Chapter 42.2


Elmiryn knew now that it was her burgeoning fae nature that made her so aware of the alcohol coursing through her system. It was hot and warm and in her veins, becoming her blood, choking her brain in a fog of caprice that didn’t allow her to appreciate the bizarre circumstances of her situation. The sky rolled overhead as Molly and Julie carried her out of May’s house and over the gravel path leading to the street. The moment Elmiryn’s boots scraped the sidewalk, she could feel her alcoholic blood leap and turn. She didn’t even blink.

The world just changed.

Gone were the small homes, replaced instead with tall metal and brick buildings, the streets bloated with people and cars. Elmiryn’s eyes fluttered as she let her eyes take in this sudden and drastic change of scenery. Then she started giggling.

“Ladies, I think I’m gonna be sick!” she chortled merrily.

“Hold it,” Julie snapped on her right. She was the one who smelled like cigarettes, Elmiryn realized.

“We’re almost there,” Molly sighed on the left.

The warrior tilted her head back and blinked. Swimming through the clouds were crimson and golden fishes with shimmering scales and long pearly fins. “Sky fishes,” she breathed.

Her escorts looked up simultaneously as they gently pierced through a group of gangly teenage punks.

“Yeah,” Julie said. “They show up on Tuesdays.”

Elmiryn stared at the side of the other redhead’s face. “Thought ya’d tell me I was seein’ things?”

“What? Your world doesn’t have sky fishes?”

It took the warrior a few seconds to realize Julie was being wry. By the time she did, the moment to respond had passed and the unusual pair were guiding Elmiryn through a dark doorway that fed into a narrow hall and up a creaky set of stairs. Plastered on the graffiti walls were fliers and posters, detailing the latest shows and performances. Elmiryn recognized Julie’s face on many of them.

As they approached the third floor, the warrior had become disinterested in actually walking and laughed as the two women struggled to hold her up.

“Jesus, does she always get like this when she drinks?” Julie complained.

Molly shook her head and let Elmiryn go. The redhead collapsed to the stairs, giggling.

“This is pointless,” the brunette huffed. Looking at the walls, she stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled.

Elmiryn pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes as she lay there lost in her mirth. Then she started to feel small, cold hands lift her up. Startled, she raised her head and looked down at her body to see the black and fluorescent people from the posters on the walls had emerged from their paper dwellings to lift her up on behalf of Molly and Julie. Stunned, the warrior looked up at the pair in question and she saw them smirking down at her.

“Look at her! I bet she still thinks she’s hallucinating!” Julie snickered.

“Uh, hey–” Elmiryn tried to move, but felt her muscles lock up. Molly’s hand was fanned open over her.

“Stay still. You’re in a time out,” the brunette said with a grin.

The small poster people, no taller than a foot, wordlessly carried Elmiryn the rest of the way. Paralyzed, the redhead could do nothing to get up or stop them. Honestly, she thought the situation was amusing, but she couldn’t help but struggle instinctually against the spell that bound her.

Finally, they stopped at a door near  the middle of the third floor hallway. Julie produced a key and unlocked the door, pushing it open. The poster people paraded Elmiryn inside and dropped her on the floor without ceremony.

“Thank you,” Molly said politely as they marched back out the door. Julie closed it behind them.

Elmiryn found Molly had released her, and gratefully she sat up. “That was fun! So you guys make stuff come to life or somethin’?”

“Whatever we want to happen, we can make happen,” Julie said. She crossed the room from the door to a beat up plaid couch next to the window overlooking the street. She crossed her legs and said next, “It’s easier to do stuff within our territory, but it’s much harder if we leave it. The more universal laws we break, the harder the task tends to be.”

Molly vanished down a hallway as Elmiryn stood to her feet. The warrior looked around her.

This was supposed to be Julie’s home. For a woman who was essentially a demi-god, Julie didn’t live extravagantly. Her furniture was beat up and cheap, dirty disposable plates on the coffee table from what looked like a pizza night. The walls had a smattering of more concert posters as well as rock memorabilia and counter culture art. Elmiryn thought she could smell coffee in the air, mixed with the musty smell of sweaty socks.

“Nice place,” the warrior said, just managing to keep the smirk off her face.

Julie shrugged. “It works.”

Elmiryn shook her head, and went to lean on the wall near the door. Her head felt fuzzy and her limbs heavy. She was ready for some sleep, but closing her eyes made her feel a little ill. The vertigo from the drink was kicking in.

Fae are such lightweights… the woman thought disapprovingly.

Then Molly’s voice caused Elmiryn to look up. “Elmiryn. Here’s Hakeem.”

The redhead raised her eyes in time to see a dark skinned man with wide shoulders and a close shaved head step out from around Molly near the hallway. He was dressed in gray sweats and a white t-shirt. He had no shoes. Elmiryn stiffened and moved away from the wall. Her eyebrows rose high.

“Hakeem?” she said uncertainly.

Hakeem’s warm eyes fixed on her gaze. “Yes, Elmiryn.”

Elmiryn’s mouth hung open as she tried to find the words to say. When none came, she snapped her mouth shut and pointed at the wizard.

The man raised an eyebrow at her. When her silence persisted, he glanced at Molly and Julie, then focused back on Elmiryn with a frown. “…Fiamman, do you have something you’d like to say?” he asked archly.

“No,” Elmiryn said finally. “I thought pointin’ at ya was about as good as it gets right now.” She shrugged her hands. “The fuck are ya doin’ here, wizard? Ya know yer wife thinks your back home?”

The redhead slapped a hand to her forehead. “Shit! If yer really here, then who the hell is back there!?”

“A doll,” Molly said, behind Hakeem. The petite brunette went to sit with Julie at the couch. “Elmiryn, do you remember your last visit here?”


“You ran into people that resembled those you knew back in your home world. Those were Izma’s dolls. Soulless animatons that carry out the demon’s will.”

“So that means–”

“The thing that is back home is not real,” Hakeem said. From where she stood, the woman could see his neck muscles tighten as he clenched his fists. “It is not living. It has no soul. No conscious that is its own.”

“So the Hakeem that attacked us was a demon’s doll,” Elmiryn murmured.

Hakeem approached Elmiryn with pressed hands. “Elmiryn, I know my wife. She would not give up on me. No doubt Izma has tried to use the doll to try and hurt her. I need you to go back and destroy it!”

“Of course!” Elmiryn said with a snort. Then her eyes narrowed. “Hey hold on a minute. Are you saying–?”

“I can’t go back with you,” Hakeem said tightly, looking away.

Elmiryn batted her eyes rapidly. “But this isn’ yer world, wizard…” she said slowly.

“I told you that Hakeem said he wanted to help us,” Molly said with a shrug.

The redhead glared at her. “That don’ fuckin’ matter! This isn’ his world! What’s he gonna do here that’s so much more ‘portant than goin’ back to his wife!?”

“I just can’t,” Hakeem said crossing his arms. He glared. “It’s none of your business.”

Elmiryn returned his heated stare, her eyes searching. “What was it? Did Izma actually get inta yer head? Screw with yer confidence? You afraid, Hakeem?”

Hakeem’s lips pursed. “I’ll take you to the gate that will take you straight home. You won’t have to return to the Other Place. The others will meet you there, I’m sure.”

“But ya can’t be sure,” Elmiryn spat.

The man turned and went back into the hallway. “My decision is made, Elmiryn. Let me get my shoes. The gate is just a short walk from here.”

Elmiryn glared at Julie and Molly as the man vanished around the corner. “You really gonna let this happen!?”

“We’ve never had access to a demon’s tool before,” Julie crossed her arms and gazed at Elmiryn coolly. “Meznik may not be a threat to us anymore, but Izma is. We can make an exception for Hakeem being here.”

“And anyway, we aren’t forcing him,” Molly added calmly. “As you heard, it’s Hakeem’s decision to be here.”

“Yeah. It jes don’ make any sense…” Elmiryn grumbled.

Continue ReadingChapter 42.2

Chapter 42.3


More time passed. The slight shift from dark to utter dark was the only real indication I had of the day passing, but pass it did. One more day in that accursed snow, with these accursed people. I was at my limit. Now that I knew I could leave, I was determined to do so.

Paulo had been gone since the night before when he’d stormed off. Lethia had finally left the campfire. Earlier in the day, she had wandered out into the daesce valley, out of sight, Argos pressed protectively to her side. Quincy and I didn’t stop her, or even said anything to her. I was preoccupied with getting ready for the trek to Syria’s tower. Quincy too, in a way…

“There’s lots of scrap out there, Ailuran,” she said to my back.

I was busy stitching my new daesce cloak from grubby string and thin strips of fraying cloth and did my best to ignore the nettle in the wizard’s voice.

Quincy, persistent as ever, continued her nagging: “A gurney can be easily fashioned for Hakeem, and quickly, if I could just have your help!”

“First of all, human,” I said icily without so much as raising my head. “If you want me to even listen to you, you’ll have to refer to me by my given name. Second, I have already told you my reasons for not doing as you so brusquely ask!”

“Poor reasons!” Quincy spat. “Cold and cruel! This is my husband. I will not leave him in the snow!”

“Then I will leave you both in the snow,” I snapped, finally feeling my patience give. I turned and glared at the brunette with heat in my cheeks. “You think I feel good about leaving Hakeem behind? He saved my life. I will never forget that! The debt that places me in weighs heavily, and Ailurans always repay their debts–!”

“So then help him–!” Quincy started.

I cut her off, my voice rising, along with my ire. “But what you’re asking me to do? It’s unreasonable! Even Lethia says the man is gone. What you have there, Quincy is a huskThe only way I can repay my debt to Hakeem now is to end his half-existence, give him a proper burial, and work hard not to squander the life he so generously helped me to keep! But I’m not! Why? Because you’re still clinging to him! Now is that mercy, or is that in fact the ‘cruelty’ you so keenly sense in me!?”

Quincy stared at me, astonished. In the time we had known each other, I had never spoken to her this way. I could see it in her eyes, the degree to which I had gone out of her expectations. It made me disgusted. With her. With myself. I stood to my feet, throwing my work off to my side of the camp.

“I’m going for a walk,” I announced tightly.

I marched out into the snow–not toward Holzoff’s, but down the lonely trail we had first come when we arrived on this shard. We had quickly found it to be an area of little practical use, save to find some time alone. But maybe it wasn’t so useless, because that was just what I needed right then. Solitude.

Away from the campfire, I could feel the cold grip me, reaching deep past my clothes and my flesh to the bone. It was nearly pitch dark out here. Such was night in the Other Place. A lightless nether world that existed outside of natural law. The oppression of this atmosphere was powerful.

When I lifted my hands, I saw they were black forms, nothing more than shadow. I could feel the darkness around me, thanks to my Champion powers, and it felt almost suffocating. It were as if my whole being were becoming one with them, and as unpleasant as it was, I thought it was appropriate.

I felt black, down to my soul.

“She speaks to him now,” Lacertli’s voice said behind me.

I turned, but slowly. The Lizard King stood further up the trail, his back to our camp. The god had not appeared or spoken directly to me in days. There was a part of me that resented him, but this was a small part. The rest of me knew that, while I was still capable, survival was my job, not anyone else’s.

“You’re talking about Lethia,” I said. My voice sounded tired.

“Yes,” was all I got in response.

“He might hurt her,” I mused, looking down at the ground. I couldn’t see my feet in the snow and darkness.


“Should I go to her, sir?”

“Dost thou need her to be whole and well?”

I shook my head. “…No, sir.”

“Are ye certain?”

Now I looked up at him, confused. “Pardon me asking, but what do you mean? Are you suggesting I do need her somehow?”

Lacertli shrugged. “Have ye been to Syria’s tower before?”

“No. But we are taking a way unfamiliar to Artaud anyways! She pointed me in the direction–”

“Generalities have been the death of many an adventurer, Nyx,” Lacertli said calmly. “Thine supplies art limited and these cold lands art treacherous. At times, depending on Lady Fortuna is unavoidable when surviving. But I would advise against putting one’s entire lot in her whimsical hands.”

My jaw clenched and I started my way back up the snow. “Fine,” I grumbled. “I’ll see about the girl.”

As I neared Lacertli’s shadowy form, he stopped me with a raised hand.

“Thou mistake my musing as a command. The girl faces her own demons. Let her.”

I looked at him, annoyed. “Then what–”

“How is thy thread and ‘needle’ serving you?” His tone sounded deliberately ironic, and I thought I could see his smirk in the dark.

I glared at him, feeling my cheeks burn. “It serves me just fine!” I bit out out defensively.

My so called ‘thread’, the one I was using to stitch my daesce cloak, was little more than scavenged bits of string and frayed strips of cloth tied together. My ‘needle’ was a small rusty nail whose head I’d bashed into a poor eyelet. The holes in my cloak were a bit stretched as a result. I’d reasoned that so long as the damned thing lasted me to Syria’s, then it wouldn’t matter.

Lacertli just chuckled at me.

I threw my hands up in the air with a loud growl. “What, sir!? What am I missing now?”

“Search the present, Nyx. What is amiss?”

“Elmiryn’s not here,” I spat without thinking. When my cheeks burned hotter, I hurried to add. “I mean that she would have figured something out by now!”

The god crossed his arms and looked me in the eyes. His gaze was glowing a fierce gold. “But what would she have figured out?”

“A way to deal with these people!” I cried out in frustration. “As aggressive as she was, she was still better at dealing with others than I was!”

“Dost thou truly believe this to be true?”

“Of course,” I said with a caustic laugh. “Me and others? Specifically them?” I pointed up toward camp. “It’s a disaster!”

Lacertli shook his head with a small sigh. “As a being who can shape the shadows to her liking, one would think ye’d see the shadows in social interaction as well…”

My brow wrinkled. “Huh?”

With an air of suffering the god covered his face with one hand. “Thou art just putting on a show, Nyx. A shadow play. And the result of thy ham-handed performance makes itself known in the way thy company behaves and treats thee.”

I scowled. “You’re saying Lethia’s depression, Quincy’s denialism, and Paulo’s brooding is my fault? I can’t be held responsible for that!”

“True,” The god lifted his face from his clawed hand and looked at me sideways. “But even animals depend on a natural form of cooperation to survive. Thou true obstacle is not thy company, nor even thy impending journey. No. The obstacle, the thing holding thee back, are thine attempts at appearing self-reliant to cover thy hurt over Elmiryn’s apparent abandonment. It speaks of dependence and this nettles you. Nyx, I am the path. And this is the Present thou art standing in. My advice, as thy patron, is to cease with thy misplaced pride and self-victimization. Go to your comrades, for they are all you have.”

I could feel the invisible hackles rise on my back as I clenched my hands. At first, I thought a hiss was building up in my throat, but when it grew tighter and tighter, I realized it was a sob. My eyes burned.

I turned away, unable to look at Lacertli anymore.

Kali! I thought inwardly. I sought my sister out with a sort of desperation. In the time since our last fight with Syria, my twin had taken to resting deep within our mind. At my sudden presence in her mental sanctuary, she rose, yawning and stretching.

Hmmm? she grumbled. What is it?

Would you like to take control for a while? I asked in a rush.

This took her aback, just like I thought it would.

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. What happened? What did I miss?

Nothing, I shot back. It’s a yes or no question. Do you want control or not?

