Chapter 23.4

“All of my old friends aren’t so friendly
All of my old haunts are now haunting me”1


Elmiryn stood in the hallway, a full wine bottle in hand, and contemplated going downstairs.  She didn’t know what she would do there, but she disliked leaving her companions so unattended in her own home.  But then she thought of the look that would be on Quincy’s face, and she wasn’t so sure she could keep herself from violence, so the woman went back into her room.  It was not with a smile.  To her, it felt much like choosing between being burned alive or torn apart by bears.  In odd turns, she found herself wishing Nyx were there, and at the same time glad that the girl wasn’t.

Back inside, she saw Warner had turned the chair to look out the window adjacent to the left of the door.  Ah.  The window.  That fixture on the wall–like a painting, that she’d once and again found herself glancing out of in that long-ago when she had stayed here in her non-home.  The window, the long thin rectangle cut in the egg-shell wall that bore the image of ambition and audacity and progress like an artist’s vision.  But the image she found, unsettled her.  Maybe it had been the cropped view she had.  The three feet, twelve inch view that belonged to something much larger.  She found it stifling.  She wondered if it were a panorama she hungered for, but Elmiryn (who certainly would have, despite how unseeming it would’ve been) would have poked through the window as best she could to see what the edges of the window attempted to conceal.  Instead, she sat in the plush chair downstairs, and gazed out at the street where she eyed the early morning creepers dusting coke from their noses with their finery wrinkled; the dog that made off down the road with a rat in its mouth; the temple keepers, shaking their heads over the drunk forms lying prone on stoops; the sturdy merchant carts and lofty horse carriages rolling by.  Her bedroom window, on the other hand, held smokestacks, a forest of dark buildings, and a rosy glow that–for all of Fiamma’s professed love of the celestial–hid the stars in their obnoxiousness.  She knew better than most nobles what a starry night really consisted of.

The warrior, after her first week staying at the house, had bought a curtain, and used it to cover her bedroom window, all but forgetting about it in her time there.  Even upon entering her room for the first time in what felt longer than a year, she ignored it, eyes fastened to the one thing she hadn’t expected.  Now Warner had torn at the curtain to allow more light into the room.  The cloth lay crumpled like a murder victim on the floor.  Maybe he was looking for a way to shake the wine-induced stupor from him.  Maybe he hoped the light from the window would dispel the ghostly image of his daughter, and therefor dispel her from his mind forever.

Her window.  THE Window.  The picture of reality that made like an imagined painting, which Elmiryn truly felt, was really just a picture of imagination that made like a realistic painting.  An ersatz painting.  An ersatz window.  The word was something Nyx would later say to her, and Elmiryn would use it much the way she used verisimilitude–one of the few out-of-the-way and scholarly words she knew by heart, and made a point of using whenever dealing with something she thought a falsehood trying to be real.  An idea trying to become a reality.

She would use the word a lot in association with herself.

The view from her home was further limited because of the building next to it, but there were still the dark silhouettes of ambitious peaks scratching at the sky, the small sliver of ocean one could see between the temple observatory and the artisan’s school down the street.  Her father had shed his cloak now, and sat forward with chin in hand and his brow furrowed.  He did not look up as Elmiryn passed behind him.  The sound of her boots unsticking from the floor seemed loud to her ears.  Outside, the festivities were a low roar.

She sat on the bed because her father would not move from the chair, even as she glared at him expectantly.  She considered tipping the chair over–as she was still able to interact with inanimate objects if not living flesh–but she decided not to, for she had no desire to pick on one so low in their station.  It made her sad to think this, she realized, because the subject in question was her father, and when was it not a tragedy when offspring looked to their elders as useless and pitiful?  After a perfunctory inspection, Elmiryn decided she didn’t mind the bed, and though the sheets could’ve used with a wash from all the nights Warner sweat in them (and gods knew what else), she let herself fall back onto the mattress and sighed.  The wine sloshed in the bottle.  She didn’t look at it.

“She left you, didn’t she?” Elmiryn said.  It wasn’t really a question.

Warner said nothing.  His silence was heavy and resentful.  It was the best answer he gave her, and she felt her heart lift.  Her mother was alive…but now there was a new worry.  Where was she, and who was with her?

