Chapter 6.2


I wanted to kill Sedwick.


The pain drove my fury.

I ripped out his spear.

This made my vision go white.

I stopped for a moment. Caught my breath.

Then Sedwick attacked Elmiryn.

Everything in me bunched.

I charged toward them.

…Was stopped.

(Dull gaze.)

By her.

(Blank face.)

There was no fear.

(Not right.)

Hardly recognition.

Elle the Idiot stood in my way.

I got close and snarled.

She stayed her ground.

Her stare…bothered me.

But Sedwick was behind her.

Smelled repulsive.

Curled on the ground like a bug.

Pain in my shoulder, blood on my second skin–

Used to be mother’s.

Blacksmith made mother’s skin red.

My lip pulled back.

I wanted to taste his death.

But Elle wouldn’t move.

Turned her back on me.

Talked to the man and wouldn’t move.

I paced and tried to see if I could get around.

Couldn’t, without hurting Elle.

She wouldn’t move.

…She still smelled close to death.

But she didn’t act like it…?

I sat and licked at my wound.

The question bothered me.

Beneath the fabric, skin knitted together.

Hurt less, but still stung.

There was a loud, scary sound.

Heard it before.

(Oh no.)

The crimson monster from before–the guardian.

I twisted around and yowled.

Saw the thing come into the light.

Slimed through a space across the room.

Where Sedwick came from?

Did he lead it here?


I turn and look at him.

But then–

–Elmiryn moved toward the guardian.

Dropped her sword.

I’m confused.

Looked back at her with tail twitching.

…Then I’m shocked.

The monster swallowed Elle.

Couldn’t even see her.

My muscles bunched again.

(No, no, no…)

I pushed with all my strength into a run.

Got there in two bounds.

I tore at the monster with my claws.



Hissed and spat.

(My gods, no.)

Flesh wrapped around my arms and legs.

Tendrils burrowed into me.



Sedwick yelled behind me.

Felt him jump onto my back.

Plunged something sharp through my chest.

Elle’s sword?

Arched my back as I fell.

Monster swallowed me.

Satisfied to hear the man scream too.

He didn’t get away.

Sight left me.

I wished I could stop feeling too.


…and then…

I heard her.

I heard them all.


To call it pain would’ve been…incorrect. It transcended that base definition, that shallow understanding. It was intense, it was debilitating, yes. But pain? No. More like…


Her veins were the guardian’s veins; her thoughts, the guardian’s thoughts.

The spiritual creature’s flesh was not immediately invasive. They first canvased her skin. Then they pushed past the muscles–split them, pierced them–to get to the organs inside. Elmiryn felt the tendrils in her chest, knew they wrapped and mingled with her heart, her lungs, her stomach, her spine. She gave a violent spasm. Tried to scream and failed for the guardian had filled her mouth, throat, and lungs.

Was this rape? Was this murder?

Elmiryn’s sensations became unquantifiable. For with the euphoric domination of her body, came also the parting of her mind. Things that were not hers, bits and pieces, like the shining trinkets of Nyx’s bag, came spilling in.

As her sense of self-being evaporated, she realized with a start that it was not a 2-dimensional life she was entering. There was a third dimension. There was a fourth.

Things garbled together before segments pushed their way to the fore–


A new beginning. It was the parting of a land drowned by rain and hail. A place was carved in the Earth, and with it, a duty to sustain life. Her sisters, the clouds, said unto her, “You are the veins of this land,” and she gushed.


Fleeing through snow, breath a ghost, a dark form ahead of her as angry cries chased at her back. The one before her was not running from her, but with her.

Barely old enough. None of it was fair. She knew it wasn’t, knew it in her soul.

So they ran.

Those war mongers wouldn’t take another brother away from her.


In a warm cabin, with pipe in hand. He looked out his window to see a familiar, round-faced youth playing tag in the rain. A robust lad. Belonged to a family of five–father a retired soldier who helped with the smithing, mother a beautiful and dignified woman, and a small baby girl just learning to walk. A respectable lot. The boy was fortunate to have such a beautiful family. Pretty fortunate…

What was it like?


They made a semicircle around her and leered like starved mongrels. “Time to bond,” they said, “Time to break-in the new recruit,” they said.

Like.  Hell.

She didn’t spend years training just to allow this to happen. She started to giggle, and the soldiers around her scowled.

…Wouldn’t her father find it amusing to hear, that her first kill was before she even left the barracks?


Illness. Her river had become poisoned, tainted. She felt it affect her like a disease–twisting her flesh, marring it. Bastards, ungrateful heathens. Who did this to her? After all she had done, who would harm her river?

The clouds, her sisters, scorned her. They passed with heavy shadows and denied her land water. But it wasn’t her doing!

It wasn’t her doing!!


Arms strung up. Heady smell of incense makes her dizzy. She is naked, and her manacles bite into her painfully. They built a hut of straw and mud, just for this occasion, because her presence could no longer be suffered in any structure built by her people. She didn’t bother struggling. Tears streaked her dirty face but she made no sound.

“Nyx…I’m sorry…I…”

She closed her eyes at the young priest’s voice.

“Ampelos, don’t hold back,” she whispered.  “It’s okay.”

Then she felt the knife at her back and saw white–


The first, they had been the first. His family had gone down to the river for a picnic–the boy didn’t want to go, wanted to be with friends–and they all just died. Blue faces, still in the grass, like they drowned on the inside. The boy, left alone, had no one to care for him. And the horror of it was that his family had only been the first. Soon, hundreds in the city began to die.

There was no one for the boy.

“…Baldwin, you can live with me a while…”


It was a little annoying. She wasn’t a fucking babysitter.  She ambushed by horseback, squatted in the mud, and conquered hillocks for heavens sake. Guarding doors wasn’t utilizing her raw strength at all. It only tested her patience.

She could hear the princess pacing inside. Since her wedding engagement, the girl hadn’t stopped.

At least the warrior wasn’t the only one with an itch under the collar.


A tree that sang. She saw it in her mind’s eye. Mortals would have identified it as a vision, or a dream–but no, it was her reality. She saw this in the soil, in the water’s currents, in her own shifting body. It was a great tree that’s roots sucked and sucked away at her land.

It was related. Had to be. Who knew of the tree? Would this loud-mouthed adventurer barreling through her new sanctuary know?

…He wasn’t answering her. How dare he.  Just on and on about his duty, and his reputation, and what he wanted.  But he wasn’t answering her question.

Well she had roots of her own to burrow with, and she’d suck away the answers if need be.


Mother had died. Shame, they’d told her. She didn’t know. She stood at her grave with a white flower in hand…but she crushed it and threw it away. It would be better just to fade away. They had said to her she was too much trouble. Maybe they were right.

She’d learn control. Learn restraint.

Better to try and be quiet, cautious, and unassuming.

She had already lost everything being the contrary…


She giggles beneath the sheets. The princess can’t help it whenever her neck is kissed, and squeals when the moist petal between her legs is stirred. The warrior, in the twilight, couldn’t really call this refined, but it had a grace to it that made her hungry. It was a beauty unaware of itself–bashful and sweet and humble. She was far too used to the soldiers in her unit puffing out their chests, behaving as Halward’s gift to women; or worse yet, the aristocrats of the courts, posturing and squinting their eyes at everything.

What a bunch of fools.

The princess was a far better thing to pass the time with.

She hummed into the girl’s back a song she could not recall the name to, and smiled…



The river guardian writhed.

It all came amid confusion. The memories of three others meshed with her own, and she struggled to make sense of it all. There was one whose recollections were so powerful they felt like they were stabbing into her; then another whose images hummed in pale color in the background; and lastly, the one whose memories were as faint as an aftertaste. The frustrating thing was, that the latter’s thoughts were the most relevant. In them, the immortal being tasted the same corruption that had affected her river; Heard the haunting, leeching music that sapped away at her; felt the cold and the distance that began to grow between her and the world at large.

Elmiryn, her name was Elmiryn.

And in this warrior’s thoughts, she saw her answers.

They made her weep.

Trickery! Foul, terrible deception! The being thought.

How could she not have seen? How could her soul–born by gods–been so easily manipulated? Was it really true, this so-called revelation? Her river had never been poisoned…only her mind, and because her belief was so strong…

No, no! It was too horrendous!

But the warrior’s thoughts were her thoughts…and her curse, now the guardian’s curse. At least that filtered view. At least that understanding. It was true. Oh, how perverse this self-proclaimed demon was. He had meant for all of this–must have. Why else did he give this one wayward soul the only means with which to see past his lies?

Things had to be mended. Quickly. The land’s recovery was not impossible, but only if the guardian set to work immediately.

Her amorphous form swirled and bubbled in a slow and confused circle. Despite her knowledge, she needed time to orient herself, to shake off her madness and begin to replace her sentiments with more sensible ones. When she finally stirred out of her rote motion, it was like one coming out of a deep sleep.

Ah, but those three braves. She could not leave them here.

The river guardian carried the unconscious bodies in her flesh, like a pregnant mother, as she flowed back the way she came. Her familiars, watery golems that felt only as she felt and acted only as she desired them to, gurgled as she passed, and soon followed her steady trail. One separated from the herd to slither further into the caverns, a silent order from its mistress compelling it there.

The guardian exited from the caves from a back entrance that came out downhill. Over the brittle grass that crumbled to ash, she went until she came back to her river.

At the sight of it, she paused. For a moment, doubt nettled her. But then she pressed forward eagerly.

It was frothing with the anger and torment that had plagued her.

“Quiet now…” she said in her language of sounds and sensations. She dipped into the waters and cooed happily. “All is well…all is well…”

And the river quieted.

It was time to cleanse the three braves of their burdens. A rite of healing to start. Not as complicated as it sounded. In her curious tongue, the guardian chanted an archaic spell. Her body bubbled and wavered, and from it emerged a grotesque-looking body.

The one called Nyx. Marked Ailuran, whose memories were powerful, but whose mind was in disarray.

The being began to pull her flesh away, and thick veins and quivering muscles separated like liquid. But she felt resistance, like she were hooked. Determined, she pulled harder–and concern rose over whether or not she could safely extricate herself at all.

But the guardian made progress. Beneath the bunched gambeson, blood and puss were washed away by the currents as the two creatures pulled apart. With each millimeter gain, Nyx’s body gradually transformed.

The visceral process brought the girl out of her coma, and her body arched as her mouth parted in a silent scream. Her bones shifted and snapped. Flesh sculpted itself in a memory of human-likeness. Hair receded to reveal smooth pale skin. Sympathetic, the guardian tried to move faster.

When Nyx’s body was restored, and they were both completely free of one another, she held the therian tightly, above the water. “Speak,” the being gurgled.

At first, the girl still appeared caught in some stupor. Glassy eyes stared up at the sky and she rasped like a fish out of water. Then her gaze shifted to the guardian.

Nyx’s face crumpled and she whispered. “I’m…I’m back…”

The guardian bubbled in relief. The Animal she had recalled in her memories would never have reacted in such a way. She set the girl aside on the shore and whispered. “Stay there. Do not be afraid. I will help your friend next.”


I crashed back into the fore of my mind, torn out of my primal fire to re-emerge restored to my rightful state. Things that had been lost to me, little things but things that inherently defined me, were once again at my disposal.

I was Nyx. I was light. I was the finite definition.

My words. These sentences that spilled into my head were mine alone, and never again would that dirt-sniffing heathen sully them again. I felt relieved and ashamed at the same time.

When I remembered which way was up and which way was down, I tried to see what was around me. My mind still suffered under a hailstorm of confusing images–memories that weren’t mine, things that had a different taste in my mouth, a foreign feeling to my skin, an almost repulsive effect on my consciousness.

“Speak,” something gurgled at me.

The guardian had its amorphous body wrapped about me. It had one long, thick bit of flesh above the water and craned towards me like a grotesque head. I could smell its flesh–hot with blood and affected by a faint illness that the water failed to wash away completely. I felt the urge to cry.

“I’m…I’m back…” I managed to say.

The guardian bubbled and set me aside on the river shore. It told me to stay put, and to not be afraid, because it would help Elmiryn.

The thought of the warrior made me want to cry even more. I felt like I had failed her, in every sense. She had nearly died, more than once, and even had to save me from making a grave mistake. I imagined her being angry with me, disgusted with me. Would she forsake our partnership in light of what had just happened?

I began to shiver.

The guardian had almost completely submerged in the water. A whirlpool started in the center of the river where the creature crept to. The water frothed and giggled.

I stared around, trying to keep calm. Then I noticed that I didn’t see Elmiryn’s body anywhere. Nor Sedwick’s.

It was about that time that the water began to glow and an almost painful humming sound filled the air. It was like a bee–a steady drone that made me clap my bandaged hands over my ears and curl in on myself.

Then the water exploded. It rose several yards in the air, and the sound nearly blew out my ears. I was blown back by the force. I shook even harder than before, breath coming in uneven gasps as I pushed myself up onto my feet. My back muscles bunched, and my throat tightened.

The guardian rose out of the water, and in its embrace was Elmiryn, eyes still closed, body limp, her skin as pale as mine–perhaps even worse. My heart sank. I thought the worst. But then the guardian spoke to me.

“Young therian. Your friend is still alive. She is weak and will need someone to care for her. You will travel back to Gamath, and when she awakes, I would like for you both to return here.” It turned its head and seemed to give a nod. “Further up the river, you will find one of my familiars waiting for you. They will have your missing belongings.”

She then slithered close with Elmiryn held out, moving against the river current as though it weren’t there. Startled, I came closer and took the woman into my arms. I felt them strain a bit with the weight, but I would make it. I would force myself to.

“Be sure to send someone to claim the bodies in the caverns,” the guardian continued. “I fear there are more than just the adventurer and the youth you had entered with.”

I shook my head. “They won’t believe me when I tell them what’s happened. They’re…afraid of me.”

The guardian reached down and scooped something from the river bed. She then dropped them into my right hand, which I opened after shifting Elmiryn’s head enough that it was free. “Take these three pebbles,” it said. “Drop them into a bucket. Make sure all are around to see it.”

I frowned, but knew better than to ask.

The guardian then sat back. “Hurry, therian. The sooner the news is spread, the sooner this land may restore itself.”

“But what of Sedwick?” Just saying the man’s name made my stomach give a twist.

The being seemed to sigh. “Do not fret for him. You will see him when you next return. Go now.”

I nodded and hurried off.  I dreaded the consequences should I fail.

Continue ReadingChapter 6.2

Chapter 7.1


The stillness was disturbed only by the melancholy wind that moved the ashen ground to shift.

I was the defiler, there. The clumsy heathen, whose ragged breath and befuddled feet made a mess of things. All around me was dead. I was a perversity whose future was mirrored in the gray stunted world. My trail was marked by the clouds of ash that came up into the air. These phantoms drifted a yard or two, before they blanketed the corpses of animals. Milky eyes glared at me accusingly as I made my way.

Blood stained me. The quilted weave of my gambeson was tainted, the rips that marred it like wounds themselves. I could even feel a breeze in my left boot. The sole had begun to separate at the tip.

