Chapter 41.1



When they had Traveled the In Between to a platform that hovered just above the various existences—just so much gaseous splendor and chaos—he asked:

Do you regret coming?

She thought about it, the glow of dying stars in her eyes.


Then she thought about it again.


She shrugged, crossing her arms defensively. “Maybe…”

She confuses you.

Elmiryn tilted her head back and took a deep breath. Then she gave a twitch of a nod. “Yes.”

She weakens you.

Now she scowled. “No.”

Meznik shook his head. He stood at her side, surveying everything beneath them like a collector did his baubles.


You aren’t focusing.

Your body followed me here

But your mind wanders.

What’s the point

If you aren’t going

To pay attention?


“What else do you want from me?” Elmiryn snapped. “I wanted answers. I’m playing your game. I’m here. It isn’t as if you’ve been the most helpful along the way!”

Meznik folded his hands behind his back and tilted his head to the side as he regarded her.


He looked away.

It’s also true

That you bent the rules

To your liking.

“…Are you sore because I used Artemis’s essence?”





Clever as it was

To use a god’s essence

To repel Syria

You do not


The full repercussions

Of such a risk.

 “It worked didn’t it?”


But not without

Its costs

Of which

I’m sure you will be feeling

The full effects of

Very, very soon.


Elmiryn spat and watched the spit fall into the web of existence with a soured expression.

“If I didn’t use Artemis’s power, I wouldn’t have gotten to Izma,” she argued.

Meznik let out a short snort.

You got to Izma

Because she got careless.

She always had a problem

With arrogance.

Elmiryn squinted an eye at him. “Well if that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black…”

We’re all just cookware

In the end.

“It was more than just speed and strength that let me hurt her. Admit it! I figured out what makes you demons so invulnerable!” Meznik only glanced at her. Annoyed, Elmiryn pressed in closer, her teeth bared. “Emotion! It all has to do with how we feel when we confront you, doesn’t it!? Izma needs us to feel despair, to feel hopeless and depressed! It’s why she tried to break our wills whereas you always seemed to try to incite us!”

Meznik sighed.

Clever ghost.

You figured out

That hope and confidence

Is the antithesis of

Izma’s power.

But I wonder…

While you struggle

To stop feeling the emotions

That are so a part of you

Can you even guess

What the antithesis of

My power is?

Elmiryn opened her mouth, ready to spit out an insult when she faltered, the fury backing up in her throat like bile. She swallowed with difficulty, her hands clenching, then took a step back. Meznik was right. She didn’t know what emotion she needed to feel to finally fight him. And even if she did, how could she let go of her hatred for him, when it came to her so naturally? So powerfully?

It was like a giant wave that blocked out the sun as it towered over her, and when it crashed atop her…she drowned in it.

With a tight neck, she growled. “Are you going to tell me what we’re doing here, or am I going to be treated to another mind game?”

No more games.

I promised answers.

“So talk.”

The demon chuckled, a deep effervescent sound of cellos.


As if everything

Can be summarily explained

In just a few minutes.

Elmiryn rolled her eyes. “I don’t care how long it takes so long as you start!”

Very well.

Meznik swept his hand over the view before them, and said—

Can you see the patterns

Before you?

She turned and squinted an eye at him. “The patterns?” She looked back down below. “Meznik, we’re too far for me to see—”

Then you aren’t really looking

You can’t expect

Me to give you everything

Without discerning some things

For yourself.

You’re a pet now.

Not a toy.

So act like it.

Elmiryn’s scowl deepened and she searched deeper, trying to see what her dubious company was attempting to point out. Her eyes traced the luminous colorful clouds in the infinite black, the burning pin points of stars feeding life and taking it away. Intellectually, she knew there were worlds down there. She also knew that in this great expanse were invisible barriers, preventing certain realities from meshing together.

There like a sliver between her world and some other one was The Other Place, a gray-green jagged line that streaked through a hot orange sea. Nyx was down there. She would be okay. She had to be. She was on the path home after all.

Elmiryn rubbed her forehead, feeling the light sheen of sweat beneath her fingers. She was about to tell Meznik she couldn’t see anything but a mess of life when her eyes widened as her mind finally made the connection.

“A braid,” she breathed. She looked at Meznik excitedly. “A braid! It’s all one!”

A braid…

A debatable description.

Nevertheless it hits on to the point

I wanted you to see.





He gestured for her to follow and she did. They started to descend a translucent staircase that hadn’t been there a moment ago. With every step they took, the stars beneath them became dramatically closer, until Elmiryn was afraid they would burn up. She never felt any heat, however, even as they stopped at the point one star came so close as to match the size of a castle.

Meznik’s voice was a soft hum when he spoke.


Do you recall

The Speculums

We met?


Elmiryn nodded. “Yeah. Those two freaks. The ones who led us to the Exit back on Earth.”


Do you know


I call them

Your Speculums?


She shook her head. “You never told me.”


Because they are

Pieces of you



And refined.




They are you and Nyx

Near the end stages

Of power.

I described them

As demigods

I believe.

You share similarities

In personality

In appearance

Even in ability.


Elmiryn raised an eyebrow and put a hand on her hips. “So which was suppose to be me, and which was Nyx?”

Meznik shrugged.


It is true

They are reflections

But they are not perfect

Carbon copies.

As I said

They are rearranged.


This made the warrior screw up her mouth. “So who is most like me, and who is most like Nyx?”

Meznik spared a whistling sigh.


The brunette

The one called Molly

You’ll recall that she

Was the quieter of the two?


“Also the shorter one,” Elmiryn remarked. Meznik turned, apparently giving her a look. She shrugged her hands. “What? It’s true!”

The ‘shorter one’

As you’d describe her

Is YOUR Speculum.

She most resembles

Your qualities.


The redhead scoffed. “She looks nothing like me!”


Like you

Has the ability to see

And reweave the patterns

Of life.


Also like you

Has a more aggressive approach

Compared to her companion.


“So the tall redhead? The one with green eyes?”




“Yes, her.”

Nyx’s Speculum.

Like your feline friend

She is an agent

Of things far greater

Than she

Rather than

The vehicle itself.

Her unique ability

Started with her voice

But since her spiritual growth

This has expanded to include

All sound.


“She was a musician,” Elmiryn recalled, rubbing her chin. “She had a guitar with her when she spoke to us, didn’t she? So she’s a vermagus?”

That is not the term used there

But if in your world


She would be.

Now do you see

The connections between realities

More clearly?

The one thing you must remember

Is that the universe is alive

And it cannot help

But allow for these

Relations between worlds.

Like a writer or artist

With a distinctive style

A singular thread

Can be connected to everything.

That is why Speculums exist.

That is why what is called

English in one world

Is called Common in yours.

Why politics,






And even architecture

Share similarities.

Depending on what world

Is next to which

You will always find

A common thread

That binds adjacent worlds



There is a thinner thread

That winds through the Universe

That binds them all.

This is meta-reality.

This is how the essence of life

Is passed on

No matter the shape

It takes.


“So everything is connected. All realities share something, be it large or small.”


That thin thread

I mentioned?

It is the gods.


Startled, Elmiryn’s eyes pierced the side of Meznik’s twisted face. “…What?”


The gods.

They exist

In multiple realms

Like a body

Lying over borderlines

But like the realities they occupy

They are different and similar by degrees

In each realm.

This is why

They can only dream

Of who they are

In another world

Without ever fully comprehending

The enormity of their existence.

This is why Artemis

Does not know

The true depth

Of herself.

Elmiryn felt a dull ache in her sinus and her forehead wrinkled as she scowled at her boots. “That…that sounds…”


It is because

Artemis shared this with you.

The truth nearly killed you


But you are a pet now.

These things

Should be well within

Even your challenged mind’s

Ability to process.


The woman wiped at her forehead, feeling the cold sweat slick her palm. Shakily she asked, “So what? What does that all matter? Why do you care?”


Because you dolt.

If the universe is alive

And its dreams create

A thread of continuity

In the gods

Then what would happen

If one were to change

The universe’s mind?


By subverting the power

Of those gods?

“Change…change the universe’s mind? That’s your big fucking plan?”

You speak

As if this were a simple matter.

I assure you.

It is not.

Case in point—

How often


Change your mind?

Elmiryn frowned. “It…depends.”

I’ll make it easier for you.

How often

Do you change your mind

For something

You believe in?

Her scowl deepened. “Never.”

Now would you not say

That if changing

The universe’s mind

Would result

In the complete


Of not just one reality

But META-reality

As we know it…

Would you not say,

This is something


“Yes. I would.”

And would you not say

That such a process of change

Is not unlike a WAR

Going on inside of you?


So mark my words

Elle the Idiot.


Are at war.

And I mean to win it.


“But to what end?” Elmiryn asked with tightened jaw. “What is the point of changing it all? What would you even change it to? Is that what Izma is after too? To—To change this meta-reality bullshit?”

Meznik’s stiff features shifted to allow for a chilling smile.


We tried reviving Hakeem repeatedly. Quincy even found another strong smelling agent similar to the smelling salts in her deep magical bag. Nothing worked. To her credit, the wizard didn’t lose hope. On the contrary, she became more determined.

“You, Ailuran. You have natural strength don’t you? Help me lift him!” she ordered.

“You could try a hand at asking nicely,” I muttered, even as I hefted up one side and she the other.

Our first step was halting, and for a moment I wondered if Quincy would be able to bear her husband’s weight. Hakeem’s Aeumani Armor still had yet to return to its dormant, chainmail state. The added weight to the man’s frame made him a greater challenge to carry. I wished Lethia could help, but given the girl’s slight body and her depressed state, I knew better than to ask. Instead, she led us up the field, back toward the tower, where a small trail lead to the edge of this particular shard. The land cut off in a jagged edge, dropping off into the strange empty nothing that was the Other Place’s hallmark.

Lethia stopped at the edge as Quincy and I dragged behind her. I was tired, but not like the wizard, whose human strength was taxed with the burden of her husband. As we neared, panting and stumbling, the young enchantress turned to us both and pointed half-heartedly outward.

“It is here,” Lethia said in a feeble voice.

Then without another word, she stepped through. Quincy and I exchanged a brief glance over Hakeem’s hung head, and taking a moment to better our grip, we followed.





The way was heavy. Cold. It stung them, and Nyx thought Quincy would lose her grip. It makes her try to pull more of the weight, but the wizard snaps at her to keep the balance between them, lest they tumble from their Path and into some strange dimension. Chagrined, the Ailuran listens.

They come to a crossroads. Quincy knows these well enough to recognize the ways they have gone.

This was supposed to be the final path, Quincy puffed between gasps.

What? Nyx asks.

The wizard gives her a rueful look. We shouldn’t talk while Traveling, she says. I’ll explain on the other side.

And with Lethia leading them down the final path, they make it there.





Snow. In a way it answered why it had been so cold, even while Traveling. Coming back here, I felt both feelings of relief and a dragging sense of exhaustion.

We had come full circle. We were right back in Northern Albias. Surely the escape from this maddening half-world was near.

Judging by the curve of the road, we were close to Holzoff’s Tower. Lethia paused in her trek up the slushy hill to peer at us. Quincy had started to set Hakeem down on his back, and I followed.

“I need a break,” she panted.

“We can’t stay still long. The cold will drain us more than moving,” I warned. Then I added dryly, “I would also like to remind you that I’m still naked and my feet are already numb.”

Quincy waved me off as she put her hands on her hips and paced around in a tight circle a few times.

After a short glance at Lethia proved she wasn’t going to come out of her shell, I decided to pick up the conversation that had been cut short in Travel. “So explain about the paths again? Elmiryn mentioned it back in Fiamma, but I can’t recall all the details. It was…confusing, to say the least.”

The wizard looked at me, her azure eyes dulled by exhaustion and stress. She still sounded winded when she spoke. “Elmiryn said these paths were hers. She found something at the end of each, and each was attuned to an element. Air, fire, water, earth, and infinity. The first path—well, the ‘fifth’ she claims—had her find me. That was water. Then on her fourth path, she found Graziano. Earth. Her third? She found you, and the element was fire. Her second was—“

“Lethia?” I ventured, looking over at the enchantress.

“Yes, I think so,” Quincy affirmed. “I would argue that was air—given the openness of the Lycan lands and the way we had to travel to reach Izma. But the last path, Elmiryn told me, was supposed to reveal her true desire. Whatever that is, it must be associated to the element of infinity.”

“But if we followed her paths, then are we going to find her? How is the element of infinity tied here? It doesn’t make any sense!” I huffed as I kicked at the snow.

Quincy shook her head. “Ailuran, who is missing from our group?”

I shrugged, sullen. “Elmiryn?”

“So why would her secrets be revealed to us? As I see it, when she made off with Meznik, she must have come ahead of us, and let’s face it, that demon probably doesn’t take to walking let alone existing in a natural state. If the final element is infinity, then even if the secrets were right underneath us, without the right powers we have no way of accessing such a thing!”

