“With your feet in the air and your head on the ground
Try this trick and spin it, yeah
Your head will collapse
But there’s nothing in it
And you’ll ask yourself–
Where is my mind…?
Where is my mind…?
Where is my mind…?”1
I find it frustrating to say, that possibly the most incredible moments ever experienced in my life can either be condensed into a single sentence starting with something as transpicuous as, “I’m on a quest,” to sudden effulgent bursts of power, barely lasting a blink of an eye. The saddest part was that the true nature of this brilliant display was concealed in the poor scope of my perception–just a hot burn in my memory that left me rattled, but no more the wiser.
It’s a good thing I’m not a scribe. Describing that would be horrid…
But as it happens, I can at least talk about the ripples of this astounding moment–for its effects were great, as others would attest.
My head snapped up when it happened, my sixth sense tickling again, but there was no true warning for what came next. A great flash blinded me, and I held up my hand, wincing as the fierce glow lanced through my sight. I heard shouting from the others, felt heat roll over me as some great release of energy spread over the area. Dust kicked up and stung my hand and face.
When I opened my eyes again, I still suffered from poor sight. Blinking, I waited for my vision to clear. In the white haze, I saw Elmiryn down, one arm up to shield her eyes, her iron sword stuck in the ground near Arduino’s chest. The man, too, looked out of it, and gave a vigorous shake of the head as he squeezed his eyes shut.
By this time I could see well enough to take note that someone completely new had entered into our little scuffle. I shifted into a crouch, legs curled beneath me, my teeth bared and my eyes wide. The nature of this person immediately told me they were different from the Moretti brothers. The warm-toned men were not spell casters of any sort–just human beings who made do with their skills.
But not this person.
She was a woman, wearing a gray hooded cloak, who stood with Lethia held close to her body–a luminescent glow all about her that made my eyes water to look at. A long golden lock of hair came down from the shadow of her hood–and it struck me as bizarre, because the ends were a darker honey that lightened to a brighter yellow as it went up. She held what looked like a gilded blade to Lethia’s throat. The youth stood frozen, her eyes staring glassy toward the sky like she couldn’t see anything at all.
Graz was on the ground behind them both, his arms over his head and his rapier lost a few yards from him. Arduino sat up and blinked his eyes open. When he made sense of what was before him, his face grew red and a vein appeared in his forehead. “Quincy!” he roared, struggling to his feet. He slashed his weapon to the side in a violent sweep, spit flying from his mouth. “Dist’agea, ya! You haven’t got the claim for this!”
The figure looked at him, then smirked faintly. “Arduino. That’s unkind of you to say. Didn’t I save your life, once?”
He pointed his rapier her way in answer. “You are a foul vulture! I should’ve killed you last time!”
“But you didn’t,” the woman returned. She jerked her sword against Lethia’s neck, forcing the girl to tilt her head back. “Drop the rapier,” She murmured into the youth’s ear.
Lethia did as she was told. I could see how she strained to look into the woman’s face–but perhaps her strange ability required direct line of sight, or perfect vision. The woman did not buckle or seize up. Instead, she turned her head just enough for me to guess she was looking my way.
“You. Ailuran. Bring the girl’s things.”
I didn’t move right away. I sat shivering and my eyes shifted to Elmiryn, who had moved into a crouch like me, her eyes turned to slits. Her lips moved, as though she were speaking to herself, but I could not make out what she said. Graz finally sat up, and even managed to draw and aim his pistol, but his mouth was open, and I could see the open fear on his face. Argos growled and started to move, his limbs shifting, but I held him down.
“Shh…” I whispered, stroking his fur. “Shh…Argos, no.”
“You have no right.” Arduino took a small step forward, but stopped just far enough away for me to see that he was maintaining a certain distance for a reason. His face glistened, and though his arm had turned steady, his eyes gave him away. “You haven’t got the claim, lia. We do.”
The woman didn’t even turn her head. “Belcliff’s marshal was fed up waiting for you. He put out a bulletin every which way he could, asking for all available mercenaries in the area to find Syria’s apprentice. The claim is no longer closed. You took far too long.”
Arduino’s arm lowered a degree. He blinked at her. “He…de quoi?”
“Elwe nuoa, oliano me’cher solimein. ‘The way of the starved, is the poor butcher’s plight.’ If it were not me, it would have been someone else.” The woman pressed her blade up, eliciting a choked gasp from Lethia. “You and your family haven’t been at your best for a long time, Arduino. I’m sorry. But this is how it has to be.”
Paulo began to stir. He rasped and stretched out his arms, his eyes blinking as he shifted onto his belly. He pushed himself onto his knees and gaped, face half covered in dirt. “…Quincy?” His hand went to his hip only to find his rapier gone. His watery eyes next shifted to his oldest brother. “Ard…wh-wh-what’s happened?”
“Bring me her things, Ailuran.” The woman insisted, her soft, flat tone, turning hard.
