Break Time: Consumption of Beauty

This isn’t what you all were expecting, but I came up with this short story quite suddenly and thought it’d be fun to post in the mean time.  It isn’t a bonus update, nor is it even canon, but hopefully you guys will enjoy it!

–Illise M.


Elmiryn had her arm around the girl’s shoulders as Nyx settled between her legs, and the woman rested her head back on the arm rest with a satisfied sigh. The microfiber couch was a shitty dark navy one that sank in toward the back, but the warrior decided that if she were to be sucked into a furniture’s vortex, it was pleasurable to do so whilst so entangled in one so soft and warm. She closed her eyes to the fluorescent lighting, the attenuated office ceiling, and the fan blades that blurred in and out of view at the edge of her vision.

She heard the fridge shut with a loud bang.

“What the FUCK!” Quincy shouted. Elmiryn couldn’t help it. The corners of her mouth went up. “Who ate my sandwich!?” the wizard snarled next.

“I didn’t!” Nyx was quick to say. Quincy must’ve set her sights on her to become so defensive. Elmiryn could feel the girl’s back stiffen before she even sat up.

The wizard’s voice was snide. “Oh, you didn’t? You eat like a horse! Who eats five triple-patty burgers in a row?”

“Apparently I do. But I didn’t eat your sandwich.” There was a growl in Nyx’s voice now, but the warrior could feel her trembling.

She scratched the girl’s back, still content with keeping her eyes shut. “Just ignore her, kitten. Riding on a dragon’s back makes her cranky.”

“Cranky? I’m pissed! Why am I the one stuck on Praxidice’s back?” the wizard complained.

The redhead shrugged. She started to focus on the hypnotic shup-shup-shup of the ceiling fan. “Because you’re oh-so-lovable?” she said sleepily.

Quincy seemed to ignore her. “And on TOP of things, there’s a cliffhanger. A missed update, and a FUCKING cliffhanger.”

“Isn’t there always a cliffhanger?” Nyx said with a shrug.

“…Or MAYbe the author is just waiting to kill you off with a herd of disgruntled midgets?” Elmiryn muttered. Nyx snickered as she settled back against the woman.

The redhead imagined Quincy giving her the finger. “Very funny.”

Finally, Elmiryn opened her eyes. They were in a gray break room. There was a sofa chair adjacent to the couch, and a table in the center of the room. The room was equipped with a microwave, a sink, a water cooler, a vending machine filled with junk food, and a low-end refrigerator with magnets on it. The room held little color and personality save for the magnets, and the others took advantage of this liberty with:

Make-your-own-poetry magnets (“How Now Brown Cow”), Farside magnets, intellectually subversive magnets (“Prose before hos.”), singing Coke Cola magnets, feminist magnets (“I can’t believe I forgot to have children!”), fantasy magnets with half-naked fairies, and finally, a single gay porn magnet featuring a well-hung body builder. The last one was Elmiryn’s contribution.  She loved the irony. The first time Paulo saw it, he’d been so distracted, he’d turned and bumped into Quincy, sending his open sandwich slavered in mayo all over the brunette’s chest. Elmiryn couldn’t stop laughing. The others tried to throw the magnet away, but she fished it out of the trash every time, and now it sat on the side of the fridge under the cabinet, where it would be least seen.

The redhead started to comb her fingers through Nyx’s hair and was met with a pleased sigh in response. “Will you relax for a second?” she said to Quincy. “We’re being given a break here.”

Quincy unbuckled her sword belt and slammed it onto the table. In the break room, they were freed from their in-story injuries, and the wizard seemed to want to take advantage of her healed shoulder by gesticulating as much as possible. “This isn’t a gods damned break for me.  I’m hungry, and my sandwich is gone.  That was my one comfort in this god forsaken limbo!  All I can think about is what happens next in the story–!”

“If you don’t like it so much, then take it up with the author!” Nyx snapped.  “For heavens sake, the way you’re acting it’s as if you got torn apart by monsters…oh wait.  You didn’t.

“Oooh,” Elmiryn giggled.

Quincy kicked a chair.  “Illise couldn’t write her way out of a paper bag.  Why couldn’t I come out of Robert Frost’s head!?”

“Maybe because he was a poet?” Nyx muttered.

“That’s beside the point.”

“Why don’t you go find Hakeem or something?” Elmiryn offered impatiently.

“He’s prepping for his return.” Quincy sat heavily in the sofa chair and groaned at the ceiling. “I want my reuben…”

“Well get over here, and I’ll give you a ‘reuben’ you won’t forget!” Elmiryn sent the wizard a leer over her shoulder, but this look quickly was swallowed up with a look of surprise as the redhead felt a sharp nip on her thigh. She gave Nyx a small shove and a glare. “Nyx, for gods sakes, why do you have to bite me!?” The girl glowered over her shoulder before she struggled up from the couch. The cold feeling between Elmiryn’s legs felt unpleasant, and she tried to pull the girl back. “Halward, you’ve got to be kidding me… Hey, come on. I was joking!”

Nyx pointed at Elmiryn. “Quincy, maybe you should be asking THIS woman what happened to your reuben sandwich?”

Elmiryn could practically feel the brunette’s eyes rest on her. She looked back at the wizard and said with a wagging finger that punctuated every word, “I did not have gustational relations with that reuben!”

Quincy squinted her eyes at her, her head shaking back and forth like she were trying to shake the woman’s sense of humor off. “Okay. Elmiryn? Your puns? They’re horrible. Stop. Now did you eat my sandwich?”

“You’re a real fucking detective, did you know that? Why would I have been the one to have eaten your sandwich? Because Nyx pointed a finger at me?”

“She’s pretty convincing.”

“I’m pretty convincing,” Nyx asserted with a smirk.

Elmiryn wagged a finger at the Ailuran. “Watch. You just watch. Next scene? No kiss.”

The girl’s broad face tinged pink. She ‘hmphed’ and looked away. “That’s not much of a punishment. Seems more harmful to YOU if anyone.”

“Won’t you be dying for my touch soon? I can live without your affection kitten, just as I lived without ever touching Quincy’s stupid sandwich.”

Quincy snorted and scooted to the edge of her seat. She was rubbing her chin and had a predatory look in her eye. “IS that the truth? You eat as much as Nyx does. My sandwich was the very image of beauty. How could you–an aesthetically driven creature–possibly deny something so sumptuous?”

“The same way someone ELSE has been denying me every single night,” Elmiryn grumbled. Nyx started moving toward the door, but the warrior leapt up and blocked her way. “Joking! That was a joke!”

The girl’s mouth was pinched white and her eyes were a little misty. “No, it wasn’t. Your thinly veiled metaphors are ribald, and I do not have to suffer them during my break. Move.”

“That sandwich was nothing to me!” Elmiryn said.  She pressed her wrists together and fixed her expression to resemble that of a kicked puppy’s. She prayed it worked. “C’mon, really, don’t leave me in here with this harridan witch. She wouldn’t know beauty if it bit her on the nose–!”

“My sandwich was beautiful!” Quincy snapped. “It was a perfect blend of sauerkraut and gooey Swiss, with Russian dressing and corned beef grilled on homemade rye bread–”

“I wouldn’t give two shits if your sandwich could do backflips and play the ukele without hands. I didn’t want your food, Quincy. Not the corned beef or the gooey Swiss or the fucking homemade rye bread. Okay? I pack a box lunch! A BOX LUNCH.” Elmiryn looked back at the girl with a wince. “Really. Nothing. It meant nothing to me.”

“Then why do you keep dancing around about it with her?” Nyx jerked her head, her tawny eyes like a turned knife.

“Because she’s guilty! She’s been stealing glances at my food all week,” Quincy cried.

Elmiryn rolled her eyes. “In your dreams. Nyx, don’t listen to her. She’s paranoid and has deep seated emotional problems.”

The wizard snorted. “You’re one to talk.”

“I am one to talk. At least I don’t stuff my face when I’m troubled.”

“No. You just stuff your face every other day.”

“And hey, who has the ass to show for it?”

An ominous pause. “…You’re trying to say something aren’t you?”

“Just that beauty eludes you like the enormity of your own ass.”

“Ex-CUSE me!?”

Nyx stared back and forth between them. “The wizard’s right. This isn’t a break. This is a circus! What’s the matter with you two? Why can’t you just stop talking in circles?”

Elmiryn scrunched her face up like that answer was obvious. “Quincy’s questioning my integrity and is diminishing my excellent tastes with her CRUDE wantings!”

“Crude. That’s rich, Elmiryn.” Quincy stood to her feet. She jabbed a finger at the refrigerator. “During my last scene, you vanished off-story, and the only one that wasn’t accounted for was you and–”

“Tristi and Farrel,” Elmiryn and Nyx said in unison.

The wizard faltered. “Oh.”

“So it could’ve been one of them,” Nyx said, rubbing her temples as if to stave off a headache.

“Told you it wasn’t me,” Elmiryn sneered.

Quincy shook a finger. “No. You’re not off the hook. What did you bring for lunch?”

Elmiryn grinned. “A rubyfruit.”

“…You are unbelievable.”

Nyx frowned. “A rubyfruit?”

“NO!” Quincy blanched and made a negative motion with her arms. “Don’t ask for clarification–!”

“A rubyfruit, my dear Nyx,” Elmiryn started as she threw an arm over the girl’s shoulders and guided her back to the couch. “Is the most BEAUTIFUL thing in the world.”

“It is not,” The wizard snapped. She pinched her brow and closed her eyes. “Elmiryn–”

“It comes in the most DELECTABLE shades of pinks and reds you could ever imagine–”

“Gods why don’t I just leave–?”

“It smells like beauty–”

“I could just walk out the door and buy a ham sandwich–”

“It tastes like beauty–”

“Why do I insist on suffering such company–?”

“And the juices are the richest thing that will ever grace your tongue.”

Nyx’s pretty face scrunched up, and she looked between the two women again. “There’s just no end to it with you two, is there?” she despaired.

Elmiryn chuckled and patted her knee. “Don’t worry. I’ll let you try mine one day.”  The Ailuran turned bright red.

Quincy placed her hands on her hips and said seriously. “Nyx, I know you don’t like me–”

The girl winced. “That’s just what I need to top this moment.  Advice from you.

“–But listen to me when I say that you should not take a thing this woman offers you. She knows nothing of beauty because she has no love. None. I think she’s incapable of it.”

Elmiryn tongued her cheek and stood. “That’s a quite a thing to say, given the source.”

Quincy glared. “It’s the damn truth!”

The warrior clenched her fists. “What the fuck do you know about me?”

“I know your idea of beauty is skewed by your perversity. Its all sensory and no emotion, just detachment and little else.”

“Speaking of detachment–when was the last time you FUCKED your husband?”

The wizard closed her eyes and smiled, but it was tight and her face was turning pink at the cheeks and nose. “I think I might’ve heard you wrong, because no one would dare say something like that to my face.”

Elmiryn nodded as she crossed her arms. “Just as I thought. Why don’t you go make a new SANDWICH Quincy?”

The wizard made a menacing move and the warrior held up her fist in preparation for a block, but a loud cough interrupted them. Both women turned and saw Nyx on her feet with a couch pillow nearly three times the size of her torso. She held it before her like a shield.  Her tawny eyes peeked timidly over the fabric as she spoke. “You both keep going back and forth about what constitutes beauty, and yet neither of you really seem to want to define what your personal requirements are.  You just keep hiding behind these metaphors for preferences.  Why is that?”

Elmiryn glanced at Quincy and found the brunette glancing back. The warrior shrugged. “You want me to start?  Fine.  I’ll start.  I think beauty is color–”

“Gods you really ARE a racist,” the wizard interjected.

Nyx pointed a finger at her around the couch pillow. “Let her finish!”

Elmiryn glared at Quincy before resuming. “Yeah. Beauty. Um…I think it’s color and shape. Especially different from my own.” She nodded as if to affirm her own thoughts. She went on slowly, carefully, feeling the words in her mouth before letting them loose. “I like variety, not mirror images. I don’t really care for symmetry either. I’d prefer things a bit chaotic to something neat and orderly.” She rubbed the back of her neck and looked up at the ceiling fan. “I also think it has to do with sound. Certain things can bring a lot of comfort, and a voice can encompass many things.” She took a breath and sighed. “That’s it. I think.  Happy?”

The warrior looked at Quincy and Nyx both. The wizard had taken to sitting in one of the plastic chairs at the table, and the Ailuran had lowered her pillow shield and held a smile on her face.

Nyx looked at Quincy next. “What about you?”

Quincy pointed at herself. “Me?” She gave a snort of a laugh. “Oh come off it, after Elmiryn you’ll just call me shallow.”

“Eye of the beholder and all of that. Go on, wizard. Speak.” Elmiryn threw herself onto the couch and giggled.

Quincy rolled her eyes at her. “Alright. Here. My idea of beauty? Is capability and all the things that would show it.” She ticked off her fingers. “Intelligence, wisdom, strength, tenacity–They’re ideal to me.”

“And Hakeem is all of those things?” Nyx asked. The girl took a seat next to Elmiryn, and the woman was quick to pull her close.

The wizard smiled proudly. “Yes.”

“Awww…he’s your utilitarian DREAM,” Elmiryn drawled.

Nyx pinched her ear, and the warrior let out a hiss of a cry. “She let you speak, now you let her!” the girl scolded.

“Nyx what happened to you!? You’ve gotten so mean!” Elmiryn whined as she rubbed her ear.

The girl ignored her. “Quincy?”