My muscles loathed me, and quivered beneath the strains of my commands. When exhaustion sought to overcome me, I would kneel in the desolation and try to catch my breath. My eyes tunneled, and sweat dripped from the tip of my nose. In my arms, Elmiryn’s lanky body barely seemed to fit into my grip. Her head was cradled against my bosom, eyes shut and her breath faint. Her eyelids were red and raw, and her skin an evil complexion that suggested something unnatural.  I thought I felt a film on the tips of fingers when I shifted her in my embrace, but my attention was divided and the feeling too faint.

All the while, in my head, things that were not mine prodded me.  In realities separate from anything I had known, I felt the fires of the forge and tamed metal; I breathed cool waters, and made communion with the land; I drank deep poisons of debauchery, and tasted flesh without discretion.  Some of these things, these memories, were Elmiryn’s, I knew…but I made an effort not to pay it any mind.  I pushed these images away as best I could, forcing my own recollections to the forefront of my mind–primarily that of the recent days.  Those other memories, the shadowy plays that performed in my head in aberrance, were a threat to me and thus revolted me.

My head seemed barely capable handling two personas, how could I stand the memories of others, however feeble?

Every time I felt myself too enthralled with a particular thought, every time I felt myself come too close to empathizing with something foreign, I moved. Forced myself forward in sloppy standard, like a drunkard startled out of his settlement. It worked, to some degree. I didn’t drown in what wasn’t mine. But still, things slipped through, and I kept returning to nagging details…

Elmiryn was a soldier of the Fiamman army. That armor, those weapons, the architecture of the buildings I saw in her past. It was unmistakable. She had been an agent of the imperialist kingdom and committed adultery.

That alone was hardly startling.  Elmiryn seemed the sort for it, and I imagined she would have had no qualms to confessing that sort of thing in a crowded room. The fact that made my hands curl, that made my jaw tight and my mouth dry…was that she had done it with a princess. A serious offense, even in my culture, where promiscuity was culled only by the desire to exact power.

My chest tightened when the abstruse maelstrom of feelings settled heavy in my gut.

Elmiryn had once told me she had been a fool in the past. I now believed her.

…But I was grateful for the choices she made.  I could admit this only in my head, as it repelled me in many ways to congratulate her for her poor choices.  In life, just as the stories I read, I saw the world ripple in a reactionary chain that ended in our current moments.  There were times when the exact source of such end truths were shrouded by confusion or concealment, but the answer was as tangible as the first seed planted into the earth.  It isn’t so much that I believe in fate…but the certainty of variables, too numerous to name.

The bottom line was this:  If Elmiryn hadn’t made the choices she had, we would never have met, and she never would have saved me.  I would be dead.  Or alone and listless.  An equal, if not, worse fate.

It was her need for self-gratification that restored some sense of meaning in my life.  Funny that.

This dizzying rejoinder to my proprietous criticism made me not want to think anymore. Before I knew it, cobbles were once again beneath my feet, and I made fast cuts through the shadows of buildings.

At some point, I became aware that I was staring deep into the grain of the main doors of the tavern. As if on cue, my knees buckled then, and the other things I had been carrying–Elmiryn’s bow and scabbard–fell to the ground. Elmiryn’s limp body almost tumbled out of my grasp.  I clung to her, reminded of a doll I once hugged tight when frightened.

I looked up towards the large paned windows, and saw the faces of many peer down at me. I froze, momentarily forgetting what I was even doing there. Then I remembered, and made to speak.

“…help…” My voice was reedy and dry.

None of the peasants moved at first. Then the door opened and a barefoot man with a scraggly face and overgrown amber hair peered down at me from swollen-red eyes.

“Where’s Sedwick and Baldwin?” he asked in a hollow voice.

I looked up at him and blinked slowly. I forced my voice to an audible volume. It cracked as I answered, “Sedwick is with the guardian. …Baldwin…he…he didn’t make it.  But the river has been restored!  All will be well again!”

The man said nothing. A muscle in his cheek moved and he looked back at his companions, who crowded behind him in the doorway. He looked forward again, toward the sky, then down at me. “Why has no rain come? Why are the skies still gray?”

“I have something that will prove I’m telling the truth.” I reached in my pocket slowly. “The guardian gave it to me. All I need is a bucket.”

The man stared me down. It seemed an eternity before he turned and murmured something to someone behind him. A moment later a wooden bucket was dumped unceremoniously in front of me. The man crossed his arms and those behind him pushed a little to get a better view of me.

I swallowed and dropped the pebbles into the bucket, one at a time.

They hit the bottom with sharp ‘clacks’.

Then there was the sound of running water. The man and I both blinked, equally startled by the sound, and leaned forward to look down into the shadow of the bucket. It didn’t even take half a minute before water flowed over the bucket’s lips. My pants got wet around the knees.  I gazed in wonder at the magical display.

Still, the man and those behind him didn’t smile. Instead, murmurs broke out. The amber-haired leader knelt down and gestured toward the water. “Drink.” His eyes were starved and hungry, and his face had become like hard-edged stone. I quailed beneath his stare, but I did as he bid, silently praying that nothing happened to me.

I touched my lips to the flowing water, and drank. My body tingled and flushed. The sensation surprised me, and made me choke a little, but I didn’t stop. I felt lighter, warmer, stronger.  My gulps became desperate.

When I thought I’d had enough, I pulled away and looked at the man with a look of wonder. He looked at me expectantly–waiting to see if something happened.

But with the seconds that passed, his suspicion lessened. Instead, the hunger on his face intensified, and without a word or gesture, he dove at the bucket.  I cried out as a mad scramble happened. The peasants fell over themselves through the doorway, and their bodies squeezed and pressed past the wood as they gibbered like beasts.  I held Elmiryn closer to me and stood out of the way, my feet tripping over themselves in my haste.

The ground before the door was submerged beneath the clear, clean water that gushed forth. Little streams weaved through the cobbles. The peasants lapped at it, like dogs, on hands and knees and moaned at the taste of it. I knelt and shifted Elmiryn so as to free one hand. I tried to cup some water, and when I felt a little pool in my palm, I trickled it into her mouth.

My heart sunk when she didn’t respond.

When the rush had subsided, the amber-haired man approached me, his raw eyes brighter. He swallowed and looked me over once, then turned and looked over his shoulder where the adults seemed enough in control of themselves to allow the children to drink. He looked back at me.

“It’s true.” He said, voice stronger than when he first spoke. “The river has been restored.  This curse has been lifted.”

I nodded my head, my gaze shy. “Yes.”

“What’s happened to your friend?”

“I…I don’t know. The guardian said she should wake up. But I don’t know when.”

The man nodded. He turned and called out a girl’s name. A young maiden with a square face and long mousy hair stepped forward. Her eyes shone as the man’s did.

He looked back at me. “My name is Den. I was left in charge when Sedwick left. This is my daughter, Opal. She’ll take you to a room where you and your friend can stay undisturbed.” Den leaned down and placed a hand on my shoulder. “Thank you.”

“I didn’t do much,” I mumbled. “Elmiryn was the one who risked everything.”

The man gestured toward the bucket. “I wouldn’t say that.” He nodded at Opal and walked away.

The girl, dressed in a long robin blue dress that covered everything from her arms to her neck, bowed low. I tensed and made a clumsy effort to stand. “No! Don’t do that, I’m not worth bowing to.”

Opal looked at me, startled, then straightened. She cleared her throat and made a sign for me to follow her. I did, and we entered the inn. The peasants now grabbed glasses from the bar, and I knew they were going to take some of the water to the sick upstairs.

As we made our way up the staircase, Opal slowed a little and looked at me nervously. “…Is Baldwin okay?”

At the question, I closed my eyes and bowed my head.

Her face paled a little and she seemed to pinch her mouth together. She walked faster, then, and stopped at a door halfway down the hall. “This room’s our smallest, but no one’s staying in it. I’ll clear out some of the supplies we’ve left there so you can have more room.”

I shook my head. “No, really that’s fine, you don’t have to–”

“Please,” she said as she opened the door. Her eyes were a little misty when she looked at me.

I shuffled through the doorway and mumbled my thanks. The bed was in the far right corner. Eager to free my arms, I laid Elmiryn down onto the plain blankets. When I straightened again, I could feel the blood rush through my biceps and forearms. My fingers tingled and I felt like a leaf whose only anchor to the Earth had been lost. I tumbled into the nearest chair and put my head in my hands with a shaky sigh.

A hand on my back made me look up.

“Do you need anything?” Opal asked.

I glanced at Elmiryn, then down at my clothes. I fingered the bloodied hole where Sedwick’s spear had plunged into my chest.  The memory made me shiver.

“Some new clothes would be nice…” I said in a low voice.


Later, I found myself in a linen tunic with jute twine tied around my waist. Black breeches stopped just past my knees, where the rest of my legs were covered by the white hosen I wore underneath. Originally, I had been offered a dress, but politely refused. I had gotten too used to the attire of men, and where I came from, only women of power could afford the luxury of dresses.

Opal noticed my boots and without my asking, brought me new ones. Slim, charcoal suede with laces. At first I protested, but the girl was persistent. She took my left boot and pulled at the hole with her fingers. “The sole’s have been worn thin–and look! It’s separating! I can’t let you leave with this pair, I just can’t. Please, don’t trouble yourself. The owner is more than happy to let you take these.”

Resigned, I did.

The girl also brought the rest of our belongings into the room, after clearing it of the small crates, oil bottles, and bolts of tarp. When her tasks were done, a man who identified himself as a healer entered our room, accompanied with Den. He checked Elmiryn’s pulse, her breathing, and took a look at her eyes–even pulled back her lips to inspect her gums. After all this, he sat back, stared at her for a moment, then pinched her arm, hard.

I made to stop him, a flash of indignation flowing through me, but then I realized what he was doing.  He was trying to get a reaction.  He then pulled out a small vial from his side pouch and uncorked it. He waved it slowly beneath Elmiryn’s nose before he pursed his lips and sighed. “She isn’t responding. But as far as I can see, it’s like she’s just asleep. Most of my supplies have been used up, and I don’t have all of my tools with me. I’m afraid I can’t do anything right now, but I’ll check on her tomorrow.”

Den and I nodded after we glanced at each other. “Thank you, sir.”

The hours slipped late into the night. Outside, I could hear celebrations. Word was that messengers had already been sent to the neighboring cities to spread the good news. I remained in the little bedroom, refusing the offer to join in the merrymaking.  They wanted me to share my tale of the cave.  I balked at the idea.

Instead, I remained seated in the leather bound chair next to Elmiryn, compelled by some sense of duty. I had a bucket of soapy water and a brush with me, which I used to scrub the blood from my gambeson. Most of it came off, but some of the stains wouldn’t wash out completely. With a sigh, I let it dry out on the windowsill.

I stared out the window to the city. Gamath was a collection of looming shadows. I tried to imagine it filled with people, with noise and ruckus and lights. The image was hard to form. All I could imagine were dark streets tainted by a wandering madness. My gaze shifted and my eyes fell on Elmiryn’s face.

I reached a hand to her, and brushed my thumb along her forehead.  She lay quiet as death.

Exhaustion claimed me. I fell asleep, curled in the chair and fought against the feelings of guilt that came riding on the laughter of the townsfolk.


That following morning, I bathed, ate, and spent the remainder of the day reading. The healer returned to check Elmiryn, but again said there was nothing he could do. I fell asleep in the same chair as the night before last. The next day, it was the same thing, except that some of the peasant children came to sit with me. There were six of them, mostly boys beneath the age of ten I assumed. Opal offered to shoo them out, but I shook my head, asking only that I not be left alone with them.

They asked me about what happened with the guardian, but I mumbled my unwillingness to talk about that just yet. Opal redirected their attention by asking what my book was about, and before I knew it, I was reading Tobias’ story aloud.

Wind, mighty wind, with lungs filled with laughter, blew back his enemies and nary lost a breath.  Arrows shot at him were lost in a sensuous dance of current and power, where their steel-eyed anger were turned to fly twice as fast toward their owners.  The pirates cowered on the deck, and many perished beneath the heavy hail of death.  Mariatu, leader of the spiteful men, barked a command to his lessers.  His voice was lost in the vigor that was Wind’s incredible howl.

An arrow struck across Mariatu’s face and he fell, bloody and downed by his own bravado.

It was at that time that the Oleus Lamar, the dread ship of the Southern Seas, overturned with Wind’s powerful suggestion.

Njord, god of wind and father to the seafaring life, whistled with pleasure at his Champion’s deed.  Atargatis, goddess of the ocean and mother to the seafaring life, swirled with displeasure–“

“Why would she be mad?” a boy asked loudly.

I looked at him blankly, only to find my expression mirrored by all those in the room.  “What–?”

“Atargatis.  Why is she mad?  The pirates were bad, right?”

My eyes fluttered.  “Um.  …Well, she’s described as the ‘mother of the seafaring life’.  I think her love for sailors was indiscriminate.”


“I mean she didn’t care.  As a mother, she loved her children, good or bad.  Njord didn’t share that feeling.  That was why he sent Wind to–”

“What’s Wind’s real name?”

Disgruntled by the new interruption, I tried to keep my displeasure from my voice.  “He is only called Wind.  They don’t call him by anything else–”

“But Wind isn’t a real name.” I was surprised to find this one came from Opal.  I think something in my look gave me away, as her expression turned thoroughly embarrassed.

I didn’t write the book!  I just–”

“Maybe if you leave the funny words out, we can understand it better,” A bucktoothed boy offered snottily.

My lips thinned.

I looked back at the book and pretended to read loudly.  “Rocks fall.  Everyone dies.”  I snapped the book shut.  “Sorry, that’s the end.”

The boys gazed at me, taken aback.  “But they were out to sea!  How could–!?”

“I guess the writer ran out of big words.” I offered dryly.

That was when Elmiryn moved.

An odd moan, held in by her tensed jaw dispelled the idea that it had just been a twitch of her arm. I inhaled sharply and rose to my feet, my hand quick to find place at the woman’s forehead. She burned under my touch, and seemed to writhe in her sheets as if suffering by some horrid dream. I looked to Opal and she gave a cursory nod of the head before she proceeded to shoo the children from the room. As the last of them went, I held Elmiryn by the shoulders and gave her a small shake.

“Elmiryn…Elmiryn!  Wake up!

Continue ReadingChapter 7.1

Chapter 7.2


What a mess, what a hurricane, what a muddy pit of a mind.  She couldn’t tell ass from elbow, and she tried so hard to.  What at one point seemed a nose, turned out to be a knee; and what at one point seemed a foot, turned out to be her mouth.  She got her name mixed up too, in a jumble of fonts that were and weren’t there, which tumbled and swirled by image and sound in a black backdrop that seemed as infinite as her frustration.  Seeing and not seeing.  Feeling and not feeling.  Being and not being…

She was completely and utterly lost.

