Chapter 18.1

“Where to now, brothers?  The world bows to our sorrow and yet our weary feet still drag with mud.  I call on thine love!  I call on thine courage!  Let us move forward, into the unknown, for nothing is as tragic as those who choose to become strangers of a storm…” –Tobias


The door opened.  I half expected the hinges to squeak, but the door swung quietly to reveal a dark room.  It was large, and I gasped at the sight of chains crossing from ceiling to floor, from wall to wall, from corner to corner.  It was one long chain that began and ended at the same place.

Toward the center of the room, my therian eyes made out a person, whose arms were strung up, body wrapped in the heavy bindings.  Their head was covered by some sort of bulky covering, but long hair trailed over the shoulders.  They were dressed in rags, torn and ripped around the thighs leaving their legs bare.


There was something off about the room, I knew, for Lethia quickly stepped back, shuddering.

“Can’t…go in,” she whispered, though her expression was anguished.  She wanted nothing more than to enter the room.

“Why can’t you?” Farrel asked, turning to her.

“Cold iron…” Elmiryn said low, scowling at the matrix the long chain created.  “They didn’t want Syria to use her power.  If she goes in, it could interfere with her control over Redford and Walt.”

I turned to Lethia.  “They must have another lock or something here too.  Lethia do you know how to get Syria free?”  I asked.

The girl gave an imperceptible shake of the head.  “No.”

“Redford was the only one we encountered who had any sort of understanding about the upper floors.  That doesn’t mean he knows anything about Syria’s security.  He just brought us the warden’s keys, remember?”  Farrel said, nodding down the hall at the ensorcelled guards.

“It’s alright.  Nyx can handle it.  She’s good at this sort of thing,” Elmiryn said, looking at me.  She said this without any irony, and it really felt like a genuine compliment.

“Go fetch a torch from the warden’s office,” I said as I crept in, eyes on the floor for possible traps or alchemical wards.  I tucked my key into my belt, where the tightly fitted accessory kept it pinned close to my body.  “I can start looking for the lock. My eyes work fine in the dark.”

Farrel and Elmiryn said nothing, but I heard footfalls on the stone floor and assumed the halfling–being in better health–had run down the hall to fetch some light.  I held a hand out and ducked beneath the chains, my eyes wide as I strained to make out the details of my surroundings.  I didn’t know if the cold iron worked on me like it did magical weapons.  I was a spiritual being, but a mortal, and I had shifted completely back to my sapien form so as to not blow my cover.  But as I touched the rough metal, the pads of my fingers tingled, and I shivered like an iciness had entered my bones.  The room didn’t smell like the cells down below…but my nose flared as something acrid hit my senses.  It smelled of fear and oppression.  My nose wrinkled and I had to take a moment to grow accustomed to it.  Since Belcliff, my senses had grown close to their previous caliber–my eyesight, my smell, my hearing–but it fluctuated with every passing moment.  Sometimes I felt like I had back at Toah, capable of smelling things from almost a mile away.  Then I felt…human, with my senses barely extending past a room.  Right now, She was attentive, because as much as she disagreed with our plans (when did She ever agree?) we were nearly through with this mess, and this worked to both our ends.

As I pierced the darkness, my nose finally reaching a level of tolerance that didn’t make my eyes water, I came to a complex cross of chains and was forced to drag along the floor on my belly.  Down on the floor, I had to gather myself again, because the smell was stronger.  I entered a brief sneezing fit, but forced myself to keep moving.

“…Lady Syria?” I said tentatively, now sounding a little stuffed up.  I rose to my feet again and wiped my nose on my sleeve.

The woman didn’t stir before me.  I frowned and ventured nearer, feet stepping over cold lines of metal.  I tried again.  “Lady Syria of Albias?  My name is Nyx.  I’ve come with your apprentice to save you.”

