what if a dawn of a doom of a dream
bites this universe in two,
peels forever out of his grave
and sprinkles nowhere with me and you?
– Excerpt from e.e. cummings “what if a much of a which of a wind”.
When strings of darkness bunched into a knot thicker than her worse hair tangle, the woman was about to throw her hands into the air (and was even upon the point of detaching them at the wrists) when she heard Nyx’s voice behind her.
Elmiryn shoulders hunched, her gut twisting as if she’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She looked over her shoulder, and sure enough, Nyx had sat up, her tawny eyes blinking. She had a lock of her long dark hair between her fingers, her brow knitted as she wobbled in the void for a moment, like she were on an unsteady raft. Her arms flashed out at her sides, a small cry slipping her lips before her body steadied.
“Oh!” the warrior said. She grinned sheepishly just as she felt her hand firmly reattach itself, then turned and regarded the girl. “I was beginning to think you’d just stay a doll! So you came here through…the what? The world’s dream? It starts with an ‘s’, but I can’t remember the–”
“No clothes?” Nyx interjected, looking down at herself.
No hello. The woman wondered if the girl were angry or just in shock.
Elmiryn chuckled and rubbed the back of her neck. “I…guess not.”
Nyx looked at her just with her eyes. “You guess?” Her tone was dry.
The redhead flinched. She started to lean toward “angry”.
She started to explain. “Well I’m not in complete control of everything yet. Things just sort of showed up and–” the woman broke off as she felt the shadows shift her definition. She turned to them in irritation, shoving them back into place with her spirit. Looking back at the girl, she said in a simple voice, “It’s–uh–a work in progress.”
“I see,” but judging by the expression on Nyx’s face, she was more confused than ever. The girl wrinkled her nose at all the animals floating through the air, and asked, “Why kittens and sparrows?”
Elmiryn shrugged. “Why not?”
Next, the Ailuran looked up, and she gave a start, a hand flying to her mouth. “Sweet Aelurus, who’s that?”
“Her, of course!” Nyx pointed up her expression drawn in incredulity.
Elmiryn looked, then sighed and placed her hands on her hips. “Yee-ah…’bout that…I have no idea. She won’t go away. Or it won’t go away. However you want to say it.”
Nyx ran a hand through her hair, giving her surroundings another sweep. “Elmiryn, I don’t know if I’ve said this already, but this is really strange!” She sounded out of breath.
“No, you haven’t said it already, but yes, it is.”
Nyx blushed suddenly and hugged her legs to her chest. “Were you…w-were you…touching me before?”
Elmiryn frowned. “No. I said I’d wait for you to become real.”
“Never mind. I wasn’t touching you.”
“But…I felt you.”
“…Oh. Well. I was touching you earlier, but–”
“You mean your tongue wasn’t–” Nyx broke off, unable to continue.
Elmiryn gave her a confused look before her eyebrows rose and her mouth made a big circle. “Ooooh.” The woman’s cheeks flushed and she stubbed a toe in the imaginary ground. “Umm…sorry. I was…thinking. I didn’t actually do any of that.” She kneaded her brow. “Fuck. I’m really sorry.”
The girl gazed at her for a moment before she offered a shy smile. “It’s okay. You didn’t know.”
“It didn’t cause you trouble, I hope?”
“Oh, no! Thank goodness. It happened after the hunt was over and I was able to hide my reactions.”
The woman smiled wolfishly. “Reactions, huh?”
Nyx pouted at her. “It isn’t funny! I nearly had an…and in front of Quincy of all people!” The girl gave a shudder.
The woman giggled, greatly tickled by the mental image. “I can see that how that can be awkward!”
“Hush!” Nyx chided, but she was smiling as she made to stand. “It was horrific!”
Elmiryn raised an eyebrow. Within a moment, Nyx had become within arm’s reach when before she’d been yards away. “My, but someone is wanting!” The woman teased.
The girl was startled by her sudden shift in space and stared behind her. “I–but–I didn’t take a step!”