At first, she believed in embers and the cry of steel beneath a hammer, but then she felt cold instead of heat, and tasted blood instead of sweat.  At first she believed she were a man (ah, what a luxury it is to piss upright!) but that came under reasonable doubt when her concept of a body was lost to a memory of amorphous flesh that swam through liquid.  Beneath these obnoxious collections of understandings, she recognized something pale and stale buried beneath it all.  Ideas to do with royalty and war.  Soiled innocence and malignant horror.

But those weak things were set aside.  Surely, the truth of who she was and what she was about rested in the strongest memories?

And the most intriguing of them all came together in tentative lines that streaked her vision.


Her heart adopted a need for haste.  She jogged and felt her feet sink into the ground with each step.  Her sight was hampered by the curtain of white that surrounded her.  But through the haze, a phantom danced, not far ahead.  She was afraid she’d lose it.  She shouted hoarsely through the screeching wind.

“Atalo!  Reten na och!” Atalo! Wait for me!

Without the slightest warning, something stabbed into her back, something that managed to tear through the layers of her winter clothes.  A thick arm wrapped around her neck and she heard a man mutter a prayer before he gripped her by the shoulder and flung her into the snowbank.  She crashed onto hard packed ice.  Her breath rushed past her lips, and for a moment she couldn’t breathe in.

As she lay there and watched the tips of aspen trees dance as ghosts, she thought she saw the black stains of confusion that had plagued her seep into the fabric of reality.  In these stains, she saw that terrible place where she had lost herself.  Things squeaked through the little hole in her memory; names, songs, people who weren’t people but just crudely sketched caricatures of another time and place.  She pressed her eyes shut to block it out.

When she opened them again, she saw through the storm’s veil, and peered up to see a warrior dressed in white furs stare down at her imperiously.  He carried a small blade with him, stained with her blood.  An Ailuran Cerrite, a hunter of criminals.  She thought she recognized that face beneath the cowl’s shadow.

…Duncan?  Her peer?  Her…comrade?  She tried to tap into her memory, because something of that didn’t sound right, but discovered an unnerving void.

That was when Atalo screamed and attacked Duncan.  He came charging from the side, wielding a sharp rock as a makeshift weapon, but the Cerrite was fast.  He deftly leaned to the side and dodged her brother’s wild swipe before he grabbed the youth by the front of his clothes and pulled him roughly to the ground.

But she was already up on her feet, already half-crawling out of the snowbank when the Cerrite raised his blade for a killing strike. She was only partially aware of the fact that her veins burned, or that her head pounded.  Her first concern was in saving her brother from his own foolhardiness.

With little grace, she lunged at Duncan’s broad back, and her petite hands wrapped themselves around the Ailuran’s large hand.  She tried vainly to pry the warrior’s fingers from his weapon.  The man gave a low rumble and threw back his head, where it connected with her nose.  Blood poured forth and she fell to the snow, dazed and with a ringing in her ears she didn’t notice before.

There was a shout, and a series of muffled slaps that ended in a wet crunch.  She heard Atalo groan.  Soon, her white world was blessed with the image of her little brother.  His broad face was turned pink and his tawny eyes squinted from his exertion.  He knelt by her and cupped her face.

“Koah…” Sister… “Koah!”

“Koen,” Brother, “Cajeck…ni aji…üle boeneh?” Idiot…what were…you thinking?

“Cerrite magat…eh?  Koah, ni dana?” But the Cerrite…eh?  Sister, what’s wrong?

Her eyes had rolled shut.  She took deep breaths and felt the cold air rasp down her dry throat.  Her lungs felt starved.  Pain stabbed down her arms, and she thought her veins would tear open.  Atalo took her by the shoulders and shook her, his young voice turned shrill with fear.

“Koah!  Koah! …Elmiryn!!


“Elmiryn wake up!”

That was her voice saying those things, but her lips weren’t moving…and she didn’t think to say that either.  What was going on?

The pain faded, as did the cold.  The wind’s howl petered out to a whisper that tickled the back of her mind.  She felt hands shake her, and tried to open her eyes.  All she saw was blurry.  Streaks of color.  Like a bad painting.  There was a figure hovering over her.  She couldn’t see their face.

“Atalo?” she rasped–but the voice she heard, she didn’t recognize.

The shaking stopped.  She thought she heard a sharp intake of breath.

“…What did you say?”  There.  Again.  Someone used her voice.  The person near her, maybe?

Her sight sharpened, and she saw a sky fitted with cobwebs and a boy that looked much like a girl.  Tawny eyes blinked at her.  Was it…him?


She reached a hand upward and took a lock of dark hair between her fingers.  She half-expected the strands to smudge and smear on her fingers, like charcoal. Üle okém ia-gouta, koen. “Your hair’s long, brother…” She heard a raspy voice that wasn’t hers speak the words she thought of in a different language.  She grabbed her throat harshly, felt her throat hum as she spoke, “What is this…?  Where am I?”  She fought to push herself up.  The world rolled, and she felt nausea curl in her chest like a demon waiting to spring.  “Atalo!” she shouted.

The other person, not her brother, she knew this now, pressed her back at the shoulders.  “Elmiryn, stop–“

The grip on her tightened.  Her mind whispered that this was reminiscent of something.  From the dark of uncertain memories, she recalled a man’s faint outline.  His face was nondescript, but his armor, she recognized.  Recognized it because she had worn the same armor.  This man had hovered over her, had pressed down on her.  Peer.  Comrade.  A name tickled her lips.


His exact relationship to her she couldn’t recall, but she remembered that he had tried this before.  To sneak into her quarters at night when she was asleep.  She didn’t think he’d actually do it again, after the last time, but this fact hardly mattered.  He was here now, the brute, and he was keeping her from her brother.

She twisted and leaned her right shoulder far back, so that Duncan’s hand slipped at the abrupt shift in weight.  She closed her grip around his wrist and, with a staying hand on his shoulder, turned it and twisted it backwards.  She put as much pressure as she could muster on the joint, and used the leverage she exacted to sit upright.  The man squealed.

But did Duncan ever squeal?  Come to think of it, he seemed a little short, didn’t he?  Where were the white furs?  The armor?  And there was still that bothersome detail about the voice…

“El-Elmiryn!” Her captive cried.  Their face was screwed up.  Was that anger?  Fear?  “Atalo is dead! He was my brother!  Those memories in your head aren’t yours! They’re mine!

She tensed.  “No, that’s imposs–”

“Atalo and I were fleeing from the Cerrite for criminal evasion!  They wanted to send him to war, but I took him and fled!”  Large eyes, tawny eyes.  They bored into hers.  Tears shone, unshed.  “Magat, tet koen lunam!!”

She let go.  Stared.  Strained her eyes to make sense of the moving picture in front of her.  A person.  An Ailuran.  A girl, not a boy–yes of course, why was that ever in question before?  The fair lips, the long lashes, the gentle jaw line.  The hair, complexion, and eyes were the same as Atalo’s…but it wasn’t him…of course not…it was…

“Nyx.” Elmiryn leaned forward unsteadily.  She reached out a hand, perhaps too eagerly, because Nyx flinched away.  The redhead didn’t let this action stop her, though she took note of it (frowned at it), and let her hand swipe gently through the air before the girl’s face.  There was something two-dimensional about the Ailuran, and Elmiryn was half afraid that the room only extended as far as her arm–that the walls were an elaborate illusion someone had created to confuse her.

“I didn’t know…you…I mean…”  She squinted.  “You looked like him.  Then I thought you were–“

“Duncan.” Nyx finished.  Her voice was clipped when she said it, but the tension that had gripped her seemed to lessen a little.  “I know who you’re talking about.  He was in the Fiamman army with you.”

Elmiryn shifted in the bed.  Her eyes fluttered as she felt the room give a nasty lurch.  The colors smudged.  The walls seemed unstable.  She covered her face with her hands and groaned.  “…What happened?  Where am I?”  She pulled her hands away from her face to stare at them.  They seemed a little large didn’t they?  Or was the bed too big?  No, no, the blankets were too thick.  They were going to crush her legs.  Elmiryn kicked away the sheets and hugged her knees to her chest.

She felt so small.

“We’re at the tavern.” Nyx explained. “You’ve been unconscious almost three days.”  There was a pause, and the girl added in a mumble.  “I waited for you to wake up.”

The woman closed her eyes.

“…You might have to wait a little longer.”

Continue ReadingChapter 7.2

Chapter 7.3


Elmiryn’s hands still tingled with the feeling of her companion’s throat in her hands, the pulse against her thumb, the light sheen of sweat that had made her palms cool when the air kissed it. Involuntarily, she imagined how the throat would hum under her hand if the girl could speak without impediment. Maybe it was indeed possible to catch sound by hand? To possess that voice and keep it as a pet, when the nights got cold and the hours long…it was such an enticing idea. Once it was in her possession, she could use it when she didn’t feel like being herself.

Then moral sensibilities, stunted, but still present, objected.

Nyx had carried her unconscious body more than a mile, and had remained at her side when she was comatose–what kind of repayment was strangulation?

But those memories…those precious, vivid memories. They were so real to Elmiryn, more so than the world she drifted through now. In them, she had felt connection; in them, she had a voice that carried sincerity.

At seeing that these things were no longer hers to have, she had hollered for wine, and drank half-a-bottle’s worth with little pause. Then she vomited it all up, because the thought entered her mind that the wine was all blood. She had tried to stand, and lost her balance. Nyx tried to keep her in bed but Elmiryn became agitated, wild-eyed, and asked why the covers were so dangerously heavy.

That first day, she refused to lay in the bed. Instead, she sat in the corner, on the floor, and alternated between drinking rum and water. Food was repulsive to her. She thought the steak they gave her had pulsed in her mouth, and the rice felt like ants on her tongue.

All the while her heart beat heavy in her chest, and whispered Atalo’s name. Elmiryn wondered if she were drinking to make the feeling buoyant and easy to grasp, or to drown it in poison. But the moments were already slipping from her–fading in that harrowing fashion her own memories had. She wanted them back. She wanted the realness, the emotion, the intensity back. Even if it made her like this–vulnerable, flustered, weak–Elmiryn wanted them back.

But those things weren’t hers, they were Nyx’s.

She tried to ignore the envy that burned her.

Then came an irresistible opportunity.

“Elle, you aren’t well enough for something this dangerous!” Nyx exclaimed.

Elmiryn faced the windows and fixated on the light from the candles reflected on the glass.  It was so early in the morning, the sun hadn’t risen yet.  Still, she could see campfires and torches winking in the distance.  People were returning. She fitted her shoulder guards and let a crooked smile appear on her face. “So you think,” she breathed.

“I don’t think, I know!” Nyx argued. Her voice was strained. She sounded on the verge of tears. “For heaven’s sake, look at you! You keep squinting like you can hardly make out what you’re seeing!” The redhead turned and made to leave.  She plucked up her bow and quiver as she went. Nyx blocked the doorway. She trembled, but still glared up at Elmiryn. Big, sweet eyes. Watery eyes. Drowning eyes. “Watch it, or you’ll go blind,” the warrior warned.

Nyx swallowed and asked in a whisper, “It’s gotten worse, hasn’t it?”

Elmiryn giggled a little. She moved her companion to the side with a light shove. “But Nyx. I thought you knew. Why do you have to ask me?”

The girl huffed–chased her down the stairs and babbled about irresponsibility and stubbornness. It was so odd, how Elmiryn’s entire world had become an elaborate presentation of untruths, while this one girl and her one voice still sung vibrant and clear.

When it was apparent that the warrior would not change her plans, Nyx sighed and said, “Oh sweet Aelurus…fine then! We’ll go–”

“No.” The bounce and jump of Elmiryn’s voice was absent. All that was left was steel. She looked Nyx in the eye and felt something gnaw at her. “You aren’t coming with me.”

The girl stared. “But…what if something happens to you? Didn’t you ask me to–”

“I know what I asked. Just…do me a favor, Nyx. Stay here. Rest. I’ll be back soon.”


She shifted her weight and heard the squeal of pebbles beneath the soles of her boots. Her eyes were pinned on her target–every twitch of the nose, every shift of its mangy fur, every wiggle of its stubby tail. A big man in furs. Elmiryn’s body tensed.

She wasn’t the one hunting. She was being hunted. Sought by an extension of heavenly retribution who was going to dig into her chest with a knife, straight to that glowing knot inside her–

Someone touched a cold hand to Elmiryn’s arm. She glanced at him sharply, her face tense and her eyes wide–because something told her things were not right, and yet her eyes failed to display otherwise. Crouched next to her beneath the eave of a building was a gargoyle. He looked at her with dark eyes that did not shine. The frown beneath the brim of his hat was severe and colored a cool slate gray from the morning twilight. Behind him, shadows shifted like ink disturbed.

“Is there something wrong?” it breathed.

Elmiryn shook her head. She asked, “What’re we looking at?”

The gargoyle’s frown deepened. The shadows moved again. “It’s a bear. Are you going to shoot it or not?”

She nodded and returned her attention to the creature before her. Her muscles eased and she let out a small sigh. That was right. That was the reason she was here.

In her head, Elmiryn began to sort it all out.

The bear must have ambled in from the forests to the west, where the Medwin River swathed through its territory. Madness had drawn it to the desolation.  A supernatural weight that lessened its grip on the land, now that the river had been restored. But the crazed creatures, the ones who survived the poisoned waters, still remained. They attacked anything that came near them and were too numerous to simply chase away.

Elmiryn had joined one of the hunting parties. The man next to her was not a gargoyle, he was just ugly; and the shadows behind him were the rest of hunting party, who had hung back to allow Elmiryn the first shot with her bow.

The warrior, in a veiled, backwards way, began to believe that Nyx had been right in protesting her participation in the hunts.

There she was, crouched and with her bow and arrow poised for a shot at a bear she had thought was a man. The group had moved as quietly as it could, and had stuck together as they avoided the open streets. The buildings they passed seemed to Elmiryn inhospitable and alien to sentient creation. They were encased in evil, lonely auras, that made her think of derelict caves and foreboding forests.

The bear had been an unpleasant surprise, but to their advantage, it was disoriented. On its great paws, it swayed side to side. It grumbled and panted as foam dripped from its dark lips, and it shifted now and again to wander in a confused line to another spot out in the street.

Elmiryn pulled her arrow far back, let the heel of her palm rest against her right jaw and tried to get her bearings.  She judged the bear was 600 yards away, and the wind was blowing strong in a westerly direction.  All she need was the bear to move in the right position for a fatal shot.

She waited.

…And waited.

Without warning, the arrow jumped from her fingers and sailed low, where it landed with an obnoxious clatter near the bear’s feet.  The large beast turned and growled.  She wasn’t sure, but it seemed like it’s eyes were fixed on them.  Elmiryn blinked and stared at her hand as if it betrayed her.  “I thought I had a better grip!” she mumbled.

When the beast, a roiling mass of 500 pound black fur, began to gallomph toward them, everyone turned to flee.  “Forget it, Elmiryn!” The gargoyle man sputtered as he stumbled into a run down the street with the others.  “We have to run!”