I looked over my shoulder at Lethia who watched with both hands over her mouth.  A single tear had leaked out of one eye, and trailed down the back of her hand to the floor.  A panicking thought entered my mind–what if Lethia’s emotions broke her concentration, and she lost control of the guards?  I turned and began to move forward, more recklessly.  I had only cleared some six feet–the matrix of chains was thick–another four feet and I’d have reached Syria.

“Please excuse me, ma’am, but I’m going to look for–” my voice cut short as I came close.  Even with my nose, which had turned congested from the dust, I could smell her unwashed body, rank and stale.  What’s more was the sight that hit me, to go along with this new sensory information.  I froze, one leg hovering over a diagonal chain, my hands gripping two chain-lines over my head.

Covering the woman’s head was a horrible iron mask that blocked all sight of Syria’s face, leaving only slits for eyes and a pitiful grid for her mouth.  It was likely cold iron as well.  The item looked heavy, so much so that her entire body pulled forward from the weight, where it rested against her chest.  I could hear her breathing, but I noted something off about it–like she were taking long draws, but exhaling in short bursts.

“Sweet Aelurus…!”  I took hold of the woman’s mask and slowly pulled it back so that her head was up.  I heard a sound behind the metal, like a sigh.  Or a death rattle.

Behind me I heard Farrel come near, and soon his light swathed us in a warm fierce glow.  The illumination brought to my attention the wounds on the woman’s feet–bloody and purpling, with frayed flesh at the toes.  Rats had chewed at her.  There was a drain beneath her, and the stone around it had an orange rust color.  I saw trails of dried blood that came down the inside of her thighs, the paths flaked and broken in some places.  Her wrists, which were swollen, bruised, and crusted with dried blood, were bound by thick manacles.  These looped onto the chains, forcing her arms up.  What was bizarre was that these chains didn’t end at the manacles, but continued down to snake tightly around her shoulders, torso, and hips.  Around her hips,  I noted the fabric was stained–not blood.  Puss, maybe.  She must’ve developed pressure sores, but they had not yet reached the stage where they burst and bled.  Did that mean that the guards did come into the room, and moved her now and again?  I stared, openly appalled.

Had the guards…ever come into this room?

“Have you found the lock yet?” he asked me, breathing heavy.  He was looking at me, not at Syria.  I wanted to grab his face and scream at him.  What sort of prison was this?  Even for people who weren’t guards by choice, was this really how they treated prisoners?

I swallowed hard, and felt my chest tighten with something…familiar.  This horror, this cold, this open pain was familiar to me.

…My Mark started to burn and itch.  I bowed my head, my breath fast and shallow.  Inside, I could feel Her.  She wasn’t raging, she wasn’t screaming.  She was…frozen, seized, like I was.  My clothes started to feel tight, and my skin burned, like it were about to rip.  My joints hurt and I had to lower Syria’s head some, as my arms couldn’t hold the weight up so high.

Farrel took a small step away from me.  “…Nyx?”

I shook my head, my teeth bared.  “What is this?  Why would they…leave her like this?”

Through my curtain of hair, I saw out of the corner of my eye Farrel move, as though to look at Syria more properly.  Was this common to him?  My shoulders bunched at the thought, and I felt a fury rise in me to rival what I had felt in the staircase.  This was the person who had judged me so?  But I heard him let out a shaky breath, and I tried to let this sound serve as the release of my anger.  Maybe…Farrel had just been focused more on the task at hand than what was around him?  His senses weren’t as sharp as mine.  Elmiryn had done it atleast once before, when fighting the daesce.  Maybe Syria, at a glance, was just like all the other prisoners.

When he spoke, his voice was genuinely frightened…and appalled.  “Is she…”

“No, she’s alive.  She’s breathing anyway.”  My voice was tight, on the verge of a growl.  I lifted my head slowly, my eyes resting on the part of the mask where I guessed Syria’s eyes to be resting behind.  “Something’s not right, but we have to hurry.  When she’s well, she can tell us herself what happened…if she wants to.”