The wizard was snapped out of a reverie and started up like a machine unpaused. “I’m just trying to say that for me, beauty isn’t a physical thing, but a virtue.  A personal sense of fulfillment.  Hakeem is attractive, and yes, in a symmetric way if you must draw lines, but there’s a great many things about his personality that draw me to him. He is caring, honest, brave, stalwart, and passionate. He’s also stubborn, overly serious, fusses over money, and snores. But all of these things makes him the person I love.” She shrugged.

Now both women turned to Nyx. The girl quailed. “What?”

“You started this, kitten. You finish.” Elmiryn gave her a small nudge. “What do you think beauty is?”

The girl bit her lip and fidgeted next to Elmiryn. The warrior stifled a smirk. Quincy raised an eyebrow as she fisted her cheek.

Finally Nyx gave a nod. “Well, you two know we aren’t allowed to resolve anything outside of the story, and I know what I’d say would break status quo…soooo…” she grinned. “I say my idea of beauty is five triple-patty burgers lined up in a row!”

Elmiryn palmed her face and Quincy quickly set into objections:

“Wow, kitten…”

“Nyx, that isn’t FAIR!”

The door opened, and all three looked up.

Tristi was wiping at his mouth with what looked like a giant red and white checkered tablecloth. “Hello ladies. Just got the word from high up. We’re due back to our illustrious roles in very short time.” He burped. “Ooh! Pardon me!” He wadded the cloth and tossed it onto the table before closing the door with a smart snap.

Quincy squinted at the fabric, then snatched at it with her hands. She jumped to her feet and shoved it into Nyx and Elmiryn’s faces. “What does that look like to you!?”

There was a ruddy orange stain on it from when Tristi had wiped his mouth. The couple exchanged looks.

Elmiryn smiled broadly. “THAT, dear Quincy, looks like Russian salad dressing.”

The wizard’s face looked fit to burst with blood. She threw the cloth to the floor and grabbed her sword belt. “Damn him, DAMN HIM. I’m going to kill that bastard!” She ran out the door, slamming it behind her.

The room was quiet, and all that could be heard was the low hum of the refrigerator, and the shup-shup-shup of the ceiling fan. Elmiryn nestled her face into Nyx’s neck and smiled. “So, beautiful…has the status quo been maintained?”

“Depends.  Are you really going to keep from kissing me once we go back?”

“I couldn’t if I tried…and I don’t want to try.”

Nyx kissed the warrior’s temple and wedged her leg between Elmiryn’s.  A coy smile was on her lips. “Then maybe it has, Elle…” she whispered.

Continue ReadingBreak Time: Consumption of Beauty

Honey & Spice

“Don’t get any big ideas

They’re not gonna happen

You paint yourself white

And fill up with noise

But there’ll be something missing

Now that you’ve found it, it’s gone

Now that you feel it, you don’t

You’ve gone off the rails

So don’t get any big ideas

They’re not gonna happen

You’ll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking”1


The end of spring meant examinations, and Nyx had to rub the ink off her face from falling asleep on her notes. She’d had that dream again. The one with Taila and the honey soap in her bedroom. She shivered, the unreal memories flushing her body with a pulsing heat. If she had the time, she’d rinse herself clean both in body and in mind with some cold water. But as things stood, Nyx did not have the time, and if her guess was correct, she was, in fact, late.

Her hair was in a frizzy ponytail, one leg in her trousers as she searched frantically about the mess of her room for her book on Later History. It was still early morning, the sleepy teu-teu of the grosbeaks outside her window having just started. The fourteen-year-old muttered under her breath as she hopped about, trying to get her other foot in.

“On the 4th cycle of the lunar year 906, the Illuminari Pantaleon established trade routes with the halfling settlement, Règlem, creating a new era of agricultural development and…” she trailed off, her tongue finding its way to her cheek as she spied the familiar corner of a mauve book cover beneath a pile of scrolls on the floor.  “There you are!” Pulling on her pants, Nyx went and plucked the book up.

Blowing at her bangs, she tossed the text onto her bed and removed her nightshirt.

A male voice made an appreciative sound from the doorway, and the girl jumped, her hands bundling her shirt to her chest as she turned to look.

She only caught sight of a shadow being pushed down the hallway by her mother.

Fotini hissed at the stranger, her face pink.  “Get out!

Nyx turned her eyes to the ground, her heart hammering against her chest.  She listened and heard the front door slam shut.  Silence rang for a long drawn out moment before her mother slipped past the beaded curtain of her bedroom doorway. It was times like these that the teenager wondered why Ailurans couldn’t take a leaf out of every other cultures book, and just build doors.

“I’m sorry, Nyx.  I…didn’t think you would be awake yet,” Fotini said, her eyes also downturned.

The teenager glanced at her, before returning her eyes to the floor.  “I was going to meet Ampelos for an early study session before class.”  She bit her lip, debating her next question. With shoulders hunched, Nyx asked, “Atalo didn’t see, right?”

Fotini’s silence felt almost frosty.  The girl swallowed hard as she forced her eyes onto her mother’s face.  Quietly, she said next, “A-ma…why don’t you just choose one?”

Something indescribable passed the older woman’s face.  Fotini was still a beautiful woman, but the touches of age were beginning to show in the silver lines of her thick and curly hair. The woman’s eyes batted, lines appearing around them as her brow tensed, then eased.

“You’ll be out late again tonight, yes? I’ll have a stew ready for when you’re home,” the woman said.

Nyx scowled at her mother’s sidestepping, but simply nodded. “Please make sure that Atalo takes his tonic for the night. That cold still hasn’t left him entirely, and he’s too stubborn to do what he needs to.”

“I will, do not worry my little night shard.” Her mother smiled thinly and stepped forward, kissing her daughter’s forehead. “You should hurry, Nyx,” Fotini murmured.  She turned and left the room, the beaded curtain tinkling in her wake. “Don’t keep Ampelos waiting.  He’s such a nice boy.”


The girl walked slowly through her village, her eyes roving over her surroundings.  The daikuts were still dark and quiet, but the village paths were beginning to show signs of life as merchants and craftsmen rose early to prepare for the day.  The sky was a soft rosy blend of hazy white calamine and passionate damask.  The dark mountains guarded the northern skyline as the suns’ rays began to spear up over the forested western lands.  The days had been getting chillier, but that particular morning saw no wind, and the air was cool at best.

As such, Nyx felt overdressed in her winter smock. She tugged at the furry collar, the soft deer suede gentle beneath her sweaty fingertips. She felt like she were roasting. She paused in her walk to set down her bag of school materials and to strip the item off. Her cheeks blazed as the act reminded her of her earlier state of undress, and the stranger that had peeped in on her. It hadn’t been the first time that had happened, and it wouldn’t be the last.

The girl had always been aware of her mother’s proclivities, but it only seemed to reach her when their home served as the stage. Somehow, those acts of indulgence were things apart from their family.  Apart from her mother.  And yet, the skulking partners seen during the wee hours of the day illuminated a connection that was more disturbing each time she witnessed it.

“Sweet Aelurus…it doesn’t feel right!” Nyx thought with a shudder. “Why can’t she just choose a suitor, like Thaddeus says?  Why does she have to keep doing this to us?”

The girl stuffed her smock into her bag and resumed her walk at a quicker pace. As she left the village outskirts to the western hills, she caught the scent of incense and roasted almonds long before spying Ampelos sitting atop one particularly grassy knoll. He was leaning back on his hands, his face upturned towards the sky with his eyes closed. Nyx stopped just short of him, feeling her tension mount for reasons inexplicable. One hand gripped her bag strap whilst the other wadded the front of her shirt.

She swallowed when Ampelos’s honey-colored eyes opened and turned her way. He must have caught her scent somehow, because she hadn’t made a sound. For some reason, he was always able to sense her presence—an ability that irked her to no end during their childhood games of hide and seek.

The teenage boy smiled at her before he looked down at his lap. “Nyx!” He brushed back his curly hair as he reached for his book on Later History. “I thought you’d given up on me.”

“That’s funny, because I still can’t believe you haven’t given up on me,” Nyx returned, a nervous smile on her face. She was only half-joking. Ampelos was a priest-in-training. Over the years it was discovered that, while Nyx was very well-read in secular knowledge, her religious knowledge was rudimentary at best. And so, the boy had taken it upon himself to help Nyx gain a more rounded understanding of their faith—beyond what the politicians used for their distortions.

Ampelos was a generous person, if quiet and a bit shy. Seven years of familiarity made discourse much easier between them, but even after so much time, the boy still found it hard to look into her face for too long. He had a brilliant mind, regardless, and his affectations seemed to be the very portrait of piety. Nyx couldn’t help but feel uncouth or roguish in his presence, as though there were some sin she couldn’t wash out from her skin. Having seen her mother’s most recent indiscretion, the feeling was intensified.

When Nyx didn’t move to sit next to him, Ampelos looked up at her, his brows knitting.  “Nyx? Is something the matter?”

At his genuine concern, the girl felt some of her tension ease a bit and took a seat next to her friend.  “No, no. Sorry. I just…had an awkward start today.”

“Want to talk about it?”

Her response was quick to chase his. “Not really.”

Ampelos gave a nod of his head, his smile gentle. His eyes searched her face for that small second before they predictably turned away.  “So…Pantaleon?”

Nyx took out her textbook and opened it to the dog-eared page. “He was a member of the Illuminari in 906, during the age of the Sorels and Felix the Great.  He established trade routes with Règlem, and helped birth what became known in Old Ailuran as Zvéri Kenthas—which is…?” she trailed off pointedly.

Ampelos blushed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Oh. Uh… Zvéri Kenthas was the agricultural revolution that saw us through the next ten years of famine. The halflings introduced us to old elven techniques, which we adapted for our purposes. Right?”

“Right. But here’s the thing…if we hadn’t had made that diplomatic connection, what do you think would have happened?”

“We would have died as a society.”

Nyx smiled. “You think?”

Ampelos blinked at her. “Uh…yes?”

The girl giggled and pointed at the third paragraph of her book.  The boy found the same place in his copy, and she began to read.  “’Though the Ailuran Nation gained new skills in agricultural, their dependency on the halfling cartels increased to such an alarming degree, that leaders were faced with either meeting their demands, or finding themselves deprived of the very tools and resources needed to implement the new agricultural practices that kept their people fed.’”

“And then there were the dwarven riots,” Ampelos said, his eyes brightening.

Nyx gave a nod. “You see, there isn’t anything wrong with trying to reach out to other societies. The mistakes made in the wake of Pantaleon’s excellent discourse was that his fellows allowed for a situation in which the Ailuran Nation became politically weakened, and tied to dangerous conflict. The agricultural methods the halflings showed us required many things only they could provide, so we became reliant on their trade. When the riots broke out, our livelihood was threatened, and we had to send soldiers in to assist the halfling cartels in suppressing the dwarves in their settlements. And sweet Aelurus, if you think the Fiamman ginger weeds are bad, you should’ve seen the dwarves! Many of them were hardened warriors and skilled crafters, and their weaponry made them a dangerous force to reckon with. A lot of our soldiers died.

“Now, most people will argue that we had no choice, and no one’s arguing that our eventual survival wasn’t a good thing, but I think–and don’t put this down as an answer in the exam, or Leander will mark you down–I think it would’ve been safer for our nation to stick to our own methods of survival. We have our own practices for surviving famine, ancient practices that may have been harder on our people—but I think you and I both agree toughness was never an issue for our nation. Agricultural leaders in 906 forsook tried and true methods for expediency and wealth. That’s the point everyone revolves around. Lots of hypotheticals get thrown back and forth, and it gets really confusing. I don’t think there is any one right answer.

“You see, interaction between cultures has been historically shown to lead to an increased chance of exchanged ideas, and even sometimes a joining of traditions, like for instance, how we now celebrate the end of Spring with seven days of revelry each year. That’s a practice with elven roots, called Printemps. But it’s important to see that it is a conscious choice by society to accept those kinds of ideas and customs, whenever or wherever they may come from.”

“So what is there to learn?” Ampelos wondered, his eyes on his book.

The girl quirked an eyebrow at him. “Pardon?”

He looked at her, startled.  “Huh? Oh! I was talking to myself, sorry. I…I mean…well, isn’t this what history is for? To teach us about the present and what the future can hold? This sounds like Leander’s attempt at asserting Ailuran superiority again. So what’s the lesson?”

Nyx offered a bemused smile. “Amp, the lesson here is easy. When dealing with others, one has to walk the fine line between being taken advantage of, or missing out on good things. The power comes in realizing there’s a choice, and in so choosing, one commits themselves to a path they are a lot more likely to succeed by.”

“So did Pantaleon make the right choice?”

“Yes, I think so. It was the other leaders who allowed themselves to be misled. But if the trade routes hadn’t been established? I think we still would have survived, despite the harsh conditions. Just remember to make that point when asked, and you’ll get full marks. Throw in some Ailuran patriotism, and Leander will probably just pass you.” At this, the girl rolled her eyes.

Ampelos chuckled. “Thanks Nyx.” He gestured at her bag.  “You look like you have more than usual today! Were you going to see Taila after our examinations?”

Nyx grinned shyly and patted her bag. “Well I brought my smock today, so that’s why it’s so big, but yes. I was planning on seeing Taila after. Will you be joining me?”

“No. I have special training at the temple, and Urian wants me there as early as possible.”

“Darn. Well, I’ll tell her you said hello, then.”

Ampelos’s smile waned and he fingered the corners of his book. “Gods…It’s still weird, not having her around all the time. I hardly get to see her at all these days.”

To this the girl said nothing, her eyes turning down to the book in her lap. Scribbled in the margins were special notes for Taila. The girl’s friend had ended her schooling to take up her family business after her mother became seriously ill. Taila’s father was aging, and he couldn’t take on all the work himself. So she worked every day, from sun up to sun down, and had been for nearly a year. Nyx had started tutoring the older girl when her lessons began to cover material she had missed out on, which had been for four months now.

