Chapter 44.4


Elmiryn rose, her cerulean eyes piercing into mine. She was mostly-naked and barefoot, lacking pants and even her chest wraps. Her sword belt was gone, but gripped tight in her hands were her captain’s sword and Graziano’s pistol. Her hair was loose about her shoulders and filthy, dirt and leaves clumping the red locks so that they looked like matted tendrils.

That wasn’t even the worst of it. Most disturbing of all was the fact that Elmiryn stared at me as if she had no idea who, or what, I was.

Without taking her eyes off me, she growled hoarsely, “Grab it.”

The two daesce moved toward me, grabbing my arms and forcing me down into a kneel. I was too stunned by this to even fight back.

She’s controlling them? But how?

Elmiryn slinked toward me, her eyes flashing with a predatory edge that made my hairs stand on end. I could see her grip on her sword tighten.

Finally, I found my voice, “Elmiryn! I-It’s me!

She stopped cold. Her eyes narrowed, but she didn’t say anything. I could see the indecision darken her face like a storm cloud.

“Elle, it’s Nyx!” I said more firmly. “I’ve traveled with you for months now! Listen to my voice! You know who I am!” It was just as I feared. Elmiryn’s transformation into becoming a fae had progressed to the point that her ability to function in our world had been severely damaged. There was no telling how much she could even process now. Were her senses completely compromised? Had she lost all of her memories? I could only hope that her auditory memory still held.

Long tense moments passed as Elmiryn searched my face, the distress growing increasingly evident as the seconds ticked by. Finally, she barked at the daesce, “Let her go!”

They did so, but reluctantly.

I didn’t rise from my kneeling position. I didn’t entirely trust my legs to work. I stared at the daesce and whispered, “Elmiryn, what have you done? Did you…did you alter them?”

She crouched next to me, her eyes hungrily taking me in. Sweet Aelurus, the woman reeked.

After a long time, she whispered, “Yes.”

“But why?” I blurted, locking my wide eyes on her. “They are monsters! How could you–?” but I broke off when Elmiryn suddenly pulled me to her body. Startled, I started to hug her, but then I realized that hadn’t been her intention. She was fighting to open my backpack.

“Where is it?” she asked gruffly. “The drink! I can smell the drink!

I craned my neck, awkwardly pointing over my shoulder. “I-It’s there–!”

When Elmiryn found her prize, she pulled away from me and stood, ripping the cork off the wine bottle and tipping its contents down her throat. She drank without stopping until the bottle was drained, dropping it on the ground and belching loudly with a look of relief on her face. I just stared at her, agog.

This hadn’t quite been the reunion I’d imagined.

Wiping at her mouth, the wild mania that had haunted the woman’s gaze gradually slipped away, and she sat roughly on the ground in front of me. Her daesce companions wandered off, out of sight. They were clearly bored.
When Elmiryn looked at me, I could already see the effects of the wine taking hold, but in an odd way, she looked so much more composed.

Her head was turned to the side, her hair curtaining half her face. This was one of the few times I’d ever seen shame in the warrior, and it made my heart ache.

“Nyx,” she murmured, looking at me obliquely. “I…” she trailed off and lowered her gaze.

I didn’t speak. I didn’t know what to say. I’m sorry? How are you feeling? Does preserving your human side mean anything to you anymore?

When she looked up again, she gestured vaguely in the direction the daesce had wandered off to. “They aren’t important to me, if that’s what you’re thinking. They aren’t pets. I don’t even have full control of them! I just…I needed something to guide me through the land while I was here. The only thing I could manipulate were them.” Her voice sounded rough, and I wondered if it was from lack of use, or because she was feeling upset.

“Because they’re abominations, Elmiryn,” I said harshly. “The daesce are outside of Harmony! Doing things that are not in our natural right, like giving things that are not ours to give, is exactly the kind of behavior that got the Spider of the West into trouble! It’s hubris.

She had the good sense to wince before glaring at me. “I wasn’t trying to flout the gods, all right? I was just trying to survive!”

I deflated, covering my face with my hands. “I know,” I mumbled into my palms. “But I’m scared for you!” I peeked at her over my fingers. “I’m still glad you’re safe.”

She smiled at me humorlessly. “In a manner of speaking.”

“When did you return? What’s it been like?”

Elmiryn sighed heavily. When her silence stretched on, I was about to tell her she didn’t need to tell me anything when she started to speak. I could already hear the lisp entering into her words as the wine started to take effect. Likewise, I could hear the woman fighting it, speaking slowly and carefully, struggling to remain coherent long enough to tell her tale to me.

“I think it’s been a little under a week. I dunno. The days smeared together for me.” The redhead set aside her weapons and drew her knees up into a hug. Her eyes glazed over. “I couldn’t see. When I stumbled out of the portal back to our world, everything just assaulted my senses. I’ve been to another realm, one that wasn’t mine, so…so I know what it feels like to be rejected by the environment. That feeling, Nyx? Of sensing things that I wasn’t supposed to know or understand?” She touched her chest emphatically as she swallowed hard. “I felt that here. I didn’t expect that. I’d been hoping coming home wouldn’t…wouldn’t be quite so bad. The daesce were my way to break through that. Through them, I could sense the world again.

“And before you ask: no. I didn’t make them more intelligent so that they wouldn’t attack me. They ignored me, actually. Just about everything out here ignores me. I can walk right up to a bird and it won’t know I’m there till I touch it. It made hunting easy. Too easy. But once I created a link between the daesce and I, and once I gave them awareness, I could sense the world so much better. Nothing hurts anymore. The wrongness was still there, though. Is still there.” Her voice tightened and I could see her staring around us as if the wilderness itself was preparing to attack her. “I don’t know how to put it into words, Nyx. Everything is just…wrong. I don’t even know when I’m hallucinating anymore. Before I could at least guess that I was, but now it’s like the rest of the world is crazy! Not me! The world has it wrong!”

I listened to her intently, feeling both sad and alarmed at the same time. Before we had been transported to the Other Place, Elmiryn had hallucinated quite badly. Now she was saying it was worse? And the only way she could tell was because she was processing the sensory information the daesce were giving her?

To borrow a phrase from her: That was incredibly fucked up.

“Where are the others?” Elmiryn asked, staring at her knees.

I cleared my throat and shrugged. “They’re safe. We’re all staying at Syria’s tower. It’s been abandoned so we’re hiding there until we can move on.” Then I remembered Paulo and added, “Oh! And Paulo is alive. We found him before we left.”

“Thas’ good,” she said without enthusiasm. “I can finally give ‘im his brother’s gun, then.” Then Elmiryn cleared her throat and asked, “I don’ suppose Hakeem made it out with you all?”

I blinked. “Hakeem? Yes, he’s with us.” Then I added with a grumble, “Mind you, he was unconscious the whole time. It wasn’t easy dragging him all that way.”

Now Elmiryn was frowning. “He still hasn’ woken up?”

I shook my head solemnly. “I’m afraid not.”


I stood and crossed my arms. “Elmiryn, we’ve got to destroy your familiars.”

She made a face. “Don’t call ’em that!”

“What does it matter what I call them? They can’t exist anymore!”

“Are ya under Lacertli’s command or somethin? They’re still jes’ dumb beasts! What harm are they gonna do?”

“I thought you said they weren’t important to you?” I snapped. “And for your information, I don’t need Lacertli to tell me that their existence is wrong! The daesce weren’t meant to be that intelligent! Imagine if they breed and suddenly all the daesce became that way? It’d be utter chaos!”

Elmiryn rolled her eyes and rose up from the ground. “All right, all right! I’ll take care o’ them now–” she raised an arm, as if preparing to do some strange trick, but I quickly grabbed it and wrenched it back down.

“Don’t!” I hissed. “Your fae powers were what got you into this in the first place! We’ll dispatch them the normal way.”

The woman scoffed. “The ‘normal’ way! As if yer champion powers aren’ weird enough….”

With a shake of my head, I pointed at the ground. “Wait here! I’ll take care of this. Then afterwards, we’ll find a creek or a pond to clean you up in!”

Elmiryn pouted but sat back down.

With a deep breath, I reigned in my frustration and set of after the daesce. They weren’t that hard to follow. From where we had been, I could see their trail clearly in the moonlight, even when they had pierced into the thicket.

As it turned out, they hadn’t gone far. The two monsters were squat down on the ground, their backs to me. They were eating a mountain fox they’d caught, its blood and insides just a dark mess over the grassy dirt. I hadn’t even heard the fox cry out. No sounds of struggle, either. Given their distance, I should have. Were these two so deadly now that they could catch such quick and wily prey as they had without any effort?

They must’ve smelled my scent on the wind, for they both looked in unison over their shoulders at me. My look must have given me away. I should have known. Elmiryn had made these monsters smarter, I should’ve snuck up on them. Their lips peeled back and their hackles rose.

All I could do was deal with the choice I had made. Taking a breath, I let my champion sense expand, feeling the shadows around us. In the Other Place, most times the darkness had been fluid and easy to reach. Here, in our realm, however, they were hard, solid, and distant. I hadn’t attempted to manipulate the shadows since our return, so I hadn’t expected my attainment of control to take so long.

The daesce didn’t even hesitate to strike.

With sharp roaring screams, they charged me. I braced, grim determination on my face. It looked like I was going to have to fight them the old fashioned way–

Then their heads jerked to the side with an audible snap, and they crashed into the dirt, sliding up to my feet. Both were dead. Judging by the funny angle of their heads, the cause were broken necks.

Stunned, I stared down at them.

That’s when I heard Elmiryn approaching from behind me. “Yeeeah…” she sighed. “I figured I coulda let ya do it, but then I’d be sittin’ there for ages twiddlin’ my thumbs. This way’s faster.”

I turned and glared at her.

And we’re supposed to keep this one from violating Harmony? Oh this ought to be fun… Kali grumbled.


Nyx was mad at her. Elmiryn could tell as much, despite her inebriation.

Still, the question tumbled from her mouth, because she wanted to hear the girl say it, just to know it was real.

“Are ya mad at me?”



Was she supposed to be sorry? The question came without malice, a simple thing a young child might ask. Is this the appropriate response? She felt buoyed on that heavy, unstable feeling. The wine went straight to her head. It had been so long since she’d had a proper drink. Elmiryn had almost told Nyx, but refrained out of shame, that she had gotten by so long because she’d been eating rotten fruit. Mostly grapes and sour cherries. The fermented juice never sated her thirst, but it did keep the shakiness from her hands. She could just imagine the look of revulsion on Nyx’s face should she impart this one detail of her time lost in the Albian wilds. Perhaps she could tell Nyx still, despite the pity this might lead to. It would make her feel horrible, like a weaker being, like her father even, but at least…

At least it wouldn’t be the look of horror that Nyx would no doubt show should Elmiryn reveal what she was like before she’d figured out to eat the rotten fruit.

But this! It had felt like ages since Elmiryn had felt so good. She wanted to laugh again, and she couldn’t even remember the last time she laughed. It was interesting how something so simple could so define a person. It seemed the warrior had based a great deal of her approach to life on laughter, made it a core part of who she was, and then just like that, the sound was gone, taking with it a healthy chunk of her identity. What was she without the jokes and the giggles to mask everything?

But these were sobering thoughts, and Elmiryn didn’t care much for becoming sober yet.

Nyx led Elmiryn to a mountain spring she had found, then ordered her curtly to strip.

The redheadknew it wasn’t the time for a joke, knew it was perhaps her just dodging the real issue, but she just wanted a reason to hear Nyx laugh so bad (because, let’s face it, Elmiryn could laugh right now without a reason, but then she’d look insane)–

“Nyx, have ya ever had sex while campin’?” the redhead managed to snigger.

The Ailuran paused at the water bank to stare at her. “Huh?”

Elmiryn couldn’t hold it in. She was already leaning on her knees and giggling hard. “It’s ‘in tents!’ Get it?”

Nyx didn’t say anything. She only watched as the older woman collapsed onto her knees, lost in her intense amusement.

“In tents!” she sputtered. After a time, she realized Nyx was still quiet and pushed herself up with her hands. “Do ya get it, Nyx? ‘In tents’? Intense?

“I got it, Elmiryn,” Nyx said flatly.

The warrior’s laughter died swiftly. The girl wasn’t laughing. Not only that, but her voice sounded hard. Cold, even.

“Nyx are…are ya that mad about what I did?” Elmiryn asked with a mild frown.

The girl only shook her head. “We’ll deal with things in time, Elmiryn,” the Ailuran sighed. “Right now, my only concern is cleaning you up and making sure you’re all right!”

The redhead’s frown deepened, but she proceeded to strip naked just the same. The connection she had made through the daesce hadn’t severed her connection to the world, as she had feared, but their utterly primal minds were of no use in processing complex sapien expression anyway. Elmiryn wished desperately that she could understand the look on her friend’s face. Depending on auditory clues alone didn’t help much when the other party was so reticent.

Nyx also undressed, but not all the way, much to the warrior’s disappointment. She guided Elmiryn into the frigid water, silent as the woman shivered and leaned on her. Gripped in her hand was a large bunch of dried moss to act as a scrub.

“All right, Elle. Dunk,” Nyx ordered primly.

Elmiryn stared at her, horrified. “Dunk?”

“Yes! Up to your head, please.”

“But it’s freezing!”

“Oh don’t be a child! It’ll be no better if I splash you! Just dunk into the water, and then we can be done with this faster.”

“Fine,” Elmiryn groused, before letting herself slip down into the water.

Her body seized up as the water reached up over her head, and for a frightening moment, as she looked up and saw the moonlight filtering in through the billowing air bubbles, she thought she could see claws appearing overhead to keep her below the surface…

Elmiryn burst back up, whipping her head back and flailing.

Nyx, alarmed, yelled and grabbed the woman from behind. When this didn’t calm her, the Ailuran dragged them back to the water bank, allowing the Fiamman to lay on the mud and catch her breath.

“Claws,” she gasped. “Halward! He’s angry! I made ‘im angry!”

“Elmiryn, shh! I’m here!”

The woman felt the girl’s hand on her shoulder as she lay on her side, and she clutched at it, staring at the shifting treeline as wolfish silver gaze pierced at her from the dark.

“Nyx,” Elmiryn breathed shakily. “Stay with me.”

“I’ve already promised you that I would.”

“No, I mean–right now. Just stay close.”

Nyx’s hand shifted from her shoulder to plant itself on the mud as the girl leaned over her to peer at the treeline as she did. “Do you…see something?”

That pause. As if whatever it was that Elmiryn was perceiving was automatically suspect. The woman closed her eyes.

It’s just in my head. Artemis can’t appear on the mortal plane without affecting the environment. It’s the entire reason the gods handpicked champions, wasn’t it? To act as their agents on the living world?

When she opened her eyes again, the silver gaze was gone.

“It was nothin’,” Elmiryn breathed. “Forget I said anythin’.”

Nyx brushed back a lock of the woman’s hair, making her turn her head to look up at the girl. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Elmiryn relaxed further. There. That warm golden sound in the girl’s voice, the one that made the warrior feel at peace, was finally leaking through. But…it wasn’t as clear as it had been before. It was like it was struggling to get through something large and thick.

The warrior reached a hand up to touch the girl’s face. “I’m fine.”

Nyx helped her up, and together they returned to the water, where the Ailuran scrubbed away the dirt and grime. She tsked over the woman’s hair, pulling out the leaves and undoing what knots that she could. Ultimately Elmiryn’s nest-like head was going to have to wait for a brush to be truly returned to normal. The woman was fine with this. She didn’t expect to come out of the spring looking like polished royalty. Thankfully, neither did Nyx. Still, it was a definite improvement from before. As she was, the redhead smelled no better or worse than what they usually had when they were constantly on the road.

Nyx nodded with satisfaction as she pulled out yet another knot. They sat on the rocky shore, Elmiryn still drying out, naked between the girl’s legs. If there was one thing that the woman had been surprised by, it was how relaxed Nyx was. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the woman had stank worse than a pig sty, but the Ailuran hadn’t so much as batted an eyelash when the warrior stripped naked. Was her companion just getting more comfortable with her?

Or was it perhaps that she was losing interest?

“Nyx?” Elmiryn said before she even knew what she was doing.


“Have ya… Did ya think about me while I was away?”

Elmiryn felt a light touch at her jaw before Nyx turned her head to better see her. The Ailuran kissed her cheek before whispering into her ear. “Since you left, all I ever did was think about you.”

The redhead pouted. She didn’t miss the note of rejection in Nyx’s words. “I didn’ leave cos’ I wanted to, Nyx. I left because I had to!”

Nyx nodded, her nose brushing Elmiryn’s ear. “I know. I wasn’t trying to accuse you.”

“You mean it?”

A pause. “Yes.”


“What can I do?” Elmiryn murmured, closing her eyes. “Tell me what it is that I can do to make you feel better about it all!”

Nyx pulled away, standing abruptly. “Again with the telling!” she snapped. “Why does everyone want me to spell things out for them! What if I don’t have the answers either? What if don’t know what I want?”

Elmiryn turned to sit on her feet, bewildered. “Um. Come again?”

“Do you assume that just because I know all these useless big words that I am somehow better at commuicating than you are?”


“Well…then…you’d be correct! Because I’m not better at speaking than you are! And sometimes, even if I know what it is that’s bothering me, what if I’m not ready to talk about it?” Nyx pointed accusingly at the redhead. “How ready were you when you told me you were wanted for black magic by the Fiamman kingdom?”

Elmiryn shrugged, still nonplussed. “I didn’t care?”

“Oh that is bullshit!

“Nyx what point are you trying to make? I don’t understand why you feel so threatened all of a sudden!”

Nyx stomped her foot and yelled. “I don’t feel threatened! I feel angry! There’s a fucking difference!”

Elmiryn threw her hands up into the air, feeling her own ire rise. “Wonderful! So you’re angry! That still doesn’t fucking give me a reason why!” She pointed at herself. “That night I had to tell you about the bounty on my head? I felt horrible! If I had told you what my situation was instead of just keeping it to myself like an idiot, then you might’ve been better prepared for when we had first been attacked! Except I hadn’t done that, so I just…I dunno…dealt with it! It wasn’t as if I could keep ignoring the issue!”

The Ailuran glared at her as she shrugged into her gambeson. “I’m sorry, Elmiryn. Just…let’s just get going. With all the daesce and bounty hunters around, we’d be better off traveling until sunrise.”

The warrior leveled a hard stare at the girl. Did she really think after all that they could just cut so short? Nyx paused to glance nervously at her.

“Elmiryn? Please? I just want to go back!” the girl pleaded.

Slowly, Elmiryn nodded, feeling a large pit form in her stomach. “All right. Let’s get going then.”

Nyx is afraid to talk to me…I can hear it in her voice! But why? What could I have possibly done to make her feel that way?

Continue ReadingChapter 44.4

Chapter 44.5


I was worried. Elmiryn was essentially naked, left unprotected from the weather. She said the cold didn’t affect her. Mind you, it was the summer season, but up in the mountains, nighttime could still carry with it a bit of a chill. I insisted we head to Belcliff so that I could sneak into town and buy her something suitable, but the woman just waved me off.

“It’s just one of those things that don’t bother me anymore, Nyx,” she said with a shrug.

Just like that, as if the environment didn’t matter. Then came the proof. I didn’t so much as see her shiver. Even as we found ourselves in the glare of the suns for much of a day’s travel, she didn’t even get sunburn. It was one of the numerous unsettling changes that I’d observed in Elmiryn. Hunting was a cruel joke now. Birds and small animals didn’t seem to notice when the redhead walked right up to them to kill them for dinner. By the second night, I’d also realized the woman didn’t sleep. I woke up three separate times to find her sitting there awake and alert, and each time the moon in the sky had moved significantly from its last position. But she didn’t betray any sign of exhaustion. Not physically anyway. Mentally, I could see the woman was haggard. Since cutting off her tether with the daesce, her ability to process her surroundings deteriorated. Just about the only thing she reacted to with any sort of normalcy was in conversation.

Since that was the case, I figured I should keep talking to her. I avoided talking about my experiences in Izma’s mind game, and even about the time I spent with the others at Holzoff’s. It was just stalling the inevitable. I’d have to tell Elmiryn eventually. She even gave me looks that said, I know what you’re doing. You aren’t fooling me, but for some reason she never called me out. I was thankful for the space. Instead I related personal stories from my childhood, as well as folktales I had read. It wasn’t until our last day of travel that I told Elmiryn about how I made it back to our world.

“So the tree that had been at Syria’s was demonic…” she mused after I’d finished explaining how I’d fought the cursed linden tree at Syria’s tower.


“Do you think all the trees the demons planted behave the same? Quincy and Lethia were watching the whole thing, right? Did they observe anything useful while you fought the tree?”

I frowned. That was a good question. “I…don’t know!”

Elmiryn stared at me. “No one stopped to ask?”

“We were a bit disoriented, thank you very much!” She held up her hands, a look of suffering on her face. I winced. I might have let my vermagus power slip a bit there, and the redhead had already proven quite sensitive to it. “Sorry,” I mumbled.

“I’m just surprised, Nyx,” she stated. “Quincy and Lethia both are the types to stop and solve a puzzle just because someone put it in front of them. It’s like catnip for academics. ‘Where? Why? How?’ But what you’re saying sounds a bit out of character for them!”

“I really mean it when I say we were out of sorts, Elle. Things were…different. They still are.”

“How so?” She batted her eyes at me, bemused at my grave expression.

“Elmiryn, I think— Well, Quincy and I both believe that the astral demons must have done something to us.” I looked at her nervously. “I think they might have altered us.”

The words took a few seconds to sink in. Elmiryn’s steps slowed and her stare turned large and unblinking. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” she breathed tremulously.

I shrugged helplessly. “If what you think I’m saying is that we’re cursed, no! That’s not what I’m saying. The truth of the matter is that Quincy and I only suspect that the demons have done something to us. It may not be so bad as a curse. Maybe they just made it so that we could see them without us going insane.”

“But why would they do that?” she asked heatedly.

“I have no idea!”

“They might have turned you and the others into tools,” Elmiryn hissed, her eyes ticking back and forth furiously.

I squinted my eyes. “Pardon?”

She looked at me, a ravenous look in her gaze that made me take an involuntary step back. The warrior still looked very much like a wild woman. “When I escaped Meznik, I made an accidental detour through another world. In this other place, I spoke to two women, our speculums, and—”


Elmiryn took a deep breath through her nose as if she had to reign in her patience at my interruption and I crossed my arms, for once feeling unapologetic. “Elmiryn, you’re going to have to explain if you want me to follow along!”

So she did. She told me about Molly and Julie, our ‘speculums’ from another neighboring universe, and she also told me what secrets they had shared with her. Apparently, Meznik and Izma weren’t just a menace in our world, but across all universes. It all made me dizzy. I was still having trouble comprehending the demons as a danger in our world, let alone that there were more than one they wreaked havoc in.

“So you believe that the demons are trying to make us into tools to use against each other?” I asked slowly.

Elmiryn nodded her head eagerly and resumed walking. I hurried after her. “Yes! It might also explain why you and the others were all bickering with each other so badly.”

“Elle, I think that had more to do with the fact that we just don’t like each other.”

She didn’t respond to that, and I sighed. Perhaps I needed to finally apprise her of the thorny developments that had arisen with our strange group.

“Elmiryn, the situation with the others is…complicated, to say the least,” I said wearily. “I just want to prepare you for what you’re about to see.”

She raised an eyebrow. “And what am I about to see, Nyx?”

I took a deep breath before starting. “Hakeem is a withered husk. I’m not sure how Quincy has managed to keep him alive for so long, but she has. I suppose I’ve grown used to it, having seen it happen before my eyes, but it might be startling for you, to see him like that when your last memory of him is completely different.”

“You’re forgetting that my memory doesn’t work that way anymore,” Elmiryn reminded me gently.

A hand flew to my mouth as my cheeks reddened. “Oh! Of course! I’m sorry, Elle,”

“No, no. Don’t worry about it. Just go on. What else should I ‘brace’ myself for?” And she said it just that way too, emphasizing ‘brace’ as if she could conjure quotation marks into the air by her will alone.

Oh, she had no idea what we had been up to! But I wanted to let her down gently.

“Well, Paulo, as I’ve said before, is older. He’s still an insensitive hooligan, but now on top of that, we’ve learned he’s an untrained enchanter.”

“Oh!” the woman cried with a sarcastic grin. “Well isn’t that lovely!”

I nodded grimly. “I think Quincy has helped Paulo learn some basic techniques she had encountered in Crysen. They’re supposed to help him reign in his abilities, and protect his mind from the residual spirit energy surrounding the tower.”

“And how long will that last him?”

“Quincy says we need to find an enchanting master to train Paulo within the next two months, or the boy is at risk of either going insane, dying of brain fever, or turning all our brains to mush.”

“Marvelous. Anything else about our ragtag adventuring company?”

“Lethia, she—” My voice broke off, and I just stared ahead, blank faced. How do you break this sort of news to someone? It seemed Elmiryn wasn’t the only one who needed to approach this announcement gently. Trying to say it aloud brought back that bloody night in full detail, and with it, all the strong and conflicted emotions that threatened to undo me. And if I felt this way, how would the redhead feel? Before Elmiryn left with Meznik, I had sensed a kind of connection between her and the journeyman enchantress that hadn’t been there before. Would she be terribly upset, or would it slide off of her like rainwater down a blade?

“Nyx, what happened with Lethia?” she asked. “What happened?”

I cursed under my breath. Sweet Aelurus, I wish I didn’t have to do this!

“Elle,” I started quietly. “Lethia cut off her left arm.”

Whereas before Elmiryn had come to a gradual stop, now she just stopped altogether, her face going slack. “She what?

“Her left arm is gone.”

“She lost her fucking arm?

“Just above the elbow. She…she cut it an angle, so we were able to pull the skin closed over the wound—”

“Who did it?” she barked, advancing on me. Her expression had turned sharp and heated. “Who did that to her?”

I retreated from her, alarmed. “I—I just—I just said it! Lethia cut off her arm! She did it to herself!”

She glared. “That can’t be true! Why would someone do something like that? How? A person has to train hard and have the right weapon to cut off a limb in one go! And with one arm no less! What did she use, anyway? I seriously doubt you had a weighted and sharpened weapon just lying around!”

I felt ill when I whispered, “She didn’t do it one go. It took three tries.”

Elmiryn reeled. Burying both hands into her hair. She walked a slow, sloppy circle. When she stopped, her entire body seemed to clench and she turned a violent red. “That’s impossible!” she spat.

