Chapter 16.3


When Elmiryn and Hakeem came near with the bodies of the daesce, I was able to withstand the scent of blood rather well.  I could feel Her peeking through my eyes, her presence pulsing with tension as she sought to decide for herself whether there was a threat.  She saw the creatures were dead, and relaxed a degree–pressing less on my spirit–but her tension was still present, for now she knew what the monsters looked and smelled like, and she would not be at ease until the whole affair was done.  Not that I could blame her.

The real difficulty came when all of the corpses were brought into the sphere of our camp and skinned.  Graziano worked with Elmiryn to make the work quick.

“Even if it is sloppy, just get the skin free.  We don’t have time to be perfectionists,” The Moretti said.

The sound of the flesh being torn was so wet and…and…disgusting.  Red stained the snow, blossoming like deadly flowers in the winking light.  My skin started to burn, and I clutched my stomach as it did flips.  Lethia reached out to me, but I just jerked away, shaking my head.  The act made me feel…less.  Less of a rational being.  More of a beast.  The girl was trying to extend her compassion, but my ire was on the rise, and I could not accept such gestures.  It seemed the temporary peace I had made with my Twin had brought back some of less admirable qualities along with my strengths.

“N-No,” I managed to bite out at the girl, who looked hurt.  I turned my back to her and stepped toward the edge of our camp.  The shadows would conceal the true extent of my discomfort.  “Just…Just leave me be.  It’s the blood.  It…puts…puts me on edge!”  But even the little distance I traveled left me missing the fire’s warmth.  I wrapped my arms around myself and tried to focus on the darkness.  Near the tower, the daesce seemed to be stirred into a frenzy.  Did they know their fellows were gone?  Would our ruse even work?  I gripped my head with my fingertips biting into my scalp.  If I could’ve, I would have ripped such thoughts away.  But they crawled and cackled, stirring both myself and my sister onto the brink of hysterics.  I tried to deepen my breathing.

I could feel Her claws in my soul, cutting me, I could hear her growl, sense the anxiety that fueled her.

“Lia,” I heard Graziano ask behind me.  “You won’t…change, will you?”

I didn’t answer him.  Couldn’t.  My mouth opened only to let out a sharp exhale.  Only fifteen minutes had gone by since they had started skinning the daesce.  Were they nearly done?  I couldn’t even turn to look, for fear of what the sight would do to me.


That was Elmiryn’s voice.  I turned my head slightly, my hands sliding down to cup my cheeks.

“Impossible to defeat,” she said.

I turned around all the way, my eyes lighting onto the scene that I had been struggling to ignore.  Two daesce were skinned already, their coats lying near the fire, crimson side up.  Graziano was busy on the last daesce.  Elmiryn, crouched near Paulo’s scultone, finished wiping her weapons and gave the draconic beast a pat on the head.  The creature’s head lifted, white eyes following her as she came my way, its nostrils flaring to take in her scent.  I blinked at her as I saw her shadowed smile.

“That’s what you are, Nyx.  Indomitable.” she murmured to me, as she came within feet of my person.  The campfire turned her body into a silhouette.  “Don’t you forget.”

“You’re just trying to make me feel better.”  I gulped and looked down at the boots she made me.  I gave my toes a wiggle.  Feeling was returning to me–the nice thing about regenerative abilities was that it worked fast.  “I don’t feel that way.  Especially not now.  I feel…like I’m going to break apart.  Everything in me is pulling.”

“Is it your Twin?  Can you speak with her?”

“She’s on edge.  It’s like she’s forgotten the words she’s learned.  I mean, for all her intelligence, there’s still that side of her.  The idea of those monsters and all that blood it just–” I cut myself off, feeling a lump rise in my throat.  My joints were outright hurting now.

