Chapter 26.3


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

“This is almost too much!” she giggled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tonight my children drink to their fallen brothers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elmiryn shook her head.  “Gone.”

His young face frowned.  “Forever?”

“Seems that way.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If the goddess says it is so…”

“Gods can’t lie?”  Elmiryn said.

We all stared at her.

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

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

The warrior held up her hand but said nothing further.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sounds good.”

We looked at Sedwick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked up, a bemused smile on his face.

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


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

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

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

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

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

“Je, Quincy kuja nje ya kucheza?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Come, Quincy.  Don’t be afraid.


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

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

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

Yako nzuri.

You’re beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

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


“This is all my fault.”

“No.  It isn’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will you hunt with them tonight?”

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

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

“Yes.  How long has it been for you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m glad I found you, Taika.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I love you too, Quincy.”


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

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



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

What is it?

What’s happening to me?

We’ve all ready gone over this.

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

Oh.  You mean your newfound addiction?

Yes.  That.

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

They didn’t suffer this way.

Of course they didn’t.

They suffered addictions of the body.

Yours is a spiritual addiction.

In becoming a fae,

You interact with the world in a way

That no mortal could dream of.

It has its repercussions.

Such as?

You must drink often

To stave off your withdrawals,

For between sips,

They come back quick, and with a vengeance.

You’re now something of a lightweight, too,

No longer needing as much

To dance with the pink elephants.

In summary:

Less tolerance, more misery.

There really isn’t much more to it.

But I can beat this?

Like a normal addiction,

I can stop?

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

You could.

If you had the will of a god.

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

“Meznik?” she whispered.


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

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

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

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

Fuck it!” she spat.

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

But it didn’t strike.

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

Dryads.  Tree nymphs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elmiryn’s eyebrows rose.  “Guess not.”

Continue ReadingChapter 26.3

Chapter 27.3

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

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

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

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


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

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

He was silent as he worked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yoo ‘oomans…yoo seh…ul-kemy.”

“Ulkemy? …Oh!  You mean, alchemy!”

“Mmm hmm.”

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

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

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

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

…Which may or may not have happened.

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

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

“Grine et so is tin,” he ordered.




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

Then the man grunted, “Eidan.”

Quincy looked at him, startled.  “Pardon?”

“Nem.  Eidan.”

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

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

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


Out of the warmth…and into the cold.

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

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

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

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

Then Atalo stirred in my arms.

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

“Koah…” he whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

I swallowed and nodded.

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

“I’m not too heavy?” I asked.

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

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

Then Elmiryn started to sing.

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

O’ chance, dear sir,

Have ye caught word?  

Of my love, so gold an’ true?  

Says I, “It’s nigh a turn,

Since that ol’ thief has stolen through.”

He’s long in step,

But short of strike,

His hands not knowin’ blood.  

He’s stardust in his hair

From all the heavens up above.

With careful grace,

He sought the place

Where I did keep my heart.

My love in hand,

That braggart fled

An’ left me torn apart.

O’ chance, dear sir,

Have ye caught word?  

Of my love, so gold an’ true?  

Says I, “It’s nigh a turn,

Since that ol’ thief has stolen through…”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lycan not god.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ha-kim.  Gud man.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yoo know what shimá means?”

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

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

“Shimá mean wah-man o’ joy.”

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

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

Quincy opened her mouth, her brow furrowing.

“Wat Eidan seh?  No talk.  Wohk.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the thoughts stopped there.

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

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

That was when she heard a low cough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


They were not a little late to dinner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Waking up,” Elmiryn said readily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well?” The brunette asked.

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

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

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

The wizard scowled.  “Of course not!”

“Then why should I?”

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

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

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

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

“It’s settled then.”

“We’re keeping her.”

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

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

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

Finally, Nyx smiled shyly into her bowl.

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

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

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

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

“Tkelechog, the time has come!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue ReadingChapter 27.3

Chapter 28.3


There She was before me, my sister, my animal counterpart…but this meeting wasn’t taking place in my head.  She was apart from me, like a separate being, only she was no more whole than I was.  Here we both were, just two broken pieces crumbling into ether as the sand trickled down the hourglass.  Lacertli had said that the Other Place would undo us.  How much more time did we have?

…And how could we possibly come together again?

The Beast was as a large black panther, but in her feline face there was a sort of sapien nuance that was not a little disturbing.  Her tawny eyes cut through the dark, holding anger.

I took to pacing, my Twin mirroring my tense movements with her head low and her tail lashing like a whip.

“My, my!  What seems to be the problem, sister?  I thought you’d be happy to see me?” The animal’s voice held false goodwill.  Her fleshy chops pulled back every time she spoke, revealing her fangs.  I was certain she didn’t have to bare her teeth at me, but chose to.

“A meeting with you outside my mind is liable to give me as bad a headache with you in my mind, so pardon me if I’m not doing cartwheels,” I snarled back.

“But why not rejoice?  After all, I’ve spent two weeks crawling around this hellish place, the least you could do is show relief that your better half yet lives!”

“I didn’t know you were here that long!  Don’t you think I would’ve wanted to find you sooner!?  You do know what will happen if one of us dies like this, don’t you?”

“A great and wondrous peace?  A happy ending?”

I clenched my fists.  “We are not whole as we are!  We’ll die!  Are you so blind that you cannot see that!?”

She roared at me, her hackles raising, her claws gouging into the dirt.  Behind me, I heard the others shift, and I turned to shout at them, “Don’t!”

“Blind, am I?” My Twin screamed–the sound blending into a roar.  “Tell me what misery awaits me while I sit, a happy shard, free of your burden!”

I chuckled darkly.  “And you don’t think I haven’t enjoyed your absence, you mindless creature?”

Suddenly, I was pushed roughly to the side, but pulled back by the front of my doublet.  Sanuye’s livid face pressed into mine.  “Ailuran, what is this!?” she bit out.

I grabbed her arm tightly, my teeth bared. “None of your affair!”

She let out a bestial snarl, lifting me off the ground with one hand.  My feet barely skimmed the dirt. “I say it is mine!” she pointed at my Twin. “Why can that beast speak?  Is she the one we hunt?  Are you in league with the monster!?”

I felt my blood turn hot and my eyes narrowed.  That alien part of me, that otherness I’d only felt once before, came clawing out of my mouth with a vengeance, “Child of Artemis, thou will remove thine hand, lest the darkness swallow thee in thine impertinence…”

I could feel the shadows around us…feel them deepen in hunger.  Sanuye looked down in confusion just as my feet touched the floor.  Hakeem whispered something and I heard one of the Lycan men let out something between a sputter and a snarl.  The woman looked back at me, fear in her eyes.

She had sunk knee deep into the shadows.

I could feel her shivering as her hand came away from my doublet and she fell back with a cry.  Scrambling, she pulled her legs free and scuttled back to Gudahi and Makka, who pulled her to her feet.  They were all staring at me now with wide eyes.

Hakeem stood apart from them, his gaze piercing as we briefly locked eyes.  Somehow, he didn’t seem as surprised.

My expression softened as I looked back at the Lycans.  “I wish no harm, Sanuye.  Only to protect thee from my own nightmares.”

Then I took a deep reflexive breath, feeling as though I’d been plunged into cold water.  My knees gave out and I fell to the earth, shivering and trying to regain control of my breathing.

“What things have you been up to while I’ve been gone…?” My Twin asked slowly, her voice full of wariness and resentment.  Her eyes searched my face, wide and penetrating.  Her features twitched in their shocked mask.

I clutched at the stitch in my chest, and glared at her through the curtain of my hair.  “I–hah–sh-should be asking that–hah–question!”

“Stupid bitch.  What trickery was that?  What new taint have you brought on us??”

“Shut up!  If anything is a taint, it’s you!

Her furry face bunched as she padded near me.  I could see her muscles rolling beneath the fur, her body like a line of dark intent over the earth.  She opened her mouth, about to say something when she paused, her brow bunching.  “You…” I saw her nose twitch and she leaned in closer, like I were some unpleasant thing to inspect.  “You…smell different.  Up close.  You…”  I could hear a growl enter her voice as she circled around me.  “She’s all over you!”

My head snapped up at that.


Her eyes held disgust.  “You expect me to return when–when you–”

“When I what?  Find someone who actually cares for me!?  That’s it, isn’t it?  You just want us to live our lives alone and hated!”  My hands dug into the earth like claws as I screamed, “I don’t have to answer to you!

She started for me, spitting from the back of her throat.  I flinched, pulling back, my heart beating.  Could I fight Her?  Was it even wise to, considering what it could result in?

“I see, then, I see!  So all that is yours is mine, then is it?  This new fancy of yours, might I share in the pleasures?”  Her voice was mocking, but in her eyes a light glinted…

My face drew up in disgust.  “What?  No!  Never!”

She snapped her jaws and snarled, saliva dripping from her fangs.  I had a horrible recall of the pretas and felt the blood drain from my face. “But I’m hungry!” she bit out.  “Hungry for that same acceptance, affection, and love that you so craved for!  Why am I to be denied this and given only the shame, the heartache, the pain–!?”  As she said this last thing, she lashed out at me with her paw, catching me along the face with her claws.

I screamed and reared back, my hands going to my cheek where the blood flowed between my fingers.

“Nyx!”  Hakeem came to my side, and I was surprised to see Gudahi there, his spear held out at my Twin in case she pressed the attack.

But my animal counterpart only sat on her haunches, her head bowed low, her tail whipping behind her.  “I would rather live in pieces, then suffer under the wholeness of your tyranny…I would rather…live in pieces…” she said quietly.  Her voice was thick with emotion–rage, resentment…but was there grief there, too?

My Twin raised her head, her eyes narrowed. “I only have one more question for you…what of your promise to me?”

Panting, I struggled to stand up with one hand, the other still clutching at my face.  “Promise?  What promise?

“A stupid…empty question…for a stupid…vapid creature like you…” The beast muttered, turning her head.  Cat language.  I was insignificant.  I was unimportant.  A worm.

I bared my teeth, indignation driving me to my feet faster than my companions could help me.  “Look at me!  What nonsense are you on about?”

“A name!” She screamed at me, still not turning her head.

My eyes widened, and I took a step back.  Oh no…

My Twin’s tail stilled behind her, and her nose dipped to the ground where she made as if to sniff the earth, but then she raised her head just enough to fix her gaze on me.  “You promised me…a name.  Yet you have nothing…so clearly, I am nothing to you.”  She moved to stand on all her paws.  “So is it not in keeping, that I should vanish?  Perhaps perish and make your perceived reality come true?”

I shook my head.  “Damn it!  Damn you!  You’re blaming me for things beyond my control!  I didn’t want you hurt or lost!  It isn’t my fault this dimension has a warped sense of time, or that it separated us to begin with!”

“But it’s for selfish reasons that you wish the things that you do!  I am nothing to you!  Nothing!  You have changed Us.  You have allowed another to touch you, without so much as a thought to me!  How I may feel!  And what of your new nature?  Something is in you, sister, and I’d not have that darkness on me, not after freeing myself from–”

A deep and echoing sound struck through the forest, stirring the trees and sleepy wildlife.  It was filled with rage, but was unlike any animal I’ve ever heard.  It was an almost slimy, wet sound, contrasted with a harsh metal ring that spoke of weapons striking.  Under it all was a deep bass, tying it together.  All froze, eyes wide as we looked around at each other and for the source of the disturbance.

My Twin started to back away.  Even in her furry face, I could see the terror there.  “The beast…the beast, it strikes!” she panted.

I looked at her.  “Do you know of it?  Tell us, what is it!”

She stepped forward, then backward again, her eyes flashing up to us with something akin to appeal.  “Nyx–the dark things, they never truly leave us.  You ask for unity, but you know not of what you ask–!”

A streak of hysteria cut through me.  “What do you mean!?”

The great feline gave a shake of her head. “I cannot!  I cannot!” and she turned and fled, dirt and brush kicked up by her powerful claws.

I gave a shout and started after her.  “Wait!  Wait!

But I didn’t run far.  It was clear there was no way I could catch her.  She was too far away now for me to get a fix on her shadow, and in all the dark, it would’ve been hard to pick out anyway.  I watched her go until she was lost in the ink of our surroundings.

Another great call came, and soon following it were a short series of howls.

“Someone has made contact…” Hakeem breathed.

Sanuye barked something in Lycan, then her eyes fixed on me, as if daring me to show insubordination.  They needed every man to help, and if I refused to do so, it would likely be seen as being sympathetic with the beast.  Despite my show of power, this proud clan could not stomach such a sentiment, especially considering what they had already lost.  Would they all fight me to the death?

…But I had made Sanuye behave submissive around me.  She had retreated from me, on the ground, her belly up, clearly showing fear.  So…perhaps her stare was more of a question than a dare.  If I wished, I could probably do as Elmiryn did, and take a firm place in the village as someone deserving of respect.  Did I want the position?

I’d read somewhere that inciting a power struggle during a time of crisis was the act of fools.  At any rate, I was no leader.  While I had a sneaking suspicion that Sanuye hated the role herself, she was a lot better at it than I was.  All I had was a sliver of heavenly power, and I hardly knew the full extent of my abilities.

What had I been possessed by when I made Sanuye seek into the shadows?  A spirit?  Another personality?  Some remnant of Lacertli’s spirit?

Sweet Aelurus, as if my head wasn’t crowded enough!

Not even needing time to make my decision, I slouched my shoulders and lowered my gaze.  I was certain the matter wasn’t done with, but there were more important things needing our attention.

Sanuye didn’t even pause to revel in my submission.  “Get in formation!  We go to our brothers!” She barked.


Quincy came into the hut, her eyes adjusting to the low candle light.  She saw Eidan hunched over Elmiryn, his weathered face more lined than usual.  His younger attendant brushed back his long white hair and turned his smooth face toward Quincy.  The woman didn’t know his name, but knew he made his rounds around the village while Eidan kept his work near his tools and supplies.

“Quincy, bring the vial with the red stopper,” he said, his bushy brows knitted together.  Eidan didn’t even look up at her.

She went to the table holding all the serums and herbs.  At first she couldn’t find the vial right away, but then, hidden amidst a tall set of bottles filled with green potion, she saw it.  She plucked it up and stared at what swished inside.  The vial held a small amount of yellow liquid.

Pursing her lips, Quincy brought it to them, and Eidan took it from her without a word.

“What’s wrong with her?” The woman asked.

She pulled up a stool and sat on the other side of the bed, her eyes flickering between Eidan and the white-haired attendant.  Neither looked at her as they unstopped the vial and poured the contents into a bowl.  Eidan sprinkled a brown substance into it, murmuring in his Lycan tongue.

Finally, the attendant fastened his gray eyes on the wizard’s.  “Mortality.” He lacked an accent.

Quincy’s eyebrows rose high at this.  “Pardon?”

“Mortality.  Her heart, it struggles because of it.”

The woman’s face grew somber.  “She tried to defy Artemis.”

“Halian only suffered from the goddess’s intervention, and see how he fares.”  The man pointed over the woman’s shoulder.  She looked and saw Halian halfway down the row of cots, his naked back to her and his body shivering and twitching.  Sweat made his body paint run into the sheets.  Quincy looked back at the man.  “What could happen to Elmiryn, then?”

“Death or permanent paralysis.  She’s lucky she didn’t die outright.  Her spirit is a willful thing.”

Eidan lifted her head and held the bowl to Elmiryn’s lips, forcing her to drink.  Some of it dribbled out, but most of it went in.

Quincy frowned.  “And what is she being given?”

“A mixture,” the attendant answered distractedly.

“Of what?”

“Ginger, crushed periwinkle, and viper venom.”


“Hol’ her.”  Eidan ordered.

The attendant stood and took hold of Elmiryn’s ankles.  Quincy, still bewildered, took hold of the woman’s arms.  Eidan held her head, his rough thumb brushing her cheek.  “She will wake.  Wun be pretty.  Ge’ready.”

Minutes passed.  Elmiryn’s face twitched, sweat beading on her skin.  Then, without warning, she gasped, her body spasming on the table.  Her struggles became more and more violent.  Quincy grit her teeth as she fought to keep the warrior’s arms still.  Eidan stood and leaned over the woman, his elbows pinning down her shoulders as he continued to grip her head.  The attendant grunted, his teeth bared as the wizard saw his forearms cord from the effort of keeping the woman’s legs still.

Elmiryn wheezed, her eyes snapping open deliriously.

“Elmiryn–!” Quincy shouted, but she stopped there, because it hit her that the warrior was lost in some sort of hallucination.  Was it the venom?  Was it her ailment?