“I might be able to see,” I muttered, thinking of the Somnium. But I couldn’t leave the others. Just as I was at risk of freezing to death, so were Quincy, Hakeem, and Lethia, who were hardly dressed for such cold temperatures.

Another minute passed and Quincy let out a foggy breath. “All right. Let’s go.”

I glanced up trail as we each took Hakeem under the arms. “Do you think our camp is still there? From before?”

“Only one way of finding out!” Quincy huffed.

Lethia, seeing us pick up, swayed around and resumed her unsteady march up the hill.

After much fighting up the way, the path finally began to level, and just up ahead on the dark rocks and white snow, I thought I could see a warm light flickering.

“Is that a campfire?” I panted excitedly. The numbness had crawled up my hips. I imagined the only thing keeping the frostbite at bay was my accelerated healing.

“Looks it!” Quincy responded, once more short of breath.

Then something came running around the bend, crashing through the unbroken snow. I nearly dropped Hakeem as an unpleasant shock pulled down my gut.

Of course. We were near Holzoff’s. That meant daesce.

“Lethia! Get back!” I screamed.

The enchantress certainly seemed to rouse out of her trance-like state, but it wasn’t to react as I expected her to. No, instead of running and screaming, she dropped to her knees and let out what sounded like a cry and a laugh. It was only when I abandoned my burden (Quincy cursing at me as I did so) and charged up the hill that I saw what was bounding toward us.

“Argos!” I laughed, feeling a warm, happy feeling for the first time in what seemed like forever.

The dog went straight to Lethia, whimpering with his tail tucked between his legs and his body hunched low to the ground. Even in his attempts to look small, the dog only managed to look like a giant white mass of fur that was still taller than Lethia on her knees. The enchantress latched onto him immediately, her face burying into the dog’s thick neck as she wailed loudly like a child.

“I needed him to take care of one more matter, if you’ll recall,” Lacertli’s voice said behind me.

I turned, only somewhat surprised at my patron’s sudden appearance. Such was his way and I was finally getting used to it. He stood in his usual guise of Marquis, his bare feet wriggling their taloned toes idly in the snow.

“What task, sir?” I asked.

With a lazy arm he pointed up the hill.

There, standing with a blanket over their head and body was a figure. I squinted at them, approaching slowly. Reluctantly, the person lifted their head and pulled back the lip of the blanket. My eyes widened in horror.

“P-Paulo…?” I breathed.

Continue ReadingChapter 41.1

Chapter 41.2


Scars. Paulo was covered in strange scars. A mess of lines and shapes on his cinnamon skin. Then I remembered.

Back when this whole mess began, Syria, along with her control of Lethia, had carved those into his skin using fire.

“Paulo,” I repeated when the boy didn’t speak. I looked over at Lethia and Quincy. Lacertli had excused himself in the usual abrupt manner. The enchantress hadn’t emerged from the safety of Argos’s fur, and the wizard had frozen where she was–half crouched over her husband’s body. Something about her stance, even in the dim light, felt rigid.

I looked back at Paulo, and saw that he had approached a few steps. The blanket he shrouded himself with stirred with the wind, and more of his features were revealed. He looked older, in the way that my brother Thaddeus had looked older when he returned from his first season at war.

“You’re…real?” Paulo croaked. “Nyx? That’s you?”

I blinked, bewildered by the question. My voice was slow in answering. “Yes. Yes, Paulo, I’m real. We all are!”

He looked at the others. “Quincy…? That really you?”

Quincy straightened slowly. “It’s me.” Something was off about her voice.

“Have you–Do you know where Graziano is? Arduino? Where is my family?”

Where her husband’s coma had previously failed to crack her brave face, Quincy suddenly crumpled at Paulo’s question. She looked down at her hands, which started to wring together, then looked up again, shoulders hunched. “I don’t know where Arduino is. I–But Paulo, Graziano… He’s dead.”

The news slid off of Paulo’s skin like rain water.

Pulling the blanket off of his head, the boy ventured closer. I was surprised to see that his hair had grown to his shoulders. How much time had passed for him here? “Quincy, where is my family?”

Quincy hurried forward, fighting her way up through the snow. She had her hands held up. I wasn’t sure if she was trying to reassure Paulo or ward him off. “Paulo. Listen to me. Graziano is dead!”

“Where are my brothers, Quincy?” Paulo asked again, but his voice had gone quieter. Colder.

I took a step back as Quincy stopped near me. Up close, I could see the tears in her eyes now. “Graz et moréChoi,” shemurmured.

“YOU’RE A FUCKING LIAR!” Paulo bellowed, and he advanced on us, suddenly drawing his rapier.

Without thinking, I leapt in front of Quincy and shouted. “Paulo, stop! Why would we lie to you!?”

Paulo pointed his rapier at Quincy, forcing me to shove the wizard further behind me as I moved to dodge being accidentally slashed in his fury.

Two years!” He snarled. “Two years I was left to rot in this eternal winter with no way of leaving, and Quincy let it happen! This bitch let me and Graziano walk into a trap, so if he’s dead, it’s her fault!”

“That isn’t true–!” I started to argue, but Quincy grabbed my shoulders and flung me aside.

She was still crying, but her face had started to harden back into what could be called the wizard’s usual expression.

“Don’t go speaking about things you don’t know!” she snapped at me.

I glared at her, scandalized. “I’m trying to defend you!”

Quincy hissed at me through her teeth, seemingly oblivious of Paulo’s sword tip pressed into her throat. “I do not deserve nor want your defense! If you want to help, then take Hakeem and the girl up to that campfire before they die of cold!”

I threw my hands up into the air and shrilled, “Fine! Üle lunam? Yibken! I don’t care! You’re on your own!”

I stormed over to Hakeem’s body, which in the slight wind had already started to cover with snow. As I passed Lethia and Argos, I barked, “Argos! Lethia! Stop blubbering and help me!”

Argos whined, but I heard him follow. As I stooped to heft Hakeem up into a sitting position, I muttered darkly, “I’m cold, numb, tired, hungry, spurned–and of all the people I could be stuck with, I have these cajecks!

The dog grumbled at my remarks as he came alongside, but I didn’t apologize. I just hefted Hakeem up (no small feat, let me just say) and put him on Argos’s back. In truth, the dog’s strength was probably comparable to my own, but simple physics made his large frame more capable of carrying Hakeem than I.

As it turned out, Lethia had followed us, and with her help, we kept Hakeem’s body steady on Argos as he made the arduous return to Paulo’s camp. The enchantress seemed to shrink the closer we got to Paulo and Quincy. The boy only had eyes for the wizard however as they spoke in tight, quiet tones back and forth. We passed them without a word.

Finally we reached the camp.

The cold was such that despite the fire being so near, I couldn’t feel its effects until I was a foot or two from its warmth. But even its draw didn’t have me like my old belongings did. Sitting at the edge of what seemed to be a giant horde of scavenged things was my modest little bag of trinkets, and next to that, my old clothes.

I nearly cried at the sight.

Rushing to set down Hakeem, I immediately went to my clothes and started to dress–first my trousers, then my boots, then my undershirt, then my gambeson. Certain other little items, like my stockings and my bandages were still missing. I was also so numb by this point that I knew it would take a while longer before I’d feel the full effect of my newly returned clothes. But I didn’t care.

I had my mother’s gambeson back, and that was all that mattered.

Returning to the fire, I sat across from Lethia and Argos, who had returned to huddling close to the fire. Next to them lay Hakeem on a blanket. I scooted close to the flames, letting my feet soak in the warmth. Looking over at Quincy and Paulo still in the shadowy cold, I could see they wouldn’t be returning any time soon. Well that was fine by me. I wasn’t sure I could take any more melodrama. My patience and goodwill was taxed.

I returned my gaze back to Lethia. “Can you sense the way out from here?”

She looked at me from amid Argo’s furry shoulder, and I could see the red in her puffy eyes.

When she didn’t answer, I scowled. “Lethia? Did you hear me?”

“…Yes,” she responded meekly. She gave a wet sniffle and hid her gaze again.

I clenched my jaw. “Then? Do you know how we can get out of here?”

Again, I got silence. Finally Lethia mumbled, “No.”

“Wonderful,” I sighed.

If Paulo’s change in appearance was any indication, we could be there a very long time…

Gods, to be stuck here for that long with these people!

“Maybe I should just let myself freeze to death,” I muttered next.


Quincy swallowed and she could feel Paulo’s rapier tip sink into her skin just enough to bring forth a bead of blood. She found the young man’s eyes, shadowed by his tight brow, and she held them as best she could.

The wizard had been prepared for many things. She had been prepared for another fight, for a timely return home, for her husband to wake from his coma… But somehow, in the hustle that she had found herself swept in since finding Graziano’s body, she hadn’t thought to reunite with Paulo. She had almost taken it for granted that he was also dead. Did she feel sorry for not searching for him harder before? …No. It was clear now that it was meant to be this way. And she hardly had enough reason to strike out searching for the boy on the other shards when they were being accosted by outside forces. He was the last discovery they had to make, the lost thing that had to be found on this path home. Why? She wasn’t sure. But what Quincy did chastise herself for, was not being better prepared for this meeting.

Loathe as she was to admit it, Elmiryn was perhaps better equipped to break the news to Graziano. Quincy, with few to grieve for in her life, didn’t know how to handle such loss. The closest she had to that was when Jack, her father, abandoned her and was never heard from again. But it wasn’t the same. Quincy stared deep into Paulo’s warm eyes and knew it just wasn’t the same.

“I’m sorry you had to hear it from me…of all people,” she said. “But it’s like Nyx told you. What reason would I have to lie?”

Paulo’s mouth curled into a sneer. “Two years gives a person a lot of time to think. I thought about that night, when the others came with Syria. You stayed behind. You knew what was going to happen, and you let us walk right into it!” At these last words, Paulo pressed in deeper with the rapier, forcing Quincy back half a step.

She winced and closed her eyes. “I know. That was wrong of me.”

“Yes! It was! So when you tell me that you have no reason to lie…I don’t believe you! You always have a reason to lie! You are like a snake in the tall grass, waiting to strike!”

Quincy opened her eyes again and felt the tears she had kept at bay slip down her cheeks. “I was a different person then!”

The teenager let out a short caustic laugh, and with his rapier, he flicked at her brown hair. “Yeah. I can see you’ve changed.”

“No, I mean–” Quincy broke off. This wasn’t a time to quibble about the details. Was she really so different just because Tonatiuh’s spirit no longer possessed her? She bowed her head. “I don’t know what else to tell you, except that I’m sorry…”

Paulo didn’t respond, but Quincy could see from her peripherals how the teenager’s sword tip wavered.

When the boy spoke, his voice was choked with emotion. “Do you have his gun?” he asked tightly.

Quincy sighed. “I don’t. Elmiryn does.”

“And where is she?”

“I don’t know. We think she might meet up with us later, once we escape this place.”

Paulo snorted. “Escape? There is no way out!”

Quincy looked at him sharply. “There has to be!”

“If there was, do you think I would’ve stayed here for two years? Alone in the snow?”

The wizard blinked at him. “How did you survive?”

Paulo glared at her before looking away. He sheathed his rapier and the tension melted from Quincy’s shoulders. “At first,” the boy started, but then he broke off, growling.

He turned and looked up the hill to the campfire. He tried again, this time with a stronger voice. “At first I looked. Tried to find any sign of the others. The supplies we had left were all still there, but I had to hide them, because these…these ghost people would come. I think they were scavenging the old prison tower. I tried leaving this place when it became clear that no one was around, but then I found out that there is nothing else beyond this place! It’s just an island floating in nothing.

Quincy rubbed her arms, trying to fend off the cold. The numbness was creeping up her legs. “Were you always in winter here?”

Paulo swallowed audibly. “Yes.” He pinched his blanket tight around him and glared at her again. “I was alone here, in the cold, with no way out.”

“Paulo, if we could’ve come here sooner, we would have!”

The boy just shook his head. The motion felt weary and resentful. “It doesn’t matter anymore. Now we’re all stuck here.”

“But how did you survive? You still haven’t said,” Quincy pressed. If the boy was right about being stuck out here, then she wanted to know what resources they had to work with.

“I did what I could! I hunted what little game came my way. Scavenged for tools out in the daesce valley. Right now I’m collecting daesce hide to make warmer clothes. The dog…Argos. When he came, my luck really turned. He helped with food and fending off the daesce.” Paulo jerked his head behind him. “He saved my life.”

Quincy pursed her lips. She reached toward him. “Paulo, we’ll find a way–”

“Don’t touch me!” He snapped, swatting away her hand. He pulled his blanket back over his head, shrouding his face in darkness. The whites of his eyes seemed to burn from the shadows and Quincy felt her head ache inexplicably. “Just because I’m not trying to kill you right now doesn’t mean I won’t try later! I haven’t forgiven you for what you’ve done!”

