Chapter 44.1


“Is there anything Lethia could use to hurt herself with?” I asked in a rush. “An axe, a sword, even a shovel?” I was already backpedaling for the door.

Quincy’s face went long and her eyes wide. “There was a small hatchet in the barn. Lethia saw it when you two came to find us!”

“Damn it!” I snarled as I ran out the door.

Behind me, I could hear Argos running, his paws rapidly thundering over the grassy earth, and in no time, the canine had eclipsed me. Ahead of us was the lit up barn.

It was about halfway there that I heard screaming, and I stumbled in my run, my heart skipping a beat. I almost didn’t want to get there. I almost didn’t want to see. But twisting my guts into knots was the unsettling possibility that Lethia could die from this…and it would be my fault. She had spoken to no else about her unusual requests, and hadn’t Lacertli warned me that something odd was going on between her and Paulo?

I broke into a sprint, clearing the barn doors before skidding to a halt.

Blood. It seemed to be everywhere. There was one large pool of it further toward the back, where I could see a sharp indentation cut into the waist-high partition of a barn stall. It spilled down the side, and it had sprayed onto the walls and stall posts as though someone had swung the weapon hard. The blood trail seemed to circle around in confusion from there. Crimson footprints went all over the place.

Daedalus was pale, his eyes bugged as he ran and clumsily grabbed a coil of rope off of a hook on a post. His entire front was covered in red. He ran back to one of the rear barn stalls, the one that Lethia had been so fastidiously cleaning earlier, and he paid me no attention. I couldn’t see where Argos was until the elven man pushed the dog into view. The canine’s white muzzle was stained with red, and he whined anxiously, his body dropping low to the ground like he was faint.

Lying on the ground near Argos was the bloody hatchet.

My skin went cold as I slowly approached. The barn had gone eerily quiet after the piercing screams I had just heard. Behind me, I heard Quincy and Paulo finally catch up. I didn’t turn to look at them.

It seemed to take ages to clear the stall’s partition.

When I did, what I saw made me feel….

Cold? Sick? Sorry?

The truth was I felt numb.

My horror felt tiny and far off. Inadequate. Like it couldn’t encompass the depth of feelings that coursed through me all at once, making me feel strangely and very suddenly detached. Daedalus was yelling something, and Quincy and Paulo crowded behind me, shouting and cursing, and even Argos seemed beside himself with grief as he rubbed his snout into the dirt and swiped at his ears with his paws.

Lethia lay in a pile of hay, her eyes silently streaming with tears as she stared up at the rafters like she was seeing something bigger and greater beyond our realm. For a surreal moment, it appeared as if she were dead, but then she winced and looked at Daedalus when he took the rope he had grabbed and tied it over the bloody stump her left forearm had become. With shaking fingers, he pressed the top and bottom end of her wound where the blood gushed the most.

The wound was just below the elbow, and I noted faintly that the hacked flesh was uneven. It was about then that everything finally hit me. Lethia hadn’t been able to cut through her arm in one swing. From the looks of it, it had taken three swings in total. Most likely she had become faint partway through, but her commitment to harming herself was disturbingly plain.

Daedalus was barking instructions at Quincy, because she was the only one of us who seemed to have it together enough to assist him.

“I need thread to tie off her radial and ulnar arteries or she will bleed out!” Daedalus seethed at the wizard.

Quincy fumbled for her magic bag. “All right I’m looking, tai’undu, I’m looking!”

“Why would she do this?” Paulo breathed behind us, slowly shaking his head. “She’s out of her mind! Why would she do this?”

“Shut up!” I spat at him.

He jumped and stared at me, taken aback.

“Lethia was grieving and repentant!” I continued angrily. “She was looking for a way to make it up to everyone! Even to you!” I looked at her sadly. “But none of us wanted to listen….”

“We can feel sorry for her later, Nyx!” Quincy sniped.

“Yes! Quite!” Daedalus said sternly. “Ailuran, please retrieve my medical bag from the cart. And hurry! We’ll need to disinfect this wound immediately!” Next he looked at Paulo. “And you, boy! Bring one of the lanterns. If any of you have a blade, put it in the flame and hold it there. We’ll be needing it soon to cauterize these arteries!”

Given our orders, we could only exchange brief grim looks before running off to gather the required supplies.

When I returned I handed the leather medical bag to Quincy, who quickly opened it and pulled out a clear bottle of liquid. Daedalus, who had tied off Lethia’s arteries, grabbed the bottle.

“Hold her!” He barked before he ripped out the cork with his teeth.

We didn’t need telling twice. Paulo took Lethia’s legs. Quincy took her left shoulder, and I took her right. Daedalus, seeing his patient secured, started to pour the liquid liberally over the girl’s arm.

Lethia, who up to this point had been lost in mute shock, suddenly and violently tilted her head back and screamed. She thrashed wildly, her body straining against our collective grip.

