a star studded sky.  The moon was not to be seen.  She crashed through growths of mountain grass, the tufts as whips to her bare legs.  A field opened onto her, alive and aglow with fireflies and the hum of crickets.  Her excited heart calmed.  The electricity in her eyes slipped away.  She spared one glance behind her before she walked to the center of the field, and sat down.

With her behind turned damp, and a mosquito buzzing in her ear, the girl opened the tome and began to read aloud.  Her voice and the symphony of spring became one, and a smile finally appeared on her face.

But she was interrupted when a heavy something collided into her from behind.  She yelped, but the sound was cut short as breathe left her.  With the edges of her vision rippling, she shoved at whatever had draped itself across her back.  She recognized the smell, her acute little nose wrinkling at the scents of sweat, taffy, and warm milk.

“Koen!?” Brother!?

A laugh.  A young face peered into hers, a monkey’s grin plastered there.  “Koah,” Sister, “You’re in big trouble if they find out!”

Angry, she shrugged him off.  He fell to the grass next to her, giggling.  “Cajeck!”  Idiot! She cried. “What are you doing, spying on me?”

“I’m not spying.” Her brother said, his face aglow. The dancing lights of the fireflies made it seem like he was still moving.  “Thad told me to look for you.  He wants to talk to you.”

She groaned and snapped the book shut with reluctant hands.  She pressed her forehead to the cover and muttered, “Where is he?  When did he get back?”

“He’s at the tavern, speaking with the nation leaders.  He and his men arrived three hours ago at the central grounds.  Leander told him about the things you’ve been saying in his lessons.  He even mentioned the elf trader.”  Her little brother sat up and patted her back in mock sympathy, “Aww…He might not whip you that bad, Nyx.”

“He won’t whip me!” She snapped, looking up to bump her shoulder roughly against his.  “He isn’t like Leander.”

“He was still mad, though,” Atalo returned, digging in his right ear with his pinky.  “You know he told you to behave while he was away!”

She bit her lip and looked at the tome in her lap.  ‘A Detailed Look at Elven Culture’.  “I traded all my gold pieces for this. I’ve been saving for months…” She sighed, eyes tearing up. “How am I going to hide this?  Thad will take it and burn it!”

Atalo fell quiet next to her, his little body slumping at the sight of his older sister’s tears.  He scratched at a rosy cheek and looked around.  Then his face lit up.  “I know where we can hide it!” he cried, shaking her with both hands.

She looked at him sullenly.  She wiped at her nose with her bare arm.  “What are you talking about, you little fool?  There’s not a safe place here or in the village to hide this great fat book!  Especially not with Thad looking for me.  He knows all my hiding spots!”

“No, no!  Not all of them!  Remember that great old tree we found not long ago?  We can hide it there, in the trunk!  All we’d have to do is cover the book with leaves.  Hardly anyone goes there, because of the ticks and spiders!!”

“But that’s so far away!  He’ll know I was up to something.”

“I’ll do it for you!”  Atalo cried.  He went for the book, but she shifted to keep it away from him, her expression incredulous.

“You’ve got to be kidding!?” She was barely able to keep from laughing.  “had trouble carrying this book, how can you carry it all that way and not drop it?  What if you tear it, or let it fall into mud?”

Atalo looked hurt, his brows crashing together over his eyes.  “I can do it, Koah!”

She bit her lip, then slowly handed the book over.  “Don’t you drop it.  That took me a lot to save for!”

He immediately brightened up and with a grunt, hefted the book into his lap.  “Don’t worry, I won’t!”  Struggling, he stood to his feet with her help.  Her eyes flashed with worry.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay, Atalo?” She asked.

“…Yes!” He grunted, his face pink.

She gave him one long, fearful look, before she took off running, back toward their village.  As concerned as she was, she couldn’t keep Thad waiting.  He was an impatient soldier.

As her form took a shortcut through the forests, pupils widening to adjust to the dark, a shadow watched her flee past.  It was a large cat, tawny eyes turned low at the sight of the young girl’s retreating back.  Its maned head turned to look back the way she came, toward the field, where Atalo took slow, shaky steps northward.  Furry chops pulled back in a smile.

Atalo would drop that book at least five times, once even in a dirty puddle, before reaching his destination.  Nyx would not speak to him for days, until he gave her a handmade book–sloppy but sincere–and as he gave it to her, he would sheepishly say, “I made this so that maybe you can make your own book…”  She never wrote in it.  She preferred reading.  But she forgave him all the same.

That was seven years ago.

“Why are you here?” A new voice, strangled and low.  The great cat, whirled around, lips pulled back in a snarl.

Nyx, of the present day, had the animal fixed with a hateful gaze.  “You’re dredging up what isn’t yours.  …And for what? To cause me pain?”  Her eyes were like bleeding cuts.  They overflowed with tears, and the creature half-wished the bitch would die from the grief.

The cat lifted its head.  Inhaled, and exhaled slowly.  It approached Nyx on quiet paws.

The young woman tensed, fists clenched.

…But the great cat just brushed past her with a growl.

Then the memory faded out of focus, and drained away–leaving the physical world free to remind all of its presence.


I awoke, mewling in pain, anything more excited or forceful beyond my capabilities.  My muscles, my guts, my bones were in mutiny.  I felt as though knives were hacking at my skin, whittling away my cartilage, and leaving bare my bones to pinch and grind my nerves and veins.  My neck had swelled, making breathing difficult, and desperate gasps punctuated my pitiful bleats of agony.  I was paralyzed, my hands rigorously frozen to fetal paws held close to my chest. Across from me, Elmiryn remained asleep.

When my mind came into full function and I understood the situation at hand, I tried to smother my own voice and fight away whatever was happening.  I pressed my eyes shut, hard enough that they seemed to push at my eyeballs.  With practiced focus, I sought to reclaim control of my body.  Gradually the pain faded.  The swelling of my neck receded.  My hands unclenched and I could once again move my arms freely. My ears rang.  I wiped at my eyes, where tears had leaked from the corners, and made to sit up.

That’s when Elmiryn stirred. Her eyes were shining slivers, where I could only assume she looked my way.  Then they blinked and labored to open them in full.  I trembled a little.  My body was spent from the effort of returning to normal.  With my back to her, I looked at her over my shoulder.

“Good morning,” I croaked. My throat was still raw. Elmiryn reached out slowly, and ran her hand down my back in a lazy paw.  She let her hand rest on the blanket and closed her eyes again.

“Nyx…” she murmured.

“This is a bad habit you’re forming, Elmiryn.” I tried to smile, but my lips shook unwillingly.  A laugh, high and tense, reverberated through my chest.  It made my trembling worse.  “If I keep waking up before you, we’ll lose so much daylight!” Even as I said that, I knew it was very early. Birds still chirped sleepily in the trees.

Elmiryn rolled onto her back and stared up at the sweet, persimmon sky.  Her lips were parted slightly and her eyes lidded. “It’s morning…you’re right.” She sighed and sat up, head in hands.  “I had a bad dream.”

“What about?”

She looked at me through parted fingers. “You were hurting, and I didn’t help you.” My faux smile fell away.  I turned my face.

“It was just a dream.” I could feel her eyes on me.

She let her hands fall to her lap.  Her face drew long and a wrinkle appeared on her brow.  “Now I know…it wasn’t.”

“Elle, just cast it out of your head.”

“Your voice tells me the truth even when you aren’t trying to.” I closed my eyes to that and sighed heavily. She continued, voice flat. “It wasn’t that I saw you, my eyes were closed.  But I heard you.  Only, I didn’t know where I was.  I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t moving.”

“It’s normal to be confused when you’re half-asleep.”

Elmiryn shook her head and stared at her hands.  “I don’t like it.” She chortled, but it sounded sardonic. “I thought for a second…”

I turned to look back at her.  “…Elle?”

She wiped at her mouth as her eyes unfocused.  Then she stood to her feet, shaking her head emphatically.  “Nevermind.”

Elmiryn set about packing, and I followed suit.

I didn’t try to press the issue.  Pressing the issue would’ve meant returning to what happened to me, and I didn’t want to discuss it.  The Beast had gotten too close–dug so far deep into my memories as to usurp my dreamscape in favor of viewing what wasn’t hers.  In gaining this control, my body had become confused in sleep.  If I had not stopped her, I would have shifted.

You’re paranoid. That wasn’t my intention at all.

I cried out, dropping the blankets I held in my arms. Elmiryn looked at me, blinking. “Nyx, you okay?”

I looked around me. My mouth felt dry. “I…I thought I heard–”

Me. You heard ME.

In my head. A gravelly voice, much like mine, but deeper and with an accent that suggested the speaker was unaccustomed to the language.

I was speechless. I touched both hands to either side of my head and felt faint. “No…”

Your precious Expression is mine now too. Does it bother you, tyrant?

Elmiryn came towards me, hands held out in caution. “…Nyx, look at me.”

“But you’ve no USE for it!” I screamed, stepping back, as if that could distance us. Elmiryn froze, her eyebrows going high. I didn’t pay her much attention. I clawed at my head. “You thief! You vile monster, get out of my head!

“Nyx, that’s enough.”

Two hands grabbed my wrists and I became limp, falling to my knees. Elmiryn knelt with me. “I can hear her…” I breathed. “She’s speaking to me. I can hear her.”

“It was bound to happen.” Elmiryn said, stroking my hair. “She’s your Twin, remember?”

I leaned into her touch. “I don’t want to hear her at all.”

I dislike being talked about as if I’m not here.

I tensed. “Stop it.”

Elmiryn stopped and started to pull away. “All right.”

I grab at her. “No! Not you, Her!”

The warrior’s eyebrow quirked and she took a finger to tap at my head. “Maybe you should talk to her in your head. It’s confusing, otherwise.”

“She means you sound like a crazy person.

My fingers curled and my teeth found themselves grinding. I felt flames burn at the edges of my face, and a growl tensed my throat.

“Be quiet!” I thought.

My animal counterpart purred at me, amused, and sat on her haunches. Her den, her prison, had become larger. With my Expression, she had made it larger.

“Has she stopped?” Elmiryn asked me, still partly turned as if about to stand.

I wait, my eyes on the ground. Then I nod. “I think she’s done.”

Elmiryn patted my arm. “Then let’s go. We’ll need to find a good place for you to shift tonight, farther from the roads.”

This made me feel ill.

The Beast only chuckled.

You see? I have no reason to play games. Tonight is already MINE…

Continue ReadingChapter 9.1

Chapter 18.2


I’m confused–naturally, as I’m only seeing things in a dream state.  You’d think this was natural.  But I fail to understand the reason the smells of the prison have faded to be replaced by…I don’t even know.  But it makes me feel nonplussed.  We’re moving toward a large entrance.  The woman known as Syria stops us, her hand cupping her ear to the door.  “It seems we left some of our fellows still waiting for us.”

The doors open, by no one’s hand it seems, revealing a beautiful garden.  Just as she said, there’s more people outside, but…I question this.  I make my concerns known to my sapien counterpart.  Just an empathic strike void of words, I’m not sure I can adequately describe what I’m feeling anyway–but as I receive Nyx’s dismissal (“Creature, keep quiet,“) I feel a simultaneous stab of pain through me.  Alarmed, I fall silent, shrinking into the cold mists of my world.  It smells of animality and desperation.  My face bunches as I gaze up into a sky that has turned cloudy.  Then all at once…I can see nothing more.

I scream.

Nyx! What treachery is this!  What’s happened!?  Why can’t I see–” my voice is cut short as the ink closes in around me.

A voice echoes from afar, but I recognize it…I know it because I’ve only just heard it…

“Animals should not speak,” the voice says, just as the shadows rise over my head…


Syria bowed to the new guests, all smiles, all warmth.  She invited them into her home, but gazed out into the garden with dismay.  “Oh my,” she breathed, a hand at her lips. “The dogs must be hungry!  We must let them in.”

The garden.

Elmiryn’s gaze hardened as her eyes trailed the wave of carefully pruned rosebushes, neat green grass, and tranquil flower beds.  The mountain wind was somewhat nippy, but the woman didn’t feel the need for a cloak.  Their group of five stood aside to allow the dogs in, a pack of mixed breeds, and the animals scurried into the enchantress’ home.  Their claws clicked on the polished floors.  The warrior heard laughter, but the sound echoed with something else.  She started to look over her shoulder when she saw the others moving forward, chatting together like they were old friends.  Farrel flirted with Syria, and the woman flirted back.  Lethia giggled with Nyx.  Elmiryn listened once again to the sounds behind her, and as Syria traveled farther ahead, she heard it.  Clearly.


The warrior moved to catch up with the group, the edges of her vision blurring as they traveled farther away.  When she was within a few feet of them again, the blurring was gone, and so were the screams.  She had to keep up.  She tried to take some pleasure in the scene presented to her by looking up.  The sky was open to them, revealing stars–gods tears, caught in a veil that concealed heaven.  A veil, a screen–

A lie.

Elmiryn cursed under her breath.

Lethia fell into step next to her, looking shy.  She was wearing a blue frilly dress with light pink laces.  Her hair was pulled back with a jade clip.  Hands behind her back, she smiled at Elmiryn and met her eyes.  “So…what do you think of my mistress?”

Elmiryn sighed, turning her gaze to look at the drink in her left hand with dissatisfaction.  “Yes.  She’s very nice.  Pretty.”  Then she did a double-take.

Wait a fucking minute…

“Hey, your eyes–!” Elmiryn started.

“Hmm?” The girl tilted her head to one side.

The woman faltered.  Then she shook her head and turned her face away.  “Never mind.”

Lethia looked forward again, carefree.  “It’s great that so many people were willing to come to celebrate Syria’s birthday.  After all she’s been through, she deserves it!  She has you and the others to thank too, of course,”  The girl’s smile turned somber.  “Thank you, Elmiryn…for helping.  I know…I know I complicated things.  But you saved me.  And my mistress.”

“The last part is what worries me,” the woman muttered, sloshing her drink.

The girl looked at her, blinking.  “…Sorry?”

“Nothing.”  Elmiryn looked up at her.  “You’ve been having fun, it seems.  Have you thought about it much?”


“How you got here?”

Lethia’s smile turned uncertain.  “Um…Elmiryn, are you having a good time?”

The woman gazed at her.  They were walking at the same pace.  Left, right, left, right, left…and yet somehow they still managed to be out of sync.  How annoying. “I’m having a great time, kid,”  Elmiryn eventually said.  She pointed at the girl, “Hey, by the way, how did you manage what you did back there…?  In the staircase.”  She elaborated at the teenager’s look of confusion.  “At Holzoff’s, I mean, with those two guards you controlled.”

“Oh!” Lethia’s eyes went wide.  Then she tapped her jaw.  “Ah…lemme see…wow that seems so long ago.  But I can try and tell you,”  She held up both her hands.  “You see, there are two categories people fall into:  believers and skeptics.  Believers are easier to convince that an illusion is true.  Skeptics need a great deal more work and effort before they’ll buy into anything, and more work if you want them to do as you tell them.  Walt was easy to control–he was a bit simple-minded.  The matrix of his animus was very easy for me to infiltrate and thus control.  But Redford wasn’t so easy.  His matrix was much more complicated.  I had to first present him something very innocuous, something that he could easily agree to, before gradually increasing the level of my commands.”

“Ah, that’s why he seemed to keep acting normal, up until the end.”