With a sweep, Paulo turned and marched back up the hill.

Quincy gazed after him, her shoulders sagging.

“Fair enough…” she murmured.

Continue ReadingChapter 41.2

Chapter 41.2a


Elmiryn huffed as she ran along the cosmic lane, her eyes on the lookout for anything dangerous. She may have given Meznik the slip, but it would just be a matter of time before the demon found her again. After she had learned what she needed from him, she knew she needed to break away. She would not live as Syria did.

Thanks to the help of a rather strange disembodied entity, Elmiryn found herself running in a direction. She thought she recognized some of the flashes she saw in the Worlds she passed, but she couldn’t be sure. Traveling in the Other Place was not like traveling in the greater reaches of the universe.

To her relief, her journey was uneventful. Its end destination?

“A gate,” Elmiryn breathed, stopping short of the large shimmering passage that would grant her entry into the mortal realm of some world. Did her strange ally lead her straight back home? “One way to find out…”

And with hand outstretched, Elmiryn pressed in through the gate…

Only to find her foot falling through air.

With a shout, the warrior tried to twist around and catch the edge of the gate, but she wasn’t quick enough. She careened through space, a single word flying through her mind:


Before she promptly crashed through what felt like cold hide, then slammed onto a bed of green leaves. Elmiryn stared up through a hole of torn plastic at the sky where she could see the gate shimmer once before vanishing from sight. A temporary door? Or maybe it was one of those conditional things–like it only existed if the prick end of some planet bum-fucked some sun. Regardless of the reason, it was gone, and Elmiryn started to wonder if her disembodied ally was really an ally at all. Why did she insist on making strange deals with spirits?

Elmiryn’s winded musing was interrupted by a new voice nearby.

“What the HELL?”

The woman craned her head back just as a shadow fell over her.

Another woman stood over Elmiryn, her dark eyes glaring. She wore a thin white cotton tank top with no bra and blue bloxers, no socks or shoes. Her black hair was buzzed short on the sides, but left long at the top, and her furious gaze was framed by thick black glasses. Then Elmiryn finally noticed the gun in the stranger’s hand. A revolver by the looks of it.

“Who the fuck are you, and why are you in my lettuce bed?” the newcomer demanded.

Elmiryn sat up with a wince. “Believe me, I didn’t want to be in your lettuce bed…”

“Who. Are. You?”

The redhead rolled her eyes shut as she rubbed the pain out of her back. She must have landed on a rock or something.

“I’m a bird. I’m a plane. I’m…really not in the mood for questions,” she groused.

Elmiryn stiffened at the sound of the pistol’s hammer cocking back.

The dark haired woman’s glare had narrowed. “I’m not in the mood for games either. How about you just get up then and we can let the cops decide what to do with you?”

“Cops…” Elmiryn chuckled. “I should tell you, I’m not from around here. I don’t think they’ll know what to do with me!”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I’m a fucking alien and I’m going to melt your brain with my alien powers. Can you put the gun away, please? I didn’t mean to mess up your stupid lettuce bed!”

Elmiryn stood to her feet with a grunt, the other woman following her warily with her gun. The warrior gave her a look. “What? Are you really gonna shoot me over some vegetables?”

The woman’s frown deepened, but she uncocked her pistol and pointed it skyward. Her eyes traveled the length of Elmiryn’s body. When she returned her gaze, she gave a faint one-shoulder shrug.

“For an alien you sure do like ren-fair clothing,” she remarked.

Elmiryn frowned at her. “Ren-what?”

“Ren-fair. Y’know. Renaissance fair? Does your planet not have that?”

“Renaissance…” the warrior murmured, searching her vocabulary.

Apparently she took too long, because the other woman sighed and said, “Forget it. My name’s May. May Kliff. What about you? Do you at least have names on your planet?”

Elmiryn spared her a grin. “I’m Elmiryn. So what World am I in?”


“Yeah like…” the redhead trailed off. With a sigh she rephrased. “I meant to say, where am I?”

“Felmore, California. Also, it’s the year 2013 A.D. and Barack Obama is currently in office. Need any more hints?” May said with an ironic smirk.

“Maybe…” Elmiryn rubbed her head with shaky hands. Not only were her withdrawals back, but her head was hurting her to an unusual degree. “Can I trouble you for a stiff drink? Please?”

“Fall through somebody’s greenhouse and ask for a drink? Gotta love America…” May muttered as she turned and walked away.

Elmiryn blinked after her a moment before realizing she was expected to follow.

The two women exited the greenhouse and crossed through a small overgrown backyard to the backdoor of a small white house. May entered through the screen door, and let it shut behind her. Elmiryn hesitated only a beat before entering in after her.

May’s home was small and modest, and while Elmiryn was able to identify some things she saw (“Radio, fridge, phone,”) there were some things she couldn’t. Like the big black box sitting across from the sofa, or the strange metal devices sitting on the counter in the kitchen. As she tried to fill in these blanks, Elmiryn’s headache flared, and she groaned, leaning against the wall for support.

“Hey…you okay?”

Elmiryn felt a cold glass touch her shoulder and opened her eyes to see May holding a glass of what looked to be rum on ice to her. The warrior took it gratefully and swallowed the drink in one go. It burned pleasantly. She pointed at the big black box in the living room.

“I can’t remember what this is,” she mumbled.

May gave her a confused look. “You mean the television?”


“Geez, either you hit your head really hard, or you’re telling me the truth about that ‘alien’ thing!”

“I’m not an alien,” Elmiryn returned sullenly. “I was just joking around. Don’t call me an alien.” The warrior slid down the wall, staring forlornly into her empty glass. She held it up to May with a pout. “Can I have some more?”

May put her hands on her hips. “I don’t know if you need more! Maybe you’ve got a concussion? I can take you to a hospital and–”

“NO!” Elmiryn slammed her free hand onto the floor and glared up at May. “No hospitals! This isn’t something they can fix!”

“But your head–!”

“It’s just the Universe being angry at me, okay!? I don’t belong in this world, and it’s punishing me for the few things I remember about it!” Elmiryn set her glass down and pressed her palms into the sides of her head. She screamed up at the ceiling. “Hey! HEY! I know what cars are, and planes, and penicilin, and computers, and condoms, and video games! Take THAT Universe! Fuck you!”

May stared down at Elmiryn with eyebrows raised practically to her hairline. “So you’re really not from my world?”

“How else did I fall into your gods damned greenhouse?” Elmiryn snapped. “Did you hear a plane go by or something? I came through a portal!”

“But why did you come here?

“I wasn’t trying to come here! I was trying to get home! I have friends waiting for me!”

May exhaled deeply and tapped her bare foot. She looked over at her phone. “To call or not to call…”

This put Elmiryn on alert. “Call who?” she asked warily.

But May was already walking to the phone, “I’m a freelance problem solver. I deal in really bizarre stuff, but sometimes, when I’m too busy to take on a client’s case, I call these friends of mine over in downtown. They’re better at dealing with inter-dimensional stuff than I am.”

“And who,” Elmiryn started slowly. “Might these two ‘friends’ of yours be?”

May glanced at her, the phone pressed to her ear. “I guess you might have heard of them, huh? They say they’ve got a reputation in other dimensions.”

“But who?” the redhead pressed. “Who are your friends!?”

May opened her mouth to answer but was interrupted when her doorbell rang. Frowning she hung up the phone and went to open the front door. Elmiryn craned her neck to try and see around the woman, but May effectively blocked sight of who stood before her.

Turns out, Elmiryn didn’t need to see to know who it was.

“Julie? Molly?” May exclaimed. “Geez, I was just about to call you!”

And that was when Elmiryn jumped up and ran out the back door.

Continue ReadingChapter 41.2a

Chapter 41.3


Elmiryn was stumbling over herself. She could claim she was still out of sorts from falling from a great height earlier, and she may even win the argument. But the truth was, she felt fear. A sort of primal, rabbity fear that sent shockwaves from the base of her neck to the ends of her fingertips and her gut. The air crackled, making her hairs stand on end. Colors and light seemed altogether harsher, like bleach on her eyes.

She had trespassed, and Julie and Molly knew it.

Elmiryn could feel their wrath, even as she tripped and fell down the back steps of May’s home. When she scrabbled at the grass and dirt, ripping out clumps in her haste to resume flight, she could feel their presence getting nearer. She knew, too, that they had turned this powerful influence on like a switch to keep her from fighting back when–


The woman yelled as she felt the hard heel of a shoe stomp onto her back, pinning her on the ground.

A moment later the screen door banged open, and the wooden steps creaked as one–no, two–people descended.

“Guys what the hell!?” Elmiryn heard May cry out. “Why are you attacking her? And I thought I said no strange tricks where the neighbors can see! Unlike you, I have to live here!”

“Sorry, May,” a familiar voice said. Elmiryn guessed it was Molly. Her visual memory may have been poor, but she still had good auditory memory.

Molly said next, “This geek was warned not to come back here. Soon as I sensed her presence we had to come.”

“And I guess you were just in the neigborhood?”

“No. We nightcrawled.”


“We teleported,” Molly clarified patiently.

“Is she a threat?” May asked brusquely. Apparently she didn’t need more clarification than that.

“Consider her a virus. Having her here runs the risk of things getting unraveled. We had another one pop up the other day. We’re still trying to decide what to do with him.”

Elmiryn grunted as she tried to crane her head to look at them. “I’d be happy to leave if someone would just point me the way!”

The shoe in her back dug in deeper. “How do we know this isn’t some ploy by Meznik?” Another voice said over her. That would be Julie.

Elmiryn spat through her teeth, “Oh sure. Real clever trick. Send me in unattended, then have me caught immediately. Just think of the damage that would cause! Are you out of your mind!? Of course I’m not here on account of that asshole! I ran away from him, and now I just want to go home!

“But how did you get here if it weren’t for him?” Molly asked. She sounded closer. “You aren’t powerful enough to travel like this on your own!”

“Okay, well…” Elmiryn huffed into the dirt as she tried to wiggle out from under Julie’s foot. Her back throbbed in pain. When this attempt failed, she growled out, “Meznik brought me out to see the universe proper for a lecture! We were out in space a while, but I didn’t like what he was telling me, so I left! A ghost, spirit, thing helped me find my way here! It said this was the quickest way back home!”

“Well we are dimensional neighbors,” Julie murmured to Molly.

“That doesn’t mean her story is true. After all, what about the other one?” Molly returned.

What other one?” Elmiryn asked irately. “It’s just me! I came alone!”

“Can we resume this conversation back inside? Preferably without any violence?” May piped up.

There was a beat as Molly and Julie seemed to consider this.

Soon the boot came off of Elmiryn’s back, and the warrior rose with effort. Once on her feet, she rotated her shoulders with a wince and regarded Julie and Molly with a phosphorous glare. They took her hostility with nary a twitch.

Molly, the shorter brunette with warm brown eyes, was dressed in a grey skirt and blue hooded sweater. She had a much more cherubic face than Elmiryn remembered, and her bobbed hair seemed eerily immaculate and shiny. In fact, everything about her seemed to suggest perfect symmetry. Julie, on the other hand, screamed asymmetry, with her zebra print top askew on her shoulders and her brown canvas pant legs messily stuffed into her biker boots. She was tall and of a brighter palette, with her tanned skin, pumpkin orange hair, and sea green eyes. Her face was more oval shaped and her features more angular, like Elmiryn’s.

Elmiryn sneered at them and spared a mocking bow before shoving past the pair to follow May back into her house. The warrior knew, despite her primal knee jerk attempt, that she could not escape. She recalled what Meznik had told her, not so long ago: this world’s balance was in disarray, and in the power struggle, god-like individuals had taken total control over the reality of certain areas. May’s house was within Molly and Julie’s control apparently, and Elmiryn, now that she could connect the source, could feel their influence humming through the air.

She sat on the couch as the two women entered. They crossed the room to stand before Elmiryn, towering down over her. May, who sat on the recliner near the door, cleared her throat loudly.

“No looming in my house. Take a seat,” she scolded.

Julie pouted at this, but Molly sat on the coffee table without a word. Sighing, her companion followed suit.

“Here’s the problem, Elmiryn,” Molly said, lacing her fingers together and resting them on her crossed legs. “Right now? We’re currently at war. People with abilities similar to ours want to become the new godly rulers of our world. Among the ones causing trouble for us are the astral demons. You are a demon’s pet. I can see it in your essence. Do you see how this makes things complicated for us? You’re a threat, and yet…”

“Pets rarely stray from their owners,” Julie finished. She puckered her lips. “But that isn’t to say that you aren’t still acting under Meznik’s command.”

Molly flipped over a hand. “So forgive us if we don’t take your claims to heart.”

“Don’t you think Meznik would’ve been more subtle in his approach?” Elmiryn snapped. “I obviously didn’t escape your attention!”

“Could be a distraction. Maybe Meznik is trying to hurt us elsewhere while we’re distracted with you?”