Now I started to get heated. “Are you calling me a liar?”

The anger in my voice seemed enough to get the woman to calm down a little. She still paced in front of me, her fists clenched. “No! No. Of course not, Nyx. I just can’t believe… No, I refuse to believe… I mean, why would someone do that? And again, how?

I threw my hands up in exasperation. “Those are the same things we asked!”

“But Lethia is alive, right? I mean, you’ve been talking to me this whole time like Lethia was still alive when you left. Right?

I rubbed at my face, feeling exhausted. “Yes, Elle. Lethia is alive. Aside from intense pain from her wound, she was perfectly fine. In fact, she was doing bicep curls with a water bucket last I spoke to her!”

The warrior’s jaw dropped. “Bicep curls?”

I just nodded mutely.

She shook her head and started marching at a faster clip. Cresting over a hill, Syria’s tower started to rise in the distance.

I barely heard Elmiryn mutter as I fought to keep up with her long strides, “I’ve got to see this for myself!”


The first thing Elmiryn did when we entered the tower grounds was ask where Lethia was. When I told her, she took off, running toward the barn.

“W-Wait!” I sputtered at her retreating back. “You still don’t have any clothes!

She didn’t so much as pause at this. Resigned, I sprinted after her.

When I caught up, it was to find the two women halted inside, as if in suspension. Lethia was lying in her barnstall-turned-bedroom. Elmiryn stared at her as if she were someone she had completely and utterly been unexpected to see. Then it struck me that perhaps the warrior didn’t recognize the girl. She hadn’t recognized me, after all, and I’d traveled with her longest out of our group. Why would this be any different?

Lethia seemed equally bemused by the sight of the warrior. Her lack of clothing didn’t appear to fluster her, though. This was just another strange thing to me, until I also remembered that while the young enchantress no longer had the curse that led her to sapping other people’s memories, she still had the unfortunate condition of being absent-minded.

I was about to jump in and re-introduce the two of them when Lethia recovered from whatever spell she had been under.

“Elmiryn! Welcome back! That is—it is you, isn’t it?” She let loose a nervous laugh and struggled to her feet. Since she only had one arm to balance herself, this looked much harder. I didn’t quite get what a blessing it was to have both arms until then. Brushing straw from her hair, Lethia forced a smile. “Ah, of course it is. What am I saying? I suppose I must look pretty grotesque to you. I trust Nyx explained things?” She glanced at me, and I shrugged, not making eye contact. I wasn’t feeling particularly angry toward her, but just…awkward. Like I was the fool walking back into a room after attempting some grand exit in the wrong direction. Guilt might have been a part of it, too. Maybe.

At Elmiryn’s lengthening silence, I could see Lethia’s false cheer wither and fall away. “Elmiryn, it’s Lethia,” she murmured. Then she sighed roughly and squeezed her eyes shut. “Lethy.

My eyebrows rose. Lethy? A nasty, tight feeling appeared in my chest.

Even after that helpful prod, the Fiamman did not move. Did not speak. It was like she was hoping she was hallucinating. Hoping that it was just her mind playing tricks on her. But when the warrior dropped her eyes, she knew. I knew she knew, because her eyes teared up and her jaw clenched. This might sound odd, but seeing my companion so emotionally turned around by Lethia’s dramatic injury made me feel a little better about myself. Elmiryn looked sad, and horrified, but I could see she was angry too. The dichotomy of her actions was almost a literal translation of what I’d felt the night Lethia had mutilated herself.

The warrior stomped up to the enchantress, her face now red, her eyes blazing, her breath coming hard through her flared nostrils—then she hugged the girl, gently about the shoulders, her eyes squeezing shut to allow two fat tears to stream down her face. Lethia took this without resistance, her face going blank, and her arms still at her sides.

When the woman pulled away to hold her at arms length, I could see her grip dig into the girl’s shoulders.

“You fucking idiot!” Elmiryn spat. She even shook the girl a little, eliciting a light wince from the enchantress.

That was when Lethia shrugged the woman off, her expression hardening. “Don’t tell me you’re like the others! I thought you, of all people, would understand!”

Elmiryn sucked at her teeth sharply, turning to lean on a stall partition. When she looked at the blonde sidelong, it was with a weary expression. “No. I get why you did it. But there are other ways now. No one lives by those old laws anymore!”

“Old laws?” I asked, frowning.

The two women looked at me, as if just remembering I was there. The nasty feeling intensified.

“I’m surprised you didn’t read about it, Nyx,” Elmiryn said, blinking at me. “Back when Fiamma was nothing but warring tribes, there used to be an old law that said great dishonor demanded great personal sacrifice in order to atone.”

Lethia explained next, “During that time, Fiammans didn’t have much in the way of substantial personal effects. They barely had clothes, they shared housing, and even their tools for agriculture were used on a communal basis.”

The enchantress raised an eyebrow at Elmiryn, who picked it up smoothly, “The popular thing to do, then, was to sacrifice children. Usually a first born.”

Lethia smiled wanly. “But in the instance that the offender had no children, they were then expected to sever a limb.”

I crossed my arms and glared. That natural back and forth…where had that come from? “Lethia, you aren’t a Fiamman!”

“In terms of nationality? You’re right, Nyx. I’m an Albian. But my ancestry is obviously Fiamman. When thinking of ways to purify myself, I preferred to follow my roots in this instance, given that everything I knew in Albias was related to the taint my former mistress forced upon me.”

My mouth opened to argue, but I had to snap it shut again. There Lethia went again, sounding so reasonable about things that, by all means, gave her leave not to be.

“That still doesn’t make it the smartest decision,” Elmiryn grumbled, kicking half-heartedly at the partition. She glared down at her feet as she did so, and I wondered if she was avoiding having to look at the girl again.

Lethia rolled her eyes and sat back down on her hay bed. I could see she was pale and a grimace was becoming evident, even as the girl tried to hide it.

Gently, I said to Elmiryn. “We should let her rest.” Then I turned and looked pointedly at the enchantress. “You will rest, right? No more exercising?”

Lethia sighed as she gingerly lay back down. “Daedalus found me out and threatened to put laxative in my food unless I stopped.”

“Good,” I said shortly.

The girl scowled but didn’t respond.

I gestured for Elmiryn to follow. “Let’s go, Elle.”

“Nyx?” Lethia called as we started to leave.

I paused near the barn doors and turned back. “Yes?”

“Hakeem is awake.”

Though I’d heard her perfectly, I didn’t comprehend this right away. When the information managed to filter through my thick head, my hands flew to my mouth.

“He’s…he’s awake?” I stammered.

Lethia grunted as she sat up to peer around her stall partition. “Oh yes! Hakeem woke up from his coma about a day ago.”

“And he’s normal?” Elmiryn asked, her voice tight.

I looked at her, confused by her tone.

Lethia shrugged. “He seemed normal to me. He was sitting up and talking without a problem. No memory loss, no slurring speech, and he moved just fine!”

“Where is he?”

“Up in the tower, most likely,” I answered. “But that can come later. Let me get you settled in first. In case you’ve forgotten, you’re still half-naked!”

She looked like she wanted to argue this, for some reason, when she gave a grudging nod. “All right,” she muttered.

Continue ReadingChapter 44.5

Chapter 45.1


I prepared a quick bath for Elmiryn. Lethia lent her some extra clothes Daedalus had apparently purchased for her on one of his trips back to town–of everyone, the enchantress was closest to Elmiryn’s build–and within the hour the Fiamman was looking closer to her old self again in a creamy blouse and dark trousers. Her hair was still a wild nest, but she was fed up with all the grooming. I was too, quite frankly. Scissors were starting to look like the only solution to the mess, but just the mention of the idea sent the warrior into a boiling froth. I would have left her to take care of it by that point, except the moment I attempted to storm away, Elmiryn tried to eat a bar of soap.

“But it smells like oatmeal! Isn’t this oatmeal? I’m hungry!” she angrily complained.

After all of that, I helped my companion corral her hair into something resembling a ponytail, and together we ran up the stairs of the tower to see Hakeem. To my relief, the Fanaean was still awake, and he smiled at me as we approached the bed. Quincy sat next to him, and at first she barely glanced at us, but when her eyes set on Elmiryn’s face, she did a double take.

She popped up from her chair, her eyes going wide, “Elmiryn?”

Elmiryn squinted her eyes and pointed at her. “Quincy?” As the wizard laughed and came around the bed to greet her, the redhead leaned toward me and muttered out of the corner of her mouth. “That is her, right?”

“Right,” I whispered back, just as Quincy held out her hand.

“I half expected you to be smeared on some mountainside after coming out of a wrong portal!” Quincy chortled.

“No, no. I never use the wrong holes,” Elmiryn said with a poor attempt at a straight face.

“Are you sure?” Quincy and I asked in unison. We looked at each other, startled. The brunette’s expression became neutral, the warmth she had shown for Elmiryn cooling as her eyes met mine. My shoulders slumped and I looked down at my shoes.

You’re feeling guilty again, Kali informed me.

My jaw clenched. Hush!

Only I didn’t need Kali telling me. Now, seeing how much more amiable Elmiryn was with the others despite her compromised mind, I knew that if I wanted to have a better experience in this group, I was going to have to start with myself.

“Nyx! It is good to see you. The others tell me you ran off to find this one,” Hakeem exclaimed from the bed. He pointed at Elmiryn, his eyebrows rising. “Are you sure you found the right woman?”

The redhead only bared a stiff smile in response. I gave her a small nudge and replied, “No, no. This is Elmiryn, I’m sure of it! Who else can manage to make me fret even more after finding them?”

Hakeem laughed, as did Quincy.

“Of course! I’m just a nuisance,” the warrior said with a shrug, but she still seemed out of sorts and it was making me nervous.

The married couple didn’t seem fazed. Quincy quickly returned to Hakeem’s side, and the Fanaean seemed glad to have her close again, his eyes fixing on her in a disarmingly eager fashion. I blushed a little, feeling all of a sudden like we were intruding.

I coughed and said, “We’ll be off to let you gather your strength, Hakeem.”

He glanced at me and smiled sweetly. “Thank you, Nyx! I’m sure I’ll be joining you and the others downstairs soon. It’ll be nice to talk again.”

I blinked, unsure how to process this saccharine behavior coming from the usually serious man. “Oh…all—all right! Take care then.” When I turned to leave, Elmiryn didn’t go with me. She stayed by Hakeem’s bedside, arms crossed, just scowling.

I tugged at her arm. “Elmiryn, let’s go!” I hissed.

Quincy and Hakeem watched her curiously when her hovering didn’t stop.

“Do you need something?” Asked the brunette archly, while her husband patted her hand.

Elmiryn took her time responding. When she did, it was to say with off-color cheer, “I’m looking forward to seeing Hakeem with us again.”

This earned bemused smiles, and the woman finally allowed me to drag her away.

“What was that?” I whispered heatedly as we descended the stairs. “You were behaving oddly!”

“Don’t I always?” Elmiryn replied mildly.

At the tower foyer I cut her off before she could exit outside. “What I mean was that you were behaving suspiciously! It’s as if you resent Hakeem or something! What’s he possibly done to offend you?”

“I don’t resent Hakeem, and he hasn’t offended me,” Elmiryn said with a solemn expression.

“Then what is it?”

She looked furtively over her shoulder before herding me outside. When we were some ways from the tower entrance, she pointed over her shoulder and hissed, “That? Is not Hakeem.”

I stared at her. “What are you talking about?”

“I mean just what I said. That person we spoke to? I don’t know who or what he is, but that was not the same Hakeem we know!”

“How can that be? Quincy seems convinced!”

“Of course she is! A distraught wife cares for her husband, clinging to him—your words not mine—and suddenly, miraculously, he’s awake!” She threw her hands into the air and looked up in mock worship. “Praise be to the gods!” Elmiryn let her arms fall back to her sides with a slap, “Who on Halward’s plane would be in their right mind to stop and question such a wonderful boon as that?”

I put my hands on my hips and shifted my weight to one foot. “How do you know this isn’t a hallucination of yours?”

“You really want to know?”

I huffed. “I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t!”

Elmiryn gestured around us. “I see the threads in everything. It’s a crazy mess of patterns and colors, energy just fading in and out, weaving and dodging and—look it’s confusing. I don’t entirely get it. But I’ve learned a few patterns. Life? There’s lots of different ways life manifests itself in our world, but the one thing I see living things sharing in common is a kind of thread. Bright, warm, thick. It contains their soul, no matter how simple or complex.” She pointed at the tower again, her voice dropping so low I had to lean in close. “That thing up there? No special thread. That means no soul. That thing is some kind of fucking golem, and now I’ve got to find a way to kill it without getting Quincy after me!”

My eyes were wide. “That can’t be! Things like that can’t exist!”

She arched an eyebrow. “Don’t believe me? Go into that weird dream place you told me about. The one where you can see the universe’s interpretation of everything. Tell me what you see then!”

I pulled away, frowning. Could it be true? Perhaps Hakeem’s behavior had seem out of character to me—a little more gregarious than I remembered—but did that mean he was some demonic construct hell bent on hurting us? It sounded so farfetched. We were back in the realm of the gods. Our gods. Such things weren’t supposed to be possible in their world.

“We’ll see,” I responded as I heard someone coming up the grass behind me. “But please, Elle. I beg of you! Don’t do anything rash without talking to me first!”

Elmiryn didn’t respond save to shake her head. I didn’t know what that meant. No, she wouldn’t talk to me? Or just that she thought I was wasting her time with my caution? Inwardly I heaved a sigh. I had a nasty feeling this was going to turn out badly.

When I turned around, Paulo was standing there. He had the hoodie of his cloak pulled down–which was rare, even in the warm weather–and the runed scars on his chiseled face made him look mean and predatory. Instinctively I tensed, but he had eyes only for Elmiryn.

The warrior stared back at him curiously, and I leaned in to breathe at her, “It’s Paulo.”

Her eyebrows. She looked at me, then back at him. “Damn!”

Paulo crossed his arms and fixed the woman with a guarded look. “Quincy told me about how you both buried my brother. You spoke for him.”

“I did.”

The teenager nodded jerkily, his eyes going to his boots. “Thank you.”

Elmiryn took a deep breath, her eyes closing shut. She reached behind her and pulled out Graziano’s pistol from her belt.

“I suppose Quincy told you I had this to give?” she said quietly.

Paulo’s went very still as his eyes fell on the ornate pistol. With its engraved ivory stock and unique triple barrels, it was unquestionably his brother’s.

“That… I didn’t think you’d bring me that,” Paulo rasped.

Elmiryn held the pistol to the boy, handle first. He gazed at it warily, like it were a viper, before he took the gun.

“Before you try and use that, you should have Quincy look at it,” Elmiryn warned.

Paulo batted his eyes at her. “Why?”

Even I was curious enough to chime in. “Did you sense something, Elle?”

She glanced at me, then looked back at Paulo. “I…I think it’s cursed. I just don’t know how.”

“Cursed?” Paulo repeated with a frown. “But how can you tell?”

“Like Nyx asked, I sensed something.”

“But how?” he pressed stubbornly.

“Just trust her,” I said firmly, before Elmiryn could snap at him. The boy looked at me sharply, and I elaborated with measured calm, “She can see things most can’t. Even if she doesn’t always understand what she sees, it might do to have Quincy’s second opinion!”

Paulo’s face soured, but he nodded.

I gestured out at the field. “You’ve been walking the grounds, right? Have you seen Argos? We didn’t see him when we came in.”

The teenager rolled his eyes as he walked around us toward the tower. “That stupid mutt has started spending more time with Daedalus. I think he and Lethia had a fight or something. The elf and the dog ought to be just behind the tower.”


Daedalus and Argos were indeed behind the tower standing at the elf’s spare part wagon. The man was using the dropped tailgate like a work table, parts and tools spread out on an oilskin. Meanwhile, Argos sat in the wagon bed, attentive to the man’s work. At least he wasn’t chasing gophers anymore.

As we approached, Daedalus folded the oilskin over, concealing his work. He glared at us and remarked, “Is your friend in need of medical aid?”

I looked at Elmiryn, startled. “Um…no?”

He waved us away. “Then begone! I must work in private.”

I pursed my lips and gestured at the elf. “Elmiryn, this is Daedalus. Lethia has known him since she was a child, and he’s since been helping us by getting supplies and providing healing.” Then I added. “Hello Argos.” The dog barked hello, his furry face split in a grin.

“Bah! Healing.” Daedalus spat. “So far, all I’ve done is keep a stubborn girl from accidentally killing herself and smuggled ladies underthings and grain from town.”

Elmiryn nodded at the elf’s makeshift workspace. “You’re pretty busy for a guy who just mules around things.”

“I’m fixing up doors and lantern posts. Hardly essential. I stay because Lethia is headstrong and seems to think there is no consequence for using her enchantment abilities to suppress her own pain.” He clicked his tongue irritably.

Elmiryn grinned. “Did she try bicep curls again?”

Daedalus just clicked his tongue, harder this time.

“So Lethia can really suppress her own pain?” I asked in wonder. It would explain how she could pull off her little stunt with the water bucket and not pass out.

The man gave a terse shake of his head. “That child? Are you mad?” He snorted and glared at the back of the barn. “She thinks she can, just because she read about it in a book, but I know that Syria never would have taught her such a trick until she was nearly complete with her training.” He crossed his arms. “Mark my words. If it weren’t for my continued presence, Lethia Artaud would be passed out in the dirt from trying to lift him!” He thumbed at Argos, who grumbled resentfully.

Elmiryn snickered and I grinned. It was an amusing thought, in a grim way.

But the grin vanished from my face at the thought of the girl actually dying, all because she was pushing herself too hard. Daedalus’ concern wasn’t empty. Just because Lethia could suppress her pain didn’t mean she should. Pain was there to tell us our limits. If she ignored those, she would die.

She’s prepared to die, Kali voiced the thought as it arrived.

My throat tightened as I turned to Elmiryn. “Elle, now that we’ve caught you up with everyone, will you be all right to look around for a bit on your own? Or you could wait for me in my room in the tower. It’s just…. I need to do something alone.”

Her eyes searched my face, her brow tensing but not quite forming a frown. She gave a slight nod. “I’ll be all right.”

I smiled thinly and lifted my hand as if to touch her arm. When my hand touched her, my stomach clenched, and I pulled away, trying to pass it off as a casual pat when it clearly wasn’t.

“Take care, Elmiryn.” I said as I walked away.

When I was out of earshot I cursed under my breath.

That sounded too much like a goodbye.


The afternoon was waning, and the crimson pine grosbeak that had taken to resting in the dead linden tree outside of the barn was sleepily chirping for its unseen compatriots. The sky was turning warm, the suns inching closer to the evening angle. They made my shadow long–stretching deep enough into the barn that it hit the back wall even as I stood at the entrance. I hesitated, feeling my body tense. If Lethia was asleep, she wouldn’t have seen that.

“Who’s there? Paulo, is that you?”

I rolled my eyes shut. Of course.

“It’s me, Lethia,” I said wearily as I stepped further inside.

When I stopped at her stall, I leaned on the partition and lifted my hand in greeting. The enchantress was resting in her hay bed, just as we left her. She gazed up at me bemusedly as she set aside what looked like a leather journal and a charcoal pencil.

“Oh! I wasn’t expecting to see you again today.”

I scratched my cheek. “I wasn’t expecting to be here either.” Then my tongue stopped. I didn’t know what else to say.

What was I even intending on doing here, again?

Lethia shrugged a little. “Can I…help you?”

I stared down at her. “Help me?” I repeated after a long moment.

“I just meant there’s a reason you’re here, right?”


“And that reason is…?” she trailed off expectantly.

I glared at her, irritated. “Am I bothering you? Did I interrupt something?”

Lethia blinked at me. “Nyx, that isn’t–”

“You said I should tell you what it is that you could do to help make amends, right?”

“Well, yes–”

“Then is this a bad time? Because I feel–” and I broke off with a huff, pushing away from the stall to pace in front of it. I pressed the heels of my palms into my eyes. “I’m sorry,” I mumbled. “I’m sorry. I didn’t come for a fight. I really didn’t.”

I heard Lethia get up and stopped my back and forth to glare at the dirt.


I looked at her reluctantly. Lethia looked worried, but I could see the reservation in her, like she wasn’t sure she should trust that I wouldn’t hurt her.

I wasn’t sure either.

“I want you to listen,” I bit out. “I think…I’ve realized…” I growled and pinched the bridge of my nose. “I feel like no one understands what I’m feeling, all right? I hate it. I hate being misunderstood. I learned all those fancy words so that I could convey deeper thoughts, and it seems like they just made it worse. Now even I get confused about the exact reasons why I feel the way I do. But I figure I have an idea. I mean, I have ideas. Isn’t that what we all are in reality? Just a collection of ideas? Ideas can contradict, can’t they?”

Lethia nodded, but I got the impression it was more out of politeness than true understanding. I buried my hands in my hair and tugged hard. “I feel so much anger toward you, Lethia! Do you see? I feel sick with it! But then there’s this other part that still remembers what a good person you are, and it tries to reconcile what happened between us, but it just can’t.”

The girl closed her eyes. “You mean that time with Izma.”

“Yes!” I snarled. I jabbed a finger at the teenager’s face. “She hurt me! You hurt me! Taunting me with my feelings till I felt empty inside! There are many things I doubt in this world, Lethia, but my feelings for Elmiryn had been one of the first things in my life that I felt entirely certain of! Now? I feel horrible about it all!” I turned my face away, my fists clenching. “When I found Elmiryn out in the wilderness days ago, I couldn’t…I just I couldn’t open up. I’ve been struggling to feel like things are normal, but they aren’t, and I wonder if my feelings had ever been true at all now? What if I was just led by lust like how my mother lusted after every man in our village? That’s my legacy, isn’t it?”

Lethia was staring at me wide eyed now. “Nyx that’s absurd!”

I laughed bitterly. “Is it?”

She shook her head at me. “Yes! Quite frankly, I’m disappointed that someone as smart as you would allow yourself to get caught up with such an idea! Are you your mother, Nyx? What possible reason do you have to–”

Lethia broke off when she saw the look on my face. Drawn. Pale.

“You…. You really don’t know, do you?” I whispered, feeling the tears burn my eyes.

The girl started to say something, then faltered. Finally, she murmured. “No. Izma took complete control after your outburst about your father. I wasn’t there for any of it.”

All this time I’ve been punishing her, treating her poorly…

I sat on the ground, right there and then. My vision clouded. I heard Lethia kneel in front of me.

“Nyx, tell me. Tell me what happened.”

I shook my head, gripping it, pulling my knees up to curl into a ball. “No, I don’t want to!” My voice was small. Child-like.

I’d avoided thinking about that horrible moment all this time. I didn’t want to dredge up the painful details, and I especially didn’t want to tell someone else. It was almost like going through the whole thing again.

But I’d been holding on to this for close to weeks now, and it was eating me alive. I thought having Elmiryn back would make it better. If the last few days were any indication, I was about to feel a lot worse. Could I bury it down inside forever? When would the feeling of violation and shame go away? I could talk to Kali about it–but even given our new kinship, she was hardly a great conversation partner. Who else could I talk to? When?

Lethia bit her lip before saying softly, “If you aren’t ready, then you aren’t ready. I just want you to know that I’m always–”

“Izma showed me Elmiryn!” I blurted, looking up at the enchantress.

She stared at me in shock, and I mirrored her expression. I hadn’t expected to speak. I was teetering over the edge, but I could have just as likely clammed up and said nothing. Pulling me the other way, though, had been the idea that this was like any difficult thing a person faced. You did it one step at a time.

Lethia winced as she gingerly moved to sit on her bottom. When she was settled across from me, she pulled her knees up to her chest like I did and wrapped her one arm around them.

“And what was Elmiryn doing when you saw her?” she asked mildly, like she was aware I was ready to jump up and run out of there at the first loud noise.

One step at a time, one step at a time, one step at a time–

“Waiting.” I croaked. Then inwardly berated myself.

One step at a time, cajeck, not one word at a time!

“Take your time, Nyx,” Lethia reassured me.

I took a deep shuddering breath. After a long moment passed, I said next. “It was a simulation. Izma said…said it was a collection of Elmiryn’s memories, tweaked and reconstructed into one moment. So it wasn’t really her, and it wasn’t even a real memory, but…”

“It still felt real,” Lethia supplied when my silence stretched on.

I nodded mutely.

“So she was waiting. What was she waiting for?”

I swallowed at the rock in my throat. “A noble woman.” My jaw clenched. “For the purposes of that exercise, Izma saw it fit to put me in her position, so that Elmiryn spoke to me as if I was this other person.”

And I told her the rest. It took a long time. At one point, I couldn’t speak, I was crying so hard that Lethia let me lay in her hay bed. I felt guilty, taking a one-armed girl’s place of rest, but she insisted, and I was so distraught I didn’t have the strength to argue.

When I finished, I felt spent. My head had somehow found its way to Lethia’s lap, and she stroked my hair. Toward the end, she’d been crying too.

“Oh Nyx!” she whispered, anguish evident on her face. “What a horrible thing to have gone through!”

I covered my face with my hands. “But you didn’t know! And I treated you horribly!”

“You had every right to be angry! Heavens, you still have the right! Aware or not, I should have known that Izma would cross such lines when I agreed to help her!”

I sat up and shrugged. “What difference does it make? Izma told me the truth. I would let Elmiryn use me if it meant I felt wanted. She doesn’t love me now, imagine when she finally gets tired of me, or finds someone else? I’d still roll over for her if I could be with her, even just for that moment. I’d let anyone do that–”

“You would not, Nyx!” Lethia argued hotly.

I shook my head and stared morosely at my lap. My eyes felt raw and swollen, my nose still running with snot.

Lethia grabbed my hand and squeezed it, craning around so that she was looking up into my face. “You have got to stop thinking this way!” Then she bit her lip and said more apprehensively, “I know you told me to never speak to you about your mother, and I’m sorry I came across my knowledge of her in the way that I did, but you have to understand–you two are nothing alike! Your mother was a good woman who had difficulty facing the fact that she was getting old and the man she loved had left her! Her behavior was an addiction born out of a poor ability to cope! But you? You’re a resilient, practical, and self-aware young woman who has been through hell and back!”

“What are you talking about? I’m none of those things! I throw tantrums like a child, and I get confused by my constant second guessing! And I’m only resilient if you’re referring to my healing ability!”