“Yes!  Usually that control would take weeks to achieve, but I didn’t have time to wait.  I had to shut down his thoughts altogether.”  Lethia’s brows crashed together as she looked off to the side.  “Come to think of it, I can’t remember how the man fared after we escaped Holzoff’s.  Typically…typically a subject would experience a great deal of mental damage given…given what I did…”  The girl’s expression turned anxious and her eyes fogged with her concerns.

Elmiryn gripped her shoulder.  “Lethia, you did what you had to.”  Skepticism at this point was dangerous, especially coming from the young enchantress.  The woman steered her forward, so that they caught up with the others.  “Don’t dwell too much on it right now.  We’ll figure something out.”

“It’s just…odd.  Even for me.  How could I forget that?”  Then the girl paused, thinking over her words, and without warning she burst into a nervous fit of giggles.  “Gosh, what did I just say!

Elmiryn started to chuckle.

How ridiculous this all was!

Farrel, walking arm in arm with Syria, turned to look at them over his shoulder.  His wisterian eyes, sharp and cool at the same time, were like bowls that held liquid curiosity.  His light lips broke apart in a smile.

“What has ya in such a humorous mood?” he asked.  His accent was back.

“You don’t hear that noise behind us?” Elmiryn asked, gesturing behind her.

The halfling frowned at her and Syria looked back at her now too.  The warrior smiled toothily at the enchantress.  “Your dogs seem to be having a good time with your guests…”







[It is a cold place.  A thankless, unforgiving place.  A place devoid of all but the basest of understandings.  But she feels a hook in her.  A way to the surface.  A thread that goes up–but it is too weak to return her.  Still.  Not all had been snuffed out.  Not all had been lost.  After all she still had–]


[–Of Expression still quivering in the surreal breeze like cobwebs still clinging to their warm corners.  This place is rank with fear and self-loathing.  In a bizarre way, the Expression brings her pain, because it brings her understanding, but she cannot do away with it.  She needs it.  Still, her understanding still fails to reach the answers she seeks.  How long had she been there?  A minute?  An hour?  A week?  She is a shard, lost within a vast sea of broken unwanted things–things her other self, her other personality had long since locked away.  This dark ocean once surrounded her sanctuary, threatening to swallow her too, and now it finally had her.  Was it possible to come back?]


[What if you could bring this chaos together? — She wonders.  Would this take away the cold?  Would this end her turmoil?  She cannot rid herself of the pain, but instead, she decides to embrace it, for it is the one thing she has to tell her she’s alive.  Still existing.  She starts to draw together the cobwebs and the whisperings.  The Dark Matter that made up this sea of unwanted things.  Somethings and Nothings that once were.  She brings these things together, joining them.  The darkness swells around her.  A thought occurs to her and she pauses.  What she was doing could bring trouble for her.  It could hurt Nyx.  It could grow and manifest and hurt the others–like Elmiryn.  It could grow and grow.  Could She stop it?  The thread she has to the light is not strong enough to bear her so she needs more to bolster it, but this Dark Matter is nefarious.  Only…she sees the art cobble together, and she sees a new beast, an unrelenting strength, that could be hers.

She stares at the–]


[–And decides she’d rather live, fractured in pieces with her Twin, than be lost here for eternity.]


The woman couldn’t say for certain how far they’d gone.  Things had dimmed to a grayscale, failing to keep her attentive to the happy chatterings that passed through her head.  She started seeing snow in the garden, and felt colder.  Her broken arm ached more and more.  But amidst the blurry indefinite shapes that paraded and caroused in jovial fashion, there was the ever-colorful, ever beautiful art that she had come to know as uniquely belonging to Nyx.  The girl here, in this pretty pretend world, was radiant.  Her smile was broad.  Her hair was no longer in a mane, but in soft, even curls that bounced and teased her porcelain shoulders.  The girl was laughing.  Smiling with Lethia and with Farrel and with Syria.  Up ahead, there was a glow, over the tall hedgerows, and Elmiryn surmised that the dream would soon end.

The woman looked skyward again, and took a deep breath.

If the dream could last a little longer, than why not let it?

They trudged up a hill.  A large tree rested off to the side, disrupting the mountainous skyline.  There was barking in the distance.  Then Argos appeared, bursting through the bushes, leaves in his fur and his ears perked as he set eyes on Lethia.  The teenager squealed, gathering up her dress as she ran forward.

“Argos!”  She cried.

The great big shaggy dog ran to greet her, barking excitedly.  Well behaved, he didn’t jump on her, but when she crouched down to hug him, he froze, jerking out of her embrace to sniff the front of her dress.  At the injury she had so conveniently forgotten about.  Two silhouettes appeared at the top of the hill, backlit by campfire.  One was taller than the other, though that could’ve been because the one on the left was leaning on his knees.

“Oye!  You people look terrible!”  Graziano.

Elmiryn shouted back up at him, glad to hear his voice.  “Yet surprisingly, we’re still fuckable!”

Elmiryn.”  Nyx glared at her.

The woman grinned at her in return.

They were getting close enough now that she could see his face.  He was smiling a little, but his eyes were on Farrel and Syria.  Then Elmiryn noticed the gun in his hand.

“I don’t believe it.  You made it,” he said.

“Barely,” she said, glancing at the weapon, then at the man.  “Where’s the wizard?”

“Wasn’t he just behind us–?” Graziano started to look over his shoulder.

Paulo straightened, taking a shuddering breath.  He looked at Syria and grabbed the front of his shirt with both hands.  “Hello…Miss Syria.  I was told…you could help me.  P-Please…”

Elmiryn raised an eyebrow at him.  She was half expecting more of his tantrums.  It sounded like he’d rehearsed this in his head.  Or maybe it was Graziano’s doing.

“You have others here,” Syria said suddenly.  Her brusque ignore on Paulo’s request made Elmiryn’s eyebrow quirk.  “More guests.”

Paulo blinked at her.  His eyes had dark circles now, making him seem more haunted than when Elmiryn last saw him.  “Guests?  Oh you mean–”

Nyx let out a choked noise.  She fell to her knees, her expression drawn in blank shock. Elmiryn let go of the mirage she had been holding–and the image of her “wine glass” vanished into nothing.  She was once again wearing a ruined doublet with a broken arm, her hair in a sweaty, tangled braid.  The beautiful garden wavered and fell away.  They were knee-deep in snow, almost to camp.  The warrior knelt by Nyx quickly, her eyes trying to make out what was happening.  Argos came up at her side, snarling–but it wasn’t at her or even the Morettis.

The large animal drew his teeth back, hackles raised as he stared up at Syria.  Lethia tried to pull him back from behind, but it was like trying to move a boulder.

Argos! What’s gotten into you!?”  The teenager looked at Elmiryn who hugged Nyx with one-arm.  The Ailuran was struggling to breath, and she was burning up under the touch. “Elmiryn, what’s going on?  What’s happened to Nyx?”  Lethia’s oval-shaped face now sported a light sheen of sweat and a healthy dose of fear.

The woman looked up at Syria, who gazed down at her from the corner of her eye.  She no longer seemed that beautiful anymore.  She was dressed in rags and there were shadows in her eyes.  Her slight smile had something twisted tucked away in it.  Her injuries didn’t seem to faze her, either.

The warrior smirked.  “Kid,” she said, “Stop and think a moment.  Why can you meet my gaze without emptying my head?  How did you get here to this party?  What day is today?”

“I–I don’t–” the girl’s voice cut short.

Elmiryn looked at her again and saw that a sleepy, blank look had taken over her face.  She sat back and Argos turned to look at his owner, his ferocity dying out with a whine.

“I was hoping,” Syria drawled over them.  “That the animal in Nyx would stay quiet.  I’ve never quite come across a mindscape like hers.  I was very tempted to risk everything in probing further.  Perhaps I should have invested more time investigating how her split personalities work…then maybe she wouldn’t have slipped from me.  It doesn’t matter.  It seems her malady removes her as a concern for the time being.”

Elmiryn closed her eyes.  “The Twin is all about survival.  On top of that, she’s intelligent.  She knows a cage when she sees one, and won’t allow herself to remain trapped.  Now whether or not her sudden rebellion was wise, that’s left up to debate,” the warrior shrugged her good shoulder.

The dark-haired woman looked at her, a wry smile on her lips.  “Your mindscape is quite interesting as well, Elmiryn. It’s just beginning to show signs of deterioration, but nothing of your thoughts gave you away.  I’d thought you were under my thrall.  It’s as though you’re smoke.”

Elmiryn opened her eyes and smirked up at the woman.  “I’m not so easy to manipulate.”

The noble laughed.  “I’ll remember that next time.”

“There won’t be a next time.”

“…You’re right.”

Farrel was staring between the two women.  Argos licked Lethia’s cheek and hand in an attempt to get her to wake.  She didn’t move.

Graziano held up his pistol.  He placed a hand on Paulo’s chest and forced the boy back.  “Elmiryn.  Tell us what’s going on…” he said, voice wary.

“Why are you doing this?”  The warrior asked the enchantress.

Syria looked at Elmiryn, eyebrow raised.  “You’re an inquisitive ghost…aren’t you?”

Farrel stepped away from her.  “I’m…not following any of this…”

“I was trying to wait this out, to see what Syria had planned,”  Elmiryn said nodding at the enchantress.  “Making us believe in her illusions just as much as the guards wasn’t in keeping with someone who was innocent.  But she spared us, unlike those men in the tower.  I wanted to know why.  She could’ve killed us right away and been done with the whole matter.”

Farrel clenched his fists as he looked down at himself as though seeing his armor for the first time.  He glared at Syria, all his affection and humor gone.  “What did you do?”

Syria laughed again, but the sound was dryer–harsher.  “Silly man, I saved you all!”

“What did you do!” He snarled.

She let the daesce into the tower,” Elmiryn spat.  “Those men are all torn apart by now.  What about the prisoners, Syria?  Didn’t you care about them?

The woman shrugged.  “They’re in prison cells.  Unless help doesn’t arrive, I imagine the worst they’ll suffer is starvation…so long as they stay away from the bars.”

“You’re insane!”  Farrel shouted, pink-faced.  He drew his dagger and held it before him, but it was like holding a twig to a raging fire, and the man knew it.

Syria looked at him mildly.  She gestured at Elmiryn.  “I’m no more insane than this woman here.”  She looked at Lethia.  “Up, girl.  There are magic users near, but they won’t be able to interfere.  At any rate, this won’t take very long.”

Lethia stood, a breath rattling from her lips.

Everyone around had stepped away from the enchantress and her apprentice, Argos included.  He whimpered, a last appeal to his owner who stared at Syria like she were the only thing in the world that existed.  Paulo drew his rapier, swallowing loudly.  Elmiryn dragged Nyx back by her clothes.  She lay the girl at her feet, who was still gasping, still lost in her mind.  The woman didn’t know what was wrong with her–but there was not much she could do.  Her eyes were still strained on the dark-haired enchantress, who now gazed skyward.

“I’m not going to indulge you all with a speech.”  She smiled, her expression sad.  “You wouldn’t understand anyway.”

Graziano pointed his gun and Elmiryn saw his finger flex on the trigger, but he didn’t pull.  Sweat rolled into his unblinking gaze.  She made to push into a run, to charge with her blade, screaming.  But her body couldn’t move.  At first she thought she was suffering another episode–but then it occurred to her that such things weren’t supposed to be noticed by the subject in question–and at any rate this was happening differently.  She was still aware of her body, still aware of the size of the world and her place in it, but an invisible force was physically preventing her from moving.  The woman could still move her eyes, and she saw that she was not alone in her entrapment.  Graziano was similarly stuck, as was Farrel, and so she guessed, was Argos.  They were like grave statues.  But then Paulo walked forward, dropping his weapon.  His face now sported the same blank expression Lethia’s did.

Syria held her chin, her face turned away.  She seemed lost in thought.  Paulo stopped before Lethia, and the two faced each other.  The boy removed his shirt, and Lethia crouched down to pull at his pants.  Within a minute, the boy was standing naked in the cold.  His limbs were wiry and he sported an erection (“Quite a feat in this cold!” the woman thought.)  The dark-haired enchantress waved one hand.  The snow crunched and hissed as it shifted to make a flat relief in the slope.  Paulo lay down in the center of the newly cleared snow and Lethia stood over him, both hands held palm up at either side of her.

Syria stood at Paulo’s feet, her eyes shining in the dark.  She gazed at her captive audience.  “Enchantment is not the only form of magic I know.  It was my secret for years.  But you can all still walk away, today, without ever knowing the extent of my power.  You can live long lives, and I can wipe your minds free of the burden of these memories.  For freeing me, this I can offer you.  But I have something I must finish first.  I’m sorry, but this will not be pleasant.”

Then she looked at Paulo again.

Lethia raised her hands.

At first Elmiryn didn’t understand it, but then Paulo began to rise in the air, perfectly horizontal as though he were still lying at his back.  Then there was a roar, and in the next instant, a stream of fire flowed over them.  Syria was taking the fire from the camp and multiplying it.  Elmiryn would have ducked, would have shielded Nyx.  But the woman still couldn’t move.  She couldn’t even blink.  She could only watch with watering eyes as the brilliant fire encircled Paulo.  Then…

Flames licked out, with purpose, over every part of the boy’s body, tracing shapes into his skin.  He didn’t scream.  He didn’t squirm.  It were as though he wanted it, wished for it to happen.

Syria was murmuring, her face a tight scowl as she worked.

Then there was a voice that drifted on the wind.

I see, so you see.  I hear, so you hear.  I know, so you know.  Illuminate this for the eyes of the blind.  Reveal what is hidden, bring forth what is desired!

Syria didn’t even turn her head.  Simply pointed with her arm, and a surge of flames broke away from the ritual to fly back toward camp.  Something flashed overhead, a bright white light.  Elmiryn’s mind felt as though it were electrified.  Thoughts flashed through at miraculous speed.

“Syria’s using Lethia as a puppet.  I’ve never heard of it–I don’t know shit about magic, really–but I guess it’s possible isn’t it?  It’s like she’s possessing the girl.  She has Lethia levitate Paulo while Syria burns those symbols into his body–sacrifice, he’s a sacrifice, a seed–but what’s it all for? Take out Lethia and Syria’s power is halved.  The girl…her eyes.  She never needed those glasses.  Syria had just done something to her, to control her–Lethia must be powerful for Syria to put such a cap on her.  But none of this solves my problem of fucking moving–”


I start to rise forth, all gritty vengeance, the vestiges of a world nameless and unwanted slowly stripping away from my spirit as I spearhead my way into the forefront of this shared intellect.  I’m gripping onto my newfound weapon, the Dark Matter, my force of primal instincts gathered together with these lost thoughts and feelings.  It is a black ribbon, a rope that takes me higher.  It lashes in my grip, but I command it still.  With this, I am the forgotten and unwanted daughter.  But I will have my say.

My return from the darkness brings Nyx to her knees, and I feel the ghostly wave of shock and inertia take hold of our body.  I’m pushing into her consciousness, but I’m not seeking to conquer it.  I feel like the entire world is pressing down on me, squeezing my limbs, gripping my spirit.

Two souls cannot be in control.  Two souls cannot fit here.

The mind struggles to make a stage for us both.  Within seconds we stand opposite the other, staring each other down–me upright, but with fur and claw, she looking just as she had in Syria’s illusion.

Nyx starts, trembling.  It could be rage or fear or both. “What’re you–”

I cut her off.  We do not have time for the usual dance of words. “Nyx.  You must remember where you are.  Do you really think you’re at Syria’s home?  Do you remember anything of Holzoff’s?  Of how we got there?”

“Of course I do!” she snaps.  “But that doesn’t explain–”

“What’s my name.”