“I loved your mother,” Warner said finally.  Now it was Elmiryn’s turn to be quiet.

Her father leaned forward onto his knees and sighed.  “I wonder how you must have perished.  You’re lucky, I suppose, though hardly deserving.  The kingdom would have done far worse than death.”

Now the woman blinked at the man.  He really thought she was a ghost, like Henriette, her corpse lying dead and cold somewhere.  Maybe this would make things easier.

“Well…” she started in a low voice.  “Since you aren’t trying to kill me at the moment–”

“I can’t kill a ghost–” he broke in, but she soldiered over his words.

“–I guess I’ll try to answer your question.  You wanted to know why all this happened?”  She blinked up at the hole in the bed canopy.  The slashed cloth leaned toward her with cotton fingers spread.  Elmiryn reached up her free hand and swiped at it.  “I was…bored.”  And she stopped there, unable to come up with the words for what came next.

She heard the chair squeak as Warner shifted in his seat. “That’s all you can say for yourself?” his voice bordered on a rumble.  “You were bored?

“I was bored,” she repeated.  Her brows moved as if to press together, then rose up high and her eyes rolled in their sockets to stare at the headboard.  “I was angry,” she muttered sullenly.  “I wanted…something.  That night, the princess opened the door and let me in.  She wanted something, too.  We both did.  But we were looking for different things.”  Warner said nothing, so she went on, her eyes slipping shut.  “I can’t…I wish I could…remember the look she gave me.  It pulled me in.  Promised me some distraction.  I was really restless after they denied my promotion to Major.  You remember that?”

Of course he remembered.  How could he forget?  Warner bothered to grunt anyway.

Elmiryn opened her eyes and sat up.  She moved the wine bottle to her lap and gazed at Warner sidelong.  “I was mad at you for not getting me the thing I never asked you for.  It sounds stupid.  Foolish.  Like being angry at the moon for not appearing at night.  You ended up having me placed on guard duty because you thought it’d be the answer to my career stonewalling, but…I just wanted to be on the field, with my men.  I loved being a dragoon.  On top of the insult from our superiors, you took me away from everything I knew, everything you ever prepped me for–”

“I thought I also taught you to adapt,” Warner cut in.  “That lesson wasn’t meant just for the battlefield.”  And some of the steel she’d known as a child was back in his voice, and she quieted with a small frown.  Her eyes were once again on his, attentive.  Warner held her gaze for a minute before turning to look back out the window.  The warm glow of the city made his ragged face seem healthier.  “The Commanding General told me himself that you would never command more than a company of soldiers.  He didn’t provide me a reason and didn’t need to.  The fact that he bothered to tell me this in person at our estate was enough.  I don’t know what you did to insult the commanding powers.  Maybe it was your ‘creativity’ in the Nuranian Offensive.  It could’ve been anything, but I knew you had gone as far as you could go, fighting in the army.  If you could not excel with your exploits, then I was going to do all that I could to get you into the direct service of the royal family.  You could’ve been a powerful player in the courts.  It was for you.”  He shook his head slowly, a look of disgust coming over his features.  “And you just threw it all away.”

“It wasn’t my fault,” Elmiryn bit out, her face red and her neck tensed.  Her jaw felt tight, and she gripped the wine bottle like it were a powder grenade.  “I did everything those fuckers asked of me, including you, and–”

“–You cursed the princess.”

“Do I look like a witch to you?  Do you think I am capable of magic that obscure?  Tell me, Warner.  Where have you heard of such a spell?”

He twisted in his chair to glare at her.  “Damn you, girl.  You just told me–”

“I said I was fucking bored. I didn’t say I signed up for some unholy order of pig-diddling necromancers, for god’s sake.  Who on Halward’s plane jumps to such conclusions?  You didn’t let me finish explaining.”

“I thought ghosts were supposed to be repentant?” Warner muttered with an eye-roll to the ceiling.

“It’s also said they can be wrathful, and you’re making it awful hard for me to keep the peace.”  Then she rubbed at her face with one hand and muttered quickly under her breath, “You old fool. You don’t want to hear what I have to say.  You never did.  So why am I trying?”

