Chapter 11.1


We slept inland, amid a sparse collection of trees, the first seen for at least two miles.  The area around Tiesmire was cleared for matters of security.  It was easier to spot a threat in the open.

I curled into Elmiryn’s back–for the cold, I’d said–but my fingers were against her, and my knees lightly touched the back of her thighs.  This gave me a different sort of comfort.  In this closeness, I trembled, unused to the contact, made timid by it, but welcoming it all the same. I was grateful that Elmiryn sought no more, though her eyes flashed in the dark, and I could hear her swallow hard. It was a peek of humanity, beneath her slippery exterior of haunted laughter and distant looks.

Feeling faint, and with a headache blossoming throughout my head, I slept, and wondered if Elmiryn would still be there in the morning, both in body…and in mind.

The morning was quiet, and a mist carried over us. I felt it trace my exposed ears and nose. Confused with sleep, I opened my eyes to see my surroundings, and the light of the morning tore into my retinas, sending a pain like my nerves were being shaved by a razor. I hissed and turned my face into Elmiryn’s back, and relished her warmth. Then my mind stirred, bothered by an observation.

Elmiryn was still there.

Normally, she would wake me with impatient hands. Today, I could hear her snore a little, a light growl that signaled she would not rise soon.

I came up from the ground, stiff, and with a damp side sprinkled with dirt, and tree bits.  I stretched and groaned, inhaling deeply.  Something in my mind said I didn’t breathe in right, so I took a breath in through my nose again, faster this time.  Confused, I swiped at my nose and took another breath, one that left me feeling light headed.  Then I realized what was missing.

My sense of smell had dulled.

I could certainly smell the campfire smoke, the damp soil, the dew on the plants and trees…but now that I stood, I could no longer sense the signature smell that I had attributed to Elmiryn–untamed nature, sweat, sometimes wine or other drink, and oiled metal.  I could not sense the bluebirds chirping in contest with the crows and the siskins.  I could not sense the trace markings of local wildlife–deer, mountain lions, foxes, or raccoons, usually apparent in the moisture.  I could not even sense the rotting trunk yards away, its broken insides alive with bugs and moss and fungi.

And how had I come to see this now?  How had I noticed that which wasn’t mine?

For it was Hers, all of it, the strong sight, smell, and hearing.  I was just the creature that played at being human, the one who knew society and language like second nature.  I could no more take back what she had taken than erase my own memory.  It made me think of Elmiryn’s attempt to protect me from Her, my Twin, and I scoffed derisively–not at the intent of the action, but at the reality of it.

There was nothing either of us could do.  Locked together as quarreling sisters, we would always trespass on the other’s most personal thoughts.  But my hands were mine, my voice mine, my smooth skin mine.  In her world, she knew fang and talon and fur–and could sense far more than I could, even with good health, utter silence, and utmost concentration on my part.

It made me feel inadequate.

But I pushed these things away, and let my base needs take precedence.  I had to go to the bathroom–which surprised me.  I’d thought all the poison and water in me had been pissed and vomited away.  But the burn I felt, and the pinch of my bladder told me I was terribly wrong.

Being upright was a terrible feeling, one made worse with the pain the light offered my squinted and resentful eyes.  I felt like an unsteady pole on a swaying ship.  My limbs, as I walked, were sluggish and my head felt stuffed in cotton.  My mouth was dry, and the light frayed my nerves.  I could almost swear, my brain was a swollen organ that battered the inside of my skull with every clumsy move of my body.  I leaned on my knees, occasionally finding a close enough tree to hold on to while I tried to catch my breath.  Snaking roots and mischievous rocks were my bane.

From our place, one could see the Tiesmire road and the ambling mass of bodies and vehicles, thicker here than towards Gamath.  Around us, others also camped, sprinkled on the sloped hillside.  Light smoke trails and shifting forms made the land seem alive.  Each resting traveler sought meager privacy, and so tried to keep their camps spread apart.  None were near us, but eyes followed me as I made my clumsy way.

Then an unwelcome voice resounded in my head.

“Quite possibly the dumbest thing you have done, second only to agreeing to follow Elle the Idiot–”

“Shut up, ingratious animal!” I snapped aloud.  Her voice echoed in my head, and it hammered my senses painfully.  Didn’t this hurt her too?  I wondered.  Or was the venom in her voice because she felt as I did?

My Twin went on rambling, “–Let me in control for a while, your sense are shot–”


“–I’m asking this purely out of necessity. You’re straying from camp–”

“I have to relieve myself!  You aren’t supposed to–”

“–And you’ll be more vulnerable with your pants down–”

“–You think shifting before all these strangers won’t make me vulnerable–?”

“–US vulnerable. And I’m only asking for a moment–”

“NO, gods damn you!”

“FINE.” She snarled, and then she fell quiet, slamming the proverbial door shut and locking it.

I snorted and let Her have her tantrum.  Now that she was sealed away in her unnameable home, she didn’t make my head hurt as much.

When my business was done, I returned to our little camp.  We couldn’t find a proper space, but our exhaustion robbed us of any care for absolute perfection.  I knelt down by Elmiryn, and my heart palpitated in my chest a healthy rhythm.  The sight of her cheeks, turned a fair rose, with her hair as hot searing locks tangled in the cracked leaves and dark dirt…  She was quiet and still, her face devoid of her typical restlessness.  But this was only her exterior, her shell, and I knew with an ache in my throat that she was lost to something unseen.  I raised a cold hand, and contemplated brushing back the rebellious locks that trailed her cheeks.  My hand curled back and I chewed my lip.  I thought, “I’d rather not be burned.”

I went to my bag and pulled out my gambeson.  The bag deflated like a hollowed out corpse.  The clothing was rolled tightly and smelled of soap.  I held it up in the sleepy light and frowned unfavorably at the darkened fabric.  The blood didn’t wash out completely.

My grip tightened as my mind flashed–bringing the sight of a pale man with spiky dark hair and wild eyes.  Aidan’s pale face, once handsome, was dominated by thick purplish veins and cancerous red skin.  His hands at my Twin’s throat, sick laughter echoing in our mind, Sedwick screaming at Her to stop, me pushing forward to force her to do just that–

My eyes teared, and I bit my tongue to anchor myself.  I pressed the gambeson to my nose and tried to find the scent of my mother.

…I sensed nothing of her.

I stared forward, feeling as though someone had just ripped the breath from my lungs.  One small tear leaked out the side of my eye, but I didn’t bother wiping at it.  I let my hands fall to my lap, where the gambeson draped my thighs like a dead skin.  With slow hands, I pulled the item on, tying it at the front.  Underneath, my tunic bunched and wadded, but the warmth my gambeson afforded me in this morning chill was worth more than the slight awkwardness this caused.  Even if I could no longer smell my mother in the fabric, I tried to find consolation in the fact that, no matter what, it was once hers.

I repeated this to myself as I rubbed my arms, fingers stinging after a while from the brush of the cloth.

Partly selfish, partly sympathetic–my motives for letting Elmiryn sleep on was met with no irritated questions.

Her eventual rising was slow, and she greeted the late morning like a corpse in the sun–stark and morbidly beautiful.  It were as if she were an artistic portrait that no one knew the meaning to anymore.  I was afraid for a moment, the way her eyes seemed so glassy…

So dead.

“Elmiryn…good morning.” My breath was a fog.  There was still a chill about us, even with the sun over the Torreth.

No answer.

I shifted nervously from my place sitting next to her.  “Maybe we should get going?” I asked.

She remained quiet, some flicker of recognition coming over her eyes as she gazed my way.  Then she pulled her knees up to her chest and braced her hands on the ground.  Her lips parted to let out a rattle of breath.

“Meznik…?” she narrowed her eyes.  “Do you feel this, Nyx?”

I shook my head and lightly touched her shoulder.  “Elmiryn, it isn’t Meznik.”

Elmiryn scowled.  “Then what–?”

“We were drinking last night.  You’re hung over, like me.”

“…I am?”

The odd turn of this conversation wasn’t lost on me.  I gave a tentative nod of my head.  “Yes…you are.”

Elmiryn’s eyes lit up.  “That’s right.  That’s right!”  She broke into a laugh.  The sound was off to my ears, like she forgot what key her humor was supposed to be in.  “Let’s look for some water and something to eat,” she said, standing with her newly acquired sword.  She still had a jocular smile on her face.

As we walked, passing camps and wary stares, her smile faded.  She spoke and her tone was uncertain.  “I had a dream.”

I looked at her, trying not to appear concerned.  I didn’t want her to feel doubt regarding her summation.  “What about?” I asked.

“I was fighting.  Lots of people.”  She shook her head and rubbed at her temples, closing her eyes.  “My head hurts…”

“Who were you fighting?”

She blinked.  Elmiryn scratched the back of her neck and rolled her shoulders.  “Everyone.  I think.  My hands sting like it, anyway.”

I frowned and gazed at her sidelong.  “Huh?”

She held up her hands to show me.  “Look, aren’t they swollen?  The knuckles?  The palms?”

“No, they aren’t.  Save for the scar in your right hand, they look normal.”

“Scar?”  She frowned and looked at her palm.  “Oh, right.”

I gave her an uneasy smile.  “Elmiryn, you weren’t really fighting.  That’s why it was a dream.”

“Uh-huh.  That’s what I said, right?”

I forced a smile and looked to the ground, my arms still around me.  My grip tightened.  I felt like crying again.

“Yes…of course, Elle.”


Quincy was drawn in the cool reaches of groaning buckeyes.  A shadow beneath her cloak, unmoving, she watched from her lofty place as the young therian wandered from camp and hid behind a large shrub.

On her way there, she heard the girl snap at something.  She appeared agitated and unsteady.  Hung over?  Likely.

When she returned, there was a curious moment where the girl paused to gaze at her friend.  It was with admiration and warmth, but her expression was somewhat strained by a sort of fear that Quincy didn’t quite understand.  Concern.  For her friend.  Beyond the typical companionship.  How long had they traveled together?

The therian reached toward the older woman’s face before curling it back.

Ah.  Longing.

Having reconsidered her previous action, the girl turned to her bag and took out a feldgrau gambeson, its shade uneven as though it suffered some large stain.  She then pressed the item to her face and inhaled, and her eyes opened with some haunted realization.  She went slack, letting the gambeson fall to her lap and remained there for a time, staring into space, before she pulled the clothing on with shaking hands.

A precious item–but it had lost something.  Something important.

When the other woke, she could hear their words, even with the cool wind in her ears that swept eastward from the ocean.  Her fingernails gripped into the grain of bark as Quincy shifted just ever slightly, enough to see beneath the spined reach of the buckeye to catch the bewildered expression of the therian.

She was particularly intrigued by the very human-like mannerisms that draped the girl, as if her other self was just a different coat, to be tucked away, unseen, until the right time.

Her companion was another curiosity.  At first she spoke slow and quiet–like a hollow instrument–but then as alertness set into her the woman revealed to have a melodic voice that lifted and jumped on the ear drums–pulled along by some hidden observation that colored her words with humor.  Her eyes were perhaps her most intriguing feature.  Whereas her therian friend’s gaze spoke of the otherness that essentially completed her, the woman’s eyes were devoid of something.

They slipped, flickered, rolled, found something distant and far to watch, before they were back to her friend, perhaps the only thing she could fully focus on for any stretch of time before the world danced with her attention again.  She was restless in her gaze, and yet she still laughed, fascinated by the things she saw.

Not inattentive.  Just searching.  For what?

Quincy did not know what to make of this person or her companion.  She was an expert of observation, a master of detail, yet these two presented only more questions with every revelation.  Her azure eyes narrowed as they began to pass her, hidden, farther inland.

Carefully, she slipped out of the old buckeye, her choice for the all-night watch she had endured.  With confident steps, she followed the two women, eyes trained on them.  She did not feel exhaustion weigh her down, did not feel thirsty, or hungry.  She was honed in on her targets, her new interests.

…How did they know of the chronicles?  How could they possibly know?

Nyx.  The small dark-haired girl.  Elmiryn.  The taller, red-haired woman.  Perhaps the latter was her age?  A little younger?

She’d heard tell of the saviors of Gamath.  The stories varied from person to person, but she had gathered enough accounts from eavesdropping at the rooftops to have an idea of the truth.  Two women, one taller than the other, with beautiful eyes and more danger than either had ever intended on.  They came from the West on a mission, still a mystery to the general gossiper.

Heroes?  Fame chasers?  …Victims of circumstance?

Quincy’s eyes were sharp beneath the lip of her head, and they pierced through smoke and trees to the two women.  For her intended gamble, it was enough.  She could survive circumstances of dubious outcome, could defeat a person of greater reputation, could hold her own when outnumbered–this challenge would be no different.  She would make sure.  True, it would take more work, but Quincy was certain she could have her answers, have her reward, and be unscathed in the end.  With Hakeem, she was doubly sure.

Since she could recall, she had always encountered some unexpected variable in the equation.  She had gathered information that had led her here, and she knew the one she searched for was near.  The city had barred her original quarry from entering due to inexplicable incidents that occurred within its walls.  Cast out and with supplies dwindling, they wandered along the Tiesmire road, searching.

Quincy did not believe in fate, but she believed in resilience and preparation.

She slowed as the two women before her slowed, instinctually keeping a measured distance.  The smaller one was red in the face, and her voice had become shrill.  The taller one looked sheepish.

You spent all the gold!?

“I wasn’t thinking!”

“No!  You were drunk.  And gods damn it, so was I!” The girl gripped her head and teetered.  “Sweet Aelurus, my head…”

An Ailuran.  Quincy figured she was a therian of the moon, but she’d hoped for a Lycan.  Easier to manipulate.

The redhead gripped her companion’s shoulder.  “We’ll be fine–”

Nyx brushed her hand away and glared.  “And how will we be fine when these camps stretch on for several more miles?  With so many people, the only water and food to be found out here is to be bought! All of our most important things were left in that filthy tavern you dragged me into!  We can’t even trade!

If they had set up a water catch, Quincy thought, then the clean morning dew would have been enough for them.  The girl didn’t seem the sort to know this, but the redhead did.  If her assumptions were correct, the woman should have remembered this even while sick from drink.  The blond found herself disappointed by this.

“Maybe someone will be generous,” Elmiryn said with a shrug.  The situation seemed lost on her.

“I’ve had my fair share of ‘generosity’.  That’s why I never could make a living as a beggar.” The girl sat heavily onto the ground.  “Go on, Elmiryn.  Ask around.  I see no point in walking until the matter is solved.”  She fisted her cheek, then glared forward.

The woman threw up her hands and walked away, a loose smile on her lips and her eyes rolling.

Yes.  Completely lost, that one.

Elmiryn approached a man fletching arrows.

Quincy reached for a small bag on her hip.  It was limp and empty.  With both hands, she rubbed the bag until she felt something grow beneath the suede leather.  It was round and smooth.  It grew and grew until it fit snug into her palms.  Then she loosened the bag’s strings and let the ball fall into her waiting hand.  It was a reflective orb.

The woman closed her eyes and held the orb to her lips.  “I see, so you see.  I hear, so you hear.  I know, so you know.  Illuminate this for the eyes of the blind.  Reveal what is hidden, bring forth what is desired,” she whispered.  Then she kissed it, and when she was certain none were looking her way, she tossed the ball high into the air.  It caught the morning light in a brilliant shine.

The light seemed brighter than it should be, and it flashed onto everyone nearby.  Quincy caught it as it came down and tucked it away again.  She turned away, behind a plume of smoke, and was gone in the refracted light of someone’s shield.


I glared holes into the ground.

In truth, I wasn’t sure who I was angrier at.  Elmiryn, for being foolish enough to spend the little money we had on something so stupid, or myself, for allowing her to.  I wasn’t much of a drinker, and while the wine was child’s play compared to an Ailuran’s brew, I was a cheap drunk.  A very cheap drunk.  I made a note to never drink again–especially in Elmiryn’s company.

I watched sullenly, out of the corner of my eye, as Elmiryn went to speak to a man some yards away.  I was a bit surprised she was actually asking around.  Not begging–she was too proud for that.

I squinted my eyes and rubbed at my head.  It still pulsed with pain, and I suspected my foul mood was due in part to my illness, but I didn’t care.

“Elle the Idiot” should never have spent all the fucking gold…

There was a flash that lit the ground.  I frowned and sat up to look around.  Then my ear prickled at the snatch of a nearby conversation.

“–Yeah, sure!  A small stream up North, run-off from the mountain.  Very refreshing–”

My eyes brightened, and I turned to look at Elmiryn.  She was coming back towards me, an enthusiastic grin on her face.  All around us broke out sounds of surprise and joy.  Distantly, I found this odd, but didn’t pay it too much attention.  I rose to greet her.  We both started to speak.

“Elmiryn, did you hear–?”

“Hey Nyx, this man just told me–!”

A thundering sound, like heavy paws on the earth, made me stop.  My expression caused Elmiryn to stop as well, and she placed her hands on her hips with a quirked eyebrow.  Shouts of alarm came nearer and nearer.  I looked past my companion, and my face drained in horror.  Elmiryn turned to see what the ruckus was as well.  “What–?” but then she saw.

A massive shaggy dog, the size of a small bear, came charging, its eyes fixed on us.  With every great push of its incredible paws, clumps of dirt and grass flew, and a thick thread of drool trailed from its large pink tongue.  Elmiryn whipped around, shoving me behind her, one hand on the sword hilt.

“Nyx, have I got this right?  It’s coming our way, isn’t it?” She asked quickly.

My heart was pumping hard in my chest. “I-I’m not–”

As it neared, I saw just how huge the animal was.  On all fours it nearly reached Elmiryn’s waist.  There was no hope in out running it, and as I heard, that only made the dog want to chase you more, but the urge was hard to resist.

“Well is it, or isn’t it?” Elmiryn snapped.

“It–It looks like it!  Yes! Oh Sweet Aelurus, yes it is!!”

The woman bent her knees in preparation, her grip on her sword tightening.  I cowered behind her, feeling nauseous again.

Shit,” the woman cursed.

Continue ReadingChapter 11.1

Chapter 12.1


Elmiryn stared unblinkingly forward. She was vaguely aware of her eyes burning, but she did not dare move. She interlaced her hands before her mouth, and her right brow tilted the slightest degree upwards. Argos gazed back at her from his place across, his nose twitching now and again as the wind rustled his dingy white fur. His great hulking form left a long shadow that draped over the woman like a cool blanket.

Nyx, sitting next to Elmiryn on the grassy hill, gave the woman a nudge with her elbow. “Stop it,” she whispered stiffly.

Elmiryn did not look away. Instead, she murmured back, “Why?”

“Because,” the Ailuran hissed in vexation. “Dogs take stares as a challenge.”

The warrior smirked. “Really? Don’t cats do, too? You guys speak the same language or something?”

Argos puffed, lips flapping. It was not quite a woof but stronger and sharper than a simple sigh. His ears swiveled forward and his lips pulled back to show his canines.

Elmiryn lowered her hands and smiled her broad smile.

Nyx was distracted long enough to sound insulted.  “It is not the same.”

“Then how do you know it’s a challenge?”

“Any creature that stares too intently at something comes across as hostile.  That’s just universal.”

“Well I’m curious about something.  I’m just not sure how to ask it.”

“I’m certain he’ll try to answer whatever you ask…I mean…he communicated with us before, didn’t he?  …Sort of?”

Elmiryn shrugged.  “I guess it couldn’t hurt.”

Lethia had gone into a thick set of shrubs behind them for her second consecutive bathroom break that morning.  “Too much water,” the girl explained with an abashed grin.  Elmiryn wished to argue that point–“too much water” was drowning from the inside out, as Baldwin had–but the warrior was certain that Nyx would not take to such a heavy-handed comment, so she refrained.

The woman crossed her arms and leaned forward.  “Okay, Argos.  Why us?”

The dog cocked his head to one side, then grumbling, looked to Nyx as if she were the more sensible one…Or maybe she was.  Elmiryn was trying to speak with a dog, after all.

Nyx shifted where she sat, switching the way her legs crossed as though that would aid with circulation.  She scratched at the front of her tunic and gave Elmiryn a squinted look.  “Maybe you should ask him something simpler…a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ sort of question.”

The woman shrugged one shoulder.  “Okay.”  She pointed back at Argos.  “Bark once for yes, two for no…Alright?  Give a nod of the head if you can do that.”

Argos gave a perfunctory jerk of the head, his large tongue sweeping out to lick his furry chops.

“Alright…Was your intention to get us back to Lethia so that we’d help her?”

One bark.  The woman’s lip twitched and her eyes unfocused for a moment.  She was reminded of a bear, or a man, or a man-bear, who hunted criminals, but the thought was too fuzzy and the image was so crude in her mind, that it sifted through the net of her consciousness.  “Did you recognize us because of the stories spreading around the roads about Gamath?”

One bark again.  Elmiryn glanced at Nyx as if to confirm the fact that they were actually getting somewhere.  The girl’s eyes were on Argos, her brow furrowed and her lips pinched thin.  Satisfied, the woman looked back toward the shaggy dog.

“Have either you or Lethia been in Tiesmire within the past two days?”

Two barks.  The warrior sighed.  She didn’t think so, but the answer held no good news.  There was someone else after them.  The woman tried to remember why it was she agreed to traveling with Lethia at all.  Then she thought of another question.

“How many bounty hunters are after you?  Bark the number.”

“There’s three.”

Elmiryn blinked at Argos.  Then she turned to look over her shoulder.  Lethia stood behind them, twisting one of her flared sleeves.  “There’s three men, as far as I know.  I’m not sure how fast the news has traveled.  There…there could be more.”  She looked to the ocean, her spectacles sitting low on her nose.  Her green eyes were like little jewels that glittered with a naivety that rankled Elmiryn’s nerves.

“Well now that you’ve stopped pissing away our lead, we can keep moving.”  Elmiryn stood, one hand on the hilt of her stolen sword.  Nyx stood with her.  The woman didn’t look, but she was certain the girl was giving her a disapproving glare.  Argos trotted past her, but not without a parting growl.

Lethia looked at her, her glasses pushed back up her nose.  She had a soft frown on her face, but her pouting lower lip suggested the girl was holding back tears.

Elmiryn decided to be merciful, at least for the rest of the day, and allowed brisk walking as their pace.  The youth and her faithful familiar took the lead, not by the woman’s wish, but by Nyx’s.  Her companion gripped her sleeve and held her back, her bold eyebrows knitted together in clear consternation.

She leaned in close to whisper, “Elmiryn, talk to me.”

The woman, hearing the intent in the girl’s voice, gave a guarded smile.  “About what?”

Nyx looked at her.  It amused the woman and annoyed her at the same time, the way the girl could prod without speaking.  “You know what.”

Elmiryn waved the question away.  “There isn’t anything to it.”

“There is! At first I thought you were just being tough, like you were with me, but now I’m sensing some real malice in your behavior…it just isn’t LIKE you!”

“You don’t think I can be malicious, Nyx?”  The woman turned her head fully, and her tone dropped down low.

The girl, to the woman’s surprise, just gave her a sad look.  “I…think you get scared.”

At this, Elmiryn started to laugh, loudly and harshly.  Lethia and Argos glanced back at them, startled, but the woman ignored them both.  “Scared!” she crowed. “Wow, that has to be the best deduction this side of the Hellas!”

Nyx gave a short sigh and kneaded her brow.  “You don’t have to get obnoxious.  Just because you aren’t used to dealing with your emotions up front–”

“I deal with my emotions just fine,”  Elmiryn returned, her grin a slash on her face.

“Is that why you get jealous when I try to extend my compassion to someone else?”

The woman, to her chagrin, felt her cheeks flare up.  “That’s a weird thing to say.”

“Elmiryn, I’m your partner, I’m your friend–but we aren’t on some sequestered little island, cast in the dark of our own personal problems–no matter how you’d like to see it, there are others who deserve help sometimes!”

“You didn’t want to help the people of Gamath either!”  Elmiryn shot back.  As the words left her mouth, she felt her insides squirm.  They didn’t feel right, nor did they taste right.  This made the woman bite her tongue.

“That was different!”  Nyx hissed.  “Everyone there was afraid of me, and no one was in any immediate danger!  And as far as not wanting to go into the river guardian’s cave…you’re right, I didn’t want to go…But I did, and I stayed. For you…”  Nyx trailed off, and her eyes lit up in a way that Elmiryn hadn’t seen before.

Elmiryn turned to blink at her.  It was quite a different thing, she found, to have what was before only inferred, admitted aloud.  Nyx had stayed…and it was because of Elmiryn.

The woman’s grin was long and curled.  A daring arm draped over Nyx’s shoulders and the warrior dropped down to murmur.  “And that is why, I’m fond of you.”  Before the girl could register what was happening, Elmiryn moved in for a quick kiss to the cheek.  The heat that emanated from the sputtering therian caused a warmth in the woman herself, but their attention was diverted back to the front when Lethia tripped over a rock.  When she came up again, using Argos as a prop, her arms were flushed pink and her movements were stiff and jerky.

Elmiryn chuckled and let her arm fall away.  The young enchantress must have seen.

“S-Smooth as you think you are,” Nyx stammered, looking at the ground.  “I’d still like it if you’d just leave Lethia alone.  She’s done us no harm–”



The woman grit her teeth and rubbed at her eye roughly.  “Okay…okay.  I guess I am in a shitty mood.  I’m still hungry, and there isn’t a thing to eat out here because everything has been pinched by travelers.”

“But there’s something else.”

“There isn’t.”

“Elmiryn, has it ever occurred to you that your mission against Meznik is another way for you to lose your humanity?  Are you really fine with that?  If you don’t want that to happen, then you’ll have to stop closing yourself off…especially with me.”

Elmiryn looked at the the girl with somber eyes.  There were times Nyx seemed entirely her age–emotionally clumsy, quick to temper, slow to cool down, timid and uncertain–but another side of her, another dimension, was making itself known. This Nyx was firm, caring, and intuitive.  This was the person Atalo knew.

Reluctantly, like a sleepy flower, Elmiryn let loose what she had thought to contain.

“She reminds me of someone,” she whispered, looking at Lethia’s back.  Out of the corner of her eye, the warrior saw Nyx looking at her, but did not turn her gaze.  “I…don’t remember who.  Or maybe she doesn’t remind me of anyone–maybe I’m just imagining it.  But something about the way she speaks, her behavior, her attitude…it just reminds me of something.  Only, it isn’t anything good.  Or happy.”

Elmiryn looked at Nyx.  “I bet you were expecting more, right?  That I should have more than just a vague memory to get all worked up over? …But that’s what the memory has.  These feelings.  I remember disliking these traits, but I’m not sure why.  Maybe when we spend more time with her, it’ll come to me.”

“I don’t know if that’ll be a good thing…” Nyx returned gravely.

The woman gave a slow nod, eyes narrowing as she watched Lethia.  “Neither do I.”

Nyx took her hand and gave it a squeeze.  Elmiryn returned it before pulling her hand away.



It was death in certain aspects to the woman she was, to the woman she left behind, to the woman she sought.  The wind was a dull whisper that made no impression to her–just a phantom seeking a phantom in kind.  She was careful to keep her eyes well-shaded beneath the hood.  Her power was such that in the darkest hours of the day, they would lance through the uncertain world and leave no question as to the nature of her person.

She wrapped herself tighter beneath her cloak and nestled in deep against the steep hillside, where rough terrain and exposed rock made her still form less conspicuous.  She shifted behind a large slab of rock that jutted upward, anticipating the morning and the future need for direct cover.  The rock was her cradle on the slippery slope, and she felt secure.

With her vantage point chosen, Quincy remained focus, even without the light to live in.  She had to listen to her quarry’s every word, witness every gesture.  These observations were a parade of personal pieces that would have come apart upon a casual observer’s weak attention.  Her greatest threat was not misunderstanding, but simply becoming bored.  It lead to terrible mistakes, and given the nature of her situation, she could not allow that.

The woman could no more say that she planned this than a common man could schedule his natural death.  But like the common man, she anticipated its coming, and was ready for the road ahead.  Had the dog not been nearby, her ploy with the Orb of Ilkmar would not have worked, for there would have been nothing to bring the trio together.  But now, they were all in one place.

The next step, was to simply watch…and wait.

The girl, Lethia, Quincy’s original target, had set about roasting a meager-sized rabbit that Argos had caught by a stroke of luck.  She turned the meat over the little flame with the use of a makeshift spit fashioned out of sticks.  She had a happy smile on her oval-shaped face, the glow of the fire dancing across the glass of her special lenses.

“I’ve lived in the tower pretty much all of my life–Syria’s tower, that is,” She told the others without warrant.  Throughout the day she had done much of that, as though she just recalled things and had to say them before she forgot again.  “It’s very big–once you enter the northern regions, you can see it towering over the valleys.”

Quincy, in a sense, already knew this story.  But the young enchantress was offering a dimension she could not have garnered on her own.  She shifted closer, careful not to cause even the slightest noise.  Argos was keeping watching, pacing around their little camp.

“My parents left me in Syria’s care.  I never heard from them again.  She’s been my mother, my friend, all these years.  She’s taught me so much!  Spell structure, mindscaping–”

–Illusions, and even some alchemy.  Syria was a powerful enchantress, Quincy knew.  She had found the woman admirable, and read much of her work when studying in Crysen.  She was a master at just about anything that fell under the domain of mind magic and the manipulation of–

“–Perception.  She can create the most beautiful things in a person’s mind…but she says it’s dangerous.  That it’s not to be used, even in the context of doing good.”

“Why learn something you’d never use?”  Nyx asked.  Elmiryn had remained quiet for several hours now.  Quincy doubted it was because she didn’t know the subject, and more her prejudice against Lethia herself.  The woman assumed it was a disliked based on principle versus something personal.

Lethia paused as she thought about the therian’s question.  “Well,” she began slowly.  “I think…it has to do with control.  My mistress says that knowledge is power, and in wishing to master the mind she had to–”

–Master it in all domains.  Syria followed no particular deity, but her practice tended to touch on the religious.  There was a story, unpublished, that circulated around the magical community.  It stated that once, long ago, Syria had come across a dying soldier.  Depending on where the story was told, the soldier’s loyalties changed, but no matter what army he was said to serve, there were parts that were the same each time.  The base of it was that the soldier begged Syria to let him see his family again–in any way possible.  The woman refused, stating that–

“‘To puppet their love before you in a flicker of shadows, would be to dishonor them in every way.  Sleep now, soldier, and let your heart see the truth.’  And the man died, peaceful, because no spell could ever replicate the bond that had taken root in his heart.”

“That’s beautiful, Lethia.”  Nyx said, her head propped up on her hands and her elbows on her knees.  “Is it a true story?”