Kali sat on her haunches and seemed to think a moment, her black ears pinning back.

To my surprise, she slowly shook her head.

No, she said.

What!? Why?

Because, she responded sharply. We share our memories, and I can already see you want me to deal with your annoying humans for you. Well I won’t.

With a disdainful snort, she turned her back to me and laid back down on her bed of pleasant thoughts and memories. I will have my time in the world, sister. But it won’t be just to clean up your messes!

Huffing, I opened my eyes.

“Thy plan failed, I see.”

I groaned. I’d thought the god would just vanish now that he’d said his piece.

“Sir, please…”

“Please, what? I have said nothing.”

I looked at him with anguish. “It was…childish of me. To do what I just did. I know that.” My words felt hard to say. I felt equal parts embarrassed and angry. Angry that Kali hadn’t taken up my offer.

“What have I said about trapping thyself within concepts of right and wrong doing? They are illusions of society. That is not my domain. Is being childish detrimental to one’s survival? Perhaps in some scenarios, yes. But this god also recognizes that a child is resilient and resourceful in ways that adults cannot be. Having someone like Kali take over for thee? A messy choice, to be certain, but a choice that might have actually worked compared to thy recent conduct. Pity thy skills for persuasion are as poor in childish pursuits as they are in adult ones…”

I slumped, letting my head fall to my chest. Having a god basically call you both immature and ineffectual was in no way pleasant. “Fine, fine, fine!” I whined. “But regardless, I don’t want to be seen as a child. Not by you or anyone else!”

“In that case, stop acting like one,” Lacertli snapped. “This isn’t a riddle, Nyx.”

I raised my head, ready to shoot off something defensive when I realized Lacertli was gone.

With a heavy sigh, I turned and looked back toward camp.

“All right then,” I mumbled.

Once I returned from the trail, I stopped next to Quincy, but couldn’t think of what to say right away. She looked up at me with as icy a stare as you could expect from someone who hated you.

Grudgingly, I pointed toward my side of the camp, where my daesce cloak lay. “A needle and thread. So that I can finish my cloak. I’m sure you must have some in that magic bag of yours. Give me those, and I’ll help you make what you need to take Hakeem with us to Syria’s tower.”

Quincy narrowed her eyes at me. “Why the change of heart?”

With one hand on my hip, I wearily pressed my fingers into my closed eyelids. “Quincy…” I lowered my hand and glared at her. “You need help with Hakeem. Argos doesn’t have opposable thumbs, I doubt Paulo would be so eager, and Lethia doesn’t have the strength. That just leaves me. Do I agree with your reasons? No. But it’s what you want, and I’m willing to help you so long as you help me. So will you give me a needle and thread or not?”

Quincy pursed her lips and looked down at Hakeem. After days without proper food, the man did not look so good. He was turning pale and he’d lost an unhealthy amount of weight.

“Stitch cloaks for the rest of us too, and I’ll toss in one of my lesser magicked items,” the wizard said primly.

My mouth dropped. “That’d take me even longer to finish! Another two days at the least! What are you going to do about Hakeem in the meantime!?”

“I’ve been mixing in well chewed bits of food with his water. It isn’t a lot, but it’s giving his body enough nutrients to last a few more days. Once I get back to our world, I can find an alchemist who can help to sustain him!”

At my skeptical look, the wizard gave a harsh sigh. “All right! I’ll give you two lesser magicked items! Does that work for you!?”

I shrugged my hands. “What am I going to do with magicked items? I’m not a wizard!”

“The keyword you’re missing is that they are lesser, meaning you don’t need any particular skill to use them! I have several items to choose from, and some of them can be very useful. Do we have a deal?”

I stuck out my hand after a second of thought. “Deal.”

Quincy turned away, but in that fleeting moment when we shook hands, I could see her features ease to something akin to relief. She turned to look at her hip and pulled her magic bag from her belt. Reaching in, she searched for a few minutes before producing the needle and thread. It was the same ones she’d used to make Hakeem his makeshift clothing in the blackwood.

Taking these, I eagerly sat down to begin work on my cloak. She meanwhile, searched her bag again, promising to produce the magicked items for me to choose from.

As our camp fell to a quiet that could be ranked as the least tense since we’d gotten there, we heard someone approaching. Both of us stood, ready to fight. Normally the others announced themselves before coming to camp, so if it was a daesce, we were going to have to fight it off.

But when Lethia, Paulo, and Argos entered into the camp light, we visibly relaxed.

Lethia trailed after Paulo, her head bowed. Argos was at her side, as usual, yet he seemed on edge. Paulo walked a little head of them, his head raised in what looked almost like defiance. The runed scars on his skin seemed a shade darker as he glared at Quincy and I.

“I’ve changed my mind,” he said stiffly. “I’ll go with you to Syria’s tower.” Then he went to his side of the camp and sat harshly onto the icy ground, ripping his hood up over his head before fixing a glare into the fire.

Lethia meekly sat down adjacent to him. Argos, to my surprise, came to me.

“Hullo, you,” I said, not a little bemused. Much as I disliked his owner, I liked the dog just fine.

He whined and gave my cheek a soft lick.

Leaning in, I whispered. “How did Lethia manage to convince him, Argos?”

Argos growled and turned to look back at the teenagers. My eyebrows rose and I looked at them too.

I thought about my conversation with Lacertli, and as embarrassed as it had me feel, I realized something.

As the god explained to me, even animals depended on a natural form of cooperation to survive. Did I need Lethia to be whole and well for this cooperation to work? Well enough, at least, to lead us to Syria’s. Did I need Paulo’s compliance for this cooperation to work? Obviously, but his cooperation was desired in the first place because he knew these lands now better than any of us. So that took care of their relations with me.

But did their relations with each other threaten the survival of our group? And if so, in what way?

…And what in gods name could I do about it?

Continue ReadingChapter 42.3

Chapter 42.4


Now that she was actually trying to walk straight on it, Elmiryn found she disagreed with the feel of asphalt. It was hard and cold and unnatural. She decided this was not the kind of place she wanted to vomit on all fours, so she made an effort to keep from letting vertigo swing her inebriation into the deep realms of unpleasantness. The challenge was increased, she found, by…well…a great many things.

The glare from the tall glass buildings hurt her eyes. The car exhaust from the rush hour traffic, and the steaming sewer grates created a ripe dizzying smell that was dwarfed only by the slum streets of Fiamma. The city also felt noisy with its car honks and people yelling. Elmiryn actually thought she’d prefer Tiesmire to this ruckus.

Then there was the bizarre wonderland that was Molly and Julie’s territory. There were moving pictures on the giant billboards, each waving to each other and shooing pigeons off of their signs. Mixed in with the ordinary people were cartoon characters made of crayon and objects come to life, like statues and stuffed animals.

Elmiryn even saw a pink elephant squeeze its way into a compact car.

To make matters even worse, her head still ached from the want (or rejection–she couldn’t tell which) of forbidden knowledge. Her thoughts as she tried to make sense of things were wild and varied.

Cars have to go to gas stations, but why isn’t anyone stopping at this one? Isn’t that blue metal box on the sidewalk a ‘gas station’? Why the FUCK is that guy putting paper into it!?

Hakeem, meanwhile, seemed immune from the effects of being in a world not his own. He was alert, his eyes searching their surroundings as if expecting an attack any minute.

“How come ya aren’ havin’ a hard time like me?” Elmiryn muttered resentfully. “Doesn’ this world confuse ya?”

At the question the wizard suddenly chuckled. It was a quick, tight sound.

“Confuse me? Fiamman, I was struck dumb! I could not move or speak for how much pain and fear I felt!” he answered.

Elmiryn blinked at him. “So how’d you get better?”

“That girl. Molly. She seems to have your penchant for…ah…rearranging things that are unseen. It took a few days. She didn’t trust me out right. I’ve only been in my right mind for a little over a day now.”

“I’ve been here before. I wasn’ havin’ this much trouble last time…” Elmiryn said with a pout.

Hakeem nodded, giving her an intent look. “I know. I watched you.”


He sighed. “It was before Izma sent me here. I was still with you all, but it was during her mind games with Lethia. She made me watch what everyone went through.”

Elmiryn scowled. “Why jes you?”

Hakeem raised an eyebrow at her. “Haven’t you been paying attention to what Molly and Julie have been telling you? The demon used me.”

“Nuh, uh. That don’ explain it, wizard. Ya said Izma made ya watch what everyone went through first. But if she wanted to send ya here and replace ya with a doll all along, why bother?”

He shrugged. “I don’t pretend to know everything. The best I can guess is that this is simply the demon’s way. She likes to watch others suffer.”

Elmiryn crossed her arms. “She wouldn’t have made you watch for nothing. She wanted to get into your head.” The woman’s eyes narrowed. “That’s it, innit? She showed you something so horrible, it made you not want to come back.”

“I’m not afraid,” Hakeem said ominously. “I’ve told you to leave the matter alone.”

“She got to you, wizard. But you know what…?” Elmiryn took a deep breath to say what came next. When this initial preparation fell short, the warrior paused on the sidewalk, hands on hips, and glared down at her boots. She mumbled through stiff lips. “She got to me too.”

Elmiryn looked up at Hakeem to see him standing and watching her with an unreadable expression. She thumbed at her chest.

“Maybe the drink is the only reason I can say it out loud, but Izma got to all of us! I could see as much in the others when we were fighting her. She’s a demon who feeds off of sadness and hopelessness. That’s how she works!”

The redhead flicked a hand. “But you know what? Fuck ‘er. We all survived!”

Hakeem gave a soft snort. “So I should just come back? Forget everything I saw and heard?”

“Uh, yeah. Thas’ bas-ic-ally what I jes said!”

“If you knew the things that I knew…” but the man broke off, turning and walking stiffly down the sidewalk. “Just take my word for it, Elmiryn. It is not so simple!”

Elmiryn stared after him, mouth open as she tried to grasp at the wispy, but very important detail that she suspected was staring her in the face.

What’s with this idiot? Being changed into a child didn’t faze him, but he sees some stuff and falls apart!

Then the warrior’s brows knitted together as she hurried in a haphazard line to catch up with the man.

And the hell does he mean, ‘If I knew what he knew that I…knew…what? …No…’

Elmiryn palmed her face as she fell into step a little after Hakeem.

I’m too drunk for this shit.

The rest of their walk continued in silence. Just when Elmiryn thought she was going to throw up again, Hakeem turned sharply down a narrow alley. Bewildered, she followed him until they took yet another turn, and that’s when she saw it.

This gateway was smaller than the ones that she had encountered, but there was no mistaking its shimmering energy against the alley’s dead end brick wall. She hurried toward it eagerly, but stopped when she realized Hakeem was no longer with her. When Elmiryn looked back, it was to see the man already backpedaling away, his face tense. For a fleeting moment, the redhead had an extreme idea:

If I grab him, maybe I can push him in?

But she discarded this quickly. She was in no shape to be wrestling with someone of Hakeem’s stature. Besides, the man would probably just leap right back the way he’d come.

“Ya really oughta come with me, Hakeem,” Elmiryn said somberly.

“I will return. I promise,” was his stony response.

The warrior cursed. “Yer askin’ a lot o’ me, y’know? If Quincy thinks ya died when I destroy that doll thing, she’ll…” she trailed off meaningfully.

Hakeem turned and started to walk away. “I trust you’ll do the right thing. Take care of my wife while I’m away. She’s more vulnerable than she’d like for people to think.”

Elmiryn sighed and let her shoulders sink as she watched the wizard round the corner out of sight.

“Yeah?” she muttered. “Well the same goes for you!”

Turning back around, the warrior appraised the gateway critically. Then she wagged a finger at it.

“Ya better take me home! I mean it! Or I’ll tell all the other portals jes how teeny ya really are!”

Just for good measure, she gave the gateway a stern glare, before stepping through.


The date is unknown. I’m not even sure what time of day it is. Maybe I just won’t bother with that sort of thing for this. It seems a trivial thing to care for in a place that doesn’t follow time.

Before I write anything more, I just want to apologize to the soul whom I must now borrow this journal from. Jydel Anv.

Dear Jydel,

I found your journal near our camp when I was scavenging with my dog companion, Argos. It was wrapped up in cloth in a torn knapsack. Some of the earlier pages were damaged by the damp snow, but some were preserved. I was able to read enough to know that you were forced to become a guard at Holzoff’s, like so many were, and I know you were young. Not even fifteen. It was not fair that you met your fate at the claws of the daesce. I can’t presume to know what your last moments were like, but judging from your last entries, your guardmates were of the unsavory sort, and they must have left you behind at a critical moment for you to fall prey to the monsters. In that regard, I think we can relate to one another. I too know the sting of that kind of betrayal.

Maybe that’s how I should approach this? I’ll just write to you, from now on, Jydel. Pardon the charcoal. It was the only thing I could find to write with.

I wonder if the gods would frown down on me for writing on the pages of a dead man? Oh, but I’m almost certain they despise me anyways for all the taint I’ve been exposed to. Being a demon’s plaything and a mad woman’s prisoner leaves a person less than pure…

I’m sorry. I’ll stop. I’m not ignorant to my own self-pity. I know I should be stronger, and I’ve tried in awkward spurts to be just that, but my strength as of late seems so fleeting. I wanted to help my companions in our most recent struggle, but when the battle was over and I looked back, it really felt that nothing I did could make up for the harm I had caused. The others seemed to agree. Nyx, for instance, loathes me. I can hear it echoing in her thoughts sometimes. She’s been more on guard these days, trying to build walls around her mind. I think it was the revelation that Paulo is also an enchanter that did it. I don’t blame her. Two unstable enchanters must make a person feel paranoid…

My apologies again, Jydel! I’m talking about these people as if you know them.

Nyx is an Ailuran. She’s suffered a lot in her life, and more so these past few weeks. You should know that she’s Marked, but she is not a bad person. Like you, Jydel, she just made mistakes. Honestly, out of this strange group, she is the only one who might understand how I’m feeling right now, but also out of this group, she is the one whom I’ve hurt the most. It’s cruel the way life works sometimes. I wish I could make it up to her…

Quincy is a human wizard. She’s a bounty hunter–or was, I should say. Given her decision to help me sometime ago, I doubt she has much of a career to return to. Bounty hunters going back on their contracts is not a small thing. To be fair, of this group, she is the one who dislikes me the least. She’s more focused on trying to keep her husband alive.

Hakeem is a Fanaean wizard like her but he is in a coma and getting weaker by the day. I won’t bother talking about him much. I don’t think he’ll survive.

Argos is my dog companion, as I mentioned before. As a puppy, he was the subject of an illegal experiment by a satyr, and so grew very large and is very intelligent. I’ve always had an affinity for reading the minds of animals to begin with, so Argos and I, we speak telepathically. Very recently, my friend was apparently the agent of the god Lacertli. I doubt you’ve heard of him. I certainly hadn’t until recently!

Then there’s Paulo. He’s…

Actually I don’t want to write about him. Just know that Paulo is a young human man whom I’ve hurt the same, if not worse, than Nyx. It goes without saying that he dislikes me. Intensely.