Elmiryn’s eyes widened and she made to grab him.  “No, no!  You idiots!  It didn’t know where we were!”

She watched them go, their limbs nearly blurred in their haste to get away.  She turned and crouched down, still as rock, and watched as the bear ran past her.  Its focus had shifted, and its pace had quickened.  The animal growled and panted heavily as it closed the gap between it and the hunters.

Safe from harm, the woman readied another bow.  With little time to aim or calculate wind interference, she let it loose, this time with more force than the last.  The arrow whistled away, just as the bear stood on its hindquarters to swipe at a hunter who had tripped on the ground.  With a thud, it landed near the center of the beast’s back.  The bear flinched and let out a brief sound of shock before it stumbled and fell over.  The hunter narrowly managed to dodge it.  Already set with another arrow, Elmiryn fired again, this time the projectile struck the beast in the side.

Encouraged by the new development, the other hunters attacked as well.  The ones with bows fired arrows at close range, while those armed with swords and spears stabbed at the downed bear.  Elmiryn approached them as the bear let out its dying cry.  “That was sloppy,” she groused.

“Well if you hadn’t have missed the first shot…” one hunter muttered.

Elmiryn squinted at her right hand.  “I really did think I had a solid grip.”  She sighed and shook her head, and let her hand drop to her side.  “That aside…I think a bear is good enough for one day.  You men figure out a way to take the corpse to the burning pits, and I’ll meet you back at the Inn.”

“What are you going to do?” gargoyle man asked.

The warrior smiled crookedly as she passed him.  “I’m going to take my head out of my ass.”


Nighttime.  I stared at Tobias’s book, but didn’t read.  Couldn’t.  Elmiryn was out, stumbling like a confused puppet on some warped sense, and I wasn’t there to make sure she was okay.  My stomach knotted itself as I thought about terrible scenarios.  How awful would it be to have the woman die after what she had just survived…after what we BOTH had just survived?  I scratched absently at my skin, and a shiver ran through me as I recalled the unnatural separation of flesh from the river guardian.

Tired of the upstairs room, I had come down to the owner’s quarters where I enjoyed the warmth of a newborn fire.  It winked at me from the fireplace.

Then there was a knock on the doorway, and I turned in my chair to see Elmiryn across the room.  Her smile quirked and her eyes turned questionable when her gaze lowered to the bed between us.  Gullible, I followed her line of sight before it occurred to me just what it was she was thinking.

I made an irritated noise with my tongue and pretended to continue reading my book.  “You’re incorrigible.”

“But the bed’s bigger,” she said.  Her boots made a sharp sound as she crossed the floor.  There was the scrape of wood on wood as she slid a chair over to sit next to me.  “I mean, that other room is stuffy, and more people are coming back to Gamath.  Maybe we could stay in here for a while?  I don’t think the townspeople would mind us sharing–”

I buried my face in my hands to hide my blush.  “Merciful gods, make this woman stop!

She chuckled in response and her chair squeaked as she leaned far back in her chair.  “Guess the turnip isn’t ready to be plucked.”

“Why do you call me that?” I asked in a weary voice.  I chanced a look at her past my hands, and she winked at me cheekily.

“I think it’s the shape of your face.  And the dust that sits in your hair.  It makes me think of turnips.”

“That…isn’t flattering.  At all.

“Why haven’t you asked someone here to cut your hair?”

“Opal offered, but her eagerness put me off.”

“She was eager because your haircut is–”

“Atrocious.  Yes, I know.”  I sat back in my chair again, and tossed Tobias’s book onto the bed.  There was no use pretending anymore.

“Did you really cut it with shears?”

I gave the slightest of nods. “Without a mirror.”

“Your hair used to be longer.” Elmiryn said.  Her voice was too subdued for my liking, so I decided to change the topic.

“The guardian wants us to return.  We should probably do so tomorrow.  The townsfolk can take care of the rest of the clean up.”  I stood to my feet, but didn’t move.  Without a place for my eyes, I found myself staring into the fire.

Elmiryn looked up at me. “Thank you,” she said.

I gave her a puzzled look.  I felt vulnerable so I crossed my arms over my chest. “For what?” I asked.

“For carrying me here. For watching over me.” She crossed her legs and looked down at her hands.  I only noticed now that they weren’t in their usual gloves.  She had also removed her shoulder guards.  I saw the scar in her palm and turned away. “I just realized,” she continued.  “I haven’t thanked you for all that you’ve done yet. So, thanks.”

“I don’t know how many more times I can say it.  I hardly did anything.  In a way, I was a liability.”

Rather than argue with me, like just about every other person I spoke to had attempted, Elmiryn only shrugged and made a flippant gesture with her hand.  “Okay.” she said.

I turned and frowned at her.  A question I had been burning to ask bubbled into my mouth, and I couldn’t restrain it.  “Do you know how long we’ll be on this mission of yours for?”

Elmiryn shrugged again. “I don’t know.”  Her eyes rolled to look up at me, but her head didn’t lift.

“Elle…” the name slipped from my lips without my meaning it to.  I paused as my throat began to constrict.  “If things once again become as dire as they had in the guardian’s cave, can we hope to beat it reasonably?  Together?  Or will my role be only to pick up the pieces?”

Elmiryn sucked at her teeth.  She let her head fall back and stared at the ceiling. “It depends on how much you’re willing to take.  Maybe your role really will be just to pick up the pieces.”  She turned her face toward me, and a lazy smile appeared. “Wouldn’t it be fun to put me back together again?  I’d be like a puzzle that has more than one answer.” She giggled, and slapped a hand to her face.

My gaze darkened.  “You had something to drink?”

She pinched her index and thumb together and looked at me sideways.  “Just a splash.  I can’t stand that wine, and their rum is terrible.”

I shook my head and turned to face Elmiryn fully.  When I opened my mouth to speak, I faltered a little.  “I–I can’t say I’m wholly interested in seeing someone destroy themselves little by little.”

Elmiryn quirked an eyebrow, and her smile faded a little.  “But if you’re there, maybe that won’t happen?”

“Elmiryn I…” my voice cracked.  I gripped my head, then pressed my fingers into my eyes.  The tips turned damp.  “You frustrate me, you confuse me…sometimes you even scare me.” I sniffled.  I didn’t want to make a scene by crying.  I knelt down on the floor, as I remembered etiquette.  As one of such low class, even to a flagged criminal as Elmiryn, some deference was due.  It made me uncomfortable how easily I had forgotten that in her presence over the last week.  I looked at her hands, now clenched loosely in her lap.

“Despite all that, I can’t deny that you’ve saved my life, ended my hunger…and took away my loneliness.”  I paused to wipe at my eyes.  “I’m a timorous whelp and my problems are far from superficial.  I’ve…I’ve been in situations like this before and I don’t know if I can stand–”

“I’m not Atalo, Nyx.”

I flinched and bowed my head. “I didn’t say you were!” My voice quailed.  I could feel my eyes burn, but I squeezed them shut to stop any tears from coming.  “I was going to say I’m not strong enough to see my friend get hurt over something so hopeless!”

“Your what?”  Elmiryn leaned toward me.  Her eyebrows were raised high.  “I think I may have heard wrong.”

I peered at her and mumbled sullenly.  “I consider you a friend.  Am I being presumptuous?” At her pause, I ruffled my hair in frustration.  “I mean, am I assuming too much?”

She shook her head and sat on the floor with me.  “No.  Not really.  I just think you hold too much of yourself back…and by the way, why are you on the floor?”

I gave her an exasperated look. “Better question…why are you joining me?”  Then I added to myself, “And why am I talking to you like you’re my–”

“Equal?  Because if I wanted a lackey, I would’ve bought one.”  Elmiryn thumped me on the shoulder and grinned.  Her teeth flashed from the light of the fire.  “Instead, I saved a friend.”

“This is…endearing…” I rubbed my neck and made a point of looking at the ground.  “Believe me it is, but there’s still the matter of this…’quest’ of yours.  And I have other concerns.”

“Ouch.” Elmiryn tsked and leaned back against the chair, where she propped her elbows onto the cushion.  “You know it’s something serious when someone uses the word, ‘concern’.”

I sat back as my knees began to ache from kneeling on the floorboards.  I heaved a sigh and blew my bangs out of my eyes.  “You know…when the guardian swallowed all of us…our memories were shared.” I stiffened a little and tried to continue in a steady voice.  “I know you must’ve seen things…as I have seen things.  Elmiryn…I know why the Fiamman kingdom wants you captured.  I know you used to be one of them.  That, the song you hummed that night…to that girl caused her to…”


I looked at her startled.

Elmiryn’s eyes had shifted to the fire, where their gaze had turned glassy.  Her face was slack and her body rested in an unusual fashion that made me think of a puppet propped onto a shelf.  She had one leg bent, the other tucked beneath.  Her hands were relaxed.  Her hair, normally pulled back and out of the way, was loose and came down in lazy waves around her shoulders.

“The princess’s name is Cailean, and she may as well be dead.”  Elmiryn squinted her eyes a little and whispered, “She had slime all over her skin.  I remember how it felt. It was thick.  Sticky.  Cold.  Made my skin feel like it was on pins and needles, like when your foot falls asleep.  I think that’s what woke me up.  I tried shifting and then that sensation hit me; on the side of my face, my chest, my thighs.  Every place the slime touched me seemed to fuck with my nerves.

“It was so early, the maids hadn’t come in yet to prepare Cailean for the day.  I remember trying to get up, and feeling like the world was backwards.  I thought the floor was going to give, so I jumped out of the nearest window.  I crashed onto the roof of the medici building and tumbled into the courtyard.  Some lady servants saw me and screamed.  I didn’t think they were screaming because of me.”  Elmiryn chuckled and covered her face with her hand.

When she continued, her humor was still present, like she were just telling a funny anecdote and recovering from a hearty laugh.  “I ran to my barracks, dressed, grabbed what I could, and fled.  It was the weird looks I got from everyone I passed that made me slow down.  I tried to get it straight in my head what was really happening.  Common sense kicked in, and I realized how nothing made sense.”

She stopped and ran a hand through her hair with a sigh.  I shifted where I sat, and fiddled with the twine around my waist before I asked in a quiet voice, “Then what did you do?”

I could see a muscle in Elmiryn’s cheek move and she swiped at her nose with a rough pass of her arm.  “Y’know, this is hard for me to get right.  I mean, all I can see in my head are these faint impressions…like ghosts, in my head.  I’m certain of some details, but others I’m not so sure.”  She rubbed her temples and frowned.  The crease in her brow appeared.  I thought back to that day I had tried to smooth it out, when Elmiryn feared I had died.  With a blush, I sat on my hands.

“I went to my mother,” Elmiryn mumbled.  Her eyes fell shut and her frown deepened.  “She told me she had just come back from the royal court, and that the king had ordered for my capture.  She said they accused me of casting a curse on the princess.”  A corner of her mouth turned upward.  “She was in hysterics.  She asked me if it was all true, and I think I might’ve started laughing.  That was when my father came in.  He threatened to turn me in himself, but I ran.  I would have fought him but…”  Her smirk grew, “I didn’t want to upset mother.”

“How did you escape?  With all of the kingdom after you, how did you possibly get away?”

Elmiryn shrugged.  “Some of my comrades found me first.  They didn’t believe any of it, so they helped me flee.”

I bit my lip.  “…And Meznik?”

The woman looked in my direction, but her eyes seemed to pass through me.  “That night, when it all started, I had a dream.  A man whose voice I’d never heard before asked me if I could see his face.  Everything was black.  When I said I couldn’t, he laughed and told me I wasn’t looking hard enough.  Then he told me his name…Meznik…and said I would have to run.  That was when I woke up.”

“How did you figure out you were cursed if Meznik didn’t tell you?”

Elmiryn looked away.  She seemed to fight yet another smile.  “Two days after I managed to escape Fiamma, I noticed something was wrong with my eyes.  It was little things at first.  I’d look at a bush and think it was rustling when it wasn’t.  I’d see my reflection and think there was something on my nose only to realize it was just shiny.  Then bigger things.  I started waking up feeling like nothing I did affected my surroundings.  I wondered if I really left footprints, or if they belonged to someone else.  Sometimes it even seemed like the birds weren’t startled when I went by.  Then I thought about Cailean, my mother, my father…and I realized I couldn’t remember what they looked like.  I knew who they were, and that they existed…but…”

I shook my head.  “I really don’t understand.  From what I’d seen of your memories, nothing you’d done would have warranted this…granted, you aren’t the most pious of individuals, but there are far worse out there.”  The words left my mouth and my mind didn’t bother to censor them.  When it occurred to me what I had just said, my body seized up and I made to stand.  “Elle, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that–!!”

Elmiryn surprised me when she grabbed me by the arm.  “Sure you did.  Just stop.”

The severity of her voice made me shake.  I sat back down but pulled in an attempt to escape her tight grip.  “Elmiryn, let go!”

Her eyes had sharpened, like sight had come back to her.  She fixed me with the hungry look I had become familiar with.  “Till now we’ve both avoided talking about what happened in our pasts.  I told you about what happened to me.  Now I think I should hear about what happened to you.”

The emotions I had tried to keep in check since the day had started began to spill over.  I sobbed and shook my head frantically, “Elle, please!  We can talk about it later, I don’t know if I can do this right now!”

“No.” Her tone was flat.  “I don’t know what it was like for you to feel my memories, but yours nearly tore my heart out of my chest.  I have to know Nyx.  What happened to Atalo?”  Her brows pressed together, and she let go of my arm.  “…And why did you get the Mark?  From what I saw, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”

I hugged my head and rocked back and forth where I sat.  My chest felt tight and my skin felt cold.  “I can’t…”

I felt her hands on my back.  She leaned down and nuzzled my hair. “Please tell me,” she whispered.

I raised my head, my cheeks damp and my nose running.  Elmiryn was close enough that I could feel her breath on my skin.  There was that light smell of rum about her.  Her eyes were fixed on to mine, and something about them compelled me to speak.

With a swallow I started.  “Atalo and I fled, but the Cerrite, a criminal hunter, found us.  We defeated him, but I’d been stabbed with his blade and passed out.  Atalo dragged me to an abandoned shack a mile up the trail we followed.  It was used as an outpost, and he managed to find some supplies.”  I turned my face away, toward the fire.  The heat felt glorious on my skin.  In a dry whisper I continued.  “As it turned out, the Cerrite’s blade was poisoned, so my wound wasn’t healing.  I was caught in a fever.  Atalo tried to treat me, but the medicines he had were too mundane to handle the special poison that ran through me.  Time was running out, and soon the rest of the hunters would find us.  But not before…not before…”

My mouth, as if in rebellion, ceased to move.  Nearly a minute went by before Elmiryn grabbed me by the shoulders and gave me a harsh shake.  “Nyx, what happened?”

I looked at her, my face slack.  I imagined her angry, disgusted, horrified.  I realized this would be the first time I would say any of this aloud, to anyone, and I feared the truth would cause the one friend I had in the world to turn away from me.  My tears returned with a vengeance and my body trembled.  “I’m weak.” I sobbed with a slow shake of the head.  “Elmiryn.  I’m just too weak!