Nyx blinks.  Stares at me as though I’ve suddenly turned into a human (scary thought.)  “What sort of question is that?”

I bare my teeth, my tail lashing behind me.  “You self-important baboon…you forget so easily!?”

“What?  What did I forget?”

“That you would give me a name!  After Holzoff’s Tower, I would’ve raised the issue, and yet you cannot even recall sparing a thought for it!  What happened to all those guards you left behind?  The prisoners?  What happened to Belcliff?  Why is Syria’s tower suddenly a castle instead?”  I’m screaming at her now.  Why is my life tied with this fool?

The girl hugs herself.  Her breaths–imaginary in this place–turn to fog. “How do you know this?  All you see is just a dream to you, how do you know this isn’t just your misinterpretation?”

“Our malady doesn’t quite work that way, sister.”  I spit the word out.  I crouch and point a claw at her, the black ribbon snaking up my arm.  “Whatever you experience, I still feel.  I still sense.  When the prison suddenly vanished, I knew something was wrong–but when I moved to speak to you Syria tried to silence me.”

“So she’s…”

“Not as she seemed.”  I look up at the black overhead that looms over us.  “I imagine something is happening now.”

“Why’s that?”

“Moron.  Because she hasn’t tried to stop me yet.”

Light flares around us, and riding on its hot intensity comes a deep understanding.  Then the stage tears away, unable to hold us both.  I willingly slip back into the subconscious, back to the sanctuary I have made.  Given the look that had crossed Nyx’s face before sight and sound had been torn asunder, I decide that for once, my sister can handle it.  It’s a surprise, and not an unpleasant one.

I don’t really envy her position.

At any rate, I’m always here in case of disaster, and I have the Dark Matter to aid me…


Nyx shuddered and rose, her nose and ears bleeding just as the light overhead vanished.  She was heaving breaths, her eyes wild and glassy.  Syria didn’t think it necessary to restrain her, it seemed.  She looked at Paulo, Lethia, then Syria.  She didn’t need long to make a decision about the scene before her.

“No, NO!  We have to stop her!”  Nyx screamed, scrambling to her feet.

The Words echoed in Elmiryn’s head.  There was something spiky about it, that made her body tingle pleasantly.  She had felt tired, despite her determination, her body shuddering on the last stretches of its strength.  But she suddenly felt rejuvenated.  Nyx said they had to stop this, and she was right.  Elmiryn took as much breath as she could, and…

Again, Syria didn’t even move her head.  A slight flick of her hand, and the flames surged forth, reaching angrily.  There was a muted boom.  Snow exploded before them and the ground shook.  A black gauntlet struck away the flames, where they perished in the cold air in a hiss of embers and heat.  Nyx stared, dumbfounded as Hakeem, dressed in his mage armor, stood over her and Elmiryn both.

The warrior grunted, forcing her muscles to move against the invisible force.  When she gained an inch forward, the woman screamed and pushed her body harder.  There was a rush of air around her, and she tumbled into Hakeem’s side.  She was free. The man was still crouching before them, his arm held up as he maintained some sort of gravitational shield against the fire that lashed at the group.  They were literally caught under a bordello of flames.  Snow turned to slush, turning their boots and pants damp.

Panting, the woman winced as her broken arm stabbed with pain.  She looked at Hakeem, “We have to stop this before she kills Paulo!” she shouted over the roar of fire.  She pointed forward with her sword.  “Give me cover, I think I know what to do!”

The man nodded, his face tight with exertion.  “Go now!”

Elmiryn returned the nod, and with a breath, she pushed forward into a run.  Hakeem roared, pushing with all his body as he rocked the shield forward so that it cleared a way for the woman to run through the flames.  As she passed beneath Paulo’s body, she saw Lethia, her face slack and disconnected from the chaos before her–indifferent to the hellish flames that came frighteningly close to scorching her.  With a shout, she slammed her fist into the girl’s mouth.  The teenager’s head snapped back, her eyes rolling back into her head.  Lethia fell backward…unconscious.  The warrior continued her run, legs pumping through the snow.

Behind Elmiryn, there was a crunch.  Without the gravitational force keeping Paulo aloft, his body had crashed down into the snow.  The woman started to wheel around, her gaze flickering to Syria.  From the corner of her eyes, she saw Graziano and Farrel freed of their bonds.  The Moretti moved, his face drawn in horror as he took in his brother’s mutilated body but Hakeem held him back, saying something that was lost in the resulting commotion.  Was the boy even still alive…?

“Your therian friend possesses an ancient magic, it seems.  I thought that art form was dead.  Somehow I missed that,”  Syria sounded more exasperated than angry.  Her arms swung, and her eyes held the flames of the fire she now orchestrated toward Elmiryn.  “Something wrong was bound to happen, it’s been so long since I’ve had to command so much at such levels.  But do you really think you can win?”

…Only, the fire died, sputtering as they fruitlessly stretched through the cold air.  The warrior stopped and watched as the flames literally flickered out to nothing before her face.

Overhead, there was a bright and orange glow.  Elmiryn looked up, her eyes widening.  Were those the suns…?

Like a bolt of lightning, the light condensed together, then flashed down with a crack.  Syria stirred the snow about her feet, sending up a snow wall as she stumbled backward.

Standing in a crater of melted snow, steam curling about her, Quincy pointed her golden blade at Syria–her body glowing with a bright light.  “You thought yourself supreme, and thus underestimated us all.  Perhaps Hakeem and I aren’t enough to stop you.  But these people will not just sit back and let you carry out your sick plans.”  The woman drew back her blade as she fell into a fighting stance.  “Let me be the first to show you the error of your ways!”

Elmiryn laughed and charged forward, her sword poised to strike.

“Somehow I’m not surprised you’re here, wizard!”  She cried.  Syria turned, her eyes widening with surprise as the warrior drew back her blade.  “But the right to first blood is mine!

Continue ReadingChapter 18.2

Chapter 32.2


The blood came fast, seeping into her mouth and almost choking her. It dribbled out the corners of lips, along her tensed cheeks into her ears, where the world became a muted beast. The blood in her mouth was hot and sour. Her vision rippled. A wail of sound came to her, screeching in violin–

No, no, NO!

You idiot, don’t swallow–

But with a muted pop, the violin voice was gone, and Elmiryn felt her spirit being pulled through her scalp. She felt out of body, up high, like a specter happily shivering in the ferocity of the scene. Her pounding headache, shakes, nausea, and weakness gradually receded. She felt fierce and indomitable. The warrior felt like a predator.

Artemis’s strangled scream encouraged her to bite harder, to the point that the flesh in her mouth was severed.

With a great wrench, Elmiryn twisted her hips and torso, and lifted her arms, overthrowing her attacker as though she were a pillow. The warrior spat out the severed piece of tongue, her eyes fogged in her bloodlust. Her body trembled, excited, fueled by an anger so pure it burned her from within. With a roar, Elmiryn raised her fist, but before she could attack, Artemis swung her arm and caught her with the back of the hand. The blow was powerful, setting Elmiryn on her back.

Her spirit returned to her, and the feeling of invulnerability petered out in the face of her reality. She felt ill, her stomach doing turns as a dull ache came to her head. Her lips tingled. She felt feverish and wondered why her ears were ringing.

Then she heard Artemis laugh.

It was gurgling and thick, but there was no doubt that Artemis was actually laughing. Elmiryn lurched onto her side, her chest heaving as she stared at the goddess. The deity was holding herself up by the arms, blood still dribbling from her mouth to give her a rabid, demonic look. Indeed, her manic gaze seemed unholy, and the warrior tensed.

“Houu has-shh hurr me…” Artemis chuckled, the sound wet and squelching. Her head lolled to the side and she smiled.

When the goddess didn’t continue, Elmiryn made to sit up, dragging her body just a little further away. “What?” She asked breathlessly. The blood was drying on her face, but her lips were still sticky from it. Disgusted, she wiped at her mouth with her arm.

The goddess held up a finger and turned her head. Within the next instant, there was a strange and muted noise like flesh sizzling. Then, the warrior realized with a start that Artemis was growing her tongue back.

Giving her new tongue a quick click, Artemis returned her eyes to Elmiryn, grinning smugly. “Ah! Much better! Now, as I said before…thou hast hurt me…truly…but not verily.” She raised a hand. “Still. As the infinite sky above us, this truth cannot be changed. Thou were able to remove a piece of mine person. And that is commendable enough. I am not surprised, but I am pleased.”

Elmiryn stared at her in disbelief. “So this was a game to you?”

Artemis’s eyes rolled upwards as she absently wiped her face. Though she didn’t get all of her face, the blood seemed to vanish all the same. “Well, I would have said ‘test’, but a game? I suppose that is fair to say.”

The woman’s face grew red. “Fuck you! Fuck you!! Who do you think you are?”

Artemis raised an eyebrow. “A goddess.”

Elmiryn scrambled to her feet, her knees weak and her illness swelling like an angry balloon. “You’re a fucking monster!”

The deity laughed as she stood, her graceful body practically glowing in the dark. “Oh come! You speak as one proper-false. It was not so bad. Look. Thine ambrosia goes unstirred…” And the goddess gestured at Elmiryn’s pants, her lips curling in a leer.

The warrior bared her teeth, her face flaring as the situation stared her down once again. The helplessness. The bewitching aura that had steered her mind clear of all rationale. The cold and listless feeling as things spiraled out of her control. Artemis had nearly…

Elmiryn’s hand drew her sword and she dared a step forward.

Artemis’s eyes dropped a fraction. “Mmm…this is more like it!”

With a yell, Elmiryn swung her sword at a diagonal cross, her back stinging from the cuts the Wolf Mother had raked down her spine. She felt her hate magnified by Artemis’s smirking lips–her sharp gray eyes taunting the woman mercilessly. But her target moved faster than she could comprehend. With a strike to the chin, Elmiryn flew backwards, her vision erupting in stars as her jaw stung. When she landed, she found it was more than pain that kept her down. She couldn’t move. She tried lifting her arms, her head, but they just twitched pitifully. She opened her mouth to speak and found she couldn’t.

This is it, then. Elmiryn thought with disgust. I manage to literally fend off an army of men, and in the end, a woman has me on my back. This is just great. I bet Halward’s laughing at me.

But with these thoughts, she felt fear, and it gripped her stronger than anything she had ever felt before. It was worms in her stomach, a cold flash over her skin. Her throat tightened and the woman’s eyes clouded with tears.

Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck–

She could hear Artemis chuckle over her. Elmiryn closed her eyes tight. She could feel the goddess’s new tongue flick her nipple, making her jerk and her skin break out in gooseflesh. She could feel the deity’s hands on her thighs, squeezing, caressing the sensitive inner region near her sex. Then the hands traveled higher and–

Elmiryn felt something bite her left ear.

She gave a yell, her fist launching in an upward punch. She felt it connect something furry.

Her eyes snapped open.

Wait, furry…?


Elmiryn gave a shout and sat up, her eyes fluttering. “…Cat?

Before the woman was the Twin, it’s rump in the air as it covered its snout with both paws. The creature’s tail lashed behind it, and it growled in great displeasure before raising its head to glare at the woman with its glowing tawny eyes.

“Next time I find Elle the Idiot passed out and bloody, I will leave her there! No doubt, you were doing something unpleasant,” she snapped.

“Wh-Where is she?” Elmiryn sat up straighter, her head whipping about frantically.

“Where is who?” the animal grumbled.


“…Artemis? Who are you talking about?”

Elmiryn stared at the Twin, her brows furrowing. With concentrated effort, she breathed in deep through her nose and out through her mouth. Gradually, her heartbeat slowed and she rubbed at the place over her heart. “I…n-nevermind.”

What happened? Where’d she go?

Then the warrior recalled why she was out in the forest to begin with. Grabbing the Twin around the shoulders, she cried, “Hey! We’ve been looking for you!”

The Twin snapped at her arms, making her let go. “Well stop looking. You’re noisy and annoying.”

“Stupid animal–this is important. Nyx needs you.”

“Well I don’t need her!” The Twin returned to all four paws. She narrowed her eyes and turned as if to leave. “Leave me alone.”

Elmiryn glared. “LOOK you fucking flea-brain–” but distant voices caught her attention, effectively stopping her.

“Elmiryn! Elmiryn!! Where are you?”

“Fiamman! Hey!”

“Elmiryn! Are you all right!?”

“Hey blockhead, quit wasting our time!”

The others. Just how long had she been gone? Was everything just a dream?

…Then why was she half-naked and still covered in blood?

“I’m over here!” She hollered, getting to her feet. She felt a mild dizzy spell and closed her eyes, her hand going to her head. Turning with her eyes still closed, Elmiryn said, “Anyway, as I was saying Cat, Nyx is in–” She dropped her hand and opened her eyes.

The Twin was gone.

Elmiryn kicked at the ground. “Shit!”

“There you a–aaaah!!”

The woman turned to see Quincy standing rock still amidst the trees, her face slack in shock for the second time that day. The wizard slapped her hands to her eyes and turned around. Sanuye and Gudahi appeared from behind her, their eyes inquisitive. Hakeem appeared soon after, and with a short cough, he looked away. Elmiryn looked down at her naked chest and grinned humorlessly. Any other time and this would have been hilarious, only…

“Sorry,” she mumbled, covering herself. “Has someone got something I can use?”

One itchy scarf later, and Elmiryn found herself facing down four expectant faces. She spared them a brief glare before turning her eyes in search of the Twin’s tracks. “What?”

“We’re waiting for you to tell us why you’re half naked and covered in blood,” Hakeem said patiently.

“I found the Twin. Now can you guys help me pick up her trail before we lose her for good?”

“Did she attack you?” Sanuye asked next.

Elmiryn moved to check the last place she had seen the cat, her eyes squinting. “No.” Then she froze, realizing her mistake. Her eyes flickered to the side. “Yes.” Her voice was quieter.

“Tell the truth,” Quincy snapped.

The warrior heard her approach and looked up. The wizard’s face was tense and her eyes were hard. She knew Elmiryn had been less than forthcoming with them before, and now she was fed up with it. That was plain to see. The redhead’s eyes flickered to the other woman’s pearl earring, still dangling from her ear.

That stupid artifact must be giving me away, too…what did Quincy say it does? Let her know what’s relevant, or something? If she isn’t getting any tips, then she must know what I’m saying is bullshit. What truth can I give them without saying I was nearly–

Elmiryn’s face went blank. She adjusted the scarf wrapped around her. It was dark wool. Quincy had tried to give it to her days ago so that the woman wasn’t only wearing her chest wraps, but Elmiryn had refused because of the uncomfortable material. It was itchy and hot. She hoped the others would see this as the reason for her sudden sweat.

“Artemis.” The word barely made it out of her mouth.

Quincy’s eyes narrowed and Elmiryn could see the Lycans exchange looks from the corner of her eyes.

The woman returned to the task at hand. Her voice was tight when she spoke. “Anyway, she’s gone now. The Twin showed up right after her. If we hurry, we might catch up.”

“Leave that to us.” Gudahi and Sanuye appeared at Elmiryn’s sides and knelt to the ground. Putting their faces close to the soil, they sniffed and sniffed.

Both stiffened and exchanged looks once again.

Gihli?” Gudahi asked Sanuye.

She gave a terse nod. “Rothen ron-kwe.” Then without another word, she quickly began to strip.

Quincy gave an exasperated sigh. “Again with the nudity?”

“Get over it,” Elmiryn snapped. She looked to Gudahi. “So I take it you’ve got her?”

