Everything is my fault. Everything. I’ve hurt so many people. Maybe it’s good that I disappear. Maybe it’s good. Is this why my family left me alone?
Hope is just the universe’s way of lying to you.
All that pain and struggle…and for what? There isn’t any point when we become the thing we fear most. Honestly, how do you come back from that? You don’t…you just don’t…
If I’m going to be a monster, then please…someone slay me.
When Gudahi managed to wrestle the Twin off of Elmiryn, two things immediately became clear. Firstly, it didn’t matter how much charm and wit the redhead had, she just wasn’t very good at keeping her mysgaji tongue in check. Secondly, the Twin may have been angry…but she wasn’t murderous.
Quincy watched, shocked and alarmed like the rest of them as the giant cat roared and knocked Elmiryn to the ground. It was almost a certainty that before any of them could get the beast off her, the warrior was likely going to be missing her throat. But aside from a few harmless cuts and bruises, the woman was fine. The wizard felt her optimism rise. If the Twin wasn’t willing to kill Elmiryn after an insult like that, then there was still a chance to salvage the situation.
The Twin had already ceased fighting against Gudahi when he released her. She made no further attempts to attack. The warrior, meanwhile, was cursing up a storm. The past three days had seen her good humor turn thin, and though she had not ceased with her quips and provocations, there was a note of ire and bitterness to it that just didn’t feel like the Elmiryn Quincy had come to know. The wizard was amazed to say it, but she wished the old Elmiryn would come back.
As she thought this, she had to hold the redhead back whilst she screamed. “You stupid fucking piece of shit mangy animal—I gave you what you wanted didn’t you!? It was a perfect joke of a name for a FUCKING joke like you! Now where is it? WHERE IS THE BEAST!?”
Quincy had enough. Without a word, she drew the woman’s magic dagger from its sheathe.
There was a muted hum as all sound was sucked out of the air around them, blanketing them in an unnatural silence…
Except for Quincy.
“I think that’s enough of that,” she said dryly.
Elmiryn whirled around to glare at her. She tried to snatch the dagger back, but Quincy skipped back and pointed the weapon at her. “Ah, ah!” Tutted the wizard. “Do you really want to try and grab at the blade like that?” Backing away slowly, the brunette smirked. “Mmmm…it’s really nice not hearing your obnoxiousness for even a few seconds. But I promise Elmiryn, this will be quick.”
Not taking her eyes off the warrior, Quincy turned her head in the direction of the Twin and said, “You want a name, Cat? Then what about Kali?” Elmiryn’s face, so tight with insult and outrage, started to ease. The wizard continued her explanation at the insistence of her gut. She couldn’t see or hear the Twin, but she felt she was on to something. “The name means ‘sister of shadow’. There is a legend told in Crysen of twin sisters named Tali and Kali. None knew where they came from, but they were very talented with magic. It was discovered that Tali’s power became stronger during the day, while Kali’s power became stronger at night. They were polar opposites of one another, but they lived in tandem. They did that because they needed each other.” Quincy finally dared to take her eyes off Elmiryn to look at the Twin. Just as her instinct had told her, the beast was giving her full attention, and nothing of her demeanor seemed to suggest rejection.
The wizard nodded toward her. “As I understand it, you need Nyx to exist. Well she needs you too. In fact, we all need you, but none more so than her. We can’t have light without shadow, Twin. So will you accept this name and help us?” As Quincy said this, she flipped the dagger over, catching it delicately by the blade, then carefully offered it to Elmiryn. The warrior took it with a grumpy look.
When the dagger was returned to its sheathe, the sound returned to them in a rush of air.
Still, no one spoke for a time.
Finally, the Twin stepped forward. “Kali…” she bowed her head and closed her eyes. When she lifted her gaze again, it was with a fierceness and pride that Quincy hadn’t seen before. “This name is acceptable. You shall all refer to me henceforth as that. I will answer to nothing else. Now…as Nyx’s sister…” the beast squared its paws and tilted its head back. “I will help you find what you seek.”
Quincy gave a satisfied nod. “Excellent. Then it’s settled.” She shot Elmiryn a look, before asking next, “What can you tell us then…?”
The Twin—Kali—Sat on her haunches and her ears drooped. “I cannot speak of the monster without confessing.”
The wizard frowned. “Confessing?” She looked to Elmiryn and found a similar look of confusion.
“Yes.” Kali inhaled deeply. Her exhale came out as a low growl. “Back at Holzoff’s Tower, you all know that Syria had used her power to bewitch everyone. Well as an observer who saw the present like a dream, I was the only one between Nyx and I, who was aware that anything was amiss. I tried to tell her that something was wrong, but my counterpart never did like hearing me, even before I gained the use of Words. Syria sensed my attempts and, with her power, she cast me deep into the darkest parts of Nyx’s subconscious.”
Quincy crouched, fascinated as she saw the feline’s face tense. Such emotion…it was hard to believe that such a creature could be the embodiment of Nyx’s animal nature. But perhaps that wasn’t true? Perhaps Kali wasn’t just some manifestation of basic instincts. But if not that, then what?