The redhead gnashed her teeth, her eyes seeing through the hut ceiling.  “Nngh!  Raaagh, hah…no…shuzz…no…noooo…myne…MYne!”  Spittle flew from her mouth as she continued to gargle and slur.  Quincy was aware that the left side of the woman’s face seemed slack, whilst her right side seemed quite normal.  It was in her limbs too.  The left did not pose as much of a fight as the right did.

Would she really be crippled?

Is this what becomes of a person who fights against the gods?  Quincy thought, horror a creeping emotion that came up her chest and chilled the sweat on her skin.

After a time, the warrior’s struggles grew feebler.  Eidan spared a moment to reach down and hold up another, smaller bowl than the first.  He forced the contents of this down Elmiryn’s throat, and this time more of it dribbled out then went in.  Quincy could see it was the green potion she had spied earlier.

They held her for a while longer, and with time they saw Elmiryn’s eyes rolling into her head.  Her struggles quieted, then ceased entirely.  Eidan released her, and Quincy and the attendant did the same.

“The venom…will it harm her?” the brunette asked quietly.

Eidan finally looked at her.  “If she suh-vive wrath o’ goddess, than venom no worry t’her.”  With that, he stood and went outside.

Quincy watched him go, and the attendant sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.  He looked at the woman sidelong.  “I am Merid.  Eidan is my father.  He…” the man smiled sheepishly, and lots of lines appeared about his eyes revealing the age his smooth face kept hidden.  “He isn’t given to nonsense.”

The woman screwed up her mouth and crossed her arms. “So I’ve seen.”

Merid nodded at Elmiryn.  “My father has only seen this twice before.  Most who deny the gods have their hearts explode in their chests upon the first denial.  To survive in defiance of heaven is the mark of someone…otherworldy.

“What others have done this?”

“A young boy–stupid and arrogant.  He thought the world didn’t need the gods.  He thought he could live free of their will and be his own man.  Upon the first declaration of this feeling, he died outright.  Then there was the Legend, Kati.  He was once Artemis’s champion.  He…was my father’s great grandfather.”

Quincy’s eyebrows rose.  “And what became of him?”

“He survived…but ceased to be a champion.  He left our village in exile and shame.”

“But isn’t it a sign of someone strong to be able to live through such an ordeal?”

Merid scowled.  “Just because one is strong does not mean he is entitled to everything.  Many of our leaders could be beat through brute strength alone.  It is the mind and spirit we cherish, and the body comes after that.”

Quincy held up her hands.  “I didn’t mean offense.”

The man stared at her long and hard for a moment, before he smiled gently.  “No.  I suppose not.”  He thumbed over his shoulder.  “My father goes to gather more supplies.  Would you help him?  I’ll stay and watch your friend.”

“What’ll happen to her now?  What can we expect?”

Merid shrugged, his gray eyes turned down.  “There’s no telling.  Kati was a champion, and walked away fine.  But your friend?  I cannot say for certain whether or not she will come out of this whole.”

Quincy nodded, her grim expression returning.  With one last look at Elmiryn, she followed Eidan outside.

Stupid Fiamman…why couldn’t you just keep your big fat mouth shut for once!?


I had some practice running quickly through wooded areas, but I was unfamiliar with the lay of this land, and even in my low-light vision, details did not come readily enough for me to keep from stumbling now and again.  I only just managed to keep up with the others.  Hakeem, even in his young state, was remarkably fast.

My guess is that we ran for a quarter of a mile before the sounds of screaming and horror reached us.  Even before we came upon the break in the trees, I knew that we had come too late.

Before us, trees had been felled, the earth churned as the roots had been torn out.  Nymphs in the trees wailed at the sight of their fallen brethren.  Those on the ground stared numbly at their destroyed homes, their faces pale as their life force slowly dissipated from them in a rise of small glowing emerald orbs.

Blood sprayed everything.  The color was dark in the night, but its nature was unmistakable.  Mangled bodies were strewn about the destruction, deathly pieces that screamed and gurgled up at the sky.  I counted five people total, one of which was torn in half, his entrails trailing from his mangled torso.  I wasn’t sure if there were more, if the beast had stolen them away into the night to feast in private.  There certainly was a crowd gathering of those who had answered the call.  Many broke off to pursue the monster.  Many more remained still.

The sight of the gore…the mayhem…the wailing Lycans…

My knees grew weak and I leaned on a tree for support, breathing harshly through my nose.  Big mistake.  The blood, the rancid taint of the beast–like rotten flesh and old bile–filled my senses.  A wave of nausea surged through me, and I covered my mouth, trying to find that steeliness that Lacertli would no doubt demand of me.

My eyes clouded as I wretched over the ferns.

The earth beneath my feet was nothing but mud and blood.  It seeped through my toes, staining my skin.  I could see the maggots squirming around me.  I felt numbed, time and space compressing into a thick fold that echoed with the muffled screams of the soldiers.  Tears streamed down my cold face, my breath just a phantom that took my spirit with every exhale.  Around me lay bodies, hacked and bloodied.  Only the Fiammans screamed, clutching at bloody stumps and open wounds.  The felled Ailurans were all dead, heads cut off, hearts blown away, or spines severed.  I peered into these faces anxiously, trying to see if Thaddeus were among their number.

The numbness ebbed as panic began to set in.

“Koen!” I screamed, not thinking clear enough to realize that perhaps a proper name would have been more effective.  For me, Thaddeus was Koen, nothing more. “Koen, where are you!?”

I cried out as I tripped and fell, my eyes fastening onto the face of a dying Fiamman.  He bared bloody teeth at me, his eyes holding a delirious rage.  He reached for me with clawing hands, and I scrambled away, only to find a rough pair of hands drag me up.

Thaddeus glared down at me, his face pulled long in shock and his brow knitted.  “Gods!  Koah what are you doing here!?”

I was a stuttering mess.  “Ko-Koen!  I–I–I wanted, wanted–” I broke off, sobbing.  Why had I come?  Because I hated saying goodbye to Thaddeus every year?  Because I was tired of caring for our family alone?  Because Killen had dared me to?  “I don’t know!” I wailed, clutching at him.  “I just want to go home!”

The battle was winding down.  The Fiammans were calling for a retreat.  The cannon blasts ceased, and there were fresh screams as those who tried to fall back were cut down.  There was no cheer from the Ailurans left standing.  Thaddeus held me, his face contorted in anger–for me being there, for me seeing it all–and his hands clutched at me as I did to him.  Desperate.  Trying to find some sort of solace.  

But there was none.

“Koah, I’ll take you home.”

I had been eleven years old when I saw my first battlefield.  The memory always haunted me.  I knew better than perhaps anyone in my village what kind of ‘glory’ the children of Aelurus were finding in the war.  In another three years, I lost Thaddeus to that horror.  I vowed to keep Atalo from such a fate, only to find that…

…The dark things, they never truly leave us.

My eyes widened and my stomach stabbed with pain as my anxiety reached a new height.  The Twin’s voice faded from my head, but the truth of her words felt taunting somehow.  What did it have to do with everything I was seeing now?

Hakeem came at my side and laid a hand on my arm.  I glanced at him sharply and he pulled back, his gaze on the dark scene before us.

“The hunt is done for tonight,” he said somberly.  “The others have gone in the hopes of finding the beast again, but the chances of that are slim.  It is only discovered when it wishes to be, and now that it has its daily prize, it will not be coaxed from hiding.”

I frowned a little at him.  Upon meeting Hakeem, I found that he could be incredibly stoic.  Then, I thought he was a cold man with only an interest in profit.  Looking at him now, I saw…a warmth in his gaze.  He felt connected to these Lycans.  But more than that, right there and then, I saw his boundaries slip away long enough to recognize a familiar feeling.


I swallowed and swiped at my eyes, feeling a hollow pride at having kept my tears in check.  “Are we going back?”

He nodded, his dark gaze returning to me.  “I don’t think I have to tell you to step lightly around Sanuye.”

I chuckled darkly.  “I will step lightly, while she will stomp heavily…onto me.”

“You really ought to give them more credit,” Hakeem admonished.

“Like the credit they give me?”

The wizard shrugged, walking away.  “Your shadow reflects your position.  Change your stance, and the shadow will shift.”

I stared after him as he made his way back to our party.  Sanuye was talking with Gudahi and Makka.  Her eyes flickered my way, and she motioned for me to join them.  Other parties had taken up the task of helping the nymphs and retrieving the bodies.  The rest began the return home.

Through sheer will, I managed to look on the scene once more.  Hakeem talked of shifting shadows.

…But could you have shadows in utter darkness?

Continue ReadingChapter 28.3

Chapter 29.4


Elmiryn got that fevered look in her eyes, and I knew her intention was frolicking straight into yet another thorny bush of risk and danger.

That place, her little pocket of reality, was like nothing I’d seen before.  It was…raw.  My skin tingled, the whole of my body feeling both light as a feather and heavier than a boulder.  The light here flickered, always at odds with the shadows, and I glanced at them, wondering if I could use my power to make them still.  The “ground” was an imagined thing, as was “space”, and if I ceased to think of either, then they would no longer be there.

In horrifying turns, if we ceased to think of ourselves as separate beings, we could perhaps melt into one another.

All the while, the constant rain of kittens and sparrows came, and I wondered at their meaning.  Elmiryn was becoming a fae, and the fae had almost inconceivable powers over perception and meaning.  I heard tales of people making deals with the creatures to learn what a color tasted like, or to see music flowing through the air.  They were beings that thrived in their own enigmatic definitions, and in this sparse world I recognized some hidden truth in Elmiryn’s imaginings, but failed to gleam any sort understanding from them.  Though I was visiting through the Somnium, my understanding was diminished by Elmiryn’s will, much like in Volo’s realm.  As such, I did not see her unsettling form as I had before.  She looked normal here, her fair face, sun kissed skin, and piercing stare umarred…that was until the shadows grew starker, making her form flicker.  Peeking through her self-image was the reality–the seed, the roots, the horns.

I kept this to myself.

Elmiryn looked to me, her cerulean eyes hot with intent, her tongue between her teeth as a trail of sweat came down the inside of her nose.  She was breathing as if short-winded, and her right eye was swelling.  The Real World was bleeding through.

“All right, Nyx.  Okay,” she puffed.  “So…I told you I know my own pattern, right?  I think I can heal myself.  I’ve put myself back together before.  But this…this is a really bad knot.  I have no idea what will happen if I try to undo it,” she shrugged, a shaky smirk on her lips.  “Maybe I’ll unravel!”

I touched her shoulder, feeling my spine stiffen.  “Elmiryn, I want you back in the real world, but if the risk is too great, maybe we shouldn’t!”  Silently, I added, Please don’t add to the debt you owe Harmony!

She looked at me sharply.  “And let the reality of the gods heal me?”

I huffed, throwing my hand up into the air.  “What’s so wrong with that?  That’s normal!

“And is normal good?”

“I–no, that’s not–” but I broke off, wondering just what it was I wanted to say.  Was normal good?  I didn’t believe that, and Elmiryn knew it, but she had the temerity of battling against everything we had ever known, anything anyone had ever known…

I shook my head, my eyes squeezing shut.  “I’m scared.  I’m scared where this might lead.”  I buried my face in my hands.  “Elle, I know it’s hard for you to sit still.”  I raised my face, my eyes imploring.  “But this need to push things will kill you!”

The woman sat back, exhaling through her nose.  Her eyes roved my face, and I could practically feel her gaze on me.  It made me self-conscious, made me wonder if I was being unsympathetic.  I didn’t know what it was like to be in her situation.  I’d read somewhere that time could be funny in dreams…just how long had Elmiryn been here, conscious and alone?

“I’ve got to, Nyx,” Elmiryn said finally.  Her voice was gentle, but I could hear the determination in her words.  The warrior thought she had no Meaning, but hearing her, one would think she had all the Meaning in the world…

I closed my eyes and turned my head, but said nothing.


Elmiryn licked her lips and made to flex her arm.  She felt flares of pain go up her muscles and tendons, and she stopped with a hiss.  Her eyes widened as she saw the pain’s path–the way it crissed and crossed and dove and twined into her flesh.  She saw muscles she knew ought to be moving instead still and stubborn, the light of her will coming short to motivate.  Trailing her fingers over her skin, she bit her lip and started the process.

All around them, the kittens and sparrows stilled in the air, ending their endless descent.  She felt, rather than saw, Nyx grow distant.  Overhead the light turned searing, and an incessant buzzing entered her ears…but she was busy.

She expected to hear Meznik calling with some quip or insult, but the demon was absent, as was his way whenever she wanted him there.

“Want,” she murmured.  “To desire something.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Nyx turn her head.  “What?” the girl asked.


Wanting to be more, wanting to have more, wanting to know more, wanting to do more…perhaps Elmiryn wasn’t as different from her father as she’d initially thought.  Perhaps that avarice was a thing passed down from blood to blood.  In awe, she wondered just what else could have trickled into the cup of her being.  She imagined her soul as a muddied thing, dark and viscous and heated by her own desires…

The woman’s thoughts were cut off as she felt her arm spasm and launch to the side, the nerves spiking in pain as it struck something–though she didn’t know what.

“Ow!” Elmiryn cried, cradling her arm.

Nyx was there in front of her in the blink of an eye, crouched and peering into her face.

“What?” the girl asked, clearly startled.  “What happened?”

“I hit something,” the woman hissed through her teeth.  She gave a deep sigh.  “Ah, but the pain is going away now…”  Then she frowned and stared at her arm.  “Oh fuck, the pain is going away!”

Nyx scrunched up her nose.  “Isn’t that good?”

“No!” Elmiryn said, shaking her head slowly. “The pain was a good thing!  It meant my arm was responding!  Now I’m not getting anything at all!”


Quincy held her nose, the tears clouding her eyes as she jumped to her feet with a loud curse.  She’d been sitting next to Elmiryn’s cot, checking her temperature and the cut on her brow, when all of a sudden, the warrior’s arm flew up and whacked her in the face.  She could hear Eidan chuckling at her as she blinked the tears from her eyes.  Glaring, she kicked the redhead’s cot.

Gods damn it!  That hurt!”

“Aks-iden’,” Eidan grunted, his eyes already back on his patient.  A young woman lay with fever and he had a hand on her neck, the other holding a cup of mixture.

“That wasn’t an accident,” Quincy returned hotly, sniffling back what she suspected to be blood.  “If it were anyone else, yes.  Sure.  It was an accident.  But with her?  It never is!”

Despite getting up later than she’d meant to, the woman had managed a lot in the short afternoon.  But the evening still came by faster than she would have liked.  She and Eidan had searched for reagents much of the day, but instead of preparing them for use, the reest of their time was spent checking up on patients.  With the hunt drawing close, the woman feared they would be caught poorly prepared.

Merid appeared at her side with a handkerchief.  “You’re bleeding a little.”

Quincy checked her hand, then cursed again as she saw the red there.  “I suppose I am.”  She took the handkerchief from him with a fleeting smile.  “Thank you.”

“Not too fond of her, are you?” the man asked, his gray eyes squinted in mirth.

The wizard grit her teeth.  “If by fond, you mean walking arm in arm, then no.  I’m afraid not.”

“What is she like?”

“Boorish, arrogant, deviant…” Quincy shrugged as she checked her nose one last time.  “Oh, she’s a charmer.”

Merid chuckled.  “Well, I believe we’ve covered everyone in the village.  Let’s get started grinding up the herbs.  I’ve started boiling some bandages for tonight.  Would you mind fetching the basket of arnica outside?”

Quincy gave a nod, but not before awkwardly holding out the handkerchief.  The man laughed and shook his head, and with a small shrug, she pocketed the item and left the hut.

Outside the village was buzzing with activity.  The woman paused as she watched a pack of children race by, wielding sticks like they were spears and paint smeared on their faces.  Men and women alike made preparations for the night, sharpening weapons, readying armor, putting away tools.  The wizard sighed and shook her head.

“Looking at them, one would think they were at war,” she muttered as she turned for the basket of herbs.

Quincy paused as her eyes fell on the empty ground near the hut entrance.  Frowning, she searched the area with her eyes and saw nothing.  The woman went around the hut, wondering if Merid had found some odd reason to put it out of sight in case someone messed with their supplies.  Again, nothing.  Outright scowling now, the woman emerged back onto the village trail and her eyes fastened on a yellow petal down the road.

“The arnicas have yellow blossoms,” she breathed.