That, and I was desperate to leave.  Holzoff’s Tower would haunt me in my sleep, and I wasn’t keen on drawing out the nightmare.

“Her mask.  Do you see any locks for the mask?”  I looked at its front, but saw nothing.

Farrel appeared behind Syria, searching the back of the mask with a frown.  “I see no keyhole.  I don’t understand.”  But his eyes lit onto something behind her.  “Here, against her spine!  Here’s the lock holding the ends of the chain!”

“Then I suppose we’ll take care of that first.  I don’t know how much time we have to devote to puzzling out the mask.”  I spoke to the front of the mask, where I hoped Syria could hear me.  Or was conscious to hear me.  My face was pained.  “My apologies miss, but with the mask on you can still move with our help.  But you won’t be able to leave until we get the chains off.”  I looked at Farrel again.  “Which key do you suppose we need?”

“…I don’t know.  The keyhole is wide, but it seems like…” the man ducked down as he inspected the lock more closely.  “Nyx.  I think you’ll have to look yourself, my eyes can’t make this out.”

“Hold her head then and hand me the torch.”

We exchanged the torch as Farrel held up Syria’s head.  He shifted as I came around to the woman’s back to inspect the lock myself.  Crouching down I saw a large padlock, long in length but divided into four equal parts, hanging down Syria’s back.  I took the lock with my free hand and lifted it so that I could squint into the keyhole, my other hand bringing the torch as close as I dared.  Inside the wide hole, I made out a series of cuts meant for specific keys.  “We have to unlock this in order.  Have you still got the key Lethia gave you?”

I took out my key from my belt.  I bit my lip and pushed it into the keyhole.  I recalled Lethia’s instructions, and instead of turning to the left, I turned it to the right.

What hit me was like a giant cosmic spike.  It struck at my solar plexus, then spread to the rest of my body.  I let out a small scream and fell back into the chains.  Farrel looked at me in alarm.

“What happened!?” he exclaimed.

I couldn’t breathe right away.  I tried to sit up, tried to speak, but my body wouldn’t listen to me.  The torch in my hands had fallen to the floor, embers scattering across the stone but it remained lit.

“Nyx!”  I heard Elmiryn’s voice echo across the room.

Breathe filled my lungs, and when I exhaled, it was with a whimper.  Tears leaked from the corners of my eyes and I sat up, trembling.  My nerves felt on fire and my muscles felt like they couldn’t sit still.  With twitching features, I looked up at Farrel. “I did…something…wrong,” I managed to whisper.  “They have a charm on these locks that punishes you if you mess up.”

“Ya need ta’ hurry!” Lethia cried out, still with Farrel’s accent.  Her eyes were vacant, and I could see her clutching her head.  She was fighting to stay in control of the guards.

“The other guards.  They’re here.  They’re banging at the doors…” Elmiryn said, looking down the hall.  She was holding Lethia around the shoulders, offering the girl a body to lean against.  Her expression was blank.

I gave a shake, trying to gather myself.  Then I scooted closer, my face set in a rigid scowl.  I didn’t bother picking up the torch. My limbs still felt jittery and I didn’t want to accidentally set something on fire.

“I have to use this key first…I’m pretty sure,” I mused aloud.  “Mine was the one that went into the last keyhole.”

“But why did you get hit with that…whatever it was?” Farrel said, sounding confused.

My eyes turned sharp as I answered him,  “This is going backwards.  Even though I was the last key for the door, technically, one could say I’m the first key here.  So it’s like we’re working in the opposite way.  Lethia made a fuss about which direction I should turn the key.  That means I need to turn…”

I pushed the key in and turned to the left instead.  The first part of the lock clicked and fell off.  Three more.