“But what happened, Nyx!?”

I flinched at the steely tone of her voice.  In a mousy voice, I continued to speak.  “E-Ever since I was young, I had t-t-trouble dealing with my Other Self.  They said it was–was because I read too much outside literature.  Because I questioned our ways too much.  They always t-talked of our primal sides being one-half of a whole.  But I never saw it that way, n-not even when I was young.  I grew up at odds with Her and she stopped listening to me.  Because I never learned to control Her…She…She…” I hugged my head.  “She killed him!  She killed Atalo!”

Elmiryn grabbed me by the chin and forced me to look up at her.  Her eyes were wide.  “What do you mean?”

I shut my eyes and two fat tears rolled down my cheeks.  “In my feverish state…I…I lost control.  I shifted to Ekilluos, the form taken during war.  It was the first time I ever did.  Atalo…he was just a boy…he didn’t…couldn’t defend himself.  As therians, we can only take so much before our healing powers mean nothing.  She killed him, and it’s my fault because I was too weak to stop Her.”

Elmiryn let me go, and I crumpled.  A long silence sat between us, interrupted only by my occasional sobs.

When my tears had subsided, I found myself continuing to speak.  I started to feel detached, like the pain I felt was too much, so my heart began to shut down.  “When the hunters came, they found me sitting with what was left of Atalo.  I was half-dead and mad with grief.  I kept scratching at myself…drawing blood.  I wanted to crawl out of my skin.  I didn’t just want to die, I wanted to cease to exist.”  I heard Elmiryn shift but didn’t look up to see what she did.  I assumed she moved away from me.  I was certain of her disgust.

“Instead of killing me,” I rasped, “They took me prisoner and brought me back to my village.  They publicly charged me with treason, fratricide, and perverting Aelurus’ gifts.  Shortly after that, they gave me the Mark, and cast me out of the village.  I only snuck back to take some things with me.  That was when I found out my mother had died.”  I laid on my side and covered my face with my arm.  I started to feel sick.

Then Elmiryn finally spoke.  “I want to see it.”

I removed my arm and looked at her.  She hadn’t moved away from me.  Her face was turned to me, and her eyes were sharp.  “I want to see your Mark.”

I stiffened.  Automatically, I thought to argue, but exhaustion had set into me.  After what I had just revealed, what was the point?

“Shut the door and lock it.” I muttered.

Continue ReadingChapter 7.3

Chapter 7.4


She shut the door and I heard the snap of the lock.  I picked myself off the floor and wiped at my swollen eyes.  Elmiryn turned to stare at me from across the room, and we both fell quiet as our gazes met.  The firewood cracked and popped in the fireplace as a glowing piece fell away to the ash covered floor.  My hands raised to touch the collar of my tunic before I once again became aware of the layout of the room.  Not wanting the bed between us as I undressed, I gestured for the woman to come closer.

“You’ll see better with the firelight.” I said quietly.

Elmiryn came closer, a soft frown on her face as she moved around the bed to stand near me.  She stopped a foot away and placed her hands on her hips.

I bowed my head and turned so that my back was to her.  “It took them a little over a day to finish the design.  The man who did it…I grew up with him.  We were…friends.  He was an apprentice learning the ways of the shamanites.  He wasn’t allowed to stop or rest until the Mark was finished.” I pulled the tunic over my head.  My arms felt weak and shook as I struggled to be freed from the fabric.  The air felt unwelcoming to my shoulders, and goosebumps spread across my skin.  When my tunic fell before my feet, I stopped and took a deep breath.

I couldn’t deny it, I still felt hesitant.  All that was left to remove was the bandage that wrapped my breasts.  It wasn’t too late to try and stop this.  Unless the bandage was removed, the most important aspect of my brand would not be seen.

But my hands were already moving without my consent.  They undid the bandage with fumbling fingers, and before I registered it, the wraps had fallen away.  My arms crossed over my front and I squeezed my eyes shut.

I jumped when Elmiryn brushed her fingers across my back, from my left shoulder blade down to my right hip.  The magic trappings that encased me in my curse seemed to pulse at her touch.  It was something I hadn’t felt before.  The best description I can offer for it, was as if my body wished to change.  To say it was a chill, or a spread of warmth isn’t quite it.  I felt as if something of my blood, my hair, my skin had trembled in the most microscopic sense.

But the moment was fast, and before I could make a remark on it, Elmiryn spoke.

“They designed this just for you, didn’t they?”

I nodded and swallowed.  My throat felt tired from being so tense.  “A reflection of my crimes.”

“Do you remember what they did to you?”

I smiled sardonically.  “Of course.  Aside from feeling many of the lines more than once, they had it on display before me so that I may know just what my punishment would entail.”  With a deep breath, I began to explain.  “There’s a woman, only partially shifted in a form that looks similar to Ekilluos.  She looks like she’s running away from the viewer, but her body twists so that she turns to look over her shoulder.  Her feline head is mangy and her claws are dripping with her own blood from the wounds she has inflicted on herself.” I paused to ease down the lump that tightened in my throat.  My eyes began to burn again.  “From her naked chest and back, you can see worms are squirming out of the wounds she has made.  A sign of pestilence.  Inherent evil.  That was for inflicting harm on myself after Atalo’s death.  Self-harm is considered a perversion of Aelurus’ gift of regenerative healing.”

“But–” Elmiryn began.

I cut her off.  “Next, there should be a bearded serpent slithering from the woman’s open mouth.  It’s wrapped around her throat and right arm.  It faces downward, toward the ground.  It’s for my defiance and, as they put it, my lies and treasonous words.”

“You don’t sound like you believe much in that charge, Nyx…”  There was the scrape of wood as Elmiryn pulled a chair up to sit behind me.  Her hands placed themselves at my hips and she pulled me a little closer.  I bit my objection back and instead answered her remark.

“I don’t doubt that it was my misguided persuasions that led Atalo to his death.”

Elmiryn made a low sound with her throat.  “Go on.  Tell me what else is here.”

I sighed.  “Elmiryn, you must know that I can recite each and every detail of my own Mark.  Why do you need to test me?”

There was a squeak from the chair as the warrior leaned forward to peer at me from my side.  Her eyebrow was raised high.  “Believe it or not, I’m not trying to turn this into a game.  I happen to have a problem with keeping pictures in my head.  Remember?”

I blushed and nodded, feeling a little ashamed.  Still, my shoulders bunched as I resumed my explanation.  “The woman is wearing two earrings, both feathers.  The one on the left is dark, the one on the right is light.”

“Lemme guess…the separation of your two selves, right?”


“I’m seeing something else, but I’m not sure if I have it right…”

“It should just be a gate.”  I frowned.  Elmiryn’s condition really had become worse if she had trouble identifying something as common as that.  It only made me more frustrated that she had been reckless enough to go hunting while in such a state.  “At the top are some words written in my native language.  Hejka et Juek.  Hejka et Ool.  Hejka et Lunés. ‘Traitor to Blood.  Traitor to Water.  Traitor to Spirit.’  I betrayed my family, my people, and my goddess. …They made it a point to go over those lines several times.”

“There’s more.  Beneath it, right?”

“Below that are words written in an archaic tongue.  I…don’t know what it says exactly.  Something required for the spell, I imagine.”

Elmiryn’s hands left my hips and I heard her sit back in her chair.

I turned to peer at her over my shoulder.  “Are you satisfied?”

She looked up at me and shook her head. “No.”  Half her face was lit, the other half in warm shadow.  With her hair down, she looked feminine, just as that night in the mountains.  “But I’m not sure if there’s anything I can do about it.”

I stooped to pick up my bandages, conscious not to stick my rear in Elmiryn’s face.  “You mean about what you remember?” I felt guilt nettle me.  I didn’t turn around or raise my eyes as I started to wrap the long bandage around my chest.  I hated the idea that my pain had somehow become someone else’s.  It almost made me want to apologize, but I refrained when I remembered that it was never my intention to share such things to begin with.

“No.  I mean about what I can’t remember.”

This made me pause.  She wanted to keep those memories?  Did she really mean that, I wondered.  And how could she?

“Was that…presumptuous?” she asked.  Her voice was low and had a warm quality to it.  It was subdued, but not in a way that suggested to me exhaustion or a sense of defeat.  Instead, it only reminded me of the rapacious looks that came across Elmiryn’s eyes in the morning, when she thought I didn’t see her looking my way.

“You…you really don’t make any sense.”  My fingers seemed to forget themselves.  They fussed uselessly with the bandage’s ends, failing even to make a simple box knot.

“So set me straight.”

I turned on the spot and fixed Elmiryn with a half-hearted glare.  “You are not so far-gone as to ask for what I’ve got, Elle.  It was perhaps the–the luckiest thing that I ended up being chased by those farmers.  If I hadn’t…I wouldn’t have met you…and…”  I faltered mid-sentence.  I finally managed to tie the knot correctly and moved to pick up my tunic from the floor.

As I came up, Elmiryn’s hand touched my shoulder gently.  I peered at her with my tunic clutched to my chest.  She frowned at me.

“I do consider myself lucky to have found you when I did, but regardless of whether or not I was there, had you not found those farmers, I think you would’ve been fine.”  When my gaze fell away from hers, her light touch turned to an iron-like grip.  “You would’ve been fine.” She repeated firmly.

“You know why I was nearly starved to death?  Every village I went to chased me out.  Near my home, outsiders have recognized who outcasts are.  I had been kicked out of every known area of the Northwest before meeting you.”  I pulled away from Elmiryn and put on my tunic.  “I wasn’t going to survive long.  I was starving.  Just in the week that I’ve been with you, I think I’ve gotten healthier.  But…but even if I had managed something to eat, I think–”

Elmiryn cut me off with a loud snort.  She sat back in her chair and crossed her arms high on her chest.  “Shit, you’re starting to get aggravating.”

I sputtered. “P-Pardon?”

The woman stood to her feet with a bang.  She made a big show of stomping her feet and pushing her chair back with all her strength.  She was taller than I was, and advanced on my quickly.  The display startled me so much that it caused my legs to fail and I began to fall backward, but Elmiryn didn’t let me go down.  She grabbed me by the front and lifted me up so that my toes barely scraped the ground.

Enough of it, Nyx!” She hissed through her teeth.  Her sharp eyes were like knives turned on me, and I trembled as I dangled in the air.  I thought back to Leander, and fought the urge to struggle.

What she said next surprised me.

“You aren’t weak,” She said.  Her words carried such strength and force, I could practically feel them bury into my gut.  She gave me a shake.  Elmiryn’s face started to turn pink at the cheeks,  “You aren’t useless, you aren’t a coward!  A WEAK person wouldn’t have survived in that cave.  A USELESS person wouldn’t have tried to take care of me.  A COWARDLY person wouldn’t have tried to save their brother from death at such a great risk to themselves. You wanna know what you fucking are?  Undisciplined! But if you can keep pace with me, you’re certainly capable of more.  So guess what?”  She paused and had an expectant look on her face.

“…Wh-What?” I stuttered out.  I had the most bewildered look on my face.

“We’re going to train together.  I’ve been getting a little soft, and as my ward you’ve got to be able to defend yourself.  So enough of this, ‘I can’t fight’ nonsense.  Yer gonna learn to walk with a straight back, Nyx.” She dropped me to the ground and gave me a bit of a shove.  “I swear to the heavens, if I hear you bitch one more time about how you aren’t good enough, I’ll hit you square in the mouth.  And…” She faltered, and the flare and fire in her eyes died down.  Then without warning, she smiled and started to chuckle.  “And by the four winds, you’ll thank me for it!”

She turned and walked away, swept up in a fit of humor that managed to annoy and frighten me at the same time.  Her laughter seemed to intensify as she left the room with her hand to her head.

Elmiryn had either suffered from some delusion created by her curse.

…Or she really meant every word she said.

I collapsed to the ground and blinked as a piece of ember managed to slip through the guard at the fireplace and land near my feet.  I thought to snuff out the glowing bit with my boot, but I couldn’t bring myself to move.  The piece cooled and turned black.

I wondered nervously what tomorrow would bring.

Continue ReadingChapter 7.4

Chapter 8.1


Icurled in the sheets of a massive bed that wasn’t mine.  I heard patters on the window.  Fat drops of water abused the panes with such gusto that my eye creaked open.  I heard people laugh outside.  At first it was hard for my sleepy head to grasp why, but then it became clear.

I sat up and tried to blink the sleep from my eyes.

It was raining at Gamath.

I kicked the sheets away and placed my bare feet on the wooden floor, my face turned long with wonder at the sight of the speckled glass.  The view revealed to me indefinite forms that danced and shifted.  I stood, my legs affected by my fleeting dreams.  I swayed a little as I crossed the room, and the partial light lanced my sensitive eyes.  Forced to squint, I tried to shield my face with a hand, and it was through parted fingers that I saw a phantom drift toward the window.

They wore only a soaked white nightgown and their auburn hair was left to hang in wet locks about their angular face.  Even through the changing mosaic of rain, I could make out wide cerulean eyes that didn’t blink or falter in their stare.

“Elmiryn,” I called, hoping she heard me through the glass.

She reached a hand up and placed it on the window.  Her lips moved and I could hear her voice through the rain, but couldn’t make out what she said.  I shook my head and stepped closer, where I leaned on the window sill for support.  My breath fogged the glass.  “What did you say?”

The woman laughed and shook her head.  She gestured for me to come outside and began to walk away.

I tapped on the glass and tried to call her back, but then decided I was being silly about it.  Rain wouldn’t kill me.  I ran to get my shoes and was about to rush out the door when something occurred to me.

Elmiryn was standing outside in nothing but her nightgown.  Wet from head to toe.

Red-faced and thoroughly bothered, I went to the innkeeper’s wardrobe where I was lucky to find cloaks both for myself and Elmiryn.  The inn itself was quiet when I left the bedroom, but outside children and adults alike were celebrating in the rain.  I didn’t pause long to watch them, instead I put on one cloak and made my way around the building to the back, where I found Elmiryn sitting on a barrel with her arms crossed over her chest and her head tilted back.  Her eyes were wide open, despite the rain, and she had a long smile on her face.

“Elle, where’s your sense!?” I cried as I tossed the heavy cloak onto her lap.  She didn’t jump or look even remotely startled.  Her eyes lingered on the sky before she looked at me, the turn of her head a smooth line of motion that outlined her lack of concern.

“Hm?” Was her only response.  She sounded like she wanted to laugh.

“The cloak, Elle,” I said, my jaw tense as my eyes rapidly shifted focus from the left to the right side of her face.  I tried very hard to keep my head up, but I could see the pink of her chest through the white fabric.  Despite the cold, heat burned up my neck.  “Put it on.  You’re indecent and there’s children around!”

Elmiryn blinked and took the cloak in her hands.  She stared at it for a moment before putting it on.  “Right.  I didn’t stop to think about that.”  Then she looked at me and her eyes squinted a fraction.  “Hey.  Now that I think about it, you actually got out of bed on your own!