I believe that just about covers the basics for you, Jydel. I’m afraid I’m tiring, and fast. I will have to resume this some other time. Nyx and Quincy are returning from their scavenging, and Paulo is once again absent. We’re all doing our part to prepare for the journey to Syria’s tower, where we hope to find our escape from this place. It should be any day now…


Dear Jydel,

I had a nightmare last night. Syria taught me that when an enchanter has nightmares they should be heeded. You see, in enchantment we see nightmares as more than just warnings. They are used as a tool by the animus to communicate with the intellect. What was my nightmare, then?

I dreamt of devouring myself, flesh and bone.

Yes, I know. Sometimes I wish my animus had better communication skills.



today was a bad one. i cannot even bring myself to say why. writing this alone takes effort.

i’m not sure i can wait till we get back to do it


Dear Jydel,

Forgive my poor writing yesterday. Have you ever been so depressed you could not sit up, let alone move or speak? That was just such a day. That doesn’t excuse the childish scrawl I gave you, however. This is what happened that brought on such a thing–

I was out scavenging with Argos when I came across Paulo in the snow. Argos and I never travel far, and we usually search to the south. You see, unlike the others, I cannot defend myself adequately, and my companion can only do so much to protect me. The deeper into the valley, the more dangerous it is–as I’m sure you’re aware. Further north is much the same. Thus, why I was surprised to see Paulo. He usually delves deep and far northwest into the valley, but for some reason he had bothered to come around where we were.

To summarize things for you, I promised Paulo something grave in order to convince him to go to Syria’s tower. You see, he didn’t want to go. He was scared, and I understand why. As an untrained enchanter, his thoughts go unchecked, and his power has the curious effect of amplifying his mind. I saw his fears.

When he first visited Syria’s tower so long ago, back when he was hunting me as a bounty, he became afflicted by Izma’s taint. It was worse for his vulnerability as a magic caster. Since he lacked training… Well, you can understand it as a gaping wound having salt rubbed into it. Hard. It was traumatizing to him. He became haunted with visions and a constant pain throughout his body. Who would want to return to the place that started all this after such an experience?

But I offered him something he cannot resist. A chance at closure.

Argos protested of course. It pained me to do that to my friend, but I had to wipe that memory from his head to stop him interfering. He is suspicious now. He keeps asking me why Paulo changed his mind. Oh, how I loathe myself for treating my best friend so poorly! I don’t know what else I could have done. Argos certainly deserves better than me.

I’ve digressed. Back to what happened yesterday–

When Paulo sought me out in the snow, I suppose he was afraid I’d back out on our agreement. He threatened me. His words sent me low, and I had to return to camp early.

It’s sort of funny now, looking back. After the deal we struck, what could Paulo possibly threaten me with?


Dear Jydel,

The day has come! We are leaving this terrible place. We have cloaks with hoods to protect from the chilly winds. We have enough food and firewood that, if properly rationed, should last us at least another five days. We’ll have to hunt for more meat, possibly. Quincy believes she can scrape out some more usable wood from her magical bag in an emergency. Together, we’ve either scavenged or fashioned tools for the trip. The one thing we still greatly lack is proper rope. Whatever ties we could scrounge up have gone to the task of hauling Hakeem’s limp body along in a sort of gurney. I was afraid to say it before, but I agree with Nyx. Trying to carry an unconscious man over the mountains with our poor resources is impractical. But we need Quincy to come with us–to fend off threats if nothing else, and believe me, that is plenty.

She cannot be convinced to see Nyx’s arguments, and Nyx is a vermagus. Have you heard of those, Jydel? Well. I suppose all you need to understand is that if Nyx cannot convince Quincy, the rest of us certainly can’t.

The others are calling me. I have to go now. We’re so close. If we can just get through this, I may find a way to make it up to everyone.

Continue ReadingChapter 42.4

Chapter 43.1


We didn’t know what cold was. Back on the ground, where we had our humble campfire and our blankets, we only knew a sort of discomfort. Reality became a biting frigid beast of unholy chill up in the mountains, where we toiled toward the unlit sky against howling winds that took away our voices, our names, our hope.

When you feel emptied of everything that you are, that is when things become truly bleak.

At the start, we stopped at the first alcove we came across, only a few hundred feet up and nearly a day’s effort. It was too slow. Staring further up the mean dark cliffs, I knew that there was much more for us to traverse, and we would have to be faster. If we weren’t, we would die. Burdened with worry, I huddled together with the other five in a meager attempt to try and solicit some warmth.

That’s what happens in those conditions. You end up clinging to the people you don’t even like.

We nibbled on dried meat to quiet our stomachs, but our food was lean on fat. Kali whispered to me as I chewed the tough rabbit meat down: We need something more, or we will grow too weak!

I didn’t have energy to respond to her, even in the most basic sense. That first night’s travel, I fell asleep with my face buried into Argos’s hind quarters and Paulo hugging me from behind.

When we awoke again, the struggle continued. Paulo and I, both the strongest, lead the climb with the others tied to us by rope. We used climbing axes Paulo had crafted from daesce bone to haul our way up. All of us wore daesce cloaks to help lessen the cold, for all the good they did. Argos had become the one tasked with the burden of Hakeem, pulling him along in a strange hammock by a harness we had made from recovered armor. In turn, Quincy and Lethia helped Argos along over the areas where the dog’s lack of opposable thumbs proved a problem.

This is what made us slow. Much as I wanted to push harder up the mountain cliffs, doing so would put the others in danger. But how much longer could we climb under these conditions? The higher up we went, the thinner the air became, and of course, the colder it became as well. We didn’t have enough food to last us the whole way if this was the best speed we could manage.

Kali! I called in my head. Do you have any ideas?

I would leave the others and go alone, was her simple response.

I growled. Of course that’s what she would do.

But I couldn’t do that. Much as it frustrated me, I needed these people for what they could provide. Perhaps the real folly was in our preparation? Maybe we should’ve spent more time gathering food or fashioning protection from the cold then gathering materials for carrying Argos and Hakeem? We didn’t eat much our first day climbing, but stretching only a few days worth of food over such a perilous period…?

Biting my tongue, I pushed on and tried to clear my thoughts of such fears.

There was no going back. In our efforts to climb, the snow had swallowed much of our path, making climbing back down too dangerous an option. Anyway, as the end of the second day came, I could see the tip of the first mountain. Troubled as I was, the only way now was forward.


Another two days went by. We had eaten what little we had of food, and even after Paulo caught a few rabbits, and I a snow ferret, that still left us weak and malnourished. We kept to the Albian cliff line as much as possible, but soon we had no choice but to traverse down into the dark valleys between the mountains. The relief from the cold winds was nice, but in exchange, we now found ourselves in daesce territory. This area wasn’t as infested as Holzoff’s, but the monsters still posed a threat, and their presence meant good hunting would be scarce.

How I loathed the daesce. We couldn’t even eat the damn things for their meat was tainted. I loathed them even more for our related wrongness. Being Lacertli’s champion was a chance at redemption for me, but that still didn’t change the fact that I was a being against nature. Kali was defiant on this matter.

I do not believe we carry the sole blame! She snarled, interrupting my thoughts one night. The gods have the power to stop such things, and they did not! We did not ask for this!

Be quiet! I snapped in alarm.

I wasn’t sure why, but my Twin was becoming increasingly blasphemous these days. Was it her experience against Syria that started it? I don’t know. All I knew was that she was sounding eerily more and more like Elmiryn in her opinions.

The last thing we needed was to be smited by heaven.

Though, it would be in keeping with the sort of luck we’d been having the past few weeks.

As this thought crossed my mind, we had been following Lethia’s direction across the valley when I stopped in my tracks. It took a while before the others noticed I had stopped. Quincy, beyond irritable since leaving Holzoff’s, marched up to me with a harsh scowl.

“Ailuran, what is the problem?” she snapped.

“Luck!” I whispered, smiling a little.

The wizard scrunched her nose. “What?”

“Luck, Quincy! Luck! That’s our problem!”

Quincy looked over her shoulder at the others. At their bemused looks, she turned back to me and said carefully, “Nyx, I think the cold and hunger might be getting to you. Maybe I should take point with Paulo and–”

I grabbed her by the shoulders. “How can you not see? Survival is one part wit, one part will, and one part luck! We need more luck!”

Quincy pulled out of my grip, her face contorted in a sort of disgusted wariness. “Uh…”

I gave an impatient growl and turned to the others. “Nine! We need to do as much as we can in multiples of nine!”

Paulo, Lethia, and even Argos exchanged looks.

The Moretti crossed his arms and frowned at me. “Why do we need to do that, Nyx?”

I shrugged. “Because it’s lucky!”

“That’s stupid!” Quincy said next to me. “Where did you get such an idea?”

I looked at her coolly. “Tristi told me.”

Her annoyance cleared, leaving a nonplussed expression on her face. “T-Tristi? The champion of Fortuna?”


Quincy’s eyes ticked back and forth as she thought this over. I could hear the others shift restlessly. Standing in the cold was uncomfortable, I knew, but this was important. We had nothing to lose in trying my idea.

“How do we know that Lady Fortune would hear us at all?” Quincy asked next, hands on her hips. “The way Tristi practices it, it’s as though luck is a skill. If that’s the case, we’re all untrained in it!”

“Being untrained in it isn’t the issue,” I argued eagerly. “The issue is that we haven’t been trying to use it at all!”

Quincy snorted and gestured around at the desolate valley of white around us. “I’d say this was certainly a gamble, wouldn’t you? How can you say that we haven’t tried our luck?”

“Because this wasn’t a real gamble! Not in the sense that Fortuna would oversee it!”

“You can’t be serious!”

“She… She has a point!” Lethia interjected. We all turned to stare at her, and at the attention the teenager seemed to wilt. Looking at her boots, she stammered out, “I just–I mean to say that–When we started on this journey, we worked hard to prepare. I knew the way to go. We knew the risks involved. This wasn’t a decision taken on faith. It was one taken out of desperation. We had nowhere else to go! Logically speaking, that isn’t truly a gamble so much as walking through the only open door available to you. So… That would mean that this effort isn’t under Fortuna’s domain!”

I nodded at Lethia, and for the first time of what felt like ages, I felt genuinely grateful toward her. “Thank you, Lethia.”

The enchantress made a small choked sound and averted her eyes.

Quincy sighed roughly and rubbed at her face with her cloth wrapped hands. “Fine. Fine. You make a good point.” She flicked a hand out at the treacherous landscape. Daesce could be seen fighting amongst themselves. We had no way of concealing ourselves out here, but we couldn’t afford to skirt the valley. We’d freeze or die of starvation if we tried.

“I just don’t get what there is that we can do or count in multiples of nine!” the wizard groused.

“We can make it,” I said, clenching my fists. I turned and started walking in the direction we had been originally going in. I passed the others and didn’t take my eyes off the dark horizon. “We can make it. We can make it. We can make it. We can make it. We can make it. We can make it. We can make it!”

I heard the others follow me, and the teenagers repeated my words nine times, just as I had.

“We can make it… We can make it… We can make it…”

Amidst Paulo and Lethia’s chants, I heard Quincy grumble, “If we do make it, it’ll be in a very annoying fashion.”

There was a beat of silence from her. Then:

“If we do make it–”

Continue ReadingChapter 43.1

Chapter 43.2

Author’s Note: After a year of hiatus, Eikasia is back! To celebrate, please enjoy this ‘double update’ featuring installments 43.2 and 43.3. I’m finally ahead on my writing, so expect consistent updates for the next few weeks! Also, in case you haven’t heard, Tributaries, the first story arc, has had a huge makeover and is now available on Amazon and Smashwords as an e-book! It’s a new experience, so please consider checking it out! Thanks for keeping the faith everyone.

–Illise M.


It had been one week since we left Holzoff’s, and two weeks since we arrived on this damned shard. We were starving, and always on the verge of freezing to death. Our meager supply of wood was dwindling, as Quincy had run out of things she could pull out of her bag for us to burn, and some of the wood we had collected had spoiled from exposure to snow. The others had largely given up on my idea to raise our luck through multiples of nine. I still tried, though not as often as before. Talking took real effort now, and our conversations were well past desperate in nature.

Paulo even asked if he could chop off one of my arms for us to eat raw.

“No,” I croaked, nine times in reply.

But only after seriously debating it.

I’d already had to shed a finger or two with my regenerative ability because of frostbite. In a bid to keep everyone’s hopes up, I’d sacrificed some of my bandage cloth so that they could wrap their hands and faces from the wind. I was starting to regret the decision. I was noticing that my regeneration was slowing down, and every time I had to heal took a lot of energy out of me. The others weren’t all that cheered up by my generous offering, anyway.

We were approaching a steep ravine when Paulo suddenly turned on Lethia.

“I said STAY OUT!” he bellowed.

I could see Lethia cringe, but a dark look soon crossed her face, and she spat back, “I told you to shield your thoughts! It isn’t my fault if you think at the volume of a trumpet!”

Seres un lia bal!” Paulo shouted.

Everyone moved simultaneously. Paulo toward Lethia menacingly, while the girl retreated. Argos shielded his mistress with a snarl. Quincy and I intercepted Paulo.

“Paulo, be quiet,” Quincy hissed. “You’ll draw the daesce!”

He ignored her and craned his head to shout next, “You gods damned witch bitch! Do you want to settle things right now?”

“Shut up, boy!” I snapped. Or more likely it was my sister who said that. She sat just underneath the surface these days, tense and fearful. I knew she resented me for staying with the others, but we both knew this last bid for freedom to the real world was going to be a trial no matter what.

“Let him go,” Lethia mumbled behind us.

I took a second to turn and bat my eyes at the enchantress. “What?”

“Let him go,” she repeated, gently pushing Argos aside. “I owe him a debt. If he wants to collect it now, he can. It’s his right.”

“What debt?” Quincy asked next. She looked at Paulo next. “Did you make an agreement?”

Paulo started to answer her when there was a distant howl. All of us froze.

“Now you’ve done it,” Quincy hissed at the two teenagers.

Lethia moaned. “Are the daesce coming? But we’re pinned here!”

We were. The ravine was far too steep and icy for us to ascend normally with Hakeem and Argos. The mountain line, which previously seemed to embrace us, now seemed to box us in.

I shook my head, breaking off from the group to trudge toward the valley.

“No,” I breathed. “Those aren’t daesce.”

Sister! Kali exclaimed in my head.

I know, I thought in response.

Hurriedly I kicked off my boots and barked at the others, “Guard me!”

Quincy was looking at me as if I was insane. “You can’t be serious! We are in no shape to fight!”

“We have no choice,” I snarled back. “In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re trapped here!”

“But, Hakeem—”

“Guard him,” I ordered through bared teeth. The snow stung my bare feet as I trudged out further. Dark shapes could be seen through the snow blind far ahead, and they were getting bigger.

I glared over my shoulder at the others. “Paulo, Argos, cover me! I’m going to shift! Lethia, stay with Quincy!”

“What’s coming?” Paulo asked, but even as he did so he already had his rapier out and was joining me at my side. Argos appeared a second later at my other side, his furry face harder to gauge even at this close a distance.

“Wolves,” I choked out, before the shift took hold.

Ekikos. Near-cat. It was one of the five forms that Ailurans were capable of undertaking from the Sacred Five of the Lunar Hall, and it was one step after Ekilluos. It was a form mostly in Kali’s realm, steeped in her primitive and uninhibited passion as it were. Our body would shift to that like a predatory panther…but much larger, with a longer neck and longer digits that could almost function like hands.