With quick steps, she approached it and plucked it from the dirt.  When her eyes lifted, she saw more petals down the way.  With a glance over her shoulder and pressed lips, the woman followed the trail through the village until it brought her to the forest line.  As she ventured near the trees, she heard giggling and saw a group of boys dancing around, tossing the petals into the air.  They were about Hakeem’s current age, bodies already hard from work, faces dirty from rough play and their hair in need of cutting.  Their dusky faces turned her way, eyes lit by the emerald light of the nymph’s magic.  Shrieking playfully at the sight of Quincy, they bolted further into the forest.

The wizard gave a start.  “No, no!  Where are you going!?”

For a moment, Quincy hesitated, her azure eyes stricken with annoyance and concern.

Finally, with one last look over her shoulder, she hurried after the children.


My eyes grew wide.  “Elle, tell me you didn’t.”

“Um…I didn’t?”

“Oh, Elle no!”

“Okay, okay!  I did!”

Despite my attempts at dissuading her, Elmiryn sought to heal herself once more.  She explained to me that it was seeing a sort of woven fabric, and all she had to do was mend a knot in the weave so that her essence could flow freely throughout her form.  It all sounded very alien and mystical to me, and I stared at the woman, suddenly struck by how…different she sounded.  Upon first meeting her, Elmiryn was about as mystical as a rock.  But given her newfound abilities, who was to say this wasn’t to be expected?  I didn’t need to look far for a supporting example–what with my talk of the Umbralands, and the Somnium, and Harmony.

But staring at the woman’s hand, I was thinking even then, there just had to be a line!

Holding it by the wrist, Elmiryn held up her limb, which had turned green and reptilian, talons, scales, and all.  “I didn’t mean to!  It was an accident!”

Ashen-faced, I pointed at it.  “How was that an accident!?” I cried.

“I was thinking, about lizards and how they can just lose their tails and be done with the matter!  I didn’t mean to–”  She broke off and covered her mouth, but I could see the mirth in her eyes.

I shook my head emphatically.  “Elle, this isn’t funny!”

“I–I’m not–” but she snorted, and her hand fell away to let loose her laughter. “Sorry!  I’m not trying to make this into a joke, it just happened that way!  There’s been plenty of other things I’ve been thinking and those haven’t happened so–”

I looked at her sharply.  “Just what other things?”

Elmiryn blinked at me, her smile fading.  “Silly things.  Like, wouldn’t it be funny if six was nine?  Or if green became blue?  And wouldn’t it be strange if…” she trailed off, her eyes going wide.  “Oh.”

My stomach sank.  “‘Oh’ what?”

The warrior sucked at her teeth and looked away.  “I should really listen to that bastard when he tells me things in the future,” She mumbled.

I grabbed her around the shoulders.  “Elle, what is it?

She looked at me somberly.  “I wondered why the beast always stayed away from the village.”

My eyes widened.  With a jump I stood.  “I have to go!”

Elmiryn grabbed at my ankle with her human hand.  “Nyx!”

I looked at her, startled and mildly vexed.  “Elle, I have to get back!”

She bit her lip and looked up at me through her eyelashes.  “I thought the timing was strange!  I wondered…Fuck–I wondered why do these things have to happen when we’re around?  And then you know what I thought?  It’s because it usually has to do with us…”

I narrowed my eyes, my mind working for some comprehension bought in my rising anxiety, that end was becoming increasingly distant.  I reached down and touched her shoulder.  “I have to go back.  Everything will be fine, okay?”

The woman said nothing, just stared as I stepped away from her and slipped out of the Somnium and back into the Real World.  Making that transition was getting exceedingly quicker, but I felt a fatigue enter my limbs that nearly had me toppling to the ground.

Merid, who had been tending to the patient next to Elmiryn, gave a jump.

I was the first to recover as I leaned over onto the edge of Elmiryn’s cot.  “Sorry!  It’s me.”

The gray-eyed man gave a nod, his eyes still misted over in wonder as he looked me up and down.  “Ah.  Hello, Nyx.”

I gestured weakly at him.  “Have you seen any of my companions?”

The man frowned and tapped a brown root against his jaw as he thought.  “Mmm…well, Hakeem is training with the warriors, last I heard.  I’m afraid I do not know where the elemental fellow is, and…” he trailed off with a frown.

Turning he asked Eidan something in his native tongue, to which the old man gave a shake of his head.  When Merid returned his gaze, it was troubled.  “That’s odd.”

My stomach clenching, I asked, “What is it?”

The man gave a small shrug.  “I asked Quincy to fetch the arnicas we had collected earlier from outside.  That was quite a while ago.  They should’ve been right next to the door.  One of our patients began vomiting blood, so it all slipped my mind!”

I was already turned and hurrying toward the hut entrance before the man finished.  At his final words, however, I paused and gazed at him somberly.  “Merid, if what I’m thinking is right, you’ll need to collect more of those flowers for tonight.”

With that I left, intent on finding Sedwick.  Just as I had feared, time had passed slower in Elmiryn’s sanctum than in reality, and it was already nearly time for the hunt.  I wasn’t sure what the warrior’s last words to me truly meant, or how it related to Quincy’s disappearance.  All I knew was that I had to fill in the blanks and act, fast.

Finding the ex-blacksmith wasn’t as hard as I’d originally thought.   He was providing water to some of the walking wounded, drawing a small crowd of on-lookers as he performed his water abilities.  Seeing me approach, he finished filling one more jug before excusing himself and greeting me.

“Nyx,” he said with a nod.

I returned it.  “Sedwick, have you seen Quincy?” I was out of breath from running.

The man frowned and shook his head.

“Damn!” I cursed, looking around.

Sedwick touched my shoulder.  “What is it?”

I looked at him, hands clenching at my sides.  “Quincy may have gone missing.  I haven’t finished searching the village yet.  Would you mind helping me?”

“Of course not!  Let’s meet back at the great tree.”

“All right.”

And so we split, each of us going in opposite directions.  Though it made my anxiety worse, I even went so far as to ask some of the Lycans if they’d seen the wizard.  Many of them didn’t understand my common, and I got more than a few bared teeth for my trouble, but all answers were the same–no one had seen Quincy.

When my rounds were finished, I returned to the great tree as promised, and a moment later, Sedwick joined me.  The look on his face confirmed my fears.

“She’s gone,” I said, shoulders tensing.

Sedwick threw up his hands, his face tensing in frustration.  “This doesn’t make any sense!  Why would she just vanish without telling anyone where she was off to?”

I rubbed my brow.  “We have to tell Hakeem.”

“Tell me what?”

The young voice made me jump, and I turned to see Hakeem standing before us, Gudahi, Makka, and a small group of other Lycan warriors in tow.  The man-boy took a step forward, his eyes flickering from my face to Sedwick’s

My brows pressed up as I held up my hands.  “Hakeem–”

With a yell, the wizard took off running, his roaring shouts belying his small form.  “Mweze?  Mweze!?

Sighing, I exchanged a brief look with Sedwick, and we quickly followed.  To my surprise, Gudahi and Makka were quick to fall in behind us.  Hakeem ran down the village trail, stopping occasionally to grab a passing villager and ask for his wife.  With each denial, he grew more frantic.  Finally, his wild search brought us to the western edge of the village where he collapsed to his knees and beat the ground with his fists.

My heart clenched at the sad sight of the wizard in such turmoil, his huddled form looking so lonely against the backdrop of the dark forest.

“Has something happened to his shimá?”  Gudahi asked, his eyes on Hakeem.

“She’s gone missing,” Sedwick explained.

The Lycan nodded his head gravely, then said something to Makka in Lycan.  The quiet hunter frowned and said something quietly, then touched a fist to his breast.

Gudahi explained upon seeing our inquisitive looks.  “He says he’ll help find her…or avenge her, whatever the case is.”

I smiled wanly, then approached Hakeem.  I didn’t like Quincy, but after seeing what the beast did to its victims, I didn’t want that fate to be anyone’s, not even hers.  Gingerly, I moved to touch the young wizard’s shoulder when something caught my eye.  Frowning, I went to it and carefully picked it up.

“Arnicas!” I exclaimed.

“What?” Hakeem was looking at me, his eyes watery but no tears falling free.  He sniffed and stood as I held out the yellow petal I’d found.

“Arnicas have yellow blossoms.  Quincy was supposed to be getting the arnicas outside of the medicine hut!”

Hakeem blinked the moisture from his eyes as he stared at me, to the petal, and back.  Next his eyes fell on the ground where a moment’s search produced another petal, and another.

“There’s a whole trail!” he breathed.

I gestured for the others to come closer.

“What does this mean?” Sedwick asked after having looked at the petal.

I pointed the trail out to him and the two Lycan men.  With pursed lips and a rapidly beating heart, I said, “This means our hunt starts a little early!”

Continue ReadingChapter 29.4

Six Tales of Arachne

The Willing Fly – Part 1

As told by Lethia Artaud

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you know of the Legend called Arachne?”

Frowning, I shook my head.

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

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

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

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

And then…

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


The Incident at Gaime

As told by Elmiryn Manard

I’m not Nyx.

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

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

—What? Aw hey, jokes are stories too!

Oh fine!




How about this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And to this, no one had an answer.

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Ready the archers!” he roared.

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

Then the Omatt girl appeared.

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

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

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

The Omatt’s skin was free of all wounds.

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

But it didn’t hit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was that.

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

Unless you’ll let me finish my joke?

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


The Willing Fly – Part 2

As told by Lethia Artaud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She found none.

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

Thus why I cried, “The Spider died?”

Oh! OH!  Wait, wait, wait.

I just remembered!

Can I say that part I had missed before?


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

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

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

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

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


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


The Stone in Bondage

As told by Hakeem

The Spider? Ah.

I…suppose I can tell you of her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ba-Kafeel looked my way and chuckled. “This is Hakeem. He is suffering from nightmares.”

The other men smiled as Ma’Nguele rubbed my back. The Omatt smiled at me, and scooted forward, around the fire. I shrank further into my mother’s folds, ready to cry, when the girl held out her hands. From the dirt floor, the sands drew up as if the grains were individually plucked by invisible hands, floating in the air, and over this, her fingers worked like she were manipulating it all. Then the sands melted together, turning bright and hot, and within an instant, they darkened and cooled into the shape of a small stone doll. With a small gesture, the doll rose to her waiting palm, and this she held out to me, her smile still in place.

I took it shyly, my eyes wide with wonder as I looked the stone doll over. It was as though it had been chiseled from a larger rock, with no signs of the sand it had once come from. It was even smooth, and yet chiseled into its base in clean precision was the letters, “X-I-A”. I didn’t know what it meant then, and to this day I still do not. The stone doll had a collar around its neck, from which trailed a chain, and that wrapped around its geometric body to the end of its right leg, where it linked to a large stone. The doll had no features—no face, no genitals, nothing. A faceless slave. Still, its fantastic creation was enough for me to get excited.

I looked at Ba-Kafeel and he gave me an expectant look. Blushing, I said, “Thank you,” in my native tongue.

The girl said nothing, except to grin wider. She stood to her feet, her long tail raised and curled at the tip, and she turned and left our hut. Neither of her companions moved to stop her. Tobias was even grinning.

He said to my father, “Forgive her. She does as she pleases, and likes the weather best when it is fierce.”

And so the three Legends remained with us until the morning, when the storm cleared and the skies were blue. I rose early, stone doll in hand, to stand with my father outside of our hut. My brothers and sisters were still too content to remain sleeping—but they didn’t know the wonder I had seen last night, and I was excited to see more.

“Thank you, Kafeel,” Tobias said, thumping my father’s shoulder. “For the food and the warm beds, thank you!”

My father waved this away. “It is nothing. You have done so much more for me than I can hope to ever repay.” And here he rubbed my head vigorously, like I was the prize.

The Omatt stood apart from the men, her eyes on the sky toward the west, where they would be heading. She must have sensed my eyes on her, for she looked my way, and once more she smiled. She gestured for me to come closer, her ape-like tail swaying behind her. With a gulp, I neared, and she crouched down. That was when I heard her speak for the first and last time.

“When Santos free, he free.” She pointed at the doll and winked. I could only gaze at her, open mouthed. I didn’t understand her, of course, and it was only until after they left that my father translated for me.

We followed the three Legends well outside the village, where there they took off into the sky. Tobias held onto Jack, whilst the Omatt soared into the sky alone, her ascent less like the smooth flight of her companions’, and more like she were pulling and swinging on ropes unseen. She paused, halting in mid-air upside down to look back at my father and me. Grinning wildly, she gave a wave, and flew away.

A week later, the chains on my stone doll were gone.

I never again met the Omatt, for her adventures took her elsewhere, and soon the names “Arachne” and “Spider of the West” began to float to our little Fanaea. But in the years that came, she came to affect my life in ways I hadn’t imagined—in ways that Quincy hadn’t imagined, for her life soon was every bit a part of mine. And do I hate the Spider for all the pain I went through?

…No, I cannot say I share the same loathing that Quincy does, but then again, my wife has many more reasons to hold enmity against the Legend.

I will say, however, that upon the destruction of my village in Kimbia, one of the few belongings I was able to find again was that little stone doll. As I plucked it up from the ashes, all blackened with soot, I felt my breath catch.

The collar and chain were once more around the doll’s neck.

It wasn’t until Quincy and I joined the pirate ship that we learned how the marauders came to find us, and how it was allowed to happen. Once this knowledge became clear, my then future-wife demanded that I throw the stone doll away. I did not, feeling compelled to keep it. Perhaps for a sign. But whether through accident or design, Quincy had lured me off Tulki’s ship, and so it sailed off with my belongings. Among them was the odd little trinket. I do not know what became of it…

Now that I mention it, I wonder if it is still under bondage?


The Willing Fly – Part 3

As told by Lethia Artaud

Sigh…well, I’ve got it all again…sort of. What if I just returned to when Syria fled from the guardians, then?

My former mistress could hear the wild dwarves shouting and hollering in excitement as they came across the Spider’s corpse. She didn’t stop, for fear that some of the guardians still pursued her, but with time it became clear that she was no longer being sought. With scrolls in hand, Syria knew that she could unlock the secrets of the ancient dwarven enchanters, but something held her fast.

“I cannot leave her,” she breathed. “I must bury her. It is only right.”

With a resolute nod, Syria returned to the dark stone city.

There she came upon the frost-covered central square, where the Spider was strung up like she were on a web of her own. Ropes held her spread-eagled between two metal spires, where her battered body was free to bleed out onto the icy stones. All around her were the dwarven guardians, their eyes and runes glowing blue in the dark of the buildings. Syria tried to hide behind a low crumbling wall, but she underestimated the intelligence of her foes, for one on patrol found her, and in short order, she was subdued and brought forth. As an enchantress, her only real defense was in psychic attacks, but again, these dwarves seemed immune to all enchantment.

The woman was forced to her knees as one of the guardians came forth with a great sword.

Then the Spider spoke, blood dripping from her pale lips, and everyone gave a great start. “All…flies…here. Thanks…idiot,” she said with a quivering smile. Laboriously, she lifted her head and her eyes flew open.

“You were bait!” I exclaimed, when Syria first told me this story as a child.

The woman broke off, and I shrank beneath her stern gaze.

When I was young, I didn’t interrupt much except for when something absolutely shocked me to the core. Now being sheltered, you’d think I’d have been surprised in such a way all the time, but not so. As a youth growing up, because all of my knowledge of the outside world was second-hand and seen through mental simulations, it felt detached. Not unexciting, but certainly not something that made me jump or squeal as though it were happening before me. I was always aware of that meta-existence, where I seemed to hover impervious to everything I witnessed. And so it was with Syria’s stories, as fascinating as they were.

Argos, on the other hand…do you know that once, when Syria was telling us of the time she was caught by a pair of cannibals, he went running outside to relieve himself because he was so excited? He didn’t quite make it, the poor dear. Oh, he’ll be embarrassed if he finds out I’ll tell you, but he managed to sprinkle a bit as he scurried out the door. Syria wasn’t all that amused, and Argos’s tail remained firmly tucked between his legs until—


Oh, I’m sorry. I was telling a story?

…Um…which story was that again?


The Battle of Hazmes

As told by Paulo Moretti

Eh…I’m familiar with Arachne, but what I know of her isn’t so nice. That is what you want, I bet. You want something nice. See, Arachne isn’t too popular with the Santian Kingdom. You have all those crem lias and crem dons who spit just at her mention—and it is quite a sight to see a noble person spit! But why wouldn’t they, when she helped lay to waste their biggest source of income? Even the common folk can’t seem to embrace her entirely. She was wild. Carnal. Pér ya. You want nice? I’ll see what I can do.