The Lycan nodded. “Sanuye is going to run ahead to make sure we do not lose her. We shall follow as quickly as we can.” He turned to Hakeem as Sanuye, now naked, stepped further into the bush, her skin darkening. “Prince of my heart! Would it hurt your pride too much if you rode upon my back?”

“Only if you don’t say it in such a lewd way…” Hakeem muttered.

Elmiryn looked away from them to watch Sanuye shift. Unlike Nyx, whose transformation was slow and painful, the Lycan’s form seemed to shift like water.  Her skin rippled with a full coat of fur, her limbs shifting smoothly and quickly to that of an animal’s. Within seconds, Sanuye no longer stood in her sapien form, but rather, as a wolf, her gaze glowing in the dark. She glanced over at the others, her dark tongue appearing to lick her chops once, before she put nose to ground. Within the next moment, she was off at a full gallop, her slim form vanishing in the dark of the forest.

Elmiryn turned to see Hakeem on Gudahi’s back, and Quincy eyeing him suspiciously. “Ready, Elmiryn?” The Lycan asked.

The woman gave a silent nod.

For once, something is going to go as planned. I fucking swear it.


Since coming to this sweltering cesspit of hot weather and torpid beasts, I have known something of freedom for the first time in my (arguably) short existence. Since knowing awareness, I had felt trapped and stifled by my other half’s constant hatred and fear of me. But I was free. Finally. Free.

…And freedom brought its own onslaught of miseries, I quickly learned. Suddenly, that extra layer of insight was gone and lost, to where I knew not, but there it was. My lacking experience and my basic animal instinct was all I had to survive and find pleasure with in my new phantom world. The survival came easily. Before my sense of self appeared, I was the very spirit of survival after all. But pleasure…? I realized with a sinking sense of depression that I had no idea how to find joy or happiness for myself. In fact, I seemed to have every reason to feel sorrow and regret. Stalking the forests, I heard the monster, heard the havoc and carnage it wreaked upon the land. In its wake, it would leave nothing save for that miasma of death and despair, but hidden in the scent was a lace of something I knew. I shied away from the truth, feeling ill and frightened beyond comprehension. On my own, I do not think I could have parceled out my emotions any better than an infant would an alchemical formula. With this misery over me, suddenly my basic sense of survival seemed so cruel and terrible that my hunts for spirit flesh led me closer and closer to the Lycan tribe. Though I knew they would see me as a threat, still I ventured near, because I had nothing. No one.

Naturally, I had to find Her.

My other half, my Twin, my sapien counterpart split free of me as I was her, and there we sat staring at each other for the first time in separate states of existence. Finally, that small sliver of doubt that had haunted me was answered. I was not a figment of her imagination. I was real, and none could deny my existence.

But like all things between Nyx and I, the meeting was painful and infuriating. As I had suffered, alone and dodging the spectre of my own mistake, so had she been living her dream of singularity, and with that freedom, the joy of love.


In my solitude, I had become better practiced at the verse of sentient minds, but nothing could adequately explain the depth of rage and jealousy that I felt toward Nyx upon sensing Elmiryn’s scent intimately weaved into hers. That heady scent of sex. That spice of attraction.

Villain! That you would know a thing apart from me, and still demand that I yield to your desires! What of me!? Am I not allowed to know my own brand of joy?

…And there I was, still nameless and shunned when the return of the despicable monster broke our unhappy reunion short. I fled, seeking my refuge, and I did not know what became of Nyx.

But Elmiryn’s sudden appearance just now gave me an idea. If only I cared.

Certain that I had no reason to fear being followed, I moved as carefully as I could through the woods, mindful of my trail. I sensed, however, a presence behind me. Spurred on, I tried to shake the feeling only to find that it was doggedly keeping pace with me. Now alarmed by what I knew to be a pursuer, I took haste through the forest, taking all the ways familiar to me in the hopes of losing them. But with each clever twist and deceitful turn, never did I lose them. My alarm rising to all-out panic, I did the only thing I could think of–

I climbed up a tree.

It was a beast of an oak, with thick tangles of branches that supported my weight without trouble. I peered down into the dark, and soon I saw my pursuer. They peered up at me with eyes fierce amidst a warm face of fur. A wolf. A Lycan, by the scent of them. Now my embarrassing tactic seemed less silly. There was no hope for me to lose this creature. The Lycans were as one with the land, and understood every inch of it intimately. Really, it was a small comfort, knowing that I had practically resorted to fleeing up a cliche just to deal with my racial rival. Just to make matters worse, I could’ve sworn the mongrel down below was smirking up at me.

Not long after, Elmiryn and her comrades appeared. Nyx was notably absent. My suspicions were confirmed. The warrior approached my tree, her eyes squinting up at me. Then she grinned suddenly.

“Cat. Tree. Funny!” She said with a chortle.

I just narrowed my eyes at her. “Human. Idiot. Unsurprising.

Quincy raised her eyebrows. “Well. She’s observant, at least.”

Elmiryn spared a moment to shoot the wizard a glare. Her demeanor became grave. “Twin. Get down here. We need to talk.”

“We are talking, you ungodly sack of refuse.”

“This is just as much fun as that time I got stabbed in the shoulder…and had my arm dislocated…and had my head beat in by a Lycan…Quincy, am I missing anything?”

The wizard thought seriously for a moment before answering. “Vicarious nipple tear.”

Elmiryn pointed in Quincy’s direction. “And that. Multiplied by ten. That’s how much I fucking enjoy this skit right now, Cat.”

“So let’s end the charade and go our separate ways,” I spat. “Whatever you have to say, I am not interested!”

The woman kicked the tree. “Will you listen to me!? Nyx is GONE. The beast has her! You’re the only one who seems to know anything about that thing! We need you to find her!”

“Maybe she wants to be GONE? Maybe I want her to be GONE? Why is it always about what Nyx needs and not Me?

“And who the fuck are you?”

“A mere shadow. Clearly,” I growled, turning my back.

There was a heavy sigh.

“What can we offer you that would persuade you to help us?” This was a voice I had not heard before. My ears perking, I turned to look over my shoulder. Ah. It was the little dark skinned boy. When I didn’t answer, he continued. “There must be something you want. From our last meeting, it was plain to see you were less than pleased with your life as it was. What can we do to improve it?”

“Hakeem–” Elmiryn started, but Quincy held up a hand and gave a terse shake of her head. I saw all of this out of my peripheral vision. My eyes were on the boy. This was Hakeem? I remembered only a strong and confident man. This child certainly resembled him, but…

“And how can you give me what I seek?” I asked suspiciously.

It was the tall dark haired man who spoke next. “We can only know once you tell us what you want, of course.”

I spared him a look, then shifted so that my body was turned a quarter of the way around. My tail flicked idly at the tip. “Then this is what I want…” I leaned down, my chops pulling back in a sardonic grin of fangs and whiskers. “A name…”

No one said anything for a moment.

Elmiryn tapped her chin, her lips puckering as she gazed up at me. Then she pointed at my nose.

“Winky Woozerton.”

Continue ReadingChapter 32.2

Chapter 33.3



Elmiryn was so caught off guard that she barely flinched her head to the side in time to avoid a broken nose or a broken front tooth. The impact of Nyx’s fist was so hard she was knocked flat onto her back and her vision went dark before returning in a fuzzy, spinning tunnel. Disoriented, she couldn’t make out what was happening until she felt something pounce on her with fingers digging into her skin like claws.

Üle hejka, lunae! Üle hejka, LUNAE!!” she heard Nyx scream.

She remembered those Ailuran words. The bond she had shared with Nyx had given her knowledge of the therian language, though it was like giving an incomplete cipher key to a foreign child. The warrior covered her head as she felt punches rain down on her, and she tried to focus her thoughts. The assault only lasted a few seconds before the woman heard a loud, thunk, and felt Nyx cry out as she fell off of her.

Blearily, Elmiryn opened her eyes.

Nyx scrambled to all fours, her back arched, her facial features swimming in an illusory haze of sapien to feline and back. Quincy held her staff at the ready, her body tense but with an aura of certainty she had lacked before. Hakeem appeared at Elmiryn’s side, his little hands helping her to sit up.

“Quincy,” Elmiryn managed to slur out. “Don’ hurt her…”

“That might be a little difficult, Elmiryn,” The wizard responded without so much as a turn of her head.

Lunae,” Nyx panted, her skin shimmering suddenly in black fur, before shifting back to gray skin, then back to its usual pale luster. She snapped her teeth, and her eyes went cat, fangs clearly in her mouth, before they too vanished out of sight. Foamy saliva dripped from her quivering lips. “Lunae. Och mochitye, ya bodani oobivat. Oobivez, kotorik rak moyet syemta. Och ni da oobivat! LUNAE!

Nyx leapt at Quincy with remarkable grace and power, her limbs suddenly like that of a cat, before the wizard dodged her and—blink—the animal limbs were gone upon the moment the Ailuran hit the dirt, and she was once more just a bipedal creature awkwardly on all fours. Meanwhile, the redhead managed to grasp onto something meaningful in her thoughts.

‘Lunae’…’Lunae’ means die. She’s telling us to die. And ‘hejka’ means traitor. She thinks we’re traitors?

Elmiryn woozily stood to her feet. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been hit so hard…and was that molar feeling loose? The woman rubbed at her throbbing face and said, “Quincy jes’ hold on a moment.”

“I can’t Elmiryn. Busy,” Quincy snapped back.

Nyx charged for her again and the wizard twirled her staff. Light shot up and down the length of it before the woman snapped it toward her attacker in one quick strike. It hit the Ailuran in the shoulder and the girl cried out as she spun and crashed down onto the dirt.

Elmiryn gave a shake of her head to clear the stars she still saw and advanced on the wizard.

‘Oobivat’. Means kill. ‘Oobivez’. Means murderers. ‘Syemta’ means…

Her eyes went wide.

Nyx began to tremble, and her skin rippled visibly. Her body contorted in agony as she groaned and let her head drop. Elmiryn placed a hand on Quincy’s shoulder. Partly for support, partly to let the wizard know she was there, and partly so she could hold the woman back.

“What’s happening…” she whispered.

Quincy shook her head as Hakeem appeared on Elmiryn’s left. “I don’t know,” the brunette responded.

Lunae…lunae…lunae…” Nyx breathed raggedly. Her hands went to naked paws, then back to hands. Her spine bulged in her back, then vanished beneath the skin. “Och ni da oobivat. Lunae! Lu–” She broke off in a scream, her forehead touching the dirt as she curled up and pressed her hands to the sides of her head. Then without warning…

They all heard Kali’s voice. “No. No. NO! You idiot! You’re just letting it get the better of you!”

Elmiryn raised an eyebrow and looked at Quincy sidelong. The other woman was doing the same. Hakeem dared to step closer, his hands held up cautiously before him. “Ikati?” he breathed.

Nyx slammed her head into the dirt once. Twice. Three times. It looked painful. “Damn you! Let this go!”

There was a small growl, then suddenly it was Nyx’s voice again, all filled with wrath. “Cajeck! Kincht de nedret! Teme och ni aldan!?”

Then it was Kali again. “You idiot baboon, it’s coming again, it’s–”


“They’re battling each other,” Elmiryn murmured.

“No.” Quincy shook her head.

“They’re battling the beast inside,” Hakeem finished. He bowed his head in thought for a moment, then raised it with a shrug. “Or maybe, they are all battling each other.”

“Is there anything we can do?” Elmiryn asked, feeling almost desperate for action.

Quincy leaned on her staff and placed a hand on her hip. “Unless you know how to dive into that hurricane of a mind, there is nothing left for us to do but wait.”

Elmiryn thought about this seriously, one hand on her chin.

Well I could just use my fae power and…

“Wait.” Quincy looked at her sharply. She thrust a finger into the warrior’s face, her eyes narrowed. “Don’t. Even. Think. About it.”

“But I could make myself really tiny and–”

“What in the fuck? I–no–I can’t even–Gods no. Elmiryn, just shut up and wait. Ugh, you can be such a quack.

Elmiryn pouted, genuinely stung. “It was just an idea…” she mumbled.


Three monoliths swathed in a cascade of liquid memories, all simmering and shimmering in the transcendent glow of years melded with sorrow, joy, anger, and fear. These giant spires were testaments to a single entity, but they were separated on islands of thought and being, an ocean of darkness and void keeping them from unity. On one island was Kali, her feline head raised as she roared over the vast expanse at Nyx, who sat seized by trailing insanity from the Last, the Nameless One, the Beast, who was on her own island black and featureless as ever, but with a calmness that could have been interpreted as equal parts infuriating and disturbing.

“Nyx!” Kali shouted, her claws digging into the dirt. Behind her loomed her monolith, its colors swathed in times spent resentful of her sister, times spent happily under the full moon. The feline persona paced as she tried to reach her counterpart with Words she had just come to learn the power of. “Listen to me! I know things have been hard! I know things have not worked out well between us! But we have to stop this! We have to come together again!”

“Why?” Nyx snarled, her body trembling as she leaned back against her monolith—a spire of pain and sadness, shame and fear, bittersweet love and unexpected joys. “You never wanted me! You hated me! You always have! Why should we come together when we let something like that out!?” She pointed at the Nameless One.

The Nameless One did not move, did not react. Its monolith was a wavering black, its years spent gathering all the rage and fury and frustration its counterparts had felt almost pure and undiluted. Smooth susurrations came floating in the air from it.




The Nameless One’s island floated closest to the surface, where a bright wall reflected the goings on of the Real World. Kali was the second closest to the surface, but she was not close enough to beat out the Beast, and certainly not enough to bring the monster down. Still, at least she had gotten the creature to stop attacking the others. That shock from Quincy had really helped.

“I know I said all of those things,” Kali growled out in frustration. “I know I haven’t been fair to you…but can’t you say the same!? We have let our troubles pull us even further apart, and for what? For this monstrosity to get the better of us?”

“We are the reason our family is dead. We are the reason that thing got loose and hurt so many. We don’t deserve to come together again…” Nyx said through tightly clenched teeth.

“If we just continue to sit here, it won’t matter what you or I think, the Beast will become loose once more! Don’t you see? We have to deal with this!”

Nyx laughed emptily. “We can’t ‘deal’ with this. We can hardly deal with ourselves.”

“That isn’t true!”

“No?” Nyx glared up at Kali, her face coloring in anger. “Who blamed me for being too weak to keep Atalo safe? For being stupid enough to try and fight for our freedom against the Illuminati?” The black ocean around her island began to lap up higher on the sand.

Kali’s eyes widened. “Nyx, don’t you’re going to–”

Nyx ran her over with her Words, her eyes ablaze. “Who made power plays whenever she could just so she could have an ounce of control, however insignificant, at the possible expense of both our lives!?”

“Nyx, listen to me–”

“Admit it. This isn’t about the Beast, and this isn’t about me. This is about you. You are a base and crass creature and all you can think about is surviving one more day. But what does that day mean except more time for you to ruin someone’s life?”

The void was closing in. Nyx, in her sudden anger, now stood only on a small spit of land. Kali gazed down at this in alarm, feeling her counterpart float farther away so that her voice became a distant thing. She looked up. The Beast was near to breaking the surface again. If it gained total control once more, Kali wasn’t so sure she could bring it back down on her own. The others may end up having to kill them all.