“None of you understand this, because none of you have ever been in the position I have. Being in that place…it is hell. It is cold. It is abstraction. Everything you are is just so much noise in a black vacuum. Being in that place…you could go mad. And maybe I did, a little. But I came across something, in that darkness…something that was strong, but unguided. That was powerful, but mindless. I had told Nyx that there was another shard in our mind, but now I don’t think it was right to call it that. It was just…an aspect of ourselves, something ugly that neither of us wanted to acknowledge so we locked it away and forgot about it. I took its essence, and I used it.” Kali looked straight at Elmiryn, whose face had gone completely slack. Quincy’s heart started to beat faster, and she looked to Hakeem. Her husband’s young face was sporting a look of resignation. The Twin continued, “What I found was rage, pure and undiluted. It was pain, it was suffering, it was hate and fear. I used that power to return to the conscience world and to break Nyx free of her stupor. And when we were sent here…we were split apart, and that essence of suffering…it became the beast.”
“You let out the thing that killed Atalo,” Elmiryn whispered. Quincy was surprised to see her eyes had gone teary. “You let out the monster that was inside of Nyx. The part of her she didn’t know how to control…that you didn’t know how to control!”
Kali hissed at her, her ears turning flat. “In the end, it was what saved us all. What would have happened had Nyx not inspired your heart to break free of Syria’s spell!? How would we even be alive today if I had not done what I did!”
Sanuye growled ominously. Gudahi bared his teeth, his hands fists at his sides. “Countless of my brothers and sisters have fallen for your mistake! Why is their lives worth less than yours!?”
“I did not know the beast would part from my control,” Kali spat. “It wasn’t my intention to kill so many, but tell me, when one has a choice between surviving or protecting indifferent strangers—no—racial rivals—what would you choose? And do not speak to me about the weight of my decision when you do not even understand the situation in full! Syria was a powerful woman whose designs were to destroy the world as we know it! Do I know how that would have worked out? No. You want to know why? Because I made a decision, and that led to her being stopped. So do not speak to me that way, puerile pup, until you have to make a choice that not only determines your life, but that of an unimaginable number of others!”
“Cut the bullshit!” Elmiryn shouted. “None of us knew what would have really happened! None of us knew what was going on! We could have figured something out! We could have beaten Syria without that thing, so don’t go making yourself out like a hero when you didn’t even understand the consequences at the time you fucking pulled this crap!”
“The decision was made, and there’s no changing it! The sooner you can accept that, the sooner we can deal with the present!” Kali snapped. “Whatever you may think, that beast is out now. It is a part of me…and it is a part of Nyx. Killing it would only result in our deaths!”
Elmiryn gripped her sword handle tightly. “So what are we supposed to do, hmm?”
Kali snorted at her, then turned to Quincy. “What happened the last time you saw Nyx. How did the beast come into possession of her?”
Quincy cleared her throat. “Well. We encountered the monster three days ago, and Nyx tried to stop it using her bardic abilities—”
Hakeem spoke next. “Nyx has an old power, and I suppose you do too. It is one that allows her to turn her voice into kinetic force, among other things. She tried using it to fight the beast.”
Kali’s eyes widened. “But if we all share the same power…”
Quincy nodded gravely. “In the end, it was able to resist and fight back. When Nyx was down, the monster impaled her with its claws…but then its shadow grew beneath it, and they both sank out of sight.”
“From the way the monster struggled to free its claw,” Hakeem said. “It appeared surprised and unwilling. That, and finding you still alive has led us to believe that Nyx is also still alive.”
Kali nodded. “If that is so, then I may have an idea where she is. I have not gone there, mind you, but I have known spirits and animals to fear that region, so naturally I steered clear of it as well. If there is ever a place for the beast to lurk, it would be there.”
Quincy gave a sigh of relief and started to walk away. “Well, now that that’s settled, I’m going to find something to eat and pretend I have all my fingers. I find this ordeal rather taxing, and any moment spent not thinking about it is a good moment…”
If I am truly so clever, none of this would have happened. I would have seen where the stars were leading me. I would have figured out her motives before we got sucked into this hell. She leaves me to watch them struggle, and at first I thought she was punishing me. Trying to break me.
And then I realized she was trying to teach me.
I hate her for still trying.
I hate myself for still wanting her to try.
Elmiryn fisted her cheek as she glowered down at her roasted rabbit. Everyone was quiet at camp. After a brief rest and a small meal, they had resumed their journey with the Twin at the lead. Or wait. She wasn’t supposed to call it that anymore. Now it was Kali…the bitter, self-preserving beast that had visited torment onto the Lycans and started them all on this bizarre search for her better half.
The woman’s hand shook as she brought the meat to her lips and took a disinterested bite.
The large cat was up in a tree, just outside the reach of the campfire, her eyes aglow in the shadows as she silently watched them below. Elmiryn narrowed her eyes at her.
“Something is clearly on your mind, so why not just say it, instead of staring rudely?” Kali growled. The others looked up with a start.
