Cold Burns


He sighed and tilted his head back, watery eyes fixed to the jagged horizon. He sat outside the local hostel, a squatted pile of architecture, fashioned from mud cement and baked brick, that nested an unpleasant scent in his sensitive nose from the damp atmosphere. Across the road, which was churned and sloshed with ice and mud from merchant carts and caravan marches, was a one-story building built from redwood lumber.  Icicles hung from the eaves of the gray tiled roof. Through the open shutter windows, the rough guffaws of drunken men made his lip curl. It was not their humor that put him on edge–it was the slim degree between fun and danger that caused the friction to his nerves. She had said to wait, so he’d wait–even though he’d told her that it would be better if he had gone in with her.  But she was insistent.

“No, Argos.  You’ll put everyone on edge!  I’m just across the way, so don’t worry about me, okay?  I’ll be back within the hour.”

The dog’s eyes shifted and he let out a great long exhale.  The three suns had crawled along the sky, but not quite far.  An hour had not passed yet, though he felt it near.  He shifted on his haunch, lifting his large paws one at a time to gnaw away the frost that formed between his toes.  His thick fur kept him warm, and he was used to the cold–but he couldn’t run as well if his paws were frozen.

Satisfied that both paws were freed of their frigid adornments, Argos’s dark gaze shifted once more to the building across the way.  It had no sign.  Many of the places here didn’t.  They tended to get destroyed within a night.  Dolmensk was little more than a cultivated camp filled with rough adventurers and shady brigands seeking respite from their “work”.

He thought about trumbling in, unannounced.  But Lethia had said to wait…

So Argos waited.


She was seated at a planked wooden table, so poorly slapped together that she lost a fritter through one of the great gaps.  Her lip pouted at this loss as she eyed its descent to the sticky floor.  She sighed and sat back in her squeaky chair.  She adjusted the spectacles on her nose and gave the older man across from her as confident an expression as she could manage.  Adults tended to respond better to someone who sounded like they knew what they were talking about.

“So, as I was saying, sir…there’ll be a sizable payment for your help.  I can offer some of my possessions as collateral, and you would later receive your money in whatever fashion you wish.” The girl smiled after saying this, feeling pleased with herself.  For a moment, she thought she sounded like–

“What can you offer as collateral, little one?”  The man asked, scratching at the blister on the corner of his mouth.  He had a swarthy face and red eyes with funny yellow blossoms on the whites.  His shirt was possibly white once, but sweat and dirt had stained it a foul sort of tan.

At the man’s question, Lethia faltered.

“Umm…I have a number of alchemical items, as well as valuable casting tools that, in the right market, are quite–”

“You haven’t got anything.” The man said, bored.  He stood, taking up his tricorn hat from the table.

Lethia stood, stammering.  “N-No!  Wait!  Please, I’m sure we can work something out!”

The man paused, his hat hovering near his head.  He turned, his gaze now a leer.  “Well, miss…there’s always your natural assets to consider.”

The girl moved back, her face turning repulsed.  “I’m just a girl!”

The man crossed his arm, looking her up and down as he licked his purple lips.  “I know, miss…but just to be sure, you’ve never been with no one, eh?”

“Shove off.”

A young man came between them, his head tilted back so that he looked down the length of the his nose at the other man.  He had dark wavy hair that was swept back, and bronze skin.  This appeared somewhat comical as the youth was at least five inches shorter than the brute.  But his hand gripped the handle of a rapier, and Lethia blushed at the strength that tightened his back.

The thug reared back, his horrible eyes turning to circles.  “Oh…Paulo…hey…sorry.  Sh-She with you?  I-I didn’t know.” He put on his hat and backed away, both hands up.  “Sorry.  It won’t happen again.  You tell your brothers I said ‘lo.” He leaned over to the side and bowed awkwardly at Lethia.  “My deepest apologies, miss.”  Then he turned and fled out the door, knocking a drunkard over in his haste.

Laughter followed him.  The young man turned around, an amused smile on his face.  The girl’s heart skipped a beat.  “Ha!  Did you see that snake run?”

Lethia smiled at him nervously.  “Yes…You had such an affect on him!  Are you well known around here?”

“Yeah, you could say that.  Me and my brothers have a bit of a reputation.  People know not to mess with us.”

“And you came to my rescue!  Goodness, I’m lucky!”  Lethia giggled, and tucked a strand behind her ear.

The young man tutted, his eyes squinted in mirth.  “No.  I wouldn’t say this is luck…”  He gave a low bow.  “My name is Paulo, as you might have heard.”

“Lethia,” the girl said, giggling again. The girl offered for the young man to sit, and he did so, his smile broadening.  “I’ve…been asking around.  I really could use with some help–only…well, I keep running into men like the one you just scared off!”

“You need help?”  Paulo quirked an eyebrow and leaned forward.  His hand concealed some of his mouth as he rubbed at his chin with his ring and pinky finger.  “…With what, lia?”


Argos yawned, bored at having to watch the unwashed denizens tumble back and forth through the icy road.  He licked away the icicles that clung to his muzzle and was about to shift again to pass some gas, when his ears perked to two male voices down the way.  They were low murmurs, and he would have otherwise ignored them, but certain key words caught his attention.

“…he comes out with Syria’s apprentice, we’ll head out right away, alright?  You make sure to keep your hands to yourself and your mouth shut.  Understand?”

Argos turned his head, dark eyes blinking.  He saw two men not far off, a set of crates separating him from them.  He couldn’t smell them, they were downwind.  Both were armed with rapiers, the younger looking one also equipped with a pistol, which he kept one hand on at all times.  The young one kicked at the ice on the ground, though the action held little conviction.

“Dist’agea, ya!” He said with mild exasperation.  But there was laughter in his voice. “Me teshié! I am not some idi’ute, y’know!  This isn’t the first quarry I’ve snatched!”

The older one, the one with meaner eyes and his hair pulled into a short tail in the back, smirked at him.  “Oh? Last time, that girl with the jablongos certainly did a number on you.”

At this, his brother scratched at his jaw and shrugged. “Ah well…what can I say?  I love my lias…”

“Tch…just make sure this lia has eyes only for Paulo.  Between the two of you, the world’s women would be doomed.”

The younger man turned and looked directly at Argos.  His large smile lessened, and he turned back to his brother, thumbing over his shoulder.  “Ey…it was good we found that mongrel, ya?  I would’ve hate picking through this pit of a village town.”

“Certainly hard to miss, isn’t he?  Even with the white fur?”

“What do you think happened to him?”

“Who knows?  Not even the marshal had an answer.”

“Think we can make some coin off of him, after the lia is locked up?  Maybe we can pawn him off to some research guild.”  Argos tensed up, but tried to keep the growl from slipping his lips.  They didn’t know he understood what they were saying.

The older one shook his head, waving the thought away.  “One thing at a time, brother.”  He slapped lightly at the young one’s shoulder with the back of his hand, his eyes alighting on the bar doorway.  “Eh.  Look.  Here they come.”

Argos smelled them before the man saw them, thanks to a breeze that lifted up from the East.  Lethia was on Paulo’s arm, giggling, her cheeks pink.  The boy looked close to her age, perhaps older, with her large pack on his other shoulder and a large smile on his face.  He reared back at their scent, then pushed forward into a trot, a woof coming up his throat as his nose flared.  The girl smiled at him and knelt to say hello properly, but the young man took a large step back, his smile wiping away.  Argos stared at him, then looked back at Lethia.  He could smell it between them…

The girl held him at either side of his head, lightly scratching behind his ears.  “Argos,” she breathed. “I’ve found some people to help us!”

The dog bumped his nose against her chin, whining.  When their eyes locked, he felt something tickle at the base of his neck and around his sinus.  He spoke to her, in the only way he knew how.  Images, feelings, simple thoughts that echoed and skipped between them.

Bad Men.

That pistol aimed at…

[you like him?]

…the both of US!

They know, they know,

[you LIKE him?]

they know about

mistress Syria!



about “quarry”.

Just down the way.

Look, look, look–

down the road,

they look just like

[why do you like him?]

This Boy.

Lethia’s hands stilled in his fur, their touch sliding down to lightly rest against his chest.  The dog sighed and tilted his head to the side.  When crouched, the girl actually came a little shorter than he did, but she seemed to sink in on herself, losing an inch as her eyes misted and her lips bunched and quivered.


No. No. No.


They can’t know!

They think I’m a normal dog.




Lethia nodded and turned to look at Paulo’s knees.  “Can I see my pack for a moment?  I want to put on some cream.  The cold, it’s horrible.”

“Oh.  Sure.”  Paulo shrugged off her bag and set it down next to her.  “Um…is…is your dog friendly?”

Argos growled pointedly.

Lethia laughed, though the sound grated on the ears.  “He’s just…y’know.  Protective.” She opened the flap, her green eyes shifting to Argos from the side as she reached in with trembling hands and rifled through her belongings.  There was the clink and chink of some of her alchemy tools and dining pieces.  She soon pulled out a small, circular tin case.  Next she took up her waterskin which hung at the side of her bag by a leather tie, and dashed water over her hands.

“What’re you doing?” Paulo asked over her.

Lethia glanced up at his chest, her glasses having slid down her nose to leave her eyes exposed. “The cream I have is actually a thick paste–an odd elven mix.  I have to use water to activate it.  Keeps from spilling in my bag.”  She opened the tin case and scooped out a small amount of what looked like soft white clay into her right palm.  The girl then closed the tin, gingerly, trying to keep the paste in her hand from smearing, then put the little item away.  When her hand came back out of the bag, it looked as though it were still holding something.

The boy didn’t notice.  Argos guessed from the quizzical look on Paulo’s face that the boy knew nothing of feminine toiletries.  The young man just gave a confused smile and looked to where his brothers were, waving them over.  “My brothers were waiting for me outside.  They’re just down there.  Let me introduce you.”

Lethia looked Argos in the eyes, her breathing quiet, but fast and shallow.  “Now?” she breathed.

The dog gave a jerk of a nod.


Lethia took the match she had concealed and struck it against the rough of her bag strap.  The match lit with a spit of fire.  She then rose to her feet, twisting her body to face Paulo in full, her hand which held the incendia–a white clay used in starting controlled fires–offered up, open palm, as she brought the match to it–all of this done in one fluid movement.  The clay ignited into gray and white flames, just a fireball held in her hand, which was kept safe by the water she had doused over her skin.  Lethia was careful to make sure her long wheat locks were no where near her hand when she inhaled, and with all the force her lungs could manage, she blew at the flames.

Paulo’s face drew blank, and he reached for his rapier reflexively, but his countenance was lost behind the curtain of white fire.  He screamed and jerked back.  Lethia’s heart hammered against her chest, but she didn’t stop to see if he was okay.  Taking up her bag, she pushed into a run.

As this went on, the girl saw her dog out of the corner of her eye–saw him barrel into two men, who had been approaching them.  They shouted and she heard metal ringing.  As she fled down the road, feet sloshing through the dirty ice, past the new onlookers who stood in her way, she heard screaming, and she faltered in her run to look back over her shoulder.  Argos was on top of one man, young, whose arm seemed pinned between himself and the dog.  The dog also had the other man, the older looking one who had tried to crawl away to his lost sword, by his boot.  He was pulling and tugging, white fur ruffled as he worried his catch now and again.

Lethia stumbled to a stop, even as she saw Paulo, eyes unfocused, bits of his hair and one eyebrow smoldering, turn and begin to tumble in her direction.  He looked dazed, but livid, and the ring of his rapier made the girl take a large step back.  But she couldn’t let Argos get hurt.  She couldn’t leave him behind.  “Argos!” She screamed, hands clasped to her chest, body doubling as she put everything she had into her call.  “Argos, stop it! Come on!”

The dog let go, his head popping up as he looked her way.  Then with a booming bark, the dog reared back and pounded his paws into the back of the young man beneath him.  The unfortunate fellow let out a great “Oof!” before his head fell against the icy ground, still.  The dog bounded off of him, and next trounced on the older man, who had once again sought to retrieve his lost weapon.

Then the dog turned and with great reaching bounds came running to Lethia, whose attention had returned to Paulo.  When the boy was close enough, he brandished his rapier and snarled.  “You could’ve killed me!”

Lethia’s face grew hot.  She screeched at Paulo, her hands clenched to tight fists.  “How dare you!  After the way you tried to betray me, losing an eyebrow was the least that–”

But her words were cut short when Argos rammed into Paulo from behind, his head dipped low to better scoop his body up when his legs flew out from underneath him.  The young man shouted as he tumbled over the dog, and Argos slowed to bark at Lethia.

The girl quickly obliged, but not without one last glance over her shoulder.


Bursting through the little crowd that had gathered to watch, the pair veered off the main road to take to the alleys–through dripping pathways, iron gates, and garbage.  Away from the buildings of timber and brick, with black smokestacks and churned roads of ice where chickens roamed, and the destitute slept against crates and barrels.

Evening came and the village town of Dolmensk was well behind them.

Lethia gazed back at it, her lenses held delicately in her hands as her green eyes traced the outlines of the shadowed buildings with mixed feelings.  “Where are we going now, Argos?  Who will help us?  We have less than three weeks before…” she stopped, her voice made into a ghost of fog that drifted off with the wind.  The dog woofed, and Lethia knelt by him, startled out of whatever reverie she’d slipped into.  Her eyes fixed to his.


By Witch’s Alley.

Dangerous, but fast.

Bad if we take the merchant road.

Worse if we stay.

The girl nodded, shivering as the flashes of thoughts flew through her brain.  “Okay.”  She stood and buttoned up her winter coat.  She adjusted her collar to better conceal her face from the wind, fingers numb and clumsy.  Then she scratched Argos behind the ear and smiled as she put her glasses in her pocket.  “It’s a good thing I have incendia.”  She started to walk, toward the almost snow-covered road that dipped down into a narrow pass between two great bluffs.  “I haven’t used any of it yet–so we should be good for a long while.  Right, Argos?”

The dog remained quiet.  Lethia looked back at him, confused.  “Argos?”

Argos sighed and trotted to catch up with her, then bumped the girl in the side.  He looked up at her, and she smiled at him again.

“Looks like it’s just you and me, Argos.”

His mind flashed to Paulo, smiling.  To Lethia, smiling back.

The dog grumbled.

Yes…For now…

Continue ReadingCold Burns

Chapter 14.3


Hakeem exhaled deeply, and felt the chain on him shift down a portion. He did not look up as he moved his fingers, which reached achingly around the bulge of his numbing palms.

His middle finger managed to curl underneath the rope.

“You realize, of course,” The wizard said, leaning back to look Arduino fully in the face. “That the likelihood of this plan succeeding is not even in the double digit percentage range?”

Hazelnut eyes narrowed at him, and the crossbow in Arduino’s hands raised a fraction. “Quiet, calgato,” he snapped.

Hakeem raised a brow at him. “You want your brothers to rot in a prison for the rest of their lives?”

Arduino did not respond but for the tightening of his neck. Nearby, Argos turned to look at the wizard, but his interest quickly waned, and he rest his head on his paws again. The dog’s shaggy face was drawn in melancholy as he faced the mountain ranges. It had been in a state of depression since the Ailuran (Nyx, they called her) and Paulo left without him. The creature disliked this inaction. So too, Hakeem guessed, did Arduino.

The wizard dug again. “Your youngest brother is ill, cavorting off with a therian of unstable mind. Your second-youngest has ventured off with a woman reputed for her violence and radical behavior. And did you stop to consider that Holzoff’s Tower is the most renowned of all the prisons in the world, topping even the facilities of the Higashi Kingdom?”

The man snorted and turned, walking a few paces toward the opening of the relief. Hakeem took this opportunity to shift his body and arms. Now he had four fingers forced between the ropes. It pinched and burned, but he could work his way to the knot now. He slowly inched them along–his hands, wrists, and forearms straining with the effort.

“And did you know,” Hakeem went on, just as Arduino turned to look at him again, his brows pressed tight. “I imagine there must be at least 200 men on duty in Belcliff alone. Do you know how many are stationed at Holzoff’s Tower?”

“I said quiet!” Arduino barked, spit flying from his mouth. His face had turned a dark color.

Hakeem did not stop. He gazed at his captor with cold eyes. “Arduino, you know that Belcliff’s marshal is a wrathful man that cannot see past his own problems. Do you think he’ll have any mercy when he sends your brothers to death?

The Moretti lashed out with a yell, running forward to bury his foot in Hakeem’s gut. The man grunted and doubled over, his breath rushing past his lips. His abdomen spasmed in pain. As he moved forward, his arms pulled at his hands. It felt as though they were being squeezed off, but when he straightened again, he found the ropes were looser.

Arduino panted over him, his hair now loose from his tail. His fists were clenched, and his face was contorted with fury–but Hakeem saw fear in the man’s eyes.

Without another word, the oldest Moretti turned and went to the resting scultone. He whistled sharply and the beast raised its head, eyes blinking open. The wizard watched as Arduino climbed onto the creature’s back, his crossbow resting in his lap. With a shake of the reins and a guttural yip, the man urged the scultone to rise into a slow amble toward the edge of the relief. Argos rose to his feet, his ears now perked and his weepy eyes wide beneath the shag of his fur. He whined and barked sharply, blocking the scultone’s way.

Arduino hissed at the dog and waved his hand at it. “Shut up, mutt! I have something to do.”

Argos didn’t move. He bowed his head and growled, lips pulling back to reveal his yellow canines. Hakeem could see the fur along his spine raise, too.

The Moretti sent a growl in return. “Either you move, or I run over you. I don’t care either way.”

The dog seemed to consider this ultimatum. His head lifted and dipped as he let his eyes take in the massive scultone with hundreds of teeth and claws nearly the size of Argos’ head. With a snort and a grumble, Argos padded off to the side.

Arduino nodded at him. “Good boy. Now watch this wizard, and wait for me to come back.” Then the man let out another yip, and with one great bound, the draconic beast vaulted over the edge and out of sight. Hakeem listened as the sounds of the traveling scultone grew fainter. Then he pulled at his ropes.

Argos turned and saw this, and within moments, he bowled Hakeem over–his head ramming into the wizard’s side. The dog stood over him, fur tickling his skin, and the animal’s foul breath hot against his face. It bared its teeth and growled low. Hakeem grunted as he looked up at the dog, one arm pinned beneath his body.

He spoke, his voice strained. “Arduino will not be coming back. Not for me, not for you. He’s straying from all your plans.”

Argos snapped his teeth at the man, another growl tearing up his throat. Drool landed on Hakeem’s cheek, but the wizard did not turn away. He stared into the dog’s eyes.

“Arduino is going to betray all of you. He’ll betray you to save his brothers from the marshal. You know this.”

The dog stared at the man. Then he sat back on Hakeem’s legs and looked down at him imperiously. “Explain why I should trust you then,” the dog seemed to be asking.

Hakeem shrugged. “As unlikely as it is that any of you will succeed–there’s also a possibility that Quincy could get hurt. Arduino will try to frame me. He’ll say that I was conspiring to free the enchantresses. Just from me being here with you, just for my absence, just for the commotion that is happening in Belcliff this instant. He’ll try to turn the marshal on me and my companion, and the marshal…I cannot say for sure whether he’ll believe the man, but I’d rather err on the side of caution. …And…I have an interest in the warrior and the therian. I need them to stay alive. This…matters more than the bounty on your mistress or my perceived innocence.” Hakeem said the last words slowly, a frown coming over his face.

He realized he wasn’t just feeding the dog a line. And it wasn’t just Quincy either. He wanted Elmiryn and Nyx to stay alive. He had to know what they knew about the chronicles. He had to know what their future held for them–for it was great, as his divinations had foretold. Not only was it that…it was an event, a force, an element that would likely affect both he and Quincy both.

…And at any rate, the bounty on the Fiamman would make up for all the trouble–and then some.

“Well?” The man challenged. He dared to shift beneath the dog. “If that isn’t enough to convince you, then you tell me how you plan on getting down this mountain! Can your paws do anything to aid you?”

Argos growled at the movement…but after a moment’s consideration…He slowly climbed off the man.

Hakeem sat up with some effort, and let out a sigh. He gestured behind him with a jerk of his head. “Now…if you could help me with these bindings?”


Paulo looked at me as the three of us skipped backwards in unison, preparing to escape Karolek’s attack. “Lia,” he said, “Please tell me you have some life-saving Ailuran trick up your sleeve!”

Karolek unhooked another ingot. This too turned into a sharp disc–the glint of its intention like a spark to my fuse.

I looked at the boy, my face bunched with tension. “Oh yes, Paulo. I have a trick–” I turned, pulling Lethia with me as I broke into a sprint. “It’s called running!

Paulo didn’t need telling twice.

We managed a short distance before I looked back in time to see the metal blades whistling toward us. I let out a shout and pushed Lethia aside. The blades changed course mid-air. One struck low, the other higher.

I screamed, a wrenching sound that threatened to turn my throat inside out.  In pain, I fell onto the icy ground. The sensation was so severe that I was rendered paralyzed, not completely sure of what had happened. I saw Lethia skitter to a halt, Paulo reluctantly doing the same. The girl came to my side, pale and trembling, her green eyes flickering to my legs as she gripped me about the shoulder and armpit. My Twin’s claw scraped at the ground, frantic.

“Fottuto!” I heard Paulo spit out as he drew his rapier. He slashed with it, the blade slicing through space with a sharp clang.  Sparks erupted and another metal disc embedded itself into the ground yards away.

Almost numb with the agony now, I forced myself to turn around, shifting onto my side. My left foot was turned at a harrowing angle–the boot sliced in the back. My tendon…was cut.  I let out another sharp cry, my voice turning hoarse.  Tears came to my eyes, blinding me.  My calf spasmed, muscles aching as though they knew something vital was damaged. The side of my thigh also screamed, as though it were being sawed into…I saw my life pool out onto the ground in a dark ooze. The culprits–Karolek’s slim disc blades, were lying not far from my leg–the angle of their trajectory leading them to slice into the ground instead of remaining in my wounds. They were bright and clean. Whimpering, I squirmed, reaching down to grip my leg. Blood came dripping out onto the snow from my boot as well. I could feel more trickling around the skin of my foot. When I looked up, Karolek was walking toward us, calm as ever. Something of his eyes seemed to brighten, and that horrible smile broadened, catching some light.

“Children, you may as well yield. Resisting me will only bring more unpleasant things!” He said, drawing the massive blade on his back. He held it before him with one hand, dressed in many rings. The weapon was a broad saber, red ribbons tied to the hilt. “Come with me quietly, and you’ll be imprisoned with all your limbs intact.”

Lethia’s eyes narrowed and she straightened. “Do you enjoy hurting others, you vulture!?”

The man laughed. “Hurting others? No, my dear. I enjoy getting what I want. But this end need not see any more violence.” Karolek unhooked four more ingots with his free hand. The man held up the pieces and the metal rose into the air as before…but this time they did not turn into discs. Instead, they melted together, their forms turning into one large amorphous blob that continued to shift and ripple. He kept unhooking ingots until nearly all the ones on his belt were gone.

Paulo came at my side, his free hand pulling at my gambeson. Sweat trailed past his eyes, wide with fear. “Nyx…Lethia…he’s going to–!” The boy’s voice cut off with a choke.

“What’s he doing?” I gasped, feeling more and more faint. I tried to stop the bleeding at my ankle, not certain if an important artery had been sliced, or if my tendon had even been completely severed. With my other hand, I clawed for a grip, preparing to move.

The boy’s voice was a hoarse whisper. “He’s summoning a blade spirit!!

My eyes widened and I fought to push myself up, my vision rippling and my arms shaking. I’d only heard of those things from stories. It was a sorcery spell, one that brought forth an angry spirit to possess metal. But my leg…was not healing. I was losing a lot of blood, it seemed, the way my boot became hot and wet about my ankle and heel. My arms gave out and exhaustion swept over me, heavy like a blanket. My adrenaline was spent. My body was in shock. I tried to force myself again, and felt everything lurch.

The sounds around me…faded, and I became still.

I felt Lethia’s touch leave me.

Above me, like a fly buzzing in my ear, Paulo snapped at her. “Idi’ute! What’re you doing!?”

“…I’m…I’m fighting back.”

I barely heard Lethia’s answer–just as I saw Her running over our mindscape, her talons digging deep–and I vanished completely in the cold, glad to be away from the pain.


Argos wiggled in his embrace. Hakeem grunted and let the dog go. They crashed down into the dirt, clouds billowing about them as they went head over heels. The wizard rolled over onto his knees, panting. He looked at the shaggy animal and scowled. “I told you, if you move when I teleport, then you could kill us both!

The man rose to his feet, eyes squinting. He had once again reactivated his armor, and felt glad to feel its heat surrounding him. He clenched his hands, dressed in their fluted gauntlets, and looked back the way they came. The rip in space that Hakeem had created faded from sight, all the way back to the place in the cliffs they had previously been staying. He turned his head and looked through the small mountain pass to the city of Belcliff. The suns peered through a crack in the clouds, letting a shaft of light drape the city.

He gestured for Argos to follow him. “Come on. If I can speak with Quincy, we can avoid anyone getting hurt.” Hakeem walked briskly, the dog beside him. He counted ticks in his head, watching as this curious development unfolded before him like a great blanket. He did not believe in fate, but he believed that chance favored a ready mind. No one could have guessed that a routine bounty would have resulted in something so extreme, so life-threatening, so bizarrely fortuitous as to escape Hakeem’s understanding at the onset. But conversely, so much could be lost–

A haunting scream sledgehammered his thoughts, freezing the man in his steps. Ahead, he thought he saw an explosion of light–clawing past the dark stone buildings–barely lasting ten seconds. Then the spectacle was gone, and all it left behind were rising clouds of dust. Mouth open, Hakeem took a step forward.

That light, it only meant one thing…

“No,” he breathed, shaking his head. He raised his hands to his head, the cold metal of his gauntlets bringing no comfort to the feeling that sprouted within him at an alarming rate. The man shook his head again. “No, no…wikan…Bwa-mweze, wikan songu? You said…you said you’d never do that again…”

Quincy must have pierced herself with her sword.

All within him bunched. The armor about him grew hot. Argos whined next to him, his dark eyes gazing at him uncertainly. The man’s vision clouded as he felt tears trickle down his tense face, and his hands turned to fists against his head.

Argos skittered away with ears flat and tail tucked in as Hakeem fell to his knees.

Mweze, wikan!?” he screamed.


The girl felt like she had to pee. In fact, she was certain she may have done a bit of that already, but such things became unimportant when staring down a sorcerer the size of the Torreth. “Take Nyx somewhere safe,” the girl said, her voice quivering as the gravity of the situation pressed down on her in full. Her eyes were on Karolek’s knees. Inside, her heart rebelled against her, fighting against her ribs.

Lethia could hear Paulo struggle with the unconscious therian. “You’ve lost it if you think you can do anything!” But even as he said this, the sound of his retreat tickled her ear.

Karolek paused, the shifting metal still hovering before him. He regarded the enchantress with mirth. Lethia started to tremble, but she tilted her head back, raising her gaze to the man’s shoulder.

The sorcerer chuckled. “Little one, what are you doing?”

“I won’t let you do this,” Lethia said. She let go of the club and the weapon fell to the ground.

The man brandished his sword. “And you think you can fight me, with your skills in enchantment? Are you going to make me think the color blue is green? That you’re just a rabbit, and I, just a wolf?

Lethia’s jaw tensed and she thought about Syria, alone in Holzoff’s Tower, and she imagined the enchantress as still refined, still dignified, still unbroken. She thought about Nyx, someone she had known for such a short time, but who was willing to risk life and limb to save her and her mistress both. She thought about Argos, crossbow bolt buried in his shoulder, and his eyes still burning with the desire to fight

The girl’s eyes raised, and they locked onto Karolek’s dark gaze.

The world blew away like sand about her. The sorcerer’s mouth froze just as he opened it to say something else–but it was not that he paused, instead, more that time slowed down. The man, the only thing left, was black and gray, but he broke apart slowly in flickering tiny shapes that separated with susurrations. These little phantom voices narrated things to her, growing louder as the pieces of Karolek’s being came closer to her mind.

Cold blue animus….singing….I loved her, dearly….but they didn’t stop to look…think…run…all it…no, NEVER…breathing in…cairun…inkol…polsech…weary feet that…lanuse co remana…cairun…cairun…NEVER! CHILD, THIS POWER IS…cairun, cairun, inkol polsech…YOU CANNOT CONTROL IT! THE METAL IT…cairun, cairun, inkol polsech, lanuse co remana, cairun, cairun…YOU TEMPT FATE!!

The black and gray shapes quivered, then began to grow, smothering her. Lethia heard herself scream.


Lethia flew backwards, her body crashing into the ground and skidding along the dirt. Her back and shoulders pulsed with pain. Vision came back to her eyes, and she gasped, back arching as her mind swirled heavy with things foreign. She heard Karolek roar. Breath coming in choppy gasps, the girl sat up, her wheat blond hair clinging to her sweaty cheeks.

The metal blob solidified into a large ball, a blue halo surrounding it and reflecting off the smooth surface. Then, spikes appeared all over it, and they grew longer. Without warning, the spikes broke off, and began revolving around the orb. They drifted farther out, and a chaotic array of small, razor thin blades appeared on the orb’s surface. These separated from the ball of metal, just as the spikes, and they began to revolve around at a faster speed. Hundreds of these little things appeared before the orb was reduced to a ball that could fit in Lethia’s hand. It blurred in and out of view behind the revolving spikes and tiny blades. The blue halo grew stronger, and the girl thought she saw a pair of eyes staring at her.

This…was a blade spirit.

Karolek pointed his blade at her, his face twisted in dark rage. “Get her!” he shouted.

The blade spirit, with a ghostly moan, shot forward with incredible speed.

Lethia stood to her feet, her green eyes wide, her hands held up before her. The spikes were so close, she could almost feel them–

–Then the blade spirit stopped, spikes and blades shuddering to a halt. The halo of light flickered, and there was a hiss.

Karolek sputtered, slashing with his saber. “What…what did you do!?”

“You were right, Karolek.” Lethia said, her voice faint. But her eyes held an edge of ferocity. “I can’t control all of your power–and there are some things I just cannot take from a person. But…”

She waved her hand, and the light of the blades pulsed, then rose and gathered into a wisp above the metal. It swirled, then shaped into a head. The blade spirit opened its mouth and emitted a groan–like gears grinding together–before it vanished completely.

With the host gone, the metal was mundane again. Lethia called to it, her animus–her soul–holding it aloft by sheer will. With a slight nod, the spikes and blades broke their formation, all turning so that they pointed straight at Karolek. The man took a step back, his face turned ashen. Lethia’s eyes narrowed, her hand raised.

“I don’t need all your power to fight you!” she cried.

Then she let her hand drop, and the blades went flying.


My eyes opened.

I was back. Back in that place in my head…that alien domain I had visited two days ago, that left me feeling numb and immaterial. Back in that place of cold rock that sometimes pulsed transparent to show me creatures caught between sapien and animal forms. Back in Her home. Skeletons, twisted flesh, mouths open with pain. I sat up and found my Twin sitting next to me as a maned, panther-like feline. Her head was held low, and her tail lashed behind her–back and forth, back and forth–

“We’re dying,” She said. Just as before, her mouth moved to speak, like a person’s. It looked odd to me.

I blinked and stared at her, my breath a fog. “…What?” My head turned and I looked at my leg. My left foot flopped to the side, despite my efforts to have it pointed to the sky like its companion, and my pants were torn at the side. I could see to my thigh, where a dark slash was on my skin. “These cuts…” I breathed.

“They won’t heal. Not as you are. And because they won’t, we’ll bleed to death.”


“This isn’t like before!” She screamed, making me cringe from her. Her eyes were wide and she pushed up onto her paws to get into my face. Up close I could see her whiskers tremble, and I realized…she was scared. “You passed out because you’re bleeding, and fast. Not because of the pain! You won’t wake up again on your own!”

“How do you know this!?” I shot back in a shrill voice. I scooted farther away from her, my head shaking. “What if you’re just trying to trick me? Like before!?”

“Then you condemn us both!”

I stared at Her. She gazed back at me, the pupils of her tawny eyes wide and dark. I saw myself reflected in them–saw her fear…as my own. I looked away, breathing heavily. “If…If we shift here–NOW–we’ll be left vulnerable. Karolek will kill us!”

My Twin shook her head. “It needn’t take…that long.”

I looked at her in confusion. “What do you mean?”

She bowed her head lower, and her tail turned still. Her ears twisted back, but did not fall flat against her head. She was trying to show herself as docile. I sat forward a little, astonished.

“Borrow my fur and fangs. We’ll be as one in the grace of Aelurus’ crescent of birth. We’ll share the world…for a little while.”

Continue ReadingChapter 14.3

Chapter 18.3


They didn’t try for conversation, which was fine, because the woman didn’t feel like talking.  Graziano and Paulo stuck to their side of camp, resting from the day’s events it seemed, while Hakeem and Quincy sat against the rock.  Argos was sitting, staring toward the tower, his head on his paws.  The woman watched the embers float to the dark sky–starless with the cloud cover.  One of the scultones sighed and the woman was fit to agree with it.  Earlier, the question was raised if someone needed to stand watch for trouble.  The blonde pointed out that she had already taken care of any oncoming threats, and when the others came with Syria, all they’d have to do was follow the main path to discover their camp again.

“My suggestion is to stay near the fire and be ready to move,” the woman said.

Then she thought of something.

Quincy drew up her magic bag, and Hakeem glanced at her.

“You need something?” he asked with a mild voice.

Quincy started to rub the sides of the bag, her gaze narrowed.  “I want to check the Divinare Cube.  Sadly, I used my last angel tear at Belcliff.  I think it’d be better suited to this situation.”

“It’s unlikely the cube will tell you anything you wouldn’t already expect.”  Hakeem inspected his armor, which he had decided to keep activated in case of trouble.  He wiped a snowflake off his shoulder.

Quincy shrugged.  “Perhaps you’re right, but I still want to check.”

When she felt points poking her skin, she opened the bag and let a small black stone cube fall into her waiting hand.  The woman took one corner of the cube and pushed at it with her thumb.  The little pyramid that had been the corner swiveled out, as though on a hinge.  Just as she had outside of Tiesmire, the woman turned and twisted the cube until it began to shift on its own.  Quincy favored its clear readings and broad divination.  There was an angry scorpion demigod on the Indaban continent that would’ve liked to have it back…but it had been worth the trouble for the amazing little cube.

Graziano and Paulo sat forward, watching with curiosity as much as apprehension.

“Oye, what’re you doing?” Graziano asked, his handsome face pulled into a frown.

Quincy glanced up at him.  “I’m checking the spiritual state of our environment.  I’ve heard Holzoff’s is drenched with unhappy souls.  They can tamper with our magic.”

Graziano squinted his eyes, as though he wasn’t sure he could trust her answer.  Then he sat back with a grumble.  Something about a “bruja maldita”.  She had been lying, of course.  For all she knew there was no oncoming threat–or atleast nothing they couldn’t easily handle, so the lie could be innocuous, but still–

The cube stopped its assembly.  It had changed to form a short straight line with a wide triangle jutting to the right.

Quincy clenched her teeth, her eyes searing.

Thurisaz.  The Thorn.  It meant danger.  It meant betrayal.  It meant destructive forces, spiritual possession, and two clear paths to take–retreat or attack.

The wizard wasn’t going to turn back now.

She looked at her husband, and whispered,  “Hakeem, we need to move away from camp and position ourselves in a way that we can see the others when they come.”