This story I learned about in my schooling. It took place near my home village of Felico in the year 3509, when my father was a young man. The coastal city of Hazmes was a trading city that made most of its profits from the slave trade. That year, the city’s slaves were rebelling, and certain estadentias—politicians—tried to “help” them by providing them with arms. Now, don’t get me wrong, eh?  I don’t like slavery, but even could see the baloso move that was. With weapons, the frustrated slaves could act out on their anger and rage. So yes. There were revolts. De reán, me soque, Eate! Even for someone who wanted to stir up trouble, I can’t see how these estadentias could be okay with these slaves hurting so many innocent people.

Eh. But they did. The reason for this was that, in creating a scandal over the slave issue, the plotters could discredit the reigning duke, Signor Niccolò Jutien Mercando, who was slated to be the next Chief of Commerce. There were rumors going around that Ludovico, our beloved champion of Eate, was somehow using his godly powers in less than godly ways to aid in the profit making—profits that hurt the lower class, of which my father, at the time, belonged to.

But champions came to fight this, and they were the agents of Njord and Tellus. But the real interesting one, was a young Omatt who the poor called Arachne. Did you know? It was the Santians who so named her. No one but those champions she traveled with knew her real name, and it was rarely uttered, if ever.

Well, while her fellow champions set about hunting down Ludovico, Arachne was quick to address the problems in the city. First, of course, were the slave riots. Now how could one person, Legend or no, handle such a broad nightmare as this? The slaves made up nearly half of the population of the city, and with arms their disorganization was balanced by their sheer numbers. Noble families were being slaughtered in their homes.

As many of you may already know, Arachne is famed for her inseño brand of flight: The Omatt could move through the air as though she were climbing and swinging along threads invisible to the common man. But what people don’t understand is that these “threads”? They were connected to everything, not just the air.  The world was Arachne’s web, and all she had to do was get a good grip on you to undo everything you were.

Espero. Wait. I know what you’re thinking. But she didn’t kill any of the slaves. Didn’t even take away their weapons. You want to know what Arachne did?

She raised an army.

Not an angry mass of unwashed thousands acting independently of one another—I’m talking about a unified fighting force that struck down the local government. Arachne could see the anger and misguided terror that hung over Hazmes, and with clever fingers, she undid this. Maybe some would call it a form of enchantment. Me? I call it a damn good bit of politicking, ha! Afterwards, none of the slaves felt out of sorts or as if they were coming out of a spell. The Omatt had simply taken their similar wishes, and bonded them into one single goal.

With her at the head of this new army, the random destrucíon ended, and the fight was taken to the duke’s castle overlooking the city.

Niccolò came out with his chamberlain and small guard in all his gold and blue finery—you know, que los crem dons pusieron: The soft velvet cap with the big sweeping feather, a quilted half skirt, the puffy shorts, and tasseled shoulder guards made of gold and silver. With all of this cacare on, the duke raised his polished rapier and shouted. “You demonios overstep your station! Ludovico and the king’s men will come, and they will see you all hang!

The chamberlain was the only one who survived to translate Arachne’s response. And you want to know what she said?

You first.

And he was. The Duke of Hazmes, Signor Niccolò Jutien Mercando, was pulled up by his neck by some invisible rope, along with all of his guard, and the peasant army cheered as the nobles’ eyes bulged, and though they struggled, with time they turned still. The former duke’s chamberlain, Signor Corelo Manuel Duras, was tasked with taking a message to the king. An ultimatum, in fact.

Either the Santian Kingdom outlawed slavery, or the royal family would be overthrown.

An easy decision, yes? Conio, of course not! The royal family was in a compromised position. If they didn’t do as was demanded, they were very likely going to die, but if they did do as they were asked, then they would be losing untold amounts of gold to the Fiamman Kingdom, which, to this day even, still wholly support the slave trade.

Today, this situation simply could not happen—Santos’s army has increased tenfold since that century, and they have become a great deal smarter about security. But then? The common folk made up the majority of the kingdom, and they were not hurt by the slave riots at all. In fact, most joined in. Only the nobles had any reason to object—and why not, when their lives were on the line? It was a very bad time to be rich, then.

These were all things that had been building up to this moment. The Kingdom of Santos is a good example of what happens when the majority of commoners get fed up with the minority of rulers. Our entire government transformed, shifting more power from the monarchy to the people. This all came at the cost of much blood and loss, and yet I’d like to say that the Santian people are not calgatos. We are good people—passionate maybe, but so were our neighbors to the north, eh?

So when the Spider revealed her intention to march on the king, regardless of his response, many defied her. This pissed the lia off, yeah? And in her anger, she destroyed their beloved harbor, before taking to the skies, like a brat throwing a tantrum.

Days later, the champions of Tellus and Njord returned, a defeated Ludovico at heel. When they inquired about the Spider, they learned of her antics, and with great displeasure, moved to set her right. In their absence, the people of Hazmes started to clean up their ravaged city. Much pain and damage had been caused, and compassion appeared to chase away all those mal sentiemants.

The common folk were unprepared then, when the royal army appeared within sight of the city, ready to assert the King’s power once more. With the bloodlust gone and their weapons in disrepair (those people had no idea how to properly care for a weapon, let alone how to use it) they had no chance. Leaders were sent to beg the generals for forgiveness, but they were denied.

“You’ve made your choice, bestiales!” the soldiers barked. “You will all pay for your crimes!”

On the day the army was to march on Hazmes, the common folk made one last plea.

“Please!” they cried. “It was that damned Arachne! She misled us!”

Again they were denied. “Idi’utes! None so lead you when you first began your filthy revolts!”

The archers were readied. The horseback soldiers got into a position for a follow-up charge. The generals took a breath, ready to give out the order—

And the earth split open to swallow them whole. The wind whipped up just as the archers let loose their arrows, fouling their path so that they fell harmlessly, and the riders and their horses were taken up into the air, their bodies turning for a moment in suspension, like something held them fast—

The three heavenly champions appeared, descending onto the battlefield. The Spider’s tail was up and curled at the tip as she smiled at her new prey. With a glance over her shoulder, she once again stirred the courage—or the bloodlust, some might say—of the peasants. Emboldened, the hundreds of thousands of common folk charged forward and attacked the stunned soldiers with anything they had.

“Spider, nay!” The champion of Tellus shouted. “Innocent blood may be shed!”

“None innocent,” she returned before reducing the soldiers and horses in her invisible web to dust.

The battle was long and fierce and horrific, even with the aid of the Legends. Through the whims of the Spider, the champions could not unleash their power as they normally would, and so could not make the battle quick. Many of our people died, but many more were the King’s men. It was a high cost to pay, pér conio, sheer numbers won again!

The king finally answered the Legends and the people of Hazmes—yes, he would outlaw slavery.

The champion of Njord became quite cross with the Spider. “That was what you had us fighting for? We came here for Ludovico, not political agendas!”

The champion of Tellus intervened. “Brother, it was my fault the Spider got such ideas. I merely suggested that in helping the people of Hazmes, we could perhaps help the slaves too. I had no idea this was her intention!”

“And when does anyone know what this lunatic is thinking?”

A Jose Hartrand-Ines Consuelo, the young historian who eventually wrote all of this cacare down into a book so that I could fall asleep on it many years later, overheard this. But the account stops there. Did the Spider receive any punishment for what she had done? No. In fact, it’s said that she split ways with her fellows to go northward, into the Sibesona. And did the people of Hazmes beg the remaining Legends to stay any longer in the smoldering ruins of their city? Definitely not!

I told you, eh?  It’s hard telling a Santian story that’s nice about Arachne.


The Willing Fly – Part 4

As told by Lethia Artaud

It…it is difficult to think of Syria, so I suppose that would account as to the reason my memory is shifting so. I hope I am at least in some way coherent?

Ah. Well…where were we before this part?

The Spider striking Syria. Right.

So my former mistress found herself facing down a large gang of these dwarven guardians when suddenly she was knocked to the ground with her eyes bursting with stars and her head throbbing in sharp pain.

“Idiot!” her assailant spat over her before she launched herself at the dwarves, her body like a rogue marionette doll, wheeling free through the air without ever touching the ground. Her hands and feet struck hard as she went. It was almost graceful, in a jarring, neck-breaking sort of way, and Syria was too awed to even get up from the floor. The guardians fled, and the Spider returned to my former mistress, helping her up. The woman tried to read the Omatt’s mind, but found herself blocked, just as with the guardians.

“Who are you?” she asked, disconcerted. “And…and why did you hit me?”

“Because,” The Spider snapped, already walking away.

“Because why??”

“Because you stupid.”


The Omatt sighed and stopped.

Syria dared to venture closer, her hand still on the back of her head. “But…who are you?”

The Spider looked at her as if she were blowing spit bubbles with crossed eyes. “Spider.”


“Idiot. Spider. Not say again.”

Syria nodded, eyebrows raised. “Spider. Very well. I am Syria of Albias. May I ask what you are doing out here, Spider?”

Here, the Omatt frowned, and turned away. “Spider’s business.”

Syria clasped her hands behind her back. “Are we perhaps searching for the same thing?”

Spider shrugged. “Spread web. Idiot shook it. Was too early.”

“Oh I intruded on something, did I?”

“Yes. Busy. Go away,” the Omatt coiled her legs as though she were about to leap into the air in that bizarre form of flight.

At this point, Syria confessed to being a bit desperate. She’d been searching for ages for this valuable knowledge, and the guardians were looking to be too formidable for her to handle on her own. So quickly, she blurted out. “I can find a way to stop all pain!”

This made the Spider pause, and she turned to fix her green gaze on the enchantress. “No pain–?”

WAIT! Wait. Okay. So I just remembered how the story…um…ends. Would it hurt if I said it now? No? Yes?

Well I may as well.

So—back to Syria and the Spider captured. I just was at the part where the Omatt had woken up.

She smiled at everyone up in her bondage, her wounds healing and her cheeks flushing with life. It was as though she were coming back from the dead. Then her eyes darkened and threads of light erupted from the center of her chest.  They coursed out through the air, where they each speared lightning fast into the chests of each of the guardians. Beads of light coursed along the threads, from the dwarves to the Spider. The guardians were utterly paralyzed.

“It looked painful for them,” Syria had told me as a child. “Their bodies were rigid, their veins bulging. Their skin started to deteriorate as the light went from their runes.”

“What happened when they were all gone?” I whispered, sitting on the edge of the bench.

She looked at me, her eyes blinking from the fog of memory. “The Spider freed herself, and said to me, ‘Does it hurt?’

“I was confused, naturally, so I asked her, ‘How do you mean?’

“She replied, ‘Your tomorrow.’

“‘And why would my tomorrow hurt?’

“The Spider shrugged at me. ‘Because. You already try to heal it.’ She pointed at the scrolls in my hand before grinning and leaping into the air until she flew out of sight.” Syria frowned at her lap.

I blinked at her. “Mistress, what’s wrong?”

And she replied…

…I can’t. I can’t do it.

…It—It isn’t that I’ve forgotten. I just…Now I wish I didn’t remember.


Demon Etiquette

As told by Nyx

My brother Thaddeus could be an asshat at times. Before he went off to join the military, Thad had a thing where he would try to scare me if he got bored enough.

He was bored plenty, I assure you.

One night, when I was six, I was in my room, trying to study Common so that I could talk to Marq the merchant elf in his next visit. The elf was one of the few outsiders that came to visit Tosmai, and I was fascinated with the prospect of being able to talk to him. So far, I could say, “Hello,” and “I am the university,” the latter being a very rough translation of, “Och ne erduk,” which actually means, (when translated properly,) “I am a student at school.” With me saying these silly things over and over, it wasn’t hard for Thaddeus to figure out what it was I was doing. Naturally, he had to bother me.

“Kooo-ah…” he called spookily from the doorway.

I ignored him, a tactic I had learned from my mother when our bickering filled the house.

Thaddeus persisted, raking his fingers down the wall. “Koah!

I pursed my lips but managed to keep my eyes resolutely on the open page of my book. I heard my brother fully pass through the bead curtain. I could sense him hovering behind me and snapped my book shut with a little growl.

I turned to glare up at him. “What do you want, cajeck?

“I wanted to warn you,” he said with intense gravity in his tone.

“About what?”

Thaddeus sat on my bed and lounged back, a smirk firmly in place. “Did you know filling your head with weird ideas gets bad attention?”

“A-ma said you can’t bother me when I’m reading.”

“Well you’re not reading right now, are you tail sucker?”

My lips puckered. I didn’t even hesitate as I turned my head. “A-maaaaa!

Thaddeus jumped up, his hands going around my mouth. “Shhh! Cajeck! Do you want the Spider to hear you?”

After I shook off my brother’s hands, I looked at him as if he were crazy. “Spiders can’t hear!”

“Who says?”

“My books! Spiders feel sound, they don’t hear it!”

“You can hardly read those things!”

A-pa told me, before he left! And there’s pictures—”

“Fine, fine. But what if there was a really big spider that could feel what you’re saying now?” He crossed his arms and bore down on me with a malevolent grin. “What if she’s crawling along her great wide web to come get you?”

My body bunched and my face betrayed my growing unease. “Stop it. You’re lying. There are no spiders that big. My books—“

“Are worth about as much as Atalo’s soiled diapers. I mean, really Koah? What do you need to learn Common for? To speak with that elf beggar who comes rattling through town with his crap?”

“He’s not a beggar! He’s the only person that’s ever nice to me! He gives me candy.”

Thaddeus slapped a hand to his face. “My sister, doomed to be a monster’s meal all for her sweet tooth. You do know what they say about weird men giving candy to little girls, right?”

“Marq isn’t weird.” But even I knew I was being generous at the time.

“He doesn’t ask you to do anything, right?” My brother’s face darkened a bit, in that way I’d seen him get when I told him of how I was bullied. “Doesn’t touch you?”

I frowned, too naïve to understand his line of questioning. “No. He just tries to sell me things.”

“Huh,” Thaddeus said with a nod. The dark look cleared, but his frown remained. With a sigh, the teenager reached over and plucked a book off my desk. It was my book on parlor tricks—the chapter on sleight of hand was bookmarked. “That’s good then. I was afraid she’d have you for sure.”

I gave him a confused look. “She?”

He spared a mild glance as he looked over the book cover. “The Spider.”

“The Spider is a person?”

Thaddeus laughed harshly. “Oh. I don’t know about that.

“Then what is she?” I couldn’t help it. My brother was always good at leading me on.

“Remember how you learned about the Unnamed One in erduk?


“Well the Spider is like him, only no one knows who her patron is.”

I frowned. “But don’t champions have to say who they serve?”

Thaddeus offered a genuine smile. “You’re too smart for your own good, Koah.” He ran his hand through his curly hair and returned to sitting on my bed. Leisurely, he began to flip through the pages of my book. “In any other case, you’d be right. But the Spider is different. She has no name, no god, and no parents. Some people think she ate them.”

“She ate her parents?” I cried in horror.

“Maybe. Who knows? What you should be worried about are the facts.”

“The facts?”

“The facts.” Thaddeus leaned in towards me, and I leaned in towards him. He started to whisper with a grave face, “She eats people who stray too far from where they’re meant to be. That includes doing weird stuff, like learning Common to talk to dirty elves.”

I pulled back with a scoff—but my body was shivering. “That’s dumb!”

My brother shook his head emphatically. “No! It’s true!” He pointed a finger over his shoulder. “You remember Terius, the boy who ate snails and thought he could become one some day if he just sat still long enough? He’s gone! I just got back from going over to his home, and the whole place was covered in cobwebs!”

“You’re lying!”

“I swear on my life!” Thaddeus insisted.  “There was nothing but thick sheets of sticky silk all over the daikut!

“You’re lying, and I’m going to tell A-ma!” I snapped, close to tears and already getting out of my chair.

“Don’t! Do you want A-ma to get taken by the Spider!?”

I froze, my eyes going wide. “Why would she go after A-ma?”

Thaddeus feigned a frustrated sigh and got up to shove me back into my seat. He crouched next to me, tossing my book onto my desk. “Fine. So you don’t want to believe me about Terius. I wanted to spare you this, since you’re such a tail sucker, but if this story will squish the fleas in your brain, then maybe it’s worth it.” My brother cleared his throat and started, “The Spider of the West is a demon, Nyx. She has no home and no loyalty to anybody. Oh sure. For a little while, she worked like all good champions did—helping people, righting wrongs, punishing the wicked…but then her true nature came out, and she took to wandering. She started from the south, in Erminia, where she traveled up through Ginger Weed Country straight to the Ailuran Nation. While she was meditating one night in a forest clearing, three Ailuran boys came across her. They were running away from home, abandoning their families and their duties to find their fortunes with the Albian dwarves in Ulsmel, the northern colony.