“Farrel, give me your key and go get the other two.  I’ll hold her head up with my arm.”  I rose and wrapped my arm around the front of Syria’s mask, my body pressing against hers.  It felt a bit invasive, but it was the only way I could keep her head from falling.  Farrel gave me his key and did as I asked.  I put the key in-between my teeth and watched the man go.  The others gave him the key without much verbal exchange, and he came rushing back, tangling in the chains now and again.  He handed me Lethia’s key first and wordlessly I took it, placing it into the keyhole.  I closed my eyes and tried to remember which direction the girl had turned.

I had turned to the right the first time.  The second time I had turned to the left.  Lethia had turned to the left the first time.  So I had to turn to the…

Right.  The lock clicked and fell away.  I took Farrel’s key and placed it into the keyhole.  It was an “on-off” pattern.  I turned to the left.  The lock clicked and fell away again.  Farrel handed me the last key.  I pushed it into the lock and turned to the right.  Same as before.  The lock fell away, the ends of the chains were free.

But Syria was still bound.  I looked around the room at the chains, which threaded through metal loops in the ceiling and on the floor and on the walls.  Even though the lock was gone, the chains still held up, taut, and I knew we had to pull at them to get the woman free.  I grabbed at the chains to Syria’s left, using my free arm.

“Help me!  Even if I unlock the manacles, we have to loosen the chains around her body first.  They are completely wrapped around her!”

The man did as I asked and together we pulled.  Farrel had to travel around the room, freeing up some of the links that were stuck and rusted in place.  He grunted as the chains reluctantly stuttered through the loops, dust and iron flakes falling to the floor.  I just needed my one arm thanks to my natural strength, but I strained, pulling with all my body.  The chain came, groaning and chinking angrily.  Finally, we had enough slack that the woman was allowed to slink to the floor.  This change in her environment, in her state of life, seemed dramatic enough to startle the woman to higher animation.  She said something behind the mask, but I couldn’t understand her, and her hands clutched at the air like claws.  Without my telling him too, the man loosened the chains around the woman, just enough that, when we worked together, we were able to lift her up and pull her free.  All around us, the chains shuddered, as though aware of losing their prisoner.  We laid Syria along the floor, and I saw how the fabric hardly moved, as though dirt and grime had frozen the material in the same position permanently.  She shifted under our touch, like she wanted to rise up, like she wanted to start crawling away, pitifully, but we held her still.

“Her manacles,” Farrel said, holding her gently but firmly.

“Hurry up!”  Elmiryn barked through the door.

“We’re working on it!”  I snapped back.  I squinted at the manacles, then cursed in my native tongue.

Farrel looked at me, a wild look in his eyes.  The pounding in the hall was becoming louder.  “What’s wrong!?”

I held out my right hand and took a measured breath.  My Twin was eager in answering my request, because my hand began to shift so suddenly I grunted and tried to keep it from spreading up my arm.  Within the minute, I had furry hand, set with claws.  I extended my pinky claw and began picking at the first manacle.

I didn’t have time to explain it to Farrel.  There must’ve been one more set of keys, besides the four that we had.  As the halfling had explained it, Lethia had only worked with Redford’s knowledge, and so she hadn’t known to look for anything else in the warden’s room.  Perhaps one could say we should’ve just looked.  But the noises in the hall were growing fiercer, and I knew I had to have Syria free before we could face the threat that came for us.  So I worked, with beaded sweat, trying to get a feel for the lock’s mechanics.

It was no where near as complicated as I was expecting.  My pinky’s claw was slim enough that I could turn it in the lock, and I could feel the pin inside the lock and pushed it in with the flat of my claw, twisting my finger almost painfully–the mechanism was dusty and I thought I felt wax.  The wax was supposed to stuff up the lock and make it harder to pick.  Only the key would be able to work through it.  It was a small detail, but fortunately my claw was much sturdier than a thin metal wire.  The manacle was off, and I set onto the other one.  This one was freed faster because I had figured out the lock’s design.

Finally, Syria was completely free of the chains.

But now there was the final struggle.  The iron mask.  The last horrible bond that kept Syria trapped, in the truest sense, because we couldn’t find the keyhole.  I couldn’t lockpick what wasn’t there.