“What you’re doing is a good thing,” Ampelos said suddenly.

Nyx looked at him, her eyes wide. “Huh?”

He looked at her, an almost sad smile on his face. “For Taila. Helping her with her work and tutoring her.” He looked away. “It’s the kind of care I wish I could show someone I love, if only my priest duties didn’t keep me so busy. I like serving Aelurus, but I like caring for others just as much.”

The girl’s face blazed red. Clearing her throat, she turned the page. “Let’s keep at it, Amp. We don’t have much time left before class starts.”


Examinations were done, and Nyx breathed a sigh of relief. As was often the case, she had overestimated the difficulty of the test, and the only challenge she faced was in finding a way to word her answers so that Leander wouldn’t think she was feeding him lines. Which she often was. After being singled out for so many years, the girl decided it was wiser to keep her true opinions to herself regarding the propaganda and skewed history, and just play along.  With the fervor over the Fiamman war, her opinions would even be lethal, in some cases. Leander already did his best to find excuses to punish her, she didn’t want to add oil to the fire.

Dashing out of the classroom and away from her navi’s contemptible gaze, she gave Ampelos a parting wave before hurriedly speeding through the arched hallways to the wide brick stoop of the erduk, the village place for learning. She was about to descend the stairs when someone bumped into her harshly, nearly making her tumble headlong down the steps. Her fists clenched. The stoop wasn’t crowded. That had been purposeful.

She turned to the offender, her eyes glaring. “Hey!”

She immediately regretted looking, for who turned to her was none other than Killen, Leander’s nephew, who just so happened to hate her as much as their navi did, if not more. The boy’s hazelnut eyes fixed on her tightened face, and he just smirked, his gaze searing beneath the wisps of his dark bangs. The girl was seized with bewilderment—never had he looked at her in such a fashion before. It was always glares and snarls and cruel amusement. This was so much more…reserved. Without so much as an insult, the boy turned and continued on his way, toward his hollering fellows.

Nyx stared after him, something cold flashing along her skin as she watched her longtime nemesis saunter away.  He was a year older than she was—still younger than Taila, but already growing into the stature of a proud Ailuran male. Her stomach beginning to ache, the girl set her bag down and shakily sought her smock.


The girl paused to turn and see Ampelos standing in the entryway of the erduk, his face once again donning a look of concern. “Weren’t you going to Taila’s? I thought you’d be halfway there by now?”

“Oh, well I just caught a chill and was looking for my…uh…smock. It was buried beneath my books. Pretty deep,” the girl said this with a weak smile as she tugged out the item in question.


Nyx shouldered the bag, the smock gripped in her other hand. She started sidestepping down the stairs. “I’ll see you later, Amp.”

The boy nodded, his concern failing to fade away completely. “I…Goodbye, Nyx.”

The girl turned, and with a quick gait, she set off down the village path to Taila’s. She pulled her shoulder strap over her head, so that it crossed her chest, and struggled into her smock. The three suns were now nearing the dusky westward heights that would usher in the night. At this point in the day, Taila and her father should have been baking honey bar soaps to sell on market day.

Sure enough, when Nyx came upon her friend’s home, the chimney was trailing with smoke, and she caught that unmistakable sweet scent. Feeling some of her anxieties fall away, the teenager came up to the daikut and knocked on the door. The house was not in the best of shape—its roof needed mending and the stone foundation could have used with reinforcing. Inside were similar stories—of needed repairs and the funds that lacked to achieve them.

But when Taila opened the door, Nyx knew these were not the things weighing on her friend’s mind.

Taila was fifteen years old and already the very image of a woman. She had full supple breasts, rich tender thighs, and a confident air about her that failed to fade even in the face of real threats. Her amethyst eyes, even now as they held consternation, were large and captivating. In a way much like Ampelos was with her, Nyx found it hard to look into Taila’s eyes for too long. She chose to ignore the implications of that relation.

The older girl bopped her on the head.  “Cajeck! Didn’t I tell you could just walk in?”

Nyx winced and blushed, rubbing the spot that Taila had given her a thump. It hadn’t hurt, but she felt chided all the same. “Sorry, I just didn’t want to intrude, in case–”

“Nyx, from now on, walk in.”


“You’re always welcome, and to be frank, it’d be less of a pain if we didn’t come running to the door every time you were here. You come almost every day anyhow. Do you see where I’m coming from? My A-pa says you’re practically a part of this family, so we don’t have to be so formal, y’know?”

“Yes. Sorry.”

Taila placed her hands on her hips as she gave a slow shake of her head. Nyx’s shoulders hunched around her ears and she stood clutching the bulge beneath her smock that was her bag. Then the older girl grinned.

“Geez, Nyx. What am I going to do with you?” She placed a hand at the back of the girl’s neck, pulling her in.

Nyx’s breath hitched, feeling that vulnerable place of passivity enter her in a ghostly wave before the contact ended and she heard the door shut behind them. They stood in the small dining room kitchen, simply furnished, the sweet fragrant smell even stronger here than outside. Dried herbs of all sorts hung from the ceiling, creating an almost wild, foresty feel to the space. Taila’s father, Terus, a tall man with eyes an even richer hue than his daughter’s, stood at the table reading over a ledger. He looked up at Nyx and smiled good naturedly. Exhaustion wrinkled about his eyes.

“Hello, Nyx. I see my daughter’s put you straight.”

The girl burned red and ducked her head. “Y-Yes sir.”

“We’ve some biscuits if you’d like some. They’re in the basket over there on the counter.”

“I’d love some, thank you sir.”

“A-pa, are you okay with the last batch?” Taila asked her father, as Nyx fetched a roll from the basket. She bit into it and tried not to grimace. They were like rocks.

“No, you go on, Taila. I was just trying to finish these records before the week’s end.”

She gave a nod, and looked to Nyx in turn. As her eyes fell on the half-eaten biscuit, her lips quirked up, and she gestured for the younger girl to follow. Together, they entered the small hallway, where on the left was an open entry way—Taila’s room—and the left, a curtain-closed entryway—her parent’s.  Nyx was careful not to make a sound, lest she disturb Taila’s mother, Jezah, who was no doubt sleeping by this time.

Upon entering her friend’s bedroom, the smell of fragrant honey lessened, a musky scent nearly overtaking it. There was a kickball in the corner—dusty now—and a rack of slim gaudily painted clubs for a game called tuetri on the right wall. Clothes were strewn everywhere, the bed unmade, and there was even an old ink spill on the small writing desk next to the bed, the inkpot still having yet to have been turned right side up. Taila cleared her throat, hurriedly trying to pick up some of the clothes on the floor. “Er–Sorry. I didn’t think it was this bad. I had meant to clean up earlier, but—”

“It isn’t so bad,” Nyx said earnestly. “You should see my room.”

“Maybe later.” Taila deposited her gathered clothes into a small wicker basket near the door, where they spilled over the edges like water would an over-filled bucket. She fixed her eyes on Nyx, her eyebrow quirked. “How’s your biscuit?” Her eyes shined with knowing.

Nyx narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “You baked these, didn’t you?”

Her friend just giggled and said, “So what are we studying today?”

Nyx pursed her lips and shoved her biscuit into her smock’s left pocket, then sat on the bed while Taila sat in her desk chair. The younger girl pulled out her book on Later History. “I just took an exam on this, so I figured we could go over some of it while it’s still fresh in my mind.”

Taila wrinkled her nose. “Later History?”

“You haven’t studied this yet, right?”

“No. I quit lessons way before my navi got there. I think the last thing we covered was…” and here the girl trailed off, her eyes rolling to the ceiling and her head tilting back with a sigh.

Nyx’s eyes flickered to her exposed neck, long and tanned and slender…

Taila’s head snapped up, making the younger girl jump. “The Heretic Rebellion! Yeah, that was it.”

“Sweet Aelurus, really?” Nyx palmed her face. “Taila you should’ve said so! I only focused on language arts so long so that you could get all the advanced rules down!”

“Nyx, Later History doesn’t necessarily paint itself out as vital knowledge for me right now.”

At this, the younger girl’s face softened.  She looked away. “You’re right.  I’m sorry.”  She bit her lip and glanced up shyly. “How’ve…things been lately?”

Taila shrugged one shoulder, her face going blank. “Fine. A-pa and I have been keeping up with the care of the bees pretty good. A-ma’s been doing well. Her fever’s been down, she’s breathing okay, and the thrush seems to have left her tongue. Her skin is even clear of breakouts.” The fifteen-year-old picked her pant leg, where a trail of honey had dried onto the fabric. “So we’re fine.”

Nyx nodded, fingering the corners of her book.

With a pop, Taila stood and sat next to her, her amethyst eyes bright and intent. “To hell with studying for right now! I’ve been working all day. I just want to hear about how you and Amp have been. Go on, tell me!” the older girl tickled Nyx’s side, eliciting a laugh from her friend.

Nyx clapped a hand on her mouth, her eyes wide as she looked toward the doorway. Taila looked too, her eyebrows high. When nothing came of the small disruption, the friends shared a silent giggle.

“Well,” Nyx started, grabbing her knees. “Ampelos says hello, first of all. His priest training has been taking up more of his time, so I don’t see him as much as I used to. He even misses erduk some days. Oh, did I mention to you? I study with him in the early mornings when we can. So you’re not the only one.”

“I bet he loves that,” Taila said with a smirk.

Nyx blushed, not for her friend’s meaning, but for the alluring tilt of her lips.

The fourteen-year-old cleared her throat and went on in a mumble. “Atalo’s fine. As fine as that flea-brain could ever be.” Nyx grinned at the floor. “You know he ate a cup of earth worms on a dare last week?”

“Disgusting! What the hell for?”

“He was trying to impress a girl. Hemalia.”

“Diphene’s daughter? Ugh, but she’s such a narcissist! She’d probably marry herself if she could! Can you imagine her trying to service herself? It’d be like one of those Santian paintings, searching for the deeper meaning of self-buggery.” Taila only knew about Santian paintings because Nyx had shared some of her father’s outside books in some of their study sessions.

She shoved at Taila’s shoulder. “What a thing to say!”

“Oh I can say more, believe me!” The fifteen-year-old chuckled deeply. “So did Atalo’s ploy work? Is the lovely Hemalia all his?”

Nyx rolled her eyes. “Apparently he’s taking her to Ebon Lake this weekend.”

“The stupid thing was, he got sick from it! I’m half-expecting his mouth to mutate into a giant worm!”

“Oh Aelurus bite me, I can just see how they’re first kiss would work out. ‘Oh darling, you can bait my salmon any day!”

Nyx feigned horror as Taila snorted, her hand clapping over her nose and mouth. She tried to stifle her laughter and was clearly failing. The younger girl grinned as her friend threw herself back onto the bed. Setting her book aside, she turned her body so that she was leaning further back onto the mattress, one hand planted, one leg tucked beneath her, the other arm draped lazily along her side.

Her eyes trailed to Taila’s chest, jumping and quivering with her humor.

When the older girl calmed herself down enough to speak, she chortled out, “Gods, what do you think makes people choose the lovers they do?”

Nyx’s smile waned as her eyes traced Taila’s features, so lovely and even that she felt abstract and monstrous in comparison. Her mind flashed with images of her recent dream—of wet skin, joined lips, and searching hands. Then her mother’s face popped into the girl’s head, and Nyx shut her eyes with a hiss. Her friend blinked up at her, her smile also fading.

“Nyx? What’s up?”

The fourteen-year-old turned away, her shoulders sagging. “She did it again, Taila.”

The silence that followed seemed to drag on for too long. Then Taila sat up and hugged her from the side. Nuzzling her friend’s ear, she asked quietly, “It’s okay, Nyx. Tell me.”

Nyx swallowed, staring up at the ceiling. “I was getting ready to see Ampelos really early this morning. I took off my shirt, and I heard a man’s voice from the hallway. When I turned to look, my mother was shoving someone toward the door. She apologized after, but when I asked why she couldn’t just choose someone she just…” the girl trailed off, her head dropping to her chest.

Taila stroked her hair and said nothing.

Nyx closed her eyes and tears dropped to her lap. “It’s normal, it’s natural for us to seek a new partner when one leaves us. Even Thaddeus has given up on our A-pa ever coming home. How can she bring so much shame to our home? She isn’t courting, she’s just—sweet Aelurus! There’s just no end to it! I wish she’d at least do it elsewhere, so that Atalo doesn’t have to see it.”

“And me either,” the girl added inwardly.

Taila’s hand stilled on her hair. “But you’ve seen it, Nyx. You’ve seen more than most could even understand at such a young age, and you haven’t turned into some sort of hedonist.”

The girl winced, feeling her stomach turn. “I wish I hadn’t told you those things.” She meant every word.

Her friend grabbed her chin, forcing her eyes onto hers. Nyx could feel Taila’s warm breath on her lips. “I’m glad you did. If you hadn’t, you’d be sitting on all of this without anybody to talk to, just letting it all eat at you. And then where would you be?”

“Not lying. To you. To me.”

Nyx swallowed and said, “I just…I don’t want Atalo to know those things.”

“He will someday. And whose to say he hasn’t already?”

“He’s eleven. If he must find his way to it, than I’d like it to be in a…healthier way than I.”

Taila sat back, her eyes blinking. “Than…You mean you’ve…” she made a vague gesture in the air.

“No!” Nyx shook her head frantically, her face flushing red. “No, of course not!”

Her friend just smirked at her. “Nyx, it’s fine if you have. Sweet Aelurus, I have.”