“Dear gods, your cognitive distortions are immense! Are you opening your legs for every person who walks by? Of course not!”

I raised an eyebrow at her and mumbled wryly, “Who would I open my legs to? Daedalus looks down on me, Paulo and Quincy dislike me, Hakeem has been in a coma up until now, and I’m fairly certain you aren’t interested!”

Lethia actually thought about that before snickering out, “There’s always Argos!”

I gave her a horrified look. “Lethia!”

“Listen, my point is that you aren’t a naturally promiscuous person. Your sentiment that you would be with Elmiryn under any circumstances, no matter how she treated you, is simply due to the fact that your feelings for her are coupled with your fears of losing her–and I stress the word sentiment because you can’t actually know what you would do should Elmiryn abuse you in such a way until she does so! Now, pardon my frankness–”

“You want me to pardon just this one instance?”

“But you haven’t had relations with Elmiryn since you’ve found her, have you?”

I blushed, suddenly becoming interested in picking the hay out of my hair.

Lethia nodded knowingly. “Exactly. Not that your trauma is something to celebrate, but it goes completely against your assertions about yourself! All that said, I’d be more concerned about finding a way to overcome the apprehension you feel around Elmiryn instead of finding ways to villify yourself!”

When she was done, I stared at her hard, then remarked. “How much would that have cost if I had been some villager seeking guided healing?”

“A hundred gold,” Lethia said readily. She shrugged one shoulder at my smirk. “What? You think just because I was a journeyman, Syria didn’t give me patients to tend?”

My eyes narrowed in suspicion as a thought occurred to me. “If you charged a hundred, what did she charge?”

The girl pouted. “You realize Syria took on many charity cases, right?”

“Right. I’ll remember to admire the magnanimity of a lunatic later. Lethia, what did she charge?

“Five thousand!” She snapped. At my astonished look, she looked away. “Give or take,” she mumbled.

“Who can afford so much?” I sputtered. “People could live for years off of that!”

“Politicians, nobles, royalty…. Syria was famous after all! She tended to very important people!”

I shook my head in disbelief. “Sweet Aelurus!”

Lethia glanced at me sideways. “Did I ever mention that I visited Lekeid?”

My eyes went wide. “No! I thought you spent most of your time here at the tower?”

Lethia grinned shyly. “I’ve traveled on three occasions. Nothing beyond the Sibesonan continent, but–”

And Lethia told me of her travels, relating of a short-lived romance with an elven noble in Lekeid, and the time she got to play with Cailean, the Fiamman princess. It wasn’t that listening to her talk took the pain away. It lurked deep inside, waiting for that quiet moment when it could assail my heart again. Lethia’s kind voice kept it at bay, and for the first time in weeks, I felt almost normal again.

Continue ReadingChapter 45.1

Chapter 45.2


Elmiryn wanted to preoccupy herself with something, and given that everyone else seemed otherwise indisposed, she chose to bother Paulo, who also seemed adrift in the final hours of the day. It also helped that she’d had some more wine since arriving, of course.

“Stop laughing, lia! I mean it!” he snarled.

“How’m I s’posed to stop laughin’ when ya keep making that face?” The redhead guffawed, using the table to support herself.

“Pie and women! They are related!”


“I’m serious!”

“As in women make the pies, or come with them?”


Elmiryn descended into another raucous peal of laughter.

“S-So is it safe to–safe t’say ya haven’t had much pie, Paulo?”


His naivety even elicited a chortle from Quincy, who was busy making dinner.

“It was a stupid game,” Paulo huffed, glaring as he slouched against the wall.

They were in the kitchen inside the tower and the evening was waning into night. They had already lit the lamps. Quincy toiled away at chopping up the remaining vegetables to add to the leftover stew from the previous night. Daedalus was in the study with Argos. He’d started up the fireplace to give him light as he read a book. All the warm illumination made the tower feel less…inhospitable. Elmiryn could understand why Lethia wouldn’t have minded growing up here as a child.

That didn’t mean she felt at home.

“Let’s start over,” she said once her humor finally subsided. “Farm.”

“I don’t want to do it anymore,” Paulo muttered sullenly.

“Come on! Farm!

The teenager let out a long sigh of suffering. Quincy glanced over her shoulder at him, sweat on her brow from the heat of her cooking.

“You may as well indulge her, Paulo. She won’t leave you alone,” she remarked.

When Paulo looked at the warrior as if to confirm this, Elmiryn nodded gravely.

He bared his teeth and slouched further. “Pigs!”

Her answer was quick. “Mud.”






“Dinosaurs–” As soon as the word left her mouth, Elmiryn broke off with hiss, gripping her head. The pain didn’t go away with time, but instead, intensified, causing her to collapse onto the floor.

“Elmiryn?” she heard Paulo say, his voice tight and loud. Too loud. It echoed and ricocheted in her mind, making it into mush.

She yelled, curling up into a ball, squeezing her eyes shut to the flickering shadows on the walls. Those were just windows for the spirits to lean in and laugh at her, the demon’s pet who was astray.

Too fast. Everything was unraveling too fast.

“Elle? What’s happened?” That was Nyx. When had she shown up? Her voice was like a wave, washing away the confusion, cleansing Elmiryn of the madness that started to break through her drunken shield.

The warrior felt a warm hand on her arm. Cautiously, she peered from between her arms to see Nyx knelt beside her, her face tense with worry.

“She had another episode, by the looks of it,” Quincy sighed. She hovered nearby, frowning.

“No,” Elmiryn croaked, sitting up with a wince. Though the intense pain was gone, her head still throbbed. “I said something I shouldn’t have. Something that doesn’t belong. That doesn’t fit.”

“What do you mean?” Nyx asked, frowning.

Lethia, who had been watching from the foyer, stepped forward quickly. “Actually, she can’t say.”

Everyone turned to look at the enchantress. She shrugged. “Elmiryn has been to other dimensions. Trying to speak of things outside of this realm leads to the universe harshly correcting you.”

“And how do you know this?” Paulo scoffed.

Lethia put her hand on her hip as she shot him a sharp look. “Obviously because I’ve suffered the same! I’ve been to the same dimension Elmiryn has, and before that, Syria made certain to educate me. I was to go with her in her multidimensional journey with Izma.”

“You never mentioned this!” Quincy said, sounding annoyed.

The enchantress glared at her. “We haven’t exactly been very talkative with each other, now have we?”

“It doesn’t matter!” Nyx snapped.

Quincy turned her ire on her. “And why not?”

“Because we wouldn’t be able to talk much about things anyway!” Elmiryn spat. “Didn’t Lethia just tell you? Look at me, Quincy. Imagine the damage we’d suffer if we let slip one too many things that our world does not permit!”

The wizard pursed her lips as if to hold back any further arguments, though she clearly had plenty to spare.

“Can you stand?” Nyx asked gently.

Elmiryn looked at her, feeling hopeful. It was an odd sensation, and one she couldn’t recall experiencing with such intensity toward the girl. This realization quickly chased her hope, and strangled it. Why did the warrior need to feel hopeful with Nyx? Did she fear something had been permanently lost between them?

“Yeah,” Elmiryn grunted, trying to mask her conflict. She fought to her feet, pulling away from Nyx as she did so.

Then the warrior had another idea.

Rubbing her head, she asked, “Kitten, can I lay up in yer room for a while?”

For once, the warrior’s ulterior motive wasn’t in the gutter, but the Ailuran seemed to think so. Her companion’s face flashed a deep pink, but more than that, she went rock still, her body tightening as if expecting a punch. She didn’t open her mouth to speak, and her eyes glazed over.

All of this in just a few seconds, but Elmiryn was so taken aback by this that she stammered out (and never in her memory could she recall ever doing that) “I jes–jes’ meant to rest!” And then, with a noticeable sting in her heart, she added under her breath so that the others wouldn’t hear, “I’ll sleep in the barn, if that’s what ya want.”

Nyx recovered–in a sense. It looked like it took effort, but the tension eased from her shoulders, and the stiffness left her posture. Almost apologetically, she mumbled back (though by now the others had hurriedly distracted themselves) “We can talk about your sleeping arrangements later.”

Elmiryn was sure the girl meant for this to make her feel better, but it didn’t. It made her feel worse.

She didn’t bother to correct me. She isn’t just shy to talk, she’s uncomfortable with me entirely. What in the fucking hell is going on?

“All right, Nyx,” was all the woman said in response.

“In the meantime, Elle, feel free to rest in my room. I can bring you a bowl of stew once it’s ready.”

Elmiryn nodded as she shuffled off for the stairs, a light frown on her face and a heavy feeling in her gut.

Was it something I said? Was it something I did? I’d say it was because I was off with Meznik for a while, but somehow I don’t think that’s the issue! Not completely anyway.

The warrior glanced over her shoulder just before she rounded the stairwell. Nyx and Lethia were standing side by side, murmuring to each other. That in of itself didn’t seem so odd. She had been somewhat aware of tension between the two, but apparently that had been cleared up. It wasn’t until the enchantress reached over and patted Nyx’s arm in a sympathetic manner that Elmiryn paused, her eyes narrowing.

Does Lethia know what’s going on? she wondered. Then she felt a flare of irritation when she recalled that the two girls had been sitting in the barn for what was several hours, just talking.

Nyx feels like she confide in Lethia but not me? Haven’t I earned that trust?

Elmiryn ground her teeth a little before willing herself to resume marching up the stairs.

But she didn’t go up to the topmost bedroom, like she said she would. As soon as she reached the first bedroom door in the stairwell, she stepped up to it. Quincy and Hakeem’s room. It was closed, so she placed her ear to the wood. Inside, she heard no sounds, but that didn’t mean anything. The room also faced the setting suns, so she couldn’t trust if the soft glow coming beneath the crack was just dying sunlight or a lit candle.

Taking hold of the door, Elmiryn turned the handle slowly. No sound. She pushed it gently, carefully. The hinges creaked, making her wince, but otherwise the sound did not carry. Daring another half-inch, she peered in through the open crack. There were no candles lit. The golem posing as Hakeem lay flat on the bed.

With a brief glance over her shoulder, Elmiryn slipped into the room and shut the door.

Stepping quietly, she stopped next to the bed and peered down at the lifeless construct. It was dormant, playing at sleep. She let her second sense bleed through her eyes, and though it made her head ache, she could see the lack of spiritual glow in its body. The threads that weaved this thing into existence were not natural threads. But how could she make the others see this?

“You’re a knot,” Elmiryn whispered over the golem. “Just one big knot in the universe’s weave.”

The thing stirred. The warrior tensed and took a step back.

Now was not the time. She couldn’t destroy it now. The others didn’t understand. Quincy would turn murderous. That sort of chaos would split their group apart, and they needed to stay together. Elmiryn could see as much in just a day. Who else would believe what they went through? Who else would protect and shield them from the consequences of that fateful day when Syria escaped? Everyone was tired and nursing wounds, both visible and hidden. Even if their unity was tenuous, it would have to hold for now, because the alternative was far worse.

Yet even as she thought these things, the warrior also knew that this fake Hakeem was a threat to their recovery as a group as well. What devious plan was Izma playing out here? The golem was like a bomb whose fuse was gradually running down. Elmiryn could not destroy it prematurely, but she couldn’t wait either.

“I’m going to unravel this knot, Izma,” the warrior hissed low as she slowly retreated, back toward the door. “I’ll find a way!”

Just as Elmiryn turned the doorknob, she heard a voice murmur behind her, making her hair stand on end–for just a touch of music lay behind each word–“You’re certainly welcome to try, little pet.

“What did you say?” Elmiryn snarled whirling around with her hand grasping for her sword–but that was gone, left carelessly in the foyer after she had changed earlier. Her heart jumped into her throat.

The golem stirred and sat up. Groggily it said, “What? Who’s there?”

But the woman had already turned and fled, slamming the door behind her.


Three more days passed.

Now that Lethia and I were on good terms again, it felt hard not to gravitate to the barn. I didn’t always feel like talking, and I think she understood my need to be in the company of someone who actually understood how I felt. Sometimes we did talk. I told her more about my childhood–the challenges I faced, the people I loved, the awkward dilemmas I suffered through. In turn, she shared much the same. As Lethia told me about her upbringing with Syria, I realized, sorrowfully, that Daedalus had been right. I had claimed to know Lethia Artaud far too quickly.

The enchantress was very principled, and had an earnest love of order. When she revealed to me her intent to kill Syria, I was surprised at first. But then I could see, in the bright and wistful way the girl spoke of her surrogate mother, that she still loved her. For Lethia, her desire for honor and her sense of love…there was no separation. They were one and the same.

I was humbled that she could make such a hard choice about someone she cared about. It made me doubt my own dedication to Elmiryn again. After all, I was a champion, and she was now a demon’s pet. Was there something more I could be doing to bring her back to Harmony? Was I being too lenient?

Naturally my concerns slipped into more personal issues. Why did I feel so put off by her when she was all I could think about for weeks? Why did I crave her presence, yet feel deeply uncomfortable by it at the same time? All I could think about was her walking away forever, and yet she was so caring and considerate of me…

“You’re doing it again!” Lethia snapped, annoyed.

I looked at her, startled out of my reverie. As was becoming custom, I was sitting with the girl in the barn. I sat on a low stool while she brushed my hair with a wooden comb Daedalus had given her.

The enchantress wagged the comb at me. “I am telling you, Nyx! You have to stop anticipating the worst!”

“Are you telling me this as my therapist?” I grumbled resentfully. “Did you read my mind again?”

“I’ll have you know, your thoughts are plain as day on your face,” Lethia shot back. “And of course I’m not speaking to you as your therapist. That was quite unfair of you to say! You know what I would say if you were some patient I was detached from?”

I looked at her wearily. “What?”

She glared. “I would say, ‘Love is about communication, and you need to open up to Elmiryn in order for her to understand how you feel.’ You want to know what I say to you as a friend? Stop the nonsense and just talk to her! It’s the only way you’ll know for sure!”

A whine escaped my lips as I kicked at the dirt on the ground. “I’m pretty sure she doesn’t even want to try and discuss what our relationship is! Do you know how it all started? One day, Elmiryn was hallucinating so bad that she thought she could take the meaning of my words just by the force of a kiss alone!”

Lethia sighed and shook her head, “It figures….”

“So you see? From the start, there was never any real discussion of an ‘us’ so much as just…companionship. Giving and taking. That seemed welcome enough,” I laughed bitterly. “Oh we got close to putting a name to what was happening. But we both made excuses, and I thought it was fine because….”


“Because I was afraid I’d scare her away,” I muttered miserably.

“All right. Things started out uncertainly between the two of you and it just…kept evolving without much discussion, correct?”

“Completely correct.”

“Then may I ask why it is that you insisted on waiting for Elmiryn to determine the nature of the relationship?”

I looked at her in anguish. “Oh, now you are treating me like a patient!”

“I’m serious, Nyx! Why does Elle have to be the one to say what is and isn’t going on between you two? Clearly you have feelings for her and you are invested! It’s not enough that Elmiryn just fools around with you. What if we travel to a city with a brothel and she decides she wants to roll around with someone for two bits a night?”

I shrugged morosely. “It’s her right. It’s not like I control her.”

Lethia groaned, slapping a hand to her forehead. “What am I going to do with you?”

“You know it’s more complicated than that,” I whispered, my shoulders hunching. “Why are you acting like that isn’t the case?”

Lethia went to kneel before me, her bright green eyes locking onto mine. “I know it’s hard for you. And I know why. But I need you to remember that wasn’t Elmiryn! Every time you give in to your fears with her, you are letting Izma win!”

I looked away. “I have to go back to town. We need more supplies.”

“You can’t keep putting it off.”

“It was one thing telling you the truth, Lethia. It’s another thing entirely to tell Elmiryn!”

Lethia lowered her gaze. “True enough. But it needs to happen. And soon. I don’t see your relationship surviving much longer otherwise.”

I squeezed her shoulder before standing to leave. She hadn’t finished combing my hair, but our discussion suddenly made me eager to leave.

Lethia is right. If I leave things as they are, then we’ll grow apart.

I looked up at the evening sky, taking a deep breath. It was no good, I felt like I was suffocating still.

Maybe that’s what needs to happen. Maybe Elmiryn and I are too broken to be together. Maybe us growing apart would be for the best.

Continue ReadingChapter 45.2

Chapter 45.3

“I’m cornered in fire so break out the secrets
I hope you know that you were worth it all along
I’m tired, you’re angry, and everyone looks blurry
I love you, I’m leaving; so long

Hey, little one
I’m so scared of what this could have been
I know that today I lost my only friend
My little one

The places I took you, they seem so fucking empty
I have trouble going anywhere at all
Especially my own bedroom
And it stays awake to haunt me
So passed out, blackout, drunk in another bathroom stall

Hey, little one
I’m so scared of what this could have been
I know that today I lost my only friend”1


If I thought I’d be able to leave for Belcliff that day without something stopping me, I was wrong. Standing at the gates with a royal blue bottle was Elmiryn. She leaned against the bars with blank eyes, her unkempt hair loose about her shoulders. I was surprised to see her. Halfway to the gate I slowed, a knot growing in my stomach. In the past few days, we had barely spoken to each other. It was my fault. I avoided her, too afraid of where a conversation between us would lead if I let it go on long enough. Her frustration was almost palpable.

The last we had spoken was yesterday morning. I was coming out of the kitchen just as she was entering the tower from outside. We stopped in the foyer and just stared at each other, the moment stretching far beyond anything comfortable. She had reeked of alcohol. I wanted to believe that it had more to do with her powerful fae addiction, but somehow that felt like a feeble thing to hope for. Resentment smoldered in her eyes, embers of it dancing with her dark madness. Before Elmiryn had held on to some semblance of functionality. In our time apart, that had disintegrated into a rolling mess of stinging paranoia and outlandish humor. Even without our relationship problems, it was hard to speak to her like this.

“Have I disappeared for you too?” she asked in a murmur.

I stared at her, trying to assemble a response. The best I could come up with was, “I don’t know what you mean.”

Elmiryn chuckled dryly. As she turned to enter the stairs down to the cellar, no doubt to get more drink, I could hear her say, “Believe it or not, that’s still an answer.”

Now as I approached her at the gate, her eyes sharpened and rested on me. I slowed to a stop before her, that familiar stink of inebriation tickling my sensitive nose.

“Hello Elmiryn,” I greeted warily. “How are you feeling today?”

She took a moment to take a swig from her bottle before saying with a shrug, “Like nothing.”

I heaved a heavy sigh as my hands found my hips and my gaze fell to the ground. “I take it you needed to speak with me?” I said to my boots.

“Whatever gave you that idea?” I heard her mumble sarcastically.

I glanced at her with a pained expression. “I know I’ve been treating you poorly–”

She laughed. “Ah. Here we go.”

“–And I’m sorry. I know it isn’t fair to you.”

Elmiryn offered a pursed smile. “Fairness? Nyx, I feel like I’ve been tossed into a game in which no one’s explained to me the rules. That’s not just unfair, it’s fucking crazy.”

My eyes squeezed shut. “I know.”

“Do you? Because far as I can see, the only one who seems to hold your attention these days is Lethia.” She spat the name out, making me shoot her a sharp look.

“Please!” I returned with an exasperated laugh. “As if you two acting like sisters when you treated her like just a nuisance not long ago isn’t bizarre–!” I bit back the rest of my words, my mouth wrestling itself closed even as the words fought to erupt from my throat. “Don’t make this about her. This is about us. It’s… It’s not even your fault, it’s me–”

“That is horseshit!” Elmiryn spat, and I flinched.

My eyes met hers. Her pupils were drawn to pinpricks, the cerulean color faded to an almost icy shade. In her lean face, I could see the quivering tension that barely held her anger in check.

“Don’t lie to me,” she hissed. “Not when I’ve been fending off the paint the gods dumped on this ugly world. Not when I’m fighting to keep from unspooling at everyone’s feet. Don’t you fucking lie to me with such weak lines! ‘It’s me, not you?’ You’ve got to be joking!”

I swallowed at the lump in my throat. “Elmiryn, I… I’m trying. I’m trying to get to a point where I can really say what I need to, but–”

“Trying to get where? What secret place do I have to wait for you to make it to before you open your fucking mouth? What did I do to deserve being shut out?” She was half-screaming now. Her hair seemed to writhe and wriggle, taking on more volume as she gesticulated wildly at me. I’d never seen her so out of control, and it killed me.

“Nothing,” I choked out. I could feel the tears pricking my eyes. The alarm at how swiftly my friend, the woman I had cared so deeply for, crumbled apart before me was making me practically nauseous. “You didn’t do anything!”

“So talk to me then!” She shouted, finally pushing off of the gate to advance on me. I backpedaled as she pressed in. “Help me see! Help me understand! I wander around at night staring at the place where I can see your soul’s thread, and all I can hear are the ghosts in the wind telling me to join them! Your voice is gone from my life, and I have no idea why! So what’s stopping me from joining the voices, Nyx? Why fucking shouldn’t I!?”

“I’ll tell you the reason!” I sobbed, circling around her. If I could just get to the gate… “But not now! Please, Elmiryn, not now! Not like this! I know I have no right to, but I must ask you to wait!”

“Wait!?” she screamed, her voice fraying. Either she was unaware of what I was doing, or didn’t care. “Do you think I can just keep treading paint until the will of the gods drowns me in their colors? Look at my hands!” She held one up and I could see it tremble badly. “I’m drinking myself to death just trying to stay afloat in this world, and in a few hours I’m going to be on all fours, puking up the art of heaven again! I am unwelcome here, and no one else even comprehends what I’m going through! Do you give a shit at all!?”

“Of course I do!” I protested with anguish. My feet stilled, and for a moment I forgot what I’d been trying to do. “Elmiryn, please try to understand that I still care for you!”

Then it happened. A loud metallic wrenching sound behind me. I whirled around to see the gate doors had been mangled and wrenched aside, like a pair of giant invisible hands had crushed them in a strong grip. I looked at Elmiryn, stunned.

Her eyes had become dilated and her face drawn. Her hair was suspended in the air, in a floaty dreamy manner, almost as if she were underwater. There was a static energy in the air, and my nausea doubled, forcing a powerful gag reflex from me.

This was unnatural power. Tainted magic.

Then her eyes returned to normal, her hair fell limp to her shoulders, and the energy choking the air vanished. For some reason, my ears rang. Elmiryn stumbled away from me, half-raising her bottle as if to drink from it, only to let it fall sloshing at her side again. Just before she turned to walk away, tears fell from her eyes.

Stonily, she said, “I can’t tell what you really mean anymore.”

Nyx, what are you doing? Talk to her! Kali urged in my head.

I didn’t respond. I could only watch, stunned by what had just happened, as Elmiryn shrank to a small figure in the distance.

Nyx! My Twin prodded again.

“Kali, you have to understand…” I murmured aloud.

Understand what? You’re letting your cowardice get the better of you! Can’t you see that she needs you? She is falling prey to her curse!

I turned and started down the road, my eyes clouding with fresh tears. “Sister…didn’t you hear her?” I sobbed.

What do you mean? Irritation saturated Kali’s words.

“She says she can’t hear my Meaning anymore. What use would talking to her do if the words I’d give her, she wouldn’t comprehend?”

So how do you intend to fix that?

I shook my head, feeling my heart wrench. “I still have no idea. I just know it’s my fault I let it get this bad.”

But I didn’t have time to wallow. I really did need to get those supplies. Night was the safest time to venture into Belcliff, when less of its citizens were roaming the streets, and I could find a less scrupulous trader willing to unload his shady stock. Daedalus couldn’t return to town for a long time. His wagon full of sundries and clothes would draw unwanted attention to our newfound hideout. Aside from Paulo, I was the only person free and able-bodied to achieve this errand of resupply. The boy had gone last time. Now it was my turn. I needed to do this. I needed to leave.

Even so, my attempts at pragmatism sounded fake, even to me.


Elmiryn felt as though a great stone was in her chest. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. She drank the wine down to the last drop, then threw the bottle down onto the ground and stomped on it. It smashed musically, giving her fleeting satisfaction. She needed more. She also needed to hydrate.

There was nothing easy about being perpetually drunk. The effects on her body was finally catching up to her. The drink robbed her of so much. Maybe that was why she had felt worn down enough to lash out. She hadn’t meant her meeting with Nyx to go that way. Elmiryn missed her. Wanted the girl to feel she could speak to her. Instead, she had blown up on her friend. Used her power to crush the gate, even. Which of course begged the question…

Could she cross the line? Could she really hurt Nyx?

Elmiryn wanted to say that she never could, but now she wasn’t so sure. After all, how could she tell where that moral line was when she didn’t believe in the world around her?

She went to the open wound in the field, where she knew the world bled water with the help of a torture device, and pumped out a bucketful to drink. After she had her fill, Elmiryn splashed her face and neck, then turned her eyes to the abandoned demon’s nest–what everyone else still understood to be Syria’s tower. Thanks to her effort to commit sound to memory and her ability to see the weave of the world, the Fiamman was still aware of what the others understood things as. But behind the intention of the gods, she saw another interpretation. With more time passing, this separate view felt more real. More truthful.

And in this new truth, she could feel Nyx’s love for her drowning in something hideous.

I certainly didn’t make things better by scaring her like that, she thought with a surge of thirsty anguish.

The heartfelt pain made her cravings worse. She was fairly certain the only thing left to drink was some cooking wine that Quincy was trying to hide from her–but along with Elmiryn’s ability to see the weave of the world, she could also sniff out the alcohol like a hound.

Leaving the water bleeder behind, Elmiryn staggered to her feet and made for the demon’s nest. Her shadow sliced through the foyer and onto the first stone steps of the staircase as she stood in the tower entrance. Then a sudden pressure appeared in the center of her chest. It intensified quickly, and as it did so, the warrior found it difficult to breathe. Dizziness swept over her, leaving her cold as she fell to a knee, gasping with increasing desperation. Her jaw began to ache, as did her shoulders and back. It was like her body was seizing up, even as Elmiryn tried to will her muscles to relax.

Instead, the woman vomited up much of the water she had drunk just a moment before.

“What in the heavens?” she heard Daedalus say somewhere nearby. She was too disoriented to pinpoint his voice. Groaning, she rolled onto her back, away from the water she had purged. A few sharp footsteps later, and Daedalus appeared over Elmiryn, scowling. At least, she was pretty sure it was the elf.

She reached a hand up and gasped out, “Some… Something’s wrong!”