I started to let myself drop down into a crouch, for the effort of keeping upright was turning painful, especially in my spine, but Elmiryn caught me in a hug before I could go far.  I gasped a bit, before the folds of her clothes muted me.  Her arms were about my head and shoulders so that my face pressed into her chest.  My knees were half bent, and I know the woman was holding most of my weight.  I breathed in sharply, hands raising in the air as I made out what just happened.  Then I let them rest gingerly on her hips, and breathed in again…slower.  Elmiryn still smelled like the forests.  A tightness in my throat lessened and I straightened so that my head came up from the woman’s chest (a fact that had my face turn hot) and my cheek was pressed against her collarbone.

The woman’s voice was a warm echo in my head.  “Then I’ll just hold you together, alright?”  She gave my shoulders a shake.  “I’m right here.  I’ll be with you all the way.”

I nodded, my eyes misting.  My body was still aching, but I took a deep breath and steeled myself.  My Twin paused in her pacing to lift her head, waiting.  Listening.

“Are going to be okay?  Wearing the skin?  You should probably take off your mother’s gambeson.  The blood will stain it badly.”  Then the woman laughed.  “But the funny thing?  You won’t be cold.  Those daesce skins are thick and the blood is still–”

I bunched beneath Elmiryn’s touch.  My Twin snarled.  The woman stopped herself short as I lifted my head to glare at her.  She looked at me, chagrined.

“Ah.  That…was pretty fucking tactless, wasn’t it?” She said with a crooked smile.

I tried to keep my stern expression, but in truth, Elmiryn’s sincere gaff and the look on her face was enough to make me laugh, if a bit nervously.  I took a shaky step back from her, missing her warmth but knowing I couldn’t cling to her always.  And that scent…of fresh soil and morning dew.  Tree sap and oil.  Elmiryn filled my senses, and I focused on these things.  The daesce skins were still apparent to me, but now, I didn’t feel alone in my struggle.

“Oye, Choi.  Appor un rami ayí.”  Graziano pointed to where Paulo had retrieved the branches from before.  The boy went trudging off, and I saw Graziano rubbing snow over his hands to wash away the blood.  “Elmiryn,” he called.

The woman turned her head, hands on her hips.  “Yeah?”

“Do you think putting salt on these hides will help absorb the fluid?”

“I know what you’re thinking,” Hakeem said from his place at the corner of the rock.  He stood apart from the group and up until then had been on the lookout for any incoming danger.  “Sprinkling the purest salt on these hides will do nothing for us now.  Those hides are freshly skinned.  The salt would need atleast three days to absorb the blood and fluids, and even then, you need atleast two and a half pounds for each hide.  Have you got that much salt lying around, Graziano?”

The Moretti glared at the wizard, but said nothing.

Elmiryn shrugged.  “You sent Paulo to get sticks, right?  Look, we’ll just hold the hides over the fire for a while each.  You said the hides didn’t need to be perfect, so who cares if they get a bit singed.”

Graziano scratched his head, looking frustrated.  “But we’d have to hold each of them over the fire for atleast half an hour each!  That’s precious time lost!”

“You think it matters that we have lots of time to go running around in Holzoff’s Tower?  What we need to be is efficient and fast.  So long as the suns aren’t over that horizon, we’ll be fine.  But we won’t be fine if we can’t reach the tower at all, and the smell of those hides increases the chance of this whole plan being shot down at the start.  Taking some time off to try and prevent that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.”

“I agree,” Hakeem said with a nod.

“Okay.”  Graziano shrugged and scratched the back of his neck.  “Ahuh, okay.”

Paulo returned with the branches.  They weren’t especially thick, so someone still had to hold part of the hide with one hand, but the heat and the wind still did something to dry up the blood and fluids.  They were still damp in their centers, and the blood and grease congealed together in a slimy gush, but it wasn’t as bad as before.

Elmiryn handed Lethia the smallest hide, and me the second-largest.  She took the largest for herself.  Me and the enchantress exchanged looks of disgust.  The hides smelled terrible.