I was grateful when Daedalus set the bottle aside, but this relief was short-lived. What he picked up next was the heated knife.

Without a word, he pressed this to Lethia’s wound, at one of the points that he’d been holding before. The flesh sizzled, a small line of steam curling into the air before vanishing from sight.

Just as before, Lethia cried out and writhed, but we held her still again. This time though, she regained her ability to speak, “Gods help me! I had to do it, I had to! Halward! Mercy! PLEASE!

Daedalus cauterized the other artery before loosening the tourniquet and pulling out clean bandage cloth from his healing bag. Without saying a word, the elf grimly dressed Lethia’s wound. I watched, transfixed, as the cloth wound its way around the ugly flesh, concealing it from sight. When that task was finished, the elf stood and said quietly to Quincy, “Keep it elevated,” and like a ghost, he drifted outside.

I gazed after him, concerned, before asking Quincy, “Are you—?”

“I’ve got it,” she said tersely. She couldn’t meet my eyes. I was glad she couldn’t. I wasn’t sure I could meet anyone else’s gaze either.

With a solemn nod, I stood and went after Daedalus. I found the elf standing just outside the barn doors next to his cart. He was leaning on the outer wall, his eyes closed and his head bowed. I paused, wondering if I should intrude on this man’s show of emotion, but he turned and glared at me.

“She tricked me,” he rasped through a tight throat. “She had started telling me about Syria’s domination by a demon. How the woman had been led astray for years without anyone ever knowing anything. Then she said she needed help, and that was why she summoned me here. She asked me to get my medicine bag while she went to check on the patient you had mentioned to me. I was outside when it started.” He snorted and bowed his head again. “She was fast and she didn’t hesitate. Even…even when she had to strike again, the poor child did not stop, and like an old fool I could only gape at her until it was too late!”

“If anyone is to blame, it is me,” I said quietly. “I could’ve put things together, but I…” I trailed off and looked away. None of this was about me, and I felt irritated and ashamed at my reflexive self-pity.

“No, Ailuran. I know Lethia. She knew what she was doing,” Daedalus assured me in a way that was clearly more matter of fact than sympathetic. He was now staring off into the night with a haunted look. “When it was done, she…she whimpered to me that…her flesh was for a blood debt. She feels responsible for what Syria had done. All those people she killed and hurt.” He looked at me sidelong. “She also let slip, before the blood loss made her too weak, that she wanted to show everyone her resolve to make things right. That she had promised to.”

I shook my head earnestly. “We didn’t want this! None of us did!”

“It doesn’t matter what you wanted!” Daedalus retorted angrily. “Don’t you understand? This wasn’t about any of you! All that mattered to Lethia was her need to prove herself!” The elf straightened and narrowed his eyes at me. “How well do you know Lethia Artaud, Marked One? How long have you been in her company that you have managed to fail to understand the central trait that makes her who she is?”

He thrust a finger at the barn and spit flew from his mouth when he barked next, “Lethia is entirely defined by her honor! It is imperative to someone like her that the people she finds important feel they can rely on her! She does this through honesty, sacrifice, and commitment! And I don’t mean the superficial virtues they teach those air headed hooligans in schools, with their happy sing-alongs, but an extreme sort of dedication! It is spiritual for her! It is life and death!

I could believe this. Hindsight revealed so much. Hadn’t Lethia fought to rescue Syria, even when all the odds pointed to her being captured and killed? She’d even fought to go on after suffering a terrible injury. And didn’t the enchantress take extreme offense that time Elmiryn’s teasing had suggested she was of lesser character?

“But what now?” I asked, frowning. “Do…do you think she’ll try to harm herself further?”

Daedalus scowled. “I don’t know. Lethia only managed to tell me a small part of her tale before mutilating herself. Extremely honor-bound or not, for a young girl to be of such a dangerous frame of mind toward herself…that does not suggest an individual capable of refraining from self-harm. With the right trigger, she might try. Humans are volatile that way.”

I nodded slowly, lips pursed and my throat tightening. We were officially on suicide watch, then. Assuming, of course, that Lethia survived her traumatic injury, the girl couldn’t be left alone anymore.

Expectedly, I thought of Marquis and his efforts to keep me from trying to commit suicide. I covered my face with my hand and sighed heavily. Did my friend feel this same immense sort of pressure when he was trying to help me?

Did I have it in me to help like Marquis had?

A ridiculous question, perhaps. But when I turned to walk back into the barn, it was as if a barrier stopped me, and I found myself gazing in with tear-clouded eyes. I couldn’t see Lethia or Quincy behind the partition. Argos was off by himself, staring into a corner, head bowed. Paulo paced slowly, his eyes listlessly taking in the environment before refocusing on the enchantress every time he drew near. This was a place I didn’t fit into.

I had to be honest with myself. I was still angry at Lethia.