Hakeem frowned at her.  “What did you see?”

The woman held up the magic stone.  “Thurisaz.  If the others manage to return with Syria, I think something bad will happen.”

“Should we tell Graziano and Paulo?”

“Better to keep quiet.  If there’s too much suspicion, then things could end prematurely–and not in our favor. I can only guess that the enchantress is the source of the trouble, so I want to be prepared.  She can feel our emotions and thoughts if we’re in sight, but not if we’re out of sight.  Let the Morettis lull her into a sense of security.  We won’t be able to hide completely, she’ll still be able to sense our presence, but she won’t be able to use her enchantment to harm us, and then we can spring in at the most opportune moment.”

“This could be risky for Paulo.  Are you really okay with just…putting him out there like that?  We’ve known the Morettis for years.” Hakeem gazed at her hard.

The woman looks at him, annoyed.  What was this hesitance all of a sudden?  “They aren’t our friends.”

“Neither are Karolek or Jetswick, yet I know you wouldn’t let them risk coming to harm this way.” Hakeem managed to sound bitter.

Quincy blinked at him.  Then she sat back and sighed in exasperation.  “We can move fast.  Plus, I have some tricks to use in case trouble stirs before we can intervene.”  She stroked the side of the stone’s face, and it shuddered before shifting back into a normal cube.  She dropped it into her bag and it vanished into nothing.

She stood and held out her hand for him.  “Let’s go.”

The man gazed up at her for a long time.  Then he took her grip.  When he was on his feet, he leaned in close, his cheek brushing hers.

He spoke low in his Fanaean language, “Mweze, when this is all over, we will talk.”

Quincy glanced at him from the corner of her eyes.  She answered him similarly, “I will speak with you about whatever you’d like for as long as you’d like, bwa-taika…”  She let go of his hand and turned, leaving the camp.  Graziano and Paulo sat up, the elder sparing her a question, but she didn’t answer, and she knew they wouldn’t press the issue.  They knew better.

…Her husband should’ve too.

With her face turned from them all, Quincy’s eyes shone beneath the shadow of her hood.  “I will speak with you, but that does not mean I will listen.”


This was it.  Did she need answers?  Did she need a spiel laid before her, revealing the motives?

No.  The crimes committed by this woman were too severe.

Elmiryn slashed horizontally at Syria, but she didn’t put all her power into the stroke.  With only the one arm, the woman found her balance was hampered by the snow and her inability to adjust.  She couldn’t control broad power strokes unless she wanted to become unbalanced and open to attack.  But what a surprise!  Syria was quicker than the warrior had expected, leaning back so far, the tip of the blade just managed to graze her beneath the chin.  Her left hand, still swollen at the wrist, came rising up underhand, and Elmiryn had just a moment to brace herself when–

Quincy lanced forward from behind.  Syria let out a hiss, her eyes flickering to the side as though her mind picked up on the intention.  She shifted her body to dodge being impaled and the direction of her left hand was altered.

This change in motion meant everything, for it seemed the world around Elmiryn became muted for a split second, and she felt an immense pressure throughout the front of her body.  In the next second, she was sent flying, in a low arc, backward at high speed.

She tumbled and crashed, everything hurting to the point that thought was lost amidst the desire for release.  She heard herself screaming.  She felt like she had knives in her arms.  The fractured bones were likely stabbing her.  Perhaps the injury had been exacerbated.  Elmiryn finally came to a stop, down slope, face down in the snow.  She couldn’t breath in right away.  Beneath, her left forearm stung angrily, and there was a strong ache at her left shoulder.  Her right shoulder fared no better.  Perhaps the tumble had opened up the stab wound?

What would’ve happen if Syria had been able to hit her dead on, with all her power?  Would the warrior be alive, let alone conscious?

The cold bit her skin.  She wasn’t wearing proper clothing for this sort of climate after all.  She was a Fiamman.  It had never snowed at the kingdom.  She made a note in the future, if there was a future, to invest in heavier winter clothing.  Nyx had known a thing or two about the cold, why the hell hadn’t the girl thought about it?

–Oh right, they were poor. And it was sorta (kinda) her fault.

With bared teeth, Elmiryn made to rise.  Pain, pain, pain. She gagged and coughed, and dark fluid stained the white snow.  Her chest hurt with every breath she took.  Broken rib?  Internal bleeding?  She’d heard of that.  Seen it happen atleast once before–a man under her command dying from the shock of it.  She groped for her sword and found it, down near her leg, but she didn’t have the strength to lift it up.  The woman let herself fall back to the snow and let out a ragged sigh.  She heard the sounds of combat ahead, and felt anxious that she was missing it.  But as she tried to push up with her right arm again, her shoulder screamed at her, and the woman hissed and let herself fall back again.  The warrior still wanted to try and see what was happening, so she struggled to roll onto her back.  There, she craned her head back to try and steal a look.

Elmiryn saw the others, their heads atleast, over the slope.  The battle was furious and broad–covering a wide area so that she found herself cut off from them.  Though she couldn’t see the details of it, there were flashes here and there that told her Syria and Quincy were intensely engaged.  Even if she were well, Elmiryn was certain she’d find it near impossible to join the fray and imagined the others faced a similar problem.  It was all between the wizard and enchantress now.

The warrior was quite far down the slope, as detailed by the messy trail her body had cut into the snow.  The others seemed so far, their faces indefinite to her in the dark night.  She counted out the heads.  One, two, three…she imagined Paulo and Lethia were lying out of sight, still unconscious, but there should’ve been a fourth.  Nyx was missing.

She faded for a moment, wondering about the girl…

Then a cry cut into her thoughts and Elmiryn’s eyes snapped back open and shifted to see a streak of gold flash over the slope. Something tumbled down in a blast of snow to rival her landing.  The person slid to a stop just a little before the warrior.  Quincy.  She grunted and raised herself onto all fours, her eyes immediately turning to gaze up towards the battle.  Her limbs were visibly shaking, and her face was drenched in sweat.  Her hood had fallen back to reveal that her hair looked…luminescent. The others up ahead finally moved to take her place.  One stayed back to watch those unconscious.  The redhead guessed it to be Farrel, judging by the light hair.

Elmiryn turned to the woman, who had closed her eyes and was muttering to herself.  She grinned jauntily.  “Oh my!  How nice of you to join me wizard.  I was getting a bit lonely.”

The blond opened her eyes turned to regard Elmiryn with a blank face.  Her azure eyes were glowing too.

“Fool.  If you’re done, then keep out of the way,” The wizard said.  Her voice lacked the malice the warrior would’ve expected, but it was strained–like she were pushing a large rock.  Quincy pulled her hood back on and shifted into a crouch, her golden blade gripped in her right hand.  The thing seemed to pulse at Elmiryn’s gaze.  She was waiting for an opportunity to rejoin the battle.

The warrior hissed through breath, trying to keep the spots from clouding her vision and the ice cold feeling from sending her thoughts under.  Sweat soaked her hairline and rolled down her neck. “Come now,” she cried.  “That’s uncalled for!  Just because I beat you before–”

“You didn’t beat me.”

Such a quick response.  So the wizard was a sore loser…interesting…

“Okay,”  Elmiryn grinned, closing her eyes.  Despite her efforts to remain conscious, she felt so sleepy.  “But can we be a little nicer to the gimp, huh?  I mean, no hard feelings, right?” she breathed, cradling her arm.  She was certain the splints were out of place now.  Then her eyes snapped back open.  “And hey isn’t your arm supposed to be broken like mine?”  Elmiryn twisted her head to the side so as to look at Quincy better.

The blond had already looked back to the battle, craning her neck to see what was happening.  “Never mind that.  You’re attack against Syria was idiotic.  You should know better than to announce yourself,” she said this without a glance.

“What can I say?” Elmiryn snickered.  “I’ve been a little insane lately.”


The woman opened her eyes and turned her head.  Nyx’s shadowed form came tumbling, her breath a trail of fog behind her.  She was coming at them from the north, strafing along the slope, whose shifting made it difficult to run in a straight line.  She grinned as the girl came near.  She had probably gone and jogged a crescent through the snow, to give the battle wide berth.

The girl stumbled next to her, all panicked breath.  “Gods, Elmiryn, are you okay!?” she cried.  She glanced at Quincy warily, who resumed ignoring them.

Elmiryn winced pulling away.  Then she grinned.  “Sorry, I got cocky.  But you know, Syria can’t get a grasp on my thoughts, maybe I could–”

Nyx took hold of the woman’s face and shook her head.  Her eyes were clouded with tears.  “Enough is enough, Elle!  Cajeck, ni aji üle boeneh?  Your left forearm is broken, your left shoulder was just recently dislocated, and you were stabbed by–by–” the girl turned and glared pointedly at Quincy’s back, “By her. Speaking of which, why on earth are you even here!?” she asked the wizard, venom in every word.

Elmiryn pulled at the girl’s front.  “Nyx, put it out of your mind.  With our run of luck, we can’t be choosy about where help comes from.  You said the same about Farrel, didn’t you?”

“But that was different–”

Quincy turned her head slightly.  “Therian.  Stay with your friend for now.  Hakeem, Graziano, and I can manage.  The halfling is watching the others, but should one of us fall, you must be prepared to defend them.”

Nyx hissed at her, her teeth bared.  “Who are you to give orders!?”  But even as she spoke, Quincy was already dashing away.

“It must be exhausting, fighting Syria.  She’s good at mind control.  I bet they have to fight to keep in control of their minds every single second.  Syria told me my thoughts were like smoke.  I bet it’s my curse that makes it hard for her to get a handle on me.  If I could just get in there…But what can I do when I’m like this…?” she muttered.

A sigh.  “We can’t do it all, Elle.  You’ve already done so much these past few days.”

“I want to see this finished.”  The warrior felt anxiety thrash inside her.  She clenched her jaw and glared skyward.  “I don’t want to just sit here.”  But even as the warrior said this, she knew and understood that she’d be more of a hinderance than a help.  It bothered her greatly.

“We will see this finished, one way or another,”  Nyx said grimly.  “Syria is incredibly powerful.  I’ve never even heard of someone capable of using so many different forms of magic, and at such levels!  It’s better that you stay safe.  When I saw Syria hit you with that attack…” The girl’s voice trailed away.  She stroked Elmiryn’s face, her hands shaking.  “Och tet boenah üle lunam…”

I thought you had died…

Elmiryn gazed up at her somberly.  She had told the girl these things would happen.  There would be danger, there would be struggle…possibly even sacrifice.  The warrior had made it very clear.

But she knew, given her own scares with Nyx, that this made those moments no easier to handle.

The redhead found the girl’s hand and squeezed it.  From her mind, she drew up an Ailuran phrase she had learned from her borrowed memories back at Gamath.  It seemed appropriate here.

“Och oeni…” Elmiryn mumbled.

I’m sorry…


On the mountain ridge to the right.  They were just close enough to camp to still be able to make out which of the Morettis was which, but not close enough to see the expressions on their faces, or to hear what they spoke of.  Hakeem was crouched, his gauntlet gripping the rock.  They had a decent view of the tower.  Detail was robbed by mist and darkness, but they could still make out the gate at the end of the bridge.  Quincy squinted her eyes as she saw the gate roll up, leaving the tower entrance wide open.

“Hakeem, I think they’re coming,” she said.

Hakeem nodded, his eyes shadowed beneath his furrowed brows.  “But…what are they doing?”

Quincy shifted higher up the slope she rested on, her hands pulling her up.  She squinted her eyes as she saw the snow and rock surrounding the tower shift, almost as though…

“…It seems the daesce are invading the tower.”  She pointed, “But look there.  There’s a group moving away from it.”  Her voice took on a fascinated note.  “Those aren’t daesce.  Those are the ones we’re waiting for.  The monsters are ignoring them…”

“They have the enchantress…and she’s killing everyone in the tower,” Hakeem breathed.  His grip tightened around the rock.

Quincy sighed.  “If she’s that powerful…we’ll be in for quite a fight.”

“I believe you…but your voice suggests something else.”

“When I was in Belcliff, I told you about my findings.  The files suggested two spellcasters were needed for the damage done to the bodies.  Lethia’s hair was found at the site where the bodies were being kept.  If Syria is capable of controlling a mob of daesce, and possibly enchanting an entire tower beforehand, then what’s stopping a person from believing she could control Lethia?”  As she said this, Quincy reached for her leather pouch with one hand.  She pressed it to the rock and began rubbing it.  Within a minute, she felt a round object grow beneath her palm.  The item she pushed out from the pouch was the Orb of Ilkmar.

“Why do you think the woman controlled her?  Maybe the girl went along with everything?”

The wizard shook her head.  “Even Gaduman of the East was incapable of such broad mind control.  This woman’s power is on a level I’ve never seen before.  Enchantment is one of the Unbound Disciplines, what if Syria discovered new lengths in which to use it?”

Hakeem shook his head.  “I still don’t see what you’re getting at.  Syria’s an enchantress.  What happened to those bodies were the work of a master sorcerer and magician.  You said it yourself.”

Quincy shook her head.  The mystery was still working itself out in her mind, and she didn’t have that answer yet.

They watched as the group grew closer and closer.  Finally, they arrived, and the Morettis rose to greet them.  …But then something went wrong.  The therian girl had collapsed, and the dog, Argos, had turned on Syria.  Lethia fell to the ground, on her knees.  A newcomer, light-haired and dressed in guard’s armor, stepped away from Syria, visibly appalled.  He was shouting.  Quincy couldn’t make out what was being said.

Then everything went to hell.

The others were frozen in place, it seemed–for Graziano, the guard, the dog, and Elmiryn were in mid-movement before they suddenly stopped.  Lethia rose from her place on the ground, then proceeded to help Paulo undress.  She seemed different now, removed from her hysteria.  The boy was going along with it, but his movements were far too calm as well.  Syria was likely controlling them both.

What came next filled Quincy with wonder, and in a more diminutive sense, revulsion.  Paulo was now naked and levitated in the air by Lethia.  Syria used sorcery to command flames from the campfire to surround the boy.  The wizard didn’t have to guess at what the woman was doing.  She was burning symbols into his body.  From her place, the wizard thought she saw Syria speaking.  It wouldn’t surprise her.  Rituals of this sort usually required a spoken rite of some sort.  If this was correct, then Syria would draw out the process until the flames had worked down to the deepest tissue–almost to bone, and then she’d castrate the boy and have him gutted.

…This seemed as good a time as any to intervene.

Hakeem seemed keen on this, as he was already over the rocks.

But then Quincy’s eyes lightened and she grabbed him by the elbow.

Her husband stared up at her, surprised.  She spoke quickly, “Hakeem, I just realized how this works!  Enchantment deals in the mind.  When a person dreams or goes unconscious, the mind can delve into a hyper-state that creates a pocket of perceived reality.  Depending on the strength of the users mind, and their ability to control their dream state, an individual could–theoretically–make seconds into days.  Break this down further, and time can be removed as an obstacle completely.”

Hakeem gestured down to the spectacle below.  “Fascinating, Quincy–but don’t you think–”

She jerked his arm and continued on, doggedly.  “Listen to me! Think of the magic form of primality.  Time magic is the ultimate limitation that controls space and gravity.  Remove time, and space is free.  A person could then split themselves infinitely, like little ideas acting independently of one another but connected to the same intellect.  Taika, Syria is capable of simultaneous thought. She may not be able to control time in the real world, but it wouldn’t matter if she could simulate this in her mind!”  Quincy let loose her version of a smile, and the corners of her lips twitched up a fraction.  “She managed to fool her own animus, which is the boundary that contains the intellect.  Quite a feat, even for an enchantress, to make the mind forget the nature of the world on such a primal level whenever it conveniences her.”

Hakeem’s brows rose high.  “…And if given this control, this power, one could use it to their advantage.  Like–”

“Mastering different schools of magic,” Quincy said, her brow creased.  “In which case then, if Syria managed to use the ability of simultaneous thought with another individual of matching power–”

“Then she could use two magic forms at the same time.”  Hakeem looked down below him.  “Lethia Artaud must have an incredible amount of raw power for Syria to vicariously cast her magic through her.”

“I’m a bit envious, I’ll admit,” Quincy nodded and let go of him.  She held up her reflective orb.  “Unfortunately, we’ll be on the wrong end of that power in just a moment.”

Hakeem glanced at her.  “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to use the Orb of Ilkmar.  With just the two of us, we could possibly take down an enchantress–even one capable of mind-controlling so many at once.  But an enchantress who’s a master in sorcery, gravitational magic, and gods knows what else?  That’s why I had to stop you.  I think we’ll be needing a little help.”  She kissed the orb.  “Maybe this thing will give the others below an idea of what to do…”

And perhaps–the woman wondered quietly as she activated the magic–

I see, so you see.  I hear, so you hear.  I know, so you know.  Illuminate this for the eyes of the blind.  Reveal what is hidden, bring forth what is desired!”  Quincy threw the orb into the air and it flashed–

–Maybe the Orb of Ilkmar could reveal to her why it was someone so powerful, allowed herself to be incarcerated for so long?


At a glance, it seemed a bit unfair.  Three against one?

…But the enchantress was holding them back.  No, more than that, she seemed to be winning.

Quincy was as quick as the light she drew power from, for her attacks were like flashes, and her stabs as powerful and poignant as lightning.  Elmiryn meant it when she said she wasn’t surprised the blonde had come.  Hakeem was her partner, and if there was gold in it, then she would likely go along with their plans.  But more than that, Quincy was driven by some kind of code of honor.  When they had fought barely a day earlier, the wizard had believed her to be a part of the evil power surrounding them and had been determined to stop her.  Elmiryn wasn’t sure if Quincy was entirely convinced of her innocence, but given the greater threat before them, the matter seemed set aside for the moment.

Syria, after all, proved the greater surprise here.

For a woman who had been in prison with a body bruised and swollen and stiff, she moved like a leopard–fast, graceful, and indifferent to her body’s limitations…and the warrior was reminded of Lethia.  The girl had conquered a wall of jagged rock after suffering a possibly near-fatal injury.  Was this the true extent of enchantment’s powers?  Expanding one’s mind and rising above the mortal coil to defeat challenges with ease?  Mind over matter, as they said.  She wanted to ask Graziano how it was possible that Syria knew gravitational magic and various forms of sorcery on top of her enchantment.  Gravitational magic alone took years to learn, didn’t it?  And decades still to master it?  So why was Syria able to use it with such ease?

More help would be needed, and not from her.

Elmiryn tugged at her companion’s sleeve.  “Hey, Nyx.”

The girl looked at her, blinking.

The warrior pointed up the slope.  “You have to help them.”

“What?  But what about you?

“I’m not dead, gods damnit.  Let Halward do his part and keep me safe.  Your ass needs to get up there.”

The girl shook her head bowing down low.  She let out a shuddering breath through her mouth and stroked Elmiryn’s cheek.  “No.  You need me here.  I don’t want you getting hurt anymore than you are.  I don’t…” the girl choked back a sob. “I don’t want to go through Gamath again!  I can do something to help you this time!”

Elmiryn snatched at the girl’s upper left arm with her right hand.  It hurt, and she knew her grip must’ve been painful judging by the look that crossed Nyx’s face.  She jerked the girl forward and sat up as best she could.  Her mouth crashed against Nyx’s, the girl’s breath was harsh against her cheek.  She could feel the cry against her lips, and through her pain nettled an inexhaustible desire.

No longer able to keep the position up, the warrior fell back and turned her face away.  “Right now the others need you.  Go now…or you’ll regret staying with me more than anything.”  This phrase pumped acid through Elmiryn’s veins, and her eyes clouded.  Why…did she feel guilty now?

Nyx sat there for a minute, tears silently falling onto Elmiryn’s arm.  Then she stood and wiped her eyes on her sleeve.

“Elle…” she said in a querulous voice.  But when she spoke again, her voice steeled, and the woman heard hints of a growl in the belly of her words.  “I won’t let you down!”

And the girl was gone.

Elmiryn blinked the moisture from her eyes and weak tears dripped to the snow.  She took a breath and pushed herself into a sitting position, her vision tunneling away for moment and all her upper body protested.

…It hadn’t been her intention, but now that Nyx was not around to stop her, she could work on trying to stand again.


“But the right to first blood is mine!”

Idiot.  Did the Fiamman want to die?  …Or was she trying to give Quincy an opening?

The wizard saw Syria’s hand pull back and felt the power surging around it.  With little thought, she stabbed forward.  Syria shifted and her blade went slicing past its target, but the enchantress had been forced to change the course of her strike, taking away the energy she had built up.  The dark-haired woman lashed at Elmiryn, and the warrior was blasted away into the dark of the night, down a slope where she couldn’t be seen.  Was she dead?

No time to think of her.

Syria didn’t pause after her attack, and instead turned with a full whirl to send a sickle of gravitational force at Quincy.  The woman dodged and pressed forward, stepping in close enough that her left foot slid between Syria’s legs.  The wizard stabbed from low at her right hip, cutting up in a diagonal line towards Syria’s right shoulder.  The enchantress leaned back, and the sword tip sailed over her shoulder and just missed grazing her tender neck.

She lifted her right knee high to her chest, then shot it back down again, close to the center of her body.  Just as it came down along Quincy’s inner thigh, the enchantress hooked it to the right shoved at the wizard’s knee with hers.  Simultaneously, she leaned her body forward and to the left where she slammed her fist into the woman’s exposed left side.

The body blow was backed with a gravity force that, coupled with Quincy’s compromised stance, sent the woman flying.  Syria’s form and execution were excellent, but the power of the attack came mostly from the magic she used.  Though she was clearly ignoring the limitations of her own swollen wrists, that didn’t mean physical strength appeared out of thin air.

So to Quincy’s fortune, she wasn’t sent very far, and rolled back upright, her sword at the ready.  Her side throbbed, and she had to focus to get her breathing back on track, but the woman was fine.

Syria didn’t wait for her to counter.  The enchantress narrowed her gaze and brought forth more flames, which seemed to funnel from the campfire to roar in a hot cloud about the woman.  With a push of her hands, the woman speared the fire forward.

Quincy straightened and held out her sword.

As the flames neared, there was an inhuman scream as the fires that surged forth vanished and flickered, the cooled air rushing about Quincy in a startled gasp.  Her sword was engorged on the light and glowed hot.  She drew back Tonatiuh’s fang and let out a breath–


Within a millisecond she was a blast of light, pulled through space in a hot sear through the dark.  She was raw energy, traveling at a high speed, and she rocketed toward Syria–but she met resistance. A gravitational field. How could this be? The world warped, and her form bent. Unlike before, when she had taken Tonatiuh into her heart, Quincy was still in a humanoid form. Perhaps because of this, she was denser, and of course, she wasn’t moving at the true speed of light.  This would explain how the field was redirecting her, so that she saw Syria beneath her, like she were looking through curved glass.  Within the next second, the wizard was headed for the snowy ground, unable to stop, she had just enough time to flip herself around, feet first–

The snow exploded and slushed about her boots as the energy left Quincy. The force of the landing sent her down onto a knee, and pain shot up from her soles.  She looked up just in time to see Syria swing overhand toward her.  She jumped backward, and the enchantress slammed her gravitational hammer into the ground.  The force rattled the ground.  Quincy pressed forward, blade drawn back at the hip.  She couldn’t flash forward again, but her weapon still held power.  With a slash, a long lance of hot light blasted forth towards Syria’s body, atleast four yards long, melting the snow it carved into.  Syria slid away, the snow shifting about her feet to pull her yards back.  She raised a hand and snow drifted up from the ground, collecting into hundreds of icicles at around her head.  She then pushed her hand out, and the icicles shot forth, whizzing.

Quincy shifted to the left, putting her companions further behind her.  Lifting her sword toward the sky so that the light shot up like a beacon, the woman closed her eyes and squeezed the hilt of her sword.  She felt the light, felt its heat and power, and imagined it as glass at the hands of her animus–her soul.  She broke it.

The light shaft shortened to stop just two feet above Quincy’s head.  It flashed and hundreds of rays cut forward.  She could see through the individual paths of light, see the icicles just as they were within three feet of her–The rays sliced into the icicles, cutting them up, melting them, leaving the wizard only to be sprayed with water and small ice chunks.  She could hear more snow collected, more icicles.  Syria was going to keep blasting her until the woman missed one.  She wouldn’t let this turn into a fire fight–there, Syria would have the advantage.  Quincy’s power was limited as her sword drew from light and the suns still hadn’t risen yet, but the enchantress could draw infinitely from their surroundings with her sorcery.

Quincy opened her eyes, swinging her blade to the side.  At the back of her mind, she could feel Syria fishing–trying to worm her way in, trying to anticipate what she would do next.  But the woman had been trained in protecting herself from such intrusions, and she steeled the barriers of her mindscape.

“You have no home in my mind, witch!” she called as she lurched forward into a charge.  The rays of light swirled and pulsed around her, obliterating the hail of icicles as they came.  But the rays were dying off each second.  Quincy knew the battle had become too complicated, too dangerous for the others to try and join in, but what could she do? The enchantress had attacked her with high power. The wizard had to respond similarly or be killed. This was most likely what Syria wanted–to fight them one at a time. Without a foothold to control the minds of those around her and so many things seeking to break her attention, her best bet was to isolate them in battle.

Quincy cursed herself. How could she have played into the woman’s plans so easily?

Syria didn’t run from her as Quincy came close, and this caused the woman pause.  She cut at her front, but she knew the blade would not reach, just slash near the mark.  It was to test the older woman’s resolve.  Syria didn’t move.  Didn’t even act to defend herself.  She seemed to wait for Quincy to come and deliver the final blow.  But the wizard didn’t take the bait.  She stared the enchantress down.

“Syria, what is this all for?” she asked quietly.

The enchantress gave her a pitying smile.  “Freedom.”

Then Quincy took in a breath and noticed the damp, humid smell.  She blinked and with squinted eyes saw the vapor that flew about her, highlighted by the last of the dying rays.  She cursed, stepping back, but it was too late.  Syria bowed her head, and within the next instant, the wizard was encased in ice that seemed to thicken exponentially.  Her eyes watered, and her skin stung from the cold.  She tried to twist, but her spine, hips, and shoulders ground painfully into the ice.  Her eyes stared through inches of translucent white.  The woman tried to suck in breath, but only managed to expand her chest a quarter of an inch before limitation stopped her.

“Tai’undu!” Quincy thought.  She saw Syria move away towards the others, who rose to engage her.  If she did nothing, she could suffocate in seconds–there was no new air flowing in and restriction kept her from even recycling her breath.  She had to get out, and quickly, but her sword had used up the last of the power it had drawn from the fire.

Quincy, however, came up with a wild idea.

She drew in breaths, quick and short.  She consciously conjured up memories of the smoldering remains of huts and charred flesh.  Of gusty winds that buffeted her.  Of a certain young enchantress with her head trapped beneath iron.  Of manacles on her wrists while a shadow stood over her, seagulls squawking overhead.  Of sea salt and blood on her tongue.  Of tall, tall men with tall, tall tales of heroes and villains and gods.  Of standing in a swaying field, a heavy sword in her tiny hands, watching as a cloaked figure grew farther and farther away…  “You have more than that, lazy beast,” she thought, tightening her grip around Tonatiuh’s hilt.  “Pathetic, worthless scrap metal.”  Suddenly it wasn’t that hard to feel angry.  She strained against the ice, felt her muscles press and twist painfully.  It fueled her fury.  “I’ll cast you into the sea, where you can rust away in Atargatis’ dark belly!  Cursed weapon!!”

The weapon grew hot beneath her touch, scalding her.  Fire seemed to erupt in her chest, and her skin flushed with heat.  Sweat rolled down her tight face, and Quincy groaned.

“That’s it,” she panted against the ice.  “I’m feeding you.  It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?  Take my anger!  It’s yours!

Tonatiuh flashed, blinding her.  She felt herself blasted backward, through crumbled ice and water where she sailed through the air.  She felt like she flew a long time.  Then she crashed and tumbled into the snow.  Dizziness and a relentless heat boiling inside her made movement an impossibility.  Than through sheer effort, the woman raised herself with a grunt.  She looked up the slope she had tumbled down, craning her head to see the battle resume without her. She took deep, slow breaths.  Beneath her cloak, she was trembling, but she banished this weak show of constitution by repeating a mantra her old master had taught her, to reign in her emotions when they had slipped away from her.

She closed her eyes and muttered this to herself over and over, quickly. “Baghun, mahar-krun ekhep jukatiba…Baghun, mahar-krun ekhep jukatiba…Baghun, mahar-krun ekhep jukatiba…”

Tonatiuh was laughing in her head, even as she struggled to fight down the unwanted memories.  Then Quincy heard a voice.

“Oh my!  How nice of you to join me wizard.  I was getting a bit lonely.”


“How do you figure Tulki managed it, Graz?”


“Capturing those Lycans?”

“Pure silver, likely.  Some other alchemy trick, who knows.”

“I figured you did, hermano.  You know so much about this crazy stuff.”

“Choi, that’s only because your ass of an older brother won’t bother keeping up with the new ways.”

“If Ard were around I bet you wouldn’t talk so fresh, eh?”

“Yah, yah–c’mere perrico, lemme show you what he’d do if he were around!”

“Ow, ow!  Distagea, distagea hermano, merci!”

Paulo’s body was covered in rune-shaped burns, the skin blistered and in some cases peeling some of the superficial layers of skin away.  Some of the runes were weeping blood and puss, staining the snow.  The smell of burned flesh was nauseating.  There was a weak pulse at his neck.  Graziano held the boy’s face, his hazelnut eyes shocked wide and his entire body trembling.

“Choi?” he whispered.  He avoided the hollow of his cheek, because there on each side, mirroring runes had been burned in.  Symbols that looked like they belonged to an ancient language.  He didn’t recognize them.  There were too many to count.  All he saw was pain and horror, and while he half-wished his brother would regain consciousness, he feared the suffering he’d find if he did.  The man tore at his wavy hair, his body tensing as something indescribable built up in him.  He thought of his older brother, Arduino, and what he would do.  What he would say.  His brother had been the surrogate father to them both, but this time Graziano had thought he’d known better, he’d thought…

“Pardona me,” He sobbed, rocking back and forth.  He scraped at the skin around his neck and tore at his shirt, trying to find release from the pain and desperation that gripped him.  “Pardona me, Choi! Yo no sabea!”

“Oye, Choi!  Look at you!  Big bounty hunter now!  That was quite daring of you, swinging down on the rope the way you did.”

“Tulki was going to shoot you, Graziano.  You smell funny, pér familia is everything!”

“Ha!  I love you too, idi’ute…”

A light touch at his shoulder.  Graziano jumped and turned to stare wild-eyed at Hakeem.  The dark-skinned man was gazing intensely toward the battle.  “Graziano, forgive me, but I think trouble is turning its eye on us.”

The Moretti blinked and looked in the direction the wizard was staring.  Quincy was trapped in a rock of ice, and Syria walked toward them calmly, her expression blank.  The man grabbed onto the hilt of his rapier, but paused and looked at his brother in anguish.  “But my brother–”

“Go,” said the halfling man.  He held a hand over Paulo and gave Graziano a nod.  Argos brushed up next to him, panting.  “I just have my dagger with me, and I’m not much good with close-range combat, but I’ll watch him and try to keep him safe as best I can.”

Graziano clenched his jaw and nodded once.  Then he looked at Hakeem, and together they both rose.  The Moretti drew his sword and held it before him with quaking hands.  He tried to steel himself, but rage and anguish were devils that sought to overthrow him.

“Why have you done this!?” He screamed, advancing slowly.  Hakeem kept pace on his left, his fists held up.  “Paulo is just a boy!”

Syria stopped and blinked at him.  Then she looked to the ground.  “I will answer you, Moretti, because your pain is so vast, it warrants some response…though I doubt you’ll like my answer anymore than you’ll understand it.”  The woman took a breath and raised her head.  “Paulo is fertile.  He is young and vivacious.  He had everything she needed, and I must deliver him to her.”

“To who!?” he raged.  He slashed his sword through the air.  “For what!?

“To the one who speaks to me always.  I fought her for years, but I found I could do this no more.  My own struggles were futile in the end.  If it were not me, then it would be others still.  Like my Lethia.  The one who speaks to me seeks to break down boundaries.”  Syria turned her face toward Holzoff’s. “My last rebellion was in allowing myself to be taken away.  If structured bodies could stop me, as a virus, then perhaps the world had merit in its incarnation?  But…my darling girl showed me how such things could be conquered through pure and basic principle.  Unabashed loyalty.  Love.  Then I realized there were purer things then the insecure practices so many abide by.  These crippled societies, these hungry kingdoms, these prejudicial communities…I have seen and touched the dreams and minds of so many.  You would not believe the horrors that breed in sentient minds.  Belcliff’s marshal saw me for years over guilt for what he did to the Albian dwarves.  He murdered them all, you know.  Kept it quiet.  With my help, he kept it quiet.  Yet he feared I’d reveal this, even as he begged me to help him with his pain.  Do you see the broken madness in this?  What’s wrong then, in opening the flood gates, and returning the world to its baser qualities?”

Syria’s chin crumpled and she took a breath.  “I tried to keep Lethia safe.  I didn’t want her to know about what was really happening.  But her subconscious always remembered the rituals. The blood.  Her nightmares were so powerful, they flooded the minds of all in Albias.”  Suddenly, a crooked smile spread across her face, and she looked at Graziano and Hakeem again.  Tears trickled from her eyes into her frozen smile.  “But despite this all, I’m glad an end can finally be reached!”

“You’re insane,” Hakeem said, he pulled a fist back, and the space around it rippled.

Syria cackled and raised her arms.  Wind swept up around them, whipping up snow.  Graziano took a step back as he saw the snow collect together, then hardened into thousands of icicles.  They slashed at his skin, and the Moretti shouted as he tried to shield his face and neck.

He looked at the wizard, “Hakeem, do something gods damn it!”

The man in question raised his fist in the air.  There was a muted rush and Graziano felt an invisible force brush past all of his body.  The wind and icicles stopped.  He lowered his arms and saw that Hakeem had created a sort of barrier around them.  Outside, the wind still whirled sharp ice.  Syria’s lip curled and she made a beckoning motion with her hands.

Both Hakeem and Graziano fell as they snow they stood on shifted, like a carpet had been pulled beneath them.  The snow shifted again, and the next thing they knew, they were sliding towards Syria at high speed.  Hakeem had other plans, however.

Striking both arms against the ground, the wizard knocked both himself and Graziano upright with a strong gravitational blast.  The Moretti stumbled, unprepared for this sudden change in position, but the wizard charged forward, and in the next instant, he was throwing punches, his attacks backed with gravitational force.  The wind around them died as the enchantress couldn’t keep the magic going.  But Syria, for her ragged appearance, dodged the man’s advances.  There was a critical misstep, and Hakeem was sent spinning to the ground from a blow to the shoulder.

Graziano didn’t pause in taking Hakeem’s place.  He jabbed at her stomach, but the woman shifted away.  The man followed up quickly with a slash to the face, but this too Syria dodged.  She mirrored his footwork, tracing a perilous dance through the snow.  With each stroke that missed, Graziano’s rage grew.  It pulsed within him, tearing away at his control.  His attacks grew wilder, leaving him open.  Syria struck him in the chest, knocking the wind out of him, and he was launched backward to the ground.

Gasping, he stared up at the sky.

“Capturing Lethia Artaud…This is the last bounty before we go back home to Erminia, right?”

“Yes, Choi.”