The warrior closed the space between them, a smirk on her lips. “You’re right. You didn’t have to. I did.”
Nyx stared up into the woman’s eyes, the blush on her cheeks deepening. “How does that work?” she breathed.
Elmiryn caressed her cheek, then brushed back a lock of hair from the girl’s forehead. Touch did not work here, as she was not in her body, but the idea of being in contact with the girl flushed the woman with pleasure. “Intent. Intent moves things here. Must’ve been why you felt my thoughts when I hadn’t been touching your doll.”
“Then don’t you have the intent to go back to your body?”
The warrior’s hand stilled against the girl’s cheek. She pulled back. “It hurts there.”
“But if you stay out of your body too long–”
“My body needs time to heal.” Elmiryn turned and walked away. Walking was unnecessary to create space, but the action made her feel better. She sat and gazed upward. “Every time I try to connect with it, I feel pain. Too much pain. I’m…not like you, Nyx. I’m not used to that kind of suffering.” The words came slowly, quietly. But for all her whispering, she may as well have been shouting it. The warrior pursed her lips and glared over her shoulder, as if daring the girl to say she needed to be stronger.
But Nyx just looked at her somberly, her hands clasped before her. “I didn’t even think about that.” She looked down at her feet. “I’m sorry. I was just thinking of myself.” The girl’s hands tightened and she frowned. “I just didn’t want to be away from you like this.”
Elmiryn chuckled. “Away from me?” She twisted around fully to smile at the girl. “Nyx, you just chased me into my own mindfuck. I’d say that distance is not a problem.”
The girl smiled wryly. “Especially given that all we need is a step.”
The warrior nodded, her smile softening. “Just a step.” She looked forward again, her stomach clenching as she wondered what Nyx’s next move would be.
“Can I tell you something?” Elmiryn said, to hide her anticipation.
“What?” Nyx still sounded far off.
The woman bit her thumb and looked up at the strange alien woman, whose skin flushed red, then royal blue, then electric yellow. The shift in hues and tones were mesmerizing, and for a moment she forgot her ire toward the odd fixture. “Back in Fiamma, they used to call me the Silken Warrior. A stupid name, really…but they called me that because I never got more than a few scratches in battle. People said I was hand chosen by Halward. To them, it explained how a woman like me could serve in a man’s army.” The woman snorted into a laugh. “The kingdom has no laws preventing women from serving, but they were so rare that protocol demanded that every serving officer be referred to as ‘sir’. It was really awkward when I made First Lieutenant because of the stupid honorific. ‘Yes, sir. No, sir.’ The first week after my promotion I had to fight my hardest to keep from laughing. The looks on everyone’s faces when they abided that rule was more than enough to take the edge off my day!”
Elmiryn hugged her knee, her eyes misting in memories whose images had already become foggy and white-washed, but whose voices stayed bright and true. “After a while, of course, everyone got used to it. Even me. And then, after I came out of my fourth major battle unscathed, it became a given. I could see the switch in people’s eyes…a small dose of awe mixed in with whatever other emotion you can imagine. Jealousy. Disgust. Lust. Admiration. I don’t know who started calling me the Silken Warrior, but if I ever met them I’d have to fight not to kill them. Really fight.”
“Why did you hate the name so much?” Nyx sounded a little closer.
Elmiryn shrugged. “Because. I didn’t know what real pain was. I mean, sure. I got hurt. Bruises and sprains and all that. But never a broken bone. Never a lost limb. Never so much as a gash. After a while, it makes the fighting feel surreal. Like you aren’t really there. Like you’re…” she gave a huff. “Like you’re a ghost.”
The woman pressed her fingers into her eyes, stars tunneling behind her eyelids. “I liked being a dragoon because we got the riskiest missions. Leading the charge across enemy lines. Attacking a heavily fortified garrison whilst outnumbered. Hunting down an Ailuran leader through enemy lands. We got it all, and I loved it because it gave me a chance to feel alive. I got bored with anything else. I was arrogant, thinking I was somehow invincible. Halward never spoke to me, despite what everyone said, so I started to get it into my head that it wasn’t godly intervention, just my own fucking brilliance that saw me through.”