“Take off whatever you don’t want to get ruined,” Elmiryn said as she draped the hide over her shoulders with little pause.  She took something up from the ground–a vial filled with yellow liquid.  She uncorked it and splashed some of it on her hands.  I could smell it from where I stood, and my stomach gave a nasty pull.

“Oh, Elmiryn, no!” I protested, but it was too late.

The warrior spread the liquid on her hands, then began spreading it all over.  I felt ill as she finished and held the vial out to me.  “Here, put this on.  One of the daesce had a full bladder and I managed to save some of the urine.  It’ll help mask our scent more.”

I took the bottle gingerly but didn’t do anything.  I saw Lethia retch next to me.

“I advise doing it,” Hakeem said behind us.  We all turned to look at him.  The man, now that his work was done for the moment, looked at us all with a deep frown.  “You’ll be delving deeper into the daesce’s territory.  Argos and myself only managed to survive because we didn’t stray beyond the outskirts.  There’ll be many more daesce closer to the tower.  More of them, and bigger too.  That’s because the tower provides the best food source for the monsters, and so the stronger ones are naturally found there.”

“And what happens if we’re discovered?  Will you help us?”  Lethia asked, her brow wrinkling.

Hakeem looked at her with stony eyes.  “I cannot help you, as I’m not going with you.  Your plan does not allow for it.  My only suggestion should defeat seem inevitable is to kill yourself and hope that the daesce do not violate your corpse.”

The girl flinched as though the man had struck her.  Her lips turned white as she pressed them together, and she stared at the hide in her hands.  The wizard’s words were harsh…but true.  Still I resented his insensitivity.  Lethia wasn’t a warrior, just a girl loyal to her mistress.  If he cared so little of our affairs it seemed much more considerate to keep quiet–he was supposed to be under chains after all.  I still didn’t understand what he was doing free.  The only conclusion I could draw was that Elmiryn must have struck some sort of deal with the wizard, for Graziano’s dislike of the man made it unlikely that he was Hakeem’s liberator.  And what of Arduino?  Where was he if the prisoner he was watching was with us? But I had no time to stew on such things.

I sighed, and with one hand draped the hide over me.  I had already removed my gambeson and I didn’t care much what happened to the tunic–it was too big for me anyway.  Next, I stared at the vial in my hands.

Grimacing, I splashed some of the daesce urine onto my right palm, just as Elmiryn did, and proceeded to apply it all over.  I avoided my face, however.  The smell was enough to make my throat and body muscles tight again, I wasn’t going to smother myself with it.  I turned to Lethia, who stood quiet near the fire.

“Here,” I said, taking her hand.  “Remember…this is for Syria.”

“…For…For Syria,” Lethia repeated in a small voice.  She looked sick as I pulled the animal hide over her, and I was sorry to muss her pretty hair with something so foul.  The girl gingerly went on to apply the liquid.

As she did this, Elmiryn turned to me.  “Okay, Nyx.  It’ll be our job to make sure Lethia stays safe until she finds a guard.  Then maybe she can borrow some of that man’s fighting skills along with his knowledge of the tower.  I’m going to need you to stay tough for me.  Can you do that?”

I nodded once with a stiff neck.

The warrior smiled.  “Good.  Any locked doors we face too, we’ll need you to handle.”

“Has she got any lockpicks?” Graziano asked.

I shook my head and held up my hand.  “No.  My Twin and I have all we need.  If there is anything my claws can’t handle, then a lockpick wouldn’t do any better.”

The man nodded, though he gave me a frown at the mention of my Twin.

Elmiryn drew her sword and looked at Hakeem and the Morettis.  “And what will you three do while we’re in there?”

Paulo scratched at his ear.  He was leaning back against the side of his scultone, and he looked half-awake.  “S’there anything we can do?”

“I suppose all we can do is keep a lookout for incoming threats, and just be ready for a quick getaway,” Graziano said with a shrug.  “Then there’s…” his voice trailed away, and he looked Hakeem’s way with narrowed eyes.  “Hakeem.  My brother.  What did you do to him?”