“…I don’t want to go back, hermano.”

“Why not?”

“It’s alot more fun, being out here with you and Ard.”

The man growled and scrambled to his feet.  Hakeem was back to fighting Syria one-on-one, but this time, Graziano didn’t wait.  He pressed forward, his blade swinging at Syria’s head.  The tip of his sword nearly hit the wizard’s neck, and the man strafed away from him, his eyes cutting.  Graziano ignored him.  The only thing that mattered was killing Syria.

Their fight gained a rhythm.  Syria was forced to travel backwards, her black hair a swaying curtain as she dodged both fist and blade.  She tried to shift the snow beneath their feet, but both men recovered quickly each time.  Graziano became dimly aware of Quincy’s joining the battle.  The blond didn’t say a word.  For a time, she followed the battle fine, but the attacks soon clashed and the rhythm was lost.  Syria took advantage of this.

With a stomp of her foot, the ground rolled like a wave, going outward from the enchantress in a growing circle.  The three of them were forced backward.

Quincy shouted at Hakeem, “Give us some paths!”

The man nodded, and with a swing of his gauntlet, he sent a roll of force at Syria.  The woman jumped away, but the man didn’t appear too concerned.  The air seemed warped there.  He punched both arms out from his sides, yelling from his gut.  Another wave of force blasted from his fists.  As he did this, Quincy attacked Syria, keeping her busy.

Despite her talk of teamwork, the woman seemed to be doing alot of the fighting herself. The Moretti recognized this to be her impatient professionalism–the old “If you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself,” at work.

He spat at the ground, his grip tightening around his sword.

…And what about him? What about his family’s right to battle?

Hakeem called to Graziano, “Moretti!  When the time is right, jump into my pathways and try to keep still!  We can flank her in ways she can’t follow!  If you can, back her into the pathways.  They’re a condensation of space, and it could disorient anyone unprepared for it.”

The man gave an imperceptible nod.  Hakeem leapt through one of his pathways, flashing to the end of it.  There, he let out a kai and sent another wave of force slicing through the snow.  Another pathway.

From the corner of his eye, Graziano saw someone jogging toward them in the snow.  He glanced and saw it to be Nyx, her expression taut with apprehension.  She stopped near him, watching as Quincy fought against the enchantress.

The man grabbed her by the shoulder and pointed with his rapier.  “Quincy’s just keeping her occupied.  We have to help her or Syria will just overwhelm her in the end!”

The girl swallowed and nodded.  As they ran forward, Graziano pointed at the pathway before them, where view of the battle was warped like a fish lens, “Watch out for these.  I know they’re hard to see right away, but if you go through them it can be dangerous.  Here’s an opening, come on!”

They passed through, the air between the separate pathways charged with static energy that made his hair stand on end.  As they neared the fight, Syria had drawn back her arm and was about to lash at Quincy’s head.  The wizard had just missed with a downward stroke and her body tensed to dodge the blow.  She wouldn’t make it.  Graziano yelled and lunged at Syria, forcing the woman’s attention on him.  The enchantress fell back, and instead of lashing out at Quincy, sent her attack at the Moretti instead.  A swing of her arm and the man felt a sickle of force strike him from his left shoulder down to his right hip.  The blow did not knock him down, but he was forced to stumble back several steps.

Nyx, a little wiser it seemed, flanked the enchantress, taking the time to go around to the woman’s side and strike with a kick to the back of the knee.  Syria went down, and the therian moved to knee the woman in the face, but as she lifted her leg, the enchantress jerked her head back.  The snow beneath Nyx shifted, and the girl gave a surprised yelp as she fell backward.  Quincy slashed down to cut at Syria’s head.  Their opponent rolled backward and slammed her fists into the ground.  The force of the blow, much like Hakeem’s move, launched her to her feet in an instant.

“Therian help me!” Quincy shouted as she pressed forward.  Nyx wheezed but was back on her feet and following suit.  Graziano watched as they fought the enchantress back more and more.  The Ailuran had what the Moretti didn’t–control.  Her speed and agility made each attack seem part of a greater whole, an interwoven series that allowed little pause on the part of the defender.  Graziano had always known Quincy to be the adaptable fighter.  She fed off of the girl’s rhythm, using it to her advantage to offer the power that Nyx’s technical skill lacked.

Did the enchantress know what they were doing?  Was the relentless onslaught so much that she couldn’t change it, even if she did?  Whatever the reason, the outcome was the same.

With a unified kick to the chest, Quincy and Nyx sent Syria flying backward into Hakeem’s pathway.  …But she went in the wrong way.

From where he stood, it was like the woman’s body was warped to be no wider than three inches, and no shorter than seven feet.  There was a choked gasp from Syria, and then she fell back, out of the pathway.  Hakeem, jogging up to join Quincy and Nyx, waved his arms, and the pathway vanished, leaving Graziano’s view of Syria clear.

The woman fell to her knees, gasping for breath.  Her eyes were wide and her arms limp at her sides.  Was it over, was it done?

Graziano sheathed his sword…then drew his pistol.  The ivory stock fit his palm so nicely.  He walked forward with slow steps, his face blank.

He could hear Quincy speaking to the others.  “…must close the ritual somehow.  The magic is still active, but it’s deteriorating, leaving the required objectives less definite.  That’s even more dangerous.  The last thing Syria needed for this to be complete was–” the wizard cut off as the Moretti appeared next to her.

“Un otrie sin casé, no posque funcío,” Graziano whispered, silent tears trailing down his cheeks.  “A tool has no purpose without a hand to use it…” he lifted his pistol.

In a rare show of expression, Quincy’s eyes widened, and she made as if to grab the man’s hand.  “No, Graziano don’t!

The man managed to squeeze off three shots in rapid succession before the wizard grabbed his wrist. He didn’t just want the woman dead. He wanted her to suffer

One shot entered Syria’s right shoulder.

The other two stopped in mid-air just before they could.  These would’ve struck her in the forehead and throat.  The woman’s eyes flickered back to life, and they moved to meet Graziano’s horrified gaze.  She offered him a thin smile, her eyes clouded with tears.

Dimly, he thought about his father.

“Papa, don’t worry, Arduino and I can take care of Paulo just fine.”

Then the hovering bullets shot forth at him.  One pierced his heart, the other the middle of his forehead.

Graziano fell, and when he hit the ground, he didn’t think about anything anymore…


The warrior made a last push up the slope, her breath ragged.  She teetered backward for a scary moment before she managed to right herself.  Doubled over, she tried to catch her breath.  Then she heard three gunshots, and her head snapped up.

Nyx screamed.

Ahead of her, far away, Graziano fell to the ground, limp.  To the side, Farrel had stood to his feet, one hand clenched like a punch he was considering throwing.  Quincy stared down at Graziano’s body like she couldn’t compute it.  Nyx fell to her knees, also in a sort of disbelief.  Hakeem pulled the both of them back harshly, leaving Elmiryn with a clear view of Syria.  Blossoming in her right shoulder was a blood stain, from a gunshot wound it looked like, but this didn’t seem to phase her.  Her head was tilted back, and the enchantress whispered something into the air.

Elmiryn stumbled forward as quickly as she could.  “Nyx!” she shouted.

The girl turned and saw her.  She ran to the woman, arms held out.  Nyx was in hysterics as she took the woman a little too roughly by the shoulders.  “Elmiryn, she killed him!  She killed Graziano!”

The warrior winced at the harsh contact, but turned her eyes to Quincy.  The wizard was staring at Paulo.  Elmiryn followed her gaze, and her brows crashed together.  “Oh fuck…”

Farrel stood staring down at the boy’s body with horror, his face under lit by the white glow that shone from the burned in runes on the boy’s body. Argos stood near Lethia, as though shielding her with his body, his hackles raised and teeth bared.

The air around them grew thick.  Elmiryn grabbed Nyx’s hand and squeezed it.  “Stay close to me, something’s happening.”

“Should we run?”  Nyx asked quickly, her voice taut with fear.

Overhead, a white mist had appeared, and it shifted in the sky, like milk being stirred.  Drops of water and light pieces of snow began floating upward, toward the sky.  With each passing second, the mist grew wider until it were a dense liquid disc that occupied all the sky overhead.  A powerful hum began to reverberate all around them.  Elmiryn started to feel the hair on her skin rise, and her blood felt thick in her body.  She clenched her jaw and began to pull Nyx back toward camp.  There, the scultones stood watching, their white eyes glowing in the dark as they flared their nostrils and took in the scene.

“Oh gods…” Nyx whimpered, squeezing Elmiryn’s hand.

Quincy and Hakeem jogged toward them.  Elmiryn slowed to a stop and gazed at them hard.  The man spoke, out of breath.  “We can’t get near Syria–there’s something preventing us from getting near.”

“Graziano, the fool…” Quincy muttered, staring blankly upward.  “The ritual needed a sacrifice to be completed.  Because we had interrupted Syria’s process, the magic had started to deteriorate, leaving that requirement open to be interpreted by the power in question.  Graziano’s life and blood were enough to substitute for Paulo’s…but the reaction will be different than whatever Syria expected.  Not even she can control it now–however she doesn’t seem to mind.”

“But what the fuck is happening?” Elmiryn snapped.

Quincy sighed.  “Nothing good.”

The warrior started to run, dragging Nyx with her.  “Then why are we just sitting around talking about it!?”

She started to feel lighter.  Her feet sunk less and less into the snow.  When her next step barely skimmed the ground, Elmiryn shouted and tumbled forward on purpose, back to the ground.  Her hand still held Nyx’s, and when she turned, she saw the girl was in the air, floating, her legs kicking wildly.

“Elmiryn!” The girl screamed in a panic.

A little behind them, Quincy and Hakeem were holding hands as well (oh, they were a couple?) and were floating up, but they’re expressions were less surprised.  They looked at her with somber expressions.

“Elmiryn.  We aren’t running, because we already know it’s too late,” Hakeem said, his brows together.

Elmiryn started to feel her body lift as well.  She looked to Farrel.  The man was clutching both Lethia and Paulo around their upper arms.  Argos was writhing and snarling near Lethia’s feet.  Farrel looked wildly at her, and she thought she heard him shout over the growing hum, “What’s goin’ on!?”

The warrior craned her neck to see Syria already floating near the mysterious liquid overhead.  Her expression seemed peaceful as her body was swallowed whole.  When she was out of sight, the liquid rippled, and the redhead’s eyes widened as she saw a myriad of colors flash in the white.  She thought she could make out objects between the ripples–mountains, rivers, people–

Syria had opened up a gateway.

Elmiryn’s tension sloughed away.  As she drifted up, ever closer to the liquid, she pulled Nyx to her and held the girl around the torso.

“Nyx…” she breathed, her eyes shining with wonder.  “I think I know where this goes.”

The girl seemed beyond speech.  She was trembling and hugging the woman tightly, so that it hurt, but the warrior was beyond caring.

She laughed and threw her head back, the momentum twisting them both around so that they slipped into the liquid feet first.  Upon touching it, she felt as though her nerves were on pins and needles.  Nyx was staring at her, hyperventilating.  She opened her mouth, trying to say something but nothing came out.  Hakeem and Quincy were already halfway in.  The warrior couldn’t even see Farrel and the others anymore.

“I’m going to tear this evil out by the roots,” Elmiryn said between laughs shortly before her head was swallowed by the oblivion.

And the torrent of unknowing that howled around them, pushed and pulled, wanting and puzzling and tasting to make sense of their particle existences.

…Because in the Other Place, definition had to be destroyed before it could be discovered again…


End of Part II

Continue ReadingChapter 18.3

In Good Company


He was the only one with a collar.  It had a silver plate on it where a name was stamped–“Five”–and the body of the collar was made of genuine dragon hide leather.  The satyr had said it was a gift in confidence from his client.  The puppy didn’t understand the implication of it, naturally.  Just that the others didn’t have a collar and he did and that was that.  He DID note that he had grown bigger than all of his siblings, and he took advantage of this when he could.  It was nice being big.

The puppy at the bottom of the dog pile felt his brothers and sisters roll and nip at him and he nipped back, a tumble of comforting smells and warmth found amidst the cold of the cellar.  He was with his mother and his siblings and it didn’t matter that bars fell over them in shadows.  Such things were beyond his animal mind, his young and spirited attention.  It was play-time.  Then it would be nap-time.  Then it would feeding-time, then play-time, then nap-time.  Such was Life.

His mother was a beautiful dog with long shimmering white hair and a large brown wet nose speckled pink around the edges.  She was grooming one of his siblings, trapping the puppy beneath her wide paw as her purple tongue swept over short fur.  A lantern next to the cage was all the light they had.  The cage was in a cramped room of damp stone.  It smelled of alcohol and spice and old wood.  A rat squeaked from the corner and he forgot his game long enough to canter to the bars and woof at it.  Across from the cage was a staircase leading Up.

The door at the top of the stairs opened, showering the light from the UpWorld.  The old satyr’s silhouette was there, as always.

“Mmm…Number 5?  Come on now, Number 5,” his old voice croaked, the sound like crickets under water.  The man hobbled down the stairs, nearly taking a full minute.  The stub and clack of his cane and his hooves made the puppies and their mother stop and sit up.  The man was a graying satyr with short horns and large round glasses.  Behind him flicked a short brown tail.  He wriggled his nose as he appraised the cage full of dogs.  “Dotti, old man Polichus needs Number 5 now.  You be good, you be a very good girl.”

Dotti, the puppy’s mother, growled at the satyr.  The young dog didn’t understand everything the man was saying, but he knew that he was ‘Number 5’.  He also knew that when his mother growled that way, it meant get behind her.  So he did, his rump against the bars in the back of the cage.

Polichus sighed, his olive colored eyes glowering from baggy, moled lids.

“Dotti…” the man’s voice was low.  Tired.

Then in a flash, he jabbed at the mother with his cane through the bars, knocking her hard against the cage.  Dotti snarled and cried out, scattering her pups as they tried to avoid being crushed be her.  Then the mother fell silent and still, her body slumping.  Polichus sniffed delicately and jerked his cane back.  From the blunt tip, a long needle dripped.  There was a click and it shot back, out of sight.

Polichus pulled a key from his vest’s pocket and unlocked the cage door.  “Stupid bitch.  It’s the same thing every week.  She fights, then I knock her out.  Aren’t these things capable of pattern recognition?”  He opened the door with a squeak and poked his head in, one finger shoving his glasses up his nose.  “Oh well.  C’mon Number 5.  You’ll be capable of it soon enough.”

The puppy growled and barked at the satyr, dodging.  His brothers and sisters were hyper with anxiety.  They yipped and tried to lick and nip the satyrs hand.  The man shooed them away.  “No, no, not you!  Number 5!”  He plucked him up with his gnarled hand and pulled back quickly, locking the cage door.  “There, finally!”

Polichus raised the little dog to his face and glowered.  “Troublesome!  That’s what this is!  The moment you’re old enough, Dotti goes!  Hmm?  You must be good for the old man when she does, my little Number 5.”  The dog bared his teeth, but the man just rapped his nose, making him squeak. “None of that!”

Then they were going Up, and the young dog fell quiet, his tail between his legs and his body shivering.  He didn’t like going Up.  He didn’t like it at all.


Her quill froze over the paper, and the nine-year-old stared forward, her green eyes blinking.  “Ummm…”

Below her paper was a bit of parchment where a question had been written in beautiful calligraphy. “Name three reasons a subject has nightmares.”

Lethia Artaud bit her lip and swung her feet under the table.  “Um, um, um…”  Her brow wrinkled and she sat back in her chair.  She squeezed her eyes shut and made the sound again, louder, as though this could bring the answer to her.  “Ummm–!!

“My sweet girl, you’re making quite a bit of noise for someone who should be studying!”

The girl’s eyes flew open and she slouched in her seat.  Outside her bedroom door stood Syria, her mistress, her pretty face free of the usual make-up and her hair pulled up into a messy bun.  She had a broom in her hands and small spectacles on the end of her nose.  She tucked one strand behind her ears before placing a hand on her hip.  “Well?” she said, her eyebrow raised in criticism.

Lethia blushed and looked back at her paper.  “I’m sorry mistress!”

Syria came to stand next to her, one hand resting on the back of the girl’s chair.  “What are you stuck on?”

“I just started on nightmares.”

“Mmm…” the woman leaned down, her eyes narrowing as she read through the narrow scope of her glasses.  “We went over this last night.”

Lethia’s blush turned worse and she fixed her eyes on the edge of the table.  “I know…” she mumbled.

Syria smiled gently and stroked the girl’s wheat blonde hair. “Don’t worry, dear.  Just look at your notes.  Where are they?”

The girl frowned as she tried to recall.  Her feet swung back and forth a few more times.  Then her eyes brightened.  “On the new scroll you gave me!”

“Which is most likely to be…?”

“On the shelf!” Lethia said, a proud smile spreading across her face for remembering.

Syria nodded and patted her head.  “There you are.”  She turned and walked toward the door.  “I’ll be cleaning in the kitchen if you need my help.  Try and do your best!”

“Yes, mistress!” Lethia cried as she slipped from her chair to receive the scroll from its mentioned place.  The scroll was a small one, but with four ornate handles made of polished cherry wood, with large discs that was a mix of both copper and wood.  Stamped into the copper, the words “Nightmares, Dreams, and Imaginings,” could be seen.  The girl pulled this from the shelf and rolled the parchment open, rolling the other end so as to take up the slack.  The parchment was mostly bare as Syria hadn’t finished her lectures.  But when she was done, Lethia was supposed to have a complete scroll of notes.

The girl read to herself out loud, slowly, as the words and the sentence structures were hard for her to say.  “Many confuse dreams with nightmares.  Dreams are simply mirrors reflecting an indy…indy-vid-ual’s life as-is.  A nightmare, however, is a fig…fig…” Lethia let out a frustrated sigh as she struggled with the word.  She started to migrate back to her chair as she sounded it out.  “Fig-yur-ra-tive tool used by the animus to catch the attention of the inty–intill–urgh…in-tel-lect.  People have nightmares for many reasons.  Though the nightmare may frighten or disturb–this does not mean its only purpose is to warn of immediate or future danger.  It could simply be an attempt on the part of the animus to bring about a fundy…fundy-mental change in the intellect.  It could also be an attempt by the animus’ to answer what the in-tel-lect cannot.”

The girl set the scroll down and picked up her quill, a dark feather from a wild turkey making whimsical shapes through the air.  She had garnered two reasons for nightmares from that paragraph, and copied the notes word for word.  “Bringing about a fundamental change in the intellect, and attempting to answer what the intellect cannot.”  In many ways, the concepts still eluded her, but Syria had said that recognition was the first step in learning, so Lethia didn’t fret over implicit understanding.  She was more concerned about making ink blots on her paper, and also wondered what the final reason for nightmares were.

The nine-year-old brushed the tip of her quill over the ridge of her large ear.  Her feet swung under the table.  Her attention started to wander, eyes sweeping about her small room.

The stone room had a wooden ceiling as above Lethia’s room was Syria’s.  Heavy rafters bowed over her with steel reinforcements.  The girl’s room overlooked the East, with a window that opened to afford her a beautiful view of the distant ocean.  Her bed was a warm wood frame with a tall headrest that resembled a rising sun.  At the foot of her bed was a chest where her toys were kept.  The bed and chest were adjacent to the door and window.  On the wall to the right of it, towards the far wall, were the shelves where her notes and books were kept.  Further down the wall, on the other side of the window, was her wardrobe where her dresses and coats and shoes could be found.  Across from her bed, just out of the doorway’s direct path, was her work desk.  Over this another shelf had been put up, holding yet more books.

The minutes stretched by, and Lethia felt herself clench up in frustration.

Taking her paper, the girl hopped off her chair and left her room, entering the winding staircase outside.  Her shoes pattered down the stone steps as she carefully descended to the bottom floor, where things were quiet.  Lethia frowned, her green eyes fluttering as she stood in the foyer, glancing left then right.  To her right, through the arched entryway was the den.  To her left, the kitchen.  Syria had said she’d be in the latter, so the youth tiptoed that way.

“Mistress Syria?” she called, beginning to feel nervous.

The girl stepped through the entryway, into the small kitchen, where herbs tied with twine hung drying over the counter.  Yesterday’s pick from the garden.  The pots were cold and the windows covered with simple curtains.  Sitting at the table with her head in her hands was Syria.  Black locks feathered out between her tense fingers.  Her glasses were on the table.  With the sunlight blocked, the back of the kitchen looked…dark.  Impenetrable.  Lethia couldn’t make out the woman’s face.

“But I’ve already planted it…” she heard the woman murmur.  “I’ve already planted it…wasn’t that enough?  You’re condemning her to–”

Lethia froze on the spot, holding the paper close to her like it were a shield from the disturbing sight.  “Mistress?”

Syria shifted, her hands relaxing some and moving to cover only her face.  She sat back in her chair and let out a shuddering sigh.  When she dropped her hands, a tired smile was on her face, dark eyes squinted as she took in the sight of the girl.

“Hmmm?  Yes, child?” she said, like she’d just been sleeping.

Lethia looked at the windows.  “Why did you close the curtains?”

The woman chuckled, a deep throaty sound.  She stood from her seat, smoothing out her teal cotton dress with one hand as she reached and grabbed the broom with the other.  “Just another migraine, dear.”

Lethia frowned.  “You’ve been having those alot lately!”  The girl opened her mouth to say something else, but she shut it with a snap and looked at the ground.

Syria came closer and leaned down, a soft hand touching the side of the girl’s face.  “Hmm?  Lethia, what is it, dear?”

Lethia rolled the weight on her foot to her ankle and back again.  “It’s just…that you said Isleen the Indomitable had lots of migraines before she died from a brain fever…”

The woman’s smile turned wry.  “Now I’m certain that wasn’t what I said!”

The girl pouted and looked at her shoes.  “But I remembered right!” she mumbled.

Syria placed a finger beneath her chin, forcing the child to look up.  Her look was chiding.  “Don’t mumble, dear.  And stop looking so sullen.  I wasn’t saying you remembered incorrectly–I’m saying you misunderstood me.”

“Yes, mistress.” Lethia said, struggling to wrestle her expression to something neutral.  She didn’t like displeasing Syria.

“Now what was it you needed help with?”

The girl held up her paper.  “I need one more reason for nightmares.”

Syria squinted at the paper.  Then she clicked her tongue.  “Give me a moment Lethia dear.  I can hardly see.”

She took the paper and went to the window near the table.  With a quick swipe, she threw back the small curtain and frowned at Lethia’s answers.  The youth bit her lip and rolled her weight onto her ankle again.

Syria glanced at her with a smile.  “Ah, my dear,” she sighed, the words warm and pulsing with affection.  Lethia ducked her head a little, but a grin spread her lips–though she wasn’t entirely sure what her mistress was smiling about per se.  The enchantress held the paper out to her pupil, shaking her head.  “You are so odd!  You have everything except the most famous reason of all!”

Lethia blinked, her green eyes squinting as Syria shifted to the side, allowing for more light to filter in through the window.  With the light in her eyes, the girl couldn’t see Syria’s face anymore–she was just a silhouette, lined hot by the glare, but no less striking for the loss of her features.

“Nightmares are most commonly known as warnings against impending dangers,” the enchantress said, a smile in her voice.

NUMBER FIVE__________________________

He urinated on the third shock.

He had been in the UpWorld for six hours.  He knew it to be this because Polichus had taught him to read a clock, and the clock said so.  Clocks had Numbers and Lines.  These were easier than the other things the man tried to teach him because the meaning for the numbers and the lines were unchanging and could easily be illustrated.  Pictures were still his primary form of thought–though he sometimes thought of letters as images alone–floating in a white sea.

Polichus gave him Special Water that tasted like dust and bacon.  The Special Water made him feel funny.  Polichus said the Special Water was important for the dog to understand the UpWorld.  The puppy still didn’t get a lot of things.  The UpWorld consisted of lots of bookcases sagging with books and papers and scrolls of parchment that seemed to spill out onto the flagstone floor.  There was a table across the room that held menacing tools and bizarre looking bottles and instruments.  The puppy knew that those things were for the satyr’s Work.  He never knew the man not to be Working.  An entryway led into a sort of living room, of which he’d been carried through many times, but had never actually been left much time in.  Next to the entry way, was a door that led to a place he’d never been before.  The door to his Home and his mother and siblings was in the living room.

Polichus sighed, setting down his wand.  He reached for the towel on the floor with a gloved hand.  “It’s a good thing we’re not on the kitchen table…”  The satyr started to mop up the piss, the puppy shivering and unable to make his legs move.  The man shoved him to the side, making the dog roll over onto its back in its weakness.  “Move over!”  Then he paused noting the semi-catatonic state the puppy was in.  The satyr cursed, throwing the towel onto the table.  “At this rate, I’ll have worked through another one…” he muttered.

He stood from his seat and with a stub and clack moved to the door behind them.  “Stay there, Number 5.  Old man Polichus is going to give you something to make you feel better…”

The puppy let out the tiniest whine, his limbs twitching as he struggled to regain control of his muscles.  There was a small rope on his collar tied to a metal rung on the table.  Just above his head was a thick card whose corner kept poking him.  It was one of The Cards.  Polichus had been quizzing him with those.  He would show a card and ask the puppy which was Bad and which was Good.  The greater reasoning behind the test still eluded him, but the puppy understood enough to know that if he didn’t choose correctly, he would be shocked with the wand.  If he got it right, he received a treat.

He had yet to get it right.

The dog, though still quivering, felt control return to him.  He flopped and twisted until he was on his paws again.  He sniffed the cards, then growled at them.  One was a picture of a short dwarf with a crown on his head.  Beneath it were the words, “King Brice.”  Another card near it depicted a mean-looking human with a hood over his head and a knife pointed at the viewer.  Beneath this picture was the word, “Enemy.”  He knew what they said because Polichus kept pointing at them and saying them over and over.  The dog couldn’t read, but thanks to the Special Water, he finally understood that the Squiggles meant things.

The puppy swiped at them, knocking them off the table.  He hated The Cards and their Squiggles.

He looked to the door where Polichus had vanished through.  With perked ears, he could hear the old satyr sifting through things.  There was the chink and clink of bottles and ceramics.  The dog snorted.

He wasn’t going to wait.

He went to the metal rung and began to gnaw at the rope.  It was a simple enough knot.  The dog managed to get a tooth beneath one of the threads and pulled, snarling under his breath.

There was a crash, and the puppy froze.  “Gods damnit!” Polichus voice.  He’d broken something…which meant he’d take a long time cleaning it up.

The dog finished pulling at the rope until it came from.  He gave a shake of his fur and panted happily.  Trotting to the edge of the table, the puppy jumped down onto the chair Polichus had been using.  When he jumped down onto the floor, he tumbled, yipping.  Despite his size, he was still only five weeks old, and he lacked good coordination.  There was another crash from the behind the door.

“Number 5!?” Polichus cawed.

Now trembling in fear, the dog ran as fast as he could to the living room.  Whimpering, he went to the door that led Home and scratched at the wood.  But he heard the stub and clack of Polichus hooves and cane and he dropped to the floor, his ears drawing back and his tail tucking between his legs.  He thought of his mother and how he would hide behind her body.  When he hid behind her, he couldn’t see Polichus.  The puppy didn’t want to see the satyr, but his mother wasn’t around.  He went for the next best thing–a large high back chair near the fireplace.

Stumbling over his own paws, the dog went to hide.

He heard Polichus enter the room.  The satyr seemed to be on the verge of panic.  “Number 5?  Come now, little pup, old man Polichus has just the thing to make up for those nasty shocks!”  The man went around the room, grunting.  He was likely trying to look around the furniture.  The puppy trembled, certain he was going to be found again.  Something Inside was hurting and he didn’t know why.

There was a scratching behind him.  The puppy’s ears twitched to it, but his attention was dominated by the slow approach of Polichus who was working his way around the room.

“Number 5…” the man snarled, rage suddenly tainting his words.  “You worthless mongrel–after all I put into you I won’t let you–!!”

The man was cut off by a screech.  The puppy dropped to the ground, his head and ears tweaking toward the fireplace.  There was a scritching and scratching, like claws along brick.  Soot tumbled down the chimney.

Then without warning a horrible looking monster tumbled down onto the ashes.  It hopped up, on its hands and feet, wings shaking the ash and soot from the feathers.  Black eyes blinked amidst a blue face.

Polichus shouted, his cane dropping and his hands going to his head.  “I forgot to close the damper last night!” he croaked.

The batreng bared its teeth, its voice like a marble rolling along thin wood as it contemplated its situation.  Then a noise came at the windows, rattling them and sending shadows along the floors.  Polichus cursed.  More of them, outside–they were calling to their fellow, who screeched and hooted back at them.

Then the Batreng’s eyes turned the puppy’s way.  The young dog backed into the chair, a whimper building in his throat.  The batreng hopped up once, sending soot and ash into the puppy’s eyes, and before he knew it, the monkey monster had him by the collar and was hefting him up, and he squelched at the pressure on his windpipe.  His claws skimmed the floor.

“Number 5!”  Polichus.  There was the scrape as the man picked up his cane from the floor.

The puppy’s eyes teared and carried away the ash that had blinded him.  His vision was still blurred, but now he could open his eyes somewhat.  He felt the impish creature jerk him up, so that his paws no longer touched the floor, and for a moment he was granted a feeling of weightlessness as he found himself staring parallel with the uneven ceiling.  Then the ceiling was falling away from him just as he started to feel gravity’s grips on him, his fur ruffling, the sound of wings beating the air, and the dog wheezed, his neck giving a painful twinge as he swatted against the batreng’s leg.

Polichus’ stick narrowly missed him.  The man was having a fit as the batreng flew, across the room, the puppy in its grip.

“Get back here, get back here you little demon!” he squawked.

The puppy pedaled his paws in the air, and with the motions of flying swinging him side to side, the dog could hardly twist around to bite at the batreng that held him captive.  The creature whooped, sounding like a crone, as it called to its brothers through the windows.  With a whoosh the monster evaded Polichus’ cane swipes and entered the study that the puppy had originally fled from.  The young dog whined, its eyes clear enough now to see that the stupid imp was landing much too fast amidst the table filled with odd glasses and sharp instruments–

The dog cried out as its hindleg was cut on a menacing star-like cutting tool.  The batreng, fascinated with the shiny things–started to shift through the items, eventually settling on a polished blunted tool that the puppy had once seen Polichus use to crush minerals for his potions.

The satyr in question came hobbling into the study, his weak knees knocking together as he gripped onto the entryway for support.  “Beast!  Cretin!  Out with you!”  he brandished his cane at the batreng, who just screeched back at him, its tail lashing and knocking over bottles.  “Beast!  You filthy beast!”  The old man lurched forward.  For all the strength that remained in his arms, his legs were his undoing.  The batreng dodged him easily, wings batting at the air in slow, unconcerned flaps.  The puppy let out another squelch, blood dripping from its hind leg as the batreng flew across the other end of the room to the high circular window.

Polichus face drew long as he slammed into the corner of the instrument table.  His cane fell from his hands as his legs stuttered beneath him, hooves scraping along the floor through broken glass and spilled potions.  “No!  Please!” He bleated, not ironically.  His right hoof caught on a snag on the floor and he fell to his knees, glass cutting into him.  He peered around his work table, his glasses having slid far down his nose.  The batreng narrowed its black eyes at him, its lips spreading to bare teeth in what could be interpreted as a fiendish smile.

The impish monster then raised the blunt instrument, cawing and hooting with triumph, before he swung it at the window.  The glass shattered, the falling shards catching sunlight and ringing onto the floor like a song that heralded freedom.  The puppy didn’t understand.  The puppy was finding it hard to stay conscious, after all.

Polichus screamed as the batreng flew out, and in his place, his brothers clammered about the open window, cutting themselves on the jagged edges as they fluttered in, excited and eager by the sight of all the shiny things that they could snatch and break…


The girl was in a panic.  She was still in her thin cotton dress, her long wheat blonde hair drawn up in a sweaty tail, house shoes still on her feet.  Her mistress had said they would have a trip to Belcliff today if she managed to finish her assignments, but she hadn’t.  She had the list of questions Syria had written her, so she set about starting.  But she was near to tears.  Trips outside of their small home were special.  Lethia had missed out on a chance like this only once before, and she’d cried herself to sleep thinking she’d have to wait ages to see the world outside.  The simulations Syria created for the sake of their lessons were in no way as satisfying as actually seeing it all in the flesh.

Lethia’s legs swung hard under her table, as though the excited fidgeting would make her brain work faster.

“Name three reasons a subject has nightmares.”

The girl bit her lip and rubbed her brow.  With her fresh piece of paper, she set to writing… “Subjects have nightmares for three reasons.  1)  As warnings against danger;  2)  To answer a question the intellect can’t;  3) To–” Lethia paused, her eyes widening.  She lifted her quill before the ink started to feather and tried to resist the urge to beat her head.  Syria said that hurting herself would not make problems easier.

The woman was perhaps right–but the girl didn’t know any other way to get out her frustrations.

“Lethia, dear?”

The nine-year-old jumped with a whimper.  She looked to the doorway and saw Syria there, in her heavy winter cloak and a fine burgundy dress with a cream blouse.  A small wicker basket was held in her hands.  The enchantress frowned at the girl, her arching brows nearly meeting.  “Child, did I not say to get ready?  We waste daylight!”

Lethia’s chin crumpled and she set her quill down.  “I know, mistress.  I’m sorry, mistress.”  She swallowed the lump in her throat and bowed her head.  Her face turned hot as tears blurred her vision.  “I didn’t…I didn’t…finish…” the girl couldn’t go on.  She let out a small sob before she bit her lip and tried to swallow it down.

The woman sighed and swept into the small room, her clothes swishing as she switched her basket to one arm and looked over the girl’s shoulder.  She blinked, and an exasperated smile spread over her rubious lips.  She stroked the girl’s hair.


The girl sniffed and looked up.  She tried not to slouch, even though she really wanted to.  “Yes, mistress?”

The woman’s smile broadened and she pointed at the girl’s paper.  “Child, you’ve already finished your assignment.  And you did an excellent job, I might add!”

Lethia stared up at her, then she wiped at her face and beamed.  “Really!?”

Syria laughed, the sound deep and warm.  “Yes, yes!  This is why we’re going out today!”  The woman set her basket onto the desk and floated to the wardrobe.  “Now that’s straightened out…what would my dearest like to wear today?”

NUMBER FIVE__________________________

The batreng landed on a cliff face not far from Polichus’ cottage, grumbling as it fingered the puppy’s collar.  The satyr’s home was nestled down in a small valley, and swirling over it was a swarm of the flying imps, all cawing all hooting all screeching.  They could’ve come for the magical fumes that Polichus polluted the air with, or perhaps–through some twisted form of word-of-mouth, the monsters (with their limited intelligence) had heard of the shiny things the satyr kept so poorly guarded.  But these possibilities were beyond the puppy who had much more pressing matters to deal with.

The batreng set the dog down, the wide pad of its thumb scraping over the silver plate of his collar.  The pup, dizzy and panting, tried to writhe out of the creature’s grip, but the batreng just screeched at him and wrestled him still.

At one point the monster leaned down to bite at the puppy’s collar, and the dog cried out as it felt its fangs scrape against his neck.  Before the batreng pulled away, the dog managed to twist around and bite him on the shoulder.  The batreng jerked back with a shriek, the blunt tool that it had stolen from Polichus rising in the air for a strike–

But the instrument caught the light, drawing the attention of its fellows.