As usual, the shift rendered us incapacitated, and through the pain of transformation I could hear Argos and Paulo meet the wolves in battle. Confusion and worry pulsed inside me, as I heard yelps and cries, and I had no idea if the fight was turning against us before I could even do anything about it.

It was just as well. Once the change was complete, and we raised ourselves from the snow, there really wasn’t anything I could do about it…because my Twin was the one in control now.


I opened my eyes and growled at what I saw.

There were three wolves before me, fighting the annoying boy and the large dog. My hackles rose. A pack of three could not survive in this harsh environment against the daesce. Beasts like these would need numbers.

We are being flanked.

The moment the thought arrived, I heard a scream behind me. I turned my furry head to see Lethia on the ground, a tall skinny wolf tearing at her right arm with hungry zeal. I let out a sharp roar from the very back of my throat as I pushed into a run, pummeling over the wolf that had set upon the enchantress. From the very edge of my vision, I could see Quincy fending off two more wolves that looked keen to get to the unconscious Hakeem behind her.

There were six wolves in all, and all of them were skinny. Still, I wasn’t going to be picky about a potential meal.

Which was just about all I could think of as I pinned the scrawny wolf beneath me with a massive paw on its throat and my jaws around its face. A sharp jerk, and even over the low howl of the wind I could hear its bones snap. One down. Without even pausing to glance at Lethia, I was moving again, my paws breaking through the snow like it was nothing. This power was costly, as Nyx whispered within the depths of our shared mind. This battle would have to be swift, or the exertion would leave me as vulnerable as Hakeem.

I charged in close to one wolf, my head ducking just underneath its chin before I reared up and back, ramming my neck and shoulders into the canine’s lightweight body. Like a pup, it was flung aside, leaving me open to bare down on its comrade, whom Quincy had just slashed back. The blood from its shoulder put me into a frenzy and…my thoughts became…harder to…hold…

Wolf turned to me. Wolf was food.

Looked like it. Smelled like it.

So I killed it. Chased it down and tore out its insides.

Made the snow a dark color.

Heard the other wolves yelp and howl. They ran.

Didn’t care. Got food. Was hungry.

Took my kill and dragged it to the other one. Both were mine.

Hunkered down so I could see the humans, and started to eat.


Meat. Meat. Meat. MEAT.

Quincy started saying something to me. Ignored her.

Food was lean, but it was mine.

Twin in my head started saying something too.

Shut her out. Annoying. It wasn’t her turn.

Quincy started yelling and came too close.

Jumped and snarled at her.

Even in the dark, could tell she turned white.

Wizard backed off, hands up, spoke soft.


I tensed up. Words were important.

I was supposed to listen to Words.

“Kali…we…too eat…can’t have…all.”

I growled a little. Stupid Words.

This was sapiens’ problem.

Words made things complicated.

I killed food. Food was mine.

Simple. Easy.

But Quincy kept talking.

“We’re starving…Kali, please! You must share!”

I was distracted. Nyx wormed her way back in, too.

Kali! Please calm yourself! We cannot survive alone out here!

And with a shake of my head, the haze of bloodlust subsided.

With a great sigh, I took a few steps back, then sat on my rear paws. Quincy and the others stared at me a beat longer before nervously pulling the meat away. I was fine that they took the rest. I had already eaten my share. I may have even eaten too much, but that could not be helped now.

You did well, sister….

My furry face pulled up in what could be construed as a rueful smile.

No, Nyx, I replied inwardly. I barely managed to keep from making things worse.

It was true. For everyone’s attempts at bringing me out of that deep black primal fury that I was so accustomed to succumbing to, the only real reason I came back was for one simple fact. Exhaustion. I didn’t have it in me to fight off three humans and a bear of a dog, and the primal parts of me knew it.

I may not be the essence of bestial instinct, Nyx. But of us both, I know, that it is I who holds that violence closer to her being.

And to this, my Twin could spare no other words.

As the others collected themselves, I turned and slipped further into the darkness of the weak storm that was dying down. Nyx was in no hurry to reclaim control, and I knew why. In an effort to keep things amicable between us, I decided to humor her desire to hide away from the others a while longer. She was tired. I supposed she deserved something of a rest. It was only theoretical in nature anyway. We shared the same body, after all.

I shook my head with a snort at this thinking. Theoretical? When had I started concerning myself with such bewildering ideas? When had I started thinking in such convoluted patterns, for that matter? It seemed like only yesterday when the most complex thought I could come up with was a mental picture of eating a gopher. I almost missed the simplicity of such an existence.


As the moments drew on, I decided it was perhaps best to urge the others to continue our journey. The daesce would smell the wolf carcasses soon enough, and the only way we could cook and eat them in peace would be if we were on higher ground.

Just as I started to return, a strange petite woman appeared before me, blocking my way.

I froze, my body immediately tensing. I could not recall seeing her before, and judging by Nyx’s alarm, neither could she.

She was topless, her breasts small and almost prepubescent, the nipples a warm shade of pink. She was chubby, her short golden hair in tight curls that teased her ruddy cheeks, and her eyes were a crisp apple red. Draping her slim hips was a white skirt, hemmed with gold. In her right hand she gripped a short golden sceptre with a circular crown that held rotating arrows pointing in all directions. What was most striking about her were the wings, of course. These sprouted from her back in bright white plumage that almost glowed.

This…this is…! I knew what my sister thought even though she couldn’t finish the idea in word.

The ethereal woman tilted her head to one side and smiled pleasantly. “Kali,” she said in a dulcet voice, all sweet honey…except, there was something sharp about it. Like she hid some darker spice, and it was just waiting for the right moment to come bursting out of her. It made me nervous.

Sure enough, the woman’s eyes darkened—literally darkened, like blood—and she spoke my name again, more forcefully: “Kali. Speak. Thou know who stands before thee!”

That was right. In this world, I could speak in my natural forms, even if I could not in the Real World.

“My lady!” I growled anxiously, dipping into my best version of a feline bow. “Forgive me…Fortuna!”

The goddess smiled again, her eyes once again lightened to their almost candy red shade, and she said, “I had to see Lacertli’s champion for myself. Thou art a curious thing, to be sure!”

“Curious, and in your debt,” a familiar voice hissed behind us.

I glanced briefly before deepening my bow. Lacertli appeared at my side and gazed levelly at Fortuna.

“Sister, it is unlike thee to appear under such circumstances. May I ask why?” the Lizard King asked.

Lady Fortuna shrugged, her innocent face turning coy. “Thou have brought a new game piece to the board, brother! Do not tell me that is not reason enough! Not when I am one of the few to have kept her piece in play!”

Lacertli made a face of disgust. “Not everything is a game.”

The goddess only laughed. “Please! Thou of all should understand best! Are we not in constant competition? Besides,” and here Fortuna spared me a wry look. “The Abominable Twins kept prodding me with their numerous invocations. She was lucky I was in such a good mood to treat her crude luck-mongering favorably!”

I could feel Nyx cringe.

I snarled at her mentally, Next time, don’t try our luck so hard!

Lacertli startled me right then. He reached down and patted my downturned head.

“She will not bother thee again. She was acting under my guidance. What would thou like in reparation?”

Fortuna’s eyes glinted and she smiled wide at Lacertli. “We shall speak elsewhere. This is not for mortal ears, champion or no.”

Lacertli sighed, and I could hear the gravity of the situation in his voice. What had we done?

“Very well.”

“Master?” I dared to raise my head and look at the Lizard King. I had only truly served him for much less than Nyx had, but it already made me anxious to think he would be gone from us. Just about the only thing keeping me from losing hope in this place was the thought that Lacertli was watching over us.

Lacertli shook his head. “Kali. Nyx. Thou art to proceed as planned. Trust in thine instincts, for they are strong. I will be with ye both shortly.”


Except both gods were gone in the blink of an eye before I could protest further.

I stared into the dark, a heavy sinking feeling settling in my stomach. Being in Fortuna’s debt was not a good thing. I imagined it was no less treacherous even for a god.

“Kali!” Quincy’s voice. I snapped my eyes in the direction of it, and found her approaching through the snow. “What are you doing? We have to hurry!”

I didn’t need her warning. I could hear the daesce roaring in the near distance.

With one last look around me, I hurried to join the others.


Dear Jydel,

I hate mountains.

Not a lot of elbow room in this crevice we’re sleeping in.

We’re halfway to our destination, surviving off burned wolf meat and frozen weeds found under loose rocks. I cannot say I’m eager to return home, but anything is better than this. Nyx shifted back. Kali couldn’t climb the mountain, obviously, but she went as far as she could before changing. It was almost nice having Kali around. Of the Twins, she holds the least resentment towards me.

My left arm is tingling. I think it knows what awaits us at Syria’s tower.


Dear Jydel,

Forgive the smudges. Argos drooled over my shoulder when we were taking a break on a plateau. I’m afraid he may have read some of my letters to you. I suppose I could just refrain from saying anything important here, but it’s one of the few things bringing me comfort these days. If I must, I’ll simply wipe my friend’s memory again. It is a horrible thing, but it has to be done. Otherwise, I won’t make it. I need this, and Paulo needs his wish fulfilled. Sometimes, when I wake from sleep, I catch him looking at me. At first I thought it was scary, but I’ve come to accept it, now.

I think we’ve only a half day’s journey left. We’re going to forego sleep for one last push to our destination. I hope I can make it. The last of our food ran out and the cold is making me sleepy…



We’ve finally reached the top of the mountain, and I can see it! I can see the tower!

Nyx and Quincy agreed to take a short rest, but we’re leaving again in a few minutes. The hard part is done. Now we can go home.


I could hardly believe it.

After so many days, so many places, so many hardships, we were at the end of it all. We had arrived at our escape from The Other Place. This gods damned half-dimension teeming with spirits and warped by confused laws and time. The eight-story tall gate surrounding Syria’s land seemed hardly an obstacle compared to everything else. I picked the lock at the gate with ease, pushing it open and ignoring the discarded chains at my feet. Lethia pointed and said the gateway to our freedom was toward the tower, and I ran, down the dirt path that cut through the snow-covered grass to the tall stone structure, where a small barn and a tree stood near it. None of the others could keep up with me, especially whilst dragging Hakeem. It was beyond selfish, and I told myself I wouldn’t leave without them. But I just had to be there, closer to the way out. I wanted to see my salvation with my own eyes.

It was a little after halfway down the path that I started to hear it—


It was wordless, and mournful, and terrible, touching all the places in my mind that I hadn’t even been aware of. My body tingled and I yelled, covering my ears. The others, who had been just as eager to reach the tower as I had skidded to a halt near me, their eyes wide but their faces showing they did not hear what I heard.

I tried to return to them, tried to escape that horrible sound, but like a noose around my neck I was pulled back, and the sensation in my head reached a crescendo of full out pain. I fell to the ground writhing, trying fruitlessly to claw the noise out of my ears.

“The music! It hurts!” I screamed.

The others backed away, their tired, pale faces drawn as they watched me helplessly. I thought I heard Quincy or Lethia yell something at me. Paulo looked on the verge of running back the way we’d come. Only Argos seemed wiling to try to venture closer, but I stopped him with a frantic wave of my hand.

“No!” I bit out, fighting to gather myself. “Don’t Argos! It’ll hurt you! It’s…the sound…is coming from…something near the tower!”

When I tried to get up, I swooned, my vision rippling with rainbows and stars. I thought my head was going to split into two. It was made worse by the sensation of maggots in my brain.

I slowly looked over my shoulder. Through the burst of colors in my eyes I could make out the tower, the barn, and the tree.

My eyes widened.

I looked back at Paulo, then back again.

“An axe…for the tree!” I panted.

Continue ReadingChapter 43.2

Chapter 43.3


Laboriously, I made to stand.

As if sensing my intention, the tree’s demon song strengthened, its notes raking down my very spirit. Literally. I could only take a single step before I felt my body shudder, my thoughts fracturing into pieces. Through my blurring vision I could see the edges of my raised hand shiver, the color in my skin pulsing white. It were as though my body was being pulled slowly apart on some tiny, unseen level.

I would have screamed, but the sound seemed to unravel before me, spreading into the air in a chorus of warped voices.

I gripped my head and took another unsteady step forward.

The tree, Izma’s tree, was trying to rip me apart.

Keep…going! came Kali’s strained thought.

My eyes rolled as I fell back to my knees. Blood flooded my eyes.

Kali, I—I can’t….


And I could feel my Twin slip into my arms like a ghost, urging my quivering muscles to move. Somehow, she was shielded from the brunt of the tree’s attack. I did not dwell on this boon. Any more of this, and it wouldn’t matter. The destruction of our body would slay the both of us.

Together, we raised our body from the ground.

Blinking away the blood, we kept our eyes on the tree, on its slim trunk, its light bark, its bright green leaves. How could something that appeared so ordinary be such an instrument of chaos?

Our steps were pained, and it seemed to take an eternity. The demon tree did its best to repel us, sending wave after wave of its evil music to flay our mind and destroy our body. But we resisted. Together, with my Twin, we reached the tree. The stench of its existence was thick in the air—the odor emanating from its rotting fruits reeking like alcohol and blood. It had a distinct tinge of loneliness and despair. Tears stung our eyes.

It’s a trick.

I know.

Grief. It sat heavy in our gut like a rock, and it grew heavier with every passing moment. This was the demon tree’s last defense. It wasn’t as though it didn’t affect us. Our throat choked up, our shoulders sagging. For the first time in months, I felt that deep black sort of sorrow that had almost led me to kill myself. With the almost burning, almost stabbing sensation of the flaying music, it could’ve been too much to bear.

But it wasn’t just me and Kali anymore. Others were depending on us. Paulo, Lethia, Hakeem…not even Quincy could get this close to the tree. It was up to us to get everyone out of here.

We took a deep breath, expanding our diaphragm to increase intake. Spreading our legs, we dug the balls of our feet in and leaned our shoulders forward. With clenched fists, Kali and I released a sharp, screeching roar.

The sound cut like a scythe.

The demon song was abruptly cut short as the tall linden tree creaked, then slowly fell over, leaves and bark blackening to what resembled a charred husk. Released from the relentless assault, my sister and I collapsed to the ground, spent.

In the fog, I could hear the others yelling. Heavy footfalls approached. Hands shook me, and I hissed in pain. My skin, my muscles…everything was trying to heal from the attack the demon tree had unleashed. I hadn’t realized it in all the sensory overload, but the abominable tree had nearly succeeded in stripping the flesh from my bones.

“Don’t touch her! Let her heal!” I heard someone snap. Quincy, perhaps?

“But she has no skin!” That was Paulo.

Leave her! You’ll only do more harm than good. Lethia, where is the gate?”

The enchantress was quick to respond. “It’s here!”

“Are you telling me it’s—”

“Yes, yes! Right here!

“What the hell…” Paulo breathed. “What do we fucking do then? Rip out the gods damned trunk?”

“Do you want to get out of here, or not?” Quincy retorted. Then she ordered next, “Lethia, you must have shovels here, yes? Get them. And bring an axe and rope, too. We’ll need to dig a wide enough circle around the stump and…”

I didn’t get to hear the rest of Quincy’s plan, because I fainted.