I tapped my boots in a puddle, an irritated scowl on my face.  “I’m not so languorous that something that basic is beyond my capacity.”  I opened my mouth, ready to explain what I meant in simpler words when Elmiryn raised a hand to stop me.

“No, no.  I think I got the gist of that one, thanks.”

I quirked an eyebrow.  “So you figured out that you can infer definitions?”

“…I can what?”


“I’m just teasing, Nyx,” Elmiryn giggled.

Silence fell between us.  My eyes wandered, where they met with jovial faces.  They drifted to the buildings, whose weeping eaves and washed walls were freed of the oppressive ash that had covered them in a gloomy blanket.  My gaze rose skyward, and a single word drifted into my head in a river’s whisper only to fade into the hiss of the rain.

I looked at Elmiryn and found that her eyes were already on me.  “Did you just realize?” She said.  Her eyes were warmed by understanding.

At once, I was struck with how frail she appeared.  Her hair had turned dark and wavy by the moisture, robbed of its well-kept beauty to something bedraggled and wild.  Her nose and cheeks were a fair pink.  Swallowed by the large dark cloak, she appeared smaller to me with the strength of her arms concealed.  The cover seemed to make her just realize the effects of the rain and cold.  Her shoulders hunched a fraction of an inch, and now and again her body gave itself away by a twitch or a small shudder.  With the rainwater making trails down her bare legs, I saw that the cloak was too little, too late.

I stepped closer and grabbed the woman gently by the shoulders.  “Come on, Elle.  Let’s go warm by the fire.  You can’t get sick.”

She grabbed me by the front and pulled me a little closer.  Her touch, unlike last night, was more a suggestion then a forceful demand, still I found myself following until her face was pressed against the side of mine.  Elmiryn felt cold, and the shivers she tried to conceal could no longer hide in our proximity.

“Elle…” I sighed as my arms wrapped around her shoulders.  I willed my warmth to become hers.

I could hear the smile in her voice as the woman whispered into my ear.  The feathery feeling it caused made my hands flex against her back, and I bit my lip.

“Nyx…” she whispered.  “…Her sisters. The guardian’s sisters have come back to her.”


She warmed near the fire, her head cradled against her shoulder as we sat near the fireplace in the innkeeper’s bedroom.  There was a disinterest in the slack features of her face, the slow blink of her eyes, the deep rhythm of her breathing.  Heavy wool blankets draped her shoulders, courtesy of Opal.  I sat on the chair to the right of her and watched her out of the corner of my eye.  My legs were crossed and my head rested on my interlaced hands.

Elmiryn didn’t say anything else after we had returned to the safety of the inn, nor did she say anything when Opal had to shoo the local children out from underfoot.  Outside, the rain had become torrential.  It chased away the festivities, and by noon, all at Gamath were indoors.

The streets were flooded with streams.  Doors were kept shut and blocked with rolled sheets to keep the water out.  Concern in me grew over whether this weather would continue.  Even in this valley, I could see the city being submerged beneath the heavenly shower.  Were the clouds still angry?  Or was this overwhelming joy?


Elmiryn’s voice seemed elsewhere.  I looked at her, brows pressed together.  “Yes, Elle?”

“I’m still cold.”

I straightened in my seat and turned, some intention in my muscles that preceded the cognizance of my mind.  But the instinctual action halted the moment I became aware of myself, and my motive was lost.  I remained leaned toward her, and my hands hovered useless over her shoulder and back.  Elmiryn lifted her head to look at me.  Her face looked vaguely puzzled.  Her eyes traced my features, but had a glassy look about them.  “Is it okay?  To still feel cold?” she asked with a frown.

My hands clenched before they gently rested against her.  I tentatively began to rub her back.

The fabric beneath my hand was a separation between myself and Elmiryn, a thing that prevented true contact but did nothing to diminish the intimacy of the action.  The woman had told me herself that she desired nothing of my deference or propriety.  A week ago, I would have been much more hard pressed to honor such a feeling, but at that moment it didn’t take much to accept her wish for companionship.  Just as I could forget myself and berate Elmiryn for her recklessness, I rationalized it was entirely acceptable to wish to comfort her in times of need–and I was learning when those times were.  Upon meeting her, I found the woman to be indomitable.  Now, in the space of a smile, the echo of a laugh, a touch of her hand, my view of her had changed.

The issue was not so much Elmiryn, but in comprehending my own responses to these curious stimuli–the heated flesh, the salivation, the short breath, the knot in the pit of my gut.  My hand made slow circles, fingers splayed, and my fingertips burned knowing that I would not stop, despite the knowledge that the fabric did nothing…

Nothing to diminish the intimacy.

Then, guided by the moment, with the silence drawn to the point of breaking, I pulled the woman to me and hugged her around the shoulders, where her head came to rest on my chest.  Her hair was still damp, and her ears and nose still pink.  Our seats were close enough that she was able to hug my torso for support.  Despite our difference in size, it wasn’t awkward.

…And she said nothing.  Reacted in no other way than to go along with my embrace as if she had no choice, and cared nothing for it.  This dispassion perturbed me.  I knew she was only partially with me, and I feared where her other half had gone in the gloomy labyrinth that I tasted of her mind.  I squeezed her, and needed for her to react.  “Elmiryn.”

“Haven’t you ever felt like your insides were cold?” she said suddenly, like a machine startled to life.  “As if the heat of the world can’t penetrate the shallow layers of your skin?  I tried remembering how warm the townsfolk looked despite the rain, but I can’t remember their smiles any more.”  The woman chuckled low.  She went on rambling and I didn’t stop her, only tried to keep myself from hugging her tighter.  “There was fire in his eyes,” she said, a hint of fascination in her voice.  “I don’t remember how it looked, but I felt it.  And I shot him in the back.  The arrow lunged instead of hopped that time–the first time, I think my hand forgot it belonged to me and just let go.  I remember him groaning, the men grunting, and I thought it was such a disgrace. …But hey, the bastard’s blood won’t be in the streets anymore.  Fire’s gone, but he’s dead.”  She sighed.  “I wonder if I’ll ever meet a man who can stand upright and kill me.  Maybe I’ll feel like I’m in ice, soon.  I can’t think of anything colder…or is it possible to go further?”

When she finished my eyes squinted as much as I felt confused.  I shifted to look down at Elmiryn’s head.  “I don’t understand at all.”

“No?”  She sounded unconcerned.

“What do you mean, ‘A man who could stand upright and kill me?’”  If I could, I’d ask for her to explain everything, but I figured I’d get my answers bit by bit.  It seemed as much as she could handle, at the moment.

She shifted a little, and her chair squeaked.  “Hmm,” she said.  “I was thinking of a large man, who went around on all fours.  The son of a bitch was angry at me.  But it’s okay.  He’s dead.  Got him, yesterday.”

I tensed.  “You mean a therian?”

“No.  He wore furs.  I mean he looked like an animal.  It doesn’t matter anymore.  He’s dead.”

“But Elmiryn, who’s dead!  You can’t just tell me–” I stopped, as I finally understood.  I closed my eyes, and my expression turned weary.  “Elle, I want you to listen to me.  You didn’t kill a man.  You killed a bear.

I expected her to argue with me.  Her silence did indeed carry a sense of resistance to it, but she didn’t say a word.  I opened my eyes and said again, “It wasn’t a man, it was a bear.  I even heard some of the others you were hunting with tell me so.”

“Was it the gargoyle?”

I shook my head, my chin brushing over her damp hair.  I decided to ignore the bizarreness of the question.  “Elle, just believe me.  It wasn’t a man.  It just wasn’t.”

She remained quiet.  Then nodded.  “All right…” she murmured.

She shifted her face toward my body and breathed in deep.  “Hey Nyx…guess what?”

“What?” I managed to ask that in a steady voice.

Elmiryn’s hug tightened around me.  “You sound like a musical instrument.”  She made as if to lift her head, and I turned my face to give her room.  But what she did instead paralyzed me.  Elmiryn indeed raised her head up, but without pulling away from me.  She trailed her lips up my neck to my ear, all hot breath–none of the supposed cold she claimed she harbored inside.  She said quietly in my ear, “I can feel your voice in my head, as much as I can feel your heartbeat.  Can you tell me what I’m thinking?”

My body tensed, and when my sensibilities returned to me, I placed my hands at her shoulders as if to push her back.  But then Elmiryn sat back enough to look me in the eyes, and the distant look was gone.  She was fixed on me.  Or some aspect of me.  It was a growing suspicion of mine that when the woman stared at me as she did then–intense and hungry–she didn’t actually see the whole of me…or she did, but saw me in a different light than she should, just as one might gain a new understanding of a sculpture or building by changing their view point.

I heard myself speak.

“…You want something I have.”

The woman, her cerulean eyes lit with warm half-moons from the fire, took my face in her hands and pressed her lips to mine.  I didn’t cry out, only widened my eyes and straightened with a deep intake of breath, like I had just been dunked in freezing water.

Her mouth was articulate in touch, and expressed its desire by its eager press and dominating manner.  I was left no room to question, anymore than I was allowed the night before while held aloft by Elmiryn’s powerful grip.  My hands clenched and seemed to consider the situation at hand…only to acquiesce and take light hold at the crooks of Elmiryn’s arms.  Something clandestine uncoiled itself from the center of my chest, and my eyes slipped shut.

I responded.

My lips moved against Elmiryn’s as if in a stutter.  She pressed forward, the frailty that had shrouded her giving way to unabashed eagerness.  Elmiryn parted just enough to hiss into my open mouth, “Give me your Meaning.”  I only distantly wondered as to what she meant.  She didn’t give me much time to mull over her demand–only pressed her mouth harder to mine and pressed forward so much I was forced to lean back.  I grabbed at her to keep from falling, and her arms encircled me again, pulling me closer.

Her hands roved my back as her tongue found its way into my mouth–no pause to see if I would object. It hardly seemed a concern of hers, and just as I suspected her intense stare saw something inconceivable in my features, her desire seemed driven by a motive other than simple gratification.  I started to genuinely feel afraid she would smother me until I suffocated.  I could hardly breathe with her long tongue exploring every cavity of my mouth.

I suppose she became unsatisfied with the separation of cloth that guarded my back, for her hands slipped underneath my tunic and trailed their way up my skin.  The moment her fingers touched the lines of my Mark, I froze, the sensation from the night before striking me.  Though part of my back was covered by my bandages, not all of it was, and these parts Elmiryn explored eagerly.  I would have told her to stop, would have pushed her back…but with every pass of her hand, the sensation in me grew.  I heard a humming in my head, as though my bones resonated.  My skin grew hot.  In a singular fashion–not a wave–my body felt as though it were about to break apart into dust.

I arched my body with a choked sound and broke our kiss, as my head craned back as far as it could go.  My eyes rolled, eyelids twitched and tears slipped down the sides of my face.  At first, I imagine Elmiryn must have thought the arching of my back as an encouraging response.  She bit at my neck, near my throat where I tried to speak, but couldn’t.  When I started to thrash and convulse, the situation finally seemed to reach her.  She pulled away from me, and her embrace turned from one of a lover’s, to that of a person struggling with the insane.  Her hands came out from under my tunic to better hold me.

“Nyx!?” she cried.

I was, again, aware of every inch of myself.  It was as though I vibrated down to the smallest part, and the heat that claimed me burned so much it stung.  I fought to continue breathing.  I managed shallow gasps.

Then I felt something familiar, but just as terrible, slip through the sensations that gripped me.  My joints ached, and my muscles started to shift.  Meat and sinew slid at the cost of my nerves.  My bones elongated.  Something between a cry and a groan came from deep inside me, and I fought as hard as I could to remain in control of my body.  The greatest difficulty came in that I wasn’t shifting correctly.  My right arm, my left hand, both my shins, and my shoulders were the only parts of myself that called for change.  When I shapeshift, the process starts at my chest, then spreads in a symmetrical pattern.  This confused change was harder for my mind to pin down and stop.  I closed my eyes to concentrate on regaining control.

…It amazes me, looking back, how I was capable of forgetting about my counterpart.  How could I sit on my laurels and not anticipate her return from whatever sleep she had slipped into since the guardian’s cave?

I knew I was winning my fight when I was able to scream.

The heat began to recede.  The pain and aches in my muscles and bones faded as they returned to normal.  With the humming gone from my head, I could hear Elmiryn panting over me.  I sucked in air desperately, like I had just come up from water.  With my head feeling as though it weighed a ton, I strained to sit upright again.  My eyes opened, slow and heavy.

…Terror struck me.

“What happened?” I cried, blinking and trying to open my eyes as wide as possible.  Not even a sliver of light shone through the left side.  My right eye strained as if it could pick up the slack left by its sibling.  “Why can’t I see out of one eye!?

Elmiryn frowned deeply.  Her ruddy hair was a curtain around her face.  “You can’t see out of it at all?” she asked.

“No!  I can’t at all!”  I rubbed at my eye.  Squeezed it shut and opened it again.  I wailed.

I pushed out of Elmiryn’s embrace, our limbs a confused tangle after the way I had struggled in her arms.  Clumsily, I managed to free myself, and gazed with my one good eye to see that Den, Opal, and a few others were crowded at the open door of the room.  They stared at me in confusion…and perhaps a little fear.

“What happened?” Den asked with a step forward.  He seemed out of breath, as though he came running.

Elmiryn gave a shrug and glanced back at him.  “She hasn’t got her eye anymore.”

I looked at her in confusion.  I felt near hysterics.  “What do you mean??” I cried.

Opal looked at her father before she spoke.  Her voice was small and shaky.  “Ah…your…your eye.  It’s different from the other one.  It’s…um…” her voice trailed and she turned away, as if the sight was too repulsive for her.

“It’s Her, Nyx.” Elmiryn finished.  “She’s opened her eye.”

Continue ReadingChapter 8.1

Chapter 8.2


In the twilight hours of the day, when glowing embers danced and flew to a paper sky, Elmiryn would hold her breath. The watercolor shades and the cut-out stars would not burn, would not burn–no matter how much she wished to see heaven; and it would be between the spaces of wishes such as those where she rediscovered common sense. It always skulked in the fading light, bent over and sullen without the glare of the suns to illuminate its homesteads. Those places were decrepit, but they still stood, and it was with a self-deprecating snort that she remembered:

People only have one set of eyes.

No gaze could be switched or swapped for another, not even in magic. Not as far as she knew. (and she questioned what she knew frequently these days)

But at the time, it didn’t occur to her. At the time, Nyx stared, or half-stared, along with all the rest in the room. Elmiryn looked back at them and smiled unapologetically. “Well, it’s obvious isn’t it?”

Den put his hand on his hips, a queer action the warrior thought, and squinted at her. “What do you mean?” His mouth was a little open as if breathing through it would bring words to him quicker. It seemed an annoying habit of men to breathe more harshly either through the nose or mouth when agitated.

Nyx went to sit on the bed…no…could that constitute as sitting? More like falling. Yes, she fell on the bed and managed to land upright. Mismatched eyes stared across the room to the window, where outside they could see water still fell. And what did the Animal think, in her dark place of unbeing…?