Lethia opened her mouth.  Closed it.  Then frowned.  “I don’t seem to remember.”

Elmiryn snorted into a laugh, letting herself lie back onto the blanket that Lethia had lent them both.  “It’s just a story,” she said in a dismissive tone.

The girl flared, just as before, and looked ready to stick her foot in her mouth when Nyx interjected herself seamlessly, steering the conversation to something innocuous and mundane before an argument could break out.

Not that Quincy believed Elmiryn would entertain something so beneath her.  She could trade words all day with Nyx, but not with Lethia.  The woman seemed possessed by some crippled sense of honor.  Lethia was young, younger than Nyx, and had no experience in the world besides her abilities as an enchantress–which were useless in their current situation.  However, she was still a caster, an apprentice from a reputable practitioner, wearing affluent clothing and on a mission that was pure of heart, if completely unrealistic.

This, the woman seemed capable of respecting, even if all else about the girl she regarded with impatience and disapproval.  It left her to share scorching remarks in passing, but to never stop and indulge in a true argument…for what respectable warrior would argue with someone as young and naive as Lethia?  Nyx was of a powerful race, intelligent, durable, if not strong, and…truly seemed to be the woman’s crutch.  Or perhaps that was not the right term.  Her tether?

Quincy rubbed her chin with cold fingers.

Elmiryn, strong-willed and at times capricious, was kept grounded by Nyx.  The therian was her voice of reason, though even the girl’s judgment could be affected by her frustration and fear.  Quincy thought back to that morning, when Nyx had become agitated and unsteady on her feet.  She had been speaking to someone, though no one else was around.  How steady of a mind was she?  Could Elmiryn trust to follow such a person?

A weakness.  How curious to discover it in the proximity of their relationship.  Topple one, and the other falls…literally.  Quincy tucked the observation away for later use.

“Lethia, have you got a beau waiting around for you?”  Surprisingly enough, the question came from Elmiryn, who did not sit up.  Her head was craned back to watch the dancing lights of the northern road a mile toward the ocean.  They had traveled deep inland that day.

Lethia fumbled as she pulled the rabbit away from the fire, nearly dropping it into the dirt.  “N-No.  No, I haven’t…um…’got’ anybody.”  Her face reddened as Nyx helped her slice the meat.  “I didn’t leave the tower much…or…well…at all, actually.”

Nyx looked at her, startled.  “Really!?  But didn’t Syria ever take you into town for supplies?”

The girl handed Nyx a plate.  “A few times…I’ve even been to Lekeid.”

“Gods!  There aren’t many who even get to see its walls!! The Ailuran nation attempted alliances with the elves when they entered war with Fiamma, but they couldn’t find Lekeid.  Our priests could not even scry it!”

Lethia smiled, pleased.  “Syria has many powerful ties.”  But as she pulled out another plate to serve with, her smile died away.  “…But I’ve never traveled alone.  The furthest I’ve gotten on my own, before all this of course, was to the walls surrounding the tower.  There are a lot of dangerous creatures living in the mountains, so I was never allowed to go out by myself.”

Now Elmiryn sat up.  Her cerulean eyes were little bits of glass that held the glow of the fire like an indifferent cup.  Something the girl had said had touched on something, it seemed.

“You say you’ve never left the tower before?”

Lethia looked at her, her face tensing in preparation for a negative remark.  Warily, she answered, “No…everything I ever needed was in my tower.”

“I’m surprised you survived this long, not knowing the land at all.”

“Oh, I knew it, certainly.  One of Syria’s methods of teaching was to create simulations in my mind, to allow me the full scope of other societies and rituals without coming to harm.  She also had me study many maps.  Geography plays a large role in spellcasting, and certainly plays a large role in history.”

“I thought you said your mistress didn’t believe in creating illusions, for good or bad.”

“As she sees it, magic is much like education.  The power they both offer is not evil–the wrong comes from how others would use such power.  But she also tries to avoid speaking of it as ‘good’.  She prefers dispassion and neutrality with regard to these things.”

Elmiryn smiled crookedly and wrapped her arms around one bent knee.  “But you aren’t like that…at all.”

Lethia blushed as she handed the woman her small serving of meat.  “I try.  I can’t let my emotions get the better of me.  It creates ignorance in the pursuit of–”

“I think it’s good,” Elmiryn interjected, not even looking at her food.  Quincy was certain now that something was off–the woman’s stomach had been grumbling all day.  “I think it’s good that you take a stand.  I’ve met other casters who try to approach things the way your mistress says.  With all due respect to Syria, perhaps she really does get it right, but the casters I’ve met were just sadists who didn’t flinch at a child’s scream.”

Lethia and Nyx stared at her.  Neither seemed to know what to make of this sudden statement, and so with an awkward glance between them, they set to eating.  Easier to pass on commenting with a mouth full of food.  Even Argos paused in his pacing to have at his scraps of meat, eyes fixed on the redheaded warrior from his place next to his young mistress.

But Elmiryn wasn’t done. “How old’re you, Lethia?  Exactly?”

Lethia swallowed her food with a grimace.  It looked as though she didn’t chew her piece all the way.  “Um…I turned fifteen, two months ago.”

“Fifteen…ah, good.”  Elmiryn took a large bite out of her meat.  The woman was content to let the topic rest, though the note it stopped on brought bemusement to all, Quincy included.

The fire was put out and the group slept.  Argos kept watch…and Quincy with him, though he didn’t know.  Not once did her eyes droop.  When the suns turned the sky a rose color, and Elmiryn stirred from her bed, the dog took the opportunity for rest, lying at Lethia’s feet with a groan.

With the dog finally asleep, Quincy reached for the bag at her hip.  Once again, it was devoid of any items, but when she took it between her hands and rubbed it, she felt something grow between her palms.  When she felt points poking her skin, she opened the bag and let a small black stone cube fall into her waiting hand.

It was nearly imperceptible, but all along the cube’s surface were painted lines–guides that made sense only to one who knew how to use the item.  Quincy took one corner of the cube, then without much force, pushed at it with her thumb.  The little pyramid that had been the corner swiveled out, as though on a hinge.  She did this with the others, then, with both hands, she twisted the cube at its heart–first a quarter one way, then a full turn around the other way.  The cube shuddered, and without any noise, began to shift and transform in the woman’s palm.  Pieces and shapes of all sorts slid in and out, out and in, twisted, turned, then faded into the sleek black surface that never revealed even the slightest gap between these shifting bits.

Finally, the cube stopped its assembly.  It had changed to form a flat triangular shape, with a square cut at the bottom center base and a bold line that crossed near the top.  Inuksuk.  Impending danger.  Quincy gave a small sigh, and stroked the face of the black stone.  The item shuddered, then shifted back into its original cube form.  She tucked it back into her bag, where it seemed to vanish into thin air.  She looked at Elmiryn, who had roused Nyx from sleep to do sit-ups.

As the rays from the suns chased away the shadows, Quincy raised her head to greet the light, and her eyes rivaled the morning, before she became one with it, lost to any wandering eyes.

…It was almost time.

Continue ReadingChapter 12.1

Chapter 12.2

In seeking me, you seek in kind,

The things that blisters need.

Cross not the ends of better things,

With that which sorrow feeds.


It seemed to come laboriously, but indeed, an odd sort of harmony was born amid our new group of four.

The following day started early, where Elmiryn made good on her promise to return to our original pace now that we were fed and hydrated–though our last meal left something to be desired.   The twilight world we tromped through–where sleepy meadow was stirred by the thump of small field animals, and jagged crags of rock whistled a mournful tune–made guests of us all in this unfamiliar setting.  We were joined together by our migrant shadows that meshed in the dark of the mountain range we passed, beings apart, but connected in determination.

My eyes were weak, sapien eyes, and all around me I found trickery waiting.  A looming rock seemed like a bear.  A shifting shrub made me flinch in anticipation of an ambush.  A swirl of dust had me believe someone had just fled from sight.  It disconcerted me, and yet I tried with all my might to bite back the envy that curled my fists.  Delighted to have a moment to gloat, my Twin purred at me from her new home–as foreign and mysterious to me as death itself.

Then I looked at Elmiryn, and my pace slowed.  I looked around me again, eyes straining, and while I was certain of some things, I found myself guessing as to the nature of others.  I even had to stop completely when looking at Argos’ galloping form, to convince myself that he was actually a dog…despite my need to personify ‘it’.

…Was this what Elmiryn experienced?  Even remotely? I looked forward again, sprinting to catch up with her bobbing form, my bag of belongings jingling behind me.  What was it like to live life seeing this way at all hours?  …Perhaps even worse?

My hands unclenched, and I know my look must have turned tender.  When I came to Elmiryn’s side, huffing in unison with her, she looked at me and remarked, “You look like someone stole your last cookie!”

I looked at her sideways, one eyebrow tilted.

She gave a breathless laugh.  “Okay…that sounded stupid.  Even to me.”

The ocean was lost to us on a shoe bend that slithered higher.  The trail became much more narrow, and to our right the slope turned to a treacherous wall, and to our left a steep slope.  My ear drums popped, and the tips of my ears and nose went numb.  Running helped keep the cold at bay, and I was surprised that Lethia had managed to keep up to some degree.  She still lagged behind us, and now and again, I would slow down to wait for her, Elmiryn grudgingly doing the same.  Argos remained at Lethia’s side all the while, serving as her support when she slipped, or tripped, or needed to take a breather.

With time, the suns clawed at the highest peaks that bared down on us.  With my lungs stung by the cold air, I thought I saw the light flare, and I did a double-take.  It were as if polished shield or a mirror had caught the sunlight, but when my gaze returned to those high peaks, I saw nothing.  But I was not put at ease.  My neck crawled with a sixth sense.  Even my Twin raised herself from her dark home to peer through my eyes, and they burned from the fierceness of her gaze.

Lethia let out a cry behind us, and my thoughts were taken from me.

Elmiryn and I whirled around, dust and dirt startled around our feet from our abrupt stops.

Lethia and Argos were out of sight, just a phantom cloud drifting in their wake.

I came forward several steps, my eyes wide. “Lethia!?”

There was growling and the sound of scraping and sifting sand.  A moment later Argos appeared from the edge of the trail–or rather, his rump.  He was pulling Lethia back up onto the level ground by her bag, his body bunched, and his fur ruffled, as he dragged the youth to safety.  Lethia looked stunned, and though she tried to assist in Argos’ efforts, her limbs seemed like noodles that flayed uselessly.  Without another word, Elmiryn and I rushed forward to aid in the dog’s efforts, and together with our help, Lethia was back on the trail.  I took her bag off her back, and she lay down, pink-faced and panting.

“What happened?” I panted.

“I don’t know!” Lethia eventually answered, one arm over her eyes.  Her spectacles lay in one hand.  “I was just trying to keep up with you both when…when…”  Her breathing slowed as her voice trailed away.  I looked at Elmiryn, and she looked back at me with eyebrows raised nearly to her hairline.

I looked to Argos’ next, and if there was ever an expression of concern on a dog’s face, Argos had it.  His furry face seemed to droop, and his tongue lolled to the side.  His ears depressed and his brows pressed together as much they could.  His breathing became accompanied with a whine.  I guessed at Lethia’s next words.

The girl sat up, and she had tears in her eyes.  “I don’t remember…”

To my surprise, Elmiryn clapped her on the shoulder.  “Don’t worry about it.  I’m sure it was nothing.”  Then she stood and extended her hand.  “Come on, kid.  Let’s keep moving.”

Lethia sniffled and put on her spectacles.  She frowned up at Elmiryn.  “But where are we going?”


She pulled her sword out of the devil weed–a plant monster that lived in cliff-sides who pulled travelers over the edge, then fed on their blood.  It was a cancerous looking thing that reminded distantly of cabbage, with a bundle of dark green tentacles as thick as Quincy’s wrists.  A rotten stench and dark blood dripped from its wound and made a thick river in the dirt.

Devil weeds lived and died in their birth places–which were literally holes burrowed into the earth and rock by stubborn roots and acid.  The mountains were riddled with little punches of holes where the monsters had once resided.  Their locations served a strategic purpose, as once a victim was pulled within yards of them, their choices were either to be sucked dry, or a drop to the death.  The determination to survive was strong in many…

…What victims didn’t know was that they had better chances if they let themselves fall.

The woman had dashed from her lofty place, hidden in the light that kissed the tips of the mountains, when she saw the tentacle slithering up the scree slope.  She flashed down just in time to stop the creature from carrying Lethia away.

Taking her weapon, she wiped her sword on her pants, not even the faintest grimace appearing on her face.  In her eyes, the care of her sword was more important.  It was a blade only half a foot longer than her forearm, made of a metal that had a mellow gold tint.  It was her most prized item, and she used it only when absolutely necessary.

She looked up just as Nyx and Elmiryn pulled their new charge to safety.  Gripping one of the monster’s tentacles to keep from falling, she looked down into the valley, then up again.  She sighed.

…Quincy would have to wait till the sunlight reached her place of shade before she could rise up through the rays.  For now, she could hide in the scattered glow.  It was not ideal for her, in the slightest.  Her primary target was kept safe, but now the group would travel on without her…

…And it was not to their favor.


We took our first rest in a little nook which guarded us from the winds that howled.  Lethia, looking ill, took a nap, using Argos’s thigh as a pillow.  The dog seemed content to lounge back and close his eyes as well, and I took it as a sign of confidence.  His incredible size still startled me, and his attitude toward Elmiryn was still guarded and borderline aggressive–but I found it to be comforting, that he could trust to close his eyes around us.  It was especially warming, when I took into account…that he was trusting Lethia’s protection to us as well.

I found myself striving to honor this trust.

I stood at the opening of our little hideaway–only a few feet wide and so shallow that the light outside lit all the back wall.  But it kept us safe from the wind and helped guard from the cold, and I was grateful for it.  With darting eyes, I watched every shift of dust, every rustled shrub.  While I was glad that Elmiryn had agreed to let Lethia travel with us northward, I was now doubly afraid.

When would danger come?

A pair of arms wrapped around my neck, pulling back harshly.  I sucked in air, and my eyes went round, but I moved without thinking.  I stomped backward onto the foot of my assailant, then jabbed back with my elbow.  Their grip on me slackened, and as I slipped out of their embrace, I turned my body to the side and drove my shoulder into their body with all my might.

My foot still pressed on theirs, and I pressed on it with all my weight.  They started to fall backward, and their foot tugged useless beneath mine.  Without the ability to adjust for the momentum, they fell–but not without dragging me with them.  They gripped onto my tunic, and I crashed down onto their body, twisted, my right arm sandwiched between us as the other scraped useless in the dirt.  When it found proper support, I pushed up on my free hand, and looked bewildered into…

Elmiryn’s smiling face.

She started to laugh, the reverberation of her body beneath mine sending waves of heat through me.  I sputtered curses, pulling my right arm free.  The woman gripped me by the waist as I tried to disentangle myself and stand.  Held down, I was left to straddle her, and her smile curled in that hungry way that made me shiver.

“Hey…I didn’t teach you that,”  She murmured below me.

“I guess it just comes naturally with you,” I quipped–but the force of my words was dulled by my growing lust, and I balked when I realized how it truly sounded.

The woman laughed and grabbed the front of my tunic.  I gripped her wrists, meaning to pull her hands away, but then she started to sit up, and with a small jerk, she had me by the lips.  The warmth of her, the softness of her lips, the smell that had been lost to me before, came flooding back through proximity.  My protests fell away.  Elmiryn let herself fall backward, and I followed her, my hair brushing forward in a dark curtain as one hand planted on the ground to steady myself.

Elmiryn’s hand slipped between us and reached around to grip my neck, but not before she brushed my chest intimately–in a way I could not mistake.  I pressed forward in answer, my free hand caressing her side.

It was…easy, I found…to forget myself, in the face of such heat.  Elmiryn, whether through accident or by design, lead me straight through a doorway that said it was okay to want.  Okay to seek.  Okay to take.  Such was her mastery of seduction, her ascendancy in touch, that I could hardly tell who was the seeker and the sought.

Not when I was on top, begging a dance with her tongue.

But it wasn’t to last.

A sigh and a groan, not on our part, made me look up.  Argos was staring at us with what looked like a grin on his face.  His ears were perked and he had shifted to face us better.  Lethia rubbed at her eyes, scowling.

“What’s…what’re you two doing?” She mumbled.  Her green eyes looked our way, but she was careful to avoid eye contact.

If possible, I would have lit on fire, the way I felt my skin burn from my embarrassment.  I stood to my feet, taking several steps away from Elmiryn as I stammered, “Nothing Lethia.  Elmiryn was just…sparring with me.”

The woman sat up.  She licked her lips and chuckled.  “Yes.  I was.”

While Lethia distracted herself with putting her boots back on, I hissed at my companion. “That was in poor taste, Elle!”

Elmiryn wagged her finger as she stood up, her cheeks a light pink and an insufferable smile on her face.  “I beg to differ!”

I gestured at Lethia, who seemed puzzled by something.  She kept looking at one boot, than the other.  “I don’t want to scar her or something!” I whispered.

Scar her?” The woman looked back at the enchantress.

Lethia looked at Argos, stricken, and held up her boots.  “Argos, do you remember which boot goes where!?”

Elmiryn rolled her eyes back to me. “Oh sure, Nyx.  I think I know what you’re talking about.”

I sighed and stepped forward.  I pointed at her right boot, then her right foot.  “That one goes there.”

The girl gave me a bashful smile.  “Thank you!”  She started to slip the boot on.  Her eyes, behind the shades, flickered to us.  “I…know that I must come across as eccentric.  How can I remember who you both are, but not why I’m traveling with you?  How can I forget something as simple as which boot goes where?  It’s all because of my power…y’see it–”

“You told us this before,” I said with a patient smile.

She stared at me, pausing mid-pull.  “I did?”

Elmiryn grinned, bowing her head and kneading her brow.  “Yeah.  You did.”

“Oh…um…did I mention that sometimes when something really upsetting happens, it can cause the energies to suddenly shift?”

“Like startled water?” I offered.

Elmiryn nodded.  “Yeah, we gathered that.”

“Oh.” Lethia bit her lip and finished pulling on her boot.  She stood to her feet, swinging on her bag.  “Okay, so…since everyone seems to understand, I guess we can keep going to…uh…where were we going again?”

You were going back to save your mistress.  We were heading through the mountains to get to Reg’Amen.”

“Oh yeah!”

“Should we continue, then?  The more ground we cover, the better.”

And we traveled on.

Elmiryn didn’t make us run anymore.  Instead, she asked only for a brisk walk.  “After what happened before, I’d rather we all be close together.  There might be more monsters, the deeper we go into these mountains.”

Lethia paled, her hand flying to her mouth.  “You think a monster tried to eat me!?’

The woman shrugged.  “Not unless you were hit with a sudden bout of suicidal wishes, tried to off yourself, then just forgot.”  Elmiryn snickered at this thought, and looked forward again without another word.

Lethia looked at me, her expression scrunched in confusion.  I only rolled my eyes and shrugged.  “I don’t know, either,” I mouthed.

We came to a narrow pass that weaved northeastward.  The sun filtered in through this space in the mountain range, and we squinted in the face of its light.  Elmiryn stopped and so did we, Argos coming to her side, woofing.

“He’s right…” she murmured.  “I don’t like the idea of going through there.”

“What difference does it make?  This is wider than what we were just traveling!” Lethia exclaimed with a puzzled look.

I frowned and stood at Elmiryn’s side.  “She’s right, Lethia…at least the trail had been open before.”  I gestured before us and looked back at her, biting my lip.  “Plus, those holes in the rocks don’t look right.  Dangerous creatures could be waiting here.”

“Or we could get caught in a pincer ambush,” Elmiryn added, drawing her sword. “I thought it was weird that no other travelers were coming this way.  The trail has no footprints…not even from animals.”

“Maybe…maybe we should turn back?” I offered, tugging at Elmiryn’s arm.

The woman scowled at me.  “We can’t, Nyx.  We’ve come too far.  Doubling back would mean losing four days–maybe more.  There’s your condition to think about–”

“I’d rather get to the Indabe in one piece, than take a risk like this!” I glanced at Lethia, who had gone to crouch before Argos. She appeared to be…‘conversing‘ with him. “And there’s her to think about!” I added in a whisper.  “I don’t want her to get hurt!”

“She won’t get hurt.” Elmiryn held her fist over her heart.  She smirked at me. “I promise.”

I shook my head and crossed my arms.  “I don’t like this.”

“You knew the risks when you insisted on Lethia coming with us–this is the hand we’re dealt, Nyx!  There is a possibility we could get through safely!”  Now she had her full blown predator’s smile on.

My eyes widened and I wagged my finger slowly at her.  “You do realize what’s at stake here, right?”

The woman pressed her lips together in a vain effort to cease her smile, as if she realized she had just given herself away.  I gripped her shoulder tightly, even pulling her down some so that she gazed level into my eyes.  “Elle,” I said slowly.  “This isn’t a game.  We can’t afford to gamble our lives or anyone else’s… You might think this is interesting–you might even think this is fun–but I think we should head back.  Take the long way along the coast, with the other travelers.  It’s for the best.”

At first, she just stared at me blankly.  Then to my surprise she pouted at me. “Gods damn it, Nyx.  You and your fucking words…” Elmiryn let out a loud, frustrated sigh, swiped at her ear, then called to Lethia and Argos, who still seemed engrossed in some exchange.  “Hey!  C’mon, kid.  We’re heading back.”

Lethia looked at us, open-mouthed, and Argos head popped up like a toy.  “Heading back?” the girl echoed, her brows knitting together.

Elmiryn nodded, jerking her head back the way we came.  I could see the muscle in her jaw tense.  “Yeah.  This isn’t safe.”


“Come on, Lethia,” I said, taking her hand.  “It’ll be better this way.”


“Let’s go.”

“But–But–” Lethia tore her hand away and skipped backward several feet.  Her eyes already shone with tears.  “No!  We can’t go back!”

Elmiryn and I exchanged looks.  She gestured at Lethia, eyebrows raised, as if to say, “Well?”

I sighed and looked back at the girl.  “Lethia, we’re all alone out here.  This is dangerous.  Besides being attacked by bounty hunters or vagabonds, we could run into a dangerous monster.”

The girl shook her head, chin crumpling.  “No!  No, no, please!  We can’t go back!  And you can’t just leave me out here!  I have to go forward!  I have to save Syria!”

“Lethia you can–”

“I told you!  I told you her execution is in a week!  If we backtrack, I won’t make it in time!  I have barely enough time as it is! So please!”  The girl bounced on the balls of her feet, her bag rattling behind her.  “We…can’t go back…please…please don’t leave me alone…”

I closed my eyes and sighed.  I felt Elmiryn clap my shoulder.  “So…forward it is?”

A sharp sound echoed through the mountains.  It was a loud bang, and when I looked around, crouched, I saw that a crater in the dirt smoked near my foot.  The shape of it suggested whatever it was came from the west.  I looked up to where Elmiryn and Lethia already stared, and my gut fell to my soles.

A bronzed man with dark wavy hair and hazelnut eyes winked from his place up on a high headwall, his flintlock pistol pointed at us.  He wore a brown loose shirt tucked into black trousers.  His wide, silver buckled belt held the holster for his pistol on the right, and a rapier on his left hip.  His handsome face broke into a dimpled smile, showing large, straight teeth.

“I personally recommend moving forward!” he shouted.

Continue ReadingChapter 12.2

Chapter 13.1


Quincy scratched at the wood of her arm chair.  This fidgeting was uncharacteristic to her, but since she’d flashed into Belcliff with that girl, she hadn’t felt quite right.  Her veins sat heavy, and her eyes seemed swollen in her head.  It wasn’t exhaustion, for she felt like moving…fast.  But to where and to what, Quincy didn’t know.

Certainly, she didn’t want to stay in that cold little room any longer.

The marshal was a strong man, with a voice raked by smoke and an overflow of manliness.  He was leader of the city of Belcliff, and oversaw all judicial matters in accordance with city law.  He rapped his desk, his cobalt gaze looking through the circular window of the short tower, set atop the Belcliff regional jail.  It was a holding place for those awaiting trial, and those waiting to transfer.  She was in his office, where the ceiling rode high and the walls were of the same cold stone that the jails below were.

“There was no other way to it,”  The marshal said, running a quick hand over his peppered black hair.  “The girl was up to no good, trying noisily to get someone to free her mistress.  Looking at her, you wouldn’t know it, but our investigators confirmed her presence at the killings.”  He glanced at Quincy over his shoulder.  “So you shouldn’t feel guilty.”

Quincy’s nail broke against the wood, tearing just low enough to the tender nail bed.  She didn’t wince, but her jaw tightened.  “You confuse things,” She said, bright eyes shifting to the marshal like knives.  She crossed her arms and sat back with crossed legs.  “Your rulings do not weigh on my conscious.  I did my job.”

The man pursed his lips and nodded.  “That you did.  How do you wish your payment to be made?  We can do it in any manner you wish.”


“That will be fine.”  The marshal stepped to his desk, his militant boots managing to sound as such on the hard stone floor.  Taking his quill from the ink pot, he pulled a slip from his drawer and scrawled something quickly.  His attendant, a teenage boy who had been standing quiet and unseen near the doorway, hurried forward and took the note from the marshal with a bow.  Quincy frowned at the rash she saw on his right ear lobe–it was red and swollen, skin peeling, as though nails had raked across it more than once.

“Herman,” the marshal said. “Take her to the city coffers and show them this slip.”

The boy raised himself up, hands folding behind his back.  “Yes sir.”

“If there is nothing else, miss Quincy, I bid you good day.”  The marshal turned away from her, gaze returning to the window.

Quincy stood, and followed the attendant out.


Belcliff.  It had long shadows and longer nights–with clouds so thick overhead as to paint powerful illusions in the mind.  She could feel the cold bite her through her cloak, felt the light snow come toward her almost in a frigid sort of anticipation that made her wonder why she was mad enough to sit outside so high–stuck up on a temple’s facade like a gargoyle.  She eyed the passing bodies below and thought of beetles that scuttled through salt.  Quincy scratched at the stone ledge she crouched on, using her other hand now, because her right hand had already broken four nails.

The buildings of the city were guarded by snow draped creatures, stone beasts and agents of heaven entrapped in an artisan’s vision.  Next to her was a gryphon, its eagle head screeching to the sky.  Quincy shifted her eyes from the city below to lean against the creation, her eyes flickering up to look through the space of its open beak crying out silently.

“Where is he?” she breathed.  Her words were a fog.

Hakeem had yet to arrive in the city, and the day was already drawing to a close.  She thought about leaving for the trails, to watch for him there. But something about watching from there seemed a level more anxious than watching from the city, and so Quincy didn’t move.  Things would work out, as they always did.  She would never admit this aloud, but Hakeem was the reliable one.

The time slipped by.  In her fast, disconnected existence, its escape was not counted meticulously, as her partner could do.  For her, what seemed ages was just a passing second, and what was a passing second seemed ages.  Quincy was frustrated with this uneven take of reality.  She could lose days without eating or sleeping, and could zero in on a task without losing an ounce of focus, but the moment she was left to drift in idle, things became impossible.

She missed the suns, the graceful rays that afforded her a place of warmth–away from the stony stares of stone sentinels and black beetles.  The air seemed thin, and her breath, usually deep and calm, was short and labored.  Quincy stopped her scratching at the rough stone and sucked at her finger in distraction.  She paused when she tasted blood and pulled her hand back to stare at her thumb.  It now bled from the edge of the nail, where it had torn.

The woman scowled and stood, the wind moaning low at her audacious block of its current.  Her cloak lifted as the breeze pulled at it, but with one hand on the screeching gryphon, the woman held steady.  She reached for her pouch, not bothering to untie it from her hip, but instead, rubbed it as it pressed to her thigh.  A small item grew from her ministrations, and loosening the opening, she pulled out a teardrop of glass, no bigger than her thumb, and held it up toward the sky.

She gave it a shake and squinted her eyes as, in the clear glass, what looked like silver liquid appeared.  It swirled as she gave it one more vigorous shake, but it did not change.  Quincy pressed her lips together and began to put the little glass away, when something happened.  The silver swirl changed.  It pulsed red once, twice, then…

Bringing it up with a jerk, the woman’s eyes grew wide.

The teardrop had turned completely black, as though it had become obsidian.  Quincy cursed.  She placed the glass on the stone ledge and crushed it with her heel.

“…What is going on?”  She hissed.


Quincy appeared at the marshal’s, the tips of her fingers wrapped in little bandages to stop the bleeding.  The young attendant from before stared at her from his desk before the stairs leading up to the marshal’s office.  Adjacent to him was the door leading to the jail cells.  She could hear shouting on the other side.

“Miss?  May I help you?” he asked, quill in hand.

“I was wondering if I could see the documents regarding the investigation of the convicted enchantress, Syria.”

The attendant’s mouth parted as he frowned with squinted eyes at her.  “Under what authority?”

“I represent no one.  I wish to see them for my own edification.”

“My apologies, miss.  But those documents are sealed.  They are not open to the public.”

“But the case is closed.”

“Indeed, yes.  But it goes against city law to allow a civilian to review judicial information.”

“Leaving no one to contest it, I understand.  But I have no wish to challenge the ruling.  I only wish to see the accounts of the scene of the crime.”

“But for what?”

“Haven’t you noticed it?”

“…Um…noticed what, miss?”

Quincy leaned forward onto his desk, her voice dropping low as she held up her right hand.  The young attendant’s eyes flickered to her bandaged fingers, as his hand went up to his right ear to tug at it.  “There’s something wrong here.” She hissed.  “Belcliff’s only magical professional has been shipped off to prison, leaving no one of the proper vocation to assess the damage done to the region.  You think black magic just goes away because the caster gets locked behind bars?” Part of her knew that it was the dark influences at work, making her so aggressive, but if it worked to her end, she didn’t bother stopping it…which another part of her noted was probably a problem as well, but she had no time to consider such trivial things.

“That kind of evil stays, it lingers, it’s like a festering disease that can warp living things the longer it is left alone.  The rash you have on your ear lobe from rubbing it too much?  You think that it’s a coincidence?  Like my breaking my nails from scratching at whatever it is I sit on is a coincidence?  Did you know that dark energy can manifest itself through impulsive, obsessive habits–usually of a self-destructive nature?”

The young attendant blinked at her, his mouth jawing like a fish.  “Uh…um…” He stopped pulling at his ear, wincing, and stared at his hand as though it had a life of its own.