When I came to again, it was to find myself once again whole. Sitting up, I realized I had been moved from near the tree, and instead I lay in the hay of the small barn. Carefully, I stood to my feet. In the hay bed next to me, Hakeem lay, still as unresponsive as ever. Outside, I could hear the sound of digging, occasionally punctuated by the sharp cracks of wood. Unsteadily, I made my way back to the others to see that they were working at removing the tree trunk.

I wiped the cold sweat from my forehead as I stopped near the wide circular hole they had dug. It was Paulo and Lethia toiling in the dirt up to their waist. Argos watched them, panting, his nose glistening and his paws dirty. Quincy, axe in hand, chopped at tree roots that anchored further into the ground. By the looks of things, they were nearly done.

It didn’t take much to remember what they were digging for. On this plane, I could not see the gate that Lethia had mentioned, but if I changed over to the Somnium, I could.

Closing my eyes, I took that strange inward journey, and when I returned, it was to find the others presented in their strange interpretations. Quincy was more youthful, just as I’d seen her before. Lethia was once more that strange starry being I had witnessed back in Izma’s trap, but instead of looking faceless and empty, the stars that gleamed inside of her seemed fixed and constant, a translucent sheen over them that suggested skin. She had white eyes and white lips, and I wondered what on earth the universe must’ve thought of her to envision the young enchantress in such a fantastic way. Paulo, in contrast, appeared covered in soot, his face streaked with what appeared to be tears. His chest, however, glowed a hot red, like a burning coal. Argos, meanwhile, simply glowed a bright white, his fur pristine and glossy. None of the others made any notice of my appearance or sudden disappearance into the Somnium. So engrossed were they in their work.

Quincy hacked away the last root, and the two teens climbed out of the hole. Everyone took hold of a rope, even Argos, and together, they hauled the trunk out of its place.

My heart leapt.

The gate!

In the center of the hole, the gateway swirled, but unlike the other passages we had taken, this one was a solid wall of white, not unlike the vast space we had been plunged into when Syria had first sent us here in her madness.

Quickly, I returned from the Somnium. In my brief absence Quincy and Paulo had hurried off to fetch Hakeem. That left me with Argos and Lethia standing at the hole.

The enchantress didn’t appear startled to see me. She looked at me with somewhat glassy eyes and offered a small smile. “Good to see you’re awake. I sensed your return to consciousness.” She turned her face away and stared down into the hole. “Your body needed to devote all its energy to healing, thanks to what Syria’s tree had done.”

I could see the self-loathing flicker on the girl’s features before vanishing. “Stop punishing yourself,” I scolded. “When we return to our dimension, it won’t be easy. We’ll all be wanted by the local government for what we did in Belcliff and Holzoff’s. You need to stay present if we’re going to survive!”

“We can’t run, Nyx,” Lethia replied quietly. “Not like we are. We need to recover.”

“And once we recover?”

She looked at me, and the distance in her eyes chilled me. “I will not run from the things I have to face.”

I wanted to argue that. I needed to. If Lethia Artaud was thinking of turning herself in on some misguided sense of guilt, then she was going to get us all killed. They would torture her, get her to talk, and then every bounty hunter in the world would be after us.

But Quincy and Paulo’s return interrupted any chance I had of getting into it with the enchantress. They came running, Hakeem dragging behind them on a wool blanket.

“What are you waiting for?” Quincy shouted at us. “Jump in, you idiots!”

She was right. Nothing was holding us back but ourselves at this point. I was done with the Other Place.

It was time to go home.





They’re ripped through what is essentially a small hole in the universe.

Flesh contracts, organs stretch, thoughts vanish.

One, two, three, four, five, six.

They each plummet through the empty white, until it squeezes around them, fading to sandy gray, then a gritty brown, until they come to a thick blackness that stops them in a painful slam of shadowy dirt and dark sediment.

She was first. She claws her way up with actual claws, her Twin aiding as the claustrophobia assails them in a dizzying rush. They are starved of breath, gagging on earth until—





We broke through to air, and oh, how sweet it was! We lay there coughing and panting, our eyes gingerly blinking away the dirt. Three details immediately struck me: first, the suns were out, so that meant we had succeeded in returning to the real world; second, there was no snow; and third, we had just come out of the ground from under a tree. How was that possible? I thought we had removed the tree in the Other Place? Did that mean we were not at Syria’s tower, but elsewhere? It certainly wasn’t impossible.

Kali was just behind me in consciousness, her intent tickling the pads of my fingers, until gradually she faded to her special place in our mind. Once again in sole control, I took one last deep breath before clawing at the grass and dirt to pull myself out. I could feel something pushing at the soles of my feet in the ground, and I knew I had to hurry before the others suffocated.

But this proved to be quite the battle. Not only did I feel weak and dizzy, but something just didn’t feel right. I couldn’t stop to try and figure out what was the matter, however, as the moment I freed myself from the dirt, a white hand burst through from the growing sinkhole I had emerged from. I grabbed it, and with all of my strength, pulled.

The others emerged that way, one by one. First was Lethia, who had jumped in shortly after me. Then Quincy, who pulled Hakeem after her. Paulo appeared next, and finally Argos.

When we were all present and accounted for, everyone just collapsed, exhausted on the grass. Since I had been the first one to climb out, I wasn’t nearly as winded, and so I stood glaring up at the linden tree that we had just climbed out from under. The sinkhole at its roots was a dark break in the otherwise lush and healthy grass. The tree itself was a deathly gray, branches devoid of leaves despite the apparent springtime weather.

I stared at it, trying to convince myself that, Yes, of course this was the tree I had just cut down! It’s the same kind as the one before, and there’s even a barn and tower near it. This was Syria’s land!

The buildings in question were not nearly as well kept as they had appeared in the Other Place. They were weather worn and weedy, the barn’s doors hanging off their hinges as if a crowd had battered their way in, and the windows of the tower all smashed and boarded.

How much time has passed that this place seems so abandoned? I wondered.

The dizziness had faded, though the feeling of weakness and wrongness did not. I wondered if all that was needed was sleep. It really did feel as though I’d been awake for weeks. My eyes even burned and ached as though that were the case.

But I could not rest quite yet.

“We…have to decide what we’re going to do,” I made myself say.

“I want to assess our immediate assets and secure the area,” Quincy immediately said. “This place looks…abandoned.” I frowned at her sudden tone of uncertainty. The wizard quickly covered this with a determined look as she knelt by her husband. Hakeem was very pale. “Scavengers may have raided this place, but there may yet be some supplies worth using. Perhaps in the barn or in the pantry? Lethia, is there a cellar?” She asked the enchantress.

Lethia looked at her, startled. “Er…yes? Yes. There is.”

My frown deepened. Did the trip disorient us that severely? Why are we uncertain about obvious details, and having trouble recalling important facts?

“Someone should head to town after,” I suggested. “It’s obvious that time has passed while we were gone. We’ll need to get an update on what has happened in Belcliff since we left. Whoever goes could also get whatever supplies we might still need.”

“What about Paulo?” Lethia asked.

This suggestion didn’t immediately strike me as strange. The two teenagers could hardly stand being near each other, and Paulo leaving even for a short while would certainly alleviate a good portion of the tension in our group. Yet, something in the way the two exchanged glances made me uneasy.

“Yes,” he said, lifting his head a little higher so that he was almost looking down his nose. “I should go. If what you say is true, Nyx, about the bounties, I’m the least likely to stir up trouble.”

I crossed my arms and raised an eyebrow at the young man. “And how’s that? You were seen breaking Lethia out of jail alongside me!”

“She has a point,” Quincy murmured, looking at Paulo out of the corner of her eye.

“Who else are we going to send?” Paulo argued hotly. He thrust a hand at Lethia. “She’s probably got wanted posters floating all around the Sibesona by now!” Next he pointed at Quincy, “And she went back on her bounty contract! Lethia’s head was not a small catch! She’s probably equally notorious! And the other two?” He swept a hand over Argos and Hakeem, causing the dog to growl at him resentfully.

“And what about me?” I asked flatly.

“Yeah. What about you, lia?” he shot back. “I’ve been watching you. You’ve been eager to leave us since the moment you showed up! What’s stopping you from fucking off now that your redheaded lover isn’t around for you to fool around with, eh? Disseme! Tell me!”

My expression darkened when he brought up Elmiryn, and I had to resist curling my hands into fists.

“Out of all of us, I was seen the least, and therefor, I am less likely to be accosted by authorities. Never mind that I’m leaps and bounds better at sneaking than you are, and I think I can manage to get around. As for your suspicions….” I couldn’t help it. My voice dropped an octave, my anger tinging my words in a harsh growl: “You have absolutely no business questioning my character, considering the impressive jackassery you have achieved in the short amount of time that I have known you. If anything, you’re more likely to leave than I am! You have no ties to any of us, whereas I still need to wait for Elmiryn to return. Now who seems the bigger risk to send, I wonder?”

Paulo looked ready to argue some more, his scarred face turning hot and livid, but Quincy cut him off.

“She’s going.”

“She can’t—!”

Quincy stood sharply, her teeth bared and her cheeks tinged pink. “Shut up, boy! I said she’s going!”

“But the vote is split!” Lethia protested, standing now as well.

“This isn’t a democracy,” I replied wryly.

“And this isn’t a dictatorship either,” the girl rebutted. “Neither you or Quincy have fully assumed the role of leadership! That means Paulo and I have equal say!”

Quincy crossed her arms. “Does it, now?”


Then I had an idea. “Why don’t we let Argos vote?”

The others didn’t seem to know what to think at first. Even Lethia seemed hesitant to agree, and I wondered why. Did she want Paulo to leave that badly that she didn’t want to risk Argos voting against her? It wasn’t a secret that Argos disliked Paulo. It was just as likely he could vote for the boy to go instead of me. One less thing for him to growl at.

But he surprised me when he padded up to me, and with his black eyes meeting mine, he woofed.

I raised my eyebrows and looked at the others. “That’s his vote! Are we agreed, then?”

“He’s just a dog!” Paulo complained, but a dangerous look from Quincy silenced him.

With that mattered settled, we set off to explore the grounds.

Quincy and Paulo took the barn. Lethia, Argos, and I took the tower. My companions were quiet as we approached the tall stone building. I couldn’t blame them. Once, they had called this place home. Now it was just the place they had lived with a homicidal madwoman.

At the front doors, Lethia breathed, “There are five floors. One is a sublevel—the cellar. The main floor is the biggest and is where the kitchen and study are. That’s where we can start. The second floor used to be my room. Third floor was…was Syria’s. The fourth floor was where we did astronomy and enchantment lessons.”

I nodded, uncertain of whether or not I should say anything. I’m sorry was such a trite thing to tell someone after all we had been through. I wasn’t even sure I had it in me to be charitable toward the girl, despite the pity she inspired. For some reason I just couldn’t shake away the resentment in my heart.

Without a word, we broke off to do our search. Me in the kitchen, Argos to the study, and Lethia in the cellar. The kitchen was small, one round table set off against the north wall with just two chairs set adjacent to each other. The cupboards were largely empty, even the plates and cups gone, but I did manage to find a small bag of white rice that had been missed in a far shadowy corner. A quick inspection told me they were still good.

Returning to the foyer, I found Argos sitting and staring up the stairs. He whined as I approached, his tail wagging once, and I patted his head.

When Lethia appeared a short moment later, she appeared faint. I gave her a discerning look, then asked warily, “Are you all right? You don’t look well.”

“I’m fine,” she said, except her voice sounded like a ghost.

I opted not to say anything. “This is all that I found,” I said, hefting up the half-empty rice bag. “It appears Argos hasn’t found anything. Did you find something usable?”

The teenager shrugged. “A few things. Some spare blankets that managed to stay dry. Three jars of pickled onions. A lantern, but no wick or oil.”

I pointed upstairs. “And up there?”

“We might find some more odds and ends, but no food.”

I sighed and rubbed at my face. “I was hoping for more….”

Lethia bit her lip before murmuring, “I’m not sure but…I might have some money hidden in my room. It isn’t much, but it ought to be enough to buy us some food.”

Before I could say anything to this, the girl started up the stairs, and with a glance at Argos, I followed her. The winding staircase reminded me of the keep that Syria had commandeered in the Other Place. My skin broke out in gooseflesh, and I could feel my jaw tighten.

We stopped at the first door we came to on the left, and when Lethia pushed inside. Her room was of medium size. There was a single size bed, but the sheets had been stolen and the mattress slashed. The shelves were bare, and I could see outlines on the western wall where a desk and a dresser appeared to have stood. Going just to the right of the desk spot, Lethia didn’t seem fazed by the emptiness of her room. Her face was a blank mask as she crouched down near the wall, and with her fingernails, she pulled out a cobblestone. It was darker than the others, and hidden behind it was a small pouch.

Lethia straightened as she opened this and poured out its contents. A handful of gold coins, an engraved silver bangle, and a small pair of copper glasses with dark round lenses. I guessed they were the pair that Lethia had worn when she was a child.

Gods…. Syria had cursed Lethia for that long?

I don’t understand, Kali asked in my head. Why do the glasses matter?

I couldn’t quite meet Lethia’s eyes as she held the items out to me.

I’ll spare you the search through our memories, sister. Syria had made it so that Lethia could not look anyone in the eye without emptying their heads of memories.

Oh…yes, I think I remember that being said, now. She must have been very lonely.

Kali’s words weren’t tinged with pity, but sympathy. This stunned me, leaving me inattentive to the words that Lethia had just spoken. I stared at the items in the girl’s hands. Of course, it had long been established that my Twin had her own opinions of things, but rarely did I hear her spare a kind thought for a human, let alone anyone.


I snapped my eyes up to find Lethia frowning at me.

“Huh?” I mumbled.

“I said I think there is enough here for one day’s worth of food. I don’t know where we can get money for anything else. Maybe Quincy has some in that magic bag of hers.”

I nodded dumbly, still trying to figure out why Kali would sympathize with Lethia after all we’d been through. I reached as if to take the items out of the girl’s hands, but she pulled them away from me, making me pause with a curious glance.

Lethia’s lips were pressed thin and her eyes had suddenly taken on a determined edge that bewildered me. “You can sell the bangle, but I want you to do something special with the glasses when you go into town.”

My brow tensed and I lowered my hand. “All right. What is it?”

“I want you to find an elven man named Daedalus. He’s a tinkerer in Belcliff and a good friend of mine. Give him these glasses and tell him to return with you in his scrap wagon with his tools.” She paused, but I could see from her furtive look at her shoes that she wanted to continue.

“And?” I prompted.

“Tell him to bring a bottle of wine and some medical supplies.”

I put my hands on my hips, my eyes going a little wide. “Why would we need medical supplies?”

Lethia gave me a critical look, and yet this time she was the one who failed to meet my eyes. “Nyx, Elmiryn is still out there. She’ll need a drink to ease the withdrawals she’ll no doubt be suffering from. There’s no telling what state she’ll be in, either. Wouldn’t it be best to be prepared?”

I nodded slowly, but I was still suspicious. The girl’s logic was sound, but I had a feeling this wasn’t her true reasoning. After all, why would she be so concerned with finding Elmiryn?

So I asked next, “What do you need Daedalus for? We’re in hiding, you know. The less who knows we are here, the better.”