Another batreng swooped down at top speed, knocking into the first.  They tumbled over the puppy, off the cliff face, hooting and shrieking as their wings beat at each other.  The dog lay there shivering, its watery eyes peering over the cliff to see its captor go.  Then he whined.

His peace was not to last.

A shadow fell over him, and the dog tensed up just before yet another flying imp grabbed him around the middle.  This one seemed smarter than the puppy’s previous captor.  Rather than tempt his brethren with his new prize, the imp flew into the air, warbling as it traveled away from the growing chaos that befell Polichus.  It soared over the mountains and hills, and the puppy trembled in its hands, deciding it was perhaps a better idea not to try and fight his captor at such an altitude.  If he hadn’t already emptied his bladder, he would’ve done so now.

A city came within sight.


She held Syria’s hand as she looked around the local jeweler’s.  They had stopped there for an errand, but Lethia didn’t know what.  She didn’t mind, she liked looking at the jewelry.  There were diamonds, pearls, rubies, garnets, sapphires…such pretty things.  Such bright and precious metals.  The nine-year-old gazed through the cases in wonder, her breath fogging up the glass.

“Hello Beryl,” Syria said to the woman behind the counter.  “I was wondering if I could speak with Daedalus a moment?  Is he in?”

“Yes, Lady Syria,” the round, gingery woman said.  She bowed slightly.  “Allow me to get him for you.  It’ll be just a moment!”

Syria smiled pleasantly as Lethia glanced at her.

“Mistress, may I ask a question?” The girl said.

The woman nodded at her.  “You may, dear.”

“Where do these jewels come from?”

“From the dwarves, dear.”

The girl frowned.  “But I’ve never seen any in town!”

Syria pressed a finger to her lips as Daedalus came through the door.  He was a tall elf with long, smooth ears, short-cropped black hair, and electric blue eyes.  He had the faintest lines about his mouth and eyes, and his throat was beginning to sag.  He bowed deeply. “Lady Syria!  How nice to see you!  I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing you in my shop.  What can I do for you today?”

Syria curtsied with a slight bow of her head.  “Greetings Daedalus!  It pleases me to see you in good health.  Your shop is delightful.”

“Thank you, Lady.”

“I come to you today in the hopes that you may fulfill a need of mine?”

The man nodded, his hands folding behind his back.  Beryl, his assistant, sidled past him, bowing.  “Yes?” the man said, his eyes appraising. “What would you ask of this elf?  I would meet your request to the best of my ability.”

Syria smiled.  “Thank you, sir.  I was wondering if you could fashion a pair of wire frame glasses…” then the woman placed a gentle hand on Lethia’s shoulder, making her look up in surprise.  “For my apprentice if you’d please.”

Daedalus nodded, looking at the girl.  Lethia blushed and looked down at the floor.  “Mmm…well, we’d need to get some measurements–but that will only take a moment.  Bring her around the counter.  Let’s see how we can make this work.”

Lethia felt Syria press her shoulder gently.  “Come, dear.”

As they turned to go around the counter, the nine-year-old glanced out the front windows to the streets outside.  The roads had been cleared of the snow, leaving clear pathways for citizens to walk.  People went by, bundled up.  They kept to themselves.  Belcliff wasn’t very boisterous–even Lethia knew this at her age.  She was just about to look away, the sight failing to hold her attention, when a large shadow crossed the street toward the building.  The girl paused, her eyes widening.

Lethia had spent a great deal of time looking out her window back home at the tower, and she could recognize the local birds by shadow alone without trouble.  That was not a bird.  That was a–

“Mistress!” the girl said, tugging on the woman’s hand.

Syria glanced down at her as she steered the girl through the doorway leading to the back of the store.  “Yes, dear?”

“Outside just now!  I saw something!”

“Oh?”  They followed Daedalus past the messy desk which held records and designs and notes.  Together they went up the winding stairs to the second floor, where the man’s work station was located.  The sturdy table was brimming with various tools and spools of metal, boxes of jewels and various crafting materials organized by type and color.  Over the desk, a large window filtered in light from outside.  The elf sat down in his cushioned chair, and it groaned beneath his weight.  He pulled on a pair of magnifying goggles, carefully pulling it behind his long ears where the contraption rested on his forehead.

The man gestured for Lethia to come near and Syria urged her forward.  The youth bit her lip, wishing to press the matter further, but being overly persistent about something usually made Syria cross.

As soon as she was before him, he took a measuring tape and held it before her eyes.  It took her a moment before she realized the man was measuring the width of her head.  “Hmm,” he said before taking the tape and wrapping it all the way around.  He nodded, turning to his materials.  “Let me see, here…”

As the man scribbled on a scrap of paper, the girl’s ears perked to the sound of chittering.  She frowned and glanced at the window.  “Mistress…” she said slowly.

“Shh…” the woman said behind her.

Lethia’s frown deepened as she heard something whimper.  The girl went around the desk, to the right, standing on her tiptoes as she tried to peer out the window along the building’s ledge.  Her eyes bugged.  “Mistress Syria!” she cried loudly.

Both adults looked at her, startled.  Syria crossed her arms, her eyes narrowing.  “Child, what has gotten into you!?”

The girl pointed frantically at the window, hopping on the spot.  “Outside!  There’s a batreng and it’s killing a puppy!

“What?”  Daedalus stood as Syria came closer.  They leaned over the work table as far as they could go, heads craning to look out the window–but Lethia was already running for the staircase.

Her mistress turned, dark eyes blinking.  “Lethia?”

The nine-year-old ran as fast as her legs could take her, bounding down the steep staircase two at a time and slamming into the wall.  Beryl cried out in surprise, throwing papers up into the air as Lethia pushed past her through the door.  “Pardon me, ma’am!” the girl cried over her shoulder as she pushed through the front door out into the snowy street.

She squinted her green eyes against the glare of the white world, cringing as she slogged clumsily through the growing snow bank on the side of the road.  Before she even stopped moving, Lethia twisted around to look up the building face.  Sure enough, there was a batreng there, pawing and grumbling at the collar of a large puppy.  Within that instant, the collar came away, and a silver plate glinted on it–likely the prize it had truly been seeking all this time.  The batreng warbled at it, pleased.

…The puppy wasn’t moving.

Clenching her fists, the girl squeezed her eyes shut.

All around shut out quiet as she reached with things unseen to the intellect of the batreng.  It pulsed with bright images of food, and treasure, and violence.  The girl could see the thoughts of Beryl and Daedalus–but not Syria.  The woman kept her mind protected at all times.

With a psychic spear of thoughts (“Go away!  Leave it alone!  Shoo!”), the girl attacked the batreng’s mind.  Her thoughts were puissant white words, searing through the dark sea that bore them through the static dark space of their world.  It lanced through the batreng’s mind, and the imp’s thoughts faded, turning smoky and lost.  She heard as it fell to the snow.  Her heart dropped.  She had only meant to scare the monster away–did the puppy get knocked down too?

Then she felt a hot presence scalding her from the front.  Her power was forcefully pushed back, causing a dull ache in her head.  The girl withdrew the rest of the way, shuddering.  Her eyes snapped open, and there stood Syria, her eyes narrow slits, arms crossed high over her chest.

The girl bowed immediately, trembling.  “M’sorry mistress!  The puppy needed help!”

Syria’s voice was hard.  “You risked tainting the greater intellectual cluster.  You risked harming your own mind.  You weren’t dealing with a sentient–you were dealing with a monster.  Nevermind that I haven’t trained you in dealing with the matrices of normal animals.”

Lethia swallowed hard.  She dared to raise her gaze enough to stare at Syria’s knees.

The woman sighed and brought the girl upright by the shoulders.  The child looked into her mistress face with wide eyes.  Syria gazed at her, stoic.  “Well?  You risked so much for this poor thing, you may as well take to it!”

Lethia blinked up at her.  Then her mouth set into a somber line, and she gave a nod.  Together they went to the snow bank where the batreng had fallen.  Daedalus had already slit its throat, his dagger in his hand.  The creature’s blue face was a navy blue, like it’d been choking.  Neither of its hands held the collar.  It must have fallen from its grip as it fell.  The nine-year-old paled at the sight of the monster corpse, but the elf was quick to stuff it into the burlap sack he had brought from inside.

“Damn these things!” the elf panted as though he’d run from the second floor all the way down.  “There’s more of them this year!  And they keep coming to my shop of ‘shiny things’!”  He stood and went around to the alley to dispose of it properly.

With the harrowing sight taken away, the girl turned next to Beryl who had just come from the building.  She knelt carefully in the snow, gathering up her dress as she inspected the puppy that lay still.  Lethia knelt by it, gathering her dress up in similar fashion.  Her eyes started to burn.

“Did it die…?” she breathed.

“No, child,” Syria said over her.  She was frowning.  “I can…hear it.”

The girl turned and frowned at her.  “…Mistress?”

The enchantress looked to Beryl, her eyes suddenly wide and sharp.  “Beryl, dear, might we borrow a blanket of some sort?”

“Gods, of course!”  The woman rose to her feet with a small grunt, her round body hurrying to the door.  “Halward help the poor creature!  It’ll need more than a blanket,” the woman muttered as she went through the doorway.

Lethia’s lip trembled as she scooted closer–her empathy leading her to forget to care about whether or not her dress touched the dirty snow.  She reached forward and touched a hand to the puppy’s hind leg, where blood and puss crusted in the soft fur.  The dog’s ears perked, and it turned its head to fix one watery eye on the girl, but it took no other action other than to settle its head back down and closed its eyes.

Beryl came back with a wool scarf.  Her chubby cheeks pink.  “I hope this’ll do!  It was all I could find.”

Lethia took it from the woman’s hands eagerly.  “Thank you!”

The woman looked at her, eyebrows raised high.  She looked at Syria as though to ask silently if it were okay for the child to handle the task, and the enchantress only held up a lax finger.

The nine-year-old, oblivious, pinched her tongue between her lips as she gathered the puppy up into a bundle with the wool scarf.  The dog whimpered some, but its eyes slipped shut.  They took it inside.  Once there, Daedalus checked the dog’s hind leg.

“Flesh wound,” he said, wiping at the fur with a wet cloth.  “I’ll wrap it, to keep it clean once I wipe away this dirt, but once you’re home you’ll have to remove it.  I’m spreading some medicine over it–to prevent fever, so there shouldn’t be any trouble.”

At the mention of taking the puppy home, Lethia turned and gazed at Syria imploringly.  The woman arched an eyebrow at her.  “My dear, of course we’re taking it home.  You chose to save it.  It is now your responsibility.  But do not think I’m forgetting about what you attempted!  We’ll discuss your punishment once this matter is dealt with in full.”

Lethia had started to grin, but at Syria’s last words, she tried to smother her joy with not a lot of success.

They were taking a puppy home…


The next few days, the girl cared for the puppy as best she could.  There were no trained animal doctors in the region as there was no great amount of livestock, and as such all owners were expected to treat their own.  This didn’t seem a problem as Syria owned a book on animals that covered a wide variety of species.  Though the information wasn’t very specific, there was enough there about dogs that they were able to figure out a proper diet for the puppy.  They tried to feed the puppy a mixture of milk, and ground up meat.  They kept it warm and checked its wound.

Still, it didn’t seem to get stronger.  It didn’t play, it didn’t even move its head.  It refused food and refused drink.

Lethia lay in her bed on the third night, weeping.  The dog lay in a makeshift bed on the floor near her.  “Puppy…puppy, what’s wrong?” she whispered in a dry whine.  “Why won’t you let me help?”

The dog didn’t move or make a sound.  The girl curled into a ball and after a while, she fell asleep.

…Whilst in repose she came across a way of sound that begged her to dance, so she did.

Her feet touched upon stars, skimming belts of light as though she were a weightless feather soaring on the currents of the wind.  She was–she was–she was–


Then, suddenly her parents were there–faceless beautiful voiceless loving lifeless golems that kept ahead of her always in the dark plum skies–their definitions were the offspring of expectations threaded carefully through the eyes of children’s hopes and dreams.  Speaking was not allowed here, so she uttered not a cry or a greeting to the phantoms that drifted at a fixed distance before her.  She would not speak, would not speak.  Would not dare to ask, “Why are you here?  Why do you have me chasing you?”  The girl only wished the way of sound went faster, and tried to move along the stars and belts of light so as to catch up with her faceless beautiful voiceless loving lifeless parents–but ah the wicked reaches of space and time left the tips of her hopeful branches still all too short.  Her parents were gone.

The girl wept tears of sticky yellow sap, and her feet burrowed into the stars and the belts of light as she ceased her fervent dancing, swallowing the way of sound so as to end the path forever more.

Lethia Artaud rooted herself in the heavens and her world turned dark.

Then she woke up, gasping.

Lethia swallowed, mouth dry, blinking away tears as she stared down at her hands half-curled in her lap, the heavy blanket over her legs feeling too stifling.  She kicked it away and moved to sit at the edge of her bed.  The puppy still hadn’t moved from its place.  The girl carefully slid to the floor and leaned down over the small dog, her breath bated as she tried to focus in the clandestine darkness.

“Puppy?” she breathed, thinking of her dream.  No…her nightmare.  She thought of her lessons on the subject and pressed even closer, pressing her forehead to the dog’s.  “…Tell me what’s wrong.”

Syria had said that the girl had taken a great risk in stunning the batreng.  She had said that such enchantment required special training, for monsters were even more difficult and dangerous to read than animals.  …But if Lethia could see and affect the batreng’s mind–what challenge did a puppy’s mind present?

Nevermind that she’d knocked it out versus shooing it away.

Lethia’s eyes slipped shut.

It took a moment, but in her mind’s eye, she saw the glow of the puppy’s thoughts.  This alone wasn’t very shocking.  Each animal, however simple-minded, was capable of some form of thought.  What made Lethia gasp and draw back was that–

The puppy was thinking of words.  Human language.

The girl swallowed and closed her eyes again.

The puppy’s thoughts were a cloud, much like most minds were.  As such, she knew the most pressing or currently focused thoughts were near the center of the cluster.  Gently, so as to not harm his mindscape, the girl probed gently into the cloud, using low amounts of her power–what Syria called “ishin”.  Ishin was measurable, but invisible to the human eye.  It was not incorrect to call it a sixth sense, but this implied that it was a passive trait that could not be actively utilized.  As an enchantress, Lethia had to learn early what ishin was, and how to turn it into a tool she could utilize whenever she wanted to.  She didn’t have much experience piercing other mindscapes on her own, so the girl moved forth slowly.

As she did, she marveled at what she saw.

On the glow of the puppy’s outer thoughts, the girl garnished finer understandings of what the images meant.  What truly awed her was that the images of words weren’t just disconnected memories of odd symbols.  They had understanding, they had definition…much of it being incorrect or overly-simplistic (“Squiggles?  Does he mean words?  …UpWorld? What?”) but they meant something to the dog.

There were more images than words, of course.  There were thoughts of his siblings, thoughts of a dark place that looked like a cellar, thoughts of a cage, thoughts of food and sleep and play.  Thoughts of a large dog–likely his mother.  She got a name from the latter–Dotti.

Lethia stopped her advancement as a large dark phrase hovered before her, like a wall blocking her path.


It was a name, she knew from the manner of its use–and there were images too–an old satyr living alone in the frosty region of the Torreth.  It was also a name drenched in loathing.  All around it pulsed negative emotions.

Polichus, bad.  Polichus, hurt.  Polichus, bad.  Polichus, hurt.

Swallowing, Lethia went around this thought.  She’d have to tell her mistress about this person.  He didn’t sound like a good man at all.

Finally she came to the center of the cluster, and the nine-year-old felt a pressure on her head.  Going in this deeply often caused the mindscape to resist against the foreign intellect.  The matrices of the puppy’s animus were closing in around Lethia, and she took a deep breath.

Vibrating and buzzing and pulsing were the puppy’s most pressing thoughts and concerns and desires.  Lethia was surprised to find many of them were the word-images she encountered before.  Towering above the other thoughts were the words:  Home, Pain, and Family.  Surrounding these were smaller images, like flies around fruit, zipping and flashing in and out of sight, fuzzy at the edges and sometimes transparent.  Lethia focused on the puppy’s concern with Pain, and bared her teeth as she tried to hold onto her connection long enough to see something useful in all the confusing mess that surrounded the thought.

There.  His neck and throat.  The puppy was finding it painful to swallow.  Of course!

Lethia withdrew, the ghostly images flashing by her in a rush as the puppy’s mind shut her out completely.  She felt something snag on her, but she couldn’t stop.  Being engrossed in another mind took effort, and her ishin still wasn’t strong enough to stay connected that long.

The girl opened her eyes, feeling excited.  She considered waiting till morning, but she figured as there was a life at stake, her mistress wouldn’t get too upset over her intrusion.

She was partially right.

“My dear, you have gotten quite audacious these past few days!  Never have you been this impetuous.  This whole matter vexes me!” Syria cried as they traveled down to the kitchen.  The woman slammed and banged things as she gathered what she needed.  She was barefoot and dressed in her sleeping gown, hair messy and pinned back, her face a bit ghoulish from the poor light and the shock of suddenly being roused from deep sleep.  Lethia had told her of the puppy’s problem, and her mistress seemed to know just what was needed, though she didn’t impart this to her apprentice.  The woman was too busy ranting.  “Did I not tell you that training was needed when dealing with mindscapes that aren’t sentient?!  Yet you deliberately disobeyed me!”  The enchantress slammed the mortar and pestle onto the counter next to the astragalus root, sphinx bezoar, and white chalk. “Clearly your new chores and writing assignments haven’t been enough for you!  Perhaps I’ll have you clean the cow’s stable as well?”

Lethia paled.  She bowed deep with hands at her sides.  “M-Mistress!  I’ll never do it again!  I–” but the girl paused and bit her lip.

Syria stopped, crossing her arms.  “What, child?” she asked flatly, her baggy eyes narrowing.

Lethia raised herself enough to blink at Syria’s knees.  “The puppy thinks…in words.  I saw a name in his head.  Polichus.  I think…I think he was the puppy’s owner.” The girl waited to hear Syria’s reaction.

“Go on,” the woman said, her voice reserved.

Lethia resumed in a rush.  “Polichus is an old satyr who lives in the area.  The puppy hates him, mistress.  He hurt him.  And he’s got the puppy’s family still–locked in a cellar in a cage!”  The girl’s fists clenched.  “It isn’t right!”

Syria said nothing for a moment.  Then she shook her head and returned her attention to the items on the counter.  “Very well…we shall see about this satyr.  I promise you nothing, however.  We may even be required by the marshal to return the dog to its owner.”

“But he hurt him!” Lethia cried, straightening.  Her little body trembled.  She wouldn’t let the puppy go back to that terrible man.

“Do not shout at me, girl.” Syria said, pausing with an air of danger as she turned her head just so.

Lethia quailed, bowing again.  “My apologies, mistress…” the girl mumbled.

Syria sighed as she chopped up the astragalus root.  “My dear…focus on helping your little friend first.  These things will come in time.”


A week later.  In her bedroom.  On the floor between the bed and her work desk.

Lethia watched in delight as the puppy carefully chewed up the ground meat.  They had to shave away the fur around its neck–something it greatly protested–but after Syria had applied the salve she had made, the dog immediately started to show improvement.  It was still experiencing discomfort, but now the dog was eating again, and the nine-year-old couldn’t be happier.

“It’s good isn’t it, puppy?” the youth giggled as she gently scratched its back.

The dog gazed up at her with eyes blinking.  Then it thought:  Good?  Food!  GOOD food!

Lethia’s hand froze against the puppy’s back.  Her green eyes widened.  “…Puppy?” she breathed.

The puppy perked its ears, its tail wagging.  Girl?

The girl shivered, touching her head, then her large ears, then her mouth.  “I–but I’m not–my ishin isn’t–”

The dog resumed its meal, small jaws taking up pieces of the ground up meat.  Girl.  Squiggles.  Number 5 hate Squiggles.  But Number 5 love Girl.  …But Number 5 HUNGRY.  Stop Squiggles now.  Good food!

Lethia’s young mind thought of several possible actions.  She could panic.  She could panic and start crying.  She could panic and start crying and run to find Syria.  OR…

The girl started laughing, her face turning red.  “I can hear you!  And you understand me!”  Lethia jumped to her feet, her hands clapping as she hopped up and down.  “I can talk to animals!”  The girl paused, a frown coming over her features.  “Wait…you call yourself ‘Number 5’?”  She scrunched up her nose.  “That’s a stinky name!  Let me get the mythology book from downstairs.  We’ll pick something better for you!”

As the girl fled the room, the puppy grumbled after her.


Lethia jumped down the stairs, her entire body shocked and jittering with excitement.  Syria was in her sanctuary, meditating.  As she entered the foyer, she tried to contain her bubbling giggles.

But her concern didn’t seem to matter.  The woman emerged from the room, her cheeks flushed, and her eyes bright.  Syria brushed a stray lock behind her ear as she fixed her eyes on Lethia.  “Child, what are you up to?”

The girl froze, feeling oddly guilty.  “I was getting a book…” she said, pointing.

“Did you finish your assignments?”


“And your chores?”

“Yes!  I swept and mopped and did the dishes.”

“…And the stable?”

Lethia looked down at her shoes.  “I was feeding the puppy.”

Syria pursed her lips, one hand resting on her hip.  “Very well.  But afterwards you take care of that stable!”

The girls shoulders sagged.  “Yes, mistress…”

The woman drifted to the door, her brows knitting.  “And don’t slouch!”  She beckoned for Lethia to come near.  “Here…is the puppy still eating?  Will he be okay?  You really ought to choose a name for him, dear.”

Lethia pouted.

Syria went on, oblivious. “Come with me a moment, we’ve a visitor at the gates.  I sensed their approach just now.”

Lethia perked up at this, her eyebrows going high.  It was always exciting when someone from the outside came to their tower, but the youth knew all of Syria’s patients and none were scheduled to make an appearance now.  The enchantress pulled on her heavy cloak and when the youth came near, she plucked the girl’s cloak off the hook and did the same for her.  Together they went outside, trudging through the snow hand in hand.

Surrounding their tower were high walls meant to keep out most animals and monsters.  Syria’s power was such that she needed only the power of her mind to sense the presence of a visitor at the outer gates.

As they neared, they saw a familiar elf waving at them from the other side.

“Hail, Daedalus!”  Syria called.

“Hail my Lady!”  He held up a package.  “I have finally finished them.  I hoped you received my messenger pigeon?”

“Yes, yes, I’ve been expecting you.  Please allow me to open this.”  Syria pulled a lever at the side of the gate and the mechanism shuddered and creaked as the gates pushed through the snow, swinging inward.  Daedalus bowed and stepped through.

“Hullo, Lethia.  How’re you this fine day?”

The girl blushed and curtsied.  “Very well, sir!  Thank you for asking!”

Syria smiled and placed a hand on her shoulder as the gates swung close again.  She gestured toward the tower.  “Please sir, this way.  I’ll make you some tea.”

“Thank you, Lady Syria.  I would be very grateful,” the man said with another slight bow.

Once back at the tower, Syria made the tea as promised.  They were in the kitchen, Lethia sitting at one end of the table as Daedalus did the other.  Normally she was to tend to any additional needs of guests, but the man was content to wait for his tea in peace.  The enchantress handed Daedalus a cup, and the man accepted it gratefully.  She took another, smaller cup, and served Lethia some as well.  The girl accepted it with a grin and a quiet, “Thank you!”

The elf closed his eyes as he tasted the drink.  Ginger with lemon and honey.  “Mmm!”  He set the cup down and nodded with a broad smile.  “I see you are quite talented!  Tea making is sullied by the crass.  There are few left today who understand the art of it!”

Syria bowed her head.  “I am honored you would think me worthy.  You must have sampled some of the best teas in the world.  Lekeid is quite famous for it.”

Daedalus chuckled.  “Yes, the Higashans, try as they might, still cannot match the Elven ways,” he pulled the package on the table to his lap.  It was a box covered in parcel paper and bound with twine.  “So, onto the business of those glasses you had me make for you.”  The man stood and presented the package to Syria, who took it with both hands.  “I hope they are to your specifications.  The lenses were what took the most time–I had to scrap a pair and start over as they weren’t good enough.”

Syria unwrapped the package carefully.  Lethia craned her neck, the steam from her tea curling around her face.

The woman pulled from the box a pair of glasses with dark, round lenses.  Lethia couldn’t see her face as the woman spoke.  “Ah…good.  I was getting worried.”

Daedalus frowned, tilting his head to the side.  “Worried?  Whatever for?”

Syria turned and drifted to Lethia.  Carefully, she leaned down and held up the glasses.  “Oh, you see…my dearest Lethia has a condition.  It’s quite unfortunate.  We’re still working on a solution.”

Lethia blinked, a small frown coming over her face.  She took the glasses from the woman and slowly put them on.

“Remember, dear?” the enchantress said to the girl, tilting her head to one side.  Her eyes were wide and dark. “You have a condition.  You can’t look directly into other people’s eyes or you’ll steal their thoughts!”

The nine-year-old started to feel a crawling sensation along her skull.  Her eye stalks started to hurt, and sound began to feel like it filtered through thick cotton.

Lethia nodded, feeling numb.  “Oh…yes, I remember now…”


The satyr was dead.

She had known this after Lethia had first mentioned the man.  Upon returning to bed, she’d swept through the region, combing the the greater intellectual cluster to discover his thoughts were still present but feeble.  By the time help would arrive, he’d perish from his injuries.  Still, the woman sent a messenger bird as soon as she could to the local authorities.

The records stated that he was killed by a swarm of batrengs that had invaded his home. Syria felt there was something greater at work.  She didn’t know the cause for the population spike, but told Marshal Sanders of the trouble and requested that a team be sent to handle the beasts.  The colony was likely near the satyr’s home.

She liked Marshal Sanders, but he was set to leave office soon.  There was a soldier from the militia campaigning for the future position.  He was a brash and greedy man.  What was his name again…?

Daedalus had been right–there were too many of the monsters lately.  She’d recently had to chase a gaggle of them off herself.  The puppy had nearly re-injured his neck barking at them all.  He’d always hold a hatred for them, it seemed, as she was sure he would always hate satyrs for as long as he lived.  Lethia had been the first kind person to him.  Syria saw his idolization of the girl begin, much like Lethia’s had begun years ago toward the woman.

Ah, but she had to ask Marshal Sanders what became of the dogs.  It seemed the satyr, Polichus, had been using them for alchemical research.  He didn’t have a permit for it, and as such his work was illegal.  Much of what he did was morally reprehensible, but Syria confessed a curiosity over his findings.  It certainly seemed to have an affect on his primary subject, “Number 5”, newly named “Argos” by her apprentice.  The dog was exhibiting unnaturally rapid growth and development, and his ability to comprehend and learn complex concepts were astounding.  But Syria’s interest was purely for sport–as she concerned herself with sentient minds, not animal minds.  Lethia seemed to have quite an affinity for it, but she would have to learn such things elsewhere when she got older.

Polichus’ research was burned and the dogs he kept–spared from the wrath of the batrengs by their entrapment in the cellar–were to be given away.  The mother had been quite over protective, she recalled the Marshal telling her in his last letter.  “I fear,” he wrote, “We may have to put her down.  It’s quite sad.”

But Argos seemed to forget the plight of its...his family as he grew closer to Lethia.  The days had gone by, and though she lacked the connection the two shared, she sometimes caught whispers of their conversations.  (“They’re not squiggles, they’re words.  And my name’s Lethia.  LE-THI-A.“)  Syria wasn’t much for pets, but she confessed a sort of affection growing at the sight of Argos and Lethia studying together–an absurdity not lost on the woman.  When the enchantress asked her apprentice what the dog thought of their tower, the girl giggled and said, “He calls it Home now!”

…But after last week, she had to make sure Argos wasn’t in the room during tests.  The dog, in an attempt to help the girl at a hard question, had tried projecting the answers to her.  Lethia hadn’t asked him to, the woman knew the girl’s integrity was far greater than that, but Syria wasn’t beyond chasing the dog away with a broom–intelligent or not.  Now he always cowered whenever she did the cleaning.

These were the things Syria thought of as she sat alone in the darkness.

She was in her sanctuary, a room beneath the spiral staircase with the entrance adjacent to the kitchen entryway.  The location didn’t seem very ideal–but in truth it was fixed in a position of power, lined up perfectly with the constellation of Seer, the goddess of sight and mind.  Sweat rolled down her neck, and her eyes rolled beneath their closed lids as she pressed the boundaries of her ishin outward.  Lethia was still young, so she couldn’t do this and wouldn’t be able to for years to come.  But Syria was a master, and could cast about a net of awareness that told her of all the goings on in her land.

Currently, Lethia was playing with Argos.  The woman’s hand turned to a claw on her knee.  They were playing around her linden tree.  She had planted it exactly nine years ago, away from the tower and just to the side of the stables.  That was when she’d first adopted Lethia into her life.

…She hated the thing.

The tree grows.  It feeds.  The girl grows…and she blossoms.  Keep her tended and pruned and she’ll not overrun you.

Syria swallowed as the wordless melody carried forth these thoughts.  Her eyes opened to slits in the dark, and she stared at the light coming in from beneath the door.  “My dearest Lethia…will be isolated after what I’ve done,” a tear fell from her eye as a pained smile spread her lips.  “But I will let her keep this strange new friend.  That way…she’ll always have someone to keep her company…in the dark.

Continue ReadingIn Good Company

Chapter 31.1


Of course, things didn’t take off right then and there.  As much as Elmiryn would have liked to go marching straight into the forest to enact her half-baked plan, there was still the present to deal with–namely the wounded.  It appeared that the Lycans had been quicker than the warrior in finding Nyx, a point that annoyed her for unknown reasons, but she paid this little mind.  Of the wolfish party, at least half had been cut down in very little time by the beast.  This fact did not surprise Elmiryn in the slightest, and though she did not laugh at their demise, she did not feel sorry for them either.  Encounters of this nature were a crucible of sorts that burned away those who could not stand the test.  She had seen it dozens of time in war, and given her life as it was now, she expected to see it dozens of times more.  These men and women were more than just warriors–they were tough spiritual beings.  They would either get over this, or die trying.

…But this road of tribulation was not a lonely one, something the redhead was eternally grateful for.  Always were there a chosen few who just had a knack for surviving.  The wizards, Quincy and Hakeem, were clearly possessed with this extraordinary mettle.  Sedwick as well.  The man in question had been slashed in the gut by a stray swipe by the beast, yet he still stood on his own two feet, hands seeping with blue blood as he gripped his abdomen.  Quincy argued with him at length to lay down and stop moving, but the ex-blacksmith fended off her attempts at first aid.

“Damn it, woman!  These therians aren’t the only fast healers!” he ground out, leaning against a tree with a scowl.

Quincy threw her hands up into the air.  “Oh!  Fine!  Well when your body heals shut with your guts at your feet, don’t come looking for me to put you right again!”  She stomped away, muttering about, “Arrogant magic-types and their confounded masochism…”

Elmiryn approached the man as they both watched the brunette move to help the other wounded.  With little to nothing to work with, Quincy was determined to do what she could.  The warrior didn’t say anything, but she thought she saw a sort of fervor there, fueled by something unquenchable.  It reminded her of her newfound addiction, so she averted her eyes.  Did the wizard blame herself for what happened to Nyx?  Elmiryn was tempted to do the same, but deep inside, she knew that sometimes seconds were all a person had to act on.

It was one of the trials of an adventurer.  And who was to say they weren’t just that?  Adventurers.  The warrior had always wanted to be the hero of a story.  Meznik had called her out on the old dream–but that was all it was.  An old dream.  Elmiryn had seen enough on the battlefield to know that one man’s hero was another man’s villain, and even then, the lines were indefinite.

“You should’ve let her look at it, at least,” Elmiryn admonished Sedwick lightly.

The man glanced at her sideways.  “I may not heal as quickly as Nyx or the Lycans, but I will heal, and I will live.  What about you?  How do you feel?”  His breath was slow.  Labored.

“I want to get moving,” the woman said.  “I may not even wait for the others.  I’m not sure how much time I have.”

Sedwick chuckled darkly.  “We always seem to be running…” but the man winced, a gasp slipping his pale lips.  His white eyes fluttered as he stared at his wound.  His hands came away, and the woman grimaced to see the elemental’s fatty flesh gushing with blood.

Elmiryn let her dead arm hang at her side and placed a firm hand on the man’s shoulder.  “Sedwick, sit.

As she guided the man down with strong suggestion, Sedwick offered little fight, the will he’d wielded against Quincy waning in the face of his fleeing strength.  Swallowing audibly, he looked at Elmiryn with brows pressed together.

“I…feel dizzy.”

“See?  Look where your bravado’s gotten you now, Sed,” Elmiryn scolded.  “Don’t you remember what Quincy told us about her time in the medicine hut?  All those people she treated?  An injury from the beast isn’t like a normal injury.  I think you’re going to have to sit this one out.”

“To hell with that,” the man snarled, starting to sit up, “Nyx is–” but he broke off with a grunt, his head rocking back into the soil.

Elmiryn turned her head, her eyes wide.  “Hey!  Someone get over here, quick!”

Sedwick grabbed her arm, pulling at her.  “I’m fine!” and after he stilled his body, the look on his face seemed to confirm this.  The man was pale and shivering, but he wasn’t racked with pain, and his voice was strong and steady.  “But maybe…you’re right, Elle.”  He sighed, covering his face with one bloody hand.  “I don’t know if I can be of any help anymore.”

Elmiryn patted Sedwick’s shoulder.  “We’ve only got one more Road to take before we find what we need, Sed.  Don’t worry about it.  You helped us a great deal.  Nadi will be proud.”

He smiled weakly, the scar on the side of his face wrinkling.  “What’s your plan from here?  I thought I heard you mentioning something before, with Quincy and Hakeem.”

The warrior puckered her lips and exhaled through her nose.  Looking back over her shoulder, she saw Quincy talking with one of the walking injured.  Hakeem was rushing to the aid of the Lycan archer woman, who had the arm of another over her shoulders.  A long-haired man, fair of face.  He looked shocked but otherwise whole.

Elmiryn looked back at Sedwick. “I want to find Nyx’s Twin.”

Sedwick’s eyebrows rose high.  “Her?  Why?”

“She’s been in the forest about as long as Hakeem stayed in the village.  She’s a survivor.  Having had to live with that threat for that long with nowhere else to go, she would need to know where to avoid the beast.  Plus…” the woman trailed off.

The man frowned.  “What is it?”

Elmiryn shook her head.  “This all seems too convenient.  These obstacles we’ve come across.  I’m starting to feel like they were set there just for us.  All of us.  We’re related to the beast somehow, and I gotta find out what that connection is.  The Twin is the only one I’m not sure about, so I gotta find her.  Ask her questions.”

“Oh, I’m sure she’ll be happy to answer them.”

They shared a dark chuckle.

A glance over her shoulder told the warrior that her time for departure was nearing.  A messenger had already been sent to the village, and all that could be done for the injured had been covered.  Clothes torn for bandages, herbal roots dug up and chewed, bones set, cuts stopped…Quincy toiled at the heart of this, sweat on her brow, the exhaustion bringing her age about her in ways unexpected–the dullness of her gaze, the weary rote motions of her hands, the slightest slump of her shoulders…

Their eyes met, and Elmiryn lingered there…and found sentiments reflected.  Again, she looked away.

“Sedwick, I don’t think I’ll be seeing you again after this.  Not for a long time.”

