Chapter 26.3


We were sitting on the ground outside of the medicine man’s hut, and Elmiryn was grinning like an imp.

“This is almost too much!” she giggled.

“Elmiryn…” Sedwick rubbed at his face and sighed.

“There’s something poetic about this.  I’m sure if I think hard enough on it…”

I gave her a look.  “The woman just passed out from shock!”

“I know!” Elmiryn squealed delightedly.  “C’mon, didn’t you find it a little bit funny?”

I’m sure there was some cosmic joke tucked away in all of this, and perhaps hindsight would grant me access to it, but at the moment I wasn’t amused.  “Elle, please.  Please.  For heaven’s sakes!  Just leave it alone!”

The redhead’s smile remained firmly in place, but she said no more of the matter.

Outside the hut across from us was a family in mourning.  Their hair was singed short, they wore gray animal fur over their shoulders, and their faces were smeared in charcoal.  What got me was their red, grief-stricken eyes, which blinked slowly at us.

Tonight my children drink to their fallen brothers.

The sight touched close to home for me, and I hastened to look away.

Without our escorts hurrying us by, we were able to see more of the secretive Lycan tribe.  I was on edge, my hands curled on my knees, back straight, eyes darting.  Even without the heightened senses of my Twin, I could still smell the must of fur all about me, that antagonizing smell of foreign beasts.

After the commotion outside of the giant tree, the crowd had largely dispersed, save for a few curious onlookers–mostly the young free of chores or duties–all interested in the strange outsiders that were now amidst them.  I squirmed under the attention, pulling out my snacks to nibble on while we waited.  I handed Sedwick and Elmiryn pieces, and they murmured their thanks.  The food was a small comfort.

Children hovered near us, down the village trail, round faces a little dirty, but full and rosy.  They squealed whenever we looked their way and scampered out of sight.

Then Hakeem stepped out from behind the curtained doorway of the medicine hut.

He looked at each of us, his boyish face holding a severity to it that seemed incongruous.  How could this be that sentinel of a man I had met before?  He was so slim, so small…

Then again, Hakeem hadn’t been very tall, had he?

“Tonatiuh,” the wizard said.  It sounded like a demand.

Elmiryn shook her head.  “Gone.”

His young face frowned.  “Forever?”

“Seems that way.”


Hakeem sat down next to Elle.  He stretched out his legs, his dark eyes sweeping over their surroundings before settling on his bare toes.  His skin was ashy all over, and he looked to have quite a few fresh scrapes and bruises on his slim legs, but otherwise he looked fine.  He was no prisoner here.  When he nodded to villagers as they passed, they even nodded back.

“How is she?” the warrior asked.  She managed not to smile when she said this, and I let out a little sigh of relief.

“She hasn’t opened her eyes yet, but the healer suspects she’ll be all right.”

“That’s good,” Sedwick said with a nod.  He reached over us to shake hands with Hakeem.  “I’m Sedwick, by the way.  I’ve been traveling with your wife for a short time.”

Hakeem gave a polite nod, and we sat silent for a time.

Then Elmiryn burst out with a laugh. “Gods!  I can’t take it anymore!  What the fuck happened to you, wizard?!”

I rolled my eyes shut and waited for Hakeem’s angry response.

Instead, the man–or rather–the boy, said mildly, “I’ve lost my age.  Artemis tells me that to lose things is a common side effect of entering this dimension.  Especially for mortals.”

“That’ll be a hard thing to get back,” Sedwick murmured.  “How do you reclaim years?  Piece by piece or as a whole?”

Hakeem shook his head.  “I don’t know.”  He sounded tired when he said this.

I bit my lip at the pause that came.  Then I said, with a tentative glance, “I lost my Twin.  My animal counterpart, I mean.  She…um…she…we…are kind of like separate personalities…only…only we live in the same head.”  As soon as the words left my mouth, I felt like a fool.  How could Hakeem understand this without suspecting I was a lunatic?

But he didn’t give me a weird look.  He just put on a thoughtful expression and said, “That’s interesting.”

Elmiryn put an arm around my shoulders.  I felt a pleasant feeling rush through me and nestled deeper into her side.  Her voice echoed through me when she spoke and my insecurity faded.  “I lost my definition.  Y’know.  That thing that keeps us in a single, solid form.  I didn’t remember who or what I was.  Then I got my definition back.”  She gave me a squeeze.

“If only you could have lost that crudeness of yours instead…” Sedwick grumbled.

The woman just laughed, and at the sight of Sedwick’s wry smile, I couldn’t help but grin.  It felt good, feeling her laughter go through me…

When Elmiryn’s laughter faded, I looked at Hakeem as something occurred to me. “You said that the loss of things in this dimension is common for mortals.  So other mortals have been here before?”

“If the goddess says it is so…”

“Gods can’t lie?”  Elmiryn said.

We all stared at her.

She wasn’t looking at anyone, but had on an inward look.  When she felt everyone’s gazes, she glanced at us all.  “What?  Believe it or not, I was just asking a question.”

“What reason would they have to lie to us?” I asked, frowning.

The warrior held up her hand but said nothing further.

Sedwick was outright glaring at her.  Hakeem didn’t seem to care either way.

I cleared my throat.  “W-Well I suppose mortals must have been here, if Syria found a spell that opened a gateway to this dimension.  It was a silly question, I suppose.”

“But her spell went wrong.”  Hakeem pointed out.  “When a complex spell of that sort is weaved, there is only so much time before it begins to deteriorate.  We managed to stall her long enough that the structure of her spell was changed.  On top of that, Paulo was to be her original sacrifice.  Since Graziano was killed in his stead, that means that the results could have been drastically altered.”

Elmiryn frowned.  “Soo…Syria wasn’t trying to get here?”

“This is a half-way world.  A confusing mix of crossroads and backroads.  This could have been between whatever it was that the witch was trying to get to.”

“But what exists beyond this place and our world?” I wondered aloud.  Even as I said this, I knew there were dozens of worlds.  Strange places that I’d seen in the fog as we’d Traveled.  Were any of those Syria’s true destination?

“That’s the question, isn’t it?” Hakeem muttered.

The doorway curtain parted and a man with a smooth face but bushy brows looked down at Hakeem.  “Your Shimá has awoken.”

Hakeem was on his feet in an instant.  Without sparing us a backward glance, he went inside the hut.

We sat there for another minute, before Elmiryn rose to her feet.  She took in a deep breath, her eyes drifting toward the center of the village before they fixed back on us.  “Well.  Quincy’s not dead.  I’m going to find some place where I can relieve myself without being stared at by wolves.  Nyx, you want to meet up in a bit?”

I stood.  “Yes.  Maybe at the base of the big tree?”

“Sounds good.”

We looked at Sedwick.

He waved at us.  “You two go on.  I’ll wait here.”

Elmiryn gave a nod and looked at me as she began to backpedal down the trail which lead away from the village center.  There was something eager about her behavior that caught me off guard.  Maybe she just really had to go?  “See you in a few?”

I nodded with a smile.  The woman turned and trotted off.

With a sigh, I hugged myself.  I looked toward the giant tree where I knew Artemis was watching over her children from above.  I felt a twinge of envy.  The Lycans were so blessed to have their Mother so close at hand.  Ailurans begged and scraped just for the briefest word from their goddess.  Why did Aelurus find us so undeserving of such attention?  Why wasn’t she more like Artemis?

But then I felt a chill and my hairs stood on end.  Blasphemous thoughts.  What the gods did and didn’t do was not for me to say.  I was an abomination, after all.

I started to feel trembly, and when I told myself to walk, my feet remained planted.  The Lycan scent seemed to grow thicker about me.  I bit my lip and looked at Sedwick.

He looked up, a bemused smile on his face.

I smiled at him anxiously.  “Y-You sure you don’t want to come with me?”


 It was hot in this place.  The heat came up over her head, drowning her thoughts in a dizzying swirl.  Quincy lay in her bed, only a shift on.  Tobias didn’t yell at her for it.  In the village of Kimbia, the young girls wore small cloth skirts with beaded necklaces around their necks, and nothing more.  The girl had only been there for four days and she already felt like it had been a year.  Her father, Jack, had left yesterday, promising to bring her back a special gift.  Meanwhile, she was to stay with her uncle Tobias.  The man in question stirred the iguana stew.  He hummed, his back to her as he sat hunched near the fire.  

The Fanaean language was still strange to her ears, and she felt like crying whenever someone tried to speak to her in the alien tongue.  The other children would point at her and laugh, pinching her white skin and calling her ‘dubwana’ over and over.  Quincy refused to go outside.

Outside of their hut, she heard Ma’Nguele barking at her son.  The woman lived in the hut next to theirs, and it was much bigger, fitting a family of seven–soon to be eight.  Tobias and Jack were friends with the family, and she was often dragged over whenever they visited.

A moment later, a sullen voice drifted in through their open doorway.  “Habari-kuz.”

Tobias looked over his shoulder and smiled crookedly.  “Habari, Hakeem.”

“Je, Quincy kuja nje ya kucheza?”

“Ndiyo,” Tobias said with a nod.  He looked at Quincy.  “Hakeem wants to play, little bird.”

She shook her head and turned her face away.  Hakeem was Ma’Nguele’s middle son.  He was older than her by a year, and unlike the other children, he was very serious.  He was also one of the few who didn’t tease her.

There was a sigh from her uncle.  “Yeye ni aibu,” he said to Hakeem.

Quincy felt a tap on her shoulder, and looked up.  The tears that had been slipping from her eyes trailed down her cheek.

Hakeem’s dark eyes fixed on hers.  He was frowning a little, but there was something intent in his gaze that made the girl blush.

Slowly, he extended his hand.  “Njoo, Quincy. Usiogope.”

…Come, Quincy.  Don’t be afraid.


Quincy stared up at the hut’s ceiling, the lingering smoke of unconsciousness still clouding her awakening.  Her eyes misted with the memory of that day back in Kimbia, the day Hakeem first took her hand and made her less afraid.  It had been very awkward at first, and the boy had gotten more than a little frustrated with Quincy’s inability to keep up.  The girl was tender-footed and had tired easily.  Partway through the day, Quincy had tripped and fell into a flower bed, scraping her knee, and she couldn’t stop crying.

But instead of getting mad, like she thought he would, Hakeem had stood over her, his cheeks red, uncertain of what to do.  He seemed to stare for longer than was necessary, his eyes going from Quincy’s blubbering face, to her mussed up hair, to her knobby shoulders, and her pale chicken legs.  Then he sat down next to her and started to make her a crown of white flowers.  She watched, red eyed and red nosed, still sniffling.

When he was finished, he gently placed it on her head. “Yako nzuri,” he said, smiling at her for the first time.  She hadn’t known what it meant at the time, or what she had done exactly to get the boy to stop frowning at her, but with time, she came to understand.

Yako nzuri.

You’re beautiful.

Quincy wasn’t sure if she was still dreaming.  She lay prone on the bed, which was lumpy but soft.  She feared moving, afraid some part of her reality would break should she do so.

The hut’s curtain pulled back as Hakeem entered with the healer.  Her eyes widened, and a chill ran up her spine.  It was like being taken to the past.

Quincy’s face crumpled and she covered her face with her hands, rolling onto her side so that her back was to the boy.  The tears came faster than she could hide them.

She felt a hand on her shoulder.  The woman couldn’t bring herself to look up.  “I’m sorry!” she whispered between her palms.  “Hakeem, I’m so sorry…”

“For what?” she heard him say, but his voice was young and light, as it once had been.  She flinched to hear it, and curled up into a ball.

“I’m sorry…I’m sorry about everything.”


“This is all my fault.”

“No.  It isn’t.”

The wizard let out a bitter laugh and lowered her hands to twist around and look at him.  “You stand there, and all I can see is the boy I hurt.  I want to warn him.  To tell him to run away from me, before his family dies and his world is ripped apart, but I can’t.  Those things are still in the past, even as the past stares me in the face.” She choked on these last words and looked away again.

“Quincy.”  His voice held a shadow of its former self, and the woman was startled enough to peek at him out of the corner of her eye.  Hakeem sat on the edge of the bed, but his back was to her.  His head hung between his shoulders.  “It was hard at first.  Seeing myself as I once was.  But…it doesn’t bother me like you think.  I don’t wish for things lost.  I wish for what could be.  The good things, the things I used to hope for as a boy but somehow stopped believing in along the way.”  He looked at her, his young face pressed into a solemn look.  “So don’t apologize.”

Quincy’s breath caught, and she rolled onto her back, her hip touching Hakeem’s back.  She reached out a hand, and the boy took it with both of his.  They were still rough, but not as large or as calloused as they had been when he was an adult.  They were slim and still yet retained some of their gentleness, moving over her fingers and palm with a knowing that came only with age.

…But Hakeem was a boy, and the woman was acutely aware of that fact.

She sat up and sighed.  “How can we return you to normal?”

The boy shrugged.  “I’ve been searching for a way here, and the Lycans have been kind enough to help, despite their hardships.”

“Will you hunt with them tonight?”

Hakeem nodded.  “I have been since before you arrived.  The Lycans found me and took me in.  It’s been almost two weeks now.  With all they’ve been through, and all they’ve done for me, I couldn’t just sit back, child or no.  I owe them a lot.”

“You’ve been doing this for two weeks!?”

“Yes.  How long has it been for you?”

“It’s felt like no more than two days.  I haven’t slept since we’ve started this journey.”

“Then perhaps this is the time to rest, Mweze.  If you’re to participate in the hunt, you will need all your strength.”

Quincy shook her head, looking at him with brows pressed up.  She felt worried at the thought of Hakeem, stuck in the body of a child, joining in the hunt, but she didn’t wish to insult him by saying so.  He’d been at it all this time all ready, hadn’t he?

It didn’t matter.  He could read the look on her face clearly.  And she used to be so impassive.

“I’m fine,” he said.  Her husband stood and struck a hand over his heart.  “I may be younger, but I am still Hakeem.”

The woman smiled, feeling proud at the fighting spirit she saw in her husband’s eyes.  It made her tears feel silly, and she hurried to wipe the last of these away.

“I’m glad I found you, Taika.”

“And I am glad you came, Mweze.” He kissed her forehead.  “Sleep.  We’ll talk more soon.”  He turned and started to leave.

Quincy reached forward and grabbed his arm, “Wait!”

Her husband looked at her curiously, and the woman blushed.  His eyes widened at this, and he turned to her fully.  “…Yes, Quincy?”

Suddenly shy, the woman looked up at him through her eyelashes. “Naku penda, Hakeem…”

The boy seemed taken aback, his mouth falling open.  Then he slowly smiled, and squeezed her hand.

“I love you too, Quincy.”


Elmiryn stared at her hands as they shook.  The wind swept through the trees and shifted the glowing branches, casting the green light over her in a dance of shadows that masked her distress.  The woman had stumbled out into the forest proper, sweat dripping down her face as she felt her heart beating like a rabbit beneath her chest.  With a shuddering breath, the woman rubbed at her face, then her neck.  She took off her jacket and hung on it a nearby tree.

Closing her eyes, she leaned against the trunk and turned her thoughts inward, calling up that familiar melody…



His response was swift, but his musical voice was lazy and distant.

What is it?

What’s happening to me?

We’ve all ready gone over this.

No.  Not that.  This.  This…problem, I keep having.

Oh.  You mean your newfound addiction?

Yes.  That.

I’ve had men in my unit turn to the bottle before.

They didn’t suffer this way.

Of course they didn’t.

They suffered addictions of the body.

Yours is a spiritual addiction.

In becoming a fae,

You interact with the world in a way

That no mortal could dream of.

It has its repercussions.

Such as?

You must drink often

To stave off your withdrawals,

For between sips,

They come back quick, and with a vengeance.

You’re now something of a lightweight, too,

No longer needing as much

To dance with the pink elephants.

In summary:

Less tolerance, more misery.

There really isn’t much more to it.

But I can beat this?

Like a normal addiction,

I can stop?

Meznik laughed, that awful trilling sound, and Elmiryn’s lip curled.

You could.

If you had the will of a god.

Her eyes snapped open at that, and Meznik’s laughter echoed louder in her head, making it throb in pain.  She hissed and pressed her palms into her temples, body curling from the assault.  Eventually, the sound faded, and all that Elmiryn could hear was the Lycan village nearby.

“Meznik?” she whispered.


The woman cursed and snatched her coat off the tree, her eyes holding fire.  She heard a whippoorwill chirping off in the distance.  The trees rustled again, sending their haunting emerald glow to cast shadows over the woman’s face once more.

Elmiryn gripped her coat with both hands, felt her trembles fighting through her grip even as she tried to still her hands by clutching the fabric with all her might.  The woman let out a breath through her mouth and it felt so dry.

“The will of a god,” she hissed.  “The will of a god.”

She tried saying this over and over, wondering if that would somehow ease the ache she felt in her chest.  But the coat seemed heavier for its prize, and the woman felt a manic feeling begin to rise up in her.

Fuck it!” she spat.

With clawing hands, Elmiryn produced the flask from her coat, and as soon as the cap was off, she drained the entire thing.  It was only after the last drop slithered down her throat that she realized what she’d done, and the woman yelled and threw the flask at a tree.

But it didn’t strike.

A hand had caught it.  A slim, small hand, connected to a slim, small creature, whose eyes glared at Elmiryn with impunity.  It was like a tiny naked child, but with lanky limbs, and a big head.  Its hair was white and swept back in soft spikes, defying gravity, and its eyes were large, dark, and watery.  Its pointed ears gave a twitch, and within a moment, several others appeared in the trees around the woman.

Dryads.  Tree nymphs.

The woman started to back up, but her coat, which had been discarded on the ground at her feet, tangled about her boots, making her fall onto her backside.  Elmiryn winced and looked up just in time to see the flask flying back at her head.

It connected, hitting her forehead on a corner, and she let out a shout as she slapped both hands to the spot.

Still grimacing, the woman looked up at the branches.  The nymphs still sat there, glaring at her.  The one who had thrown the flask had even folded its arms across its chest.  It tapped a long slim finger expectantly.

The woman she rose and started to gather her things.  “Sorry.  Didn’t mean to…insult you.  Or your…uh…tree.”

 She put on her coat and slipped her now empty flask back into its inside pocket.  The trembles were once more fading away, replaced with a warm, heavy feeling. With hands help up, she backpedaled toward the village.  “Forgive and forget?”

The dryad leader extended its middle finger and bared its sharp teeth.

Elmiryn’s eyebrows rose.  “Guess not.”

Continue ReadingChapter 26.3

Chapter 26.4


There was a darkness lingering in these Lycans, hidden beneath their purpose, tucked under their bravado and their pride.  I could see it peeking out from the edges of their masks when they gazed my way.  The strange Ailuran was on the move amidst them, and this sparked a new sort of attention…one I had dreaded.

Could they sense my Mark?  I knew Ailurans were highly sensitive to it, but did that apply to all therians?  Certainly, none of them were lunging or cringing from me…but their gazes weren’t exactly friendly either.

In my life, I have not encountered other races of therians, not even those numerous therians of the sun.  The Ailuran Nation wasn’t all that friendly to outsiders, which explains why I hadn’t met any others of my species before my banishment.  I can only say that luck served me the rest of the way after that.

Till now, that is.

I had once used the image of Lycans ripping me apart as a preferable route to death over having an axe in my brain.  Faced with that possibility (however unlikely whilst under Artemis’ protection), the idea no longer seemed as nice.

Mind you, there is no blood feud between Lycans and Ailurans.  We haven’t had the chance to, with our being cornered into our respective parts of the continent.  Perhaps if more of us traveled, if our peoples were allowed to expand, that would have eventually come due to cultural differences.  But no.  No blood feud.  Still, there are some tales of Ailuran warriors facing off with our distant wolf cousins…of the North defeating the South in a victory of wits and strength.  Just propaganda nonsense.  I never really paid it any mind.

Still, if this signified anything, it was that the age old rivalry between dogs and cats was not entirely alien between our people.  It seemed natural, and I could feel the Lycans around me taking to this idea with relish.  Maybe I would be their new outlet of frustration.  Maybe they felt genuinely threatened to have one such as me in their secret village.

…Or maybe they were just bored.

Whatever the reason, a rough shoulder bump told me just how things were about to go as I walked toward the village center.  I didn’t bother looking back at who did it.  I tried to ignore the smirks of some of the young men that leered at me from the shadows of their huts.  I wished, not for the first time, that Sedwick had come with me.  Perhaps he would have, if I had explained my fears to him…but something prevented the words from coming up my throat.  Was it pride?  Shame?  It didn’t matter anymore…

I fought to keep from curling away as another shoulder roughly hit me, this time nearly sending me into an elderly woman sewing clothes.  If I had fallen on her, it would have incited an incident, which I was certain was the goal.  The Lycans may have been blustering, but they were still aware of the fact that we were there as Artemis’ guests.  Still, I doubted even the goddess could intervene should the Lycans find fault in me.  It was not her station to protect those who could not protect themselves, if my knowledge of the patheon was correct.

I doubled my pace, now with hands tensed like claws.  I felt as though others were following, but I refused to look over my shoulder.  I saw another young man coming towards me, his path too intent to cross with my own.  I didn’t slow down, my heart loud in my ears and my throat tightening, and when he moved to trip me, I slid to the side and kicked at the back of his leg, making him stumble past.  I stopped and glared at him.  The young man looked at me, startled.  Then his face darkened.

A hiss built up in my throat, but he slowly walked away, his gaze flickering up toward the goddess’s perch.

I let out the breath I was holding.

With head hung low I trudged over to the giant central tree.

The great tree, with its twisted, gnarled bark, was the central focus of the village.  All around it were trade posts and artisans, all looking to trade or buy.  There were some Lycans doing just that, clearly visitors from a neighboring village, for their hair beads and their clothes were of a different color and make than the natives here.

If I weren’t so afraid, I would have been very interested in learning about the Lycan’s culture.  What were their beliefs?  What did they like to do for fun?  They were a secretive people who kept to themselves, and with their powerful alliances, no outsider had managed to pierce that veil for thousands of years.  This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Too bad these people looked more likely to bite off my nose than say hello to me.

The smell of spiced meat was in the air.  The emerald light from the enchanted trees made everything seem soft and gentle.  Sedwick had said the light came from the dryads.  He said that because they lived in harmony with the Lycans, they were able to harvest more life force than any other nymphs in the world.  They used the excess energy and converted it into a sort of light. That was why torches were scarce.  The villagers didn’t want to risk starting a forest fire.  Only a few artisans used them for need of clear light.  They kept the flames away from anything flammable.

I let out a sigh and sat on one of the large roots, hoping that Elmiryn would show up before I lost my nerve and went running back to Sedwick.  I didn’t want any trouble, but it seemed intent on finding me.

I didn’t have even a moment of peace before I heard the thunder of little feet and looked up just in time to see a boy rear his head back and spit in my eyes.  I shouted out an Ailuran curse as I jumped to my feet.  I wiped the spit from my eyes, flicking away the slime from my fingers.  I glared at the boy and his little friends.

…But I didn’t raise my hand.  Didn’t move to harm him.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to.  My hand curled as if all it could think about was cuffing the little brat over the head.

Yet ingrained in me was the life of an outcast, and I’d faced enough situations like this in my time spent drifting through outposts and hamlets.  People like me weren’t allowed to defend themselves.  My time with Elmiryn and Lacertli had made standing up to men and women a possibility now.  But…I was anathema, and such abominations could do little more than shy in the wrath of a child.

And that was just what I did.


The redhead was feeling good and tipsy, her gait unhurried and her smile firmly in place.  She swung her arms and wheeled her hips a little, feet trailing an odd gait over the earth–wide and whimsical crescent steps that crissed and crossed a little.  Her hands were steady and her head had stopped throbbing.  The ever present thirst was a little more muted.  The warrior felt good, and she didn’t want to think about what she’d do when a few hours time brought back the pain and the aches and the shakes.  At the moment…she had…

…Glorious weight…Glorious feeling

When Elmiryn found Nyx, the Ailuran was standing near the great tree, surrounded by children, all boys.  The look on her face belonged to someone eyeing rabid dogs.  Her bangs were plastered to her face on the right side from something slimy.  They giggled and poked at her with sticks, babbling in their Lycan tongue.  One boy even had the audacity to pretend he was a cat, and the others growled like dogs and chased him, making him yowl and feign fear.  The children laughed.  Some adults looked on in amusement.

It seemed there was no love lost between Ailurans and Lycans.

“No, no, no!  Thas’ not how an Ailuran behaves!” Elmiryn said loudly as she approached.

Nyx looked at her in relief.  The children gave a start, all turning to stare at Elmiryn with wide eyes.

Guilty lil’ buggers.

The warrior bared her teeth and let out a convincing hiss, her hands tensed like claws.  “They’re fierce!  Dangerous-sss!”  To drive her point home, Elmiryn let out a sharp roar, not unlike the one she once heard from Nyx.

She made as if to grab the children and they screamed, running away.

The woman doubled over laughing, her hands hugging around her chest.

“That was an admirable roar,” Nyx said, smiling weakly.

Elmiryn wiped a tear from her eye as she straightened.  “I’ve heard it ‘nough times t’get the gist of it.”

“My brother Thaddeus would be livid if he knew I’d been intimidated by a bunch of pups.”

“Those pups already know of a hundred different ways to kill a man, and just as many ways to deal with a rogue spirit,” a new voice said.

Elmiryn and Nyx turned to see the leader of their former escort coming toward them.  His eyes flickered between them, a smirk on his lips.  “They are true warriors.  Unlike some.”

“Mebbe in body, but not in spirit.  They hound a guest of yer village inna pack and think it makes ’em warriors?  Do ya lay siege to squirrels too?” Elmiryn returned.

Nyx grabbed her arm, giving it a pull.  “Elle, forget it!”

The man stepped closer, some of his men appearing behind them.  “And what would a tkelechog woman know of those things?”

“Yer goddess is a woman, you fuckin’ idiot.  Or have ya forgotten who lets yer people sit happy with the fairies whilst the world wars outside?”

“We are not afraid of you or your kingdom, woman.”  The man snarled, pressing his forehead into hers.  “I could kill you if I wished.”

“If ya could.”  The woman replied, her smile having yet to falter.  “How does that leash feel, guard dog?  Careful Artemis don’t reign you in.”

The man shoved her, knocking her into Nyx.  The woman stumbled, but she had always been good in manipulating her drunkenness, and she stayed on her feet.  She thought she heard the girl fall, but she couldn’t be sure.  Her eyes were focused on the bully before her.

With a smirk, Elmiryn shoved the man back, harder.  “I’ve handled bigger and smarter beasts’n’you.  Don’t make the mistake of underestimatin’ me.”

She knew it was all a show, but it was still a test.  These men weren’t accustomed to outsiders joining their ranks.  If they were going to be accepted by these warriors in the hunt, they’d have to show they deserved respect, and that they were unafraid to fight for it if necessary.  Quincy was likely okay because Hakeem had already been accepted by the village.  Sedwick was surely clear, considering he was half-elemental and had a reputation as Nadi’s right hand man.

…But Elmiryn and Nyx were a different matter, and the warrior was more aware of it now than ever.

The man bared his teeth at her.  “If you truly think you can beat me, then face me in owak when the last ladle has made its rounds during supper.  I will make you taste the dirt at my feet!”


“It is our honorable duel, though you’re hardly deserving of such a thing.  It will be just the two of us in the ring.  No weapons.  Just our flesh and our spirits in battle.”

The woman crossed her arms and chuckled.  “Spirits, huh?  Have ya ever fought a ghost before?”

The man frowned at her. “Eh?”

“Forget it.  I accept yer challenge, guard dog.”

“What is your name, woman?”


The dark haired man took a fist and patted it against the underside of his chin.  “I am Halian.  Be there at supper, or my men will find you and drag you to me.”

Elmiryn offered a jaunty salute. “Looking forward to it!” she chirped.

Halian spat at her feet and left, his eyes cutting at her like knives.  His men followed him, sparing their own glares as they went.  The villagers around them had all paused to watch the exchange, but with things done for now, they gradually returned to their business.

The woman shook her head as she watched Halian’s retreating back.  “He reminds me of my men, when I first took command as dragoon Captain.”  She sighed wistfully.  “Those were good times.”

The woman turned to find Nyx on the ground, glaring up at her.

“Oh.”  Elmiryn extended a hand to her, helping her up.  “Sorry.”

“It’s not that,” the girl snapped.  She gestured after Halian.  “It was that!


Nyx started to dust the seat of her pants.  “Why are you picking fights with trained Lycans?”

The woman glanced off to the left, then the right.  She let her eyes flicker back onto Nyx.  “Is…this a trick question?”

Nyx inhaled sharply and pressed her mouth so tightly, the lips turned white.  With flared nostrils she finally exhaled and snapped,  “You’re hopeless!”

Elmiryn snorted.  “That guy won’t be a problem.  If I can beat ’em, then the hunters won’t look at us funny.”

“They won’t look at you funny.”

“Wha’dya mean?”