The woman dropped her hands, her eyelids stinging. She spat and wiped at her mouth. “I was a fool.”
“What happened…” Nyx asked quietly. She was closer still.
Elmiryn smiled and shook her head. “It wasn’t the gods that were protecting me.” She looked over her shoulder to see Nyx was standing right behind her, her brow tight as she looked down at the woman. The woman held the girl’s gaze for a moment before she said, “It was Meznik.”
Now Nyx’s face screwed up in that recognizable fashion of disgust before it quickly melted into confusion. “Why would he do that?”
“I already told you. He thinks I’m his toy.”
“Meznik isn’t a god.”
The woman laughed harshly. “I know that.”
“But wouldn’t you have noticed something?”
Elmiryn turned away, her eyes sweeping over the sea of spiraling animals. “Look around us,” she said. She held out her hands. “This isn’t a world. Just theatrical backdrops still in need of painting for use in some dramatic play. Like empty canvasses. I can do what I want with them. That’s why there’s no sky, no ground, no gravity, no true space. Everything here is imagined. Everything here is just shaped by intent.” She looked back at Nyx. “Remember when we first helped Nadi? Meznik drove her insane not because he did anything to her, but because he shifted about her perception. He changed her backdrops. Who is to say he didn’t do the same to me? To my enemies?”
The woman chuckled again and bit her knuckle. She felt Nyx sit next to her, but did not shift. The redhead had been afforded plenty of time to think about things. The answers had come hard. They had required her to pull away the trappings of mortal thinking, and though it was so alien, she found that such boundaries were much easier to slip by these days.
“He got mad at me,” Elmiryn breathed, her eyes narrowing. “He got mad because I got arrogant and thought all my good fortune was my own doing. It makes sense now, all the things he’s ever told me. I could hear the limp in his ego every now and again, but I didn’t get it. I thought he was just being evil and crazy. But it makes sense doesn’t it? Meznik’s done more for me than all the gods combined and–”
“He hasn’t done anything for you,” Nyx snarled. She grabbed the woman’s hand, and Elmiryn looked at her sideways.
Nyx’s tawny eyes flashed as she spoke through her teeth. “Elmiryn, please. I know you’re frustrated with the gods, but Meznik is our enemy not our ally, not even our provisional ally! He’s hurt and killed hundreds of people because of what he’s done, and it doesn’t matter that it was directly or indirectly! He has to be stopped!”
“I know that…” Elmiryn breathed, still looking at the girl sideways. “I never said I liked the guy, and I still fully intend on running him through…but I have to get close enough to kill him. I have to play along.”
“Until when?” Nyx hissed. “Until he’s telling you to kill your friends!?”
Elmiryn’s face tightened and she ripped her hand away from Nyx. “Don’t. You know I wouldn’t do that.”
The girl took a deep breath and closed her eyes, turning her head away. “Elmiryn, you’re changing.”
“So are you. It’s the nature of life to change. If you’re static, you’re either dead or nonexistent.”
“No. I mean–You’re starting to get horns.”
This made the woman pause. “I’m…what?”
Nyx looked at her, her eyes dry but her face still shifting as if she were about to break down. “I can see the seed that Meznik planted in you. It’s grown and spread throughout you, and there are these…horns, like new branches, coming out of either side of your forehead. Just at the hairline.” The girl pointed out the spots weakly.
Elmiryn swallowed. “That’s what you see? Because of your–”
“Yes. That’s what the Somnium shows me. I don’t know if it’s literal. Lacertli said the Somnium is the world’s dream, and therefor what we see is representative of the truth, but…” the girl’s voice trailed away.
The woman felt cold. “I’m not human anymore,” she whispered.
“Elle, I don’t think the change is complete–”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s complete. I’m not really human anymore.”