Nyx felt her chest pull, a sudden deafening roar entering her ears. She stared at Taila, her features going slack, her eyes burning, as she tried to reconcile the information that hit her ears. Her rational mind knew she was being unreasonable. But another part of her felt like screaming, just the same.

“With who?” She heard herself ask.

Taila shook her head, turning her face with a shy smile.

Nyx felt her muscles clench and her bones began to ache. She, the animal inside her, was stirring with her turmoil. The girl swallowed and gave a shake of her head, trying to calm herself with deep, quiet breaths. She was being stupid. Taila was not hers and never would be. Even considering how close they were, it was silly to expect her friend to come running to her with news of her first lay. Virginity was not a hated trait, but not a prized one, either, and the loss of it was nothing exceptional.

The girl started talking, her eyes on the floor. “I didn’t know what I was seeing as a child. I’ll be out of erduk soon, free to support my family, and all I can think is that I’ve got to do all that I can for them. That includes making sure Atalo is raised right.

Taila pinched her friend’s cheek with a frown. “Have you got fleas in your brain? You’re talking like you’re so old!

“I feel old…” Nyx muttered with a frown. She took Taila’s hand from her cheek. She held it, unable to help running her thumb along her friend’s palm—the skin was dry. Rough. Her nose flared and she picked up that signature honey scent that she would forever attribute to her friend.

“Nyx, I know you love your family, but our situations are different. You’re talking as though you’ll be through with erduk in a few months, but you’ve got at least two more years. Forget taking on a side job, either. I think you should stick to your lessons. Thaddeus is taking care of your needs, isn’t he? Trust your brother!”

“But we only get to see him once a year. What ELSE am I supposed to do when my mother brings her army of suitors through our home? They eat what we have, are a bad influence on my brother, and soil our honor as a family!”

“Right,” she said instead, feeling the rift of misunderstanding as acutely as she felt her friend’s hand in hers.

Nyx consciously let go, and opened up her book on Later History.

“Let’s get to this before we’re both nodding to sleep in our seats,” she said with somber eyes.


Upon arriving home, Nyx found the stew her mother had promised, and served herself the last remaining portions before eating it cold. When she was done, she cleaned up and checked Atalo’s tonic bottle. She found with satisfaction that the amount was less than when she had check it the day before. Taking a piece of charcoal from the counter, she notched another mark along the glass.

Her family was asleep, as it was quite late, so Nyx slipped into her room and stripped off her clothes. She was exhausted, her movements sluggish and dazed. She and Taila had succeeded in their studies, though the girl sensed it best to leave off on Later History and focus on Arithmetic, which her friend was doubtless to find much more useful.

Sitting in the corner next to her desk was her pitcher and wash basin. Sitting in the basin was a honey bar soap, a gift from Taila. Standing naked, the girl took up the bar and pressed it to her nose, breathing deeply. Her eyes rolled shut, her nipples hardening as a growing warmth in her body challenged the cold of her room. Taking up the pitcher, she poured out some water and crouched down. She splashed herself in places, shivering at the frigid water. Lathering her hands with the soap, she began to bathe, letting the soap glide over her skin.

Her eyes closed, her mind wandering inevitably to that torturous dream, where Taila’s hands cleansed her body without hesitation, massaging her breasts, squeezing her thighs, trailing up her back, touching that place between her legs that so pulsed with need…

Nyx came, hardly aware of what was happening. She knelt, her soapy hand between her legs, her eyes fluttering as the waves of pleasure and the head rush she felt both sobered her and exhilarated her.  Then she removed her hand and stared at it, as though it were a thing—alien and grotesque to her. The teenager’s eyes clouded with tears, and she tried to swallow down the lump in her throat.

When she was done crying, it took longer to rinse the soap off because it had dried onto her skin.


The next week passed with little event. Atalo overcame his cold, and it even seemed he had succeeded in wooing the young Hemalia as his sweetheart. Her mother had not seen any suitors, or at least, none that Nyx had witnessed, and the household felt content. In just another month, Thaddeus would be returning to them, and Nyx would get to talk to him about her intention of finding a job outside of her studies. Ampelos was quite busy that week, but the girl managed to meet with him a few times for study sessions.  Taila reported no change in her mother, and she and her father seemed to be handling the workload of the beekeeping just fine. Nyx came to help them on market day with Atalo, and though their sales were only just acceptable, Taila’s father was optimistic that next week’s visit from the halfling merchants would yield more gold.

On the last day of the weekend, Nyx was prepping for dinner when her mother came in from gardening outside, her face flushed and a dreamy smile on her lips.  Her daughter paused in her chopping of mustard greens to quirk an eyebrow at her.

“A-ma? How are the radishes? Are they ready to harvest yet?”

Fotini looked at Nyx, blinking. “No. Not yet.” She took off the white handkerchief on her head, her dirty gloves wringing it as she sat at the table.  She stared into space, oblivious to the fact that she was sullying the clean fabric.

At this, Nyx abandoned her task for the moment and sat with her mother at the table. She reached over and grabbed a gloved hand. “A-ma? What’s wrong?”

The woman just laughed in response, her eyes focusing on the teenager’s face. “Nothing! Everything is wonderful!”  She gave a little sigh. “I just…Nyx, have you been with a boy, yet?”

Nyx pulled back, her face burning at her mother’s lack of tact. “N-No. I haven’t.” She stood quickly and returned to her mustard greens, the knife gripped in her hand tightly.

“What about a girl then? At least once?”

The girl winced, her shoulders coming up around her ears. “A-ma, please don’t.”

“Well it’s all right if you have! I’ve done it once or twice—“

STOP it!” Nyx slammed the knife down onto the cutting board.  She turned and glared at her mother. “You never wanted to talk to me about these things before, so why now? What’s gotten into you all of a sudden!?”

Fotini flushed pink and looked down at the table. “I’ve just been thinking. You’re right.  I haven’t talked to you about these things, and I should have. I suppose, I just assumed, giving your hunger for reading, that maybe you would have…” the woman let out a rough sigh. “No. That’s a lie. I didn’t want to talk to you about these things. That’s all. I haven’t the slightest idea what to do about Atalo, either.”

“He’s only eleven. I think you’ve got a few more years before amorousness becomes a real concern,” Nyx said harshly. “Unless unrestraint runs through the family…” she muttered next.

Her mother rose to her feet, her pink face turning a blotchy red. “Little night shard, I may be getting older, but do no think I cannot thrash you when foolishness takes you!”

Nyx felt herself seize, her ears aching with the memory of her mother’s wrathful pinch. But she was not a child anymore. Swallowing, the girl settled for ducking her gaze, but went on to say, “A-ma, I love you, but I don’t love some of the things you do. I’m not so young that I don’t know what it all means now.”

“And what does it mean?” Fotini challenged heatedly, stepping closer. “What does it mean but that your mother is a lonely woman seeking some respite from our struggles?”

“Our struggles come when your suitors eat and drink our money! When they laugh and take their jollies from you without any commitment, casting us further down into shame!” Nyx snapped back.

Fotini backhanded her.

The blow was hard, and the girl was sent back into the counter, her head snapping fully to the side. Her eyes batted, her mouth open as her cheek stung and throbbed.

“What’s going on?”

Fotini and Nyx turned to see Atalo staring from the hallway, shirtless and barefoot. Both women seemed too startled and ashamed to speak. Then Nyx turned and resumed chopping the mustard greens with great zeal, her teeth bared. “Nothing. Go get dressed, Atalo. We’re seeing Taila again today.”

She heard her brother give an excited whoop before the sound of his bare feet echoed back to her.


“Mother, can you please start skinning the potatoes? Dinner will be ready twice as fast with your help.” Nyx just managed to keep the irony out of her voice at her last words.

There was a long pause.

“Yes, all right,” Fotini said with a heavy sigh.


“Are you mad at her?”

Nyx looked at Taila as they strolled to Ebon Lake, towels over their shoulders and their feet bare. After market day, Terus allowed his daughter one afternoon of rest, and they both decided to celebrate with a swim.

“Yes,” Nyx said in response. “…No. I don’t know. I think I understand, kind of. What my A-ma is going through, I mean.”

“What’s that?”

The girl smiled humorlessly as she watched Atalo running through the trees up ahead. “She’s lonely.”

“Lonely? But she’s going through so many—” the fifteen-year-old cut off with a cough and turned her face. “Sorry. I shouldn’t comment. I guess I just don’t understand.”

Nyx looked at her sideways. “No,” she agreed. “It’s okay. I guess you wouldn’t.”

Taila gave her a sharp look. “Oh don’t put it like that! You make it sound as if I don’t know what it means to be unhappy!”

The younger girl opened her mouth, her cheeks tinging pink, before she snapped it shut. She took a moment to breathe in deeply, then muttered, “Well, now we’ve both stuck our foots in it.” Her face softened. “I’m sorry.”

Her friend sighed and took her hand. “I’m sorry, too.” She traced her thumb over Nyx’s knuckles, making the girl’s heartbeat quicken.

“Hey you two!” Atalo shouted up ahead. Both girls looked to him, and he beat his bare chest. “I’ll race you to the water!”

Taila laughed, taking off after the boy. “You’ll regret those words, lil’ flea!”

Nyx smiled as she watched her friend chase after her brother, then she followed. The rest of the day was pleasant. Atalo decided to cover himself in mud to look like a monster, and his sister, annoyed, wrestled him into the water to clean it off. Taila came to his rescue by tackling Nyx into the lake. Beneath the surface, they spun around each other, the water erupting in bubbles, and Nyx knew the secret joy of feeling the other girl’s firm body against hers. They had berries from the forest and bread Nyx had baked the night before for lunch. They exchanged funny stories and had swimming races around the lake. Then it was time for home.

Nyx and Atalo said goodbye to Taila along the village path and returned home. As they approached their daikut however, the teenager immediately noticed that something was wrong. It was dark inside. A-ma hadn’t mentioned leaving for any reason that night.

“Stay here,” Nyx ordered her brother firmly.

“Huh?” he squinted at her, but she was already up the path to their home, her feet ascending the steps until she found herself staring into the grain of the front door. She put her ear to it, squinting. She couldn’t hear anything.

The girl closed her eyes and took a breath. Quietly she opened the door and slipped inside, glancing back only briefly to make sure that Atalo was following her instructions. He hadn’t moved. Once inside, she shut the door behind her and strained her ears again.

And then she heard it.

The labored breathing.

That small squeak of the bed.

She stood frozen, staring down into the dark mouth of the hallway as though it were a beast waiting to swallow her. She thought to turn and leave. Knew that was perhaps best. But a cold memory, distant and fuzzy, perhaps because of her conscious neglect of it, returned to her.

She recalled her mother in the forest, for once sitting atop her partner. Her generous breasts had been free in the air, her hair loose about her alabaster shoulders. And the look on her face—such release! Such ecstasy! That had been the last time Nyx had seen her mother in such a fashion. She was ten years old. A snapped twig beneath her little foot had ended the magic, and her mother reacted as one angry…and ashamed.

It was this experience, coupled with Ampelos’s spiritual guidance, that the girl began to see her mother’s behavior for what it was.

Unhealthy. Excessive. Grotesquely selfish.

But that look—the one Fotini wore on her face as she moved her body against her male partner—it was like a hook in Nyx’s mouth, breathing a little objection to the call for piety. Did her mother have it on her face now? Was she on top, in control, well aware of the pleasure as much as the pain she was causing?

Nyx entered the cool dark of the hallway, and the sounds became clearer. She tried to swallow, but found her mouth dry. Her body shook, a betraying wetness present between her legs. Slowly, she peered into the room.

A man she couldn’t recognize right away was thrusting into Fotini, who was on her stomach with her hips raised. He was young, judging by his physique, and he was much more aggressive than any of the partners Nyx had seen her mother with in the past. The teenager recognized a need to cry as she saw the stranger shove her mother’s pretty face into the mattress, but the tears didn’t come. She could hardly breathe even. She just stared, her stomach turning angrily in her stomach.

Then it happened. The man looked back. He must have caught her scent. And Nyx saw who it was.

“Killen…” she said, feeling the nausea come up.

Fotini twisted around, effectively moving him off her. Her eyes were wide and her body flushing pink as she locked eyes with Nyx. “Gods! Nyx, I didn’t—I didn’t think you’d—”

“So this is what got into you earlier,” Nyx hissed, trembling. The tears started to come easily now.

“Well, actually, I was in your mother right now,” the teenage boy corrected with a lazy smirk.

Shut up!” Nyx screamed.

Killen just laughed. Her mother gathered the blanket to her body while the boy got dressed unhurriedly. “Nyx,” Fotini began.

The girl didn’t let her continue. “Mother he is just a little under half your age. And let’s not forget how much he beat me as a child! How could you!? Are you so possessed that you cannot keep your appetites contained for the sake of your family??” She held up her hands. “Oh, no. Wait. Of course you aren’t! You only think of yourself!

“Nyx, that’s not true!”

“Then why did you bring someone here again after what happened last time!?”

“Oh about that,” Killen said, raising a lax finger. He had his pants on, his boots in his other hand and his shirt over his muscled shoulder. “That was me.”

Nyx felt the color drain from her face.

The teenager went on, his eyes roving up and down her body, a cruel smile on his lips. “I must say very nice! If you’d like a go Nyx, I have no qualms with indulging the desires of a degenerate. After all, the apple must not fall far from the tree, eh?”

Fotini just closed her eyes, her chin crumpling. The girl stared at her rival—now her most hated enemy—and whispered, “Get out.”

Killen raised an eyebrow, then ducked down to peer into Fotini’s face. The woman looked away, her shoulders hunching around her ears, much as Nyx would do. “Is that what you want, my dear?” When no response came, the boy straightened with a chuckle. “All right. I’ll take my leave of this cesspit then.”