The Ailuran rubbed up at her face, then pulled her hair back just at the hairline, making the short bangs stick up.  The way her features pulled up made her look Higashan, and Elmiryn tried to bite her smile down.

“I’m an Ailuran, Elmiryn.  No matter what I do, they will look at me that way.”  The girl gestured around her.  “Plus…these are wolves.  At least in spirit.”  She tapped her temple.  “They think in terms of pack order.  Even if you somehow manage to beat Halian at hand-to-hand, I’m still at the bottom rung!”

Elmiryn shrugged.  “So you fight.”

The girl looked at her incredulously.  “I don’t want to!”

“Why not?  Ya could beat anyone one o’ these guys.”

“Just because I got lucky a few times in the past doesn’t mean–”

“A good warrior is a combination of luck and skill.  Ya got plenty o’ both.  You jes’ need to focus yer mind more.”

“Well I can’t,” the girl said flatly, crossing her arms.  “This place makes me nervous, and there’s no telling how long we’ll be here.  The Lycans have been hunting this strange beast for how long now?  We’ll be lucky if we can catch it tonight.  I’m not looking forward to staying here forever.  These people have suffered, and I’m the perfect target for them to let their frustrations out on!”

“We won’t be here long.”  Elmiryn took hold of the girl’s shoulders, rubbing them.  “C’mon.  Relax.  Yer stressin’ out too much.”

“Tell me my concerns aren’t valid, and I’ll shut up,” the girl challenged.

Elmiryn shook her head.  “No.  Yer right about some things.  There’s no tellin’ how long we’ll be here, huntin’ this ‘evil’.  And maybe the Lycans will treat you different no matter what…but when has that changed anythin’?  You’ve still got me, right?  Fuck them.  No one will hurt you, so long as I’m around, and I’ll do everythin’ I can to get us out o’ here, and fast.  Kay?”

Nyx looked down at her shoes and gave a sullen nod.

Elmiryn gave an exasperated smile before she enveloped her friend in a hug.  “Oh, kitten.  What’re we gonna do with ya?”

“Throw me down a well?”

“Only if there were a feathered mattress at the bottom.”

The girl pulled back to give her an odd look.  “You think that’d save me?”

The woman shrugged.  “I dunno.  I kinda like the idea of throwin’ ya onto a mattress, though.”  Elmiryn smiled devilishly.

Nyx blushed and pulled back.  “Speaking of a well, I’d like to rinse off.  One of those boys spat in my face and I think it had some phlegm in it…” she grimaced as she delicately pulled her slimy bangs from her cheek.

The warrior made a face.  “Ah.  Children.  Lil’ gifts from heaven.”

“They’re not all bad,” the girl argued, looking at the woman reproachfully.  “You don’t like children?”

They started walking, Nyx leading a little as she tried to find a water source she could make use of.  Elmiryn tried to keep her step from weaving, but she doubted she could hide the rosiness in her cheeks, even with all the emerald light.

“I don’ dislike children.  Who says I…diss-like children?” Even Elmiryn was aware of her slurring her words now, and for the first time, she found she didn’t like how she sounded.

Nyx looked at her sharply, her eyes gone shrewd.  “Honestly, I sort of assumed it,” the girl said slowly, her eyes searching.  “I’d imagine having to censor yourself around little ones would be enough to raise your ire…”

The warrior tried her hardest to look sober, then wondered why she was bothering so much.  Nyx was too perceptive for that.

“Censor myself?” The woman chuckled, trying to roll the knot out of her shoulders.  “Please!  I dunno the meaning of the word.”

“Censor,” Nyx said readily, a smirk on her face.  “To scrutinize and cut out unsavory parts of a work or thought.”

“Ha.  Ha.  Ha.  Real cute, kitten.” The woman feigned irritation, but her lips kept tilting up at the corners and by the sound of Nyx’s laugh, she’d caught it.  It made the woman’s heart warm to see that she could help the girl forget her anxiety, if even for a moment.  “But in all seriousness, I kinda like kids.  They’re funny.  It’s babies that weird me out.”

The girl looked at her, shocked.  “Really!?  But they’re so cute!”

After rounding the tree, they found a water pump on the other side.  They stood in line after a woman with a clay jug.  The woman eyed them over her shoulder, and Elmiryn waved coyly at her.  The Lycan’s eyes widened and she snapped her eyes forward again.

“The thing is…well…”  The warrior returned her gaze to her companion.  “S’how they drool and soil ’emselves, y’know?  And they sorta stare at everythin’ without knowin’ what it is.  It’s weird.

The girl gave her a dry look.  “They’re babies.  Of course they don’t know what anything is!”

“And they’re so dependent!  They can’t defend ’emselves from fuckin’ anythin’.”

They moved up in the line.  “Would it make more sense for a child to be able to pick up a sword upon birth?” Nyx asked ironically.

The warrior giggled and rubbed at her eyes with one hand.  “Okay, yeh.  I know I’m bein’ a lil silly.”

“A little?”

“Maybe what really gets me is where babies come from.”

Nyx let out a snort of a laugh.  “You talk about it like it’s some sort of horrible thing to be whispered of in dark corners!”

Elmiryn shoved her lightly in the shoulder.  “Hush!  Ya’d freak out too if ya ever saw childbirth!”

“I have,” the girl said with a note of condescension.  “I’ve been a midwife at least twice before meeting you.”

The woman shuddered.  “How can ya stand it!?”  She mimed something hideous crawling out of a tight space.  “The way those lil’ buggers come sliding out…!”

They moved up in the line again.  They were next to use the pump.  “It’s beautiful, Elle.  It’s life.

“One that I’ll gladly skip out on.”

“So no children for you?  No one to carry on the legacy?”

What flashed into the woman’s head was cracked mosaic.  It was a marble palace where a river of blood swathed over the alabaster stones, fetuses floating on the horrible currents.  Elmiryn’s face darkened.  “Legacy?  Am I a man to fret over such things?  If I really wanted kids, I wouldn’ have’ta turn into some fat fuckin’ breeder ta do it.  There’s plenty o’ children sittin’ n’ starvin’ on golden streets.”

Nyx flinched, and the woman realized just how cutting she’d sounded.  Her expression softened and she touched her friend’s shoulder.  “Shit…m’sorry.  I didn’ mean ta say it like that.  I was jes…” the woman’s voice trailed off.

…She was just what?  Where had that come from?

The girl shrugged her hand away, her eyes gaining a foreign steeliness to them.

“You’re right,” Nyx said, not looking at her.  “I shouldn’t have teased you like that.  There’s more than one way to be a mother and it’s none of my business whether or not you’d like to take that road.  I won’t be so presumptuous again.”

The finality in the girl’s voice alarmed the woman.

Elmiryn closed her eyes and rubbed at her neck.  “Aw, c’mon it isn’ like all that…”

The woman in front of them finished with her business and Nyx stepped up to take her place.  She bent near the pump, pushing down on the handle so that water came gushing out of the wooden spout.  She splashed her face vigorously with the running water.

When Nyx straightened with hair dripping, she turned and said, “Just do me a favor, Elle.”

The woman looked at her, eager to make things up. “What is it?”

“…Say specificity.”

The warrior blinked slowly.  “Spess…” she frowned.  “Spesss…spessy…fissy…spess-fissy-ity–”

“You’re drunk,”  Nyx grumbled, her expression darkening.

Elmiryn winced.  “Yes.”  She held up her hands.  “But in my defense, I know plenty o’ people who couldn’ say that shit sober!”

The girl walked away from the pump, and the woman followed her.  “I didn’t think the Lycans would be passing around their spirits quite so early,” the Ailuran said, still scowling.

The warrior kept her mouth shut on that one.  She felt the weight of her flask like a guilty press on her chest.

Nyx crossed her arms and shot Elmiryn an incendiary look.  The woman could practically feel it burning a hole into her skin.  “And by the sounds of it, you had quite a bit, even for you.  What will you do if you become ill at the hunt?  Why don’t you think these things through?” the girl chastised.

Any other time, and the warrior may have been fit to argue.  But somehow, she could not bring herself to excuse her actions.  “I couldn’ help it…” she whispered.  Her shoulders slumped.  “I couldn’, Nyx.”

The girl’s expression softened.  She sighed and rubbed at her face.  “What am I going to do with you?”

The warrior smiled sheepishly.  “Throw me down a well?”

Nyx shook her head with a weary smile, and the conversation trailed off.

In her head, Elmiryn’s thoughts whirled.  She considered telling Nyx everything.  From how the woman learned her new strange powers and how her sudden addiction was tied to her changing nature.  But she felt…afraid.  Afraid somehow that the girl would be disgusted…that the girl would be frightened…

…That maybe Nyx would actually want to help her.

If the woman kept quiet, then for a little while, she could evade the attentions of her friend and drink to her heart’s content.  But damn–why had she told Quincy and Sedwick anything?  Why had she mentioned her fae nature?  She could’ve explained away the shakes of her hands if she’d only thought about it for–

Elmiryn stopped walking.

Nyx trailed to a stop and looked back at her, confused.

“Elmiryn?” she said.

The woman couldn’t bring herself to look at her.  “Nyx…”

The girl stepped near her and took her hands.  “What is it, Elle?”

That warm, golden feeling was in the girl’s words again, and Elmiryn felt compelled enough to lift her gaze.  She felt her breath thin at the concern in Nyx’s eyes.  How could the girl turn around and show so much compassion to someone who had behaved so cruelly with her?

The woman took a breath.

“Nyx…I have ta tell ya somethings…and I’unno if yer gonna like it.”

Continue ReadingChapter 26.4

Chapter 27.1


Her seat was an uncomfortable piece of lumpy root from the great central tree.  The roots were at their most tangled here, making it an unideal place to set up a merchant spot.  This left the area clear for the two women to talk in peace.  Elmiryn would have preferred the forest, where there was no one but the nymphs, but she was certain the dryads wouldn’t take kindly to her presence.  Her forehead was still throbbing from their last encounter.

Nyx was pacing before her, her arms crossed over her chest and her head bowed.  Her steps weren’t hurried, but there was a tension in her movements, like the muscles were seized up and refused to move.  Elmiryn sat and watched her, her cerulean eyes tracking back and forth, back and forth.  Her elbows dug into her knees.  Her palms felt sweaty.  The giddy feeling was…gone.

She felt caught in a circle song, certain that this was a tune of life she’d played before.  Where?  When?

Nyx stopped, raising her eyes to peer at the woman through her bangs.  Elmiryn’s brows pressed up and together, wrinkling her forehead.  “I’ve told ya everything.” She lowered her eyes.  “I even told ya ’bout how Meznik spoke to me.  I…couldn’ tell the others.”  She spread her hands.  “There’s nothin’ else…”

The girl didn’t say anything for a time.  She sniffled, making the woman think she was crying, but when Nyx turned her face fully to her, Elmiryn saw no tears.

The Ailuran shrugged and looked down.  “I appreciate that you’d trust me, Elle.  I feel honored, even.  But it doesn’t make me feel better about the matter.”

Elmiryn sighed.  “Yeah.  I know.”

“It isn’t as much of a surprise as you’d think.” The girl said, smiling ironically.  “The way your hands have been shaking all of this time.  The way you deflected the blast from Tonatiuh’s fall.  The way you looked in the Somnium…it all makes sense.  I’ve already known you were changing into something.”  Nyx sighed and rubbed at her forehead.  “I just didn’t think it was this…”

“What do you know of the fae?”

“Probably no more than Quincy does, and I’m certain the wizard knows more.  I may read a lot, but that’s still a layman’s knowledge.”  Nyx stepped close, brushing her fingertips over the warrior’s forehead, as if trying to smooth out the worry lines.  “Fae aren’t inherently evil, Elle.  They’re just…different.  They see things in a different perspective, live life at a different rhythm.  You can still survive this with your mind intact if you just try.”

“And trying’s the thing, isn’t it?” Elmiryn snapped, grabbing Nyx’s wrist.  “You have to have the will of a fucking god to get over this, and…” the woman sighed and released the girl.  She hung her head.  “An’ I’m not a god.  I’m not.”

The silence stretched on between them.  The redhead saw her friend crouch before her and glanced up at her face.  Tears were in the girl’s eyes, but they had yet to fall.  They glistened like emerald’s from the glow of the trees.

Elmiryn’s first thought was, “She’s beautiful.”

Then… “I’m upsetting her.”

The girl took hold of the woman’s face.  “You’re right.  You aren’t a god.  Yet you have conquered all obstacles that have come your way.  There is no reason…no reason for you to think that this problem will not meet the same end.  So don’t you talk like that…okay?”  Nyx smiled shakily.  “You are Elmiryn Manard, the Demon Hunter, famed Dragoon Captain, and much-loved Savior of Gamath.”

“Much loved by who?” Elmiryn asked quietly, touching the girl’s hand.

Nyx bit her lip and stood.  Her fingers left the woman’s skin tingling in their wake.

“Let’s…find a place to rest before supper,” the Ailuran said, pulling at the warrior’s hand.

Elmiryn slowly stood, following the girl down the tree roots and back onto the dirt.

Nyx seemed intent on returning to the medicine man’s hut, which was understandable as he was one of the few who could speak Common and the only Lycan in the entire village who had showed her any amount of civility.  But Elmiryn’s heart was loud in her ears as she stared with wide eyes at the back of her friend’s head.

That warm sound in your voice…

“Nyx.” The warrior tugged the girl’s hand, bringing her to a stop.  The girl didn’t turn around.  “Nyx, say it to me.”

The Ailuran bowed her head.  “Elle, I’m tired.”

“Kitten, please?”

Nyx’s shoulders hunched around her shoulders.  “I won’t.  I won’t…” she hissed.  She turned and looked at the woman with anguish on her face.  “I am a vermagus, and you may hear what you will, but the Words are still mine and I shall keep them, do you understand?”  The girl looked away.  “I’m…not a fool, Elle.  I know your nature, and I wouldn’t dream to change you.  But it’s for that reason that I say the words are mine…”

Elmiryn stepped forward and gently hugged the girl around the shoulders.  “Are ya so afraid that I’d hurt you?” she whispered.

Nyx laughed and shook her head.  “It’s not about whether or not someone gets hurt.  It’s about accepting the consequences.”

“And what consequences are ya ready to accept?”

The girl bit her lip and started to backpedal away.  “Share my bed and I might tell you…”

Elmiryn’s eyebrows went high at that.


Hakeem emerged from the medicine man’s hut with a sigh.  He had been counting the seconds as they passed, waiting for that precious moment when he and Quincy would be reunited.  Truth be told, his vision had been much less spectacular than the reality.

Was it right to say that Quincy was different?

…Or that Quincy had been restored?

How ironic that she seemed a ghost to him, and he, a ghost to her.  What happened to them that they could become such shadows of themselves?

Hakeem blinked and looked down at his hands.  They lacked the callouses of years, the scars of time.  He flexed the fingers and marveled at how small they seemed to him.  It was like awakening in his new body all over again.

“Can’t quite get used to it?” Sedwick said from his seat.

Hakeem looked up at him in surprise.  He’d forgotten the elemental was there.

He recovered with a shrug.  “As the years have gone by, I’ve learned that things happen, and sometimes all you can do is go with it.”

“Like water.”

The wizard looked at him curiously as he took a seat beside him.

Sedwick elaborated with eyes looking into a past unseen.  “Water flows to the basest places, slowly carving its way through the earth.  It can take the shape of whatever container it is in.  You go with this flow.  I can already tell.  Any other person would be raging against their circumstances, screaming about how it isn’t fair.  Maybe even hiding in shame of it.  Yet you live as if nothing has changed.” Then the man glanced at Hakeem.  “I hope you don’t think I’m being too presumptuous.”

“I’m a hard person to offend.”

The elemental chuckled.  “As expected!”

Hakeem smirked.

They sat in silence, and the wizard was grateful for the chance to mediate on all that had happened.

When he’d woken up in the Lycan forests, it had been a shock.  That had been…

336 hours—20,160 minutes—1,209,600 seconds ago…

Hakeem awoke with a start, his heart beating so hard in his chest that it almost hurt.  He wheezed and shot upright, his skin sweat drenched.  All around him was dark.  It took him a while for his eyes to adjust.  Even before they did, he knew something was wrong.  He felt heavy things blanketing him.  His hands and feet were covered.  The wizard lifted his right hand to see that it was swallowed in his chain mail sleeve.  His eyes widened and he looked at his legs next.  His pants were more than a foot longer than his legs.

From that point, Hakeem had realized he had somehow been made smaller, though it wasn’t until he stumbled across a Lycan hunting party that he realized he’d also been made physically younger.  He’d been forced to abandon all of his clothes, except for his enchanted chain mail of course.  Walking through the forest naked with a piece of armor that weighed close to twenty pounds was hard.  Not an incredible feat for an adult, but more-so for a boy moving through dark and unfamiliar territory.  The Lycan’s had nearly killed him for collapsing in their path.  They’d thought he was the monster they’d been hunting.  Luckily for him, they had refrained.

The hunting party had been led by Halian, one of the hunting captains that lead the men and women into the forest.  Just as the Lycan had done with Quincy and the others, so he did with Hakeem, bringing him before Artemis herself.  The goddess had not been a little surprised to find him, and had quizzed him at length about why he was there.

At first, being in such intimacy with an immortal had been unsettling for Hakeem.  But after a while, he became used to it, and could even understand how the Lycans were so familiar with the goddess.  She didn’t put on airs, didn’t seek to awe.  She was just a mother who loved her children, and wanted to keep them safe.

Hakeem told her about the events that led up to his arrival in the strange other dimension, and she was satisfied.  She offered him a temporary home in one of the huts near the village edge.  It was once the home of a young warrior who had died in the hunt for the evil beast.  Back in Fanaea, the people would find such a home to be cursed with bad luck.

Hakeem went to sleep peacefully in it.

The next few days was spent trying to puzzle out the nature of his condition with the medicine man, Eidan; getting the Lycan children to realize he was a man on the inside, and so could beat any of them senseless with his skills alone; and learning what his limits were in his young body by training with the Lycan warriors.  They’d laughed when he picked up a spear.  After a week, they clapped him on the back.  On the eighth day, he sought to join the hunt.  After beating back all who would disrespect him, none tried to stop him.

The other members of his hunting party were nervous.  As coincidence would have it, Halian was his hunting captain.  Hakeem had been careful not to cross the man before.  He was a hotheaded Lycan who was skilled in combat and unafraid to challenge anyone that would dare question his authority.  The captain’s eyes looked out at them all and he growled something in their native tongue.  Then he looked at Hakeem.  “We’re moving in hunting formation…do you know it?”

Hakeem nodded.

The man scowled.  “Then keep up!”

And the boy did.

The night had been uneventful, but his ability to keep pace impressed Halian enough that he requested Hakeem be assigned to his party a second time.  The second night had seen more action in the form of a rogue rage spirit, but they saw nothing of their intended target.  Some parties would suffer casualties and report not seeing the beast at all.  Other parties had to be found in the morning, torn to pieces out in the woods…

That Quincy managed to come through the forests unharmed made the wizard glad.  He’d seen what the beast did, and it was a horrible thing.

His thoughts simmered as they roved over the memory of Quincy’s azure eyes filled with such emotion, the sweep of her russet brown hair, the sound of her voice choked with anguish.  It had pained him to see her so hurt…but how long had it been since he’d last seen her shed a tear?  How long since she’d last said that she loved him?  Fanaean or no?

He hadn’t been lying when he told Quincy that he didn’t mourn his condition.  In a way, it was nice to feel so young again.  It reminded him of so many good things…but at the same time, its timing was unfortunate.  The woman he loved had come back to him, truly come back to him…

And Hakeem was not a man to greet her.  To hold her.  To love her.

He sighed heavily once again.  “I don’t suppose you have any idea how I could be returned to normal?” he asked Sedwick.  It was an offhand question, one that he wouldn’t have even bothered asking two weeks ago, but he couldn’t help it.

The elemental looked at him. “I…don’t rightly know.  I can tell you that getting off this shard is likely the right step.  Elmiryn and Quincy both had to travel to other places to find what had been lost.  So you probably have to do the same.”

Hakeem rubbed at his head.  “Mmm…well, I suppose things worked out for the best.  If I’d left two weeks ago, Quincy and I may not have found each other.”

Sedwick gave a nod.  Then his head turned and he smiled at someone coming down the trail.  “Back so soon?”

Hakeem turned his head as well.  It was Elmiryn and Nyx.


I waved at Sedwick and gave a slight nod to Hakeem as we neared the medicine man’s hut.  Elmiryn and I were still holding hands.  When had this become a habit?

“We were hoping to find a place to rest.  Do you think the medicine man would let us use a bed?”  I fought to keep the blush out of my cheeks.  I just realized I’d said ‘bed’ in the singular.  Gods, why did I have to be so transparent?

Hakeem stood, and I blinked at him.  My mind was still trying to wrap around his child-like form.  Remembering the broad-shouldered man from before, it was hard.

He gestured for us to follow him.  “Come.  Eidan doesn’t have the room to spare right now, but I have a hut that you two can use.”

My eyebrows rose and I looked at Elmiryn.  She looked at me and shrugged, her eyes at half-mast.  She was starting to sway a bit and the fear of her passing out on her feet seemed very valid.  With a sigh, I threw her arm over my shoulders and grabbed her by the waist.

“Come on, Elle.  You  need to lie down.”

“M’not sick…” she mumbled.

We started to walk, but Sedwick was on his feet and in our path within a moment.  He grabbed Elmiryn’s chin, forcing her eyes onto his.

“Sedwick!” I exclaimed, giving him a glare.  “What are you doing?”

The elemental’s eyes narrowed and he leaned in with a sniff.  He recoiled and let the woman go.  “Where did you get it?” he growled.

“Fairies,” Elmiryn giggled.  She pointed at the bump she had on her forehead.  “They gave me this too.”

“One of the Lycan’s must have given it to her.  Now Sedwick, can you please move?” The warrior was starting to lean on me, and she wasn’t light.

The elemental’s pale eyes snapped my way.  “Nyx, has she told you?”

I frowned, glancing at Hakeem down the way.  The wizard seemed aware of the personal nature of this conversation and was respectfully keeping his distance.  I was very grateful.  “Yes.  She told me everything.”

“Then you know she can’t be doing such things!”

“I know that!” I snapped.  “Now please!  We’d just like to get some rest!”

I tried to guide Elmiryn around him, but Sedwick just blocked our way.  He held up his hands, his expression softening.  “I’m sorry.  I’m just…I’m worried.”

I sighed and adjusted my grip on Elmiryn, her eyes had fallen shut and her head lolled onto mine.  “I know, Sedwick.  I’m worried too.”

“Then please, keep this in mind.” He leaned in close, his voice dropping to a whisper.  “Elmiryn is changing…but she isn’t a full fae yet.  She can still fight this.  The spiritual addiction isn’t as strong now…but the more fae she becomes, the hard it’ll be.”

I looked at him, my brows pressed together.  “Okay, Sedwick.  Alright.”  Was this really the time?

He held up his hands again and stepped away.  Awkwardly we started to shuffle past him.

“Do you want me to help you?” the man asked as we went.

I shook my head mutely and I heard nothing more from Sedwick as we followed Hakeem down the trail.  It wasn’t all that far off.  A minute or two later we were at a small animal hide hut, and the wizard was holding back the doorway curtain for us.  With a thanks, I guided us both through.

Hakeem poked his head in through the door.  “The latrine is out in the woods.  There’s a ribbon over it to mark it.  The dryads can point the way too, if you’re lost.  Don’t be afraid to talk to them.  They’re more likely to throw rocks at you for relieving yourself in the wrong spot than for you asking for their help.  Also, feel free to use whatever you find in here.  Nothing here belongs to anyone.  The owner died sometime ago, and the villagers use it as a sort of in-between home for visiting Lycans.”

I nodded, already eyeing the blanket of furs and hay I saw against the side wall.  “Thank you.”

“I’ll come get you when it’s time for dinner.”

As I laid Elmiryn down onto the makeshift bed, I turned and called out, “Wait!”

Hakeem poked his head back in.

I bit my lip and wondered if I was looking a gift horse in the mouth, but I had to ask.  “Why are you being so nice to us?”

The wizard smirked and looked at the ground, seeming to gather the words.  When he looked up, he was smiling openly.  My eyebrows went high.  He had a nice smile.

“Because,” he said. “You gave me back the real Quincy.”

When he turned and left, I was still blinking after him.  “The…real Quincy?”


I turned as I felt Elmiryn touch my hand.  Her cerulean eyes rolled open and she frowned up at me.  “Who ya talkin’ to…?”

I sat on the edge of the bed and stroked her cheek.  “Hakeem.”

“The…mud man?”

I hissed, giving her a shove.  “Don’t call him that!  It’s offensive!”

The woman giggled, her eyes falling shut again.  “Mmmm…sorry…meant mud boy…”


“Hey, hey!” With eyes still closed, she held up her hands.  “I like ’em folks jes fine!  Warner…my non-existin’ father, he owned a few Fa…Fanay…fa…aw, fuck it.  Those darkies from the South.”

My brow knitted.  “Owned?

“Yeh.  Owned.” Elmiryn rolled onto her side. “Nobles tend ta own things, Nyx.  Cludin’ people.”

“That’s horrible!”

“If it’s any con-sol-ashion, I never owned any slaves.”  The woman yawned and started to struggle out of her coat.  With pursed lips I helped her.  “Mother never liked it either…she use’ta give ’em money so’s they could buy their freedom, but tha’ jes made ’em stay.  Where tha hell else were they gonna find someone to treat ’em so nice?  Turn ’em loose in the kingdom, and they’d jes get caught an’ sold again…and prob’ly to a master that’d beat and rape ’em…”

Elmiryn freed her arms, her face turning into the cotton pillow with a satisfied groan.  She rolled back onto her back and was gazing off at something I couldn’t see.  “Ya gotta un’erstan’.  We didn’ have ’em cuz they were what they were.  We had other kinds too.  But they were the ‘least ‘spensive, so we had more of ’em than the others…”

“The lighter the slave, the greater the cost?” I growled.

The woman shrugged, her expression unapologetic. “I didn’ make the world, Nyx.  I grew up with this stuff, and that was jes how it went.”

“And when you were an adult?”

“Look…maybe I coulda done more once I got older.  Wha’dya want from me?  I was more concerned with gettin’ my military pro-mo-shions than freein’ a buncha slaves.  The people who fought against that sorta thing…they were pariahs.  Nobody wanted ta have anythin’ ta do with ’em.  You can’t get ahead that way.”

“That was all that mattered to you?  Getting ahead?”

Elmiryn’s eyes narrowed at me.  “Yeah.  It was.”  She rolled away from me.  “Not ever’body has a bleedin’ heart, Nyx.  The way I saw it, those people let ’emselves get caught, and they let ’emselves stay slaves.  I didn’ think it was my pro’lem.”

Her voice was turning low and her words more and more obscured, but I didn’t care.  I was too insulted to let this conversation die out.

“Those people couldn’t help themselves, Elmiryn!  Do you know how slavers catch their product?  They raid towns and villages late at night, when people are sleeping!  They overwhelm people, then break them so that they have no will to fight back!”  I shook the woman’s shoulder, my anger rising at the thought of her not hearing me.  “Elmiryn!  Elmiryn!  Gods damnit, not all slaves were like the ones your family owned!  If given that gold, they would’ve run at the first opportunity!”

The warrior sat up fast, startling me so bad I flinched and cried out.  She grabbed me by the shoulders, her grip tight, and hissed, “What…do…you…want…from…me?”

I stared at her, my mouth falling open.

The woman let me go, her cerulean eyes half-narrowed and her brow bunched so that the little wrinkle appeared once more on her forehead.  “Gods Nyx.  All I can tell ya is that I was a shitty person.  ‘Kay?  I didn’ know how slavers got their…their fuckin’ product, till jes’ a lil before I was cursed.  I guess I was stuck with the things I assumed as a kid.  That slaves jes’ walked onto slave ships.  That they fought the slavers in broad daylight, then jes’ gave up.”

The woman lay back down, and I started to feel an anxious guilt begin to tighten up my chest and abdomen.

…What had I been looking for?  An apology?  Why couldn’t I separate my anger at slavery from Elmiryn?  To stand up for slaves would have been difficult for her as a noble.  There was a lot of pressure to be a certain way.  I only understood that in a superficial sense.  After all, wasn’t I always outside of the norm?  I had grown up an outsider, already hated and despised.  I had nothing to lose but my family, but even then, I lost everything…

I turned my face, feeling suddenly lower than a worm.

Elmiryn continued, unaware of my disquiet.  “Things changed for me durin’ the war.  The Fiamman army was gonna launch a new attack on yer people, called the Nu-ran-ian Offensive.  We were gonna use a new long-ranged cannon.  My dragoons were ta lead the infantry inta battle on horseback.  I was sure this was my final test ‘fore I was ta be promoted ta Major.  But things went wrong.  The cannons were out of alignment, an’ when they fired, they hit our men instead.  I lost halfa my dragoons, and I was forced ta call a retreat.  As we were ridin’ back, I saw who had been mannin’ the cannons…” here the woman trailed away.  I still couldn’t bring myself to look at her.