The man gazed up at her, his face tightening in confusion.  “What do you mean?  You aren’t coming back to the village?  Ever?”

The woman shook her head.  “When you go back, you’ll probably hear things.  Just know that I didn’t intend for anyone to get hurt.  All I wanted was to help Nyx.  The Lycans either understand that, or they don’t.”

She gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze.  “It…was an honor fighting at your side, Sedwick of Gamath.”

Sedwick stared at her.  Then his face screwed up.  “Oh sod off with that formal bullshit, Elle.  We both know that isn’t you.”

The woman burst out in a hearty laugh, her lips spreading wide to show her full smile.  “Yeah.  Yeah, okay, you’re right.”  She gazed at him meaningfully, then gave a nod.  “I’ll see ya soon, Sed.”

The man returned the nod.  “Safe travels, you.  Even if you can’t visit, send a letter.  One of the townspeople will bring it to me.”

“Will do.”

Elmiryn stood, and with one last grin, she turned and approached Quincy from behind.  The wizard was currently checking the fair-faced Lycan’s eyes using a lit match.  The female archer still supported him, her face hard but telling of worry by the lines around her eyes and the deep wrinkle in her brow.  Behind them stood Hakeem and another dark-haired Lycan man, with short spiky hair and a stoic face.

“I’m going,” she said, to no one in particular.

All stopped to look at her.

Quincy narrowed an eye at her as she blew out the match.  “Just like that?  You’re just going to ‘go’?”

Elmiryn shrugged.  “Sure.  Why not?”

The brunette snorted, turning her eyes back to the long-haired Lycan.  “Gudahi, I think you may have a slight concussion, but there’s no way for me to be sure.  And judging by the tenderness of your ribs, some of them may be dislocated or worse.  Just stay and wait until help arrives.”

The man was already shaking his head.  “I’m fine.  I’m whole.  I can fight.”

“I really think you should–”

“The beast is it dead?”

Quincy faltered at that.  With a glance at Elmiryn, she cleared her throat and said, “Ah.  We’re…not sure.”

The man squinted at her.  “How can you not be sure?”

The archer woman shook her head.  “Gudahi, you did not see.  The shadows took the beast, and Nyx as well.  It seemed trapped by its fate.”

“Yet you cannot say for certain if it is dead or not!?”

“It was alive when it vanished, but it was…how do you say?  Hutkukli.”

“It was…unwilling?”


The man’s features sucked in as his lips pressed together and his nostrils flared. With a glint in his eye, he said, “I am a warrior.  I have sworn to see the beast slain.  If it has not been laid to waste, then I will not rest!”

Quincy held up her hands, the frustration clear on her face.  “But why tempt fate?”

Elmiryn snorted.  “Fate?”

Again, everyone turned to look at her.  The warrior grinned sardonically as she gestured at the destruction around them.  “This isn’t fate!  This is someone else’s plan!  There’s a link here, and we’re just not seeing it!”

“And your answer is to go looking for something called a Twin?”

“Nyx’s animal counterpart,” Hakeem explained.

Elmiryn raised an eyebrow at him, and the man-boy held up his hands.  “The girl explained things to me.  She didn’t want everyone to know,” and here his eyes flickered in the direction of Quincy–not on her–but enough for the warrior to understand who was to be excluded to this knowledge, “But given the nature of the situation, I can see no other way.”

“What are you all talking about?” Quincy snapped impatiently.

“Nyx’s soul is split,” Elmiryn said.  “The animal part of her spirit–because every therian has one–has a will of its own.  It feels and thinks differently from Nyx, and yet they’ve been stuck in the same body.  It’s not madness, its a spiritual thing.” She added the last part with a measure of bite, as if daring anyone to say anything.

Naturally, the wizard took her up on that offer.  “As if that’s any better.”

“When we came here, the animal, or the Twin, as we’ve taken to calling her, became separated and lost.  Nyx only discovered the damn thing recently, and it’s our only lead to getting her back.”

“Yes.  I was there when she found the animal,” the archer woman said solemnly.  She looked into Elmiryn’s eyes.  “I swore to the dreamwalker my aid, and she shall have it.”

“Well!”  Gudahi pulled away from the archer.  “How can I abandon my pet at such a time of need?”

The man attempted a heroic pose, but started to keel backwards, and Makka, with a roll of his eyes, pushed him back.  Sanuye caught him as he pitched forward, and Gudahi spared her a sheepish grin.

Quincy placed her hands on her hips.  “You’re all still riding on the possibility that Nyx isn’t dead!  I was the closest!  I saw!  She had a claw the size of a cannon in her stomach!  You therians are tough, and with her as a champion, she’s even tougher, but she wasn’t invincible!  If a therian’s heart or brain is destroyed, if enough damage done to the body, or even enough damage done to the spinal cord, they…are…dead.”  She looked around at them all.  “Or is this scene of death and absolute annihilation not impressive enough for you!?”

Elmiryn spat at the wizard’s feet.  “It’s fine, Quincy.  It’s fucking fine.  Don’t worry about it.  I guess our deal is done.  You got back your sword–sort of–and you got back your husband–sort of–no offense,” she added to Hakeem.  The wizard shrugged in response.  The warrior fastened her cool gaze back onto her rival and spared a harsh smile.  “I even got Nyx back…for a short while.  You want to do what you want to do?  I understand that.   My plan’s not fully cooked, I’m running on very little wine, my arm is apparently dead, I have no weapons, and I’ve got no idea where to start looking for the Twin.  I just know I gotta do something because I gave a promise, and I’m not stopping until I have Nyx back–alive or dead.”  After a pause she added.  “I’d prefer to have her very alive, though.  Thus my haste.  Thus my not giving a frosty fuck what you think.”

The woman turned and started walking.

Quincy’s voice was sharp.  “Tai’undu, you don’t have to use the same guilt trick!  I never said I wasn’t going to go, moron.”

Elmiryn paused and looked over her shoulder, nonplussed.  “Oh.”


Makka offered to stay.  Quincy had only been introduced to him in a passing second, and had required a reintroduction before his name stuck, but she was ever grateful that there was at least one able bodied person left behind with the wounded.  Given the time since they’d sent their messenger, she’d guess it would be less than half an hour before help arrived with better supplies.  After emergency medicine was applied, it was a long and careful trek back home for those poor men.  Sedwick was going with them, and she resisted the urge to say, “I told you so,” and gave the elemental a goodbye peck on the cheek instead.

Ah, but her night was far from over.

Elmiryn’s plan so far had support from Hakeem, Sanuye, Gudahi, and Quincy herself.  Five people.  Like the five roads they’d been traveling.  The wizard wondered idly if it was a coincidence, or someone else’s design, as the warrior saw it.  Whatever the situation, she felt a creeping sense of foreboding about the whole ordeal.

They stood in a circle at the edge of the clearing, discussing their next move.

“We need to know where to start looking first.  If we waste time in an unlikely spot, this will have been for nothing.” Elmiryn held a hand out to Sanuye and Gudahi.  “You’ve been hunting the beast a long time.  From the places its attacked, can you think of anywhere a creature like the Twin might take to hiding?”

The two looked at each other.

The woman spoke first.  “The beast attacked many places…”

Gudahi started to cross his arms, but when this weight pressed on his upper ribs, he winced and relaxed them back at his sides.  Quincy gave him a sharp look, her lips pursing.  “Well,” he began, his look still tender.  “She’ll need a source of water, and plenty of game to hunt.  With the beast ranging about, a lot of game has been scared off–”

“Except for spirits,” Hakeem said.

Sanuye grinned wolfishly.  “Ah!  Ohtak!  The spirit gates!”

Elmiryn squinted her eyes, and felt her swollen eye tighten.  “I’m guessing those are the same as the ones we’ve been using?”

Gudahi held up a finger.  “There is but one here that you could use.  The other paths are special to those spirits, for the way they take is dangerous.”

“But if we narrow it down to what gates are close to water…” Hakeem mused aloud.

The Lycan man smirked.  “I know just the one.”

Quincy stared around at them all.  “And how far away is this place?”

The Lycans’ smiles faded.  “Ah.  There’s the inconvenient part,” Gudahi said.

“How so?”

“For a beast such as we hunt, it is a day’s full run.  Us Lycan’s can get there in a day and a half without pausing for rest.  With three humans, one of which is a child?  It will take nearly three days.”

“Shit,” Elmiryn muttered.  “I’ll need a drink somehow, or…” she trailed off.

Quincy narrowed her eyes at her.  Or what…?

Reluctantly, the wizard patted her magic pouch.  “I have a small tonic with me…for emergencies.  You can sip that as we go.”

Elmiryn gave a terse nod.  The brunette couldn’t tell if the other woman was concealing relief or a sense of dismay.  “Good,” she said.

Gudahi clapped his hands, rubbing them eagerly. “It is settled then!  Now let us be off!  I am eager to find this Twin and be reunited with my precious Nyx!”

Quincy tried to stifle a grin as Elmiryn spared the man a look that would slay a dragon.  It was nice not being the target for once.


They were watching from their place of observance, shrouded in aeons of celestial clusters, thickly woven continuity, and the relativity of an age unseen.  They watched through lenses, so tiny in comparison to their station, that their view angled to a single plane of existence, where one continuance branched and splintered into a hundred different possibilities, looped and played over in simultaneity.  The punchlines for jokes came in the spread of hundreds of thousands of years.  A blink of an eye.  No.  Less than that.  The act of being, of existing, was a complicated one for them.  They were not fractured or divided amongst themselves, the core of their spirit always remaining–but they had their incarnations.  Their avatars.  Their greater minds, who in their ascendancy, influenced their lower minds in such subtle ways as to create a unity of motive that could not be mistaken for another spirit.  In one world, they may be rulers of the skies, while in others they may lurk beneath the soil.  In one mortal plane, they may be merciful, in another, vengeful.  To say that they were not mercurial creatures would be something of a lie.  Worlds die.  Civilizations rise and fall.

Being a god made even the epic seem droll.

Lacertli was different, however.  Artemis never really understood how he sympathized so with mortality, but then again, her existence was based in the conquering of such.  Not direct opposites, per se, but they were certainly of a different cloth.  The way of the predator, the game of life or death, it was all in her domain.  She was the Huntress.

He was the Survivor.

Halward had once said the god was like a wayward son.  Artemis just thought he was amusing.

Their lenses, the avatars they used, were concealed in the wilds of the forest.  Before them was the drama of the battle against the beast, and the brave few who fought it.  The goddess had been audience to every plight the Lycans experienced since their birth as a race, but these newcomers had their own story, their own struggle of which she was not as intimate with.  As a god, there was a constant flood of knowledge from all reaches of the world, but it went without saying that certain events garnered more attention than others.  But the struggles of these outsiders had her attention now, that was for sure.

“Why didst thou tell the warrior about us?” Lacertli asked, his reptilian face turning her way in the dark.

Artemis smirked at him.  “Why didn’t thou tell me about her affliction?”

“It is not my business to steer thine attention, anymore than it is thy business to inquire about mine.”

“But isn’t it just so, brother?  She is both our business now.”

“You’re playing games.”

Now her face tensed in a mild scowl.  “The Hunt is a contest, to be sure, but do not mistake it for a thing of folly.”

“But you enjoy it,” Lacertli said, his pointed tongue slithering past his slim lips.  “You take what you don’t need.”

“I do not endorse gluttony or zealousness, and I would have thee cease with such slander!  I know the way of Harmony and honor it.”

The lizard king hissed.  “Dost thou?  And what of this new quarry you see fit to play with?”

Artemis pouted.  “Of course.  After a millenia left without worthy prey, thou wouldst see fit to ruin it.  Very well.” She sighed dramatically and held up her hands.  “I only wished to test the warrior.  To see the depth of her potential.”

“And were you disappointed?”

At this the goddess smiled.  “Nay, brother.  She is perfect.”

“Good.  Now whilst thou becomes encumbered by thy new obsession, the threat thy quarry poses will be diminished in the flames of thy mania.”

At this the woman laughed outright, stirring the forest in a great strong wind.  “Lacertli.  Surely you aren’t afraid of her?”

The god grunted.  “Afraid?  No.  Never that.  Unlike our brothers and sisters, should Gehenna come, I shall welcome it.”

Now the goddess’s smile waned, and she stepped closer to better peer into her brother’s eyes.  “Thou thinks she will bring about our end?

“I believe she is involved in something sinister.  Something black and rotted.  Something I warned Halward of, but–”

“Still thy tongue, brother,” Artemis snapped.  “We are not the only ones whose senses stretch across universes.”

“A war is coming,” Lacertli growled.  “It threatens all of Harmony and those under it!”

“And what is thine intention then?” Then Artemis eyebrows rose high.  “Ah!  Thy new champion!  Of course.  In utilizing her, you have your position of influence!”

“She is much more than a pawn, but aye, that is one advantage.”

“More than a pawn?  Lacertli, she is the very extension of thy will!  Is this why you’ve taken so long in choosing a champion?  Because thou wanted to care for them first?”

Lacertli shook his head.  “Caring?  Try respecting the very foundations upon which our existences as gods are built.  It marks the difference between being forgotten, being hated, and being loved.”

“And what would you rather be?  Loved?”

The lizard king did not answer for a long time.  Then he whispered, “Forgotten.”

He turned to leave, his form returning to his small lizard form.  As he went, the goddess heard him say, “Be wary, Artemis.  Thy prey is like nothing thou hast seen before.  If thou underestimates Elmiryn and the circumstances she’s in, thou willst regret it.”

Continue ReadingChapter 31.1

Six Tales of Arachne

The Willing Fly – Part 1

As told by Lethia Artaud

I’m sorry that I’m laughing!  It’s just…I find it strange that you would ask me these things. You see, I was sheltered in a tower for much of my life, and the views I had of the world were all simulated through dreams and thoughts shared between myself and my…um…with Syria.

I saw vast mountain ranges, dark forests, seas of sand, sprawling oceans, and lush jungles, all within the safety of my mind. Did my former mistress actually see these things herself? I believe she did, many of them, as her personal accounts and other external sources would attest. But there were some stories she told that were…so fantastic, even my childish mind found it hard to believe.

One such story, she told me upon the day of my twelfth “birthday”. These were bittersweet occasions every year, because while it was a joyous time for us to celebrate our fated meeting, it was also a yearly reminder of my shrouded origins. For this reason, I was always caught in a fractious sort of joy, and Syria was not a little frustrated by my antics.

So that twelfth year, she said to me, “Lethia Artaud, thou art like the willing fly!”

I replied, “Mistress, I don’t understand. How am I a fly?”

She patted the seat next to her on the bench, just outside our tower. Behind her, the fragrant jasmine bushes filled my senses. Pouting for some reason I cannot recall, I sat next to Syria, and she smiled at me.

“Do you know of the Legend called Arachne?”

Frowning, I shook my head.

Syria feigned surprise. “Oh! My goodness! My sweet girl still has yet to hear this particular tale, hmm?”

I clapped my hands, my pout melting into a grin. “A story! Please tell me! I promise I won’t forget anything you say!”

She took a deep breath, and closed her eyes. “You see, once long ago, I was traveling the deep mountains of the north, unknown by all save the dwarfs, and even their knowledge was piece meal at best.”

To which I jumped and cried, “The Spider died!?”

And then…

…No wait. I skipped a part. I’m sorry! Hold on let me just try to um…remember.


The Incident at Gaime

As told by Elmiryn Manard

I’m not Nyx.

I mean, yeah, I bet you’re thinking, “I know that, idiot. Kind of hard to miss the red hair.” But I feel like I gotta say that, since you’re coming and asking this of me. I mean hell, you wanna know about Arachne? How’s this for a story–

A prostitute, a nobleman, and Arachne walk into a tavern—

—What? Aw hey, jokes are stories too!

Oh fine!




How about this?

When I was very young, Thendril, my former training master, told me a story. Now don’t get me wrong. He wasn’t the coddling, nurturing type. He told me war stories. Really bloody tales about warriors and champions who fought and sacrificed for greater causes. One day, I griped that all the heroes he talked about were men.

“Then let me tell you of Arachne,” he said. This made me wonder if he’d taken too many blows to the head—Thendril had such nasty cauliflower ears—because after all, Arachne was always the villain in my parents’ stories. “There’s more than one side to a tale,” my training master assured me.

Too often, you hear people bitch and whine about how heroes vanish and no one knows what became of them. Not so, with our little arachnid. Anyone well versed in the history of heavenly champions, and the Legends that rose among them, can tell you where Arachne ended up. That story in Tobias’s book? It’s only one version of a pretty famous event. I mean—it’s a little hard for the world to ignore hundreds of god-appointed champions coming together to kill one mortal. But no one asks where these people came from and who they were before heaven came and shoved a purpose up their butt. In true fashion, no one knows for certain where Arachne came from, either.

I’d like to think I’m the exception to that rule.

I mean, you have to take into consideration my source. Thendril was a war veteran. Thendril was also older than a corpse’s fart. He was a young man when the halfling clan of Tor began their bloody campaign across Talmor in the year 3500. He was born there, in a Fiamman trading fort called Gaime, but was raised as a native son on foreign soil. The Torians nearly overtook the lands surrounding his home. He was barely fourteen-years-old at the time.

The fort had slaves. Fiammans like slaves, I guess. They’re like assorted chocolates to us. Well, Gaime had a pretty exotic bunch of ‘em, because in their midst were Omatts. Have you ever seen an Omatt? They’re ape people—and I’m saying that without irony. They have long grabby tails, wide flat teeth, big lumpy heads, round monkey ears, and long arms. The fort had one in particular, with green eyes and deep violet hair. She was a young girl who refused to speak—ever—even upon threat of beating. After a time, people thought she was simple, and let the matter alone.

As Thendril put it, they weren’t close or anything. This isn’t a tale of forbidden romance, or one of those corny buddy stories. His was just the story of an observer, of a boy who cobbled together accounts from those around him. Maybe some of it was rumor, but my old training master didn’t place too much stock in bullshit, so I trusted what he said.

This is a long introduction isn’t it? See, I’m not a storyteller like Nyx. Thendril was a good one though. He started like this:

On the longest day of summer, the invading Torians could be seen from Gaime’s watchtowers. The men were on edge, because many of them had families back home, and it was said that the halflings could not be defeated. “They’re invincible,” the soldiers whispered furtively. “They say they are blessed by the gods!” And they weren’t exaggerating. Reports kept coming in of Torians being stabbed, only for them to pull the swords free from their bodies with no wound left behind.

Well, Thendril’s father, Hetrius, didn’t want to back down, even after the royal courts back at the kingdom had abandoned them. The Torians arrival was estimated to be about some two or three days. He put the slaves to work, bolstering their defenses and forging more weapons. Thendril’s job was to carry messages between the different working parties.  That was when he saw her.

The Omatt was sitting under the shade of a table, contemplating the chain that hung limp from her neck collar. Her long tail was curled around her, and her small bony body was slouched—or relaxed, however you’d like to see it.  Naturally, the boy was alarmed. He called out to her, and though her round ears flickered to him, she didn’t look up or make to run away. Confused, Thendril ran to get help, and the Omatt girl was locked up again, chained to a heavy stone wall where she was to remain until she was punished.

“Damn strange,” said one of the guards as they walked away. “How’d she get free of her tether? There were no marks on the chains to show they’d been struck, nor any welts on her neck or hands to show that she’d struggled! You think someone set her free?”

His companion answered. “Who on Halward’s plane would be dumb enough to do that?”

While they wondered this, Thendril instead asked, “Why didn’t she run?”

And to this, no one had an answer.

The next day, the boy resumed work as usual, only to hear a shout draw his eyes to the top of the fort’s tallest watchtower.

Sitting there, with hands on knees and her eyes to the horizon, was the young Omatt girl. The guard beneath her was shouting and waving his hands at those on the ground as he pointed up at her, while his partner tried bravely (or stupidly, however you’d like to see it) to climb atop the sloped roof to retrieve the slave. After the man nearly fell, he gave up his effort, and one of the older Omatt slaves was sent to collect the little renegade.

This commotion had been enough to slow down work for the day, and Hetrius did not like this. He was, after all, Fort Commander. With whip in hand, the large man stomped over to where the Omatt girl was being held at the bottom of the watchtower. He ordered her turned around and uncoiled his whip, pulling back for a blow. Then he stopped.

“The back of her shirt,” he said, squinting. “It has been torn, and there is blood on it! You there,” he pointed at the soldier holding the girl. “Is this the slave that had escaped yesterday?”

“Yes, sir!”

“But there are no marks on her back! She should have been punished!”

The soldier was about to respond when his thick brain managed to put two and two together. “I…I don’t know what to say sir. I was there when she was whipped myself!”

Hetrius’s jaw thrust forward and his thick veins bulged. He looked like a livid tomato. The commander pulled back his whip with a scream and let it lash out.

While the Fort Commander’s reaction wasn’t altogether bizarre, it’s kinda important to add that the Torians were now steering their march toward their home. The few women and children at the fort, aside from the slaves, had fled in the hopes of reaching the town of Akii, whilst the men folk worked to buy them time. The Torians were expected to strike the following day, if not that very night. Tensions were high, and little patience was spared over puzzling the mysteries surrounding annoying young slaves.

That night, Thendril stayed up with his father, listening to the leaders as they discussed their options. Morning came without any blood being shed, but the Fiammans awoke to the pants-shitting sight of at least a thousand halflings surrounding their scant hundreds. Hetrius, unrattled, ordered the men to suit up and take their ranks. The armies stared each other down. The Torian leader, bearing the black and gold heraldry of his clan, came riding out onto the field. The Fort Commander rode out to speak with him. Tense moments passed as both forces watched their leaders converse. Finally, Hetrius spat on the ground and rode back at full gallop.

“Ready the archers!” he roared.

The Torian leader had also ridden back to his line, and his frontline infantry readied their spears. Shouting could be heard on both sides as all prepared for what was most likely going to be a massacre.

Then the Omatt girl appeared.

She walked out from among the Fiamman ranks, her collar still about her neck, and her chain, once again, trailed limp along her large feet. Both sides seemed to pause, bewildered by the appearance of this little Omatt just standing clear out into the open.

Hetrius was the first to recover. “Who let her out!?” he thundered.

But she didn’t stop walking, and none went to fetch her. Fluttering about her were the tattered remains of her shirt, barely white and mostly bloody, but there, in the clear morning suns, you could see—

The Omatt’s skin was free of all wounds.

While the Fiammans gaped at her audacity, and the news of her miraculous healing spread amongst the ranks, the Torians were less impressed. The halfling leader spoke to one of his archers, and the man took aim with his bow.  The silence was so heavy, that you could hear the thwip of the arrow being loosed.

But it didn’t hit.

Instead, it just hung mid-air, just before the girl’s face, before fading away into dust—then not even dust. Just nothing. As soon as it vanished, the little girl, who could not have been older than nine, charged toward the Torian forces. The men on the other side seemed too stunned to react. Too stunned, or too scared, however you’d like to see it. Then the leader gathered enough of his wits to call the charge.

Hetrius, in reaction, also called for his men to charge.

But before the forces could meet, the Omatt girl reached the enemy first, and what happened to them was hardly to believe.

She undid them.  Just as she had undone the arrow, so did this little freak unleash a wrathful wave of ruthless power.  All the men around her perished, first becoming dust, and then from dust, nothing.  Their fellows, less in number now, were quick to notice this.  Though they still vastly outmanned the Fiammans, the Torians proved to be shit-eating cowards in the face of death. It was the whole invulnerability thing gone to their heads.

So what did they do?  They ran, of course!

The Fiamman soldiers went out of their minds with joy as their enemy retreated. They threw their helmets into the air, hugged each other, shouted and whistled…but not the Fort Commander and his son. They watched as the Omatt girl stared at the soldiers and their jubilation. Then without a word, she turned and began to walk away, northward, away from Gaime.

“What sort of magic was that?” Thendril asked. “I’ve never even heard of anything like it!”

His father shook his head. “I’m afraid I do not know.”

“She’s walking away. She means to leave for good this time. Why didn’t she just do so before, if her power was so great?”

“Perhaps she didn’t feel like it, like all those times she didn’t feel like being chained up anymore?” Thendril didn’t miss his father’s ironic tone.

“Should I fetch someone to get her, father?”

“No, son,” Hetrius said slowly. He turned his horse and rode back to the fort. “There is no catching a spider in its own web…”

And that was that.

Now, don’t mistake things. Arachne wasn’t called Arachne until many years later, and though she defeated the halflings at Gaime, the Torians went on to resume their campaign across Talmor. They almost took it all too, were it not for the efforts of a different Legend by the name of Toshihiro, who lead the Talmorian city-states in a rebellion that took the halflings down. And with that, my friends, I end the earliest story I’ve ever heard of Arachne, also known in some regions as the Spider of the West. What was her real name? Why did she become associated with the Western world? Well, you’ll have to ask someone else that question because I’m all storied-out.

Unless you’ll let me finish my joke?

So a prostitute, a nobleman, and Arachne walk into a tavern…


The Willing Fly – Part 2

As told by Lethia Artaud

Would it bother you much if I skipped forward a portion? I’ve always had this problem with longer stories. Even as a child, it was a challenge reading me a bedtime story, because I would forget how it all started and who was in it. It frustrates me to no end, but I am determined to tell you this now, good or bad.

Well, at any rate, this was some ways into Syria’s narration, but I’ll try to explain as I go. So. The reason I thought Spider had died–

“Don’t close your eyes! Don’t!” Syria cried, as she tried to staunch the flow of blood from the young female Omatt’s head. Dark life matted the Spider’s violet hair, and her round green eyes rolled in their sockets as her eyelids fought a losing battle to stay open.

The guardians of Hudisyg, who had defended the sacred dwarven rituals until the pair of women had stolen them, were bearing down the carved out tunnels, their torches warming the darkness with their blood lust. The Spider’s hands fisted her gray robes, her breath coming in frosty clouds before her face. Their only torch sputtered on the ground, where in the sphere of light, the golden handles of a pair of scrolls winked with the fire’s dance.

“You didn’t have to take that trap for me,” Syria sniffed, trying to keep her shivering in check. “And you call me the idiot.”

The Omatt didn’t respond. In fact, her eyes closed, but she smiled faintly and said, “Web is quiet. Still no flies…” And she went limp, her breath fleeing her.

My mistress—I mean—Syria, was torn. She could either defend the Spider, or she could flee. The question was a pressing one, as at that time, she was not at the power she had become famous for.

But Syria was always sharp, and so she checked to see the Spider’s pulse.

She found none.

With her answer, the woman reluctantly lowered the Omatt to the soil, and whispered, “Thank you. If it were not for you, I would not have found the scrolls! This will help many people!” Kissing two fingers, she pressed them to the Spider’s lips before turning and fleeing, away from the shouts that drew closer.

Thus why I cried, “The Spider died?”

Oh! OH!  Wait, wait, wait.

I just remembered!

Can I say that part I had missed before?


This was back on the bench, before Syria had begun her story. Remember she mentioned she’d been searching for something in the northern mountains? Well she went on to say, “I was searching for hidden texts regarding dwarven enchantment techniques—rituals that saw whole groups of dwarves impervious to pain. It was a lost art in enchantment, and I wanted to use it to better treat the wounded.

“Well my search brought me to a lost city, high up in the frosty bluffs. Investigation revealed to me that it was Hudisyg, the dwarven center for magical arts. It was no easy feat getting there, child, but it was soon revealed that the real challenge was in getting out alive!”

I didn’t interrupt, my twelve-year-old body clenched in anticipation.

Syria’s eyes were on the blue sky over us. She was always looking up that way, and it wasn’t until I became much older that I wondered if she were waiting for something. She continued, “There were many traps still active in some of the facilities and temples—acid bombs that ate through metal, spikes that shot up through the floor to impale you, great scythes that came out of the walls seeking to cleave you—and those turned out to be the least of my problems. Hudisyg was not abandoned. There were guardians there, dwarven men laced with some dead magic. They were little more than beasts working under a strict spiritual ban, their minds twisted by the power that had no doubt sustained them for an age. They babbled in ancient dwarven, and their clothes were torn and dated. They hunkered around as apes, but in their hands they clenched dwarven weapons. Can you believe, my Lethia, that such creatures would corner your mistress? I could not sense their thoughts, something of their savage natures escaping my notice so that I was caught unawares.

“They pressed in, and as they did, I saw how runes glowed all along their skin—runes that, in the heat of the moment, I still recognized as Talmorian in origin. Why would the dwarves carve such things into their body? I didn’t have time to answer, of course, because just then an Omatt dropped behind me and struck me in the back of the head…”


…I–I’m sorry. I s-seem to have…er…lost it, again.


The Stone in Bondage

As told by Hakeem

The Spider? Ah.

I…suppose I can tell you of her.

In my home village of Kimbia, we had little to do with Legends save for two men and an Omatt, who appeared one stormy night in a dreadful storm. Quincy does not like that I tell this story, but it is not her story to tell, it is mine. She was living in another part of the world, you see, so she hadn’t come to live with us yet.

The men were named Jack and Tobias, and they were servants to the gods Njord and Tellus respectively. And the Omatt? The men never named her in my presence, and as I came to understand it, no one knew who her patron was. She volunteered nothing about the matter. She hardly even spoke, in fact, and when she did, it was with a clipped accent that seemed less like a foreigner, and more like a child still learning the proper tones and cadences for speech. She was older than I was—around fifteen, I heard Tobias say—and she was an Omatt. I’d seen Omatts before. Plenty of them had come to Fanaea to trade and explore the jungles. But her green eyes were rare, and they fixed on me beneath a crop of dark bangs, holding me there like I was caught beneath her power.

I pressed into my mother’s soft side, still too young a boy to understand that I had to act strong, like my father. Ba-Kafeel was not the leader of our village, by any means, but he was a well-known and well-respected man in the region. Even so, it was strange that these people, these agents of heaven, came to our hut and not our village chieftain’s.  The two men spoke in our native tongue, while the girl just sat there, watching me.

“Kafeel. It is good to see you again, my friend!” Jack said as he shook my father’s hand over the fire. He was shorter than Tobias and about level with my father, his warm brown hair overgrown so that it flopped into his clear blue eyes. In hindsight, the family resemblance between he and Quincy was unmistakable. Again, she does not like that I say that, but it is true. “We are heading to Santos, but this storm has delayed us! Not a problem for me you see, but I must think of my companions.” Jack gestured at Tobias and the Omatt.

“Perhaps it is a sign of doom?” my father ventured.

“Nay! It is the work of that blowhard, Ludovico, son of Santos and Eate’s fatheaded champion.”

“Perhaps we should be careful in naming the pantheon in the same breath as our curses…” Tobias muttered.

“I will when their novices quit acting as fools!” Jack bit out. He struck his knee, and gesticulated angrily with his other hand. “Do you know that he has sent such storms across the skies that the common folk now believe it is Njord’s doing? What heresy!”

“Has he a reason for it?” Ba-Kafeel asked carefully.

“Delegation,” Jack said with disgust. “He is using his heavenly power for earthly politics, for heavens sake! How much more reviling can one get?”

“It isn’t unheard of, brother,” my father responded with a sardonic smile. “The gods have numerous times been involved in the affairs of man. Your patrons’ protests aside, what makes this any different?”

“He’s being paid for it,” Tobias said with a sad shake of his head. “And those who try to flee Santos and its turmoil are captured as slaves, under the commands of his henchmen!”

Ba-Kafeel frowned. “That is a grave thing indeed! Surely his patron would cast him down in disgrace for such behavior!”

“Aye, one would think. But the gods are veiled in their intentions. We know of our own patrons, but we cannot speak for other gods.” Here Tobias looked at the Omatt, pointedly it seemed, and that was when he noticed her intense focus on me. Blinking, he looked my way. “And Kafeel? Your son? He is up late for a youngling!”

Ba-Kafeel looked my way and chuckled. “This is Hakeem. He is suffering from nightmares.”

The other men smiled as Ma’Nguele rubbed my back. The Omatt smiled at me, and scooted forward, around the fire. I shrank further into my mother’s folds, ready to cry, when the girl held out her hands. From the dirt floor, the sands drew up as if the grains were individually plucked by invisible hands, floating in the air, and over this, her fingers worked like she were manipulating it all. Then the sands melted together, turning bright and hot, and within an instant, they darkened and cooled into the shape of a small stone doll. With a small gesture, the doll rose to her waiting palm, and this she held out to me, her smile still in place.

I took it shyly, my eyes wide with wonder as I looked the stone doll over. It was as though it had been chiseled from a larger rock, with no signs of the sand it had once come from. It was even smooth, and yet chiseled into its base in clean precision was the letters, “X-I-A”. I didn’t know what it meant then, and to this day I still do not. The stone doll had a collar around its neck, from which trailed a chain, and that wrapped around its geometric body to the end of its right leg, where it linked to a large stone. The doll had no features—no face, no genitals, nothing. A faceless slave. Still, its fantastic creation was enough for me to get excited.

I looked at Ba-Kafeel and he gave me an expectant look. Blushing, I said, “Thank you,” in my native tongue.

The girl said nothing, except to grin wider. She stood to her feet, her long tail raised and curled at the tip, and she turned and left our hut. Neither of her companions moved to stop her. Tobias was even grinning.

He said to my father, “Forgive her. She does as she pleases, and likes the weather best when it is fierce.”

And so the three Legends remained with us until the morning, when the storm cleared and the skies were blue. I rose early, stone doll in hand, to stand with my father outside of our hut. My brothers and sisters were still too content to remain sleeping—but they didn’t know the wonder I had seen last night, and I was excited to see more.

“Thank you, Kafeel,” Tobias said, thumping my father’s shoulder. “For the food and the warm beds, thank you!”

My father waved this away. “It is nothing. You have done so much more for me than I can hope to ever repay.” And here he rubbed my head vigorously, like I was the prize.

The Omatt stood apart from the men, her eyes on the sky toward the west, where they would be heading. She must have sensed my eyes on her, for she looked my way, and once more she smiled. She gestured for me to come closer, her ape-like tail swaying behind her. With a gulp, I neared, and she crouched down. That was when I heard her speak for the first and last time.

“When Santos free, he free.” She pointed at the doll and winked. I could only gaze at her, open mouthed. I didn’t understand her, of course, and it was only until after they left that my father translated for me.

We followed the three Legends well outside the village, where there they took off into the sky. Tobias held onto Jack, whilst the Omatt soared into the sky alone, her ascent less like the smooth flight of her companions’, and more like she were pulling and swinging on ropes unseen. She paused, halting in mid-air upside down to look back at my father and me. Grinning wildly, she gave a wave, and flew away.

A week later, the chains on my stone doll were gone.

I never again met the Omatt, for her adventures took her elsewhere, and soon the names “Arachne” and “Spider of the West” began to float to our little Fanaea. But in the years that came, she came to affect my life in ways I hadn’t imagined—in ways that Quincy hadn’t imagined, for her life soon was every bit a part of mine. And do I hate the Spider for all the pain I went through?

…No, I cannot say I share the same loathing that Quincy does, but then again, my wife has many more reasons to hold enmity against the Legend.

I will say, however, that upon the destruction of my village in Kimbia, one of the few belongings I was able to find again was that little stone doll. As I plucked it up from the ashes, all blackened with soot, I felt my breath catch.

The collar and chain were once more around the doll’s neck.