The elf knelt down, his expression hardening. “Well, that’s obvious! Can you tell me what you’re feeling?”

Elmiryn swallowed and gestured at her chest. “Trouble breathing… Weight… Weight on my chest!”

Daedalus leaned down and pressed a pointed ear to the woman’s chest. After a short beat, he hissed through his teeth. “Damn! Don’t you move, I’ll be right back.”

“Of course…” Elmiryn wheezed. She tried to grin. “I’m… s-so comfortable… here.”

The elf hurried toward the staircase, his footfalls echoing away.

The redhead squeezed her eyes shut and tried to sit up, only to feel she had no strengths in her arms.

Voices echoed down the stairwell and soon Daedalus reappeared along with Quincy. The woman was pretty sure it was the brunette anyway. They knelt on either side of Elmiryn, with the wizard helping the warrior to sit up as the elf opened a medium-sized wooden chest he’d brought from Hakeem’s room.

“Fiamman, you’re having a heart attack,” the elf informed her gravely. He plucked out a small vial from a compartment in the chest, and pulled out the stopper. Holding the vial up close to her lips, he instructed tensely, “Do not move, please. Too much of this will kill you.”

Refraining from the urge to make another wisecrack, Elmiryn kept still and opened her mouth as the elf carefully allowed three fat drops to fall onto her tongue. The woman grimaced as she swallowed. It tasted like chalk and bitter plant root. Quincy held a cup of water to her lips that the redhead had failed to see before, and she took a tentative swallow before turning her face away.

The wizard allowed for Elmiryn to lay back down as the pressure in her chest continued. It seemed to go on forever.

Then the pressure started to ease, and breathing became easier. The aches in her jaw and back lingered but were not nearly as painful. The woman sighed and eyed the pair that was still at her sides.

“I don’t suppose I could trouble someone for a drink?” she asked with a weak grin.

Quincy and Daedalus exchanged a dark look before grabbing Elmiryn’s arms and lifting her up.

“Elmiryn, you’re going to kill yourself at this rate,” Quincy grunted as the two guided the warrior into the study and onto a cushioned chair.

“You worry too much,” she replied without conviction.

“I only have so much digitalis tincture,” Daedalus said with crossed arms and sharp eyes. “I can give you another small dose later, but I’d only be treating the symptoms.”

“So treat the symptoms then!” Elmiryn snapped, glaring up at him.

The elf snorted, “I’m not your personal healer, woman! And at any rate, the tincture is just a stopgap! There is no guarantee it will ensure the continued function of your heart!”

“So what do you suggest?” Quincy asked the elf curiously.

“That the Fiamman stop drinking, of course!”

Elmiryn tensed at the suggestion. “If I stop drinking outright, I actually have a higher risk of dying, elf.”

“Then we start you on a healing regiment to scale the consumption back.”

Quincy sighed and rubbed at her brow. “The problem, Daedalus, is that Elmiryn’s addiction isn’t of the natural sort. It’s a fae addiction.”

The elf stared at the brunette. “That’s ridiculous. She’s human!”

Elmiryn sank in her chair, her eyes rolling shut. “That’s news to me.”

Quincy frowned down at Elmiryn as she said to Daedalus, “It’s true. I believe Lethia apprised you of the demons we’re fighting, did she not?”

Daedalus actually chortled. “What utter nonsense!” He looked between the two of them, his smile fading. “But it really cannot be! What you’re saying is that this woman,” he thrust a shaking finger at the redhead, “Is somehow a fae? That she was changed by one of those demons? How could the gods allow such a thing to even exist in our world!?”

“I’m still part fae, thank you,” Elmiryn groused.

Quincy gave her a look. “You don’t even know how much of you is still human anymore, Elmiryn.”

“Then break out the ruler, wizard. Frankly, I could give a shit how human I am,” Elmiryn intoned.

What does it matter if Nyx wants nothing to do with me?

“Oh this is a fine time to revert to being a brat!” Quincy scolded.

Elmiryn rolled her eyes and made a jerking masturbatory motion with her hand, eliciting a sound of disgust from the other woman.

Daedalus turned away and started to pace a short line along the floor. One hand covered his mouth as his brows knitted. “This is… this is very grave indeed. My people remember the fae perhaps better than any other species in this world, but such an unholy transformation brings about its own hurdles!”

Quincy went to him and put an arm around his shoulders, halting his pacing. She steered him slowly toward the foyer as her voice dropped to a murmur, but Elmiryn still caught what she said: “Daedalus, I realize she’s a difficult patient, but Elmiryn didn’t ask to be turned into a fae. She deserves our help.”

The elf grunted in response but said nothing in response.

Quincy continued to speak, and the pair migrated into the kitchen. Elmiryn was no longer able to make out their words. She slumped in her chair, staring at the charred logs in the fireplace. She felt much like the logs did. Brittle. Black. Like a thing to be discarded, all used up and spent. She had been aware for a while now that she had lost her edge. She doubted she could do a set of push-ups with ease (20 of them) let alone a full routine (100 reps total). The shame and disgust this instilled in her left an unpleasant aftertaste in her mouth. Or perhaps that was from her vomiting.

All her life, Elmiryn had been an instrument of war. Her body was trained and disciplined, her entire being honed to the purpose of being a living weapon. Now, while far from being helpless, she was… average. Soon to be less than average, if this degradation kept up. Could she hope to protect anyone if the need arose? Could she even protect herself?

Spurred to her feet by a sudden fit of anxiety, Elmiryn shook off a wave of dizziness, then snuck to the door. Quincy and Daedalus were still murmuring to each other in the kitchen. Neither paid her any mind as she slipped outside.

She walked around the tower to the back, where she found Paulo chopping firewood. He was without his cloak, his shirt off and tucked into the back of his trousers, allowing for a rare display of his body markings. Unlike Elmiryn, the boy had a soldier’s body– lean and strong. Perhaps peak efficiency even. (He must be training when he slips away…) He paused to strike the ax into the ground and pull his shirt out. He wiped his face as she approached him.

“Elmiryn,” he said, his eyes flickering from her face to his boots and back again. With some fumbling, he unfolded his shirt and pulled it hastily over his head. “I, ah, didn’t hear you coming.”

“I get that a lot these days,” she said, briefly amused by his shyness. “Which is bizarre considering I can barely walk straight anymore.”

He grunted as he pulled the ax back out of the ground. “True.” He quirked an eyebrow at her as he placed another log on the cutting block. “Now that you mention it, I’m surprised to see you without a bottle in your hand, lia.” There was a jeer in his words.

Elmiryn didn’t take the bait. She’d never say this to the boy, but he reminded her of a scared new recruit from the Ailuran-Fiamman war. He was not so different from some young boy, probably from the poor districts, determined to mask his fear and weakness by lashing out. After all, hadn’t she just snuck up on him? It really hadn’t been her intention, but Paulo had been taken off guard. He was no doubt back here because at this time of day, no one else was. Chopping wood was a good release of tension, but doing it with a heavy cloak and a thick cotton shirt on? She’d take those off too if she were in his position. But the boy was self-conscious of his body’s scars. They were nasty reminders of how he’d been at the mercy of Syria… mutilated under her power. She understood how his scars would be a touchy subject with him.

Yes, Elmiryn could forgive a bit of snarkiness and ill temper in the boy’s case. At least he hadn’t crushed an iron gate with his will alone.

Then again, there was that time the other night at dinner when he gave everyone a migraine headache because Argos had eaten his bread roll when he hadn’t been looking.

Fucking enchanters.

“I was on my way to get another bottle when I was interrupted,” Elmiryn said with a wry grin.

Paulo chopped the wood on the block and reached for another piece. He glanced at her as he stooped down. “We’ll run out soon, you know.” The snark was gone from him. He was scowling at her. With concern, maybe? She couldn’t tell.

Elmiryn crossed her arms, trying to mask how her hands shook. “I know.”

“What does Nyx have to say about it? Is she getting you more to drink? She must have left for town already.”

At the girl’s mention, Elmiryn felt her shoulders clench. “She doesn’t talk to me much these days.”

Now the boy stopped, the ax raised in the air as he fixed Elmiryn with a look of surprise. “No? Why the hell not? I thought you two were practically engaged!”

This made her laugh, bitterly.

Paulo set the ax down against the chopping block and wiped his brow with the back of his hand again. “Elmiryn, Nyx cares about you. Very much so… You know this, yes? I mean, you must. How can you not?”

Now it was her turn to sneer. She feigned shock with a hand over her heart. “My gods! Paulo, I never knew!”

He rolled his eyes at her as he stepped closer, his hands resting on his hips as he tried to catch his breath. “Don’t be thick, lia. I’m just trying to–”

“Just trying to what?” Elmiryn interjected through her teeth. She advanced on him, making him take a step back. “Piss me off? Don’t pretend to know about me and Nyx. Up until a few weeks ago, you couldn’t have cared less about us!”

Paulo lowered his gaze, his hands raising up in a show of relent. “You’re right. I’m… sorry. But you did right by me and my family when you buried my brother. When… when you brought me his gun. The bond you and Nyx shared was obviously strong. It seemed good for you. I guess I just wanted to help you too.”

Elmiryn sighed roughly and covered her face with her hand. She backed away, turning her back to Paulo as she did so. “No. Don’t apologize. I was being an asshole. I know you meant well.”

There was a long beat of silence.

Then Elmiryn heard Paulo pick up the ax. Swish. Thud. She heard two more pieces of wood fall to the ground.

“She doesn’t talk to me anymore,” Elmiryn muttered to the sky.

There was another beat of silence before Paulo resumed his work.

Swish. Thud.

“No offense, lia, but you aren’t making yourself that approachable, eh? What with your drinking, and… ah…”

Elmiryn chuckled and looked over her shoulder, “You mean my glamorous body odor and irresistible hair?”

Paulo snickered and shrugged as if to say, Pretty much!

She turned her gaze back out toward the field, wherein the distance she could just make out the perimeter fence. She couldn’t quite see the gate from here, but she could still envision its mangled shape. She’d have to get Quincy to help her fix it later.

“Elmiryn, it seems to me that if you want Nyx to feel comfortable with speaking to you again, you should make it easier for her too,” Paulo said behind her. When she didn’t say anything to this, he went on. “You’ve got to stop drinking, lia. And if I’m going to be completely honest with you, that stuff makes you crazy. You’ll be better off without it.”

Elmiryn snorted derisively at first. What did Paulo know about her condition? Of all of them, he probably understood it the least. He had no idea what a ‘fae addiction’ really meant or even the kinds of things she was trying to inoculate herself from. The visions. The Whispers. The reality of a world that didn’t want her there anymore.

Regardless, the simplicity of his suggestion still managed to arrest her thoughts.

Just. Stop. Drinking.

Yes it would be hard. Painful. Perhaps even deadly…

But she had been focused only on all the reasons NOT to try. What about all those reasons that said the effort would be worthwhile?

She could become strong again. In control again. Maybe if she could stop her dependence on drink, she could learn to control her fae abilities to the point that she didn’t feel overwhelmed anymore? The others would take her more seriously. It had been so long since Elmiryn had felt free of automatic skepticism and lack of faith, that she’d almost forgotten what it was like for people to stop and heed her words with respect.

She could show Nyx that she had some Meaning too.

More than that, she could show Nyx that she’d do anything to get her to look at her that way again.

I’ve been blaming her for not reaching out to me, but what the fuck have I done to reach out to her? What am I? A child? Elmiryn reprimanded herself. When… when did I let myself forget my promises to her?

“You’re right,” she said at last. She turned to see Paulo stop again.

He rested the ax on his shoulder and asked, “So you’ll do it? You’ll stop?”

Elmiryn nodded jerkily. Even as she did so, she could feel a panic tightening her stomach. Niggling doubts almost immediately started to protest–

Too hard.

Too risky.


“Yes,” she said through a tight throat. She looked at him. “But my body might start to act on its own. I’m part fae, so that side of me could try to go back to drinking itself to death. I’ll be mindless. Desperate.” Elmiryn fixed Paulo with a grave look, her lips thin and pale. “Paulo, other than Quincy, you are the only person who can help control me until Nyx gets back. Will you help me?”

Paulo drew himself up. He went to her, almost eagerly, with a hand extended. “Elmiryn, whatever you need, I will do it. You helped the Moretti family. It is time we helped you.”

Elmiryn could feel the blood draining from her face. The boy’s extended hand felt threatening. Dangerous.

She took it in a tight grip and croaked out, “I’ll need it.”

‘Little One’ by Highly Suspect, from the album ‘The Boy Who Died Wolf’. 300 Entertainment, 2016. []

Continue ReadingChapter 45.3

Chapter 46.1


Heading to Belcliff was not a short trip. Unlike Daedalus, with his horse-drawn carriage, I had to go on foot, avoiding travelers on the main road, to arrive at my destination. The journey, while not especially difficult, took several hours. I did not arrive in the city until the suns had gone from the sky and the night had chilled. By Aelurus’ moon, I wagered it to be close to midnight when my boots met the paved streets.

This was only the second time I had ventured into Belcliff, and I felt no more at ease this time than the last. It had been over a year since the mayhem that had beset the city had taken place, and yet it did not feel fully recovered. Wanted posters for Syria, Lethia, and even myself and the others, could still be seen posted at almost every corner.

Elmiryn would have been annoyed to learn that her bounty was less than Quincy’s.

What irked me, was that somehow, someway, the frivolous nicknames she had given herself and I way back in Tiesmire had stuck. Beneath our illustrated faces were the villainous monikers, “The Twin” and the “The Ghost”. What would have been further disheartening to the woman, was not the fact that they had drawn her ears too big and her eyes too close together… but rather, that they hadn’t tried at all.

The whispers in the alleys and taverns explained some of it. Daedalus had related the rest.

The sad fact was, no one could remember exactly what Elmiryn looked like. Only that she was a woman. Only that she was a Fiamman. And only that she was associated with the rest of us. Not even her fiery hair managed to stick out in anyone’s mind. Her wanted poster was a generic outline of some vague female shape that could have been anyone. The Ghost seemed a hauntingly appropriate outlaw name for her, but not in the way she had originally meant it. No one–not myself, Paulo, or even Daedalus, who hardly knew Elmiryn–thought it wise to inform her of this.

The universe was rejecting her, and I didn’t know how to stop it.

Like most of my recent attempts at escaping my problems, Belcliff was proving to be a poor distraction. The city was just… depressing. Especially at night, when all of the vagabonds crept out.

I pulled my borrowed cloak just a little tighter around me as I slipped into a tavern called Fox Tails. It was like any other drinking establishment, but what made this one special was that Daedalus had informed me of the sort of clientele it attracted. As a rule we had all agreed on, I could not approach the same seller as Paulo had last utilized. The point was to avoid attention. That meant no solid connections, no single strong possibility of identification and exposing the others. Broader and more ephemeral contacts was the only way we’d be able to stretch out our recuperation.

Challenging, considering our access to resources were finite.

“Which means,” Daedalus had warned us all with a severe glare, “That your time here is severely limited! Sick or not, you will have to leave this region soon. Perhaps even this continent entirely! You are not safe here. Not at all.”

Trying to ease my mind of its tension, I made a rare and perhaps ill-advised choice.

I sat at the bar and ordered the hardest drink available. In this case, it was ‘fire whiskey’ to which, when I inquired as to the strength of the drink, the bartender sniffed in obvious disdain and growled through silver teeth, “We drink it for the mad, and we drink it for the moody. Tis more than enough for the likes of you!”

He brought me a small mug, which annoyed me, but when I took a swig of my drink, it burned. Not just in the way of liquor–it really felt like fire. I coughed, just managing to keep from choking outright, and the bartender smirked at me knowingly. I pushed my gold at him without meeting his eyes. Rather, it was Quincy’s gold. She’d retrieved a healthy scoop of it from her bottomless bag, and while there appeared to be much of it (if Paulo’s envious grumblings were any indication) I hardly thought that the wizard would appreciate her funds being utilized in such a way. Fortunately, she wasn’t here to harp at me about it.

I took a large swig, still skeptical of how far the drink would get me… and promptly choked. I think even a little smoke curled from my burning mouth.

Fire whiskey indeed.

Did I truly need this? The question nettled me, even as the drink’s warmth pooled heavy into the pit of my abdomen. It was simple fact that one couldn’t sit in a tavern without a drink and fail to draw unwanted eyes. But was such a powerful drink necessary? No. Of course not. I couldn’t even manage to lie to myself.

I was taking a page straight out of Elmiryn’s book. To help ease my nagging guilt, I reasoned that unlike my wayward lover, I wasn’t doomed with a curse to turn me insane.

Small comfort, Kali growled behind my eyes.

“Don’t start,” I muttered aloud.

I’ll allow you your sloppy escape, sister, Kali said with her figurative back to me. But there is a limit to what I put up with. I do not enjoy this drunkenness, and I will not suffer a hangover for your sake! At any rate, I grow restless. My time in the world draws near, I think.

I closed my eyes in suffering. “Fine,” I sighed. Having a separate conscious in my head really was starting to feel like being at the mercy of a landlord these days, despite our improved relationship.

Kali’s concern of over-drinking may have been unfounded, though. I had to make my way through three-quarters of it before it really started to take effect. That… fuzzing of your thoughts, where inhibition takes a backseat to desire. Therian-strength drinks were hard to come by, I supposed. Fortunately, this was an adequate substitute.

With my usual anxieties dulled, I found myself making small talk with those seated next to me.

“Gods!” I exclaimed naively to an elderly prostitute dressed only in a spotty gray slip, “You must be cold! Where are your clothes?”

And to the middle-aged man with cropped hair and massive biceps on my right, “Good grief! if I had a problem I needed dealing with, I suppose I’d know who to talk to.”

To my bewildering good fortune, my less-than-graceful remarks only resulted in laughter and counter-teasing. Whether they knew I meant my words sincerely or not was uncertain to me, even in hindsight. I only know that my apparent new drinking partners clapped my shoulders and continued to humor my clumsy attempts at conversation. My ability to take their taunts with little reaction seemed to endear me to the patrons, and perhaps more by luck than anything else, they were open to my questions.

To the middle-aged ‘gentleman’ next to me, I said, “I am in need of supplies–food, medicine… that sort of thing. I have some coin for the voice that can point me in the right direction with little fuss.”

When his dusky finger indicated a fellow off to a center table (Curious, I thought, that he’d pick such a central spot… Better vantage point, perhaps? Or maybe he doesn’t need the corner because he has guards…) This earned the gentleman a few gold coins. I turned next to the aged prostitute on my other side. Producing more gold and offering a weak grin, I asked her to take a drink to the apparent seller in the middle of the tavern with my regards. If there had been a server in this establishment, I would have utilized them for such a task instead, but apparently, the bartender was content to work alone. It was a small place, after all.

When the prostitute had done as I asked, I made eye contact with the shady seller, and he gestured for me to join him. I did so without hesitation… but with a freshly poured mug of whiskey all the same.

The man I would apparently be doing business with was a confident-looking fellow dressed in silk robes under his course cotton cloak. A human Higashan, if I had to guess his species and race by the way of his dark almond eyes, alabaster skin, slicked back dark hair, and soft round face shape. Still, in this place where patrons made every effort to mind their own business, I couldn’t say that with high certainty. People employed all kinds of tricks to conceal their identities.

“Generosity is rare in a place such as this,” The man said with a neutral expression. “When it does appear, there are usually strings attached. Tell me why I shouldn’t cut these strings now?”

The hairs on the back of my neck pricked up, but I managed to keep my voice steady when I said, “Because your purse would lose out on a handsome opportunity.” Then I took a drink… because Sweet Aelurus, it felt like I was trying to make a deal with an alligator who had its jaws around my head.

The man frowned at me. “What is it you think I can provide?”

I wiped at my mouth and sat back in my chair. I gestured around the room. “There are whispers that you are a person who has the means of providing for others who can afford it. Basic supplies, that sort of thing.” I looked him up and down, trying for some bravado. Kali might have been helping in this regard, like a teacher placing a guiding hand over their student’s. “And forgive me for saying so, but it appears you are a man between places. Part of a caravan of sorts, perhaps? You do not have the local color about you. This is to my liking.”

The man’s frown deepened further. His eyes narrowed a portion as he searched my features. I could feel the corner of my lip twitch even as I tried to remain unmoved. Then, suddenly, the man chuckled. It was a silky, but short sound, as if he couldn’t afford to allow even his humor unmeasured.

He extended a well-manicured hand. “I am Soga.”

I took his hand, hoping he didn’t notice the sweat on my palm. “Geld.”

This earned a bemused smile. “Ah… ‘Geld’. The Elvish word for wealth. A bit on the nose, isn’t it?”

I shrugged. “It gets my point across.”

Soga laced his fingers together as he leaned on to the table. “What has me curious is why such a petite thing such as yourself requires something so rudimentary in such a manner? After all, you make this request from a traveling foreigner, in the middle of the night, at an out of the way bar?” He tsked. “It makes one curious.”

I raised an eyebrow at him. “I could ask the same of you, sir. Why is a traveling foreigner dressed in such fine silks sitting in an out of the way bar–a bar, I might add, that has a reputation for attracting shady individuals–and entertaining requests from characters such as myself? No. I think questions are best left out of the transaction, don’t you?”

The small smile on Soga’s slim lips took on a hard slant. “Fair argument. But I’m willing to bet you did not expect to find someone of such means as myself. You should know that my business will not be cheap, nor small.”

Now I blinked. The price was not an issue… but if he was suggesting there would be a minimum of items purchased, that was an entirely different challenge altogether. Could I carry it all back without too much attention? A big rucksack I could manage, but certainly not a wagon’s worth.

“Whatever the case, I must insist we do this business swiftly,” I said. “I’m sure we can come to some arrangement. Gold is not an issue.”

Soga nodded slowly. “Understood. Tomorrow night then–”

“No,” I said with a quick shake of my head. Now I really started to sweat. I can’t stay here overnight! “It must be tonight!”

Now the man was looking at me suspiciously. “My apologies Geld,” he rubbed his chin. “I did not realize your haste was so… urgent. Afraid to stay long in the city, perhaps?”

I clenched my teeth and managed to fight down Kali’s growl. This is too dangerous, sister! She hissed in my head. This man is a jackal! We should find our supplies elsewhere!

If I can secure a deal with him, then we may be able to avoid another trip for weeks, I returned irritably. I cannot afford to miss this chance! What else are we going to find anyway? Some bandit with a crate of moldy turnips to fence?

Trying to conceal my inner exchange, I made a show of patting my fat coin purse, which had previously been hidden beneath my cloak, and started to stand. “My coins find your questions irksome, Soga. We do this tonight or we have no business!”

The surprise was clearly written on Soga’s face at the sight of my carried wealth. “Wait!” he hissed, one hand shooting up in a halting motion. I paused, scowling at him. “Forgive my rudeness. Clearly your needs are great, and you have assured me of your means to make it worth my while… Please, let me pay you in kind,” he beseeched. Then, without waiting for my reply, he motioned to someone on the other side of the bar and stood from his chair.

The jackal tries to play at being a puppy… but his jaws are deadly, and his pack circles you. Be on your guard! Kali warned.

Noted, I thought back to her as I eyed the two large men who approached from two separate tables. My guess that Soga had bodyguards around the bar had been correct, it seemed. Just who was I really dealing with?

Soga made a gesture toward the bar’s exit. “Come, Geld. Let us take you to my wares.”


When Elmiryn had announced her intentions to Paulo, she couldn’t help but be shocked at how swiftly this decision was acted on. As if not trusting her resolve, the boy had escorted her back to the tower to tell Quincy and Daedalus. The wizard and elf appeared pleasantly surprised at the news, but not overly so, which made Elmiryn wary.

“You were going to try and force me to stop whether I wanted to or not, weren’t you?” Elmiryn accused them with a glare.

Quincy smirked back at her. Daedalus only crossed his arms and offered a stony stare.

“Just leave it to us,” Quincy said with what Elmiryn supposed she thought was a reassuring voice. “We already have a plan. It’ll just take about an hour or two to get started.”

“Get started with what?” Elmiryn asked. Her throat felt dry. Where was her drink–?

Oh. Right.

“Just wait outside,” Daedalus ordered impatiently. “Visit Lethia for a moment. We’ll call you when we’re ready.”

Elmiryn did as she was told without argument. Perhaps because she was feeling so taken aback by what was starting to happen that she was robbed of all witty retorts.

And so, dazedly, Elmiryn made her way to the barn, where she was relieved to find Lethia was already asleep. The woman stood over her friend’s dozing form, feeling sicker the longer she went without a new beverage to nip her body back in order.

Before she was even aware of her own actions, Elmiryn was wheeling back to the tower, sweat beading on her forehead and her throat tightening itself into a giant knot. “Quincy!” she hollered as she cast her eyes wildly around her. “Daedalus! I think– I think I just need more time!” She peeked haphazardly into the kitchen before turning to go to the study– that’s when she saw the door to the cellar was open. Swallowing with effort, Elmiryn started down the stairs into the dank cellar space. “I think we’re rushing this,” she went on to say. “I think I just need more–” Her voice choked to a stop as she froze at the bottom of the stairs.

Against the back wall, there had been a simple barrel rack of four barrels. This, Paulo and Daedalus had emptied, and were in fact, carrying the last barrel into a corner, where the others were stacked. The rack had been moved aside, leaving more central floor space. In this area, Quincy had drawn what looked like a salt circle with runes chalked around it.

Everyone froze in their activities to stare at Elmiryn, and she stared back. The moment stretched long.

Then Elmiryn turned without a word and ran back up the stairs. She heard Paulo curse.

Quincy yelled, “Stop her!”

The barrel Paulo and Daedalus were carrying hit the floor with a loud thud. Elmiryn could hear the boy give chase behind her as she cleared the cellar entrance. She crossed the small foyer in one long stride, then literally leaped out the open entrance of the tower in a wild bid for freedom. Instinctively, she knew, she had a better chance at escape in the wide open than in the confines of the tower, and the boy was too quick. He was fit and tall. She was weakened and out of focus.

Though in hindsight, her wild jump out the tower entrance was a hopeless attempt at getting away. Especially because, when she hit the ground, Elmiryn fell, skinning her hands and knees. As she scrambled to get to her feet, boots sliding wild in the dirt, she only managed to go forward a scant few feet before she felt Paulo’s body collide onto hers, knocking the wind out of her lungs.