The man sighed as though he’d been hoping to avoid this.  He closed his eyes and shook his head.  “Your brother is unharmed, Graziano.  But…”

“But what, calgato?  What did you do!?

The wizard glared at him.  “I did nothing.  It was Arduino’s choice to go.  He abandoned me up on that mountain, and if it weren’t for the enchantress’ dog, I’d still be up there.  Freezing to death.”

“That makes no sense, why would my brother–?”

“Are you calling me a liar, Graziano Moretti.”

“I call you that and more!”

“If Argos was there,” Lethia said loudly, stopping all voices.  Her look of discomfort beneath the shadow of the animal hide had not left her, but her green eyes flashed with something I couldn’t name.  “Then he will tell me the truth.  If he freed Hakeem, then surely he had a reason!”

“Then go on, Lethia.  Ask Argos.” Elmiryn said, gesturing at the dog.  “But hurry up.  Fuck, I can’t believe that the matter is being brought up now, at such a critical time!  You didn’t care before!” she added to Graziano.

“I was completely thrown off by everything!  I didn’t think to ask!” he returned.

“You didn’t think to ask about your brother?

“Neither did you!”

“Why would I–?” But Elmiryn stopped herself, raising both hands.  Her smile was fixed and I knew it was just a degree away from a snarl.  “Never mind.  Forget it.”

Lethia ignored the exchange and went to Argos, who yawned from his place next to the fire.  The girl took the dog’s heads gently into her hands and gazed into his eyes.  “Argos, is what Hakeem saying true?  Did Arduino leave you both up there on his own?”  The dog grumbled, licking his chops.  Lethia blinked.  “But…did he say why?

Argos shook his head and looked at Graziano with drawn back ears.  He whimpered a little from the back of his throat.  Lethia looked at the man too, and the Moretti in question coiled up beneath their gaze.

“Well,” he breathed.  “What did the…dog tell you?”

Lethia bit her lip and looked down at the snow.  “Argos says that Arduino abandoned us all.  Hakeem never did anything to harm the man.  He threatened Argos when he tried to stop your brother from going, and he looked really scared…he…he isn’t completely sure, but it seems like he’s betrayed our trust.”

Graziano shook his head, his face bunching.  “No…there must be some explanation for it.”

“He’s scared for his family,” Elmiryn said with an impatient sigh.  “He never was keen on this whole plan of ours.  I’m not surprised he’s done this.”

“Arduino is a good man!” Graziano snapped.

The woman gazed at him coolly.  “Arduino is a coward who’s content to give up without considering what that would mean for others.  For you and Paulo.  If you believe in him so much, then by all means, keep your flame of hope alive.  But Argos has no reason to lie to you when he says that Arduino still lives and that the wizard did nothing to force his departure, so don’t go stirring up trouble with Hakeem unless you want to jeopardize all our lives!”

Graziano looked like he wanted to argue, but he only let out a frustrated growl and turned his back to us.  The strain of this adventure was plain to see in the young man.  When we had first met him, Graz had seemed upbeat and carefree.  Now he looked so tired and had none of the jovial attitude that made me enjoy his company.  He was becoming more like his older brother with each passing minute.

Elmiryn shouldered her sword.  “Now that that’s finally taken care of, I believe we have an enchantress to save?”


A valley?  A ridge?  A tear in the earth, or a blasted hole, one where the snow turned to fire and the wind was a fang on our sensibilities?  I admit, that aside from Syria I didn’t know much of the Albias region.  I was much more fond of reading about Elven and Dwarven culture, and of distant lands where the world was emerald and the earth turned livid to swallow those that tread on it.  But how could any book or scroll possibly describe the way the snow turned…to rust? Gray bones could be found scattered in crooks between the rocks, and sometimes half-buried in the snow. I knew my eyesight was back to its original caliber when I could see the stains on the cragged rocks that bore us down into the black world.  Then there were the noises, curling like claws from the shadows to cut me.  Howls, and shrieks, and cackles.  Hoots and bellows that held a twinge of sentient likeness–like there was some barbaric thought behind the otherwise chaotic din.  Sometimes I’d hear the sprinkling of snow, like a foot had kicked up a little in movement, but when I went to look there was never anything there.  None of the shadows seemed to want to sit still, either.  I was certain that the black impression of a rock became smaller the second time I looked.