I jumped into action, ignoring Paulo for the moment to keep my eyes on the one the Morettis called, ‘Quincy’. I reached for Lethia’s large pack and her lenses, and put her glasses between my teeth. The bag was so large I needed two hands to hold it. Shaking, I stood and stepped over Argos’ panting body. The dog whined, but I did not glance at him.
As I came forward, the heat seemed to roll over me in thick waves, and I felt my hairs stand on end–not from fear or anxiety–but because something MADE them. I stopped feet away from them, alarmed at what I felt. I doubted how safe it was to venture closer, so I held out Lethia’s things as far as I could.
“Take your belongings,” Quincy said to the girl. Her voice was devoid of any passion–like this was all routine somehow. When Lethia took her things from my hands, they curled to fists and fell limp at my sides. I took one step back.
“Put on your glasses,” The woman ordered next.
Lethia did so. Her nostrils flared and I saw her throat swallow. The woman turned to me and looked me up and down. “Take another step back, you.”
I did so, taking one large step. I didn’t care to stand so close to the woman–the energy that rolled off of her made me feel overwhelmed.
Quincy turned to Arduino. “You were in over your head. A purist like you would never have managed a bounty like this. Perhaps you should stick to monster extermination?”
“Bitch…This isn’t over!” The man seethed. I noticed he made no attempt to get close to her either.
The woman shrugged. “Then I’ll see you at Belcliff. But even if you take one of your shortcuts–do you think you’ll even arrive in time to see the girl die with her mistress?”
Then the heat in the air, that dampened all brows and made slush of our thoughts, retreated in a sudden void of space that was quickly filled with cold. My body broke out in goosebumps, but the energy that I could feel buzzing about me was gone. The area around us…darkened. I do not know how else to describe it. It were as if the three suns dimmed, and the shadows became darker. Then I cried out, and my eyes widened–though they screamed to do so–for Quincy and Lethia had become brighter. Their forms turned pale, all color and definition leaving them. I saw Lethia struggle, her mouth opening for a scream as though she were in extreme agony.
I pushed forward, my hand held out–and I could feel my flesh burst, feel the blisters and the layers peel away as I tried to get close…
Then the light about them flared. I was stunned, and crashed down into the dirt. All around us was silence. Then my vision turned dark, and I felt as though I were being pulled backward–to a place as frigid as ice. For a moment, I felt coherence slip through my teeth, and my memories felt as though they were bleeding from my pores. Aidan’s face, roaring water, Elmiryn in the rain…
Rock. Cool, smooth rock that pulsed now and again with grotesque phantoms–skeletons, bodies without skin, beings caught between animal and sapien forms. I was lying on the ground, and I shifted to look up at the sky to find it was a gray and black swill that churned as the fear pulsed within me. I pushed myself to my feet. I felt weightless–immaterial. Then I heard something echo from afar.
“Damn it…DAMN IT!” Arduino shouting.
“Nyx!” Elmiryn. The fear wasn’t immediately apparent, but the tenseness in her voice gave her away. I recalled the time she killed the deer and wanted to assure her I was fine–even though I doubted the veracity of such a statement.
“Look at her hand! Is she still alive?” Paulo, confused.
“She’s a therian, brother.” Graz now. His smooth and upbeat tone was deflated. “She’ll heal. Any moment now.”
My right hand… felt as though it had been skinned, then boiled. I looked down at it, and my face pulled in horror at the charred flesh–the bits that hung loose from apparently being fried back by some force. I could feel the pain, but in that place, wherever it was, I was able to resume thought beyond it. I tried to reason why this was and felt myself separated from the necessary tools of knowledge. It was like reaching for something with eyes closed, and having your hand dip into something that made you numb.
Then the answer came to me in a low rumble.
“See why I should handle dangerous situations?” It was Her.
She sat yards away, content in the image of a great panther-like beast with a short and scruffy mane–a pathetic resemblance to my hair. I glared at her, my inhuman hand curling to a claw. The pieces fell together.
She had slithered out of her home, to drag me behind the invisible line that dictated control of our physical body. It explained why I was aware of my physical pain, but not controlled by it.
“Yes that’s right,” She grumbled in a surly tone. “The one sense we share is the sense of touch, and whenever you hurt, I hurt. Have you forgotten so soon? It wasn’t long ago when you were trapped in this head instead of me.” My feline counterpart bared her fangs–stark white teeth against black fur. Her tail lashed and her slitted eyes narrowed. My twin spat at me slinking forward, and this time I saw her mouth move as she spoke. It was physically impossible for her to speak like a sapien creature, but in this place…she made it so.
“You can’t handle anything.” She snapped. “At least when I was in control, I kept us safe–”
I stepped back as she neared, but as I did so, I felt my form tense, felt myself become heavier. I gasped and my knees buckled beneath me. My vision rippled, and for a moment, I thought I could see pairs of boots standing around me, with one tanned hand cradling my face…
I pushed this away. The pain in my hand–it was pulling me as though a hook were fixed into it. I could feel it tugging, begging me to wake.
“N-Nevermind…that now!” I struggled to rasp. The pain did not become greater…but the words were harder to pull together. I felt myself fighting to keep focus.
“Ey…is she talking?” Graz.