Warner took a deep breath, the action seeming to set him back in his chair.  His head lolled along the headrest, and he fluttered his eyes, which had taken on a foggy look.  Then he sat up with a shake and asked with closed eyes, “What happened with Princess Cailean?”

“I slept with her,” she snapped into her sweaty palm.

“What happened to her.”  He glared out the window now.

Elmiryn lowered her hand and tongued her cheek.  She looked at the wine bottle she still held.  She wondered idly why she had not taken a drink yet.  Perhaps because she wanted to have some control over what came out of her mouth when she tried to explain her innocence?  Did she really care what her father thought?  Her life with him felt more like the rivalry of a star pupil and a pressing master–each trying to gain the upper hand.  What they had always revolved around, what they had always settled and agreed on, was Brianna and keeping her safe.  Who broke the promise first?  Elmiryn or Warner?  Like the ersatz window, with its limited view, would Warner be able to truly see her Meaning?

…Aw, who cares…

The woman uncorked it and took a long drink, head fully tilted back and eyes closed.  The drink tasted…sweet.  Very sweet.  Sweeter than it should have.  She gulped at it hungrily, all at once feeling parched, and stopped only to take a lungful of breath.

…Afterward everything burned.  How pleasant.

Dazed, the woman looked at her father.  “I had a dream that day, y’know.  The day Cailean was found.  A voice spoke to me from darkness.  The person asked me if I could see them.  Meanwhile, the princess was already in the…state…that the guards later found her.”  She didn’t say ‘covered in slime’, and smiled ruefully at the bottle in her hands, like a person recalling the true extent of their mischief from childhood.  “And I can’t remember anything of how it looks now, and I’m…glad.  I woke up from a dream to start a nightmare.  I thought the world was crumbling out from under my feet.  Literally.  I jumped naked out of a window.  Does that sound sane, let alone self-assured?  I was out of my mind.  I couldn’t have cursed Cailean if a warlock stuck his hand up my ass and puppeted me.”

Warner stood from his chair, his shoulders rolling again, like he were trying to shrug off the story.  “Rubbish,” he spat, without looking at her.

She didn’t miss the higher pitch of his voice.  Elmiryn frowned up at him.  Her head was starting to feel funny.  “What’s rubbish?” she asked in a slow voice.

“Everything.  You’re a damn fool.”

She giggled, without knowing why.  “You wanted a son instead?  Ah, I bet’s that’s it!  You didn’t want a daughter, you wanted a son.  You think he’d keep his hands to himself around Princess Cailean?  That he wouldn’t find himself as an enemy of the kingdom?  Oh, hey.  Did I mention I’m cursed?  Yeah, well I am…” and Elmiryn laughed outright before taking another swig of wine.  It tasted exquisite, and as it went down her throat, her mouth felt dry and begged for more, so she obliged with another mouthful.

“Meznik,” she said with a burp.  The name came tumbling out before she could stop it.  “A demon cursed me, and his name was Meznik.”

Warner turned to look slowly at her.  “Meznik?

“He’s an astral demon.”

“Meznik.”  He said this hard, like he were trying to confirm the name.

Elmiryn looked at her father, the bottle pausing halfway to her lips.  “Yeah, Meznik.”  She let the bottle rest in her lap.  Her eyes were wide, like she couldn’t see all of him.  “Warner…why are you looking at me like that?”


I adjusted the doublet so that it didn’t bunch up so much.  The remnants of my guard costume from Holzoff’s lay like dead skin on the ground.  I didn’t spare the rags a second glance as I followed where Tristi and Farrel had gone.  I was in much higher spirits–still frazzled, and a bit anxious, maybe, from Farrel’s molestation–but I felt much more energetic.  I suppose escaping death a lot within a close period of time will do that to you.  Though I had to go through quite a bit to see it, I was also in a much better state of appearance than last I left the Kreut forest.  My hair was clean and I was dressed in new clothes.  Some part of me wondered as to how Tristi came across these things, with ourselves being ghosts to these ghosts, save those sensitive to our presence, but I chose to ignore it.  It felt too good to ruin it with questions.

I came out into the street, head turning this way and that, and my tawny eyes squinted against the glare of the fireworks over head.  We were in a broad thoroughfare, which was partitioned down the middle with a central divider of stone flower beds.  Low buildings here suggested humbler merchants, but no less creative for all their use of streamers and constructs.  The street lamps and the colorful bursts overhead kept catching on the glass and metal, and it was very near to giving me a headache.