Kali’s ears drooped and she lay herself down near the edge, her head cushioned by her paws. “Nyx…I’m sorry.” The girl below only continued to glare up at her. The feline let out a small rumble and flicked an ear. “I mean it, you idiot! I’m sorry! I was quick to blame you because of what happened to Atalo. And afterwards, all I could do was resent you for being the one in control all the time. I didn’t think you were strong or smart enough. But I was wrong. You’ve gotten us here so far, and while things could be better, I think I’d rather have a chance at having my life mean something than to have it amount to only mourning the dead and slavering over what meager prey I manage to catch for supper. Seeing more of your world…I know now that I could not survive alone in it. Not without someone with the finer understandings like you have. In fact, my sanctuary can feel quite safe in comparison to what you go through. I should be there for you more, but I’m not, and for that I am truly, deeply sorry. We are two parts of a greater whole, and we shouldn’t be in such disharmony. I just want to fix that. The gods know I’m tired of fighting.”

Nyx stared up at Kali with her mouth open, her eyes narrowed.

Kali let out a huff of air and closed her eyes, a tear leaking down her furry face. “If you won’t fight with me, then I will not fight, for there is nothing to fight for without you. There is nothing. And the gods know, that I am tired of battling the world alone.”

Thunder boomed out around them. It was deep and sorrowful, with edges of screams haunting the lowest depths of its waves. The feline did not move. She was tired. But in a bittersweet way, she felt content. Purged from her were years of pain and misguided hatred. She and Nyx would probably never see eye-to-eye completely. She and Nyx would probably die, right then and there. But Kali found her sliver of a heart lighter than ever it had been before, and with that she knew something of peace.

The thunder echoed far off until there was only silence. Any moment now the Beast would take control of their body, and the others would have to kill them. Kali waited calmly for her demise to come.

Instead, she felt a hand on her face.

Startled, the feline raised her head, her eyes flashing open. Nyx was gazing at her, tears streaming down her face, her hand still gently touching the cat’s fur. The girl sniffled, her features tight and glistening wet. Her island had risen quickly from its depths in the void, and it had joined Kali’s to form a larger mass. The girl suddenly giggled.

“Cajeck,” Nyx said. “Cats can’t cry remember?”

Kali blinked, then flashed a sheepish, furry grin.

A shadow fell over them. Both personas looked up as their third counterpart’s island began to descend, away from the surface of control. The Beast did not seem angry or perturbed by this. Its whispers of hate only grew louder.


Kali looked at Nyx somberly. “Sister, I believe we have a mess to clean up.”

Nyx returned her gaze. “Yes…I believe we do.”


When Nyx had gone still and completely silent, Quincy had dared to come close enough to roll the girl onto her back with the end of her staff. Elmiryn looked ready to hold her now, but Hakeem blocked her, hands on her stomach, his face grave as he gave a negative shake of his head. Quincy sucked her teeth as she watched Elmiryn tense up at his intervention, then deflate, almost like a balloon. The relationship between the Fiamman and the Ailuran was not difficult for the wizard to understand. Though a bit too co-dependent for her personally, Quincy also saw how much one positively supported the other. There was an understanding between those two that not many shared. And dare she say it? Perhaps even she and Hakeem did not know such a bond.

Quincy felt those flames of jealousy flare again and she irritatedly huffed at them, trying vainly to put them out of her mind. She crouched, trying to focus her attention on Nyx before her, her staff held tight and ready, her weight shifted just so for perfect springing. She tried repeating her mantra for focus and calm but gave up after only two tries.

She wasn’t that cold person anymore. Golden Quincy was gone. Normal Quincy was back.

She still wasn’t sure which one she liked best.

Her eyes flickered to her husband for a brief moment as he drifted over to Gudahi’s corpse, his body moving with a heaviness that suggested grief and remorse.

Well, at least my observation skills haven’t gone, Quincy thought caustically. She was only half-serious. What truly bothered her was that she could see her husband’s pain.

In the brief time that they had spent with the Lycans, Quincy had found that Hakeem had made a connection with them. One he hadn’t had since his home village was destroyed as a boy. The therians lived simply, and were ruled by honor and brotherhood. He had made a friend in Gudahi. Perhaps even Sanuye. To see both of them die in so short a time by the hands of those in his company must have been one of the greatest of blows.

Not that Quincy disagreed with Elmiryn’s actions. Sanuye’s death was unfortunate, but the Lycans had let their emotions move them to recklessness. Her demise had been of her own making. And in Gudahi’s case? The wizard thought Elmiryn had tried rather well at getting the therian to stand down. Hakeem must have seen this, even if it hurt him to think so. All of these things, of course, were not the foremost of Quincy’s concerns. Oh no. That prize went to the Ailuran girl currently fighting a spiritual battle before her.

Quincy had considered killing Nyx while she was incapacitated. While she felt Gudahi’s death was unavoidable, that didn’t necessarily mean she didn’t see some of his points. What if the Ailuran couldn’t control the darkness inside her? What if it came back and that was all that was left? A quick blow to the head, full of electric shock, and that would have ended the matter right then and there.

But Quincy had made a promise. To Elmiryn.

Damn it all.

So here I sit, staring at a lit bomb as the fuse sizzles to its end. And what surprises will be in store for us? The wizard shook her head with a sigh. How do I end up in these situations?

The time ticked on.

The woman frowned at her left hand. I’m not getting as much power in my swings without a full grip in my left hand. Damned pugot, biting my fingers like that. I nearly lost my grip twirling my staff before…

Then Nyx started to move.

At once everyone was alert, Quincy, Elmiryn, and Hakeem standing in a wide circle around the girl.

“Get ready,” Quincy breathed.

“She might be okay!” Elmiryn snapped.

“We have to be sure,” Hakeem replied tightly.

Nyx’s hands placed themselves on the dirt and she raised herself with quivering arms. A groan slipped her lips and she raised her head.

Quincy took a step forward and lifted her staff up for a strike. Elmiryn took a step toward her as if to stop her.

The wizard locked gazes with the Ailuran.


It was Nyx speaking…and her eyes were normal.

Still not satisfied, the woman did not lower her staff. “How are you feeling, Nyx?”

“Where’s Elmiryn?” the girl mumbled, touching her head.

The redhead was at her side in an instant, her hands gripping Nyx’s shoulder’s tightly.

“I’m right here, kitten,” Elmiryn said, her voice quivering with excitement. “I’m right here!”

Nyx looked at her, then smiled drowsily. “Elle…” Her head lolled, and suddenly her features blurred. When her head raised again, her face had gone cat, her eyes now feline.

Elmiryn blinked at her. “Nyx?” She looked at Quincy, and Quincy gazed back at the warrior dubiously. Never in all her experience as a bounty hunter had the brunette ever encountered such a situation. She still wasn’t even sure Nyx was safe.

“Where…are we?” This time, the girl’s voice was different…deeper. Rougher.

“Kali?” Elmiryn asked uncertainly.

Nyx’s face blurred, and she was back again, her eyes fluttering. She sat up straighter and gripped her head with both hands. “I…am a little bilious, I’m afraid,” the girl said weakly.

Elmiryn raised an eyebrow. “Bilious?”

Nyx opened her mouth and her face shifted once more to that of a cat-like face. “Bilious,” Kali’s voice started. But she burped with what looked like a strong heave of her chest and ducked her head.

“It’s an adjective,” Hakeem continued, his features holding something of relief.

“It means affected with nausea,” Quincy finished, her eyes still narrowed at Nyx.

Elmiryn stared at them all, her eyes fluttering. “Oh…um…thanks?”

Nyx’s hand suddenly shot out and grabbed Elmiryn’s wrist. Quincy started forward to defend her when the girl suddenly leaned forward and threw up all over the dirt. Now feeling queasy herself, the wizard lowered her staff.

So much for the girl being a threat.

“Yep. She’s pretty bilious,” Elmiryn said as she patted Nyx’s back in sympathy.

Quincy just rolled her eyes.

Continue ReadingChapter 33.3

Chapter 39.3


Elmiryn rolled her shoulders with a mild wince as she began to approach Hakeem.

“Hakeem?” she called.

The man didn’t answer, his dark eyes boring into her as though she were a hated mongrel he had to put down. The woman gripped her sword with both hands and continued to approach with caution.

“Hakeem, what the fuck do you think you’re doing hitting us like that?” she asked, unable to keep the edge from her voice.

Still silent, the man widened his stance and began to squat down, bringing his fists up.

Elmiryn stopped, her jaw tightening. “You just hit your wife!

The dust cleared enough that now the redhead could see the others. Nyx had been launched into the crowd of devils around them, as had Lethia. Quincy had been sent off in the direction of the blackwood forest. She stirred, coughing, but when she raised her head and saw her husband, it was as if someone had lit the woman on fire.

Bwa-Taika… Wikan?” the wizard said softly as she staggered to her feet. Then again, louder, “Wikan!?

“Hakeem, answer us!” Elmiryn barked. “Why did you attack us? Where have you even been?” At his reticence, she found her anger got the better of her. “Well come on then, mud man, what is your fucking problem!?”

She heard Lethia scream, “Get away from him!”

The warrior snapped her eyes over as she saw Lethia shoving her way past the devils. The girl looked pale and she was sporting a limp, her face bearing some scratches. “It’s her, it’s Syria. She’s controlling him!”

Elmiryn snapped her eyes back onto Hakeem and saw his attention had turned elsewhere. She followed his line of vision back to Nyx.


Having the world tear me apart was nothing new, but I was getting really tired of it by this point. It was no wonder I couldn’t keep a full set of clothes anymore–what with all of these cajeck magic users always blowing things up.

I stared up at what passed for a sky here in the Other Place, and gathered around me was a crowd of cackling devils, their vile countenances split with grins so wide, you’d think they were the masterminds of my own misery. My body had been pockmarked from debris, and I bit back a scream as I felt my flesh quickly work to reject the foreign objects. I could hear Elmiryn shouting, but I was too dazed and my ears ringing too much from the surprise attack to make sense of what she was saying. Quincy and Lethia’s voice soon joined the warrior’s, and I sat up to try and see what was going on. My body protested, as though miffed I’d take its healing for granted, but there was a fight going on, and I had to be aware.

An invisible force blasted my way, morphing the space it carved through, and I wasn’t sure I would have been able to make sense of the situation even if I weren’t out of sorts. As if my confusion wasn’t enough, something punched me into the ground so hard the breath left my lungs and I felt my sternum and ribs crack.

Stunned, I stared up into a dark face, and in my pain I realized it was–


The wizard said nothing, his eyes soulless, their stare hard and cold as he lifted his black gauntlet and gripped it with his other hand. Raising both hands over his head, I could see the gravity magic flowing around his armor, and I knew this blow would kill me. I held up my hand feebly to stop it. With Hakeem’s shadow joining mine, I couldn’t send us into the shadows. His will felt like a wall, blocking me. I was trapped.

Then a fist of the earth rose up and struck Hakeem’s body off of me and into the crowd of devils. A moment later, Elmiryn ran into view, her face drawn.

“Are you all right?” she asked in a rush.

When I opened my mouth to respond, I coughed and rolled painfully onto my side. Blood trickled onto the dirt. I whimpered as I clutched at my chest, not even capable of a full out scream. My body was healing again, but without Harmony to steel me, I couldn’t help but succumb to the agony. I could hear Elmiryn kneel at my side, her hand on my head.

“How long do you need?” She asked softly.

“F-Five!” I managed to squeal out.

I saw her nod through my tears and she stepped over me to re-engage with Hakeem. As I lay there, I looked up and saw Izma gazing down at me with her alien eyes.

It was about this moment that I wished I were in Kali’s place in the Umbralands instead of here. With her in another plane of existence, I didn’t know what she was going through. I only caught the barest hints of echoes, and they were unintelligible feedback.

If I could sense her clearly, I might not have wished as I had.


I was excited and for once I did not envy my sister her place. We were still connected–but thinly so. This trick, this new ability of ours had been a whisper from Harmony, an idea posited by the mysterious shift in space and time that had occurred at the castle keep. A strength found in the shadows, where the imagination of all present allowed for the impossible to happen. I had been desperate to help Nyx, to help us win that battle for our lives, and the universe granted my wish. I thought, after the light stole away that entry into the present world, that it would be the first and last occurrence. But if the darkness could grant us such freedom, then why, Harmony asked, could the Umbralands not offer the same?

And so there I was, stalking Syria like she were common prey. I could smell her anxiety and reveled in it. This witch had cost us much grief, and for her madness, I was going to rip out her throat and eat it.

Using a small amount of my new champion power, I shifted some shadows, making Syria give a start. While she was distracted, I came up from behind and sliced her behind the knee with my claws. She hissed out in pain, her hand swinging around for a counter–

But I was already gone, slipped back into the shadows and about to lick her blood from my claws when my nose sensed something amiss. Scowling, I brought my claws up to my nostrils and gave another sniff. I bit back a growl. This woman’s blood did not smell right. I couldn’t know for sure, but it had an almost vegetable quality to it.

The enchantress, much to my annoyance, did not favor her other leg, as I had hoped. My plan was to use intimidation tactics to break her concentration, preventing her from utilizing that unnatural control of her mind that allowed her to shut off whatever pain her body suffered. It was a small disappointment. I knew there was a chance that Syria would gather herself enough to fight me.

These were stratagems only possible thanks to higher forms of thought granted through Nyx’s Words. But the master enchantress had a weakness, and that was primal minds. If I was going to defeat her, I was going to have to trust in my instincts and relinquish any further complex schemes. From here on out, it would be animal cunning that would see me through.

And that was fine by me.

I delved forth again, cutting and slashing and snarling. Elmiryn had tried teaching Nyx the ways of combat. What she failed to capitalize on was our natural assets–a fault she faced as a human. Just because she fought Ailurans didn’t mean she knew the finer points of how they did battle.

Thaddeus had tried. Nyx’s brother. My brother. He had shown us how to utilize our claws, our agility, our raw power.

I couldn’t help but think of him as I dueled with Syria. I cut her neck and saw him in my memories, pointing out the major artery in the neck to sever. The enchantress kneed me in the stomach, making me think of the time Thad had demonstrated the importance of guarding my center. I grabbed the woman’s leg, and my mind hit me with the sight of my brother illustrating the devastating nature of reversals.

My heart boiled with emotion. Against my will, tears filled my eyes as I moved to drop Syria onto the ground.

But then the woman touched a hand to my temple, and I could hear her laugh, not just in the air, but in my mind.

“Ooh…little kitten Kali!” Syria purred, her eyes flashing with glee as I felt my body go lax, allowing her leg to slip from my grasp. “It is true that your mind may be primal, and it is true that you are only half of a spirit, but the magnitude of your pain translates well through the ambiance! It provides a nice entryway.”

I sank to the ground, trying to move, trying to breathe. My body refused me.

Syria’s touch on my temple never went away, and she crouched as I settled in a slumped heap, face to the ground.

“Do you remember what I did to you…back at Holzoff’s?” she asked mildly.

I stared at her, my eyes clearing as my tears trailed into my hairline.

Syria’s smile vanished. “I made you sink into the dark. You saved yourself with your hatred, using its raw energy to bring you back to your conscious mind. But without that or Nyx here to save you, do you think you’ll be able to come out of it in time to remind your body how to breathe?


Elmiryn had fought many men, and she could say, without a shadow of a doubt, that Hakeem had to be one of the most exciting opponents she’d ever faced. Of course, she’d never faced him one on one before. Lethia had joined her in her efforts to subdue the man, and after Quincy had gathered herself, so did she. But even with Elmiryn’s new fae abilities, she didn’t feel quite on par with the raw potential Hakeem could achieve. Syria was dangerous on her own right, but Hakeem didn’t just make use of gravity spells. He could transcend time. Not even the master enchantress had managed that feat in battle. And now, Hakeem had no reason to hold back. He had the upper hand this time. There were no scultones to ambush him, no cold irons to bind him. He wasn’t worried about accidentally killing someone. His intent was clear.