Nearly twenty minutes had gone by.  For a group not having a solid understanding of the security here, we were making alright progress.  It was a great deal of luck, I knew, but I wasn’t going to spit on it.  Redford and Walt were probably a big reason the guards hadn’t entered the hallway yet.  But a glance told me that Lethia was now really struggling to keep her hold on them.  I felt it.  Our time was drawing to a close.

I felt around the mask desperately, one hand sapien, the other a bestial claw.  Farrel watched me, his face strained.  We had all been pushed, farther than we imagined we could’ve gone.  It was incredible, how much the desire for survival could win out over exhaustion and pain.  Elmiryn and Lethia were a testament to that.  I wanted to be worthy of standing next to them.  Even as a twisted monster, a being that no longer fit into the natural design of life, spiritually maimed, I wanted to be with these people.  I wanted to be someone they could look to, in times of need.  What else could I hope for in life, besides eternal damnation?

My eyes flew open as I felt something around the edges of the mask.  Buttons.  There were buttons on the edges of the mask.  I bit my lip and tried to feel them out.  There were eight in total, all against the back of Sryia’s neck.

I didn’t haven anything to go off of.  What order did I need to push the buttons in?  How were they ordered?  What if I got it wrong, but instead of just hurting me, it hurt Syria too?

Then the woman began to tap the ground.  Her hand shook, like it hurt to bend her swollen wrists, but as I watched her tappings, I realized she was trying to tell me the order of the buttons.  I didn’t question how she knew.

“Which side is where the buttons start?” I asked her.

Syria lifted her right hand.  So it was the right side.  Then she tapped the floor three times with her fingers.  Third button. I reached for it, feeling it out, then pressed.  Five taps.  Fifth button.  I pressed this too.  Eight total.  Three, five, six, nine, five, three, one, four.  I knew 3569 to be the year, as far as humans, dwarves, and elves were concerned.  They used a different calendar than Ailurans and Lycans.  Whereas they centered their calendar around seasons, we based ours around full moons.  In our language we called our calendar, Lunenn, and the human calendar, Verenn.  The humans called it Thomin’s calendar, after the one who supposedly created it.  The Thomin’s calendar had four months, each spanning the approximate length of the seasons.  New year was at the start of spring.  The five and three were probably the 53rd day, but the last numbers confused me.  A one and a four?  Maybe the one was a stand-in for zero, meaning date in question was during the fourth and final month?  I didn’t know the significance of the number.  I only kept track of the Lunenn, and that was because I had to.  If it were a famous birthday, a holiday, or a commemorative day, then I was unaware of it.  But it had some importance to the warden…possibly even Syria herself.

Regardless of the reason, the numbers were right.  There was a thunk as the mask literally split open at the back.  Syria tried to lift herself from the mask, her face still hidden behind her hair, and she took a deep and desperate breath of air.  Her hair was matted and smelled sweaty.  I took the woman beneath her right shoulder, Farrel the left.  Together, we carefully helped the woman sit up.  I blinked at her, feeling a little in awe.  Finally.  Finally.

Even from malnourishment and abuse, I noted a refined beauty about Syria that made me think of royalty.  Though her lips were dry and pale, I could see they were much like Elmiryn’s in that they seemed the sort to curl whenever amusement struck.  Her nose was petite and her brow gentle and sloping.  She had a fine, rounded jaw, with small ears that connected at the lobes, whereas Lethia’s were left disconnected and seemed to stick out more.  Her face was gaunt, and when she turned her smoldering dark eyes on me, I held my breath.

“You came…with my Lethia?” she breathed, voice rasping.

“Yes, but there are others coming, and we have to hurry.”

Syria smiled at me shakily.  Then she bowed her head, her black hair slipping forward to shield her face from me.  “You shouldn’t have come,” she breathed.

I frowned at her.