“So why sit and talk to me if you think that’s the case?”

Molly slowly shook her head. “Because we’re not sure. We can’t sense Meznik’s presence like we can sense yours. That’s what makes the demons so dangerous. We have no idea when they actually set foot in our World.”

“But you mentioned someone else! Who else is here? Why would Meznik bring them first, then me after?”

Julie and Molly exchanged looks. Elmiryn glared between them. “What? What is it?”

“Well…” Molly started.

“The other one isn’t actually Meznik’s,” Julie said next.

Elmiryn wrinkled her nose. “And what does that mean?”

“It means that the other one actually belongs to Izma. Only he’s not a pet. Not even a toy.”

“He’s a tool,” Molly said with a grim tilt of her mouth.

Elmiryn was about to ask who the person was again when May piped in. “Question! Can someone tell me what astral demons are, and why the hell they’re so scary with their ‘pets’ and ‘toys?’”

Julie grimaced. “May, it would take too long to explain to you. Besides, that knowledge is dangerous. It could draw attention to you!”

“Draw attention to me? Are you kidding? Some alien woman drops in on my greenhouse. Don’t you think I should know what’s at least happening in my backyard, if not my fucking neighborhood?”

“For the last time, I’m not an alien!” Elmiryn griped.

“Demons are intelligent interdimensional monsters whose goal is to pervert reality as we know it to their fucked up needs,” Julie said with a weary sigh.

“They don’t attack directly. Instead, they prefer to use what they call ‘pets, toys, tools, and children’ to carry out their plans,” Molly said next. She picked at her skirt hem, her brow tightening. “Tools are beings that the demon uses for a short period. They are the throw aways. The little pawns the demons abandon once their role is done.”

“Like Nadi!” Elmiryn murmured, sitting up.

Everyone stared at her.

Clearing her throat, she sat back into the couch.

Satisfied that the warrior wouldn’t interrupt again, Molly continued. “A ‘toy’ was what Elmiryn used to be, just a short while ago. Unlike tools, the demons will interact with toys more directly. They’re valued more, but they are still controlled only by manipulation. A curse is mandatory. It binds the toy to their owner.”

“Then there’s pets,” Julie said with a distinct curl of her lip.

Molly gave a curt nod. “Yes. Elmiryn is now a pet. That means that she is no longer manipulated. She knowingly carries out Meznik’s will. He shares more information with her and she is typically to be at his side at all times.”

“But I’m not,” Elmiryn snapped.

“Next,” Julie interjected with a roll of her eyes. “Is the child.”

The word hung in the air, dense with foreboding. Elmiryn leaned forward onto her knees, her eyes gleaming. She’d never heard of ‘tools’ before, but she already had an idea of the demon’s using people in such a way–like Nadi and Lethia. But a ‘child?’ The word carried with it terrible implications and they made the warrior tremble on a minute level.

“A child,” Julie huffed out, as if the word took great effort. “Is basically a demon’s right hand. They aren’t on a ‘need-to-know-basis’ like the pet. They know everything and they have a set of lesser powers to match those of their demon master.”

Molly put a hand on Julie’s shoulder and said to May and Elmiryn. “It’s the final step before a person becomes a demon themselves. We…lost a friend that way to a demon.”

Elmiryn’s mouth fell open. She searched Molly’s face, trying to find something that would suggest the brunette was lying, but she saw nothing. “So…I’m on a track to become a demon? I thought Meznik wanted to turn me into a fae!”

“Not all pet’s advance onto the child state, Elmiryn,” Molly said with a dark expression. “Sometimes they stay pets until they die. Being a demon’s pet can be just as transformative as being a demon’s child. It just means you’re changing into whatever else the demon may desire. In your case? A fae.”

“This sounds way beyond my pay grade,” May said with raised eyebrows.

Elmiryn clenched her fists. “The other person you have. Izma’s tool. Who are they? Where are they? When did they get here?”

“Time works differently between worlds, Elmiryn,” Julie replied with a shrug. “They got here days before you. They’re currently being held back at my place in downtown. We’ve got our people watching them.”

“But who are they!?” Elmiryn shouted. “You keep avoiding that question and I want to know why!”

Molly and Julie exchanged looks again, and the warrior wanted to slap them both.

Finally, Molly said with a nervous tug of her ear. “The person’s from your world, we think. They’re strange because they seem to know they are being used as a tool, and they say they want to work with us. If what they’re saying is true, revealing them to you could ruin that opportunity.”

“If he’s from my world, then he isn’t your problem!” Elmiryn snarled. “You want to be the new gods here? Fine! But you can’t control people from other dimensions and expect the universe is going to be okay with that! My world is my story, and right now you’re keeping things apart that you shouldn’t be! Take me to this person, and after that, you can give me the boot! I’ll be happy to get out of your hair!”

Molly screwed up her mouth.

Julie nudged her with her elbow. “So…?” she jerked her head. “Yay? Nay?”

The brunette scooted to the edge of the coffee table, and her knees touched Elmiryn’s, making the warrior stiffen. Molly’s dark eyes locked gazes with the redhead, and she murmured. “I’m going to read you. Do you know what I mean when I say that?”

Elmiryn swallowed audibly but fought to keep her face stoic. “You’re going to look at my pattern. See my spirit. My history.”

“Yes. This may be uncomfortable. You might feel like you’re coming apart, but I can’t avoid that.”

“If it means you’ll stop suspecting me, then just do it!”

Molly nodded. Then without word or gesture, the pain struck.

It wasn’t a foreign pain. Elmiryn had experienced this before, when her spirit had been torn asunder, when her essence had been scattered in the hungry white of the Other Place. It was a sort of intense tingling, a razoring of her consciousness down to the finest nerves. The redhead went rigid, her mouth opening in a quiet scream as she instinctively fought to strengthen her body and soul’s integrity.

Through the pain, she heard Molly hiss across from her, “Stop fighting me! I’m not done!”

But Elmiryn couldn’t help it. Surely this wannabe goddess from another World was trying to unmake her…?

And then it stopped.

Elmiryn took a loud gasp of air, her body shuddering as she shook off the last vestiges of pins and needles. By her third deep breath the sensation was gone altogether, but the warrior felt weakened and her thirst for a drink burned hotter than ever.

Without saying a word or even thinking on her actions, Elmiryn swayed to her feet and stumbled over to May’s kitchen. Sitting on the counter was the bottle of rum her host had used earlier to pour her a drink. Elmiryn uncorked this and took a long swig.

May let out an indignant sound behind her. “Hey!”

“Leave her. She can’t help it. I’ll buy you a new bottle, May. Promise,” Elmiryn heard Molly say. She sounded winded herself.

“Moll, you okay?” Julie asked.

When Elmiryn felt her fae urges die down inside her, she leaned on the counter and turned with effort to glare across the room at the others.

Molly seemed pale and her eyes were fixed on Elmiryn. “She’s telling the truth. About running from Meznik.”

“Finally saw that, huh?” the warrior harped.

“No,” the brunette said firmly. She stood and narrowed her eyes. “It wasn’t that. You didn’t give me a chance to see your recent memories. What I mean is…the gold thread inside of you.”

“Gold thread?” Elmiryn spat. She swayed on her feet and could feel the rum burning inside of her. Damn, how she hated the ease with which she became drunk. Hated and loved it. It was a strange feeling.

“Artemis,” Molly said flatly.

Elmiryn’s face slackened and she turned away. “Oh,” she mumbled. “That.”

Before the others could ask, Molly turned and explained. “Elmiryn has a thread of Artemis’s essence inside of her. It’s literally a part of her. The demons hate the gods, and vice versa. Elmiryn may be a demon’s pet, but her brush with the gods, however that may have happened, gives her the power to escape Meznik. It acts like a signal blocker. So with her here, he can’t know what she’s been up to. A demon would never willingly relinquish control like that.”

Julie put her hands on her hips. “So she’s telling the truth about defying Meznik?”

Molly gave a small shrug. “All the evidence seems to suggest she is!”

The phone rang, making Elmiryn jump. May went and answered it, her expression bemused. “Hello?” There was a series of fast squeaks from the receiver. “Pauline? Hey slow down, I can’t understand you.”

May nodded her head as she listened to ‘Pauline’, a frown appearing on her face. “Uh-huh…uh-huh… Wow. God! Hey hold on a minute, okay?” The bespectacled woman quickly covered the phone’s mouth piece and looked at them all.

“Hate to cut a party short, but a close friend just called me with something I can actually work on, so if we’re done here…?”

“We’ll go,” Molly said. She gestured at Elmiryn. “Come on. You want to meet our other guest and get out of here?”

Elmiryn took a step toward them but stopped. “Who…is the other, uh, person? Again?” She fought to keep hold of her speech but could feel the drowsiness take over her faculties.

Molly and Julie stepped forward to each take hold of Elmiryn’s arms. They smelled like butterscotch and cigarette smoke respectively. May resumed speaking in low urgent tones with her friend on the phone, her back already to them. Gently, the pair escorted the warrior to the door.

As they exited May’s house, Molly said, “He told us his name was Hakeem.”

Continue ReadingChapter 41.3

Chapter 42.1


That first night out in the Albian snow passed with little event. Whatever Quincy said to Paulo, they seemed to agree to set it aside until we could escape the Other Place. But after the following day came and went, then the one after that, and the one after that… The prospect of escape seemed to dwindle away. Paulo’s resignation started to feel infectious, and his avoidance of us understandable. Lethia was quick to succumb to her melancholy. As Lacertli’s champion, I felt duty-bound to keep trying. It helped that I was also desperate to find a way to escape my company. Lethia’s moping alone made the cold that much more unbearable. Quincy fought alongside me, searching the snowdrifts and attempting spells, but her presence was grating, and her frustration over our plight was palpable.

The brunette was driven by her need to save Hakeem, who remained in a coma. The wizard man lay wrapped in daesce skins near the fire where we fed him small amounts of clean snow in a feeble attempt to keep him hydrated. If he didn’t wake soon, it wouldn’t matter. He’d die of starvation. Quincy clung to a sort of stubborn hope over Hakeem’s survival, and I found myself envious of her dedication to her spouse. My chest felt devoid of those feelings, and I missed them.

When I found a moment to myself, I would sit and wonder where Elmiryn had gone, why she hadn’t found us yet, why I expected different from her. The Other Place gave me no stars to count–the stars that Elmiryn had promised me in her arrogance. I wished she were there with me, but my feelings were clouded with complications.

As if the rest of my life were any less complicated.

Lacertli did not speak to me much in those days. Sometimes I could see golden eyes blinking at me from the shadows, but my patron remained silent. I knew what he expected of me. Survival. For that, I knew I had graduated from his terse guidance. I was restless without it, but I tried to stay in the present, as he would’ve wanted. I just wish the present didn’t feel as suffocating as it did.

Why couldn’t anyone see that what we needed to do was to move camp? When I suggested this tactic, I was met with heavy resistance. The excuses ranged from Hakeem’s coma, to the treacherousness of the mountains, to the lack of resources away from Holzoff’s. Still, I felt it was entirely possible that Paulo could have missed something in his time searching here. The Albian mountains seemed to specialize in the hidden, and maybe something had changed? It felt appropriate that the Other Place would change with time.

On the fourth night, I trudged my way back up the snowy hill from the daesce valley. It was a horrible, treacherous place, but if we were lucky, sometimes we could find salvageable supplies. The daesce weren’t good for a food source–eating their tainted flesh would make us sick–but they were good for their hides, and their teeth and claws could be used to fashion tools and traps. These were things Paulo showed us in our first days on the shard. In the long frozen time that he had spent in that frigid place, he had grown into a strong and capable survivalist. Gone was the whiny teenage boy I had met, though his surliness lingered, dark like charcoal in the magicked flames that had scarred him.

Now and again, I’d catch him glaring after Lethia. For the most part, the pair avoided each other, but now and again, Paulo would spare a barbed comment. The enchantress took his withering animosity, and I could see the penance in her face. I did not feel sorry for her. Intellectually I knew my hatred for the girl was misguided, but it was like a compulsion that kept spinning me in circles. Sometimes I hated being so self-aware. The only way I could separate the nature of my persistent anger from that of Paulo’s was in believing this: While I was certain that Lethia’s part in Paulo’s disfigurement was completely coerced, I could not say the same for the fate I suffered under the girl’s powers and Izma’s will.

The more I lingered on this reasoning, the more suspicious I became.

So when I made my way back to our humble camp, I focused on Lethia and said, “Artaud, it’s been five days and four nights. As the only one of us who could sense the Gates, you said you’d find a new way out. Why haven’t you found something yet?”

She didn’t respond. Argos, his loyalty to his owner regained, stayed faithfully by her side as she stared into the campfire, waiting for the flames to wane before she added more wood. That was the most use she had been to us. In her sleeplessness, Lethia tended the flames that kept us alive while we toiled for an escape. This didn’t foster a great deal of gratitude in me, however. It was a far easier job staying near the warmth of the campfire then risking your life out in the dark cold where the monsters lurked.