I knew I’d go mad if  I stayed there any longer.

My Twin seemed to be find it hard not to panic at every given moment, causing jolts of pain through my head and chest.  But I could feel her thoughts, feel her sentiments.  She was aware that shifting could make us known to the daesce, and leave us vulnerable.  Still, her eyes burned the back of my retinas in their intensity, for she fought to clear the foggy lens with which she saw the world.  She wanted to know what was going on.  She growled at me, only with a hint of hostility.  My Twin resented this venture, but the action was a request for caution.

However cautious one could be, delving into Hell itself.

Even in the dark, Elmiryn, Lethia, and I could make out the place of Hakeem and Argos’ struggle when we passed it.  The man was right.  He didn’t have to go so far to find his monsters.  I thought of what he said–about the weaker daesce being banished to the outskirts of this terrain, how the stronger ones could be found closer to the tower, and I nearly stopped and turned around.  Lethia had started hiccuping, her body trembling so bad now that the fur of the daesce hide nearly slipped off at one point.

Elmiryn snapped at her.

“Get a grip!” I heard her hiss.

Lethia put her hands on her face, trying to smother her hiccups, but I was certain she was crying too.  The warrior sighed and took the girl by her shoulders.

“Hey…listen.  I know you’re scared.  Don’t worry, no matter what happens, we’ll be okay…alright?”  Elmiryn, her face shadowed beneath the lip of the animal hide, patted the girl’s cheek.  I found the scene to be strange.  It wasn’t that I thought the woman was incapable of being kind or comforting–but there was a sisterly sense to her behavior that I knew to be absent in all the times Elmiryn had ever tried to comfort me.  It was a nice thing to see, in all this ugliness.

Lethia gave a strong nod as Elmiryn pulled away.  I couldn’t see her face either, and her hiccups were still present, but I could hear the girl take deep breaths in an effort to suppress them.

From Hakeem’s spot (now serving as my landmark) we must’ve traveled some hundred meters in.  I couldn’t even tell where our camp was anymore, the way we dipped down in elevation so that the horizon seemed to rise like a tide.  Ahead of us, Holzoff’s Tower was an unkind giant that loomed over us, black weathered stone with its tip lost in the night mist that coated the sky.

And then…

Something snorted like a cross between a dog and a pig.  I saw a white shape gallumph on all fours from one rock to another.  My head snapped that away, my hands grabbing at Elmiryn and Lethia.  They both looked at me, then looked around us.


A phantom shadow dashing over the stained snow.  Yellow-white-orange–glowing eyes burning in the dark.  A reach around a mound of black rock–not a hand but claws.  Elmiryn gestured for us to keep walking, her sword held before her.  I pushed Lethia forward as the girls knees had locked and it sounded like she was holding her breath.  Over the stained snow, which turned steep beneath our feet.  Elmiryn hopped down where the ground suddenly cut away into a small drop, and she turned adjusting the hide on her head with her free hand.  She gestured at me and Lethia with a sense of haste.

Lethia bit her lip and jumped.  She landed, her boots grinding into the hard-pacted snow.  Next was my turn.  I looked around me, and to my horror, I realized we had an audience.

Sixteen pairs of eyes, pressing on me.

I gulped as my body started to tremble as Lethia’s had before.  All in me started to pull, and I hissed as I hugged my ribs.  They were expanding.  My bones had started to hurt.  I shook my head and snapped at Her.

“What’re you doing?  Stop it!  This isn’t the time!!”