After a breath, the woman continued, but her voice sounded tight.  “They were all Higashans.  They’d been chained ta the cannon carriages, but the wheels had been taken off.  Turns out, the cannons were made by them.  The cannonballs ’emselves were meant’ta explode on impact, and handlin’ ’em was dangerous.  Rather than risk losin’ some of our men, the generals ordered the slaves to be the handlers.  Problem was…the Higashans made the gun, that didn’ mean they were good at firin’ it.”

“Were you angry at them?” I asked, still looking at the other side of the room.

“Naw… Some of my men wanted to resume the retreat, but I decided ta help the slaves out of their chains.  They didn’ have any weapons, and were weak from abuse.  I didn’ think it was right that they couldn’ even run away.  My men helped me, and we got the slaves free.  By that point, we had no chance of outrunnin’ the Ailurans and were gearin’ up fer a las’ stand.  But then one o’ the older slaves hobbled up ta me with the help of one o’ the younger men.  The man started ta speak to me, and the boy translated for ‘im.  He said that the cannonballs could be made to s’plode with enough heat and ki-net-ic force.  So my men and I, along with some of the healthier slaves, rolled the cannonballs out all along the field and fixed ’em close to the barrels o’ gunpowder.  When the Ailurans came to attack, we lit arrows on fire and fired them at the barrels.  The big s’plosion they caused made the cannonballs nearby fire, and it set off’a chain reaction.  The Ailurans were devastated.  With my men, we beat ’em back.  The Higashans ran away in the confu-shion.  People called us heroes.  The generals called us deviants.”


“Cause we set the slaves free, and destroyed all their shiny new cannons.  Turns out, those Higashans were gee-niuses, and we’d just cost the army one of its prized resources.”  Elmiryn sighed and I turned just in time to see her finish a stretch.  She batted her eyes and looked at me.  “When I go an’ say it all like that…s’no wonder I never made Major.”  She closed her eyes and grinned.  “Guess I do gotta bleedin’ heart.”

“But if you hadn’t set those men free, then they would have died!”  I couldn’t feel happiness over what the warrior had done to my people, but she’d done it to survive, and freed innocent men in the process.  That, I could get behind, and it made me mad that she’d been prosecuted for it.

The woman held up her hands and chuckled.  “S’politics, Nyx.  The generals’d been lookin’ for a reason ta stop my a’vancement fer ages.  It really riled ’em that a woman could make it in the military at all.”

I grit my teeth.  “It isn’t right!”

“Lotsa things aren’ right, kitten.”

And I blinked at that.  Wasn’t that what we’d been essentially discussing this whole time?

Again I felt foolish.  “I’m sorry, Elle.  I…I seem to get emotional over things without really looking at it from all angles.  I should just let you rest.”  I rubbed at my eye.  “Heaven knows, I need it too.”

“Jes’ shush and come over here, you.”

Elmiryn grabbed me around the waist and pulled me to her.  I laughed and settled in next to her, laying my head on her chest and my arm over her stomach.  My legs brushed intimately with hers and I closed my eyes.

Then a thought occurred to me, and I raised my head.  “Elle…?”

The woman’s eyebrow quirked up, and she let out a sound of acknowledgement.

“What did…the Fiamman people call…Ailurans?” I asked.

Elmiryn’s eyes opened at that.  She looked at me critically.  “Wha’dya wanna know that for?”

I bit my lip and looked down shyly.  I fiddled with the top button of Elmiryn’s vest.  “We called you…ginger weeds.”

The woman erupted into a hoarse laugh, sending the sound echoing through me.

“Ginger weeds?” she exclaimed.

I giggled and leaned over onto my elbow. “Fuchsig krut, in Ailuran.  It basically means ‘ginger weed’.”

Elmiryn smirked as if she couldn’t get over how silly it sounded.  “We called you guys fleabiters.  One word.”

I grinned and shook my head.  “By themselves those words sound so stupid…”

“But put them in the mouth of someone who hates you, and they take on a whole new meaning.”  We both sobered up at the thought.

I hugged the woman around the middle, my face nuzzling into her neck.  “Elmiryn, you don’t…you don’t mean it that way when you say those things, do you?”

The warrior didn’t answer me right away, and after a while, I thought she had finally gone to sleep.

Then she started talking, her voice a low, husky mumble. “I once had a wash maid.  Her name was Lunielle.  Real shy, but re-al pretty.”  I raised my head enough to look at the woman’s face.  Her expression was quiet and peaceful, and her eyes were closed.  Her lips barely moved as she spoke.  “I like teasin’ people now, but back then, you could say I was a real bully.  It wasn’ that I liked hurtin’ people.  It was that I liked gettin’ a reaction out of ’em, same as now…only back then, I had been stuck in my father’s trainin’ grounds and I didn’t get to see people a lot.  I was attention starved, I guess.  So tha’s why I was the way I was.  But Lunielle always ignored me.  It got on my nerves.

“She use’ta hide her hair under a han’kerchief cos’ otherwise it’d puff out into this big soft ball.  One day, when I was takin’ a bath and she was scrubbin’ my back, I pulled the han’kerchief off her head.  She got real mad, and her eyes went wide—wider’n I ever saw ’em—and she tried to get her han’kerchief back.  Her face got all red, making her skin even warmer than it was before.  She kept babblin’ at me in her language, and I started staring at her lips.  Next thing I knew, I kissed her.  After that…I wanted her.”

The woman smiled, and I frowned, feeling my wickedness stir.  Elmiryn resumed, oblivious.  “I didn’ force her.  I told her if she didn’ wanna be with me, than I wouldn’ say anythin’ and I’d leave ‘er alone.  I was gonna be leavin’ for home soon, anyway, an’ I wouldn’ see her again after that.  But Lunielle ended up kissing me back, and we ended up having sex in my room.  It was my first time.”

I sat up, still frowning.  “Why are you telling me this?”

Elmiryn’s eyes creaked open and they rolled to fix their light gaze on me.  “Partly jes ta answer yer question.”  Then she smiled crookedly.  “And partly jes ta see if you got jealous.”

I flared red and went so far as to punch the woman in the shoulder.  “You’re terrible!”

Ow!  That was close to the boob!”

“You deserved it!”

The woman laughed, grabbing me and pulling me over her body.  I struggled, but she straddled me, pinning my arms up over my head.  My breath caught as Elmiryn leaned in close.  “Got you!” she said in a sing song voice.  She kissed my cheek, then nuzzled my ear.  There, she whispered.  “When I say those things, I don’t say ’em in hate.  I don’t have anythin ‘gainst what’s different from me.  I like different.  Prefer it, even…an’ I prefer you, Nyx…over everyone and everything.”  Her tongue traced the edge of my ear and I shivered.  “I fear we may have started something, kitten…”

Elmiryn raised her head and her cerulean eyes pierced into mine.  My mouth parted, maybe with the intent of saying something, but then the woman leaned down and kissed me, and all my thoughts fled, including my desire for rest.  She freed my arms, and I wrapped them around her, body arching to meet hers as I eagerly returned her kiss.  There was that fruity taste in her mouth again, and it struck me as familiar, but with my mind clouded by the haze, the capacity for such concerns were lost.

All I wanted was for us to be lost in this feeling forever, because nothing felt as good, nothing felt as right, as when I held Elmiryn in my arms…

…And that was a consequence I could deal with.

Continue ReadingChapter 27.1

Chapter 27.3

“Today is gonna be the day
That they’re gonna throw it back to you
By now you should’ve somehow
Realized what you gotta do
I don’t believe that anybody
Feels the way I do about you now

Backbeat the word was on the street
That the fire in your heart is out
I’m sure you’ve heard it all before
But you never really had a doubt
I don’t believe that anybody feels
The way I do about you now

And all the roads we have to walk along are winding
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding
There are many things that I would
Like to say to you
I don’t know how

Because maybe
You’re gonna be the one who saves me ?
And after all
You’re my wonderwall”1


Quincy awoke with a taste akin to leather on her tongue.  With mussed hair and squinted eyes, she sat up on her cot and saw through the haze of smoky incense a large bowed back, draped in gray furs.  The person was sitting on a low stool, elbows out, occupied with something at the table they sat at.  Their skin was a leathery brown, the skin tight and wrinkling from the lack of elasticity.  From the broadness of the shoulders, she was certain this was a man.  Peppery hair came down his back in long trailing locks.  Glass beads on leather strings tied into the hair, the green, white, and black pattern illuminated in the candlelight.

She thought, “This must be the village healer.  I didn’t see him when Hakeem came in earlier…”

He was silent as he worked.

Other cots were crammed up close to hers, the people laying asleep or unconscious under thick fur blankets.  The medicine hut was easily the biggest in all the village, but it could hardly fit ten adults.  No doubt there were more injured that the medicine man had to see personally at their homes.

Suddenly, Quincy felt a surge of energy course through her.  She had no business taking up a cot from someone who really needed it.  She was just a silly woman who became faint from lack of fortitude.  With red cheeks, the woman rose, the cot squeaking.  Spots came into her eyes, but she managed to keep from swaying too much.

The medicine man turned and regarded her with gray eyes flecked with honey.  His lips were sunken in, his long face fuzzy with gray stubble.  His jaw worked as he chewed his tongue, his owlish brows furrowed deep.

“Kwin-se.” He lisped.  She could see that, save for a snaggletooth or two in the front top of his jaw, the man lacked teeth.

The woman frowned, coming closer, the incense smoke stirring in whorls about her.  “I’m sorry?”

“Kwin-se.  Y’aw nem, o’ no?”  His Lycan accent was thick, and his voice a deep bass that made the woman’s hairs stand on end.

Quincy blinked at him, making as if to brush her hair back with her hand, then scratching her head partway through.  “Uh…yes.  Yes, that’s my name.”

The medicine man turned his back on her, returning his gaze to his work.  “Ha-kim seh yoo gud with de art o’ rootsh.”

The woman squinted one eye.  “The art of what?”

“Yoo ‘oomans…yoo seh…ul-kemy.”

“Ulkemy? …Oh!  You mean, alchemy!”

“Mmm hmm.”

The wizard nodded slowly,  “Yes, I’m good with alchemy.  You um…” she shifted her weight to one foot and placed a hand on her hip.  “Were you…I mean…do you need help?”

A rumble came from the man, and the woman wasn’t sure if he was growling at her or laughing. “Ha-kim seh yoo was smaht.”

She wrinkled her nose.  “Is that a yes?”

The man sighed and turned to fix her with a stare that made her feel as if she were twelve-years-old again, standing before Tobias covered in black feathers and green blood, with a cauldron of “surprise stew” overflowing into the out-of-control fire behind her…

…Which may or may not have happened.

Fiercely blushing, the woman undid her bracers and tossed them onto the bed.  She approached the table, rolling up her sleeves, and mumbled, “What do you want me to do…?”

He pointed a thick finger at an open clay pot filled with what looked like dried calendula stems, then at a spare mortar and pestle on the other end of the table.  The medicine man had a mortar in front of him as well, and in it was a white substance that looked like thin powder.

“Grine et so is tin,” he ordered.




With lips pressed together, the woman set to work.  They worked in silence for several moments, the only sound being the light snores from some of the patients, and the sounds of stone working against stone.

Then the man grunted, “Eidan.”

Quincy looked at him, startled.  “Pardon?”

“Nem.  Eidan.”

The woman’s hands stilled as she squinted one eye at him.  The man looked at her as if she were an idiot.  He pointed at her.  “Kwin-se.”  He pointed at himself.  “Eidan.”

Her eyes widened.  “Oh!  Eidan is your name!

The man grunted and shook his head, his eyes returning to his work.  “Ha-kim seh yoo was smaht…”


Out of the warmth…and into the cold.

I was kneeling in the snow, lost under a frame of time that had been taken out of order—a single shard moment of tangible emotions balled up into a disparate scene.

I was dressed in my mother’s feldgrau gambeson, the top button undone so that my collar hung loose from my neck.  My hair was once more long, reaching down my back in messy curls and twists.  Tears ran from my puffy red eyes, hands clutching around the limp body of Atalo.  His young face was pale, staring glassily up at the sky, blood staining his skin from his throat being entirely ripped out.

Surrounding us in a circle, were pretas, like the ones I’d killed before.

They all sat attentively, with backs straight, mouths closed, and ears swiveled forward.  I gazed around at each of them, my short breath a fog that dissipated into the white.

Then Atalo stirred in my arms.

I gave a start, a gasp escaping my lips as a shiver rippled through me.  My little brother’s tawny gaze flickered my way, and he smiled.

“Koah…” he whispered.

His hand slowly reached up and I grabbed it, my gaze nearly clouding from my tears.  I couldn’t stop shaking.  A smile spread my lips.

“Koen, you were just sleeping, weren’t you?” I whispered.

He laughed, blood bubbling from the wound in his throat.  I laughed with him, my hands coursing through his mane of dark hair.  The pretas threw their heads back, and their horizontal mouths split to let out their unnerving child-like laughter.  Somewhere beneath the joy—deep, deep, down—I felt a sense of absolute horror at this scene.

Atalo leaned in close.  Closer than was appropriate.  The demon spirits still yipped and giggled around us.

My brother hissed, “My hunger woke me up…”

Then he grabbed me and bit into my neck, tearing out my flesh with beastly teeth.


That was about the time I woke up with a scream.

Sweat drenched my skin, leaving a great chill when the cool air breezed into the hut.  I sat panting, having kicked off the blanket in my sudden panic.

Elmiryn was up in an instant.  Sleepy-eyed and muttering curses, she made as if to reach for her sword, but we’d left her sword belt next to the bed.  She patted around for it for another second before she realized there was no immediate danger.  Once she saw this, she relaxed, slouching with a sigh.  The warrior squeezed my shoulder with one hand, her other hand rubbing at her eyes.  “Nyx…wassamatter?” she mumbled.

I wiped at my face, still trying to catch my breath.  I felt foolish and couldn’t meet the woman’s gaze.  “I’m sorry…it was…I just had a bad dream, Elle.”

The woman let out a low hum in her throat and wrapped her arms around me. She kissed my ear, and I shyly turned my head a quarter her way.  She kissed away a tear from the corner of my eye next, and whispered, “Would it helped if I held you?”

I swallowed and nodded.

Without a word, we lay back down onto the blankets, this time with Elmiryn encircling both arms around me.  She laid onto her back, and me atop her, my head tucked in just underneath her chin.

“I’m not too heavy?” I asked.

The  woman let out a short laugh.  “Hell, no.”

I smiled weakly, but the vision of Atalo’s gruesome face smiling at me lingered—the blood staining his teeth, the torn remains of his throat, the hunger in his eyes as he killed me…

Then Elmiryn started to sing.

It was very soft, and yet the sound hummed through me, making my eyes flutter.  The melody was slow and had a note of melancholy to it.  I listened with rapt attention as the warrior came to the words:

O’ chance, dear sir,

Have ye caught word?  

Of my love, so gold an’ true?  

Says I, “It’s nigh a turn,

Since that ol’ thief has stolen through.”

He’s long in step,

But short of strike,

His hands not knowin’ blood.  

He’s stardust in his hair

From all the heavens up above.

With careful grace,

He sought the place

Where I did keep my heart.

My love in hand,

That braggart fled

An’ left me torn apart.

O’ chance, dear sir,

Have ye caught word?  

Of my love, so gold an’ true?  

Says I, “It’s nigh a turn,

Since that ol’ thief has stolen through…”

The song wasn’t done, but my eyes slipped closed at some point, and the words were caught in the net of my sleepy mind, not quite making it to memory.  I don’t know when I fell asleep, but my next dream was something warm, and I vaguely recall it having something to do with the stars.


Quincy finished tying the bandage on the young girl, her face sour as she thought in her head, “These Lycans are letting children take to the spear…At this rate, they’ll die out!”

She patted the girl’s shoulder, then turned and beckoned at the next person in line.  “Next!”

Eidan worked behind her, preparing more medicinal paste for the bandages.  Since they’d started, they had sent word around the village requesting the injured who could still walk to report to the medicinal hut for treatment.  A long line had formed, winding around the village trails.  Quincy had to admit, she was astonished.  She hadn’t known this many injured needed attention.

She was just getting through with her current patient when Hakeem’s young form slipped past the line at the door.  He gazed behind him, blinking, then at Quincy.  “Eidan has put you to work, I see.”

Quincy scowled.  “Yes.  Yes, he has.”  She sighed and the look softened.  “But I suppose it’s what I owe.  They spared a bed for me, despite all these people…”

Hakeem sat down next to her on the floor, watching as the next person came to her for aid.  Her next patient was a teenage boy with a bad cut on his face that ran from the left side of his nose, across his cheek to his jaw.  The wound had a white pus in it, the skin around it puckered and turning purple.  There was a definitely a pungent smell coming from the gash.

“I don’t understand!” the woman said, huffing at the sight.  She reached for the water jug and echinacea cream to clean the wound with.  “These are therians, they ought to be healing themselves!”

“Lycan not god.”

Quincy jumped, dropping the jug and spilling its contents onto the dirt floor.  She and Hakeem turned to look at Eidan.  The medicine man didn’t lift his eyes from his work.

“Lycan paht o’ neshure.  The wo’k yoo see, not paht o’ neshure.  Is bad, bad magic done tish.  Stron’ magic.  Owr bodies no heal a’cos still bein’ tacked.” Eidan rumbled.

The woman looked to her husband, and the man-boy explained readily.  “He basically said that whatever is out there is not natural, and the wounds it leaves keeps attacking the skin so that the Lycans can’t heal completely.”

“I speak five different languages, and yet I can’t make out a single word this man says…” the brunette mumbled.

“Yoo no lissen gud,” Eidan said with a look over his shoulder.

The woman blushed.  “I ‘lissen’ just fine!” she shot back.

“Ah!  Yoo un’erstan’ den wen Eidan seh, ‘No talk.  Wohk’.”

Quincy went red, ready to jump to her feet when Hakeem grabbed her arm and gave a firm shake of the head.  The brunette grit her teeth and settled back down.  With a sigh she plucked the water jug up from the floor.  She swished the container and made a face at the small splash she heard.  “I’m not even sure this is enough for this boy…”  She made as if to stand, but Hakeem hopped up with such eagerness, the woman nearly dropped the jug again in her surprise.

“I’ll get more water for you.  I have to tell the others it’s supper time anyway,” he said.

Flustered, the woman just managed a nod before her husband zipped back out of the medicine hut.  She stared after him for a moment before she returned her attention to the patient with a muttered apology.

It was going to take a lot of getting used to seeing her Hakeem in such a bizarre state.  In the subtlest ways, he even…behaved differently.  Was his age all that he had lost?  Just where did the Other Place (as Elmiryn took to calling it) draw the line?

“Ha-kim.  Gud man.”

Quincy turned her head a fraction, still dabbing at her patient’s wound with the cream.  She figured the cream was enough to clean the wound with.  It certainly helped the sponge glide better.

Eidan went on.  “He pro’tek ush.  We pro’tek him.  Ha-kim gud man.  He be nawr-mal soon.  No worry.”

“I’m not worried…” she mumbled reflexively.  Hadn’t the old man said not to talk?  Why was everyone such a hypocrite?

Eidan let out a rumble, and this time the woman was sure he was laughing at her.

Her patient was doing a good job of remaining passive, but he was clearly unaccustomed to such pain, and up close she saw him flinch a few times.  The woman pretended not to notice, but adjusted her treatment as she saw him react.  Warriors craved to be seen as strong, and the woman knew it was an important role for the healer to be able to handle this psychology with care, lest she lose the cooperation of her patient entirely.

Quincy sighed as she finished cleaning out the pus and evenly spread the echinacea cream.  She reached for the gauze and bandages, but paused, her eyes flickering to Eidan’s back.  With bit lip, she took up the cloth strips and gauze sponge, then turned back to the boy in front of her.

“Hakeem seems happy here.”  The wizard carefully pressed the gauze to the boy’s cut.  She saw his dark eyes lock onto hers, and she gazed back into them without blinking.  With gentle, but sure hands, she wrapped the bandage around his head so that the gauze would stay.  She’d had plenty of practice healing young apprentices back at Crysen and found the skill easy to recall.  “I think it reminds him of better times.  Times I took away from him.”

“Yoo know what shimá means?”

The wizard shook her head as she finished tying the bandages.  She patted the teenager on the shoulder, and he gave her a nod before standing up and leaving.  “No.  I don’t.”

Quincy beckoned for the next person to come forward.  This time, a man close to her age sat in front of her.  He undid the old bandages across his chest to reveal open sores on his left breast and shoulder.  With a sigh, the brunette knew she’d need the bowl of buckthorn and calendula oil.  First, as always, she had to clean the wound.  Even the patients that tried to treat themselves did so improperly or with inferior herbs.  Thankfully, she didn’t need water for this either.

“Shimá mean wah-man o’ joy.”

The wizard’s hand paused on its way to her patient’s chest.  “Woman of joy?”

“Mm hmm.  Wen Ha-kim learn’ dat, shimá all he call yoo.  Kwin-se Ha-kim’s shimá.”

Quincy opened her mouth, her brow furrowing.

“Wat Eidan seh?  No talk.  Wohk.”

The wizard snapped her mouth shut with a huff, but when she returned her attention to her patient, her lips twitched at the corners.


The warrior didn’t know how long she slept.  Since Nyx had woken her, she hadn’t been able to fall back to sleep.  A small throb of pain was blossoming in her head, and an unsteady feeling was creeping into her hands, but for the moment, the discomfort was muted and easily ignored.

Her cerulean eyes watched as the animal hide, which spanned the hut’s ceiling in a conical shape, breathed with the passing wind.  The opening in the center was a smoky black from the last inhabitant’s cooking.  The sparse furnishings of the hut felt like pieces of another time that didn’t belong to her, and yet she didn’t feel unwelcome.  As her mother would put it, the spirit here was a good one.

Her arms held Nyx, and she felt an ache go through her at the feel of the girl’s body, soft and light and relaxed.  The girl’s even breath graced the woman’s shoulder in feathery touches.

Elmiryn recalled the sound of Nyx calling out in pleasure, and wished desperately that she could hear it again.

Sleep was no longer an option for the warrior, but she didn’t mind.  She didn’t feel tired at all, and she liked laying with the girl in her arms.  She didn’t want to wake her companion, so she quietly hummed, hoping that her song would weave a better dream for Nyx.  She wanted to protect the girl, even in her sleep.

…Elmiryn wondered if she could undo the threads of bad dreams.

Apart from this single question, her thoughts were remarkably simple.  It was true that the redhead didn’t know what to make of her feelings at the moment.  It was all new to her.  This was all new to her—never had any of her previous partners remained after the carnal fun was had, and never had she ever got the impression of there being more than just…

But the thoughts stopped there.

There was what was, and there would be what would.  It ruined the moment to pick everything apart and analyze the motives behind something so pure.  There were no ulterior motives, no obligations, no fears or qualms that got in the way.  Elmiryn didn’t want to lose it all.  She realized with a start, that she’d kill just to keep it.

With a sigh, she placed a hand on Nyx’s head and closed her eyes.

That was when she heard a low cough.

Her eyes flew open, and Elmiryn looked toward the doorway.  Hakeem was pulling back out of sight, his eyes on the ground.  He didn’t look embarrassed so much as just trying to be respectful.  “Apologies.  I just came to tell you that dinner will be served shortly at the central tree.  If you miss it, you miss out.  I wanted to make sure you knew.”

“Thanks,” Elmiryn said, smirking.  How far had he come in?  Surely he saw the clothes all over the floor?

If he did, he made no sign.  The man-boy simply nodded and let the curtain slip back over the doorway.  She heard him walk away.

With a sigh, the redhead gently shook Nyx by the shoulders and tried to shift her head to the side enough that she could raise it.  “Kitten…hey kitten, wake up.  We have to get dressed.”

The girl groaned, turning her face into Elmiryn’s neck.  She felt Nyx’s arms latch around her and let out a low laugh.  “Oh hell.  You aren’t going to be like that are you?”

When the Ailuran still didn’t move, the woman poked her in the side.  “Oh Ny-x!  Foo-oods waiting!” She said this in a sing-song voice.  If there was one big motivation for Nyx, it was food.  This was something the warrior had learned quickly.

But Nyx whined and her body shifted over the woman, setting Elmiryn’s skin alight with desire all anew.  The warrior let out a low hum, her eyes turning hooded as her hands roved down the girl’s sides to her butt, where she squeezed and ground her hips up into the girl.  The Ailuran let out a small gasp, her lips brushing along the sensitive skin of the woman’s neck.  “Elle,” she shuddered out.

Elmiryn turned to whisper into the girl’s ear.  “Could it be that my kitten still wants to play with me?”

When Nyx raised her head to gaze at the woman, it was with the same lustful gaze in her eyes.


They were not a little late to dinner.

Even so, they walked at a leisurely pace, sneaking glances at each other and smiling whenever their eyes met.  Elmiryn wasn’t sure why she felt so hyper-attentive to Nyx’s behavior all of a sudden.  The degree of her smile, the twinkle in her eyes, the rosiness that graced her snowy skin…  She felt self-conscious in a way that almost frightened her, because the woman was used to knowing her path and walking it without hesitation.  But then she heard the girl laugh, the sound open and genuine, and the woman decided she’d stick with her original plan of just letting things unfold as they would.

With a small smile, she held out her hand, aware that it was under different contexts than before.

Nyx slowed to a stop as she saw it, her smile waning a bit as her eyes flickered to Elmiryn’s.

The warrior raised both eyebrows and her smile widened.  Stepping closer, she gently took the girl’s hands in hers and jerked her head onward.  Nyx stared at her with what looked like awe before the expression melted away to a giant smile.  Elmiryn’s heart gave a stir, and she returned it.

Together they returned to the great central tree, and were greeted with the sight of the village all gathered together in one place.  There were some rowdy conversations taking place, the custom of drinking having already started.  The warrior felt something in her chest give a pull at the familiar drinking games, and she forced her eyes elsewhere.  Children ran screaming through the sea of people, the adults laughing and shouting to be heard.  Nyx’s smile wiped from her face at the sight, and Elmiryn threw her arm over the girl’s shoulder, giving her a reassuring squeeze.

Over the heads of Lycans seated and around those standing, they saw Quincy, Sedwick, and Hakeem sitting together, each with a wooden bowl in their hands near the great tree at the edge of the gathering.  With her arm guiding her companion along, Elmiryn picked their way through the crowd.  They greeted the others as they approached.

“And where have you two been?”  Quincy asked, her eyebrow quirked as they took a seat on the ground next to her.

“Waking up,” Elmiryn said readily.

Nyx said nothing, her cheeks turning rosy in that endearing way.  The warrior was certain, given the wizard’s eye for detail, that she didn’t miss it.  She only cared to the extent that Nyx did, and so she shrugged.  “We were tired.”

The seriousness of her expression must’ve been what did it, because the wizard gave a shrug and returned to her bowl.  She slurped up the contents from the edge, lacking a spoon.  It seemed no one had one.

“I tried to get bowls for you two, but they said you had to go there yourself,” Sedwick said after wiping his mouth.  “It’s some sort of soup made with artichokes.  They call it jektu.”

Elmiryn nodded and turned to Nyx.  “Shall we?”

The girl stood in response and the warrior followed her.  The youth didn’t look too pleased by the prospect of reentering the throng of people, and the warrior was starting to suspect that big crowds wasn’t really her thing, Lycan or no.  But as most had all ready received their meals, it was a simple matter of getting into the short line to the giant cauldron kept hot over the fire pit.  They received their bowls in short order, and were soon back to sitting with the others.  Nyx looked relieved to be out of the crowd.

Upon returning, they came into Quincy mid-rant about her experiences at the medicine man’s hut.

“…boy tried to heal himself using raw garlic of all things.  Halward knows who told him something so stupid, but I had to deal with inflamed skin on top of a possible infection.  Seeing all these injuries, I’m sort of glad that Eidan has recruited me.  We’ll be busy gathering supplies to heal everyone after the hunt, so I won’t be able to participate.”  The wizard’s azure eyes turned Elmiryn’s way as the woman slurped up her soup.  With some of it dribbling out of the corner or her mouth, she lowered her bowl enough to look at Quincy inquisitively.

“Well?” The brunette asked.

Elmiryn swallowed and wiped at her mouth as she blinked.  “…Well, what?”

“Aren’t you going to say something rude and deprecating?”

The warrior’s eyebrows rose high.  “Quincy, do you…want me to?”

The wizard scowled.  “Of course not!”

“Then why should I?”

“I…” Quincy blinked.  She turned and looked at Sedwick, who sat on the other side of Hakeem.  “Sedwick, did you hear that?”

The man nodded, feigning a grim expression.  “I certainly did.”

The wizard turned her head again, but this time, her eyes were on Nyx.  “And I think I know why!”

The elemental let out a rumble, his pale eyes also falling on the Ailuran.  “Mmm…I think so too.”

“It’s settled then.”

“We’re keeping her.”