Grinding my teeth, I crossed the distance between us in large strides and loomed over her. “Don’t ignore me, Lethia!”

“Nice to see you managing your newfound malice, Nyx,” Quincy said behind me. I turned to see her trudging through the snow, a dark look on her face. “Harassing the girl won’t make her any more productive,” the wizard finished. She must’ve finished her usual rounds, checking her magical wards and performing divination. At this point, I was prepared to say her efforts were worth about as much as Lethia’s.

“She isn’t being productive at all!” I growled in response. My scorching eyes turned back on Lethia, who still refused to look up.

“And I suppose acting bratty is better?”

My glare turned back on the wizard. “I’m only stating the truth.”

Quincy held up her hands and sidled past me, her eyes already on Hakeem wrapped up in daesce furs on Lethia’s other side. I pursed my lips and took a seat on the other side of the fire, across from them both. Paulo was absent from the camp and would not return for a few more hours, I guessed. That boy seemed to lose himself in the Albian wilds. I didn’t blame him, though. With us for company, who would want to stick around much? At least half of us were the reason Paulo had been trapped here to begin with.

Then Lethia mumbled something.

It was the first I’d heard her speak in days since arriving, and even Argos perked his head up in what seemed surprise.

Quincy paused in her hydration of Hakeem to turn and stare at the enchantress next to her. “Did you say something, Artaud?”

Lethia paled in the firelight and I could see her visibly shrink into herself, as if she were hoping Argos’s fur could just swallow her out of sight. I rose to my knees to better be seen over the licking flames of the campfire.

“Lethia, what did you say?” I demanded.

She looked at me, like a whipped child. Her eyes were ruddy and raw, her nose a deep pink.

“…North,” Lethia rasped.

“North?” I frowned and looked at Quincy, who shrugged at me. I turned a glare back on Lethia. “What is north?”

The girl bit her lip as if to keep the words from coming out. My eyes slowly widened. “Do you mean you’ve sensed a way out of here!?”

Again, another moment of silence.

“Well, answer!” Quincy barked.

Lethia looked between us meekly. “I may have.”

“What do you mean, ‘may have?’” I pressed.

“If what I sense is truly a gate… Then…”

Paulo’s booming voice cut her off, and like a snail, she retreated into her shell.

“I have dinner!” Paulo said as he came up with what looked like two thin rabbits gripped in one hand. “Finally, my snares worked!” This was the most upbeat I’d ever seen him. He had a crooked grin and a slight spring in his step, even.

“Lethia may have sensed a way out,” I said quickly.

This made the boy freeze, and his victorious smirk faded from his face. He turned and gazed at Lethia intensely. “Is this true?”

As I stated before, Paulo and Lethia had avoided addressing one another. It wasn’t the accounts we told him of what had happened to us since coming to the Other Place, or even something the two teens had spoken of together. They mostly just pretended the other didn’t exist, a peculiar social dance that both amazed and unsettled me. I would have thought, of all people, that Paulo would be angriest with Lethia for her part in his mutilation and his brother’s death. Instead, he was simply coldly indifferent to her presence, even his occasional harsh comments, usually shot off when the girl was in his way somehow, seemed hesitant. It were as if he hoped his refusal to acknowledge her would make her go away.

Now, seeing the two lock eyes felt like almost as big an event as Lethia talking after days of silence.

“I don’t want to say for certain,” the girl mumbled, breaking eye contact first.

“I don’t care how you say it, just say it!” He snapped.

“The north!” Lethia spat, suddenly glaring up at him. “I sense something to the north, all right?”

At this the boy, took a step back, his eyes widening. “You’re mistaken,” he murmured. “You have to be!”

“You’ve felt it, too! I know you have!”

“But it can’t be there!”

“Believe me, I don’t want it to be there, but–”

“Where!?” I shouted. “Sweet Aelurus, you two keep speaking in circles!”

“Syria’s tower!” Lethia cried out at me. “I sense that a gate may lie somewhere in the direction of Syria’s tower.

Silence fell over us all.

Then Quincy snarled, “You knew this whole time, didn’t you?” She looked at Paulo next. “Both of you!”

But my eyes lingered on Paulo as something gnawed at me. “Lethia said you sensed it, too… But how could you?”

Paulo’s face hardened and I could see a dangerous look in his eyes, but I didn’t care. I rose to my feet slowly, taking his measure, thinking to myself, I could expect Lethia to be too weak to want to face her old home, but Paulo has no excuse!

“He’s an enchanter, like me,” Lethia said quietly.

Paulo was quick to close the distance between them and slap her. Argos rose, snapping and snarling, but with his companion retreating into his side, he could not act as he wished to.

So Quincy did it for him.

She punched the boy straight in the face. To his credit, Paulo did not fall, though he stumbled back a few steps in the snow.

“So long as we travel together,” the wizard seethed, “I will not suffer such conduct from you! Your brothers raised you better than that!”

“It’s just too bad you broke up my family, isn’t it?” Paulo returned hotly. He spat on the snow and crimson stained the white.

This cooled Quincy’s ire, but I could see her stance had not relaxed. She stood strong between Paulo and Lethia, and said, “I should’ve seen it… You were always sensitive to changes in the air.”

“I’m not an enchanter,” Paulo hissed. He pointed angrily at Lethia. “She’s lying!”

“Then why can you sense the same things she does?” I questioned. Then my eyes widened. “Gods… This whole time, you’ve been reading each other! That’s why you never spoke to one another! You could already hear what the other was thinking!”

Lethia flinched as if I’d threatened her. Paulo’s cold fury gained some heat as I could see his warm skin flush hot.

“Lies!” he shouted.

But it made so much sense. The pair’s odd behavior was tense, to be certain, but their refusal to address the other’s presence spoke of something deeper. A sort of fear? What did it feel like to have another enchanter around anyway? They were so busy building walls around their minds that neither stopped to really think of the true implications of the situation. The danger of it even.

I had read accounts, in my voracious reading as a youth, of enchanters going insane when not properly trained. Complications with the function of the mind and brain was inevitable, but to have a young enchanter lose control in their ignorance not only had risks for them, but for the people around them too. Had Paulo heard our thoughts without meaning to? Was that the real reason he avoided our company?

Quincy tutted at the boy’s protests. “Stop denying it! You’re an enchanter whether you like it or not! It’s bad enough you’re a late bloomer, but now we have to find you an enchanting master before you melt your brain in your obstinacy!”

“I’m not an enchanter,” Paulo argued stubbornly. He threw the rabbits down. “And I’m not going to Syria’s tower! I’m never going to that cursed place!”

He turned and stormed off, back toward the daesce valley. Quincy started to follow him.

“Paulo! Paulo!” she called.

“Leave him,” I said wearily.

I sat back onto the snow and buried my face in my hands. Paulo an enchanter. Lethia lying to us about sensing the gate. Clearly I had not done a good enough job of being focused on the present. I was too wrapped up in my frustration and loneliness. I could practically feel Lacertli’s stern eyes on me from heaven for my failure.

“He’ll get himself killed,” Quincy murmured, returning to Hakeem.

“He’s survived this long without us, I’m sure he’ll be fine,” I replied with a sigh.

My eyes flickered to Lethia, who still hadn’t emerged from the folds of Argos’s fur. The dog licked anxiously at the exposed skin of her neck, trying to offer her comfort.

I rubbed my chin. “We should leave as soon as possible. With or without Paulo.”

“I’m not leaving him,” Quincy said without looking up. She was once again trying to feed Hakeem clean snow.

“Then stay here,” I snapped. “I am tired of this Other Place and I won’t remain trapped by it any longer!”

“Ailuran don’t talk to me of exhaustion,” Quincy uttered ominously, her head turning just enough to let her eyes cut across at me.

“Paulo will come,” Lethia mumbled.

We both looked at her in surprise. Sniffling, she emerged from Argos’s side enough to glance at us both meekly.

I crossed my arms. “And what will persuade him to come so quickly?”

The young enchantress tucked a lock of wavy hair behind her ear and bit her lip.

“Me,” she said with a weak shrug.

Continue ReadingChapter 42.1

Chapter 42.2


Elmiryn knew now that it was her burgeoning fae nature that made her so aware of the alcohol coursing through her system. It was hot and warm and in her veins, becoming her blood, choking her brain in a fog of caprice that didn’t allow her to appreciate the bizarre circumstances of her situation. The sky rolled overhead as Molly and Julie carried her out of May’s house and over the gravel path leading to the street. The moment Elmiryn’s boots scraped the sidewalk, she could feel her alcoholic blood leap and turn. She didn’t even blink.

The world just changed.

Gone were the small homes, replaced instead with tall metal and brick buildings, the streets bloated with people and cars. Elmiryn’s eyes fluttered as she let her eyes take in this sudden and drastic change of scenery. Then she started giggling.

“Ladies, I think I’m gonna be sick!” she chortled merrily.

“Hold it,” Julie snapped on her right. She was the one who smelled like cigarettes, Elmiryn realized.

“We’re almost there,” Molly sighed on the left.

The warrior tilted her head back and blinked. Swimming through the clouds were crimson and golden fishes with shimmering scales and long pearly fins. “Sky fishes,” she breathed.

Her escorts looked up simultaneously as they gently pierced through a group of gangly teenage punks.

“Yeah,” Julie said. “They show up on Tuesdays.”

Elmiryn stared at the side of the other redhead’s face. “Thought ya’d tell me I was seein’ things?”

“What? Your world doesn’t have sky fishes?”

It took the warrior a few seconds to realize Julie was being wry. By the time she did, the moment to respond had passed and the unusual pair were guiding Elmiryn through a dark doorway that fed into a narrow hall and up a creaky set of stairs. Plastered on the graffiti walls were fliers and posters, detailing the latest shows and performances. Elmiryn recognized Julie’s face on many of them.

As they approached the third floor, the warrior had become disinterested in actually walking and laughed as the two women struggled to hold her up.

“Jesus, does she always get like this when she drinks?” Julie complained.

Molly shook her head and let Elmiryn go. The redhead collapsed to the stairs, giggling.

“This is pointless,” the brunette huffed. Looking at the walls, she stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled.

Elmiryn pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes as she lay there lost in her mirth. Then she started to feel small, cold hands lift her up. Startled, she raised her head and looked down at her body to see the black and fluorescent people from the posters on the walls had emerged from their paper dwellings to lift her up on behalf of Molly and Julie. Stunned, the warrior looked up at the pair in question and she saw them smirking down at her.

“Look at her! I bet she still thinks she’s hallucinating!” Julie snickered.

“Uh, hey–” Elmiryn tried to move, but felt her muscles lock up. Molly’s hand was fanned open over her.

“Stay still. You’re in a time out,” the brunette said with a grin.

The small poster people, no taller than a foot, wordlessly carried Elmiryn the rest of the way. Paralyzed, the redhead could do nothing to get up or stop them. Honestly, she thought the situation was amusing, but she couldn’t help but struggle instinctually against the spell that bound her.

Finally, they stopped at a door near  the middle of the third floor hallway. Julie produced a key and unlocked the door, pushing it open. The poster people paraded Elmiryn inside and dropped her on the floor without ceremony.

“Thank you,” Molly said politely as they marched back out the door. Julie closed it behind them.

Elmiryn found Molly had released her, and gratefully she sat up. “That was fun! So you guys make stuff come to life or somethin’?”

“Whatever we want to happen, we can make happen,” Julie said. She crossed the room from the door to a beat up plaid couch next to the window overlooking the street. She crossed her legs and said next, “It’s easier to do stuff within our territory, but it’s much harder if we leave it. The more universal laws we break, the harder the task tends to be.”

Molly vanished down a hallway as Elmiryn stood to her feet. The warrior looked around her.

This was supposed to be Julie’s home. For a woman who was essentially a demi-god, Julie didn’t live extravagantly. Her furniture was beat up and cheap, dirty disposable plates on the coffee table from what looked like a pizza night. The walls had a smattering of more concert posters as well as rock memorabilia and counter culture art. Elmiryn thought she could smell coffee in the air, mixed with the musty smell of sweaty socks.

“Nice place,” the warrior said, just managing to keep the smirk off her face.

Julie shrugged. “It works.”

Elmiryn shook her head, and went to lean on the wall near the door. Her head felt fuzzy and her limbs heavy. She was ready for some sleep, but closing her eyes made her feel a little ill. The vertigo from the drink was kicking in.

Fae are such lightweights… the woman thought disapprovingly.

Then Molly’s voice caused Elmiryn to look up. “Elmiryn. Here’s Hakeem.”

The redhead raised her eyes in time to see a dark skinned man with wide shoulders and a close shaved head step out from around Molly near the hallway. He was dressed in gray sweats and a white t-shirt. He had no shoes. Elmiryn stiffened and moved away from the wall. Her eyebrows rose high.