“Seeing the Spider there, none knew what to do. They’d never seen someone like the Spider before. She was an Omatt. An ape person. You’ve seen a picture of them right? Long grabby tails, long arms, round ears? Right. Anyway, these boys had grown up together, and so they were very close. So close, in fact, that each relied on the other to complement the things they lacked when faced with a challenge. That’s why Alcae, the boy of strength, bravely stepped forward first.

“’What are you, little thing? And when you’re done answering, would you please move out of the way?’

“’No. Boy rude,’ the Spider said. She didn’t open her eyes or move from her spot. ‘Will not.’

“’You are in Ailuran lands, creature! You must answer!’

“The Spider’s eyes opened and the air stilled. Her eyes glowed green in the dark. ‘Boy came upon me. Who is he?

“’I am Alcae,’” Thaddeus made a show of thumping his chest with his fist. “’And these are my brothers in friendship, Eolus, and Cato.’

“’Hmph. Thou art babes. Go away.’

“’Babes!?’ Alcae roared and bared his fists. ‘You are a fool to challenge us!’

“The Spider’s eyes narrowed. ‘Not challenging. Sparing. Leave, or Spider change her mind.’

“’That a fool such as you can barely speak gives me confidence that I can rip off your tail and strangle you with it!’”

By this point I was riveted, my knees drawn up to my chest and my face half hidden behind them. My fingers gripped my legs, knuckle-white. My stomach was turning into knots, because I knew what came next would be terrible.

Thaddeus went on, relishing in my growing anxiety. “Alcae boldly entered into the clearing, and suddenly the ground lit up with a web of glowing threads. The threads were rooting into the ground, and they all went back to the center of the Spider’s chest where little beads came up from the ground and went along the lines to be absorbed by her body. The boy’s feet stuck to this stuff and he couldn’t get free. As he struggled, he lost his balance and fell over. The threads sprang to life and wrapped around him, holding him down. They got into his chest, and the Spider started pulling his soul out using her web.”

I was shivering at this point. “Didn’t his brothers do anything??”

“Eolus was going to, but Cato held him back. ‘Wait! You will just meet the same fate as Alcae!’

“But Eolus was cocky as much as he was quick. Confident in his speed, he just said, ‘Nay! I must save our brother before the demon has him! She will not be able to catch my quick feet, and I can step around these threads better than any dancer!’ And he went, fighting off his brother’s hands, into the clearing.

“At first it seemed he would be right. Eolus quickly and skillfully avoided the many threads of the Spider’s web, and reached his brother in no time at all. But up close, he saw how Alcae was wrapped in the threads. Taking out his knife, Eolus just grinned arrogantly. ‘I was fast and skillful enough to get this far, I can do this equally as good!’”

“No!” I murmured.

“Yes!” Thaddeus said with a wicked grin. “As soon as Eolus touched the glowing threads, they wrapped about him faster than he could even think, and he fell to the ground next to Alcae. Now two brothers were caught and both were unconscious. Alcae, having been there the longest, was growing smaller, his muscles receding as his skin turned sallow and thin. The only one left was Cato—but the last brother was different from the others.

“Instead of solving his problems using his body, Cato used his mind. He was very smart, and very clever. Seeing the Spider’s web, he knew he could not step forward to save his brothers by brute force or speedy skill. So he spoke to the champion instead. ‘Demon. You introduced yourself as Spider.’

“’Did not introduce…but did say was Spider,’ the Spider replied.

“’May I ask why you are here?’

“’I wish it.’

“’You are alone in a strange land. Our meeting here seems to show a common need for change.’ The Spider didn’t respond. She just narrowed her eyes.

“Smoothly, Cato continued. ’Our purpose was to seek our fortunes in the north, but I see now that we are too young and weak to even survive the perils of our own forests! Please. Accept my apology on behalf of us all and release my brothers. I cannot live without them.’

“’Can,’ the Spider replied. ‘Are doing it now.’

“’Just as well, I’d rather my brother’s be with me.’

“The Spider didn’t speak right away. She looked Cato up and down, her ape tail rising to curl behind her. ‘You say you leaving. What is north?’

“‘We heard tales of artifacts and riches that the dwarves were keeping for themselves. We wished to have some. It is said that great powers can be gained from some of these things.’

“The Spider thought for a moment, then without a move or even a blink, her glowing threads began to recede, back into her chest. Cato’s brothers were freed, but Alcae was reduced to a frail old man, and Eolus little better. As the Spider rose to walk away, Cato called after her, ‘Wait!’

“The Omatt stopped and looked back at him, and the boy pleaded, ‘Please! Restore them! I cannot have my brothers so! I cannot carry them home, and surely the wolves will do away with them should I leave to get help!’

“The Spider just smiled. ‘Asked for release. Not restoration. Gave them release.’ She turned and started walking away. ‘Spider is what others wish. Call her demon…then she is one. But Cato give information. Much desired information. Spider will spare him. Should not push luck.’”

“And what did Cato do?” I asked tremulously.

Thaddeus gave a sad shake of his head. “Cato was clever enough to survive the encounter, and even got the Spider to free his brothers, but he was also arrogant, and that one word—demon—cost him his two friends. He had to return home alone to get help, but before his brothers could be attended to, the beasts of the forest did away with them.”

“And the Spider?”

“She was gone. Probably went farther north. But see, Koah? If you stray from where you’re meant to be, than the Spider will come to get you!”

I swallowed hard at the lump in my throat.

That night, I tried to sleep, and after hours of fretting, I finally slipped away to nightmares of a strange ape girl with green eyes, sitting on a web of light, while I cowered in the darkness, hoping she wouldn’t see me. The next day, I told my A-ma the story, and she scoffed, rolling her eyes.

“Oh for heaven’s sake, can your brother not torment you for one second?”

“Was it all a lie, then?” I asked hopefully. At this rate, I was never going to sleep well again.

My mother faltered, her hand going to scratch her neck. “Ah…well…no. Some of it is true. Oh! But my little night shard, do not cry. Come here. Shh, ehna ehna.” My mother petted my hair and rocked me as we sat in the kitchen, the early morning light coloring the room a sleepy shade. “The story Thaddeus told you was partially true, yes. There was an encounter by some of our youth long ago with the Spider of the West, but all the boys survived in good health. She was only asking for directions.”

“Really?” I sniffled, looking up at her from her bosom.

Fotini smiled. “Yes, my child.” She took hold of my face and in her eyes I could see love shining. “Do not listen to your brother. You are not a freak. The Spider will not come after you for wanting to better yourself and expand your horizons!”

“Even for learning Common?” I mumbled.

“You’re A-pa knew Common. There is nothing wrong with that!”

Just then, Thaddeus appeared, dressed and ready for erduk. Toddling after him was Atalo, dressed only in his diaper and waving a wooden sword around. My oldest brother smiled as my mother and I spared him a glare. “Morning!” he chirped as he began his forage for food.

My mother spoke as she gently displaced me from her lap. “Now while your brother tells you tales about demons and spiders, perhaps he would’ve found better material in his dear A-ma?”

Thaddeus’s apple froze on its way to his mouth.

Soon, the sound of him pleading and yelping outside could be heard as my mother swatted his bottom with the broom handle. I watched from the window, Atalo on my lap, a satisfied grin on my face. Sitting on the table next to me was the Common book from last night. My little brother tapped the glass with his wooden sword, and gurgled out, “Thaddy…Ca-jeck.”


The Willing Fly – Part 5

As told by Lethia Artaud

…Yes, I suppose you’re free to give me that look. I’ve been a terrible storyteller, and once I finally had the story completely, I refused to tell it. But I gave my word. Good or bad, this is the last of it.

If you’ll recall, the last part I had left off at was when Syria was trying to convince the Spider to stay and help her.

“No pain?” Spider said, her tail twitching. “Of heart, or body?”

Breathless, the woman replied, “There’s a possibility for both. I just…I need to find the magical records that can show me how! This is Hudisyg, the dwarven center of magical research! If there was ever a place where such knowledge was to be found, it’d be here! After all, what else are those guardians guarding?”

The Omatt blinked at her. Then she smiled slowly.

“Spider’s web trembles,” she breathed, so that Syria could barely hear. “Syria is the trembler. Does Syria dream?”

“Yes. All the time. For a better world for all.”

The Spider’s smile widened. “Should stop. Dangerous.

“And you? Do you dream?”

The Omatt laughed harshly. “Can’t. Never sleep. Too busy waiting.”

“For what?”


And from there is where the rest of the story I’ve already told you happened. They found the scrolls, Spider saved Syria from a trap and seemed fatally injured, but in truth she was just baiting Syria so that my former mistress would bring all the dwarves to one place. I was never told why the Spider desired this, or what she took from those dwarves, but it’s my guess that she found a power other than what Syria had been seeking.

Back to my twelfth birthday, after Syria ended her story. She fixed her eyes on me and laid a hand on my hair. “I believe you can see and understand a great many things, child. But I think you choose not to see, sometimes. I think you walk into the hands of the enemy as the Spider did…as I did, like a willing fly. Do not get caught up in what does not work. The Spider’s dissatisfaction with the world was inevitably her downfall. She could not find appreciation in anything, and her values diminished until she was as the dwarven men—driven by some esoteric need that none could fully comprehend.”

I furrowed my little brow, and Syria just chuckled at me. “What is it, Lethia dear?”

I looked at her. “If getting that power was bad for the Spider, than why was it okay for you?”

Syria’s smile gained a shadowed hook as she responded to me.

“The difference between me and the Spider is, that I do not get bored. On the contrary, I become deeply involved.”

Obsessed, she meant.

Looking back now…I think I could have put it together, even at the age of twelve. Maybe then all of us wouldn’t be here, sharing broken stories about a broken Legend. The magic Syria found in Hudisyg…was that the evil she used in Albias?  Syria called me the willing fly because I gave into my aimless passions as a child, but it seems I gave into her lies just as well…


A Hungry Nothing

As told by Quincy

…Nothing fills me with such disgust as hearing that creature’s name. I’m almost insulted that you would ask me to speak of it…her.  I’m sure you’d fancy something entertaining, though I fear what I have to say would entertain the sick and disturbed. And I know her true name. I know the name of this evil, this plague that was visited upon Gaia when she came puking and screaming from her mother’s rancid womb. I will not say it. It is a sin, I’m almost certain of that now, to give that damned ape anything befitting a moral sentient creature. The Spider of the West? Arachne? These could easily be used to describe a horrible beast, and she was just that, make no mistake.

I have no real story to give. Just broken accounts of what that demon did—to my life, to so many others.

I suppose I can begin by stating how we met. You see, there was a short time when Jack let me travel with him after my mother’s death, and one of our last trips was to the Indabe. There, at a little oasis town called Abija, we met up with Tobias and his new adolescent ward, whom they only called, “Spider.” Being older, she was much taller than I, and yet from the looks of her, I guessed I could beat her in an arm wrestling match. She was skinny—unhealthily so—and her green eyes had a cold glint to them that froze my blood.

“Quincy, this is Spider. Spider, Quincy,” Tobias gestured between us.

“Hello,” I said shyly. I think I was between the ages of five or seven at the time.

Instead of replying, the Omatt glared at Tobias.

The tall man faltered, scratching at his bushy eyebrow. “Oh! I’m sorry…I should mention that Spider has a special condition that makes speech difficult for her. As a result, her comprehension is fine but she cannot hold a conversation with others. I’ve been trying to help her with…” At my lost look, Tobias trailed off again, his cheeks coloring.

Jack just laughed and tousled my hair.  “Fledgeling, what your uncle is trying to say, is that Spider is mute.”

I blinked at her. “Oh.”

Spider just gazed at me guardedly.

We spent that night eating and carousing, my father and my uncle conversing with the locals while I took in all the strange sights and sounds of that foreign land. Only Spider seemed withdrawn, her eyes out on the moonlit sea of sand that surrounded our little haven. Her spine was curled and her tail wrapped around into her lap, where she stroked it gently. Finally, I noticed her reticence and moved to speak to her. “Is something wrong?” I asked.

She looked at me sharply, and I jumped. Then I remembered that she couldn’t speak. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I just thought you looked sad. Where are your parents?”

I could see her nostrils flare and her round ears twitch but her face otherwise remained passive as she looked away from me. I bit my lip and sat closer to her on the pillow cushions. “Did you lose them? I lost my mother. Birds took her eyes.”

Spider looked at me sidelong and I looked down into my lap. “I love father, but I miss mother.”

“Miss. Okay. To…Miss,” came the lisping response. She spoke slow and thick like a simpleton would.

I looked at the Omatt in surprise. “You spoke!”

Spider’s face screwed up and her tail flopped in her grip. “Miss. Mo-ther. Love.

I nodded my eyes tearing up. “I did love her! I still do! Do you miss your parents?”

Spider shrugged.

I bit my lip. From my pocket, I pulled out a small brown and cream quill. “Here,” I said as I handed the item to her. The Omatt scrunched her nose up at it, but I pushed it toward her insistently. “Take it! That was my mother’s. Since you don’t have a mother, we can share. I think she’d like you.”

The Spider stared, bewildered by the gift. Then she smiled.

The rest of the night went merrily enough, and in a short time after that, we were as sisters.

This all sounds nice, right? But trust me when I say that it didn’t last long. In the coming years, my father would venture off for quest after quest, leaving me in the care of the others. Often times Tobias and Spider would go with him, and I would be left in the care of either one or both of them. But one day, word came that Ludovico, the champion of Eate, was abusing his powers for base needs. It was one thing for agents of heaven to oppose each other over their gods’ principles, but it was another thing entirely to use one’s powers to answer the whims of mortals. The direness of the situation demanded that all three of my caretakers go, so I was sent to stay with a friend in the Kingdom of the Sands whilst Jack, Spider, and Tobias addressed the problem on the other side of the world.

They later returned…without Spider.

“But where is she?” I cried. “She isn’t dead, is she?”

“No fledgeling,” Tobias said with a sad smile. “Spider just…needs time to herself. She’ll come around.”

But she never did.

In just a short year after that, I was sent to live in the Fanaean village of Kimbia, as my father’s work kept him perpetually in the southern hemisphere, and having me in the Kingdom of the Sands no longer became convenient. Our friends there argued that it was unsafe for me to be in Fanaea because of its wild and primitive society. They said I would be safer staying in the well-guarded kingdom, where my father’s enemies could not reach me. This objection was momentarily silenced when Tellus granted a sort of reprieve to Tobias, and he chose to stay with me in the village. Naturally, it wasn’t long before he was called on again, only this time he left in the dead of night without telling me. I had to hear it from Kafeel in the morning that my so-called uncle had gone to take care of something important that required his immediate attention, and he would be back soon.

Then the people of Kimbia, along with Hakeem’s family, were all slaughtered, and my caretakers were nowhere in sight. Hakeem and I were the only survivors left of a bloody attack from marauders—all enemies of my father. They searched the jungles for me for days afterwards, moving their camps hither and thither. We barely escaped their notice, but in all our movement, we could not properly gather food or find shelter, and so we were just barely surviving. It was the arrival of the pirate captain, Tulki that saved Hakeem and I, but even that solution was for the short term.

But what of the Spider? Yes. What of that despicable beast? I will tell you why it was Tobias left me unguarded in such a hurry, forsaking me in favor of her. I will tell you what my father was doing, hunting her along the Talmorian landscape until he reached her abominable jungle in the Indabe. And I will tell you what that creature did, to earn so much infernal attention.

On Talmor, there was once a town called Tabiz on the eastern coast. It was a prosperous farming town, and though they were small, they had many slaves. I have heard speculation that this was perhaps what set Spider off. She hated slavery, but she hated more those who surrendered to it. Perhaps this was why she sat in the middle of Tabiz’s market day. Perhaps this was why she let her overgrown bangs shade her eyes as men and women of different races, genders, and species, happily served their masters under bondage.

Perhaps this was why she undid them all, their bodies disintegrating into dark crimson dust before vanishing into nothing at all.

In a single sweep of her will, the Spider erased Tabiz and its people—slaves and all—from the face of Gaia. Conversations were cut short, handshakes were not completed, jumping games left undecided, lives were snuffed out because this one mkundu monster just decided she felt like it.

And the sick part? She left one old woman alive to tell the world of what had happened. Why the old woman? Because Spider wanted it that way. No other reason. That’s it. There is no moral to this story, no underlying truth. Just tragedy abound in that we were all too blind or too naïve to see.