“I am a long-time practicing wizard with a backed knowledge of the Unbound Disciplines.”  Quincy snapped.  She leaned in closer.  “So if your prepubescent ass has to go trouncing up the fucking stairs to ask your boss if I can see your precious documents, then I suggest you do so.”

The attendant, pressed back as far as he could in his chair, gave a loud swallow.  He nodded his head jerkily.  “Y-Yes, miss.  I’ll…I’ll speak to him r-right away!”


The back room of the town hall was, to Quincy, a hole in the wall.  She glanced up at the hand that hovered near her borrowed desk, and her gaze flickered up to the guard that belonged to it.  He was a tall man with a crooked nose and no eyebrows.  His gray eyes fixed onto her, and her azure eyes narrowed in turn.

“Need you be so close?” she snapped.  Her left hand clenched against the armrest of her chair, fingers scraping down the wood.  She grit her teeth and through sheer will kept from scratching the wood again.

The man shrugged and took a small step back.

She sighed and looked back at the parchment she held.  After some arm twisting, the marshal had finally agreed to allow Quincy access to the investigation records.  Viewing them, she realized why he had been so hesitant.

The more she read, the more it sounded like the investigators had no idea what was going on.  They were meticulous in their note taking, she gave them that.  They listed everything from drawings of the scene as discovered, to measured dimensions, to entire pages dedicated to describing the state of the bodies found–which covered alchemical tests.  But as far as conclusions went…well, the men were not magic users.  It was a useless endeavor.

The most they could gather was that something horrible happened and that three citizens of Belcliff were dead.  The victims were all men varying in age and species–one was an adolescent second generation human of Ko’Keil descent from a respectable merchant family; the second an aged elf that dabbled in politics–lineage unknown–who was guessed to be over two hundred years of age; and the third victim, a poor but well loved Avian therian that did odd jobs about the city.

Besides their gender, they shared nothing in common.  She was even hesitant to say there was a pattern.  Their vastly different backgrounds and social status seemed like picking particulars at first, but when reading on about the mutilation, Quincy found many inconsistencies in the level of “work” done, or organs…removed.

And when she thought about it, the word “mutilation” was a shaky term to use.  While correct in the sense that the victims were defiled and violated, it was misleading because the things done were too…precise…to say that the perpetrator sought only to damage or transform.  Indeed the cuts were almost clinical in nature.  One clean cut, from the naval to the chin, with rib cages split open and genitalia cleanly removed?  The neatness of these otherwise horrendous acts were one of the few things the victims shared in common.  Even the symbols burned into their flesh were each of a different nature.

Artists sketched out what they could before the skin started to peel and fall away.  Once this started to happen, further study of the bodies was halted, and their remains returned to the surviving relatives at the marshal’s order.  The only one who had no family was the elderly elf man, but his corpse rotted too quickly for the artists to record all of his markings.

Quincy frowned and kneaded her brow.  She could feel a knot tying between her shoulders, and blood flowed poorly up her neck.  She winced and gave her shoulders a roll as she thought.  The symbols were largely unfamiliar, though some of them reminded her of markings she saw in various ruins on Talmor, Faenea, and the Indabe.  The real puzzler rested with the therian.  All therians had the ability to regenerate, being creatures of spiritual force and transformation.  Granted, Lycans and Ailurans had perhaps the fastest rate of healing compared to all, but there was no level of difference in the Avian’s wounds.  As the investigators wrote it, it were as if the body had been burned with the markings all at once…which was impossible in that situation.  Perhaps a gravity spell and a bit of elemental sorcery could achieve what the investigators concluded–but that was two forms of magic of a very high level.  Even an individual who had mastered multiple schools of magic could only cast one form at a time.  It was a two-man job.

However…even with the Lethia girl as an accomplice, the young enchantress still didn’t have the power needed to achieve either spell…considering she never even studied beyond her declared field of magic.

The flickering candle light made it hard to read the investigators’ scrawls, and in annoyance, the woman held up her finger and flicked it.  The candles in the room flickered and sputtered out.  Quincy’s finger glowed at the tip, instead, lighting the parchment much better.

The guard blinked and pointed, his face looking ghastly from the focused light.  Quincy finally noticed that his nose was red and blistered.  “Did you jes–?”

“Yes.  Now be quiet.”

Quincy held her lit finger up to a particular sentence, toward the bottom, and scowled.

“Miss, I was told you were looking into some ‘bad aura’ you said was hovering over the region.”  The guard was leaning forward, his eyes like heavy stones on her.  “I can read through the paper.  You’re focusing an awful bit on matters that seem a bit unrelated.”

“You’re well-read for a lackey,” Quincy said in an even voice.  She spared him only a glance.  As she expected, his nose flared at the off-hand remark.  “Tell me, what do you know about magic to say that what I’m reading is not a matter of complete and utter importance?”

“I read a lot miss.”

“Oh?” Quincy set down the parchment and made lazy swirls through the air with her glowing fingertip.  She tried to make one of the symbols the artists’ drew–a swirl with a line through it.  The after image she traced burned behind her eyelids when she blinked.  “Did you know there was once a case in the city-state of Gulley, where a boy was drained of blood, then skinned, and eaten by a militaristic cult?”

The man said nothing.  The woman held her hand up to better light his face, which was tense and white.  Her eyes narrowed.  “They were conducting a ritual to the god Juventus, trying to earn invulnerability before going into battle.  The boys ages and places of origin, things seemingly unrelated to war, was of great importance, because Juventus was said to have been born among the halfling clan of Tor, who resided in the far south.  This clan nearly overtook the Talmor continent in a single vicious campaign.  The magic they enacted could only be stopped by killing all possible sacrifices for the ritual, and rendering them unusable.”

The man pursed his lips and his shoulders bunched up a half-inch.  “And did someone do that?”

“Yes.  Someone did.”  She turned away from him and picked up the parchment.  “So if you still think you know what I should be looking at, by all means…”

The man didn’t speak again.


The door opened.  The young attendant came in.  Quincy looked up at him, not squinting as the light of the room changed.  He shook his head, exasperated.  “Miss, it’s been six hours.  Have you got what you need?”

The woman looked at the desk, covered in parchment.  She tapped her lip and nodded slowly.  “Yes…I think so…”

“Thank the gods!”  The attendant turned and smacked the soldier on the arm.  The man had fallen asleep leaning against the wall.  He jerked awake, eyes blinking wide.  “Oh…” he yawned, “Gods damn, is my shift over?”

“Do I look like I’m going to relieve you?” The attendant tugged at his right ear harshly, dark bags under his eyes.  Quincy glanced at him with a quirked eyebrow as she gathered up her cloak, draping it over her arm.

She came out from behind the desk, eyes bright with an alacrity that the other two did not match.  They stared at her, as though offended by her lack of exhaustion.

“I’d like to speak with the young enchantress,” Quincy said, looking between them.


The woman gazed at them both with cool eyes.  “Unless you’d like me to go wake the marshal, who is likely asleep in his warm, comfy mansion?”

The look of acidic hatred was all the answer she needed.

Continue ReadingChapter 13.1

Chapter 13.3


The jail had a foul smell to it. It was stale sweat, and vomit, and urine.  They were collected together, like water at the lowest of places, into one odor that reminded vaguely of chicken–perhaps rotting and sitting out in the sunlight. The stone floor had stains to it, and the large room was brightly lit. The jails were just even squares quartered off with thick iron bars–some rusting and flaking. There were no walls separating the cells, no privacy afforded those unfortunate enough to wind up there. So as Quincy followed the guard, the attendant following behind her in a sullen trail, she saw the girl at the far corner of the room.

She stopped in her tracks. “What did you people do?” she demanded.

The guard slowed and looked at her. This man was broader in the head than the last gentleman she had the honor of spending time with.  She doubted it was because of a heightened intelligence. His eyes were baggy and there was a bit of green in one of his nostrils, but otherwise he looked fine. Then Quincy saw the claw marks that stemmed out from beneath his sleeve, up the back of his hand.

“What do you mean?” He asked, voice unusually light. She imagined something deeper for someone as tall.

“I mean that thing on Lethia Artaud’s head.”

The guard turned, scratching at the back of his hand. “Oh, that?”

“We put that on her as a precaution,” The attendant said behind Quincy. She turned to see him looking at her with disgruntled eyes. He looked dead on his feet. “She kept removing her blindfold, so we had to put that mask on her.”

Quincy gestured at the girl. “An iron mask. You couldn’t use a cloth bag. You had to use an iron mask.”

The attendant shrugged. “It wasn’t my call miss, nor this guard’s here.”

“Whose was it?”

“The marshal’s.”

The woman pursed her lips. When they came to Lethia’s cell, the girl was curled up in the far left corner, away from the others housed in the jail. Her beautiful blue dress was wrinkled and stained from the filthy ground. Quincy knew it wasn’t by choice that the girl was huddled and still.  The iron mask she was subjected to was heavy, and one that enclosed about her entire head, leaving only little slits for her to breathe, but not to see. The mask sat at the base of her neck, and Quincy imagined it would’ve been far too uncomfortable, even painful, to try and stand up and move whilst wearing such a thing.

The woman gripped the bars. “Lethia Artaud,” she called.

The girl did not answer. Her hands lay still in her lap, where her flared sleeves lay twisted and abandoned.

Quincy knelt down. “Lethia…I want to talk to you about that night. The night that Syria was taken into custody.”

Still no answer. The woman turned to the guard. “Can you please open the cell?”

The guard looked at the attendant, who shrugged. He took the set of keys from his waist and after a moments search, found the one he was looking for. He slid the cell door back and stepped aside as Quincy entered. The door rattled shut behind her. She came near to Lethia’s side, away from her legs and just out of reach–a precautionary habit–and knelt down.

“Lethia. There must be something you recall.  About that night.”

She heard the girl sniffle behind the mask. She shifted and the heavy item clanked against the cell bars. “Leave me ‘lone,” the girl mumbled.

“Your mistress is a good woman, isn’t she?” Quincy said. She shifted to sit on the floor, and leaned her back against the bars. “She helps people, right?”

The girl remained quiet. Quincy looked at her from the corner of her eye. “Doesn’t it bother you that she’ll be killed by the very people she tried to help?”

Lethia let out a strange noise from behind the mask, and she tried to curl into a tight ball–but the action made her head slip from its prop, and it dipped forward to hit the adjacent bar.  The girl cried out and whimpered through sobs as she pushed with both hands to try and lift her head, which was now pulled down at a harrowing angle.  Quincy jumped forward, taking the mask at both sides and pulling it back up.

Her eyes flashed to the guard.  “Take this thing off.  Now.”

“I can’t–” The man began.

“This girl must weigh less than a hundred and fifteen pounds–something this large and heavy on her is nothing short of barbaric.  You saw didn’t you?  She nearly broke her neck.”

The attendant waved at the guard.  “Damn it.  Go on, do it.  The wizard has that flat voice now, but just try dealing with her when she starts to get angry.”  He pointed through the bars, his eyes narrowing.  “But the mask goes back on when you’re done!  I’m telling you, it was the marshal’s order!”

The guard, grumbling, opened the cell.  He clunked forward, big boots sounding offensive in their approach.  Quincy’s eyes were little blades that fixed onto his, and the man glanced at her with licked lips.  After that, his actions were considerably less brusque.  Taking up an odd fat key, he pushed it into a little hole in the back of the mask at the base.  He turned it twice before there was a click.

“Alright,” Quincy said, rising up into a kneel over the girl.  She held the mask at the front and back.  “Go back out and shut the cell door.”  The guard did just that.

The woman struggled briefly, trying to get her bandaged fingers to fit into the newly opened crack of the mask.  “Lethia,” she breathed.  “I’m going to take the mask off.  I suggest you keep civil–or else it goes back on right away.  Neither of us wants that, alright?”

The girl said nothing.

Quincy pried open the mask, letting her other hand gently pull it away.  Lethia shifted to allow the mask to be pulled away completely.  The woman strained holding it with one hand.  She dropped it onto the ground where it fell with a terrible clunk.  Her gaze returned to the girl, and she saw what the mask had hidden.

Lethia’s oval shaped face was slick with sweat.  There were bruises on the cheeks and forehead, accompanied with dozens of little scratches from the corroded metal.  The young enchantress learned quickly that the iron mask was not only meant to humiliate and block sight–but to restrict movement as well.  The girl’s wheat blond hair lacked body, so that her ears protruded from their curtain more than usual.  Her pink lips were pale and thin, and her nose flared, sucking in the foul air as though it were the best she’d had.

The girl’s green eyes squinted.  They shifted, looking about the ground.  Quincy waited to see what the girl would do.  She tensed briefly when the girl turned her gaze toward her.  But Lethia’s eyes stopped at her chin.

“What do you want?” she rasped.

“I want to hear about the night they found the bodies.  It’s important you tell me all that you remember.”

“You can read what happened in the city records.” Lethia’s head rested against the bar, and she closed her eyes.  “M’tired…”

Quincy gripped her shoulder tightly.  “Lethia.”  Her voice dropped low, almost to a growl.  Her fingers started to curl, and she fought to keep from hurting the girl.  Lethia lifted her head again, face screwing up as she stared at Quincy’s hand.

The woman let go, her hand a claw, and pressed it to her chest.  “Lethia…you’re sensitive to mindscapes–shifts in the atmosphere from emotion and thought.  You must feel what has happened here.  The region of Albias is under some dark force.  Ethically, as people of power, you or I cannot let this continue.”

The girl sighed and sat up straighter.  She swiped at her red nose and tucked a lock of blond hair behind her large ruddy ear.  “I know what you’re talking about…As much as I’m upset with you, I can’t ignore this either.”

Quincy’s brow quirked at the girl’s use of “upset” versus “angry” or something more along the lines of “I hate you,” but she said nothing.  The girl was speaking now.

“What else can I tell you?” Lethia said, gripping her head.  Her hands shook and her eyes glazed, rolling left and right.  “I…I remember studying.  In my room on the third floor.  Syria was going to test me on alchemical mixtures, and how they can be implemented into a holistic regimen.  I heard a pounding downstairs, and shouting, even with all the wind howling outside.”  The girl sighed and pressed the heel of her palm to her brow.  “Argos came bounding up the stairs, telling me I should hide because there was a mob who had broken through the gate.  I told him I couldn’t.  I told him I had to be with my mistress.  So I went down to the foyer and saw her just as she came in from the study.  She scolded me and told me to go back upstairs, but I only pretended to.”

Lethia’s chin crumpled and she curled into a tight ball.  “I only wanted to make sure she was okay!” She squeaked.  Fat tears slipped from the corners of her eyes and she hugged her knees with a white-knuckled grip.  When she resumed, her voice was less mousy, but still shook and cracked now and again.  “I hid in the shadows, just as the stairs turn out of view, and watched as Syria tried to reason with the mob through the door’s sliding window.  One man spat in her face when she offered to help them with their pain.

“They just kept going back and forth like that.  The mob accused her of murder and black magic.  Syria told them that it was she herself who had reported to the marshal that these things were happening.  She tried to warn him that something dark had come to Albias.”

“What things?”

Lethia looked at her, blinking.

“You…didn’t read it?”  She frowned.  “For the last six months, Syria had double the number of cases than usual.  People were having nightmares and sleepwalking.  Belcliff and Dolmensk had become possessed.”


I laid back against the rocks, one hand over my face.  I was starting to feel dizzy, and my body felt like thin paper–fragile, weak, and on the verge of tearing.  Argos was a comfort, his large body next to mine.  He smelled a bit–musty fur and the stink of the potion Graziano had poured into his wound–but he was warm, and from him radiated a safeness that Paulo failed to generate.

The boy in question was lying, stomach down with eyes closed, on the back of the resting scultone he had ridden.  Argos and I had both come to the quiet little relief in the mountains riding different scultones–Argos having an understandable aggression toward the youngest Moretti, and me simply not wishing to find myself near him.  Our current place of rest blocked the wind and moonlight from us, giving us cover and respite.  The others had left to camp out the trail they thought Hakeem was most likely to travel by.  “He’s in a hurry–so he’ll take the road least traveled,” Arduino said.

When I heard the explosions in the distance, I sat forward, my eyes opening with some effort.  “I hope they’re okay…” I breathed.

Argos whined next to me.  He pushed up on his front paws and turned his great head, nose flaring as his dark eyes fixed on me with his ears turned gently back.  I looked at him, then smiled.  “We’ll get Lethia.  Don’t worry.”  I sat forward to scratch at his head, when I remembered which arm I was trying to use.  I looked down in a glare.  My Twin was tapping the dirt impatiently.

I hissed a sigh and closed my eyes.  “What is it?” I said in my head.

“Nothing,” She snapped.

I clenched my sapien hand and my expression turned ugly.  “Stupid animal, what do you want!?”

“Lots of things!  But for the last two days you’ve only ignored me! Me! Who saved your worthless arm!” She roared.  My feline counterpart limped around in my head.  My arm was in place of her usual paw, but I was too busy in the physical world to utilize it.  There wasn’t much to do there, anyway, except maybe push around at idle thoughts.

“I want something to eat.”  She eventually snapped.  “Ask the boy if he has something.”

“Fine.” I opened my eyes and turned my head.  “Paulo have you got–” but my breath cut short.  My Twin sat up as well, her hand raising with claws at the ready.  Argos looked at the same time I did, and he was up on his feet, a growl grinding from deep down in his throat.

“Paulo!” I said loudly.

The boy opened his eyes in a sleepy wink and glared at me.  “What is it?” he mumbled.

“Get off of the scultone and come towards us, as slow as possible.”

Paulo’s eyes flew open, and he gently raised himself up.  He tried to turn his head to see, but he was afraid to do it outright. “What’s there?” He hissed.

“I…don’t know.”

And I didn’t.

There were two monkey-like creatures with thick black fur, bright blue faces, and large wings on their back.  They blinked at us with round eyes like coal, lips puckered and nostrils flaring.  Long slim tails wrapped around spears of rock as they leaned over to stare down at us.  Argos was bigger than both the creatures combined–but I wasn’t sure if they possessed magic powers, so I was afraid to provoke them.

Paulo slid off the scultone safely, the large draconic beast not even twitching so much as an eyelid.  Its great chest continued to rise and fall steadily, head rested on its scaly forearms.  The teenager looked up as his feet touched the ground, hand reaching for a rapier that wasn’t there–his weapons were near the scultone’s tail, along with the rest of the Morettis’ belongings.  I could see his body tense up as he finally saw what was over him, and his gaze whipped to the side to his things.

Fottuto!” He cursed.

Then the monkeys jumped, screeching and whooping, lips parting to reveal yellow fangs that rivaled even Argos’s.


“What happened next?”  Quincy asked, trying to keep the girl going.

Lethia went on.  “The mob broke through.  Syria was bound and gagged and myself with her.  They stormed the tower.”

“That’s unlawful entry.  Discovery in this way would’ve–”

“The marshal allowed it.  He said the mob was acting under his command.”

Quincy’s brow tilted.  “Quite a thing to take responsibility for.  Why would he risk being held accountable for something going wrong?”

Lethia shook her head.  “Politics?  The region was worked up into a fury over the nightmares.  Two children even died from sleepwalking outside at night and being killed by monsters.  Who knows why he allowed for all of that…after what Syria had done for him, you’d think–”

“What did she do?”

Lethia looked toward the woman, brow bunching up in anxiety.  Then she looked at the guard and the attendant who listened nearby.  Quincy glanced at them, then patted the girl’s leg.  “You forget them.  Remember, this is to help Albias.”

The youth nodded and swallowed.  She ducked her head some so that her mouth was partially covered by her arms, but Quincy could hear her as she spoke.  “The marshal…he was once part of the Belcliff militia.  Said there was some conflict with the neighboring dwarven colony shortly before his election to the governing seat.  It ended badly.  The dwarves abandoned the colony, taking their gold with them.  It left Belcliff virtually poor.  You see, the dwarves were the ones who backed the coffers, and in exchange, they had Belcliffs protection and the right to mine in the mountains.  That first year as marshal left him with chronic insomnia and…um…some paranoia.  He was seeking Syria’s counsel for nearly two years until six months ago, when this started.  No one knew.”

“Mmm…” Quincy said, frowning.  She gestured for the girl to go on.  “So when the mob searched the tower, that was when they discovered the bodies stored on three slabs in Syria’s private room of sanctuary.  Correct?”

“Yes…but, I didn’t see what they claimed to have found.  They were babbling and wailing, saying that she was sacrificing men.”  Lethia’s fists clenched, and her swollen red eyes squinted.  “Such vile things to say!  I’ve lived there all my life and never left.  I think I would’ve noticed three corpses in my home!”

“But in the trials, you said you’ve never been in that room before.  Is that true?”

Lethia looked at her, green eyes wide.  “Ah.  Well, yes!  It’s true!  I’ve never been in there.  That was Syria’s room for meditation.  I was never allowed there, not even to clean.”

“During the trial, you were released on the basis that you were mentally unfit, and therefor incapable of committing those murders.  Later, they found evidence of your presence in Syria’s sanctuary, where the men were killed.  A strand of your hair, matched to you from one taken from your room.”  Quincy held up her hand.  “How is that?”

The girl straightened, her face going long.  The look in her eyes was more bewilderment than fear, however.  “What are you suggesting?” she breathed.

Quincy shook her head.  “I’m only telling you what the investigators have found.  Your actions in the past month have caused Belcliff to re-evaluate your innocence, leading them to re-analyze the scene, which in turn, led to the discovery of the strand of hair.  You’ll have to be honest with me…have you ever practiced an art of magic outside the realm of enchantment?”

“N-No!  Of course not!”

“Does Syria practice anything outside the realm of enchantment?”

“I’ve never known her to!”

Quincy sighed and stood.  “Then even I’m at a loss.”  She turned to leave, when Lethia grabbed at her ankle.  The woman looked down at her, brows raised high.

“What’s going to happen to me?” Lethia asked.  Her lip trembled and she looked ready to cry again.  Her eyes focused around Quincy’s waist–lower than necessary.  The girl was clearly ashamed on some level.

The woman answered her.  “The jury was quick with their verdict.  You’ll be put to death, along with your mistress.”  Quincy pulled her leg from the girl’s grip, which had turned tight at her last words.  She stepped through the prison door and did not look back as Lethia began to wail.

She was led back to the foyer by the attendant, the guard staying back to continue his night watch.  The young man looked at her as she fetched her cloak from next to the entrance.

“Miss,” he said. “I understand you were just trying to get on the girl’s good side–but we can’t go bending the rules anymore.” Quincy paused to turn and stare at the attendant.  Her hand twitched.  He couldn’t have been much older than Lethia.  Perhaps a few years.  He tugged at his rash-covered ear as he went to fetch his cloak from the chair behind his desk.

“If you want anything else,” he went on to say. “It’ll have to be conducted under the conditions given to you.  If anyone finds out that we took that mask off, the marshal could very well put a bounty out on you.  He’s done it for less than that.”  He stopped next to her, drawing his cloak about him.

“Okay, Miss?” he looked at her.

Quincy looked him up and down.  She thought about the iron mask, the girl crying behind the metal, and the attendant’s impatient sneer.  The woman flipped up her hood and opened the door, a chill of wind rushing to meet her.

“Understood,” she said.


The winged monkey creatures descended on the Morettis’ things, and Paulo, yelling, kicked at them.  “They’re batrengs!” He yelled at me.  One of the little monsters hopped, wings fluttering, his rapier in its hands.  He grabbed it by the tail and flung it at the rocky wall.  “The stubborn little cretins steal your things!  Help me scare them off!”

The one that had been flung at the wall was up on its feet in no time, and its blue face had turned a violent purple.  Its fur about its head puffed up, where feathers I hadn’t seen fanned out around its jaw.  It screeched and jumped forward, all fangs and claws.

Argos was quicker than I.  He made a great leap, a sharp bark ripping from his throat as he descended on the attacking batreng.  He let out a cry as he landed–his shoulder was still hurt.  I blinked, looking from Paulo to Argos and back.

“Don’t,” I heard Her say.

I took a step forward, trembling.  My legs started to lock as I saw the batreng beneath Argos claw at his legs.  The dog snarled and took the creature around the head by his mouth, one paw on its chest.  It let out such a horrible sound–like a cross between a chicken and a baby trying to scream but whose throat was being constricted.  Then there was a wet crunch, and for my one step forward, I took two back.

Argos had ripped the batreng’s head off.  Its bloody stump of a neck spurted blood from the heart pumping it out, but it quickly dribbled to a pathetic ooze that colored the floor in a dark crimson.  The limbs twitched, and when the dog let the collapsed head drop from his mouth, I saw where his fangs had sliced through the skin.  With the face turned away from me, it no longer looked like a head–just a dark matted thing of feathers and fur.

The batreng’s companion, seeing its brother dead, shrieked and took to the air by jumping off the rock wall and away from Paulo’s snatching hands.  At first I did not understand why the boy was trying to capture the monster still, but then I saw the round metal object gripped in its dark foot.

Paulo stooped to pick up his rapier, his face screwed up in rage.  “No, stop it!  Stop it!”  He pointed, shouting as I was forced to duck from the batreng’s violent course of flight.  My Twin raised her arm and swiped at it as it flew past, and I saw her strike true, cutting into the creature’s wing and down the back of its ribs.  It screamed in that horrible way, before it crashed down to the ground, tumbling for a few feet before it sailed over the edge of the relief and out of sight.

I stared after it, breathing fast, my heart rebelling in my chest.  Paulo cursed loudly as he shoved past me.  “Conio!  He has my father’s telescope, and you just let it go over the edge!!”  He skidded to a halt at the edge and stared down, his overgrown hair blowing in the cold wind, his body bunched in the back, and his fists clenched.  I jogged to his side, and heard Argos’s claws clicking after me on the rock.  We both looked over.

The batreng had been caught–but not by something good.  Dark vines wrapped around its body.  It was slowly being pulled into a dark hole in the side of the slope, where I knew a devil weed was waiting.

Paulo shook, veins appearing in his neck and arms.  “That telescope was my dead father’s…the devil weed’s acid will destroy it.”  I looked at him.

Don’t,” I heard Her say again.

I didn’t listen.

With a conflicted cry and a face that must’ve said something along the lines of, “What am I doing?”  I jumped.  My heart stopped, and my Twin lashed out with her arm, back toward the edge of the relief in the hopes of catching Us.  But when I twisted around, we were too far–so far that I wondered if I had jumped too hard.  On the way down, I saw that Paulo had turned around, hands at his lips, and my ears were visited by the sound of his whistling.  Listlessly, I realized that the boy was going to come down with his scultone–but it was far too late.  As I hit the slope, Her fist slamming into the dirt in a desperate attempt to stop our descent, I looked up at Argos’s barking form.

I glanced down and saw that the batreng was nearly in the devil weed’s hole.  Gritting my teeth, I shifted my feet to direct my slide towards it.  When feet away, I gave a short hop, and went sailing past the plant monster’s hole–which was bigger than I had thought.  I snagged onto one of its trailing vines, halting my descent with a painful jerk.  My Twin grabbed onto the vine too, but as I made to reach for the struggling batreng, She grabbed my arm.

She screamed at me.  “You idiot, you want us to die for that little bastard’s toy!?”

“It’s not for him,” I shot back.

I leaned forward and bit Her arm hard.  She let go of me, and in my head I heard her hiss in rage.  The feeling this caused brought a great sense of nausea and pain in my skull.  I gave my head a vigorous shake, and with glazed eyes focused on the batreng, already in the shadow of the devil weed’s home.

With scrambling legs and one arm, I pulled myself up, much like a frantic worm since She would not help me at all.  Within a minute I reached the devil weed’s home.  I hauled myself up on the edge, panting and with vision tunneling.  When my eyes focused to the change in light, suddenly my idealistic tenacity was lost in a great wave of terror.

A fat creature resembling an unblossomed flower bud with purplish leaves and a beaked mouth was hugging the batreng close to its body.  The little winged imp almost earned my sympathy, the way it was completely wrapped in the devil weed’s vines.  Fleshy tendrils erupted from the plant monster’s mouth, where they burrowed into the back of the batreng’s head, effectively ceasing its struggles.  But the devil weed saw me, thanks to the hundreds of little eyes surrounding its beak, and it gurgled with vines lashing out.

I yelled as my arm was snared by its terrible grip.  My Twin’s arm fought wildly, slashing at everything that it could.  In all my terror, my eyes lit onto the telescope still gripped in the now-dead batreng’s foot.

With teeth bared, I leaned forward quickly, setting my feet before me to better rock back with.  My hand snatched the telescope from the batreng, but as I pushed to lean back, I found I couldn’t.  To my horror I was pulled closer to the devil weed’s gaping beak, where its vampiric tendrils waited to burrow into my skin.

Then the mountain side trembled, and the devil weed–sensitive to these tremors–lessened its grip on me.  I didn’t realize how much I was fighting it, for as soon as it did so, I practically launched backwards, out of the hole.

I crashed down the side of the mountain, pain lighting through me like a flash fire, as dust and dirt clouded my sight.  Then my body slammed into something warm and fleshy, and when I felt like the world stopped spinning, I dared to open my eyes.

I saw great armored legs anchored by large claws in the dirt.  I stretched a hand out, felt the scales beneath my fingertips.  Shifting, I saw that I had fallen against the side of a scultone–but not Paulo’s.  Weakly, I sat up and craned my neck.  Seated on a leather saddle, both Elmiryn and Graziano looked at me.

Elmiryn smiled a crooked smile.

“Guess I can’t leave you alone for long, can I?” she said.


All was closed up.  All was quiet.

Quincy walked slow through the streets, her face blank as her phantom legs left shadowed impressions in the dirty snow.  Belcliff had many tall stone buildings.  It was strict, almost unfriendly.  Her azure eyes trailed up to the stone creations that leered down at her.  She thought of the gryphon statue she had leaned against earlier that day, its intense cry sent toward the heavens.  Her mind returned to the girl, Lethia Artaud, wailing in the jail.

The talk had been a waste of time.  The girl knew nothing of relevance–of interest, perhaps–but not relevance.  Added on top of that was the girl’s reputation as a severely absent-minded girl, given to fugue.  Whatever information garnered from her was worth less than salt.  It raised questions in Quincy, however–little toys of curiosity for her mind to mull over as the mystery of the dark influence over Albias was halted in its tracks.

Though the case was closed on both Syria and Lethia (prejudicially perhaps, but regardless,) Quincy wondered at the purpose of the supposed ritual killings, and how they were conducted.  She wondered what it was the marshal was hiding, and why he was content to let the region suffer from a power left unattended.

Without knowing, Quincy had wandered to the Merse’s–the only establishment she had found so far that was still open.  It was a small bar located on the southern part of town.  When Hakeem and Quincy had first taken up the marshal’s offer, Hakeem had gone there briefly to enjoy a drink.