Lethia took my hand and forced the coins and trinkets into my palm. With a sigh, she said, “First of all, we aren’t going anywhere, Nyx. I think we both know that. We still have to find Elmiryn, and Hakeem is still unconscious. Daedalus is not only a tinkerer, he’s also trained as a healer. Plus he has a wagon. I thought that it would be nice if you could return quickly, and then my friend can try to help Hakeem. Who knows? He might even come up with some ideas to make this place more comfortable while we try to rest and heal.”

All fair arguments, of course. Still, that nagging feeling persisted.

“Lethia, if there’s something you need to tell me—” I began.

She cut me off. “We should find the others. The barn isn’t that big. They ought to be done, now.”

She started for the door, and I could only stare after her.

Lethia’s voice came from the staircase as she left the room. She sounded small and distant. “You should leave now while you still have daylight, Nyx.”

Continue ReadingChapter 43.3

Chapter 43.4


A quick search of the other floors in the tower proved Lethia had been right. We didn’t find much that we could use at all. Quincy and Paulo managed to find some left over firewood that had been kept dry in a shed, as well as a flask of oil. Other than that and the meager supplies we brought with us, we had nothing.

Before I left for Belcliff like we had agreed, Quincy stopped me outside of the barn.

She pulled out her magic bag and reached her entire arm in. I thought she was finally giving me the low level magic items we had agreed on a while back, but then she extracted a medium sized pouch that jingled. My eyes widened at it.

“Is that…?”

“Gold,” Quincy answered promptly. “About five hundred worth, give or take. This is a fourth of the reward money I received for Lethia.”

“But I don’t need this much!” I protested. I tried to hand the bag back to her, only to have the wizard shove it into my chest firmly.

“Just keep it, Ailuran! I have more gold than I know what to do with. If you don’t want to take the lot of it, just be sure you take enough for a few days worth of supplies. Bribery might also be a good idea. We’ll need to make some connections if we’re going to be left in peace up here.”

“Fine,” I sighed. Then I added, because it seemed relevant and we hadn’t brought it up as a group: “Lethia wanted me to bring back a friend of hers. Some elf named Daedalus.”

Quincy frowned. “Daedalus? Hmm…but is he trustworthy?”

I shrugged. “She seems to think so.”

“Well why does she want him here?”

“She seems to think he can help Hakeem. Maybe even fix things up for us here.”

“Hmm,” Quincy frowned.

I crossed my arms and stepped a little closer, glancing in Lethia’s direction. She was busy cleaning up a one of the empty animal stalls, a focused look on her face. “Quincy, do you remember that weird exchange Paulo and Lethia had before we got here? Something isn’t right.”

She nodded once, glancing at Lethia surreptitiously as well. “Yes. It’s making me uneasy.”

“Keep an eye on them, will you? I’m afraid they’re planning something drastic.”

Quincy raised an eyebrow at me. “Oh! That sounds like concern. I was under the impression you wanted nothing to do with them?”

I glared at her. “Lethia is in a dark place right now, and so is Paulo. Someone saved my life when I was in a similar position. I can’t just sit by and let them ruin their lives, regardless of how I feel about them.”

The other woman took a step back, appraising me for a moment. Then she nodded slowly. “I’m starting to understand why Elmiryn is so attached to you, Nyx.”

I had nothing to say to that, so I left.


I had our supplies before sunset. So as not to raise suspicion, I only purchased the bare minimum for a few days. It would be too obvious if I bought a wagon full of supplies and headed up to Syria’s tower. People would talk. Left with just one task left to do, I slung my bag of provisions over my shoulder and flipped up the hood of the cloak Quincy lent me.

In the waning light, I followed Lethia’s directions, sticking to the shadows and avoiding the main streets whenever possible, and found myself outside of Daedalus’ shop. The elf had been described to me as a tinkerer, but as I looked up at his gold leaf sign, I realized his profession was that of a jeweler. Stepping through the small wooden door, a bell tinkled overhead.

A plump human woman with paling ginger hair pinned up in a frizzy bun and rosy red cheeks smiled at me pleasantly as I approached. She had a ruby necklace in her hands that she seemed to be inspecting with a lens. The shop was neat and well-organized, shiny baubles and precious trinkets gleaming under glass cases that were magicked to shower them in a bright glow.

Instantly, I wondered what these people did for security. Having lived as a thief for a good year of my life, I knew that if I had come across this place, I might’ve been tempted to steal something in order to sell it for food. There were no guards, and I wasn’t even impressed by the lock they had on their door.

Was there anything to barricade the windows with? I wondered as I glanced to check. Hmm. No latches. How odd! Is Belcliff really that honest a city, or is there something I’m missing?

But before I could really start poking around, the woman asked, “Hello! My name is Beryl. Is there something I could help you with, ma’am?”

I jumped and focused on her again. “Oh! Er, yes. I was hoping the owner was in? Daedalus?”

“Why, yes! He’s upstairs right now. Did you have an appointment with him?” She asked with a wrinkled brow as she consulted an open ledger on the counter.

I waved my hand. “N-No! No appointment. Um…a friend sent me. I was wondering if you could take these to him?” I reached into my pocket and pulled out Lethia’s old glasses.

Beryl paled and her eyes went wide.

“Oh!” She exclaimed, her hands flying to her mouth. “Oh my goodness! Wherever did you get these young lady?”

“Can you please just take these to Daedalus? I’m afraid it’s urgent.” I handed the glasses to her, my face tightening. This was such a risky task. What if these people weren’t as good friends with Lethia as the girl seemed to think? All it would take was for one of them to decide my visit was worth a tip to the authorities.

Grimly, I wondered what I was willing to do to ensure that wouldn’t happen.

But to my relief, Beryl took the glasses and hurried up the stairs in the back. As I waited, I took another look around the store. There were all sorts of things in the glass display cases and on the back shelves, but what gave me a start was seeing the metal statues in the corners of the room, including near the front entrance. The statues were unlike anything I’d ever seen before—tall slim elven men with what appeared to be pistols crossed over their armored chests. They were blank faced but seemed to have glass for eyes.

“Strange,” I murmured.

That was when I spotted the ruby necklace Beryl had left on the counter in her rush. Curious, I went to moved in for a closer look.

Before I even came close, the statues sprang to life in a metallic whir of groaning joints and hissing parts. Their eyes flared red as they pointed the pistols square at me and pulled back the hammers.

For the record, it is very unsettling to hear eight different guns cocked at the same time whilst being aimed at your head.

“Stand down!” a smooth, firm voice said.

I whipped around to see a tall elven man with cropped dark hair peppered gray at the temples coming down the final steps of the stairs. For a jeweler, he wore plain cotton clothes, and his face, though thin, was sagging and wrinkled. His neck was even baggy, as if he’d been heavier at one time of his life, but lost all the weight quickly. His electric blue eyes fastened onto me, and they were hard and appraising.

I tensed, but did nothing save to bow my head.

Daedalus was an elf. Elves were in touch with their spiritual essence as therians were, therefor he could sense the Mark that was on my back. I could see the judgmental edge come to his eyes quickly. I felt a dull ache at that, but a part of me, the part that was tired of the constant discrimination of others, bristled against the shame. I was not here for this man to judge. I was only here because Lethia wanted something from him.

The elf held up the glasses in a trembling hand and demanded harshly, “Where did you get this, Marked One?”

I squared my shoulders and frowned at him. “From a friend of yours.”

“What friend?

“A young blond one,” I said, an edge now creeping into my voice. I was tired. I wanted to go home. I did not feel in the mood for this man’s unkindness or his murderous guard statues.

Daedalus eyes widened as he took in what I’d told him. “There could only be one other person who would have these glasses and be as you say,” he said quietly.

I nodded curtly. “Are you still an ally, or will you turn me away?”

He shook his head slowly. “Her mistress did us great harm….”

“I’m not asking about whether you are still loyal to her mistress,” I replied, struggling to keep my patience. “I am asking if you are still loyal to her. She needs your help. Told me to come find you, give you those, and bring you back with me.”

“To where?”

I sighed. “You know where.”

The elf thought hard on this for what felt like ages. Behind him, Beryl fidgeted nervously. Finally the man nodded. “All right. What does she need?”

A small smile of gratitude appeared on my face. “She asked if you could please ride with me up to the tower in your spare part wagon with your tinker tools, a bottle of wine, and some medical supplies.”

His eyebrows rose. “Medical supplies? Is she hurt?”

I shook my head quickly. “No, but one of our group is. I imagine she believes you can help them.”

“What ails this person?”

“He is in a coma, but he is still clinging to life.”

He pursed his lips. “Well there isn’t much I can do for them, then. I’m an herbal healer, not a magical one. I do not have the ability to treat something of that nature.”

I cleared my throat and added. “There…. There is also one other that we have not found yet. We fear they may be injured upon locating them again, so if we could bring enough supplies to treat someone cut or with broken bones, I’d believe that would suffice.”

Daedalus turned to Beryl. “Close the shop early, Beryl. I’ll be leaving right now.”


A short time later and we were on our way back to Syria’s tower. The road was busy heading toward the port city of Reg’Amen, but when we veered off the less beaten path into the mountains, the company thinned and soon we were rumbling along alone with only a lantern and the moon to light the way.

As we rode, I could feel Daedalus’ discomfort sitting next to me on the driver’s seat. I glanced at him now and again, and I could see the sweat on his brow as he fought to avoid looking at me. I didn’t really know what it was like for people to sense my Mark. When I had snuck back to my village to recover some of my family treasures, I had run into my childhood friend Taila. She all but cringed from the sight of me, describing the sensation as some sort of spiritual repulsion. But I had no idea what that really felt like. Marquis acknowledged that he had sensed my Mark too, but he hadn’t displayed any outward signs of discomfort like Taila had.

In a poor attempt at alleviating the tension, I asked, “What year is it?”

The elf blinked, though he still did not look my way. “By Halward’s grace, 3571.”

I stared at him in shock.

3571? That means we’ve been gone over a year!

Then came the question I’d been waiting for.

“What is a Marked Ailuran doing with someone like Lethia Artaud?” Daedalus asked tightly. He cracked the reins, though it was unnecessary. The horse was going as fast as it could already.

I stared ahead as I answered, still dazed by the information I’d just learned. “It was chance. I was travelling with someone else when Lethia’s dog approached us.”

“Argos?” The elven man asked, and I nodded.

“He led us to her, and she begged us to aid her,” I continued. “She wanted to break Syria free. As it turned out, her cause was aligned with me and friend’s, so…we decided to help her.”

Daedalus jaw clenched. “And by the four blasted winds, you succeeded!”

I closed my eyes. “We had no idea it would turn out the way it had!”

“Turn out what way? Horrible? Ha!” The elf snapped, looking at me for the first time just to spare me a brief sharp glare. “Who was this ‘friend’ of yours? What were you two doing, getting involved in matters that had nothing to do with you? Are you a mercenary?”

My lip curled. I could feel my anger rise, despite my inner attempts at calming myself. “No,” I growled out.

“Then who—?”

“Enough!” I interjected loudly. “I am not bringing you along for you to interrogate me! If you want the whole story, ask Lethia! I, for one, am far too tired to suffer reliving my nightmarish ordeal just for a belligerent old elf who probably wouldn’t believe me anyway!” I slouched and glared into the dark of the night. “So just…leave me in peace!

Daedalus harrumphed and cracked the reins again. “Peace, she says! As though this elf will have any peace after tonight….” But he asked nothing more of me.

We arrived in silence at Syria’s tower, the horses nickering as we passed the open gate and pulled to a stop just outside of the barn. From where I hopped down off the driver’s seat, I could hear yelling up in the tower.

“Who is that? What is happening?” Daedalus demanded.

I didn’t even answer him as I ran to the tower and rushed inside.

Quincy had her staff out and was nervously facing down Argos in the study, her voice tersely repeating a warning. The dog’s hackles were raised and he paced agitatedly back and forth. Behind the wizard Lethia and Paulo were practically nose-to-nose screaming at each other. In all the noise, I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying at first. Then I started to pick out the words.

“I cannot let you harm the boy, Argos! Do you understand? He is my responsibility! I can’t help Lethia if you insist on this!”

“We made a deal! You said you’d do it! You even threatened me on it. Now you’re changing your mind? You COWARD!

“Shut up! I have the right to change my mind, lia! You’re the crazy one!”

“What are you all so upset about?” I said loudly, with a bit of vermagus force.

That got everyone’s attention fast. They all stared at me, eyes still lit with intensity.

“A silly altercation,” Quincy said first. “I’m trying to keep this from boiling over. You returned at a good time!”

“Daedalus?” Lethia exclaimed next.

I looked over my shoulder to see the elf staring at the enchantress in amazement. “So it was you!” he breathed.

Lethia hurried forward, brushing past me to hug the tall man. He blinked rapidly before patting her back awkwardly.

“My dear,” he coughed. “It is good to see you are still alive, but I’m afraid I’ll need some kind of an explanation from you!”

Lethia pulled away and held the elf’s shoulders. She smiled grimly. “Yes. Let’s talk outside.” She glared back at Paulo. “I find myself repulsed by the current company!”

With a gesture toward the door, she led Daedalus away to the field. I watched them go until the night swallowed them from sight.

I crossed my arms and looked at Quincy. “So the altercation? What was it about?”

She sighed and fixed Paulo with a withering look. “It appears that Lethia had made a rather grim deal with Paulo…but the boy lost his nerve, thank the gods!”

“I didn’t lose my nerve!” Paulo shot defensively. “I just realized how crazy it all was! I was angry when I said those, those…inseño things! People do all kinds of things when they’re angry!”

“But what?” I snapped, losing my patience. “What did you two make a deal about?”

“Lethia got Paulo to agree to come with us to Syria’s tower if he would…” Quincy paused and shot another dark look at Paulo, and this time the boy had the good sense to hang his head, “If Paulo would cut off one of her arms!

I reeled, my face tightening in disgust. I glared incredulously at Paulo. “You agreed to WHAT?

The teenager grumbled at his boots. “I just said I was angry, didn’t I? Coming back to our world was like coming out of a dream! The things I said in that dimension…I realized that wasn’t me!” Which I could’ve believed if he hadn’t added in a rush of petulance: “And it wasn’t as if I was agreeing to kill her! I wasn’t even going to take her dominant arm!”

I advanced on him, fists clenched so tight my bones ached. “That doesn’t make it any better! When are you going to accept responsibility for—” I broke off, my eyes widening.

“Wait a minute,” I breathed. “Was Lethia upset because you wouldn’t cut off one of her arms?”

Paulo frowned and nodded. “Yes! I’m telling you, that lia is crazy!”

Then it all made sense: Daedalus being here, the request for medical supplies, the odd behavior. Lethia wanted to atone for her mistakes by mutilating herself.

She wanted to do something that extreme, and we just let her out of our sight.

Continue ReadingChapter 43.4

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.

Continue ReadingChapter 44.1

Chapter 44.2


Lethia didn’t die, thankfully. Within a few days of severing her own arm, she was up and walking—though she never stayed up for long. She never complained about the pain. Daedalus and Quincy gave her herbal mixes to help with that, but there wasn’t a plant on this world that could eliminate the discomfort entirely. I could see how it kept the enchantress up at night. Oddly enough, this was the most at peace I’d seen the girl since we’d reunited. Lethia always appeared lost in thought, and not in the melancholy way she had been before, but with an almost determined air. Determination for what, I had no idea.