Over the years following her downfall, I came to learn of how her so-called ‘heroics’ were little more than violent, savage excursions to fill her vast need for fulfillment. Through disconnected accounts—A Santian history lesson, an Ailuran fable, an Albian rumor—I gathered that the Spider had travled through the heart of the Sibesona to the far north, where there she found some sort of power. But even this did not satiate her insane demands for death and destruction.

That is why I call the Spider a beast, and I say I am glad that she is sealed away. And should she ever be released, I only hope that she rots in hell for all eternity. Since the day I met her, the Omatt had been looking for something to fill the black hole in her heart. Up until the moment she was cast down, it is my opinion that she never truly recovered from her starved life as a slave. It is my opinion, that her evil nature left that demon emaciated and hungry for a great deal of nothing.

Continue ReadingSix Tales of Arachne

Artifacts of Childhood

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

Dramatis personæ:

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

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

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

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


Act I

“The Reflection”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The attendant tried and failed to contain her laugh.

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

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

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

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

Elmiryn just let out another sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But mother—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berian’s shoulders slumped, defeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And just like that, the fun was over.

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

Snitches! Elmiryn thought with clenched teeth.

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

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

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

“Playing Family?” she mumbled.

“Are these things yours to play Family with?”


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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside was her mother’s mirror brush.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you see?

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


Act II

“The Watch and the Sword”

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

Habari-kuz, Hakeem.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Ba.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s when they heard the beast growl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ducking their heads, they did as they were told.

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

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

Habari-kuz, Quincy.”

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

He smiled at her. “Thank you.”

She blinked at him, “For what?”

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

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

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

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



“N is for Nyx”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At this, Nyx’s face fell.

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

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

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

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

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

“A…how do you say? Anade?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Nyx,

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

Your Trusty Provider,


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

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

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

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

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

Continue ReadingArtifacts of Childhood

Chapter 32.3


Everything is my fault. Everything. I’ve hurt so many people. Maybe it’s good that I disappear. Maybe it’s good. Is this why my family left me alone?

Hope is just the universe’s way of lying to you.

All that pain and struggle…and for what? There isn’t any point when we become the thing we fear most. Honestly, how do you come back from that? You don’t…you just don’t…

If I’m going to be a monster, then please…someone slay me.


When Gudahi managed to wrestle the Twin off of Elmiryn, two things immediately became clear. Firstly, it didn’t matter how much charm and wit the redhead had, she just wasn’t very good at keeping her mysgaji tongue in check. Secondly, the Twin may have been angry…but she wasn’t murderous.

Quincy watched, shocked and alarmed like the rest of them as the giant cat roared and knocked Elmiryn to the ground. It was almost a certainty that before any of them could get the beast off her, the warrior was likely going to be missing her throat. But aside from a few harmless cuts and bruises, the woman was fine. The wizard felt her optimism rise. If the Twin wasn’t willing to kill Elmiryn after an insult like that, then there was still a chance to salvage the situation.

The Twin had already ceased fighting against Gudahi when he released her. She made no further attempts to attack. The warrior, meanwhile, was cursing up a storm. The past three days had seen her good humor turn thin, and though she had not ceased with her quips and provocations, there was a note of ire and bitterness to it that just didn’t feel like the Elmiryn Quincy had come to know. The wizard was amazed to say it, but she wished the old Elmiryn would come back.

As she thought this, she had to hold the redhead back whilst she screamed. “You stupid fucking piece of shit mangy animal—I gave you what you wanted didn’t you!? It was a perfect joke of a name for a FUCKING joke like you! Now where is it? WHERE IS THE BEAST!?”

Quincy had enough. Without a word, she drew the woman’s magic dagger from its sheathe.

There was a muted hum as all sound was sucked out of the air around them, blanketing them in an unnatural silence…

Except for Quincy.

“I think that’s enough of that,” she said dryly.

Elmiryn whirled around to glare at her. She tried to snatch the dagger back, but Quincy skipped back and pointed the weapon at her. “Ah, ah!” Tutted the wizard. “Do you really want to try and grab at the blade like that?” Backing away slowly, the brunette smirked. “Mmmm…it’s really nice not hearing your obnoxiousness for even a few seconds. But I promise Elmiryn, this will be quick.”

Not taking her eyes off the warrior, Quincy turned her head in the direction of the Twin and said, “You want a name, Cat? Then what about Kali?” Elmiryn’s face, so tight with insult and outrage, started to ease. The wizard continued her explanation at the insistence of her gut. She couldn’t see or hear the Twin, but she felt she was on to something. “The name means ‘sister of shadow’. There is a legend told in Crysen of twin sisters named Tali and Kali. None knew where they came from, but they were very talented with magic. It was discovered that Tali’s power became stronger during the day, while Kali’s power became stronger at night. They were polar opposites of one another, but they lived in tandem. They did that because they needed each other.” Quincy finally dared to take her eyes off Elmiryn to look at the Twin. Just as her instinct had told her, the beast was giving her full attention, and nothing of her demeanor seemed to suggest rejection.

The wizard nodded toward her. “As I understand it, you need Nyx to exist.  Well she needs you too. In fact, we all need you, but none more so than her. We can’t have light without shadow, Twin. So will you accept this name and help us?” As Quincy said this, she flipped the dagger over, catching it delicately by the blade, then carefully offered it to Elmiryn. The warrior took it with a grumpy look.

When the dagger was returned to its sheathe, the sound returned to them in a rush of air.

Still, no one spoke for a time.

Finally, the Twin stepped forward.  “Kali…” she bowed her head and closed her eyes. When she lifted her gaze again, it was with a fierceness and pride that Quincy hadn’t seen before. “This name is acceptable. You shall all refer to me henceforth as that. I will answer to nothing else. Now…as Nyx’s sister…” the beast squared its paws and tilted its head back. “I will help you find what you seek.”

Quincy gave a satisfied nod. “Excellent. Then it’s settled.” She shot Elmiryn a look, before asking next, “What can you tell us then…?”

The Twin—Kali—Sat on her haunches and her ears drooped. “I cannot speak of the monster without confessing.”

The wizard frowned. “Confessing?” She looked to Elmiryn and found a similar look of confusion.

“Yes.” Kali inhaled deeply. Her exhale came out as a low growl. “Back at Holzoff’s Tower, you all know that Syria had used her power to bewitch everyone.  Well as an observer who saw the present like a dream, I was the only one between Nyx and I, who was aware that anything was amiss. I tried to tell her that something was wrong, but my counterpart never did like hearing me, even before I gained the use of Words. Syria sensed my attempts and, with her power, she cast me deep into the darkest parts of Nyx’s subconscious.”

Quincy crouched, fascinated as she saw the feline’s face tense. Such emotion…it was hard to believe that such a creature could be the embodiment of Nyx’s animal nature. But perhaps that wasn’t true? Perhaps Kali wasn’t just some manifestation of basic instincts. But if not that, then what?

“None of you understand this, because none of you have ever been in the position I have. Being in that place…it is hell. It is cold. It is abstraction. Everything you are is just so much noise in a black vacuum. Being in that place…you could go mad. And maybe I did, a little. But I came across something, in that darkness…something that was strong, but unguided. That was powerful, but mindless. I had told Nyx that there was another shard in our mind, but now I don’t think it was right to call it that. It was just…an aspect of ourselves, something ugly that neither of us wanted to acknowledge so we locked it away and forgot about it. I took its essence, and I used it.” Kali looked straight at Elmiryn, whose face had gone completely slack. Quincy’s heart started to beat faster, and she looked to Hakeem. Her husband’s young face was sporting a look of resignation. The Twin continued, “What I found was rage, pure and undiluted. It was pain, it was suffering, it was hate and fear. I used that power to return to the conscience world and to break Nyx free of her stupor. And when we were sent here…we were split apart, and that essence of suffering…it became the beast.”

“You let out the thing that killed Atalo,” Elmiryn whispered. Quincy was surprised to see her eyes had gone teary. “You let out the monster that was inside of Nyx. The part of her she didn’t know how to control…that you didn’t know how to control!”

Kali hissed at her, her ears turning flat. “In the end, it was what saved us all. What would have happened had Nyx not inspired your heart to break free of Syria’s spell!? How would we even be alive today if I had not done what I did!”

Sanuye growled ominously. Gudahi bared his teeth, his hands fists at his sides. “Countless of my brothers and sisters have fallen for your mistake! Why is their lives worth less than yours!?”

“I did not know the beast would part from my control,” Kali spat. “It wasn’t my intention to kill so many, but tell me, when one has a choice between surviving or protecting indifferent strangers—no—racial rivals—what would you choose? And do not speak to me about the weight of my decision when you do not even understand the situation in full! Syria was a powerful woman whose designs were to destroy the world as we know it! Do I know how that would have worked out? No. You want to know why? Because I made a decision, and that led to her being stopped. So do not speak to me that way, puerile pup, until you have to make a choice that not only determines your life, but that of an unimaginable number of others!”

“Cut the bullshit!” Elmiryn shouted. “None of us knew what would have really happened! None of us knew what was going on! We could have figured something out! We could have beaten Syria without that thing, so don’t go making yourself out like a hero when you didn’t even understand the consequences at the time you fucking pulled this crap!”

“The decision was made, and there’s no changing it! The sooner you can accept that, the sooner we can deal with the present!” Kali snapped.  “Whatever you may think, that beast is out now. It is a part of me…and it is a part of Nyx. Killing it would only result in our deaths!”

Elmiryn gripped her sword handle tightly. “So what are we supposed to do, hmm?”

Kali snorted at her, then turned to Quincy. “What happened the last time you saw Nyx. How did the beast come into possession of her?”

Quincy cleared her throat. “Well. We encountered the monster three days ago, and Nyx tried to stop it using her bardic abilities—”

“Her what?”

Hakeem spoke next. “Nyx has an old power, and I suppose you do too.  It is one that allows her to turn her voice into kinetic force, among other things. She tried using it to fight the beast.”

Kali’s eyes widened. “But if we all share the same power…”

Quincy nodded gravely. “In the end, it was able to resist and fight back. When Nyx was down, the monster impaled her with its claws…but then its shadow grew beneath it, and they both sank out of sight.”

“From the way the monster struggled to free its claw,” Hakeem said. “It appeared surprised and unwilling. That, and finding you still alive has led us to believe that Nyx is also still alive.”

Kali nodded. “If that is so, then I may have an idea where she is. I have not gone there, mind you, but I have known spirits and animals to fear that region, so naturally I steered clear of it as well. If there is ever a place for the beast to lurk, it would be there.”

Quincy gave a sigh of relief and started to walk away. “Well, now that that’s settled, I’m going to find something to eat and pretend I have all my fingers. I find this ordeal rather taxing, and any moment spent not thinking about it is a good moment…”


If I am truly so clever, none of this would have happened. I would have seen where the stars were leading me. I would have figured out her motives before we got sucked into this hell. She leaves me to watch them struggle, and at first I thought she was punishing me. Trying to break me.

And then I realized she was trying to teach me.

I hate her for still trying.

I hate myself for still wanting her to try.


Elmiryn fisted her cheek as she glowered down at her roasted rabbit. Everyone was quiet at camp. After a brief rest and a small meal, they had resumed their journey with the Twin at the lead. Or wait. She wasn’t supposed to call it that anymore. Now it was Kali…the bitter, self-preserving beast that had visited torment onto the Lycans and started them all on this bizarre search for her better half.



The woman’s hand shook as she brought the meat to her lips and took a disinterested bite.

The large cat was up in a tree, just outside the reach of the campfire, her eyes aglow in the shadows as she silently watched them below. Elmiryn narrowed her eyes at her.

“Something is clearly on your mind, so why not just say it, instead of staring rudely?” Kali growled. The others looked up with a start.

“Wow. I never thought I’d see the day when an animal talks to me about etiquette.” Elmiryn tossed her rabbit leg onto the ground. She wasn’t hungry anyway. “All right.” The woman stood and approached the tree, moving past Quincy, Hakeem, Sanuye, and Gudahi. Placing her hands on her hips, she regarded the cat above her with a raised eyebrow. “Now that you have your own name, what else do you want?”

Kali blinked down at her. “What?”

Elmiryn sneered. “It’s a simple question, Kali. You have a name. What do you want now?”

The cat turned her head, her ears flicking. “What I want, I will no longer need to beg for.”

“But what do you want?”

“My own life. I thought that was obvious.”

Elmiryn rubbed her forehead. “You mind telling me how that’s gonna work without a body of your own?”

“Must you constantly remind me of my plight?”

The warrior shrugged. “I just want to make sure we’re clear on the issue here. We both know that Nyx is the real one—”

Kali hissed and leaned down, her dark features slipping into the glow of the fire. “And what constitutes real for you, when you see faces in smoke and think the sky is made out of paper? What makes me less important when Nyx needs me to survive?”

“She doesn’t need you.”

“She is a shell without me! Our survival has been entirely my doing since the day we were born! When she tried to starve herself to death, I kept us alive. When others cornered us, I fought back. When she needed strength to help her friends, I gave her that. Me!

“And yet you couldn’t save Atalo for all your gods damned strength!”

Atalo would be alive today if that stupid whore hadn’t taken him away!”

Elmiryn hardly thought about what she was doing. One moment she was gazing into the haunting depths of Kali’s eyes, the next the cat was pinned down beneath her over the fire pit, the bright embers of the fire scattered and singing her arms and face. The beast screamed, claws out, struggling, but a strength that the woman hadn’t felt in a long time appeared in her limbs. She held the beast down, her vision tunneling as she hissed over and over.

“Die, die, die, die, die…”

“Elmiryn, get OFF her!” Arms wrapped around the woman’s throat and pulled her back. She could smell that wild musk of fur and sweat and forest. Phantom memories of hands holding her down and teeth raking her skin sent a jolt of panic down her spine. She let go of Kali and let out a strangled yell, her eyes wide, her hands reaching up to scratch at her assailants face. She was lifted bodily into the air and she started kicking her legs wildly.

“For heaven’s sake, stop! Stop it! Let her go!” That was Quincy.

Elmiryn was released. Without pausing, she turned and launched her fist. She caught Sanuye across the face. The woman stumbled back, but only appeared mildly surprised. Her lip started to bleed.

Heaving, the redhead pointed a quaking finger at her. “Don’t touch me. Do you hear me?” Sanuye said nothing. Her eyes flickered to Quincy and Hakeem, but the warrior aggressively held her gaze. “Do you FUCKING hear me!? I said—DO. NOT. TOUCH. ME.”

Quincy appeared at her side, and Elmiryn flinched away from her, her gaze wild. The wizard was looking at her like one did a bridge jumper: clearly alarmed, all caution. “Elmiryn, you’ve been on edge since we’ve found Kali. Something happened, didn’t it?”

“Nothing happened.” Elmiryn snapped, perhaps too quickly. She stormed away from camp, recklessly smashing through the undergrowth. To her frustration, she heard the wizard follow her.

“So then why do you have those scratches on you?” Quincy asked doggedly.

“The Twin—”

“That’s a lie, Elmiryn. The marks on your back couldn’t possibly have been made by Kali.”

The warrior rounded on her, her teeth bared. “And why the hell not?” They were far enough away from the camp that the other’s voices had become indistinct.

Quincy shrugged carefully. “Well, for one thing, the fact that the shape and angle of the injuries don’t make any sense for a quadruped to make. But to make things simpler, I’m just going to point out the bruises shaped like fingers on your back.”

Elmiryn stiffened.

The wizard placed her hands on her hips. “Now that we’re out of earshot, do you mind telling me what’s going on?”

The warrior gazed at Quincy for a long time. When she spoke, her voice was strained. “No.”

Elmiryn heard the other woman sigh heavily as she walked away.


The sphere before her sat on a billowing geyser of smoke, and within its watery depths, the girl could see the two women split–Quincy returning to camp, and Elmiryn wandering off to be alone. The trials of the Other Place were deepening the cracks in their resolve. The more their problems fissured, the less likely any of them would survive.

“Elmiryn’s suffering comes from her failure to understand that she is simply a toy. Toys do not have goals or ambitions, and never do they act independently. They are containers of the imagination, to be filled with the dreams of whoever handles them. Her world does not know free will, though she is given the illusion of such. In reality, her existence is determined by causality.”

“But she resists. Her ability to resist should denote a capacity for free will, shouldn’t it?”

“She is an actor refusing to play her part. But the show must go on, as they say, even if the play must carry on without her.”

“In denying participation, she holds herself ransom against the world. That is indicative of a spirit capable of controlling the outcome to her liking.”

“But you’re assuming that she is a key component to the issue at hand.”