“Hakeem?” she said uncertainly.

Hakeem’s warm eyes fixed on her gaze. “Yes, Elmiryn.”

Elmiryn’s mouth hung open as she tried to find the words to say. When none came, she snapped her mouth shut and pointed at the wizard.

The man raised an eyebrow at her. When her silence persisted, he glanced at Molly and Julie, then focused back on Elmiryn with a frown. “…Fiamman, do you have something you’d like to say?” he asked archly.

“No,” Elmiryn said finally. “I thought pointin’ at ya was about as good as it gets right now.” She shrugged her hands. “The fuck are ya doin’ here, wizard? Ya know yer wife thinks your back home?”

The redhead slapped a hand to her forehead. “Shit! If yer really here, then who the hell is back there!?”

“A doll,” Molly said, behind Hakeem. The petite brunette went to sit with Julie at the couch. “Elmiryn, do you remember your last visit here?”


“You ran into people that resembled those you knew back in your home world. Those were Izma’s dolls. Soulless animatons that carry out the demon’s will.”

“So that means–”

“The thing that is back home is not real,” Hakeem said. From where she stood, the woman could see his neck muscles tighten as he clenched his fists. “It is not living. It has no soul. No conscious that is its own.”

“So the Hakeem that attacked us was a demon’s doll,” Elmiryn murmured.

Hakeem approached Elmiryn with pressed hands. “Elmiryn, I know my wife. She would not give up on me. No doubt Izma has tried to use the doll to try and hurt her. I need you to go back and destroy it!”

“Of course!” Elmiryn said with a snort. Then her eyes narrowed. “Hey hold on a minute. Are you saying–?”

“I can’t go back with you,” Hakeem said tightly, looking away.

Elmiryn batted her eyes rapidly. “But this isn’ yer world, wizard…” she said slowly.

“I told you that Hakeem said he wanted to help us,” Molly said with a shrug.

The redhead glared at her. “That don’ fuckin’ matter! This isn’ his world! What’s he gonna do here that’s so much more ‘portant than goin’ back to his wife!?”

“I just can’t,” Hakeem said crossing his arms. He glared. “It’s none of your business.”

Elmiryn returned his heated stare, her eyes searching. “What was it? Did Izma actually get inta yer head? Screw with yer confidence? You afraid, Hakeem?”

Hakeem’s lips pursed. “I’ll take you to the gate that will take you straight home. You won’t have to return to the Other Place. The others will meet you there, I’m sure.”

“But ya can’t be sure,” Elmiryn spat.

The man turned and went back into the hallway. “My decision is made, Elmiryn. Let me get my shoes. The gate is just a short walk from here.”

Elmiryn glared at Julie and Molly as the man vanished around the corner. “You really gonna let this happen!?”

“We’ve never had access to a demon’s tool before,” Julie crossed her arms and gazed at Elmiryn coolly. “Meznik may not be a threat to us anymore, but Izma is. We can make an exception for Hakeem being here.”

“And anyway, we aren’t forcing him,” Molly added calmly. “As you heard, it’s Hakeem’s decision to be here.”

“Yeah. It jes don’ make any sense…” Elmiryn grumbled.

Continue ReadingChapter 42.2

Chapter 42.3


More time passed. The slight shift from dark to utter dark was the only real indication I had of the day passing, but pass it did. One more day in that accursed snow, with these accursed people. I was at my limit. Now that I knew I could leave, I was determined to do so.

Paulo had been gone since the night before when he’d stormed off. Lethia had finally left the campfire. Earlier in the day, she had wandered out into the daesce valley, out of sight, Argos pressed protectively to her side. Quincy and I didn’t stop her, or even said anything to her. I was preoccupied with getting ready for the trek to Syria’s tower. Quincy too, in a way…

“There’s lots of scrap out there, Ailuran,” she said to my back.

I was busy stitching my new daesce cloak from grubby string and thin strips of fraying cloth and did my best to ignore the nettle in the wizard’s voice.

Quincy, persistent as ever, continued her nagging: “A gurney can be easily fashioned for Hakeem, and quickly, if I could just have your help!”

“First of all, human,” I said icily without so much as raising my head. “If you want me to even listen to you, you’ll have to refer to me by my given name. Second, I have already told you my reasons for not doing as you so brusquely ask!”

“Poor reasons!” Quincy spat. “Cold and cruel! This is my husband. I will not leave him in the snow!”

“Then I will leave you both in the snow,” I snapped, finally feeling my patience give. I turned and glared at the brunette with heat in my cheeks. “You think I feel good about leaving Hakeem behind? He saved my life. I will never forget that! The debt that places me in weighs heavily, and Ailurans always repay their debts–!”

“So then help him–!” Quincy started.

I cut her off, my voice rising, along with my ire. “But what you’re asking me to do? It’s unreasonable! Even Lethia says the man is gone. What you have there, Quincy is a huskThe only way I can repay my debt to Hakeem now is to end his half-existence, give him a proper burial, and work hard not to squander the life he so generously helped me to keep! But I’m not! Why? Because you’re still clinging to him! Now is that mercy, or is that in fact the ‘cruelty’ you so keenly sense in me!?”

Quincy stared at me, astonished. In the time we had known each other, I had never spoken to her this way. I could see it in her eyes, the degree to which I had gone out of her expectations. It made me disgusted. With her. With myself. I stood to my feet, throwing my work off to my side of the camp.

“I’m going for a walk,” I announced tightly.

I marched out into the snow–not toward Holzoff’s, but down the lonely trail we had first come when we arrived on this shard. We had quickly found it to be an area of little practical use, save to find some time alone. But maybe it wasn’t so useless, because that was just what I needed right then. Solitude.

Away from the campfire, I could feel the cold grip me, reaching deep past my clothes and my flesh to the bone. It was nearly pitch dark out here. Such was night in the Other Place. A lightless nether world that existed outside of natural law. The oppression of this atmosphere was powerful.

When I lifted my hands, I saw they were black forms, nothing more than shadow. I could feel the darkness around me, thanks to my Champion powers, and it felt almost suffocating. It were as if my whole being were becoming one with them, and as unpleasant as it was, I thought it was appropriate.

I felt black, down to my soul.

“She speaks to him now,” Lacertli’s voice said behind me.

I turned, but slowly. The Lizard King stood further up the trail, his back to our camp. The god had not appeared or spoken directly to me in days. There was a part of me that resented him, but this was a small part. The rest of me knew that, while I was still capable, survival was my job, not anyone else’s.

“You’re talking about Lethia,” I said. My voice sounded tired.

“Yes,” was all I got in response.

“He might hurt her,” I mused, looking down at the ground. I couldn’t see my feet in the snow and darkness.


“Should I go to her, sir?”

“Dost thou need her to be whole and well?”

I shook my head. “…No, sir.”

“Are ye certain?”

Now I looked up at him, confused. “Pardon me asking, but what do you mean? Are you suggesting I do need her somehow?”

Lacertli shrugged. “Have ye been to Syria’s tower before?”

“No. But we are taking a way unfamiliar to Artaud anyways! She pointed me in the direction–”

“Generalities have been the death of many an adventurer, Nyx,” Lacertli said calmly. “Thine supplies art limited and these cold lands art treacherous. At times, depending on Lady Fortuna is unavoidable when surviving. But I would advise against putting one’s entire lot in her whimsical hands.”

My jaw clenched and I started my way back up the snow. “Fine,” I grumbled. “I’ll see about the girl.”

As I neared Lacertli’s shadowy form, he stopped me with a raised hand.

“Thou mistake my musing as a command. The girl faces her own demons. Let her.”

I looked at him, annoyed. “Then what–”

“How is thy thread and ‘needle’ serving you?” His tone sounded deliberately ironic, and I thought I could see his smirk in the dark.

I glared at him, feeling my cheeks burn. “It serves me just fine!” I bit out out defensively.

My so called ‘thread’, the one I was using to stitch my daesce cloak, was little more than scavenged bits of string and frayed strips of cloth tied together. My ‘needle’ was a small rusty nail whose head I’d bashed into a poor eyelet. The holes in my cloak were a bit stretched as a result. I’d reasoned that so long as the damned thing lasted me to Syria’s, then it wouldn’t matter.

Lacertli just chuckled at me.

I threw my hands up in the air with a loud growl. “What, sir!? What am I missing now?”

“Search the present, Nyx. What is amiss?”

“Elmiryn’s not here,” I spat without thinking. When my cheeks burned hotter, I hurried to add. “I mean that she would have figured something out by now!”

The god crossed his arms and looked me in the eyes. His gaze was glowing a fierce gold. “But what would she have figured out?”

“A way to deal with these people!” I cried out in frustration. “As aggressive as she was, she was still better at dealing with others than I was!”

“Dost thou truly believe this to be true?”

“Of course,” I said with a caustic laugh. “Me and others? Specifically them?” I pointed up toward camp. “It’s a disaster!”

Lacertli shook his head with a small sigh. “As a being who can shape the shadows to her liking, one would think ye’d see the shadows in social interaction as well…”

My brow wrinkled. “Huh?”

With an air of suffering the god covered his face with one hand. “Thou art just putting on a show, Nyx. A shadow play. And the result of thy ham-handed performance makes itself known in the way thy company behaves and treats thee.”

I scowled. “You’re saying Lethia’s depression, Quincy’s denialism, and Paulo’s brooding is my fault? I can’t be held responsible for that!”

“True,” The god lifted his face from his clawed hand and looked at me sideways. “But even animals depend on a natural form of cooperation to survive. Thou true obstacle is not thy company, nor even thy impending journey. No. The obstacle, the thing holding thee back, are thine attempts at appearing self-reliant to cover thy hurt over Elmiryn’s apparent abandonment. It speaks of dependence and this nettles you. Nyx, I am the path. And this is the Present thou art standing in. My advice, as thy patron, is to cease with thy misplaced pride and self-victimization. Go to your comrades, for they are all you have.”

I could feel the invisible hackles rise on my back as I clenched my hands. At first, I thought a hiss was building up in my throat, but when it grew tighter and tighter, I realized it was a sob. My eyes burned.

I turned away, unable to look at Lacertli anymore.

Kali! I thought inwardly. I sought my sister out with a sort of desperation. In the time since our last fight with Syria, my twin had taken to resting deep within our mind. At my sudden presence in her mental sanctuary, she rose, yawning and stretching.

Hmmm? she grumbled. What is it?

Would you like to take control for a while? I asked in a rush.

This took her aback, just like I thought it would.

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. What happened? What did I miss?

Nothing, I shot back. It’s a yes or no question. Do you want control or not?

Kali sat on her haunches and seemed to think a moment, her black ears pinning back.

To my surprise, she slowly shook her head.

No, she said.

What!? Why?

Because, she responded sharply. We share our memories, and I can already see you want me to deal with your annoying humans for you. Well I won’t.

With a disdainful snort, she turned her back to me and laid back down on her bed of pleasant thoughts and memories. I will have my time in the world, sister. But it won’t be just to clean up your messes!

Huffing, I opened my eyes.

“Thy plan failed, I see.”

I groaned. I’d thought the god would just vanish now that he’d said his piece.

“Sir, please…”

“Please, what? I have said nothing.”

I looked at him with anguish. “It was…childish of me. To do what I just did. I know that.” My words felt hard to say. I felt equal parts embarrassed and angry. Angry that Kali hadn’t taken up my offer.

“What have I said about trapping thyself within concepts of right and wrong doing? They are illusions of society. That is not my domain. Is being childish detrimental to one’s survival? Perhaps in some scenarios, yes. But this god also recognizes that a child is resilient and resourceful in ways that adults cannot be. Having someone like Kali take over for thee? A messy choice, to be certain, but a choice that might have actually worked compared to thy recent conduct. Pity thy skills for persuasion are as poor in childish pursuits as they are in adult ones…”

I slumped, letting my head fall to my chest. Having a god basically call you both immature and ineffectual was in no way pleasant. “Fine, fine, fine!” I whined. “But regardless, I don’t want to be seen as a child. Not by you or anyone else!”

“In that case, stop acting like one,” Lacertli snapped. “This isn’t a riddle, Nyx.”

I raised my head, ready to shoot off something defensive when I realized Lacertli was gone.

With a heavy sigh, I turned and looked back toward camp.

“All right then,” I mumbled.

Once I returned from the trail, I stopped next to Quincy, but couldn’t think of what to say right away. She looked up at me with as icy a stare as you could expect from someone who hated you.

Grudgingly, I pointed toward my side of the camp, where my daesce cloak lay. “A needle and thread. So that I can finish my cloak. I’m sure you must have some in that magic bag of yours. Give me those, and I’ll help you make what you need to take Hakeem with us to Syria’s tower.”

Quincy narrowed her eyes at me. “Why the change of heart?”