It was thanks to Daedalus that her condition had not worsened. Just as I had expected, the elf had stayed, tending to the enchantress and helping her care for her wound. More than that, though, the two were constantly talking, heads bowed as if they were going over some secret plan. They always fell silent whenever I or one of the others drew near, and it made me suspicious. What were they talking about that they couldn’t share with the rest of us?

I mentioned this to Quincy, but she only brushed me off.

“Daedalus and Lethia are old friends. The elf has been in her life since she was a child.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because he was one of the first people I questioned when I was pursuing Lethia as a bounty. If they want to talk in private, then let them! It may just be that he’s the only one she feels comfortable with confiding in right now,” she said.

I huffed. “Yes, but—”

“Nyx, I cannot entertain your cynicism right now! I need to massage Hakeem to prevent bed sores.”

Hakeem had not awoken since our arrival. Daedalus, humoring Quincy, had gone up to check on the Fanaean, who had taken residence in Lethia’s old room (since the girl had decided she preferred the barn), but he would not wake. He lay there still as a lifeless doll. Stubbornly, Quincy insisted on caring for him.

I pitied Quincy and Hakeem both.

Paulo, who had taken to sleeping outside, under the stars, was quiet and withdrawn. It was the return of the taciturn young man we had first encountered in the Other Place, but with a notable difference. Now, whenever Paulo was in the same room as Lethia, he would stop and do something for her. Sometimes it was small: He would bring her a cup of water; shut a window for her; or bring her whatever food we had cooked that day. Other times it was more. Once I’d seen him freshen up her hay bed. Another time, I saw him fix a leak on the roof of the barn that had been bothering the enchantress.

I didn’t really know what to make of this change. It seemed to happen so suddenly. Lethia didn’t seem all that surprised by it, but to say the two were comfortable around each other would have been overstating the situation. Paulo, after his task for the girl was complete, would practically flee her presence. Lethia, who always watched the boy intently as he worked, never said a word of thanks, nor attempted to speak further with him.

And how did I fare after spending so many days hiding and resting at Syria’s abandoned tower?

I was losing my mind.

If I weren’t in touch with the shadows, I would have believed they were moving. My eyes were always playing tricks on me, making me believe someone (or something) was lurking in the dark when there wasn’t really anything. Other times, I’d fuss over something incessantly—like tying my gambeson for instance. I’d be halfway through my ties before I’d start all over again, thinking I’d skipped one. Quincy happened upon me in Syria’s old room doing this, no doubt seeking help with Hakeem, before she stopped me in bemusement.

“Nyx, stop. You’re just going around in circles!” she chided.

“But I keep missing a tie for some reason!” I whined. “I keep counting them, watching my hands, but the gambeson doesn’t sit right! I don’t understand!”

Quincy crossed her arms and looked at me funny. “How long have you been trying to tie your gambeson?”

The question startled me. I took a moment to think, then mumbled uneasily, “H-How far have the suns traveled from the ten o’ clock position?”

The wizard balked at me. “You’ve been doing this for an hour?

“It can’t have been that long!” I protested. I started to fumble with my ties again. “I would have noticed!”

Quincy grabbed my wrists and I looked into her face sharply. Her expression was very solemn. “Nyx, you’re an intelligent girl. Surely you’ve noticed that things have not been the same since we’ve returned!”

“What do you mean?” I asked, but I knew exactly what she was talking about.

The wizard rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips. “You know very well what I mean! The small hallucinations! Our foggy memories! Who does that sound like?”

I could feel my heart hammering in my chest. “Elmiryn,” I breathed.

Quincy nodded grimly. “Yes. Izma and Meznik mentioned that we had been altered in some way, to allow us to see them without losing our minds. At the time, I didn’t understand why they would want us to see them, unless of course they intended…”

“To use us,” I finished, my voice sounding hollow.

She only nodded again.

I buried my face in my hands. “Sweet Aelurus! I thought being a champion meant I would be safe from such influence!”

“You’re still mortal, Nyx. Don’t take your status for granted. And besides,” Quincy crossed her arms and I could see her eyes grow distant as she delved into some deep thought. “This has another side to it.”

“Really? And what’s that?” I muttered miserably.

“Isn’t it obvious? We can see the astral demons, Nyx! If we can see them, that means that we can fight them! They’ve lost one of their safeguards!”

I raised an eyebrow. “We’ve just established this is a double-edged sword, Quincy! We won’t be of much help to anyone let alone ourselves if we start to lose our minds like—” I broke off. I never thought I’d experience what the warrior had to go through, but now that I did, I regretted not being more supportive of her when we’d first met. To have to go through something like this alone…it was really just proof that the redhead had considerable mettle to keep from succumbing to what was obviously a harrowing state of existence.

Then another alarming thought occurred to me. “You don’t think that Izma and Meznik intend to turn us into fae, do you?”

Quincy frowned. “I don’t know. Why would they? Half the point of their war game seemed to be about displaying how creative one was in comparison to the other. Making a person into a fae would be old hat to them.”

I sighed and ran a hand through my hair. “So what now, then?”

“Well, seeing as how our new affliction allows us to witness the demons without trouble, reversing that seems detrimental. At the same time, we’d have to keep it from progressing further, or we won’t be able to function in our own world…” The wizard trailed off, her finger tapping her chin as she gazed through the floor. Finally, she shrugged. “I’ll research what I can. Maybe Lethia knows of something. Meanwhile, we should tell everyone what is happening so that they can be aware of the problem. Until such a time as we can come up with a way to mitigate our condition, we’ll just have to watch each other.”

I swallowed through a tight throat and nodded. “You came up here for something?”

“Oh! Yes. But first,” she gestured at my unlaced gambeson. “Let me help you with that.”

Once I was fully dressed, I went to help Quincy with moving Hakeem off his bed—she wanted to wash his sheets. As we worked, we discussed other ways of lessening the ill of effects of the demons’ influence. One such thing we agreed on—everyone needed to sleep better.

When I really stopped to think about it, I hadn’t slept all that much in the Other Place. Of course, there were moments where I had been unconscious, but the only time I could remember actually sleeping was during our stop at the shard where the Lycan village had been located. There, I had slept for a short time, and I don’t recall dreaming about anything. Yet here I seemed to dream every single night, and they were the worst nightmares. Every time, I awoke screaming, sweat drenched and with fragmented memories of what my consciousness had taken me to in sleep: a sea of nymph corpses that I drowned in; a herd of pretas that tore me apart; my chest ripping open and revealing a black hole—

Elmiryn leaving me.

What most pained me was that when I would descend from Syria’s room, it was usually to find Quincy sitting in the dark of the kitchen, staring at nothing. Or Paulo crouched just outside the barn doors with his head in his hands, his breath hitching. Or Lethia pacing—almost angrily—out along the property fence. Even Argos seemed to struggle with some inner trauma as he obsessively hunted down the gophers and other pests that had taken up residence on the land.

We were all suffering and yet none of us seemed capable of talking to each other.

Worse yet, Elmiryn still had not returned, and I had no idea where she could be. I only waited a day to see if she would turn up in the same manner that we had, out from under the tree’s roots. But after that, I risked a short trip into the wilderness with the wine. I had talked it over with Lethia and Quincy, and they surmised that the warrior, given her fae powers, could have circumvented the gateway we had entered completely and turned up elsewhere nearby.

But by the sixth day, I was turning up nothing, and I feared the worst.

This time, I wanted to go deeper into the wilderness, but not just for a day trip, like I’d been doing. I wanted to go deeper into the wilds, be more thorough in my search. I didn’t know how to approach the others with this wish, though. Even after our shared hardship, there were deep fractures that divided our group, and it hurt our trust and communication. I could anticipate the accusations from Paulo already.

Just to make sure I stayed honest, I told Kali, After three days of searching, turn us around!

She scoffed at me from her mental den. What do you mean, ‘Turn us around’? You aren’t a wagon I can just steer at will!

I sighed with as much patience as I could muster. Kali, what I meant was—hold me accountable to my original plan. I can’t leave the others for too long.

Kali grunted in response, and I took that as her assent.

Next, I needed to talk to the others…preferably one by one. I’m a coward at heart, after all.

The first I spoke to was Argos, because out of us all, I felt sorry that the dog seemed to be so frequently overlooked. The canine was chasing rodents out in the field, as usual. He stopped and listened to what I had to say—all my reasons and my assurances—and simply licked my cheek. I rubbed his head in thanks, thinking wistfully, I wish I could speak to you like Lethia can, and went off to find Daedalus, who was sitting inside the tower at the kitchen table. He was working with a number of various metal parts. No doubt, he’d taken them from his wagon full of spare clock pieces.

“What are you doing?” I asked out of curiosity.

He glanced at me, but didn’t stop polishing a small gear. With much reservation, the elf murmured, “I’m working on a new creation. Was there something you needed?”

The phrase ‘Marked One’ hung there at the end, even if he didn’t say it.

With a resigned sigh, I went about telling him of my intentions. Then I asked if I could take some of his medical supplies with me.

“No,” he said firmly. He set down his work and turned to glare up at me. “Those supplies will only last me until the end of tomorrow, and Lethia’s wound still needs much tending to! If you want to take healing supplies, you’ll have to go into town and get your own!”

I didn’t bother arguing. With dropped shoulders and a lowered gaze, I hurried off to find Quincy upstairs.

The wizard sat at her husband’s bedside, a damp wash cloth in her hand as she dabbed at his head. I winced at the sight of the unconscious Fanaean. His cheeks were sunken in. What really surprised me was that he wasn’t dead yet. A touch at his shoulder still proved he had some living warmth to him.

Quincy looked at me quizzically. I didn’t typically visit unless she asked me to.

“Can I help you, Nyx?” she asked.

I held her eyes, my mouth open to say something, but I suddenly had to look away. There was a pit in my stomach. I was leaving Quincy alone to deal with the others. She already had so much to deal with. Was that fair?

“You’re going to look for Elmiryn,” she stated quietly.

I swallowed and peered at her sidelong before giving a nod.

The brunette took a deep breath and tossed her wash cloth back into its basin at the floor. With both hands she rubbed at her face before standing and crossing her arms.

Quincy met my eyes. “I understand. If it were Hakeem, I would do the same.”

I fidgeted on the spot. “You’ll be all right? With…with everything?”

“Daedalus is a big help. Paulo seems repentant, which is good. Lethia seems to be in a better mood than she’s been in for a while.” She shrugged one shoulder and puckered her lips. “Yes. I think we ought to be fine!”

“Good! That’s good.”

A long pause.

“How long were you going to search till?” she asked next.

“Three days.”

Quincy tilted her head to one side. “You’ll need supplies for Elmiryn, won’t you? I noticed Daedalus’ supplies dwindling.”

I was already backing up toward the door. I still had to speak with Paulo and Lethia, and I was eager to start my search. “I’ll figure something out—”

“Nyx, wait.”

I paused and looked at her curiously.

Quincy already had her coin purse in hand. “You need to buy things, don’t you? You sort of need money for that, right? Here. Take the rest from last time. That should do it.”

I frowned as she approached to press the purse into my hand. There were at least two hundred gold coins left in the purse. Medical supplies were expensive, so I could very much use the money…but this situation was different from before. I wasn’t buying supplies for the group, just for Elmiryn. Was Quincy expecting a sort of trade again?

“What would you like in return?” I asked wearily.

She put her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes. “Huh?”

I jingled the purse. “For the coins? What do you want?”

Quincy scowled. “You think I’m bartering with you?”

I blinked at her, taken aback. “You…you mean, you—?”

The wizard only shook her head at me and turned away, insult and hurt evident on her face. “Smart as you are, you can be a little thick headed, can’t you?” she muttered.

I took a step after her. Did I really misunderstand things that badly? “Quincy, hold on—!”

“Just go, Ailuran,” she snapped, picking up her washcloth again. “I suppose you’re not as perceptive as Elmiryn claimed you were.”

That stung. Had Elmiryn sung my praises while I was away? If she had, I already must have gone against every kind thing she said. It doubly hurt because it meant that perhaps the warrior didn’t understand me as much as she thought she did. I seemed to be discovering new lows every day.

Without a word, I sought out the others. Paulo, expectedly, brought up the possibility that I was leaving them for good.

“I’m not going to do that!” I snapped at him.

“How do I know you’ll keep your word?” he argued back. “Even if you really are looking for Elmiryn, you two could just run off together the moment you’re reunited!”

“You want to know how you can trust me?” I snarled.

“Yes! How?”

“By having faith!” I spat. And I left it at that.

Last of all, I went to speak with Lethia.

The girl was in the barn, as she usually was when the suns rose into their noon-time position. It was on Daedalus’ orders. The heat, he had warned, could encourage infection. Stay somewhere cool at all times!

Lethia seemed to like this about as much as I liked getting into trouble.

Still, I was shocked to find her topless, her blouse off with just a brassiere on, doing curls with her right arm by using a filled water bucket. Without turning around, she panted out in clipped phrases, “Nyx…you’re going to…look for Elmiryn. Go ahead! I don’t mind.”

I stared at her, feeling uncomfortable. I even overlooked the fact that she had read my mind again. “Should you be doing that? You’re wounded!”

Lethia barely glanced at me. “I’m fine.”

“Does Daedalus know what you’re up to?”

With what sounded like a huff of annoyance, the enchantress finally turned to glare at me in full. I gave a start. In the few days since Lethia had cut off her arm, I had purposefully avoided the more intimate ways of helping her—like dressing or bathing. Whether it was because of anger or shame, I did not know. But seeing her now, I found myself greatly humbled at the scars Lethia’s brand of honor had done to her.

In addition to her now severed arm, the teenager had the long grey scar running along her chest from the daesce that had attacked her. The old wound was not just superficial—it had also taken out a chunk from the top of her right breast, judging by the uneven nature of her brassiere.

Lethia’s sharp green eyes pierced me when she said, “Nyx, you weren’t interested in caring for me before. Don’t pretend to start now. It’d just be bothersome at this point.”

I winced. That was the second time someone had managed to make me feel horrible in just a few words.

Not that hard, apparently, Kali drawled.


“So you didn’t do this to spark sympathy?” I shot back as I gestured at her arm stump. Immediately I regretted that. It sounded awful and petty, even to me.

She raised an eyebrow at me and murmured, “Can it be that you still don’t understand?” She sighed heavily, her lips pursing before she turned away from me. “I was wrong to think we had something in common, then.”

This made me angry in ways I didn’t expect. I stomped to Lethia’s side and hissed, “Why is it that everyone has to understand you? What makes you of such importance that I am somehow lesser for failing to understand your convoluted logic?”

Lethia frowned at me. “What do you want me to say? I’m sorry? Again?

At my furious silence, she leaned in just enough to breathe. “If the only thing you want is to be angry with me, Nyx, then that is your right. I hurt you, I know. I hurt everyone. But I need you to know, I don’t intend to just sit back and live the life of a cripple.” She stepped away, turning to resume her bucket curls. Through quiet grunts, she said with strain: “I also don’t intend to spend all my life begging for forgiveness with words when I can do more through my actions. When you’ve figured out what you’d like me to do, then by all means…tell me. In the meantime, I will do what I feel I must.”

I glared at her, feeling a sickening mix of guilt and anger surge in my throat like hot bile. It is the worst feeling, when your head is going one direction, and your emotions are stampeding off in another.