There was a mad rush to disentangle, with Elmiryn fighting to get out from under Paulo, but in her insistence on getting away, he managed to get strong grip on her wrist, wrenching her arm up and out with palm turned backward, his other hand digging the heel of his palm down between her shoulder blades, and his knee into the small of her back. The weight of his body and the leverage on her arm sent Elmiryn into the dirt into such a swift and effective wristlock that under any other circumstances, she would have been impressed. Unfortunately, the boy’s skilled technique went unappreciated.

Elmiryn screamed through bared teeth, blades of grass quivering from her furious breathing. She struggled briefly, one leg kicking in an attempt to twist her body, her free arm trying to push her body up while her torso strained against Paulo’s weight on her. He wouldn’t budge. Tired, she soon stilled.

All the while, Paulo huffed over her, “Easy, lia. Easy.”

“Paulo,” she grunted with effort. “Paulo, let me go!”

“I can’t,” he said. “Not just because I think you’d beat the hell out of me, but also because I know it’s not you talking.”

Elmiryn yelled and renewed her struggles. “Git off o’ me, shithead!”

Paulo twisted her extended arm and wrenched it back, sending pain up and into her shoulder.

“Stop it, Elmiryn!” He barked at her. Then he added with a growl, “Why couldn’t you just wait in the barn like they asked!?”

“You’re gonna trap me down there!” Elmiryn screamed. Half her sweaty red face was coated in the dirt as she spat, “I won’t let you fucking do it! That isn’t what I agreed to!”

“It’s the only way,” Paulo hissed. “Now quit fighting!”

“What are you going to do, Paulo? Huh?” She snarled. She settled back into the dirt, the pain in her shoulder anchoring her senses. Conserve your energy… Wait for your moment… “You can’t hold me here forever.”

“What about you, huh?” Paulo snapped back. “If I freed you, are you gonna run away into the woods like an animal? I won’t let you, lia! You’re doing this!”

Elmiryn heard footsteps along the ground, and soon came Quincy’s voice. “It’s ready.”

Paulo shifted his knee off Elmiryn’s body and took his hand off her back so that he knelt at her side with a two-hand grip on her twisted wrist, likely so that he could turn and speak better. “I’ve got her, but I need–”

“Raaaaagh!” Elmiryn popped up and rolled forward as fast as she could. When Paulo tried to force her compliance by re-asserting his wrist lock, she monkey kicked him in the armpit with her left foot and, with this new leverage and the added assistance of her other hand, wrenched her trapped wrist free.

Paulo was good, but he wasn’t as experienced and lacked Elmiryn’s well-trained discipline. She felt a fleeting sense of relief at this. She hadn’t completely lost her edge, it seemed.

Quincy started to shout something, but in the scramble, Elmiryn couldn’t make it out. Her focus was almost entirely on Paulo who fought hard to win back a dominant position. He grabbed her left ankle with his left hand, but she pulled herself away, leaving him holding only a boot. Now entirely freed, Elmiryn quickly rose to her feet and sank into her fighting stance, shaking fists raised as she eyed both Quincy and Paulo like a cornered animal.

“You aren’t trapping me,” she said hoarsely.

Paulo backed off, dropping her boot to hold both hands up. He didn’t just look worried, he looked… scared? “Elmiryn, we are trying to help you. Remember what you asked of me? You knew you would feel like this. I’m only doing as I promised!”

“Well stop it!” Elmiryn spat. She started to glance nervously from side to side. It occurred to her that she didn’t know where Argos was. Was he in on it too? Would he charge her? “That circle down in the cellar is a containment field, isn’t it!? Just how long are you going to keep me down there, huh? Days? Weeks!? Fuck that!”

Quincy, who had been hovering close behind Paulo, now stepped out into better view. Like the boy, she kept her hands where Elmiryn could see them. “You’re right. We don’t know how long it will take, Elmiryn,” Quincy admitted with slow and exaggerated speech. “But we won’t have a better opportunity to treat you than we do right now.”

“Is that why you tried to trick me down there?” Elmiryn asked. She heard grass rustling on her right. She dared to whip her head in that direction, but she saw nothing. When she looked back at Paulo and Quincy, she thought they looked a little closer.

“We weren’t trying to trick you, lia,” Paulo said, actually looking offended at the suggestion. “But we knew if we gave you too much warning you’d–”

“Run?” Elmiryn interjected with a strained laugh. “You’re gods-damned right!” She heard the grass rustling again on the right, and this time she jumped back, swinging a fist. Did the air ripple in front of her? “The fuck–?”

Something hard and heavy struck her in the side of the head, making her vision ripple and her knees buckle. Elmiryn was of the opinion that she had a pretty sturdy chin when it came to blows, but…

When her vision fuzzed back into view and had the good courtesy of stopping its cartwheels, it was about then that Elmiryn became cognizant of the fact that Paulo was once again holding her down, and Quincy was hog tying her with rope that was spooling out of her magic bottomless bag.

Standing over all of them was Lethia, pale, shaking, and looking anxious. “Er… Sorry, Elle,” the girl said with a wince. She lifted a large rubber mallet with her one arm. “The commotion woke me up and when I saw you and Paulo fighting, I… grabbed a mallet. And hit you with it.” She smiled weakly. “If it’s any consolation, the only reason I hit you instead of him was that you were the only one I could use my magic to sneak up on.”

Che cazzo?” Paulo snapped up at her. “THAT was your only reason?”

Lethia shrugged, only looking a little sorry. “I didn’t know what was happening. Why are you two tying her up?”

Quincy tightened the last knot. “Because, Lethia Artaud… Elmiryn is finally kicking her drinking habit,” she said breathlessly as Elmiryn thrashed and snarled in her new rope binds. “Whether she wants to or not!” Quincy added in a shout down at Elmiryn.

Just as Lethia replied, the ground cracked, her voice came out her right ear in reverse, her stomach dropped, and all she could see was a myriad of searing bright color.

And Elmiryn knew this because she’d ruthlessly pulled at the threads in Lethia’s head, cannabilizing her perception of the world. She’d tried fighting the right way. They were leaving her no choice. She had this raw power, didn’t she? How could she not use it? Consequences be damned. She knew, angrily, that none of them would submit their freedom so willingly, fae-driven addiction or not. Death was definitely preferable.

In fact, she’d almost prefer Meznik finding her again than submitting to their so-called ‘intervention.’

As the others lost their footing over the rising chunks of earth, and the light splintered around Elmiryn’s body to blind them all…as the sound around them defied time, reversing and confusing their minds as to their origin…as the rope that bound Elmiryn undid itself, and thick green shoots of some sort of plant–laying dormant as seeds in the ground all this time until her alien power woke it and hastened its growth–curled from the churning soil and lifted her bodily back upright…

As the horror overcame Elmiryn’s rage and she realized that her fae magic was getting away from her, wrapping the newly grown plant limbs around the others throats, and tugging with a mindless need at the glowing threads of life in the weaves of their existence… she knew…

Meznik may very well find her, and it wouldn’t be a moment too soon.


Soga led me to his wares, hidden in a rundown warehouse that looked–to any passerby–completely deserted. The space was mostly empty save for his four large wagons… and even these barely managed to take up a fourth of the dark and musty storage space. In its heyday, I imagined the building had once been filled with overstocked cloth, pottery, oil…

Soga had more men in his employ than I had even guessed. There were at least six other men waiting for us with the wagons. It made me wonder what some of the merchandise might have comprised of, but I knew better than to ask.

At the first wagon, the Higashan merchant loosened the wagon’s bonnet coverings at its rear to reveal bushels of grain, thick animal pelts, and of course– weapons.

“I have storable food, precious skins, and the means to protect it all,” Soga said with a grand sweep of his hand that didn’t match his unvarnished tone of voice. “I also have pickled foods, but they are for… refined tastes. Less the commoner’s day-to-day pantry-fare you seemed to be seeking,” he said with what looked almost like an apologetic half-shrug.

I motioned at the exposed wagon. “May I?”

He glanced at one of his guards standing closest to me, the one with the lantern, then nodded to me. The guard approached with his light to help with my vision.

Using the spokes of the tall wooden wheels, I pulled myself up onto the sideboards to peek into the wagon’s opening. The grains were closest to me. It seemed he had rice and flour, but of the sort I’d never seen before… The rice was white and the grains were long, unlike the short and brown grains so common on the Sibesonan continent. A Higashan import, perhaps? The flour was also not as fine as I expected it to be, though it was white. Suspicious of its quality, my mild inebriation afforded me enough gall to stick my pinky into the lumpy powder and taste it. It turned out it was finer than it looked on the surface, but… it didn’t taste like white flour. It was actually sweeter.

“Coconut flour,” Soga said behind me, sounding amused. I heard scattered chuckles among his men. When I looked back at him, he was smirking. “You see that my stock is not of typical variety. I assure you, this does not take away from its quality. Think of it as a, ah… break from the norm.”

I nodded, a gleam in my eye. “Give me ten pounds of the rice, and five pounds of the flour.” I would be paying a higher price, but quite frankly, I was getting tired of the monotony of flavors I’d suffered these past few weeks. (Tired of the monotony, are we? My! How far we’ve come from the days of being happy for a single carrot flower and a dead frog! Kali quipped.) I ignored my sister’s sanctimonious sarcasm and asked next: “And your pickled goods?”

But Soga was not one to lose out on the chance to up-sell. “No new weapons? You seem capable on your own, but I find myself doubtful you’d need so much dry food just for yourself… Surely your compatriots–”

“The pickled foods,” I said firmly.

Soga pressed his lips in a show of disappointment, but he led me to his next wagon.

We haggled over the prices of his pickled oca, kohlrabi, salsify, and fiddleheads… all vegetables I’d never heard of, but given their similarities to yams, potatoes, and other basic greens, I figured Quincy might be able to manage something with them (the unofficial cook that she had somehow become). I quibbled over the price for the final jar until Soga, disgruntled and maybe even a little impatient, agreed to throw in a cowhide (clearly the least valuable of his skins) so long as I agreed to either another jar of oca or another five pounds of flour. Unsure of my ability to carry everything without being completely vulnerable to attack by bandits, I reluctantly agreed to the extra jar.

The deal was struck. His men wordlessly began to set aside my supplies. As they did so, I counted out Soga’s gold at a rickety table near the warehouse entrance. Five hundred pieces worth–nearly twice what Quincy probably would have expected, but I was really and truly so sick of eating her grass and lentil soup that I was more than happy to bring in some new ingredients. The cow skin could also serve as the starting pieces of a new outfit to Elmiryn–

I froze, the last coin pinned under my finger as I stared through the table. I could feel Soga’s questioning gaze.

“Problem?” He asked, trying, and failing, to keep the impatient sigh out of his voice.

“Spirits,” I murmured.

“Come again?”

I looked at him, feeling uncomfortable. “You’ve shared much of your merchandise with me, but not all. Have you any spirits?” At his blank look, it was my turn to become impatient. “Liquor, Soga. At least a bottle?”

The man’s brows rose. “Ah! Yes. I do. Forgive me for not mentioning. You seemed to be reaching your limit as to what you could carry.” Soga snapped his fingers, and one of his men went to the wagon furthest into the dark. A moment later, he returned with two armfuls of bottles, all of different shapes and colors.

When they were placed before me, Soga quickly (hurriedly, I even ventured) pointed out what each bottle contained. “We have Fiamman wine, Higashan sake, Indaban rice beer, and the rest is of the local whiskey variety.” He straightened, like he was done, but then looked sharply at the dark blue bottle in the middle, with the crescent moon stopper. “Ah! And Ailuran absinthe. Forgive me. I tend to forget this one. Its potency has left it in my possession for longer than I’ve liked. Not many can withstand a therian drink, and they make up so little of my clientele.”

I pointed at the wine, sake, and (trying to make it as an afterthought) the absinthe.

But Soga wasn’t fooled. He’d seen the way my eyes had lingered on the Ailuran bottle. I told myself I was buying it for Elmiryn. So that she wouldn’t suffer her withdrawals. But I knew better. That was to be mine alone, and Soga, the keen merchant he was, sensed it.

“Two hundred,” he said.

I balked. “Two hundred! Why these are worth seventy-five at most!”

At that moment, I heard someone speaking at the warehouse door, but I didn’t turn to look. So irritated was I at having been seen through, that I was lucky to register the newcomer’s presence at all as I haggled furiously with Soga.

“A hundred!” I spat, throwing the coins down in disgust.

Soga chuckled as if my offer was hardly worth a counter-offer.

Feeling my blood flush my cheeks and neck, I threw another fifty coins worth onto the table, only now becoming aware of how light my purse was becoming.

Soga smirked at me and crossed his arms. “Two… Hundred.”

I growled at him. Audibly growled, like an angry mountain cat.

Kali pulled at the back of my mind. You are letting your newfound malice get the better of you! We are overstaying our welcome, can you not see? Another buyer comes! Soga is leveraging his shrinking time on you, fool! Accept his offer, or leave now!

I whipped my head around. Who was this new buyer undercutting my bargaining power, anyway? Surely he could wait a little longer!

I froze, feeling every muscle in my body tense.

That mountainous mass of muscles… the studded leather and black fur… the massive saber with red ribbons tied to the hilt… the metal ingots on that sturdy belt…

I was staring straight at Karolek, the metal sorcerer. The bounty hunter. The man who had very nearly bested Paulo, Lethia, and myself a year ago in this very city.

He was the reason Soga had been in a hurry all this time. They must have scheduled an appointment, but me, in my drunken haze, had failed to see what the night was leading to with all my long-winded haggling.

I looked at Soga and said with what sounded less like my ferocious growl from before and more like a sickly mewl: “Two hundred. Done.”

I fumbled to retrieve the required gold. A heavy hand fell on my shoulder, and I turned deathly pale. I couldn’t bring myself to look, and even then I could feel Karolek’s gaze, like weights, on the side of my head.

“Now, now!” his boisterous voice said over me. “Do not rush your business on my account!” Did he recognize me? My hood was off, but my face was turned and my hair was notorious for getting in the way. Maybe he didn’t–

Then he leaned down. “We have much to catch up on,” his grip on my shoulder tightened painfully and his voice dropped to a whisper meant only for me. “Nyx, the Twin.”

Continue ReadingChapter 46.1

Chapter 46.2


If Soga heard what Karolek said to me, he hid it well. With a snap to one of his henchmen, a large package was given to the bounty hunter from the first wagon– the one that had held all those weapons. Karolek took this with a nod, his other hand untying and handing over a pouch of coins from his belt.

I grabbed my large bag of goods and cursed its size and weight. This would make it harder to run…or fight.

I tried to slip away while the sorcerer appeared distracted, but just as I reached the door, I felt my bag get tugged back. I looked to see Karolek grinning at me, the light scars on his face wrinkling as he held me with just a pinch of his fingers. His newly acquired package he’d wrapped in cloth and slung over his shoulder.

Seeing those scars on his face… I had given him those a year ago, when we first fought. I had raked my claws from his cheek down the side of his right neck. It was an ugly reminder of that time. My Twin and I had been at odds. The rage inside of us ran amok.

“Now, now, friend! We have much to catch up on, you and I!” Karolek said with cheer. “My business is already done. Come, let’s walk together.” The large man gave a two-fingered salute to Soga, who answered it with a half-bow.

As Karolek escorted me to the door, his large hand never leaving my shoulder, the Higashan trader called after us. “We shall be here another three days should either of you require anything else!”

I didn’t even look back as we cleared the door to the dark muddy streets outside.

Fighting had occurred to me. Of course it had. But I refrained for much the same reasons I imagined Karolek did. If Soga found out about my bounty, he might think turning me in to be a far more profitable venture.

We strode in silence, me just a little ahead while Karolek trailed close behind, one hand still holding my shoulder in a soft but unrelenting grip.

Finally, I said (because I still felt a strong buzz from my drinking before) “I’m sorry about your face.” Then I added with a sullen glance. “We were fighting for our lives that night.”

Karolek only raised an eyebrow at me, his friendly smile gone. “I am beyond caring for such things. Life is more than what we see.”

My face tensed in a scowl and I tried to shake off the man’s hand. “Then listen to me when I say that I am not what you think I am!”

Karolek’s grip tightened, and he said, “Oh ho! The kitten has me all figured out, does she?”


I let go of my bag, the heavy thing crashing to the dirt street, before I grabbed Karolek’s massive wrist with both of mine and twisted. I shifted away as I did so, but he tried to grab me again. His momentum shifted toward me, so with a quick sidestep and a strong pull, I launched the man past me. To his credit, he only went two steps before he stopped and swung around with a fist. I ducked under this, and buried my fist in his gut–

As hard as I could.

His body cleared the street, smashed into a crumbling wall, and slumped down. He grunted, his face tensed with pain but his eyes still alert and locked on me. I could see his hand reaching for the ingots on his belt.

To me, our last encounter had been just a few short months ago. I still remembered how it felt when Karolek’s blades had sliced my achilles tendon, the blood filling my boot, the stench of the dirty snow hastening the rise of my gorge. My death stared me in the face, my fear growing in its shadow. I had been a kitten then.

I was so much more than that now.

“Stop!” I screamed. The force of my intention wrenched out of my throat so hard it hurt. The air rippled, cutting a swath through the dirt. In the fraction of a second before my sonic power struck, I thought I saw Karolek’s eyes widen before he was driven and buried in the rubble that once had been a border wall.

In the ringing silence, the dust rose. It was like a curtain, falling on Karolek. It said, He is defeated! Now you may escape!

But could I really? He knew I was here. He would come hunting for me. Had I truly dissuaded him enough to secure our safety for the time we so desperately needed to heal? To plan? To escape?

It was true that Lacertli favored all paths to survival, including fleeing.

I did not feel this was that moment.

With my vermagus magic fraying my vocal chords to the point of pain, I stalked through the whorls of dust to where Karolek lay stunned amidst the crushed bricks and pulverized cement.

“Hear me, Karolek,” I said. “I am not, and will never be your bounty. I am not the mewling kitten you cornered, nor the savage beast you unleashed whose hope bled out onto the street.” I reached down and grabbed him by his solid chin, my fingers digging into his skin. His eyes blinked and squinted up at me. He made a move like he was trying to reach for something on his belt. Again. The stubborn fool!

“Cajeck,” I spat, before I shoved him deep into his own shadow.

I followed him into the ether, the resistance stronger than what I remembered it being in the Other Place. In that dimension where universal law was often absent or turned on its head, slipping into shadows felt like something as simple as dipping into water. Cold water, but water all the same. Here? It was like pushing through shifting sand or even thick mud. The shadows did not yield so easily, and I could feel something pulling at me, like the world was trying to stop my departure.

The Umbralands was just as I last remembered. A dark and shifting mirror of the real world. By now, I felt comfortable here. Perhaps moreso than I did in the real world.

Karolek did not seem to share my feeling.

The large man, having been forced up and backward out of his position in the real world, tripped and stumbled away from the rubble of the ruined wall and into the street. His face was pale and his features drawn as he stared around him. He even held a hand out like he could stave off what he was seeing somehow. The other hand still stubbornly held onto his package, the long rectangular item hanging down at his side from where it was slung in its cloth.

“What is this?” he said, a small tremor in his voice.

I approached him, stepping carefully over the debris. His eyes snapped sharply onto me, and with a series of quick movements, he lifted his package, ripped away the cloth and the paper coverings, and held it aloft before him. A hammer blade. The length of the weapon was thick but had razor edges, and the tip was like a two-headed mallet with serrated faces. A brutish and graceless weapon in anyone else’s hands, but with Karolek’s metal sorcery I shuddered to think what he could get up to with it.

That’s why I had to get him to see this wasn’t worth it.

“Karolek, stop,” I ordered. My voice was turning hoarse, and I had to fight to keep the grimace from my face– my vermagus magic was wreaking havoc on my throat. “You can’t defeat me.”

“What have you done!?” he spat. His gaze was turning wild as his sweat traced lines of worry through the mask of dust on his face. “Where are we?”

I gestured around us. “This is the Umbralands. It is the boundary between the mortal world and the Somnium, the universe’s dream.” I stepped closer, my eyes finding and holding Karolek’s growing eyes. “You see, since we’ve last met, I’ve changed. I’ve fought things twice your size. Seen creatures that few mortals have ever seen. And I did this all under the banner of my patron.”

“Patron.” Karolek twisted the word, but I could still see the bewilderment in his eyes. He moved backwards away from me, his new hammer blade pointed at me like an unspoken threat. “Speak plainly! Umbralands? Somnium? These things mean nothing to me!”

I frowned at him. “Don’t they?” I stopped and put my hands on my hips. “Karolek, my bringing you here should have made it quite clear to you that you are dealing with something beyond your depth. On some level you have to know that, or else you wouldn’t be backing up from a girl you tower by a good two feet!”

He stopped his slow retreat, his eyes glancing down at his feet in what seemed to be surprise. Anger tensed his features and darkened his gaze. He brandished his weapon at me and yelled, “The truth! How did you bring me here? What are you!?”

“I am the champion of Lacertli, the god of survival,” I said, my voice vibrating with such intensity that I could feel my words down to my toes. My eyes narrowed as I watched the comprehension creep slowly across Karolek’s pale face. “He is the Lizard King. The Shadow Walker. The Umbralands are part of his domain.” I placed a hand on my chest. “As his champion, I have power here. Certainly more than I do in the real world.” I tilted my head to the side. “So if you wish to do battle, I should warn you that you will be doing it where I am strongest.”

Karolek still did not lower his hammer blade. He stared at me as though I couldn’t possibly exist, but I knew he heard the truth in my words. Then, finally, he lowered his weapon and groused, “I’ve never even heard of Lacertli!”

I shrugged. “Neither did I until he found me. He doesn’t care much for being worshipped.”

Karolek turned on the spot, his eyes taking in the hard shadows and the stark lights in the colorless border world. “Umbralands, hmmm?” He looked at me sideways. “You will return me to our dimension if I agree to leave you alone?”

“I will agree to return you if you agree to leave the past in the past, regardless of whatever boons you may gain in the present.”

His eyes narrowed. “The past in the past, eh? Then I suppose you really aren’t here alone, are you?” He pointed at the bag of supplies I’d dropped in the street. “Why else would you need so much supplies?”

My heart beat a little faster. “The supplies are for me alone. I don’t know where the others are.”

Karolek tsked, a shaky grin appearing on his haggard face. “A heavenly champion you may now be, but not so good at lying in a pinch it seems!”

My jaw clenched. Damn! I hadn’t focused enough of my magic to aid in my lie. “Do I or do I not have your word?”

Karolek shouldered his hammer blade and shrugged. “To leave the past in the past and to not pursue bounties in the present? Mmm…” he tapped a finger on his chin. Now I was glaring at him. Was he toying with his answer just to make himself feel better, or was he considering some angle I had neglected to account for?

If this was the case, then he still hadn’t noticed Kali lurking around the corner of the shadowy building across from us, her claws extended in preparation for a surprise attack. The shadows were where we could exist independent of each other for a short time.

Between the two of us we would need no time at all to slay Karolek.

After some time the man nodded. “Very well! Clearly I am outmatched. If your companions are hereabouts then doubly so! Such a shame… I could have used some more gold to my name.” He held up a hand, some of his jovial energy already restored. “Such is the way of things! As it stands, I came here pursuing another bounty entirely. Why risk being dead when there is easier prey to be sought?”

I let out a quiet sigh of relief. I wasn’t entirely sure I could trust Karolek, but for the moment at least, he seemed perfectly dissuaded from trying to cross me.

I held out my hand. “Come here.”

The sorcerer hesitated, one brow arching up. “Must we hold hands?”

I rolled my eyes and thrust my hand out again.

Karolek smirked wryly and approached slow, his eyes on my face and his hammer blade held up and back like he was afraid it was some kind of trick. Behind him, Kali nodded at me and faded out of sight.

When his extended hand came close enough, I grabbed it and stepped over onto a particular stark shadow being cast by a building across the street. “Stand here.” Karolek did as asked and I willed the shadows to take us.

We emerged from the other side, me somehow feeling both physically spent but anxious of mind, and Karolek looking as though he wanted to vomit his last meal. I looked at him with some pity as he leaned over onto his knees, dry heaving, and said, “Don’t feel bad. Everyone else ends up feeling sick too.”

He coughed and spat onto the ground, then looked around at me with faraway eyes. “Really? I can’t imagine why!”

A little smile appeared on my lips, despite myself.

The large man straightened, his hammer blade held down at his side while his other hand planted itself on his hip. “Phew!” He looked at me again and said, “I’m a man of my word. I’ll leave the past in the past. Your friends are safe.”

My expression soured. “I told you, it’s just me.”

He chuckled roughly. “Of course.”

I went to retrieve my bag from the street. A quick peek revealed that the pickled food jars had somehow remained intact. I smiled, glad.

“You know… now that I think on it,” Karolek started behind me. I turned to look at him, my eyes blinking with bemusement. The sorcerer was gazing up at the night sky. “When I was a young boy, there was an old man in my village. He used to throw scraps of meat to the lizards just before dusk every day. His son used to beat him for it. Said he was wasting meat on a dead superstition.” He looked at me, frowning deeply, the scars on his face wrinkling as he did so. “When I asked the old man why he did it, he said it was offerings to the ‘king in the shadows’.”

It wasn’t a question, but I could feel Karolek’s searching gaze was looking for something.

I gave one brief but assertive nod.

Clarity and wonder lit up the man’s face. He gave me a little bow.

I turned away from this. “Don’t bow to me.”

Karolek gazed at me quizzically. “Then what am I supposed to do?”

“Leave me alone.”

The man threw his head back and laughed. “Fair enough!” He turned and started to walk away, but paused. “Actually,” he looked back at me, his eyes squinted. “I wonder if you know…”

When he didn’t finish, I snapped at him, “What?” I was tired and eager to be home. My throat was also throbbing painfully. The cost of using magic I had no formal training in.

“I’m not sure where you’ve gone, little champion, but things have taken an odd turn on the Sibesonan continent.” He held up a finger. “Rumors have been spreading from the west… Whispers that the Kreut Forest has started to turn green again… and no one seems to know why.”

My eyes grew wide, despite myself. When I had cleansed the Kreut Forest of the possessed nymphs and lost spirits that had sucked the life out of it, Lacertli had told me it would once again return to normal. But never had I imagined it would be so soon. And as stupid as it sounded, it astonished me that anything I did would be noticed by anyone.

Karolek raised another finger. “The dwarves to the north say that one of their long abandoned cities has been cleansed. Travelers have spied them migrating into the mountains in droves, looking to reclaim what their ancestors had built.”