Thoughts of her partner made Quincy’s eyes flicker in search upon stepping through the bar’s double doors, her hands rising to pull back at her hood.

The bar was empty, save for an old hag at the back who looked to be asleep at her table.  Behind the bar was a young man with dark chops and a shadowed jaw.  He wiped at the table, eyes on another pair of customers seated at the table nearest to the bar.

These patrons looked up at Quincy’s entrance, and promptly let out a ruckus.

“Aha!   I knew it was you!”  A large man boomed.  He was wearing a leather studded tunic and black fur vest.  He slammed his meaty hand on the table and stood, tromping towards her with a swaying gait.  At his sides swung small metal ingots of various sorts that were punctured at the top, where they were tied to his slim belt.  On his back was a broad saber, and his smiling mouth gleamed with silver teeth.

“Karolek.” Quincy said, stepping back as the man held out his hand.  He was a sorcerer, one that specialized in controlling metal.  Each sausage-sized finger of his hand had at least two rings on it.

Rather than be offended by her silent refusal to shake, the man only laughed and gestured for her to sit at his table.  “Come, come!  It has been so long since we have last seen each other!”

“Not long enough!” A voice squawked from behind the man.  Karolek turned with a roll of his eyes back at his companion–a thin, white-haired man with a goose neck and a funny squashed head.  He wore navy blue and white cream colored robes, a tassled hat atop his balding head, and thick round glasses.  Little hands danced along the handle of his fat mug–which looked to be almost bigger than his skull.  His scruffy face bunched as he jeered at Quincy.  “I dislike you!  Intensely!”  He snapped.

Quincy reached a hand up to rub at her face.  “Hello, Jetswick.”  Jetswick was an alchemist and a veteran bounty hunter.  The rumor in the adventuring community was that the man’s true age was twenty-nine.  It was said that he had breathed in one too many fumes, and had aged faster than a normal human being because of it.

The woman just thought he was crazy.

She considered turning around and walking right back out, but Karolek pressed insistently at the woman’s back, much to her disdain.  His “suggestive” touch was just short of manhandling.  She was forced to march forward and was thrust against the table, incurring a slew of curses from Jetswick, who had to lift his mug of drink to keep it from spilling.

“Sit with us!” Karolek said, his dark-tan face breaking into a grin as he sat down in his chair.  The seat looked hardly comfortable for him, but he leaned back anyway, his long braided dark hair sweeping back to hang towards the floor.

Quincy stood, frowning at the man.  She could kill him for laying hands on her, and he knew this…but she had also known him for far too long to let it all end over a bit of drunken zealousness.  In a sense, he was like a respected colleague–and that had its privileges.  Lips pursed, the woman pulled out the last free chair and sat down.  “Hakeem might come…so it couldn’t hurt to kill time,” she thought, as she looked between her new company.

“Do you want anything?” Karolek asked.

“No, I’m fine,” she responded.

“Never a drinker,” the man said, tutting.  He turned to the barkeep.  “Another one for me, then!”

“And me!” Jetswick cried.

Karolek gave him a reproachful glare.  “You’ve had too much, you old fool!  And you’re not even done with the mug in front of you!”

“Quiet, blade biter, or my acid flask might jump from my robes and onto your ugly face!”

“How’ve you both been?” Quincy asked, though the question held little interest to her.  She just didn’t feel like seeing the two men bicker.

“Well,” Jetswick drawled, wiping his mouth after a gulp from his mug.  “With devils like you and your mud man, I’m beginning to consider early retirement.”

Quincy ignored the racial dig at Hakeem and looked at Karolek.  “And you?”

The large man shrugged.  “I arrived late, and so, have reasoned to leave as such.  Aside from being beat out by you…again…I have been well.”

“That’s good to hear…”

“You still flashing around like a fairy?” Jetswick asked, leaning forward with one eye squinted.  “All show and no real bite?”

Quincy leaned to the side, to escape the blast of rum that hit her, but otherwise, only fixed the alchemist with a frosty stare in response.

Karolek chuckled.  “You wizards and your toys…you should take magic more seriously.  Devote yourself completely to it.  Your potential as a magic user is obvious to everyone.”

“Wizardry has its merits.” Quincy returned, eyes flickering towards the man.  “I’ve seen magicians and sorcerers alike kill themselves trying recklessly to attune to a magical item.  You can’t just pick them up and use them.  You have to become one with their energy.  …I will admit, however, that it is a faster form of magic to master than, say, temporal magic.”

Karolek leaned back as the barkeep set his drink before him.  “But your shortcuts carry a price.  Every magical item has its trade off.”

Quincy shook her head.  She crossed her arms over her chest and glanced at the old hag across the room.  She still hadn’t moved.  “Finding the right item is the first step.  Moderation and restraint are the next.”

“Buncha thieves is what you are, you wizards,” Jetswick snarled.  “Always raidin’ one a-nother for magicked goodies and spelunking tombs and ancient hideaways and such…” The old man hiccuped.  His eyes widened behind his thick glasses, making him look like a quivering old cockroach.  “Thieves!  Brigands!  Highwaymen! You plunder other disciplines, thinkin’ yer such hot shtuff, but the matter of it, Quincy, is that you’re just an ordinary human, playin’ with an extraordinary tool…”

“He has a point…crazy as he is,” Karolek said.  He took a deep drink from his mug, then rubbed his chin and smirked.  “Some years ago, I recall you using a rod that called forth lightning.”

“Quite unoriginal.” Jetswick barked.

Karolek nodded in agreement.  “Quite.”

Quincy turned away in her chair, nails scraping painfully along the rim of the seat.  Her jaw tensed and she forced her hand onto the table.  “I was young then,” she said.  “I used whatever I could get my hands on.”  She looked at the sorcerer sideways.  “…And I seem to recall you getting paralyzed by that same ‘unoriginal’ rod.”

“Which reminds me…” Karolek chuckled, hand reaching up to wipe at his eyes.  He grinned as Quincy turned to look at him with a bored expression.  “Do you still have that…that…” his shoulders shook as he tried to keep from laughing out loud.  He tried to open his mouth again, but he just threw his head back and howled.  Jetswick cursed as some of his drink spilled from the table rocking.

“What?” Quincy sighed.  She thought she knew what he was going to say.

“The wand!” He eventually managed, between fits of humor.  “The…The one that–” he couldn’t finish, as he was forced to double over.  He slapped at his knee, then pounded the table, causing Jetswick to jump and spill more of his drink.

“Oafish lout!” The alchemist shrilled, his smooshed gray head turning a shade of purple.  He then proceeded to try and slurp the drink from the table.

Quincy closed her eyes and turned away.  She didn’t know why she allowed herself to become engaged in such a loathsome conversation.

“And as a sorcerer, you find life more fulfilling?” She eventually said, when Karolek’s laughter started to die away.

“Of course!” He bellowed, striking his chest in pride.  “Metal bends at my command, and the spirits of forge and blade answer my call.  The power rests in my hands.  Not in some arcane sword or powered stick…”

“I feel no need to stick my head into your proverbial hurricane of a world, Karolek.”

“I think you do.  I think there are days you wish you could marry yourself to the sunlight and be the beacon in the shadow.”

“Don’t get poetic on me, you jingling tart,” Jetswick hiccuped.  He pulled out a bottle and began pouring its contents into his mug.  “I hate it when you start to get grandiose…”

“What’re you sucking on now?” Karolek snapped at him, his meaty bald brows pressing together.

“None of your soddin’ business!” The smaller man snapped.

Karolek waved the man away.  “You know what?  I don’t care enough anyway.”  He picked up his mug and drained it.  With a loud aah, he stood and wiped at his mouth.  “Well I’m off then.”  The sorcerer passed Quincy, metal ingots clinking as he went.

He paused near her and leaned down to murmur, “I see it in your eyes, you know.” The woman turned her head a fraction and met Karolek’s dark gaze.  “You can have so much more, Quincy…if you wanted to.”

“What makes you think I want more?” Quincy returned, brow quirking.

The man bellowed out a laugh and walked away shaking his head.

“Feh,” Jetswick said at the sorcerer’s parting.  “What a graceless twit.”

The woman turned to look at him.  “I meant to ask…haven’t you noticed what’s been happening to this region?”

The man shrugged.  “What? You mean the blackness?  People hurtin’ themselves without knowin’ it? The bad attitudes, the nightmares, the illness?”  Jetswick sipped from his mug, brows rising high.  He wiped roughly at his mouth, then sneered.  “Course I have.”

Quincy scowled at him.  “And you’re content to just leave it this way?”

“Miss, I’m a gods damned alchemist.  I don’t deal in the raw energy you lot do.  Your question was better posed to that fat headed baboon that just lumbered out…but you know why he hasn’t done anything as much as I do.”

“He doesn’t care,” Quincy finished, a note of disapproval in her voice.

“Which brings me to ask,” and here, the man leaned forward, both eyes squinting to slits behind his thick glasses.  “Why do you care?”

Quincy took a deep breath, prepared to list all the moral and professional reasons in a way that she had once recited to her teacher and mentor when asked the same thing.  But something caught her ear.  It was a loud explosion–a horrible force of sound that echoed through the streets and through the shabby walls of the little bar.  She stopped, head tilting to catch the sound better.  Even Jetswick paused mid-drink to turn and listen.

“Hmph…” he finally said.  “Seems there’s a commotion going on somewheres.”  He turned and frowned.  “Say, now that I think on it–isn’t Hakeem usually the first to arrive in the city?”

Quincy was up and out of the bar before the alchemist even finished his sentence.

Continue ReadingChapter 13.3

Chapter 13.4


She took Nyx into her arms, arms reaching along the broad side of the scultone with her opposite leg holding her in place by a strained stirrup.  When Nyx was in her lap, wrapped in Elmiryn’s embrace, Graziano let out a sharp cluck accompanied with a shake of his long reins, and the scultone turned with a low hiss.  Its pointed tongue slithered out to lap at its nostrils as it started up the slope, great claws slicing into the earth like it were butter.  Graziano turned his head, hazelnut eyes lighting on the round metal thing in Nyx’s hands.

“Eh…lia.  Is that what I think it is?” he asked, eyes going wide.

Nyx, pressed back into Elmiryn’s chest, held the item up, then expanded it by pulling at both ends, the smaller piece clamped by her teeth as her sapien hand tugged.  Her Twin let her claw lay tensed and curled in the girl’s lap.  There was the sound of metal sliding and locking into place.  Elmiryn squinted at it, her vision blossoming something beyond her comprehension. “What is it?”

The girl shifted to look at her, sweaty hair teasing against the woman’s skin.  The warrior frowned softly down at the girl, who seemed paler than usual–like paper.  Her gaze shifted from the girl’s eyes to her lips.  “It’s a collapsible telescope,” she heard Nyx say.

The woman thought of crumbled pretty paper.  Fragile.  She wanted to smooth out those lips and make them right again.

“Hey…stay with me.  It’s alright.” Elmiryn whispered to the girl.

The Ailuran was startled enough by this statement to twist around and blink at her, cheek forced to press against Graziano’s sweat blossomed shirt as he leaned over to fire his pistol into the devil weed’s nest.  The creature shrieked, and out of the corner of her eye, Elmiryn saw the monster’s tentacles lash in pain, but her eyes were on the girl.


“What’re you doing with that?” Graziano said, forcing the girl’s attention back onto him.  His handsome face was pulled long in surprise.  He kept whipping his head to look over his shoulder as he pressed laterally against the scultone’s rough neck.

“A batreng took it,” Nyx responded with a shaky sigh, hips shifting as the scultone went around the devil weed’s nest.  Elmiryn gripped the saddle, pulling forward to keep better support as the scultone shifted to a steep angle.  The stirrups strained with her movement.  The girl glanced at her from the corner of her eye, and Elmiryn smiled against her ear.  When Nyx continued, it was with a distracted voice.  “I…I cut into its wing and it fell over the edge.  A devil weed was going to destroy the telescope so I came down to get it.”

“Leaping without thinking?” Elmiryn murmured into the girl’s ear.

“It was their father’s…” Nyx mumbled, shifting against the woman’s body.

Elmiryn put her hand over the girl’s and nuzzled her neck.  She breathed in deeply.  Sweat and tree sap.  “Your bleeding heart is too good for them.”  She whispered.

She heard Nyx swallow, and pulled away–but not before laying a small kiss on the girl’s bared shoulder.

The warrior twisted around to look behind them.  Arduino was bringing up their rear, the dark-skinned wizard in front of him.  Hakeem gazed at her stonily, body shifting with the movements of the scultone.  His hands were tied behind him, Arduino keeping one arm wrapped about his midriff–“To keep him from resetting things again,” he had said.

For the last two days, the five of them had coexisted in an uneasy sort of truce.  Even though the girl had rankled her nerves, Elmiryn had to say that her time with Lethia had been a great deal more pleasant.  Graziano was, perhaps, the most casual and amiable of the Morettis.  Never mind that he had been embroiled in conflict with the two women not long before.  He smiled in his handsome, frivolous way, and made light conversation.  It helped in some ways.  On the other hand, Arduino had been a brooding, cranky individual.  When he spoke it was usual to snap something in his native tongue to his brothers, or to grunt out instructions.  Paulo was a mess.  He seemed dazed and tired most of the time, and the others had to watch him to make certain he didn’t drink all the water, or go wandering off a cliff.  When he slept, it was fitfully, mumbling in his sleep.  At one point he woke them all with his screaming.

Nyx…had been occasionally lost in reverie, staring at her Twin’s arm.  Her eyes had cast about their surroundings in mourning, and there were times when she excused herself, muttering under her breath.  She’d close her eyes and begin to teeter, and Elmiryn would be there to hold her.  At her touch, the girl would come back from whatever cerebral precipice she stood on.  She didn’t read, she hardly ate, and she woke quickly, as though she had never truly been asleep.  Sometimes, her Twin probed around blindly, grabbing at things, or making gestures.  When this happened, Nyx went into a silent rage, eyes tearing up and her face going red as she clawed and bit the Twin to silence.  Elmiryn was glad to see that the beast did not fight back any more than just slapping or grabbing–because neither she or Nyx were certain of the girl’s ability to heal from such wounds.  The animal seemed aware of this, but She also seemed to remember her promise to Elmiryn, to respect her sister’s time in the physical world.

Nyx…of the light…hidden in the shadow.

Elmiryn looked forward again as they arrived at the relief.  Paulo backed away as they came up, the scultone screeching in greeting.  The boy stared at Nyx as though she had turned a funny color.  “Lia, are you crazy? What’d you go jumping like that for!?”

Nyx tossed him the telescope as she slid off the back of the scultone, Elmiryn following her.  “A simple ‘thank you’ would suffice,” she snapped on her way past him.

He blinked after her, mouth open.  Graziano, off the scultone, stomped over and punched the boy hard in the shoulder.  “Well go on, damn you!” the man admonished.  “You should be ashamed she even had to save it to begin with!”

Paulo made a feeble attempt to argue, words starting up his throat like chopped bits before he hissed out a sigh.  Elmiryn watched him with arms crossed over her chest and fists clenched.  The boy dragged his feet as he turned and went.  He stopped behind Nyx, who had gone to where she had left her bag sitting near the rock wall, a few yards from the other scultone.  She knelt on the ground, apparently rifling through her bag.

“Ah…”  The boy glanced behind him.  Elmiryn raised an eyebrow, and sucked at her teeth.  Loudly.  Graziano waved for him to go on.  Paulo turned back with shoulders visibly sagged.  “Thank you…for doing that.  You don’t know us, but…this telescope is very important.”

Nyx stood and turned around.  “I didn’t do it because I like you.  Or even for your father.”  She held up her hand.  Elmiryn came forward, spurred by curiosity to see what the girl had in her palm.  Behind, she heard Arduino come up with his scultone.  Graziano spoke to him rapidly in his native tongue, and she could hear them struggle with getting Hakeem down off the beast’s back.

As she neared Paulo and Nyx, she saw that in the girl’s palm was a ring.  “This belonged to my dead brother,” The girl continued.  “I thought about how I’d feel if I were to lose this…it isn’t…it isn’t who he was.  I never tricked myself into thinking this was a piece of him.  I’m not holding him in my palm right now.  …But…But it is a piece of a better time in my life.  I didn’t want to be responsible for you losing a better time in your life.”

Nyx sat down heavily against the wall.   Argos came trotting to sit next to her, panting.  He sat down and placed a heavy paw on her knee.  The Ailuran looked up at Paulo, who had turned his head away. “I’m enough of a blight just existing,” she said quietly.  “I won’t let myself soil life further.”

Elmiryn frowned, eyes on the slim girl with wild dark hair and tawny eyes that gazed up in resignation.  Up, at a boy who was too young and too deep in his own suffering to truly see the depth of her actions.  She was like a performer, crooning to an audience whose backs were turned, and minds elsewhere.  And for what?  What had the girl done?  What had she proved?

“Nyx…you little fool,” the woman thought.

Paulo muttered something, perhaps another thank you, before trudging back to his scultone.  The beast had lifted its head from its sleep, pale eyes blinking as it watched its brothers be given treats by Graziano.  Then it settled back into repose.  Apparently, it wasn’t hungry.

Elmiryn would have liked to have sit with Nyx.  To talk about why her hand still had not come back.  To kiss her brow and sweep her unruly locks back from her face.  To scold her for her brash behavior.  To tease her over the fact that she and Argos had suddenly bonded over the last two days.  The woman wanted to point out, too, that the portrait of her friend had rounded out.  Not a drastic change…but for Elmiryn’s favorite image, it was clear as day, and a pleasant development.

But Nyx’s tawny eyes were still drowning from her sorrow, and her right arm had become the agent of a brutish shadow creature.

Elmiryn would have liked to have sit with Nyx, to discuss these things…

But she had other matters to attend to.

Turning away with face hardened and a downward curl of her lip, the warrior approached Arduino, who had Hakeem pressed against a low rock in an awkward reclining position by the heel of his boot.  He kept a crossbow trained on him, and didn’t turn his head when Elmiryn neared.

The woman admired the wizard’s armor.  It was not complete–his legs had no coverings–but the armor covered his entire upper body.  This told the warrior it was mostly meant as a tool.  The armor had a sleek, even black finish with beveled gold detailing that undulated into complex arrow like designs.  These were just moderate enough to keep Elmiryn from thinking them too gregarious, which would have caused her to scoff the set away as ornamental trash.  The gauntlets were the highlight.  Elmiryn had never seen a pair of gauntlets so well-made, so articulate and accommodating.

“Okay, lia.”  Arduino said.  “Since you’re so keen on it, you can have the honor of taking this calgato’s armor off.”

Elmiryn smirked down at Hakeem, who only stared off into the space above her head.  “This ought to be interesting…”

“Not as much as you’d think.” Graziano said near her.  He came up, holding a short heavy metal chain.  It had whitened in places where moisture bit at the surface, but looked otherwise new.  “Drape this over him.”

Elmiryn took the chain with a raised eyebrow.  “A chain?”

“Chu-so!” Arduino exclaimed softly.  He shook his head, the tip of his crossbow bobbing a little.  “Surely someone like you would know what this is?  What it’s used for?”

“Apparently not?” The woman returned with a shrug.

“It’s cold iron.”

“…You needed iron?  What do you think my sword is made of?  Cheese?”  Elmiryn chortled as she said this, but she knew there was more.  She just liked seeing the bushes Arduino called eyebrows rustle, like they had a cougar waiting to jump out.

Arduino grunted and turned his face away, waving at his younger sibling to continue.  Graziano did so, grinning patiently.  “This iron is special, lia.  It was made from metal taken from a rock that fell from the heavens.  It has a variety of uses, one of which being to unravel magic in physical manifestations.  For instance, most sorcery and–”

“Wizardry.” Elmiryn finished, her smile broadening.  She looked at Hakeem out of the corner of her eye.  The man had not moved, nor had his expression or gaze shifted.  It seemed he had disconnected completely from the situation.  She looked at Graziano.  “So what do I do with it?”

The Moretti gestured with his index finger, tracing a clear line across the wizard’s chest armor. “Just lay it on him, with ends over the shoulders so that it rests on his chest.  Then step back.”

Elmiryn was about to do just this when she paused and looked at Graziano, a dangerous slant to her grin.  “Wait.  Why am I the one doing this again?”

The man laughed unabashedly.  “Because, lia.  Your eyes say you’re too crazy to care, come what may.”  Then he skipped back, wavy hair bobbing as he did so.  He winked at her.  “You’ll recall I said to step back, eh?”

The woman rolled her eyes, but her smile was still in place.  “Yeah.”  She looked at Hakeem and cocked her head to the side.  “I hope you don’t melt or anything.  I have some questions for you.”  Then she tossed the chain across his armor as told, and jumped away.

The sparks made dazzled her.


Fast boots that echoed through lonely streets.  Homeless eyes cut like knives in the creeping haunts of salvaged garbage and soiled cloth nests, where mumbles for food or drink chased the hem of her cloak.  Stupid air that stung and starved, with shadows cast on her like heavy blankets–stifling and unwanted. Quincy…wasn’t herself.  Knew she wasn’t herself the moment the I’equa Tear turned obsidian.  She was unraveled, unwound, and spurred, losing the self-control she had fought for.  What would Hakeem say?  What would she do, if Hakeem were here?

How odd.  She felt so connected. Horribly, horrifically, terrifyingly in touch, harmonized with all the repugnant impulses that would wield her power like oil to a flame.

Her blade, her precious sword, pulsed in the space that she concealed it–not in something as mundane as a scabbard–but in a place separated and unused by the world and the manner of living that guided and governed.  She felt it call to her.

Morning, morning, morning.

Where were the suns?

The cracks and krakows that came riding on southern gusts were like chisels to her calm.  Stupid Hakeem.  He was the reliable one.  He was the one who stuck to the plan.

“Tai’undu!” The woman cursed, speeding up from a brisk walk to an all-out run.


The dark-skinned man let out no sign that he was in discomfort, but Elmiryn was certain the heat from his armor must have been excruciating.  His skin shone with perspiration, and a roll of sweat trailed from his heavy brow, down the side of his broad nose, to where it clung to the edge of his chin.  The armor he wore pulsed a bright white, like it had just been pulled from a blacksmith’s fire, before it dimmed…then vanished.

The armor was gone.

Replacing it was a black doublet, and underneath, chainmail.  The sleeves came down to Hakeem’s wrists, but the man had on no gloves.

Elmiryn smiled, delighted at this change.  She reached forward and stroked the man’s chest, the gesture suggestive.  “You’re still warm,” she said, eyes twinkling.

The man looked at her for the first time.  “Your excitement ends here, I’m afraid.  There’s nothing else to be had from me.”

The warrior’s eyebrows rose high, and she leaned forward close, eyes not leaving his as she patted his sides.  With his magicked armor gone, or deactivated as it were, the real threat was gone.  She came away, hands holding two leather pouches.  She shook one.  It jingled.  She shook the other.  No great sound came, but the bag clearly held something.  The woman set down the bag that she guessed held coins and opened the other.  Her smile pulsed, like a sail that flared up at some great and sudden wind.  Elmiryn looked to Hakeem and pressed her lips together in a playful pout.

“Such a shame.  I wouldn’t have expected this, looking at you.  But I heard somewhere…”  She pulled out a black lacquered pipe, the sides of which had carvings of a dragon on it.  The warrior’s eyes took a predatory gleam.  “…That smoking gets you killed.”


The cold buildings threw back the echoes of her feet on the pavement like mockery.  She wasn’t even sure where she was going. There wasn’t enough light for her to flash to the rooftops and survey the disturbance at a distance.  All was dark–all was cold–and then–

All was quiet.

Quincy slowed to a halt, feet planted next to each other in the cold ground as she stared forward, ear cocked.  There were no sounds, no explosions, no shouting, no hooting, just nothing.  She was left with nothing.  Nothing.

“Hakeem.”  The name came up her lips, and she thought her tongue a villainous traitor.  She had better fortitude than that.  People thought she had a mask of indifference, thick maybe, still just a mask–but no.  They were wrong.  What she had was Order, Tranquility, peace of mind.  That wasn’t a mask.  She hid nothing.


She’d sometimes dip her spirit into paints of emotions–some violent, some calm–but it was all just to meet her ends.  Sometimes she needed to intimidate or persuade.  Now, she had no use for emotions.  Yet now, she felt like a child that had spilled paint all over herself…only there would be no tutting mother to clean up the mess.  Quincy had to do it herself.  For Hakeem.

Or there would be nothing.

She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply.  She gave a long exhale, then repeated the process.  She did this until she felt her heart slow, felt the perspiration on her skin turn cold.  She said a phrase in her head, an old mantra.

Baghun, mahar-krun ekhep jukatiba…”

Then she started to walk again.  Slower.

In her mind, when the chaos settled and the familiar quiet filled her, Quincy felt the beginnings of a plan form.  The commotion was easy enough to trace–she’d need only to move to the south of the city, reach a high point, and search the horizon for any dust clouds or plumes of smoke–for an explosion of that magnitude was likely to leave a trace for at least another hour.  Next, with relation to her findings, she would find a safe place to wait and watch.  For that was what she did.

Waited, and watched.


“You were at the Cannon’s Punch.”  Elmiryn said, wagging the pipe at him.  “You set that snake on me.  What did it do for you?”

“I don’t know what you mean.” Hakeem said, looking up again, over her head.  His tone suggested he was done humoring her with words.

The woman just shook her head and turned to look over her shoulder.  The others stood nearby, watching the exchange.  Arduino still had his crossbow ready to fire.  Graziano had his pistol drawn, but not aimed.  Paulo, sulky and with eyes that had seemed to take a darker shade, glowered from near his resting scultone, one hand on its side.  Nyx had stood, and had her hand held to her chest.  On her ring finger was her brother’s band.

“Nyx,” Elmiryn started.  She looked at Hakeem and gestured with her chin.  “Have you seen this man before?”

“I think I have,” the girl said.  From her voice, Elmiryn knew she was frowning.

The redhead scratched at the cut on her neck, the one Arduino had given her.  It had scabbed over, but it itched.  She sat back on her rear and curled one leg beneath the other, which remained upright and half-bent.  Arms over her knee, the woman gazed at Hakeem with narrowed eyes.  “So you’re the one who stays behind.  You take my things–” Elmiryn jerks her head to the side, where her bag had been placed near their other belongings.  Her sword, in its scabbard, was propped against the wall.  “–And you come riding along after your friend.  Meaning to meet up.  You’re the one who ties the loose ends while she runs off–all flare and style.  You’re her little shadow who does the menial work.  Am I right so far?”

Hakeem said nothing.  He blinked once, slowly.  It was enough for Elmiryn.

He was a splash of ink, a shadow that knew to keep quiet–but shadows don’t move without their light.  His blink was a tell.  This man was the undercurrent in this partnership–the steady flow that anchored the high and bright actions of his female partner.  A quiet woman.  Both were quiet, but their actions spoke louder than either could hope to conceal by words.  Elmiryn laughed.  Covered her mouth with her scarred hand.  She felt the puckered skin against her sensitive lips and felt like she’d found the seam to herself…just as she found the seam to this curious duo.

Elmiryn looked to the others.  “She’s waiting for him.  I bet it was her idea, to tail us.  They were after Lethia, originally, then all of a sudden we show up and she decides–”  She paused, voice trailing away as she looked at Arduino.  She was about to mention her bounty, but common sense choked her silent.  The man was frowning at her.  She didn’t like the light that came into his eyes.    She continued, without losing another beat.  “–To get us involved.  Somehow, through some wizard’s trick, she made it so that Argos would find us.  She must’ve watched us long enough to know we’d get sucked into this nonsense.  Then when the Morettis showed up, she comes banging in.  Actually, she would’ve been there sooner, before they could even show up.”

“When Lethia fell over the edge!” Nyx exclaimed, eyes going bright. “It must’ve been a devil weed that got her, but that woman stopped it.  Only–”

“We didn’t see her.  What I saw was a weak flare of light, like the sun breaking into my eyes, but I didn’t think anything of it.  We should’ve looked over the edge.”  Elmiryn looked back at Hakeem, her eyes low.  “She tossed us into this crap, thinking we’d be a good distraction for the Morettis.  Maybe she hoped we’d kill them.  She didn’t count on us pushing this further.”  The woman smiled.  That wasn’t what she really thought, but it just occurred to her how dangerous it would be if the Morettis found out about her bounty.  She gave a little sigh of satisfaction and looked at Hakeem, who looked her in the eye now.  He was frowning deeply.

Elmiryn reached forward and patted his cheek.  “I love showing manipulators just how much they’re mistaken.”

“What now, then?”  Arduino said, glaring.  “You’ve got your things.  We’ve got Hakeem.  There’s nothing left to it.  He won’t speak to us, and we need him unharmed–at least until this matter is settled with.”

Elmiryn stood, squaring her shoulders.  “This Quincy person.  She’s got to be in control.  That’s how she’s worked all this time.  She won’t just step aside,”  She glared at Arduino. “And you know it.”

He gazed warily back at her.  “And what would you have us do?”

“Well, we don’t need the scultones tromping around, making a mess of things.”  She looked at Hakeem, eyes taking on an edge.  “But I will tell you what we will need…”


She had seen the dust cloud in the infantile sky, offset from the darker clouds.  She had to climb to the top of a watchman’s tower, up many flights of stairs, to see it.  Now she was at the edge of Belcliff, shadowed by a thick masonry wall with crenelations that housed spitting demons in its stone.  Quincy’s eyes flitted in search of a suitable place to hide and observe.  She spied a ledge on the third story of a trading outpost–still closed up and dark.  She could climb up and–

There was a cough from the shadows.  The woman froze, head lowering only a centimeter.  Snow crunched as someone came near.  Slowly she turned and exhaled.

Quincy stared across at the woman she recognized to be Elmiryn.  The redhead had stepped out from behind a large column, where the dark cast by the pediment of the building had concealed her.  The woman smiled at her with eyes that swirled a cool madness in the twilight.  The wizard swept back her cloak, heavy cloth gripped in her right hand as her left hand slipped deeper into its warm shadow.  Elmiryn came forward, arms swinging, gaze turned downward as she marched in lazy fashion on the paved ground.

“I’m supposed to say something witty here.”  The woman flashed up a long smile with no teeth, strands of fiery hair coming down from her braid.  “Can you fill in the blank?  It took a lot out of me, rushing here to meet you.  I couldn’t think up a line.”  She placed her hands on her lower back and stretched backwards, looking toward the sky. “Wa-ugh! And look at that sky!  A cold mess up there, huh?  When do you think the suns will show?”  Here, she looked at the wizard sidelong, the edge of her mouth curling up.