It wasn’t until Quincy and I joined the pirate ship that we learned how the marauders came to find us, and how it was allowed to happen. Once this knowledge became clear, my then future-wife demanded that I throw the stone doll away. I did not, feeling compelled to keep it. Perhaps for a sign. But whether through accident or design, Quincy had lured me off Tulki’s ship, and so it sailed off with my belongings. Among them was the odd little trinket. I do not know what became of it…

Now that I mention it, I wonder if it is still under bondage?


The Willing Fly – Part 3

As told by Lethia Artaud

Sigh…well, I’ve got it all again…sort of. What if I just returned to when Syria fled from the guardians, then?

My former mistress could hear the wild dwarves shouting and hollering in excitement as they came across the Spider’s corpse. She didn’t stop, for fear that some of the guardians still pursued her, but with time it became clear that she was no longer being sought. With scrolls in hand, Syria knew that she could unlock the secrets of the ancient dwarven enchanters, but something held her fast.

“I cannot leave her,” she breathed. “I must bury her. It is only right.”

With a resolute nod, Syria returned to the dark stone city.

There she came upon the frost-covered central square, where the Spider was strung up like she were on a web of her own. Ropes held her spread-eagled between two metal spires, where her battered body was free to bleed out onto the icy stones. All around her were the dwarven guardians, their eyes and runes glowing blue in the dark of the buildings. Syria tried to hide behind a low crumbling wall, but she underestimated the intelligence of her foes, for one on patrol found her, and in short order, she was subdued and brought forth. As an enchantress, her only real defense was in psychic attacks, but again, these dwarves seemed immune to all enchantment.

The woman was forced to her knees as one of the guardians came forth with a great sword.

Then the Spider spoke, blood dripping from her pale lips, and everyone gave a great start. “All…flies…here. Thanks…idiot,” she said with a quivering smile. Laboriously, she lifted her head and her eyes flew open.

“You were bait!” I exclaimed, when Syria first told me this story as a child.

The woman broke off, and I shrank beneath her stern gaze.

When I was young, I didn’t interrupt much except for when something absolutely shocked me to the core. Now being sheltered, you’d think I’d have been surprised in such a way all the time, but not so. As a youth growing up, because all of my knowledge of the outside world was second-hand and seen through mental simulations, it felt detached. Not unexciting, but certainly not something that made me jump or squeal as though it were happening before me. I was always aware of that meta-existence, where I seemed to hover impervious to everything I witnessed. And so it was with Syria’s stories, as fascinating as they were.

Argos, on the other hand…do you know that once, when Syria was telling us of the time she was caught by a pair of cannibals, he went running outside to relieve himself because he was so excited? He didn’t quite make it, the poor dear. Oh, he’ll be embarrassed if he finds out I’ll tell you, but he managed to sprinkle a bit as he scurried out the door. Syria wasn’t all that amused, and Argos’s tail remained firmly tucked between his legs until—


Oh, I’m sorry. I was telling a story?

…Um…which story was that again?


The Battle of Hazmes

As told by Paulo Moretti

Eh…I’m familiar with Arachne, but what I know of her isn’t so nice. That is what you want, I bet. You want something nice. See, Arachne isn’t too popular with the Santian Kingdom. You have all those crem lias and crem dons who spit just at her mention—and it is quite a sight to see a noble person spit! But why wouldn’t they, when she helped lay to waste their biggest source of income? Even the common folk can’t seem to embrace her entirely. She was wild. Carnal. Pér ya. You want nice? I’ll see what I can do.

This story I learned about in my schooling. It took place near my home village of Felico in the year 3509, when my father was a young man. The coastal city of Hazmes was a trading city that made most of its profits from the slave trade. That year, the city’s slaves were rebelling, and certain estadentias—politicians—tried to “help” them by providing them with arms. Now, don’t get me wrong, eh?  I don’t like slavery, but even could see the baloso move that was. With weapons, the frustrated slaves could act out on their anger and rage. So yes. There were revolts. De reán, me soque, Eate! Even for someone who wanted to stir up trouble, I can’t see how these estadentias could be okay with these slaves hurting so many innocent people.

Eh. But they did. The reason for this was that, in creating a scandal over the slave issue, the plotters could discredit the reigning duke, Signor Niccolò Jutien Mercando, who was slated to be the next Chief of Commerce. There were rumors going around that Ludovico, our beloved champion of Eate, was somehow using his godly powers in less than godly ways to aid in the profit making—profits that hurt the lower class, of which my father, at the time, belonged to.

But champions came to fight this, and they were the agents of Njord and Tellus. But the real interesting one, was a young Omatt who the poor called Arachne. Did you know? It was the Santians who so named her. No one but those champions she traveled with knew her real name, and it was rarely uttered, if ever.

Well, while her fellow champions set about hunting down Ludovico, Arachne was quick to address the problems in the city. First, of course, were the slave riots. Now how could one person, Legend or no, handle such a broad nightmare as this? The slaves made up nearly half of the population of the city, and with arms their disorganization was balanced by their sheer numbers. Noble families were being slaughtered in their homes.

As many of you may already know, Arachne is famed for her inseño brand of flight: The Omatt could move through the air as though she were climbing and swinging along threads invisible to the common man. But what people don’t understand is that these “threads”? They were connected to everything, not just the air.  The world was Arachne’s web, and all she had to do was get a good grip on you to undo everything you were.

Espero. Wait. I know what you’re thinking. But she didn’t kill any of the slaves. Didn’t even take away their weapons. You want to know what Arachne did?

She raised an army.

Not an angry mass of unwashed thousands acting independently of one another—I’m talking about a unified fighting force that struck down the local government. Arachne could see the anger and misguided terror that hung over Hazmes, and with clever fingers, she undid this. Maybe some would call it a form of enchantment. Me? I call it a damn good bit of politicking, ha! Afterwards, none of the slaves felt out of sorts or as if they were coming out of a spell. The Omatt had simply taken their similar wishes, and bonded them into one single goal.

With her at the head of this new army, the random destrucíon ended, and the fight was taken to the duke’s castle overlooking the city.

Niccolò came out with his chamberlain and small guard in all his gold and blue finery—you know, que los crem dons pusieron: The soft velvet cap with the big sweeping feather, a quilted half skirt, the puffy shorts, and tasseled shoulder guards made of gold and silver. With all of this cacare on, the duke raised his polished rapier and shouted. “You demonios overstep your station! Ludovico and the king’s men will come, and they will see you all hang!

The chamberlain was the only one who survived to translate Arachne’s response. And you want to know what she said?

You first.

And he was. The Duke of Hazmes, Signor Niccolò Jutien Mercando, was pulled up by his neck by some invisible rope, along with all of his guard, and the peasant army cheered as the nobles’ eyes bulged, and though they struggled, with time they turned still. The former duke’s chamberlain, Signor Corelo Manuel Duras, was tasked with taking a message to the king. An ultimatum, in fact.

Either the Santian Kingdom outlawed slavery, or the royal family would be overthrown.

An easy decision, yes? Conio, of course not! The royal family was in a compromised position. If they didn’t do as was demanded, they were very likely going to die, but if they did do as they were asked, then they would be losing untold amounts of gold to the Fiamman Kingdom, which, to this day even, still wholly support the slave trade.

Today, this situation simply could not happen—Santos’s army has increased tenfold since that century, and they have become a great deal smarter about security. But then? The common folk made up the majority of the kingdom, and they were not hurt by the slave riots at all. In fact, most joined in. Only the nobles had any reason to object—and why not, when their lives were on the line? It was a very bad time to be rich, then.

These were all things that had been building up to this moment. The Kingdom of Santos is a good example of what happens when the majority of commoners get fed up with the minority of rulers. Our entire government transformed, shifting more power from the monarchy to the people. This all came at the cost of much blood and loss, and yet I’d like to say that the Santian people are not calgatos. We are good people—passionate maybe, but so were our neighbors to the north, eh?

So when the Spider revealed her intention to march on the king, regardless of his response, many defied her. This pissed the lia off, yeah? And in her anger, she destroyed their beloved harbor, before taking to the skies, like a brat throwing a tantrum.

Days later, the champions of Tellus and Njord returned, a defeated Ludovico at heel. When they inquired about the Spider, they learned of her antics, and with great displeasure, moved to set her right. In their absence, the people of Hazmes started to clean up their ravaged city. Much pain and damage had been caused, and compassion appeared to chase away all those mal sentiemants.

The common folk were unprepared then, when the royal army appeared within sight of the city, ready to assert the King’s power once more. With the bloodlust gone and their weapons in disrepair (those people had no idea how to properly care for a weapon, let alone how to use it) they had no chance. Leaders were sent to beg the generals for forgiveness, but they were denied.

“You’ve made your choice, bestiales!” the soldiers barked. “You will all pay for your crimes!”

On the day the army was to march on Hazmes, the common folk made one last plea.

“Please!” they cried. “It was that damned Arachne! She misled us!”

Again they were denied. “Idi’utes! None so lead you when you first began your filthy revolts!”

The archers were readied. The horseback soldiers got into a position for a follow-up charge. The generals took a breath, ready to give out the order—

And the earth split open to swallow them whole. The wind whipped up just as the archers let loose their arrows, fouling their path so that they fell harmlessly, and the riders and their horses were taken up into the air, their bodies turning for a moment in suspension, like something held them fast—

The three heavenly champions appeared, descending onto the battlefield. The Spider’s tail was up and curled at the tip as she smiled at her new prey. With a glance over her shoulder, she once again stirred the courage—or the bloodlust, some might say—of the peasants. Emboldened, the hundreds of thousands of common folk charged forward and attacked the stunned soldiers with anything they had.

“Spider, nay!” The champion of Tellus shouted. “Innocent blood may be shed!”

“None innocent,” she returned before reducing the soldiers and horses in her invisible web to dust.

The battle was long and fierce and horrific, even with the aid of the Legends. Through the whims of the Spider, the champions could not unleash their power as they normally would, and so could not make the battle quick. Many of our people died, but many more were the King’s men. It was a high cost to pay, pér conio, sheer numbers won again!

The king finally answered the Legends and the people of Hazmes—yes, he would outlaw slavery.

The champion of Njord became quite cross with the Spider. “That was what you had us fighting for? We came here for Ludovico, not political agendas!”

The champion of Tellus intervened. “Brother, it was my fault the Spider got such ideas. I merely suggested that in helping the people of Hazmes, we could perhaps help the slaves too. I had no idea this was her intention!”

“And when does anyone know what this lunatic is thinking?”

A Jose Hartrand-Ines Consuelo, the young historian who eventually wrote all of this cacare down into a book so that I could fall asleep on it many years later, overheard this. But the account stops there. Did the Spider receive any punishment for what she had done? No. In fact, it’s said that she split ways with her fellows to go northward, into the Sibesona. And did the people of Hazmes beg the remaining Legends to stay any longer in the smoldering ruins of their city? Definitely not!

I told you, eh?  It’s hard telling a Santian story that’s nice about Arachne.


The Willing Fly – Part 4

As told by Lethia Artaud

It…it is difficult to think of Syria, so I suppose that would account as to the reason my memory is shifting so. I hope I am at least in some way coherent?

Ah. Well…where were we before this part?

The Spider striking Syria. Right.

So my former mistress found herself facing down a large gang of these dwarven guardians when suddenly she was knocked to the ground with her eyes bursting with stars and her head throbbing in sharp pain.

“Idiot!” her assailant spat over her before she launched herself at the dwarves, her body like a rogue marionette doll, wheeling free through the air without ever touching the ground. Her hands and feet struck hard as she went. It was almost graceful, in a jarring, neck-breaking sort of way, and Syria was too awed to even get up from the floor. The guardians fled, and the Spider returned to my former mistress, helping her up. The woman tried to read the Omatt’s mind, but found herself blocked, just as with the guardians.

“Who are you?” she asked, disconcerted. “And…and why did you hit me?”

“Because,” The Spider snapped, already walking away.

“Because why??”

“Because you stupid.”


The Omatt sighed and stopped.

Syria dared to venture closer, her hand still on the back of her head. “But…who are you?”

The Spider looked at her as if she were blowing spit bubbles with crossed eyes. “Spider.”


“Idiot. Spider. Not say again.”

Syria nodded, eyebrows raised. “Spider. Very well. I am Syria of Albias. May I ask what you are doing out here, Spider?”

Here, the Omatt frowned, and turned away. “Spider’s business.”

Syria clasped her hands behind her back. “Are we perhaps searching for the same thing?”

Spider shrugged. “Spread web. Idiot shook it. Was too early.”

“Oh I intruded on something, did I?”

“Yes. Busy. Go away,” the Omatt coiled her legs as though she were about to leap into the air in that bizarre form of flight.

At this point, Syria confessed to being a bit desperate. She’d been searching for ages for this valuable knowledge, and the guardians were looking to be too formidable for her to handle on her own. So quickly, she blurted out. “I can find a way to stop all pain!”

This made the Spider pause, and she turned to fix her green gaze on the enchantress. “No pain–?”

WAIT! Wait. Okay. So I just remembered how the story…um…ends. Would it hurt if I said it now? No? Yes?

Well I may as well.

So—back to Syria and the Spider captured. I just was at the part where the Omatt had woken up.

She smiled at everyone up in her bondage, her wounds healing and her cheeks flushing with life. It was as though she were coming back from the dead. Then her eyes darkened and threads of light erupted from the center of her chest.  They coursed out through the air, where they each speared lightning fast into the chests of each of the guardians. Beads of light coursed along the threads, from the dwarves to the Spider. The guardians were utterly paralyzed.

“It looked painful for them,” Syria had told me as a child. “Their bodies were rigid, their veins bulging. Their skin started to deteriorate as the light went from their runes.”

“What happened when they were all gone?” I whispered, sitting on the edge of the bench.

She looked at me, her eyes blinking from the fog of memory. “The Spider freed herself, and said to me, ‘Does it hurt?’

“I was confused, naturally, so I asked her, ‘How do you mean?’

“She replied, ‘Your tomorrow.’

“‘And why would my tomorrow hurt?’

“The Spider shrugged at me. ‘Because. You already try to heal it.’ She pointed at the scrolls in my hand before grinning and leaping into the air until she flew out of sight.” Syria frowned at her lap.

I blinked at her. “Mistress, what’s wrong?”

And she replied…

…I can’t. I can’t do it.

…It—It isn’t that I’ve forgotten. I just…Now I wish I didn’t remember.


Demon Etiquette

As told by Nyx

My brother Thaddeus could be an asshat at times. Before he went off to join the military, Thad had a thing where he would try to scare me if he got bored enough.

He was bored plenty, I assure you.

One night, when I was six, I was in my room, trying to study Common so that I could talk to Marq the merchant elf in his next visit. The elf was one of the few outsiders that came to visit Tosmai, and I was fascinated with the prospect of being able to talk to him. So far, I could say, “Hello,” and “I am the university,” the latter being a very rough translation of, “Och ne erduk,” which actually means, (when translated properly,) “I am a student at school.” With me saying these silly things over and over, it wasn’t hard for Thaddeus to figure out what it was I was doing. Naturally, he had to bother me.

“Kooo-ah…” he called spookily from the doorway.

I ignored him, a tactic I had learned from my mother when our bickering filled the house.

Thaddeus persisted, raking his fingers down the wall. “Koah!

I pursed my lips but managed to keep my eyes resolutely on the open page of my book. I heard my brother fully pass through the bead curtain. I could sense him hovering behind me and snapped my book shut with a little growl.

I turned to glare up at him. “What do you want, cajeck?

“I wanted to warn you,” he said with intense gravity in his tone.

“About what?”

Thaddeus sat on my bed and lounged back, a smirk firmly in place. “Did you know filling your head with weird ideas gets bad attention?”

“A-ma said you can’t bother me when I’m reading.”

“Well you’re not reading right now, are you tail sucker?”

My lips puckered. I didn’t even hesitate as I turned my head. “A-maaaaa!

Thaddeus jumped up, his hands going around my mouth. “Shhh! Cajeck! Do you want the Spider to hear you?”

After I shook off my brother’s hands, I looked at him as if he were crazy. “Spiders can’t hear!”

“Who says?”

“My books! Spiders feel sound, they don’t hear it!”

“You can hardly read those things!”

A-pa told me, before he left! And there’s pictures—”

“Fine, fine. But what if there was a really big spider that could feel what you’re saying now?” He crossed his arms and bore down on me with a malevolent grin. “What if she’s crawling along her great wide web to come get you?”

My body bunched and my face betrayed my growing unease. “Stop it. You’re lying. There are no spiders that big. My books—“

“Are worth about as much as Atalo’s soiled diapers. I mean, really Koah? What do you need to learn Common for? To speak with that elf beggar who comes rattling through town with his crap?”

“He’s not a beggar! He’s the only person that’s ever nice to me! He gives me candy.”

Thaddeus slapped a hand to his face. “My sister, doomed to be a monster’s meal all for her sweet tooth. You do know what they say about weird men giving candy to little girls, right?”

“Marq isn’t weird.” But even I knew I was being generous at the time.

“He doesn’t ask you to do anything, right?” My brother’s face darkened a bit, in that way I’d seen him get when I told him of how I was bullied. “Doesn’t touch you?”

I frowned, too naïve to understand his line of questioning. “No. He just tries to sell me things.”

“Huh,” Thaddeus said with a nod. The dark look cleared, but his frown remained. With a sigh, the teenager reached over and plucked a book off my desk. It was my book on parlor tricks—the chapter on sleight of hand was bookmarked. “That’s good then. I was afraid she’d have you for sure.”

I gave him a confused look. “She?”

He spared a mild glance as he looked over the book cover. “The Spider.”

“The Spider is a person?”

Thaddeus laughed harshly. “Oh. I don’t know about that.

“Then what is she?” I couldn’t help it. My brother was always good at leading me on.

“Remember how you learned about the Unnamed One in erduk?


“Well the Spider is like him, only no one knows who her patron is.”

I frowned. “But don’t champions have to say who they serve?”

Thaddeus offered a genuine smile. “You’re too smart for your own good, Koah.” He ran his hand through his curly hair and returned to sitting on my bed. Leisurely, he began to flip through the pages of my book. “In any other case, you’d be right. But the Spider is different. She has no name, no god, and no parents. Some people think she ate them.”

“She ate her parents?” I cried in horror.

“Maybe. Who knows? What you should be worried about are the facts.”

“The facts?”

“The facts.” Thaddeus leaned in towards me, and I leaned in towards him. He started to whisper with a grave face, “She eats people who stray too far from where they’re meant to be. That includes doing weird stuff, like learning Common to talk to dirty elves.”

I pulled back with a scoff—but my body was shivering. “That’s dumb!”

My brother shook his head emphatically. “No! It’s true!” He pointed a finger over his shoulder. “You remember Terius, the boy who ate snails and thought he could become one some day if he just sat still long enough? He’s gone! I just got back from going over to his home, and the whole place was covered in cobwebs!”

“You’re lying!”

“I swear on my life!” Thaddeus insisted.  “There was nothing but thick sheets of sticky silk all over the daikut!

“You’re lying, and I’m going to tell A-ma!” I snapped, close to tears and already getting out of my chair.

“Don’t! Do you want A-ma to get taken by the Spider!?”

I froze, my eyes going wide. “Why would she go after A-ma?”

Thaddeus feigned a frustrated sigh and got up to shove me back into my seat. He crouched next to me, tossing my book onto my desk. “Fine. So you don’t want to believe me about Terius. I wanted to spare you this, since you’re such a tail sucker, but if this story will squish the fleas in your brain, then maybe it’s worth it.” My brother cleared his throat and started, “The Spider of the West is a demon, Nyx. She has no home and no loyalty to anybody. Oh sure. For a little while, she worked like all good champions did—helping people, righting wrongs, punishing the wicked…but then her true nature came out, and she took to wandering. She started from the south, in Erminia, where she traveled up through Ginger Weed Country straight to the Ailuran Nation. While she was meditating one night in a forest clearing, three Ailuran boys came across her. They were running away from home, abandoning their families and their duties to find their fortunes with the Albian dwarves in Ulsmel, the northern colony.

“Seeing the Spider there, none knew what to do. They’d never seen someone like the Spider before. She was an Omatt. An ape person. You’ve seen a picture of them right? Long grabby tails, long arms, round ears? Right. Anyway, these boys had grown up together, and so they were very close. So close, in fact, that each relied on the other to complement the things they lacked when faced with a challenge. That’s why Alcae, the boy of strength, bravely stepped forward first.

“’What are you, little thing? And when you’re done answering, would you please move out of the way?’

“’No. Boy rude,’ the Spider said. She didn’t open her eyes or move from her spot. ‘Will not.’

“’You are in Ailuran lands, creature! You must answer!’

“The Spider’s eyes opened and the air stilled. Her eyes glowed green in the dark. ‘Boy came upon me. Who is he?

“’I am Alcae,’” Thaddeus made a show of thumping his chest with his fist. “’And these are my brothers in friendship, Eolus, and Cato.’

“’Hmph. Thou art babes. Go away.’

“’Babes!?’ Alcae roared and bared his fists. ‘You are a fool to challenge us!’

“The Spider’s eyes narrowed. ‘Not challenging. Sparing. Leave, or Spider change her mind.’

“’That a fool such as you can barely speak gives me confidence that I can rip off your tail and strangle you with it!’”

By this point I was riveted, my knees drawn up to my chest and my face half hidden behind them. My fingers gripped my legs, knuckle-white. My stomach was turning into knots, because I knew what came next would be terrible.

Thaddeus went on, relishing in my growing anxiety. “Alcae boldly entered into the clearing, and suddenly the ground lit up with a web of glowing threads. The threads were rooting into the ground, and they all went back to the center of the Spider’s chest where little beads came up from the ground and went along the lines to be absorbed by her body. The boy’s feet stuck to this stuff and he couldn’t get free. As he struggled, he lost his balance and fell over. The threads sprang to life and wrapped around him, holding him down. They got into his chest, and the Spider started pulling his soul out using her web.”

I was shivering at this point. “Didn’t his brothers do anything??”

“Eolus was going to, but Cato held him back. ‘Wait! You will just meet the same fate as Alcae!’

“But Eolus was cocky as much as he was quick. Confident in his speed, he just said, ‘Nay! I must save our brother before the demon has him! She will not be able to catch my quick feet, and I can step around these threads better than any dancer!’ And he went, fighting off his brother’s hands, into the clearing.

“At first it seemed he would be right. Eolus quickly and skillfully avoided the many threads of the Spider’s web, and reached his brother in no time at all. But up close, he saw how Alcae was wrapped in the threads. Taking out his knife, Eolus just grinned arrogantly. ‘I was fast and skillful enough to get this far, I can do this equally as good!’”

“No!” I murmured.

“Yes!” Thaddeus said with a wicked grin. “As soon as Eolus touched the glowing threads, they wrapped about him faster than he could even think, and he fell to the ground next to Alcae. Now two brothers were caught and both were unconscious. Alcae, having been there the longest, was growing smaller, his muscles receding as his skin turned sallow and thin. The only one left was Cato—but the last brother was different from the others.

“Instead of solving his problems using his body, Cato used his mind. He was very smart, and very clever. Seeing the Spider’s web, he knew he could not step forward to save his brothers by brute force or speedy skill. So he spoke to the champion instead. ‘Demon. You introduced yourself as Spider.’

“’Did not introduce…but did say was Spider,’ the Spider replied.

“’May I ask why you are here?’

“’I wish it.’

“’You are alone in a strange land. Our meeting here seems to show a common need for change.’ The Spider didn’t respond. She just narrowed her eyes.

“Smoothly, Cato continued. ’Our purpose was to seek our fortunes in the north, but I see now that we are too young and weak to even survive the perils of our own forests! Please. Accept my apology on behalf of us all and release my brothers. I cannot live without them.’

“’Can,’ the Spider replied. ‘Are doing it now.’

“’Just as well, I’d rather my brother’s be with me.’

“The Spider didn’t speak right away. She looked Cato up and down, her ape tail rising to curl behind her. ‘You say you leaving. What is north?’

“‘We heard tales of artifacts and riches that the dwarves were keeping for themselves. We wished to have some. It is said that great powers can be gained from some of these things.’

“The Spider thought for a moment, then without a move or even a blink, her glowing threads began to recede, back into her chest. Cato’s brothers were freed, but Alcae was reduced to a frail old man, and Eolus little better. As the Spider rose to walk away, Cato called after her, ‘Wait!’

“The Omatt stopped and looked back at him, and the boy pleaded, ‘Please! Restore them! I cannot have my brothers so! I cannot carry them home, and surely the wolves will do away with them should I leave to get help!’

“The Spider just smiled. ‘Asked for release. Not restoration. Gave them release.’ She turned and started walking away. ‘Spider is what others wish. Call her demon…then she is one. But Cato give information. Much desired information. Spider will spare him. Should not push luck.’”

“And what did Cato do?” I asked tremulously.

Thaddeus gave a sad shake of his head. “Cato was clever enough to survive the encounter, and even got the Spider to free his brothers, but he was also arrogant, and that one word—demon—cost him his two friends. He had to return home alone to get help, but before his brothers could be attended to, the beasts of the forest did away with them.”

“And the Spider?”

“She was gone. Probably went farther north. But see, Koah? If you stray from where you’re meant to be, than the Spider will come to get you!”

I swallowed hard at the lump in my throat.

That night, I tried to sleep, and after hours of fretting, I finally slipped away to nightmares of a strange ape girl with green eyes, sitting on a web of light, while I cowered in the darkness, hoping she wouldn’t see me. The next day, I told my A-ma the story, and she scoffed, rolling her eyes.

“Oh for heaven’s sake, can your brother not torment you for one second?”

“Was it all a lie, then?” I asked hopefully. At this rate, I was never going to sleep well again.

My mother faltered, her hand going to scratch her neck. “Ah…well…no. Some of it is true. Oh! But my little night shard, do not cry. Come here. Shh, ehna ehna.” My mother petted my hair and rocked me as we sat in the kitchen, the early morning light coloring the room a sleepy shade. “The story Thaddeus told you was partially true, yes. There was an encounter by some of our youth long ago with the Spider of the West, but all the boys survived in good health. She was only asking for directions.”

“Really?” I sniffled, looking up at her from her bosom.

Fotini smiled. “Yes, my child.” She took hold of my face and in her eyes I could see love shining. “Do not listen to your brother. You are not a freak. The Spider will not come after you for wanting to better yourself and expand your horizons!”

“Even for learning Common?” I mumbled.

“You’re A-pa knew Common. There is nothing wrong with that!”

Just then, Thaddeus appeared, dressed and ready for erduk. Toddling after him was Atalo, dressed only in his diaper and waving a wooden sword around. My oldest brother smiled as my mother and I spared him a glare. “Morning!” he chirped as he began his forage for food.

My mother spoke as she gently displaced me from her lap. “Now while your brother tells you tales about demons and spiders, perhaps he would’ve found better material in his dear A-ma?”

Thaddeus’s apple froze on its way to his mouth.

Soon, the sound of him pleading and yelping outside could be heard as my mother swatted his bottom with the broom handle. I watched from the window, Atalo on my lap, a satisfied grin on my face. Sitting on the table next to me was the Common book from last night. My little brother tapped the glass with his wooden sword, and gurgled out, “Thaddy…Ca-jeck.”


The Willing Fly – Part 5

As told by Lethia Artaud

…Yes, I suppose you’re free to give me that look. I’ve been a terrible storyteller, and once I finally had the story completely, I refused to tell it. But I gave my word. Good or bad, this is the last of it.

If you’ll recall, the last part I had left off at was when Syria was trying to convince the Spider to stay and help her.

“No pain?” Spider said, her tail twitching. “Of heart, or body?”

Breathless, the woman replied, “There’s a possibility for both. I just…I need to find the magical records that can show me how! This is Hudisyg, the dwarven center of magical research! If there was ever a place where such knowledge was to be found, it’d be here! After all, what else are those guardians guarding?”

The Omatt blinked at her. Then she smiled slowly.

“Spider’s web trembles,” she breathed, so that Syria could barely hear. “Syria is the trembler. Does Syria dream?”

“Yes. All the time. For a better world for all.”

The Spider’s smile widened. “Should stop. Dangerous.

“And you? Do you dream?”

The Omatt laughed harshly. “Can’t. Never sleep. Too busy waiting.”

“For what?”


And from there is where the rest of the story I’ve already told you happened. They found the scrolls, Spider saved Syria from a trap and seemed fatally injured, but in truth she was just baiting Syria so that my former mistress would bring all the dwarves to one place. I was never told why the Spider desired this, or what she took from those dwarves, but it’s my guess that she found a power other than what Syria had been seeking.

Back to my twelfth birthday, after Syria ended her story. She fixed her eyes on me and laid a hand on my hair. “I believe you can see and understand a great many things, child. But I think you choose not to see, sometimes. I think you walk into the hands of the enemy as the Spider did…as I did, like a willing fly. Do not get caught up in what does not work. The Spider’s dissatisfaction with the world was inevitably her downfall. She could not find appreciation in anything, and her values diminished until she was as the dwarven men—driven by some esoteric need that none could fully comprehend.”

I furrowed my little brow, and Syria just chuckled at me. “What is it, Lethia dear?”

I looked at her. “If getting that power was bad for the Spider, than why was it okay for you?”

Syria’s smile gained a shadowed hook as she responded to me.

“The difference between me and the Spider is, that I do not get bored. On the contrary, I become deeply involved.”

Obsessed, she meant.

Looking back now…I think I could have put it together, even at the age of twelve. Maybe then all of us wouldn’t be here, sharing broken stories about a broken Legend. The magic Syria found in Hudisyg…was that the evil she used in Albias?  Syria called me the willing fly because I gave into my aimless passions as a child, but it seems I gave into her lies just as well…


A Hungry Nothing

As told by Quincy

…Nothing fills me with such disgust as hearing that creature’s name. I’m almost insulted that you would ask me to speak of it…her.  I’m sure you’d fancy something entertaining, though I fear what I have to say would entertain the sick and disturbed. And I know her true name. I know the name of this evil, this plague that was visited upon Gaia when she came puking and screaming from her mother’s rancid womb. I will not say it. It is a sin, I’m almost certain of that now, to give that damned ape anything befitting a moral sentient creature. The Spider of the West? Arachne? These could easily be used to describe a horrible beast, and she was just that, make no mistake.

I have no real story to give. Just broken accounts of what that demon did—to my life, to so many others.

I suppose I can begin by stating how we met. You see, there was a short time when Jack let me travel with him after my mother’s death, and one of our last trips was to the Indabe. There, at a little oasis town called Abija, we met up with Tobias and his new adolescent ward, whom they only called, “Spider.” Being older, she was much taller than I, and yet from the looks of her, I guessed I could beat her in an arm wrestling match. She was skinny—unhealthily so—and her green eyes had a cold glint to them that froze my blood.

“Quincy, this is Spider. Spider, Quincy,” Tobias gestured between us.

“Hello,” I said shyly. I think I was between the ages of five or seven at the time.

Instead of replying, the Omatt glared at Tobias.

The tall man faltered, scratching at his bushy eyebrow. “Oh! I’m sorry…I should mention that Spider has a special condition that makes speech difficult for her. As a result, her comprehension is fine but she cannot hold a conversation with others. I’ve been trying to help her with…” At my lost look, Tobias trailed off again, his cheeks coloring.

Jack just laughed and tousled my hair.  “Fledgeling, what your uncle is trying to say, is that Spider is mute.”

I blinked at her. “Oh.”

Spider just gazed at me guardedly.

We spent that night eating and carousing, my father and my uncle conversing with the locals while I took in all the strange sights and sounds of that foreign land. Only Spider seemed withdrawn, her eyes out on the moonlit sea of sand that surrounded our little haven. Her spine was curled and her tail wrapped around into her lap, where she stroked it gently. Finally, I noticed her reticence and moved to speak to her. “Is something wrong?” I asked.

She looked at me sharply, and I jumped. Then I remembered that she couldn’t speak. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I just thought you looked sad. Where are your parents?”

I could see her nostrils flare and her round ears twitch but her face otherwise remained passive as she looked away from me. I bit my lip and sat closer to her on the pillow cushions. “Did you lose them? I lost my mother. Birds took her eyes.”

Spider looked at me sidelong and I looked down into my lap. “I love father, but I miss mother.”

“Miss. Okay. To…Miss,” came the lisping response. She spoke slow and thick like a simpleton would.

I looked at the Omatt in surprise. “You spoke!”

Spider’s face screwed up and her tail flopped in her grip. “Miss. Mo-ther. Love.

I nodded my eyes tearing up. “I did love her! I still do! Do you miss your parents?”

Spider shrugged.

I bit my lip. From my pocket, I pulled out a small brown and cream quill. “Here,” I said as I handed the item to her. The Omatt scrunched her nose up at it, but I pushed it toward her insistently. “Take it! That was my mother’s. Since you don’t have a mother, we can share. I think she’d like you.”

The Spider stared, bewildered by the gift. Then she smiled.

The rest of the night went merrily enough, and in a short time after that, we were as sisters.

This all sounds nice, right? But trust me when I say that it didn’t last long. In the coming years, my father would venture off for quest after quest, leaving me in the care of the others. Often times Tobias and Spider would go with him, and I would be left in the care of either one or both of them. But one day, word came that Ludovico, the champion of Eate, was abusing his powers for base needs. It was one thing for agents of heaven to oppose each other over their gods’ principles, but it was another thing entirely to use one’s powers to answer the whims of mortals. The direness of the situation demanded that all three of my caretakers go, so I was sent to stay with a friend in the Kingdom of the Sands whilst Jack, Spider, and Tobias addressed the problem on the other side of the world.

They later returned…without Spider.

“But where is she?” I cried. “She isn’t dead, is she?”

“No fledgeling,” Tobias said with a sad smile. “Spider just…needs time to herself. She’ll come around.”

But she never did.

In just a short year after that, I was sent to live in the Fanaean village of Kimbia, as my father’s work kept him perpetually in the southern hemisphere, and having me in the Kingdom of the Sands no longer became convenient. Our friends there argued that it was unsafe for me to be in Fanaea because of its wild and primitive society. They said I would be safer staying in the well-guarded kingdom, where my father’s enemies could not reach me. This objection was momentarily silenced when Tellus granted a sort of reprieve to Tobias, and he chose to stay with me in the village. Naturally, it wasn’t long before he was called on again, only this time he left in the dead of night without telling me. I had to hear it from Kafeel in the morning that my so-called uncle had gone to take care of something important that required his immediate attention, and he would be back soon.

Then the people of Kimbia, along with Hakeem’s family, were all slaughtered, and my caretakers were nowhere in sight. Hakeem and I were the only survivors left of a bloody attack from marauders—all enemies of my father. They searched the jungles for me for days afterwards, moving their camps hither and thither. We barely escaped their notice, but in all our movement, we could not properly gather food or find shelter, and so we were just barely surviving. It was the arrival of the pirate captain, Tulki that saved Hakeem and I, but even that solution was for the short term.

But what of the Spider? Yes. What of that despicable beast? I will tell you why it was Tobias left me unguarded in such a hurry, forsaking me in favor of her. I will tell you what my father was doing, hunting her along the Talmorian landscape until he reached her abominable jungle in the Indabe. And I will tell you what that creature did, to earn so much infernal attention.

On Talmor, there was once a town called Tabiz on the eastern coast. It was a prosperous farming town, and though they were small, they had many slaves. I have heard speculation that this was perhaps what set Spider off. She hated slavery, but she hated more those who surrendered to it. Perhaps this was why she sat in the middle of Tabiz’s market day. Perhaps this was why she let her overgrown bangs shade her eyes as men and women of different races, genders, and species, happily served their masters under bondage.