“…Isn’t she?”

“That’s what she would like to think.”

Then what does that make you, Mistress?  Lethia thought, her eyes tearing with despair.

Continue ReadingChapter 32.3

Chapter 33.3



Elmiryn was so caught off guard that she barely flinched her head to the side in time to avoid a broken nose or a broken front tooth. The impact of Nyx’s fist was so hard she was knocked flat onto her back and her vision went dark before returning in a fuzzy, spinning tunnel. Disoriented, she couldn’t make out what was happening until she felt something pounce on her with fingers digging into her skin like claws.

Üle hejka, lunae! Üle hejka, LUNAE!!” she heard Nyx scream.

She remembered those Ailuran words. The bond she had shared with Nyx had given her knowledge of the therian language, though it was like giving an incomplete cipher key to a foreign child. The warrior covered her head as she felt punches rain down on her, and she tried to focus her thoughts. The assault only lasted a few seconds before the woman heard a loud, thunk, and felt Nyx cry out as she fell off of her.

Blearily, Elmiryn opened her eyes.

Nyx scrambled to all fours, her back arched, her facial features swimming in an illusory haze of sapien to feline and back. Quincy held her staff at the ready, her body tense but with an aura of certainty she had lacked before. Hakeem appeared at Elmiryn’s side, his little hands helping her to sit up.

“Quincy,” Elmiryn managed to slur out. “Don’ hurt her…”

“That might be a little difficult, Elmiryn,” The wizard responded without so much as a turn of her head.

Lunae,” Nyx panted, her skin shimmering suddenly in black fur, before shifting back to gray skin, then back to its usual pale luster. She snapped her teeth, and her eyes went cat, fangs clearly in her mouth, before they too vanished out of sight. Foamy saliva dripped from her quivering lips. “Lunae. Och mochitye, ya bodani oobivat. Oobivez, kotorik rak moyet syemta. Och ni da oobivat! LUNAE!

Nyx leapt at Quincy with remarkable grace and power, her limbs suddenly like that of a cat, before the wizard dodged her and—blink—the animal limbs were gone upon the moment the Ailuran hit the dirt, and she was once more just a bipedal creature awkwardly on all fours. Meanwhile, the redhead managed to grasp onto something meaningful in her thoughts.

‘Lunae’…’Lunae’ means die. She’s telling us to die. And ‘hejka’ means traitor. She thinks we’re traitors?

Elmiryn woozily stood to her feet. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been hit so hard…and was that molar feeling loose? The woman rubbed at her throbbing face and said, “Quincy jes’ hold on a moment.”

“I can’t Elmiryn. Busy,” Quincy snapped back.

Nyx charged for her again and the wizard twirled her staff. Light shot up and down the length of it before the woman snapped it toward her attacker in one quick strike. It hit the Ailuran in the shoulder and the girl cried out as she spun and crashed down onto the dirt.

Elmiryn gave a shake of her head to clear the stars she still saw and advanced on the wizard.

‘Oobivat’. Means kill. ‘Oobivez’. Means murderers. ‘Syemta’ means…

Her eyes went wide.

Nyx began to tremble, and her skin rippled visibly. Her body contorted in agony as she groaned and let her head drop. Elmiryn placed a hand on Quincy’s shoulder. Partly for support, partly to let the wizard know she was there, and partly so she could hold the woman back.

“What’s happening…” she whispered.

Quincy shook her head as Hakeem appeared on Elmiryn’s left. “I don’t know,” the brunette responded.

Lunae…lunae…lunae…” Nyx breathed raggedly. Her hands went to naked paws, then back to hands. Her spine bulged in her back, then vanished beneath the skin. “Och ni da oobivat. Lunae! Lu–” She broke off in a scream, her forehead touching the dirt as she curled up and pressed her hands to the sides of her head. Then without warning…

They all heard Kali’s voice. “No. No. NO! You idiot! You’re just letting it get the better of you!”

Elmiryn raised an eyebrow and looked at Quincy sidelong. The other woman was doing the same. Hakeem dared to step closer, his hands held up cautiously before him. “Ikati?” he breathed.

Nyx slammed her head into the dirt once. Twice. Three times. It looked painful. “Damn you! Let this go!”

There was a small growl, then suddenly it was Nyx’s voice again, all filled with wrath. “Cajeck! Kincht de nedret! Teme och ni aldan!?”

Then it was Kali again. “You idiot baboon, it’s coming again, it’s–”


“They’re battling each other,” Elmiryn murmured.

“No.” Quincy shook her head.

“They’re battling the beast inside,” Hakeem finished. He bowed his head in thought for a moment, then raised it with a shrug. “Or maybe, they are all battling each other.”

“Is there anything we can do?” Elmiryn asked, feeling almost desperate for action.

Quincy leaned on her staff and placed a hand on her hip. “Unless you know how to dive into that hurricane of a mind, there is nothing left for us to do but wait.”

Elmiryn thought about this seriously, one hand on her chin.

Well I could just use my fae power and…

“Wait.” Quincy looked at her sharply. She thrust a finger into the warrior’s face, her eyes narrowed. “Don’t. Even. Think. About it.”

“But I could make myself really tiny and–”

“What in the fuck? I–no–I can’t even–Gods no. Elmiryn, just shut up and wait. Ugh, you can be such a quack.

Elmiryn pouted, genuinely stung. “It was just an idea…” she mumbled.


Three monoliths swathed in a cascade of liquid memories, all simmering and shimmering in the transcendent glow of years melded with sorrow, joy, anger, and fear. These giant spires were testaments to a single entity, but they were separated on islands of thought and being, an ocean of darkness and void keeping them from unity. On one island was Kali, her feline head raised as she roared over the vast expanse at Nyx, who sat seized by trailing insanity from the Last, the Nameless One, the Beast, who was on her own island black and featureless as ever, but with a calmness that could have been interpreted as equal parts infuriating and disturbing.

“Nyx!” Kali shouted, her claws digging into the dirt. Behind her loomed her monolith, its colors swathed in times spent resentful of her sister, times spent happily under the full moon. The feline persona paced as she tried to reach her counterpart with Words she had just come to learn the power of. “Listen to me! I know things have been hard! I know things have not worked out well between us! But we have to stop this! We have to come together again!”

“Why?” Nyx snarled, her body trembling as she leaned back against her monolith—a spire of pain and sadness, shame and fear, bittersweet love and unexpected joys. “You never wanted me! You hated me! You always have! Why should we come together when we let something like that out!?” She pointed at the Nameless One.

The Nameless One did not move, did not react. Its monolith was a wavering black, its years spent gathering all the rage and fury and frustration its counterparts had felt almost pure and undiluted. Smooth susurrations came floating in the air from it.




The Nameless One’s island floated closest to the surface, where a bright wall reflected the goings on of the Real World. Kali was the second closest to the surface, but she was not close enough to beat out the Beast, and certainly not enough to bring the monster down. Still, at least she had gotten the creature to stop attacking the others. That shock from Quincy had really helped.

“I know I said all of those things,” Kali growled out in frustration. “I know I haven’t been fair to you…but can’t you say the same!? We have let our troubles pull us even further apart, and for what? For this monstrosity to get the better of us?”

“We are the reason our family is dead. We are the reason that thing got loose and hurt so many. We don’t deserve to come together again…” Nyx said through tightly clenched teeth.

“If we just continue to sit here, it won’t matter what you or I think, the Beast will become loose once more! Don’t you see? We have to deal with this!”

Nyx laughed emptily. “We can’t ‘deal’ with this. We can hardly deal with ourselves.”

“That isn’t true!”

“No?” Nyx glared up at Kali, her face coloring in anger. “Who blamed me for being too weak to keep Atalo safe? For being stupid enough to try and fight for our freedom against the Illuminati?” The black ocean around her island began to lap up higher on the sand.

Kali’s eyes widened. “Nyx, don’t you’re going to–”

Nyx ran her over with her Words, her eyes ablaze. “Who made power plays whenever she could just so she could have an ounce of control, however insignificant, at the possible expense of both our lives!?”

“Nyx, listen to me–”

“Admit it. This isn’t about the Beast, and this isn’t about me. This is about you. You are a base and crass creature and all you can think about is surviving one more day. But what does that day mean except more time for you to ruin someone’s life?”

The void was closing in. Nyx, in her sudden anger, now stood only on a small spit of land. Kali gazed down at this in alarm, feeling her counterpart float farther away so that her voice became a distant thing. She looked up. The Beast was near to breaking the surface again. If it gained total control once more, Kali wasn’t so sure she could bring it back down on her own. The others may end up having to kill them all.

Kali’s ears drooped and she lay herself down near the edge, her head cushioned by her paws. “Nyx…I’m sorry.” The girl below only continued to glare up at her. The feline let out a small rumble and flicked an ear. “I mean it, you idiot! I’m sorry! I was quick to blame you because of what happened to Atalo. And afterwards, all I could do was resent you for being the one in control all the time. I didn’t think you were strong or smart enough. But I was wrong. You’ve gotten us here so far, and while things could be better, I think I’d rather have a chance at having my life mean something than to have it amount to only mourning the dead and slavering over what meager prey I manage to catch for supper. Seeing more of your world…I know now that I could not survive alone in it. Not without someone with the finer understandings like you have. In fact, my sanctuary can feel quite safe in comparison to what you go through. I should be there for you more, but I’m not, and for that I am truly, deeply sorry. We are two parts of a greater whole, and we shouldn’t be in such disharmony. I just want to fix that. The gods know I’m tired of fighting.”

Nyx stared up at Kali with her mouth open, her eyes narrowed.

Kali let out a huff of air and closed her eyes, a tear leaking down her furry face. “If you won’t fight with me, then I will not fight, for there is nothing to fight for without you. There is nothing. And the gods know, that I am tired of battling the world alone.”

Thunder boomed out around them. It was deep and sorrowful, with edges of screams haunting the lowest depths of its waves. The feline did not move. She was tired. But in a bittersweet way, she felt content. Purged from her were years of pain and misguided hatred. She and Nyx would probably never see eye-to-eye completely. She and Nyx would probably die, right then and there. But Kali found her sliver of a heart lighter than ever it had been before, and with that she knew something of peace.

The thunder echoed far off until there was only silence. Any moment now the Beast would take control of their body, and the others would have to kill them. Kali waited calmly for her demise to come.

Instead, she felt a hand on her face.

Startled, the feline raised her head, her eyes flashing open. Nyx was gazing at her, tears streaming down her face, her hand still gently touching the cat’s fur. The girl sniffled, her features tight and glistening wet. Her island had risen quickly from its depths in the void, and it had joined Kali’s to form a larger mass. The girl suddenly giggled.

“Cajeck,” Nyx said. “Cats can’t cry remember?”

Kali blinked, then flashed a sheepish, furry grin.

A shadow fell over them. Both personas looked up as their third counterpart’s island began to descend, away from the surface of control. The Beast did not seem angry or perturbed by this. Its whispers of hate only grew louder.


Kali looked at Nyx somberly. “Sister, I believe we have a mess to clean up.”

Nyx returned her gaze. “Yes…I believe we do.”


When Nyx had gone still and completely silent, Quincy had dared to come close enough to roll the girl onto her back with the end of her staff. Elmiryn looked ready to hold her now, but Hakeem blocked her, hands on her stomach, his face grave as he gave a negative shake of his head. Quincy sucked her teeth as she watched Elmiryn tense up at his intervention, then deflate, almost like a balloon. The relationship between the Fiamman and the Ailuran was not difficult for the wizard to understand. Though a bit too co-dependent for her personally, Quincy also saw how much one positively supported the other. There was an understanding between those two that not many shared. And dare she say it? Perhaps even she and Hakeem did not know such a bond.

Quincy felt those flames of jealousy flare again and she irritatedly huffed at them, trying vainly to put them out of her mind. She crouched, trying to focus her attention on Nyx before her, her staff held tight and ready, her weight shifted just so for perfect springing. She tried repeating her mantra for focus and calm but gave up after only two tries.

She wasn’t that cold person anymore. Golden Quincy was gone. Normal Quincy was back.

She still wasn’t sure which one she liked best.

Her eyes flickered to her husband for a brief moment as he drifted over to Gudahi’s corpse, his body moving with a heaviness that suggested grief and remorse.

Well, at least my observation skills haven’t gone, Quincy thought caustically. She was only half-serious. What truly bothered her was that she could see her husband’s pain.

In the brief time that they had spent with the Lycans, Quincy had found that Hakeem had made a connection with them. One he hadn’t had since his home village was destroyed as a boy. The therians lived simply, and were ruled by honor and brotherhood. He had made a friend in Gudahi. Perhaps even Sanuye. To see both of them die in so short a time by the hands of those in his company must have been one of the greatest of blows.

Not that Quincy disagreed with Elmiryn’s actions. Sanuye’s death was unfortunate, but the Lycans had let their emotions move them to recklessness. Her demise had been of her own making. And in Gudahi’s case? The wizard thought Elmiryn had tried rather well at getting the therian to stand down. Hakeem must have seen this, even if it hurt him to think so. All of these things, of course, were not the foremost of Quincy’s concerns. Oh no. That prize went to the Ailuran girl currently fighting a spiritual battle before her.

Quincy had considered killing Nyx while she was incapacitated. While she felt Gudahi’s death was unavoidable, that didn’t necessarily mean she didn’t see some of his points. What if the Ailuran couldn’t control the darkness inside her? What if it came back and that was all that was left? A quick blow to the head, full of electric shock, and that would have ended the matter right then and there.

But Quincy had made a promise. To Elmiryn.

Damn it all.

So here I sit, staring at a lit bomb as the fuse sizzles to its end. And what surprises will be in store for us? The wizard shook her head with a sigh. How do I end up in these situations?

The time ticked on.

The woman frowned at her left hand. I’m not getting as much power in my swings without a full grip in my left hand. Damned pugot, biting my fingers like that. I nearly lost my grip twirling my staff before…

Then Nyx started to move.

At once everyone was alert, Quincy, Elmiryn, and Hakeem standing in a wide circle around the girl.

“Get ready,” Quincy breathed.

“She might be okay!” Elmiryn snapped.

“We have to be sure,” Hakeem replied tightly.

Nyx’s hands placed themselves on the dirt and she raised herself with quivering arms. A groan slipped her lips and she raised her head.

Quincy took a step forward and lifted her staff up for a strike. Elmiryn took a step toward her as if to stop her.

The wizard locked gazes with the Ailuran.


It was Nyx speaking…and her eyes were normal.

Still not satisfied, the woman did not lower her staff. “How are you feeling, Nyx?”

“Where’s Elmiryn?” the girl mumbled, touching her head.

The redhead was at her side in an instant, her hands gripping Nyx’s shoulder’s tightly.

“I’m right here, kitten,” Elmiryn said, her voice quivering with excitement. “I’m right here!”

Nyx looked at her, then smiled drowsily. “Elle…” Her head lolled, and suddenly her features blurred. When her head raised again, her face had gone cat, her eyes now feline.

Elmiryn blinked at her. “Nyx?” She looked at Quincy, and Quincy gazed back at the warrior dubiously. Never in all her experience as a bounty hunter had the brunette ever encountered such a situation. She still wasn’t even sure Nyx was safe.

“Where…are we?” This time, the girl’s voice was different…deeper. Rougher.

“Kali?” Elmiryn asked uncertainly.

Nyx’s face blurred, and she was back again, her eyes fluttering. She sat up straighter and gripped her head with both hands. “I…am a little bilious, I’m afraid,” the girl said weakly.

Elmiryn raised an eyebrow. “Bilious?”

Nyx opened her mouth and her face shifted once more to that of a cat-like face. “Bilious,” Kali’s voice started. But she burped with what looked like a strong heave of her chest and ducked her head.

“It’s an adjective,” Hakeem continued, his features holding something of relief.

“It means affected with nausea,” Quincy finished, her eyes still narrowed at Nyx.

Elmiryn stared at them all, her eyes fluttering. “Oh…um…thanks?”

Nyx’s hand suddenly shot out and grabbed Elmiryn’s wrist. Quincy started forward to defend her when the girl suddenly leaned forward and threw up all over the dirt. Now feeling queasy herself, the wizard lowered her staff.

So much for the girl being a threat.

“Yep. She’s pretty bilious,” Elmiryn said as she patted Nyx’s back in sympathy.

Quincy just rolled her eyes.

Continue ReadingChapter 33.3

Chapter 34.1


Time was given for Nyx to recover.

…Or was it Kali?