He bumped past Nyx, and as he went, he whispered. “Offer still stands, Nyx the Nitwit.”

The girl leaned away from him, but before she did, her hand moved imperceptibly between them. Killen took no note. Within a moment, she heard the front door shut, and thought of Atalo outside. She turned on her heel and started for the door.

“Nyx!” Fotini called after her.

The teenager stopped and looked back to see Fotini standing at her bedroom doorway, the bedsheets draped around her like a sad gown. Her hair was mussed and her face already tear-stained. “Where are you going?” she asked quietly. She sounded so fragile all of a sudden.

“Away,” Nyx answered hollowly.  “It isn’t safe for me and Atalo here anymore.”

“When will you be back?”

Nyx didn’t answer. She turned and left without further protest. Outside, the teenager took her little brother roughly by the hand, and at his protests, she said, “A-ma needs to be alone.” Even the new bulge in her left pants pocket did little to calm her nerves. They walked and walked until…

They stood outside Taila’s house.

Just as before, Nyx sensed something wrong.  With great foreboding, she went up to knock on the door, but then stopped, remembering Taila’s words.  Slowly, she opened it, and beckoned for Atalo to follow.

Inside, she heard crying.

“Stay here, Atalo,” Nyx said.

“Again?” he whined.

She gave her brother a look, and he muttered sullenly, but took a seat at the dining room table.

Nyx went down the hall and found the sound was coming from Taila’s parents room.  Clearing her throat, she said, “Hello?”

The curtain pulled back, and there stood her friend, her damp hair turned frizzy, her eyes red and puffy from crying. Behind her, in the simple bedroom, knelt Terus, his eyes on Jezah, who lay still with eyes closed on the bed. Her skin was pale as death.

“She’s gone,” Taila said needlessly. Her spine bent as her face contorted with her grief. “Sweet Aelurus, Nyx, my mother is gone!

Nyx felt the tears cloud her eyes for what seemed the millionth time that night, and hugged her friend tightly. Taila shook in her arms, and she held on fiercely, her personal pain ebbing for the moment in the face of her friend’s need. She glanced down the hall and saw Atalo staring at them, his eyes also shiny with tears. She gestured for the boy to come over, and he ran, hugging them both.

“I’m sorry, Taila,” Nyx breathed. “I’m so sorry…”


When Taila’s father left to find the village funerary master, and they were all sitting in Taila’s bedroom, the older girl asked her friend, “You came over for a reason. Did something happen, Nyx?”

She was already shaking her head. “No, it’s nothing. I just wanted to—“

“Nyx, tell me.”

Nyx gazed somberly at her.  She turned to Atalo and said, “Atalo, why don’t you go take Taila’s ball and play with it in the kitchen? Be careful not to break anything.” Her brother pouted, but did as she asked. When he was well out of sight, she said, “I walked in on her this time.”

“Walked in on her? You mean she was–”


“But so soon after what happened last time?”

“And guess who it was she was with?” Taila frowned and gave a shrug. Nyx closed her eyes and swallowed through a tightening throat. “Killen.” She whispered.

At first, the older girl said nothing. She just stared, her mouth hung open. Then her face grew red. She stood with a stomp and started to pace. “That bastard.” She kicked the wall. “That bastard!

“Taila, don’t. There’s nothing we can do. Thaddeus will be able to handle it once he gets here. We just need to hold on.”

“And what about your mother? What are you supposed to do in a home where you don’t even feel safe anymore? Where your kin place their own needs over their family’s!?” Taila shook her head. “It isn’t fair. It isn’t fair that my mother is dead before seeing her family grow, and it isn’t fair that yours seems to think it’s okay to kill the one she’s got with her vices!”

Nyx grit her teeth. “Taila, stop. This isn’t helping!” She stood. “Once your father comes back, I think…I think we’re going to go. We can’t stay here when your family has so much to deal with. We’d be intruding.”

Her friend stopped long enough to stare at Nyx. “No.”


“No. You’re staying. A-pa won’t mind. But I can’t be alone with him. He…this’ll ruin him, Nyx. He loved my A-ma, and I don’t know if I can handle all of this alone. You can borrow my clothes, and you can stay here as long as you’d like. So you’ll stay. You can’t go back home after what happened there. Your mother needs help, but the kind she needs won’t come from you! Let her seek guidance at the temple or something!”

Nyx just nodded slowly, her eyes spacing out from the weight of the night’s events. “Yeah…yes, you’re right.”

Taila’s father returned with the funerary master and Urian, the village temple priest, in tow. They said some prayers, of which Nyx and Atalo joined (with curious looks from Urian) and then plans were made with regards to Taila’s mother’s last wishes and how the funeral rites would be fulfilled, and when. This was talk left to the adults, so Taila, Nyx, and Atalo were excused to go to bed.

It was very late. Taila’s bed was a little bigger than Nyx’s, but it was squeaky and lacked a proper frame. Nyx offered to sleep on the floor, and the older girl refused, stating, “We’ll all fit just fine, Nyx. Don’t worry so much.”

Together they climbed under the sheets, Nyx on the left, lying on her side, Taila on the right, lying on her back, and Atalo sandwiched between them, facing his sister. The boy fell asleep almost immediately, and Nyx gazed at him with a strange combination of love and envy. Despite her exhaustion, both in mind and in body, she felt no closer to sleep. Taila was similarly awake, her eyes staring up at the ceiling. Nyx couldn’t tell in the low light if her friend was crying. Then she heard a wet sniffle and had her answer.

“The last thing I said to my mother was, ‘What would you like for breakfast tomorrow?’ Not, ‘I love you’, just…’What would you like?’ How could it be something so…mundane like that? She didn’t even answer me. She was…she was still breathing then. And then my A-pa came and said she wasn’t anymore. I was thinking of surprising her with something sweet–” she broke off with a sob, her head turning away.

Nyx reached over and touched her friend’s arm. She thought to say something, but found herself stuck. She could only think of all the things she couldn’t do or say—the affections that would have translated into soft caresses and gentle kisses, an almost fervent hope that proximity could squash whatever pain or sadness existed between them.

Taila turned her head back, taking Nyx’s hand in hers. She kissed it, then pressed it to her chest.  “Nyx, I love you. Thank you for being here. I know it wasn’t happy reasons that brought you here, but…thank you.”

“I’ll always be here, Taila.”

“And if you wanted more, I would give it to you. I would give you everything.” Then the girl stiffened. “…Gods, listen to me! She’s grieving over her mother, and I’m getting excited! I’m scum!

Nyx pulled back her hand hurriedly, and as she did so, her palm brushed her brother’s shoulder. He stirred.  She gave a start, her eyes falling onto his face. He didn’t open his eyes, his features still relaxed. Gently, she laid her hand on his arm.

“When dealing with others, there’s always a choice…but do I know of all the options yet?


Sleep came, though it was fitful, and Nyx later awoke to a dimly lit bedroom. The girl batted her eyes. It was still early, judging by the rosy sky, and Atalo was next to her. Taila, however, was gone. This made the girl sit up. Rubbing her eyes, she slipped out of the bed. The nightshirt Taila had lent was too big, so that it brushed well past her knees. She tiptoed into the hallway and dared to peek into the other bedroom. Taila’s mother was still as they had left her the night before, Terus curled up against her. It was custom for the surviving wife or husband to spend one last night in this way. But Taila was nowhere in sight.

Frowning, Nyx went out into the kitchen only to find the same case there. Outside, where the bee nests and small garden was kept, she found nothing. Then a thought entered the girl’s mind that chilled her blood.

“Oh, Taila no…”

Without even bothering to put on her clothes or fetch some shoes, Nyx ran. She ran through the village, past the rousing merchants and craftsmen, past the sleepy daikuts to the one place she knew her friend would go after last night.

Nyx found Taila sitting on a fence, one of her tuetri clubs over her shoulders as she stared at Killen’s daikut. She approached her, panting.

“Taila, don’t do this,” she managed to get out, before leaning on the fence to catch her breath.

The older girl didn’t even turn her head. “You need to get more active, Nyx. It wasn’t all that long a run from my house to Killen’s, was it?”

“Taila, don’t do this!”

“And why not?” Taila asked, her jaw tight as she frowned at her friend. “Why shouldn’t this shit-box get just what he’s been asking for all these years?”

“Because this is wrong,” Nyx said firmly. “Because this will bring no small amount of trouble for you and your father. Because this will do nothing to help me or Atalo!” She stepped closer, taking Taila’s face in her hands. Reluctantly, her friend met her gaze, and Nyx saw the tears in her eyes. “You aren’t doing this for me, I can see it in your eyes. I don’t want this, Taila. I…I care for you too much to let you do something like this!” She took her friend’s wrists and gently pulled. “Come on. Before someone sees us out here. Your A-pa needs you back home.”

The older girl slowly slid off the fence and with one last dark look over her shoulder, followed Nyx back to her home. Taila began making breakfast just as the funerary master arrived with his attendant and work bag. Nyx changed and left, promising Atalo she’d bring back some of his clothes before they left for erduk.

When she arrived at her home, the suns were over the horizon, their light painting the sky a richer gold. Nyx felt her stomach turn again beneath her smock, but with a staying hand and Atalo in her thoughts, she marched up to the door and went inside.

She found her mother sitting at the kitchen table, an untouched tea cup in her hand. She was dressed now, in a long dark gown, and her eyes were a craggy red, the eyelids puffier than even Taila’s had been.  She stood upon seeing Nyx, tears startling down her cheeks as her chin quivered.

“Nyx you’re back!” she breathed.

“Atalo and I need clothes and our school things,” Nyx said guardedly, her eyes turned away.

“Can you spare a moment? To…to talk?”

The teenager sighed. She looked at Fotini, her brows pressed up and together. “Mother, you need help. That’s all there is to say. You need to see Urian at the temple and find some way to…to deal with this.”

“Yes, I know that now. I was so afraid I’d lost you both…”

“You weren’t going to lose us…” Nyx mumbled. She crossed her arms and scuffed her shoe on the floor. “I just wanted you to see what Thad and I have been trying to tell you all this time.” Then with great pain, she added, “Maybe you had to be with Killen to see that.”

Fotini flinched as though struck. “I—it wasn’t…” she let out a harsh sigh, a shaky hand going to rub at her mouth as she hugged herself with her other arm.  “Nyx, I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t…I didn’t know who he was! It’s been years since I’ve seen that despicable boy!”

“That doesn’t make it any better,” Nyx said with a deep scowl.

“No, it doesn’t.” Fotini took a tentative step forward, then another. When Nyx didn’t move away, her mother enveloped her in a hug. “I’m sorry, Nyx. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

The teenager reached carefully around her mother’s waist and squeezed, her face turning into the older woman’s collar bone. “A-ma…promise me you’ll see Urian. I won’t mention any of this to Thaddeus when he comes, but promise me, or I’ll go to the temple myself!”

“I promise. I’ll do it Nyx, just…come home. I don’t like an empty house.”

“I know, A-ma. We’ll…I’ll think about it.”

“Okay. That’s okay.” The woman pulled back with a quivering smile, more tears slipping from her eyes. She turned her face toward the window, and with a wistful look, said, “I was just sitting there, and I was thinking…Your father is never coming home.”

The statement was so sudden that Nyx only batted her eyes.

Fotini looked at her daughter, wiping at her cheeks. “You’re so much like him, it frustrates and delights me at the same time. I don’t know what to say to you because of it. Alvis was…always a complicated man.” The woman chuckled. “I try to garden, like he once did. He had a beautiful spice garden you know, and we were never in short supply of herbs and new ingredients to use. The spices are all gone now. Our personal crops would yield more if I had a better mind for it.” She sighed, her smile waning. “I’m not very good at growing things.”

Nyx bit her lip, then touched her mother’s arm. “You do fine, A-ma.” When no further response came, she turned with the intention to get her and Atalo’s things, but then she stopped when she remembered something important. “A-ma, I thought you should know,” she paused and took a breath. “Taila’s mother died last night.”

“Oh gods!” The woman looked at her in genuine surprise, her hand at her throat. “How is Taila and her father doing?”

“As well as can be expected. I think they’re going to bury her soon.”

“I’ll be sure to do something for them, then.”

Nyx gave a nod and retrieved the items she sought, then left with a final hug from her mother. She ran all the way back to Taila’s. Being on the opposite side of the village from the erduk meant that she and Atalo had to hustle to make it in time for their day’s lessons. They stood in the kitchen with Taila for goodbyes.

“I wish I could stay here with you, Taila.”

“It’s okay, Nyx. I know how Leander gets with you. Just be sure to put a tack on Killen’s seat for me.”

“I’m sure that would go over well.”

Their laughter was weak and short-lived. It was hard keeping up the normal exchange when so many things about their lives were different now.

Nyx ruffled her brother’s hair. “I think I’m going to let Atalo go back home, just so that my mother doesn’t do anything rash, but I’ll come back here after erduk, okay? Do you want me to tell Ampelos?”

Taila nodded. “Yes. He should know. I’d do it myself but,” she thumbed weakly over her shoulder.

“It’s okay.” Nyx loitered, knowing she and her brother needed to hurry, but something kept her rooted. Chewing her lip she looked at her friend, who gazed back at her inquisitively. She considered hugging the older girl. Maybe even being so bold as to kiss her on the cheek.

The power comes in realizing there’s a choice, and in so choosing, one commits themselves to a path they are a lot more likely to succeed by.

She thought of her mother, her eyes on the garden outside their daikut, lamenting the lack of spices in her life since A-pa had disappeared.