…Or rather, Syria’s intent through him, was clear.

Elmiryn caught Hakeem with the butt of her sword, but yelled in pain and frustration when he vanished and reappeared just slightly to the left and punched her in the cheek.

Those gauntlets hurt.

She went down hard, feeling that molar Nyx had loosened a short while ago pop out in a bloody mess. Hakeem turned away from her as if she were inconsequential, and the redhead tried to rise and stop him, but swooned from sudden dizziness. Fortunately, Quincy was there to stop him from targeting Nyx. Elmiryn watched them fight, spitting her tooth in her hand just as Lethia crashed down next to her, panting so hard she sounded as if she’d come out from a long dive. Quincy was managing to keep Hakeem busy, but with just her ordinary sword and Eate’s Son, she was only able to delay him, not take him out of the fight. In the meantime, the brunette tried reasoning with her husband in his native tongue, but he remained as stony as when he first arrived.

“Elle, you’ve got to get after Syria!” Lethia puffed.

Elmiryn cursed and threw her tooth away–she’d have to grow another one later. Now wasn’t the time. She gave the young enchantress a look as she cautiously stood. Spots appeared in her eyes, but she managed not to fall. “I thought you wanted to kill Syria yourself?”

“Of course I do,” the girl bit back. “But I can’t get to the Umbralands. You can!”

The redhead slowly shook her head. “But what about Nyx?”

“In the future we’ll mention this moment so Nyx can forgive your fantastically thick head, but I think focusing on surviving takes precedence, don’t you?” Lethia shoved Elmiryn, and hissed. “Go! Kill Syria! Or bring her back so that can do it! Just get there, for heaven’s sake!”

Elmiryn nodded stiffly and pointed at Nyx. “You watch out for her, okay?”

“Yes, yes, just go!” Lethia turned and started to run for the fight. Quincy was currently using her lack of armor to outmaneuver her husband.

“And hey!” the warrior shouted.

With an impatient look, Lethia stopped and looked over her shoulder.

Elmiryn swallowed. “It isn’t just Nyx I’m worried for…understand?”

The girl said nothing. Only pursed her lips and resumed her run.

The warrior sighed and turned away.

Right then…so just a reverse of last time. Right?

She raised her hands, and with a gesture, she borrowed the shadows around her to make a gate large enough for her to slip through. Without looking over her shoulder, Elmiryn stepped through the dark passageway she had created, and felt the cold envelope her.

Without her maintaining the shadows on the other side, the passageway closed behind her.

That’s when she saw Syria crouched over Kali.

Elmiryn’s brow tensed. Got here just in time, it seems.

Continue ReadingChapter 39.3

Chapter 43.2

Author’s Note: After a year of hiatus, Eikasia is back! To celebrate, please enjoy this ‘double update’ featuring installments 43.2 and 43.3. I’m finally ahead on my writing, so expect consistent updates for the next few weeks! Also, in case you haven’t heard, Tributaries, the first story arc, has had a huge makeover and is now available on Amazon and Smashwords as an e-book! It’s a new experience, so please consider checking it out! Thanks for keeping the faith everyone.

–Illise M.


It had been one week since we left Holzoff’s, and two weeks since we arrived on this damned shard. We were starving, and always on the verge of freezing to death. Our meager supply of wood was dwindling, as Quincy had run out of things she could pull out of her bag for us to burn, and some of the wood we had collected had spoiled from exposure to snow. The others had largely given up on my idea to raise our luck through multiples of nine. I still tried, though not as often as before. Talking took real effort now, and our conversations were well past desperate in nature.

Paulo even asked if he could chop off one of my arms for us to eat raw.

“No,” I croaked, nine times in reply.

But only after seriously debating it.

I’d already had to shed a finger or two with my regenerative ability because of frostbite. In a bid to keep everyone’s hopes up, I’d sacrificed some of my bandage cloth so that they could wrap their hands and faces from the wind. I was starting to regret the decision. I was noticing that my regeneration was slowing down, and every time I had to heal took a lot of energy out of me. The others weren’t all that cheered up by my generous offering, anyway.

We were approaching a steep ravine when Paulo suddenly turned on Lethia.

“I said STAY OUT!” he bellowed.

I could see Lethia cringe, but a dark look soon crossed her face, and she spat back, “I told you to shield your thoughts! It isn’t my fault if you think at the volume of a trumpet!”

Seres un lia bal!” Paulo shouted.

Everyone moved simultaneously. Paulo toward Lethia menacingly, while the girl retreated. Argos shielded his mistress with a snarl. Quincy and I intercepted Paulo.

“Paulo, be quiet,” Quincy hissed. “You’ll draw the daesce!”

He ignored her and craned his head to shout next, “You gods damned witch bitch! Do you want to settle things right now?”

“Shut up, boy!” I snapped. Or more likely it was my sister who said that. She sat just underneath the surface these days, tense and fearful. I knew she resented me for staying with the others, but we both knew this last bid for freedom to the real world was going to be a trial no matter what.

“Let him go,” Lethia mumbled behind us.

I took a second to turn and bat my eyes at the enchantress. “What?”

“Let him go,” she repeated, gently pushing Argos aside. “I owe him a debt. If he wants to collect it now, he can. It’s his right.”

“What debt?” Quincy asked next. She looked at Paulo next. “Did you make an agreement?”

Paulo started to answer her when there was a distant howl. All of us froze.

“Now you’ve done it,” Quincy hissed at the two teenagers.

Lethia moaned. “Are the daesce coming? But we’re pinned here!”

We were. The ravine was far too steep and icy for us to ascend normally with Hakeem and Argos. The mountain line, which previously seemed to embrace us, now seemed to box us in.

I shook my head, breaking off from the group to trudge toward the valley.

“No,” I breathed. “Those aren’t daesce.”

Sister! Kali exclaimed in my head.

I know, I thought in response.

Hurriedly I kicked off my boots and barked at the others, “Guard me!”

Quincy was looking at me as if I was insane. “You can’t be serious! We are in no shape to fight!”

“We have no choice,” I snarled back. “In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re trapped here!”

“But, Hakeem—”

“Guard him,” I ordered through bared teeth. The snow stung my bare feet as I trudged out further. Dark shapes could be seen through the snow blind far ahead, and they were getting bigger.

I glared over my shoulder at the others. “Paulo, Argos, cover me! I’m going to shift! Lethia, stay with Quincy!”

“What’s coming?” Paulo asked, but even as he did so he already had his rapier out and was joining me at my side. Argos appeared a second later at my other side, his furry face harder to gauge even at this close a distance.

“Wolves,” I choked out, before the shift took hold.

Ekikos. Near-cat. It was one of the five forms that Ailurans were capable of undertaking from the Sacred Five of the Lunar Hall, and it was one step after Ekilluos. It was a form mostly in Kali’s realm, steeped in her primitive and uninhibited passion as it were. Our body would shift to that like a predatory panther…but much larger, with a longer neck and longer digits that could almost function like hands.

As usual, the shift rendered us incapacitated, and through the pain of transformation I could hear Argos and Paulo meet the wolves in battle. Confusion and worry pulsed inside me, as I heard yelps and cries, and I had no idea if the fight was turning against us before I could even do anything about it.

It was just as well. Once the change was complete, and we raised ourselves from the snow, there really wasn’t anything I could do about it…because my Twin was the one in control now.


I opened my eyes and growled at what I saw.

There were three wolves before me, fighting the annoying boy and the large dog. My hackles rose. A pack of three could not survive in this harsh environment against the daesce. Beasts like these would need numbers.

We are being flanked.

The moment the thought arrived, I heard a scream behind me. I turned my furry head to see Lethia on the ground, a tall skinny wolf tearing at her right arm with hungry zeal. I let out a sharp roar from the very back of my throat as I pushed into a run, pummeling over the wolf that had set upon the enchantress. From the very edge of my vision, I could see Quincy fending off two more wolves that looked keen to get to the unconscious Hakeem behind her.

There were six wolves in all, and all of them were skinny. Still, I wasn’t going to be picky about a potential meal.

Which was just about all I could think of as I pinned the scrawny wolf beneath me with a massive paw on its throat and my jaws around its face. A sharp jerk, and even over the low howl of the wind I could hear its bones snap. One down. Without even pausing to glance at Lethia, I was moving again, my paws breaking through the snow like it was nothing. This power was costly, as Nyx whispered within the depths of our shared mind. This battle would have to be swift, or the exertion would leave me as vulnerable as Hakeem.

I charged in close to one wolf, my head ducking just underneath its chin before I reared up and back, ramming my neck and shoulders into the canine’s lightweight body. Like a pup, it was flung aside, leaving me open to bare down on its comrade, whom Quincy had just slashed back. The blood from its shoulder put me into a frenzy and…my thoughts became…harder to…hold…

Wolf turned to me. Wolf was food.

Looked like it. Smelled like it.

So I killed it. Chased it down and tore out its insides.

Made the snow a dark color.

Heard the other wolves yelp and howl. They ran.

Didn’t care. Got food. Was hungry.

Took my kill and dragged it to the other one. Both were mine.

Hunkered down so I could see the humans, and started to eat.


Meat. Meat. Meat. MEAT.

Quincy started saying something to me. Ignored her.

Food was lean, but it was mine.

Twin in my head started saying something too.

Shut her out. Annoying. It wasn’t her turn.

Quincy started yelling and came too close.

Jumped and snarled at her.

Even in the dark, could tell she turned white.

Wizard backed off, hands up, spoke soft.


I tensed up. Words were important.

I was supposed to listen to Words.

“Kali…we…too eat…can’t have…all.”

I growled a little. Stupid Words.

This was sapiens’ problem.

Words made things complicated.

I killed food. Food was mine.

Simple. Easy.

But Quincy kept talking.

“We’re starving…Kali, please! You must share!”

I was distracted. Nyx wormed her way back in, too.

Kali! Please calm yourself! We cannot survive alone out here!

And with a shake of my head, the haze of bloodlust subsided.

With a great sigh, I took a few steps back, then sat on my rear paws. Quincy and the others stared at me a beat longer before nervously pulling the meat away. I was fine that they took the rest. I had already eaten my share. I may have even eaten too much, but that could not be helped now.

You did well, sister….

My furry face pulled up in what could be construed as a rueful smile.

No, Nyx, I replied inwardly. I barely managed to keep from making things worse.

It was true. For everyone’s attempts at bringing me out of that deep black primal fury that I was so accustomed to succumbing to, the only real reason I came back was for one simple fact. Exhaustion. I didn’t have it in me to fight off three humans and a bear of a dog, and the primal parts of me knew it.

I may not be the essence of bestial instinct, Nyx. But of us both, I know, that it is I who holds that violence closer to her being.

And to this, my Twin could spare no other words.

As the others collected themselves, I turned and slipped further into the darkness of the weak storm that was dying down. Nyx was in no hurry to reclaim control, and I knew why. In an effort to keep things amicable between us, I decided to humor her desire to hide away from the others a while longer. She was tired. I supposed she deserved something of a rest. It was only theoretical in nature anyway. We shared the same body, after all.

I shook my head with a snort at this thinking. Theoretical? When had I started concerning myself with such bewildering ideas? When had I started thinking in such convoluted patterns, for that matter? It seemed like only yesterday when the most complex thought I could come up with was a mental picture of eating a gopher. I almost missed the simplicity of such an existence.


As the moments drew on, I decided it was perhaps best to urge the others to continue our journey. The daesce would smell the wolf carcasses soon enough, and the only way we could cook and eat them in peace would be if we were on higher ground.

Just as I started to return, a strange petite woman appeared before me, blocking my way.

I froze, my body immediately tensing. I could not recall seeing her before, and judging by Nyx’s alarm, neither could she.

She was topless, her breasts small and almost prepubescent, the nipples a warm shade of pink. She was chubby, her short golden hair in tight curls that teased her ruddy cheeks, and her eyes were a crisp apple red. Draping her slim hips was a white skirt, hemmed with gold. In her right hand she gripped a short golden sceptre with a circular crown that held rotating arrows pointing in all directions. What was most striking about her were the wings, of course. These sprouted from her back in bright white plumage that almost glowed.

This…this is…! I knew what my sister thought even though she couldn’t finish the idea in word.

The ethereal woman tilted her head to one side and smiled pleasantly. “Kali,” she said in a dulcet voice, all sweet honey…except, there was something sharp about it. Like she hid some darker spice, and it was just waiting for the right moment to come bursting out of her. It made me nervous.

Sure enough, the woman’s eyes darkened—literally darkened, like blood—and she spoke my name again, more forcefully: “Kali. Speak. Thou know who stands before thee!”

That was right. In this world, I could speak in my natural forms, even if I could not in the Real World.

“My lady!” I growled anxiously, dipping into my best version of a feline bow. “Forgive me…Fortuna!”

The goddess smiled again, her eyes once again lightened to their almost candy red shade, and she said, “I had to see Lacertli’s champion for myself. Thou art a curious thing, to be sure!”

“Curious, and in your debt,” a familiar voice hissed behind us.

I glanced briefly before deepening my bow. Lacertli appeared at my side and gazed levelly at Fortuna.

“Sister, it is unlike thee to appear under such circumstances. May I ask why?” the Lizard King asked.

Lady Fortuna shrugged, her innocent face turning coy. “Thou have brought a new game piece to the board, brother! Do not tell me that is not reason enough! Not when I am one of the few to have kept her piece in play!”

Lacertli made a face of disgust. “Not everything is a game.”

The goddess only laughed. “Please! Thou of all should understand best! Are we not in constant competition? Besides,” and here Fortuna spared me a wry look. “The Abominable Twins kept prodding me with their numerous invocations. She was lucky I was in such a good mood to treat her crude luck-mongering favorably!”

I could feel Nyx cringe.

I snarled at her mentally, Next time, don’t try our luck so hard!

Lacertli startled me right then. He reached down and patted my downturned head.

“She will not bother thee again. She was acting under my guidance. What would thou like in reparation?”

Fortuna’s eyes glinted and she smiled wide at Lacertli. “We shall speak elsewhere. This is not for mortal ears, champion or no.”

Lacertli sighed, and I could hear the gravity of the situation in his voice. What had we done?

“Very well.”

“Master?” I dared to raise my head and look at the Lizard King. I had only truly served him for much less than Nyx had, but it already made me anxious to think he would be gone from us. Just about the only thing keeping me from losing hope in this place was the thought that Lacertli was watching over us.

Lacertli shook his head. “Kali. Nyx. Thou art to proceed as planned. Trust in thine instincts, for they are strong. I will be with ye both shortly.”


Except both gods were gone in the blink of an eye before I could protest further.

I stared into the dark, a heavy sinking feeling settling in my stomach. Being in Fortuna’s debt was not a good thing. I imagined it was no less treacherous even for a god.

“Kali!” Quincy’s voice. I snapped my eyes in the direction of it, and found her approaching through the snow. “What are you doing? We have to hurry!”

I didn’t need her warning. I could hear the daesce roaring in the near distance.

With one last look around me, I hurried to join the others.


Dear Jydel,

I hate mountains.

Not a lot of elbow room in this crevice we’re sleeping in.

We’re halfway to our destination, surviving off burned wolf meat and frozen weeds found under loose rocks. I cannot say I’m eager to return home, but anything is better than this. Nyx shifted back. Kali couldn’t climb the mountain, obviously, but she went as far as she could before changing. It was almost nice having Kali around. Of the Twins, she holds the least resentment towards me.