“You waste words, Elmiryn,” Quincy said.

She began to walk forward, and the redhead mirrored her movement, eyes shifting to show the woman was not as put out as she had said.  They circled each other, slowly, going a full circle before the question came rising up.

“Where is Hakeem?” Quincy asked, pausing in her step.

Elmiryn smirked at her.  “Now who’s wasting words?”

Quincy rushed forward.  There was a ring that held more force than audible volume.  It trembled the ear drums, making them ache, making their bones rattle and blood pulse with a knowing that spoke of something ancient. The world dimmed and darkened.  In the briefest of moments, too little to call a second, she was certain it had even gone pitch black.  But she wasn’t sure anymore.  Had stopped trying to see in all these years.  Her hand burned momentarily, then she felt herself become one with the energy–felt it solidify–felt the handle weigh and press into her waiting hand.  The golden blade seared to its full length, where the edge rested against Elmiryn’s jugular.  A slice was all that was needed.  But even without moving, Quincy could see the small hiss of steam rise from the swords heated contact.  On the other side of the woman’s neck, she saw that there was another cut there.

“This isn’t a game, Elle,” the wizard said, pulling up the words and stating them in the similar cadence and vulnerability she had first heard it.

The note did not strike.  Quincy wasn’t certain if it was because she failed to remind the woman of whom had first said those words, or if the woman was simply unmoved.

“Careful,” Elmiryn breathed, her cerulean eyes widening.  “You’re getting too familiar with a ghost…and that’s bad luck.”

“Is that what you tell your little friend?” Quincy breathed back with a quirked eyebrow.  She pressed her blade to the woman’s flesh, just enough to get the point across.  Blood seeped down the warm toned skin, and more steam curled from the contact, but the woman did not move.  Did not even wince.

Elmiryn, instead, giggled.  She smiled, showing her teeth for the first time.  “You must think you have us all figured out.  Oh sure, I knew something was there, watching.  Even before we met Lethia.  You played it about as subtle as anyone can, flashing around in the light.”  She stepped forward, terribly close, and the blade slid along her skin.  Elmiryn didn’t blink as she leaned down, braid slipping forward to swing at her side like a dead snake.  Quincy felt something poke her side dangerously.  A dagger.  “You want something from us, is that right?”  Elmiryn breathed.  The wizard could feel her words.

Quincy didn’t back away.  She didn’t want to appear alarmed or perturbed.  Neither case was true, but she certainly was confused.  Was Elmiryn truly ill of mind?

…Or did the dark influence here aid her?

The redhead tutted and backed away.  Quincy made no attempt to engage her again. Her last attempt to threaten seemed to garner no results, and she needed the woman alive–for now.

“Wizards…I don’t get you at all.” The warrior said, shaking her head.  “It’s like you’re marching to a beat no one can hear.”

Elmiryn looked at Quincy and put away her dagger, drawing her sword instead.  She swung it once, then held it up with one hand.  “The suns will not rise for at least another couple of minutes.  They will have enough time to let us know they exist before the clouds take them from us.  Can you last until then?  Will this flimsy light, now and later, be enough for you?”   On her lips still lingered a smile, but her expression had become serious, and her eyes seemed to gain in their distant quality.  “Show me you aren’t all about your toys and tricks.  Make this fun for me.”

Quincy unclasped her cloak and let it slip from her shoulders.  It fell away, letting the wind chill her.  She slid one foot forward and held her sword with both hands, head bowed slightly.

Her azure eyes narrowed.

“Have at me then,” she breathed. “And I’ll show you what I can do.”

Continue ReadingChapter 13.4

Chapter 15.3

So I did a podcast, sort of. It isn’t the entire chapter, I’ll be honest. (This idea was sort of last minute, and I wasn’t even done writing when I started recording, ha ha) so just an FYI.  Click the text or play button and the player will show.  For some, it may take a bit to load.  If it doesn’t, try refreshing the page.  There’s also a download option if you prefer saving it to your computer.
— Illise M.


Elmiryn sucked at her teeth, her cerulean eyes casting about a dark face creviced with a buried rage that was as aged wine.  Her mind tickled, and she thought she recognized this curious expression.  Had she worn it in the past?  Eyes, mirrors, and eyes on mirrors, reflecting not as they should but as she willed–they had indeed displayed such dark things to her light gaze, and yet the woman hadn’t come to appreciate such human passion as she did right at that moment.  She felt familiar with it, like it were a dream she had enjoyed.  Nyx’s anger, even in her most primal of states, was of a different breed than what Hakeem kept tapped down behind dark eyes.  Hers was an anger anew, sprouting like a bud from a sadness curdled by fear and frustration.  But here…ah, but here

“So in return for your help, you want the information we have?”  Elmiryn scratched at her cheek, her blade still resting against her shoulder.  “That’s it, really?”

The wizard’s face softened to that of a keen barterer.  “…And a portion of the reward Lethia Artaud has promised you, of course.”

Graziano scoffed.  “Es un mal negoste!” He looked at Elmiryn.  “You know we have no stake in your reward–ours is to be cured of the evil that was beset on us.  But this calgato asks too much!”

“Is it too much when you could be able to reset the events of history and travel at the speed of light?” Hakeem stated mildly.  His hands had uncurled from their fists and now rested loosely at the base of his head.  Now he looked less like a prisoner, and more like a companion just coming out of a stretch.

Elmiryn wagged a finger at him.  “Now, now, wizard!  You said it yourself.  You don’t know if your friend is even coming back.”

Hakeem, in less than a minute, was back to the mild-voiced, stoic-faced man he had been up on the mountain.  “Elmiryn, you and your companions are seeking to break into Holzoff’s Tower with little to no plan–”

“–Now I wouldn’t go that far–”

“–And you’re skills, though they are formidable, are ill-equipped for this venture.  You need someone with power.  You need my magic.  I admit that Quincy may not return–but if she does, her cooperation will be absolute.  I know my companion.  She’ll do everything she can to re-materialize.”

“This is stupid.” Graziano muttered, but his pistol lowered.

Elmiryn looked down at Argos.  She bent over and in a faux whisper, asked him, “Do you think it’s a good idea, Argos?”

Argos looked at Hakeem.  He grumbled from the back of his throat, taking a moment to twist around and chew on his flank.  Then he straightened, and with a curt snort, nodded his head.  The warrior returned the nod and straightened.  “Fine, wizard.  We’ll let you come.”

“You’ll listen to the gods damn dog, but not me!? Graziano kicked at the ground.  “Me teshie! I’m telling you, I don’t like this idea, lia!” The man half-shouted.  He waved his pistol threateningly at the wizard.  “I’ve dealt with this man before–he’ll backstab us the first chance he gets!”

Elmiryn stepped toward Hakeem, sheathing her sword.  She smiled and placed her hands high on her hips.  “Mmm…well.  This man may be just as you say, Graz.  But he isn’t stupid.  I defeated Quincy single-handedly, and together we’ve beat him down once already.  If he wants his gold, and if he wants his information, he’ll play nice.”  The woman’s eyes darkened, but her smile didn’t waver.  “Right, Hakeem?”

The man stared into her eyes unflinchingly.  Then he nodded.

“Yes.  Of course.”

Elmiryn clapped her hands and turned around.  “Right!  Let’s get to it!” she said cheerfully.


Deeper, deeper, deeper still.

Were it not for the foresight of Graziano, Elmiryn would’ve froze her ass off.  The cloak he lent her was made from the skin of a creature Elmiryn could not readily identify (it was a dark orange, almost a burnt umber, with dark stripes and odd spots at the edges).  Hakeem was left to withstand the cold, the winds clawing at him unmercifully as they crested a mountain peak.  He gripped onto Argos with one arm, his brow low and tight from the strain of holding the massive dog.  Argos bumped his head against her flank occasionally.  He seemed to loathe riding the scultone, but couldn’t refrain from looking each time they slid down a particularly steep mountain face.  Elmiryn bopped him on the head once when his thrashings knocked her sword handle painfully into her ribs.  She would’ve cursed at him too–her side was still sore from when he had pounced her days ago outside of Tiesmire–but the ride spared her little breath.  Their energy and focus was spent on holding on and bracing against gut-dropping jumps.

They came to a relief, where the snow had compacted hard.  Graziano pulled at his scultone, bringing it to stop.  He slid off and patted the beast’s side, looking at them all.

“Let’s rest,” he panted.  His breath was a fog.

“Where are the others, exactly?” Elmiryn asked as she jumped down.

Graziano pointed toward the horizon.  “Still a ways away.  Their heading there by a different route than us.  Paulo knows where he’s going.  We probably won’t see them till late evening.”

“It’ll be too dark then…”

“Considering the nature of our plan, lia, I wouldn’t fret much about it being nighttime.  There’s much more to consider.”

“I guess.”  Argos bumped Elmiryn’s side, and the woman blinked and looked down at him.  The dog peered at her, brows pressed up, but his lips were pulled back far to make him look like he were smiling…and maybe he was?  The woman chuckled and scratched his head.  She didn’t need to bend down to do so.

“Lia, is your friend really up to the task of breaking into Holzoff’s?  After all is said and done, it comes down to her.  We won’t be able to catch the commanding guard of Syria’s floor, so Nyx will have to lockpick her way in.” Graziano said before he took a drink from his flask, which he seemed to pull out from inside his cloak.

Elmiryn’s brows went high and she gestured at the item.  The man blinked and passed it to her, without the cap.  She took a swig–cider and rum, warm, perhaps because he’d kept it close to his body the whole time.  The woman sighed in satisfaction and handed the flask back, somewhat reluctantly.  Just a little for the cold, she told herself.

She answered the man’s question with strong conviction.  “Nyx has been in these situations before.  She’s strong and capable, even if she doesn’t realize it.”

“Eh?  Well…” and here Graziano placed a hand on his pistol, his fingers tracing the ivory stock.  “Un otrie sin casé, no posque funcío.  A tool has no purpose without a hand to use it.”

“She’ll do what needs to be done.”  Elmiryn patted Argos head, and he whined as he looked up at her, pink tongue panting.  “She cares about Lethia.  And when she cares…I mean, really cares–she fights.”  The woman smiled slowly.  It occurred to her, that for all the annoyance this caused her…she was proud to say this.  She was even more proud, knowing the tawny-eyed girl was her partner.  “That’s…my Nyx,” she finished quietly.

Argos licked her hand once, as though to let her know he understood, then laid down at her feet.  Graziano just shrugged and took to stroking the scultone along its thick neck.  His head was turned slightly however.  He was keeping an eye on Hakeem.  The wizard in question was standing some feet away, staring toward the East, where the wind whipped at them from.

They were quite high still, even after coming down from the tallest mountain tips.  Elmiryn tried to guess, by the popping of her ears, their elevation.  The most she could say was, “High as hell,” because when her mind tried to recall how low Belcliff had seemed at the mountain peak, she found herself doubting the gray, indefinite memory.  This put her in a sour mood, and she ventured as near to the edge of the cliff as she dared, trying to see how much farther they had to go.  Down below, some twenty yards, she saw something displace the serenity of the snow, and she realized she was looking at a long furry creature, with a round snout, small round ears, and thick long whiskers.  It paused and peered up at her, its bulbous-tipped tail wiggling like a worm.  The woman crouched and frowned.  It looked like it had a dead baby batreng in its mouth.

The creature turned and slinked away in disinterest, further down the slope.  Elmiryn found she could no longer pick it out again with her eyes.

“The creatures here pride themselves in being things unseen.”  The woman turned and eyed Hakeem, who had moved to stand a little ways from her.  He gazed over the edge, a contemplative look on his face.  “The creature you just saw, the Albian mongoose, is an animal, not a monster–but it’s clever and can prey on magical creatures just the same.  Even the monsters that would otherwise seem easy to spot manage some level of inconspicuousness.  The batrengs learn to fly only when necessary and avoid the snow, so that their dark bodies blend into the shadows and the rock.  Devil weeds burn themselves a home in odd places, snatching at unsuspecting creatures.   But those creatures aren’t the best at concealment out here.”

Elmiryn took the bait, leaning onto her knees.  “Oh?  And what is?”

Hakeem looked at her.  “Daesce.  They are monsters that look like primeapes.  They have long white hair and small dark faces.  Their shorter than us by maybe 5-10 inches, but are stocky with muscle.” He took his thumbs and index fingers and made hooks.  “Instead of hands, they have two large claws that they use to grip into the hard snow and dirt, much like Graziano’s scultone.  They move silently, and for creatures their size, they are wickedly fast.”

“And what do they do?

“They’re humanoid monsters–so they are given less to following instinct and more to cruel impulse.  They’ll kill you when they’ve already eaten, and they’ll destroy any man-made item they can get their claws on.”  Hakeem tilted his head back to scratch at his throat.  “…I’ve even heard they’ll rape their victims–irregardless of gender or age.  Again, they’re humanoids.  There’s some twisted mockery to be had, on a cosmic level.  Only the gods know why they let such things exist.”

“How lovely.”  Elmiryn shook her head, a grin on her lips.  “Well, it didn’t come from Halward.  He’s more the sort of god that’d limit your chances for survival by engulfing you in fire–not rape-death by demon monkey-people up on a cold mountain.  Maybe we’ll get lucky and manage to avoid those things.” The woman straightened, and as she turned, she saw Hakeem, chin to chest, a smirk on his lips.  She frowned, paused, and placed a hand on her hip.

“What?” She asked, curious.

Hakeem looked at her out of the corner of his eye.  “The guards at Holzoff’s Tower have a high mortality rate.  Atleast one man is killed or severely wounded each week.  But it’s not because of their prisoners.  There’s a reason that prison is so famous.  They may have a great number of guards, and even a complex series of barricades and checkpoints…but the fact of the matter is, prisoners don’t want to escape.  They don’t want to be torn apart by the daesce, who swarm over the tower like locusts.  But what’s truly fascinating is that, you’d never know so many were there, because they’re so good at hiding.  So good at blending in.  And what’s out of sight, is out of mind, and therefor–”

“–Most dangerous.” Elmiryn finished with a frown.  She made a scoffing noise from the back of her throat, her arms crossing high over her chest.  “Are you telling me that the guards are so stupid, they don’t see a bunch of monsters who are practically all around them?”

Hakeem shook his head, a patient expression on his face.  “No.  I’m telling you that this is the way of Albias.”  He took his hand and held it straight with palm-edge down, making as though he were indicating something in the air.  “From Dolmensk, to Belcliff, to Holzoff’s–the state of mind of each of these places is that there is danger, all around.”  Here Hakeem began to walk away.

“But they never know where it’s going to come from next…” he finished.


The marshal was in a rage.

“This was our notary building!” He seethed, gesturing at the blasted edifice that once was considered some of the best architecture found in the city.  (That wasn’t saying much, considering how foul-looking the city was.  You’d have expect a gargoyle to snatch you into the shadows.) The pavement of the courtyard was churned and turned to dust, and the integrity of the surrounding buildings were called into question.  Columns had been knocked out, gigantic cracks trailing through walls, the dirt and dust conquering the once “well-crafted” stone.  Hallmarks of art, wealthy businesses, a functioning channel of traffic–all lost.

Such a stupid, petty thing to fuss over.  Atleast no one had died.

“Who did this!?”  The marshal screamed, his shoulders about his purple ears as his fists trembled at his sides.  The militia shrank away, their armor like bells sounding the retreat.  Eventually the marshal’s assistant, Herman, was shoved in front of him.  The boy looked ready to piss his pants.

The marshal narrowed his cobalt eyes at him.  “Well, Herman?  Have your mousy ears picked up anything even remotely useful?”

The boy stammered, his brown eyes wide.  He looked as though he wanted to be anywhere but there.  “I–I–I–um–”



The man turned scowling, but his expression let up when he saw who was running toward them.  “Arduino…?”

The eldest Moretti was sweat-drenched, his hair freed of its bond to dance wild with the wind.  (He once had his hair cropped short.  He looked better with it like that.)  The man nodded and bowed slightly.  “Ah…signore.  I’ve finally found you.”  He straightened, hand on his heart and his other hand behind his back.  “I’ve been all about the city.  I come with information.”

The marshal straightened, his eyes turning sharp.  “Oh?  What information do you have for me, Arduino?”

“Marshal, there is a plot underway to free the enchantresses.”  The marshal’s face tightened, but before he could say anything the Moretti continued.  “The battle that took place here–it was only a distraction to allow certain individuals to free Lethia Artaud.  They mean to free Syria next.  I imagine they must be on their way there now.”

“That’s ludicrous!  They won’t even make it to the prison, let alone get inside of it!  Syria will not be going anywhere.”  All bluster and bravado.  Doesn’t even stop to fact-check.  It’s only mildly surprising.  The marshal’s reputation was spotless, and he was known to be a level-headed leader…but now…?

Arduino’s face turned grave.  He braced his shoulders and took a step forward.  “See, that’s just the issue, signore.  My brothers are with these individuals–misguided–and I’d not have them harmed!”

The marshal looked at Arduino as though he’d grown a second head.  “Your brothers are–?”

“Marshal, my brother Paulo has fallen ill, and my family have been persuaded to think that the enchantresses are the only ones who can help him.” Arduino bowed low.  “I apologize, signore.  But I would’ve stopped them if I could.  I came to you under great peril!”

“From what?”

Arduino straightened. “I had to escape the wizard you hired…Hakeem.  It is he and Quincy who are behind this.”


“That’s preposterous!”  So the marshal has some level of rationale left.

“Ask around.  I imagine all of the guards must have seen the flash of light, must have felt the heat sweep over them.  Marshal, these wizards are greedy.  They heard about the reward Lethia Artaud was promising and decided to kill two birds with one stone.  Holzoff’s Tower is impressive, but hardly impregnable.  They’ll have Syria free, and they’ll have made fools of us all!!”

A good idea, maybe.  But still lies.

The marshal shook his head slowly in disbelief.  “But I’ve commissioned those two before!  Their integrity was never under question!”

“Ah…Actually, sir…”  Here Herman spoke up.  His entire body was trembling, and he tugged at his rash-covered ear again.  At this rate, it was going to fall off.  “I’m–I’m afraid there’s something you ought to know.”

The man’s eyes darkened.  “What, Herman.”

“You see….ha….ha, ha…” he tried to laugh, and the sound was just a nervous squeak.  It died with a choked sound when the marshal’s only response was a stony glare.  The boy continued with a cough.  “You see, the woman, Quincy, she came in after receiving her gold, asking to see the case documents regarding Syria’s trial.  I…I told her that was against regulations, but she…she…sh-she threatened me, sir!  Threatened me!”  Herman began to blubber pathetically.  “I didn’t want to, but she made me, and–and–maybe, maybe what she saw made her do this?  Maybe–”

The boy may have been intimidated at the time, but he was hardly at knife-point.  He had gone up the stairs, then come back down, gushing with assurances that the marshal had given the go-ahead.  …But apparently, he had never spoken to the marshal.  Perhaps because he knew the marshal would say no, and he was afraid.  Now he was lying to the man, trying to cover his own ass.  His previous actions would’ve become known soon enough, but Arduino had given him an out.  The boy wasn’t stupid.  A gods damned brat, maybe, but not stupid.

The marshal looked between Arduino and Herman.  “Your claims are outstanding!  You’re asking me to hunt down two powerful wizards under circumstantial evidence. What proof can either of you give me that what your saying is true?” But his eyes were nearly bugged.  Herman’s news had rattled him.

“Sir, sir!

All in the ruined courtyard turned to see two young militia men running towards them.  One had lost his helmet.  Both were pink-faced and dripping with sweat.  The one still wearing his helmet spoke, his words punctuated by gasps.  “Sir!” He panted, “We’ve come to inform you–the new prisoner, the enchantress–two youth have taken her.  She’s gone, sir!”

The marshal’s face, if possible, turned darker.

He screamed at his men, “Sound a high alert!!  Send a messenger bird to Holzoff’s Tower and gather all the men!  We’re going after them!”  He turned, his cobalt eyes now like razors as he looked at Arduino.  “You.  Gather the bounty hunters in the area.  All of them.  Tell them I’ll give each 500 silver pieces just for showing.  Then, another thousand gold to whomever brings me the head of any of these criminals!”

“And my brothers?”

The marshal’s lips grew thin.  Then he stepped forward and said tightly, “They shall be spared.  But if they cause us trouble, Arduino, I’m sorry.”  The man stalked away, Herman trailing after him like a puppy.

“Eh…eh, de quoi?  De quoi!?”  Arduino shouted after the marshal, red faced.  “They are the only family I have left!!  You’d take them away from me!?”

The marshal snapped over his shoulder, but didn’t pause or slow down.  “Just do as I tell you if you want to see your brothers alive, Arduino!”

Not quite the ending Arduino had hoped.  His crestfallen face says it all.  Stupid man–there was a time when he could out-maneuver you, when he was always a step ahead.  The Morettis used to be a name feared and respected throughout the Sibesona.  Now their legacy has petered out in illness and desperation.  The man should’ve looked at the facts, and the fact of it was, the marshal was a vengeful, paranoid bastard…

…But I’m still around to do something about it.


Continue ReadingChapter 15.3

Chapter 17.1


What a start.  What a nightmarish start.  We hadn’t even penetrated the tower yet, and here we were–two of our number severely injured.  I wanted to turn around and throw my hands up into the air.  I had wanted to help Lethia, but it had never been my intention to actually aid her mistress.  Maybe help the girl get free of her pursuers and onto safety.  But not this.  Only, Elmiryn had changed her mind when she became aware of a possible connection to her quest.  I had gone along with it, reserved but silent for I remembered why I had started traveling with the woman to begin with, and the evidence did seem compelling, if circumstantial…

The fact remained.  I was not up for this.

The true weight of our task felt so great that I fought to keep my knees from locking me into place.  My Twin was a phantom of rumpled temperament, growling and spitting in my head because this agreed with her no more than it did me.

As we crunched through the snow, shifting shadows our company on that dark night, I wondered if it were my end that I was seeking.  If this would be the adventure to cut down our lives.  I had been with Elmiryn more than two weeks, but the time seemed so much longer considering what we’d already been through.  I didn’t want things to end.  I looked over my shoulder, hoping an answer lay in the wisps of icy wind and jagged earth that was that crater.  Not even my sharp therian eyes could pick out the glow of our camp peeking behind the merciful rock, and with that…I knew that the warrior had been right in choosing to press forward.  The cold was a constant drain on us, and the exertion of our encounter with the daesce did nothing to aid our stamina.  Holzoff’s Tower could possibly be our final resting place–But it was also warm, and supplied with medicine we could use.

As much as I hated it, we had to keep going.

For my part, I fared well, considering I suffered no great injury, and while the cold was no friend, I was much more resilient than either of my human companions.  For what the cold tried to take, my regenerative ability tried to replenish.  I knew this wouldn’t last, however.  With time, the cold would whittle away all I had, leaving my body to memorize its effects and make it the new standard.  If this happened, unless I found a special therian healer, I’d forever be ill and weakened.  Considering the direction my life was taking, I could not afford this.

So I did my best to use my daesce hide to cover my exposed skin, where I’d used my tunic to help Lethia.  I could see the daesce watching us, curious yet wary from our show of power.  I wondered if the hide was still necessary–if we had somehow earned a place in their simple social structure.

We finally came to the tower.  The only way up to the bridge, it seemed, was by climbing up the rocks and then grabbing onto the ledge.  I didn’t know how the security was at the gate.  Lethia seemed to wonder the same thing and made as if to look, venturing further from the bridge’s blind spot, but I grabbed her arm firmly.

“No!” I whispered.

We turned to look at Elmiryn who hissed at us from near the shadows.  She pointed with her thumb, beneath the looming stone.  I nodded and together, Lethia and I joined her.

“Let’s slip down under here,” the warrior breathed.  “I doubt they’ll see us in this dark, but it’s better to find some cover so close to the tower.”

I turned and looked, my eyes narrowing.  “In…there?

The bridge was atleast ten men wide, and my eyes could make out many shapes in the dark.  There was a putrid stench wafting from inside, when the wind didn’t blow, and I thought I heard squelching…like meat being chewed.  I looked at Elmiryn again.  “It’s crawling with the daesce!”

“We’ve already established ourselves as big bad killers, okay?  They won’t want to fight us.”

“But I can’t see anything!” Lethia added.

Elmiryn gestured toward me with a tilt of her head.  “Nyx, you can see fairly good in the dark, right?  Guide us through.  There must be a way up onto the bridge from down here.”

I bit my tongue.  Hard.  But I thrust out my arm and Elmiryn grabbed my elbow, Lethia in turn holding onto her.  My eyes turned to the curtain of black that teased the toes of my makeshift boots.  My clawed hands twitched and I knew I wouldn’t be able to truly see anything until I had immersed myself into the darkness completely.

“My eyes.”  My Twin said.

She spoke with ill temper, and her body lay coiled on my already cumbersome worries.  “Let’s share sight a while.  It’ll be better.  For us both.”

I said nothing.  Only gave a mental nod of my head.  I had to admit, that having Her be this agreeable was a great deal better with arguing over her for control.  I didn’t dwell on this much.  I didn’t want to ruin this little reprieve, especially when there were such pressing matters at hand.

I closed my eyes and braced myself.  My eyes burned first, and they twitched up and to the side without my command.  Then pain shot up the eyestalks, flowering behind my eyelids and painting the shadows behind them with white waves.  I hissed from the back of my throat, my hand reached up to my face.  I forgot that I had claws and I scratched myself on accident, on the top of my right cheek.  The cut tickled as it sealed shut, and when it did, the pain in my eyes subsided to an ache.  Shaking my head, I opened my eyes, tentatively.

It was better than before, but not much.  The world under the bridge gained in varying shades of gray.  The small flickers of yellow that winked in the dark from the daesce’s eyes were weak too, telling me that not much light was to be had beneath the bridge.  Still, with Elmiryn a warm presence behind me, I started to slide forward.

I felt my foot push at bones and possibly even fecal matter.  The smell made me dizzy, and I wretched so hard at the start that I had to spit out the mouthful of bile that managed to splash onto my tongue.  Being what I was, I had a sensitive nose, but Lethia seemed the worse affected of us all.  We had to stop after two yards because the girl couldn’t stop heaving.  I took my time, picking through the uneven snow and litter, because at one point I found my foot was placed inches from a half-eaten corpse.  I tried curving our progress toward the tower.  I didn’t know what to find that way, but there was no other way up.  There were grunts and the occasional jabbering from the creatures about us.  There were atleast two instances in which we had to stop abruptly because a daesce would suddenly go lumbering across our path, eyes flashing our way briefly before it hurried away, as though realizing we were there.  With each inch we gained I believed Elmiryn more and more that the monsters wanted nothing to do with us after our raw display of power.

Which was good, because I was pretty sure another engagement would kill us.

Bones crunched beneath my feet as we neared the rocks. I turned and looked back at the others.  Elmiryn seemed relatively fine, all things considered.  But Lethia was nowhere in sight.  I frowned and leaned over, and there I found the girl pressed into Elmiryn’s back.  The woman took a moment to make out what I was doing, then turned and with her good hand poked the teenager in the head.  Lethia looked up, her eyes wide, but her back straightened as she took note of the stones before us.  I imagine to her it must’ve looked like a wall of pitch black, but for human beings, Elmiryn and Lethia seemed rather in tune with their instincts.

I turned my eyes back onto the uneven rock that seemed like a rumpled blanket to me.  Elmiryn and Lethia, emboldened by the sight of their way out of that hellhole, broke the chain to come and stand at my sides.  Together, we felt the rock, eyes straining for some answer as to how to climb up.  For the most part, the stone was smooth, but as I reached over to brush some snow away from one, I noted a harsh cut into the stone.  I frowned and ran my fingers over the cut.  I turned to Elmiryn, nudging her.

“Elle,” I breathed.  “I think the daesce managed to chip the rock in some places.  We could use this as foot holds!”

But the woman didn’t seem relieved and I was quick to remember why.

“I’ll have to find a place where the rock comes to a slant, otherwise, you and Lethia are going to have to go up first by yourselves.” I could see her face twist up in the dark, like she hated being left behind for any reason.

“You can’t come with us!?” Lethia hissed, voicing my fear.

The woman shook her head.  “Like I said, lemme find a place where I can try to climb up at a crawl.  If that doesn’t work, you’ll have to find some rope and lower it down for me.”

“This is suicide…” I grumbled to the warrior, but I said this low and with my face turned from Lethia.  I didn’t want to make the girl anymore fearful than she probably already was.

“Don’t say that.” Elmiryn scolded softly.  She gestured at the rock with her chin.  “Go on you two.  Try and start picking your way up there.  Nyx should take the lead.  Knock out the guard so that Lethia can get the information we need.  I’ll be with you soon.”

I only shook my head and gave a half-hearted shrug.  I turned my eyes to the ground, and there they caught sight of something.  Amid the folds of black and gray shadows, with bones wrapped about the handle in a deathly grasp, I reached down and plucked up… “A morningstar?”

Lethia said nothing.  Her back was turned to us and it seemed she was focusing on a point on the wall, and her hand seemed to be patting her thigh rapidly.  I paused at the sight of this, but Elmiryn leaned over me to see what I held, and my original intention was lost.

“You got that from the ground?”

“Yes.”  My brows knitted together as I grasped the blade in my hand.  I turned to Elmiryn with a jerk.  “I’ve got an idea!”


“Most likely the guards on the bridge are behind gates.  I can lure them out with this!  It must be difficult for these men to receive new arms and supplies given the nature of this place.  With every death, they lose valuable equipment.  If they see this, so near to the gate, they’ll want to retrieve it!”

“That’s a stretch, Nyx.  And at any rate, if they went for it, they’d probably lock the gates behind whoever goes for the weapon just to be safe.”

“But even then, there’ll be someone near the gates ready to let him back in, right?  I can distract the guard outside while Lethia ensorcells the ones covering him!” As I said this, I turned and placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder.  She gasped and whirled around, stumbling back against the wall and the bones on the ground.  I pulled away, as though burned.  “Huh?”

Lethia was breathing fast, and she made a low whine in her throat.  Her hand clutched at her chest and she winced as though in severe pain.  For a moment, I was afraid the skin of her cut had torn apart.  Then the look cleared up, and I saw her head twist to see around her.

Elmiryn sighed, just as I gathered what was going on.  “Well that’s just great.  Her amnesia’s at it again!”

I knelt down next to the girl, placing the morningstar on the ground, and took hold of her shoulders.  The youth’s pale oval face turned my way, and I could see her lips quivering.  “Shh, shhh…Lethia?  Lethia, what do you remember?”