Nyx turned and guided Atalo to the door. “See you tonight, then…”

“Yeah, see you Nyx.”

“Bye Taila!” Atalo cried.

Taila’s smile widened for a moment. “Bye lil’ flea.”

Nyx and Atalo arrived to erduk just in time. As Nyx went to her usual seat in Leander’s room, she paused to whisper into Ampelos’s ear to speak with her during their lunch break. He blushed a deep red and nodded. The girl felt Killen’s eyes on her, and rather than ignore him, she turned and stared at him. The teenage boy, who had been leaning onto his desk, straightened up, his smirk dying on his lips as he frowned. Nyx smiled at him slowly, her hand patting the bulge in her pocket from the night before.

The boy’s face fell, and he searched his pants. When he didn’t find what he was looking for, his eyes widened and he stared, open mouthed. The girl took a seat and tried to keep her body from shivering too much. With her leverage, she felt safe, at least for the time being.

“You’d think after seven years, Killen would learn to quit bumping into me. He’s really got to learn to read history, the cajeck.”

‘Nude’ by Radiohead, from the album ‘In Rainbows’. Self-released, 2007. []

Continue ReadingHoney & Spice

Artifacts of Childhood

For the FREE e-book versions of N is for Nyx and The Reflection (re-titled Reflections), please download them at!

Dramatis personæ:

Nyx – A precocious Ailuran often concerned with being inherently good and all the appearances that go with it.  Usually sullen or in some way melancholy as she often feels misunderstood or unappreciated, even by her family.

Elmiryn – A child born of noble blood.  Though she was made to live by such standards, the girl took after her mother in that she never cared nor believed in the conventions of noble life.  As a result, she can be a little too honest sometimes, is very tomboyish, and has an odd sense of humor.

Quincy – A shy girl, uncoordinated, and easily made to cry.  Never leaves her home unless forced.  She has a fascination with stories and loves hearing tales of heroes and heroines unburdened by the world. She is Hakeem’s quiet shadow.

Hakeem – Quincy’s older friend.  Is rough and tumble and has a quick temper.  He thinks Quincy is weird but finds her strangely attractive.  He dreams of what adult life is like to a great extent, and tries very hard to emulate his father, thus making him more serious than is typical for his age.


Act I

“The Reflection”

The Manard House knew something of an awakening when summer came around, because the first week of the month brought about a heavy surge of activity with the weeklong Ortian holiday.  The servants bustled putting up fresh curtains, lining the archways with golden wreaths, hanging up sun discs with beveled faces, and sprinkling potpourri along the windowsills. Three days into the special week, Warner was in his study making political arrangements for the new year, Brianna was trying to find some peace in her bedroom, painting, and Elmiryn was being fitted for a new birthday dress in her bedroom.  She found it hard not to fidget.

“Lady Elmiryn, I mean it, I don’t want to poke you.  Please be still.”  Her attendant, Julianna, was a pretty twenty-something with rich caramel colored hair that had streaks of bright gold here and there.  Her freckled nose wrinkled as she pinned up a bunch of baby blue silk.

The girl gave a melancholy sigh.  “Why must we do this now? Can’t we do this next week?”

“You know very well that your seventh birthday will have passed by then!  Don’t you want to look pretty for your party?”

“Don’t I always look pretty?” The girl asked guilelessly.  Her mother told her this so much that she had started to take it as a fact–and as most facts went, it lost its charm on Elmiryn.

She watched as a dust mote floated towards her face.  Her eyes crossed as it came too close for her to follow.  She heard Julianna laugh at her, and the girl gave a happy smile.  She loved making adults laugh.

“Yes, lady Elmiryn. You are very pretty. Now unless you’d like to be a very pretty pincushion you’ll mind my warning and cease your fidgeting!”

The next day, when Elmiryn was making her dolls swan dive off her dresser into a deadly vat of broccoli soup (smuggled in from the kitchens), her mother, Brianna, came into her room, Julianna and two slaves, a Santian and a Fanaean, behind her.

“Elle, we need to decide on a hairstyle for your birthday party…and what is that? Soup? What have we said about bringing food into your room!” The girl’s mother was dressed in a slate gray dress with jeweled shoulders, the cut opening at the front in an hourglass shape to reveal creamy lace. Wrapped about her waist was a glossy forest green ribbon that tied into a rose-shaped buttress in the back. An abalone clip pulled her warm brown hair back, and her ears held matching earrings. The woman’s face broke into her wide smile, and she sat on her daughter’s bed. “Oh, nevermind that. Come here, sweetest!”

Elmiryn would have protested, but Brianna knew that the youth was less likely to resist her request than Julianna’s. The girl pouted, but without an objection, she went to sit next to her mother, whilst Julianna stood off to the side. The slaves, each carrying a silver tray bearing hairdressing accessories, set their burdens onto the dresser. Then they turned in unison, bowed, and quietly left the room. The child attendant sat at the floor of her house mistress, and carefully she reached over and took up the white-bristled silver brush, which had a mirror fixed into the back of its head. The attendant held the mirror-side to the girl and her mother, and Brianna pondered the reflected image.

“What do you think, dear? What style do you wish to see on your birthday?”

“Can’t we just comb my hair?” Elmiryn mumbled, her lip pouting further.

“You know that isn’t an option. Come! Would you like to see braids? A bun? We can put flowers in your hair–now wouldn’t that be just darling?”

“Okay. Whatever you want me to look like, mother.”

Brianna frowned in the reflection. “Oh, Elmiryn! You make this such a chore! Not many little girls your age are given a chance to decide their appearance, you know.”

“She’s right, lady Elmiryn,” Julianna said earnestly. The girl’s eyes fixed on her attendant’s pretty face. “Take another look at the mirror. Pretend it’s magic, and whatever you imagine will appear. Now think of all the things you like–from art, from the stories we tell you, from what you see in the city–and think what would you like to see?”

Elmiryn’s frown deepened, but her lower lip pulled back to a contemplative curve. Her little hands went to the sides of the mirror, and her cerulean eyes lit up with thought. The girl took a deep breath. “I see…”

When the girl trailed off, her mother patted her knee. “Yes, Elle? What do you see?”

“I see branches sprouting out of my head!” Elmiryn giggled out. “And they’ll bloom into pretty red flowers!”

The attendant tried and failed to contain her laugh.

Brianna gave a suffering smile. “That’s…nice, dear. But I’m afraid we’ll have a little trouble growing that within less than a day, let alone getting your father’s approval for such a thing!”

Elmiryn’s pout returned full force. With a heavy sigh, she said, “Fine then. I see a ponytail.” She didn’t even look at the mirror this time.

Julianna gave an enthusiastic nod. “A ponytail is good, milady! Very elegant! Very pretty!”

“If you want flowers, we can make a crown for you, sweetest. But not red, I think. White is more appropriate.”

Elmiryn just let out another sigh.

Then the day of her birthday came. A small ball was held at the Manard estate, and the newly-turned seven-year-old was the center of all the attention. She sat aside her mother whilst Warner sat on Brianna’s left. Their head table was decorated with silver and gold linings and generous amounts of confection. Across the room was a long table weighed down with presents. Elmiryn stared at them longingly.

“Sweetest, your gifts won’t up and walk away,” Her mother murmured to her. “Why don’t you go play with your cousins?”

“Because they’re stinky,” Elmiryn said primly.

Brianna blinked down at her daughter. “Now why do you say that?”

“They play boring games and think they can bully me. Can’t I just open my presents?”

Her mother frowned reprovingly. “Now Elle, you know your cousins love you very much, and they came all this way to celebrate your birthday! Just play with them a while, sweetest, and I promise that the time will pass quickly.”

“But mother—”

“Elmiryn,” Warner said, his eyes managing to cut across at her even as he did not move his head. “Do. As. Your. Mother. Says.”

Elmiryn shot up very straight at her father’s look. The last time he’d looked at her that way, she wasn’t allowed to play outside for a week. “Yes, father!”

With that, the little girl slid from her seat, her puffy baby blue dress hissing with each step she took. Her eyes gave one last longing look toward the presents before they flickered to her four cousins gathered near it. There was Roark and Lydia, asymmetrical twins with pumpkin colored hair and wide slate-gray eyes flecked with gold. Then there was Berian, the dirty blonde with pickle-green eyes with red sauce on his white night shirt. And finally…

“Hi Adara…” the redhead mumbled as she approached her eldest cousin. Adara was nine-years-old and had long wavy brown hair.

“Hullo baby cousin,” Adara said, giving her best adult smile.

Elmiryn resisted the urge to scowl. “What are you playing?” she asked in as neutral a voice as she could manage.

“Family. Roark and Lydia are the babies. Berian is the father. You can be the mother if you’d like.”

At this, the seven-year-old blinked. “What are you going to be?”

“I’m like a director. Have you ever seen a play? I tell everyone what they’re supposed to do.”

“But don’t the father and mother say that?” Berian interjected sullenly. He was just a few weeks younger than Elmiryn, and the girl actually liked him quite a bit. They both liked racing and wrestling, and once, the boy had eaten an earthworm, which the girl still giggled about to this day.

Adara tilted her head back and gazed at him coolly. “How old are you, Berian?”

The boy drew himself up. “Six-and-three-quarters!”

“Well I’m nine-and-a-half, so I know more about Family than you do! That makes me director.

Berian’s shoulders slumped, defeated.

It went without saying that Elmiryn hated Adara. The older girl was bossy, snobby, and vindictive. It didn’t help that once her cousin had snitched on her when the redhead tried to sneak to a party being held at the slave quarters. That was the time Warner had barred her from the outdoors, all thanks to Adara.

Roark and Lydia, who wore matching white and black outfits with silver ribbons, exchanged looks. Elmiryn did not dislike the twins, but they were very much followers and had little to contribute to any game save to just nod their heads. Nothing was duller than two human dolls for playmates.

But Elmiryn wasn’t going to give over the night.

“Well it’s my birthday tonight, and I say, I’m the director,” she declared with chin thrusted out.

This earned her a sharp glare, but the others seemed to perk at the idea. Berian stepped forward quickly, grasping Elmiryn’s shoulder. “Yeah! It’s Elmiryn’s birthday! We have to do what she says!”

Adara huffed. “Well what does she want to do then?”

Elmiryn smiled, showing all teeth. “We can’t play Family without good toys…”


Within a few minutes, the children had managed to escape the watchful eyes of their attendants under Elmiryn’s leadership. Giggling at the audacity of their slipping away from supervision, the group followed the birthday girl from room to room, collecting items, before they finally ended in Elmiryn’s bedroom. There, they laid out their prizes on the girl’s bed sheet: a wooden toy horse, a small porcelain doll, a monocle, a pretty pink ribbon, and the silver mirror brush.

Elmiryn handed these out to everyone, but kept the brush for herself. “Okay, now we all have what we need!” She gestured near her toy box. “This is the children’s room,” she pointed toward her large bookcase, “That is father’s study,” she pointed at her small vanity dresser, “And this is mother’s room.” She waved the brush through the air. “Dinner will be ready soon! Everyone has to get ready. I’ll come around so that you can tell me what you want to look like.”

The children went off to their respective spaces, but in a few minutes, they were intermingling and slipping into their make-believe roles with excitement and giggles. Even Adara seemed to forget her earlier power struggle in favor of playing the haughty mother. Berian grumphed and harrumphed a lot, smoking a pretend pipe and squinting at everything through his monocle—-a very accurate depiction of his grandfather—-for his actual father had died years ago in the Ailuran war. The twins cooed and rolled around, playing with Elmiryn’s toys.

The redhead took to her role of “director” with relish.

“Roark, you have to pretend you’re a doggie. Of course children do that! I did when I was a child! And Berian, put your finger under your nose. There! Now you’ve got a mustache! Adara, look Lydia is crying. Stop being a bad mother and go make her feel better!”

When enough time seemed to have passed, Elmiryn announced it was dinnertime. She came around with her silver brush mirror and held it up to everyone. “Now what do you see yourself wearing tonight?”

Berian announced he was going to wear a cloak of snails. Roark and Lydia decided they too wished to wear a cloak of snails. Berian complained that the twins were copying him, so they changed to wearing diapers and golden crowns with big fat jewels. Adara whined that they were ruining the game. Elmiryn snapped that she wasn’t even trying to be a mother, just a snob. This made the older girl declare that they were all stupid children in real life, and she didn’t want to play with them anymore.

And just like that, the fun was over.

As her cousins left to return to the festivities, Elmiryn stayed behind to hide her stolen “toys” under her bed. A clear voice reached her from the doorway, and the girl froze, her face turning red. Turning, she saw Brianna and Julianna standing there—her mother with her hands on her hips, and her attendant with one hand over her mouth. Standing behind them with downturned heads were her cousins.

Snitches! Elmiryn thought with clenched teeth.

“Sweetest, come here please,” her mother said ominously.

The girl sighed and obeyed. Gripped in her hand was the silver brush.

Brianna raised an eyebrow at her as she reached down and took away the brush. “Elle, what, may I ask, were you doing with all those things?”

“Playing Family?” she mumbled.

“Are these things yours to play Family with?”


Brianna just shook her head with a slight smirk. “Sweetest…” With two fingers, she gave the girl a smack on the forehead that stung, and then pointed down the hall wearily. “Just get back to the party before your father sees.”

Elmiryn didn’t need telling twice. She ran, her cousins in tow, back to the guest hall where the partygoers were just settling in for their first serving of dinner. The redhead glared at Adara. “You snitched, didn’t you?”

“Did not!” The older girl snapped back. She pointed at the girl’s face. “It was your mother’s mirror brush that got us caught! She was looking for it to freshen up before dinner was served!”