My left arm is tingling. I think it knows what awaits us at Syria’s tower.


Dear Jydel,

Forgive the smudges. Argos drooled over my shoulder when we were taking a break on a plateau. I’m afraid he may have read some of my letters to you. I suppose I could just refrain from saying anything important here, but it’s one of the few things bringing me comfort these days. If I must, I’ll simply wipe my friend’s memory again. It is a horrible thing, but it has to be done. Otherwise, I won’t make it. I need this, and Paulo needs his wish fulfilled. Sometimes, when I wake from sleep, I catch him looking at me. At first I thought it was scary, but I’ve come to accept it, now.

I think we’ve only a half day’s journey left. We’re going to forego sleep for one last push to our destination. I hope I can make it. The last of our food ran out and the cold is making me sleepy…



We’ve finally reached the top of the mountain, and I can see it! I can see the tower!

Nyx and Quincy agreed to take a short rest, but we’re leaving again in a few minutes. The hard part is done. Now we can go home.


I could hardly believe it.

After so many days, so many places, so many hardships, we were at the end of it all. We had arrived at our escape from The Other Place. This gods damned half-dimension teeming with spirits and warped by confused laws and time. The eight-story tall gate surrounding Syria’s land seemed hardly an obstacle compared to everything else. I picked the lock at the gate with ease, pushing it open and ignoring the discarded chains at my feet. Lethia pointed and said the gateway to our freedom was toward the tower, and I ran, down the dirt path that cut through the snow-covered grass to the tall stone structure, where a small barn and a tree stood near it. None of the others could keep up with me, especially whilst dragging Hakeem. It was beyond selfish, and I told myself I wouldn’t leave without them. But I just had to be there, closer to the way out. I wanted to see my salvation with my own eyes.

It was a little after halfway down the path that I started to hear it—


It was wordless, and mournful, and terrible, touching all the places in my mind that I hadn’t even been aware of. My body tingled and I yelled, covering my ears. The others, who had been just as eager to reach the tower as I had skidded to a halt near me, their eyes wide but their faces showing they did not hear what I heard.

I tried to return to them, tried to escape that horrible sound, but like a noose around my neck I was pulled back, and the sensation in my head reached a crescendo of full out pain. I fell to the ground writhing, trying fruitlessly to claw the noise out of my ears.

“The music! It hurts!” I screamed.

The others backed away, their tired, pale faces drawn as they watched me helplessly. I thought I heard Quincy or Lethia yell something at me. Paulo looked on the verge of running back the way we’d come. Only Argos seemed wiling to try to venture closer, but I stopped him with a frantic wave of my hand.

“No!” I bit out, fighting to gather myself. “Don’t Argos! It’ll hurt you! It’s…the sound…is coming from…something near the tower!”

When I tried to get up, I swooned, my vision rippling with rainbows and stars. I thought my head was going to split into two. It was made worse by the sensation of maggots in my brain.

I slowly looked over my shoulder. Through the burst of colors in my eyes I could make out the tower, the barn, and the tree.

My eyes widened.

I looked back at Paulo, then back again.

“An axe…for the tree!” I panted.

Continue ReadingChapter 43.2

Chapter 47.1


Resuming the precautionary measures agreed upon with the others, I was avoiding the main roads, cutting through untamed terrain. I pushed myself as hard and as fast as I could go, but the bag of supplies I carried had fragile items. I was just clumsy enough to spill down a rocky cliff face at this pace, so I had to go on safer, but longer, routes through the low valley. There was the danger of finding wandering daesce the further north I went, but it was a risk I had to take–both for the supplies and for the harrowing news I needed to deliver.

The champion of Njord was in the region. Jack. Quincy’s father.

Who could say why we had failed to hear this until now? I supposed if I were a powerful and legendary agent of a major deity, I would also strive to keep a low profile so as to do my work undisturbed. But like anyone of such stature, his presence had become known to certain circles. Bounty hunters were one of those circles, apparently, but they were exactly the sort of people we had been avoiding all this time.

Oh, what sorry luck that we couldn’t have known sooner!

I needed to hurry back and tell everyone. We needed to flee this place. We couldn’t stay here. If Tobias’ accounts were anything to go by, Jack’s power was immense. We were in no shape to defend ourselves against such a being. His legendary moniker, “Wind,” was appropriate. He could blow away whole armies with just his breath if any of the stories were to be believed.

This is what I thought of as I raced through a copse of trees. My limbs shook with fatigue from not having slowed down for a little over three hours.

My foot hit a root. I stumbled, and fell to a knee, skinning it.

I tried to catch my breath.

Kali’s voice buzzed with frustration in my head: Don’t be a fool! Get up!

“I just need a moment,” I gasped.

We don’t have a moment! We need to get back and tell the others!

“I’m trying!” I whined.

A growl. Then let me take the lead! I’m long overdue my turn in the world!

My face screwed up. “What makes you think you’ll do any better?”

Perhaps you’re right… Very well. We’ll transform into Eikadi.

My eyes widened. “Now? But–”

We’ll have enough energy to get there, and when we revert, I shall be in control. Is this acceptable or not?

My lips thinned. Could we hold the form long enough to get to the tower? We were weak, running on little sleep. I had already pushed our body hard, trying to make up time for using the longer way.

We can do it, Kali insisted.

I sighed. “Very well.”

The change came in a flash of pain, and it didn’t end until my cries had shifted to a primal scream that echoed long into the mountains.


Quincy sat in the kitchen, her head in her hands. The hour was late, and the space was dark. From the study, a fire could be heard crackling, light trailing in through the entryway. She didn’t bother lighting a candle. The dark was a nice veil to the anxiety etched across her face.

“…I can say that the man you think is your husband is not, and that the real Hakeem is alive and somewhere safe.”

Over and over, the words repeated in her head.

She didn’t want to believe it… and yet, the doubt was enough. Hakeem’s gaze now made her wary, his touch made her tense.

Tears pricked at her eyes, but she fought against them. If she let so much as one drop, she’d break down into a sobbing mess. She had felt proud of the fact that since returning to their realm, she had held it together. Her young heart, now freed from Tonatiuh’s parasitic leeching, reacted strongly and without restraint. But here, the pressing needs of their group had steeled her nerves and kept her from giving in to the rage and depression that so pushed on the inside.

That, and having Hakeem back.

But now this one comfort was lost. In the wake of Elmiryn’s epic intervention, she had to sit very still, in the dark, to keep from cracking.

Especially if she was going to be in the proper state of mind to break the news to Nyx.

Lethia couldn’t do it because, despite her protests, her weak body hadn’t even managed to stay up long past sunset. Paulo was busy keeping watch on Elmiryn. Daedalus had gone to town for much-needed medicines. And Hakeem…

Quincy’s hands curled to fists against her temples.

The door banged open. Quincy jumped, her eyes snapping to large circles as she took in the very massive shadow now cutting a swathe through the light that fell against the opposite wall.

Her breath caught, and she eyed her lightning staff, which had been sitting propped against the table. It hadn’t gone far from her since that afternoon.

Slowly, Quincy picked up her chair and attempted to set it further back as quietly as she could. It made the tiniest thud against the hard floor, making her wince. Her sweaty hand reached for her weapon–

There was a growl, closer now. Quincy froze, sweat trailing down the side of her nose. Her head was facing the cooking pit, opposite the entryway. Slowly, she turned.

A giant black cat person stood in the entryway, one large bag slung over their shoulder. The firelight from the study lit their tawny eyes.

Quincy relaxed, though just a little. “Nyx!”

Another growl, lower this time. Ears pinned as the cat person set the large bag down onto the floor, musical tinkling coming from its contents.

Quincy’s brow tensed. “Nyx?”

She received a spitting hiss, fangs showing. The tawny eyes glowered.

Then the woman finally understood. Her lips thinned. “Kali.

Kali made no more utterances, her body slouching as it turned and stumbled back the way it came, out of sight. Quincy, startled, followed after the Ailuran to the chill outside. 

There she found Kali had collapsed on the ground, writhing as she underwent her transformation back to her sapien form. Quincy grimaced, but her eyes did not leave the girl. Perhaps it was morbid fascination, but seeing her bones morph, twist, and snap to new shapes and dimensions–skin, muscles, and sinew tearing with wet ferocity–was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. Not many humans got to live to see an Ailuran shapeshift. 

Fewer still got to see a Marked Ailuran suffer their transformation. It would never cease to arrest the woman’s attention.

My gods… The agony! How do the twins endure this every time?

When the transformation completed, Kali lay on her back, her face glistening as she stared up at the stars, panting.

Quincy leaned on the doorway, the cool night air chilling the sweat on her face. “Would you like water, or…?”

“No,” Kali said. She grimaced as she raised herself up into a sit. Her back slouched as she scowled at Quincy. “I need to know something.”


“Please explain to me…” Her gaze narrowed and she pointed at the churned crater not far behind her. “What in the nine hells happened?”

Quincy’s eyes slipped shut as she hung her head. “That’s why I waited up for you.” She gestured for Kali to follow her. “Come inside. Sit. This isn’t easy for me to say.”

After a bit more coaxing, Quincy had a cup of water in front of the Ailuran. They sat across from each other in the kitchen, two small candles washing them in scant light on the table between them. Their shadows danced largely on the walls.

Kali drummed her fingers loudly on the table, a tight fist tucked under her chin as she glowered with obvious impatience. Quincy shifted uncomfortably under that searing tawny gaze as she tried to find the words to say. Moments ago she’d had it all planned out, but it was funny how that crumbled away at the precipice of the telling.

There isn’t any way to ease the sting of this, Quincy finally thought with a sigh. I just… need to out with it.

“Elmiryn’s currently in the basement in a containment ring.” Quincy’s hands clenched in her lap as she tried to keep a steady gaze with Kali. “She’s agreed to let us help her break her addiction to alcohol.”

The news had an immediate effect.

Kali’s face, which had been tensed in a soft scowl that suggested irritability and exhaustion, suddenly went as smooth as a river stone. Her tucked fist slowly unclenched and laid itself flat on the table.

With exaggerated slowness, Kali murmured, “Elmiryn… agreed?

Quincy blinked for the first time. She hoped the sweat she felt breaking on her brow wasn’t so noticeable in the weak candlelight. 

“Let me clarify…” she licked her lips and pushed a finger into one side of the table. “She agreed.” She lifted her hand and pushed her finger into the other side of the table. “Then violently disagreed…” She returned her finger to its original place. “And then agreed again.”

Kali’s cheek twitched just as her hand flexed, then relaxed against the table. “She’s just going to… stay… in that freezing cellar?” Her words were clipped, and her lips quivered like she was holding something back.

Quincy swallowed nervously.

Nyx… Kali is barely keeping her sister’s emotions from spilling out.

“It was the only space big enough for us to do the alchemy spell. Elmiryn isn’t affected by the cold and she doesn’t sleep,” Quincy said, her eyes tensing with sympathy. “But we made sure she has blankets and pillows. Paulo talked about bringing hay down to her. He’s with her now, on the first watch.”

A muscle moved in Kali’s jaw. “First watch?” she half-growled.

I wonder how much of what I’m seeing is Kali’s reaction or Nyx’s…?

“She’ll never be alone,” Quincy went on. “We’re going to take turns, staying down there with her. Not just to keep her company, but also in case… in case of health complications.” 

Quincy turned over her hand, her brow knotting tight. “Daedalus believes Elmiryn will manage with what tonics he gave her for tonight, but he made an emergency trip back to Belcliff for medicines she’ll be needing later. With luck, he should be back after sunrise.”

Now Kali was speaking through clenched teeth, her face quivering from… restraint? Rage?

“And just how long… were you people… going to keep her down there for?” Her nostrils flared as her breathing became shorter and shorter.

Quincy took a steadying breath, her eyes growing.

“Kali…” She paused, wondering if what she would say next would improve or worsen the situation. “Nyx

Kali actually hissed, her mouth twisting into a harsh sneer that bared fangs– real fangs.

Quincy snapped back into her chair, her heart jumping in her chest.

Right. Never, ever, try to speak directly to Nyx when Kali is in control.

“I’m sorry,” Quincy said quickly, her hands going up. “That was rude of me, you’re right. You’re here, Kali, and I should speak to you. I only meant–”

“You only meant to stick your nose in our head,” Kali spat with narrowed eyes. “As if you could possibly understand us!” She thrust a thumb at herself. “It is my face you see. Speak to me. So long as I’m in control, what goes on in our shared mind is none of your concern until I say otherwise! Do you understand me, human?

Quincy pursed her lips. “Completely…” She crossed her arms and added coolly, “Ailuran.”

Kali snorted. “I’m going to ask one more time. Just how long is Elmiryn meant to be down there?”

“As long as it takes.” Quincy heaved a sigh and rubbed a sweaty temple. “Which… could be weeks.”

Kali’s brow tightened. “Weeks?”

Quincy nodded once. “Yes. Weeks.”

Kali’s breathing stuttered suddenly, her gaze dropping to the table. Her eyes ticked back and forth, lips moving with indistinct mutterings. Quincy watched, bewildered, as the Ailuran flinched, one hand going to her head.

“I know!” she snapped.

Quincy’s eyebrow arched, and she opened her mouth to respond, but she quickly swallowed her words when Kali went on, still not looking at her, expression flashing from stark fear to tense anger and back.

“Idiot!” Kali snarled at the table. Her eyes were unfocused. “What do you want me to do about it? I said I know that, I– Rrgh, just calm down! I can’t think!”

She isn’t accustomed to being in the lead like Nyx is. Hopefully she’ll get better at it. Seeing her like this… Quincy grimaced. It’s disconcerting to watch!

Quincy cleared her throat loudly. “Kali.”

Kali looked at her sharply, her lips thin as a single curly lock fell into her gaze.

Quincy threaded her hands together and rested them on the table. “Elmiryn needs to get over her fae addiction while there is still human left in her. She still has a chance to overcome this… but it will not be easy, and she will need time.”

“We don’t have time,” Kali huffed, her shoulders rising like hackles.

Now Quincy frowned, her mind tickling with a sense of danger. “Kali, what is going on? What do you and Nyx know?”

Kali exhaled harshly, her mouth turning down at the corners. “We are not safe here. In Belcliff, we ran into Karolek–”

Quincy’s eyebrows shot up. “The metal sorcerer?”

“Yes.” Kali looked at her solemnly. 

“And when you got away from him, you ensured you weren’t followed?”

“Of course!” Kali pouted, as if the question itself was insulting. “But before we parted ways, Karolek told Nyx…” She took a breath and said with a shake of her head. “Quincy, he told Nyx that your father is in Albias.”

Quincy sat back, her face going slack.

“My…father?” her voice sounded small.

She felt cold and faint. Her breath came with struggle, cutting in jagged, uneven takes.

She laughed without warning. “You don’t mean–”

It couldn’t possibly–!

“I mean Jack, Quincy. The man known as Wind.” Kali’s forehead wrinkled with worry. “Karolek couldn’t tell us for sure what he’s doing in the region, but apparently Jack’s been retracing the effects of our experiences in the Other Place for the last year or so. That journey has led him here. Now.”

“That is not good news.” Quincy’s voice was just a shaky whisper. The muscles in her neck corded as every part of her screamed to run. Run into the night and not look back. “We are in no shape to face him!”

Another snort from Kali. “An understatement. He could kill us all.” Her gaze turned lidded. “Well. Almost all of us. It’s hard to say what he would do once he realizes he’s finally found his fledgeling.”