“Yes, we simple can-not survive without her.”

Nyx looked between them, mouth full of food.  Her face flared red and her shoulders hunched around her ears as she swallowed audibly.

Elmiryn tried to cover her smile with her hand, but Quincy let out a sudden laugh, making her giggle in surprise.  It was rare to hear the wizard laugh so openly.  Sedwick let out his rough chuckle, and Hakeem smiled softly.

Finally, Nyx smiled shyly into her bowl.

The warrior felt good, and decided she liked this scene very much.  It was uncomplicated, just as she’d hoped for.  But lingering ever present in the background was that damned throb of pain.  The quake in her hands was building, even as she tensed her grip to keep them still.  Her eyes flickered to the gourds of liquor the Lycans threw back with little reserve, and she felt her mouth water…

Quincy swished a waterskin in her face.  Startled, Elmiryn looked at the wizard with furrowed brows.

“Let’s keep things from going south, now shall we?” the brunette said pointedly.

Nyx gave her a look of concern, and the warrior cursed herself for interrupting the gaiety.  Snatching the waterskin out of Quincy’s hands, she unscrewed the top and was about to take a drink when a voice boomed out over her.

“Tkelechog, the time has come!”

The woman froze, her eyes squeezing shut.  “Aww…damn it.”

“Halian!” Hakeem.  She heard the man-boy rise to his feet.  “What do you want?”

“I have challenged this woman to owak,” Halian said loudly.  The people around them grew quiet, and Elmiryn could feel all eyes turn their way. “Either she faces me now, or she’s a coward!

Inwardly, the warrior rolled her eyes.  “I really need to stop making bets with therians when I’m drunk…” she muttered.

“This is a habit of yours, I take it?” Quincy replied dryly.

Elmiryn opened her eyes and turned her head.  Standing behind her was Halian, once more flanked by his men, his body painted in what looked like war colors—a greasy mix of white, green, and black stripes.  Her eyes flickered to Nyx, who stared at the woman, her skin pale in the emerald light.  The woman spared her friend what she hoped to be a reassuring smile, then moved to her feet.

With a roll of her shoulders, Elmiryn straightened her spine, tilted her head back, and met Halian’s dark eyes.

…She squeezed her hands into fists to hide the quakes she could feel coming into them.

“I’m ready to face you, Halian,” she said loudly.

1.‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis, from the album ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’. Creation, 1995. []

Continue ReadingChapter 27.3

Chapter 27.4


“I’m fucked.”

I stared into Elmiryn’s eyes, my mouth falling open.

“What do you mean!?” I asked, feeling my panic spike.  “You said you were ready to face him!”

The woman looked at me, her long lips quirked in that wry smile that said she thought I was being cute.  “Yeah, Nyx.  I said that.”

With all the commotion that had commenced, we had shifted so that we were no longer on the ground, and instead, amidst the great tree roots.  We watched the proceedings in a semi-circle with me on Elmiryn’s left side, Sedwick on her other, and Quincy and Hakeem across from us.

I gestured before us where the Lycans were preparing a large fighting circle.  “Then call this off!  You’re going to get hurt!”

She chuckled.  “Of course I am.  It’s a fight.”

“No, I mean–really hurt!  Maybe worse than you were outside of Holzoff’s Tower!”

Sedwick leaned in, rubbing the side of his face.  “Halian will probably kill you.”

Really kill you,” Quincy added, smirking.

I spared them a glare, but I gestured emphatically at the pair of them with eyebrows raised, my eyes fastening onto Elmiryn’s.  See!  I’m not the only one who thinks this!

In the past, the redhead had shown a love for the danger in the unknown.  She loved the risk where the outcome could go either way, where her chances were no better than those of her opponent.  It thrilled her, gambling her life like that.  I had seen it in her eyes, that hungry look for battle.  I didn’t understand it then, and in many ways, I still don’t.

So it was like a slap in the face to hear the woman, this eager warrior, express doubt.  It told me that she didn’t see a chance in winning.  This wasn’t a gamble to her, but an exercise in defeat.  This was something any of us could’ve guessed, but to hear it from the warrior was staggering.

The woman shook her head.  “Look, I’m not backing out.  It’s happening, all right?  So what constructive advice can you offer me?”

“Run away,” I said flatly.  If she thought she couldn’t win, then why bother trying?  Was it about honor?  Was it stubborn pride?

Sedwick squinted his eyes.  “But don’t Lycans feel a need to chase things that run?”

“Those are dogs, not Lycans,” Elmiryn pointed out, her voice hinting at a thinning patience.

“Then why not try lying face down on the ground and hoping Halian forgets about you?” Quincy said, her smirk widening.

The warrior threw her hands up into the air, her head lolling back onto the roots.

Hakeem cleared his throat, and her eyes rolled to fasten onto his face.  The boy thumbed over his shoulder.  “I’ve seen Halian train.  I can tell you a few things right now.”  He stood up and stepped closer, his voice dropping low.  Elmiryn sat up to listen to him, and we all leaned in to hear.

Hakeem patted his right knee.  “Halian had his leg injured by the dark beast they’re hunting now.  The injury is mostly healed, but you see how slowly some of the others have recovered from the monster’s attacks?  I’m sure it’s still weak in some way.  Go for this, and you might have a chance of ending this quickly.”

Elmiryn nodded, her smile broadening.  “Thanks.”

He held up a finger.  “Another thing.”  Hakeem patted his biceps one at a time.  “Halian is ambidextrous.  He can easily switch stance, and a strike from the right is as bad as the left.  Lastly… Don’t.  Let.  Him.  Grapple you.  If he does, it’s done.  A therian is a hard enough wrestling opponent, but Halian happens to be the best in the village.  If he gets you in a lock, there’s no hope for you.  I doubt he’d hold back enough to keep from killing you, even.”

The warrior’s eyebrows rose high.  “…Thank you.”

Elmiryn leaned forward onto her knees, her hand going to hold the lower half of her face.  It was a rare expression on the woman–not even when she was upset did I ever see her cover her face in any way.  Somehow it made me a great deal nervous.

Quincy’s smirk was gone from her face when she asked, “Are you really sure about this, Elmiryn?”

After a minute, the warrior lowered her hands and sat back, her lips pressed together as she took in a deep breath through her nostrils.  She didn’t look any of us in the eye.

“I need a drink,” she said quietly.

The reactions varied.

Sedwick’s face hardened and his hands curled to fists.  Quincy’s lips turned down at the corners, her brow tensing just enough to create a shadow of disappointment on her face.  Hakeem looked at everyone with an uncertain expression, unaware of the gravity of this request.

My lips puckered, my brow furrowing as I looked at the woman with pity.  I didn’t want to feel it, but I did.

“Where’s the logic in that?” Sedwick asked in a voice that was a lot calmer than he looked.

Elmiryn held up her hands, and I could see the way they trembled, the palms blotchy and with deep nail impressions from where the woman had clenched her fists tight.

“How about this?” she said.

I stared at her hands, then at her.  Sedwick’s expression softened.  Quincy murmured a curse.  Elmiryn finally looked at us all.

“The chills are starting to creep in, and my headache is getting worse.” She paused to swallow with a grimace.  “And I think…I ate way too fast.”

Quincy slashed the air with her hand.  “That’s it then.  Jokes aside, you shouldn’t fight.”

“I’m gonna fight. I already said.”

“Then you’re an idiot!” The wizard snapped.  “Having more alcohol won’t make things better!  How much have you already had in the last 24 hours?  You could suffer poisoning!”

“It’s not my body that’s addicted, it’s my spirit.  This is a spiritual addiction.”

“Isn’t that all the more reason not to indulge?” Sedwick asked.

The warrior laughed but the sound was harsh and low.  “What is this, an intervention?  My head could get smashed in because I’m too sick to defend myself properly…but hey!  At least my ass won’t be drunk.”  She tapped the place over her heart.  “You guys aren’t fucking listening to me.  This. Addiction.  Isn’t.  Normal.”  She gestured at Quincy with her chin, “Since you’re so good at healing people, you should know what happens when someone in my condition denies drink for too long.”

The wizard rolled her eyes.  “Oh gods.  Are you really going to argue that you need to drink to stay alive?”

When I spoke, it was with a quiet voice, my eyes still on Elmiryn, “Well, this isn’t exactly the best place for rehabilitation, is it?”

Everyone stared at me, and I let my shoulders hunch around my ears.

“You’re serious?” Sedwick asked slowly.  He was frowning, but he seemed too surprised to speak angrily.

Quincy snorted.  “Just as I thought.  With your crotch acting as your guide, you’re just going to enable her recklessness…”

That did it.

I let out a sharp hiss, my hands tensing to claws as I stood to glare at the wizard.  She stood up as well, her face tensing as her hands went to a sword that wasn’t there.  This made her pause.

I didn’t.

“Look around us!” I half-yelled, taking a step forward.  Elmiryn stood to grab me around the shoulders from behind, and I strained against her, wanting to scream in the wizard’s face.  “Look around us, right now!  If you tell me this is a safe and supportive environment where we can rest and shed such burdens, then you’re a bigger fool than I thought!”  I pointed at the ring.  “Whether or not Elmiryn participates is irrelevant.  There’s the bigger issue–like how we can expect to deny what her body so craves for, and still expect her to function as we fight to get back to our home world!  That sort of healing requires time, a luxury we don’t have!

Quincy bared her teeth at me, her azure eyes flashing with fiery indignation.  “And I suppose Elmiryn’s tongue boxing with your tonsils has nothing to do with your decision?”

“Keep saying shit like that, Quincy, and that won’t be the only thing I’ll box!” Elmiryn shot over my shoulder, her voice strained as she held me back.

The balls of my feet dug into the dirt as I shouted, “You are a narrow-sighted domineering witch–

The wizard’s eyes flashed, something intent in her eyes that made my heart skip a beat. “And what has the little kitten lost that makes her so afraid to say ‘no’ to the people she cares about, hmm?” she asked.

Hakeem grabbed the woman’s arm, his look severe. “Mweze, enough.”

The brunette ignored him and dug in deeper.  “Well, Nyx?  What traumatizing experience did you suffer in your no doubt torrid past that makes you so blind to the risks you’re opening us all to?”

The fight went out of me.  I stared at the wizard, a chill going over my skin.  Did she know about my past?  She talked as if she knew.  Or was she just trying to catch me out?  The wizard had stalked us for a short period of time, back before she kidnapped Lethia.

When Elmiryn saw that I had ceased my struggles, she let me go.

She stepped around me, and I could feel the taut muscles of her body as she brushed past.  “Quincy, you really have a big fucking mouth.”  Her voice was steely.

Sedwick stood between the women, his shoulders bunched.  His face was hard as he looked into Elmiryn’s eyes.

“Do.  Not,” The elemental growled.

I couldn’t see her eyes, but Elmiryn’s neck was flushed and her shoulders hitched up higher than usual.

Sedwick looked back at Quincy.  “I see your point, but that doesn’t change the fact that you were out of line.”

The wizard crossed her arms and looked away.  “Well someone had to say it…” she muttered.

“No one had to say shit,” Elmiryn said, her voice tight.  “You don’t get to fucking talk to her like that.  You have no gods damn business putting her down for trying to help me.”

Quincy snorted.  “And she can’t speak for herself?  Are you her knight in shining armor?”

Elmiryn moved forward again, but Sedwick held her back at arm’s length.  “I’ll be whatever she wants me to be if it means making you shut your hole.”

Enough!” Sedwick barked, shoving the woman back.  He turned and pointed at Quincy just as she was about to open her mouth.  “Say nothing!”

I reached forward and touched Elmiryn’s arm, my face bunched with anxiety.  I felt ashamed.  All of this hostility…it was my fault.  If I’d only kept myself under control…

The warrior looked at me, her lips pursed, some of that volatile energy still in her cerulean eyes before these things faded away, and she hugged me with one arm.  “I got you, Nyx…” she murmured into my hair.

Silence reigned among us, and the moments slipped by.

Sedwick was the one to break it. “Nyx, about your idea…you can’t mean to let Elmiryn drink to her heart’s content?” His pale eyes squinted in my direction.

I shook my head, “No.”  I looked at Elmiryn, and gave her a wry smile.  “Under the influence, she shows a remarkable amount of control.”

She raised an eyebrow at me, her grin widening.  “And aren’t I cute as well?”

I rolled my eyes at her in response and returned my gaze to Sedwick.  “But I know that too much drink can also make her…difficult.”

“No kidding…” Sedwick grumbled.

Elmiryn put on her best angel face.  Seeing her ability to switch to humor with such ease after all of that shouting undid some of the knots in my stomach.

“That’s why I figure we could find a balance,” I said, continuing.  “At least for the time being.  Elmiryn can have just enough to stave off some of the worse effects of withdrawal.”  I looked at her apologetically.  “That said, you’d still experience some discomfort.”

“I can function under discomfort.  I just need to be able to keep a steady grip on my sword and not feel my heart drumming in my chest,” Elmiryn replied.

I nodded and looked to the others.  “This is just a temporary solution.  We can deal with this properly once we’re back in our world.  So is it settled then?”

Sedwick sighed and gave a shrug.  “You also make a good point.  But I fear we may not find the ‘balance’ you’re talking about.”

I looked at Quincy, my gaze frigid.  She tongued her cheek and held up her hand. “You know what?  I don’t even know why you’re both acting like you need our permission.  Just do as you see fit.”  There was a note of disgust in her voice.

I pulled away from Elmiryn and took her hand.  “Then we just need to find you some drink.”

“I’ll get it for you,” Hakeem offered, standing.  “The Lycans don’t know you two well, but they’ll give some to me if I ask.”

I smiled at him uncertainly.  Again, he was being so helpful to us, and without any real reason.  If anything, he had more of a reason to dislike us, after that horrible exchange.  I didn’t know what to make of it, so I settled for being polite.

“Thank you,” I said.

Hakeem nodded and hurried off into the throng of villagers.  I followed his small dark form until he vanished from sight.  Elmiryn and I sat back down, the woman looking a little sweaty and a glassiness coming over her eyes as she stared at her boots.  That clash had taken a lot out of her.  To see her so inward and lacking in energy seemed unnatural, and I wished that she would return to normal.  I rubbed her back and let my gaze wander over the changing scenery.

The fighting circle was now finished and I could see that the villagers had taken up all the weeds and grass from the soil, smoothing the earth to an even plane that was bereft of footprints.  I guessed the circle to have more than twenty-five feet in circumference, seeing as how five grown men could lay across it.  A table had been brought out, where a horn and a wooden bowl of something white was set out, along with a large stone carved wolf where three incense sticks could be seen poking from its back.  The fact that they had to clear a space at all, coupled by the excitement in the air, told me that these fights did not happen often.  I wondered as to why—these Lycans seemed like such a physical bunch.

I could not speak for all therians, but I could say that the Ailuran language did not stop in words.  It continued through signals of the body.  Here, I saw much of the same, but the Lycans seemed to place greater value on body language than anything else.  I could see it in the way that more submissive villagers would keep their gazes about shoulder level, never looking into a face for longer than a few seconds, their shoulders slumped and heads ducked.  The more dominant ones kept their heads high, eyes peering into faces intently, hands always reaching out to touch in some way, teeth showing whenever they spoke.

For a brief moment, I pondered my relations with these strange people, and felt a sense of realization come over me.  As Elmiryn had stated before, Quincy was given protection through Hakeem because of his good standing with the Lycans.  He had perhaps gained enough respect to even look some in the face.  Looking over at Sedwick, I wondered if the only reason he wasn’t seeing the same hostility I did was because he kept to himself.

Meanwhile, I was an Ailuran.  Practically a natural born enemy of these proud creatures.  By waltzing through their village without escort, I had asked for trouble.  I looked people in the eyes.  I didn’t slouch or duck my head.  Instead I skulked about with tensed shoulders and a tight expression.

…Of course, there was still the matter of my Mark, which I was certain could be sensed by the Lycans in some way.  Still, I didn’t exactly help my case by behaving as I did.

I made a mental note to be less obtrusive in the future. It shouldn’t have been a hard thing to do, honestly.  After my exile, just before I’d met Elmiryn, that was all I did.  Yet with so much at stake in this fight, and over something so stupid, it felt hard to keep myself contained.  It seemed my time with the warrior had made me more of an extrovert than I’d thought.  Considering her provocative nature, it was inevitable, really.

More than a few Lycans looked our way, their eyes falling on Elmiryn…then me.  I avoided looking at them, trying to put into practice what I’d just learned, but my Ailuran nature told me to puff up, to hiss, to seem more threatening than I really was.  I felt cornered by these strangers, and wished it all to end.

Hakeem came jogging back to us, a small wineskin in his hand.  “I have it,” he said, holding it out to me—not Elmiryn.

The warrior snapped out of her reverie, her eyes tracking the wineskin hungrily as it passed hands.  Both of us glanced at the woman, than each other as I unscrewed the cap.  If the wizard somehow didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation before, he did now.

I stood and turned to Elmiryn, holding the wineskin up.  “Just a taste then,” I said as I held the mouthpiece to her.


Nyx tipped the jug into Elmiryn’s eager mouth.  The woman was allowed three good mouthfuls of the wine–which was red, by the taste of it, and a good vintage.  She swallowed it all gratefully, the tension in her shoulders and chest releasing to a state of immense pleasure.  But then the feeling was gone, taken away all too soon as the girl quickly pulled the jug away, her eyes wary as the woman’s feverish eyes flashed in her direction.  Was it enough?  The warm feeling had yet to spread, but she could feel it pooled in her stomach like a hot promise.

With a deep breath, Elmiryn stood.  She looked at the others.  Sedwick gave her a nod.  Quincy pursed her lips again upon meeting eyes.  Hakeem gazed at her passively, his expression revealing nothing.

The warrior looked to Nyx.

Her companion seemed to be fighting very hard to keep a brave face, but at the edges of her mask peeked an intense anxiety.  Elmiryn gripped her shoulder, bending her knees a little so that she could gaze level into the girl’s eyes.  She heard Nyx swallow, her eyes wide and a little shiny, but they held no threat of tears.

“Trust in me,” Elmiryn said with a quiet smile.

The Ailuran returned the smile shakily.  “I trust you…” her eyes flickered toward Halian, who already waited in the ring.  “I don’t trust him.”

The woman leaned in and pressed her lips to the girl’s, her eyes falling shut at the soft feel of Nyx’s mouth.  She willed the kiss to take away the girl’s fears, to leave instead a wealth of comfort.  But when she pulled back, the girl’s mask had fallen away, revealing her anxiety in full.

“Elle,” the girl breathed.  She took the warrior by the shoulders, her hands squeezing. “This isn’t a game.”

Elmiryn nodded somberly.  “I know that now.”

“Then please be careful.”

“I’ll try.”

A Lycan approached them.  His eyes fastened onto her face and she knew he was one of Halian’s men.  He regarded Elmiryn imperiously and said in a gruff, clipped voice, “Halian waits.  Enter ring now, or lose.”

Elmiryn smiled at him.  “Well then, I’d better get in there, huh?”

She undid her sword belt and passed it off to Nyx, but when she moved to take a step, the man stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.

“No coat.  No shirt.  No boots,” he said.

The woman raised an eyebrow, but slowly started to peel off her coat.  When everything was off, the Lycan stood aside and jerked his head for her to move.

As she approached the ring, the spectators grew quiet.  They parted for her, some whispering.  She saw a few smirks, some glares, but some wide-eyed looks as well.  Was it fear or fascination?  She imagined this was quite the event for them.  When had a human ever dared challenge a Lycan warrior to hand-to-hand combat?

She stepped over the deeply carved line of the fighting ring, and found Halian waiting on the other side.

The man smiled at her, his teeth sharply contrasting with his tribal paint.  “You are either very brave, or very stupid, tkelechog.”

“I’m just crazy,” Elmiryn giggled, beginning to feel the warmth of the wine spreading into the tips of her fingers.  The nausea and headache was still there, but either they were lessened, or she didn’t care about them as much.  Perhaps she should have told the others that she didn’t need much to get drunk anymore…?

Oh well.

Halian shook his head at her.  “In that, there is no doubt.”

A weight pressed on them, and they looked up.

Artemis was gazing down on the scene from above, her piercing gaze bright in the darkness of her shelter.

Halian pumped a fist and cried, “Kita!  Bamegizegak eh itome kiona!”  There were some yips and hoots from the crowd upon hearing this.

The goddess nodded in response, then let her eyes flicker over to Elmiryn.  Her lips moved, and the warrior’s hair stood on end as she felt a voice tickle her ear.

Go forth with caution.

The warrior blinked, but gave a slight nod of the head.

The crowd fell silent again as a wizened man entered the ring, a small teenage boy following him with a large leaf.  The man held in his hands the bowl that had been on the special table set next to the fighting circle.  His gray eyes had slivers of warm honey in them, and his head seemed smushed from the lack of teeth in his mouth.

“Closer,” the old man grunted, gesturing for them to meet him in the center.  They did as they were told, eyes on each other the whole way.

Brushing back a stray lock of peppery hair, the old man took a pinch of the white substance in his bowl and began to say something low and fast in Lycan.  Then he took the powder and sprinkled it over Halian’s head.  He turned to Elmiryn and did the same.

This done, he regard the both of them and said in a strong, lisping accent, “Yoo no use wep’nsh.  Canneh leave de ring.  Ef yoo leave ring, yoo lose.”  He turned and gestured at the table behind him.  “Fight till in-sensh run out.  Then, horn blown.  No stop when horn blown, yoo lose.  Dere tree roun’s.  No wan dies, steps out ring, or go un-con-shuss when all tree in-sensh burned, den is tie.  Un’erstan’?” He looked at them both sternly.

Halian nodded, his eyes on Elmiryn.  The warrior had to fight to understand the man, but she got the gist of it, and nodded.

The old man held up a bony finger.  “Wait for de horn.  Den start.”  With that, he turned and marched back out of the ring, the youth following more slowly behind him, using the leaf to smooth out their tracks.

Elmiryn and Halian backed away from each other, stopping close to the ring’s edge.

“I’ll try not to kill you,” the man said loudly, his eyes flashing at her.

The woman just smiled at him, her hands flexing at her sides.

Then the horn blew.


With Elmiryn’s entrance into the ring, a way was cleared to the front, and we took advantage of this by moving forward to better see the fight.  Sedwick and Hakeem sat between me and Quincy, the elemental being on my left.  They seemed intent on keeping us separated after our recent clash, and I found myself grateful.  If I had to listen to the wizard’s snide remarks the whole time, I’d likely try to claw out her eyes.

…And I used to be so peaceful.

If I’d given it any amount of thought at the time, I’m certain the source of my animosity would have had to do with a certain redheaded warrior.  That wasn’t to say that Quincy was pleasant to deal with on her own.  It was true that I had seem glimpses of her being polite, even cordial, and some of her attitude could be chalked up to the warrior perpetually provoking her…but the wizard was a manipulator, I could feel it, and for all her talk, she was perhaps no less reckless than Elmiryn was.  She was a snobby, caustic hypocrite, and to hear her talk about my feelings as if she understood me had set loose a fire I hadn’t even realized I’d had.  Yet it was her comments following that which snuffed out that fire.  She touched on my past, and deep down, I wondered if she were right.  Was I blinded by my affection for Elmiryn?  Was I so afraid of losing her that I didn’t want to take the harder road?

Whatever the truth of it, I didn’t want to have anything to do with Quincy.  Being around her brought up feelings I never had—feelings that went against my principles and core values.  I didn’t want to get dragged down by her negativity.

…I also didn’t want to feel spikes of jealousy whenever she and Elmiryn played their stupid verbal sparring games.

“There’s Eidan,” the brunette remarked, and I returned my attention to the fighting circle before me to see an elderly man followed by a young boy enter the ring.  He sprinkled the white powder on Elmiryn and Halian’s heads, his lips moving in what looked like a prayer.  Then I could hear his deep voice as he explained the rules to them both.  When he was done, he turned and left the ring.  No flourish, no flare.

At the table, a man lifted the horn to his lips.  Another lit one of the incense sticks, and I wondered as to the purpose.

The horn sounded, and Halian raised his hands, unclenched, and held them before him, his body turned to the side with his right foot leading.  Elmiryn did the same, but her form seemed a lot more reserved in comparison.  Her fists were clenched, her arms tucked close to the body as she moved to meet the man in the center of the ring.

They danced around each other, eyes locked, their feet light as they tested each other’s defense and readiness.  All at once, the things that Elmiryn and I had drilled over together seemed to flood in, and the truth of the scene before me opened like a book.  Halian threw a few jabs, but none seemed to show any sort of dedication.  Elmiryn met these, blocking them with her hands, relinquishing little ground.  She wasn’t going to be easily spooked.  They had equal reach in arms, which was in the woman’s favor, because it made it easier to defend against the man’s strikes.  Their footwork was quick and loose, ready to change at any given moment.

The time seemed to stretch on.  Halian was clearly not taking the fight seriously at all.  The woman, meanwhile, was playing it safe, her eyes focused as she threw a few defensive punches and kept her guard up.

Now and again, she lashed out with a few low kicks at the man’s right leg, and I knew she was going for the tip Hakeem had given her earlier.

A few of them landed.  It was her last kick that brought her trouble.

Elmiryn kicked out fast, just as before, but Halian was ready for her.  He did a curious shift on his left foot, a sort of hop and slide that was lead by his thigh and hip.  The smooth dirt seemed accepting of his tactic, as he slid to the side just enough to allow room to hook his foot behind the woman’s leg and throw off her balance.

My heart skipped a beat as I saw her arms instinctively go out to catch herself, leaving her open.  Halian cut in with a fast one-two punch to the chin that sent the woman crashing to the ground.

“Elmiryn!” I shouted through the cries of the crowd.

The Lycan was on her in an instant, his blows fast and devastating.  My heart was in my throat, and I got to my knees, my muscles quivering with a need to act.

Sedwick grabbed my shoulder, his grip tight, and hissed, “Don’t!  This is a sacred fight!  If you intervene, there’ll be hell to pay!”

I stared at him, then back at Elmiryn, who was doing her best to keep her head covered from the relentless assault.

The horn was blown.

Halian stopped, fists halting in the air as he clambered off the redhead with a cocky grin on his face.  He moved back to his side of the ring, where his comrades greeted him with cheers.

Elmiryn didn’t get up.  My heart stilled in my chest.

A Lycan woman next to me nudged my shoulder, and I looked at her, startled.  She had a narrow face and bright green eyes that seemed to glow in the emerald light.  She pointed at Elmiryn, and said with a thick accent, “Go.  Help.”

I hadn’t been sure if it was okay for me to enter the ring, but if this woman said it was all right, then I wasn’t going to hesitate.  I hurried out and heard Sedwick follow me.  When we came to Elmiryn, I could see that her left brow was cut wide and was bleeding profusely.  Her eyes rolled as she tried to focus on us.

“Oh…hi guys,” she breathed.

“This is barbaric!” I hissed as I took up one arm, and Sedwick the other.  “I can’t believe they’d allow this!”

“In their eyes, it’s all within their code of honor,” Sedwick said. There was a brief struggle as we both took up a shoulder and stood.  Elmiryn was completely dead weight.  “She agreed to this, and has refused to forfeit.  She wasn’t forced to fight in any way.”

“Wasn’t forced to fight?” I grunted as we dragged her back out of the ring.  “Challenge is like candy to her.  Dangle it in her face, I’m not sure she could refuse!”

“Maybe that’s what we need to rehabilitate her of…”

“I think the reality of the situation hit her just before the fight.  She wasn’t as excited as she usually is.”

“Then why did she agree to this!?”

“Because she’s Elmiryn,” I grumbled.

The two of us laid the woman down, and Quincy came over, her eyes squinting as she looked at the cut on the warrior’s brow. “Tai’undu,” she muttered, reaching for her magic pouch.

She pulled out a handkerchief and a small glass jar filled with a translucent yellow paste.  Hakeem appeared at her side with a jug of water.  I hadn’t noticed when he’d left to fetch it, but I was glad all the same.  Quincy took to cleaning the blood from Elmiryn’s face, using splashes of water, quickly wiping with her handkerchief.  Her husband took the jar and opened it, holding it out to her.  When she was done, she took up a scoop of the paste with two fingers and smeared it across the woman’s brow.

Elmiryn’s eyes, which had fallen shut through all this, peeled open.

Quincy grabbed her face and forced the woman’s gaze onto her.  “How many fingers am I holding up?”  She didn’t hold up a hand.

The warrior’s brow tightened and she grunted as she made to sit up.  “None.  Tha’s a dumb question…” she mumbled.

“Elmiryn, take it easy,” I said, holding her upper arm.

“I fucked up.  My ‘proach was all…one dimensional…Halian saw right through me,” she sighed, gazing at her knees.  “He’s fresh.  I’m just runnin’ on fumes.  I know it.  He knows it.”

“You can’t beat him,” Quincy said flatly.  “So don’t try.”

Elmiryn looked at her, frowning.  “I can’t…beat him?” she repeated slowly.

“No.  You can’t.”

“…You’re right.”