The creature still could not form together words.  She spat at me, tail lashing, and I felt her force my eyes to meet the gazes that scorched in the night.  I shut my eyes and assured her, with a trembling resolve, that we would be okay.  She didn’t believe it.  …But she contained herself, pulling back her influence so that my limbs were freed of some of their pain.  Relieved, I wiped at my face, and with a short intake of breath, I jumped.

The ground seemed to come up to meet me much too quickly.  When my feet hit the ground, I must’ve touched onto slick ice, because they flew out from under me, and I tumbled over, losing my daesce hide and landing square into a small pile of broken, gnawed bones, which snapped and scattered from me.

The din that hit us easily beat out anything we had previously heard.

There were shouts, hoarse shouts like an angry mob.  Barking.  It was like these beasts had no conception of how to communicate, really, other than to push out whatever emotion they may have been feeling.  And what they were feeling at that moment…was something violent.

“Nyx!” Elmiryn bit out, amidst the noise.

“Oh gods…” I barely heard Lethia whimper.

All around us, the daesce jumped and howled, climbing up to sit atop the rocks and snow like they were judges bearing down us.  Three daesce, slim but gnashing their teeth, came charging at us, their flat faces bunched as their ferocious mouths snapped at us.  One swiped its claws at Lethia’s boot while another came swinging with its arms, its claws slamming into the hard-ice like it were butter.  I scrambled backwards,  the daesce skin pulled over me like it were some pathetic shield, my eyes wide with horror.

Elmiryn snarled, swinging her sword first at the beast that came near her, then at the one that sought to cut me, then swiping down to cut the daesce that sought to harm Lethia.

It screamed, pulling back with a limp.  The warrior kept screaming, putting her whole body into it.  She tore at her voice, making it hoarse and wild.  The daesce danced back to echo her scream back at her–and I realized…

…The daesce were mimicking her.

The woman paused to take a breath and looked down at me.  I saw her cerulean eyes flash in the shadow.

“Nyx…” she whispered.  “Shift your throat!  Impress these bastards, and they’ll leave us alone!  This is just a show of strength!”

“Wh-What?” Lethia stammered next to her.


I swallowed, my throat tight.  I squeezed my eyes shut and mentally snatched at my Twin, who yowled as my ghostly grip pulled at her fur.

I implored her, fighting back terrified tears. “You see?  Do you see what’s happening?  Lend me your voice and claws!  Please!”

She didn’t need telling twice.  In fact, her eagerness hurt me, tearing up my vocal chords and my trachea so that I squeaked out in agony, blood coughing up my throat because I hadn’t been prepared for the force of the change.  My hands hurt as the joints dislocated and the bones elongated, claws replacing the mundane nails I had.  The skin on the back of my hands burned as fur sprouted.  I could feel the change beginning to crawl up my arms, and from my throat up to my head and shoulders.  I pushed Her back.

“Enough!” I thought.

Then the pain in my throat ebbed away, but the blood was still on my tongue.  As I moved to roll onto all fours, the daesce before me seemed to take my actions as a sign of weakness and struck out.  I saw it’s movements from the corner of my eye, and I panicked, for I knew that if it made me bleed, then the daesce would know we weren’t one of them and attack.  I moved my leg with a jerk, and the monster’s claw sliced into the snow, missing me by centimeters, but the creature wasn’t done.  It reared back a scream building from deep within its chest.

Then my Twin regained just enough of her Expression to rouse me out of my terrified stupor.

NOW!” She screeched.

I yelled, the sound a pitch lower than what was typical of my voice, and I hefted my body up with my left leg and my left elbow.  Then, pulling at all the strength my right side could muster, I kicked the daesce in the side.  The poor leverage and my sapien legs was not enough to send the monster flying away from me.  But at the least, the beast was knocked to the ground.  I would have preferred Elmiryn to have intervened, and resented her lack of involvement at the time, but later reflection made me realize that none of the other daesce had moved.  Because it was my fight.  The warrior was right.  It had been a show of strength.  Elmiryn had already proven herself, and by her fighting for Lethia, the girl’s safety had also been earned.  But not mine

Before the beast could rise up, I moved to my feet, fumbling a little in the snow.  In a crouch, I coiled my body, taking in all the breath my lungs could harbor.  Then, as the daesce, back on its feet, started to charge me, I lunged forward with both hands and roared.