That was what Elmiryn and Quincy had gone through. Still, I didn’t know what Karolek was leading to with all this.

He held up two more fingers. “In Fiamma, a Halward statue was destroyed during one of their most auspicious festivals. And in the Lycan forests to the Southeast? The tribes were battling some unknown monster that mysteriously vanished. You’d think they would have been pleased about this, but they hunt for the ones they say are responsible… as if some great crime was committed.”

My gaze dropped as my eyes pricked with surprised grief. Gudahi and Sanuye. Elmiryn had been forced to kill them both in an effort to keep me safe. Gudahi especially had been a friend to me. The pain of that time was still fresh.

Karolek was now gazing at me with such intent I was on edge all over again. “All of these things occurred within the last year. They have caused such a tumult that it has drawn prestigious attention!”

I was impatient with this. I crossed my arms and bit out, “And what attention is that?”

Now the metal sorcerer was smiling so wide he looked as though he had won a great prize. “Why, it is one of your peers! The champion of Njord has been traveling the continent in the wake of each of these events, and where do you suppose his travels have led him?”

My stomach dropped. My hands curled into fists in the crooks of my elbows.

The champion of Njord. The man Tobias had named Wind in his tales. The man whom Quincy had called father.

“Jack,” I breathed. “He’s here?”

Karolek held up his hands, but his fierce smile remained. “I have not seen him, but the city folk have been buzzing about his presence in the region for the last week.” He scratched at the scars on his cheek, his smile turning slanted. “Seems to me that the only business he’d have here is to investigate the business that took place here so many months ago. How does it connect with everything that has happened? I haven’t the faintest…” his eyes narrowed. “But I’d imagine he would very much like to speak with those who freed Syria.”

Suddenly I was feeling nauseous. Karolek, whether unaware or indifferent to the effect his words had on me, turned and started down the road, back the way we had come. “Just thought I’d share that with you! I may not be any match for your particular talents, but the champion of the wind god?” he tsked, shaking his head.

I watched him go for a time, my fear clenching around me. Then I turned and ran up the road.

Continue ReadingChapter 46.2

Chapter 46.3


Elmiryn was sorry. She felt sick with apology. (She felt sick with a lot of things, but chief among these was regret.) Like many times in her life, she hadn’t thought this through. She had trusted her instincts for so long, and they had so often carried her to triumph. All she had wanted was for the others to leave her alone. To hold onto her freedom for just a little longer.

Freedom to see the skies, for the basement would trap her from the stars.

Freedom to run without borders, for the containment circle would seal her in.

Freedom to change her mind, for the others would force her from numbness–

Now, as her wild power slipped from her will, the plants that had sprung up–mutated and made monstrous by a fae power she still barely comprehended–gripped her, held her, and trapped her. But the plants weren’t trying to suffocate her like they were the others. They weren’t wrapping around her neck, squeezing, nor trying to reach deep into her mouth and throat to flower in her lungs. They weren’t trying to unravel her very existence.

She could feel it. The others’ horror. Their desperation.

Elmiryn tried to reign it back. Tried to pull the threads and change the weave of what was happening.

But it wouldn’t change. She tugged and pulled, but the threads had become tangled and taut. Her head ached the harder she tried. The plant threads–glowing translucent lines in her mind’s eye–seemed to pulse tauntingly.

“Fuck,” Elmiryn whispered the word, bleak in its surrender.

Then as the plant vines, thick and rubbery and a putrescent green wrapped about and took her vision, she found herself visited by an entirely new sight. Even with her eyes closed, Elmiryn could sense the pattern of the world and all its weavings…

She could feel the suspended forms of the others, arched and twisted before their struggles were stilled by the green grip of the mutant plants. She could feel the Fake Hakeem (Fake-eem?) and Daedalus pulling at the plants from outside, but they could do nothing. These monstrosities had been created against the laws of time and nature. One moment seeds… the next, hulking giants with mindless murderous intent.

I’ve really done it this time.

Tears welled in Elmiryn’s eyes as a fist of shame and self-disgust clenched in her throat. Was she a coward afraid of the hard road? Was she weak and unable to overthrow her fae nature? Did it matter?

She couldn’t save herself. She couldn’t save anyone.

No, no, no!

From the pit of her stomach, Elmiryn screamed. The sound wrenched her throat raw. Her skin flushed hot. Her muscles ached and burned the more she pushed and pulled against the plant’s embrace. She was distantly aware of the men outside jumping from her primal cry, and she fought for another breath to scream again, only this time it came out more like a banshee screech.

A pulse of energy, like a small fast wave, went out with her piercing voice through the surrounding air’s flowing pattern. In but a moment it was gone, having traveled over the mountains to where she could no longer sense it anymore. It hadn’t really been her intention to send a ripple through the world’s weave, but would someone sense it? It was a dim hope that was fast discarded.

Even if someone did sense it, who would be able to understand it and act on it? Or even act on it in time, for that matter?

When Elmiryn’s cry petered out, she found she had to fight for breath. The plant was squeezing in on her, she realized. Her veins burned in her right bicep. Her left foot started to tingle. She choked on a sob and was very briefly glad that none could see her.

As she fought to take in each humid, musty breath, her mind perked to a ripple in the wind’s flowing weave nearby. It was small and far off at first, perhaps as far as the gates, and coming from the east the woman guessed. More ripples came, faster and faster, and they drew closer, shuddering the air current in their wake, until–

Elmiryn sensed a voice echo around her as though from far off, but the words were calm. Curious, even. It wasn’t correct to say she heard the voice, for it wasn’t actually a sound. It was more like she felt the voice.

A bug? Fat one. Who?

The woman didn’t answer. She didn’t know how. Did the ripples carry some sort of pattern she had somehow missed? The threads moved so fast she couldn’t quite make it out. Was it like the pulse of energy she had just sent out when she screamed? Did she need to make a ripple and send it back?

Uncertain of herself, but desperate, Elmiryn hastily drew up a small pattern of wind and a thread of dust from the ground. To anyone else’s eye, it would have appeared as nothing, but the warrior embedded a desperate message with the dust just before urging the wind eastward as far as she could make it go.

I’m Elmiryn. Can you see me? the message said.

She wasn’t sure if the wind would be swift enough, or if the wind’s pattern was strong enough to even go as far as it needed to. Elmiryn guessed whoever was on the other end of the ripples was very far off.

She felt Quincy had passed out. She thought she heard shouts for an axe, but wasn’t sure the men would act in time to save everyone. She needed to release the others…but she didn’t know how.

The seconds ticked by. Elmiryn felt her hope flicker. Just when she was about to send another message, the ripples returned with a contemplative hum.

Go still.

Go still!? Elmiryn thought with a growl in her throat. She whipped up the wind and dust, and answered:

If you can see this, then you can fucking tell me what to do!

The ripples returned, smaller, less energetic. Sleepy. Too sleepy.

Angry, the woman shot back: Hey!

The response came even slower this time, punctuated by what felt like a yawn. Out of reach. Go still, fat bug.

Elmiryn ground her teeth. One more message: Tell me how to save them, damn you!

Then a wave came, rumbling the earth, and whipping the winds up around them. The woman felt her skin flush cold.

Struggle kills! the entity snapped. The words echoed–almost vibratedGo. Still. Or die! Do not care. Just shut up.

This startled Elmiryn into silence. Was her panic making it worse?

Who are you? She wanted to ask, but a new voice, one more familiar, caught her attention. It came from within her head, like a thought, but it was clearly not her own. Elmiryn perked up at it. The voice, a girl’s, was indistinct, but getting clearer and clearer. Her headache flared.

Lethia Artaud…?


Dear Jydel,

I know I’ve gotten up to my own share of trouble in the last year or so– but these people! My gods! Even when convalescing they can’t seem to help allowing some catastrophe to strike!

(Though to be fair, me voluntarily losing an arm was no easy thing to handle.)

I’ll try to be as detailed as possible about this latest drama while everything is still fresh in my mind, but I am not the storyteller Nyx is. I’ve read enough novels, I suppose, to make a decent account of things…

The latest commotion started in the afternoon. I was resting after another trying session of Daedalus’ brand of doctoring (I know his salves and tonics work wonders, but heavens do they reek and burn!) when I heard shouting. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but I recognized it to be Paulo and Elmiryn. When I peeked outside, I was shocked to see that they weren’t just arguing, they were wrestling one another… and not in a sportive sort of way! I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I decided to try and put a stop to it. So I grabbed a rubber mallet amidst the tools and made my way to them.

As I went, I got a sense that things were serious. Elmiryn was cursing and fighting wildly. Her mind was like an angry tangle of snakes vibrating the intellectual cluster so hard it was liable to give me a headache. Paulo looked determined, but I could feel in his aura the worry and fear. Quincy was also there, but she seemed to be only supporting the boy, not a primary actor in whatever was going on. She shared his emotions. Paulo glanced at me as I approached, and right then my target was chosen for me. His power as an enchanter made his awareness too keen for me to avoid. Elle became the only aggressor I could stop. Which was fine, I suppose, because she looked like the one least in control anyway.

Using a technique Syria had taught me (but which I’d not had the confidence to use till now– getting this particular enchantment wrong could lead to a person becoming deaf, blind, or dumb after all) I suppressed portions of Elmiryn’s awareness to the point that she could not easily detect me. But even as wild as she was, the closer I got, the more she suspected something was there. She nearly swiped me in the head at one point!

Paulo and Quincy had the good sense not to give me away. Then WHAM! I hit Elmiryn in the head with the mallet. It was a strong blow, but no worse than a good punch. Elmiryn dropped and I revealed myself to her.

I’d like to say that was the end of the matter. That everyone calmed down and worked out their differences. Gods, I’d have settled for a truce! Of course it wasn’t that simple. When is it ever? Sometimes I wonder if this group would have benefited greatly from a course in conflict resolution. At the mere mention of therapy, my head must duck their rebukes!

The trouble was explained to me. Paulo and Quincy were performing an intervention. The time had come, they said, for Elmiryn to quit her dependence on drinks.

But Elmiryn’s fae nature was not willing.

I could feel unnatural energy pulse through the soil as I tried to reply to something Quincy had said, but my voice came out of my right ear in reverse. My stomach dropped, and all I could see was searing bright colors. The ground cracked open, the unnatural energy rising up, and I felt things grow explosively. Before I knew it, I was entangled by monstrous vines. They gripped us all like giant hands!

They started to suffocate me. Squeezed my still-healing stump for an arm. In my dwindling consciousness, I did the only thing I could think to do– I retreated inward, inducing a dream-like state on myself so as to buy myself time. I didn’t imagine anything elaborate. Just an empty white space where I stood as I last remembered myself– no discernible ground or sky to speak of. It didn’t need to be fancy, I needed only its function.

The interesting thing is, Syria didn’t teach me this. Elmiryn did.

You see, when my mistress had me observing the others in the Other Place, she used her power to reveal Elle had created a kind of… lucid dream that she could access at will. Elmiryn did this to escape her circumstances at first, but there was an unintended effect that she later came to rely on: time moves more quickly in dreams, allowing for more time to think.

Now in my own lucid dream, I fretted over a solution. How could I get Elmiryn to stop this madness? How could I protect myself and the others?

Then Paulo’s ishin stumbled in.

More like BURST in, the fool.

I tell you, Jydel, that boy is as reckless as he is stubborn! How many times have I told him to set aside his powers until he could be trained? His essence nearly overwhelmed me as he barreled into my dream state! Into my bloody mind!

“Lethia, she’s killing us!” he yelled. Oh the headache that caused…

“Not if YOU kill us first! Paulo what are you even doing in my head?” I snapped at him.

He crossed his arms and glowered at me. “My apologies, lia. I thought the situation warranted a little initiative.” He swiped at his nose with his thumb and smirked gallingly. “And anyway, your precious mental barriers were down.”

Instead of rising to his obvious baiting, I took to pacing. “Now that you mention it… If you were so easily able to enter, then that means unconsciousness can’t be far for me. Damn! I thought I’d retreated here sooner.”

“So what shall we do?” Paulo asked. “Maybe we can pay Elmiryn’s mind a visit?”

I scoffed. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Elmiryn’s mind is like an upside down whirlwind of bat dung and angry mongooses vomiting rainbows. If we try to enter into her thoughts, we could lose our minds.”

“Well we can’t stay here! Time is still passing out there, and we’ll die if we take too long!”

“I know that! Just… give me a moment, will you?”

Paulo’s pressuring didn’t help my focus, but he was right. Every minute that passed was another second closer to death in the real world. Give or take. I hadn’t exactly gotten this lucid dreaming down perfectly.

We had to reach out to Elmiryn. She was the only one who could make this stop. Could we pull her into my dreamstate? Doubtful. Only enchanters could visit one another’s mind at will. Delving with our ishin into Elmiryn’s consciousness felt like such a gamble, but I was doing a poor job of coming up with alternatives…

“All right,” I sighed, looking at Paulo. “We have to try and connect with Elmiryn. Perhaps if we can combine our ishin–”

“Our what?

Jydel, I tell you, never have I begged the gods for more patience than right then. We were on the brink of dying, for heaven’s sake, we didn’t have time for enchanting lessons! But what could I do? With my dwindling consciousness came less power. I was going to need Paulo’s help.

Ishin,” I started, “It’s a measurable power unique to enchanters. Think of it like an extension of our consciousness.”

“Oh,” Paulo said. The look on his face suggested he didn’t get it at all and I had to take a very deep breath.

I tried again: “Imagine ishin as an invisible arm extending from your head. When you want to reach into someone else’s head, you extend your ishin. Clearly, you have that basic ability down or we wouldn’t be talking. Now we just need to do that together, but to Elmiryn. Preferably with more care! Or–”

“Or we go crazy?” Paulo finished with a grimace.

I shrugged. “Or we could die. Or we could go into a coma first, and then die. Or we could make her go into a coma, and then die–”

“All right, all right, I get it! Careful is better!” He scratched his head and frowned down at his boots. “Mind, uh… showing me how?”

I nodded. I didn’t want to, but I suddenly felt self-conscious. I’d never actually taught anyone something before. Advised on life matters, maybe, but I’d never fully instructed anyone on anything!

Fighting for aplomb, I beckoned Paulo closer. “Come here.” He did so. I tried to look at anything but his face– his shoulder, his stomach, his boots– “Now hold my hand.”

“You mean your only hand?” he muttered.

Trust Paulo to go picking at old wounds.

I chose to ignore his dig and tried not to flinch when I felt his calloused grip. Even as a figurative sensation, the reactive jolt that went through my spirit was… strong.

I cleared my throat. “Now close your eyes. Feel the thoughts of those around us. Find Elmiryn’s–”

“How can you miss her? She’s practically screaming over there!”

“Well it ought to be easier to focus on her then!” I snapped. I took another breath, and then said as calmly as possible, “Seek out her thoughts. Imagine yourself pulling closer to her. Slowly. Feel my hand and know that I’m with you.”

Jydel, have I ever described entering into another person’s mind before? It can be a messy affair, but doing it with someone else can be even messier.

The best that I can explain it to non-enchanters is that each person’s mind is like a cloud of thoughts. This is their “mindscape.” The thoughts can be understood as images, or sometimes like floating words from a page. Whatever thoughts that has a person’s attention the most will usually be found in the center of this cloud. And then, of course, there are those buried thoughts or memories that a person protects with jealousy. Most do it unconsciously for psychic wounds, like abuse suffered as children, but there are others who have trained to protect areas of their mind from prying. Not that I’ve tried it, but I suspect Quincy and Hakeem to have such protected memories. It’s rare that I can even catch a stray thought from them.

Now the deeper one presses into another person’s consciousness, the more that person’s animus will try to push them back out. I’ve been taught to understand them as matrices that thicken and expand, like a wire mesh that sieves out unwanted visitors.

Note, that is what a normal person’s mind is like. Elmiryn’s mind is far from normal.

I could feel Paulo tense up next to me as our joined ishin crossed the outer barrier of Elle’s mind. It wasn’t pleasant for me either. It was like… diving into scalding hot water. After the initial burn wore off, we then had to dodge a wild array of ideas and memories. They twitched and zoomed about like angry hummingbirds. I avoided these as best I could– paying attention to any one thought too long draws you into it, after all. Unfortunately, Paulo was less disciplined.

“So this is what Elmiryn was like when she was younger…” he murmured, his eyes fixed on something I couldn’t see.

His presence started to drift from me, drawn to an old memory of childhood. I pulled his ishin away from it, and said as stern as I could, “Focus! Ignore these stray thoughts! We need to press in deeper if we want Elmiryn to hear us!”

Paulo at least had the good sense to feel sorry. It thrummed from him to me, and my annoyance shrank. As I write this, Jydel, I must admit that though the boy is naive and clumsy in his enchanting powers, he has a proficiency in it. I am both impressed and a little jealous at his natural talent. With proper training, he could be a force to be reckoned with.

In fact, it was because of Paulo that we noticed the curious white square at all.

“What’s that?” He exclaimed, pointing at the blazing shape near Elmiryn’s core thoughts. “It’s not like the other thoughts.”

“That’s because it’s not a thought,” I replied with delight. “Let’s get closer!”

As we delved deeper to the center of the woman’s mindscape, the expected reaction from her animus started. The strange thing was, the expanding matrices were warped and twisted, allowing for us to slip through their defenses with ease. While it served in our favor, I was worried.

Without proper psychic defenses, anything could pierce into Elmiryn’s brain. I made a note that this had to be mended, and soon. Her mindscape was enough of a mess as it was.

When we neared the white square, I let out a sigh of relief.

It wasn’t just a square–it was a window. Upon looking inside, Paulo let out a gasp of astonishment. He’d never heard about Elmiryn’s dream realm. Like my own, it was vast in its seeming lack of boundaries–no walls, ground, or ceiling. But that’s where the similarities ended. Elmiryn’s world was a wavering place of shadows–as though light were filtering through rippling water. It was dense with sparrows and black kittens, all falling horizontally in the same direction, but in slow motion.

Elmiryn had disavowed being responsible for the helpless creatures. I struggled to remember if she had ever attempted to make them go away.

“What the hell is this?” Paulo murmured.

“Come on, we need to go in,” I said, feeling breathless.

I tried to enter, but Paulo held me back, his ishin pulsing with alarm. “Woah, are you crazy!?”

“You said it yourself earlier, we haven’t the time!” I pulled at him, but he resisted still. Clearly, I had to show him.

With all the strength I could muster (and I could feel that fading fast) I called into this window. “Elmiryn!”

My voice didn’t echo. Silence followed. My grip on Paulo tightened as I tried to bolster my ishin. I could feel my body in the real world losing its grip.

Paulo started to pull us away, and I didn’t have the strength left to stop him. It was all I could do to keep this mental connection active at all.

Then we heard her:

“Lethia? Lethia Artaud!?”

“I’m here!” I called. My voice was weaker, but I was smiling. Jydel, our salvation was at hand!

Paulo grumbled but followed me in through the window. Once fully inside Elmiryn’s dream realm, the shadows buffeted us like choppy waves.

“Still think this was a good idea?” Paulo snarled. His hands gripped my shoulders tightly as I lost my sense of balance and knocked into him, a particularly rowdy streak of shadow having struck my hip.

“We’ll have to see,” I answered. “Elmiryn? Come and still the shadows please!”

“Done,” Elmiryn said, suddenly right before us.


Paulo and Lethia’s presence in her strange little mindfuck was beyond what she could hope for. Who better to put her back in control of the situation then the two people capable of forcing order on her mind?

“I can’t make it stop,” Elmiryn blurted, suddenly feeling out of breath. “I tried–but the pattern I pulled has gotten all tight and knotted up and–” the shadows around them shivered and started to close in, forcing her to shove them back.

“But how can we help, Elmiryn?” Paulo asked. “We came here to ask you to stop this, but if you aren’t in control, what can we possibly do?”

“I need to relax.” Elmiryn thumped a hand on her chest. “I have to stop feeling like I do! I don’t know if it’ll work, it didn’t explain it to me but–”

“It? What is ‘it’? What told you this?” Lethia interjected.

“I don’t know!” Elmiryn snapped. Her hands wheeled through the air. “It was a, uh, spirit or something!” She stomped her foot and buried her hands in her hair. “All I know is I need to calm the fuck down! Now! My emotions are probably what’s turning everything into a mess!”

“Nevermind following the dubious advice of ‘spirits’,” Lethia even made air quotations with her fingers, “What you’re asking is quite impossible!”

“It is?” Elmiryn and Paulo asked her simultaneously.

Lethia glared at them both in annoyance. “Yes! It took my and Paulo’s ishin combined just to pierce deep enough into your mind to be able to communicate with you! I’m afraid with our consciousness fading, we simply don’t have enough strength to do what you are asking, Elle!”

“Well we have to do something!” Paulo argued. “Or else what are we here for?”

“I’m with Paulo. You maybe don’t know it, but I’m just as trapped as you two are,” Elmiryn added.

“Serves you right for using your fae magic on us,” the boy hissed at her before turning away.

“Enough of that!” Lethia chided. “I need to think!” She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples.

Elmiryn sighed, her eyes sweeping over this abstract corner of her mind. “I’ve really messed up.” She felt the rippling shadows flow in around her, and she didn’t stop them as they gathered about her feet and legs.

She needed to stop this… but she couldn’t. They were trapped, because of her.

The shadows built up around her, and other thoughts came. Thoughts of her mother. Thoughts of her father. Thoughts of Nyx.

I’ve ruined everything.” This she had spoken only in her head, but given where they were, it echoed all about them. Loud. Accusing.

The shadows came up over her head. They carried her up and away, bumping into the helpless forms of the kittens and sparrows.

“The boy is right. I deserve this,” she murmured.


It’s difficult focusing when you are in someone else’s mind–doubly so if you are in a foreign mindscape partially on the power of yet another’s will. Paulo’s growing unease was clouding my ability to assemble coherent ideas. One would come close to me, only to shiver away on concerns of death.

When I heard Elmiryn murmur that she deserved what was happening to her, I didn’t think much of it–self-pity is not uncommon in these situations, particularly for ego-centric types like Elle–but when I finally opened my eyes again to glance at her, I remembered something I had learned long ago.

Dreams are simply mirrors reflecting an individual’s life as-is.  A nightmare, however, is a figurative tool used by the animus to catch the attention of the intellect. People have nightmares for many reasons. Though the nightmare may frighten or disturb–this does not mean its only purpose is to warn of immediate or future danger. It could simply be an attempt on the part of the animus to bring about a fundamental change in the intellect.  It could also be an attempt by the animus to answer what the intellect cannot.

All this time, we thought we were in Elmiryn’s lucid dream. But what if this was actually Elmiryn’s lucid nightmare?

Right then, everything in this seemingly chaotic place had new meaning. The shadows, the kittens and sparrows, even the endless sense of void… Elmiryn’s human mind was trying to speak to her! Wasn’t it interesting how she seemed to access it at these critical moments? Jydel, I was willing to bet everything that this revelation held the answer we needed…

And bet everything I did, because if I couldn’t get Elmiryn to face what was at the heart of her problems in the next few minutes, we would all be dead.

“Elmiryn, why kittens and sparrows?” I shouted up at her. “Why are they falling slowly through shadows?”

“Why not?” was her despondent reply. The shadows were so thick around her her, I couldn’t see her face.

“It matters because this place was not created in a void! It arose from your subconscious! Your human subconscious! I think it’s rooted in the very fear that’s keeping you from regaining control!”

Paulo leaned in and whispered to me, “Where are you going with this?”

I waved an arm at the small animals falling around us. “It’s weakness, Paulo. Vulnerability. Defeat. Except it’s drawn out to perpetuity. These kittens and sparrows fall, helpless, presumably to their doom, and nothing saves them. Kittens, black kittens. Remind you of anyone?”

“Nyx,” he said. For once, the boy was quick to grasp on to the matter, Jydel!

I nodded. “A symbol for potential loss. She’s afraid of losing Nyx. Or failing to protect her. Or both. I’m afraid I’m less certain about the sparrow. My initial guess was that it stood for Quincy. She was frequently referred to as ‘the fledgeling’ in her youth… But it seems unlikely, even when taking into account the story Nyx shared from that man Tobias. It lacks narrative significance to Elmiryn’s psychological identity–”

“Her family,” Paulo murmured. He looked up at Elmiryn, his eyes wide. “When I got a glimpse into her childhood memory, I saw it. Lethia, sparrows were part of her family crest!”

I grabbed him, excited. “Really? What else did you see in the memory?”

“Her mother. She was in the study. The crest was on the wall above the fireplace.”

“But what was her mother doing, Paulo?”

He put a hand to his head and squeezed his eyes shut. His form wavered. My grip on him tightened. He was starting to fade from consciousness.

“She was…” the boy struggled to get the next words out. “Painting. A tree. And… drinking wine, I think?”

There. It was small, Jydel, but it was something to go on. If the kittens represented what Elmiryn feared losing in the future, then the sparrows stood for what Elmiryn had already lost in the past.

I looked back up at Elmiryn and tried to quell my shock at seeing the shadows had all but condensed around her, till it was like she was in the center of a black hole. Somehow, the direction the animals were falling had suddenly changed.

They had changed to fall toward her.

Hadn’t she always had to fight to keep the shadows from closing in on her in the past? Her fae nature made it possible for her to control the nightmare to some extent, but in doing so, it stopped the message her human subconscious was trying to scream at her. The shadows that she was always fending off? Jydel, those shadows were her guilt and self-loathing.

“Elmiryn!” I cried out. “Your mother always counseled you to hide your true feelings until it was safe to express them! But your father made certain you never would be safe, didn’t he?”

No answer. My body started to tingle all over. Slowly, so very slowly, Paulo and I began to float back up to the window. Our strength was leaving us. I had one shot at breaking through to her before all was lost.

Every word became harder and harder to make.

“So you hid your fear! Your anger! Your sadness! You bottled it up inside, just like your parents taught you to do! You never could rely on anyone! You never could trust anyone! And how did they handle that kind of stress themselves, Elle? How?”

Still no response.

I was feeling sluggish. Elmiryn was growing smaller and smaller from us.

“They drank! All the time! When you saw your father in the Other Place as a drunkard, you felt ashamed! Not just because he was disgracing himself, but because you were face to face with a family practice that you were a part of! And did it work? No! Misfortune still befell them! You couldn’t protect your mother. You couldn’t meet your father’s demands! They became lost! And yet with Nyx, you still try to do the same thing, don’t you? The drinking and the self-denial are one and the same.”