I did my best to avoid coming too close to people, but the crowd was far too thick.  Phantoms drifted through me like I wasn’t even there, and I shuddered, not because they did anything to me, but because it was unnerving.  When the throng of festival goers swelled, and I could barely see across the street (for though phantoms these people were, they weren’t invisible) I started to worry.  The renewed vigor I felt started to wane.  Cupping my hands around my mouth, I started calling Tristi’s name as loud as I could.

Still nothing.  Ignoring my discomfort, I barreled through the crowd, my form scything through bizarre masks, waving arms, dancing feet, and jiggling tummies.  The colors started to smear together.  The headache started to hit me full on.  My voice turned hoarse as I set loose into a paroxysm of panicked shouting. “Tristi!  Farrel!  Where are you!?

Then finally I heard Tristi answer me.

“My!  Our champion of survival seems a bit jumpy now, doesn’t she?”

I snapped around, standing on my tiptoes.  “Tristi?”  I shook my head, my expression pained.  “I can’t see you!”

“Then you’re awfully short.”

I sat back on my heels, my annoyance taking a backseat as I pressed forward to where I thought I heard the man’s voice.  I hopped up onto the central divider, and turning my head, I spotted them.  They were not far from me, though they were on the other side of the road, next to a drinking fountain where water spouted out from a pillar fixed with the mold of a lion’s mouth.  Tristi’s copper hair fanned out over his back, his odd coat laid neatly to the side, as he held Farrel by the shoulders.  The halfling had his head under the water and looked like he was struggling.

I blanched as I rushed forward against the current of the aeriform crowd.  “Tristi!! Don’t drown him!”

The champion of luck gave me a sardonic smirk as I neared.  “Sweetest.  I’m not drowning him.  I’m trying to keep him from drowning himself.”

My hands were already at Farrel’s sides as he said this, and I glanced at him, bewildered.  “What?

It only took one strong tug from me to get Farrel out of the water completely–Tristi clearly wasn’t trying very hard–and we crashed onto the street.  The halfling gasped and coughed and stared at the dark sky like a gaping fish.  The fireworks bloomed along his glassy eyes in violets and golds and electric blues.  I could see them cloud up as I hovered over him, my teeth biting my lip.  Within the next instant, his face crumpled and he turned his face from me.

“At first,” Tristi said over us, for he hadn’t moved save to step aside from our tumble.  “I was just trying to clear the boy’s head with a dunk of water.  After the second dunk, he started babbling.  After the third dunk, crying.  Then he just…wouldn’t come up.  I think the horrors of what took place in Volo’s care has caught up with him.”

“And you left him there,” I said, my eyes flashing at him.  Farrel started shaking violently.

“Nay, I did not.  As I said, I was trying to keep him from drowning.”

“No, I mean you left him there.  With Volo.  To be violated.”  My pity overtook my awkward anger over Farrel’s recent behavior.  He just didn’t look like the same person.  I pulled the halfling into my lap, and I murmured over him soft comforting words.  He seemed to honor my trust and kept his hands to himself.  Or maybe his grief was just that deep to turn him catatonic.  I felt my clothes grow damp from the water that still clung to his skin and hair.  “Ehna…ehna…Farrel, shhhh…”  I looked at Tristi again, my mouth a displeased line.  “I don’t know why I didn’t put it all together before.  How else would you have known of Farrel’s whereabouts if you had not left him to his fate?”

“It wasn’t my affair,” Tristi said with a shrug.  He reached down for his coat, the belt buckles tinkling, and his abalone eyes turned half-mast behind his glasses.  “Perhaps thou art correct.  Perhaps, the halfling could not discern the danger, and so entered Volo’s domain under impaired judgment…but that is not my domain.  Thus, I do not care.  I had no business meddling.”

“Damn you!” Farrel spat, raising himself from my embrace to glare properly at the champion.  “Ya let that thing take me!  You let him–” But the man bared his teeth and turned his eyes to the floor.

“What are you complaining about?”  Tristi asked with a hint of scorn.  “Didn’t you have fun?”