Elmiryn pouted, but said nothing further. The rest of the evening went well enough, and Warner never heard of her daughter’s antics. That night, the girl received as presents: a new doll house, a rocking horse, many new dresses and accessories, and a young horse, which she excitedly named “Scabby” due to how the filly’s ruddy brown coat reminded her of the scab she had on her left knee (but this was vetoed by her mother and father both, who quickly renamed the animal, “Rose.”)

That night, when Brianna was tucking Elmiryn to bed, she stroked the girl’s hair and said with a smile. “Sweetest, mother has one more present for you. Are you ready?”

Her daughter gave an eager nod, all appearances of sleepiness fleeing her, and her mother laughed. From beneath the bed, she pulled out a slim white box, and held it out to the girl. Elmiryn took it and opened it quickly. She gave a small gasp.

Inside was her mother’s mirror brush.

“I know you liked it, so I wanted you to have it, Elle.”

Elmiryn gave a huge grin, hugging her mother. “Mama, thank you!”

Brianna laughed, hugging her daughter back. “Mother, not Mama…but you are welcome, Elmiryn. I love you very much.” She pulled back, holding the mirror side up to her daughter’s face. “Well? It’s a new year for you! You had fun playing Family with your cousins, didn’t you? And what role did you play? I think I see a very lovely wife in the future!”

The girl just blinked at her mother. “That’s not what I see.”

Her mother gave her a puzzled look. “Oh? Then what do you see?”

Elmiryn smiled at her mother as if she were being silly. “I see me, mother. Just Elmiryn.”

Brianna laughed again, a full and beautiful sound. She thought the girl was just being overly literal to make herself seem more mature. She kissed her daughter goodnight and left her to sleep. Elmiryn settled into her covers with the mirror brush clutched to her chest, more secure than she had ever felt before, because in her heart, she knew she had answered the very question her mother had meant.

What do you see?

I see me, the girl thought with a sleepy smile. Just me.


Act II

“The Watch and the Sword”

He scratched at the dried mud on his knee and felt the day’s heat reach its peak.  He was seated on a wicker basket with ashy legs stemming out straight as though daring anyone to walk over them.  His feet were like old man’s feet because he went around barefoot, despite his mother’s nagging to put on shoes.  Hakeem didn’t care.  He liked feeling the soil between his toes.  He wanted tough feet like his father’s. Ba-Kafeel was so powerful that the boy was certain none would dare cross him.

Habari-kuz, Hakeem.”

The boy looked up, his dark eyes meeting clear azure. “Habari, Quincy.”

The little brunette was dressed in a simple cream dress, her fine hair teasing her face as the wind played with it. Gripped in her petite hands was a rusty sword—a gift from her father, which she rarely parted with and which everyone tolerated because she could hardly lift it let alone swing it.  It was also notoriously dull, failing to make an impression even on the softest of wood. She made circles into the dirt with her toes. Quincy used to wear shoes until the village children teased her for her tender feet, and then she did away with them. It was not a little frustrating, waiting for her tender feet to catch up when they walked through the jungle sometimes. Even after a year, she was still tender-footed.

“Play?” the girl mumbled shyly, her eyes on the ground.

Hakeem looked past her to see Tobias poking his head out of their hut down the trail. At the boy’s notice, the man quickly pulled out of sight. He gave a crooked smile. “Play,” he returned with a nod.

In the months since Quincy had first arrived in Kimbia, she had yet to become fluid in Fanaean. She knew enough to communicate basic needs to the villagers, but she could hardly keep a conversation. Luckily for her, Hakeem was interested in learning Common, and so they shared a hybrid of the two languages.

The boy held up a finger and slipped into his family’s hut. Inside, Ma’Nguele was preparing dinner for the day, her face sweating over a large pot of iguana stew. Seated on the ground near the fire was his father, who frowned over scrolls. In his native tongue, he said to them, “MamuBabu, I am going into the jungle with Quincy.”

Ba-Kafeel looked up from his work. “You are going into the jungle?”

“Yes, Ba.”

“Wait.” His father stood, his cloth skirt slipping over his powerful thighs. He strode past Ma’Nguele to a small satchel behind her, from which he pulled out a small item. “You remember how I taught you to keep time, yes my son?” He held out his hand, and from it slipped a silver watch on a chain. “I want you both back here by the fifth hour. The suns are deceitful this time of year, and the night has become dangerous with the new jackal threat.”

Hakeem took the watch. “Yes, Babu. We will be back by the fifth hour, then.”

Ba-Kafeel smiled at his son and gave a rub of his curly head. “Have fun, and be safe.”

As the boy turned to leave, he heard his mother call after him, “And if you see any, bring back a bunch of plaintains! We are low.”

“Yes, Mamu,” he said over his shoulder.

Putting the watch chain around his neck, he went to Quincy and jerked his head toward the jungles to the north. “Let’s go,” he said in Common.

Together, the two children traveled through the village, where they passed other children playing. Hakeem waved to some of them, but Quincy just kept her eyes on the ground, her shoulders even hunching at the sight of some of the others. The boy didn’t blame her, but he didn’t think she helped her case by dragging around her rusty sword. The adults laughed about it, stating, “You always know where little Quincy goes for the line her useless sword makes in the dirt!” As much as Hakeem liked the girl, it frustrated him that such silliness followed him around.

As they left the village proper–the musical weave of Fanaean conversation, and the comforting aromas of stewing meats dissipating from around them–the two children breached the cool jungles. They took to a well-known trail, leading up a hill and past a grove of spiny gora-gora bushes, to a small waterfall.

Hakeem checked his watch. It was only one. Taking it off and placing it on the rocks near the treeline, he immediately ran up the steep hill to the top of the waterfall, his face grinning in anticipation of the jump he was about to make. Quincy watched him go with pressed eyebrows, her hands tightening around her sword’s hilt. Once at the top of the waterfall, the gentle stream flowing about his shins, Hakeem gave a wave. “Watch!” he called out.

With a deep breath, the boy took three steps back, and then with a whoop he did a flip off the cliff edge. He landed into the water with a big splash.

After returning to the surface, Hakeem looked to see that Quincy still had not joined him. He frowned. Normally the girl was backstroking in the water by now. “What wrong?” he asked, spitting water from his mouth.

The girl bit her lip and looked up at the top of the waterfall.

Hakeem’s eyebrows rose and he swam to the shore of the little lake. “Go up?” he asked dubiously. Quincy wasn’t afraid of heights, but she was notorious for getting hurt. The last time she had attempted to climb the steep hill, she had slipped and sprained her ankle.

Quincy didn’t respond. She only went to the hill going up to the top of the waterfall. Then with a grunt, she lifted her sword and stabbed it into the soil. Pulling herself up, she managed to pull the sword out, and though she wobbled dangerously, she did it again. Hakeem watched, fascinated, as she slowly made her way up to the top of the waterfall.

Once there, she looked back at him, panting. Then she grinned.

The boy could feel a warm funny feeling blossom in his chest, and with more excitement than was probably warranted, he cheered and clapped his hands.

Quincy jumped off the cliff with a high laugh, brighter and fuller than any he had heard in a long time.

They stayed and played for hours. The tree cover made it hard to see the passing of the suns. Hakeem didn’t think to look at his watch again until it became hard to see his own feet in the darkness.

Tai’undu!” the boy cursed. Dripping wet and shivering from the evening air, he snatched the watch from its place on the dry rocks. “Late!”

“Late?” Quincy returned, frowning. As there were no large predators in the jungles near Kimbia, they were used to being able to play even into the dark. But the girl didn’t know about the jackals that had come to the area.

Hakeem grabbed her hand, his father’s watch clenched in his other fist. “Run!” he said.

Together the two children ran through the jungle, their feet skipping over the rough but familiar terrain. Hakeem could see the lights of their home ahead. He picked up his speed, forgetting that Quincy was clumsy and still very tender-footed.

She cried out, tripping on something unseen in the dark. Hakeem lost his grip on her as she fell, and he skidded to a halt. “Quincy!”

That’s when they heard the beast growl.

Both children froze, their eyes wide as they turned toward the source of the sound, which came from amidst a collection of ferns at the base of a mango tree. Haunting eyes glowed from within the reaches of the leaves.

Hakeem tried to move slowly toward Quincy. “Quiet!” he whispered. “Slow!”

The girl said nothing, her eyes fixed on the animal that watched them. Her hands gripped tightly around her sword, and even in the dark, Hakeem could see her tremble.

He touched her arm and tried pulling her up. “Go! Quiet!”

Just as the girl began to get up to her feet, the animal burst forth, knocking both of them to the ground. Hakeem was the one who ended up on his back, and so the beast went to him first, snarling. Quincy screamed, and the boy gave a hoarse yell as he jerked his face away from the jackal’s snapping jaws. He managed to dodge one strike, but in the fraction of a second it took for the jackal to attack, the boy knew he would not be able to fend the animal off again, let alone get free of it.

It was around this time that Quincy hit it in the back of the head with her sword.

The jackal let out a yip, its body going weak just long enough for Hakeem to push it off of him. He scrambled to join Quincy, who was looking at the sword to the jackal and back as if she couldn’t believe what had just happened. The boy was equally impressed, and he stared at the girl with amazement and a strange sort of pride.

Then the jackal’s growls returned, and their attention snapped back to the situation at hand. Hakeem pulled at his friend. “Run! Run!” he shouted, but inwardly he knew the jackal was faster. They were dead. He should’ve listened to his Babu. He should’ve kept his eye on the time…

There was a loud rumble as the earth trembled beneath their feet. Both children stopped, struggling to keep their balance. Within a few seconds it all stopped, and both children looked to see that the jackal was gone, the soil churned and raised where it had once stood.

Tobias stepped out from the cover of trees, his face a displeased white mask in the darkness. “Children, come.”

Ducking their heads, they did as they were told.

Back at the village, both Hakeem and Quincy received lectures from their respective caregivers. The girl was sent to bed without supper and the promise of extra chores in the coming days. The boy was put over his father’s knee and switched.

The next day, Hakeem limped over to Quincy’s hut to find her outside, sullenly skinning potatoes. Lying next to her feet was her rusty sword. Still around his neck was his father’s watch, and Hakeem was very conscious of it. He had five minutes to say what he needed to say before he had to do his own chores.

Habari-kuz, Quincy.”

The girl looked up at him, startled. “H-Habari, Hakeem.”

He smiled at her. “Thank you.”

She blinked at him, “For what?”

Hakeem tapped the back of his head. “Sword.” He pointed at it. “Save me.”

“Oh…that…” She shrugged and said, “I don’t know how I lifted it! I was just so scared the jackal would hurt you!”

The boy didn’t understand her words exactly, but he got the gist of her meaning. His smile widened. “Quincy strong and brave.

Quincy blushed and looked down at her skinned potatoes, but Hakeem could detect the hints of a pleased smile on her lips before he turned to return to his hut.



“N is for Nyx”

Nyx was in the middle of practicing her Common alphabet when Atalo shoved a banana in her ear.

Koen!” she screamed, standing up so fast that her chair was knocked back onto the floor. Mushy banana bits clung to her hair and she tried to bat these away, managing to get her palms and the side of her face covered in sticky slime. “Ugh, you little monster, what’s wrong with you!?”

Atalo, meanwhile was laughing so hard his face was beet-red. Thaddeus was also laughing from his place in the hallway entrance. “He got you good!”

“This isn’t funny!” Nyx shouted, her eyes teary. “Why doesn’t he do these things to you?

Her older brother shrugged. “Because I don’t react to him like you do.”

Nyx bared her teeth and whirled on Atalo, her hands before her like claws. “Well let’s see if he likes this reaction!?”

Atalo screamed, his eyes wide, but he was still smiling as he scrambled to dodge his sister’s violent lunge. They ran around the kitchen table, displacing chairs. Fotini came through the door just as Atalo ran for it. He collided into his mother, and Nyx just managed to slide to a halt. With his new refuge found, the little boy clung to the woman’s leg. Their mother stared at them all, a basket of leeks on her arm.

“Sweet Aelurus, can my house not be the host of chaos every time I step away?”

“It’s like this even when you’re here,” Thaddeus mumbled with a smirk.

“And after dinner, when you’re arrogance comes running like water from your ass, do not ask you’re A-ma to help you wipe it, Thaddeus,” her mother said with a sharp look.

“A-ma! You would poison your own son?”

“Poison? Gods no! I was only referring to your tendency to eat like a pregnant pig.”

Nyx laughed as her mother moved around her, the older woman grunting as she dragged Atalo along. The boy, in his stubborn refusal to let go, had wrapped his legs around hers. Thaddeus just held up his hands and backed into the hall, where he was no doubt going to retire to his room until supper. Fotini glanced at her daughter over her shoulder as she set her basket on the counter.

“Now what was the commotion about?” She gave a weary sigh. “I imagine it has something to do with the slime all over the side of your face?”

Nyx pointed at her little brother, who only stuck his tongue in response. “He smashed a banana into my ear!” A thought occurred to her, and she returned to her place at the table, where her Common alphabet book still lay open. Large chunks of banana were on the pages. The girl’s eyes teared up as she stomped a foot. “He got it on my book!”

Fotini massaged her brow with one hand. “Atalo, apologize.”

“Sorry, Koah.” But the boy’s face was lit with an impish smile as he ran off to his room.

“That’s all you’re going to do?” Nyx whined. “Some of the words on my book are even ruined!”

Fotini looked at the girl over her shoulder. “Really? Which ones?”

The girl sniffled back more tears as she pointed at the page. “These ones! The first letters of the Common alphabet and some of the other vowels too!”

“Vow-els? Are those really so important?”

“This book translates Common to Ailuran, of course it’s important A-ma!”