“Elmiryn you–” the wizard broke off, her eyes fluttering.  “I’m…I’m sorry, I’m what?”

“You’re right!” Elmiryn said, looking at her with a wild grin.  She started to stand up, reeled, and nearly fell back down.  It took me, Sedwick, and Quincy to keep her from keeling over.

The woman started laughing, and it was at that moment that I saw that missing look return to her eye—that love of risk, that love of gambling.

Now I was beside myself, eyes burning with unshed tears.  “Elmiryn, no!  Don’t go back in there!  Just forfeit, there’s no shame in that!”

“No,” she said fiercely.  Her eyes were on Halian, across the ring.  “I’ve got this.”

“But you just said–!”

The horn blew again, and Elmiryn danced back into the ring, her body swaying a bit, but a grin on her face.  I wiped the tears from my eyes and tried to still my heart, but my hands wadded my doublet as I saw the familiar play start over again.

The ring had been smoothed out again since their last round, and they made tracks anew.  They returned to the familiar dance, circling each other, testing each other’s boundaries, etc….

Then Halian bull-rushed her, all intensity, all power and muscle, his shoulders low and squared, his head ducked as though he were looking to gore her with horns.  He grabbed her about the thighs, and Elmiryn grunted as she managed to slip an arm between herself and the Lycan’s shoulder.  I saw her legs lock and sprawl out as she leaned forward onto the man’s back.  For a moment my inexperience in wrestling made their motives unclear.  Then I saw.

Halian was trying to take Elmiryn down by pulling at the back of her knees and compromising her stance.  The warrior was defending herself by digging her feet in and locking her legs.  By keeping her weight forward, she had the leverage to keep from being thrown down—a position that was dangerous for her, if the last round was any indication.

But the more they struggled, the more they slid along the dirt, and the closer they got to the edge of the circle.  If she were cast out of the ring, the fight would be over.

It was at this point that I realized why the woman had seemed so energized going back into the fight.  She didn’t have to beat Halian.  She just had to outlast him.  My voice tight with my fear and excitement, I shrieked, “Elmiryn, get out of it!  Get out of it!

Elmiryn didn’t seem to hear me, which wasn’t surprising considering the din the crowd was making.  She sent a few quick jabs at Halian’s sides, and the man tried vainly to knee her thighs a few times, but they seemed locked in a stalemate.  Simple physics was keeping the woman safe from the Lycan’s brute strength, but how long would that last?

“Elmiryn, come on!” Sedwick bellowed, slamming a fist into the ground.

Then she did something that stunned everyone.

With quick hands, she wrapped an arm around Halian’s head and twisted them to the side in a vicious pull.  They fell, and the woman wrapped her legs around the man’s trunk, her muscles straining as she yelled up at the sky.  I could hear Halian let out a strained shout, the places where his tribal paint flaked away revealing flushed skin.  I recognized it as a choke hold, from my training.

“That’s it!” Sedwick shouted, his face split wide in a surprised grin.

“Hold on!” I yelled.  Beyond all reason, hope started to spring in my chest.  Perhaps Elmiryn could get out of this in one piece?

But Halian was stubborn, and he refused to yield.  They struggled on the ground, but the woman managed to hold on until the horn blew.

When they parted, Halian’s eyes were wide with rage, his teeth bared and his chest heaving.  Elmiryn smiled up at him, a new cut on her lip, and her left eye now a bit swollen.  She smacked her lips in mock kiss.  The man growled and stormed away.

The woman managed to stand on her own feet this time, but it was clear that the struggle on the ground had taken even more from her.  She was sluggish as she walked back to us, and the sweat cut through the dust and dirt on her skin.

“That was fun!” she said, a little breathless.

Quincy took a moment to silently check her brow, then her lip.

Hakeem smirked up at her.  “That was an impressive counter.  Halian was quite surprised.”

Elmiryn grinned, her head tilted to the side as the brunette reapplied her paste to the cut on the warrior’s brow.  “When I first joined the military, there were these mandatory wrestling matches all new recruits had to participate in.  Because I was a woman, men always tried to take me down onto the ground for an excuse to grope me.  I got really good at defending myself that way.  Halian let his guard down around me because he thought I’d be easy.  He’s just a cocky idiot.”

“Don’t taunt him, Elle,” I warned.

When the wizard was done, the warrior took a sip from the water jug, her eyes flickering to the wineskin for a second before snapping back onto me.  “If he starts fighting with his anger, then I can outsmart him,” she responded after a moment.

I shook my head.  “But his raw power–”

“Is shit if he can’t use it right.”

“The logic of your statement hinges on an ‘if’,” Sedwick pointed out, his arms crossed. “You only have one more round.  Just play it safe.”

Elmiryn opened her mouth to reply, but the horn blew.

The woman spared a glance over her shoulder as she re-entered the ring.  My eyes pleaded with her for caution, and she seemed to acknowledge my wish with a nod.  Whether or not she’d heed my request remained to be seen.

Elmiryn raised her fists as her feet lightly danced over the soil.  She came out to the ring’s center, her eyes on Halian.  He didn’t fall into his stance, didn’t move to meet her.

With a sinking realization, I knew something was wrong.

Her body stilled, fists freezing in the air.  The man’s eyes were hot coals, searing into her, bearing forth a wealth of frustration that perhaps had nothing to do with her, but was certainly finding an outlet in their fight.

“Halian?” The woman called.

The man pointed at her.  “It’s just our flesh and our spirits, tkelechog,” he shouted.  He struck his chest, more of his tribal paint flaking away.  “I haven’t been treating you with the proper respect.  That changes now!

As he spoke, despite the distance, I could see his canines elongate, his nails morphing to claws.

He was going to Change.

No!” I screamed, moving to run into the ring.

Sedwick grabbed me around the waist, his voice a hot breath in my ear.  “Nyx, don’t!  Didn’t you hear what I said before!?”

“He can’t do that!” I said wildly, fighting against him.  “He can’t!  He’ll kill her!”

Sedwick was a strong man, but despite the absence of my Twin, I still retained my Ailuran strength.  He growled as I managed to move forward a few inches.  Than his arms turned to water, and I was lifted bodily into the air.  I yelled, my body thrashing, and the Lycans around us were distracted enough to stare as the elemental slammed me onto the ground.

“Quincy!” he shouted.  “Have you got something to calm her!?”

“Let me go!” I screamed, tears of frustration leaking from my eyes.

Within a moment, the wizard appeared over me, a new handkerchief in her hand.  “This is for your own good, Ailuran.” She pressed the cloth to my mouth and nose, and when I breathed in the caustic smell, my eyes rolled into the back of my head and the world went black.


“Oh shit,” Elmiryn breathed.  She was only dimly aware of Nyx screaming, but all her focus was on the shifting Lycan before her.

Dark fur began to sprout over Halian’s skin, his skin rippling as he bent over, and she could see the bones in his spine shifting.

Halian’s transformation was much smoother, much faster than Nyx’s had been.  Elmiryn knew she only had a small window to rush the man while he was rendered prone by his transformation.

With a yell, she charged him, meaning to push him out of the ring and end the fight before it could progress any further.  But Halian wasn’t as vulnerable as she’d thought.  He dodged her with a parting swipe at her shoulder, and the woman nearly stumbled out of the ring herself, her face wincing in pain.  His claws had dug in deep.

The warrior managed to right herself, and turned just in time to see Halian’s newly shifted paws come slashing at her once more.

She lurched back, her feet stumbling as she fought to return to the ring’s center.

Halian paused as his face elongated, his nose a shiny black, his ears gaining tips and shifting higher on the side of his head.  A brush-like tail swept behind him, and his feet were long and clawed.  Elmiryn felt her heart race.  She had never seen a therian shift so quickly, and never had she seen one who was capable of moving whilst doing so.  Was this what really made Lycans such dangerous warriors?

Her thoughts were scattered as the Lycan rushed her, his fanged jaws spreading wide.  The world seemed a rough, wild thing of sound and color as she practically felt Halian’s presence clash with her own.  All around her, the villagers yelled and screamed.  She became suddenly aware of Nyx’s voice being absent.


The woman let out a deep yell, her hands raising to take hold of the threads of reality she saw before her.  She called on the air, tightening the weave to form a solid wall—

And Halian’s charge was halted.

He hung suspended, his body still at the angle of a charge but not moving forward so much as an inch.  His jaw snapped and he growled in confusion.  His fierce dark gaze fastened onto Elmiryn’s.  His muscles quivered as he tried to break through the invisible barrier, but the warrior grunted, her face turning red as her body fought to keep her hold on the tight weave of air.  Blood dripped from her nose down her lips, and she felt as if her head were being split into two, her vision of the world rippling.

She dug her soles into the dirt, her feet sliding as if she herself were pushing up against a wall.

The crowd had fallen into stunned silence, and the warrior found she liked the quiet.

“H-Hey guard dog.”  She smiled shakily, her tongue tasting the blood that came into her mouth.  “You said…our flesh…and our spirits, right?”

Halian snarled, his hackles raised, his claws flexing in the air as his hind foot slid further in the dirt in his attempts to advance.

The woman groaned, feeling him strain against the barrier she’d made.  Nausea wracked her in intense rolls, the feeling rocking up from her stomach to her head and back.  Her throat tensed and sweat dripped into her eyes.  She didn’t know how much longer she could hold it.

Then Halian broke through…

…Just as the horn was blown.

He didn’t stop or slow down, and Elmiryn closed her eyes as she fell to her knees and felt his shadow pass over her.

There was a growl, a scuffle in the dirt, and a loud cry.

With effort, the woman opened her eyes again.

Artemis stood over her, one hand casually holding Halian by the back of his scruffy neck.  The muscular wolf-man was whining with each breath, his ears flat and his tail tucked between his legs.  The goddess’s silver eyes pierced into the warrior, her lips a thin line and her nostrils flared.

Elmiryn opened her mouth to say something, but a strong gag reflex had her turning her head just in time to throw up over the soil, the liquid blood-red and runny.  Elmiryn wasn’t sure if it were the wine, the brandy, or her own blood.

She heard Artemis speak over her.  “Fiamman, we have things to discuss.”

The woman grinned and peered up at her, a long rope of bloody saliva still swinging from her lips.  Her arms shook as she tried to keep from face planting into her own vomit.  “Oh Arty, you have no idea.”

Continue ReadingChapter 27.4

Chapter 28.1


If he traced the ways of his life with a finger, he was certain it would be as a river, branching off in wild directions, untamed save for the pull of the universe.  At the beginning, the line would be straight and singular and bold, entertaining no splits in motive or consequence.  But upon the moment he became a true wizard, upon the moment he gained his temporal chain mail, that all changed.  Suddenly it was a series of decisions and resets that cut across his existence like claws, telling him he was never going to get it right the first time.

…And yet, amidst the struggle, there was always that glow.  That pull of light that kept things going.

He could feel his wife’s presence at his side.

But this wasn’t the time for inward musing.  The wizard returned his attention to the matters at hand.

They took Nyx back to the hut Hakeem had been using.  Sedwick carried the young Ailuran, her head lolling in the crook of his arm.  Her eyes were shut and her expression lax, void of that fury that had so gripped her not long ago.  Void of that need to save her friend.  No…her lover.  He could hear it in the girl’s voice, as if she were clearly saying it herself. His ears had turned warm, tickled by a knowing that spoke of something…lacedwith power.

Given all this, he could understand the girl’s reaction upon seeing Halian shapeshift.  If it were Quincy in the ring, left with nothing but her fists and her wits, he’d be running in there himself, Lycan tradition or no.  But Elmiryn had managed to defend herself until the last.  She seemed to use a sort of force to keep Halian back.  Whatever the warrior had done, Hakeem sensed no magic…or at least, none that he had been trained to notice.

More and more, Nyx and Elmiryn were proving quite a strange pair.

The man-boy led them through the village with his wife at his side, the elemental trailing behind them.  The Lycans were slow to disperse, but there were some that had taken to following them at a distance.  They whispered excitedly, their eyes wide.  It was Elmiryn who had won the battle, but it was the group of outsiders who had collectively rocked the village.  The news would no doubt spread to the neighboring villages of the redheaded warrior who stood toe-to-toe with one of their best, and her bizarre group of comrades.

Comrades…was that what they were now?

Hakeem had in fact noticed an odd sort of connection, particularly between Elmiryn, Quincy, and Sedwick.  It wasn’t perfect and by no means smooth, but it followed a pattern of exchange that gave each person a defined role.  The clash he’d seen was not new to them.  But Nyx was not yet a part of this dynamic, and her presence seemed to add a new level of complication to the dynamic.

It was no secret that the Ailuran didn’t like Quincy.  While he would have defended his wife to the death, the wizard also knew when the woman stuck her foot in her mouth.  It was an old trait from her youth, and seeing it again had, in a bizarre turn, made him even more grateful to the others.  They were reawakening the woman he had originally fallen in love with.

If only he could turn back time enough to undo his loss in age.

In his new state of youth, Hakeem found that he could not use his arcane armor.  In order to go back in time, he had to be able to assume that particular place in time. If he was restrained, if he was missing limbs, if he was in a drastically different state of health—then that place in time would reject him.  The wizard didn’t just go back to that time period as a future self versus his past self.  He became his past self, preserving the continuum of time whilst accomplishing what many only dreamed of doing.  As a child, he could not assume the role of a man.  He was a different person, and felt that acutely.

His time with the Lycans had given him something, and he was hard pressed to give it back.  People could be trusted, even the thorniest and the wild of them, and he meant to show his gratitude in as many ways as he could.

And yet there were present obstacles that still needed addressing.

“I worry for your friend.  Artemis’s attention does not come lightly,” Hakeem said.

“She’s a thick skin,” Sedwick said from behind.  “If she just keeps her tongue from escaping her, then she’ll be fine.”

“I wouldn’t bet on it,” Quincy muttered.

“There’s not much we can do, anyway…” The elemental sighed.

It was true, so Hakeem moved on.

The wizard looked at his wife and said in Fanaean, “You seem out of sorts.”

Quincy looked dolefully at the sky.  “I miss the suns,” she said in his native tongue. “This Other Place keeps them hidden from us.”

“Maybe we just need to look harder.”

“My eyes are tired from searching.”

Hakeem reached out and brushed the back of his hand against hers.  She looked at him, her azure eyes alight, and he smiled.  “You have their brilliance inside you, Mweze.”

“Then perhaps I should remove myself, lest I scorch the goodwill about us.”

“You’re talking of the little spat you had?”

The wizard sucked at her teeth, a sour look coming over her features. “I’ll not apologize.  It was something that needed saying.”

“I was not going to ask for that.  I’d just like to know how you feel about it.  It seems to have upset you in ways beyond the issue at hand.”

Quincy glanced back at Sedwick, and Hakeem did the same.  The elemental locked eyes with them and spared a small smile before looking away.  His wife returned her gaze to him, her lips turned down at the corners.  “I always thought queer folk to be…strange, in a discomforting way,” she muttered out of the corner of her mouth.  She shrugged.  “In the end, I find it doesn’t bother me quite as much as I’d thought.  I don’t feel like shouting them down, anyway.  But…it still isn’t normal, is it?  It seems the thorniest way to love.” Now she blushed, crossing her arms and pouting a lip.  She debated what to say next, then started in suddenly with, “Elmiryn is a mama’s girl, like any other Sibesonan.  But say one foul thing against her mother, and she doesn’t just get mad, she gets practically murderous.”

When the woman didn’t continue, Hakeem prodded her gently.  “Mweze?”

Quincy released a breath of air she’d been holding.  She rubbed her brow and looked at Hakeem sidelong.  “That anger?  I felt it again after speaking to Nyx as I did.  Either the warrior is just really infatuated, or I’ve misread things.”

Hakeem chuckled.  “Quincy, you can only garner so much watching others from afar.  I’ve been trying to tell you that for years.”

The woman’s pout increased.  “I’m pretty good at it…” she mumbled.

The man-boy shrugged.  “Your insight has afforded you a view that others so close may not have seen, but now that you yourself are close to the people you observe, maybe you should consider switching your tactics?”  He looked at her, a glint of mischief in his eyes. “Perhaps by first gaining some.”

She huffed, swatting at his shoulder.  “I have tact!  I have all the tact in the world!”

Hakeem just laughed, letting the sound go unrestrained so that it reached up into the skies.

Quincy pointed a punitive finger his way.  “I think this new state has warped your senses!”

The wizard just smirked at her.  “You mean, I’m acting like a child.”

The woman blushed a deep red. “Th-That wasn’t what–”

“Mweze.  Please.  For the love of the gods.  Relax.”

They were nearly there.  Perhaps they could have walked faster than the leisurely stroll they moved by, but Sedwick didn’t seem to mind.  Quincy chewed on her tongue, her gaze holding fire as she looked around at everything but Hakeem.

Suddenly, she blurt out, “I don’t hate that they’re together.”

The man-boy looked at her with brow raised, but kept silent.

The brunette continued, looking increasingly flustered. “It’s just…it’s…it’s been so long since we’ve had that.  Why should they, with their backwards love, have it better than us?  I guess I just wanted to start some waves.”

“Mweze, as Sedwick said, your point was valid.  It was your motive and approach that was wrong.  If you know now that you were speaking out of envy, then perhaps that is something to look out for in the future.”

She sighed and nodded.  “You’re right.  I’ve been having trouble getting too emotional about things, and now I’m letting those feelings rule me.”  Quincy rubbed at her face.  “After Tonatiuh went, it was like…a fire had been growing inside me, and I hadn’t even been aware of it.”

“Then I will battle the flames with you, Mweze.”

She said nothing to this, and the wizard left her to her musings.

They came to the hut, and Sedwick laid Nyx down on the blankets.  The elemental turned to them as he straightened.

“She won’t be happy when she wakes,” he said quietly.

Quincy rolled her eyes. “She’ll get over it.  Elmiryn isn’t dead, that lucky idiot.”

As they exited the hut, Hakeem asked, “Can someone please explain to me what’s going on with those two women?  Nyx has something strange in her voice, and Elmiryn can apparently create barriers out of nothing.”

The others exchanged looks.  Quincy looked at him tiredly.  “Do you want the long, or the short version?”

“Short version, I suppose.”

“Too bad,” The woman said with a dry laugh. “There is no such thing!”


Divine intervention was one of the things Elmiryn never thought she’d see…and yet, wasn’t that exactly what had happened?

There, in her billowy shroud, standing tall and ethereal with a fury too beautiful to name, was Artemis, holding back the beast that would have brought about an early death if only the incense sticks burned a little slower…

It sounded so poetic that way.  But as the warrior was scooped up like a child in the arms of the goddess, she decided that things weren’t quite so rosy.  Rolling off of the Huntress were thick waves of power, hot and disconcerting in their intensity, and flashing in the woman’s silver eyes was anything but kindness.  Elmiryn met this terrible fierceness with an ignorance she was aware of, and had no idea how to overcome.  It was as a child who met something so alien in its gravity that all one could do was wonder at the why and how of it.

With barely any effort, Artemis leapt up into the sky, and in a fashion that didn’t seem in keeping with gravity, she managed to slip in through the window of the tree house with barely a startled hair.  Elmiryn’s stomach lurched in her gut.

They are alien.

The gods, I mean.

Meznik’s melodic voice came in softer than usual, and the warrior thought it had something to do with caution.  Could the demon really avoid the attention of an almighty god?

That is why you feel as you do.

To understand them, is to be them.

Artemis set her down on the floor and resumed her perch gazing out at the forests.  Her eyes were narrowed now, her hand concealing half her face as she thought.

They like to pretend they know everything,

But omnipotence is overrated.

So let’s keep our little mysteries, hmm?

Let’s not be understood.

Elmiryn’s brow tightened, and she wanted to respond, but the opportunity slipped by like quicksilver.

“I’ve been aware of thy…troubles.”  Artemis said, her voice low.  She still didn’t turn her gaze.  “I know thy mind has always been a bizarre font of ideas, and likewise, thy spirit has always been a thing of curiosity…” Finally the goddess turned, her gaze searing.  “Yet what I have just seen is outside of the Way that governs the world.”

Elmiryn moved to raise herself from the floor, intent on looking the deity in the face, but found the weakness in her arms was too great.  The action seemed to disagree with her new intake of wine, the drink turning rotten in her veins and stomach.  Her left eye had swollen more, forcing it into a squint, and her lower lip was cut and swelling now as well.  Her head throbbed in a dull ache, the previous pain having washed away like an ebbing tide.

The warrior crossed her arms and looked into the goddess’s eyes.  “Halian came at me with all he had.  I did the same.  I don’t see the problem.”

Within the next instant, the woman’s vision tunneled so much she was blind, pain slicing into her head, down her spine, and into her limbs.  She was on the wall, Artemis holding her up on her feet by the shoulders. “The problem, Elmiryn, is that thou seems to have a power that was not meant for thee, and yet thou uses it with little thought to consequence!”

“Little thought…to consequence…huh?” The woman panted, feeling her adrenaline kick in.  Firing under her skin was a deep animal instinct to curl up and hide, and she fought this with everything she had.  She would not curl up.  She would not apologize.  “I thought about it…plenty, Arty.  I thought about dying…before I could get the person I care about…out of here alive.” Elmiryn spared the briefest grimace before a smile blossomed across her lips.  Her vision still had yet to clear, so she stared with eyes wide, hoping some sight would tell her what to expect.  She went on, her breath returning to her, “I thought about the bitch enchantress that got us into all this mess, and how I’d like to get her head on a fucking pike.  And ya wanna know what else I thought about, when all those stupid concerns over undoing a reality I can’t even buy into anymore was bleating off in the distance?”  Elmiryn grabbed Artemis’s wrists, her body shaking.  “I thought about all those assholes sitting up in heaven who let a little girl fall to the mercy of a greedy idiot and an insane demon!”

The goddess’s face finally appeared amidst the snowy tunnel of her vision, and the warrior could see the Huntress was more than a little surprised by her audacity.  It wasn’t shock or rage that illustrated this to her.  It was the deity’s non-reaction, her blank expression, her cooled gaze.  The fire and fury had fled from her all at once.

Artemis slowly let Elmiryn go, and the warrior slid down the wall to the floor, her heart doing a marathon in her chest.

“You think so little of us…” the goddess breathed, frowning.

“I think shit of you,” Elmiryn spat.  She was surprised to find her eyes welling with tears.  Her body wracked with shivers as the need to run increased ten-fold.  The anxiety was foreign to her.  She had never known this much fear.

Artemis crouched down, her gaze now intent.  “I see thy mortal soul is still intact.  Dost thou know why thee weep?  Why thy heart palpitates with such fear?”

The warrior, still shaking, wanted to say something snide.  A rage, one she hadn’t even felt whilst facing Halian, was fighting its way up, and upon realizing she was not immediately dead, it was getting hard to stop.  She was like a child throwing a tantrum.  She hated that she kept drawing those parallels.  I’d be a terrible writer.

Yet for all the foul insults she could conjure, they all lodged in her throat.  Instead, the woman shook her head jerkily to the goddess’s question.

Artemis smiled for the first time.  “Thou art out of Harmony, and thy soul mourns the lost connection.  In fighting me as you are now, you are causing your spirit great stress.  Stop fighting nature, and thou shalt know peace again.”

“And what?  Just accept you’re always gonna rule the world?”

The goddess shook her head.  “We do not ‘rule’ the world as you say.  We are the world.  The very air you breathe.  Everything you taste, feel, touch, and see is in communion with us.  Why rail against that which provides structure in a universe of chaos?”

“Why not?  Maybe chaos is better.  At least we could build from scratch,” Elmiryn snarled, feeling the tears course down her face.  Her cheeks turned hot and her head started to pulsate with a new breed of pain from the way her sinuses strained to produce more tears.  She wiped at her face and said, “You haven’t exactly given me many reasons to feel nice.”

Artemis only raised an eyebrow.  “And by that token, neither have you.”

“So what?  Do you break out the tea and we sit and talk about our feelings?  Do you tell me what it’s like to sit on top of a world and not care about it, and I tell you what it’s like to be crushed under your fat ass?

The goddess let out a sudden laugh. “Oh, what sharp tongue!  Thou art fortunate I am the one to hear this tantrum.  Many of my brethren might not be so forgiving!”

“Fuck you,” Elmiryn bit out just before her face crumpled and she turned to the wall.  Damn it, why can’t I stop?

“I already told you why.”

Get out of my head!

“I am not in your head.  You just happen to think loudly.”

“Well pardon me…” Elmiryn covered her head with her arms.  “I…I feel like I’m six again,” she whispered, sniffling back snot.

She felt Artemis hand on her hair and peeked through her arms to see the goddess gazing at her with the same look of intent as before.  “Perhaps, thou should have been my child, instead of Halward’s.  I would not dare speak against the god king, but I cannot fathom why he would neglect such a willful thing such as yourself.”

“Luck I guess…” Elmiryn muttered.

“There is fortune, in being deemed worthy enough for challenge.”

The warrior looked at her suddenly, her good eye wide open.

Artemis tilted her head to the side, a lock of her curly dark hair slipping forward near her temple.  Her brow tightened.  “I have every reason to kill thee…” she murmured.  The goddess shook her head.  “Thou art not of my blood…and thy mouth runs a fool’s marathon.” The goddess pressed closer, and Elmiryn swallowed reflexively, feeling herself…out of herself.  She was not this person.  Or perhaps, she was not the person she imagined.  Quiet things, quiet ways, quiet realities were surfacing here, and the ignorance she had found shelter behind was crumbling.

“Yet more and more I only wish to see how much farther you would seek to run from me…” Artemis breathed, her lips brushing the woman’s ear.  “I have missed thine offerings…have ye something else to offer perhaps?  It would kill thine ails.  Free thee of the suffering you feel…”

Elmiryn’s breath caught.  She was a mortal.  Artemis was a god.

She had…

“…A song stuck in my head,” she whispered.  Elmiryn looked at the goddess sideways.  “That’s all…I have.  Everything else…is spoken for.

“You would deny me?”

“I would deny you what isn’t yours to take.”

Artemis scowled.  “If you continue this defiance, your soul will come apart, and you will cease to be.  You cannot go against heaven.”

Elmiryn leaned in close, two more tears slipping down her face as she felt a rush of cold go over her.  “I am not of heaven.  I have been torn apart and left in chaos, and I have found my way back, through no help of yours.”  She could feel the fabric of her being shudder, feel the weave strain and pull.  She dared another inch, pressing in so close that her sweaty forehead touched Artemis’s.  Her hairs stood on end from the contact, but if there was anything more to feel, her mortal senses were at their limit.  “I am not of you.  I am not beholden to you.  I just am.

“Your power is a stolen thing.”

“And where did your power come from, Arty?”

Artemis stood, glaring down at the woman.  Then her expression melted into a smile.  “Do you want to know a secret, Elmiryn?”

The warrior blinked and tried to sit up properly.  Her eyes rolled from the effort, and she settled for slumping to the floor.  “Oh.  Sure.”

“I don’t know.”

“…Dunno what?” A weight started to press on the woman’s chest and it became harder to breathe.  Elmiryn’s eyes fell closed to the sight of Artemis’s bare feet.

“Where my power comes from.”

“How’kin ya not know?” Words slurred, but it wasn’t from drink.  The woman pressed a hand to her head and said.  “I’m not…not followin’.”

Artemis’s voice started to move away from her, and when the warrior cracked her eyes open, she saw the goddess back at the window.  “My consciousness lays across worlds.  In many ways, I do not know the whole of myself–just this particular shard.  That isn’t to say I am incomplete.  I am connected with the core of my being in a place far away…but my soul is so large that it cannot reside in a single place.  So here, I rule as the Huntress, whilst elsewhere, I may be a goddess of the sea.  I have dreams of my other selves sometimes—really just flashes past my eyes because I never sleep unless I feel like it.  I am so Vast that I cannot be understood save for My permission, and the veil that holds my soul is thick indeed.  I dream…I dream of my other selves, and yet I know not of who they truly are or from whence they truly came.  So…where does my power come from, you ask?  I am Great, and Knowing, but these things I do not know.  I do not know, and that is my humblest answer.”

“Huh? Whe…nd…ga…” the words failed to form, and Elmiryn forgot what she was trying to say.  She couldn’t feel her face, her left arm, her left leg.  Her head screamed at her, and the parts she could feel tingled. “Nngh…”

She heard the sound of the trap door opening and footsteps along the wood floor.  Artemis’s voice sounded far away.

“What I have just told you would kill an ordinary man.  An extraordinary one would be driven completely insane.  Mortals cannot bear such knowledge…so if you are truly free of the domain of gods, then we shall see if you live tomorrow, let alone remember what I’ve said.” Someone picked her up.  The goddesses’s voice became a whisper in her ear as Elmiryn was carted away.

Live.  For I will treasure this hunt, as you are a prize like no other…

Continue ReadingChapter 28.1

Chapter 28.2


They were outside of his borrowed hut, sitting on overturned baskets with their forms hunched toward each other as they conversed in secret.  There were enough bilingual Lycans in the village to warrant caution, and given what he’d just heard, it was not without reason.  Hakeem stared at Quincy to Sedwick and back.  He’d heard and seen a lot of things in his years (or, at the moment, lack thereof), and yet this seemed almost too much.