Elmiryn said not a word. My words may have slurred, but I fought to keep going as our ascent to the window began to speed up:

“Elle, that practice will kill you! It could kill all of us! Your parents were wrong! It’s not your fault what happened to them! You can’t stuff your feelings down! You can’t drown them with drinks either! If you’re afraid, that’s okay! If you need help, that’s okay! This is a nightmare, Elle, do you hear me!? A nightmare! It’s time to stop fighting it and let it end–!

And then we were gone.


Elmiryn felt tired. Tired in a way she hadn’t in a long time. Even being continuously drunk, sleep had escaped her, leaving her to wander about the fields at night. Just like those days spent lost in the wild, with only the daesce for company, her every waking hour had become–

A nightmare.


This place was a nightmare. How had she not seen it before?

Yes, of course.

Elmiryn nodded sleepily, feeling herself growing colder, feeling her body in the real world growing fainter.

She thought she had intentionally made this place. But how could she have when she had not even half the control over her fae powers as she did now? No, this place was something her subconscious had dug up. Her human side. But the fae in her had seized it, twisted it, and she had mistakenly assumed it was hers to command. It wasn’t really. Not in the way that counted.

Without realizing it, Elmiryn had managed to pause her own nightmare. It was like a stage play forced to remain in the same scene, the actors stuck in the same places, doing and saying the same things, as if unto infinity. She had done this and turned her nightmare into some kind of twisted refuge.

A place to hide when she was afraid. At a loss. Desperate.

“This is a nightmare, Elle, do you hear me!? A nightmareIt’s time to stop fighting it and let it end–!

Lethia, sounding drunk herself, had hollered these words mere moments ago. Elmiryn wasn’t quite sure how long ago that was.

Go. Still. Or die! Do not care. Just shut up.

That’s what the strange spirit had said. But that was part of the problem, wasn’t it? She was thinking too much to let things end. To truly go still.

Elmiryn was accustomed to fighting her way through her problems. Sometimes even laughing her way through them. But perhaps Lethia and the strange spirit were right. It wasn’t about not feeling certain things. It was about accepting them. And it wasn’t as if she hadn’t done this before. Hadn’t she stopped fighting Nadi the river guardian all that time ago outside of Gamath? What had allowed her to do that? To see that she had to accept what Nadi was trying to do just to reveal the lies Meznik had contaminated her with?

Stop fighting. Go still.

She needed to change her perspective.

Elmiryn gently touched the ground, flat on her back. When she got over her surprise that there was a ground, she sat up, and the shadows sloughed off of her like dark mud. It was daytime, but all around her was a thick fog. As she gazed down at herself in wonder, she saw that there were mangled lumps in the mud. She picked one of these up and gasped at the feel of twiggy scaled legs and stiff rachises of feathers. A dead sparrow, its eyes clouded white and gray. She set this down in her lap, and with two hands, she carefully picked up another lump. This one was black with matted fur that she tried vainly to wipe clean, her throat clenching.

With gentle hands, she picked up the sparrow and held it up alongside the tiny kitten.

“I wasn’t enough,” she barely managed to murmur, her voice hitching.

A wet sound, like raw meat dropping in porridge, tickled her ear. When Elmiryn turned to look for the cause, her skin went cold.

A kitten struck the dark mud. Then another. Then a sparrow.

She shook her head, tears clouding her eyes. “No.” One struck her on the shoulder. Another bounced off her back.

Elmiryn hugged the two dead animals to her chest and ducked her head as corpses rained down on her. They piled around her, and she curled up, praying for the torment to stop. They came up over her head, then steadily piled on her, pushing her down into the mud.

She couldn’t breathe.

She cried out a single word.


Quincy was as taken aback as everyone else when the monstrous plants erupted from the ground and seized them. Before she could get to her magic bag, the vines gripped her arms and wrenched them back. They squeezed her chest and throat as little green creepers spread across her face. They pried at her lips, and she clenched her jaw shut. The creepers webbed over mouth so thickly, she couldn’t even catch breaths through her teeth. Her lungs screamed, and she felt her head throb from the poor blood flow.

Unable to take it anymore, she wrenched her mouth open and took a desperate gasp of air–

The vines seized the top and bottom of her jaw, wrenching them apart till it hurt, and then the creepers invaded her mouth, her throat, her lungs.

Unconsciousness felt like a sweet mercy.

Then someone was shaking her. Quincy coughed raggedly, spitting out bits of plant and dirt from deep within her throat. Her body ached. Her lips were moist. When she managed to open her eyes, she saw Hakeem gazing down at her, his face ashen.

Mweze! Breathe!”

She tried to reply to him, but only coughed more.

“Just breathe,” he said to her in his native tongue, stroking back her hair.

Quincy finally started to register the sounds of the others coughing and gasping.

After a long moment, she gripped her husband’s hand and rasped, “The plants–?”

“Gone,” Hakeem said, his brow knotting. “They simply… vanished. Back into the ground, where they came from.

Quincy made to sit up. Hakeem pursed his lips as if to show what he thought of this decision, but he helped her anyway. The brunette gazed about her, her eyes blinking in amazement.

The ground had been churned violently beneath their feet. Paulo was on all fours with Daedalus awkwardly reaching down to pat his head. Lethia was still on her back, but was moving–she was trying vainly to fend off Argos and his anxious face-licking. And in the center of the destruction…

“Elmiryn,” Quincy said, her eyes narrowing.

The Fiamman warrior was kneeling in a small pit, her back slouched as she stared down at her hands.

“Elmiryn!” Quincy said louder. Though spots erupted in her vision and her limbs felt cold and shaky, she fought to get to her feet. “How could you–!?”

“Help,” Elmiryn said. Her voice was flat, dispassionate.

Quincy’s tirade petered out as she felt a surge of surprise. “Help?”

The redhead turned to look up at her, and Quincy’s heart wrenched.

Elmiryn’s eyes were red and puffy, and their gaze was far off.

“I am… afraid,” she said slowly. Then she closed her eyes again and said louder, “I need help.”

“Elmiryn we were trying to help you.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I…” Elmiryn trailed off as Lethia sat up. Her eyes closed and she turned her face away again. “Lethia and Paulo helped me to realize… that I’ve been putting off a nightmare.”

“Did you finish it?” Lethia asked, a small cough chasing her words. Argos sat close behind her, casting her in shadow.

“I stopped fighting it.” Elmiryn said with a slow nod. “I let it finish. I saw that… I wasn’t enough.”

“Enough for what?” Quincy asked, daring to take a step forward. Hakeem put a hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged him off. She needed to know if this was possible. She needed to know if Elmiryn would cooperate.

Elmiryn let out a shaky breath and stood. One of her feet was bare in the dirt after she lost it in the struggle to get away from Paulo. She wiggled her toes once, then said with head bowed, “I’m not enough to do this alone. I never was. I need help. I’m afraid.” Slowly she turned and held out her arms with wrists touching. “Tie me up. Knock me out. Drag me down there. Do whatever you have to.”

Quincy crossed her arms. “We tried!

“Quincy–” Lethia started, but the wizard silenced her with a wave of her hand. Setting her eyes back on Elmiryn, Quincy went on: “You weren’t in a mindless fae-driven frenzy when you attacked us, Elmiryn. When you made those things grow. You fought against our help. I want to know that the human part of you will stop fighting us! Otherwise, this will be for nothing!”

“Quincy, dejala. She’s asking for us to help her now!” Paulo argued.

The brunette shot him a withering look. “Like when she accepted your help before?”


“She’s right,” Elmiryn interjected. She looked at Quincy and held up her hands. “You’re right. I wasn’t completely out of control. I fucked up.” She clasped her hands together and pressed them to her forehead. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I want this. I do.” Her face crumpled and Quincy’s heart wrenched again. “I’m tired, but I can’t sleep. I hear voices whispering to me. Everything I see feels like a lie. None of you trust me anymore. The thought of giving up drink and facing all of that scared me, still does, because what will keep me from losing my mind without it?” Then her lips, quivering, fought to spread across her face in a wan smile. “The nightmare showed me… I am not enough to keep the people I care about safe.”

“You were not enough to visit misfortune on your family either!” Paulo interjected hotly.

“And believe it or not, you are not enough of an asshat to completely turn Nyx away,” Lethia added gently.

What did they see in Elmiryn’s head? Quincy wondered as she gazed back and forth at the teens.

Elmiryn closed her eyes and fat tears spilled down her ruddy cheeks. She wiped at them, smearing dirt on her face before shrugging helplessly. “I am afraid, and I am not enough. When I realized that, the pattern I used to make the plants just unknotted itself.” She looked at Quincy and held out her hand. “I know I mean it this time because the plants wouldn’t have gone unless I stopped fighting those two facts.”

Quincy took another step forward, one hand tentatively raising. Her eyes were fastened on Elmiryn’s. “You’re afraid? You are not enough?” she said as one seeking to confirm.

The redhead chuckled, but somewhere in the middle of her weak laugh a small sob broke through and more tears fell. “Ergo, I need some gods damned help!”

With sure steps, Quincy cleared the last remaining distance between them and took Elmiryn’s hand. She looked at the others. Lethia was on her feet. Paulo approached on the redhead’s other side. With a glance at Hakeem, she nodded.

Together, she walked with Elmiryn and Paulo back to the tower. They guided her down the steps to the cellar where the candles kept the space lit.

As they approached the spell circle, Elmiryn spoke:

“I’m not sure what I’ll do or say once my fae-side starts to take over.” She looked at them both, her eyes earnest. “Remember that it isn’t really me. Remember that I want this.”

Quincy patted her shoulder. They were toeing the line of the circle now. “We know, Elle. And we won’t leave you alone down here. Someone will always be with you. We’ll take turns.”

Elmiryn stared down at the line, her brow glistening with sweat. For a harrowing moment, the wizard wondered if she needed to shove her in.

Then the warrior crossed the line. Behind her, Quincy made the necessary hand gestures to complete the ritual spell–tracing in the air a circle, a slash, then naudiz, the rune of need and constraint.

There was a small rush of air. Quincy looked up at the ceiling where she had placed additional protective spells. Just in case Elmiryn, in a frenzy, tried to escape through the floor. It had almost seemed overly cautious before, but now she was relieved she had thought of it.

“I’ll stay with you first,” Quincy said. She looked at Paulo who was gazing at the woman with a look she couldn’t quite identify. Awe? Pity? “Paulo, can you please bring blankets and a pillow–?”

“Not that I won’t appreciate those, but I should warn you… I don’t sleep anymore,” Elmiryn said.

Quincy frowned at the other woman. “When you said that, I thought you meant insomnia?”

Elmiryn shook her head. Even from where she stood, the wizard could see the Fiamman’s body clench up. “I mean I never sleep. And I don’t really feel hot or cold. I think… I think the fae never did either.”

Oh. Thinking of that, now the wizard could better understand Elmiryn’s initial resistance.

Having to be down here, in this cellar all night? Alone?

“I’ll take first night watch then,” Paulo volunteered. He had lingered by the stairs, a warm smile on his face. “Oye, this place is gonna need a table and chairs! Maybe I can bring a deck of cards?”

“I’ll take tomorrow night!” Lethia shouted down the stairs.

“No you won’t!” Quincy shouted up, as Paulo snickered on his way.

“No she most certainly will not,” Daedalus confirmed as he came down the stairs past the boy. The man stopped on the last step and pursed his lips. He folded his hands behind his back and said, “Elmiryn, Quincy and I believe we have a regimen that might help your body quit its drink dependence. Given the severity of your dependence, we have tried to lengthen the usual treatment mortals must go through. If we are being honest, however…” He sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “There is no telling what will happen. Normal individuals may suffer seizures as early as the first day. This can quickly be followed by hallucinations, fever, rapid heartbeat, respiratory complications, and of course, heart complications. I have what we need to get started, but I’m afraid Quincy will have to be the one to begin administering the needed medicines at first. I have no choice but to risk going into town to obtain the remainder of what we need.”

Quincy bit back a rebuke. She wasn’t sure how well-timed this was, but she supposed Elmiryn was in the containment circle, so it wasn’t as if they were going to scare her off now. It also wasn’t fair to subject her to such rigorous treatment without first informing her.

Clearing her throat, the wizard added, “Our hope is that within the next two to four weeks you might recover. It… It won’t be easy, Elmiryn. But we’ll help you through it. If we succeed, then this will be worth it.”

“If we don’t succeed–” Elmiryn started.

“We will.”

“But if we don’t,” the redhead continued, louder, “Then you have to promise me something.”

Quincy crossed her arms, her brow tensing. “I won’t promise until I hear what it is.”

Don’t you dare…

Elmiryn’s cerulean eyes met hers. “You have to kill me.”

The wizard closed her eyes. Damn it, Elmiryn. “No.”

“You have to, Quincy.”

Quincy shook her head, her eyes still closed.

“Do you honestly think we have two weeks for me to get better? A month? Our time here is running short. Sooner or later, someone will find us and try to hurt us. How are you going to move me? How are you going to get me to cooperate when I’m frothing at the mouth and trying to kill you all?”

“We’re doing this to save you, idiot. How can I agree to this?” Quincy’s voice became hoarse. She opened her eyes again to find Elmiryn was standing at the line, her eyes blazing, her fists clenched. Tears had cut lines through the dirt on her face. The woman was like an open wound as the wizard had never seen before. Quincy said next, almost desperately, “Nyx won’t let us!”

“She’s half the reason I’m asking,” Elmiryn murmured. “If this treatment is going to be as hard as you say, I may not be the same at the end of it. I may be even worse. Letting me out, or even leaving me here, would be a mistake.”

“You’re too hard-headed to let this beat you, Elle,” Quincy hissed back. Her lip quivered. “Don’t put this on me.”

“No one else will do it,” Elmiryn pressed. “It has to be you.”

Damn you!”

“Promise me. With Daedalus here as a witness. Promise.”

Quincy jumped as she felt Daedalus hand on her shoulder. She looked at him wildly and was surprised to see his tender gaze.

“Quincy, Elmiryn has made a strong argument. Remaining here even the minimum approximate time has its risks,” he said.

“It’s easy for you to say, elf!” Quincy snapped, brushing his hand away. “You hardly know the woman!”

“She almost killed us mere moments ago. What will she do if the fae in her takes over and she’s nursing hatred for our denying her addiction? Can we risk letting her free or abandoning her when the times comes to flee this place?” His words were gentle, but they felt cold.

“You don’t know her!” Quincy yelled. Tears were clouding her eyes. “She is a crass, foul-mouthed git, but she has helped us! Each and every one of us! She has helped me, and that’s why I cannot possibly kill my–” she broke off and pressed her lips tight.

“You cannot kill your friend,” Daedalus said with an understanding nod.

“Quincy,” Elmiryn called softly.

The wizard looked away, toward the stairs. She wiped the unshed tears from her eyes with her sleeve.

The Fiamman tried again. “Quincy.”

With a rough sigh, Quincy finally looked at Elmiryn.

The other woman was smiling. “Believe it or not, I don’t have many friends. So I’m happy you’re one of them,” she said.

“Then how can you ask me this?” Quincy asked. It almost came out as a whine.

“The same way I can say that the man you think is your husband is not, and that the real Hakeem is alive and somewhere safe.” Elmiryn looked down. “I’m sorry I didn’t say it sooner. I didn’t really know what to do. But now that I’m in here, there’s nothing I can do but warn you before I’m incapable of thinking straight.”

Quincy’s mouth fell open. Her arms, which had been tightly crossed all this time, fell slack at her sides. She looked at Daedalus and found he was busy glaring suspiciously at Elmiryn.

“How do you know this?” Daedalus asked her.

“His pattern,” the redhead replied readily. “I can see the weave of the world. His pattern is not Hakeem’s. In fact, it’s not even human.”

“Elmiryn, you are making a dangerous accusation!” Quincy was shaking. Her skin felt cold, but her fists clenched tight. “If the man above isn’t Hakeem, then who is he? What is he?”

“A golem. It was sent from Izma, I think.”

“To do what? Spy on us?”

Elmiryn shook her head. “Maybe to split us up. Maybe just to hurt you.”

“This is insane,” Quincy huffed. She paced once along the front of the containment circle, then she jabbed a finger at Elmiryn. “I don’t believe it!”

The Fiamman rubbed at her face and groaned. “Look, I figured you wouldn’t! But I had to tell you, do you see? Because I care what happens to you and the others! I need you to be on your guard!”

“So that I can kill if you necessary?” Quincy snapped.

“So that you jackasses don’t get backstabbed!” Elmiryn threw her hands up in the air. “Don’t you get it!? What I’m asking for and what I just told you are coming from the same place– making sure all of you are safe!” She clasped her hands together again. “Do you need me to beg again? Fuck, I’ll get down on my knees if I have to! But you’ve got to understand that what I’m asking is almost like a final wish! I won’t be in my right mind soon! I can already hear the whispers! Just do it! Just promise me while I’m still capable of understanding you!”

Quincy paced again. She felt faint and ill.

When she heard Paulo start to come down the stairs with the pillow and blankets, she felt weary beyond her years.

The words came almost as if on their own.

“All right, Elmiryn. I promise.”

Continue ReadingChapter 46.3

Chapter 47.1


Resuming the precautionary measures agreed upon with the others, I was avoiding the main roads, cutting through untamed terrain. I pushed myself as hard and as fast as I could go, but the bag of supplies I carried had fragile items. I was just clumsy enough to spill down a rocky cliff face at this pace, so I had to go on safer, but longer, routes through the low valley. There was the danger of finding wandering daesce the further north I went, but it was a risk I had to take–both for the supplies and for the harrowing news I needed to deliver.

The champion of Njord was in the region. Jack. Quincy’s father.

Who could say why we had failed to hear this until now? I supposed if I were a powerful and legendary agent of a major deity, I would also strive to keep a low profile so as to do my work undisturbed. But like anyone of such stature, his presence had become known to certain circles. Bounty hunters were one of those circles, apparently, but they were exactly the sort of people we had been avoiding all this time.

Oh, what sorry luck that we couldn’t have known sooner!

I needed to hurry back and tell everyone. We needed to flee this place. We couldn’t stay here. If Tobias’ accounts were anything to go by, Jack’s power was immense. We were in no shape to defend ourselves against such a being. His legendary moniker, “Wind,” was appropriate. He could blow away whole armies with just his breath if any of the stories were to be believed.

This is what I thought of as I raced through a copse of trees. My limbs shook with fatigue from not having slowed down for a little over three hours.

My foot hit a root. I stumbled, and fell to a knee, skinning it.

I tried to catch my breath.

Kali’s voice buzzed with frustration in my head: Don’t be a fool! Get up!

“I just need a moment,” I gasped.

We don’t have a moment! We need to get back and tell the others!

“I’m trying!” I whined.

A growl. Then let me take the lead! I’m long overdue my turn in the world!

My face screwed up. “What makes you think you’ll do any better?”

Perhaps you’re right… Very well. We’ll transform into Eikadi.

My eyes widened. “Now? But–”

We’ll have enough energy to get there, and when we revert, I shall be in control. Is this acceptable or not?

My lips thinned. Could we hold the form long enough to get to the tower? We were weak, running on little sleep. I had already pushed our body hard, trying to make up time for using the longer way.

We can do it, Kali insisted.

I sighed. “Very well.”

The change came in a flash of pain, and it didn’t end until my cries had shifted to a primal scream that echoed long into the mountains.


Quincy sat in the kitchen, her head in her hands. The hour was late, and the space was dark. From the study, a fire could be heard crackling, light trailing in through the entryway. She didn’t bother lighting a candle. The dark was a nice veil to the anxiety etched across her face.

“…I can say that the man you think is your husband is not, and that the real Hakeem is alive and somewhere safe.”

Over and over, the words repeated in her head.

She didn’t want to believe it… and yet, the doubt was enough. Hakeem’s gaze now made her wary, his touch made her tense.

Tears pricked at her eyes, but she fought against them. If she let so much as one drop, she’d break down into a sobbing mess. She had felt proud of the fact that since returning to their realm, she had held it together. Her young heart, now freed from Tonatiuh’s parasitic leeching, reacted strongly and without restraint. But here, the pressing needs of their group had steeled her nerves and kept her from giving in to the rage and depression that so pushed on the inside.

That, and having Hakeem back.

But now this one comfort was lost. In the wake of Elmiryn’s epic intervention, she had to sit very still, in the dark, to keep from cracking.

Especially if she was going to be in the proper state of mind to break the news to Nyx.

Lethia couldn’t do it because, despite her protests, her weak body hadn’t even managed to stay up long past sunset. Paulo was busy keeping watch on Elmiryn. Daedalus had gone to town for much-needed medicines. And Hakeem…

Quincy’s hands curled to fists against her temples.

The door banged open. Quincy jumped, her eyes snapping to large circles as she took in the very massive shadow now cutting a swathe through the light that fell against the opposite wall.

Her breath caught, and she eyed her lightning staff, which had been sitting propped against the table. It hadn’t gone far from her since that afternoon.

Slowly, Quincy picked up her chair and attempted to set it further back as quietly as she could. It made the tiniest thud against the hard floor, making her wince. Her sweaty hand reached for her weapon–

There was a growl, closer now. Quincy froze, sweat trailing down the side of her nose. Her head was facing the cooking pit, opposite the entryway. Slowly, she turned.

A giant black cat person stood in the entryway, one large bag slung over their shoulder. The firelight from the study lit their tawny eyes.

Quincy relaxed, though just a little. “Nyx!”

Another growl, lower this time. Ears pinned as the cat person set the large bag down onto the floor, musical tinkling coming from its contents.

Quincy’s brow tensed. “Nyx?”

She received a spitting hiss, fangs showing. The tawny eyes glowered.

Then the woman finally understood. Her lips thinned. “Kali.

Kali made no more utterances, her body slouching as it turned and stumbled back the way it came, out of sight. Quincy, startled, followed after the Ailuran to the chill outside. 

There she found Kali had collapsed on the ground, writhing as she underwent her transformation back to her sapien form. Quincy grimaced, but her eyes did not leave the girl. Perhaps it was morbid fascination, but seeing her bones morph, twist, and snap to new shapes and dimensions–skin, muscles, and sinew tearing with wet ferocity–was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. Not many humans got to live to see an Ailuran shapeshift. 

Fewer still got to see a Marked Ailuran suffer their transformation. It would never cease to arrest the woman’s attention.

My gods… The agony! How do the twins endure this every time?

When the transformation completed, Kali lay on her back, her face glistening as she stared up at the stars, panting.

Quincy leaned on the doorway, the cool night air chilling the sweat on her face. “Would you like water, or…?”

“No,” Kali said. She grimaced as she raised herself up into a sit. Her back slouched as she scowled at Quincy. “I need to know something.”


“Please explain to me…” Her gaze narrowed and she pointed at the churned crater not far behind her. “What in the nine hells happened?”

Quincy’s eyes slipped shut as she hung her head. “That’s why I waited up for you.” She gestured for Kali to follow her. “Come inside. Sit. This isn’t easy for me to say.”

After a bit more coaxing, Quincy had a cup of water in front of the Ailuran. They sat across from each other in the kitchen, two small candles washing them in scant light on the table between them. Their shadows danced largely on the walls.

Kali drummed her fingers loudly on the table, a tight fist tucked under her chin as she glowered with obvious impatience. Quincy shifted uncomfortably under that searing tawny gaze as she tried to find the words to say. Moments ago she’d had it all planned out, but it was funny how that crumbled away at the precipice of the telling.

There isn’t any way to ease the sting of this, Quincy finally thought with a sigh. I just… need to out with it.

“Elmiryn’s currently in the basement in a containment ring.” Quincy’s hands clenched in her lap as she tried to keep a steady gaze with Kali. “She’s agreed to let us help her break her addiction to alcohol.”

The news had an immediate effect.

Kali’s face, which had been tensed in a soft scowl that suggested irritability and exhaustion, suddenly went as smooth as a river stone. Her tucked fist slowly unclenched and laid itself flat on the table.

With exaggerated slowness, Kali murmured, “Elmiryn… agreed?

Quincy blinked for the first time. She hoped the sweat she felt breaking on her brow wasn’t so noticeable in the weak candlelight. 

“Let me clarify…” she licked her lips and pushed a finger into one side of the table. “She agreed.” She lifted her hand and pushed her finger into the other side of the table. “Then violently disagreed…” She returned her finger to its original place. “And then agreed again.”

Kali’s cheek twitched just as her hand flexed, then relaxed against the table. “She’s just going to… stay… in that freezing cellar?” Her words were clipped, and her lips quivered like she was holding something back.

Quincy swallowed nervously.

Nyx… Kali is barely keeping her sister’s emotions from spilling out.

“It was the only space big enough for us to do the alchemy spell. Elmiryn isn’t affected by the cold and she doesn’t sleep,” Quincy said, her eyes tensing with sympathy. “But we made sure she has blankets and pillows. Paulo talked about bringing hay down to her. He’s with her now, on the first watch.”

A muscle moved in Kali’s jaw. “First watch?” she half-growled.

I wonder how much of what I’m seeing is Kali’s reaction or Nyx’s…?

“She’ll never be alone,” Quincy went on. “We’re going to take turns, staying down there with her. Not just to keep her company, but also in case… in case of health complications.” 

Quincy turned over her hand, her brow knotting tight. “Daedalus believes Elmiryn will manage with what tonics he gave her for tonight, but he made an emergency trip back to Belcliff for medicines she’ll be needing later. With luck, he should be back after sunrise.”

Now Kali was speaking through clenched teeth, her face quivering from… restraint? Rage?

“And just how long… were you people… going to keep her down there for?” Her nostrils flared as her breathing became shorter and shorter.

Quincy took a steadying breath, her eyes growing.

“Kali…” She paused, wondering if what she would say next would improve or worsen the situation. “Nyx

Kali actually hissed, her mouth twisting into a harsh sneer that bared fangs– real fangs.

Quincy snapped back into her chair, her heart jumping in her chest.

Right. Never, ever, try to speak directly to Nyx when Kali is in control.

“I’m sorry,” Quincy said quickly, her hands going up. “That was rude of me, you’re right. You’re here, Kali, and I should speak to you. I only meant–”

“You only meant to stick your nose in our head,” Kali spat with narrowed eyes. “As if you could possibly understand us!” She thrust a thumb at herself. “It is my face you see. Speak to me. So long as I’m in control, what goes on in our shared mind is none of your concern until I say otherwise! Do you understand me, human?