Fotini closed her eyes with a suffering expression. “All right, all right, my little night shard.” She fished into her apron pocket for some coins, then held them out to the girl. “Here. Why not go buy a new book at the market?”

Nyx scowled. “But they only sell Ailuran books!”

The woman let out a sharp hiss and grabbed the girl’s hand. She forced the coins into her palm. “Nyx, enough. A-ma’s head hurts and she’d like to get started on dinner before the next disaster strikes!”

Nyx’s face crumpled and she slammed her fist onto the table. “This isn’t fair! This book was A-pa’s, and you don’t even care that Atalo ruined it! You never care!”

Fotini stared at her daughter, taken aback. “Nyx! That isn’t–”

But the girl snatched the book off the table and was running out the door.


“Well, you can say goodbye to your ears, then.”

Nyx stared at her friend, mortified. “You’re not helping Taila. Why would you say something like that?”

“Because it’s true?” Taila gave an unconcerned shrug.

They were sitting on a rock near Taila’s home, the hum of bees comforting in the mild weather. The suns peered around large white fluffy clouds and the breeze was gentle. There was no erduk that day, and they were all glad for a variety of reasons.

“Maybe…maybe she won’t pinch your ears?” Ampelos said, twirling a long piece of grass between his fingers.

The girl smiled at him gratefully. “Thanks, Amp.”

He looked at Nyx shyly before ducking his gaze with a blush. “M-Maybe she’ll just give you extra chores instead?”

At this, Nyx’s face fell.

Taila threw her arm over the girl’s shoulder. “Aw, c’mon Nyx! Your A-ma tried!” The older girl gestured at her friend’s hand, which still gripped the coins Fotini had forced unto her. “You can get a new book with the money she gave you!”

Nyx scowled and slid off the rock. “You can’t replace this book. It was special…” She looked at her book in one hand—the cover was a dull sea-green, the faded title a tired wine-red that said in Ailuran, “Common Alphabet”—and the coins in her other hand. Baring her teeth, Nyx pulled the coins back, ready to throw them out into the high grass when something shiny out of the corner of her eye caught her attention.

Blinking, she turned her head to see Marq coming down the trails from the northwestern hills, his large pack on his back, jingling with trinkets. As he neared, the girl saw his slim face break into his usual haggard smile. “Kitten! It’s good to see you again!” he said in Ailuran. “Have you been practicing your Common as usual?” this he said in Common.

The girl swallowed and held out her book, tears pricking her eyes again. “Hullo Marq. Yes. I try, but stupid brother got food on alpha-bet book. Made ink bad. Can not read some words anymore…”

The elf frowned. “Must’ve been cheap ink to get so easily fouled up! What did he get on your pages?”

“A…how do you say? Anade?

“Ah. A banana,” the elf chuckled. “Your Atalo I take it.”

“Yes!” Nyx snarled as her friends joined her at her sides, their eyes curious. “He is a cajeck!

“Nyx,” Ampelos whispered. When the girl looked at him, he mumbled, “Maybe ask the elf if he can help?”

Her eyes widened. “Good idea, Amp!” Returning her eyes to Marq, she asked. “Can you fix?”

The elf merchant blinked down at her. “Ah, I don’t know kitten.”

She held out the coins. “I have money!”

The man bit his lip at the outstretched hand. Then he gave a small shrug and said, “Okay. Give it here.”

Nyx handed him the money and book eagerly, turning the latter to the page where the banana had fallen. Marq looked over it shrewdly, scratching at the paper. After a minute, he snapped it shut and handed the item back. “Nope. Nothing I can do.”

Taila hissed at him, not understanding Common but understanding enough to know the merchant’s meaning. “If he can’t fix it, then he should return your coin, Nyx!”

Nyx looked at the elf imploringly. “Marq can no do anything?”

The man rubbed the back of his head, “Uh. No. No, I can’t, Kitten. I’m sorry.” He thumbed eagerly at his backpack. “But I have more books in my backpack if you’d like to see!”

Taila kicked him in the leg, but Nyx was already walking away, her heart sunk.

Nyx pushed her food around her plate at supper, and though Thaddeus, Fotini, and Atalo conversed animatedly, she did not come out of her shell, not even when her little brother moved Thaddeus’s plate of curds beneath his elbow. Quietly, she cleared the table, then retired to her room. Her mother watched her go with a sigh.

Later, Fotini appeared at Nyx’s bedroom entrance. “Little night shard?”

Nyx didn’t answer. She lay on her bed, staring up at the ceiling.

She heard her mother slip past her bead curtain and felt her sit on the bed. “Sweet Aelurus…I didn’t have to deal with such behavior from Thad until he turned fourteen at the latest! But then again, I forget how much more mature you already are when compared to him at eleven, so…” she trailed off. A few moments passed, and the woman took a deep breath. “Nyx.” The name came with a great rush of air, and Fotini shook her head. “I’m sorry I was insensitive about your A-pa’s books. I know they mean a lot to you. I’ve talked to Atalo about it, and he won’t be allowed near any food unless it’s mealtime and I’m there to watch him eat it.” The woman rolled her eyes. “Gods, that I was born such a wild child.”

Nyx rolled onto her side, facing away from her mother. Fotini looked at her, pained. Touching her daughter’s little foot, she said quietly. “Yes, Atalo is wild, but I love him for his antics, as I love you for yours, my little night shard. I love that you love books and that you are so capable of learning so much. I want you to know that I do care for you and the things you find important, but sometimes we must compromise, yes? It’ll be an exercise for the both of us, kitten.”

The girl looked at her mother. Slowly she sat up. “A-ma. I’m sorry I ran away.”

“You were frustrated and hurt, my love,” Fotini said, smiling as she hugged her daughter. “I will try to be a better mother. I will try, so please forgive me when I fail?”

Nyx turned her face into the woman’s neck. “Okay…”

The next day after breakfast, Thaddeus opened the front door, intent on checking a squeaky window from the outside, when he came across something on the front step. Frowning he picked it up and came back inside. “Nyx?” he called.

The girl was practicing her Common handwriting from the good pages of her alphabet book. “Yes?” she said, blinking up at him.

Thaddeus held out a small scroll to her, which was attached to a leather pouch. “This is for you.”

Nyx blinked and took the items from him. Opening the pouch first, she was surprised to find it was filled with the same coins her mother had given her the day before. Turning next to the note, she unfurled it and read the shaky Ailuran,

Dear Nyx,

You’re friend was right. I shouldn’t treat my best customer with such shoddy service. I had no right to take your coin when I couldn’t perform the task you wished of me, so here is a once-in-a-lifetime refund! But you know, I went poring over my personal collection of books, and I realized that maybe all it took was a bit more effort from me. So here is a list of the words ruined in your book, alphabetized, with examples in both Common and Ailuran. You’re lucky, kitten, that there was only one page that saw your brother’s terror! Otherwise, I would have had to give you something else for free…perish the thought!

Your Trusty Provider,


Following this was a short list of words and examples in both languages, as the elf had promised. Nyx was grinning so hard, her face ached.

“What was it?” Thaddeus asked, pulling a chair out next to his sister.

The girl slipped the note into her alphabet book and took up her leather pouch. “Nothing! I’m going shopping!” the girl exclaimed, still smiling.

The soldier watched her go with wide eyes. “Damn, what’s the rush?” Then he sat up straighter in his chair just as his sister ran out the door. “Oh! Hey! You aren’t going to see that filthy elf are y–!” he was cut off as the door slammed shut behind Nyx. Thaddeus let out a hissing breath, his eyes turning onto the note that his sister had slipped into her book. Pulling it close to him, the man opened it, and his eyes were drawn to one thing on the note…

A is for Always, as in, “Nyx will always love her family, and will always be loved in return.”

Continue ReadingArtifacts of Childhood

Break Time: Pain Chasing Agony…

Life had become quiet in the Author’s mind.

After another sad but expected family death had visited her life, the writer had become content to realign her energies to become more positive and healthy. It sounded like something out of a chick flick, but the Author didn’t care about the appearance of it, even if her Characters did. She watched cat videos, sitcoms, and cartoons. She exercised and cooked her own food. She tried to find things to laugh about.

And in turn, she made Quincy grumpy as hell.

“She’s driving me nuts,” the wizard intoned one day in the break room.

Elmiryn was sitting next to her,  balancing an empty Coke can on her head. “Who is?”

“You know who…”

“Okay. But why? Would you rather be watching the Lars von Trier marathon with Nyx, again?”

Quincy paled. “Gods no! A person can only take so much art house creepiness!”

“Hey, hey! Remember Antichrist? Okay, okay–who am I?” Elmiryn scrunched up her face and said in an eerily accurate voice, “Chaos…reigns…”

The wizard smacked the can off of her head. “Damn it, Elmiryn! Now I’m going to be thinking about the self-disemboweling fox for the rest of the fucking day!”

“You’re going to think of that and not the genital mutilation–?

Quincy stuffed her fingers into her ears. “LA! La, la, la, la, la! I can’t hear you!”

The other woman just laughed and wiggled her fingers at Quincy as though she were trying to bewitch her. “You can’t unsee what has been seen!”

“Idiot!” Quincy smacked Elmiryn’s hands and stood from the table. She pressed her wrists to her eyes. “Ugh. Why are we just sitting here in limbo while the Author sorts out her ‘feelings?’”

Elmiryn shrugged. “The hell should I know? When it really comes down to it, we are the Author’s feelings. She can’t just pick up our story and start writing willy nilly if we’re all out of sorts, now can she?”

“That’s stupid,” Quincy snapped, leaning onto the counter. She glared at the polished silver handles of the cabinets, the garish assortment of refrigerator magnets, the coffee stains along the counter surface. Her ears tweaked to the dull cut of the ceiling fan subtly marking the passing time. “People write to make sense of life. We can help her, if she’d just give us a chance!”

“Oh, so I suppose Quincy the Orphan can help understand what it’s like to lose a grandparent? To have that pain chase the agony of having a family member ripped out of your life without any warning?”

“Her aunt died last year! That was months ago!”

It still hurts,” Elmiryn bit out, her face going red and her eyes flashing like blades.

Quincy turned to stare at her, taken aback. The redhead quietly met her gaze.

“It still hurts,” she said again, quieter. “I know. I’ve lost people that way too, and it never stops hurting. You just make room for it, because you can’t rationalize it. Not through science, and not through art. It just is. Let the Author deal with it, Quincy. She’ll get back to us eventually.”

The wizard broke eye contact. The ceiling fan once again took the doleful role of filling in the void of sound.

Thwip, thwip, thwip…

“I know what it’s like.”


Elmiryn blinked at Quincy. The woman in question glanced at her, her thumb idly picking at a coffee stain.

“I know what it’s like to lose someone suddenly, too. My mother…” the wizard’s voice trailed for a moment. “The Morettis, I meant to say. When Paulo’s parents died…I didn’t know how to deal with it. So I didn’t try. I just kept doing what I knew how to do. That’s why I became rivals with his brothers. I let my greed take over.”

“Not your greed. Your fear. You didn’t want to feel what they felt. In the end, you just grieved differently…” Elmiryn murmured.

Quincy nodded. “You’re right. I’m not suited to help the Author with what she’s going through right now. That’s not in my Character. But I know pain too, Elmiryn.”

The woman nodded. After a moment, her lips puckered in thought. “Soooo…are you going to tell me you’re human, too?”

The wizard rolled her eyes and smirked. “Bite me.”

A pause. “Hey…You mentioned your mother.”

The smirk faded. “Can’t. Status quo.”

The warrior snapped her fingers. “Damn. Guess I’ll just have to wait till our story continues.”

“Yep. I will say this, though.” Quincy turned so that she was leaning back against the counter. She crossed her arms over her chest, her eyes drifting to the ceiling fan. “The dead do not suffer tragedy. The living do.”

“Amen,” Elmiryn muttered, reaching for her soda can under the table. The chair creaked as she she went for it. She straightened, turning the aluminum can in her hands and observing how the cheap light caught the contours.

Another stretch of silence.



Quincy turned her head. Elmiryn was balancing the soda can on her head again.

“Do you think the Author will watch more videos of that Japanese cat?” she asked.

“Maru? You mean that fat cat that dove head first into a diet box?”

“He’s not fat, he’s a Scottish Fold!”

“What the hell is a Scottish Fold?”

“It’s a cat pure breed!”

“Ooh-ho! Nyx has turned you into a cat person!”

Elmiryn grinned. “What can I say. I like my pussy.”

Quincy smacked the can off of the other woman’s head again.

She nearly missed, she was laughing so hard.

Continue ReadingBreak Time: Pain Chasing Agony…

Breaktime: Distractions

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Nyx stomped into the common room, her eyes ablaze. “Where is everybody!? I’m the only one on set!”

Her eyes fell onto Elmiryn at the computer. “Elle, what are you doing?”

Elmiryn didn’t even turn her head. “Huh? Oh. I’m playing Bioshock Infinite. Nyx you gotta see this. There’s this girl named Elizabeth, and she can—”

Nyx grit her teeth and turned her eyes toward the living room. There she saw Lethia, Quincy, and Hakeem all staring up at the widescreen television. “And what are you three doing??”

“Watching Legend of Korra,” Lethia said with a glance over her shoulder. “We hadn’t watched it yet. Omigosh, Nyx, it’s sooo—!”

Nyx pulled her hair. “You guys! We have an update to make! People are waiting!”

The girl nearly fell over at the chorused response she received.

“But we’re almost done!”

No, really guys! I’ll get back to it. I don’t know what happened this week. I got…well…distracted. 😛

–Illise Montoya

Continue ReadingBreaktime: Distractions