“She’s a therian right? Why isn’t she–?”
“I said shut up!” Elmiryn snapped.
I swallowed, and this simultaneously made me feel like throwing up. The pain pressed in more as I tried to remain sitting up long enough to stare into Her eyes. She stopped mere inches away, and her breath was hot against my face. “Wh-Why are you…keep…keeping me–US–from…healing?” I gasped.
My twin licked her chops, and her tail stilled. She let out a great exhale. “That’s the thing…I’m not.”
“Nyx…” I could feel Elmiryn’s hand at my back. The heavy chains of physical existence grew tighter about me, and I felt my form become fuzzy in my agony. “Hey…Nyx?”
I stared at Her as I vainly tried to cradle my hand to my chest in an effort to stop the pain. “You….You aren’t trying to stop me?”
The creature’s lip curled in an uncharacteristically sapien show of emotion, as her ears fell flat against her head. “Why in the nine hells would I want to do that?”
I swallowed again, instinctively this time. I felt myself fade, then return, and I swooned when this happened. It wasn’t fun shifting back and forth between the real world and…wherever this was. “You…h-have an…idea? Of how to fix this? Doesn’t this drive you insane?” I gasped out.
“Idea? What idea? Nyx?” Elmiryn–she was pulling me into her arms.
I hissed and literally fought from being pulled back into complete consciousness.
My Twin placed a paw on my arm. This anchored me, and I looked at her with hooded eyes. She was smiling a little, I could tell. “Remember what happened before, when something put my eye in your head?” She purred.
My eyes narrowed. “Yes…”
“I think I know how to control it…but you have to let me through.”
I jerked back. “Why should I!?”
“Because you rejected the ability to regenerate, and now it’s come entirely in my realm of…’existence’.”
“I didn’t reject anything!”
“…Are you sure?”
“Nyx!” Elmiryn, calling to me.
I gripped my head in my hand and turned my face away. “…I couldn’t have done that…I don’t have that choice…”
My Twin let out a sharp scream that made me cringe away from her. “Then what do you call what happened between us!?”
My eyes widened, but it felt as though I had just opened them. Suddenly the black, ghost-like world was gone–SHE was gone. I was once again caught under the full weight of life, the pain that was my immediate reality, now my master. I screamed and held up my hand, tears leaking from my eyes as I writhed in Elmiryn’s arms. The woman was knelt on the ground, with her arms around my upper back in an uncomfortable embrace that likely came about from urgency and confusion.
When I started to really thrash and howl, however, the woman lowered me closer to the ground and took to caressing my hair. “Come on, Nyx. Relax. Relax. It’ll happen. Watch. Your hand will heal and the pain will be gone…”
But it wouldn’t. I stared at my hand, and the disgusting, gut-pulling sight was enough to send me into another fit of wails, never mind the terrible pain. The Moretti brothers were still there, as I distantly noted by the way they stared in silent awe at the display before them. My eyes turned to Elmiryn, whose stony face failed to meet the fear in her eyes. My gaze shifted to the sky and how blue it was.
Then I felt her pacing along the unseen line, panting, and I knew what to do.
I closed my eyes and relaxed my hand. I fought through the pain to bring all focus to its existence. I wanted Her to have a clear path to enter from…but not to anything else. She hesitated a moment, as though she didn’t trust this sudden surrender, then she sprinted forward, and I felt my arm shiver.
I was brought from one agony to another. I felt the muscles of my forearm pull, felt the bones twist, felt the cartilage shift, and my skin tickle as fur grew thick over the surface. It lasted less than a minute, as it wasn’t a full transformation, but it felt like ages still.
My eyes opened–I hadn’t even realized I had closed them. I sat up, and Elmiryn pulled away a little to give me room to do so. I turned and looked at my hand. It flexed and raised itself, uncertain at first, before it turned open-palmed. My face turned somber.
I couldn’t feel it–after all, it wasn’t mine anymore–but at least…I knew that my arm, my sapien arm, would come back to me, healed. But when would I get my arm back?
Elmiryn let out a sigh, and smiled at me. “That…was really weird, Nyx.”
I looked at her, my eyebrow quirking upward at this banal remark. “It’s Her arm. Not mine.” At this, She let her arm rest in my lap…already, I could see the potential for this to get confusing.
“Why didn’t you heal?”
“…She says it’s because it’s Hers now. That ability.”
“When the hell did that happen?”
I shrugged, feeling exhausted. “Maybe when my senses dulled to that of a humans? …Or I don’t know. Is this what humans sense?” I gave her a quizzical squint.
Elmiryn frowned at me, though she still had a small grin on her lips. “Nyx…uh…” She paused to suck at her teeth, then glanced to her left, where the Moretti Brothers had gathered, once again armed in full–Paulo having to borrow his brother Graz’s sword. The warrior glanced back at me with an exasperated sigh. “Look, we need to talk about this…but later.”
The woman stood, swinging her blade up. She smiled.
‘Where Is My Mind?’ by The Pixies, from the album ‘Surfer Rosa’. 4AD, 1988. [↩]