“Nyx is a champion?” he repeated quietly.

Quincy and Sedwick nodded mutely.

“And Elmiryn is turning into a…fae?”

Again, they nodded.

He rubbed at his face and thought.  After a moment, he leaned back and said, “The timing seems curious.”

Quincy and Sedwick exchanged confused looks.

Taika, what do you mean?” his wife asked.

He shrugged and thumbed over his shoulder at Nyx.  “I mean, doesn’t it seem a bit coincidental that both of these women seem to be ascending the average mortal station at the same time?”

They pondered on this.

“Nyx said she was the champion of Lacertli, the god of natural order.  I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar with him,” Sedwick said.

“The Lizard King.” Hakeem scratched at his knee, leaving the dark skin ashy.  His companions stared at him, and he looked at them both, his finger stilling.  “What?”

You know who Lacertli is?” Quincy asked, sounding not a little surprised.

He frowned at her.  “You aren’t the only one who reads, Mweze.”

She blushed and gave him a pout. “I’m not trying to remark on your intelligence!  It just seems that no one knows who this god actually is!”

“Well, as Sedwick said, he’s the god of natural order.  Fanaeans were some of his last followers before the rise of civilization saw them doing away with the old ways.  With the advance of medicine and weapons and complex architecture, a god whose primary domain was survivability in the wild seemed less relevant.  These days, it’s easy to survive so long as you live a quiet life.  Unlike us, most people do.”

“Is there anything else you know about him?”

“Well, he’s also known as the Dreamwalker.  It’s said that survivability comes with wisdom, and wisdom is the ability to be creative and see the truth in things from different angles.  In Fanaean culture, the shadows are said to be the borders of dreams, and controlling these can lead to new realities.”

Quincy nudged Sedwick.  “I thought I saw some strange shadows across the ground when we were fighting Tonatiuh.  I couldn’t make out what they belonged to.  Was that Nyx’s doing?”

The elemental held up his hands.  “I didn’t really see either.”

Hakeem raised an eyebrow. “You two don’t know what her powers are?”

His wife screwed up her mouth.  “There was a massive battle we had not long ago.  So much was going on that it was hard to keep track of.”

The man-boy held out his hands.  “That aside, the things I’ve read about Lacertli were contained within a footnote.  But from that small paragraph, I know that he was seen as arbiter in nature’s harmony.  The fae were creatures who bit their thumbs at harmony, choosing to create their own rules out of whimsy.  If Elmiryn is truly becoming a fae, then he will want to keep a close eye on her.”

“So he chose Nyx as his champion to better position himself against Elmiryn?”

Hakeem held up a finger. “Or the one who cursed Elmiryn.”

“Meznik,” Sedwick said with a frown.


“There’s lots of possibilities, but all this conjecture hardly gives us the means to seek out the truth.”  Quincy stood with a rough sigh.  “It wouldn’t hurt to talk to Nyx about her new station.  Maybe learning about one thing will give insight to the other?  I’ve tried asking Elmiryn for answers, and yet I still feel like she isn’t being entirely forthcoming.”

“I feel the same way,” Sedwick said.  “But to be fair, maybe she doesn’t understand it entirely herself?  Her main source of information is the one who caused her misfortune to begin with.  That’s shaky grounds to trust, no matter how you look at it.”

“I hardly think he’s the cause of all of her misfortune…” Quincy muttered.

She squinted her eyes as something caught her attention down the trail.  They widened as her face went slack.  “Speaking of which…”

Hakeem and Sedwick followed her gaze to see a certain redhead being carried into Eidan’s hut.

“You don’t think Artemis…did anything to her, did she?”  Sedwick asked, looking at them all.

“Only if Elmiryn kept her mouth from escaping her,” Hakeem murmured.

They all exchanged grave looks.

Just then, the war horn sounded.  It echoed throughout the village.

Hakeem shook his head.  “Tai’undu…that’s the call for the hunt.  Everyone is going to gather at the northern part of the village.”

“What about Nyx?” Sedwick said, looking into the hut.  “She’s still out.”

Quincy rummaged through her pouch and pulled out a small vial of white smelling salts.  “These should wake her.”

“Maybe we should leave her?” Hakeem said with a frown.

His wife shook her head. “Artemis said that she’d help us leave this shard only if all of us participate in the hunt.  I’ve been given pardon as Eidan requires my assistance.  Elmiryn clearly can’t participate.  Nyx, however, has no valid reason to stay here.”

Sedwick’s brows pressed up to wrinkle his forehead. “She might not see things so reasonably, especially if she hears where Elmiryn is…”

“What if I was the one to wake her?” Hakeem said.

They both looked at him, surprised.

Quincy fidgeted uncomfortably.  “But…Taika.  If she really wanted to, she could blow right past you.”  She gestured weakly at his small form.

Hakeem shook his head. “Not if I reason with her.”

“No offense, but you don’t even know her that well,” Sedwick argued gently.  He crossed his arms.  “She’ll have only one thing on her mind.”

Hakeem nodded.  “I know.  But I’m counting on all those things.”  He jabbed his thumb at himself.  “I’m the most impartial out of all of you, and I have the least reason to want to deceive her.  If she’s really going to be so singleminded, then I can use that logic to turn her determination toward the hunt.”

A group of Lycans rushed past them, streaks of white on their faces and spears in their hands.  They bared their teeth as they passed, growling and howling.  The village became a different thing once the warriors were on the move.  The aggression that had so bubbled near the surface rose for all to see, bearing forth their ferocity.

They watched as the warriors passed.  Then Quincy sighed and tossed Hakeem the salts.  He caught them with one hand.

“I suppose you’d better get to it, Taika.  They’ll be arranging the hunting parties soon.”  She turned to Sedwick.  “Let’s get going.”

Sedwick gave a nod.  “I’ll see you when we get back.  I wanna see how Elmiryn’s doing.”

Hakeem watched as his companions went off to their respective destinations.  When they were no longer visible amidst the surge of Lycans, he looked at the salts in his hand, then the hut.

Gripping the vial, Hakeem pulled back the curtain and peeked inside.  Nyx hadn’t moved since Sedwick had first laid her down, but her chest rose in small increments.  In a way she looked almost peaceful.  It seemed cruel to launch her back into anxiety and struggle.

The wizard sat on the edge of the bed and sighed.  He fingered the vial’s cork a moment before he pulled it out.  Turning, he held the salts under the Ailuran’s nose.

Her eyelids fluttered, and in the next instant she sat up with a loud gulping breath.  She nearly knocked the vial out of Hakeem’s hands, her legs kicking as if resuming their previous struggle.  Hakeem had read that therians reacted strongly to salts because of their sensitive smell.  But given the way she clocked his ear, the texts really understated it, in his opinion.

Nyx looked wildly around her, still gasping and clutching at her chest.  Hakeem jumped away and held out his hands.

“You’re okay,” he said in what he hoped to be a soothing voice.  It occurred to him that he didn’t have much practice in that regard.  “You’re back in my hut.”

“Wh-What? But–I–” Nyx stared at him, then down at her legs.  Her hands bunched the fur blankets in white grips.  “I was…”

“The fight,” Hakeem supplied.

Fear flashed across her face.  “Elle!” she clumsily made to stand.

Hakeem grabbed her by the shoulders, pulling her back to eye level.  “Nyx, listen to me.  She’s fine.  The match ended in a stalemate.  She’s being tended to now.”

Her eyes lit up with relief, and she grabbed him by the shoulders in kind, her grip tight with the release of all her stress.  Then this look slowly melted into a hard determination.  “Well then I’ve got to see her!”

Hakeem shook his head.  “The hunt has started.  As I understand it, you have an obligation to particpate.”

“I promised her I’d always be at her side!” Nyx knocked his hands away and stood.  She managed to step off the bed, before Hakeem danced in her way.

“You have an obligation, Nyx!  Elmiryn used her new fae powers to keep from getting killed, and it has earned Artemis’s fury.  By denying the goddess your promise, you endanger Elmiryn.”  He pointed up at the girl’s face.  “Also, I know what you are.  As a champion of Lacertli, don’t you think you ought to be upholding your patron’s values?  The beast that stalks these forests disrupts Harmony.  He won’t be happy to hear of your negligence.”

Nyx glared down at him, her face twitching.  The real sign of his victory, however, came in the way frustration welled in her gaze.  Common sense and duty were in conflict with the very thing her heart wished for.  He knew the feeling.

Lowering his eyes, he sighed and said, “Nyx, I don’t like saying these things.  But you know they are true.”

They stood silent, the hut curtain stirred by those rushing outside.  Shadows flashed about their ankles where the emerald light laid its mark upon the ground.  The Ailuran’s eyes narrowed, and she wiped furiously to catch the tears before they could fall.  She shifted her weight onto the ball of her right foot, digging it into the soil.  Her hands tensed to claws at her sides as her expression turned tight.  Hakeem braced himself in case she decided to lunge at him…

Finally, Nyx whispered, “I don’t understand you at all.”

Hakeem shrugged one shoulder, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.  He spared a glance over his shoulder before fixing the girl with a sideways gaze.  He said out of the corner of his mouth. “Do you really want to understand?”

The girl’s eyebrows rose high.

The wizard planted his feet beneath his shoulders and crossed his arms.  He felt almost like himself—the dark, broad-shouldered sentinel, spiced with just a little arrogance and a great deal of indifference.  “Understanding…goes both ways, ikati.  I’ve already told you why I show you my generosity…but if you wish to understand me, you would have to earn something else.”

When he didn’t continue, the Ailuran scratched her head, her eyes flickering elsewhere a moment before she looked at him again, almost shyly, and asked, “What’s that?”

“My complete and absolute trust.  As much as I appreciate what you and you’re friends have done to restore Quincy, that still doesn’t speak of who you are as individuals.  In strange ways, I have an idea of what to expect from the Fiamman.  But what can I expect from you?  I have no idea where you come from…though I may have a few guesses as to how you got here.”  His head tilted back and his eyes narrowed a fraction.  “You’re an outcast, aren’t you?  I can think of no other reason an Ailuran may be able to stomach the company of their hated enemy.”

Hakeem could see Nyx’s skin go pale, even in the dim lighting.

He held up a placating hand.  “Stay at ease, Nyx.  I have no right to judge.  I only need to know if you’re past is a distant thing…or a present reality.”  He took a step back toward the curtain, then another.  “I cannot trust those that are led solely by their heads or their hearts.  I am open to understanding you.  Hunt with us tonight, and survive.  If a bridge can be built, than I say we shall build it.  Otherwise, my kindness will remain a distant thing, and you will be left to your confusion.”

With an abrupt turn of his body, he marched out of the hut.  He had said what he could, and now he couldn’t entertain the girl’s plight any longer.  There were other more important things to deal with…

…Which was why Hakeem smirked to hear Nyx hurrying after him.


Sweet Aelurus, the positions I find myself in!

All I wanted was to see Elmiryn with my own eyes, to feel her heartbeat, to know that she wasn’t going to wake from a nightmare and not find me there, waiting.  But Hakeem was right.  There were other things to attend to first…like my promise to Artemis.

I felt a chill, thinking of how the goddess may have looked upon seeing Elmiryn use her strange new powers.

Listen to me!  Elmiryn?  Powers?  Gods!

Wasn’t it just a little under a month ago when we first met?  Things were so much simpler then!  These days, I felt like we couldn’t take a step without the threat of powerful beings snapping us in half.  It was enough to drive a person insane, and in the cases of some, we were quite far along that road already.

As I followed Hakeem through the thickening crowds, I finally saw where everyone was gathering.

Clumped together in hunting parties, with many more waiting to be assigned, were powerful Lycan warriors.  Men–and women–of all different shapes and sizes gathered with their traditional weapons.  Many were painted in colored grease paint, the colors of war that marked their tribe.  It seemed like so much for just one beast, but seeing how this creature had hurt these people so, perhaps I just couldn’t fathom the truth of what I was getting into.

I stopped just a little behind Hakeem, who was looking around the area.  I felt timid and vexed by him at the same time.

“Where do I go?” I mumbled.

“Follow me.”  He didn’t look at me, his eyes intent as he searched the crowds.

As he tried to spot whatever it was he was looking for, I did my best to look inconspicuous.  In my favor, the heightened energy served to drown out my presence, as everyone present was more concerned with forming their hunting parties.  For the most part, I went unnoticed, but those that did see me paused to fix me with a curious look.  I mirrored it, but for only an instant.  Prolonged staring was one of the things I was supposed to be avoiding.

Hakeem seemed to see what he wanted, and with a jerk of his head, he led me to a small group of Lycans preparing near the forest’s edge.  There were three of them.  Two men and a woman.  The men milled about near the trees, while the woman sat on a rock sharpening a spear closer toward the village.

The wizard greeted them in their Lycan tongue, then turned to me. “This is Nyx, one of the newcomers.  She needs to be placed.”

The Lycan woman stood and stepped forward.  I was surprised to find that I recognized her.  She was the one who had told me to fetch Elmiryn from the ring after the first round of the fight.  Now that all the hysteria of that time was gone, I took in her whole appearance.

She was not much taller than me—perhaps an inch or so—and had wavy, shoulder-length dark hair.  Her narrow face now had on streaks of green and black paint that made her green eyes seem even brighter.  Her arms were exposed, revealing the lean muscles of her body.  She wore a dark leather vest with a v-neck and a pair of suede pants stopping mid-calf.  Her feet were bare, but around her right ankle was a small strip where a rabbit’s foot dangled.

She looked me up and down, then looked at Hakeem.  In the same thick accent as before, she said, “I am lead while Halian out.  I say she may run with us tonight.” She pulled a sheathed dagger from behind her, and tossed it to Hakeem.  With that, she went back to her place, resuming her spear sharpening without lifting her eyes.  She seemed upset about something and didn’t look like she wanted to be bothered by anything silly.  Like me, for instance.

Hakeem checked the dagger before giving a nod at me.  “So you’re with our party.”

I held up my hands, an anxious look on my face.  “I don’t know what I’m doing!”

“Ailurans don’t hunt in groups?”

“We did, but…not like this.  It was always more for sport, then.”

The man gave me a penetrating look.  Then asked, “And when you left your people?”

I immediately tensed, my shoulders coming up around my ears.  Then I remembered my surroundings and took a deep breath.  My shoulders eased back down.  With difficulty, I answered him.  “It was…for survival.  Even then I…was never very good at it.”

Hakeem waved the issue away.  “We’ll explain the hunting formations to you.  They aren’t all that difficult.” He nodded at each of the Lycans in our group.  “The tall one with the short spiky hair is Makka.  He doesn’t speak any Common, but he doesn’t say much to begin with.  His brother was one of the first to die at the hands of the beast.  The long-haired fellow next to him is Gudahi.  He’s very fluent in Common as he’s often visited Gamath and the Fiamman trading posts for outside goods.  Our leader tonight is Sanuye.”  He beckoned for me to come closer, and I bowed low to hear.  Hakeem leaned in to whisper, “Sanuye is displeased, so just stay close to me, or Gudahi, okay?  He’s a goodnatured man, and will probably take delight in thinking he’s ‘protecting’ an Ailuran.  Don’t take offense if he flirts with you a bit.  He flirts with everyone, and doesn’t mean half the things he says.”  

The last comment made me blink, but I nodded anyway. “Okay.  But why is Sanuye mad?  Do you know?”

Hakeem shrugged.  “My guess is that she’s unhappy with Halian’s absence.”

“Why is he gone?  He didn’t get hurt like Elmiryn did, and he would have healed those wounds by now anyway!”

“Nyx, you didn’t see because you were unconscious.”  Hakeem’s voice dropped even lower, and I frowned as I strained to hear him.  “Halian was going to kill Elmiryn after the final horn was blown.  Artemis had to step in.  That sort of intervention takes its toll on the mortal soul, no matter the species.  The man is just a shivering mute right now.  He’s in Eidan’s hut along with Elmiryn.”

I frowned as I recalled the goddess’s words…

I would gladly take to arms for my children.  But there is no way I can fight without harming them all.

Hakeem turned and called Gudahi over.  The man looked up from his conversation with Makka, then grinned right at me, making me blush and look away.  He sauntered over, Makka in tow.

Gudahi was much taller than his companion, and his long dark hair was silky and had one braided bang.  His face had less war paint then his companions, and rather than taking all the village colors, he only painted on thin lines of white, with dots around his eyes.  The designs made him less fierce, and more…beautiful, I suppose is the best word.  That isn’t to say he was androgynous, but he was clearly the sort that young girls would fawn over without end.

Makka looked a great deal more somber, his chin bold and with a small cleft. His face was a dark mask of black and green with a white X crossing from temple to jaw.  He slouched around Gudahi, but stared intently into my face.  Just as with the other man, I tried to keep from looking at him too long.

Gudahi lightly touched a fist to his breast.  “Hakeem.  Ua-kita!  Look at the present you have brought me!  I’ve always wanted a kitten.”  I tried not to tense at that.  I knew it was just the age-old rivalry at work, and if Hakeem’s words were true, then there was likely going to be some innuendo from this man as well.

He reached over and took a lock of my hair, then traced my jaw with his finger.  My face flinched, but I fought not to move away.  Dominant behavior involved a lot of touching, and from the looks of things, Gudahi was Sanuye’s second in command.  That meant denying him this small contact could be misinterpreted.

…This was all conjecture, of course.  I only had one night’s worth of observation to go off of.  Perhaps there was a line that even dominant Lycans were not meant to cross, giving submissives certain rights?  I didn’t know.

“She’s pretty.  I’ll keep her,” Gudahi announced jovially.  He had a light accent, but his words flowed along more fluently than Sanuye’s.

Hakeem sounded weary, but like me, he kept his shoulders relaxed and his eyes from staring too long into the Lycan’s face.  “Please, Gudahi.  I just wanted to ask you for help in explaining our formations to Nyx.”

The man laughed.  “I can show her a few positions!”

I blushed deeper, and despite my best efforts, my shoulders hitched up half-an-inch.

Formations.” Hakeem corrected firmly.

The Lycan was unfazed.  “Well, when the little prince becomes a big prince, will he promise to leave his shimá for me?”

Hakeem only sighed heavily, his eyes rolling at his feet.

Gudahi laughed and rubbed the wizard’s head.  “Hmmm…I’m a patient hunter.  Very well.  I will do this thing for you, akis.  But I expect a reward!” He took my chin and lifted my gaze, then he winked at me.  “From the both of you!”

Now I wanted to roll my eyes.  This man wasn’t just a flirt…he was a whore.

He clapped his hands together.  “Okay!  First, Nyx, you must understand our purpose.  We are the ta’ia, or the first runners.  Our purpose is to scout ahead, then call to the other parties once we have found our mark.  We do this through a series of howls that tell the others how to position themselves.  Since the beast moves ceaselessly, our job is the hardest.  We have to attack without aid, just to keep the creature still long enough for help to arrive.”

I felt a chill go over my skin.  Somehow I knew it’d be something like this.

Gudahi squatted down and motioned for us to follow him.  We did so, and using his thumb, he began to draw things into the dirt. “Now, here is how our formation works…”

Some minutes passed as things were explained to me.  I was still nervous about it all, but with practice I had a feeling I’d learn it better.  But could we afford that tonight?  Would Sanuye get angry with me if I messed up?

A horn was blown, this one deeper and louder than the one used for the fight.  Gudahi stopped mid-sentence and looked up.  Sanuye was on her feet and approached us, a frown on her face.

“The hunt has begun,” she growled.  “We move now!”

Gudahi patted my shoulder, his eyes fixing onto mine before I turned my gaze downward.  “Now my pet, get into form as I showed you!”

I nodded, falling in behind the man as our group moved into the forest.  Other ta’ia‘s were moving out as well, though they were spread apart to cover more ground.  Our group began to fan out in a wide V-shaped formation, and I did my best to keep my position as I was shown.  Starting with me on the right, the order going left was Gudahi, Hakeem, Sanuye, and Makka.

As we moved out into the forest, the emerald light left us, and the shadows seemed to take us whole.  I stepped carefully over the uneven terrain, my eyes adjusting to the dark but my feet still unaccustomed to the lay of the land.  Now and again, I saw eyes peering at us from the branches, and wondered what aid the nymphs could provide here.  I’d never seen healthy nymphs before, my only experience being with those of the Kreut Forest.

The hunt was very quiet at first, and I recalled my hunt of the pretas, knowing that somehow this uneventfulness could not last.

Sanuye would call for our halt now and again, and like my Lycan companions, I crouched low and put nose to the wind, trying to pick up a scent that could belong to the dark beast.  I sensed nothing.

Soon minutes turned to hours.

I was getting tired from the lack of action.  My nap with Elmiryn was not nearly enough rest for me after all the time that had passed.  When one stopped to think on it, I had been awake nearly three days with hardly any rest.  It was astonishing what fear and adrenaline could do for you.

And it was fear that I felt, when I heard something padding over the ground at a quick pace.

I let out a low hiss, and Gudahi looked my way.  With a stiff nod from me, he turned and called to the others in his native tongue.  All paused and crouched low.  Again, the sound of movement came, closer this time, and I knew the others heard it.

“The beast…” I whispered fearfully.

Gudahi asked Sanuye something in Lycan, and she responded to him tersely in what seemed to be a negative.  The sound grew closer still.  I could make out claws cutting over wood and rock now.  I lifted my nose to the air and tried to catch a scent.  Something entered my senses…

…And my insides turned cold.

Sanuye growled low. “That scent–!”

“It’s familiar,” Gudahi said.  “It…it belongs to…”

Ahead of us, a dark shape appeared, and it charged for us.  It was the size of a very large dog, and its form loped over the earth with grace.

Sanuye bared her teeth and stood, brandishing her spear.  Makka already had his hands shifted to claws, his look fierce.  Hakeem held out his dagger, his body taking on a fighting stance.  Gudahi brandished his own spear as he stood to his feet.

I jumped in front of them all.  “No! Don’t!”

Hakeem stared at me.  “Nyx, what are you doing!?”

“Get out of the way!” Sanuye barked.

“No!  You don’t understand!  The scent is mine!” I screamed.

Everyone stared at me.  Gudahi’s spear tip slowly lowered.  “Artemis ika lena!  She speaks the truth!” his face was long with shock.

I heard the beast slide to a stop behind me, and with eyes closed, I slowly turned.  I breathed in deep through my nose, trying to calm my rambunctious heart.  History saw fit to repeat itself, as the confusion of my life had led me to forget my greatest obstacle yet again…

A dark voice spoke to me.  “Ah.  Nyx.  I could smell your fear from a long ways off.  I just had to come see.”

I opened my eyes and greeted my Twin, my voice reflecting her lack of warmth.


Continue ReadingChapter 28.2

Chapter 28.3


There She was before me, my sister, my animal counterpart…but this meeting wasn’t taking place in my head.  She was apart from me, like a separate being, only she was no more whole than I was.  Here we both were, just two broken pieces crumbling into ether as the sand trickled down the hourglass.  Lacertli had said that the Other Place would undo us.  How much more time did we have?

…And how could we possibly come together again?

The Beast was as a large black panther, but in her feline face there was a sort of sapien nuance that was not a little disturbing.  Her tawny eyes cut through the dark, holding anger.

I took to pacing, my Twin mirroring my tense movements with her head low and her tail lashing like a whip.

“My, my!  What seems to be the problem, sister?  I thought you’d be happy to see me?” The animal’s voice held false goodwill.  Her fleshy chops pulled back every time she spoke, revealing her fangs.  I was certain she didn’t have to bare her teeth at me, but chose to.

“A meeting with you outside my mind is liable to give me as bad a headache with you in my mind, so pardon me if I’m not doing cartwheels,” I snarled back.

“But why not rejoice?  After all, I’ve spent two weeks crawling around this hellish place, the least you could do is show relief that your better half yet lives!”

“I didn’t know you were here that long!  Don’t you think I would’ve wanted to find you sooner!?  You do know what will happen if one of us dies like this, don’t you?”

“A great and wondrous peace?  A happy ending?”

I clenched my fists.  “We are not whole as we are!  We’ll die!  Are you so blind that you cannot see that!?”

She roared at me, her hackles raising, her claws gouging into the dirt.  Behind me, I heard the others shift, and I turned to shout at them, “Don’t!”

“Blind, am I?” My Twin screamed–the sound blending into a roar.  “Tell me what misery awaits me while I sit, a happy shard, free of your burden!”

I chuckled darkly.  “And you don’t think I haven’t enjoyed your absence, you mindless creature?”

Suddenly, I was pushed roughly to the side, but pulled back by the front of my doublet.  Sanuye’s livid face pressed into mine.  “Ailuran, what is this!?” she bit out.

I grabbed her arm tightly, my teeth bared. “None of your affair!”

She let out a bestial snarl, lifting me off the ground with one hand.  My feet barely skimmed the dirt. “I say it is mine!” she pointed at my Twin. “Why can that beast speak?  Is she the one we hunt?  Are you in league with the monster!?”

I felt my blood turn hot and my eyes narrowed.  That alien part of me, that otherness I’d only felt once before, came clawing out of my mouth with a vengeance, “Child of Artemis, thou will remove thine hand, lest the darkness swallow thee in thine impertinence…”

I could feel the shadows around us…feel them deepen in hunger.  Sanuye looked down in confusion just as my feet touched the floor.  Hakeem whispered something and I heard one of the Lycan men let out something between a sputter and a snarl.  The woman looked back at me, fear in her eyes.

She had sunk knee deep into the shadows.

I could feel her shivering as her hand came away from my doublet and she fell back with a cry.  Scrambling, she pulled her legs free and scuttled back to Gudahi and Makka, who pulled her to her feet.  They were all staring at me now with wide eyes.

Hakeem stood apart from them, his gaze piercing as we briefly locked eyes.  Somehow, he didn’t seem as surprised.

My expression softened as I looked back at the Lycans.  “I wish no harm, Sanuye.  Only to protect thee from my own nightmares.”

Then I took a deep reflexive breath, feeling as though I’d been plunged into cold water.  My knees gave out and I fell to the earth, shivering and trying to regain control of my breathing.

“What things have you been up to while I’ve been gone…?” My Twin asked slowly, her voice full of wariness and resentment.  Her eyes searched my face, wide and penetrating.  Her features twitched in their shocked mask.

I clutched at the stitch in my chest, and glared at her through the curtain of my hair.  “I–hah–sh-should be asking that–hah–question!”

“Stupid bitch.  What trickery was that?  What new taint have you brought on us??”

“Shut up!  If anything is a taint, it’s you!

Her furry face bunched as she padded near me.  I could see her muscles rolling beneath the fur, her body like a line of dark intent over the earth.  She opened her mouth, about to say something when she paused, her brow bunching.  “You…” I saw her nose twitch and she leaned in closer, like I were some unpleasant thing to inspect.  “You…smell different.  Up close.  You…”  I could hear a growl enter her voice as she circled around me.  “She’s all over you!”

My head snapped up at that.


Her eyes held disgust.  “You expect me to return when–when you–”

“When I what?  Find someone who actually cares for me!?  That’s it, isn’t it?  You just want us to live our lives alone and hated!”  My hands dug into the earth like claws as I screamed, “I don’t have to answer to you!

She started for me, spitting from the back of her throat.  I flinched, pulling back, my heart beating.  Could I fight Her?  Was it even wise to, considering what it could result in?

“I see, then, I see!  So all that is yours is mine, then is it?  This new fancy of yours, might I share in the pleasures?”  Her voice was mocking, but in her eyes a light glinted…

My face drew up in disgust.  “What?  No!  Never!”

She snapped her jaws and snarled, saliva dripping from her fangs.  I had a horrible recall of the pretas and felt the blood drain from my face. “But I’m hungry!” she bit out.  “Hungry for that same acceptance, affection, and love that you so craved for!  Why am I to be denied this and given only the shame, the heartache, the pain–!?”  As she said this last thing, she lashed out at me with her paw, catching me along the face with her claws.

I screamed and reared back, my hands going to my cheek where the blood flowed between my fingers.

“Nyx!”  Hakeem came to my side, and I was surprised to see Gudahi there, his spear held out at my Twin in case she pressed the attack.

But my animal counterpart only sat on her haunches, her head bowed low, her tail whipping behind her.  “I would rather live in pieces, then suffer under the wholeness of your tyranny…I would rather…live in pieces…” she said quietly.  Her voice was thick with emotion–rage, resentment…but was there grief there, too?

My Twin raised her head, her eyes narrowed. “I only have one more question for you…what of your promise to me?”

Panting, I struggled to stand up with one hand, the other still clutching at my face.  “Promise?  What promise?

“A stupid…empty question…for a stupid…vapid creature like you…” The beast muttered, turning her head.  Cat language.  I was insignificant.  I was unimportant.  A worm.

I bared my teeth, indignation driving me to my feet faster than my companions could help me.  “Look at me!  What nonsense are you on about?”