Perhaps this was why she undid them all, their bodies disintegrating into dark crimson dust before vanishing into nothing at all.

In a single sweep of her will, the Spider erased Tabiz and its people—slaves and all—from the face of Gaia. Conversations were cut short, handshakes were not completed, jumping games left undecided, lives were snuffed out because this one mkundu monster just decided she felt like it.

And the sick part? She left one old woman alive to tell the world of what had happened. Why the old woman? Because Spider wanted it that way. No other reason. That’s it. There is no moral to this story, no underlying truth. Just tragedy abound in that we were all too blind or too naïve to see.

Over the years following her downfall, I came to learn of how her so-called ‘heroics’ were little more than violent, savage excursions to fill her vast need for fulfillment. Through disconnected accounts—A Santian history lesson, an Ailuran fable, an Albian rumor—I gathered that the Spider had travled through the heart of the Sibesona to the far north, where there she found some sort of power. But even this did not satiate her insane demands for death and destruction.

That is why I call the Spider a beast, and I say I am glad that she is sealed away. And should she ever be released, I only hope that she rots in hell for all eternity. Since the day I met her, the Omatt had been looking for something to fill the black hole in her heart. Up until the moment she was cast down, it is my opinion that she never truly recovered from her starved life as a slave. It is my opinion, that her evil nature left that demon emaciated and hungry for a great deal of nothing.

Continue ReadingSix Tales of Arachne

Chapter 32.3


Everything is my fault. Everything. I’ve hurt so many people. Maybe it’s good that I disappear. Maybe it’s good. Is this why my family left me alone?

Hope is just the universe’s way of lying to you.

All that pain and struggle…and for what? There isn’t any point when we become the thing we fear most. Honestly, how do you come back from that? You don’t…you just don’t…

If I’m going to be a monster, then please…someone slay me.


When Gudahi managed to wrestle the Twin off of Elmiryn, two things immediately became clear. Firstly, it didn’t matter how much charm and wit the redhead had, she just wasn’t very good at keeping her mysgaji tongue in check. Secondly, the Twin may have been angry…but she wasn’t murderous.

Quincy watched, shocked and alarmed like the rest of them as the giant cat roared and knocked Elmiryn to the ground. It was almost a certainty that before any of them could get the beast off her, the warrior was likely going to be missing her throat. But aside from a few harmless cuts and bruises, the woman was fine. The wizard felt her optimism rise. If the Twin wasn’t willing to kill Elmiryn after an insult like that, then there was still a chance to salvage the situation.

The Twin had already ceased fighting against Gudahi when he released her. She made no further attempts to attack. The warrior, meanwhile, was cursing up a storm. The past three days had seen her good humor turn thin, and though she had not ceased with her quips and provocations, there was a note of ire and bitterness to it that just didn’t feel like the Elmiryn Quincy had come to know. The wizard was amazed to say it, but she wished the old Elmiryn would come back.

As she thought this, she had to hold the redhead back whilst she screamed. “You stupid fucking piece of shit mangy animal—I gave you what you wanted didn’t you!? It was a perfect joke of a name for a FUCKING joke like you! Now where is it? WHERE IS THE BEAST!?”

Quincy had enough. Without a word, she drew the woman’s magic dagger from its sheathe.

There was a muted hum as all sound was sucked out of the air around them, blanketing them in an unnatural silence…

Except for Quincy.

“I think that’s enough of that,” she said dryly.

Elmiryn whirled around to glare at her. She tried to snatch the dagger back, but Quincy skipped back and pointed the weapon at her. “Ah, ah!” Tutted the wizard. “Do you really want to try and grab at the blade like that?” Backing away slowly, the brunette smirked. “Mmmm…it’s really nice not hearing your obnoxiousness for even a few seconds. But I promise Elmiryn, this will be quick.”

Not taking her eyes off the warrior, Quincy turned her head in the direction of the Twin and said, “You want a name, Cat? Then what about Kali?” Elmiryn’s face, so tight with insult and outrage, started to ease. The wizard continued her explanation at the insistence of her gut. She couldn’t see or hear the Twin, but she felt she was on to something. “The name means ‘sister of shadow’. There is a legend told in Crysen of twin sisters named Tali and Kali. None knew where they came from, but they were very talented with magic. It was discovered that Tali’s power became stronger during the day, while Kali’s power became stronger at night. They were polar opposites of one another, but they lived in tandem. They did that because they needed each other.” Quincy finally dared to take her eyes off Elmiryn to look at the Twin. Just as her instinct had told her, the beast was giving her full attention, and nothing of her demeanor seemed to suggest rejection.

The wizard nodded toward her. “As I understand it, you need Nyx to exist.  Well she needs you too. In fact, we all need you, but none more so than her. We can’t have light without shadow, Twin. So will you accept this name and help us?” As Quincy said this, she flipped the dagger over, catching it delicately by the blade, then carefully offered it to Elmiryn. The warrior took it with a grumpy look.

When the dagger was returned to its sheathe, the sound returned to them in a rush of air.

Still, no one spoke for a time.

Finally, the Twin stepped forward.  “Kali…” she bowed her head and closed her eyes. When she lifted her gaze again, it was with a fierceness and pride that Quincy hadn’t seen before. “This name is acceptable. You shall all refer to me henceforth as that. I will answer to nothing else. Now…as Nyx’s sister…” the beast squared its paws and tilted its head back. “I will help you find what you seek.”

Quincy gave a satisfied nod. “Excellent. Then it’s settled.” She shot Elmiryn a look, before asking next, “What can you tell us then…?”

The Twin—Kali—Sat on her haunches and her ears drooped. “I cannot speak of the monster without confessing.”

The wizard frowned. “Confessing?” She looked to Elmiryn and found a similar look of confusion.

“Yes.” Kali inhaled deeply. Her exhale came out as a low growl. “Back at Holzoff’s Tower, you all know that Syria had used her power to bewitch everyone.  Well as an observer who saw the present like a dream, I was the only one between Nyx and I, who was aware that anything was amiss. I tried to tell her that something was wrong, but my counterpart never did like hearing me, even before I gained the use of Words. Syria sensed my attempts and, with her power, she cast me deep into the darkest parts of Nyx’s subconscious.”

Quincy crouched, fascinated as she saw the feline’s face tense. Such emotion…it was hard to believe that such a creature could be the embodiment of Nyx’s animal nature. But perhaps that wasn’t true? Perhaps Kali wasn’t just some manifestation of basic instincts. But if not that, then what?

“None of you understand this, because none of you have ever been in the position I have. Being in that place…it is hell. It is cold. It is abstraction. Everything you are is just so much noise in a black vacuum. Being in that place…you could go mad. And maybe I did, a little. But I came across something, in that darkness…something that was strong, but unguided. That was powerful, but mindless. I had told Nyx that there was another shard in our mind, but now I don’t think it was right to call it that. It was just…an aspect of ourselves, something ugly that neither of us wanted to acknowledge so we locked it away and forgot about it. I took its essence, and I used it.” Kali looked straight at Elmiryn, whose face had gone completely slack. Quincy’s heart started to beat faster, and she looked to Hakeem. Her husband’s young face was sporting a look of resignation. The Twin continued, “What I found was rage, pure and undiluted. It was pain, it was suffering, it was hate and fear. I used that power to return to the conscience world and to break Nyx free of her stupor. And when we were sent here…we were split apart, and that essence of suffering…it became the beast.”

“You let out the thing that killed Atalo,” Elmiryn whispered. Quincy was surprised to see her eyes had gone teary. “You let out the monster that was inside of Nyx. The part of her she didn’t know how to control…that you didn’t know how to control!”

Kali hissed at her, her ears turning flat. “In the end, it was what saved us all. What would have happened had Nyx not inspired your heart to break free of Syria’s spell!? How would we even be alive today if I had not done what I did!”

Sanuye growled ominously. Gudahi bared his teeth, his hands fists at his sides. “Countless of my brothers and sisters have fallen for your mistake! Why is their lives worth less than yours!?”

“I did not know the beast would part from my control,” Kali spat. “It wasn’t my intention to kill so many, but tell me, when one has a choice between surviving or protecting indifferent strangers—no—racial rivals—what would you choose? And do not speak to me about the weight of my decision when you do not even understand the situation in full! Syria was a powerful woman whose designs were to destroy the world as we know it! Do I know how that would have worked out? No. You want to know why? Because I made a decision, and that led to her being stopped. So do not speak to me that way, puerile pup, until you have to make a choice that not only determines your life, but that of an unimaginable number of others!”

“Cut the bullshit!” Elmiryn shouted. “None of us knew what would have really happened! None of us knew what was going on! We could have figured something out! We could have beaten Syria without that thing, so don’t go making yourself out like a hero when you didn’t even understand the consequences at the time you fucking pulled this crap!”

“The decision was made, and there’s no changing it! The sooner you can accept that, the sooner we can deal with the present!” Kali snapped.  “Whatever you may think, that beast is out now. It is a part of me…and it is a part of Nyx. Killing it would only result in our deaths!”

Elmiryn gripped her sword handle tightly. “So what are we supposed to do, hmm?”

Kali snorted at her, then turned to Quincy. “What happened the last time you saw Nyx. How did the beast come into possession of her?”

Quincy cleared her throat. “Well. We encountered the monster three days ago, and Nyx tried to stop it using her bardic abilities—”

“Her what?”

Hakeem spoke next. “Nyx has an old power, and I suppose you do too.  It is one that allows her to turn her voice into kinetic force, among other things. She tried using it to fight the beast.”

Kali’s eyes widened. “But if we all share the same power…”

Quincy nodded gravely. “In the end, it was able to resist and fight back. When Nyx was down, the monster impaled her with its claws…but then its shadow grew beneath it, and they both sank out of sight.”

“From the way the monster struggled to free its claw,” Hakeem said. “It appeared surprised and unwilling. That, and finding you still alive has led us to believe that Nyx is also still alive.”

Kali nodded. “If that is so, then I may have an idea where she is. I have not gone there, mind you, but I have known spirits and animals to fear that region, so naturally I steered clear of it as well. If there is ever a place for the beast to lurk, it would be there.”

Quincy gave a sigh of relief and started to walk away. “Well, now that that’s settled, I’m going to find something to eat and pretend I have all my fingers. I find this ordeal rather taxing, and any moment spent not thinking about it is a good moment…”


If I am truly so clever, none of this would have happened. I would have seen where the stars were leading me. I would have figured out her motives before we got sucked into this hell. She leaves me to watch them struggle, and at first I thought she was punishing me. Trying to break me.

And then I realized she was trying to teach me.

I hate her for still trying.

I hate myself for still wanting her to try.


Elmiryn fisted her cheek as she glowered down at her roasted rabbit. Everyone was quiet at camp. After a brief rest and a small meal, they had resumed their journey with the Twin at the lead. Or wait. She wasn’t supposed to call it that anymore. Now it was Kali…the bitter, self-preserving beast that had visited torment onto the Lycans and started them all on this bizarre search for her better half.



The woman’s hand shook as she brought the meat to her lips and took a disinterested bite.

The large cat was up in a tree, just outside the reach of the campfire, her eyes aglow in the shadows as she silently watched them below. Elmiryn narrowed her eyes at her.

“Something is clearly on your mind, so why not just say it, instead of staring rudely?” Kali growled. The others looked up with a start.

“Wow. I never thought I’d see the day when an animal talks to me about etiquette.” Elmiryn tossed her rabbit leg onto the ground. She wasn’t hungry anyway. “All right.” The woman stood and approached the tree, moving past Quincy, Hakeem, Sanuye, and Gudahi. Placing her hands on her hips, she regarded the cat above her with a raised eyebrow. “Now that you have your own name, what else do you want?”

Kali blinked down at her. “What?”

Elmiryn sneered. “It’s a simple question, Kali. You have a name. What do you want now?”

The cat turned her head, her ears flicking. “What I want, I will no longer need to beg for.”

“But what do you want?”

“My own life. I thought that was obvious.”

Elmiryn rubbed her forehead. “You mind telling me how that’s gonna work without a body of your own?”

“Must you constantly remind me of my plight?”

The warrior shrugged. “I just want to make sure we’re clear on the issue here. We both know that Nyx is the real one—”

Kali hissed and leaned down, her dark features slipping into the glow of the fire. “And what constitutes real for you, when you see faces in smoke and think the sky is made out of paper? What makes me less important when Nyx needs me to survive?”

“She doesn’t need you.”

“She is a shell without me! Our survival has been entirely my doing since the day we were born! When she tried to starve herself to death, I kept us alive. When others cornered us, I fought back. When she needed strength to help her friends, I gave her that. Me!

“And yet you couldn’t save Atalo for all your gods damned strength!”

Atalo would be alive today if that stupid whore hadn’t taken him away!”

Elmiryn hardly thought about what she was doing. One moment she was gazing into the haunting depths of Kali’s eyes, the next the cat was pinned down beneath her over the fire pit, the bright embers of the fire scattered and singing her arms and face. The beast screamed, claws out, struggling, but a strength that the woman hadn’t felt in a long time appeared in her limbs. She held the beast down, her vision tunneling as she hissed over and over.

“Die, die, die, die, die…”

“Elmiryn, get OFF her!” Arms wrapped around the woman’s throat and pulled her back. She could smell that wild musk of fur and sweat and forest. Phantom memories of hands holding her down and teeth raking her skin sent a jolt of panic down her spine. She let go of Kali and let out a strangled yell, her eyes wide, her hands reaching up to scratch at her assailants face. She was lifted bodily into the air and she started kicking her legs wildly.

“For heaven’s sake, stop! Stop it! Let her go!” That was Quincy.

Elmiryn was released. Without pausing, she turned and launched her fist. She caught Sanuye across the face. The woman stumbled back, but only appeared mildly surprised. Her lip started to bleed.

Heaving, the redhead pointed a quaking finger at her. “Don’t touch me. Do you hear me?” Sanuye said nothing. Her eyes flickered to Quincy and Hakeem, but the warrior aggressively held her gaze. “Do you FUCKING hear me!? I said—DO. NOT. TOUCH. ME.”

Quincy appeared at her side, and Elmiryn flinched away from her, her gaze wild. The wizard was looking at her like one did a bridge jumper: clearly alarmed, all caution. “Elmiryn, you’ve been on edge since we’ve found Kali. Something happened, didn’t it?”

“Nothing happened.” Elmiryn snapped, perhaps too quickly. She stormed away from camp, recklessly smashing through the undergrowth. To her frustration, she heard the wizard follow her.

“So then why do you have those scratches on you?” Quincy asked doggedly.

“The Twin—”

“That’s a lie, Elmiryn. The marks on your back couldn’t possibly have been made by Kali.”

The warrior rounded on her, her teeth bared. “And why the hell not?” They were far enough away from the camp that the other’s voices had become indistinct.

Quincy shrugged carefully. “Well, for one thing, the fact that the shape and angle of the injuries don’t make any sense for a quadruped to make. But to make things simpler, I’m just going to point out the bruises shaped like fingers on your back.”

Elmiryn stiffened.

The wizard placed her hands on her hips. “Now that we’re out of earshot, do you mind telling me what’s going on?”

The warrior gazed at Quincy for a long time. When she spoke, her voice was strained. “No.”

Elmiryn heard the other woman sigh heavily as she walked away.


The sphere before her sat on a billowing geyser of smoke, and within its watery depths, the girl could see the two women split–Quincy returning to camp, and Elmiryn wandering off to be alone. The trials of the Other Place were deepening the cracks in their resolve. The more their problems fissured, the less likely any of them would survive.

“Elmiryn’s suffering comes from her failure to understand that she is simply a toy. Toys do not have goals or ambitions, and never do they act independently. They are containers of the imagination, to be filled with the dreams of whoever handles them. Her world does not know free will, though she is given the illusion of such. In reality, her existence is determined by causality.”

“But she resists. Her ability to resist should denote a capacity for free will, shouldn’t it?”

“She is an actor refusing to play her part. But the show must go on, as they say, even if the play must carry on without her.”

“In denying participation, she holds herself ransom against the world. That is indicative of a spirit capable of controlling the outcome to her liking.”

“But you’re assuming that she is a key component to the issue at hand.”

“…Isn’t she?”

“That’s what she would like to think.”

Then what does that make you, Mistress?  Lethia thought, her eyes tearing with despair.

Continue ReadingChapter 32.3

Chapter 32.4

“For the first time he had felt fear about life, for the first time he had truly understood that when life had sentenced you to suffer, this sentence was neither a pretense nor a threat. How meaningless it was, empty, empty, empty. This hunting for yourself, slyly observing your own tracks — in a circle, of course; this pretending to throw yourself into the stream of life and then at the same time sitting and angling for your yourself and fishing yourself up in some peculiar disguise! If only it would seize him: life, love, passion — so that he wouldn’t be able to invent it, but so that it would invent him…. it was sweet to dream himself so bitterly insignificant.”

–J.P. Jacobsen, from the novel “Niels Lyhne”


Lethia Artaud was in a place of irrefutable oppression. It lined her lungs with every maligned breath, the curse and cultivation of nightmares stirring her spirit to paranoia and incredible self-loathing. The walls shimmered incandescent with a prism of colorful energy that stirred creatures outside the castle keep to hoot and howl and holler. She lay in a bed of silken sheets, her slip of a gown feeling foreign on her skin. She pulled the thick blanket up to her chin and stared up at the ceiling–a swirl of cauldron blacks, candy reds, and bruised purples. The doorway to her small quarters lacked a door. She was not allowed to have any privacy after her last attempt at release. The girl touched her left wrist under the blanket.

She’d have to change the bandage again soon. The wound was beginning to pucker.

In the months since she’d come to this hell, Lethia had seen her friends suffer, find hope, then suffer even more. It was like a vicious cycle, spiraling downward to the inevitable end they were all facing. The guilt she felt kept her from sleeping. She missed Argos so much she laughed at the irony of the fact that he was a dog. The days were a relentless parade of lectures, cleaning, cooking, and studying. In summary, it was almost normal, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The castle keep was lost deep within a dark forest, surrounded by a swarm of monsters and evil spirits. It was a place of nightmares, and the teenager was trapped in it.

Syria gave her a potion to help her rest, and Lethia found she liked the dreamless coma she’d slip into upon drinking the concoctions. Only she didn’t drink her dose that night. Something kept her from it. Maybe the sudden realization that Syria was poisoning her somehow.

She understood that time in the Other Place was different than other dimensions. For Elmiryn and Quincy, Holzoff’s was a week in the past. For Argos, nearly two. Hakeem and Nyx’s “Twin” had been there a month. And Lethia? Eight months. Eight. She’d watched everyone’s journey in real time, and yet she had been there the longest. This paradox was beyond Lethia’s comprehension, but she also understood that the Other Place was not a place to be understood. It was a place to divide, to diverge, and to deny.

“What have I lost then? Besides Argos?” she had asked Syria some time ago. “Everyone else has lost something here…what have I lost?”

“I cannot know that, my dear. Perhaps you did not lose anything?” Her mistress was a mystery, because though she was usually in perfect view and good light, her face always seemed obscured somehow. In all the eight months Lethia had been there, even when up close, she had not seen Syria’s face. It was disturbing–a sign of the corruption that had taken her. Of the mark that now branded her the pet of–

“Lethia.” The young enchantress was snapped out of thoughts to see the very object of her attention standing in the doorway. “Come. Another lesson for you.”

The girl sighed and sat up. “Yes, mistress.” Her words were hollow. She had learned to stop bothering to resist, though her thoughts were still harder to regulate. Syria could hear all, sense all. It was probably why she still insisted on these “lessons” of hers. Lethia had never known true loathing, but the feelings she held toward the woman could only be described as much. Yet even this was not more than the loathing that Lethia felt for herself.

Vicious cycles, and all that.

It didn’t take long to pull on a robe and slippers. Normal amenities were somehow in easy reach in this place. Or maybe they were just an illusion…like her life had been.

When she emerged from her quarters, the teenager entered what was the central study. Here, volumes of old books were stacked on thick slabs of marble. The lighting orbs brought a surreal aura about the space as the cobwebs shifted with personality and the shadows flickered into life. Great thick reams of paper towered up from the floor in teetering heights, each and every one of them scrawled with some esoteric knowledge in a dead language. There was a giant plum-colored sofa chair in the eye of this storm, and Syria sank into it like a butterfly did a flower.

The master enchantress wore a sequined dress, the color of light ink, the fabric cut scandalously down the front so that it resembled a coat of sorts. Her generous bosom was visible, the fabric mysteriously form fitting, and her long graceful legs were displayed. All that kept it together was a golden clasp at the center of her chest, and a slim obsidian belt at her waist. Her feet were bare. They had to be.

No shoe could fit in the tangle of roots that had become Syria’s feet.

Lethia seated herself next to these, her eyes downcast as she folded her hands before her. Listlessly, she took in how her mistress’s flesh transmorphed into live wood from mid-calf down.

“Elmiryn is reflecting on her attack against the Twin,” she heard Syria say.

At this, the girl’s eyes flickered up. She’d been hoping for more clarification on this issue. Now it seemed that moment had finally come. Moments between ‘scenes’ (as Lethia was coming to understand them) was different for them. It had been at least a week since she had seen Elmiryn part with the others to be alone.

Syria held up her hand, and Lethia tried to focus on it, because looking at the woman’s face (or lack thereof) brought about nasty headaches, as though the universe were trying to punish her for seeking what could not be sought. Over Syria’s hand, a white window opened, and the teenager sat up to peer through. When Elmiryn had been hiding inside of her own head after her encounter with Artemis, she’d gained an odd ability to see what shouldn’t have been seen. Lethia was the woman in the window. When the warrior had tried to talk to her, the teenager had tried vainly to respond. But the spell did not work this way. Syria wouldn’t have allowed it even if it did.

In the window, she could see Elmiryn, sitting alone. She was talking to herself, a habit she had picked up when the others slept and she remained awake. Her fae nature was growing stronger, and the things that humans needed were becoming less and less relevant. The fae did not sleep. They did not dream. Their very lives were dreams, populated by their insane and whimsical natures.

Lethia blinked as she saw the warrior throw a rock at the ground. She looked sullen, her cerulean eyes emptied of their usual alacrity and warmth. “What was I thinking…” Elmiryn asked herself.

That’s what I’d like to know… Lethia thought. Having seen everything there was to see about the people she had come to this realm with, she knew and understood the strange circumstances surrounding Nyx and her “Twin” persona. If the Twin, now known as Kali, were to be destroyed, then Nyx would die. If Nyx were destroyed, then Kali would die. While the two personas battled for supremacy within the same body, they were still not strong enough to exist independently of one another. The Other Place, as a spiritual alter-dimension, was capable of sustaining this separation—but for a short period of time. Syria had explained that both sides had already shown signs of decay in their actions. Their time was drawing to a close.

So with so much at stake, why on earth, would Elmiryn try to harm Kali?

As if to answer Lethia’s question, the warrior spoke. “Atalo isn’t my brother. Hell. I don’t even remember what he looks like.” The teenager pressed in closer, her nose touching the magical window so that it tingled. “But god, when that stupid animal said that…when Kali said that…I wanted to…” Elmiryn sat roughly onto the forest floor, her spine slumped in uncharacteristic defeat. With her leg half-bent, she leaned onto it, her arms lax at her sides. “What’s the point?” she sighed. “There…is none, is there?” She didn’t move for a long time, seemingly lost within her own thoughts.

Then suddenly the warrior slammed her fist into the ground and screamed, “Fuck! FUCK!”

What came next broke Lethia’s heart.

Elmiryn started crying. Crying. Real tears streamed down her face, blotching it. Her nose started to run. Her chest heaved with sobs and there was that undeniably broken sound of someone who had had enough. She pulled at the scarf Quincy had lent her till it unwrapped, revealing fully what it had barely managed to cover. The bruises on Elmiryn’s back had darkened considerably, and the long cuts in her skin still looked very raw and painful.

Lethia’s chin crumpled and she looked away. She felt ashamed, like a voyeur seeing something she should not have. She had felt this many times before, but something about this was so much more acute. This was someone’s personal pain, something she knew they would never let themselves show anyone. She even understood the why of it. Elmiryn wasn’t mad about Kali, or Quincy, or even the fact that they still had yet to find Nyx (though that certainly didn’t help)…It was because the warrior had been made to feel something she had never truly felt.


She stayed there for a long time, just weeping. Then she went silent. The darkness had intensified, signifying that night had come. This shard did not have a sky, nor were the nymphs offering their magic this far from the Lycan village, so Lethia could only assume this was what it meant. With time, Elmiryn raised herself from the ground. She had not fallen asleep at all in that time of stillness. It was becoming less that she didn’t want to, and more that she didn’t need to.

After wiping her face clear, the warrior took some time to fix her hair into the iconic braid that Lethia had become so familiar with. After that, she took the itchy scarf and once more wrapped it around herself. Taking a rock, she marked trees as she went until she came to the stream. There she washed her face and drank some water. Her hands shook visibly. When she was done, she followed her markings to return to the place she had cried, which was not all that far from her companions’ camp. Upon returning to the others, she found they were all asleep, with the exception of Gudahi, who kept watch with a small fire. He did not act surprised or confused by her sudden appearance. Not surprising. As a Lycan, he probably sensed her coming.

What Lethia did not expect, nor Elmiryn too, it seemed, was the man offering the woman a small branch of leaves. They were light green and shaped like tear drops.

The warrior stared at it. Then at the man. “What’s this for?”

Gudahi gestured at his eyes. “To help with the swelling,” he said quietly.

Elmiryn’s face reddened. With a snatch, she took the leaves from him, and for a second she looked as though she were about to throw it into the meager flames. Then she paused. Her body was still tensed, the muscles of her athletic form like coiled springs ready to explode in a burst of energy. Gradually, she relaxed. She lowered the hand holding the leaves and sat down on the other side of the camp fire.

“What do I do?” she muttered.

Gudahi mimed with his hands, his eyes on the flames. “You tear the leaves and crush them in your hands. Then you take your fingertips and lightly dab the juice around your eyelids.”

Lethia watched, fascinated, as Elmiryn began to do as instructed. When she came to the part of dabbing the eyes, she asked, “How do you know this stuff?”

Gudahi smiled wanly. “My sister cries all the time for our dead brother.”

This was met with silence.

Elmiryn carefully set the leaves aside, grimacing as she wiped the sticky leaf juice onto her pants. Lethia didn’t know what they were called, and she wished the warrior were curious enough to ask, but she made a point to remember the look of the leaves in case she ever needed them. Which she suspected she would.

“So did things go to hell while I was away?”

Gudahi shrugged. “Kali was not pleased, but I get the feeling she is used to that. Quincy was her same ornery self. Sanuye was unshakeable as ever. And Hakeem was simply beautiful. Does that answer your question?”

The warrior narrowed her eyes at the man. “Why do you pant after Hakeem like that? He’s a kid.”

“I do not pant after him, as you say. And I wouldn’t dream of touching him as he is now…but I know what he was. Isn’t that enough?”

“It’s still weird.”

“You just dislike it because you dislike me on principle.”

“You’re right. I do dislike you.”

Lethia frowned, though this behavior had become the norm for Elmiryn as of late. The warrior was known for her candor, but also for her inexhaustible sense of humor. Even when angry, she seemed to try and make things a joke. That energy seemed gone now.

“You mustn’t worry,” The man sighed delicately. “Nyx shall be all yours…and I? I shall be alone.” He touched his heart with an exaggerated look of pain. “Oh so alone.”

Elmiryn’s head lolled back and she stared up at the forest canopy. “And not a single fuck was given that day…”

Ohuff! You are so mean.”

The redhead smirked. “You should see me when I’m on my period.” Lethia snorted into a laugh. So her humor wasn’t all gone. That was reassuring.

Gudahi chuckled as well. “There it is.”

Elmiryn gave him a curious glance. “There what is?”

He looked at her with a kind smile, his fingers idly twirling one of the teardrop leaves. “That part of you that made Nyx fall in love. You bring levity to an otherwise heavy life.”

The woman blinked, but said nothing. She seemed oddly surprised. Gudahi looked at her when her silence assured no response. “Oh? Surely you must’ve known. I hope you did. Please, say you did! I cannot stand the thought of my pet being cross with me!”

She frowned softly. “I’ve known. I can…hear it. When she spoke to me, it was there.”

“So what is wrong? You should be happy.”

Elmiryn’s frown deepened and she gazed into the fire. After a moment, she whispered, “I wonder if I’m being selfish.” Lethia barely caught it. She bit her lip as Gudahi took a deep breath.

But all he said was, “Ahhhh…I see.”

“I mean, when we met, I had to press her to come with me. And then? She got tossed into all of my crazy, is what. Gamath, Albias, the Other Place…none of this would’ve happened if I’d have just—”

“This is where I’m going to stop you and go to sleep.”

The woman sputtered. Clearly, she wasn’t used to being brushed off, and this made Lethia smirk a little. “What the fuck? I’m opening up, which, if you haven’t noticed, is like finding a midget’s pot of gold up your granny’s snatch—and you’re just going to fucking sleep?

Gudahi gave her a dry look. “You’re still missing the point.”

“That you’re an insensitive twat?”

“No. That Nyx, despite all she’s gone through, still fought to be by your side.” He raised an eyebrow at the woman. “After all, isn’t she always telling people about how she was, ‘Literally torn apart!’ trying to find you again?” Gudahi managed to mimic the Ailuran in what Lethia thought was an eerily accurate voice. “If you can’t understand the sort of resolve that takes, then perhaps you really aren’t meant for her.”

Elmiryn blinked after the man as he went to sleep. She didn’t move for a time. Then, just as she seemed to come out of her shock, Syria closed the window to the scene. Lethia looked at her mistress in surprise. The way she always sat so silently, the girl almost forgot about her. The woman, with her hair curtaining her face, reclined in her sofa chair and steepled her fingers on the arm rests.

“What have you learned?” her voice was a soft murmur.

Lethia closed her eyes wearily. She hated these sessions. She never knew what the woman’s exact point was. Since coming to the Other Place, it were as though her sense of teaching had taken a turn for the abstruse.

“I have learned…” As such, the girl usually just listed off whatever she could possibly think of. “That Elmiryn can be broken. That she both craves, yet fails to understand Nyx’s love. That she may be incapable of reciprocating that love, no matter how much she wishes to. That she is very fearful, probably more so than anyone she has ever met. She is also lonely beyond words due to her own need to safeguard herself. Artemis is getting to her more than she wants to admit. But her fae nature has given her a power to resist the way of the gods, and thus, she is even more alone than she knows. It eats away at her, in her subconscious, because she can’t put it into words anymore than the people around her can. Elmiryn is alone because she lives outside of the world, and the one person who can reach her is missing from her life.”

Syria let out a pleased murmur, her long black tresses shifting as she tilted her head. “Now why can we understand these things?”

Lethia swallowed hard. With a trembling voice she whispered, “Because we are outside of heaven’s will too.” Only she felt ill as she said this. Maybe that was why she couldn’t see Syria’s face. Maybe that was why Syria insisted on these ‘lessons’. To make Lethia truly free of the gods…

…Even if she didn’t want to be.

“Good. Good, my dear!” Syria leaned forward to stroke Lethia’s hair, but the girl flinched, and her mistress pulled back her hand. The woman sighed. “Ahh…Lethia, my sweet girl…you will understand someday.”

Syria floated to her feet. “I have business to attend to with our host. If you could please see to it that She is fed?”

Lethia paled. She clasped her hands before her and shook her head emphatically. “Mistress! Oh mistress, please! Don’t make me!”

“Come now, what’s with all this?” The enchantress managed to sound mildly vexed.

Lethia sobbed, her eyes clouding with tears. “No! No! Please! Don’t make me go down there! I won’t try and kill myself again, I promise!


The amount of force in Syria’s voice shook the teenager down to the bone. She froze and looked up slowly. Her mistress bore down on her, and through the black curtain of her hair, the girl could see a shifting, flesh-colored storm of features, searing amongst which glared a single eye. The predictable pain came, slicing through Lethia’s head like a knife. She hissed and groaned, her eyes squeezing shut as she bowed her head.

Then the touch came, and Lethia felt drops of something wet fall onto the back of her neck. Her head raised a fraction. Her ears perked to the sound of hitched breathing—like when someone was trying their hardest to keep their tears in check.

“Lethia, you are precious to me. Can’t you see that? I have gone to great lengths to keep you safe! You are…you are everything to me, despite how things may appear. Just as Nyx has shown her resolve for Elmiryn, so is my resolve for you! And I won’t give up! I won’t. But I cannot protect you if you fail to heed my words. This is just for the one time, Lethia. Feed her, and I swear I will find a suitable cohort to take that duty. In the meantime, this must be done!”

Lethia closed her eyes. There were moments like these when Syria seemed almost like her old self. But that person was dead and gone, much like the Lethia of yesteryear.

“Yes, mistress,” was all that she could say.


Dressed in her old traveling clothes, the girl carried a picnic basket weighed down with raw meat. The blood dripped through the wicker. Not for the last time, she wished Argos were with her.

Lethia hated leaving the keep. One good reason was for the horde of terrible creatures that seemed to cavort about the castle keep’s grounds. They were in a perpetual party, celebrating their master’s rise to power. Not Syria. The girl’s mistress was just a pawn, and the woman had even admitted as such. No, the spirits and demons that came here all worshipped the ruler of the keep. Just at the thought, the girl shivered in revulsion.

Just stepping down the keep’s path was like trying to wade through a garish orgy. Lethia covered her mouth and nose with a handkerchief, her old brown traveling boots stepping gingerly over rivers of blood, alcohol, and rotting food. She thought she felt Syria’s eyes watching from a window in the keep, but when she turned to look, she saw no one. She was effectively alone. Thankfully, the spirits didn’t pay her any mind. It was as though a silent word from their master had been all that was needed to give the girl safe passage through their cabal.

Another reason Lethia hated leaving the keep was because of the woods that surrounded it. The blackwood. As she left the throes of the party, she came upon the edge of the strange forest and swallowed hard. Here, the trees seemed to be voids of color, their forms simple black shapes in a sea of colorful spectrums. Lethia shivered as she passed them, for they hummed whenever she ventured too near, and coldness entered her bones.

Doing her best to travel carefully so as not to touch any of the trees, or run into the wandering spirits that had somehow drifted from the endless party, Lethia made her way deep into the blackwood until the keep was a small sight on the horizon. As she made her way through a clearing of hummocks, she came to the mouth of a large den. The stench there was thick with death and blood. Lethia gagged behind her handkerchief, her body trembling.

Slowly, she lowered her hand from her face, and she managed to call out.


A willowy voice spoke into her ear, “You’re late.”

Lethia dropped the basket and screamed. In her haste to get away, she tripped and fell, scraping her knee. Her breath caught as a shadow fell over her. With tears in her eyes, the girl looked up.

Nyx stood there, head cocked to the side. But this was not the Nyx Lethia had once known. This Nyx was covered in black fur, except for her face. She had pointy black ears on either side of her head, and her wild mane of hair seemed longer. Her eyes were cold cat eyes, her nose pink and heart shaped, her upper lip thin and split. Beneath those lips peeked sharp fangs. Her features were stained and dirty. Her legs were long and thick, with her toes ending in sharp claws, and her foot extending to a hock like an animal’s. Her hands were furry, clawed, and padded, the digits stouter than when the Ailuran was in her sapien form. Swinging behind her was a long thick tail. And yet, though shocking, these details weren’t what made Nyx so frightening.