I looked at Farrel, who nodded once and turned to the woman.  “Pardon me, ma’am, but I’m going to need to pick you up,” he said.

Syria looked at him, dazed it seemed.  Then gave a slight nod.

The halfling scooped her up into his arms, carefully.  We left the room, stepping over the chains like they were corpses.

“Mistress…” Lethia sobbed as we came through the door.  She was fighting so hard, I could see it–her face had turned a deep red, and she was relying on Elmiryn to keep her upright.  Tears leaked down her face, and the girl held out a hand slowly, like she weren’t sure what she was seeing was real.

The woman seemed to take a moment before she recognized the girl.  “Lethia?”  She reached a hand out, her beautiful face crumpling, revealing the laugh lines around her eyes.  “My dear sweet girl!”

The girl nodded her head emphatically, more fat tears streaking down her swollen face.  She knelt before the woman, and bowed her head.

The enchantress stared forward, tears in her eyes as well.  “Lethia.  Gather yourself.  The struggle is not yet won.”  Her voice seemed stronger now.  It made something warm blossom in my chest to hear it.

Lethia rose again to her feet, Elmiryn helping her by pulling her up with her good arm.  She looked at Syria, her cerulean eyes casting about this new face.  Her architect’s eyes.  Then she let loose a thin smile.  I thought this curiously reserved of her, and I watched her shrewdly.  Her gaze was glassy, despite her attempt at expression.  “Syria,” she said, voice upbeat like she were meeting the enchantress at a ball.  “My name is Elmiryn, of Fiamma.  I hate to ask it, but is there something you can do to help the situation?”

Syria gazed at her, and I recognized something of Elmiryn’s calculating stare in the enchantress eyes.  Neither seemed to know what to make of the other.

“I’m still coming out of the affects of the cold iron…But with Lethia’s help I think we can walk out of here fine.”  She looked at Lethia.  “My dear, would you please have your friends open the door?”  She gestured down the hall at Redford and Walt with shaking hands.  The men in question were bracing the door with all their weight, sweat lining their faces.

Lethia looked to them.  She didn’t wave her hands, or say a magic word.  Redford merely stepped back, pressing up against the wall, and Walt opened the door.

He was bowled over.  Some seven or eight men came tumbling through the doorway with what sounded like more following in the staircase.  The ones in the lead were equipped with bows, and they stopped at a certain point before us, kneeling, and drew their weapons.  The rest of the men appeared behind them, faces tight and furious–or was that fear?  Most of these men weren’t real fighters, after all.  But then the commotion stopped.  The men just stared at us, and we all stared back.

I had fallen into a fighting stance, one leg drawn back, my hands held up and clenched into tight fists.  Farrel and Elmiryn had positioned themselves similarly.

The tension was broken when Syria began to speak.

“My!  Our guests have arrived!”  She gave a soft clap of her hands, smiling at the mob of guards.  She looked at Lethia.  “My girl!  Please show our guests in!”

Lethia gestured down the hallway, her smile now matching Syria’s.  “Yes, this way please!”  She chirped.

The guards before us began to follow her–the archers dropping their bows and arrows, the swordsmen dropping their blades.  I went to shut the door to Syria’s room–just in case the cold iron broke their spell.  Then I turned and watched in amazement as a train of men passed us by without a glance, Redford and Walt now with them.  They all crowded into the warden’s room.  Some of the men couldn’t fit.  This didn’t seem to be a problem though.

“Isn’t the gallery lovely?” Lethia said to those still in the hall.  She gestured at the blank walls.  “Beautiful portraits done by the best in the land.”

The men seemed to see something we didn’t.  They rubbed their chins and murmured appreciatively at nothing.  Elmiryn started giggling, but I shushed her.

“Let’s check on the other guests now, hmm?” Syria said.

We left the hallway, back down the staircase to the sixth floor.  There a guard had remained to watch the prisoners.  He jumped to his feet when he saw us, his expression spooked.  He must’ve thought we had been apprehended peacefully, because there had been no sounds of struggle.  He had his hand on his sword, but didn’t draw it.  Syria spoke to him, her voice soothing.