The sound came out like rumble at first before I strained my throat to rise higher, turning the sound into a wicked shriek that sound hauntingly familiar to the daesce.  The monster I faced skittered in the snow, claws scraping to stop itself as it gibbered.  It’s black face turned to me, nose twitching, before it slinked back slowly.  I growled, the sound much more bestial than I ever could have managed had my throat been sapien.  I felt Elmiryn’s hand at my back and I moved to straighten, pulling my daesce hide back on as I did so.

“Good job!” she whispered.  “Look!  They’re moving back, all of them.”

And sure enough, the creatures retreated from our sight, backs curled and eyes turned over their shoulders as they went.  Soon, we seemed to be left alone.  Elmiryn gestured for us to move forward, and we all started together, the tension in the air lessened now that we had turned away a gang of the beasts.  I didn’t shift my throat or hands back, just in case.

“That was…easy!” Lethia breathed, her voice a fog in the air.

Then a claw swiped out from the shadows, catching the girl in the chest and sending an arc of crimson through the air.  I shrieked, my hands flying to my face in surprise.  The girl stumbled back a few steps, the hide slipping from her head to show free her face, turned slack, with her green eyes wide and glistening.  Then she let out a shaky sigh as she turned and fell face forward onto the ground.  When I crashed down onto my knees next to Lethia’s body, the hard ice cut at them, sending jolts of pain along my thighs.  The enchantress laid face down in the snow, her daesce hide having slipped off her so that they lay about her ankles.  I turned her over, panicking as I saw the blood gushing from her wound, which trailed from the bottom left of her rib cage up in a diagonal cut that ended around the top of her left breast, cutting into the pale fat.  I pulled at her clothes with my hands before pressing at the wound, sobbing, fighting the conflicting emotions and sensations I felt at having so much fresh blood over my hands and filling my senses.

I could hear Elmiryn give a shout, and the crunch of snow moving closer to me made me turn around.

A thick, muscular daesce with fangs that seemed too large for its mouth roared as it came at the warrior with both arms swinging, its movements naught but blurs to me, even after I cleared the tears from my eyes.  There were patches of fur missing along its body, and discolored scars could be seen trailing all over its skin.  It made its fellows look so young and weak.  There could’ve been any number of reasons we encountered this caliber of creature.  Perhaps it had tired of climbing the tower.  But the best logical reason I could think up at the time was, “It took my roar as a challenge.

When the thing stood on its hind legs, it came up only to Elmiryn’s chest, but the daesce was nearly double the woman’s width and terrifyingly fast.  The monster cut the woman’s forearm in an upward slash.  Her arm was protected by the bracer, but the impact still knocked her arm so hard that her sword was sent tumbling away, and with a low ram from its head, the beast had her on the ground and was on her stomach.  My heart clenched in my chest, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave Lethia bleeding out into the snow, no matter how much of her life I felt slipping through my fingers.

The daesce dipped down to bite at the redhead’s neck, but Elmiryn held it back with both her arms.  I could hardly see her face behind the curtain of white hair, but I could see her arms shaking with the effort of holding the monster back.

Then the woman gasped out, “Hey, Nyx!

I didn’t answer her verbally.  I only shifted my body more so that I could better see the scene unfolding before me.

Elmiryn went on, even as the daesce’s claws bit into the snow in search of leverage.  It gained an inch but still didn’t have its prize.

“In retrospect,” she managed to chuckle, “I think maybe you did a little too good a job impressing these guys!

I didn’t think it was funny.  At all.

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