…Did the walls breathe, where she lived, as they did for Elmiryn?


Things switched, just like a picture, to a new image with a snap. When had the sight of a mouth-breather changed to begin with? She couldn’t remember. Didn’t bother. There was a memory in her neck of motion, and she was quick to learn that in her state, it was the body that remembered things best.

“What are you all doing here, anyway?” The woman asked with a bite in her voice. There was something beyond concern, beyond fear or worry that rooted these gawkers to the spot. It bothered her that the heat of her lips burned hotter than the fire, and that these fools kept staring in blatant disrespect just because…all because…

“You all need to leave.”

The turnip was buried, and would not come out. Not for the suns, not for the rain. These people would not dig it out with their ignorant horror.

They stared at her. “We heard screaming!” Den exclaimed. He seemed defensive. Defensive of their hovering, their whispering, of the crowd that grew at the door to try and peep at the bodily freakshow that could be found.

“Thanks for your concern,” She stood to her feet.  Steady.  This world was hers, she reasoned, and the floor would not shift without her permission. Her turnip would not be stirred. Elmiryn gave a curt nod. “You can all go now.”

Den, with his jaw hung open, scowled at her, then turned and gestured for all to leave. The warrior could see the tenseness of his back, the red heat that stained his neck and shoulders. Good intentions led them there. Poor conduct led them out. Elmiryn wasn’t sorry.

Her lips still burned.

When the door was shut and the only sounds that could be heard was of the gawkers leaving, the rain pouring, and the wood cracking in heat, Elmiryn turned to Nyx. “You can’t lose control here.”

“I know that,” Nyx snapped. She looked, as much as the Animal looked, and glared with quivering lips. “I’m…I’m trying to-to-to do something, but typically there’s a…um…” She squeezed her eyes shut and grit her teeth. “It’s hard to explain to a human. In our minds, its being able to consciously access a different part of ourselves. At a young age, we learn to control how we shift down to the body part. We train until the process is clean and even. If it isn’t, then bad things happen…like…” she gestured feebly at her face and opened her eyes again. “This.”

“Does She…speak to you?”

Nyx, pale-faced, shook her head. “No. I can’t hear Her at all…and it scares me.”

“We can sit here and wait a while. The rain hasn’t stopped yet anyway.” The woman stepped forward with the intention of sitting next to Nyx, but the girl jumped up as if the bed expelled her.

“Elmiryn, I think…well, I don’t know why, but I think this happened because you touched my Mark.” Nyx spoke in a hurried voice, one that was tense and had a note of something else, something Elmiryn couldn’t name outright.

The woman’s eyebrow tilted. “You didn’t say anything the first time I did it.”

Nyx sighed and began to unwrap the bandage from her right hand. “When you touch my Mark it does something to me. I don’t understand it, but it’s like my body is being forced to transform.” The girl wrapped the bandage around her head. It covered her left eye completely. Elmiryn thought of the Animal, and how her world would go dark.

How it would go small and quiet.

“…Are you sure you’re up to traveling today?” The woman asked. Her shoulders had tensed, and she tried to remember the vast sky, the free circulating air, the far stretched plains that were open to her.

The Ailuran said nothing. She went to fetch her bag at the foot of the bed, and when she moved to do so she turned her body the long way around. Elmiryn noted that it was a purposeful, conscious act, but wasn’t sure what its goal was. She could see, from the side, that the girl glared as she took up her bag. “Elmiryn, I understand why you have to ask, but really, the concern isn’t necessary.” She muttered this through tight lips. “The guardian expects us. We’ve had our days to rest, so….”

“If we leave, I don’t want to stop. Can you keep it together until we make camp tonight?”

“I’ll be fine.” Nyx picked up Tobias’s book from where it had fallen on the floor the night previous, and shoved it forcefully into her bag. Elmiryn could hear her breathing had turned thin and uneven–desperate little gasps that shuddered from the concentrated effort of pushing forward. She mulled over the noise. Closed her eyes to it. Felt it in her head and breathed it a little herself. It was within that small moment of analysis that the warrior knew it wasn’t fear or sadness. Those were emotions that spoke of defeat. This sound was harsher.  The purpose of Nyx’s wide turn became clear.

The girl was angry.

“…Nyx, look at me.”

“What is it?” The girl’s face was turned to the floor. She seemed dead set on faking activity as she rummaged through her useless belongings.

“Kitten, do you see me in that bag of yours?”

“No, no, no–do not call me that!!” Nyx shrieked. She turned and threw her bag with an overhand sweep, and its contents skittered across the floor. Elmiryn watched them bounce away, and she completely believed in that moment that they were pieces of a life lost. Shiny fragments that had no place. The redhead looked up again to see her companion glaring at her, her single eye ablaze with some other element that she didn’t recognize. It wasn’t a color that belonged in Nyx’s composition, and Elmiryn wondered if it were the same girl.

The Ailuran breathed hard, her face angrily blotched and her hair more tussled than usual. She brandished a finger–the one hand that wasn’t bandaged. (A bare hand, Elmiryn thought. A free hand.) “Don’t call me ‘kitten’,” Nyx seethed through her teeth. “Or ‘turnip’, or any other diminutive epithet that can jump into your bewildered mind, because I am not yours to…to…” she faltered. Her brows pressed together and her hand lowered.

There she was. Nyx was back. The disquiet, the anxiety, the ever-lasting guilt that congealed to form the pale slip of a girl.

“Why did you save me that night in the forest?” Nyx asked in a feeble voice. Her eyes threatened to drown. “What reason did you really have? And don’t tell me it was because you thought I was ‘interesting’.”

Elmiryn gazed across at her, affected by the distance between them. Nyx was once again before her, untainted and unvisited by fury, and yet she seemed a straight arrow’s shot away…

The woman turned her eyes to the floor, and after a moment she stood and knelt down to pluck up a life fragment. She recognized it as a presence that had been there throughout her life. Did Nyx take a piece of her, and slip it into her bag? The battles, the dead, the blood spent? The warrior squinted at it. Felt the fragment with her fingers. She called on logic to fill the gap that memory left, and her eyebrows rose high. “The arrowhead,” She breathed. Her lips pulled up at the corners. “The one I shot you with…You kept it.”

“I did.” Nyx knelt down and began to slip her things back into her bag. “It was so close to killing me, yet it saved my life.”

“Kind of like how you think of me.”

“I…” the girl paused and looked at her. “No, that’s not…”

Elmiryn’s grin grew wider. “It is. You’ve already told me I frighten you sometimes. But you call me your friend.” The woman held out the arrowhead. “After this morning, can you still say that?”

Nyx reached for the trinket slowly. When she touched it, her fingers brushed Elmiryn’s and she paused. She hurriedly pulled her hand away and dropped the arrowhead into her open bag. Her face was red.

“Elmiryn, please answer my question.”

The woman bowed her head. “I saved you,” Elmiryn started. “Because,” she closed her eyes for a brief moment, then opened them again. Her gaze was softened by a sense of nostalgia. “You…moved the shadows.” She said slowly. She touched a hand to her head, and her eyes unfocused. “You had claws when you had none, and yet you refused to use them. You had a means to escape, but you didn’t take it. I remember…how excited it made me feel. There were no more trees, there was no more darkness, and the men who wanted to kill you had become this single thing that…that…didn’t even distinguish itself. In my head, I just remember this inhuman blob, and even with the torches they held…they were black compared to you.”

When Nyx spoke next, she sounded anguished. “You must have had some motive, Elmiryn. Something other than what you saw.”

Elmiryn frowned at her. “…You aren’t listening to me.”

“I am. Of course I am! For the second time, perhaps a little more long-windedly, but nevertheless, for the second time, you’re telling me you just found me superficially interesting! I called you my friend, Elmiryn! I called you my friend!” Nyx took a deep breath. Her next words she blurted out in a rush. “You just want me around to toy with!

“That isn’t true. You’re hearing me, but you aren’t listening!” Elmiryn felt anger clench her fists. “Nyx, I saw you! I heard you! And there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that you existed. You begged for your life, and I believed you had life. I wanted to save it! I wanted to have you and your life and your voice with me!” Elmiryn slammed her fist into the floor and leaned forward on it, her eyes wide and challenging. “You want me to admit that I only wanted you along as a servant? You want me to admit that I only wanted you along so that I could fuck you raw? You want me to admit that I don’t care about you? Well I won’t, because that isn’t true–and as for what happened earlier, I won’t apologize for that.” The woman shifted closer and hissed. “I can still taste you in my mouth.

Nyx leaned back and sucked in air sharply. “Elmiryn–!!”

Elmiryn didn’t give her a chance to speak. She stood to her feet and paced the floor twice, before growling and going for her things.  The woman was aware there wasn’t even a need for them as they weren’t leaving yet, but she felt she had to move.  Busy herself, as the girl had.  Nyx remained quiet behind her. The redhead took up her bow and quiver with forceful hands, then finally slowed.  The emotion that fueled her was now like gray coals. Elmiryn bit her tongue and pursed her lips to keep the spontaneous giggle that ripped up her throat from joining the air. She covered her mouth with her hand, and thought, “I got angry.”

Then she couldn’t keep it in anymore.

She doubled over, and the sound of her mirth occupied everything. She felt it in her head, her chest, her limbs. It started sloppy, like an animal that had broken free of its restraints and stumbled clumsy into a frantic run.  It steadied into a rhythm, clear and almost like a composed song. Tears sprang up in Elmiryn’s eyes and she threw her head back to send the sound up to the ceiling.

“I got angry! I was pissed! I was furious! And–And–” and she had to pause because her humor felt the need to interject. When she had enough breath to speak, she continued, “And it was all because you–” Elmiryn turned, expecting to see Nyx, but she realized with a cold sink of her gut that she was alone in the room.

The woman’s laughter died instantly.

“All because you…make me care, Nyx.” Elmiryn whispered.



The rain died.

Elmiryn didn’t mourn it.

She stood in the drowned streets, with her arms crossed on her chest, and noted a sense of kinship with the quietness that existed around her. Was it because, abandoned out here, these complicated structures lacked purpose? Was it because the wind sang through the cracks, or because the puddles of water lay still?

Was it because these streets were inhabited by ghosts?

Elmiryn hadn’t seen Nyx since that morning. The girl had slipped away. At first, it bothered Elmiryn. What about the girl’s promise? But then, she recalled the movements of her mouth, and the sound of her voice in her head. “Stay with me. As much as you can. Please.”

Perhaps, the warrior reasoned, Nyx had done just that. It wasn’t necessarily breaking a promise. Nor could she begrudge that sometimes, a person needed to be alone. She had known that feeling once. Surrounded by so many, and yet with no one at all, she had wished all the strangers to leave. All the problematic buffoons and the sycophantic sluts to just leave. Funny how such a wish was fulfilled, only to carry on longer than she wished it.

The real question was, would Nyx come back?

The feel of new cotton beneath a caramel quilted doublet was a delight to Elmiryn. She felt new. The old bustier was something of an annoyance–didn’t allow for much breathing room and made it difficult to twist around in combat. The shoulder guards, she admitted, were useless without the rest of the armor to go with them, so she rid herself of those too. They went into a trade bargain–compensation for the items Nyx received, as well as for Elmiryn’s new clothes and some needed supplies. She contemplated ridding herself of the sword–it was a heavy item that attracted attention due to its design–but she reasoned that she could use it in training Nyx. This was a matter she would not let alone. The girl had to become self-sufficient to some degree, or she would meet a gruesome fate.

These thoughts occupied her mind. Kept it busy as the suns warmed her face and lit Gamath in patches. The shafts of light were like translucent glass that came down through the spent clouds, and the woman watched quietly to see if the wind could break the illumination.


The woman turned to see Opal approach quietly on light feet, her hands behind her back and her square face flushed.  Elmiryn knew the girl must have followed her.  A lock of brown hair danced before her lowered eyes as she gave a small bow. “I’ve…I’ve already spoken to Nyx and apologized for my poor behavior. I…we shouldn’t have behaved as we did. It was intrusive.  It was insensitive and rude. You’ve done so much for us and yet we just stood there like–”

“It isn’t your fault.” Elmiryn said. She uncrossed her arms and touched a hand to Opal’s chin, forcing her head up. The woman grinned. “You can’t be ashamed for working off your prejudices–everyone on this planet needs a way to react to something new and mysterious if they wanna keep from getting overwhelmed. You’re already a cut above everyone else.”

Opal blinked. “How?”

Elmiryn tapped the girl’s forehead. “Because you’ve had your prejudiced reaction, and now you’re trying to move past it.” The redhead shrugged, her eyes shining with a sudden glee. She giggled and gave Opal a hearty clap on the shoulder. The young girl looked at her, utterly bewildered.

“You can’t expect to get that completely right on the first try,” Elmiryn finished as she brushed past, back the way she had come.

She had wandered along the cobbled paths, up alleys and down thoroughfares, past old buildings that seemed like new, and new residents who were in fact old. The deeper toward the center she traveled, the more populated it became, until it seemed she was back in an average town, filled with average people, doing average things. There were hammers banging, dogs barking, wheel carts squeaking, children laughing all around.

Yet the feeling of kinship faded. Elmiryn didn’t understand it. Her good humor gave way to annoyance as she watched the pasty faces of little boys quiver and twist under the excitement of pretend battle, their grubby hands gripped tight around wooden swords, and their voices like whips at the little girls who got in their way of adventure. Whereas, in the prior days, Elmiryn could differentiate sentences, pick out particular persons, and even pinpoint the locations of speakers around her–now she could not. There was just a wave of din, of busy busy nonsense that filled the spaces of the rain-washed buildings. They prattled and prattled, making their noise, and within seconds of standing outside the entrance to the nameless tavern, Elmiryn realized she was no longer in the company of sentient creatures. They were odd caricatures, burned and painted into the sides of a box of din, one that enclosed her on all sides. She stopped moving, felt a wall come up before her, felt the sky turn to deceitful art, and the ground become a shaky concept.

Elmiryn sucked in breath, felt sweat break out over her skin. She thought to reach out to the walls that pressed on her and push them back, but with a cold feeling, she wondered what, if anything, she could push back with.

She felt someone touch her skin gently. The most she could ascertain was that she was being touched somewhere on the left side. The woman also knew she was supposed to do something. But she didn’t know with what. She moved to speak and felt her voice tickle her closed lips.


“…What? Elmiryn, are you all right?”


Elmiryn chuckled, something she was still aware she could do.

“Elle, why are you keeping your mouth shut. Tell me what’s wrong!”

Mouth shut? That was right! She forced her lips to budge, and they did so grudgingly. “I thought I sounded funny.” Her lips still felt tight.

“What are you doing? You look like you just dived into a hot bath!”

“Nyx, could you do me a favor?”

“Ah, sure. Um…what do you want me to do?”

“Push me.”


“I said push me. Hard. Go on.”

“But…but why??