“Wow. I never thought I’d see the day when an animal talks to me about etiquette.” Elmiryn tossed her rabbit leg onto the ground. She wasn’t hungry anyway. “All right.” The woman stood and approached the tree, moving past Quincy, Hakeem, Sanuye, and Gudahi. Placing her hands on her hips, she regarded the cat above her with a raised eyebrow. “Now that you have your own name, what else do you want?”
Kali blinked down at her. “What?”
Elmiryn sneered. “It’s a simple question, Kali. You have a name. What do you want now?”
The cat turned her head, her ears flicking. “What I want, I will no longer need to beg for.”
“But what do you want?”
“My own life. I thought that was obvious.”
Elmiryn rubbed her forehead. “You mind telling me how that’s gonna work without a body of your own?”
“Must you constantly remind me of my plight?”
The warrior shrugged. “I just want to make sure we’re clear on the issue here. We both know that Nyx is the real one—”
Kali hissed and leaned down, her dark features slipping into the glow of the fire. “And what constitutes real for you, when you see faces in smoke and think the sky is made out of paper? What makes me less important when Nyx needs me to survive?”
“She doesn’t need you.”
“She is a shell without me! Our survival has been entirely my doing since the day we were born! When she tried to starve herself to death, I kept us alive. When others cornered us, I fought back. When she needed strength to help her friends, I gave her that. Me!”
“And yet you couldn’t save Atalo for all your gods damned strength!”
“Atalo would be alive today if that stupid whore hadn’t taken him away!”
Elmiryn hardly thought about what she was doing. One moment she was gazing into the haunting depths of Kali’s eyes, the next the cat was pinned down beneath her over the fire pit, the bright embers of the fire scattered and singing her arms and face. The beast screamed, claws out, struggling, but a strength that the woman hadn’t felt in a long time appeared in her limbs. She held the beast down, her vision tunneling as she hissed over and over.
“Die, die, die, die, die…”
“Elmiryn, get OFF her!” Arms wrapped around the woman’s throat and pulled her back. She could smell that wild musk of fur and sweat and forest. Phantom memories of hands holding her down and teeth raking her skin sent a jolt of panic down her spine. She let go of Kali and let out a strangled yell, her eyes wide, her hands reaching up to scratch at her assailants face. She was lifted bodily into the air and she started kicking her legs wildly.
“For heaven’s sake, stop! Stop it! Let her go!” That was Quincy.
Elmiryn was released. Without pausing, she turned and launched her fist. She caught Sanuye across the face. The woman stumbled back, but only appeared mildly surprised. Her lip started to bleed.
Heaving, the redhead pointed a quaking finger at her. “Don’t touch me. Do you hear me?” Sanuye said nothing. Her eyes flickered to Quincy and Hakeem, but the warrior aggressively held her gaze. “Do you FUCKING hear me!? I said—DO. NOT. TOUCH. ME.”
Quincy appeared at her side, and Elmiryn flinched away from her, her gaze wild. The wizard was looking at her like one did a bridge jumper: clearly alarmed, all caution. “Elmiryn, you’ve been on edge since we’ve found Kali. Something happened, didn’t it?”
“Nothing happened.” Elmiryn snapped, perhaps too quickly. She stormed away from camp, recklessly smashing through the undergrowth. To her frustration, she heard the wizard follow her.
“So then why do you have those scratches on you?” Quincy asked doggedly.
“That’s a lie, Elmiryn. The marks on your back couldn’t possibly have been made by Kali.”
The warrior rounded on her, her teeth bared. “And why the hell not?” They were far enough away from the camp that the other’s voices had become indistinct.
Quincy shrugged carefully. “Well, for one thing, the fact that the shape and angle of the injuries don’t make any sense for a quadruped to make. But to make things simpler, I’m just going to point out the bruises shaped like fingers on your back.”
The wizard placed her hands on her hips. “Now that we’re out of earshot, do you mind telling me what’s going on?”
The warrior gazed at Quincy for a long time. When she spoke, her voice was strained. “No.”
Elmiryn heard the other woman sigh heavily as she walked away.
The sphere before her sat on a billowing geyser of smoke, and within its watery depths, the girl could see the two women split–Quincy returning to camp, and Elmiryn wandering off to be alone. The trials of the Other Place were deepening the cracks in their resolve. The more their problems fissured, the less likely any of them would survive.
“Elmiryn’s suffering comes from her failure to understand that she is simply a toy. Toys do not have goals or ambitions, and never do they act independently. They are containers of the imagination, to be filled with the dreams of whoever handles them. Her world does not know free will, though she is given the illusion of such. In reality, her existence is determined by causality.”
“But she resists. Her ability to resist should denote a capacity for free will, shouldn’t it?”
“She is an actor refusing to play her part. But the show must go on, as they say, even if the play must carry on without her.”
“In denying participation, she holds herself ransom against the world. That is indicative of a spirit capable of controlling the outcome to her liking.”
“But you’re assuming that she is a key component to the issue at hand.”
“That’s what she would like to think.”
Then what does that make you, Mistress? Lethia thought, her eyes tearing with despair.