“A name!” She screamed at me, still not turning her head.

My eyes widened, and I took a step back.  Oh no…

My Twin’s tail stilled behind her, and her nose dipped to the ground where she made as if to sniff the earth, but then she raised her head just enough to fix her gaze on me.  “You promised me…a name.  Yet you have nothing…so clearly, I am nothing to you.”  She moved to stand on all her paws.  “So is it not in keeping, that I should vanish?  Perhaps perish and make your perceived reality come true?”

I shook my head.  “Damn it!  Damn you!  You’re blaming me for things beyond my control!  I didn’t want you hurt or lost!  It isn’t my fault this dimension has a warped sense of time, or that it separated us to begin with!”

“But it’s for selfish reasons that you wish the things that you do!  I am nothing to you!  Nothing!  You have changed Us.  You have allowed another to touch you, without so much as a thought to me!  How I may feel!  And what of your new nature?  Something is in you, sister, and I’d not have that darkness on me, not after freeing myself from–”

A deep and echoing sound struck through the forest, stirring the trees and sleepy wildlife.  It was filled with rage, but was unlike any animal I’ve ever heard.  It was an almost slimy, wet sound, contrasted with a harsh metal ring that spoke of weapons striking.  Under it all was a deep bass, tying it together.  All froze, eyes wide as we looked around at each other and for the source of the disturbance.

My Twin started to back away.  Even in her furry face, I could see the terror there.  “The beast…the beast, it strikes!” she panted.

I looked at her.  “Do you know of it?  Tell us, what is it!”

She stepped forward, then backward again, her eyes flashing up to us with something akin to appeal.  “Nyx–the dark things, they never truly leave us.  You ask for unity, but you know not of what you ask–!”

A streak of hysteria cut through me.  “What do you mean!?”

The great feline gave a shake of her head. “I cannot!  I cannot!” and she turned and fled, dirt and brush kicked up by her powerful claws.

I gave a shout and started after her.  “Wait!  Wait!

But I didn’t run far.  It was clear there was no way I could catch her.  She was too far away now for me to get a fix on her shadow, and in all the dark, it would’ve been hard to pick out anyway.  I watched her go until she was lost in the ink of our surroundings.

Another great call came, and soon following it were a short series of howls.

“Someone has made contact…” Hakeem breathed.

Sanuye barked something in Lycan, then her eyes fixed on me, as if daring me to show insubordination.  They needed every man to help, and if I refused to do so, it would likely be seen as being sympathetic with the beast.  Despite my show of power, this proud clan could not stomach such a sentiment, especially considering what they had already lost.  Would they all fight me to the death?

…But I had made Sanuye behave submissive around me.  She had retreated from me, on the ground, her belly up, clearly showing fear.  So…perhaps her stare was more of a question than a dare.  If I wished, I could probably do as Elmiryn did, and take a firm place in the village as someone deserving of respect.  Did I want the position?

I’d read somewhere that inciting a power struggle during a time of crisis was the act of fools.  At any rate, I was no leader.  While I had a sneaking suspicion that Sanuye hated the role herself, she was a lot better at it than I was.  All I had was a sliver of heavenly power, and I hardly knew the full extent of my abilities.

What had I been possessed by when I made Sanuye seek into the shadows?  A spirit?  Another personality?  Some remnant of Lacertli’s spirit?

Sweet Aelurus, as if my head wasn’t crowded enough!

Not even needing time to make my decision, I slouched my shoulders and lowered my gaze.  I was certain the matter wasn’t done with, but there were more important things needing our attention.

Sanuye didn’t even pause to revel in my submission.  “Get in formation!  We go to our brothers!” She barked.


Quincy came into the hut, her eyes adjusting to the low candle light.  She saw Eidan hunched over Elmiryn, his weathered face more lined than usual.  His younger attendant brushed back his long white hair and turned his smooth face toward Quincy.  The woman didn’t know his name, but knew he made his rounds around the village while Eidan kept his work near his tools and supplies.

“Quincy, bring the vial with the red stopper,” he said, his bushy brows knitted together.  Eidan didn’t even look up at her.

She went to the table holding all the serums and herbs.  At first she couldn’t find the vial right away, but then, hidden amidst a tall set of bottles filled with green potion, she saw it.  She plucked it up and stared at what swished inside.  The vial held a small amount of yellow liquid.

Pursing her lips, Quincy brought it to them, and Eidan took it from her without a word.

“What’s wrong with her?” The woman asked.

She pulled up a stool and sat on the other side of the bed, her eyes flickering between Eidan and the white-haired attendant.  Neither looked at her as they unstopped the vial and poured the contents into a bowl.  Eidan sprinkled a brown substance into it, murmuring in his Lycan tongue.

Finally, the attendant fastened his gray eyes on the wizard’s.  “Mortality.” He lacked an accent.

Quincy’s eyebrows rose high at this.  “Pardon?”

“Mortality.  Her heart, it struggles because of it.”

The woman’s face grew somber.  “She tried to defy Artemis.”

“Halian only suffered from the goddess’s intervention, and see how he fares.”  The man pointed over the woman’s shoulder.  She looked and saw Halian halfway down the row of cots, his naked back to her and his body shivering and twitching.  Sweat made his body paint run into the sheets.  Quincy looked back at the man.  “What could happen to Elmiryn, then?”

“Death or permanent paralysis.  She’s lucky she didn’t die outright.  Her spirit is a willful thing.”

Eidan lifted her head and held the bowl to Elmiryn’s lips, forcing her to drink.  Some of it dribbled out, but most of it went in.

Quincy frowned.  “And what is she being given?”

“A mixture,” the attendant answered distractedly.

“Of what?”

“Ginger, crushed periwinkle, and viper venom.”


“Hol’ her.”  Eidan ordered.

The attendant stood and took hold of Elmiryn’s ankles.  Quincy, still bewildered, took hold of the woman’s arms.  Eidan held her head, his rough thumb brushing her cheek.  “She will wake.  Wun be pretty.  Ge’ready.”

Minutes passed.  Elmiryn’s face twitched, sweat beading on her skin.  Then, without warning, she gasped, her body spasming on the table.  Her struggles became more and more violent.  Quincy grit her teeth as she fought to keep the warrior’s arms still.  Eidan stood and leaned over the woman, his elbows pinning down her shoulders as he continued to grip her head.  The attendant grunted, his teeth bared as the wizard saw his forearms cord from the effort of keeping the woman’s legs still.

Elmiryn wheezed, her eyes snapping open deliriously.

“Elmiryn–!” Quincy shouted, but she stopped there, because it hit her that the warrior was lost in some sort of hallucination.  Was it the venom?  Was it her ailment?

The redhead gnashed her teeth, her eyes seeing through the hut ceiling.  “Nngh!  Raaagh, hah…no…shuzz…no…noooo…myne…MYne!”  Spittle flew from her mouth as she continued to gargle and slur.  Quincy was aware that the left side of the woman’s face seemed slack, whilst her right side seemed quite normal.  It was in her limbs too.  The left did not pose as much of a fight as the right did.

Would she really be crippled?

Is this what becomes of a person who fights against the gods?  Quincy thought, horror a creeping emotion that came up her chest and chilled the sweat on her skin.

After a time, the warrior’s struggles grew feebler.  Eidan spared a moment to reach down and hold up another, smaller bowl than the first.  He forced the contents of this down Elmiryn’s throat, and this time more of it dribbled out then went in.  Quincy could see it was the green potion she had spied earlier.

They held her for a while longer, and with time they saw Elmiryn’s eyes rolling into her head.  Her struggles quieted, then ceased entirely.  Eidan released her, and Quincy and the attendant did the same.

“The venom…will it harm her?” the brunette asked quietly.

Eidan finally looked at her.  “If she suh-vive wrath o’ goddess, than venom no worry t’her.”  With that, he stood and went outside.

Quincy watched him go, and the attendant sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.  He looked at the woman sidelong.  “I am Merid.  Eidan is my father.  He…” the man smiled sheepishly, and lots of lines appeared about his eyes revealing the age his smooth face kept hidden.  “He isn’t given to nonsense.”

The woman screwed up her mouth and crossed her arms. “So I’ve seen.”

Merid nodded at Elmiryn.  “My father has only seen this twice before.  Most who deny the gods have their hearts explode in their chests upon the first denial.  To survive in defiance of heaven is the mark of someone…otherworldy.

“What others have done this?”

“A young boy–stupid and arrogant.  He thought the world didn’t need the gods.  He thought he could live free of their will and be his own man.  Upon the first declaration of this feeling, he died outright.  Then there was the Legend, Kati.  He was once Artemis’s champion.  He…was my father’s great grandfather.”

Quincy’s eyebrows rose.  “And what became of him?”

“He survived…but ceased to be a champion.  He left our village in exile and shame.”

“But isn’t it a sign of someone strong to be able to live through such an ordeal?”

Merid scowled.  “Just because one is strong does not mean he is entitled to everything.  Many of our leaders could be beat through brute strength alone.  It is the mind and spirit we cherish, and the body comes after that.”

Quincy held up her hands.  “I didn’t mean offense.”

The man stared at her long and hard for a moment, before he smiled gently.  “No.  I suppose not.”  He thumbed over his shoulder.  “My father goes to gather more supplies.  Would you help him?  I’ll stay and watch your friend.”

“What’ll happen to her now?  What can we expect?”

Merid shrugged, his gray eyes turned down.  “There’s no telling.  Kati was a champion, and walked away fine.  But your friend?  I cannot say for certain whether or not she will come out of this whole.”

Quincy nodded, her grim expression returning.  With one last look at Elmiryn, she followed Eidan outside.

Stupid Fiamman…why couldn’t you just keep your big fat mouth shut for once!?


I had some practice running quickly through wooded areas, but I was unfamiliar with the lay of this land, and even in my low-light vision, details did not come readily enough for me to keep from stumbling now and again.  I only just managed to keep up with the others.  Hakeem, even in his young state, was remarkably fast.

My guess is that we ran for a quarter of a mile before the sounds of screaming and horror reached us.  Even before we came upon the break in the trees, I knew that we had come too late.

Before us, trees had been felled, the earth churned as the roots had been torn out.  Nymphs in the trees wailed at the sight of their fallen brethren.  Those on the ground stared numbly at their destroyed homes, their faces pale as their life force slowly dissipated from them in a rise of small glowing emerald orbs.

Blood sprayed everything.  The color was dark in the night, but its nature was unmistakable.  Mangled bodies were strewn about the destruction, deathly pieces that screamed and gurgled up at the sky.  I counted five people total, one of which was torn in half, his entrails trailing from his mangled torso.  I wasn’t sure if there were more, if the beast had stolen them away into the night to feast in private.  There certainly was a crowd gathering of those who had answered the call.  Many broke off to pursue the monster.  Many more remained still.

The sight of the gore…the mayhem…the wailing Lycans…

My knees grew weak and I leaned on a tree for support, breathing harshly through my nose.  Big mistake.  The blood, the rancid taint of the beast–like rotten flesh and old bile–filled my senses.  A wave of nausea surged through me, and I covered my mouth, trying to find that steeliness that Lacertli would no doubt demand of me.

My eyes clouded as I wretched over the ferns.

The earth beneath my feet was nothing but mud and blood.  It seeped through my toes, staining my skin.  I could see the maggots squirming around me.  I felt numbed, time and space compressing into a thick fold that echoed with the muffled screams of the soldiers.  Tears streamed down my cold face, my breath just a phantom that took my spirit with every exhale.  Around me lay bodies, hacked and bloodied.  Only the Fiammans screamed, clutching at bloody stumps and open wounds.  The felled Ailurans were all dead, heads cut off, hearts blown away, or spines severed.  I peered into these faces anxiously, trying to see if Thaddeus were among their number.

The numbness ebbed as panic began to set in.

“Koen!” I screamed, not thinking clear enough to realize that perhaps a proper name would have been more effective.  For me, Thaddeus was Koen, nothing more. “Koen, where are you!?”

I cried out as I tripped and fell, my eyes fastening onto the face of a dying Fiamman.  He bared bloody teeth at me, his eyes holding a delirious rage.  He reached for me with clawing hands, and I scrambled away, only to find a rough pair of hands drag me up.

Thaddeus glared down at me, his face pulled long in shock and his brow knitted.  “Gods!  Koah what are you doing here!?”

I was a stuttering mess.  “Ko-Koen!  I–I–I wanted, wanted–” I broke off, sobbing.  Why had I come?  Because I hated saying goodbye to Thaddeus every year?  Because I was tired of caring for our family alone?  Because Killen had dared me to?  “I don’t know!” I wailed, clutching at him.  “I just want to go home!”

The battle was winding down.  The Fiammans were calling for a retreat.  The cannon blasts ceased, and there were fresh screams as those who tried to fall back were cut down.  There was no cheer from the Ailurans left standing.  Thaddeus held me, his face contorted in anger–for me being there, for me seeing it all–and his hands clutched at me as I did to him.  Desperate.  Trying to find some sort of solace.  

But there was none.

“Koah, I’ll take you home.”

I had been eleven years old when I saw my first battlefield.  The memory always haunted me.  I knew better than perhaps anyone in my village what kind of ‘glory’ the children of Aelurus were finding in the war.  In another three years, I lost Thaddeus to that horror.  I vowed to keep Atalo from such a fate, only to find that…

…The dark things, they never truly leave us.

My eyes widened and my stomach stabbed with pain as my anxiety reached a new height.  The Twin’s voice faded from my head, but the truth of her words felt taunting somehow.  What did it have to do with everything I was seeing now?

Hakeem came at my side and laid a hand on my arm.  I glanced at him sharply and he pulled back, his gaze on the dark scene before us.

“The hunt is done for tonight,” he said somberly.  “The others have gone in the hopes of finding the beast again, but the chances of that are slim.  It is only discovered when it wishes to be, and now that it has its daily prize, it will not be coaxed from hiding.”

I frowned a little at him.  Upon meeting Hakeem, I found that he could be incredibly stoic.  Then, I thought he was a cold man with only an interest in profit.  Looking at him now, I saw…a warmth in his gaze.  He felt connected to these Lycans.  But more than that, right there and then, I saw his boundaries slip away long enough to recognize a familiar feeling.


I swallowed and swiped at my eyes, feeling a hollow pride at having kept my tears in check.  “Are we going back?”

He nodded, his dark gaze returning to me.  “I don’t think I have to tell you to step lightly around Sanuye.”

I chuckled darkly.  “I will step lightly, while she will stomp heavily…onto me.”

“You really ought to give them more credit,” Hakeem admonished.

“Like the credit they give me?”

The wizard shrugged, walking away.  “Your shadow reflects your position.  Change your stance, and the shadow will shift.”

I stared after him as he made his way back to our party.  Sanuye was talking with Gudahi and Makka.  Her eyes flickered my way, and she motioned for me to join them.  Other parties had taken up the task of helping the nymphs and retrieving the bodies.  The rest began the return home.

Through sheer will, I managed to look on the scene once more.  Hakeem talked of shifting shadows.

…But could you have shadows in utter darkness?

Continue ReadingChapter 28.3

Chapter 29.1


She sat in her center and looked up through the surface, the wavering light like the sunlit crests of the ocean.  The shadows danced about her features, shifting her, and she, combating to shift them.  She knew herself to be whole, but just, and knew herself to be alive, but just.  She tried to think of how she’d gotten there, and felt a pain sweep over her, both sickening and freeing at the same time.  She decided big steps were not for little toddlers, and left well enough alone.

Above her was a glowing white box where she saw a woman with thick frame glasses and skin that changed colors (–red, blue, green–) staring blankly at her.  Around her tumbled little sparrows and black kittens, their bodies moving slowly, dreamlike, as if time had been drugged and they were falling horizontally through the world.  Far down below where she hovered, lay Nyx, naked.  The Ailuran’s hair was longer, her eyes shut, her body shifting as though she were floating along a gentle current.  She was a beautiful lure that Elmiryn would have very much like to have bitten into, but first she had to find a way to make the shadows stop pushing her around.

Soon came the music, and she felt indifferent to it.

Well THAT went well.

I suppose I cannot blame you.

Part of your attitude is what made me

Choose you as a toy to begin with.

…But really.

Couldn’t we have thought up a smarter plan

Than antagonizing the Goddess of the HUNT?

She blinked.

Did I do that?


Yes, my little lummox.

Yes you did.

What’ll happen now?

Oh believe me.  

You’ll see soon enough.

Why can’t you give me

A straight answer?

Why can’t you ask a crooked question?


Since you’re fucking here,

Can you tell that person

Staring through her little box

To go away?

And I suppose the floating animals

Aren’t enough to raise your choler?


Look, if you won’t help me,

Then I’ll figure something out myself.


Quick tip.

You aren’t entirely hallucinating.

So take care in what you do.


Um…good to know?


As was usually the case, Meznik was gone, and so were his insights.  Grumbling, the woman returned her efforts to the shadows.  She’d never see the true depths of the situations around her she decided, because behind everyone and everything was a mystery of being–a symbology too complex to pick apart, even if afforded all the days in existence to do so.  So she wanted her environment to be hers, and her life to be hers, and her desires to be hers.  Because in knowing, there was control, and from there simplicity could be created.

So when the darkness stilled and the light ceased to dance, Elmiryn smiled and turned her gaze to the dark haired beauty that lay in wait for her.

Nyx’s complexity was underlined by her simplicity.  Sorrow rooted through her life, but a sincere desire for redemption was there, even if the girl hadn’t seen it right away.  It made it easy to build a bridge of contact–to make something that was purely theirs.  None could trespass unless they chose it, but that didn’t stop that knot of tension in Elmiryn’s shoulders at the thought of foreign hands, and worse, foreign hearts, taking what she had helped to create.

The warrior descended through the space, existent only by its purpose of separation.  Above the white box did not move, nor did the slow falling animals.  It almost felt as though Nyx were the one who came up, rather than the woman going down, but she knew this was not the case.  Her intent had pulled her to the girl, and the existence of separation vanished.  Things were not entirely relative here.

Elmiryn stopped when the girl’s body was at her waist, and leaned forward, her hand reaching up to trail a finger along Nyx’s cheekbone.  Her breath slipped through parted lips as her cerulean gaze fastened onto the Ailuran’s face.  “You aren’t really here…are you?” she asked quietly.  “What a rotten deal.  I don’t know how I got here, but I do know that you aren’t with me.  Isn’t it funny how the truth treats us?”

The woman’s smiled wryly and she turned away, her legs tucking up under her as she assumed a sitting position next to the girl.

“The last thing I remember was Halian charging at me as a wolfman.  I can’t even remember if I won or lost that fight.” She shrugged.  “It doesn’t matter.  If I’m here, then that meant something went wrong, and I’m the one who caused it.  I must’ve been out of it if I pushed a confrontation with Artemis.  Or maybe I had no choice?”  Her eyes turned back to Nyx.  They were filled with apology.  “Och oeni.  I keep biting off more than I can chew.  I think I’m just too used to getting a pass on things.  Does that have to do with luck?  I’ll have to ask Tristi next time, assuming I don’t want to knock the guy’s head off.  I doubt that’ll do my fortune any favors…” the warrior allowed for a dry chuckle at the thought.

After a moment’s thought, she pulled Nyx into her arms, and let her right hand trace the lizard-shaped mark on her friend’s breast before moving down the valley of her chest to the soft of her belly.  There she laced her hands together and rocked back, the girl’s legs gently knocking into hers as they slowly cartwheeled through the free space.  Elmiryn nuzzled past the Nyx’s long locks to kiss her neck, her tongue moving to taste the girl’s skin.

In this place, the warrior’s body did not react in the usual way, but her mind still blossomed with the warm desire she was so familiar with.

“Damn it, kitten, I need you here,” the woman whispered, her lungs filling with the earthy, musky scent that haunted her memories.  “Or maybe I need to be there?  Gods, my life could use with simplification…”

She trailed a finger along the inside of Nyx’s thigh, then pulled back enough to brush aside the girl’s long hair and kiss the nape of her neck.

Elmiryn rested her forehead there.  “Look at me!  I’m given a moment of freedom from all the bullshit, and all I can do is cry and whine and fondle a doll…”

Then Elmiryn froze.  “A moment of freedom?”  An excited smile spread her lips. “Shit, that’s right!”  She released Nyx and drifted free.  She brushed aside a chubby black cat that was moving toward her face, her eyes hungrily taking in her void surroundings.  The kitten bumped into a young sparrow and they both let out drawn out squeaks of surprise.  The woman ignored them.  “This place is mine!”

She turned to the Nyx doll, who drifted along just as she’d been left.  “It could be ours!

Elmiryn looked up and shielded her eyes from the glare of the white box above her, the strange woman still peering at her.  “Only, I dunno how to get rid of that fixture.” She looked around.  “In fact…this whole place could use with redecorating.  Too bad mother isn’t here.  She’s better at that sort of thing than I am.  Oh sure, I can tell you the difference between an Akhsan rug from a low end doormat, but you try sticking your enemy’s gut with that knowledge?  Even then, I doubt I could tell the difference from a really good copy cat.  Yep…appraisal just wasn’t for me.”  She held up a finger.  “But!  Ask me the difference between a halbred forged by dwarves and one forged by elves, and we start to get somewhere!  Halward’s tits, if I could just master all the basic elements, I bet I could make things from scratch!”

Elmiryn glanced at the Nyx doll, then did a double take.  “What?” she said, slowly frowning.  “This is the Other Place!  There’s plenty of chaotic pockets to go around!  I can make a little island for us, can’t I?”  The woman stared at the doll for a few moments, then turned her eyes downward, her foot scuffing the imaginary ground.  “Aww…even when you aren’t really doing it, you’re giving me a proverbial knock on my conscience.”

The woman let out a long sigh as she lay next to the imaginary Nyx.  She turned her head to face the girl and whispered.  “Hey.  Do you think…you’d want to come?  If I lived out of the boundaries, would you go with me?”

Moments stretched by.  A cat tail tickled her ear.

Elmiryn’s brow tightened, and she rolled away, propping herself up onto her elbow.  “No.  Never mind.  Don’t answer that.”  She shook her head emphatically.  “I–” she broke off, and felt the hollow ring of silence press in on her.

What were the others doing?  Did they find the beast yet?

…How was Nyx?  How did she look?  Who was she with?

Elmiryn licked her lips and swiped at her nose, her eyes flickering up to the white box and the stranger that peered down into her thoughts.  She glared up at the voyeur, feeling almost defiant.  She rolled back over, and with a brief look at the Nyx doll’s face, she leaned down and pressed her lip’s to the girl’s in a kiss.

“I’ll be here when you become real…” Elmiryn whispered, before drifting away.

It was about this time that the shadows started to push her again.


To say that I was tired would have been an understatement.  I was dead on my feet.

The way to the village was lost in fog as I felt my muscles moving of their own accord toward the emerald light breaking through the forest of trees.  The roots of the dark willows and rigid poplars were swallowed by the hungry jaws of the briar bushes and wild ferns.  Mournful wolf calls signaled through the night that the nightly blood-work was done.  Lycan scouts.  I could see their low forms slinking through the underbrush, their eyes glowing in the darkness.  Their heraldry marked our arrival, and carried our defeat through the air, pressing our shoulders and heads down as we came into the village proper.

None cheered as we came.  Even without the forward call, the villagers could see it in our faces.  The beast had killed and had escaped again.  The grief that I saw in the eyes of the families rendered my heart.  They were afraid.  Afraid their loved ones were among the dead.  I knew that look well from my own war ravaged people.

In my naturally guilty state, I wondered…could I have done something to stop this?  Did I hold my party back because of my argument with my Twin?  I was a champion.  Wasn’t I supposed to be helping these people?

My head sunk lower and I could meet no more gazes.

I made to part with the others but felt a hand grab my upper arm and begin to direct me to a more secluded spot, near the line of the trees.  Behind the shadow of huts, I looked into the person’s face and saw it was Sanuye.

“Tonight you showed me great disrespect when I honored you with my trust, tkelechog!” She growled as she pushed me up against a fir tree.  “No hunting parties would have taken you, and now I see maybe I was a fool to think different!  I should kill you for the trouble you caused!”  Her fingers felt more like claws as they dug into my skin.  I swallowed and closed my eyes.

After a long agonizing moment, Sanuye let me go.  She spoke over me, her voice filled with reproach.  “If you wish to run in my group, then you must be plain.  No secrets.  No lies.  You must speak, Ailuran.  What was that talking beast?”

I shook my head emphatically.  “It’s too hard to explain!  You won’t believe me!”

“I said speak.  What devil was that in the forest?”

I swallowed.  Sweet Aelurus, this was not a conversation I’d envisioned myself having with a Lycan!  “It…she…is my animal counterpart.”

“Keh!  I said be plain!  That makes no sense!”

“Didn’t I just say it’s hard to explain!?” I snapped, opening my eyes to fasten her with a glare before I quickly looked away.

I swallowed, eyes on the ground.  “That animal is a part of my soul.  She is the beast inside me, the thing I become when I shift under the full moon.  I am not in the same dimension as you are.  This place that I have come to divides things, and it has divided my soul into two.  Even before that, we have always been divergent—apart, I mean.  The animal is my other half, but is more like a twin sister, one that just so happens to live in my head.  If she dies…I…I perish as well.  It goes both ways.”

“And that meeting out in the forest.  That was the first you saw of her?” She asked.

I winced, and wadded my doublet in my hands.  “Y-Yes.  That was the first time since I’ve come to this dimension that I’ve seen Her.”

“Back there.  You spoke as the Old Ones did.  What…are you?”  Sanuye’s voice tensed here, and I realized that light growl in her words didn’t necessarily mean just aggression.  She was anxious.

This made it a little easier for me to speak.  I swallowed and tried to draw myself up.  “I-I’m a pr…a p-proclaimer.”

“A what?”  The woman’s eyes narrowed at me.

“I…am the champion of Lacertli, g-god of natural order.”

Sanuye let go of me suddenly, a new look in her eye.  It was not fear alone, but something mixed with it.  “The Dreamwalker…?” she breathed.

I brightened.  “You know of him?”

“I pay tribute to him daily!”

I was surprised by this.  “I didn’t know Lycans worshipped Lacertli!”

The woman snorted, shaking her head with a wry curl of her lip.  “They do not.  But I do.  He is a mystery to us.  But I hear he is the god of natural order.  So I said, what harm in praying to him then?”  She narrowed her eyes at me.  “Still.  That you should come into my party seems odd.”

A shaky smile spread my lips.  “I know a person who would say it was more an act of Fortuna.”

“You think this fortunate?” The hardness in Sanuye’s voice made me wince.

“I’m only saying…never mind.”

The woman crossed her arms high on her chest, her look appraising.  “You say you are Lacertli’s champion?  Then he must have marked you!  Let me see!”

I pursed my lips but undid my doublet, pulling at the cloth to better show the lizard mark over my left breast.  Sanuye inhaled sharply at the sight of it, then whispered something in her native tongue.  She looked back at me.  “I answer first to Artemis, but should Lacertli’s will be known, than my spear will see it done!”

I shook my head.  “You’re already pursuing that, I’m sure!”

She frowned at my choice of words.  “The Dreamwalker does not speak to you?”

“He…uh…no.  It’s been a short time since I’ve heard from him.  But I know what he’d want, and that’s Harmony.  The dark beast destroys this.  I want as your people do, to end the suffering and to restore order!”

Sanuye looked me in the face, and I looked away, down at my shoes.  She growled and grabbed my chin, forcing my eyes back to her.  “Ailuran, you are not of us.  You have powers beyond all here!  Why do you yield to me?”

I gave her a weak smile.  “Because that is the way I choose.”

The woman’s brow tightened a bit more before easing completely.  She gave a small, incredulous laugh.  “Than perhaps you are the greater of us all!”

I winced, but kept my smile.  I realized that Sanuye, for the first time since I’d met her, wasn’t frowning.  The small smile on her face did not quite reach the eyes, the luster there glazed by exhaustion and defeat, but I expected very little in the way of gaiety by the Lycans that night, and so took what comfort I could in the knowledge that I had perhaps made a new ally worth keeping.

Sanuye patted me on the back and gestured toward the village trail.  “Come.  As the beast can’t be slain without the sword, so the nightmares can’t be vanquished without the sleep to greet it!”

Frowning at the dark image, we returned to the open where I saw Hakeem waiting with Gudahi through the stream of weary warriors returning home.

“Nyx!” the young wizard called.

Sanuye gave me a small nod before going her way, and I watched her leave, her gait brisk but her shoulders not as tense as before.  I looked back toward Hakeem and moved to greet him, shying through the stream of people.  Why did Lycans have to be so tall?

When I reached the other side, I exhaled in relief. “Hullo,” I said.  I started to feel a light tickle around my champion’s mark.  Though it felt strange, I ignored it.

The wizard smiled gently at me.  “Gudahi here has one of the biggest huts in the village, and he’s willing to share it with me and Quincy.  You and Elmiryn can stay at the hut I’ve been using from now on.”

“And Sedwick?” Upon remembering the elemental, I turned my head in an attempt to spot him.  Surely he would have stood out, but I saw no sign of him.