Farrel leapt like a viper, and had to be held back by me.  His sad rage seemed to make him forget who he was challenging. “Fuck you!” he roared.  “Joue k’dash avec pétase!”

I added in over his shoulder as I struggled to restrain the halfling’s arms, “Tristi that is far too much!”

“Is it?” he asked lightly as he shrugged into his coat with a grimace.  It was still too small for him in his male state. “You still owe me for winning our little bet.”

I stared at him, disbelieving.  “You’re joking.”

“I’m afraid not.”

“You did nothing.”

“My point exactly!  Are you dead?  You even made it out with your friend alive!”

We survived because of our efforts alone, not because of you!”

“But you also didn’t die because of me, either.  So I win.”

“I’m not paying you,” I snapped acerbically, but even as these words left my mouth I felt a sensation spike up my spine and cloud my skull.  I jerked as I felt a pain in my chest.  Farrel had fallen still again, but looked at me with wrinkled brow.  Confused I stared at the ground.

Tristi tutted.  “You are bound by greater things than just your word, powerful as even that may be.”  He looked at his nails at arms length, fingers fanned out and straight.  “You needn’t worry, however.  I don’t want to collect now.  And so here I ask, to change the subject–what will you do now that you have your worthless friend?”

This brought back to me all my motives for saving Farrel, like a host of carrier pigeons dive bombing my head.  Feeling foolish from the way I let these dramas usurp my original motive, I forced the halfling to look at me.  He leaned back, his body going slack as if his latest outburst took all the energy out of him.  He blinked up at me as I began to speak.  The mist was gone from his gaze, leaving them much more lucid than before.  “Farrel…before you fell into Volo’s hands, did you by any chance run into the others?  Elmiryn, Paulo, Lethia, the wizards…anyone?”

His eyes fluttered and he started to shake his head against my shoulder.  “No.  I was with…that…thing the whole time.”

I closed my eyes and sighed.  I found I wasn’t surprised, but the dim hope that had been flickering all this time was gone now.  “Okay.  That’s okay.”

“Nyx what is happening?  Where are we?”

“It’s…difficult to explain.  I’m not sure I’ll do a good job.”

He sat up, groaning.  He left a cold place along my lap and my front, where the water had soaked into my new clothes.  Farrel sat with head bowed, water dripping from the tip of his nose.  Then he turned his head a quarter my way and whispered.  “Please.  I’m sorry I did all ’em things to ya.  But I gotta know.”

So I took a deep breath, and explained what I could.  Farrel nodded his head as he listened to my telling of my recent exploits.  I hesitated upon mentioning Lacertli and my state as a vermagus, but I finally did, toward the end.  My tale was confusing, I feared, because I withheld such important details, but Farrel just kept nodding his head, like my story was a concoction that needed the occasional shake.  Now he looked at me like he were in awe.  “I could hear it in yer voice, like you was holdin’ somethin’ back.  Gods!” He didn’t need anymore proof than my words, which I found odd.  Then again, it was a blasphemous crime to lie about such things, and maybe my bardic trait assisted in my credibility as well?

I then went on to explain the nature of the dimension we were in, the shards, and how the people around us were real, but in the world we came from, which was a separate dimension entirely.  It wasn’t the smoothest of explanations, and I realized with a pang of embarrassment that I should’ve explained the nature of the dimension first, before getting into all that I had gone through to arrive here.  My audience didn’t see the need to interject, at any rate.

Yes, the champion of luck insisted on sitting through my story.  It occurred to me that Tristi hadn’t heard any of this before, and he seemed just as fascinated as Farrel, though without the awe.

“Öctér!” Farrel exclaimed when I was all done.  We three had taken to sitting on the edge of the low fountain.  The halfling had just about dried from his recent drowning attempt, and was staring wistfully into the crowds.  “I can’t believe I’m sitting in the presence of a champion!”

“Not too bright, is he?” Tristi said.  He sat on my left side, fist in his cheek like he were pondering what to do to liven up the day.  The excitement of my story didn’t last long with him, for all his attentiveness.

“Tristi is a champion as well,” I explained to Farrel.  I glanced at the champion of luck.  “More…like a Legend, given all his experience.”