The girl said nothing, only continued to stare at me with those wide  green eyes.  How horrifying it must have been to “awaken” in such a place!  I made sure to avoid locking onto her gaze as I shuffled closer.

“What do you remember?” I insisted, tightening my grip on her shoulders.

Lethia’s eyes narrowed.  I saw her eyes flicker to my lips.


“Eth…eh…eth…” The girl’s speech was low and slurred, like she had to battle with her tongue to move.  She scowled and looked over at Elmiryn.  “Esch…ah-uh…”

My heart sunk.  I turned slowly and looked at Elmiryn, who was looking down at me.  From her shadowed features, I gathered she was scowling.  I looked back at Lethia.  “Do you…understand me?  Lethia?”

The girl blinked slowly.  She tilted her head back and stared up at the looming underside of the bridge.  I pointed up excitedly.  “Yes!  Up!  Do you remember?  We need to go up!”

“Ah!” The girl sighed with excitement, mirroring my action.  “Sss–ia!”

“Sia?  You mean…you mean Syria?

“Ss-ia! Ah!”

“Well,” Elmiryn said, resigned. “She’s a bit fucky now, but atleast she still remembers that much.”  She chuckled darkly. “If that isn’t loyalty, I don’t know what is!”

I stood and turned to the warrior, a worried look on my face.  “I don’t know if I can take her up with me.  She seems to remember something of our task, but she…I don’t think she understands when I speak to her.  There could be a great deal she’s forgotten, and the risk is just–”

I broke off as I saw Elmiryn rubbing her chin with a grin on her lips.

I frowned at her.  “What?”

“Looks like she’s going up with or without you, Nyx!” She snickered.

I whipped around.  Lethia had already started climbing the wall.  She was only a two feet up because she had to grope around both with her hand and her foot to see where the next foothold was, but I stopped myself from pulling her back down when I remembered that this could tear open the girl’s tender cut.  I stared, flabbergasted as Lethia moved with a renewed vigor.

“Her power shifted to block her knowledge of speech,” Elmiryn said behind me, “But it hasn’t stopped her ability to move.  If anything, she probably has forgotten what the implications of her pain means, too.  That’s why she’s able to ignore it and climb so fast.”

I grit my teeth and glanced at the woman over my shoulder.  I didn’t like the note of envy in her voice.  “That isn’t good, Elle!  She could push herself too hard!”

The woman gave me a nudge, “Which is why you should probably get after her then!”

I growled but did just this, taking the morningstar and slipping it down the back of my tunic’s neck and between the bandages I used to wrap my breasts.  It bit into my scarred back uncomfortably, but the weapon didn’t jostle much and I was confident it would stay put.  I started at the first foothold I’d found and started after the girl, using my claws to my advantage to find grip in the otherwise slippery parts along the wall.  I glanced back only a moment to see that Elmiryn had already gone off to find another way up to the top of the bridge.  I looked back up to see Lethia panting up above me, her head resting against the rock.  Her limbs were shaking, and I knew if I didn’t catch up with her soon, she’d fall.

Doubling my efforts, I spidered my way up to the girl, closing the yard between us.  I came up to her side, where she took note of me and decided to wait until I was level with her.  Her face was nearly completely dark gray.  There was less light where we had climbed.

I touched my chest with my free hand.  “I’ll go first,” I said slowly.

I couldn’t tell if what I said registered with the youth, but I gestured for her to follow me anyway.  I climbed up and over her and heard the girl begin to follow.  We were only a few feet from the bottom of the bridge, but we had to climb sideways now to get onto it.  I looked down and watched as Lethia blindly reached around for somewhere to grab hold.  I let out a hiss and snapped my fingers to grab her attention, then pointed at my boot.  The girl looked at my shoe in confusion before I removed it from its foothold, then put it back again.  I pointed at my boot again, which I pulled away once more.  I said as clearly as possible, “Lethia.  Grab there!”

It hit me that I didn’t know how well the girl could see.  Could she atleast make out my form in the dark?  Even I was having trouble making out what was what.  But the girl seemed to get the gist of my actions and reached in my direction.  It took her a minute before she found the spot my boot had been.  From there, I scooted over, and the girl pulled herself up.  I reached over and aided her as best I could, but the truth of it was that the cuts and breaks in the rocks were slippery with ice and some tended to be narrow so I couldn’t lean over far.

Bit by bit, we sidled over until we came out from beneath the bridge.  Though it was still dark out, the filtered moonlight filtered through the break of clouds was enough to seem like day to me after the overwhelming shadow we suffered.  Once I could reach the side of the bridge’s mold, the climb became much easier.  I hurried up, claws scraping at the edges of the barricade, and I peeked over as much as I dared.

The entrance to the tower was a set of large wooden doors, further blocked off by a heavy steel gate.  I could see a smaller door fixed into the wooden entrance with a view window, but the window was shut.  All was quiet, and from where I was, it seemed I was in the blind spot of the archer windows.

I pulled myself up.

Turning, I saw Lethia struggle to come up, the same way I had, but perhaps I was more agile than I thought, for she seemed to find it impossible.  She gazed up at me with stricken eyes, and I knew she was afraid of falling.  Given the way her hands gripped the rock with white fingertips and her limbs trembled worse than before, I feared this too.  With little pause, I lunged over the barricade.  Just as I was in reach of the girl’s arms, her foot slipped and she started to drop back into the shadow, her daesce skin slipping away from her to reveal her long hair sullied and turned dark with gore.  My breath stopped and I snatched at her desperately.

My right hand caught her wrist, and I felt my body began to fly over the edge when my left hand managed to catch the outer edge of the barricade, and by a twist of my body, my right foot hooked onto the inner edge.  My entire body screamed as each and every muscle pulled from the full weight of Lethia, who dangled free in the air now.  The daesce skin slid off my back and fell to the ground below.  The girl grabbed onto my forearm with her other hand desperately, a scared whimper slipping her throat.

Grunting, I squeezed my eyes shut and pulled back as hard as I could.  Within five minutes, the girl was up and over the ledge, breathing hard and shaking all over.  Her eyes rolled like she were ready to pass out.  I was on the ground, knees half-bent, leaning back on my hands when I saw this.  I jumped forward and shook the girl’s shoulder.  She couldn’t lose consciousness.  I wasn’t sure if I could wake her again if she passed out, and this terrified me.

“Lethia!” I hissed.

The teenager blinked her eyes open again and stared at my hand.  She pulled her legs over the barricade with some struggle, and let them dangle over the ground.  I stood and breathed a sigh of relief.

Turning, I looked at the steel gate.  It presented an immediate problem for me, as I had to make sure the guards would raise it and keep it raised so that Lethia and I could rush in.  I bit my lip and pulled the morningstar out as I puzzled over this new obstacle.  I stared at the weapon in my hands.  Color became dull with my bestial eyes, so the ruddy weave of the hilt looked little different from the stained rusted metal that sprouted from it.  I wasn’t certain, but it seemed to be iron.  I followed up the weapon’s length to the bulbous spiked end.  Then my eyebrows rose.

I turned and gestured mutely for Lethia to follow me.  She did so with a nod, sliding off the bridge barricade and together we ventured near the gate.  There I looked at the girl, and pointed at her eyes with my index and middle finger, then pointed toward the small door in the blocked entrance.  I had to do this twice before Lethia seemed to grasp what it was I was telling her.

“Ah-tch…” She said, pointing at the door.

I nodded.  “Yes.  Watch.”

I pulled her back to where the barricade connected with the tower, and there I bid the girl to stand up on the stone.  I put my fingers on my lips and Lethia mirrored the action, nodding.

I hurried to the other side of the bridge.  My heart was hammering in my chest as I took the morningstar with both hands and held it up like a bat.  I took three deep breaths before I let out a wild swing.  The weapon struck the steel, letting out a dull ‘twang’ that stung my hands.  I looked up to see what Lethia was doing.  She was hiding still, but I could tell she was straining her ears to see when the doors would open.  I turned back to the steel gate, where I saw I had managed a small scratch on the bars, but otherwise nothing.  No noises came from the doors.  I bared my teeth and pulled the morningstar back again, this time spreading my legs and bending my knees.  I swung again, so hard that I felt as though I wrenched my arms out, and when the weapon hit, I could’ve sworn I saw sparks (but this may have been my mind playing tricks on me.)  All of my bones rattled in my body, and I had to straighten out my eyes–such was the force of the hit.

But the sound!

It was loud and sang, shaking the gate.  The spikes of the morningstar had flown off where the weapon had struck, and the shaft was bent now, but I heard shouts from behind the heavy wooden doors, and I knew that this time I had my audience.

Hurriedly, I threw the morningstar in a spot I knew the view window would be able to see, and I jumped up onto the barricade like Lethia, pressing my back against the stone.

I heard the ‘slack’ as the view window was snapped back.  There was a groan.

“Oh no…”

Someone else spoke, but I couldn’t make out what they said.

The person at the door answered them.  “No, no.  It’s…it looks like it’s just a weapon over there.  But that could mean someone upstairs was pulled through the bars again.  …What?  Yes that’s possible!  A few months ago there was this new guy.  He got plucked right up by the daesce.  Nearly skinned him doing so.  We found his body in the morning, out on the bridge, every bone broken.”  The door rattled and my heart jumped as I heard something jingle.

The other person spoke again, and they sounded agitated.

“Of course I’m going out there!  We have three men fitted only with knives, we can’t afford to lose anymore of our arms.  Next supply shipment isn’t for a month!”

The door opened with a groan of its hinges, warm flickering light painting the stone floor.  The man’s voice lowered as he spoke to his companion.  “You just keep an eye out for me, un’erstand?  Get that bow ready.  I been at this a dozen times, I’ll be fine, but you just keep that bow ready.  Un’erstand?  Oi!  Roll up the gate, Jowan!”

“Shiva’s breath, Freck.  Ya sure ya can’ jes wai’ till mornin’?” This was the other person, the one I hadn’t been able to hear well.  His accent sounded northwestern, specifically where independent human-elf colonies resided in the mountains north of the Ailuran nation.  I knew this because the human traders that visited my village spoke the same unusual way.  His enunciation dropped at the end of words, as though he had marbles in his mouth, and was a sort of drawl.  The dialect had no name, but was the result of the human language Common being mixed with the elven language D’Shar.

The gate shuddered, and I could hear the machinations groan behind the stone as it slowly rattled up.  Freck drew his weapon–a long sword by the ring of it.  I looked out of the corner of my eyes, not daring to even turn my head as he came out from beneath the lifted gate.  He looked around warily, then looked up as though expecting to see a body hanging out of the window, or a daesce bearing down on him.  When he saw none of these things, the man scowled.

He was unshaven and of medium height, dressed in combination of reinforced leather and chainmail.  He had on a plated helmet with a nose guard, but no gloves.  I guessed him to be nearing his forties, and by the way he moved, he was experienced.  I started to doubt myself when without warning, I saw Lethia begin to turn the corner, her eyes like shiny discs, and if I’d squinted, I was certain I could’ve seen the archer turning to engage her.  I heard a ‘thwip’ as the arrow was set loose from his fingers.  Did it hit?  Was she going down?

I didn’t know, because I had started to move, ignited like waiting oil by the surprising flame that was the teenager’s audacity.  Freck was just straightening up after picking up the morningstar.  I thought about all the drills I had done with Elmiryn.  Amidst those thoughts, I saw flashes of time spent with my brother Thad.  Playing.  Learning.

Thaddeus showing me how to strike at the throat.

Elmiryn showing me how to flank my opponent.

I pulled my fist back, wrist turned toward the sky with my hand down to my waist, claws biting into my own palm, but I would not set them loose on this man.  He may have been a scoundrel, he may have had a family, but I knew that I was not to bring about his end.  Would not.  Could not.  I struck out in an uppercut, pushing with my back foot as my other foot slid forward.  My body turned at the shoulders as I felt my knuckles slam into the man’s turned jaw.  His head snapped back with such force that the man launched backwards.  He hit the ground with a nasty thud and didn’t rise again, his sword and the morningstar both out of his hands.  I knocked them away with my foot for good measure, trembling from the adrenaline.

I noted that I hadn’t been shot with an arrow yet.

I looked and saw why.

The archer, a younger man with bright blonde hair and no helmet was on his knees, his bow resting loosely in his hands.  He hadn’t drawn another arrow.  The third man, Jowan, who I hadn’t heard nor seen yet, stood slumped against the door frame, his mouth hung open.  He was a large man, almost as big as Karolek, with a pale shaved head and a black eye.  They both wore armor similar to Freck.  Lethia stood before them, hands at her sides, relaxed.  She walked over calmly to the archer, and with gentle hands, tilted his head up from the chin.  The man stared up into her face, his expression vacant before he seized up and his eyes bugged.  He gasped as though he couldn’t breathe.  The man fell over, twitching.

I stared at him, horrified.  “Sweet Aelurus!  Is he…Lethia did you…?”

The girl knelt down next to the archer and rolled him onto his back with some difficulty.  His jaw flapped and I heard dry noises coming from the back of his throat.  She looked back my way, her eyes glassy but her face twisted in anguish.  When she spoke, she surprised me.

She now had the same northwestern accent the man had.

“It weren’t done on purpose!  I was jes’ tryin’ to get back my talk when…when…oh heaven help ‘im!  I thin’ I made ‘im forget how to breathe!!”

“Have you ever tried putting something back into someone’s head!?” I came running over and knelt down with the girl.  I looked over at Jowan in the doorway.  The guard still hadn’t moved out of his frozen stupor.

The girl blinked tears from her eyes and looked down at the archer’s face.  “Ah…um…n-no.  No I can’ say that I have!”

“Well try!”

“But what if I take more!?

“He’ll die if you don’t do something!”

The girl seemed to let this sink in.  Then she straightened her back and took the archer’s face in her hands.  Lethia turned his face and their eyes met.

To me, nothing seemed to happen.  A minute stretched by, and I grew nervous.  What if others came?  What if the daesce came?

Then Lethia broke away, sucking in a huge gulp of air as though she’d been submerged in water.  The archer did the same, his bangs brushing along his forehead as he rolled to his side, coughing and taking breaths.  I looked at the enchantress, beaming.

“You did it!” I cried.

“I did!” Lethia returned.  She flashed a smile before she suddenly keeled over, eyes rolling up into her skull.

My joy vanished and I crawled over the girl to get a look at her face.  “Lethia!?”  I shook her shoulder, then pinched her arm as hard as I could.  She didn’t wake.

I heard a moan from the doorway, and looked up slowly just as Jowan turned his surly gaze my way.  I heard armor clinking and sharp voices in the room behind him, and knew others had come.  At my back, I heard Freck rise as well, grunting.

“Who the fuck…” Jowan panted, “Are you?

“I’m dead,” I wanted to say.

Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead.


At such short notice, it wasn’t so bad.  Almost a hundred militia men and atleast twenty mercenaries, nine of which being skilled with magic, all soldiering together through the snow.  They were making a last push for the day, because there was no way they could reach Holzoff’s that night.  It was, perhaps, their hope that their targets would have no other way to leave the prison other than the road they traveled, but this was ludicrous.  The Moretti’s specialized in training beasts who could halve the average traveler’s journey.  But what else could they do?  So they soldiered on.

The sky turns a violent red as the suns come down beneath the cloud cover to shade the world in their evening glow.

The camp is set and a large bonfire is created from wood brought on a wagon.  The marshal (who probably should be referred to as the Marshal, as no one outside of Belcliff really seems to care enough to refer to the man by his actual name) stands on a crate brought by his attendant and calls for attention.

“Listen to me, all of you!” He booms, fitted with shiny plate armor, clearly never used.  “We march again, before dawn!  The tower is still a great distance away, but the rogues have no alternatives roads to take.  Thus, you should be prepared for a fierce battle!  I say this because it has been brought to my attention that an Ailuran travels with the criminals.  This is yet another danger for us to prepare against, next to the wizard and the enchantress!  As I’ve been told, the two youngest of the Morettis travel with them.  I was asked to spare their lives, but given the circumstances, I’m not certain I can.  They have violated the high laws of Albias, and as arbiter of justice, I cannot stand for this!  So I say, at the first sign of resistance, kill without hesitation!  Those men have chosen their path, and so have we.  We will not falter, men.  Not against these rogues!  I want to remind you all that I will pay a handsome reward to whomever brings me the head of these bastards!  This is a battle of principle.  They destroyed a portion of our city and spat on the honest work of professionals!  Tomorrow, we will show them the errors of their ways!

There’s a roar from the militia men, but the mercenaries remain quiet and unmoved.  It’s silly, really.  This isn’t a war they’re fighting, and the bounty hunters know this.  It’s just another mark, another bounty, another sack of gold, only the marshal is staking his pride on this.

The fire is…so brilliant…reaching to the dying heavens.  And the sunlight, it comes in broken shafts over the fangs of the earth, the mountains, streaking the cold air in such warm brilliance…

It’s enough.

I am siphoned, pulled, burned and scorched into an ambience indescribable to the common mind, for as I flash through the dying light and through the flames of the bonfire, I see His eyes on me and I am headed toward His mouth, which gapes open ready to swallow me whole.

I slip through His flat giant teeth and back into the land of the living.

Tonatiuh, a blade with no master.  I, a woman with no god.  He tries to consume me, and I try to enslave him.  It’s a tiring dance sometimes, but this time I hardly break concentration.

But I’m still burning hot, still stellar and all cosmic atoms shuddering and shifting with limbs as golden as the purest morning light.  I am coiled retribution, I am hell’s infernal flame, I am His terrible glory.

I am the marshal’s great surprise.

Time is slow at first–I’m coming out of light speed after all–and the man moves at a crawl, his head turns slowly to regard me.  His body rocks backward, and I know he will fall.  I consider killing him before he hits the ground, but then my eyes flicker to the men around the camp.  Some young and misguided, some old and stupid.  The bounty hunters, these cold mercenaries.  Some of them I recognize, but none of them I hold any particular respect for.

Not like Jetswick and Karolek.

…Not like Arduino.

I wonder if this makes these men the closest things I’ve had to “friends”.

Then the first second is finally reached and time begins to speed up exponentially.

I take a breath and tighten my grip on Tonatiuh’s hilt.  Arduino’s brothers are young, like some of these men are young.  And some of these men are older, like Arduino is older.  I think of how little mercy the marshal would have shown those boys, how little mercy he would have shown that naive enchantress, still only a teenager.  I think of her head trapped in an iron mask.

The camp has turned into chaos.  The militia men scramble for their blades, frightened and confused.  The bounty hunters, on the other hand, all start forward, already prepared.  The spellcasters are drawing up their spells, and the archers draw their bows.  They know me.  Or heard of me.  They knew this would happen.  But maybe this is why I hold no respect for them.

Because they actually thought they could survive what will come next.

My lip curls and I scream.

I pull at my body, my spirit.  I focus on Tonatiuh, who breathes me in with a satisfied sound, through the tip of His fang.  Time is slow again, and I lash out, my form turned into a line of hot light, a bolt of energy, all power and force ricocheting from body to body.  (Not really–I control where I go, I control when I turn)  I burst through flesh, burn through armor.  I count the strikes as I go–count them in a way that Hakeem would count, by ticks–and I reach a hundred and twenty.  I scream over the marshal who has landed on his rear, his eyes bugged with fear, and his mouth stretched open wide.  I still spare him.  I’ve spared his silly attendant too, the boy, Herman.  I want them to see…I want them to see what I’ve done.

I don’t stop.  I leave the camp.  I can just imagine all the bodies, blasted through and scorched, falling in unison, dead.  The marshal (I decided, he doesn’t deserve to be called “Marshal” in the capitalized sense) and Herman surrounded by a sea of corpses.  I’m flashing along so fast I’m practically flying.  My body gets heavier and I know I’ll pass out if I keep this up.  But I have to keep going. Toward the tower.  I’m moving fast, but not as fast as I did before.  It’s now nighttime.  I seem to be slowing down.  I’m literally working off of fumes now that the sunlight is gone.  I scare a group of batrengs off a rock as I go by, naught but a warm glow, like the embers of a dead fire.  I manage to catch sight of a camp some mile from Holzoff’s tower, along the main road.

This has to be it.

And just in time, too.

I crash near it, into a snow bank, and I sink low, the snow melting and turning to slush at my feet.  I hear shouts.  A dog barking.

The edges of my sight begins to turn black and I stare into the white around me.  I pushed myself too hard, I knew it…but I’m material again.  Tonatiuh didn’t get me, and neither did the suns.  I made it.  I stopped the marshal, and I made it, and…

I’m glad.

I look up and see Hakeem’s dark form at the lip of my little crater.  He smiles wide, and this is the first time I’ve seen him do so in nearly two years.  He’s got beautiful white teeth, lined up neat save for his overbite, which I’m inexplicably fond of.  I manage to smile back at him, my version of the expression anyway, a slight tilt of my lips.  Tonatiuh is gripped in my right hand, and He seems to pulse at my small show of emotion…

“Quincy!  Bwa-mweze, colo shiutsi na dwane!” Hakeem says over me as he slides down to scoop me up beneath my arms.

Quincy!  My wife, don’t scare me like that again!

I close my eyes and allow him to drag me up the snow.  “Chu, chu, taika,” I mumur, letting my head loll back into his chest.  He smells good to me.  Like tobacco and fenugreek seeds.  Sleep is coming fast, and I do not fight it.  With Hakeem near, I feel…like I can afford the rest.  “Imdeto ches? Em-ma aiko no tobate nah kuzzi…”

Silly husband.  Don’t you know?  I’d die only in your arms…

I am swallowed in darkness, and for once, I’m unafraid.

Continue ReadingChapter 17.1

Chapter 18.3


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

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

Then she thought of something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quincy clenched her teeth, her eyes searing.

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

The wizard wasn’t going to turn back now.

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

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

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

“Should we tell Graziano and Paulo?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Her husband should’ve too.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She faded for a moment, wondering about the girl…

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

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

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

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

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

“You didn’t beat me.”

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“But that was different–”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I thought you had died…

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

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

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

“Och oeni…” Elmiryn mumbled.

I’m sorry…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then everything went to hell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Syria, after all, proved the greater surprise here.

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

More help would be needed, and not from her.

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

The girl looked at her, blinking.

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

“What?  But what about you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the girl was gone.

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

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


“But the right to first blood is mine!”

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

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

No time to think of her.

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

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

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

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

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

Quincy straightened and held out her sword.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quincy, however, came up with a wild idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


“Capturing those Lycans?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ha!  I love you too, idi’ute…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gasping, he stared up at the sky.

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

“Yes, Choi.”

“…I don’t want to go back, hermano.”

“Why not?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One shot entered Syria’s right shoulder.

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

Dimly, he thought about his father.

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

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

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


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

Nyx screamed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quincy sighed.  “Nothing good.”

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

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

“Elmiryn!” The girl screamed in a panic.

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

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

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

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

Syria had opened up a gateway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


End of Part II

Continue ReadingChapter 18.3

Short Term Solutions

“One mistake in a subtle way
Like I’m walking again, all on me
Step slowly, you know that you fall between
Dark places, what a simple web we weave

We sing the nightmare of the lies that you speak
The beast that I lie beneath is coming in
We sing the nightmare of the lies that you speak
The beast that I lie beneath is coming in”1


Live steps.  Wired steps.  Livewired steps that shocked from the soles up the shins to the hips to the heart to the mind to the fingertips and back again.  She held her sword in her right hand around the scabbard, and tapped it against her leg.  She flashed along flagstone floors and compacted dirt trails that weaved in and out of the rocky mountainside.  Roots and vines weaved with statues, and fallen leaves flushed cold hallways.  She tucked a russet lock of hair behind her ear and hummed.  The ocean roar was a soothing presence all around and it set her in a good mood.  Somewhere, she could hear a chorus of people speaking in unison.  The carved, open windows looking outward onto the faded rooftops and white crest waves were stolen for the moment as she rounded the corner, heading eastward further into the mountain.  The commune was entirely based inside the looming mountain that overlooked the city of Crysen.  It was said that sorcerers had carved their place there, in the earth.

Torches lit the hallway she stepped through.  She flashed her eyes on younger pupils and they skittered out of her path, mouths agape, clutching at each other’s robes as she swept on by in a rush of lilac.  Then she paused at the archway at the end of the hall, the cold stone breathing around her from the draft of coastal air just ahead…

Quincy turned around and smiled, her left hand resting on her hip.

“Boys, where are you going?” she asked the two children huddled wide-eyed against the wall.

The two exchanged looks.  One stepped forward, barely four feet tall with gingery hair.  The shorter one behind him pulled his hood up and slouched.

“Alchemy lessons with Madame Igora…but it’s our first time, miss.  We’re lost.”

“Your masters?”

“We’ve got the same one, miss.  Master Fendrel.”

“Oh, I see.  Sorcerers, huh?”

The boy blushed and looked down at his tanned shoes.  “Not yet, miss.”

Quincy’s smile widened.  She jerked her head toward the archway and beckoned with her hand.  “Well come on, then.  Igora hates tardy pupils.”  She turned and started to walk, not waiting to see their reaction.

She heard the boys run to catch up.

They followed a little bit behind her as the hall led out onto the open courtyard, where a group of apprentices were stretching in lines.

Quincy looked at the boys over her shoulder.  “How’d you two end up at Crysen?”

“Our lord wishes for us to get training, so that we can protect him from any threats when we’re older.  We were escorted here by some of his personal guard.”

“Your lord must be powerful to get two boys so young to the Kilemare Coast.  Most of our newcomers are atleast entering their teens!”

The redheaded boy puffed his chest out and tried to square his shoulders.  “I don’t look like a teenager?” he said, voice strained from holding his breath.

Quincy giggled and stopped to ruffle the boy’s ginger mop.  “Don’t worry, you’ll strike others with your presence soon enough.”

The boy couldn’t seem to decide if he liked this attention or not.  Then his eyes lit up and he touched his head where her hand had been.  “…Miss, is it true you and sir Hakeem came to Crysen by yourselves and killed a full-grown dragon as a way to earn tutelage in the collective!?” he said this all quickly.  His little friend looked up from beneath his hood, his expression one of awe.

To earn training at the magical collective, one had to offer something of value to the master in question.  Some students, like the two boys before her, were sponsored by wealthy people of high standing.  She had even heard of certain students being the payment themselves–from previous students who had promised their first born child to their master.  While the masters ran their studies independently, arrangements often sprang up between them for collaboration, creating a sort of “school” environment without the proper system for it.  There was no headmaster and no detentions here.  The relationship between master and pupil was a personal one, and many masters residing at the collective still lacked students of their own.  Part of it was the dangerous location of the city.  The other part of it was that more than half of the prospective students died trying to prove themselves.

For those still awaiting training, idle minds delighted in twisting the truth.  Mystery and rumor was a staple of the commune, and Quincy found she was no more safe from it than a beach from the waves.

The girl scratched her head, a dubious grin spreading her lips.  “Um…”


Quincy looked up as Hakeem jogged toward her.  He wore thick boots meant for conquering rocks and mud, and loose cotton pants that draped over his shoes.  Normally he wore his special chainmail tunic, but at the moment he wore just a sleeveless shirt with a stained apron.  The teenage boy frowned at the two youngsters in her presence, then looked at Quincy again.

“Emiline told me to find you.  You’re due at the soup kitchen for lunch.”

The girl scowled.  “Now?  I can’t go now! I have to meet with Master Saerth!”

“If you don’t go, Emiline says she’s going to fire you without pay.  We won’t be able to pay Tegin for the room if this happens.”  Hakeem’s face was drawn and tense.  “Mweze, please.  Do this for me.

“There has to be another way.  Didn’t you try to talk to her?”

“Of course I did!  But do you think that mkundu listened to me?”  He pointed at the sword in her hands, sneering.  “If all you’re going to do is another useless session with that rusty sword, then please forget it and get over there.”

Quincy pursed her lips and gave him a leveling stare.  “I was told to meet with my master.  If the purpose just so happens to be for my sword, then it’s none of your flaming business!”  But her expression sobered and she gestured at the two boys.  “Look…Can you help them to Madame Igora’s?  I need to get this handled before I go.”

“So you will go?”

“Yes, yes!  I will, I promise.”

Hakeem glared down at the boys and the two shrank visibly.  He sighed and rolled his eyes.  “Fine, I’ll take these two then.  I have a bit more time before Emiline expects me back.”  He looked at the boys and jerked his head.  “Let’s go.”  He turned and started to walk away.

Quincy nudged the boys along and they stared at her pleadingly.  “Go on,” she said around her grin.  “He’ll only break your knees if you keep doddling!”

At this the boys ran to catch up with Hakeem, and when they did, they bumped into his back.  The man turned to stare at them with annoyed confusion.  “What’re you doing?

The brunette bit her lip, trying not to laugh as she turned to resume her original trip.  When she found Master Saerth, it was in his study, at the far corner of the collective.

Master Saerth looked up, his eyebrows raised.  “Quincy!  You’re early!  This is rare!  There were no tornadoes?  No runaway dragons?  No surprise attacks from assassins?”  He was only a little taller than her, with a short gray bushy beard, a shiny bald head, and shrewd deep blue eyes flecked with emerald.  When he stood from behind his desk, the room seemed to expand, as though to accommodate for his strong presence.

Quincy blushed before bowing low.  She was never late, but she did have a tendency to arrive just in the nick of time–and usually with a long tale as to how she nearly didn’t make it at all.  “No, Master.  Not this time.  Just some boys who needed my help.”

“Oh, well I suppose I can see how that wouldn’t deter you quite as much.”  The man came forward, hands behind his back.  Unlike some of the other masters in the collective, he wore thick wool pants and a white tunic without a belt.  His boots made sharp sounds on the stone floor as he came near.  “I do, however, get the impression that your punctuality was brought about by some pressing matter.  What’s happened?”

The teenager still didn’t rise from her bow.  “Sir, I face a financial dilemma.  As you know, I work at the local soup kitchen to pay for my living and training expenses.  Even though my husband and I have managed all this time, Emiline has served me an ultimatum–either I go to work for her now, or I lose my job and do not receive my pay for this week.  We owe our landlord in just a few days time, sir.  I face losing my home and a means to fund my studies.”

“So you came here first, seeking some sort of guidance?”

The girl tensed at the steel in her master’s voice.  “…Yes, sir.  If you’d be so generous as to advise me…”

Quincy heard nothing for a time, then a hand on her shoulder made her look up.  Saerth’s eyes were narrowed but his lip was turned into a sort of smirk.  “Raise yourself, Quincy.”