No, it had more to do with the gaping chest cavity that displayed an impossibly empty void.

Lethia flinched away as black ooze from an exposed rib dripped near her boot, sizzling the soil where it fell.

Beyond Nyx’s horrific appearance, there was her intimidating aura—which was eerily similar to her naturally put upon state of existence, save for the underlying sense of darkness, hatred, and murderous intent. With a sulky expression, Nyx held out her hand.

“Lethia…the food, please?”

The teenager swallowed hard and blindly reached for the picnic basket. After missing twice, she managed to catch the handle and dragged it closer to her. With a deep breath, she held the basket out to Nyx, and flinched when the Ailuran took it.

Peering with squinted eyes, she watched sidelong as Nyx went to eat. She crouched some feet away, her back to the girl, and when she began her meal, it were as if her whole body was involved in the process of feeding. It was a loud and disgusting process. All sense of courtesy and etiquette were forgotten for a sort of rabid hunger that even animals would be embarrassed to display, Lethia was sure of it. (“Argos would, at any rate!”) The girl tried not to imagine what meat Nyx was eating with little success.

As she thought, Nyx spoke without turning around. “You need to change your bandage.” Her voice was flat and apathetic. Lethia detected a note of scorn hidden within it.

Nervously, she rubbed the bandage on her wrist. “Uh, yes. Y-yes, I was meaning to, but—”

“Did you go down or across?”

Lethia jerked with the straightforwardness of the question. Quietly she whispered, “Across.”

Nyx snorted, tossing a bone over her shoulder. “You did it wrong.”

Inexplicably, the enchantress felt offended. “I cut in pretty deep,” she snapped. “I went unconscious.”

“But you’re not dead,” Nyx pointed out.

“Not for lack of trying, okay?”

The Ailuran stopped eating, her head slowly craning to peer at Lethia. The girl’s blood froze, and she hurried to her feet. Nyx slowly ripped the head off of whatever it was she was eating—it looked sickeningly like a fetus—and just chewed her food for a while. The way she kept looking at Lethia was making the girl ill.

Finally, Nyx asked around the food in her mouth, “If you want to die so bad, then why are you scared?”


She swallowed her food and paused in her meal to stare a while longer. Then she whispered. “Lethia, you’re a coward.”

The teenager flinched again, this time her face crumpling for a new onslaught of tears.

“You want to know why you’re a coward?”

Lethia shook her head, her hands going to her ears. “No…please…”

“You’re a coward, because you can’t hold yourself accountable. Oh yes. You cry. I can smell the tears on you. But you secretly wish for people to forget you had anything to do with all the bad things that has happened since Holzoff’s.”

“Stop it…”

“You stay curled up in a ball, hoping that the Syria you once loved will return. You hold everyone else accountable for lofty morals no one even understands anymore, and yet you don’t follow through. Even in hating yourself, you can’t destroy yourself completely.”

Stop it.”

“Does it make you feel better? Saying that Syria is holding you up in that keep against your will, while she grooms me into her new pet monster?”

Lethia shook her head wildly, the tears dripping from her chin as she pressed her palms harder into her ears. “NO! Stop it, please!”

Nyx just laughed, and it sounded just like the old Nyx, except…it wasn’t. It was black. It was cold and hollow and empty. A shadow of her former self. Just like Elmiryn was. Just like Syria was. Just like Lethia was. “You don’t know dedication. Responsibility. Honor. You don’t have the resolve, for it, and so you are a coward, Lethia Artaud, and I have no desire to feast on a coward’s flesh…so if you were looking for some sort of ‘accident of nature’ to happen here, you will be sorely disappointed. I’m not going to relieve you of the pain you deserve.” Nyx turned her head away and took another bite of her meal. “Now get out of here before I break your arms.”

Lethia was only all to eager to comply. She ran through the blackwood, bursting through prisms of taffy orange and hard candy pink. Her clothes snagged on darkness—the infinite ink trying to undo her in her mad escape. She stumbled and tripped and fell. She cried and cried until she could barely breathe. The spirits, in their deviancy, laughed at her as she passed. And as she entered through the keep’s doors and fled to her room, she thought only one thing as she collapsed onto her bed.

Hope is just the universe’s way of lying to you. Identity is just your way of lying to yourself. Love is our way of lying to each other.

So if there’s nothing to do about any of this, do I do nothing? Isn’t that ‘nothing’ something in of itself?

Lethia listened to the mad laughter of the monsters outside, wondering if she already had her answer.

Continue ReadingChapter 32.4

Chapter 33.1


Elmiryn stood staring into the cave, her body seized by emotions too numerous to name.

“And you’re sure?” she whispered.

“Don’t be stupid,” Kali snapped. “Of course I’m not sure.”

“Given the intense atmosphere of malice here, I’m guessing we’re at the right spot,” Quincy whispered next.

“Oh come, come,” Gudahi murmured. “Maybe the air just woke up in a bad mood.”

“You’re still assuming the air is alive enough to wake up. All I can smell is death…” Hakeem muttered.

Quincy covered her nose and mouth with her hand. “This could also simply be the passing attack of the beast’s morning gas!”

Sanuye wrinkled her nose. “I’m confused. The air does not do these things!”

Gudahi bit his lower lip and gave three slow deliberate pats to her shoulder.

Kali shook her head, her ears flapping as she let out a low growl. “Arr! Are we pressing forward or not?”

“Forward,” Elmiryn said firmly, but her stomach was boxing with her insides, and her throat was constricting to the point that she was certain she’d either toss up her meager breakfast or scream for the want of drink. Her hands were shaking terribly. They had followed Kali’s guidance through the forest, watching with grimness as the trees became darker and the wildlife seemed to fade. Quincy dug into her with an, “I told you so,” but Elmiryn only snarled at her like an animal, because honestly, the tonic the wizard gave her barely gave any release from her withdrawals as it was. What did it matter?

Before them was a short cliff face, the gnarled roots of the trees at the cliff’s lip tangling down toward them like thick and earthly fingers. The stone and soil was dark and tinged crimson, the grass shrinking from the mouth of the cave that sat looming at the base of the landmark. There were no bones, no leavings of food or scat here to tell them they had found what they were looking for. There was just the aura of foreboding and the oddly electric feel of something unnatural in the air.

Elmiryn swallowed and clenched her quivering hands. She took one step, then another, and another…and soon she was marching, with great determination, the fear enveloping her and somehow inciting her anger—because she was Elmiryn Manard, damn it, and she wasn’t supposed to be afraid of anything.

The others followed quietly behind. She heard them draw their weapons, but she did not pull out her sword. They were here to find Nyx, and no matter what they found, she was not going to approach her friend hostile.

The darkness swallowed them. Soon even the feeble unnatural lighting of the Other Place was beyond their reach.

“Wait a moment!” Quincy called, and everyone stopped. Elmiryn heard rustling, and a moment later, she heard something strike—like a match. There was a hiss like something was lit, but no light came. She could hear the wizard curse, and again the sounds came, but still no light. Quincy tried and tried, but after almost a full minute passed, Hakeem quietly spoke.

Mweze, I do not think this darkness is natural.”

And she replied with resignation, “Taika, I think you’re right.”

Elmiryn had already started walking on ahead. Their voices grew smaller in her ears, but as far as she was concerned, their importance was little. The only thing that mattered to her was finding Nyx again, and she couldn’t take the separation anymore. The ground beneath her was level–smooth. It were as if the darkness wanted her to go forward, and she could feel her body steadily move into a quicker gait, like something were pulling at her.

Something winked in her eyes. A light. Fire.

Elmiryn started to run, her heart hammering in her chest. She couldn’t hear the others now. They were lost, like she was lost, like Nyx was lost. But soon that would be corrected. Soon, soon, soon…

The fire brightened, then flared, and with a roar it engulfed her…


“They’re here,” Syria said, a note of satisfaction to her voice. Lethia stared down at her plate of roasted meat and rice with gloom.

They were seated at the dinner table, a long and lonely stretch of dark wood that was decorated with a tasseled mauve runner and two silver candelabras to bring more natural light to their unnatural home. Syria sat at the head of the table, though she had no plate, only a silver goblet of some mysterious amber liquid that she refused to explain. Lethia sat adjacent to her on the right, a fork loosely held in her right hand.

“What will happen when they find her?” She whispered.

“She will kill them,” Syria said simply. “And if she does not kill them, she will damage their spirits enough for us to kill them.”

“Why do they have to die?” Lethia said, her voice growing hoarse. “Why must they suffer?”

She could feel her mistress’s unnatural gaze fix on her, and the teenager shrank, setting her fork down onto the table.

“Because, Lethia,” the woman said quietly. “They are not where they ought to be.”

“And where should they be, if not for us?”

“Us? And what did we do to lead to their misfortunes?”

Lethia balled her dress in her hands. “We brought them here. They never wanted to come.”

“They never wanted us to come either, darling.”

“And maybe they were right!” Lethia shouted shrilly. Her voice echoed far and long in the castle keep, scoring in further the audacity of her outburst. The girl squeezed her eyes shut, hot tears leaking down her face, but then she raised her head. Though her body trembled and her head began to ache, she forced herself to look into Syria’s face. The enchantress was, as always, obscured by her curtain of hair and some inexplicable magic. Yet through the part of the curtain, the teenager saw a single eye, and she held it, her headache turning to outright pain. “All these months you have tried to show me how evil the mortal world is! How people are lost and misguided! How we are but wretches under the tyranny of the gods! But these people—my friends—they have fought tirelessly for one single goal! EACH OTHER!  Whatever agendas they may have had in the beginning have been washed in light of their bonds, and I know it is true even if they don’t, because when I look into each of their faces, I can see there is still light there! And what have you done? Killed, and murdered, and manipulated everything so that it came to the satisfaction of some unfathomable monster that doesn’t belong in our world! Your soul is empty! Your heart is black!

Lethia shook her head, trembling fiercely now, her face red and her eyes bulging, a fever rushing through her body the longer she held Syria’s gaze. But she refused to look away. She was tired. She was done. “Was the woman who raised me just a lie? What happened to that kindness and wisdom I once knew? I looked up to you. You were my world, and I would’ve died for you…but now I see that it was never really my decision. You isolated me…Syria. You hid me from the world and controlled me for your sick schemes, and now my hands are awash with your blood debts! There’s only ONE way I know I can atone for any of this!”

Syria set down her drink and sat forward slowly, her hands gripping the armrests of her high back chair with a white-knuckled grip. Suddenly Lethia’s vision went black, and all she could see was her own abstract Fear, a twisted and maniacal thing, that constricted about her body like a snake and tightened until she found it hard to breathe. Syria’s voice came to her, echoing as though she were some omnipotent god.

“My Lethia…my sweet, sweet Lethia…I tried. I did. But now I shall spare you what my master would do a thousandfold. It is the only mercy I can spare, and for all my love, it is not enough…”

Lethia gagged, struggling in the dark space as the spiny Fear tightened and tightened. The teenager’s eyes rolled. She tried to breathe in, but could not. Distantly, she recognized that this was all an illusion. Syria was making her mind believe in a lie. But the conscious mind was inferior to the subconscious mind, for that was the part of a person that had a direct link to the animus, and so her awareness came to nothing when prefaced by her reptilian beliefs.

Her eyes rolled. She could feel herself falling away…death coming to her like sleep did a young child.

She heard barking through the ether.

Dazed, Lethia forced her eyes to blink open. She saw something large and white bounding toward her. At first she thought it were a monster. Then she thought it was some sort of albino bear. And then…

Her eyes widened.


The dog came close enough that his furry face came into focus, and that was when Lethia noticed a dark mottled lizard atop his head. She blinked drunkenly at it, her will to stay awake just a while longer losing out to her lack of oxygen.

Then Lethia wondered if this were just another illusion, for the lizard spoke and said in a hissing voice, “Argos, thou wimpled sheep-biting scut! Forget thy simpering and give the girl what she needs!”

Argos whined and pressed his face against Lethia’s just as she started to pass out. As her thoughts and the illusions fell away, something light and warm and invigorating settled into her chest. It pulsed once before exploding.

Lethia’s eyes snapped open as she gasped for air, like a fish starved. She could see the dining room again—the colored walls, the lonely table, the high ceiling.

More importantly, she could see Syria, who had half-risen from her seat, her face drawn in shock.

The girl’s eyes blinked.

Wait…her face? Oh my gods! I can see her face!

Syria looked much as she had before this nightmare had started, except for a few key details. Her eyes were pitch black, even the scleras, and spidering about them were dark and wicked veins that vanished into her hairline. Two wooden horns sprouted from either side of her forehead, their branches bearing green tear-dropped leaves like they were saplings just beginning to grow. Small fangs could be seen from the woman’s open mouth as she stared in shock at the girl who should have died under her spell.

“How…” she whispered.

Lethia touched her head, then her heart, and felt her soul lift. “That power…that power you used in me to do those rituals in Albias…the one you tried to hide from me all my life…” The girl looked at her mistress with a new fire in her eyes. “It has come back!”


Elmiryn tried to control her breathing, her heart still doing a marathon in her chest. Slowly, she lowered her arms from around her head and looked around her. She was out of the darkness, out of the cave, and around her was much like the other cave entrance had been…only all those missing signs of habitation were present here. Blood stained the soil, bones large and small strewn about. The woman heard someone take a step behind her and slowly turned around.

“Nyx,” she whispered.

It was the Ailuran. There was no doubt in Elmiryn’s mind. But she was different. This wasn’t entirely unexpected for the warrior. From what Kali had explained, if Nyx had survived at all, it was to become one with the beast. Yet nothing could prepare her for the horrible sight before her. The one she cared for the most looked like a demon—her chest open to bare some impossible void, her body furry and clawed, her eyes holding the deepest contempt, her lips and chin stained with blood.

“What took you so long?” Nyx asked quietly, her pawed feet careful stepping over the bones on the ground as she began to circle around.

Elmiryn followed her with her eyes, her hands clenching and unclenching. “I tried. I tried really hard, Nyx, you have no idea—”

“I might have some,” the Ailuran interjected. Her voice did not rise, did not seem harsher, or more animal-like. She sounded like Nyx. But something was off. Her voice…was chillingly incongruent with her form.

The warrior shook her head. “I’m sorry I let myself get in the way of…us. If I hadn’t have–”

Nyx interjected again. “Us?” she chuckled softly. “What do you mean, ‘us’?”

Elmiryn blinked and stared at her, her body now turning on the spot to keep Nyx in front of her. “Nyx, you’re all that matters to me. You have to believe that.”

“Is that why you can’t help but go chasing after death and glory like a bitch in heat?”

The woman blinked at how much that cut into her. “Aside from you, it’s all that I have. You know that. You understand that, I know you do!”

“What I understand, Elle,” Nyx spat, pausing in her circling. “Is that you are a self-absorbed detestation who would still be suckling at her mother’s teat if only her father hadn’t shoved his dick into her fate.”

Elmiryn’s eyes fluttered. “Wha-What?

Nyx approached her slowly, and the warrior backed away, her eyes squinting in disgust as she saw the Ailuran’s ribs move back and forth like the teeth of a beast. The girl quickened her step to close the gap, making the woman flinch, but she only ran her clawed fingers down Elmiryn’s cheek and whispered, “Don’t act is if you don’t understand my Words. I know you do. You eat them up like a fat boy does candy. I have so many Words for you, Elmiryn. Do you want to hear?”

Elmiryn’s face lengthened in despair. “No…”

Nyx smiled emptily, her cat eyes turning wide. “Here’s a few descriptors for you. First word: Liar.”

“Nyx, this isn’t you.”


“Nyx, stop it.”


“I said–”




“STOP IT!” Elmiryn shoved the Ailuran away from her, her gaze wild. “This isn’t you, Nyx! This anger, this hatred! It doesn’t mean anything! You can’t even call it darkness because there is no light left inside of you to contrast it!”

Nyx hissed and slashed at the warrior with her claws. The woman dodged it, but the Ailuran didn’t press her attack. She only crouched low to the ground and growled out, “You’re right. As I am now, I am not darkness, I am me! This is the truth, Elmiryn! LOOK at me! This is what you and your fucking murderous kingdom created! All the years I spent fighting to keep my family together, only to lose it all for my hatred of YOU! Fiammans! Warriors! Soldiers! You may as well have killed Thaddeus. You may as well have killed Atalo and my mother! All the shit between us is a lie! THIS is real. This. Look at me, Elle, and see what you’re death and glory have created!”

Elmiryn felt like she was going to cry again, but she fought against it. Now was not the time for silly emotions. She was better than that. Trained. She knew better than to let her head get muddled with distractions. So when Nyx charged her, claws slashing, she was ready. She dodged and ducked. Blocked and parried. But she did not attack. She couldn’t bring herself to. This wasn’t like their sparring sessions all those weeks ago. This was life or death, and Elmiryn would rather die than raise a hand against her friend…

In the end, the others made it so that she didn’t have to.

A spear whistled and caught Nyx in the shoulder. The girl screamed, gripping the shaft and falling to a knee. It had gone completely through. Elmiryn’s head snapped around to see Quincy, Hakeem, Kali, Gudahi, and Sanuye emerge from the darkness of the cave. Gudahi lacked a spear, his face hard as he beheld Nyx.

“Don’t!” Elmiryn shouted at them.

Sanuye and Gudahi didn’t listen. They charged forward, Sanuye bringing her weapon to bare, Gudahi raising his fists to strike. Elmiryn ran to intercept them, but she was too slow. Nyx broke off the spear from her shoulder with one powerful wrench, her bestial scream alien and terrifying. As the Lycans neared, she parried Sanuye’s spear so that the tip jammed into the dirt before Gudahi’s feet, making the man trip.

Then, in one sure strike, Nyx stabbed Sanuye in her exposed neck with the broken spear shaft. The Lycan’s face went slack and blood gurgled from her mouth. But the Ailuran wasn’t done. She kept pushing forward, making the taller woman stumble back until she tripped on a skull and crashed to the ground. There Nyx ground the shaft in further, her face twisted with monstrous rage. Sanuye struggled feebly beneath her. Then her arms went limp.

Elmiryn, Quincy, and Hakeem, who had each been moving to intervene, slowed their steps, shock evident on their faces. The only one who didn’t stop moving was Kali. Her dark furry face seemed enlivened by something–some sort of awareness that spurred her forward just as Nyx pulled the broken shaft from the Lycan’s neck, then pulled the spear tip from her back. They collided and rolled. Both shrieked and roared in anger and pain. Elmiryn watched in horror and fascination as Kali tore at Nyx’s throat, whilst Nyx’s rib cage seemed to bite into the feline on top of her, her claws raking down the animal’s back.

Simultaneously, as this all happened, Gudahi righted himself from his frantic stumbling, and he turned just in time to see Sanuye’s arms flop to the dirt. A number of emotions flashed across his face. Shock, disbelief, grief…

Then rage.

Kuhkle! Ey-hote, KUHKLE!” he shouted in Lycan. He charged the two fighting personas, and this time Elmiryn did not hesitate. She tackled him, bringing him up into the air briefly before slamming him down onto a pile of small animal bones.

“Gudahi, Gudahi! NO!” she shouted. But he was in a rage. Perhaps all he could see now was his dead alpha and younger brother, the warriors he had called brothers and sisters left strewn about in bloody pieces around the forest he had called home. Perhaps he had lost his mind.

It didn’t matter. Elmiryn knew somehow, that this was between Kali and Nyx, and she couldn’t allow him to interfere. She couldn’t interfere. It was both crushing and uplifting to know that for once, it was not about what she had to do. This wasn’t about her or her feelings. It was about Nyx. It was all about Nyx.

Sadly, Gudahi didn’t seem to see that.

With his prodigious therian strength, he flipped Elmiryn over him bodily with one foot, then rolled over onto his feet. The warrior scrambled to raise herself when she saw small black arms wrap around Gudahi’s neck. Hakeem appeared over the man’s shoulder, and he shouted into his ear. “My friend! I know you suffer, but you must not do this!”

Gudahi only screamed in response and pried the wizard’s hands from his throat. With one might swing, he threw Hakeem at Elmiryn and the two tumbled back to the ground, winded.

“Something’s happening!” the woman heard Quincy shout.

She raised her head and managed to see beyond Gudahi’s striding legs enough to see the grotesque event that the wizard was referring to. Kali was being…devoured, by Nyx. But not through her mouth. Through her gaping chest. The large feline howled as her body bowed and snapped to fit in through the void that was in Nyx’s body. The girl, in turn, was stiff, her back arched and her mouth open as her eyes rolled up into her head, veins bulging from her neck.

They’re becoming one again… Elmiryn thought.

Her eyes widened as she fought to disentangle herself from Hakeem.

Shit, and Gudahi’s about to ruin it all!

Continue ReadingChapter 33.1

Chapter 33.2


Elmiryn’s mind splintered off into a series of expletives and confused wordless intentions as she shoved Hakeem off of her. In her haste, she used more force than necessary, making the Fanaean do a head-over-heels tumble before he came to a stop. He raised his head, face scratched and dusty as she leapt over him.

“Elmiryn, don’t…” but his words were swallowed by the commotion as the warrior came up on Gudahi from behind.

As all of this had happened, the Lycan man, possessed by anger, seemed set on the utter destruction of Nyx. In his eyes, she was no longer “his pet,” that was clear. She was just the beast, the foul curse that had beset his people for weeks before it had taken everything it possibly could from him. He reached down and held Nyx’s head tightly with both hands. The girl didn’t respond, her eyes still rolled up into her head, her body still contorting and cracking as Kali seeped deeper and deeper into her. The ribs were almost touching now. Quincy seemed strangely conflicted about getting involved, her face tight and sweaty. Elmiryn could not see the Lycan’s face as she neared, but she could imagine the hate and pain there. He meant to snap the girl’s neck. Maybe worse.

The warrior grabbed him around the shoulders and threw him back. He stumbled a few yards and snarled at her. Now she stood between him and his prey, and as Elmiryn locked gazes with Gudahi, she had an unpleasant recollection of her fight with Halian.

“This has to end here,” Gudahi growled. He sounded close to shifting, and indeed, his skin looked pale and sweaty. His muscles bulged. The gentle masculine beauty he had once possessed was lost in the hard etches of his fury.

Elmiryn put her hand on her sword hilt. “You’re right, but this isn’t the way, Gudahi!”

“I was wrong!” He shouted. “I was wrong to think that someone could be innocent of this…this…monstrosity! Even if Nyx becomes whole again, the beast will continue to exist inside of her! It will always be there to strike again!

“And I will always be there to deal with it,” Elmiryn shouted back. She drew her sword and held it ready. “Gudahi, we all have things we regret, and a lot of those things turn out to be beyond our control. Show some fucking mercy for Nyx and let her be! She’s going to punish herself enough as it is!”

“NO!!” Gudahi screamed. He thumped his hand over his heart, and spit flew from his mouth as he raged on. “Her darkness killed my brother! It killed my friends!” He pointed over her shoulder. “Look at what’s left of Sanuye! Who will answer for that crime? Who will answer for all the others!? How will my people ever know peace if the evil is not destroyed!?”

“And what about your evil?” Elmiryn countered. “Not too long ago, you spoke of Nyx with such fondness. Now all of a fucking sudden she’s something you have to destroy?” The woman snorted. “I took you as a fickle man, but now I know it isn’t just that. You’re just a conniving bastard who likes to have things his way.” The warrior slid her right foot back and fell into a fighting stance. “Well it’s not going to work like that, Gudahi. I’m warning you right here and now. Stay. Back. Or else.”

Out of her peripheral vision, she saw Hakeem limp toward them but stop some feet away. He must’ve hurt himself at some point in the tussle.

“Don’t do this,” the Fanaean said. From the sound of his voice, Elmiryn wasn’t sure who the wizard was addressing.

Behind her, she heard Quincy’s voice, still distant, still strangely uncertain. “Her chest is beginning to close, Elmiryn.”

Gudahi took a step toward her, and when he did, his hands shifted smoothly to furry sharp claws, his teeth suddenly sharp and too large for his mouth. Sounding that much more fierce, the Lycan growled, “I will stop this, even if I have to go through you.”

Elmiryn only narrowed her eyes.

Behind her, Nyx let out a cry.

The sound seemed to ignite Gudahi, for he howled and charged, claws and teeth bared. Elmiryn’s body, for the first time in what seemed to be ages, fell into that comforting zone of instinct. In her bones, in her muscles, in her blood, she knew without thinking the appropriate course of action.

And so with good timing, great power, and great certainty, Elmiryn chopped off Gudahi’s head.

His body toppled forward, skidding gracelessly to a halt at Elmiryn’s boot tip. The stump of his neck gushed rhythmically with blood, then the flow quickly ebbed and turned into an ooze. The claws reverted to hands. Gudahi’s head had rolled a few feet away, the fangs gone, his slackened features still holding some of that animal fury. The Lycan’s blood turned the dirt almost black. Elmiryn stared down at the remains, her heart hardened. The man had made his choice. There was nothing to be sorry for.

Some didn’t seem to agree.

“What have you done?” Hakeem whispered.

Elmiryn didn’t take her eyes off the corpse. “What I had to. Gudahi wasn’t going to stop until Nyx was dead.”

“We could have stopped him. We could have made him see reason!” Hakeem limped into view, his small dark face contorted between what looked like pain and anger. “Do you have any sense!?”

The woman glared at him. “Do you?” She wiped her sword on the dead Lycan’s clothes, then sheathed it. Turning, she knelt down by Nyx. “This wasn’t about us. Gudahi couldn’t see that. He couldn’t see anything. There was nothing else to do about it.”

The Ailuran was now silent on the ground, her fur receding, her features calm as though she were asleep. Elmiryn could see her ribs slowly shift beneath her skin as a long and red scar down her torso vanished from tip to tip. Paws became hands and feet. Cat ears receded. Fangs vanished. Finally, bit by bit, her face returned to its original form. Nyx, whole and restored, lay naked on the ground.

“Wasn’t there!?” Hakeem snapped over Elmiryn’s shoulder. “Do you realize the repercussions that will come from having two members of the Lycan tribe dead by our hands? They can easily tell that Sanuye and Gudahi were dispatched by weapons not by claws!”

Elmiryn laughed dryly. “Oh wizard, you should’ve seen what I did back at the village. That bridge was burned way before all of this!”

Hakeem looked at her sharply. “What do you mean by that?”

“May I just remind everyone that Nyx and Kali and the beast have now become one?” Quincy interjected as she approached slowly. She was opening up her magic bag.

Elmiryn glanced up at her as she brushed a sweaty lock of hair from Nyx’s forehead. “What of it?”

The brunette reached in and pulled out a long slim staff. Her eyes were hard. “Perhaps Gudahi was right. What if Nyx is still a threat?”

The warrior’s face darkened and she gripped her sword hilt. “Wizard, don’t even think about it.”

“You’re letting your feelings blind you! We have to at least consider the possibility!”

“You lack the same faith I have! Nyx is whole again, and with Kali’s help, they can either destroy the beast, or suppress it long enough to gain control again. We have to give them a chance!”

Just as these last few words left her mouth, Elmiryn heard Nyx’s voice, so small and frail.


The warrior’s eyes snapped back to the girl’s face just in time to see her fist flying toward it.


Lethia’s mind felt electric. She could feel her animus pulse and buzz, and the air around her seemed to waver a bit as she took a deep breath.

Slowly, she stood from the table. “Syria, I am not your puppet anymore.”

The older woman stared at her, mouth agape, her eyes wide. Then her lips twitched, and without warning, they spread into smile. Lethia blinked at her, taking a step back. Her mind was sensing danger, and she could feel Syria’s power rolling off of her in increased waves. It was like a pressure that squeezed in all around the teenager, and her breath became labored under the stress of it.

“Not my puppet anymore?” Syria chuckled once, twice.

She threw her head back and laughed madly.

Lethia stared at her, deeply disturbed as she realized the depth of her former mistress’s power. So much energy…what a fool she was to think she was this woman’s equal! Syria was a master of the Unbound Disciplines. In her mind was a treasure trove of arcane knowledge. How could Lethia possibly…

The teenager’s eyes widened.

Wait a minute.

Syria stood from her seat, and the light around her seemed to warp, creating an illusion of compressed space. Her gravity magic could even pull at the light.

“Lethia,” The enchantress said as she lifted an arm, palm out. Her head had bowed forward, her hair blocking off her gaze. “You always did take my intentions the wrong way. How sad.”

Lethia felt a powerful punch in her gut, and she was launched up and back into the stone wall, where she then crumpled to the ground, her body seized in pain. She was breathless, and she could feel a sudden fit of nausea come up. Wildly, the girl realized that Syria hadn’t used the whole of her power. Not even half of it. Was she going to try and beat the girl into submission? …Out of “love?” No. The woman had said she would kill her just a moment ago. So what was the woman doing? Why was she holding back?

“I want you to know, that you were like a daughter to me, Lethia,” The enchantress said over her.

Lethia glared at the woman’s unnatural stumps for feet. “Then you are a sick mother, and I curse the day I met you!”

Ghostly hands lifted the girl up into the air, drawing a gasp from her lips as she found herself spreadeagled midair. Syria didn’t raise her head to look up at the girl. “You don’t mean that…” the enchantress whispered.

Tears rolled down Lethia’s face, hot and plenty. As she strained against the gravitational hold on her, she trained her eyes on Syria’s face, waiting for a moment. She steeled her mind and quieted her heart as best she could as she growled out, “You…are a witch.”

The girl felt the pressure around her increase and she wheezed feeling her chest and lungs compress just enough to make her grimace in pain and want of air. A soulless smile spread across her twitching lips as she tried to keep her vision free of her tears. It was getting harder to talk, and for more reasons than just Syria’s power. “I hated every day with you,” Lethia whispered. “You kept me trapped in your tower. I was your play thing, wasn’t I?”

Syria’s hand tightened into a claw and Lethia croaked as the pressure increased even more, causing one of her lower ribs to crack. It became agony just to try to breathe. Her vision lurched as blood trickled from her nostrils. The teenager could only manage small, miniscule gasps. Either she did this now, or she would die here, a failure.

Through sheer will, Lethia forced her eyes open, and with great effort, she focused on Syria’s face. In barely a breath, she managed to gasp out, “I…hate…you…”

Syria’s face lifted, revealing her tear-streaked face, her eyes wide and hurt and disbelieving. Lethia seized onto her gaze and the world stopped, the room vanishing from around them. Color faded to shades of gray. Then slowly…grudgingly…Syria broke apart into a murmuring cloud of tiny flickering shapes. Phantom voices narrated things to her, and as they neared, Lethia heard more and more of her former mistress’s mind.

She…the time is nigh…will not…but…g…learning under…Lethia can’t mean…all this time…r…HOW DARE…hurting…must stop…a…depravity…begin anew…revolution…YOU…v…am I strong enough to…Izma will surely kill…i…she hates me?…HAVE NO POWER…must save the world…t…I did this all for her…Spider helped me…I am a liar…y…love…CHILD, I CANNOT ALLOW YOU…death…fate…is this the way?…GET…all these years…dwarven secrets…afraid…can’t stop…gra…YOUR…she has to understand…WILL…madness…evil…sacrifices in the name of…vity…OUT…gravity…OF…gravity…MY…gravity…HEAD!!


Lethia screamed as she pulled the knowledge into her mind—the great and subtle complications of primal magic expanding like a balloon in her mindscape. She could feel her animus throb, and her head felt as though it were splitting into two. So much information…so many years…years? No. Seconds. Syria had cheated time by piercing deep into her own subconscious to train her other powers. Gravitational magic. But Lethia had a unique talent. She didn’t need years of training, or even to delve into her subconscious to gain such skill.

She just needed to make eye contact.

The teenager squeezed her eyes shut, and with a push of gravitational force, she broke free of Syria’s prison to land gracelessly on the floor. A room appeared around them once more, warm and bright and familiar. She wheezed, her nose still dripping with blood so that it stained her lips and chin. She could hear Syria’s labored breathing near her and guessed the woman had suffered a bit of a shock as well.

“You…were always very clever…” Syria gasped out.

Lethia’s eyes rolled before she managed to focus on the older woman some feet away from her. The enchantress was doubled over onto her knees, her face once more hidden behind her hair. “I didn’t know you had the guile to trick my emotions like that. To let you into my mind so easily, as though I were just an apprentice again. You were always so honest and noble. But still…at the foremost you were clever. It’s what I get for underestimating you.” Syria straightened, her feet shuffling as she tried to keep her balance. “But this ends now. Goodbye, Lethia.” The woman raised a hand.

Lethia smiled drunkenly at her.

Syria paused, her hand still in the air. She cocked her head to the side. “Something isn’t right…” she whispered.

They were not in the castle keep. They were once more in their old tower, in the study, where the pair had spent many days pouring over books and going over lessons. Sunlight filtered in through the cased windows, highlighting the dust in the air. The fireplace crackled as a pot of cider bubbled over it. Throughout the tower, Argos’s barking echoed and bounced off the stone walls. The stairs creaked. Claws clacked on wood, then soon, stone.

The girl let out a dark chuckle as she clumsily rose to her feet. “Syria…since your incarceration, there were two words I yearned to say to you.”

Lethia didn’t flinch as Argos flew past her in a blur of white. The enchantress, clearly startled, managed to flick a hand at the dog. Nothing happened. He bowled right into Syria, smashing her into the wall of books behind her.

“…Welcome home.”

The walls wavered. The sunlight faded. Soon the wooden floor beneath them became stone.

They had never left the keep. There had never been any Argos. Only Lethia’s power, which had been disguised as her faithful companion to keep the enchantress distracted long enough to incapacitate her. Hugging her chest with a ginger touch, Lethia shuffled forward, her face pale as she looked down at Syria’s still form on the floor. Just as in the illusion, she had smashed into the wall. Blood trickled from her hairline, and one of her tree-like horns had snapped.

Lethia knew how to kill her quickly. With just a quick squeeze, she could crush Syria’s head in a vice of gravitation force. Or like a bullet, she could punch through the woman’s heart and lungs with precise shots. The teenager raised her hand. It shook. Her chin crumpled and her hand dipped down a fraction. Then she raised it again. Her eyes clouded with tears.

Finally, Lethia let her hand fall to her side.

“I can’t do it…” she whispered.

and that we will have to fix

Lethia turned with a great start, her feet tripping over themselves as she took in the new comer.

A strange creature stood before her, both fantastic and horrific at the same time, and the teenager could feel her courage flee her. The thing looked sentient, but like no being the girl had ever heard of or laid eyes on. It had no skin, for the creature’s teeth, jagged and misshapen in a curling rictus grin, was as one with the rest of its face. Some flesh did seem to be a part of it, however, as Lethia noted with a growing sense of illness, the muscle and sinew about its neck. Though it had two eye sockets, one was void of anything, while the other seemed higher up on the forehead and caught behind small spikes, where it bled each time it turned in its place. Sprouting from the creature’s cranium was a small forest of branches, all cascading with vine-like tendrils that eerily resembled those of a willow. It’s skeletal body was draped in a translucent cloak of light, color, and stars.

Lethia fell to her knees. From her exploration of Syria’s mind, she knew this…thing. She knew its name, and its power, and she feared it more than she had feared her mistress.

“You’re…You’re Izma…” Lethia’s voice quavered as it slipped past her trembling lips. “The one…who turned Syria into what…what she is now.”

Impossibly, the thing’s hideous grin widened.

and you are Lethia

the weed of which I warned Syria of

but I wonder wonder wonder…

which witch was truly the weed?

Continue ReadingChapter 33.2