“What!?” The woman shouted, glaring at Nyx. The tenderness in the girl’s voice was going to drive her insane. “Don’t sugarcoat things, Nyx, gods damn it, I’m not fucking human anymore! Just say it! Don’t coddle me! Say it!”
When Nyx spoke, it was in a whisper. “I don’t care what you are. I don’t. I really don’t. I just…I care for you, and I want you…and I don’t want Meznik to destroy you. Who you are.”
“What if who I am is something that can’t exist in the world of the gods? What if who I am is cruel, mercurial, and demented?”
“If you can’t exist in the world of the gods, then we’ll find a world you can exist in. And I know you aren’t cruel, mercurial, and demented…you’re just scared.”
“I’m not scared,” Elmiryn said automatically, her voice tight.
Nyx’s voice choked. “Than I am for you!”
The redhead’s throat tightened and she turned to the girl, seeing the tears coursing down her face. “Gods damn it, Nyx,” she hissed, before pulling the Ailuran to her in a tight hug.
“You cry too much,” the woman murmured into the girl’s hair.
“And you’re hardheaded,” the girl returned, her voice muffled by the woman’s shoulder. She sniffled and wiped at her eyes.
“You defied Artemis, Elle.”
“I can’t remember.”
“Somehow, I’m not surprised…”
Elmiryn blinked the moisture from her eyes and swallowed the lump in her throat, her hand petting the girl’s head. “Before…when you were talking about finding a new world…you said we. Did you mean that?”
The girl smacked her lightly in the ribs. “Cajeck! Of course I did!”
Nyx lifted her eyes and the woman held her face, her lips quivering. “I…” she shook her head slowly. “I don’t want to hurt you. There are consequences beyond either of us can imagine right now, and I don’t want to hurt you, Nyx.”
The girl smiled and kissed Elmiryn’s wrist. “I know you don’t.”
“I mean it, Nyx. I’m…with everything that’s going on, it’s getting a little harder to keep it together, nice as my clarity is in the Other Place. I’m fucking changing, and I don’t think it’s even true to say I’m half-human anymore. I’ve already lashed out at you and the others. More and more, I don’t feel like there’s an ounce of charity in me. I just push things to the limit, all just so that I can feel something close to normal, and it never comes out nice for the people around me. Ask my family. Ask my old friends. Ask Quincy and Sedwick for fuck’s sake!”
“I wouldn’t ask the wizard for directions to a pot of gold,” the girl snorted.
“Then just take my word for it!”
“Do you want me to leave you?” Nyx asked, her eyes flashing in worry.
Elmiryn shook her head slowly. “No…”
“Then shut up.”
“Fuck you, Elmiryn.”
The woman blinked.
Nyx was glaring up at her. “Don’t you think I know what it’s like to sit in a dark place and feel the despair creeping into you? Don’t you think I understand? When my family died, I wanted to kill myself. I almost did, too. But Marq, an old friend of mine, saved me.” The girl smiled sardonically. “You think you’re lashing out at us now? You should have seen me with Marq! I wanted nothing of his help, and told him, too, in no uncertain words. He sacrificed himself for me. He fought to keep me alive, and I didn’t understand why at the time, but in the end, he succeeded. I decided to keep on living and to go East to find a new life. That’s when I met you, Elle.”
Nyx traced the lizard mark on her breast. “I know you dislike the gods. Maybe it has to do with your fae nature. Maybe it’s all to do with your experiences. But my experiences with them led me to you, and I believe more and more that maybe this was all supposed to happen. If there is a cure for what’s happening to you, Elle, we’ll find it. And if not? We’ll deal with it, then! But I’m not going anywhere, and certainly not because you’re afraid of hurting me. So just shut the hell up!”
Elmiryn’s eyes had slipped to half-mast as she listened to the girl’s small rant. Nyx remained firm for about a minute before the tension in her brow softened and her lip started to pout.
“What?” she mumbled.
The warrior grinned and touched the girl’s nose. “You’re starting to get a dirty mouth.”