The man did not move from his bored pose, but only glanced sidelong at the halfling on my other side as if he were a mild distraction from his musings.  “I am in no way required to proclaim to one as common as he, but if the lad must know, I am indeed in the service of Lady Fortuna.”

Farrel said nothing, but just looked at me, his eyes wide.  “Nyx…damn.  Back at Holzoff’s.  I would’na said a thin’ to ya if I’d known you were gonna save me.  An’ here you are, a Legend–”

“I’m not,” I interjected, feeling a streak of alarm.  “That’s not what I am!”

He blinked at me in confusion.  “But didn’ ya jes say?”

“That’s different–that’s–”

“If you’re arguing semantics, then I suppose I can back your objections, Nyx.”  Tristi finally broke his thoughtful pose to lean forward and gazed straight at Farrel.  The man in question flinched from the look.  Learning that the person who doesn’t like you is a champion certainly must make one nervous.  “What our kitten is so diffidently trying to make apparent to you is that the demotic understanding of the term, ‘Legend’, is in fact, a great big–now, correct me if I’m skewing things, Nyx–load of horse dung.  A person may be a champion, but not a Legend.  It’s almost much more simpler to think of it this way, as it harks back to the original use of the word–that being an extremely famous or notorious person usually known through historical but unauthenticated tales spread first by word of mouth…” His abalone eyes turned my way, and they held mirth.  “Is that right, sweetest?”

“Don’t call me sweetest…” I mumbled with red cheeks.  I just realized his proximity upon delivering all this, and I leaned far back.

Tristi resumed his thoughtful pose with a small sigh, unaffected by my aversion.  “I suppose I did have plenty of those tales to my name–but the times have changed, and those stories have died, along with the favor for them.  So Nyx…perhaps we are both just untried champions.”

I didn’t know what to say to this.  Tristi’s voice had gone quiet and his eyes stared long into something I could not see–some thorny memory that took all his attention to pick through–and there was Farrel and I, gazing at him with lost looks.

An odd streak of bravery coursed through me as I decided to dominate the stagnation with some action.  “Tristi, you asked me what it was I would do now that Farrel is in my company…well, I suppose I have to keep moving.  I can only think that my friends would do so, if they were able, and I might find what I need to locate them elsewhere.”  I turned to Farrel, all at once, shy again.  “Would you…um…go with me?”

“What choice have I?” The halfling mumbled, his eyes on the ground.  Like Tristi, his thoughts had turned inward–but there was something fresher about the emotion that seized his face.  He was thinking of his time with Volo.

I clenched, as if feeling the taint and horror of those memories in the air around me.  “Farrel, we’ll be okay.”

The halfling made a non-committal noise from the back of his throat, and I became conscious of my clothes, still damp from his wish to drown out the demon’s infliction.

Speaking of which–

I shot to my feet, my face going long and my skin turning ashen.  “What time is it!?”

Both men looked at me, puzzled.  “Pardon?” asked Tristi.

“The time!” I snapped, whirling on them both.  “We have to–”  I growled and grabbed Farrel by the wrist, pulling him up with all my strength.

“H-Hey!  Nyx!” Farrel protested as he stumbled into me.

Tristi was on his feet in a moment, his brow quirked.  “Sweetest, what is it?”

I resisted the urge to look at Farrel like one would look at a lit keg of gunpowder.  “Tristi, you know the way out of this shard, yes?  Can you lead us there?”

“Of course I can,”

Farrel was looking at me with a wide-eyed look.  With my hand on his wrist and him looking at me with appeal in his gaze, I somehow became aware of the fact that he still lacked a shirt.  “Nyx,” he bit out.  “I can hear it in yer voice.  There’s…somethin’ wrong with me, ain’t there?”

I looked at him, pained.  “Farrel…Volo, he–”

But then through the air came a long loud ring, like a bell.  I went rigid.  Farrel did the same.  Tristi looked off to the East.  “The clock tower.  Can’t see it from here.”

“Shh!” I hissed, but it was unnecessary.  Another toll came.  Then another.  There was three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven…

“Twelve chimes,” I croaked.  “It’s midnight.”

Farrel looked at me, and I could feel him trembling.  A shadow of understanding crept over his eyes.

Tristi smiled his fanged smile and rocked back and forth on his heels.  “Ah!  Now the festivities will really pick up!”

