She took her hands and traced the more bizarre features of her companion like a blind woman. Her mind jammed, like a broken cog, on this sudden information. “Nyx looks different. Nyx has changed…is it even Nyx?” Smooth skin beneath dry fingertips caused Elmiryn’s eyes to slip shut for a brief second before they fluttered open again.
This was her companion, Elmiryn reasoned. She couldn’t logically be replaced by anyone else without first vanishing from sight completely, not even with the aid of magic. It wasn’t a trick of the eye, either. The Ailuran had indeed shifted her form.
Nyx’s fine, round-tipped nose had changed to a low-sloped, dainty thing that was pink, wet, and heart-shaped. Her eyes slanted further upwards and were now host to a slitted bestial gaze. Her lips had turned thinner and pinker, the upper lip gaining a low curve that overpowered the lower lip at the ends. Barely visible from the shadow of her parted mouth were sharp canines and a rough-looking tongue that seemed to pulse with every anxious exhalation. Elmiryn even forced the girl’s head to the side and found that her ears had become pointed and fuzzed at the tips.
After suffering this for ten seconds, Nyx pulled away and fell clumsily against the bar. “Stop it!” she snapped. A clawed hand touched her flushed face. She paused at the feel of her sharp nails against her skin, and Elmiryn could see her tongue go to feel the points of her canines uncertainly.
The warrior stared at her, her hands still in the air where she had felt the girl’s ears. “Why didn’t you hurt when you shifted?”
“She’s…she’s a therian.” Sedwick breathed. He took a small step forward and shook his head. “I don’t know why I didn’t notice befo–”
“She’ll kill us!” Baldwin squeaked. He grunted, and Elmiryn’s ears tickled at the sound of a sword hissing out of its scabbard.
She turned hard on the ball of her foot and grabbed the boy’s arm before he could fully draw his weapon. Sedwick jumped back, his hands tightening on his spear as he held it before him. Elmiryn only glanced at him before looking at the boy. “Keep your head on straight,” she breathed as her eyes looked resolutely into Baldwin’s dark ones. “You think hard about drawing out that sword of yours. Doing so commits you to a dangerous situation. This girl,” Elmiryn made a vague gesture over her shoulder with her chin. “Is with me. You hurt her, and you find yourself answering to my blade. Given how there are bigger things at stake, maybe you ought to reconsider getting yourself killed before we head to the guardian?”
Baldwin blinked at her. His face dripped with sweat. “You…You mean you’ll let me come?”
Elmiryn nodded. “Yes. But only if you listen to what I say and think.”
The ruddy hopeful looked from Sedwick, to Elmiryn, and back again. The blacksmith relaxed and gave a stern nod.
Baldwin sheathed his sword. “Okay. …But if she does anything–!”
“She won’t.” Elmiryn turned back to Nyx. The girl was staring into a reflective plate she had picked up from somewhere on the bar. Her face had gone slack.
“What’s…happening to me?” she breathed.
“Elmiryn, I think we need to have a serious talk.” Sedwick said firmly.
Elmiryn gave a brief look around the room. Those inside the inn were now staring their way, most on their feet and with uneasy expressions. With a sigh, the warrior took her stunned companion by the shoulders. “In a moment,” she said to Sedwick before she guided Nyx to the darker side of the inn, where they sat at an empty table away from the others. The warrior sat across from the girl, with her elbows on the wooden surface and her hands interlaced. She pressed them to her lips as she gazed levelly at the Ailuran. “You didn’t feel the shift happen?” she asked quietly.
Nyx looked at her, still holding the plate. She was shaking, and her eyes shined with tears. “I…didn’t.” Elmiryn noted how the girl’s head seemed unsteady and her gaze fogged.
The woman took a deep breath and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, she said, “…Were you lying to me about the Mark?”
There was a great pause. Elmiryn’s eyes fixed onto Nyx’s flushed face, and the table seemed to lengthen between them. The youth’s mouth curved downward at the ends, and her eyes narrowed. In anticipation, the warrior leaned back. Her eyes blinked as she saw Nyx stand roughly, her chair knocking to the floor. The image of Nyx, her animal countenance, became irresolute. But Elmiryn’s attention was drawn away from the girl’s face when the Ailuran took the plate she held and threw it to the floor, where it shattered loudly. “How DARE you!” she screamed.
Baldwin made a move for his sword again, and Sedwick started forward as if to intervene. The others in the room fled outside, curses and exclamations falling from their stuttering lips.
The woman was on her feet, hands held up. She looked at Sedwick and gave a harsh shake of her head. The man ceased his advancement. He looked to Baldwin and made a negative motion with his hand. The youth soured, his chubby face going red, before he sheathed his sword again. Elmiryn looked back at the Ailuran across from her. “Nyx. Sit. Down.”