The girl closed her eyes and shook her head. “Take me serious! I’ve made my decision, Elle. Come what may, I’m there with you.”
“Okay.” Elmiryn’s grin widened and she tried not to laugh from the joy. “Okay!” The woman enveloped the girl in another hug, her hands roving the girl’s back. Here, their usual barriers were absent, and Nyx made no sign of feeling discomfort.
As the woman’s hands lighted over the girl’s skin, she found that she didn’t feel deterred by her lack of feeling. Somehow, it made her hungrier, her soul feeling hot as the shadows shivered and the light scorched, highlighting a single true fact–
Elmiryn couldn’t get enough of Nyx.
The girl’s eyes slipped shut, stealing away that warm gaze, and the woman exhaled in mild frustration. Her hands buried into the girl’s hair, tilting her head back, and Elmiryn kissed her, softly, before tracing her tongue along the Ailuran’s bottom lip. Nyx’s hands were on the woman’s hips and they tightened as she stood on her toes to better taste the woman with her own tongue. The warm impetuous desire made Elmiryn sigh, and with a gentle suggestion, she guided the girl down and laid over her. Her hands did not behave, but Nyx didn’t seem to mind…
The heated play went on for some time before Nyx pushed the woman back, panting. “Elle, I–gods damn it–I left Quincy back at the medicine hut!”
Elmiryn frowned, already disappointed by the interruption. “So?”
“So she’s watching over your body so that I can go back! I don’t much like the woman, but she’s helping to heal people, and with the Lycans returning from their hunt, well…” the girl trailed off with a pout.
The warrior rolled over to sit next to the girl, and Nyx sat up, her face red.
The girl made as if to move, but paused, a look of befuddlement on her face.
“What is it?” the woman asked, leaning back onto her hands.
Nyx glanced at her. “Elle…I sensed you were touching me, but I didn’t feel you. Does that make sense?”
The woman nodded, a lazy grin on her face. “Yes. You may have come here, body and whole, but I’m just here in spirit.” Elmiryn chuckled. “I really am a ghost!”
“And I am the Twin…” Nyx murmured.
Elmiryn looked at her friend sharply. Her ears had perked to anxiety in the girl’s voice. “Kitten?”
Her companion bit her lip and looked away. “I…found Her.”
The woman’s eyebrows rose high as it clicked. “Oh!”
The girl nodded miserably. “You can just imagine how that went.”
Nyx groaned and buried her face into the woman’s shoulder. “It was a disaster. She hates me. I mean, she was never fond of me before, but…but when we tried to help Lethia free Syria, we managed a sort of…alliance. It wasn’t perfect, but we had started working together. Now she’s furious with me because she’s been stuck in these forests, fleeing the monster and avoiding the Lycans. I also forgot my promise to her.”
“I said I’d give her a name.”
The warrior fixed her with a scowl. “You said you’d give her a name?”
“I realize the implications, but at the time there was nothing I could do!” Nyx said with a sigh. “She was being obstinate and time was of the essence.”
“So now what?”
The girl held up her hands. “I don’t know.” She glanced around her one last time, her lip between her teeth, before she stood. “I have to go.”
Elmiryn tried to ignore the twist of her gut at those words and failed miserably. She rubbed at her face with one hand, before letting it cover her eyes. “All right.”
Nyx touched her shoulder. “Elle?”
The woman looked up at the girl. “Yes?”
“You’re just as real as I am…remember that, okay?”
Elmiryn blinked, then nodded slowly, her brow wrinkling slightly. “…Sure.”
And with that, the girl was gone. No puff of smoke. No ring in the air. Just gone.
The redhead stared at the place where her friend had been, then challenged the word ‘friend’, and wondered if it were more appropriate to say ‘lover’ at this point. She sighed and felt annoyed by the Words, so she left them alone. Nyx was better at handling those things.
Elmiryn looked around at all the kittens and sparrows, then looked up at the alien being in its white box. Without moving her lips, she spoke, “I’m not scared…I’m not.”