We glared daggers at him.


Elmiryn had the presence of mind to set the bottle on the floor before she rose slowly from her seat.  “Warner…”  Her eyes were harsh, catching the city glow.

Warner started to back away from her.  He had a hand held up and was perspiring profusely.  He started to babble.  The fog of his drunkenness finally seemed to flee him.  “Our bloodline is known for being in tune with spirits, Elmiryn.  Not enchantment.  N-Not something so profane.  Just…an awareness.  An ability to interact.  We were blessed by Halward himself.  Y-Your cousins.  Roark and Lydia?  They were given to strange dreams too.  They–They heard things and saw things.  Spirits like to visit us.  They say we could peek into their world with enough wine in us.  Maybe even see the dead as they passed on, just as I’m speaking to you now.”

He tripped on a broken chair leg and righted himself.  Elmiryn still advanced on him.  She reached down and grabbed the broken remains of her mirror, some three feet long and two feet wide, which had a broken reflective smile from where the glass had once been set whole against the wood.  She pulled this back in preparation for a swing.  Warner’s voice grew more choked.

“I had dreams too, now and again.  One night, just a day before I met your mother, I had a dream.  M-Much like yours.  A voice asked me what I would do for power.  I told him the truth.  I told him I’d do…do anything.  Then he asked me if I could…could see him.  Everything was dark, I couldn’t see–”

“You wouldn’t.  You’ve been blind all your life.  Blind to your wife, blind to your daughter, blind to your weaknesses,” she snarled.  Her entire body was turning red.  Warner’s voice was becoming small and far away.  Through considerable self-restraint, she didn’t lunge.  She wanted to hear all of Warner’s story, instead of jumping to conclusions.  He was getting closer to the door.

“I see it was in poor judgment now!” Warner cried earnestly.  And for the first time since Elmiryn could remember, he looked at her, not as a nuisance or a pawn, but as a daughter.  It made her angrier.  It was too late for that now.

“Warner, you never thought to connect two and two together?”

“Meznik offered me a deal!” He rumbled. “Our family has always worked with the supernatural to achieve their ends.  What do you think this whole festival was started on?  A fairy tale?”

“What was his offer?  What was worth selling me off and sending mother into chaos?  What was worth stripping generations of honor from our name!?”

Warner looked stricken.  The blame he had been compounding on her head was now toppling over on him all at once.  “The throne! He promised crowns on our heads!  He said all I had to do was plant a tree with a few drops of my blood.  Somewhere.  Anywhere.  Then if–if I gave him my firstborn child, if I trained them to be the best warrior they could be, then we would become royalty!  I thought he’d give you strength, wisdom, and speed!  Not shame!”  Then he pointed wildly at her, foam clinging to his whiskery face as he thundered, “Don’t tell me you have never dreamed of power, Elmiryn!  Don’t tell me you have never dreamed of elevating your station!  We are descendants of demi-gods, blessed by Halward himself, and we were to be stuck with a third-rate estate and little sway in the courts!?”  He punched at the air, frenzied, spit flying from his gnashing mouth.  “I did it for us!

Elmiryn didn’t shout or scream.  She just took the broken mirror and swung it.  Unlike her sword, it connected.  It was still of his world, after all.  Warner was swatted to the floor.  The remaining shards cut into his skin, and he screamed, holding his left eye.  Blood seeped through his fingers.  The warrior seethed over him.  “You pig…” she hissed, voice so tight she could hardly say a word.  “You fucking pig…”  She raised the bludgeon again.

Warner didn’t give her a chance to hit him a second time.  No doubt surging with adrenaline, he fought through his pain and half-blindness and crashed through the door.  The woman was after him, yelling senselessly.  Before he could make it down the stairs, she threw the broken mirror at him, and it caught Warner in the back.  He tumbled down the last few steps before picking himself up and limping out the front door.  Elmiryn stood huffing at the top of the stairs, feeling dizzy.

Sedwick and Quincy poked their heads through the entryway from the parlor.  Sedwick cleared his throat.  “Sooo…I trust your reunion went well?”

‘Laughing With A Mouth Of Blood’ by St. Vincent, from the album ‘Actor’. 4AD, 2009. []

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