With one hand on my hip, I wearily pressed my fingers into my closed eyelids. “Quincy…” I lowered my hand and glared at her. “You need help with Hakeem. Argos doesn’t have opposable thumbs, I doubt Paulo would be so eager, and Lethia doesn’t have the strength. That just leaves me. Do I agree with your reasons? No. But it’s what you want, and I’m willing to help you so long as you help me. So will you give me a needle and thread or not?”

Quincy pursed her lips and looked down at Hakeem. After days without proper food, the man did not look so good. He was turning pale and he’d lost an unhealthy amount of weight.

“Stitch cloaks for the rest of us too, and I’ll toss in one of my lesser magicked items,” the wizard said primly.

My mouth dropped. “That’d take me even longer to finish! Another two days at the least! What are you going to do about Hakeem in the meantime!?”

“I’ve been mixing in well chewed bits of food with his water. It isn’t a lot, but it’s giving his body enough nutrients to last a few more days. Once I get back to our world, I can find an alchemist who can help to sustain him!”

At my skeptical look, the wizard gave a harsh sigh. “All right! I’ll give you two lesser magicked items! Does that work for you!?”

I shrugged my hands. “What am I going to do with magicked items? I’m not a wizard!”

“The keyword you’re missing is that they are lesser, meaning you don’t need any particular skill to use them! I have several items to choose from, and some of them can be very useful. Do we have a deal?”

I stuck out my hand after a second of thought. “Deal.”

Quincy turned away, but in that fleeting moment when we shook hands, I could see her features ease to something akin to relief. She turned to look at her hip and pulled her magic bag from her belt. Reaching in, she searched for a few minutes before producing the needle and thread. It was the same ones she’d used to make Hakeem his makeshift clothing in the blackwood.

Taking these, I eagerly sat down to begin work on my cloak. She meanwhile, searched her bag again, promising to produce the magicked items for me to choose from.

As our camp fell to a quiet that could be ranked as the least tense since we’d gotten there, we heard someone approaching. Both of us stood, ready to fight. Normally the others announced themselves before coming to camp, so if it was a daesce, we were going to have to fight it off.

But when Lethia, Paulo, and Argos entered into the camp light, we visibly relaxed.

Lethia trailed after Paulo, her head bowed. Argos was at her side, as usual, yet he seemed on edge. Paulo walked a little head of them, his head raised in what looked almost like defiance. The runed scars on his skin seemed a shade darker as he glared at Quincy and I.

“I’ve changed my mind,” he said stiffly. “I’ll go with you to Syria’s tower.” Then he went to his side of the camp and sat harshly onto the icy ground, ripping his hood up over his head before fixing a glare into the fire.

Lethia meekly sat down adjacent to him. Argos, to my surprise, came to me.

“Hullo, you,” I said, not a little bemused. Much as I disliked his owner, I liked the dog just fine.

He whined and gave my cheek a soft lick.

Leaning in, I whispered. “How did Lethia manage to convince him, Argos?”

Argos growled and turned to look back at the teenagers. My eyebrows rose and I looked at them too.

I thought about my conversation with Lacertli, and as embarrassed as it had me feel, I realized something.

As the god explained to me, even animals depended on a natural form of cooperation to survive. Did I need Lethia to be whole and well for this cooperation to work? Well enough, at least, to lead us to Syria’s. Did I need Paulo’s compliance for this cooperation to work? Obviously, but his cooperation was desired in the first place because he knew these lands now better than any of us. So that took care of their relations with me.

But did their relations with each other threaten the survival of our group? And if so, in what way?

…And what in gods name could I do about it?

Continue ReadingChapter 42.3

Chapter 42.4


Now that she was actually trying to walk straight on it, Elmiryn found she disagreed with the feel of asphalt. It was hard and cold and unnatural. She decided this was not the kind of place she wanted to vomit on all fours, so she made an effort to keep from letting vertigo swing her inebriation into the deep realms of unpleasantness. The challenge was increased, she found, by…well…a great many things.

The glare from the tall glass buildings hurt her eyes. The car exhaust from the rush hour traffic, and the steaming sewer grates created a ripe dizzying smell that was dwarfed only by the slum streets of Fiamma. The city also felt noisy with its car honks and people yelling. Elmiryn actually thought she’d prefer Tiesmire to this ruckus.

Then there was the bizarre wonderland that was Molly and Julie’s territory. There were moving pictures on the giant billboards, each waving to each other and shooing pigeons off of their signs. Mixed in with the ordinary people were cartoon characters made of crayon and objects come to life, like statues and stuffed animals.

Elmiryn even saw a pink elephant squeeze its way into a compact car.

To make matters even worse, her head still ached from the want (or rejection–she couldn’t tell which) of forbidden knowledge. Her thoughts as she tried to make sense of things were wild and varied.

Cars have to go to gas stations, but why isn’t anyone stopping at this one? Isn’t that blue metal box on the sidewalk a ‘gas station’? Why the FUCK is that guy putting paper into it!?

Hakeem, meanwhile, seemed immune from the effects of being in a world not his own. He was alert, his eyes searching their surroundings as if expecting an attack any minute.

“How come ya aren’ havin’ a hard time like me?” Elmiryn muttered resentfully. “Doesn’ this world confuse ya?”

At the question the wizard suddenly chuckled. It was a quick, tight sound.

“Confuse me? Fiamman, I was struck dumb! I could not move or speak for how much pain and fear I felt!” he answered.

Elmiryn blinked at him. “So how’d you get better?”

“That girl. Molly. She seems to have your penchant for…ah…rearranging things that are unseen. It took a few days. She didn’t trust me out right. I’ve only been in my right mind for a little over a day now.”

“I’ve been here before. I wasn’ havin’ this much trouble last time…” Elmiryn said with a pout.

Hakeem nodded, giving her an intent look. “I know. I watched you.”


He sighed. “It was before Izma sent me here. I was still with you all, but it was during her mind games with Lethia. She made me watch what everyone went through.”

Elmiryn scowled. “Why jes you?”

Hakeem raised an eyebrow at her. “Haven’t you been paying attention to what Molly and Julie have been telling you? The demon used me.”

“Nuh, uh. That don’ explain it, wizard. Ya said Izma made ya watch what everyone went through first. But if she wanted to send ya here and replace ya with a doll all along, why bother?”

He shrugged. “I don’t pretend to know everything. The best I can guess is that this is simply the demon’s way. She likes to watch others suffer.”

Elmiryn crossed her arms. “She wouldn’t have made you watch for nothing. She wanted to get into your head.” The woman’s eyes narrowed. “That’s it, innit? She showed you something so horrible, it made you not want to come back.”

“I’m not afraid,” Hakeem said ominously. “I’ve told you to leave the matter alone.”

“She got to you, wizard. But you know what…?” Elmiryn took a deep breath to say what came next. When this initial preparation fell short, the warrior paused on the sidewalk, hands on hips, and glared down at her boots. She mumbled through stiff lips. “She got to me too.”

Elmiryn looked up at Hakeem to see him standing and watching her with an unreadable expression. She thumbed at her chest.

“Maybe the drink is the only reason I can say it out loud, but Izma got to all of us! I could see as much in the others when we were fighting her. She’s a demon who feeds off of sadness and hopelessness. That’s how she works!”

The redhead flicked a hand. “But you know what? Fuck ‘er. We all survived!”

Hakeem gave a soft snort. “So I should just come back? Forget everything I saw and heard?”

“Uh, yeah. Thas’ bas-ic-ally what I jes said!”

“If you knew the things that I knew…” but the man broke off, turning and walking stiffly down the sidewalk. “Just take my word for it, Elmiryn. It is not so simple!”

Elmiryn stared after him, mouth open as she tried to grasp at the wispy, but very important detail that she suspected was staring her in the face.

What’s with this idiot? Being changed into a child didn’t faze him, but he sees some stuff and falls apart!

Then the warrior’s brows knitted together as she hurried in a haphazard line to catch up with the man.

And the hell does he mean, ‘If I knew what he knew that I…knew…what? …No…’

Elmiryn palmed her face as she fell into step a little after Hakeem.

I’m too drunk for this shit.

The rest of their walk continued in silence. Just when Elmiryn thought she was going to throw up again, Hakeem turned sharply down a narrow alley. Bewildered, she followed him until they took yet another turn, and that’s when she saw it.

This gateway was smaller than the ones that she had encountered, but there was no mistaking its shimmering energy against the alley’s dead end brick wall. She hurried toward it eagerly, but stopped when she realized Hakeem was no longer with her. When Elmiryn looked back, it was to see the man already backpedaling away, his face tense. For a fleeting moment, the redhead had an extreme idea:

If I grab him, maybe I can push him in?

But she discarded this quickly. She was in no shape to be wrestling with someone of Hakeem’s stature. Besides, the man would probably just leap right back the way he’d come.

“Ya really oughta come with me, Hakeem,” Elmiryn said somberly.

“I will return. I promise,” was his stony response.

The warrior cursed. “Yer askin’ a lot o’ me, y’know? If Quincy thinks ya died when I destroy that doll thing, she’ll…” she trailed off meaningfully.

Hakeem turned and started to walk away. “I trust you’ll do the right thing. Take care of my wife while I’m away. She’s more vulnerable than she’d like for people to think.”

Elmiryn sighed and let her shoulders sink as she watched the wizard round the corner out of sight.

“Yeah?” she muttered. “Well the same goes for you!”

Turning back around, the warrior appraised the gateway critically. Then she wagged a finger at it.

“Ya better take me home! I mean it! Or I’ll tell all the other portals jes how teeny ya really are!”

Just for good measure, she gave the gateway a stern glare, before stepping through.


The date is unknown. I’m not even sure what time of day it is. Maybe I just won’t bother with that sort of thing for this. It seems a trivial thing to care for in a place that doesn’t follow time.

Before I write anything more, I just want to apologize to the soul whom I must now borrow this journal from. Jydel Anv.

Dear Jydel,

I found your journal near our camp when I was scavenging with my dog companion, Argos. It was wrapped up in cloth in a torn knapsack. Some of the earlier pages were damaged by the damp snow, but some were preserved. I was able to read enough to know that you were forced to become a guard at Holzoff’s, like so many were, and I know you were young. Not even fifteen. It was not fair that you met your fate at the claws of the daesce. I can’t presume to know what your last moments were like, but judging from your last entries, your guardmates were of the unsavory sort, and they must have left you behind at a critical moment for you to fall prey to the monsters. In that regard, I think we can relate to one another. I too know the sting of that kind of betrayal.

Maybe that’s how I should approach this? I’ll just write to you, from now on, Jydel. Pardon the charcoal. It was the only thing I could find to write with.

I wonder if the gods would frown down on me for writing on the pages of a dead man? Oh, but I’m almost certain they despise me anyways for all the taint I’ve been exposed to. Being a demon’s plaything and a mad woman’s prisoner leaves a person less than pure…

I’m sorry. I’ll stop. I’m not ignorant to my own self-pity. I know I should be stronger, and I’ve tried in awkward spurts to be just that, but my strength as of late seems so fleeting. I wanted to help my companions in our most recent struggle, but when the battle was over and I looked back, it really felt that nothing I did could make up for the harm I had caused. The others seemed to agree. Nyx, for instance, loathes me. I can hear it echoing in her thoughts sometimes. She’s been more on guard these days, trying to build walls around her mind. I think it was the revelation that Paulo is also an enchanter that did it. I don’t blame her. Two unstable enchanters must make a person feel paranoid…

My apologies again, Jydel! I’m talking about these people as if you know them.

Nyx is an Ailuran. She’s suffered a lot in her life, and more so these past few weeks. You should know that she’s Marked, but she is not a bad person. Like you, Jydel, she just made mistakes. Honestly, out of this strange group, she is the only one who might understand how I’m feeling right now, but also out of this group, she is the one whom I’ve hurt the most. It’s cruel the way life works sometimes. I wish I could make it up to her…

Quincy is a human wizard. She’s a bounty hunter–or was, I should say. Given her decision to help me sometime ago, I doubt she has much of a career to return to. Bounty hunters going back on their contracts is not a small thing. To be fair, of this group, she is the one who dislikes me the least. She’s more focused on trying to keep her husband alive.

Hakeem is a Fanaean wizard like her but he is in a coma and getting weaker by the day. I won’t bother talking about him much. I don’t think he’ll survive.

Argos is my dog companion, as I mentioned before. As a puppy, he was the subject of an illegal experiment by a satyr, and so grew very large and is very intelligent. I’ve always had an affinity for reading the minds of animals to begin with, so Argos and I, we speak telepathically. Very recently, my friend was apparently the agent of the god Lacertli. I doubt you’ve heard of him. I certainly hadn’t until recently!

Then there’s Paulo. He’s…

Actually I don’t want to write about him. Just know that Paulo is a young human man whom I’ve hurt the same, if not worse, than Nyx. It goes without saying that he dislikes me. Intensely.