Stiffly, I turned to leave.

“Good luck, Nyx. I hope you find her,” Lethia called after me.

I paused at the barn doors, but walked briskly away.

The exchange left me rattled, to say the least. The teenage enchantress seemed so much more confident than I’d ever seen her, including when we first met. Add on the fact that she was physically older than before our strange other-dimensional journey, and it was like speaking to an entirely different person.

And what she said made sense. Even in my heightened state of emotion, I could understand.

I just didn’t want to. I felt petulant and resentful that Lethia would treat me so firmly and yet somehow manage to remain sympathetic all at the same time. It felt unfair.

Space, I thought. I need some space. Some time to think.

I was hating what I was feeling. Who I was turning into. It was like watching myself in the mirror turn ugly and dark, like a hag, and feeling powerless to stop it. I wasn’t powerless, of course. But it wouldn’t be enough to pretend I wasn’t angry and hurt. The charade would be shallow and short-lived. If I really wanted to move on from the devastation I’d faced in the Other Place, I was going to have to reach in deep and purge myself of all the ill feelings that so led me astray.

I was going to have to overcome myself, if I wanted to any sort of peace.

Continue ReadingChapter 44.2

Chapter 44.3


Dear Jydel,

I’ll have you know that people are fantastically annoying sometimes.

Being tended to by Daedalus is fine. But Quincy? Ye gods! I would rather chop off my other arm than have to suffer her prickly bedside manner any longer!

Sorry, was that joke too soon?

It’s just that I’m so irritated! Everyone has started treating me as though I’m a lunatic about to hop off the nearest cliff. Halward help them, they just don’t understand at all! I mean, if I was really intent on killing myself, I think I would have enough intelligence to go about it more efficiently than just amputating a gods damned limb!

But what can I do? I can’t make them see what they don’t want to. And in the end, I didn’t do it for them. It was my own blood pact, paid in flesh. I know what my destiny is now, Jydel.

I have to kill Syria.

I lay awake in the barn, staring up at the rafters, and it’s all I can think about. And even if I told this to the others? I still do not think they would understand. They would say, “Ah! She must really hate Syria to wish her dead!”

That just isn’t true.

Syria was my mother. I can no more cease to love her than I could stop breathing. It is just a fact of my reality. But I do not need to love the crimes she has committed, and as her adopted daughter, I see it is my duty to preserve what is left of her legacy. I feel almost rejuvenated, to have such a clear goal in front of me now. Izma’s way was wrong. I couldn’t see that before because I was lost in the labyrinthine logic that no doubt trapped my mistress. What is wrong with intellectuals, that we manage to complicate things that are supposed to be simple? We get so caught up in our ideas that we lose sight of the point, whatever that may be.

Nyx does it. She weighs her thoughts on a scale like an alchemist, ticking off pros and cons, arguing one point against another. I think she would have made a stellar scholar. But her passion! It’s strong and highly unreasonable, jerking her this way and that by a storm of feelings. I can see it every time she looks at me. Conflict rages inside of her. The anger tenses her brow and darkens her eyes when her charity is scarce. But when she’s in a lighter mood? I see a strange bout of sympathy bubble up. It’s tiring, that hot and cold attitude. I’d almost prefer it be the anger alone if it meant I knew where I stood with her!

Oh, but listen to me complain! I’m sorry Jydel, I can probably guess what you’re thinking. “Complains about the drizzle, but hardly wants the storm. Typical woman!” I suppose I can just shut up and try to find the silver lining to this. Maybe Nyx can finally find it in her heart to forgive me? We’ll see. She left earlier today to search for Elmiryn. I don’t think she’ll be back for a few days. Maybe all she really needed was some time to herself.

Sometimes, I feel the same way.

At night, I think I hear Paulo outside of the barn, skulking. He’s such a self-conscious boy, Jydel. I think Quincy is aware of this, but Nyx isn’t. I can’t really blame her. It’s not as though Paulo makes it easy for anyone to feel sorry for him, but just imagine being stuck alone for a year in a cold, dark half world with monsters. Then the only company that finds you turns out to be group of judgmental women and a snarling dog.

Oh and by the way, your brother is dead. Cheers!

Don’t get me wrong. Paulo is still a git, but I can understand why he is one. Does that make sense?

Of course not. I suppose that’s what I can expect after living most of my life in a tower with a crazy woman. I end up feeling sorry for assholes. It’s like some weird cosmic joke.

If the universe thinks that is funny, it should see what I’m about to do next.

No. Nevermind. Tomorrow. I’ll tell you tomorrow, Jydel. My hand is starting to cramp up and I’m feeling anxious enough for a walk.


The Albian wilderness was no less treacherous now that winter was over. Despite the fact that the only snow could be found on higher altitudes, the daesce still lurked the mountains. I’d learned from Daedalus that Holzoff’s Tower had been indefinitely closed in light of Syria’s dramatic escape. That meant the food source the terrible daesce relied on was now gone. The population of monsters spread, sometimes in large herds, other times alone or in small packs, attacking and devouring whatever they could get their claws on. Families had been destroyed overnight. Travelers were attacked and left mutilated on the roads, hurting trade. This prompted the new leader of Belcliff to hire help in beating the beasts back, exterminating them where possible. Many of these people were bounty hunters waiting for their next real job. It was amazing the devastating effects, both in the community and personally, our group’s past actions had.

So traversing into the wilds, I was on guard at all times. There was no telling when a bounty hunter or a daesce could appear.

But with so much time to myself, I couldn’t help but brood.

Lethia’s words echoed in my head.

When you figure out what you want from me, tell me.

What do I want? I thought angrily. I want to stop hurting! I’m sick of feeling so much pain!

Kali chimed in on my private thoughts. It was her new favorite thing to do, apparently.

Perhaps instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you could just talk about it? she offered dryly.

I balked at this. What in the four winds are you talking about?

Oh you know. When you two-leggers open your mouths and sounds come out? TALKING, Nyx! Sweet Aelurus, I thought you’d be familiar with the concept by now? You do it all the time, after all!

But what would we talk about, I mean! I snapped back. Lethia knows what happened! She knows why I’m upset with her!

Oh, and I suppose you feel she understands everything you felt and thought given that moment?

Yes! She does! Quite literally, as a matter of fact since she– but I broke off, my feet slowing to a stop as I neared a slope that led into a small field between the hills I traveled through.

I was about to finish that thought with she was reading my mind the whole time but it occurred to me that in that moment Lethia hadn’t been in control. Izma had. Lethia’s decisions may have led to the situation, but did that mean she was present the entire time?

Kali, ever aware of my thoughts, said quietly, We once acted under the best intentions, and our family perished as a result. I don’t think Lethia meant for what happened any more than we meant for our family’s fate. That’s all I will say about that, sister.

My throat grew tight. I didn’t argue her point, but I didn’t dive too deeply into it either. I couldn’t afford this level of reflection if I wanted to stay safe and find Elmiryn before it was too late.

That thought firmly in mind, I forged onward.


Dear Jydel,

Daedalus sat down to talk about the request I made of him the other day. You remember, right? I’ve kept it a secret from the others for a reason, but perhaps if they learned of my intentions, they would treat me differently.

After all, I couldn’t be suicidal if I intended to replace my arm.

And here’s the good news: Daedalus thinks he can do it!

He showed me some sketches and plans, then a few parts from his wagon that he thinks he can use. A lot of it, he says, will have to be custom made, and he’s missing some rare elements that would be necessary for the arm’s function, but he suspects he can find these things within the next few weeks! I was elated, I tell you!

Daedalus may make a living as a jeweler, but he’s always been a tinkerer at heart. I’m sure you can probably see up there in heaven, Jydel, but the elf’s work is amazing! His automated guard statues aren’t even his best work. Apparently, he’s been constructing a ship in his spare time too. He keeps it hidden, for you see, it’s not just any ship, it’s

[The ink trails off and smears]

[The writing continues at the bottom of the page, but in a shakier hand]

Jydel he’s awake gods I didn’t think it was possible but Hakeem is AWAKE!


The days came and went. I was losing myself in the Albian wilds, gradually returning to that almost feral way of life I had adopted before I’d met Elmiryn. It was nighttime. Kali hovered close to the surface, peering out of my eyes as we sat hunched in the dark in the shadow of a broad and fragrant blue juniper tree. We were downwind, and I was hoping the strong tree smell would mask our scent from the daesce that had wandered across our path. It wasn’t the largest I’d seen, but it was still big enough to make me pause. Its clawed paws dragged along the dirt as it lumbered along, head bowed, red eyes glaring at nothing. This one was skinny–its mangy white coat thinned enough in places that I could see its dark skin. I sighed. If this beast didn’t leave the area soon, I’d either have to turn around or fight it. I didn’t like either option.

The best part? I was just three days away from the full moon. All I could feel was the primal aggression burning in my limbs, urging me to run. It was part of the reason I had trouble resisting Kali’s will.

Fight it! Scare it off! she snapped at me.

No! I fired back. I don’t need to stir up trouble! Besides, engaging this one might attract others!

What’s the matter with you? You’re a champion of heaven and you’ve fought things twice this size! Just kill it and let’s be on our way!

I clenched my fists and bowed my head as I tried to reign in my frustration. Kali, enough! You know it’s not your turn! If you promise to behave I’ll…I’ll let you have full control for seven days!

That got her attention. I could feel her perk up like I’d just offered her a treat. A full week? You promise?

My heart skipped. What a fool! Just what had I offered without thinking?

In what I hoped felt nonchalant, I replied, Not a full week. Seven days. We’ll switch off.

Kali growled. You’re backpedaling!

I never said a full week!

It’s fucking semantics and you know it!

Regardless, this is the best you’ll get right now! I can’t have you running off and ruining the things I’m working for.

Why can’t you trust anyone? Kali asked, hurt clear in her words.

I faltered. I…I DO trust people! But things are delicate right now, and we both know you have no desire to take charge on those matters. At her sullen reticence, I added imploringly, Oh, sister please don’t be upset with me! I’ve already got enough on my plate, I don’t need to have you resenting me on top of it all!

I could feel her sink away from me, deeper into her realm. My gut clenched. Since we had more or less reconciled our differences, having Kali on my side had been a tremendous relief. I’m not sure I could have gotten through those last days in the Other Place had we still been at odds. But if she decided to quarrel with me again….

When Kali returned to the surface, I tensed in anticipation.

Fine. We’ll switch off for seven days, she grumbled. BUT I want to be able to walk upright.

I faltered at this. She wanted to assume the sapien form? I thought she hated it? Kali, I know we did that in the half-dimension, but what if it doesn’t work here? We’re fully in the realms of the gods once more, so there are more limits!

If I’m not really our animal nature manifested, then that should mean I can exist in the world as you do! Haven’t I done it before?

She had a point. Sort of. My sneaky sister was failing to mention that the only reason she had been able to assume my form in our world was because Meznik’s evil influence had allowed her to.

Still, I mulled over this.

After several moments, I replied, If you can do it, and Lacertli does not object, then I suppose it isn’t a problem…. I didn’t know if Kali purposefully taking control of my sapien form would somehow be an affront to Harmony. That was the tricky thing about being an abomination of nature. When your very existence was wrong, what could you do that was permissible in the first place? I was a champion of heaven–did that give us some kind of temporary pardon?

Thinking of the Lizard King made me anxious all over again. It had been almost a week and I still hadn’t heard from him. Just what did Fortuna ask him to do, and was he all right?

Are you worrying about a god? Kali snapped, annoyed. She was so much more irritable these days, it was exhausting. Focus! We’re still talking!

My expression turned contrite. Sorry…

Just at that moment, I heard a twig snap. Kali fell silent as I went stiff, eyes raising once more. Our inward exchanges were fast–taking mere seconds what would ordinarily take longer to say aloud. But even that discussion had been lengthy. I couldn’t see the daesce anymore. Was it really gone? There were lots of things lurking hidden in the Albian wilds. Many of these creatures were completely harmless. But if our inattentiveness had allowed a beast to get the jump on us….

I breathed in deep.

I could sense the damp soil, the juniper trees, the frost that clung to the rocks. The stench of the daesce was like an ugly streak in the air, making my nose wrinkle. I couldn’t hear the beast anymore, and the smell hadn’t grown any stronger. Perhaps it really had moved on?

I crept out of the shadows, cautiously straightening.

That’s when the daesce hit me from behind, screeching wildly. My face went into the dirt when it grabbed the back of my head and tried to crush my skull. My hands clawed at the ground in a panic as I tried to get the leverage needed to throw the monster off of me.

Rage built up, burning my muscles, slicing my lungs as desperate breaths cut up my throat in sharp whines. I loathed these creatures with every fiber of my being. Loathed their violence. Loathed their hedonism. Loathed our similarities.

With a roar I grabbed its supporting arm and wrenched, twisting my whole body. Without anything to bear its weight, it rolled with me, leaving us in a tangled mess, but at least it wasn’t on top of me anymore. With a few sharp elbow strikes and wild punches, I found myself scrabbling to my knees and leaping on the monster’s head. It’s rancid fangs bit down onto my hand when I tried to grab it under its chin. I screamed, but simply took hold of its entire lower jaw, my other hand firmly gripping the matted fur on the back of its head. With a sharp wrench, I snapped the thing’s neck, and it collapsed to the ground, dead.

Rolling away from the twitching body, I lay there, catching my breath. My peace was short lived.

Nearby, I could hear more daesce coming. It was by no means a herd–from the whoops and screeches, it sounded like two or three at most–but I had no idea how strong they were, and if this one was any indication, I didn’t want to be caught out-numbered, godly champion or no. Cursing, I fled in the opposite direction of the beasts, deeper into the thick underbrush and low broad trees.

Try as I might, the daesce were closing in. I could hear them crashing through behind me, trampling over everything in wild abandon.

In my desperation, I made the mistake of looking over my shoulder as I ran. That led me to charging straight over a low cliff. I wheeled my arms as I fell through the air, a shout ripping out of my mouth before I crashed and tumbled, head over heels, down the sandy slope to the hard earth down below.

Ye gods!

I stared up at the sky, pain assailing my entire body, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of deja vu at the situation.

Get up! What are you doing reminiscing for? They’re coming! Kali roared.

I jerked back up, my eyes wide. She was right. Sliding down the cliff’s steep slope was one of the daesce, a short but muscular brute that looked ready to eat my face. His companion soon appeared, leaping off the cliff with a wild hoot and a slavering mouth. He hit the ground hard, the vibration moving up my feet, and straightened with an almost knowing grin. He was taller, with unusually long arms and a misshapen face.

I backed away from them, and if I had been in my feline form, my hackles would have been raised. The two daesce circled me slowly, their red eyes taking in my petite form. I wondered at their hesitance. This wasn’t normal behavior for the monsters at all. They were ‘attack first, think never’ type creatures. But these two? They were assessing me, their eyes holding an intelligence that shouldn’t have been there.

Kali didn’t like it either. She didn’t say anything, but I suddenly felt the urge to growl deep within my throat.

I could kill these daesce with my vermagus abilities…but wouldn’t that just attract more? I didn’t have time to fight these beasts endlessly.

That’s when a third figure burst over the cliff, landing just behind the two daesce.

I froze, my eyes widening. “E-Elle?”

Continue ReadingChapter 44.3