The ticklish feeling moved down my chest to my abdomen where a warmth blossomed up my sides.  Frowning, I rubbed these places.

Hakeem didn’t notice my discomfort.  “As I understand it, he has no interest in sleeping in one of the huts.  I don’t even think that elementals require sleep.”

I blinked and stared, hands still rubbing.  “Oh.”

Gudahi reached out and brushed my uneven bangs aside.  “Nyx, you are a very odd girl!  A little scary, but with such an air of misplacement!” he grinned.  “I like this!  I’ve not seen Sanuye so taken aback since I was a pup!”

I blushed and opened my mouth, ready to politely ask that the event be forgotten, when a sudden feeling of vertigo hit me.  I swooned, swaying back a step before teetering forward into the wizard and the Lycan.  They caught me–or rather, Gudahi did.


“What’s wrong, pet?”

My eyes batted and I struggled to right myself.  “I…sorry.  I don’t know what–what happened there.”  A sense of movement seized me, and my legs grew weak, making the vertigo return once more.  Gudahi grabbed me about the shoulders and held me up, and I couldn’t help but grab onto him.

“I think you should see Eidan,” the man said firmly, all humor gone from his voice.  “You look feverish!”

“I’m fine!” I insisted, feeling irritated at my sudden weakness.  I let the man go, fending off his attempts to hold onto me, and though I swayed a bit, the vertigo was gone, and so was the strange feeling of motion.

Instead what came next was a warm, wet feeling at my neck.  My eyes widened and my hand slapped to that place.

Hakeem was giving me a real look of concern now.  “Nyx, you’re acting strangely!”

“I–I keep feeling things!”  I said, stricken.  “It’s like–”  I felt the feeling again at the nape of my neck and felt realization pull my guts to my soles.  “It’s…it’s like someone’s touching me.”

Hakeem and Gudahi continued to stare at me in confusion, but I was already moving away from them, up the village trail.  “I can’t explain!  I just–I’m alright!  Good night!” The words came out in a rush and I nearly fell onto my back side from tripping on a rock.

As I turned, I felt a light brush go up the inside of my thigh, and despite the strangeness of the situation, a knot appeared in the pit of my stomach as I became wet.

Panicked now, I ran the whole way to the medicine hut.

It didn’t even take me a minute to get there.  I burst through the curtain, nearly bowling over the tall white haired attendant I’d seen earlier.  I helped him to his feet, sputtering apologies, and he just looked at me bemusedly as he gathered his spilled herbs and left the hut.  Quincy was seated at the table of herbs and potions, and stared at me.

“Ailuran, are you daft!?” she snapped.

I ignored her and went straight for Elmiryn’s cot, where I saw her laying still and quiet.  Her skin was covered in a light sheen of sweat, her left eye was swollen shut, and her cut lip was swollen as well.  She still lacked shoes and a proper shirt, and I wondered savagely why no one had at least thought to cover her in a blanket.

Kneeling at the cot, I could feel a ghostly brush across my lips and sighed.  My eyes closed as I touched the woman’s arm, relief coming over me like a warm breeze.  My eyes opened again, my gaze lidded as I leaned down to whisper into the woman’s ear.

“Elle…I’m here.”

The woman stirred, but it was a faint reaction.  A slight shift of her right shoulder, a twitch of the face, but nothing more.  I frowned and pulled back.

“She needs time to recover,” Quincy said from behind me.

I jumped and looked at her.  I’d already forgotten she was there.  “Did Halian knock her out?” I asked.

“You mean Hakeem didn’t tell you?”

I frowned, feeling dread encroach upon my heart.  “Tell me what?”

The brunette rolled her eyes shut as she pinched the bridge of her nose. “Taika, tai’undu!

With a sigh, the wizard grabbed a stool and sat near me.  I tensed, turning to her fully.  “Wizard, what happened?

Quincy scratched at her head, then rubbed at her neck, the strands of her russet brown hair tussled from her fidgeting.  “Nyx…Elmiryn’s really stuck her foot in it this time.”  She let those words sink in, her azure eyes fixing on my face as she bit her lip.  She spread her hands, then laced them back together, the action speaking of a weary helplessness.  “Ba–sically…Elmiryn’s body started to quit on her when she tried to defy Artemis.”

My voice was hollow when I spoke.  “What do you mean ‘quit’ on her?  And why would she try to defy Artemis!?”

“I don’t know why.  As for what ails her, Eidan says it was the heart.  If the heart ceases to work properly, even for a moment, then other things can go wrong…like in the brain.”  Quincy scratched at her brow with her pinky.  “Honestly, the idiot was lucky her heart didn’t just explode–”

“She isn’t an idiot!” I snapped angrily.  My eyes started to cloud and I looked back at Elmiryn, my hands gripping her arm perhaps a little too tightly.  “She knew there were consequences in defying the gods!  You saw how she backed off the first time we met Artemis!  Elmiryn isn’t the kind of person who takes delight in being outmatched.  The only reason she kept fighting Halian was because her pride preferred being beat down to backing out!  If she defied Artemis then…” My heart clenched and sweat broke out over my skin, but I let the words rush out of my mouth. “Then I’m sure she had justification!

Quincy hissed as she leaned in, looking around them nervously.  “Fool!  Do you want to end up like this too?”

I squeezed my eyes shut, the tears leaking out in big fat drops.  “I know Elmiryn makes mistakes, but I can’t believe that this didn’t happen without reason!”

“If she made poor choices, then she should have dealt with the consequences–especially if they would have let her live!  Now?  Even if she survives, I’m not sure what kind of life she’ll have!”

“How do you mean?”

“If she manages to wake, that’s just the first hurdle!  She could have brain damage, paralysis, severe amnesia…the list can go on!”

I wiped at my eyes and looked at the woman, my expression brightening.  “She’s there…”

Quincy gave me an odd look.  “Well of course she is.”

“No, I mean–she’s in there!  Conscious!”

“Ailuran, she’s completely out.  We gave her viper venom, and one of the side effects is coma.  We held a light to her eyes and they didn’t dilate–meaning she’s unresponsive.  There’s no telling when she’ll wake.”

I looked at her, incredulous. “Why did you give her venom!?”

The wizard glared at me.  “Keep.  Your.  Voice.  Down.”

I lowered my voice, but my words held no less bite.  “Quincy, why venom?

She gave me an impatient roll of the eyes.  “It’s a remedy the Lycan’s discovered for poor blood flow.  A small amount can help improve the flow of blood to the brain, which is what Elmiryn’s heart problem inevitably led to.  But my guess is that the alcohol in the woman’s blood didn’t take too well to the serum we administered and so–” she gestured at Elmiryn’s prone form.

I licked my lips and looked back at the woman.  “Then…then maybe she’s just not there.”


“Elmiryn.  She may not be in her body.”  I looked at the wizard, and she was still fixing me with a weird look.

“Ailuran, I’m not following.”

My brow twitched at being called an Ailuran again.  I was tempted to call Quincy ‘human’ just to be snide, but taking it from race to species felt far too low, and I did my best to ignore the peeve.

I took a breath and tried to explain my thoughts.  “The last time Elmiryn had an out-of-body experience, she was able to interact with the physical world.  She’s doing it again!”  I felt a ghostly touch over my chest and my nipples hardened, sending color into my face.  “Right now!”

“But with what?” Quincy asked skeptically.  “Last time she nearly caved in a giant chamber!  Nothing like that has–”

“Just take my word for it,” I bit out, turning my face away.  The ghostly touch was traveling lower.  If this kept up, I wasn’t going to be able to talk much.

I glanced back at Quincy.  “Make sure her body isn’t moved.  I’m going to try something.”

The wizard opened her mouth to respond, but I was already looking inward, time compressing tightly as I traversed the canyons of my mind to cross that familiar border between the Real World and the Somnium.  The world sighed over me.  Leaving the wilds of my mind, I returned to the scene at the medicine hut.

Quincy was on her feet, looking around wildly.  “Nyx!?”

Here, the Somnium revealed something interesting to me.  The wizard was not the thirty-something she looked to be…but younger.  She was closer to my age, her hair a little longer and her eyes holding a sort of quality that I’d once seen in Lethia.  I fished around my vocabulary, trying to pinpoint the trait.  Then the word hit me–

Naive.  The wizard looked naive.

Here Quincy did not look so guarded, so moody, so world-weary.  Her features seemed unburdened, her gaze was brighter, and her movements seemed less refined.

I would have been given to more staring if not for the white cut-out of Elmiryn’s body on the cot.  It was like a piece of art, where someone had simply come along and cut out the woman’s form, leaving a void space in her place.  Shivering, I peered down into it…

…And saw black kittens and tumbling sparrow chicks slowly falling through the air.  Bewildered, I reached a hand into the space and found that it went through.  Pulling my hand back, I bit my lip and spared a last look at the wizard.  With me gone, she had resumed sitting at the stool, now looking for all the world like an adolescent who’d been given an unfavorable chore from their mother.  The idea, strange as it was, made me giggle a bit.

Comforted by the fact that my way back was being dutifully watched, I sat on the edge of the void and slipped in one leg, then other.  With a deep breath, I pushed off and fell in

Continue ReadingChapter 29.1

Chapter 29.2

what if a dawn of a doom of a dream
bites this universe in two,
peels forever out of his grave
and sprinkles nowhere with me and you?

– Excerpt from e.e. cummings  “what if a much of a which of a wind”.


When strings of darkness bunched into a knot thicker than her worse hair tangle, the woman was about to throw her hands into the air (and was even upon the point of detaching them at the wrists) when she heard Nyx’s voice behind her.

Elmiryn shoulders hunched, her gut twisting as if she’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.  She looked over her shoulder, and sure enough, Nyx had sat up, her tawny eyes blinking.  She had a lock of her long dark hair between her fingers, her brow knitted as she wobbled in the void for a moment, like she were on an unsteady raft.  Her arms flashed out at her sides, a small cry slipping her lips before her body steadied.

“Oh!” the warrior said.  She grinned sheepishly just as she felt her hand firmly reattach itself, then turned and regarded the girl.  “I was beginning to think you’d just stay a doll!  So you came here through…the what?  The world’s dream?  It starts with an ‘s’, but I can’t remember the–”

“No clothes?” Nyx interjected, looking down at herself.

No hello.  The woman wondered if the girl were angry or just in shock.

Elmiryn chuckled and rubbed the back of her neck.  “I…guess not.”

Nyx looked at her just with her eyes. “You guess?” Her tone was dry.

The redhead flinched.  She started to lean toward “angry”.

She started to explain.  “Well I’m not in complete control of everything yet.  Things just sort of showed up and–” the woman broke off as she felt the shadows shift her definition.  She turned to them in irritation, shoving them back into place with her spirit.  Looking back at the girl, she said in a simple voice, “It’s–uh–a work in progress.”

“I see,” but judging by the expression on Nyx’s face, she was more confused than ever.  The girl wrinkled her nose at all the animals floating through the air, and asked, “Why kittens and sparrows?”

Elmiryn shrugged.  “Why not?”

Next, the Ailuran looked up, and she gave a start, a hand flying to her mouth.  “Sweet Aelurus, who’s that?


“Her, of course!” Nyx pointed up her expression drawn in incredulity.

Elmiryn looked, then sighed and placed her hands on her hips.  “Yee-ah…’bout that…I have no idea.  She won’t go away.  Or it won’t go away.  However you want to say it.”

Nyx ran a hand through her hair, giving her surroundings another sweep.  “Elmiryn, I don’t know if I’ve said this already, but this is really strange!” She sounded out of breath.

“No, you haven’t said it already, but yes, it is.”

Nyx blushed suddenly and hugged her legs to her chest.  “Were you…w-were you…touching me before?”

Elmiryn frowned.  “No.  I said I’d wait for you to become real.”


“Never mind.  I wasn’t touching you.”

“But…I felt you.”

“…Oh.  Well.  I was touching you earlier, but–”

“You mean your tongue wasn’t–” Nyx broke off, unable to continue.

Elmiryn gave her a confused look before her eyebrows rose and her mouth made a big circle.  “Ooooh.” The woman’s cheeks flushed and she stubbed a toe in the imaginary ground.  “Umm…sorry.  I was…thinking.  I didn’t actually do any of that.”  She kneaded her brow.  “Fuck.  I’m really sorry.”

The girl gazed at her for a moment before she offered a shy smile.  “It’s okay.  You didn’t know.”

“It didn’t cause you trouble, I hope?”

“Oh, no!  Thank goodness.  It happened after the hunt was over and I was able to hide my reactions.”

The woman smiled wolfishly.  “Reactions, huh?”

Nyx pouted at her.  “It isn’t funny!  I nearly had an…and in front of Quincy of all people!” The girl gave a shudder.

The woman giggled, greatly tickled by the mental image.  “I can see that how that can be awkward!”

“Hush!” Nyx chided, but she was smiling as she made to stand. “It was horrific!”

Elmiryn raised an eyebrow.  Within a moment, Nyx had become within arm’s reach when before she’d been yards away.  “My, but someone is wanting!” The woman teased.

The girl was startled by her sudden shift in space and stared behind her.  “I–but–I didn’t take a step!”

The warrior closed the space between them, a smirk on her lips.  “You’re right.  You didn’t have to.  I did.”

Nyx stared up into the woman’s eyes, the blush on her cheeks deepening.  “How does that work?” she breathed.

Elmiryn caressed her cheek, then brushed back a lock of hair from the girl’s forehead.  Touch did not work here, as she was not in her body, but the idea of being in contact with the girl flushed the woman with pleasure.  “Intent.  Intent moves things here.  Must’ve been why you felt my thoughts when I hadn’t been touching your doll.”

“Then don’t you have the intent to go back to your body?”

The warrior’s hand stilled against the girl’s cheek.  She pulled back.  “It hurts there.”

“But if you stay out of your body too long–”

“My body needs time to heal.” Elmiryn turned and walked away.  Walking was unnecessary to create space, but the action made her feel better.  She sat and gazed upward.  “Every time I try to connect with it, I feel pain.  Too much pain.  I’m…not like you, Nyx.  I’m not used to that kind of suffering.” The words came slowly, quietly.  But for all her whispering, she may as well have been shouting it.  The warrior pursed her lips and glared over her shoulder, as if daring the girl to say she needed to be stronger.

But Nyx just looked at her somberly, her hands clasped before her.  “I didn’t even think about that.”  She looked down at her feet.  “I’m sorry.  I was just thinking of myself.”  The girl’s hands tightened and she frowned.  “I just didn’t want to be away from you like this.”

Elmiryn chuckled.  “Away from me?” She twisted around fully to smile at the girl.  “Nyx, you just chased me into my own mindfuck.  I’d say that distance is not a problem.”

The girl smiled wryly.  “Especially given that all we need is a step.”

The warrior nodded, her smile softening.  “Just a step.”  She looked forward again, her stomach clenching as she wondered what Nyx’s next move would be.

“Can I tell you something?” Elmiryn said, to hide her anticipation.

“What?” Nyx still sounded far off.

The woman bit her thumb and looked up at the strange alien woman, whose skin flushed red, then royal blue, then electric yellow.  The shift in hues and tones were mesmerizing, and for a moment she forgot her ire toward the odd fixture.  “Back in Fiamma, they used to call me the Silken Warrior.  A stupid name, really…but they called me that because I never got more than a few scratches in battle.  People said I was hand chosen by Halward.  To them, it explained how a woman like me could serve in a man’s army.”  The woman snorted into a laugh.  “The kingdom has no laws preventing women from serving, but they were so rare that protocol demanded that every serving officer be referred to as ‘sir’.  It was really awkward when I made First Lieutenant because of the stupid honorific.  ‘Yes, sir.  No, sir.’  The first week after my promotion I had to fight my hardest to keep from laughing.  The looks on everyone’s faces when they abided that rule was more than enough to take the edge off my day!”

Elmiryn hugged her knee, her eyes misting in memories whose images had already become foggy and white-washed, but whose voices stayed bright and true.  “After a while, of course, everyone got used to it. Even me.  And then, after I came out of my fourth major battle unscathed, it became a given.  I could see the switch in people’s eyes…a small dose of awe mixed in with whatever other emotion you can imagine.  Jealousy.  Disgust.  Lust.  Admiration.  I don’t know who started calling me the Silken Warrior, but if I ever met them I’d have to fight not to kill them.  Really fight.”

“Why did you hate the name so much?” Nyx sounded a little closer.

Elmiryn shrugged.  “Because.  I didn’t know what real pain was.  I mean, sure.  I got hurt.  Bruises and sprains and all that.  But never a broken bone.  Never a lost limb.  Never so much as a gash.  After a while, it makes the fighting feel surreal.  Like you aren’t really there.  Like you’re…” she gave a huff.  “Like you’re a ghost.

The woman pressed her fingers into her eyes, stars tunneling behind her eyelids.  “I liked being a dragoon because we got the riskiest missions.  Leading the charge across enemy lines.  Attacking a heavily fortified garrison whilst outnumbered.  Hunting down an Ailuran leader through enemy lands.  We got it all, and I loved it because it gave me a chance to feel alive.  I got bored with anything else.  I was arrogant, thinking I was somehow invincible.  Halward never spoke to me, despite what everyone said, so I started to get it into my head that it wasn’t godly intervention, just my own fucking brilliance that saw me through.”

The woman dropped her hands, her eyelids stinging.  She spat and wiped at her mouth.  “I was a fool.”

“What happened…” Nyx asked quietly.  She was closer still.

Elmiryn smiled and shook her head.  “It wasn’t the gods that were protecting me.”  She looked over her shoulder to see Nyx was standing right behind her, her brow tight as she looked down at the woman.  The woman held the girl’s gaze for a moment before she said, “It was Meznik.”

Now Nyx’s face screwed up in that recognizable fashion of disgust before it quickly melted into confusion.  “Why would he do that?”

“I already told you.  He thinks I’m his toy.”

“Meznik isn’t a god.”

The woman laughed harshly.  “I know that.”

“But wouldn’t you have noticed something?”

Elmiryn turned away, her eyes sweeping over the sea of spiraling animals.  “Look around us,” she said.  She held out her hands.  “This isn’t a world.  Just theatrical backdrops still in need of painting for use in some dramatic play.  Like empty canvasses.  I can do what I want with them.  That’s why there’s no sky, no ground, no gravity, no true space.  Everything here is imagined.  Everything here is just shaped by intent.”  She looked back at Nyx.  “Remember when we first helped Nadi?  Meznik drove her insane not because he did anything to her, but because he shifted about her perception.  He changed her backdrops.  Who is to say he didn’t do the same to me?  To my enemies?”

The woman chuckled again and bit her knuckle.  She felt Nyx sit next to her, but did not shift.  The redhead had been afforded plenty of time to think about things.  The answers had come hard.  They had required her to pull away the trappings of mortal thinking, and though it was so alien, she found that such boundaries were much easier to slip by these days.

“He got mad at me,” Elmiryn breathed, her eyes narrowing.  “He got mad because I got arrogant and thought all my good fortune was my own doing.  It makes sense now, all the things he’s ever told me.  I could hear the limp in his ego every now and again, but I didn’t get it.  I thought he was just being evil and crazy.  But it makes sense doesn’t it?  Meznik’s done more for me than all the gods combined and–”

“He hasn’t done anything for you,” Nyx snarled.  She grabbed the woman’s hand, and Elmiryn looked at her sideways.

Nyx’s tawny eyes flashed as she spoke through her teeth.  “Elmiryn, please.  I know you’re frustrated with the gods, but Meznik is our enemy not our ally, not even our provisional ally!  He’s hurt and killed hundreds of people because of what he’s done, and it doesn’t matter that it was directly or indirectly!  He has to be stopped!”

“I know that…” Elmiryn breathed, still looking at the girl sideways.  “I never said I liked the guy, and I still fully intend on running him through…but I have to get close enough to kill him.  I have to play along.”

“Until when?” Nyx hissed.  “Until he’s telling you to kill your friends!?”

Elmiryn’s face tightened and she ripped her hand away from Nyx.  “Don’t.  You know I wouldn’t do that.”

The girl took a deep breath and closed her eyes, turning her head away.  “Elmiryn, you’re changing.”

“So are you.  It’s the nature of life to change.  If you’re static, you’re either dead or nonexistent.”

“No.  I mean–You’re starting to get horns.”

This made the woman pause.  “I’m…what?”

Nyx looked at her, her eyes dry but her face still shifting as if she were about to break down.  “I can see the seed that Meznik planted in you.  It’s grown and spread throughout you, and there are these…horns, like new branches, coming out of either side of your forehead.  Just at the hairline.”  The girl pointed out the spots weakly.

Elmiryn swallowed.  “That’s what you see?  Because of your–”

“Yes.  That’s what the Somnium shows me.  I don’t know if it’s literal.  Lacertli said the Somnium is the world’s dream, and therefor what we see is representative of the truth, but…” the girl’s voice trailed away.

The woman felt cold.  “I’m not human anymore,” she whispered.

“Elle, I don’t think the change is complete–”

“It doesn’t matter if it’s complete.  I’m not really human anymore.”


What!?” The woman shouted, glaring at Nyx.  The tenderness in the girl’s voice was going to drive her insane. “Don’t sugarcoat things, Nyx, gods damn it, I’m not fucking human anymore!  Just say it!  Don’t coddle me!  Say it!

When Nyx spoke, it was in a whisper.  “I don’t care what you are.  I don’t.  I really don’t.  I just…I care for you, and I want you…and I don’t want Meznik to destroy you.  Who you are.”

“What if who I am is something that can’t exist in the world of the gods?  What if who I am is cruel, mercurial, and demented?”

“If you can’t exist in the world of the gods, then we’ll find a world you can exist in.  And I know you aren’t cruel, mercurial, and demented…you’re just scared.”

“I’m not scared,” Elmiryn said automatically, her voice tight.

Nyx’s voice choked.  “Than I am for you!”

The redhead’s throat tightened and she turned to the girl, seeing the tears coursing down her face.  “Gods damn it, Nyx,” she hissed, before pulling the Ailuran to her in a tight hug.

“You cry too much,” the woman murmured into the girl’s hair.

“And you’re hardheaded,” the girl returned, her voice muffled by the woman’s shoulder.  She sniffled and wiped at her eyes.

“You defied Artemis, Elle.”

“I know.”


“I can’t remember.”

“Somehow, I’m not surprised…”

Elmiryn blinked the moisture from her eyes and swallowed the lump in her throat, her hand petting the girl’s head.  “Before…when you were talking about finding a new world…you said we.  Did you mean that?”

The girl smacked her lightly in the ribs.  “Cajeck!  Of course I did!”

Nyx lifted her eyes and the woman held her face, her lips quivering.  “I…” she shook her head slowly. “I don’t want to hurt you.  There are consequences beyond either of us can imagine right now, and I don’t want to hurt you, Nyx.”

The girl smiled and kissed Elmiryn’s wrist.  “I know you don’t.”

“I mean it, Nyx.  I’m…with everything that’s going on, it’s getting a little harder to keep it together, nice as my clarity is in the Other Place.  I’m fucking changing, and I don’t think it’s even true to say I’m half-human anymore.  I’ve already lashed out at you and the others.  More and more, I don’t feel like there’s an ounce of charity in me.  I just push things to the limit, all just so that I can feel something close to normal, and it never comes out nice for the people around me.  Ask my family.  Ask my old friends.  Ask Quincy and Sedwick for fuck’s sake!”

“I wouldn’t ask the wizard for directions to a pot of gold,” the girl snorted.

“Then just take my word for it!”

“Do you want me to leave you?” Nyx asked, her eyes flashing in worry.

Elmiryn shook her head slowly.  “No…”

“Then shut up.”


“Fuck you, Elmiryn.”

The woman blinked.

Nyx was glaring up at her.  “Don’t you think I know what it’s like to sit in a dark place and feel the despair creeping into you?  Don’t you think I understand?  When my family died, I wanted to kill myself.  I almost did, too.  But Marq, an old friend of mine, saved me.”  The girl smiled sardonically.  “You think you’re lashing out at us now?  You should have seen me with Marq!  I wanted nothing of his help, and told him, too, in no uncertain words.  He sacrificed himself for me.  He fought to keep me alive, and I didn’t understand why at the time, but in the end, he succeeded.  I decided to keep on living and to go East to find a new life.  That’s when I met you, Elle.”

Nyx traced the lizard mark on her breast.  “I know you dislike the gods.  Maybe it has to do with your fae nature.  Maybe it’s all to do with your experiences.  But my experiences with them led me to you, and I believe more and more that maybe this was all supposed to happen.  If there is a cure for what’s happening to you, Elle, we’ll find it.  And if not?  We’ll deal with it, then!  But I’m not going anywhere, and certainly not because you’re afraid of hurting me.  So just shut the hell up!”

Elmiryn’s eyes had slipped to half-mast as she listened to the girl’s small rant.  Nyx remained firm for about a minute before the tension in her brow softened and her lip started to pout.

“What?” she mumbled.

The warrior grinned and touched the girl’s nose.  “You’re starting to get a dirty mouth.”

The girl closed her eyes and shook her head.  “Take me serious!  I’ve made my decision, Elle.  Come what may, I’m there with you.”

“Okay.”  Elmiryn’s grin widened and she tried not  to laugh from the joy.  “Okay!”  The woman enveloped the girl in another hug, her hands roving the girl’s back.  Here, their usual barriers were absent, and Nyx made no sign of feeling discomfort.

As the woman’s hands lighted over the girl’s skin, she found that she didn’t feel deterred by her lack of feeling.  Somehow, it made her hungrier, her soul feeling hot as the shadows shivered and the light scorched, highlighting a single true fact–

Elmiryn couldn’t get enough of Nyx.

The girl’s eyes slipped shut, stealing away that warm gaze, and the woman exhaled in mild frustration.  Her hands buried into the girl’s hair, tilting her head back, and Elmiryn kissed her, softly, before tracing her tongue along the Ailuran’s bottom lip.  Nyx’s hands were on the woman’s hips and they tightened as she stood on her toes to better taste the woman with her own tongue.  The warm impetuous desire made Elmiryn sigh, and with a gentle suggestion, she guided the girl down and laid over her.  Her hands did not behave, but Nyx didn’t seem to mind…

The heated play went on for some time before Nyx pushed the woman back, panting. “Elle, I–gods damn it–I left Quincy back at the medicine hut!”

Elmiryn frowned, already disappointed by the interruption.  “So?”

“So she’s watching over your body so that I can go back!  I don’t much like the woman, but she’s helping to heal people, and with the Lycans returning from their hunt, well…” the girl trailed off with a pout.

The warrior rolled over to sit next to the girl, and Nyx sat up, her face red.

The girl made as if to move, but paused, a look of befuddlement on her face.

“What is it?” the woman asked, leaning back onto her hands.

Nyx glanced at her.  “Elle…I sensed you were touching me, but I didn’t feel you.  Does that make sense?”

The woman nodded, a lazy grin on her face.  “Yes.  You may have come here, body and whole, but I’m just here in spirit.” Elmiryn chuckled.  “I really am a ghost!”

“And I am the Twin…” Nyx murmured.

Elmiryn looked at her friend sharply.  Her ears had perked to anxiety in the girl’s voice.  “Kitten?”

Her companion bit her lip and looked away.  “I…found Her.”



The woman’s eyebrows rose high as it clicked.  “Oh!”

The girl nodded miserably.  “You can just imagine how that went.”

“Not well?”

Nyx groaned and buried her face into the woman’s shoulder. “It was a disaster.  She hates me.  I mean, she was never fond of me before, but…but when we tried to help Lethia free Syria, we managed a sort of…alliance.  It wasn’t perfect, but we had started working together. Now she’s furious with me because she’s been stuck in these forests, fleeing the monster and avoiding the Lycans.  I also forgot my promise to her.”


“I said I’d give her a name.”

The warrior fixed her with a scowl.  “You said you’d give her a name?

“I realize the implications, but at the time there was nothing I could do!” Nyx said with a sigh.  “She was being obstinate and time was of the essence.”

“So now what?”

The girl held up her hands.  “I don’t know.” She glanced around her one last time, her lip between her teeth, before she stood.  “I have to go.”

Elmiryn tried to ignore the twist of her gut at those words and failed miserably.  She rubbed at her face with one hand, before letting it cover her eyes.  “All right.”

Nyx touched her shoulder.  “Elle?”

The woman looked up at the girl.  “Yes?”

“You’re just as real as I am…remember that, okay?”

Elmiryn blinked, then nodded slowly, her brow wrinkling slightly.  “…Sure.”

And with that, the girl was gone.  No puff of smoke.  No ring in the air.  Just gone.

The redhead stared at the place where her friend had been, then challenged the word ‘friend’, and wondered if it were more appropriate to say ‘lover’ at this point.  She sighed and felt annoyed by the Words, so she left them alone.  Nyx was better at handling those things.

Elmiryn looked around at all the kittens and sparrows, then looked up at the alien being in its white box.  Without moving her lips, she spoke, “I’m not scared…I’m not.”

Continue ReadingChapter 29.2