“Sir, please don’t hold yourself back.  Have some of the turkey.  Have some of the wine.  This is a party!”

The guard stared at her blankly, then nodded, a vacant smile spreading across his face.  He moved to the nearest wall and proceeded to mime out serving himself a plate of food.

We descended further down.  The staircase seemed darker than usual.  Pitch black it seemed.  As we entered, the shadows swallowed us…and I felt warm.

“Oh dear.  Please watch your step, everyone.  I wouldn’t want anyone getting hurt.  We’re almost to the study now.”

When we emerged from the staircase, we encountered more guests, and they turned to look at us with surprise.  Wine glasses were gripped in their hands.  I smelled tobacco and incense.

Syria greeted them all.  “Jerry!  How’ve you been my boy?  Tell me news of your mother.  Is she well?  Luis, you rascal, don’t go spreading rumors!  Angelo, the mutton is quite good isn’t it?  Yes…yes I had the room remodeled.  Much more spacious this way.  I wanted to hang up my new self-portrait.  The artist was this beautiful lad from Gerl.  The artistry there will astound you!  Yes we should all go together one day.  Have some more wine, Wilson, don’t be a prude.  It’s my birthday, isn’t it?  I can do as I please!  And it pleases me to have so many guests, so many beautiful people having a good time!”

“Isn’t this wonderful, Nyx?  We’re all finally safe!  And it’s Syria’s birthday!”  Lethia held my hand.

I smiled at her.  We passed through the study.  The ceiling was high, and there was a fire going in the fireplace.  Large windows were closed off with red curtains.  But I felt like I was…forgetting something.  Still I smiled.  “Yes…this is nice, Lethia.”

She squeezed my hand once before skipping ahead, her blue frilly dress bouncing with each step.

“I’ve been to many parties, and this one is by far the best,” Farrel said to my left.  He wore a plain black robe, with a cream double-quilted vest beneath.

Syria laughed, a tinkling sound.  She slapped at the man’s chest, her heeled boots kicking in the air.  “Oh but how silly of you!  Don’t you recall the celebration we had last year?”

Our group murmured in agreement.  “Yes, yes!  The party from last year!”

Syria’s home was spacious and grand.  I felt close to tears for seeing such a beautiful place.  The enchantress was walking again, now that Farrel had decided to stop his little game and had set her down.  She looked my way and the smile on her face faded some.  I looked away, embarrassed.  I heard her fall into step next to me as Farrel went to walk with Lethia.  She patted my shoulder, leaning in close.  “Nyx, you’ve fought hard.  Some rest is well deserved.”

“I don’t…know if I should be here,” I returned, feeling my throat tighten.  My eyes fell to the black marble floor, which danced from the Fiamman lamps that lit the hallway.  “It’s hard to explain to you.”

The woman rubbed my shoulder, leaving me to feel warm despite my guilt.  “Don’t be silly,” she scolded.  “I know the pain you have suffered–your spirit burns with it–but know that in my home, you are an honored and welcome guest, and I’d have you joining in the merriment!”


Syria quietly slipped ahead as I turned and saw Elmiryn, wearing an emerald dress.  It was a simple cut, but of a beautiful fabric that danced in the warm light.  Her hair was pulled back into a high ponytail, the locks twisting in tight ringlets.  Her eyes seemed brighter somehow, and I gazed back with wonder.  She brushed my side with her arm and smiled at me.  “Remember that I’m here…okay?”

I smiled at her, openly, and hugged her from the side, managing to grab her right arm in my embrace too.  She hissed and I looked at her confused.  “What is it?” I asked, pulling back.

She blinked at me, like I was some bizarre surprise.  Then she smiled again, but slowly.

“Nothing, Nyx.  Don’t worry about it.  I’ll be here when you wake up.”

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