In my chest, I harbored a sick, heavy resentment that, in truth, I didn’t entirely understand. I kept picking the various reasons apart when I had the chance to, like my anger was a scab and I couldn’t just let it heal. One moment, it felt like forgiveness was possible. Then in another, my fury drove me to a distant silence. I even sometimes got confused as to what I was even really mad about. Who was I most upset with? Izma? Lethia? Elmiryn?

And in a sudden rush, I realized that perhaps my pain had been displaced. After all, with Izma gone, and Elmiryn missing, who else could I lash out at?

Except Lethia was fighting for her life, and there I was, debating on whether or not she deserved my anger.

I let out a loud yell of frustration and slammed the heels of my palms into the sides of my head.

Sometimes, I wish I could stop thinking so much!

You and me both, Kali responded wryly.

As I forced myself back into the barn, my sister then asked. Why did Lethia think cutting off her arm was going to make things better?

Didn’t you hear what Daedalus said? It’s because she has a blood debt.

What is that?

We have one ourselves, sister. It’s when a dishonorable death takes place and you were somehow involved in it, intentionally or not. Some people dedicate their whole lives to make up for that. It’s about honor.

Kali snorted. Feh. Honor! It just causes trouble…

My mouth puckered. Not always, Kali.

Really? I wouldn’t care if a human wanted to cut out his own liver and have it for dinner, but if one of the people we need to rely on purposefully mutilates themselves over a silly idea, then I can’t help but be concerned!

I’m not condoning her actions. I just understand why she did them.

Of course you understand. You almost killed us both over the same stupid notion.

I scowled in irritation. I’ll thank you not to go dredging up painful memories for the sake of taking jabs at me!

I was only telling the truth… My twin grumbled, before slipping back into the deeper parts of our mind.

Inside the barn, I hesitated just near the partition that hid Lethia. With a breath, I rounded it and sit down next to her in the hay. She was frightfully pale and sweating badly. Quincy was ladling water into her mouth that Paulo must have fetched when I was lost in my reverie. The boy was gone now. Perhaps to check on Hakeem. Or maybe just to get away from the sight of Lethia. I ground my teeth just at the latter thought. If that were the case, then I was going to have words with the young Moretti.

Which led me to wonder next: what reason did Paulo have to stay here? We were back in our dimension now, and he hated this place, as he often made clear. So what was keeping him around? Why didn’t he just leave, especially given his dislike of Lethia and his resentment of Quincy? Lacertli had hinted at the trouble between Lethia and Paulo, and I’d been too foolish to act on it. But was it really over? Could something else happen, should these two remain in close proximity? Enough grievous damage had been done, what else could possibly go wrong?

But one glance at Quincy gave me my answer. The wizard had taken full responsibility of Paulo. Perhaps over guilt about Graziano’s death. Or was it more? I didn’t understand the details, and I hadn’t asked. I just knew that Quincy, after Hakeem’s needs had been met, would focus on Paulo. It wasn’t motherly, by any means, but more like some nagging older sister who found herself stuck with an insufferable charge. So then what were my ties to Quincy now? We had struck something close to cordial, me and her, but we didn’t have the same goals. Perhaps the only reason she needed to stay here was because of Hakeem?

That made sense. Hakeem was still in a coma, and they were wanted by the local authorities, no doubt. She couldn’t drag an unconscious man across the busy mountain trails and not expect to be seen. And if she couldn’t leave…where could Paulo go? He had a lost look about him, and I realized that for all the time he spent in the Other Place getting older, he was no more emotionally or mentally mature than he had been before. Ironically, in the same way he didn’t have the confidence to come to Syria’s without proper incentive, he wouldn’t have the courage to leave this place on his own.

That meant we were all stuck together.

Not us, Kali reminded me.

I have to wait, I thought back.

For what? Her?

Yes. Her.

Elmiryn was going to come back to our world soon enough, I was sure of it. What I feared was the state I might find her in.

I also feared the things I would feel when I did find her.

“Quincy, go to your husband,” I murmured to her. We were all tired, it was true. I had no desire to stay awake. But someone had to stay with Lethia. Paulo certainly wasn’t an appropriate choice; Argos, though intelligent and loyal, lacked the ability to administer first aid; and Quincy had other things to worry about, like Hakeem, who also needed close care.

The wizard looked at me uncertainly. “She might go into a fever. If she does—”

“I don’t think Daedalus will be going anywhere. If I need help, he’ll be here,” I said.

The brunette seemed to consider this for a few beats before rising. “All right. Make sure you keep the wound elevated, like Daedalus says.” She started for the exit.

“I will.” I focused on Lethia’s face. She appeared to have passed out in the time since I arrived. I was sort of relieved. After all, what do you say to a person who had just cut off one of their limbs?

“And Nyx?”

I looked over my shoulder. Quincy had stopped at the barn doors and the look on her face was unexpectedly grateful. “Thank you.”

I could only nod in response.

When she left, I sighed as I turned to face the unconscious enchantress before me. Gingerly I stroked her sweaty forehead with my thumb.

“It will be a long night,” I whispered.

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