Quincy leaned onto the table and dropped her face into her hands. “If he even recognizes me. It’s been years.”

“Can we move Elmiryn? Is that an option?”

Quincy lifted her face from her hands enough to see Kali over her fingers. Into her palms, she intoned, “No. That is not an option.” She buried her eyes back behind the shields of her hands. “Elmiryn’s fae nature is awakening, and it is ravenous. Releasing her before she is free of her addiction would invite our destruction… and possibly hers as well.”

“So we’re stuck here.” Kali’s voice was flat.

Quincy only nodded. She’d delivered the news. She wanted to drop the burden of the day. The weariness had penetrated her bones, casting shadows under her eyes. Sleep was needed.

Jack is coming. Jack will find me.

Quincy’s body started to coil.

Jack will find me and kill everyone

Quincy lifted her head and jabbed a finger at the bag near the entryway. “What did you bring for us, Kali?”

Focus on something smaller. The supplies.

Kali seemed taken aback by the question. She looked askance at Quincy. “New things to liven the meals. At least, Nyx hoped they would.” Her expression tightened as she looked at the bag with sudden worry. “Actually… We bought some drinks.” She looked at Quincy with what could almost be called apology. “Nyx thought Elmiryn would need it.”

Quincy waved a hand, sitting up. An idea was coming to her… “No one could have predicted what happened today.”

Kali rubbed her chin. “Hmm… Nyx says the wine could be used for cooking. The sake and absinthe we could dump–”

“Wait.” Quincy held a hand up, her eyes sharp. “Just… wait. Let’s not waste a perfectly good drink.”

Now Kali looked at her with one eye squinted. “Quincy, Elmiryn can sniff out a drink like a hound. We cannot keep any of it if she means to quit alcohol!”

Obviously,” Quincy snapped. She pointed at herself. “But in twenty-four hours I’ve nearly been suffocated to death, informed my long-lost-hated-father is about to complicate my life, and–” she dropped her voice to a hot whisper, “–apparently my husband is not my husband at all!”

Kali’s eyes widened. “Elmiryn told you?”

A caustic laugh. “Oh my, did she ever!” She swiped her hair back with a rough hand. “I suppose it’s no surprise that you and Nyx knew! Of course you two knew!”

“We weren’t sure–”

Shut up. Just… shut up. I don’t want to hear excuses!” Who else had known? Lethia? Paulo? Daedalus? Hell, Argos?

Was it really true? Had she been clinging to a lie this whole time? Was she that big a fool?

Quincy leaned back, her nose tweaked and her scowl fierce. “If I feel I need a nightcap just to drag myself to sleep in these wee hours, then I’ll help myself to the spirits my gold purchased!”

She threw her hands up and laughed bitterly. “I’ve been mustering on for fucking days–cooking and cleaning like some common servant–all while bearing the weight of teenage hormones, elven crankiness, unwashed lunacy, and whatever the blazes has been going on with your gods’ damned twin! I’m entitled to one bloody drink!

Quincy slammed her hands into the table and stood, her chair scraping back loudly across the floor. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try and lose consciousness for a few hours before I have to start mothering everyone again.”

Kali glared but didn’t move to stop Quincy. She only watched as the wizard went to the large bag, rummaged for one of the drink bottles, then stalked out the entryway and out into the night.

As Quincy ripped the stopper from the bottle, she felt a lump form in her throat, but she swallowed it down with a quick swig. She’d grabbed the sake, by the taste of it.

Hakeem isn’t here.

She succumbed to the fact. She didn’t want to, but she believed it. What reason did Elmiryn have to lie? Knowing her love was “somewhere safe” did little to ease her despair.

Hakeem isn’t here and Jack is coming.

Quincy took another swig, then headed for the barn. She’d find a haystack of her own to sleep in. Tears stung her eyes… and she let them fall because there was one burden she couldn’t get out from under, still.

Hakeem isn’t here, Jack is coming, and I…

She sobbed, pausing at the corner of the barn to lean against the weathered wood.

I may have to kill my friend. I may have to kill Elmiryn.

Quincy took a longer guzzle from the sake–ignoring the harsh burn as the liquid wound its way to her stomach.

Gods have mercy on me. Gods have mercy on us all.


I didn’t get up from my seat.

We should rest, I thought. A frown still marred my features, like a smoldering fire.

Just a word. A quick one— Nyx. The emotional fool.

I closed my eyes with suffering as I felt my sister’s cloying desperation and guilt.

I tried again. We should rest. You’ll be of a better mind–

She already knows we’re here, Nyx cut in. Waiting till morning will only hurt her!

My lip curled back to bare fangs. This isn’t fair. This is MY time–!

Please. Please! Don’t make me hurt her anymore than I already have. Nyx’s voice sounded tinny in my head.

I sighed. Five minutes. No more.

Oh, thank you! Thank you, sister!

My nose tweaked to the side as I stood.

Don’t thank me yet…

I made my way to the cellar, my steps feeling heavy as I descended down the stairs. My nose wrinkled as the dank stench of the underground space reached me. It wasn’t just that, though. There was a rancid sweat that permeated the air.

The lantern light bloomed into view, and passing over the final steps, I rounded through the entryway into the cellar proper.

Paulo turned in his seat to look at me, at first looking bored, before his eyes widened with surprise. He was sitting at a small makeshift table using an old wagon spoke and strapped pieces of old lumber. In front of him was a moldy book on enchanting that he’d no doubt scrounged from the corner of the study.

He hurried to his feet. “Nyx!”

“Kali,” I snapped. This was going to be very annoying to deal with, I could already tell. “I’m here to let Nyx speak with the Fiamman. Briefly.”

Paulo ran a hand through his hair, as we both looked to the rear of the cellar.

Curled up in a ball lay Elmiryn, her back to the entryway. She was resting on a modest stack of hay and a dark blanket, a pillow squeezed tight under her head. Her fiery red locks weaved in tight, chaotic knots behind her. Her exposed neck gleamed with a sheen of sweat.

“Speak with her?” Paulo mumbled with a shake of his head. “More like at her. Ever since Quincy gave her medicine for her fever, she’s been huddled there, not moving.”

I crossed my arms. “Nevertheless, my sister wishes to try. Give us the room.”

Paulo crossed his arms and arched an eyebrow at me. I rolled my eyes.

Please?” The word fell from my mouth, flat and heavy.

Paulo held up his hands. As he passed us, he paused to say, “Do not cross the containment line. She’s already tried escaping once.” He peered over his shoulder at Elmiryn. “If she starts gasping or convulsing, scream for help. Quincy and I will be down as quick as we can.”

His eyes returned to my face. “But no matter what, do not try to handle her on your own.”

We’ve missed terrible things… Nyx whispered with dread.

I only gave a terse nod of my head. I just wanted to get this over with. This place… it felt thick with sickness and desperation.

I waited until Paulo’s footsteps faded to the floor above. Then I closed my eyes, preparing to slip back into the depths of our shared consciousness to give room for Nyx to regain control. I could feel my sister rushing forward, eager to speak.

“Kali…” Elmiryn croaked. Her voice sounded weak and phlegmy.

I froze. Nyx halted her advance. My eyes eased open.

After a long moment, I murmured, “Yes?”

“I’ve never treated you fairly, have I?”

My chin lowered a little as my shoulders tensed. “That’s a stupid question.”

“I suppose it is…” The woman rose slowly, one arm propping her up from her hay bed. She still didn’t turn around. “Nyx is giving you a chance to be in control… But you’re still letting her speak with me. Why?”

My lip curled. What was this? Some stupid human game? This wasn’t a mystery! “Because she begged me to. Obviously.”

Elmiryn’s head lowered. “It means that much to her, huh?”

My patience was running thin. This was between Elmiryn and my sister. I just wanted to go to sleep. “You have five minutes with her,” I said brusquely. “And then I’ll be on my way.”

“Just five? Will you let Nyx come back again?”

My jaw clenched. “Maybe. If I feel like it.”

Elmiryn gave the slightest nod. “Thank you.” 

I could feel my cheeks burn. I didn’t like this sudden sincerity from the woman. “Don’t waste our time with a heart attack,” I snapped. “That would be annoying.”

Elmiryn chuckled dryly as I hastily retreated into the sanctuary of my mind. 

“Sure thing,” I heard the woman say.


I slipped to the forefront of our mind, the dream-like vision giving way to clear sight.

My expression softened as I beheld Elmiryn’s pitiful form.

“Hullo, Nyx,” she murmured, no doubt sensing my presence. It seemed the containment circle didn’t stop her strange ability to sense others life energies.

“Hello, Elle,” I said softly.

Elmiryn finally turned her body, her gaze lifting to meet mine.

Neither of us said anything for what felt like ages. I struggled to think of something worthwhile to start with.

Should I congratulate her for this bold step to reclaiming her health? Or apologize for her misfortune? Could I ask for her version of events? Perhaps it would be better to start off with a simple mention of the supplies we’d managed to acquire?

But Elmiryn beat me to it.

“I never wanted you to see me like this,” she said. Her gaze slipped down to my boots. “It was my job to care for you…” She turned her face away. “Now I can’t do anything for anyone.”

I took a little step forward. “You just need time!” I said earnestly. “Healing is necessary. You can’t be ashamed of that.”

“Like you needed healing?” Her eyes slid sideways to me meaningfully. “For your heart?”

I crossed my arms over my stomach as my chin fell to my chest. “I… I suppose.”

“And do you still need healing?”

I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

Did I need more time? It was Kali’s turn to experience the world, and I had lagged terribly in giving her this freedom. Her five-minute allowance was strict but understandable. Could I say what I needed to say now? Should I? Elmiryn was a wreck of a being. Her unwashed body clouded the air. Her voice was like a miserable swamp, slimy, and slow.

And her eyes… gods, her eyes!

How they pierced into me, pitifully dark and yet sharp with an unnatural hunger. They wanted so much from me. Some of it I could probably give her. The rest… I wasn’t so sure about.

“I don’t want to give you more excuses, Elle,” I said carefully. “But if I’m being honest, I don’t know that the truth I’ve been holding back is something you should hear right now.”

“This may be the last time I’m capable of hearing it, Nyx,” Elmiryn whispered. To my alarm, her eyes seemed to gain a strange rosy glow.

I bit my lip and hugged my stomach tighter. I was starting to feel ill. What should I do? Surely this wasn’t the time to be talking about this?

It will never feel like the right time, so just out with it, Kali said. Though her words were harsh, her voice was soft. Sympathetic. Furthermore, the woman has a point. If she loses her mind or dies from this effort, you won’t have another chance.

My throat tightened and my chin crumpled. Tears quickly flooded my eyes, and I couldn’t see anymore.

“It’s hard,” I sobbed.

I know, Kali murmured.

“I know,” Elmiryn replied.

Wiping hastily at my eyes, I tried to stiffen my lip, but it wouldn’t still. 

I could say it. I could. I just needed to force it out. I just needed–

“Izma raped me,” I gasped.

There. The first step taken. Better yet, without all the hemming and hawing that I’d stumbled through when trying to tell Lethia. I’d just said it, and the damn thing was out. But there was still more.

Before Elmiryn could respond, I barreled on, frantic to reach the end. “Izma did. She raped me, and, and sh-she used your face whilst doing it!”

And the whole thing was finally laid bare. Every terrible inch of it.

“I’m so sorry!” I moaned. “But every time I saw you… I… I could only think of Izma! I could only feel her violating me, again and again!”

I buried my face in my hands and turned away, shivering.

The cellar rang with silence.

“That’s why you couldn’t face me…?” Elmiryn’s voice was faint with shock. “That’s why you… You couldn’t talk to me anymore?”

I nodded but didn’t uncover my face. Maybe if I just hid here behind my hands, I could wait out this horrible moment. I just couldn’t bear to see the look on Elmiryn’s face. My body burned with shame. I felt weak. Filthy.

Another long stretch of silence came. Our time must have been running short, but Kali didn’t insist. I could feel her hovering close, but she said nothing, and I felt no ire from her.

It was selfish and awful, but I had to ask. No, beg

Kali, please, could we have more time? If this is truly the last time Elmiryn will be lucid enough to speak, then–

“I’ll kill her,” Elmiryn hissed.

Something in her voice startled me. It… rang with something, more than just venom. A humming energy.

I lowered my hands to my mouth and looked over my shoulder at her, my body tight with apprehension.

Elmiryn was on her feet. She was barefoot, her soles black. Her gaze was glassy and unfocused.

“I’ll kill Izma, Nyx,” Elmiryn said, stronger this time. “I’ll cut off her head and give it to you. For all the hurt she’s caused you–no! Us!

Elmiryn’s fists clenched and she bared her teeth. The glow in her eyes became stronger, burning a strange pink light. “She has to die! I can make her pay!” 

Her lips twisted into a crazed smile. “Just… let me out.”

I turned and took a step back toward the staircase, my eyes widening.

Elmiryn held her hand out and approached the containment line. Her dirty matted hair started to rise again in that dreamy, underwater fashion. “All you have to do is let me out! Let me do this for you! Let me kill Izma!”

Fresh tears came to me as I shook my head slowly. “No…”

“Do it, Nyx! Please!” Elmiryn’s outstretched hand began to curl like a claw. “I can find her! I can unmake her! Just let me out! A quick drink and I’ll be on my way!”

A quick drink…

I sobbed. “Elmiryn, this isn’t you! I’m sorry! I’m sorry I was too late!”

Elmiryn’s face morphed into a dark mask of rage. The hay behind her began to stir. The blanket and pillow toppled to the floor as the straws rose and began to whirl around Elmiryn. 

“Let me out! Let me out! LET ME OUT!” she screeched.

My stomach clenched with fear… but it wasn’t nearly as powerful as the wrenching agony in my heart. This was my fault. I’d allowed this to happen. 

“I can’t!” I wept as I turned and fled up the stairs. “I’m sorry, Elmiryn, but I can’t!

Behind me, I heard the woman scream. The sound tore through walls, sending dust raining down on me.

I tripped and fell on the final step leading into the foyer, landing hard on my hands and knees. Paulo had been waiting, leaning against the archway. He came to my side quickly, his face tense.

“I was afraid she’d do this,” he murmured. “I’m sorry, lia. I should have warned you better. I guess I’d hoped you’d get through to her.”

I was crying so hard words were difficult to form. When I found the strength to look at him, I managed to gasp out, “She’s gone. I can’t reach her. Sh-she’s gone!”

“Nyx, you must be strong,” Paulo said firmly. “This is only the start of her withdrawals. She’ll get worse before she gets better. But she’s still in there somewhere. You have to believe it!”

With effort, I reigned in my body-wracked sobs. I nodded once jerkily. Paulo gave me a kind smile, then helped me to my feet.

“I’ll be trading with Kali, now,” I said trying, and failing, to keep my voice steady. “If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask her.” I wasn’t just saying this either. Through a wordless understanding, my sister was conveying her willingness to help… even if she may be prickly about doing it.

“All right, Nyx. Rest. We all want Elmiryn to recover,” Paulo said gently.

I touched his shoulder, my expression sad but grateful. The boy was growing, and he was stepping up to help. I couldn’t put into words the relief I felt knowing I wouldn’t have to face this alone. The others had already done so much for Elmiryn. For me.

As I let myself fall back into the colder reaches of my mind, I felt Kali… caress me in passing.

You may speak with Elmiryn again when you are ready, sister. Your Meaning may reach her, yet.

I closed my eyes as the sweet cradle of darkness enveloped me.

All I could do was hope.

Continue ReadingChapter 47.1