The man turned and returned to his desk.  He sat down again in his chair with a sigh.  “Given your circumstances, I appreciate your speaking with me first.  Today you may go,”

The girl straightened, her face beaming.  “Thank you, Master, I–”

However,” Saerth sat back in his chair and ran a hand over his bald head.  “I’m familiar with Emiline.  If you give her this today, she will ask for more until you are unable to meet both her demands and your obligations here.  This solution of yours is temporary, Quincy.  You will have to figure out a better way to resume your stay here if want to fulfill your aspirations.  I cannot give you the answer.  Part of being a wizard is being clever enough to work things out on your own.  My only advice is to put your true strengths to use.  You came here when you were, what?  Fifteen, sixteen?”

“Sixteen, Master.”

“Now you’re older, and you’ve learned much.  A soup kitchen is not befitting someone of your caliber anymore.”

Quincy blinked at him, then turned her eyes to the ground.  “Yes, Master.”

“When you next return here, I expect the matter resolved.  If not, then you no longer have the right to be my pupil.”  He blinked, then looked mildly at the long horned skull sitting at his desk.  “Even if you did bring me the head of a dragon hatchling.”  He poked the skull with a stubby finger, blinking once more.  “…I get to keep this no matter what, by the way.  I hear Igora can make some mean potions just with the skull alone.”

“Um…yes, Master.  Of course, sir.”


Quincy walked slowly through the hallways, her eyes holding a storm.  Other pupils passed her by, some glancing at her curiously.  Usually the brunette was tearing through the halls in a rush, but now she walked slow contemplative steps.  She and Hakeem had been at the magical collective for almost two years now, and it truly felt like home.  The turnout was high here–many hopefuls came, seeking the tutelage of the masters that resided at the impromptu school, but the lessons were hard.  Only the true seekers of knowledge remained, and Quincy had been certain that nothing would endanger her and Hakeem’s studies.  Except now…

She had left the commune and wandered down into the city, towards the beach, where she now sat in the sand with her sword in her hands and her russet brown hair whipping about her.  The wind had picked up, now that night approached, and even though she loved the sight of the ocean, the girl loathed the strong winds.  With every gust that buffeted her, Quincy expected him to appear.

“Jack…if you come…I’ll kill you.”  Tears trickled down her face and dripped onto the scabbard.  Quincy pulled her sword out partially and glared at the rusted blade that appeared.  “I’ll kill you with everything you ever gave me, do you hear?”

A familiar voice met her ear.  “I wish you’d talk to me before making these decisions.”

Quincy turned with a start and saw Hakeem approaching her, his fists clenched.  She hadn’t gone to the soup kitchen, like she’d said she would.  Her rebellion likely caused the boy to be fired as well.

She turned and bowed her head.  “M’sorry,” she mumbled.

Hakeem sat heavily next to her, his jaw clenched tight.  “Why do you always do this?” he muttered.

“Do what?”

“Throw things away when you think it doesn’t suit you anymore.  You never think about me.  How might feel.  You didn’t like living in the jungles when we were young?  You stole from pirates and get us caught.  You started to hate living with pirates?  You lured me away from the ship where it ends up sailing off with all of my belongings.  Then I go along with your plans to come here–risking life and limb to get a gods damned master, a home, a job–and you’re threatening to piss it all away again!” the boy punched the ground. “I’m tired of being at the mercy of your whims!  I know things are hard, but sometimes you just have to stick things out, Quincy!  If you want to make a change–fine! But don’t cut away everything without something to fall back on!  Don’t make those big decisions without talking to me!”

Quincy swiped at her eyes and sniffled back the snot that had been teasing her nostrils.  She stared forward and didn’t look at Hakeem, though she could feel the anger rolling off of him.

But when he spoke again, he sounded tired.  “…If you can’t take our marriage seriously, then atleast take me seriously as your friend.  Talk to me.  Trust me.  Or else…why are we even together?  Are you going to throw me away too?  Do I…not suit you anymore?”

The girl looked at him, fear striking her heart as the boy stood to his feet.  “Hakeem!”

The boy didn’t stop as he walked away.  He continued trudging back toward the city with bunched shoulders.

Quincy stood and ran forward several steps.  “Hakeem!  Please!”

Hakeem paused but didn’t turn around.

The girl trembled, her sword forgotten in the sand where it had tumbled from her lap.  “Hakeem…I love you.  I’ve always loved you…it’s just–it’s just that–”

The boy whirled around, his face contorted with anger.  “No.  No.  Enough, Quincy.  There shouldn’t be an addendum when you tell me that.  I’ve sacrificed everything to be with you.  It’d be nice if you’d return the favor and quit placing our relationship as second on your priority list!  I don’t even know what it is you’re looking for, and quite frankly, I’m tired of waiting for you to tell me!!

Quincy watched as he left, her eyes clouding again.  She let her head fall, shivering as the wind shoved at her from all sides.

She started to speak, her broken voice rushed away by the breath of the world.  “…It’s just, that I never want to be at the mercy of anyone else again,” she watched as her tears fell into the sand.  The brunette raised her azure eyes to the sky, and her throat tightened with a desire to scream. “Jack…if you come, I’ll kill you with everything you ever gave me…because when you come, I’ll finally be the master of my life…answering to no one…untouchable…and when you and Tobias are dead, I’ll be free…”


He heard the melodious chime of a bell singing into the evening air.  Here, even on the coast, it was warm, so the night’s approach felt muggy at best.  He liked this weather.  It reminded him of home, of the village he came from, where they lived with nature instead of trying to conquer it.  Quincy had been brought to his family and left in their care when they were young.  His father had known her father, was the terse explanation.  Things had been peaceful, up until…

Hakeem didn’t like to get sentimental.  He preferred getting mad.  Being angry made it easier not to think on how much he missed his family.  How much it still haunted him, seeing them burned to death and hacked to pieces by marauders.  Even as children, they knew, it was because the marauders were looking for something.  For someone.

Even when it was beyond her control, Quincy seemed to take so much away from him.

He didn’t blame her for the massacre, she was just a child.  But surrounding the girl was a leeching aura that demanded still more from him to be with her.  More sacrifice.  The boy didn’t know what else he had to give, and this made him angry.

At the market.  Hakeem glowered at the assortment of vegetables before him.  He figured he could make a stew tonight…the final good meal to be had in a while it seemed…

“Say, friend.  Why the long face?”

The boy turned to see a young man–perhaps early twenties–smiling at him.  He had dark tanned skin, short cropped hair, and was freakishly tall.  A large metal saber was strapped to his back.  Around his waist, a belt jingled with dozens of metal ingots.

Hakeem turned his face trying to ignore him.  “I’m deciding what I want in my dinner.”

“Oh?  You want to know what that says to me?  ‘Girl trouble’.”

The boy turned and glared.  “Leave me alone.”

“Yep, girl trouble.”  The man came to stand next to Hakeem.  He leaned against the vegetable stand with a smirk. “A real man should never make his own dinner.  It’s against nature.”

Hakeem shoved at the stranger with both hands, sending a few vegetables tumbling to the ground.  The merchant yelled at him, but he ignored him.  The teenager bared his teeth and advanced, full of murder.  “Stupid mkundu!  Keep running your mouth and I’ll smash your face in!”

The stranger laughed and held up his hands. “Woah, woah! I wanna help you!”  He thumbed over his shoulder.  “I know you come from the commune.  You’ve got a teacher right?  Or…what…a master you call it?  So you must know a thing or two about magic, right?”

Hakeem turned and started to walk away.  He had nearly gotten into a fight, and this would’ve gotten him in trouble with the local authorities.  If his master had heard, he would’ve been punished.  “Tai’undu!  Leave me alone already, you big ape!”

“Wait,” the man caught up with him and blocked him off.  “Now hold on!  I happen to know for a fact that you were fired from your job at the soup kitchen–”

The boy gave him a weird look, “You’ve been following me?  What are you?  A queer or something?”

The man thumped his chest, looking angry for the first time.  “Of course not!  My name’s Karolek, and I’ve got a proposition for you!”

“A proposition?  Definitely not interested.”

“…What?  No! I told you I’m not like that!”

“Move, or I’ll move you myself.”

“Listen, listen.  There’s a bounty out there worth five hundred gold,”

“Fine, I’ll count to three.  One…”

“It’s an easy catch–sort’ve.  I just need some help,”


“Look here, I have the wanted poster–”


Hakeem buried his fist into Karolek’s gut, just as the young man reached into his back pocket.  Then he backhanded the man with all his might.  The oaf stumbled to the side, coughing.  The boy gave him a final shove out of the way, and Karolek was sent to the ground, still cradling his stomach.

“Idiot,” the boy mumbled as he stalked past.


Quincy had left the beach in a melancholy, the waves of people heading back to their homes buoying her forward.  Home

“Soon I won’t have one, and it’ll be my fault,” The girl sighed.  Then she stopped in the middle of the road, slamming the heels of her palms into the sides of her head, much to the consternation of those she forced to walk around her.  “Aaah!  Quincy, not now!  You can’t fall apart!”

When her head started to throb, the girl opened her eyes and turned her head.  She stared wide-eyed out into the night, the sky overhead now a deep plum with the stars peeking out from their vast blanket of the universe.  Colors blended together in a cool palette that made definition hard to come by, but her eyes lit onto one thing that stood out starkly in the growing moonlight.  A piece of parchment nailed to a tall wooden post.

Quincy drifted towards it, and her heart started to hammer at the sight of the words “REWARD:  500 GOLD”.

The brunette snatched the parchment off the post and examined the large charcoal sketch of a man with a long face, rounded cheeks, and thick mutton chops.  A pair of goggles dangled from around his neck, and his expression was bewildered, as though he couldn’t believe the artist had drawn him on a wanted poster.  At the bottom, smaller text read, “This reward is offered for the apprehension of Kollin Endrick Montbrai, found guilty of selling illegal narcotics, polluting the water supply, public drunkenness, and besmirching the good Lady Rosalinda of Santos.  The above reward will be paid in part by the Lord Adalberto of Santos and also the city-state of Gulley upon his delivery in good health to the offices of Marshal Fuller.  ADVISORY:  Suspect lost his left hand, either purposefully or by accident, and uses an arcane hand crafted from steel as a replacement.  This hand is said to boost the strength of his entire left arm.  Suspect has been known to make and sell magical weapons, and so may be further armed.  He is well versed in the ways of alchemy.  Exercise extreme caution when dealing with him.  Rubber gloves and a cotton mask are advised when in close proximity.”

“Looks promising, yes?”  Quincy jumped and turned to see a tall young man with short-cropped hair and metal ingots on his belt.  He was sporting a bruise on his dark-tanned face, but he smiled at her charmingly.  He pointed at the poster clutched to her chest.  “If you’re wondering…I happen to know where Kollin is now.  But I need help catching him.”

Quincy frowned at him, glancing at the poster, then back at the man before her.  “Who’re you?” she eventually asked.

The man gave a short bow.  “My name is Karolek.  I’m a metal sorcerer.”  He straightened and wagged a finger at Quincy.  “Now…I think I know who you are…you’re Quincy, aren’t you?”

The girl raised her eyebrows at him, and her grip on her sword handle tightened.  If she swung hard enough, the scabbard would fly off and expose the blade, sparing her a second to catch him by surprise, but could she press an attack with just one arm…?

“I’ve seen you around here a few times with your boyfriend–”

Husband,” She corrected, tensing her sword arm.

Karolek held up his hands, his look surprised.  “Oh!  Wow, you’re…so young!”  The man scratched the back of his head, “Gods…well, I’d heard you and your husband killed a full-grown dragon to get yourselves a master–”

Quincy rolled her eyes.  “Look, about that–”

“–And I was just thinking I could really use the help of someone as strong and capable as you.  Catching Kollin will be easy with the two of us working together–won’t even take us a day.  I’ll split the reward with you 50-50.  I bet you can think of something you can use that gold for, right?”

The girl paused to think, her lips puckering.  She and Hakeem owed their landlord a hundred gold.  The reward from the bounty would float them for almost an entire season, and they’d have gold to spare for supplies and food…

“…Do you need to talk it over with your husband?”  Karolek asked carefully.  There was something teasing in his eyes.

Quincy blinked, her eyes widening as she looked at the man.  She shook her head emphatically.  She could easily imagine Hakeem’s reaction to this idea of hers–

“Bwa-mweze, wikan a thusa katsul ko zini-jyan!?”  My wife, why do you have such wild ideas!?

“No.  He’s busy.  When did you want to go after Kollin?”

Karolek smirked.  “Tonight.”

Quincy gave a nod.  “Let me get a few things and I’ll meet you by the city gates.”


He came home tired, and with a satchel full of fresh vegetables.  The house was dark and cold.  Hakeem set the bag down and frowned.

His search was done with a single sweep of his eyes, for everything was forced into a small square space of masonry.  Their bed to the left was empty, the quilts still neat and folded.  The kitchen counter was clear and the stove dark.  The table to the right, however…

Hakeem cleared the distance from the door in two large steps.  On the table was a parchment.  His heart started to palpitate, and wild ideas sprang into his head.  “She really did throw me away…”  But then he saw from the poor moonlight that filtered in through the front windows what the parchment said.

“REWARD:  500 gold”.

The teenager’s jaw clenched and he went to the wardrobe adjacent to the door.  Tearing open the door, the boy saw that it lacked Quincy’s cloak and traveling boots.  The boy slammed the door shut with a shout.

“Quincy wikan!


They traveled on foot eastward, away from the coast and toward the savannah of the Talmorian continent.

“I grew up there, y’know.  At Gulley,” Karolek said, trying to make small talk.  “It’s my hometown.”

Quincy glanced at him from the corner of her eyes.  She stifled a yawn.  Normally she’d be asleep by this hour.  “Oh, yeah?” she really didn’t care to hear his life story.

The man put his hands behind his head, the ingots on his belt clinking together.  “Yes!  I know that city like the back of my hand.  All the shortcuts, all the best restaurants…” he smirked at her.  “Would you like to see these places, after we turn Kollin in?”

The girl gazed at him frigidly.  “No.”

Karolek laughed, throwing his head back and crowing into the night.  Quincy winced and glanced as she saw a rabbit peal away through the tall grass.  Was this how a person went about catching criminals?  By being as obnoxious as possible?

“No wonder you need my help…” Quincy muttered.

“What was that?” Karolek asked, oblivious.


“Say,” he went on, much to the girl’s annoyance.  “Where do you come from?  Your Common has a curious accent.”

The girl shrugged.  “What do you think I am?” she sighed.

Karolek rubbed his chin.  “Mmm…Fiamman?”

Quincy nodded.  “Sort of.  My ancestry is, anyway.”

“So then where did you spend your childhood?”


“Ah, that explains it…You speak Fanaean don’t you?  With your husband.  Is he a chest-thumper like most Fanaean men?”

“You know most Fanaean men, I take it?”

Karolek sputtered.  “I’m not queer!”

“Hey, you said it.  Not me.”  Quincy kicked at a rock on the path.  “Anyway, can we not talk about my husband?”

“Oh…You two had a fight?”


“Then can I ask–”

“Let it alone, already!”  Quincy snapped.  “Tai’undu!  You talk too fucking much!”  She stormed ahead, her cloak swishing behind her stiff back.

“Glad you’re not my wife…” She heard Karolek mutter.

Quincy, with little pause, scooped up a rock and threw it at his head, her face tight with outrage.  After that, Karolek finally stopped his inane chatter.  They walked for miles that way, the journey spanning nearly the entire night.  Finally, as the hours crept into the early morning, the girl could see burning lights on the horizon.

She yawned, stretching.  “Gods, finally!”

Karolek glanced at her, grinning.  “Tired already?  Do you want me to carry you into town?”

Quincy snorted, her arms crossing her chest.  “If I weren’t getting 250 gold for this, I’d have struck you with a bolt of lightning by now…twice.”

“It’s nice isn’t it?  Not having to pretend to be friends when there’s gold involved?”

“Shut up and lead the way, already.”

“My, you’re such a refined young lady!”

“Oh look!  That rock looks nice and sharp…”

Well! I guess we’d better get going.  Don’t want to miss Kollin, now do we? …gods what a bitch…”

When they entered the town of Akii, Quincy immediately recognized the sort of people she was about to encounter.  The buildings were still lit, and people stumbled through the dirt roads, wide-brimmed hats jilted on their heads.  There was shouting and loud laughter.  Dogs made a mess of the garbage, scattering it into the roads where carriages crushed and squished it with their wheels.  Quincy pulled out her four foot lightning rod, which she had kept tied to her back.

Karolek put an arm over her shoulders, and she was about to punch him in the face for getting so fresh, but then the man leaned down to murmur, “Relax.  Put the damn rod away.  If you keep acting this way, people will notice, and if people notice, so might Kollin.  If you stay close to me, no one will bother you, I promise.”

Quincy shrugged the man’s arm off.  “Fine.  But keep your hands to yourself!”  Still with a sour look, the girl slid the rod back into its strap.

“Why do you have that and your sword?” he asked.

“This sword never leaves my side.  It’s magical, but it won’t respond to me.  I keep it around just in case that might change.  The rod actually works, and was given to me by my master.  It calls forth lightning.”

“Wow,” Karolek led her to a one-story building with a flat roof.  He held the door open for her.  “Do you have any other goodies with you?”

Quincy passed him, entering a smoky bar.  When they were both inside, she responded, “A wizard always has an ace in the hole.”

Karolek nodded thoughtfully.  “Something to keep in mind, then…”

They sat at a table nearest the bar, because all the tables near the wall were taken.  A waitress came by and Karolek ordered a mug of beer.  Quincy asked for a glass of water and was reminded snippily that she was in a bar not a gods damned restaurant.  Then the brunette told the waitress to come back with some manners and fresher breath.  The sorcerer kicked her under the table as the waitress left in a huff to fetch their orders.

“Idiot!” he snarled.  “I told you to relax!”

Quincy kicked him back, harder.  “I like rude people even less than self-absorbed snoops like you!  Kick me again, and I’ll kick you so hard in your uchango you’d think you were a queer!”

The sorcerer winced, reaching down to rub his leg.  “Gods, girl!  Your inferiority complex is fierce!

“I don’t have a complex!”  She kicked him again, catching him on the hand.  That time it just felt good.

Karolek bit his lip to contain the yell that came up his throat as he cradled his hand.

Quincy turned her head, and her eyes widened.  “Oh!”  She looked away, toward the bar, her face turning pink.

A man appeared at the entrance, a bag slung over his muscular shoulders and a pair of dark goggles drawn over his eyes.  He had thick mutton chops and a length of straw between his lips.  He wore suspenders and a sleeveless blue shirt, with baggy brown shorts and untied leather shoes that stopped around the ankles.  His belt was weighed down with tools–a hammer, a wrench, a screwdriver, a pair of tongs, and other things she couldn’t name.  And on his left hand, or rather, replacing his left hand, there was a metal claw that occasionally hissed with steam around the wrist.  It clicked and whirred with bare mechanics as he flexed the fingers.

“‘Oh’ what?” Karolek grumbled, his eyes teary as he rubbed his swelling hand.

“‘Oh’ as in, ‘Oh, our subject of interest just walked in!’”

“Then, shh!” he hissed, slouching forward.  He glanced only with his eyes over the girl’s shoulder.  Then nodded.  “Yeah, that’s him.”

“What do we do?”

“What else?  We wait till he’s piss-ass drunk, then follow him to wherever he’s staying.”

“That’s it?”

“He’s a well known drunkard, and his brains are fried from all the fumes he’s breathed in.  I told you this would be easy.”

Quincy frowned and fisted her cheek.  “It seems too easy to me…” she mumbled.


He was marching through the savannah, a lightly packed bag against his back, his eyes staring forward like harsh knives in the dark.  He was heading to Gulley because it was the best he had to go on, given what the poster said.  He didn’t know the first place to look for Kollin, and therefor didn’t know the first place to look for Quincy.  But when he found Quincy…when he found her…he was going to…

Without warning the boy kicked at an ant hill, cursing rapidly in his native tongue.

“Mweze, when I get my hands on you, there’s finally going to be order in this marriage!  You will be my wife and nothing more!  No more magic, no more get-rich-quick schemes, no more swords!  You’ll behave like a woman should.  TAI’UNDU!!  I should’ve done what my Uncle did with all three of his wives, and just tied you to my bed!!  AARGH!!  When I get my hands on you, you’ll cook, you’ll clean, and you’ll wash my under things–all at our home, where you’ll never leave and send me running after you again!” he stomped at the ants, his dark face taking on a ruddy shade, “Like. You. Were. Sup-Posed.  To. ARRGH!”

The boy fell to his knees, and screamed to the night sky.

Why did I fall in love with a white woman?  What the FUCK was I thinking!?

Then his eyes bugged and he jumped up, slapping at himself.  “Shit, those were fire ants!!”


“This is boring…” The girl muttered, struggling to keep her eyes open.  Her entire body felt heavy.  She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been up so long.  There had already been a few times when she’d nodded off, but a loud noise in the bar always woke her up.  The last she had looked, Kollin was still pinching the asses of women that passed his table, but he appeared surprisingly sober.  “Is he, like, almost drunk yet?”

Karolek snorted awake, his head having fallen back against his chair.  He wiped the saliva from the corner of his mouth and blinked at her.  “…Huh?”

Quincy sighed and turned her head to look herself.  Then she shot upright, her eyes bugging open.

“Tai’undu!” she exclaimed, jumping to her feet.

Karolek followed suit, startled.  “What, what!?”

“He’s gone!”

They spilled out onto the street, harried and cursing and blaming one another.  People stared as they barreled by.

“You big idiot, he’s gone now!”  Quincy scanned the streets and buildings, her face flushed.

Karolek glared at her, scandalized.  “How is this my fault!?  You were the one awake, why didn’t you notice he’d left?”

“You shouldn’t have fallen asleep to begin with!  What kind of man are you!?”

“Right.  Like you hadn’t caught a few minutes napping either!”

Whatever! Just help me look for him!”

Then she was running as fast as she could, everything on fire, the swing of her arms like blades cutting through the wind.  Clearly, the city of Akii wasn’t known for paved streets–in fact, the golden earth was hard and riddled with potholes.  Quincy struggled to keep her vision clear as they tumbled through the growing morning crowd–merchants and buyers out for the early market setup.  It was getting harder when she had to check her path to keep from falling and breaking her ankle.  The rod staff across her back didn’t help with matters either.  She knocked a man in the head with the tip of it, and the blow jerked her back a beat as the strap that held the staff cut into her chest.

The girl stumbled forward again, her eyes turning to gaze at the man in the fez hat apologetically.

“Ih-shun!” she cried.  “Sorry!”

The man shouted angrily at her, brandishing his fist.

“Gods damnit!”  Karolek grabbed her hand and forced her to run faster.  “Your Talmas is horrible!  How long did you say you’ve been living in Crysen!?”

“What’d he think I said?  I was trying to apologize,” Quincy panted, her cloak flapping behind her.  With her exhaustion, it was feeling quite heavy.

“You have to put more phlegm into the word next time!  ICH-shun!  Right now, you just called that man an ass fiddle!  It’s one of the gravest insults you can give, and coming from a woman, it’s even worse!  Now we have to run just to keep from being stoned!

Quincy glanced over her shoulder.  Sure enough, the man and some of his companions were chasing after them, their silk shoes and light clothing making agility seem effortless.  Then the girl slid and tumbled to the ground as Karolek made a sharp turn.  He jerked her up painfully by the arm and she had but a moment to prepare for the flight of stairs they jumped over.  They flew some five feet down, and the shock that hit Quincy’s soles made her cry out, but the man didn’t let her stop.  Behind them, the angry men followed.  They weren’t as weighed down by weapons and heavy clothing as she and Karolek were.

Quincy felt close to tears.  “I just…wanted…to make things up…to Hakeem!” she wheezed through a tight throat.

Then she had an idea.

“Leggo of my hand!” Quincy shouted, wrenching out of Karolek’s grip.

“What’re you doing!?” he snapped, looking fearfully over his shoulder.  “I don’t want to have to fight these men!  It could set the whole community on us!  I live in this area, damnit!”

Quincy pushed herself to continue running as she fished for the leather pouch she had tied to her hip.  Holding it before her, she rubbed the bag between her hands.  “Come on, come on…” she breathed.  Something long and thin grew beneath her ministrations.  The girl quickly loosened the opening and pulled out the item.

Karolek did a double-take, sweat rolling down his face.  “Is that…a wand?


“What’re you going to do, pull a rabbit out of your ass!?”

“Shut up and get back!”  Quincy skidded to a stop and turned to glare at the men that charged after them.  She gripped her wand tightly in her right hand, the long smooth piece of wood barely weighing a thing.  The one in the fez hat led his five companions, men dressed similarly, possibly members of a guild.  He pointed at her angrily, shouting something in Talmas.  Gripped in his other hand was a large rock.

Quincy pointed the wand at him and said loudly, “Exorior Gerbillinae!!

The Talmorian men flinched back as she shouted this, their eyes bugging.  Clouds of dust rose about their feet as they skittered to a full stop.  Everyone stopped, waiting for something to happen.

Quincy looked around too, nervous.  She had wanted to transform the man into a gerbil, but nothing was happening.  Had she used the right words?

Then they heard a sound.  It seemed to rise up in their ears as a crackling and scratching first.  Then they heard the high-pitched squeals.

“Quincy…” Karolek said slowly.  He looked at her with his eyes, knees bent and his hands held out.  “What in the nine hells did you do?”

“I…uh…” she pointed at the man in the fez hat with her wand, who was staring around in confusion still.  “…turned him into a gerbil?  Or…or…tried to?”

“I don’t think it worked.”

The sound grew louder.  The squeals, the squeaking, the scratching…

Quincy’s face drew long in horror.  She stumbled backward, stepping onto her cloak, and falling onto her rear.  “I–I think I know how I m-messed it up!” she stammered.

From all around, flooding over the stone and the wood and the dirt, hundreds of little bodies flooded forth, their fur shining in the early morning sunlight.  Their tails were long but furry.  If she hadn’t cast the spell, she would’ve erroneously thought them to be rats.  But they were gerbils.

Exorior Gerbillinae.  Gerbil appear.  Apparently that wasn’t the phrase for transforming someone then…

Karolek cursed and took off running without her.

Quincy scrambled after him, “Hey, wait!”  He didn’t look back.  Quincy stubbed the tip of her boot on an uneven piece of ground and fell to the ground in a nasty crash.  Her left knee scraped the ground painfully.  Her eyes teared up and she screamed at Karolek’s retreating back.  “Damnit, wait for me!”  He still didn’t look back.

Behind her, the men screamed.  She glanced back and saw the little creatures clawing up their legs, the men writhing in pain before they fell over into the growing swarm that followed her.

The girl pushed herself to her feet.  She limped a few steps before she forced her left leg to work–then it was a matter of ignoring the sharp sensations that shot up her thigh from the knee.  With fear’s claw around her heart, she managed to double her pace from before, and within a minute, she outstripped Karolek.

“Woah, hold on, wait up!” His voice cracked as he reached out and tried to grab her.  The girl danced out of his reach.

“Fuck you, mkundu, you were gonna leave me!  We’re through!” she screamed over her shoulder.  She stumbled around the corner, her hip crashing into a fruit stand.  She limped a few steps again, bracing herself on an eroded wall, before she bared her teeth and tumbled clumsily onward.  Russet locks stuck to her sweaty neck, and she spat strands of hair from her mouth.  Down an alley, through a wide street and into another alley.  She didn’t know where she was running to.  She didn’t know this town.  Maybe she shouldn’t have left Karolek behind…?

She glanced behind her.  The gerbils, shockingly, were following her.  More than that, they were keeping pace with her.  She was certain it was because of the magic–gerbils couldn’t fucking run that fast.  Could they?

Then up ahead she saw a man in a cloak opening a heavy wooden door with a key.  The building had no windows that she could see and it was a small one-story.  She sprinted towards him just as he opened the door.  Quincy slid and bumped him inside with her hip, then nearly fell through the door herself.  She kept stepping on her cloak in a panic, but managed to get to her feet again.  Snatching the key off the floor, she turned around, slammed the door shut, then locked it.  Then the girl looked around, drawing out her rod staff.  The building was dark, but she thought she saw hooks and chains and springs hanging from the ceiling.  The two tables in the middle of the room was riddled with unnameable miscellany.  At the back, she thought she saw a messy bed.  There were two windows high up on the right and left, but they were small and closed shut.  She doubted the gerbils could climb up the bare stone walls…right?

“S’cuse me, sir.  Sorry, sorry,” she said quickly, turning her attention to the man she had bumped into.  “Ich’shun, Ich’shun.  There’s a swarm of rodents on its way here and I needed a place to hide.”

The man on the floor groaned, his head still covered with his hood.

Quincy bit her lip, kneeling.  “Sir…sir, are you okay?”

Then came the scratching.  The girl froze as the squeals and squeaks grew louder all around, turning into a hissing sound as the gerbils surrounded the building.  She kept on eye on the windows, just in case, but they didn’t seem to reach.  It didn’t seem to stop them from trying, however.  She could hear them clawing up the stone, the sound setting her teeth on edge.

The man before her sat up.

“Wow…you weren’t kidding!”  He pulled the hood back with a steel hand, one that hissed out steam at the wrist.

Quincy did a double-take.

Kollin Endrick Montbrai pulled the goggles off his eyes and blinked at her, white as a sheet.  When he spoke, all she could smell was beer. “Thanks, kid!  I can’t stand rodents…Say, what’s your name?”

The girl blinked, and stared at him.

Then she struck him across the face with her rod staff as hard as she could, little sparks of lightning flying into the air.  The man’s head snapped to the side from the blow, and his eyes rolled into his head.  He fell back, limp.  His cheek sported a mild burn.  Quincy brushed back her hair and smiled, eyes filled with wonder.

“Wow…that was easy!” she giggled excitedly.


The girl spent the rest of the day waiting out the gerbil swarm.  She considered using her wand to make them vanish, but she was afraid she’d get the wording wrong again.  Quincy hadn’t trained much in linguistic prescriptivism–figured it had nothing to do with the magic items she wanted to use.  She made a mental note to correct this in the future.

By the time the gerbils were gone it was already the afternoon.  Quincy found some bread in Kollin’s cupboard and ate it quickly.  Then she took out her magic pouch and put in other food–some jerky, a cheese wheel, some fruit.  They all vanished without the pouch becoming full once.  Next, she rifled through the assortment of items on the tables.  There were gloves that gave off static energy, blades that were stained red, an assortment of bottles likely filled with illegal potions, and–

Quincy plucked up a small white box, frowning at it.  It was the only package on the table, and seemed unusually “prepared”.  Was it an item for a customer?  The girl opened the box cautiously, peering inside.  She raised an eyebrow.  Sitting in the box was small reflective orb with a slip of paper.  The teenager pulled the paper out carefully, not wanting to touch the orb–she didn’t know what the item did.  Opening the slip with one hand, she squinted at the scrawled message.