Quincy watched, fascinated as the girl alternated between states almost like the ghosts had back at the dwarven settlement. One second, the Ailuran’s face was perfectly sapien, with round pupils, a round nose, and ears on the side of her head. With just a turn of her head, her features would smear, blending to suddenly become feline: slitted pupils, a small, pink, heart-shaped nose that trailed down to a slim split upper lip. Then of course there were those ears. They just managed to poke out of the girl’s mane of hair, but they were visible, and in Quincy’s opinion, they looked almost silly. Like the costumes she’d seen people don on during the Aesutian Festival.

The girl was naked and covered in filth, but she didn’t seem aware of it. Only of Elmiryn, who held her closely, murmuring to her as she stroked the girl’s hair. Nyx’s face was quite emotional–not surprising considering what she’d gone through. Kali, on the other hand, seemed remarkably placid, and when her countenance appeared in the flash-flash-flashings of the Twins’ faces, she fixed Elmiryn with a tepid look that was not hostile, nor particularly warm. The Fiamman didn’t seem overly concerned with her lover’s fluctuating states. In fact, she couldn’t stop grinning.

Quincy sighed melodramatically as she reached for her magic pouch. When she gave the warrior her scarf to use as a makeshift chest wrap, she didn’t think there was anything left to use. But perhaps there was something to cover the Ailuran with. An extra cloak or a tunic…heavens, even a tea cozy was better than nothing. It always irritated her how therians exposed themselves so regularly. It wasn’t a matter of shyness—Quincy had seen it all both as a bounty hunter and a wizard’s apprentice. It was more the lack of consideration that irked her. Fine if the beast people wished to parade their delicate bits through the wilds to each other. But when in the company of others, wasn’t that a bit much?

Quincy’s arm sunk deep into her magic pouch, and she scowled as she rummaged through the infinite space of contents.

“Blast it all…I need to organize this stupid thing,” she muttered.

“Look!” Hakeem exclaimed.

Elmiryn and Nyx/Kali looked up from their intimate reunion, and Quincy paused in her search to look to where her husband was pointing.

Leading off into the surrounding forest, they saw an aurora light up the sky–a phenomena the wizard had only seen in the most Northern of regions.

Quincy squinted her eyes and took a step closer, her arm slipping out of her pouch.

No wait, she thought. This light is different. It’s got oranges, blues, and greens in it. The movement of the pattern spirals and is shifting far too quickly. What could…?

The woman’s eyes widened.

“Get in the cave..” she whispered. With fumbling fingers she re-fastened her pouch to her belt.

Elmiryn stood instantly, raising Nyx/Kali with her.

“What is it?” the warrior demanded.

Hakeem, always never too far from her conclusions, turn and bolted for the cave, his little feet crushing bones and animal skulls.

“No time! Move!” he shouted.

Quincy followed him, and with a deft scoop of her lover, Elmiryn was quick on her heels. They made it just under the lip of the cave when a thunder reached them, so loud and strong that Quincy could feel it in her teeth. The ground lit up for a moment, and there was a high squeal in the air. The woman pulled Elmiryn back even further as the warrior watched in a stunned sort of fascination. They had to get farther back or—


A bright green curtain of light lanced through the ground like a cleaver. The earth cracked and split in an explosion of dust and rock. Everyone was thrown to the ground. For a moment, Quincy was afraid the cave would collapse on them, but it held. When the quaking ground quieted to a dull rumble, the woman dared to raise her head.

Her gut dropped.

Their little spit of land was floating away from the rest of the ground. She dared to stand to her feet and go to the edge of the cave and looked up to see that more chunks of earth were parting in a similar fashion.

“We’re floating away. The Manus Dei have vanished.”

“The what?” Elmiryn asked. Nyx/Kali was no longer in her arms. The warrior’s cerulean eyes took in everything, and that little wrinkle Quincy had learned meant genuine worry appeared on the redhead’s brow. “Quincy, what the fuck is happening?”

“Someone just cast a very powerful spell,” She replied with a sigh. “It’s a rare sorcerer’s spell. It requires deep training that allows the user to control elements at the most basic level. In this case, it’s sorcery based in the element of air and energy. It’s hard enough for a sorcerer to master one element, but to master two? I think I’ve only read of three people in history capable of something like this.”

“So this spell just cut us off from our way forward,” Elmiryn said slowly.

Quincy gave a stiff nod. “This was cast for a reason. Maybe the reason wasn’t us, but somehow I doubt that. Nyx was placed too conveniently for us to find. She was supposed to kill us, but perhaps the one orchestrating all of this didn’t count on Kali agreeing to go so far to help. So they went through with a back up plan.”

Elmiryn snorted. “Keep us stranded.”


Quincy’s eyes roved the islands below, above, and around them. When she spotted what looked like a castle keep on a hill overlooking a dense wood, the woman grabbed the warrior and pointed excitedly. “There!”

Elmiryn squinted and peered where the woman was pointing. The keep was just a level higher than they were, but it was the furthest from them than all the islands, and the harsh glare of the Other World’s nothing space made distinction a trial on the eyes.

Finally, the warrior seemed to spot it. “Yeah. Yeah! I see it!”

But then Elmiryn’s worry wrinkle appeared again. “I don’t know how to make wings yet.”

Quincy stared at Elmiryn as though she were insane. Which she probably was.

Giving a quick shake of her head, the wizard opted to skip on commenting and said instead, “I have a way we can get there.”

The warrior looked at her, one eyebrow raised. “Oh?”


“Fuck that.”

“It’s our only viable option right now!”

“The hell it is! If you guys would just give me a second, I could figure out how to sprout wings and–”

Tai’undu, Elmiryn! For the last time, you can’t just use your fae abilities whenever!”

“Why not!? It’s gotten me this far!”

“Like where? Stuck on this despondent little clod of dirt with your schizophrenic girlfriend, a bruised up face, and an itchy scarf for a shirt!?”

Bite me, Quincy.”

“Hey, need I remind you that I gave you that itchy scarf.”

“You want this stupid thing so badly? Fuck it. Here. You can have it back.”

Kwa upendo wa miungu, mkundu msgaji! Put it back on! I don’t want to see your sweaty tits! In fact, I’m not even sure I want this scarf back anymore, after you’ve soiled it.”

“Shove it up your ass. Nyx and I are not moving until we find a better plan.”

Quincy threw her hands up in the air. “FINE! Stay here and starve to death. Or wait until something comes and kills you! Even better!”

Elmiryn made a rude gesture with her middle finger and stormed off to sit with Nyx…or was it Kali? Either way, the Ailuran seemed to be still too weak and dazed to be of any considerable use in this situation.

Hakeem sighed. It was up to him.

Counting the amount of time it took to calm his wife down, the man-turned-boy walked up to his wife who stood glaring out of the mouth of the cave, her features partially lit by the non-light outside.

“She’s an idiot,” The woman snarled before he could even say anything.

“She’s stubborn,” The man-boy conceded.

He ran a hand over his shaved head and puckered his lips as he worded his next sentence.

“Elmiryn is a risk taker,” He finally decided to say.

Quincy snorted. “Reckless.”

The Fanaean nodded. “She’ll do anything if she thinks she might have a chance at succeeding, however slim the odds.”

“She gets a rush out of it.”

Hakeem looked up at his wife as he closed in on his point. “So why isn’t she taking this risk now?”

Quincy looked at him sharply, then glanced surreptitiously over her shoulder at Elmiryn. He did the same.

Elmiryn was kneeling before Nyx, holding her head between her hands, her eyes searching the girl’s face rapidly as the Ailuran’s features continued to shift and change. Her lips were moving imperceptibly, and both Nyx and Kali responded to her in equally quiet tones. The girl, the Twins he should say, looked weak. Beneath the dry blood and caked mud on their skin, they were deathly pale. Almost green. What had they gone through to get the beast under control? What had happened inside of them to lead to their sudden ability to both be in control simultaneously?

Quincy sighed. “That answer, Taika, is easy…” she muttered reluctantly. “She has an anchor that is keeping her frustratingly grounded for once.”

Hakeem nodded, satisfied. “So would the answer not lie in the anchor that keeps our friend from taking flight?”

His wife looked at him sidelong, then with a scowl and a wave of her hand, she said, “Be my guest.”

Hakeem reached over and gave a squeeze of her hand. Just before he turned to leave, he thought he saw Quincy’s lips turn up at the corners.

One minute, twelve seconds. Not bad.

The man-boy approached Elmiryn slowly. His heart still swirled with conflict over the warrior’s unflinching murder of Gudahi, his friend. But was it really murder? The woman had stood her ground, and she had warned them all to stay back. The Lycans weren’t accustomed to taking orders from outsiders, so their brash actions could be understood as a simple flaw in hierarchical thinking. To Gudahi, Sanuye was Alpha. The female Lycan had decided to attack, and Gudahi, with all of his well-masked pain and rage toward the beast that had harmed his people, eagerly followed.

It was all a tragedy no doubt.

But Hakeem put these things away. He began to focus on his counting again, and he felt a comfort among the facets of time.

“Elmiryn, may I speak to Nyx and Kali?” he asked.

The woman squinted up at him. “What for?”

But Nyx–it was her face this time–touched Elmiryn’s shoulder and gave a small nod. “Elle, it’s okay. I’ll be fine.”

The warrior almost looked like she doubted this, and the wizard feared she would take her stubbornness to a new level and refuse to go. Thankfully, however, Elmiryn stood and pointed toward the other side of the cave.

“I’m going to be right over there…okay you two?” With that, the woman walked away, sparing Hakeem a warning glare.

The man-boy only gave her a nod of thanks, and went to sit next to the Ailuran—her features showed Kali now. Her nakedness did not bother the man in the slightest, anymore than Elmiryn’s did. On the one hand, as a man (though trapped as he was in an adolescent body) he thought Nyx’s body appealing, even with all the blood and the mud caking her skin. But it was almost a mechanical response to beauty—and the girl, whether she knew it or not, had a very unique beauty to her. Beyond his appreciation, the mind felt no desire. Quincy was enough for him, and in his mind, he could see no one else as even remotely desirable.

As if his ease allowed the girl to remain relaxed, Nyx—who was now showing—did not make attempts to cover herself in any way. She simply gazed at him curiously and waited for him to speak.

He looked at her as he leaned fully back against the rocky wall. “Ikati. This may be a complicated question to answer, but how are you?”

The girl blinked, her face shifting a moment to feline before returning again in the blink of an eye. “I’m fine. We’re fine. I…I think.”

“The beast?”

Nyx bit her lip, then her features shifted and Kali appeared. The feline released her lip from her fangs and let her eyelids drop low. “It is taken care of,” she said in her customary rough voice.

Hakeem cocked his head to the side. “How so?”

Kali started. “The beast was just–”

But Nyx finished. “–Spiritual energy. The remnants of our animus that me and Kali did not control.”

“So what did you do with it?” Hakeem pressed. He had to be sure the threat was truly gone.

Nyx looked him in the eye, and suddenly her round pupils turned slitted.

“We tore the beast apart and weaved its energy into us,” Kali growled.

Hakeem’s eyes widened. “All that darkness? Wouldn’t it take you over?”

The feline shook her head. “You don’t understand…the monster you saw in the forest was not our darkness alone.”

This made him frown. “What do you mean?”

A shift. Nyx’s face appeared. “She means that when we saw that giant creature before, it was augmented by some other power. Magnified, you could even say.”

Hakeem’s frown eased. “So when we found you…”

“That augmentation had been removed. It was just me and the dark energy inside me.”

“That power must have come from somewhere. From Syria, perhaps? But why would she take away your added power? The beast was near invincible!”

Nyx’s face grew sad. “Because the monster could not speak. You’re right. It was Syria who gave my dark shard its extra power. But she took it away when it assimilated me because she wanted me coherent enough to harm Elmiryn.”

“She didn’t want you to just kill us. She wanted you to break us psychologically…destroy our group’s cohesion,” Hakeem said slowly.

Shift. Kali was back, and her angry face replaced Nyx’s look of remorse. “Yes. And that witch will pay! Her and the little one!”

Shift. Nyx shook her head, alarmed. “No! Not Lethia! It isn’t her fault!”

Shift. Kali snarled, her eyes narrowing. “She let this happen! She should be held accountable!”

Shift. Nyx, her face now contorted in frustration. “It isn’t that simple! What could she possibly have done!?”

Shift. Kali punched the ground. “More than let you sit sucking at dry bones for all this time!”

Hakeem grabbed the feline’s shoulder, and she looked at him sharply. He gazed back at her hard.

“Kali, be careful. I know you and Nyx have said that you have dealt with the beast, but its energy is a part of you now. All that rage and anger is now in your hearts. It is good that you can finally reconcile with it, but do not let it escape you. Either of you. Or we may again see its black ways return.”

Kali’s slitted gaze bored into him. Then she turned her eyes away and nodded stiffly.

Hakeem made a mental note: When it comes to eye contact, Ailurans behave similarly to Lycans. Fixed eye contact means challenge. Averting one’s gaze means to concede.Remember never to concede with Kali. Unlike Nyx, the feline persona is more apt to violence and should be kept from believing she’s in command.

Another shift and Nyx was back, looking at Hakeem with a grateful smile. Still, she held a wary glint in her eye. “Hakeem, you didn’t come to tell us that. What did you need?”

The man-boy crossed his arms and looked to the cave. “Ikati, you mentioned that Lethia was with Syria. Is she in that keep Quincy saw?”

Nyx nodded, her features flickering but remaining intact.

Hakeem continued, “You know as well as I do that the Manus Dei were summoned for a reason—to stop us, or at least, slow us down. Why do you think that is?”

“So that Syria could escape with Lethia?” Nyx said uncertainly.

He shook his head. “They must have a quick exit that wouldn’t require all of this. Think. What reason would Syria need to have lots of time for.”

Nyx thought hard, and when her features flickered to Kali’s, the man-boy saw the feline thinking hard on this too.

“Syria is trying to slow us down…because she’s trying to cast another spell?” Kali tried slowly.

Hakeem nodded. “Yes. Syria must be casting something—something that would require a long ritual that cannot be interrupted.”

“And anything she wants to cast would be bad for us, right?” Kali said, scowling.


“You humans and your…” but the feline’s grumble was cut off as Nyx shifted into view.

“Hakeem…” she said slowly. Her tawny eyes looked over him carefully, their lids low. “You want me to convince Elmiryn to go through with Quincy’s plan don’t you?”

The man-boy nodded. “Time is of the essence, and whatever reality-bending trick Elmiryn has up her sleeve won’t come quickly enough for us to stop Syria. We are so closeIkati. If we defeat Syria, we can go home, and then this whole nightmare will be over.”

“We might go home,” the girl said shrewdly, her eyes narrowing. “And there’s still the matter of Paulo—I know he’s a prat, but he doesn’t deserve to be left in this dimension.”

Hakeem held up a pacifying hand. “Okay. You’re correct. There are still important things to deal with, and Syria may not be our answer. But what better leads have you to go on at the moment?”

Nyx frowned and looked down at her crossed legs. Her features shifted now and again. Hakeem counted the time.


Nyx sighed. “I don’t like Quincy’s plan anymore than Elmiryn does, but I see your point.”

Hakeem smiled. “I’m glad you do.”

“But tell me something first.”

The wizard’s smile turned bemused. “All right. What would you like me to tell you?”

“What does ikati mean?”

Hakeem laughed, a full genuine sound. It surprised him, but pleasantly so. Still chuckling, he stood. He looked down at Nyx–Kali–The Twins, and they both pouted up at him.

“In my language,” Hakeem chuckled. “It means, ‘cat’.”

The Twins’ expressions lightened.

“Oh!” One of them said. He didn’t know who, as their faces had been in mid-shift when they spoke.

Hakeem walked away to stand at Quincy’s side again. Elmiryn passed him, sparing him a curious glance as she went to rejoin Nyx.

He couldn’t stop grinning. ‘Cat’ wasn’t the literal translation for the word, but he figured the Twins would not appreciate his new nickname for them.

Because in Fanaean, what ikati really meant was, “silly puss.”

Continue ReadingChapter 34.1

Break Time: Pain Chasing Agony…

Life had become quiet in the Author’s mind.

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

And in turn, she made Quincy grumpy as hell.

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

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

“You know who…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thwip, thwip, thwip…

“I know what it’s like.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The smirk faded. “Can’t. Status quo.”

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

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

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

Another stretch of silence.



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

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

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

“He’s not fat, he’s a Scottish Fold!”

“What the hell is a Scottish Fold?”

“It’s a cat pure breed!”

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

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

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

She nearly missed, she was laughing so hard.

Continue ReadingBreak Time: Pain Chasing Agony…