Nyx began to pace, her hands tensed so that her clawed fingers curled. “To even suggest that I’d willingly claim such a shameful burden–for ANY reason!!”
“All right, I get it.” Elmiryn slowly sat down, hands still held up. “I get it. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
The girl kept moving, her shoulders hunched around her ears. She didn’t take her eyes off Elmiryn. “No. Elmiryn, I don’t think you get it at all.” She growled, and ran her hands through her wild hair. “I don’t feel…like…this skin is right…” She hugged herself, pressing her chin to her chest so that her head seemed to retreat into her body. “Not right…at all.”
Elmiryn’s head tilted to the side. Her eyes were bright cerulean pieces of glass that saw and filtered by short means of conception. They took in the sight of Nyx, a picture of frustration and anger. Those were easy enough things to relate to. But, in the literal sense, the woman wasn’t sure if the youth’s ears were disappearing into her hair or if the strands had simply shifted to obscure them from view. The way Nyx kept moving, details were hard to grasp. Was her nose migrating higher up her face and turning rounder at the tip? And were her full expressive lips returning?
The warrior rubbed her temple, trying to remember the previous night. Moments came to her, slippery shapes and washed colors emerging from the back of her mind. She could hardly set them straight in her head. …But the voices rang clear.
“But…the humor. I found it.”
From what she could recall, the warrior attempted to draw some form of a conclusion. Elmiryn at first considered an escalation in aggression–the shattered plate and the shouting last night her main reasons. But as she shifted in her seat and felt the small stab of pain in her muscle from where Nyx had bit her shoulder, her mind turned, and she found herself traveling up another path of reasoning. She glanced at her friend briefly. The girl’s fevered movement was familiar.
Elmiryn snickered as she fell onto an idea.
Nyx looked at her sharply at this sound. “What?” she snapped. She ceased her going back and forth in favor of rocking side to side.
This made the woman giggle again, and she wiped at her mouth as if to try and remove her amusement. She toyed with a stray spoon on the table. “I remember the word from last night.”
“THE word. You can’t remember?” The warrior sat back and breathed harsh onto the spoon. She proceeded to clean it with her shirt.
The Ailuran growled again, and this time the sound came from deeper within her throat. “Well tell me, and maybe it’ll jog my memory!”
Elmiryn grinned as a chortle came bubbling up. From across the inn, Sedwick and Baldwin watched. Sedwick’s jaw was set, and he gripped his spear with both hands before him. Baldwin fidgeted nervously, closer to the door. He glanced back at it occasionally. The warrior felt their eyes and she thought it amusing they were so frightened. Her grin turned to a full blown smile.
“Oh I don’t know, I don’t want to give it away if you can’t remember,” she said to Nyx.
Nyx leaned forward onto the table as a long, loud exhale hissed through her bared teeth. “Why are you playing games now!”
“That’s what you said to me. Do you know what it means?”
“I…” Nyx blinked. Once. Twice. “…I think I–”
“You either do or you don’t. Go on. Tell me.” Elmiryn looked at the spoon with feigned interest, her tongue between her teeth. She winked playfully at her own reflection.
The girl straightened with a huff. “What a silly word! Did you make that up?”
“Well of course not. I’m not of the habit of making things up.”
“…You’re lying. That’s not a word.”
“Fine. What about pestiferousness? Chimerical?”
“Cantankerous? Eruditeness? Paralytic?”
“I…I don’t KNOW!”
“You think I forget the things you tell me just because I find it hard to remember what things look like? These were all words YOU readily gave me yesterday. Are you still so drunk that you can’t even make use of your own vocabulary? Are the words even YOURS–?
Nyx slammed forward. “They are ALL mine!!” she screamed.
Elmiryn’s smile turned more curved, and she quickly reached, grabbing Nyx hard at the nape before she could pull away again. The girl relaxed, and her body clumsily fell over the table as her body reacted to the strong contact. The warrior traced her fingers over her friend’s facial features as before and gave a small, “Huh.”
“What?” Nyx asked in a breathy whisper, her eyes wide.
The older woman smirked and held up the clean spoon. The Ailuran gazed into it, her mouth falling open a little.
“You’re completely human again, Nyx.”
The warrior released the girl, and Nyx slowly slid off the table, taking the spoon and gazing into it with what appeared to be disbelief. She touched her nose, which was again round, and felt her smooth ears. Her lips pursed and she looked sharply at Elmiryn. “So do you understand what’s happening, then?” she asked.
“Not a fucking clue,” Elmiryn said cheerfully.