“Brom.  This is the Orb of Ilkmar.  I nicked it off this elf I drank under the table down in Gulley.  I’m scared.  I think he was just a delivery boy for someone powerful, and now I have this heat down my neck.  I want you to take it and keep it somewhere safe.  This thing is rare.  It helps you remember stuff you’ve forgotten, helps you find what was lost, and brings you to whatever it is that you desired.  If you’re in a bind and have NO CHOICE, then say these words when holding the orb, ‘I see, so you see.  I hear, so you hear.  I know, so you know.  Illuminate this for the eyes of the blind.  Reveal what is hidden, bring forth what is desired.’

Quincy’s heart hammered.  Her azure eyes flickered back to the orb, and she saw her face reflected back at her, smiling slowly.


She kept her head down as she pushed the wheelbarrow through Akii.  It had taken her nearly an hour to clear the wheelbarrow of spare parts and to load Kollin’s limp body into it.  For good measure, she wrestled a chain around him too, and (as per the wanted poster’s suggestion) used a pair of rubber gloves she’d found to do it.  As she tied him up, she found he had five flasks of acid, a bottle of beer, a flask of oil, half a bottle of ether, and atleast six different knives hidden beneath his cloak.  Exhaustion bit at her, even as her preparations were done.  She was approaching 24 hours with hardly any sleep, and all the adrenaline was gone.  The girl forced herself to keep going.  With Kollin covered by a thick tarp, and the hood of her cloak pulled up, Quincy left the little impromptu home and tried to remain as inconspicuous as possible.

All around her, people were dealing with the damage wrought by the rabid gerbil swarm.  Many sported cuts and gashes, little chunks missing from faces old and young alike.  Quincy felt her heart twist in guilt as she passed one little boy, who was still screaming from the pain and trauma.  His dusty face was streaked with tears and blood, a piece of his ear missing, and scratches all over his face.  He was the worst she had seen, however–most of the damage seemed superficial.  Still, his one face was enough to haunt her the rest of the way.

She paused only to buy water and get directions.  She wanted to keep moving, lest Karolek see her.  She was certain the man still thought the alchemist was in Akii, and that suited her fine.  She’d done most of the work anyway.

As it turned out, Gulley was almost five miles away.  Though the wheelbarrow was a necessity, it also slowed her walking rate down by half.  If she stopped frequently, she’d be there in two hours.  Ideally.  That, of course, didn’t take into account the terrain.

Sweat stung her vision as Quincy fought to conquer thick plant growth and hard, clay-like earth.  Kollin awoke, not even an hour after she had left Akii.

He banged his head against the bed of the wheelbarrow, screaming.  “Aah!  Aargh, you bitch, lemme go!”

“Shut up!” She snapped, panting as she powered the wheelbarrow over a rock that had been blocking her for a full minute.

“Don’t do this!” Kollin begged, squirming out from under the tarp.  He squinted up at her, his scruffy face covered in grime and dirt.  “Please, you don’t understand what you’re doin!”  He tried to inch off the wheelbarrow, grunting.

Quincy set the wheelbarrow down, and ran around to the other side.  She kicked the man back on.  “Bastard.  Stop it!  I’m taking you in and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

Kollin yelled and curled away from her.  She could see his left arm straining against the chain.

“That won’t work,” she said, going back to take the wheelbarrow’s handles.  She resumed pushing forward.  “I don’t care how strong that claw makes you.  You haven’t got the leverage to break out of chain.”

The man ceased his struggles, panting.  The tarp had fallen off of him, and he stared up at the afternoon sky, tears streaking from the corners of his eyes.  Quincy faltered as she saw this, her brows pressing together.

“C’mon, kid,” he said, his voice thick.  Kollin looked at her pleadingly.  “C’mon–Jes’ lemme go.  You don’t know what those men’ll do to me.  They won’t just kill me, they’ll make me suffer!

Quincy squeezed her eyes shut and tried to push the wheelbarrow up a hill.  “I’m not listening!”

Her foot slipped on the sand and she squealed, nearly losing her footing entirely.

“Fuck you!” he screamed, spit flying from his mouth.  He thrashed wildly again, his face turning purple.  “Fuck you, I wish you’d fallen flat on your whore face, you bitch!  I can’t believe you’d do this!  You’re just a stupid kid, how can you be so cruel!?”

“I said be quiet!!” Quincy screamed, grunting as she tried to crest the hill.  But her arms were shaking, and her feet kept sliding on the dirt.  Finally, she gave up and let the wheelbarrow roll back slowly.  It was almost as tiring keeping the thing from running her over.  With a heavy sigh, she set it down with a bang and sat on the ground.

“I have to do this!  I have no choice!”  Her eyes teared up.  “I wish Taika were here…” she mumbled next, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear.

“Bitch…” Kollin said again, but his voice sounded as tired as hers.

Neither said a word for nearly fifteen minutes.  Then Quincy turned her head, wiping her face dry.

“Hey…who’s Brom?”  She would’ve been content with sitting in silence, but the question had been niggling at her since she’d left Akii.

The wheelbarrow shuddered as Kollin twisted around in it.  “How do you know that name?” his voice had an edge she hadn’t heard before.

She decided to play coy.  “A little birdie told me.”

“Were you going through my stuff?!”

“I wouldn’t be a good bounty hunter if I didn’t, now would I?”

“Have you got the orb?”

Quincy bit her lip and shrugged, even though the man couldn’t see this.  “No,” she lied.  “I left it there, along with all of your other stuff.  Your note was addressed to someone named ‘Brom’.  Who’s that?”

To her frustration, Kollin ignored her question again.  “You know the Orb of Ilkmar can lead you to whatever it is you truly want, right?  Just take it and let me go!  If you return me, they’ll torture me until they get the orb back!  It won’t even matter if I tell them!  That’s what this whole thing’s really about!”

The teenager got on her knees and twisted around to stare dryly at Kollin.  “So this is all just about the orb?  Meaning you didn’t poison Gulley’s water supply?”

The man actually blushed.  He swiped at his ear with his shoulder and stared at the bed of the wheelbarrow.  “When you’ve had two bottles of whiskey, inhaled clouds of witch smoke, and took a sip of ether, those things jes’ tend to happen…”

“I bet.  I’m surprised your list of charges weren’t longer.”

“So will you take the orb and let me free?”

“Why?” Quincy returned, drumming her fingers on the edge of the handle.  “So that I can have the state of Gulley coming down on my head?  No thanks, I’ve seen enough vengeance seekers in my lifetime,”

“Yeah, I guess a bitch like you’d piss a ton of people off,” Kollin muttered sullenly.

“It wasn’t my fault,” the girl said coldly.  “It was my father’s.”

Kollin glanced at her sideways.  “…That so?”

“Yeah.  That’s so.”  Quincy sat down again.  She leaned back against the wheelbarrow.  “Who’s Brom?” she asked again.

“…Brom’s my son.”

“What!?” the teenager sat forward some, her ear cocked to the side.  “You’ve got a son?  How old is he?”

“Fifteen now.”

“Gods, you barely look older than twenty-five!  How can that be?”

“An’ how old’re you?” Kollin returned hotly.  “I’m not that young.  I know I’m a fuck up, but I’ve been around.  You think I don’t know what ‘taika’ means?  How’s a kid like you married?  Was it arranged or somethin’?”

Quincy’s brow furrowed and her fists bunched in her lap.  “We were in love,” Then she corrected herself hurriedly.  “Are in love!”

Kollin let loose a sardonic chuckle.  “Uh-huh.  Yeah.  Well, so was I!”  He sighed heavily.  “An’ Brom was the only thing good that came out of it.”

“I bet you’re a lousy father,” the girl snapped, suddenly feeling angry.  She felt emotionally exposed somehow, and this set her on edge.  “Your choices will haunt your child for the rest of his life!”  She glared at the ground.  “I know from experience…”

“Whatever, kid.”

Silence followed.  Quincy spent another five minutes, taking a moment to have a snack from her magic pouch, before pressing onward.  Kollin struggled more, but there was less exchange between them.  The man seemed to writhe simply on principle, as though to illustrate his desire to be free.  Quincy watched him as he did this, thinking of his son, Brom.  She tried to imagine what the son would look like.  Probably like his father–and the boy probably wished he’d taken after his mother.  Quincy often found herself feeling the same way when looking into the mirror.  She thought of all the times Kollin must’ve failed to do his part, too busy running illegal deals and getting high off of his own concoctions.  The father had likely arranged a meet up with the boy, to give him the orb.  Would Brom show up at Kollin’s place tonight, only to find his father had disappointed him again?

Quincy disliked thinking of herself as somehow the reason for this.  Kollin’s life unfolded as he saw fit to shape it.  It wasn’t her problem if the man was going to be tortured over stealing the Orb of Ilkmar, or if he’d possibly never see his son again.

But the man’s face displayed an animal sort of desperation–an undying need to fight and struggle despite his hopeless situation.  Quincy watched with morbid fascination as the man kicked and strained against his chains to the point that the metal cut at his skin, making him bleed and bruise.

Eventually, she couldn’t take it anymore.

The girl stopped and produced her wand from her magic pouch.  She then went around to the end of the wheelbarrow where Kollin glared daggers at her.  The setting suns scorched the savannah in a warm glow as evening approached.

Quincy pointed the wand at Kollin.  “Stop doing that, now.” She swallowed the lump in her throat and willed her eyes to stay dry.  “Stop struggling, you’re hurting yourself!”

“Fuck you,” Kollin muttered, setting his head back against the wheelbarrow bed.

The girl bared her teeth, giving her wand a vicious shake.  This got the man’s attention, and his head shot up as he gazed at her in alarm.  “Hey, don’t go waving that thing at me!”

“This thing is the Wand of Beasts.  I’ll turn you into a turtle and carry you back to Akii under my arm if I have to!  You won’t struggle so much then!”

“Hey, hey! Come on, don’t play around!” Kollin looked panicked now.

Quincy squinted at her wand.  “You know, I wonder what I’d have to say to make that work.  Last time, I conjured up a gerbil swarm by accident.”

“That was you!?”

The girl blushed and pointed the wand at the sky as she placed her other hand at her hip. “Look, I didn’t train with this thing that much, okay?”

“What kind of shitty wizard are you?”

“One that gets her power phrases mixed up!” A faraway voice shouted.  Karolek’s voice.

Quincy paled, looking up.

The man was not far off, and speeding ever closer.  He tossed away a sandy-colored blanket, which he seemed to adorn with grass to make his camouflage better.  But what marveled Quincy was the object he was riding.

Karolek was standing on a round rectangular piece of metal, only a little longer than his arm.  It wasn’t hovering over the ground, but still sliding over it, propelled by some force she couldn’t see.  Quincy didn’t specialize in sorcery, but her interest in magic was enough that she had read about it.  Sorcerers could achieve something that, by appearance, was similar to gravitational magic, but still inherently different.  Sorcerers were masters of physical nature, and they interacted with these elements through their animus, which acted like a pair of ghostly hands that shaped the materials in question.  It didn’t matter if Karolek had been following this whole time, or if he’d just caught up.  With his camouflage blanket, he could have manipulated the metal ingots on his belt to make the board he rode, and thus, silently slide along the savannah as though he were gliding over air.  The metal was quiet and so was the power he used to push it forward.

And now the man was going to use this power against her.

Karolek jumped off the board some twenty feet away just as Quincy drew her lightning rod with her free hand.  The sorcerer drew his saber and pointed at her, his expression livid.

“I’m taking Kollin back!” he shouted.

“I did all the work!” Quincy shouted back, brandishing her wand.  Both Kollin and Karolek ducked as they wand tip turned their way.  “I even pushed this idiot all the way out here alone!  You can’t take him!”

Karolek spat on the ground, and behind him, the metal board lifted into the air.  It broke into two halves, then morphed into crude looking hammers.  The young twenty-something may have needed work on the finer details of elemental mastery, but the hammers still looked quite capable of caving her head in.

Quincy cursed and tucked her wand in her belt.  She placed herself before the wheelbarrow.  “Karolek, let’s not do this!”  But beneath her determined voice she was clenching in terror.  She’d never been in a magical fight before.

“This was going to come one way or another, Quincy!” Karolek barked.  “I was going to bail on you in the end anyway!  Atleast I can say it wasn’t my fault this time!”

The girl stomped her foot, her face turning red. “Bastard!  You didn’t contribute to this catch at all!”

Karolek charged forward, his saber drawn back.  “Who was the one who knew where Kollin was!?”

Quincy tensed and pointed her rod.  She willed lightning to shoot forth, and as quickly as the thought entered her mind, the rod staff shuddered, crackling briefly with tendrils of energy.  But Karolek anticipated her attack when she brought her arm up, and had one of his hammers drift before him.  The hammer caught the lightning, effectively absorbing it.

The man had never broken stride.  He tensed his arms, prepared to swing, and the hammer that had caught her lightning bolt rose in the sky, the heavy blunt end tilted back like a hand were holding it as well.  Quincy instinctively struck the ground with her rod, and a small explosion of lightning and energy shot forth, covering the area around her.  Karolek slid to a messy stop, but his other hammer, which had hovered dutifully behind him, shot forward like a bullet.

Quincy heard the hammer from above whistle down as well…but she was ready.

The girl thrust the rod toward the sky, yelling from her gut.  All around her, the remnant energy from the lightning surged and hummed around her.  She felt the all her hair stand on end as a faintly glowing field of magnetic energy formed around her in less than a second.  The two hammers struck the field, and they groaned, straining against it as Karolek tried to push his way through.  Quincy growled, jerked the tip of her rod to the side.  Both hammers were sent smashing into the ground as the magnetic force redirected them.

Quincy unclasped her cloak, her face drawn tight as she set her eyes on Karolek, who rose to his feet again.

Off behind them, Kollin squealed.  “Hey, hey, hey! Shit, wheel me away first before you go at it like that!!”

The girl ignored him, charging toward Karolek as the man brought about his saber and roared at her.  She feinted with one end of her rod staff, towards the sorcerer’s head.  He moved to block the high attack with his blade, but left his chest exposed, and here, Quincy shifted and struck with the other end of the staff.  She caught him hard in the ribs and a blast of electricity shot forth, entering his body and scorching his clothes.

Karolek let out a strangled scream, stumbling backwards as he tried to keep his convulsing limbs in his control.  His face turned a deep crimson, and veins bulged all over his neck, arms, and face.  Then he keeled over and fell still.

Quincy hesitated, her eyes widening.  Did she put too much into the strike?  She didn’t want to kill the man, much as she disliked him…

“Karolek?” she tried tentatively when he didn’t move for a full minute.

The man let out a wheeze.  “That…hurt…” he panted.  His breathing sounded labored.  His limbs were arranged in an unnatural manner, like he were a doll on the floor.

Behind her, Quincy heard Kollin shifting and grunting around in the wheelbarrow again, but she didn’t turn to look.  She stepped toward Karolek with a wrinkled brow.  “Hey you big idiot, stand up!” her voice was shrill.

“I can’t!” he snapped his arms twitching into movement.  He clutched at the tufts of grass near him and pulled himself over so that he didn’t stare up at the sky anymore.  He looked at his body in a sort of numb shock.  “My…my legs aren’t working,” he mumbled.

“What do you mean!?”

“I mean your lightning attack went through to my gods damned spine, and now my legs aren’t working!”  He pulled at his hip, turning the rest of his body over.

“…You really can’t stand?” The girl’s hand reached up to brush back her hair, but her hand was shocked and she winced, shaking it out.

“No!  I can’t!”  The man twisted around to stare at his legs.  He sounded on the verge of hysterics.  “Gods, what if I’m like this for the rest of my life!?”

Quincy’s eyes bugged.  Now she felt on the verge of hysterics herself.  “It’s…It’s just the magic.  If it were a real paralysis, a real spinal injury, you’d have passed out or something.  I’m certain you’ll recover!”

“Oh yeah.  Sure.”

The girl froze at the unexpected voice.  It was right behind her.  Slowly she turned around.

Kollin smirked at her, his chains in his human hand, his steel claw drawn back in a fist.  It seems he’d finally gained that leverage he needed.  “And I’m sure you’ll recover too!”

Then he punched her with his metal fist, and everything went black.


When Quincy woke, she was tied up in chains.  She felt a body against her back and twisted around.  It seemed not much time had passed, because the suns were still over the horizon, though that was to change within the hour it seemed.

“Karolek?” Quincy called softly over her shoulder.

“What?” the man grunted, shifting behind her.

“Oh.”  She sighed and hung her head.  “I just wanted to see if you were awake.”

“Yeah.  I’m still awake.  Still paralyzed too, y’know.”

“You sound pretty cavalier about it.”

“Oh that’s just to stave off the rage and panic inside.”

The woman sighed heavily.  “Please don’t start raging or panicking.  My body’s sore from pushing that wheelbarrow.”

“I’ll be sure to stay still then.  I mean, that ought to be easy considering I can’t move anything from my chest down.”

Quincy let out a sound of frustration, kicking at the sand.  “I’m sorry, I’m sorry it was an accident already!”  Then she thrashed backward harshly.  “But you know what?  You brought it on yourself!  You tried to smash my head in with those hammers!”

Karolek threw his head back, catching her in the back of her skull.  “I wasn’t going to actually do it!  I just wanted Kollin back!”

Quincy cried out, curling forward.  “That hurt!” she whined.

“Don’t fucking complain to me!  I’m the one whose legs won’t move!  I might never get it up again!”

“I’m certain your boyfriends will be crushed…” Quincy muttered.

Karolek threw his head back again, this time harder.  Quincy turned livid and tried to twist around.  “Mkundu!  I’m going to gnaw your face off, I don’t care if you’re gimpy!”

“Crazy bitch!  Stay away from me!”

Then without warning, Karolek fell out from behind her, and Quincy teetered off to the side.  She blinked, feeling around with her hands behind her back.  The man wasn’t near her.  “…Karolek, we weren’t tied together?”

“Of course not!  Kollin just used strips of your cloak to bind my wrists.  I’d say he was considerate for propping me up against you since I can’t sit up on my own, but now I’m thinking that was just sadism on his part.”

Quincy rolled to her side so that she was facing Karolek.  The man had fallen over and was now facing away from her.

When she spoke next, it was in extreme exasperation.  “Dummy!  You’re a metal sorcerer.  He put chains on me.  Use your power to get them off!”

Karolek didn’t say anything for a moment.  Then he twisted his head around to look at her.  “Oh yeah.”

The chains shuddered around her.  This startled Quincy, who imagined them tightening, or turning into blades…but sure enough, the links came apart and quietly fell away from her as though they were a blanket pushed back with gentle hands.

Quincy sat up, rubbing her wrists.  She glanced down quickly at her hip and saw that her wand was still there, as was her sword and magic pouch.  At the sight of the last two items, she sighed in relief.  Then she gazed at Karolek.  She could leave him out here, in the savannah.  Gulley was just a mile away, after all…

Only the girl truly felt guilty for his predicament.  It was one thing to leave the big oaf when chased by a swarm of gerbils–he was capable of taking care of himself then.  But now he was completely vulnerable, and there were animals and monsters that would take advantage of his misfortune.  The girl stood, dusting off her pants.

The man glared at her warily.

Quincy leaned down and took him gently by the shoulders.  With a grunt, she sat him up.  “C’mon.  Let’s get you onto the wheelbarrow…”


The teenager was beyond exhausted.  He’d walked ceaselessly from Crysen across the open plains and had been stopped by a rukh–a giant winged monster, similar to an eagle, with pure white plumage that reflected the glare of the suns and a reptilian head.  The fight against it had taken a while.  Everytime Hakeem attacked using the power of his magic armor, the bird would fly away again, circling around for another strike.  Eventually he was able to convince the monster that he was too troublesome to be prey, and it flew away.  He was left exhausted from his efforts and so his pace slowed.  Oddly enough, he was paused again by a swarm of gerbils, foaming at the mouths, but the man waited out their passing with a few deterring blasts and a gravitational shield.

“What in the nine hells…” he muttered as the last of the little creatures scurried away.

He walked on and on until Gulley was within his sight.

But as he picked up his pace, he thought he saw lightning flares, off to the north of the city.  Hakeem stopped and frowned, then slowly redirected his path to head to that location.

It wasn’t long before he saw a man approaching him in a jog.

The man had a long face, rounded cheeks, and thick mutton chops.  A pair of goggles dangled from around his neck, and his left hand was wrapped in a familiar dark cloth…

“Hail!” Hakeem called, holding up his hand.

Kollin Endrick Montbrai stopped and looked up from the ground, his eyes wide and spooked.

The two men stared at each other.  Hakeem started to lower his hand.

That was when Kollin took off running.

Throwing his bag on the ground, Hakeem gave chase.


She sighed as they entered the city.  She wouldn’t have made it pushing Karolek in herself, but the sorcerer proved that he was capable of some ingenuity.  Using his sorcery, he covered the wheels of the wheelbarrow with his metal so that all Quincy had to do was keep it from tipping forward while he rotated the wheels.

“Okay…” she said, guiding the wheelbarrow to the side of the road, where she sat on a low wall.  Gulley, unlike Akii, was turning quiet with the aging night.  She appreciated the calm that surrounded them.  “Where do you want me to take you?  A healer?  To Marshal Fuller to explain what happened?  Maybe we’ll get compensated for providing information…”

“That doesn’t sound like a bad idea.” Karolek said, shrugging morosely.  His saber was laid across his lap, like a broken toy.

Quincy nodded and stood again, taking the wheelbarrow’s handles.  “Okay.  Then afterward, I’ll take you to a healer.  I’m certain they’ll be able to–”

“Just forget it,” Karolek interjected.

The girl scowled down at the top of his head as they moved over the brick road.  “Look, I’m trying to help you.”

The man leaned his head back and sneered up at her.  “And that’s what I don’t get!  Supposedly, you hated me because you thought I was a nosy, talkative fool, then you hate me because I tried to save my own skin after you call up that wave of rodents–”

“–You forgot ‘dimwitted creep’ among your list of adjectives–”

“–Then you really hate me because I tried to take back Kollin–”

“–You had no right to him to begin with–”

“–And nownow you’re HELPING me after you could’ve finally been rid of me!  You make no sense, wizard!”

Quincy stopped and glared at the man with narrowed eyes.  “Karolek…regardless of what I think…you are an asshole,”

“Your kindness still strikes me with awe.  By the way, that makes no sense.  Opinion isn’t fact–”

“But whilst I may be inclined toward awkward fits of rage, I am not a complete bitch.”

Karolek blinked up at her.  Then he grinned and pointed up at her.  “You just called yourself awkward.”

Quincy took her elbow and dug it into his scalp, stopping only when she ran out of insults to rain down on the sorcerer.

They reached the marshal’s building.  Luckily, the entrance was a double door, so they were able to push Karolek in.  As they entered the torchlit room, they were both met with a surprising sight.

Kollin was being dragged off through a doorway to the left, his body limp as though he were unconscious.  Quincy could see jail cells before the sight was closed away from her.  A man dressed in an official-looking uniform–set with a black cape, black gloves, and black polished boots–was shaking the hand of–

“Taika!” Quincy exclaimed, dropping the wheelbarrow with a bang.

Karolek glared at her resentfully.

Hakeem turned to look at her, his brows rising high just as the man before him held up a filled coin bag.

“Quincy.”  He looked down at Karolek, and his expression turned dark.  The sorcerer held up his hands, grinning uncertainly.  “So it was you…” the boy seethed, stepping forward.

The girl hurried forward, “Wait, wait!” She stopped the teenager, grabbing him by the shoulders.  “I would’ve gone with or without Karolek.  I was desperate for the gold!”

“That doesn’t excuse what you did!” Hakeem snapped, brushing her hands away.

The official behind them cleared his throat.  “I’m sorry to interrupt…but…your gold?”

Hakeem turned around, “Sorry marshal.  Thank you, sir.”  He took the gold and returned to glaring at Quincy.

Quincy looked down at the ground. “Um…” she took a lock of her hair and rolled it between her fingers, turning her gaze to the ceiling next.  “So…I softened Kollin up for you!”  She smiled nervously and gestured at Karolek.  “And look!  I brought you a pet sorcerer!”

Leave me out of it,” Karolek barked. “I’m already paralyzed, for gods sakes…I don’t need anymore injuries.”

Hakeem pointed a finger at her.  His entire body was bunched.  “Mweze–”

She quailed as his voice broke off.  “Yes?

The boy seemed to struggle with what to say next.  Quincy watched him anxiously.  Any other time, and she would’ve been in his face, arguing her case.  But this time, she was aware, that perhaps she had crossed a line.

Hakeem let out a rush of air and gazed at her tiredly.  “Don’t…do this to me again.  I was worried.”

Quincy nodded emphatically, hugging him around the neck.  “Samahani…” she whispered into his ear.  Sorry

Then the girl sought his lips, and at first she was shy and careful, but his receptiveness bred bravery in her heart, and Quincy clutched at her husband hungrily.  She was sorry, and she wanted to show him just how much

There was a loud ‘harumph’ behind them.  The girl pulled away, hissing in irritation.

“This all would be very stimulating, if only I weren’t experiencing bodily difficulties,” Karolek griped.

Hakeem and Quincy stared down at him.

The boy looked at her, frowning suspiciously.  “You’re the reason he’s stuck there aren’t you?”

Quincy rolled her eyes shut.  “Well…”

“And the swarm of gerbils that passed me by on the way here?”

“Gods, you saw that?”

A sigh.  “Mweze, is there anything else that you did?”

“Um…nothing like the dragon incident.  Or…or the rukh breeding.  Or the possessed broom.”

“But there’s something else,” Hakeem deadpanned.

Quincy bit her lip and looked at him tentatively with one eye.  “It isn’t really that simple.”

The teenage boy covered his face with his hand.  “Tai’undu!  When is it ever with you?”


The girl promised to explain once they were safely home.  But first there was the matter of Karolek.  As promised, she took the man to a healer, and there they were assured that the sorcerer was indeed just suffering lingering magical effects.  He would be walking within a few days, with all of his…functions…returned.  In an attempt to ease her guilt, Quincy gave the man fifty gold, much to the protest of Hakeem, but the girl was able to reason that Karolek had earned atleast that much.  Then they started back home.

Once back at Crysen, their talk was further postponed when Quincy faced an immediate summons from her master.  Master Saerth had heard of some of the ordeal through one of his sessions of divinations.  He was pleased that Quincy had figured out a way to pay her landlord, but he ordered her to, “Fix the gods damned gerbil problem.  Immediately,” as punishment for her brash actions.  She was also forbidden from using her Wand of Beasts again…Ever.  Or atleast until he could train her to use the item properly.

Finally, when the landlord was paid and all other matters settled, Quincy and Hakeem sat in their home and talked.  She told her husband everything.  From the gerbils, to the talk with Kollin, to the fight with Karolek.  She took her time however in mentioning…

“The Orb of Ilkmar.”

“The what?”

“Here, look.”

Quincy took out her pouch and rubbed the sides quickly.  A round object grew between her palms, and she squeezed out the reflective orb, handing it to Hakeem so that he could see.

“The alchemist pinched it off of an elven courier,” She explained.  “I think it was meant for that Lord of Santos the wanted poster mentioned.  Kollin seemed to think it was the real reason he had a bounty on his head, anyway.”

“So now you have it?” Hakeem said, staring at her.  “Do you realize how much trouble this could bring us if they find out we have it?”

Quincy plucked the orb from his hands.  “But they won’t find out.  When they’re interrogating Kollin,” You mean torturing, a voice in her head corrected.  She tried to ignore it.  “He won’t know what really happened to it.  It was in my pouch the whole time, and Kollin must’ve thought the pouch was empty.  He’ll think I left it at his place back in Akii!”

Hakeem frowned at her.  “How does it work…?” he said cautiously.

“Don’t look so scared!  You act as though I’m going to blow something up!” She said crossly.

“That’s because you’ve done that before…”

Anyway,” she kissed the orb and smiled at it.  “It’s pretty simple.  All you have to do is say these words:  ‘I see, so you see.  I hear, so you hear.  I know, so you know.  Illuminate this for the eyes of the blind.  Reveal what is hidden, bring forth what is desired.’”

The orb flashed in her hands, filling the entire room with white light.  Both she and Hakeem jumped to their feet, chairs knocking back onto the floor.

Then the light was gone as quick as it had come, and both stared at each other.  Hakeem turned his head slowly.  “I just remembered…a bunch of things…”  he touched his head, then frowned at Quincy.  “Are you okay?”

Quincy was staring at her wrists, at the purple veins that could be seen through the creamy skin.  She looked up and smiled shakily.  “I’m fine.  That’s what the Orb of Ilkmar does.  If you’ve forgotten something, it’ll help you remember.  If you’re looking for something, you’ll find it.  If you’re trying to figure something out, it’ll bring you…to the…answer…” her voice trailed off and she stared down at the ground.

Hakeem touched her shoulder.  “Mweze?”

She looked up.  Then stepped into his embrace.  “Taika…let’s go to bed…”

Quincy hated it when Hakeem was mad at her, but she had to admit–make-up sex was incredible.  They weren’t through until morning, and then and only then, did Hakeem fall asleep next to her.  The girl kissed his cheek, one hand on her chest where she could feel his heartbeat.

Without a sound, she slipped out from beneath the covers, the cool air caressing her naked body in a way that made her shiver.  Quietly, she tip-toed across the floor to the cabinet where she took out a cooking knife.  Then she crept to the far corner to the right of the door, where leaning against the wall was her sword.  She knelt before it and took out the blade.

The rusted metal felt rough against her fingertips, but she knew the blade was too dull to cut effectively into her skin, so with bared teeth, she pressed the tip of the cooking knife into her palm and dug in.  Blood pooled in her hand and trickled down her wrist.  Carefully, the girl trickled this onto her sword.

At first nothing happened, and Quincy sighed.

Then she felt the blade glow warm, and the girl let out a small gasp.

Her blade started to glow through the rust with a soft golden light, highlighting Quincy’s features from below.  The girl trembled and held the blade up to her face.  It pulsed like a heartbeat in her hands…

…And a grim smile spread across the brunette’s face.


1.‘Dull Life’ by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, from the album ‘It’s Blitz!’. DGC/Interscope, 2009. []


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