I believe that just about covers the basics for you, Jydel. I’m afraid I’m tiring, and fast. I will have to resume this some other time. Nyx and Quincy are returning from their scavenging, and Paulo is once again absent. We’re all doing our part to prepare for the journey to Syria’s tower, where we hope to find our escape from this place. It should be any day now…


Dear Jydel,

I had a nightmare last night. Syria taught me that when an enchanter has nightmares they should be heeded. You see, in enchantment we see nightmares as more than just warnings. They are used as a tool by the animus to communicate with the intellect. What was my nightmare, then?

I dreamt of devouring myself, flesh and bone.

Yes, I know. Sometimes I wish my animus had better communication skills.



today was a bad one. i cannot even bring myself to say why. writing this alone takes effort.

i’m not sure i can wait till we get back to do it


Dear Jydel,

Forgive my poor writing yesterday. Have you ever been so depressed you could not sit up, let alone move or speak? That was just such a day. That doesn’t excuse the childish scrawl I gave you, however. This is what happened that brought on such a thing–

I was out scavenging with Argos when I came across Paulo in the snow. Argos and I never travel far, and we usually search to the south. You see, unlike the others, I cannot defend myself adequately, and my companion can only do so much to protect me. The deeper into the valley, the more dangerous it is–as I’m sure you’re aware. Further north is much the same. Thus, why I was surprised to see Paulo. He usually delves deep and far northwest into the valley, but for some reason he had bothered to come around where we were.

To summarize things for you, I promised Paulo something grave in order to convince him to go to Syria’s tower. You see, he didn’t want to go. He was scared, and I understand why. As an untrained enchanter, his thoughts go unchecked, and his power has the curious effect of amplifying his mind. I saw his fears.

When he first visited Syria’s tower so long ago, back when he was hunting me as a bounty, he became afflicted by Izma’s taint. It was worse for his vulnerability as a magic caster. Since he lacked training… Well, you can understand it as a gaping wound having salt rubbed into it. Hard. It was traumatizing to him. He became haunted with visions and a constant pain throughout his body. Who would want to return to the place that started all this after such an experience?

But I offered him something he cannot resist. A chance at closure.

Argos protested of course. It pained me to do that to my friend, but I had to wipe that memory from his head to stop him interfering. He is suspicious now. He keeps asking me why Paulo changed his mind. Oh, how I loathe myself for treating my best friend so poorly! I don’t know what else I could have done. Argos certainly deserves better than me.

I’ve digressed. Back to what happened yesterday–

When Paulo sought me out in the snow, I suppose he was afraid I’d back out on our agreement. He threatened me. His words sent me low, and I had to return to camp early.

It’s sort of funny now, looking back. After the deal we struck, what could Paulo possibly threaten me with?


Dear Jydel,

The day has come! We are leaving this terrible place. We have cloaks with hoods to protect from the chilly winds. We have enough food and firewood that, if properly rationed, should last us at least another five days. We’ll have to hunt for more meat, possibly. Quincy believes she can scrape out some more usable wood from her magical bag in an emergency. Together, we’ve either scavenged or fashioned tools for the trip. The one thing we still greatly lack is proper rope. Whatever ties we could scrounge up have gone to the task of hauling Hakeem’s limp body along in a sort of gurney. I was afraid to say it before, but I agree with Nyx. Trying to carry an unconscious man over the mountains with our poor resources is impractical. But we need Quincy to come with us–to fend off threats if nothing else, and believe me, that is plenty.

She cannot be convinced to see Nyx’s arguments, and Nyx is a vermagus. Have you heard of those, Jydel? Well. I suppose all you need to understand is that if Nyx cannot convince Quincy, the rest of us certainly can’t.

The others are calling me. I have to go now. We’re so close. If we can just get through this, I may find a way to make it up to everyone.

Continue ReadingChapter 42.4

Chapter 43.1


We didn’t know what cold was. Back on the ground, where we had our humble campfire and our blankets, we only knew a sort of discomfort. Reality became a biting frigid beast of unholy chill up in the mountains, where we toiled toward the unlit sky against howling winds that took away our voices, our names, our hope.

When you feel emptied of everything that you are, that is when things become truly bleak.

At the start, we stopped at the first alcove we came across, only a few hundred feet up and nearly a day’s effort. It was too slow. Staring further up the mean dark cliffs, I knew that there was much more for us to traverse, and we would have to be faster. If we weren’t, we would die. Burdened with worry, I huddled together with the other five in a meager attempt to try and solicit some warmth.

That’s what happens in those conditions. You end up clinging to the people you don’t even like.

We nibbled on dried meat to quiet our stomachs, but our food was lean on fat. Kali whispered to me as I chewed the tough rabbit meat down: We need something more, or we will grow too weak!

I didn’t have energy to respond to her, even in the most basic sense. That first night’s travel, I fell asleep with my face buried into Argos’s hind quarters and Paulo hugging me from behind.

When we awoke again, the struggle continued. Paulo and I, both the strongest, lead the climb with the others tied to us by rope. We used climbing axes Paulo had crafted from daesce bone to haul our way up. All of us wore daesce cloaks to help lessen the cold, for all the good they did. Argos had become the one tasked with the burden of Hakeem, pulling him along in a strange hammock by a harness we had made from recovered armor. In turn, Quincy and Lethia helped Argos along over the areas where the dog’s lack of opposable thumbs proved a problem.

This is what made us slow. Much as I wanted to push harder up the mountain cliffs, doing so would put the others in danger. But how much longer could we climb under these conditions? The higher up we went, the thinner the air became, and of course, the colder it became as well. We didn’t have enough food to last us the whole way if this was the best speed we could manage.

Kali! I called in my head. Do you have any ideas?

I would leave the others and go alone, was her simple response.

I growled. Of course that’s what she would do.

But I couldn’t do that. Much as it frustrated me, I needed these people for what they could provide. Perhaps the real folly was in our preparation? Maybe we should’ve spent more time gathering food or fashioning protection from the cold then gathering materials for carrying Argos and Hakeem? We didn’t eat much our first day climbing, but stretching only a few days worth of food over such a perilous period…?

Biting my tongue, I pushed on and tried to clear my thoughts of such fears.

There was no going back. In our efforts to climb, the snow had swallowed much of our path, making climbing back down too dangerous an option. Anyway, as the end of the second day came, I could see the tip of the first mountain. Troubled as I was, the only way now was forward.


Another two days went by. We had eaten what little we had of food, and even after Paulo caught a few rabbits, and I a snow ferret, that still left us weak and malnourished. We kept to the Albian cliff line as much as possible, but soon we had no choice but to traverse down into the dark valleys between the mountains. The relief from the cold winds was nice, but in exchange, we now found ourselves in daesce territory. This area wasn’t as infested as Holzoff’s, but the monsters still posed a threat, and their presence meant good hunting would be scarce.

How I loathed the daesce. We couldn’t even eat the damn things for their meat was tainted. I loathed them even more for our related wrongness. Being Lacertli’s champion was a chance at redemption for me, but that still didn’t change the fact that I was a being against nature. Kali was defiant on this matter.

I do not believe we carry the sole blame! She snarled, interrupting my thoughts one night. The gods have the power to stop such things, and they did not! We did not ask for this!

Be quiet! I snapped in alarm.

I wasn’t sure why, but my Twin was becoming increasingly blasphemous these days. Was it her experience against Syria that started it? I don’t know. All I knew was that she was sounding eerily more and more like Elmiryn in her opinions.

The last thing we needed was to be smited by heaven.

Though, it would be in keeping with the sort of luck we’d been having the past few weeks.

As this thought crossed my mind, we had been following Lethia’s direction across the valley when I stopped in my tracks. It took a while before the others noticed I had stopped. Quincy, beyond irritable since leaving Holzoff’s, marched up to me with a harsh scowl.

“Ailuran, what is the problem?” she snapped.

“Luck!” I whispered, smiling a little.

The wizard scrunched her nose. “What?”

“Luck, Quincy! Luck! That’s our problem!”

Quincy looked over her shoulder at the others. At their bemused looks, she turned back to me and said carefully, “Nyx, I think the cold and hunger might be getting to you. Maybe I should take point with Paulo and–”

I grabbed her by the shoulders. “How can you not see? Survival is one part wit, one part will, and one part luck! We need more luck!”

Quincy pulled out of my grip, her face contorted in a sort of disgusted wariness. “Uh…”

I gave an impatient growl and turned to the others. “Nine! We need to do as much as we can in multiples of nine!”

Paulo, Lethia, and even Argos exchanged looks.

The Moretti crossed his arms and frowned at me. “Why do we need to do that, Nyx?”

I shrugged. “Because it’s lucky!”

“That’s stupid!” Quincy said next to me. “Where did you get such an idea?”

I looked at her coolly. “Tristi told me.”

Her annoyance cleared, leaving a nonplussed expression on her face. “T-Tristi? The champion of Fortuna?”


Quincy’s eyes ticked back and forth as she thought this over. I could hear the others shift restlessly. Standing in the cold was uncomfortable, I knew, but this was important. We had nothing to lose in trying my idea.

“How do we know that Lady Fortune would hear us at all?” Quincy asked next, hands on her hips. “The way Tristi practices it, it’s as though luck is a skill. If that’s the case, we’re all untrained in it!”

“Being untrained in it isn’t the issue,” I argued eagerly. “The issue is that we haven’t been trying to use it at all!”

Quincy snorted and gestured around at the desolate valley of white around us. “I’d say this was certainly a gamble, wouldn’t you? How can you say that we haven’t tried our luck?”

“Because this wasn’t a real gamble! Not in the sense that Fortuna would oversee it!”

“You can’t be serious!”

“She… She has a point!” Lethia interjected. We all turned to stare at her, and at the attention the teenager seemed to wilt. Looking at her boots, she stammered out, “I just–I mean to say that–When we started on this journey, we worked hard to prepare. I knew the way to go. We knew the risks involved. This wasn’t a decision taken on faith. It was one taken out of desperation. We had nowhere else to go! Logically speaking, that isn’t truly a gamble so much as walking through the only open door available to you. So… That would mean that this effort isn’t under Fortuna’s domain!”

I nodded at Lethia, and for the first time of what felt like ages, I felt genuinely grateful toward her. “Thank you, Lethia.”

The enchantress made a small choked sound and averted her eyes.

Quincy sighed roughly and rubbed at her face with her cloth wrapped hands. “Fine. Fine. You make a good point.” She flicked a hand out at the treacherous landscape. Daesce could be seen fighting amongst themselves. We had no way of concealing ourselves out here, but we couldn’t afford to skirt the valley. We’d freeze or die of starvation if we tried.

“I just don’t get what there is that we can do or count in multiples of nine!” the wizard groused.

“We can make it,” I said, clenching my fists. I turned and started walking in the direction we had been originally going in. I passed the others and didn’t take my eyes off the dark horizon. “We can make it. We can make it. We can make it. We can make it. We can make it. We can make it. We can make it!”

I heard the others follow me, and the teenagers repeated my words nine times, just as I had.

“We can make it… We can make it… We can make it…”

Amidst Paulo and Lethia’s chants, I heard Quincy grumble, “If we do make it, it’ll be in a very annoying fashion.”

There was a beat of silence from her. Then:

“If we do make it–”

Continue ReadingChapter 43.1

Chapter 43.2

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

–Illise M.


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

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

“No,” I croaked, nine times in reply.

But only after seriously debating it.

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

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

“I said STAY OUT!” he bellowed.

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

Seres un lia bal!” Paulo shouted.

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

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

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

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

“Let him go,” Lethia mumbled behind us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sister! Kali exclaimed in my head.

I know, I thought in response.

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

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

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

“But, Hakeem—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I opened my eyes and growled at what I saw.

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

We are being flanked.

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

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

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

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

Wolf turned to me. Wolf was food.

Looked like it. Smelled like it.

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

Made the snow a dark color.

Heard the other wolves yelp and howl. They ran.

Didn’t care. Got food. Was hungry.

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

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


Meat. Meat. Meat. MEAT.

Quincy started saying something to me. Ignored her.

Food was lean, but it was mine.

Twin in my head started saying something too.

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

Quincy started yelling and came too close.

Jumped and snarled at her.

Even in the dark, could tell she turned white.

Wizard backed off, hands up, spoke soft.


I tensed up. Words were important.

I was supposed to listen to Words.

“Kali…we…too eat…can’t have…all.”

I growled a little. Stupid Words.

This was sapiens’ problem.

Words made things complicated.

I killed food. Food was mine.

Simple. Easy.

But Quincy kept talking.

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

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

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

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

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

You did well, sister….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could feel Nyx cringe.

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

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

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

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

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

“Very well.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Dear Jydel,

I hate mountains.

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

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

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


Dear Jydel,

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

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



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

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


I could hardly believe it.

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

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


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

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

“The music! It hurts!” I screamed.

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

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

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

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

My eyes widened.

I looked back at Paulo, then back again.

“An axe…for the tree!” I panted.

Continue ReadingChapter 43.2