Quincy pursed her lips. “Completely…” She crossed her arms and added coolly, “Ailuran.”

Kali snorted. “I’m going to ask one more time. Just how long is Elmiryn meant to be down there?”

“As long as it takes.” Quincy heaved a sigh and rubbed a sweaty temple. “Which… could be weeks.”

Kali’s brow tightened. “Weeks?”

Quincy nodded once. “Yes. Weeks.”

Kali’s breathing stuttered suddenly, her gaze dropping to the table. Her eyes ticked back and forth, lips moving with indistinct mutterings. Quincy watched, bewildered, as the Ailuran flinched, one hand going to her head.

“I know!” she snapped.

Quincy’s eyebrow arched, and she opened her mouth to respond, but she quickly swallowed her words when Kali went on, still not looking at her, expression flashing from stark fear to tense anger and back.

“Idiot!” Kali snarled at the table. Her eyes were unfocused. “What do you want me to do about it? I said I know that, I– Rrgh, just calm down! I can’t think!”

She isn’t accustomed to being in the lead like Nyx is. Hopefully she’ll get better at it. Seeing her like this… Quincy grimaced. It’s disconcerting to watch!

Quincy cleared her throat loudly. “Kali.”

Kali looked at her sharply, her lips thin as a single curly lock fell into her gaze.

Quincy threaded her hands together and rested them on the table. “Elmiryn needs to get over her fae addiction while there is still human left in her. She still has a chance to overcome this… but it will not be easy, and she will need time.”

“We don’t have time,” Kali huffed, her shoulders rising like hackles.

Now Quincy frowned, her mind tickling with a sense of danger. “Kali, what is going on? What do you and Nyx know?”

Kali exhaled harshly, her mouth turning down at the corners. “We are not safe here. In Belcliff, we ran into Karolek–”

Quincy’s eyebrows shot up. “The metal sorcerer?”

“Yes.” Kali looked at her solemnly. 

“And when you got away from him, you ensured you weren’t followed?”

“Of course!” Kali pouted, as if the question itself was insulting. “But before we parted ways, Karolek told Nyx…” She took a breath and said with a shake of her head. “Quincy, he told Nyx that your father is in Albias.”

Quincy sat back, her face going slack.

“My…father?” her voice sounded small.

She felt cold and faint. Her breath came with struggle, cutting in jagged, uneven takes.

She laughed without warning. “You don’t mean–”

It couldn’t possibly–!

“I mean Jack, Quincy. The man known as Wind.” Kali’s forehead wrinkled with worry. “Karolek couldn’t tell us for sure what he’s doing in the region, but apparently Jack’s been retracing the effects of our experiences in the Other Place for the last year or so. That journey has led him here. Now.”

“That is not good news.” Quincy’s voice was just a shaky whisper. The muscles in her neck corded as every part of her screamed to run. Run into the night and not look back. “We are in no shape to face him!”

Another snort from Kali. “An understatement. He could kill us all.” Her gaze turned lidded. “Well. Almost all of us. It’s hard to say what he would do once he realizes he’s finally found his fledgeling.”

Quincy leaned onto the table and dropped her face into her hands. “If he even recognizes me. It’s been years.”

“Can we move Elmiryn? Is that an option?”

Quincy lifted her face from her hands enough to see Kali over her fingers. Into her palms, she intoned, “No. That is not an option.” She buried her eyes back behind the shields of her hands. “Elmiryn’s fae nature is awakening, and it is ravenous. Releasing her before she is free of her addiction would invite our destruction… and possibly hers as well.”

“So we’re stuck here.” Kali’s voice was flat.

Quincy only nodded. She’d delivered the news. She wanted to drop the burden of the day. The weariness had penetrated her bones, casting shadows under her eyes. Sleep was needed.

Jack is coming. Jack will find me.

Quincy’s body started to coil.

Jack will find me and kill everyone

Quincy lifted her head and jabbed a finger at the bag near the entryway. “What did you bring for us, Kali?”

Focus on something smaller. The supplies.

Kali seemed taken aback by the question. She looked askance at Quincy. “New things to liven the meals. At least, Nyx hoped they would.” Her expression tightened as she looked at the bag with sudden worry. “Actually… We bought some drinks.” She looked at Quincy with what could almost be called apology. “Nyx thought Elmiryn would need it.”

Quincy waved a hand, sitting up. An idea was coming to her… “No one could have predicted what happened today.”

Kali rubbed her chin. “Hmm… Nyx says the wine could be used for cooking. The sake and absinthe we could dump–”

“Wait.” Quincy held a hand up, her eyes sharp. “Just… wait. Let’s not waste a perfectly good drink.”

Now Kali looked at her with one eye squinted. “Quincy, Elmiryn can sniff out a drink like a hound. We cannot keep any of it if she means to quit alcohol!”

Obviously,” Quincy snapped. She pointed at herself. “But in twenty-four hours I’ve nearly been suffocated to death, informed my long-lost-hated-father is about to complicate my life, and–” she dropped her voice to a hot whisper, “–apparently my husband is not my husband at all!”

Kali’s eyes widened. “Elmiryn told you?”

A caustic laugh. “Oh my, did she ever!” She swiped her hair back with a rough hand. “I suppose it’s no surprise that you and Nyx knew! Of course you two knew!”

“We weren’t sure–”

Shut up. Just… shut up. I don’t want to hear excuses!” Who else had known? Lethia? Paulo? Daedalus? Hell, Argos?

Was it really true? Had she been clinging to a lie this whole time? Was she that big a fool?

Quincy leaned back, her nose tweaked and her scowl fierce. “If I feel I need a nightcap just to drag myself to sleep in these wee hours, then I’ll help myself to the spirits my gold purchased!”

She threw her hands up and laughed bitterly. “I’ve been mustering on for fucking days–cooking and cleaning like some common servant–all while bearing the weight of teenage hormones, elven crankiness, unwashed lunacy, and whatever the blazes has been going on with your gods’ damned twin! I’m entitled to one bloody drink!

Quincy slammed her hands into the table and stood, her chair scraping back loudly across the floor. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try and lose consciousness for a few hours before I have to start mothering everyone again.”

Kali glared but didn’t move to stop Quincy. She only watched as the wizard went to the large bag, rummaged for one of the drink bottles, then stalked out the entryway and out into the night.

As Quincy ripped the stopper from the bottle, she felt a lump form in her throat, but she swallowed it down with a quick swig. She’d grabbed the sake, by the taste of it.

Hakeem isn’t here.

She succumbed to the fact. She didn’t want to, but she believed it. What reason did Elmiryn have to lie? Knowing her love was “somewhere safe” did little to ease her despair.

Hakeem isn’t here and Jack is coming.

Quincy took another swig, then headed for the barn. She’d find a haystack of her own to sleep in. Tears stung her eyes… and she let them fall because there was one burden she couldn’t get out from under, still.

Hakeem isn’t here, Jack is coming, and I…

She sobbed, pausing at the corner of the barn to lean against the weathered wood.

I may have to kill my friend. I may have to kill Elmiryn.

Quincy took a longer guzzle from the sake–ignoring the harsh burn as the liquid wound its way to her stomach.

Gods have mercy on me. Gods have mercy on us all.


I didn’t get up from my seat.

We should rest, I thought. A frown still marred my features, like a smoldering fire.

Just a word. A quick one— Nyx. The emotional fool.

I closed my eyes with suffering as I felt my sister’s cloying desperation and guilt.

I tried again. We should rest. You’ll be of a better mind–

She already knows we’re here, Nyx cut in. Waiting till morning will only hurt her!

My lip curled back to bare fangs. This isn’t fair. This is MY time–!

Please. Please! Don’t make me hurt her anymore than I already have. Nyx’s voice sounded tinny in my head.

I sighed. Five minutes. No more.

Oh, thank you! Thank you, sister!

My nose tweaked to the side as I stood.

Don’t thank me yet…

I made my way to the cellar, my steps feeling heavy as I descended down the stairs. My nose wrinkled as the dank stench of the underground space reached me. It wasn’t just that, though. There was a rancid sweat that permeated the air.

The lantern light bloomed into view, and passing over the final steps, I rounded through the entryway into the cellar proper.

Paulo turned in his seat to look at me, at first looking bored, before his eyes widened with surprise. He was sitting at a small makeshift table using an old wagon spoke and strapped pieces of old lumber. In front of him was a moldy book on enchanting that he’d no doubt scrounged from the corner of the study.

He hurried to his feet. “Nyx!”

“Kali,” I snapped. This was going to be very annoying to deal with, I could already tell. “I’m here to let Nyx speak with the Fiamman. Briefly.”

Paulo ran a hand through his hair, as we both looked to the rear of the cellar.

Curled up in a ball lay Elmiryn, her back to the entryway. She was resting on a modest stack of hay and a dark blanket, a pillow squeezed tight under her head. Her fiery red locks weaved in tight, chaotic knots behind her. Her exposed neck gleamed with a sheen of sweat.

“Speak with her?” Paulo mumbled with a shake of his head. “More like at her. Ever since Quincy gave her medicine for her fever, she’s been huddled there, not moving.”

I crossed my arms. “Nevertheless, my sister wishes to try. Give us the room.”

Paulo crossed his arms and arched an eyebrow at me. I rolled my eyes.

Please?” The word fell from my mouth, flat and heavy.

Paulo held up his hands. As he passed us, he paused to say, “Do not cross the containment line. She’s already tried escaping once.” He peered over his shoulder at Elmiryn. “If she starts gasping or convulsing, scream for help. Quincy and I will be down as quick as we can.”

His eyes returned to my face. “But no matter what, do not try to handle her on your own.”

We’ve missed terrible things… Nyx whispered with dread.

I only gave a terse nod of my head. I just wanted to get this over with. This place… it felt thick with sickness and desperation.

I waited until Paulo’s footsteps faded to the floor above. Then I closed my eyes, preparing to slip back into the depths of our shared consciousness to give room for Nyx to regain control. I could feel my sister rushing forward, eager to speak.

“Kali…” Elmiryn croaked. Her voice sounded weak and phlegmy.

I froze. Nyx halted her advance. My eyes eased open.

After a long moment, I murmured, “Yes?”

“I’ve never treated you fairly, have I?”

My chin lowered a little as my shoulders tensed. “That’s a stupid question.”

“I suppose it is…” The woman rose slowly, one arm propping her up from her hay bed. She still didn’t turn around. “Nyx is giving you a chance to be in control… But you’re still letting her speak with me. Why?”

My lip curled. What was this? Some stupid human game? This wasn’t a mystery! “Because she begged me to. Obviously.”

Elmiryn’s head lowered. “It means that much to her, huh?”

My patience was running thin. This was between Elmiryn and my sister. I just wanted to go to sleep. “You have five minutes with her,” I said brusquely. “And then I’ll be on my way.”

“Just five? Will you let Nyx come back again?”

My jaw clenched. “Maybe. If I feel like it.”

Elmiryn gave the slightest nod. “Thank you.” 

I could feel my cheeks burn. I didn’t like this sudden sincerity from the woman. “Don’t waste our time with a heart attack,” I snapped. “That would be annoying.”

Elmiryn chuckled dryly as I hastily retreated into the sanctuary of my mind. 

“Sure thing,” I heard the woman say.


I slipped to the forefront of our mind, the dream-like vision giving way to clear sight.

My expression softened as I beheld Elmiryn’s pitiful form.

“Hullo, Nyx,” she murmured, no doubt sensing my presence. It seemed the containment circle didn’t stop her strange ability to sense others life energies.

“Hello, Elle,” I said softly.

Elmiryn finally turned her body, her gaze lifting to meet mine.

Neither of us said anything for what felt like ages. I struggled to think of something worthwhile to start with.

Should I congratulate her for this bold step to reclaiming her health? Or apologize for her misfortune? Could I ask for her version of events? Perhaps it would be better to start off with a simple mention of the supplies we’d managed to acquire?

But Elmiryn beat me to it.

“I never wanted you to see me like this,” she said. Her gaze slipped down to my boots. “It was my job to care for you…” She turned her face away. “Now I can’t do anything for anyone.”

I took a little step forward. “You just need time!” I said earnestly. “Healing is necessary. You can’t be ashamed of that.”

“Like you needed healing?” Her eyes slid sideways to me meaningfully. “For your heart?”

I crossed my arms over my stomach as my chin fell to my chest. “I… I suppose.”

“And do you still need healing?”

I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

Did I need more time? It was Kali’s turn to experience the world, and I had lagged terribly in giving her this freedom. Her five-minute allowance was strict but understandable. Could I say what I needed to say now? Should I? Elmiryn was a wreck of a being. Her unwashed body clouded the air. Her voice was like a miserable swamp, slimy, and slow.

And her eyes… gods, her eyes!

How they pierced into me, pitifully dark and yet sharp with an unnatural hunger. They wanted so much from me. Some of it I could probably give her. The rest… I wasn’t so sure about.

“I don’t want to give you more excuses, Elle,” I said carefully. “But if I’m being honest, I don’t know that the truth I’ve been holding back is something you should hear right now.”

“This may be the last time I’m capable of hearing it, Nyx,” Elmiryn whispered. To my alarm, her eyes seemed to gain a strange rosy glow.

I bit my lip and hugged my stomach tighter. I was starting to feel ill. What should I do? Surely this wasn’t the time to be talking about this?

It will never feel like the right time, so just out with it, Kali said. Though her words were harsh, her voice was soft. Sympathetic. Furthermore, the woman has a point. If she loses her mind or dies from this effort, you won’t have another chance.

My throat tightened and my chin crumpled. Tears quickly flooded my eyes, and I couldn’t see anymore.

“It’s hard,” I sobbed.

I know, Kali murmured.

“I know,” Elmiryn replied.

Wiping hastily at my eyes, I tried to stiffen my lip, but it wouldn’t still. 

I could say it. I could. I just needed to force it out. I just needed–

“Izma raped me,” I gasped.

There. The first step taken. Better yet, without all the hemming and hawing that I’d stumbled through when trying to tell Lethia. I’d just said it, and the damn thing was out. But there was still more.

Before Elmiryn could respond, I barreled on, frantic to reach the end. “Izma did. She raped me, and, and sh-she used your face whilst doing it!”

And the whole thing was finally laid bare. Every terrible inch of it.

“I’m so sorry!” I moaned. “But every time I saw you… I… I could only think of Izma! I could only feel her violating me, again and again!”

I buried my face in my hands and turned away, shivering.

The cellar rang with silence.

“That’s why you couldn’t face me…?” Elmiryn’s voice was faint with shock. “That’s why you… You couldn’t talk to me anymore?”

I nodded but didn’t uncover my face. Maybe if I just hid here behind my hands, I could wait out this horrible moment. I just couldn’t bear to see the look on Elmiryn’s face. My body burned with shame. I felt weak. Filthy.

Another long stretch of silence came. Our time must have been running short, but Kali didn’t insist. I could feel her hovering close, but she said nothing, and I felt no ire from her.

It was selfish and awful, but I had to ask. No, beg

Kali, please, could we have more time? If this is truly the last time Elmiryn will be lucid enough to speak, then–

“I’ll kill her,” Elmiryn hissed.

Something in her voice startled me. It… rang with something, more than just venom. A humming energy.

I lowered my hands to my mouth and looked over my shoulder at her, my body tight with apprehension.

Elmiryn was on her feet. She was barefoot, her soles black. Her gaze was glassy and unfocused.

“I’ll kill Izma, Nyx,” Elmiryn said, stronger this time. “I’ll cut off her head and give it to you. For all the hurt she’s caused you–no! Us!

Elmiryn’s fists clenched and she bared her teeth. The glow in her eyes became stronger, burning a strange pink light. “She has to die! I can make her pay!” 

Her lips twisted into a crazed smile. “Just… let me out.”

I turned and took a step back toward the staircase, my eyes widening.

Elmiryn held her hand out and approached the containment line. Her dirty matted hair started to rise again in that dreamy, underwater fashion. “All you have to do is let me out! Let me do this for you! Let me kill Izma!”

Fresh tears came to me as I shook my head slowly. “No…”

“Do it, Nyx! Please!” Elmiryn’s outstretched hand began to curl like a claw. “I can find her! I can unmake her! Just let me out! A quick drink and I’ll be on my way!”

A quick drink…

I sobbed. “Elmiryn, this isn’t you! I’m sorry! I’m sorry I was too late!”

Elmiryn’s face morphed into a dark mask of rage. The hay behind her began to stir. The blanket and pillow toppled to the floor as the straws rose and began to whirl around Elmiryn. 

“Let me out! Let me out! LET ME OUT!” she screeched.

My stomach clenched with fear… but it wasn’t nearly as powerful as the wrenching agony in my heart. This was my fault. I’d allowed this to happen. 

“I can’t!” I wept as I turned and fled up the stairs. “I’m sorry, Elmiryn, but I can’t!

Behind me, I heard the woman scream. The sound tore through walls, sending dust raining down on me.

I tripped and fell on the final step leading into the foyer, landing hard on my hands and knees. Paulo had been waiting, leaning against the archway. He came to my side quickly, his face tense.

“I was afraid she’d do this,” he murmured. “I’m sorry, lia. I should have warned you better. I guess I’d hoped you’d get through to her.”

I was crying so hard words were difficult to form. When I found the strength to look at him, I managed to gasp out, “She’s gone. I can’t reach her. Sh-she’s gone!”

“Nyx, you must be strong,” Paulo said firmly. “This is only the start of her withdrawals. She’ll get worse before she gets better. But she’s still in there somewhere. You have to believe it!”

With effort, I reigned in my body-wracked sobs. I nodded once jerkily. Paulo gave me a kind smile, then helped me to my feet.

“I’ll be trading with Kali, now,” I said trying, and failing, to keep my voice steady. “If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask her.” I wasn’t just saying this either. Through a wordless understanding, my sister was conveying her willingness to help… even if she may be prickly about doing it.

“All right, Nyx. Rest. We all want Elmiryn to recover,” Paulo said gently.

I touched his shoulder, my expression sad but grateful. The boy was growing, and he was stepping up to help. I couldn’t put into words the relief I felt knowing I wouldn’t have to face this alone. The others had already done so much for Elmiryn. For me.

As I let myself fall back into the colder reaches of my mind, I felt Kali… caress me in passing.

You may speak with Elmiryn again when you are ready, sister. Your Meaning may reach her, yet.

I closed my eyes as the sweet cradle of darkness enveloped me.

All I could do was hope.

Continue ReadingChapter 47.1

Chapter 47.2

Author’s Note: First new update to the new website! Here you’ll see the pace of the story shift a little bit as I try out a new format. In an attempt to get back on the horse and make updates easier, I’ve decided to do shorter segments twice a week for a time. Because of this, the story may adopt an almost “slice of life” feel to it. Please let me know what you think!


I slept in the room Nyx had been using since arriving at this blasted tower.

The bed felt strange. Uncomfortable. After wasting what precious little night I had left tossing and turning, I gave up and moved to the floor with just a pillow and my back against the wall. 

I only remember shutting my eyes. When I opened them again, the suns had traveled far across the sky and the shadows in the room had grown long. It must have been late afternoon.

I rose and reached my hands high up over my head in a stretch. I paused as I looked up.

My hands

I had hands.

I lowered these before my eyes and furrowed my brow.

So seldom had I assumed this form, and yet I moved with a familiarity that came second-hand from Nyx. It took only a little self-awareness to recognize how foreign this actually was. 

I also felt tall. Not just that. Exposed, too.

As a beast, I walked on all fours, with my belly turned to the ground. Baring my stomach to anyone was a sign of trust. Or, when fighting a threat, a highly defensible position. You could use all four paws to claw and kick with. 

Right now, I didn’t feel particularly trusting of anyone, but I didn’t really want a fight either. My exposed belly fostered uneasy aggression in me, even standing alone in this room.

I wrapped my arms around my stomach to try and quell the feeling as I descended down the spiral stairs to the kitchen.

From my dream-like observation through Nyx’s eyes, I knew that Quincy was usually here, preparing the meals for the day. She wasn’t anywhere to be found. 

Annoyed by her absence, I next crossed the foyer to the study, but she still wasn’t there. Hakeem was, however. He was sitting in a chair in front of the fireplace with his back to me, reading a book.

My nose flared from the archway, and after sorting out the ashy aroma of the fireplace and the moldy stench of the old shelving, I picked out the man’s scent. 

He smelled like the Hakeem I remembered. But Elmiryn was certain he was a pretender. Some evil creation sent by Izma.

It was clear that Quincy didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t really know what to make of the man before me. He didn’t appear to be an immediate threat, but my instincts still murmured to be on my guard. I listened.

I made a point of dragging my feet on the floor as I approached the man. “Where is your wife?” I asked.

Hakeem turned his head. “Oh! Good morning, Nyx. You slept in quite a bit. Arrived late, did you?”

“Not Nyx,” I growled. “I’m Kali.”

Hakeem’s dark eyes went wide. “I see.”

“Where is Quincy?” I asked again.

The man’s gaze cast down and a worried crease appeared on his strong brow. “She’s… ill from overindulging. Quincy has never been a heavy drinker.”

I rubbed my stomach, trying still to make calm my crackling nerves. Even as I did this, I couldn’t help but snap, “I didn’t ask about her wellbeing, I asked where she was!

Hakeem looked at me, clearly startled. “I think she is still in the barn.”

“And has Daedalus returned yet?”

He shook his head. “No. I confess I find it odd. With luck the old elf is safe. His medicine will be needed soon.” The crease in Hakeem’s brow deepened as his eyes took on a shadow of worry. “I went down to relieve Paulo of his watch, but the boy refused. I tried to insist, but he said Elmiryn would react badly to my presence…”

Hakeem looked at me and I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as his dark gaze became uncomfortably focused. “Do you have any idea why she would dislike my help?”

I pretended to think about it by placing both hands on my hips and turning my eyes up in thought. I had to be careful. The vermagus powers I shared with Nyx could give away the truth. 

After a short moment, I gave a small shake of my head. “No.”

The man hummed. His eyes turned down to his book again.

I didn’t want to stay here and continue pretending everything was normal. I turned on my heel and started for the front door.

Outside the air was so fresh and pleasant that I couldn’t resist stopping and taking a deep breath. The tension in me eased, and I finally let my arms fall away from my stomach.

I looked out over the swaying field, then to the gray-blue mountains beyond. The peaks cut up into the azure sky, some reaching so high as to vanish into the scattered clouds.

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Nyx mused quietly from her place in my mind. Since arriving here, all we’ve done is fret and bicker, and we haven’t paused to take in what a wonderful place this once was.

My lips curved down as my eyes narrowed. “Wonderful, save for the mind witch who allowed herself to be led astray.”

My sister sighed. Yes… Poor Lethia.

I snorted. Of everyone, the young enchantress probably had the least of my sympathy.

I crossed the short distance from the tower to the barn and entered to find Lethia standing at one of the stalls, gazing down. She turned when she heard me approaching. Her eyebrows lifted.

“Kali?” she asked.

I blinked at her, stopping short. “Yes. How did you know?”

Lethia tapped her temple, a slow grin forming on her peach lips. “I can usually sense the top layers of people’s thoughts. It’s like a mental signature. Yours is distinct from Nyx’s.” She shrugged. “I’m not actually familiar with your patterns, but when I sensed it was so different, it was easy to guess who you were.”

I nodded. Despite my reservations, I had a grudging respect for Lethia. She was smart and to the point. But she was still naive, and her ambitions were dangerous. I couldn’t stay blind to that.

Nyx may have been quick to forgive the girl for the crimes she was party to, but I was not. Even being unaware of Izma’s exact intentions, the girl knew the demon was a threat. My sister had suffered much because of their brief collaboration, and I shared in that pain. Every aching part of it. 

Until I saw Lethia do more to repay her debts, I would keep my dealings with her short and my eye wary.

“Oh…” Lethia frowned in the wake of my brooding silence. “You dislike me.”

Every muscle in my body clenched. I hissed at her. “Don’t read my thoughts!”

The girl flinched and held up her hand. “Sorry! Sorry. Even without hearing your thoughts explicitly, you bleed more of your emotion than Nyx does.” She blushed and shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s, um… not unlike my readings from Argos.”

My lip curled. “Did you just equate me to your stupid dog?”

Lethia placed her fist on her hip as her gaze took on a sharp glint. “Do not insult Argos!”

I crossed my arms and shifted my weight to one foot. “Then stop drawing ridiculous parallels! I’m nothing like him!”

“Both of you shut the hell up… I’m trying to sleep!” Quincy groaned from the stall.

We glared at each other for a moment before I approached and stopped at Lethia’s side. Looking into the stall, I saw Quincy lying on her side on a bed of hay, her arms covering her head. 

She was in a state of undress. She’d pulled off her boots, but she’d only managed to remove one of her socks, the other only half-pulled off her foot. Her tunic lay discarded on the ground behind me. Quincy’s blouse was sloppily untucked, the front strings loosened to reveal she’d done away with her chest brassiere as well. 

The worst of it was the bucket she’d failed to vomit into completely. Its rancid stench, mingled with Quincy’s desperate sweat, burned my nose and made my stomach turn.

“You fucking moron,” I said. “I told you drinking was a bad idea!”

“Oh, fuck off, Kali,” Quincy groaned. “Leave me alone…”

“You’re a stupid bitch, and I’m not leaving you alone,” I snarled back.

Do you have to curse? Nyx whined.

I rolled my eyes. “I’ll curse if I fucking want to, Nyx.”

Actually, I quite enjoyed it. It made it easier to voice my contempt.

It’s a lazy way to voice it

“Piss off. I said I’ll do what I want!”

When I looked at Lethia and Quincy, the pair were giving me weird looks. My cheeks grew hot and I snapped, “I’m obviously talking to my sister! Don’t judge me!”

“Nyx is looking like a beacon of normalcy compared to you, Kali,” Quincy chuckled weakly. She stopped almost immediately, giving me a blip of satisfaction as the wizard clutched her head. “Ugh…”

“Don’t tease,” Lethia chided softly. “Kali needs time to get used to being in control.”

“I don’t need your pity, Lethia,” I growled.

Lethia turned a cool eye on me. “When you have my pity, I’ll let you know. For now, all you have is my disdain. May we refocus, please?”

My eyes turned to slits. 

Then a smirk slowly unfurled across my lips.

Yes. I disliked Lethia Artaud… but she had my respect.

Continue ReadingChapter 47.2