“I get stuck sometimes. Normally I can figure it out on my own–y’know, with depth perception or some intellectual crap like that…only it snuck up on me this time. I…gods damn it, I don’t know how else to say it. The only thing I know, is that I have my mouth, and a left side. …Can you just push me, please?”

A pause. It seemed to grow a little quiet. Were the caricatures watching? Elmiryn didn’t know. Her view had somehow got stuck at the tavern’s doors.

Then suddenly there was a shove, from the left–two petite hands pressed into Elmiryn’s side–and the woman fell to the ground where her limbs struck limp onto the ground in a painful flop. Her head had a nasty bounce, and at once the warrior became aware of her neck. She lifted her head. For a brief moment, she thought she saw the fragments of her broken cage fly threw the air…then she realized they were just spots dancing before her eyes. The woman made a clumsy effort to stand. Two pairs of hands grabbed her arms from the front and helped her. Her eyes lifted and she saw Nyx, her one eye still covered, staring at her with a bemused look.

“Are you okay?”

The woman gave her head a shake. She felt hypersensitive. Every strand of hair, every inch of her skin, even the saliva in her mouth had her mind’s attention. But not more than Nyx’s touch.

“Well that depends,” Elmiryn answered. “Are you still mad at me?”

Nyx immediately began to protest. “Elle, I wasn’t mad I was…” she faltered.

Elmiryn gave her a smirk. “Oh sure you weren’t mad. You were just, y’know, mad.

The girl sighed and helped lead Elmiryn inside the inn, where the warrior’s eyesight seemed to go pale for a moment before adjusting to the dim lighting. “Yes. I was upset. I…wanted to blame you for my eye. But…” Her face turned a bright red as she guided Elmiryn into a seat. “Y-You were right. What happened was as much–as much my doing as it was…ah…yours…”

“Fuck, Nyx. Don’t dance around it. I kissed you, and you kissed me. There.

The girl sighed. “Okay, fine.”

“You…wanna talk about it?” That seemed like the right thing to say. But it occurred to Elmiryn that she wasn’t sure how to explain the desire she’d had at the time.  Why, of all the intimate moments they had managed to have in their short time together, this morning had been any different.

“No,” Nyx said with a bashful look to the side. “…I think I need to get back to normal, and think about everything more. Right now I’m a little–”

“Unbalanced?” The girl only sighed in response. Elmiryn sat forward, glad to feel substantial again. “Can you hear Her?”

“I’m afraid not. But I feel like there are times when I fade and she slips through. When I come back, it’s like I’m coming out of sleepwalking–only partially aware of what I did.”

The woman nodded. She made to stand, and Nyx held out her hands, a worried expression on her face. Elmiryn waved her hand dismissively. “I’ve got it. I’m better now.” She gestured for the girl to follow her. “Come on. We should leave while we still have plenty of daylight.”

Nyx nodded and stood.

They gathered their things. Elmiryn assigned Nyx the task of holding her longsword. The swordsman’s belt seemed out of place on the girl, and rested at a slant even when they buckled it to the last hole. By the time they were through, a crowd had gathered at the tavern. Neither she nor Nyx had told anyone that they were leaving, but anyone eavesdropping could’ve spread the word. When they came outside, there were cheers and whistles. Elmiryn tried to keep her face straight, but she disliked the clamor–if only because it made the crowd seem less like a collection of humans and more like some hideous inanimate blob that bred hate in her ears. She made a mental note to avoid such things in the future.

Den, who was at the front of the crowd, came forward. He extended his hand, his eyes fixed on Elmiryn’s with a stale sort of respect. The woman’s lips twitched as she took his hand. Men and their wounded prides…

“Thank you,” He said clearly, so that all could hear. Ah, a show. “Thank you for all that you’ve done. Both of you.” He added, with a look at Nyx. His eyes lingered for a moment on her bandaged face.

Elmiryn tightened her grip and clapped him on the shoulder, bringing his focus back to her. “Take care, Den.”

She let him go, letting her gaze sear for a moment longer, before she turned with a dismissive air to acknowledge the crowd. She smiled and gave a nod. They cheered again. Elmiryn touched a hand to Nyx’s shoulder and urged her forward with a brisk pace. The girl looked at her, a little startled, but didn’t stop or say a word.


“Elmiryn, why did you want to leave so quickly?”

“I thought you wanted to get out of there.”

“Well, I did. But why did you?

“…They were starting to aggravate me. Those newcomers.”  Behind them, Gamath had become an indefinite mass.  Out in the fields, they still passed the abandoned corpses of various creatures.  The difference this time around was in the maggots that squirmed inside them. “They make so much cursed noise,” Elmiryn continued.  “They were the reason I froze up. All the sounds…it just ceased to make sense to me. And since it was coming from them, they ceased to make sense. It snowballed until I felt like my world started at my ass and ended at my nose.”

“You said you only knew you had a left side and a mouth. What did you mean?”

Elmiryn sighed and squinted at the horizon. She recalled the directions given by the townsfolk and knew they were almost to the guardian’s meeting place. “I meant it literally. The noise overwhelmed me so much that I lost a sense of my limbs. It was like my mind got disconnected from them. I would’ve fallen…If I believed I had the room to do so. Since I didn’t, I guess that’s why my legs didn’t give out.”

“You said that this has happened to you before?”

“A few times. The last time I recall was back in Dame. It wasn’t as bad, then. If I focus hard enough, I can expand my idea of how large the world actually is.”

“That must be so unsettling.” Nyx’s voice was gentle. Elmiryn glanced over at her. She smiled at how her companion contrasted so starkly from the dismal looking mud.

“It happens the other way around too. Sometimes I think…I feel…that the world is so large. Too large. It makes me feel tiny and fragile, like I might be destroyed by a strong wind.” She looked forward again. The ground they walked began to incline upwards. “That’s one reason I find solace in drinking. It numbs me, and makes these ideas…smaller. So that I can deal with them easier.”

“Doesn’t it have an adverse effect too, though?” Nyx slipped on the mud as they crested the hill. Elmiryn grabbed her elbow and steadied her. The girl peered up into her face, her expression somber. “You’re more susceptible to wrong ideas,” she finished.

Elmiryn shrugged. “A miniature disaster. Those are easy to clean up when I’m sober.”

The girl shook her head and gave the woman a sidelong look. “I don’t like it.”

The warrior only shrugged again and said nothing. They stood at the top of the hillock and looked down at the river, which frothed below.

“They said all we had to do was stand here…” Nyx mumbled to herself. She looked up and down the river, confused. “Maybe the guardian is still at its cave?”

The water suddenly fell quiet. Elmiryn and Nyx exchanged looks and leaned over to stare. The water seemed completely still, and yet its clear depths revealed nothing.

The redhead frowned. “Shouldn’t we see it swimming around or something?”

Then the river bubbled, and from its peaceful surface stretched the guardian. Elmiryn and Nyx both hurried back from the edge as the immortal being grew to tower over them. No longer was its flesh an angry crimson canvas suffering from tumors and ulcers. Now it was a smooth, shimmering dark blue, as fluid and as graceful as the river it was tied to. It bubbled a greeting.

“Elmiryn, Nyx…I’ve been waiting for you.”

Continue ReadingChapter 8.2

Chapter 8.3


My breath was startled from me, banished like an evil agent from my lungs.  I felt the brand on my back burn with severe agitation, and my blood turned hot in my veins.  I  had to crane back far to look up at the guardian’s head.  I involuntarily shivered.

Neither I, nor Elmiryn, said a word. Some water came down on us, clear fat drops of diamonds, as the guardian’s amorphous body bowed over.  She was a brilliant blue giant that emanated a sense of gentleness and power at the same time.  Her trunk rippled a little from the strain of her spiritual ban.  I heard a sigh come from her like water sweeping sand.

Her head, bulbous and darker than the rest of her body, dropped to me like a suggestive drop still clinging to its brethren. “My sisters told me of your troubles, dear Nyx. I’m sorry to see that my concerns proved right.” And amid her river hiss, I found she did sound sorry.  So much so that I could feel it by the pull of my veins.  I cried out a little and held my wrists up to my one good eye.  The veins in my wrists showed dark through my pale skin.  The ache broached on outright pain.  Tears filled my eye.

I swallowed, and felt my watery spit trickle down my throat.

The guardian, meanwhile, turned her head to Elmiryn. I hadn’t noticed, but the woman was almost as pale as I was, and her jaw had gone tense. “Elmiryn. Do not fret,” The river guardian gurgled. “What you feel is natural in my presence. Your body is yours, and the blood that surges is a sign of life strengthening–not fleeing.”

The woman quirked a smile, her eyes glassy. She shook her head and muttered something to the mud that I couldn’t hear.

The guardian turned back to me. “I am sorry for your discomfort, Nyx.  I will try to keep our meeting brief.” Her head bobbed a little.  I bit back a hiss of pain as I felt my veins throb again. “As you know, when I restored you, I returned all to its rightful places–including returning your beast nature to the dark.  But there are further complications of which you must be made aware of.”

I swallowed again, and tried not to gag at how my spit seemed to slime so eagerly.  I pawed at my neck, where my jugular vein felt as though it were fighting to rip out of my skin.  “Why do I…feel this way?” I bit out.  My joints ached.  My nose started to run, and chagrined, I wiped at it with my sleeve.  “You told Elmiryn it’s natural.  What I’m feeling isn’t natural at all!”

The guardian murmured as she gave her head an agitated toss back.  “Then I’ll tell you outright–in the cave, you thought you had shifted to Ekilluos.  This is not true.”

My eyes squinted and my brow wrinkled.  “But I’ve known no other form like it!” I objected feebly.  My heart started to beat hard.  I couldn’t take another horrifying revelation.  I just couldn’t.  I squeezed my eye shut and felt the last of my tears slip down the side of my sweaty face.  The wind breezed by, and I felt the sweat chill my scalp.  When I opened my right eye again, it felt dry.  I rubbed at it with my hand.  I took several clumsy steps back and cried in a shrill voice, “What’s happening to me!?”

The river guardian sighed. “I’ve consulted my sisters of the sky.  They told me this…” I lowered my hand and blinked.  With my one gaze, I saw the guardian’s skin turn darker–so dark she appeared almost purple. “Nyx, in the basest explanation I can give:  you are splitting apart.  Your soul heaves in opposite directions to find a clean break–to find freedom.  I’m sorry to say this, little one, but what was only your queer reference to the self has now become quite literal.  You are You, and she is She.  With such instability, the vessel you know as your body cannot help but feel attracted to the harmony of my being.  That is the reason your skin, your sweat, your blood seems to rebel against you.”

I felt my heart sink to my feet. I tried to keep myself drawn upright, to keep my breathing steady and even. “My Mark–”

“No.” The guardian cut me off, her voice a splash. “This was before your curse. You’ve known it to some degree–haven’t you? The way your other self fought you, the way it seemed to think independently of you.  It was perhaps a form of psychosis, then. You had learned to control it. But I tell you, young therian, your discipline will no longer do you any good. The strength of your other self has become much more, and your union has turned tenuous. The madness that had taken this land served as a sort of…catalyst.”

I tried to keep my knees locked in place.  I gripped my fists as my eye strained to bring forth tears that would not come. “How can what you’re telling me be possible? How can what you’re saying make any sense?  There ARE no other forms beyond the Sacred Five of the Lunar Hall!!” I took deep, slow breaths.  Saw the spots before my eyes and fought against the urge to collapse.  “And I know I’ve been at odds with my animal nature, but what you’re suggesting is…is…completely impossible!!  If She is a part of me, than I should be able to control her!  I mean–gods DAMN it–I should be able to control me!! I just need to…”  I wiped at my nose again, furious, but shaking with fright.

Elmiryn spoke for the first time. She reached over and placed a heavy hand on my shoulder.  At that moment, I hated the weight it pressed on me.  In my mind, I flashed to the thought of biting it, tearing away the skin and muscle to reveal the frail bones beneath…but then the image fled me, and I bit my tongue to keep from screaming.

“Nyx…remember your eye.”  Elmiryn’s voice sounded far away.  I had to turn my head fully just to be able to see her properly with my right eye.  “If all it took was concentration, then you’d have it back to normal, wouldn’t you?  That time in the cave, you wouldn’t have switched places either.”  She squeezed her grip.  My fingernails dug into my palms and my spine curled.  “Think about it…you ‘switched’ places!  If you and She are one in the same, then why the hell did that happen?  Why consider it a ‘switch’ at all?”  Her expression was neutral, and her voice didn’t sound right, given the situation.  She seemed to regard it more like a philosophical puzzle.  Elmiryn didn’t strike me as the type of person to bother with that kind of thought.

But I was learning quick not to trust all I had surmised about her.

“Your companion speaks the truth.” The guardian bubbled. “The paradox is this–if you and your other nature create a whole, then how can one’s control be replaced?  Just because one self is more apparent than the other, that does not mean the other traits are gone.  An angry man can still hold sadness, and a lunatic can still know something of truth.  You, Nyx, as a therian, SHOULD be a girl who also happens to be a cat.  But the reality is different, as was seen that day.  You are not a girl who is a cat.  You are a girl who inhabits the same body as a cat…and this is an abberration of nature, as decided by the gods in heaven.”

My knees finally failed me.  I sank to the mud, felt the sword knock my legs like a useless appendage, and didn’t care that my newly acquired clothes were soiled.  I felt like curling into a ball, away from the truth, away from the logic that made a hole in my gut.  I wasn’t just an outcast or a rare exception to the rule anymore.  I was abnormal.  I was against nature.  To be cast out by the forests, the seas, the animals, the magic, the common intellect–

I.  Was.  Anathema.

My fingers tingled.  I retched and fought my stress-induced nausea.  Vomiting was becoming too common in this new life of mine.  When the illness faded, I slipped into a numb shock.  With my mouth slightly parted to allow the slivers of breath to pass in and out, I fixed a stare downward.

“No two souls can inhabit the same body,” the guardian resumed. “But unless the other can be assimilated, the dominating soul cannot survive should the other die.  In your good fortune, the process of separation is still not complete… Nyx, raise yourself.”

I couldn’t move.  I remained huddled in the mud, my arms crossed over my chest as I folded over onto my legs.  I felt Elmiryn’s hands take my sides, and with strong suggestion, she pulled me upwards.She had to support me as I numbly stared up into the guardian’s inhuman head.

“You should not despair, young therian… No, I forbid it.  You cannot, for hope is not lost.  My sisters’ tell me of a place across the Hellas Ocean, on the Indabe Continent.  There, in the heart of it, lives a sage of considerable power. He is much older than I, and he will be able to help you.  To get to the Indabe Continent, you will have to head North, to the port known as Reg’Amen.  My sisters tell me that Njord and Atargatis quarrel fiercely.  The safest way to cross the ocean is to sail along the Northern islands, where their conflict does not churn the waters so.  Be wary in who you trust–the islands are plagued by pirates.  Once you’ve reached the Eastern lands, your greatest challenge will be seeking audience with the reigning Queen of the region where the sage dwells.  You will need her permission before you can speak with him.”

“Thank you.  We’ll head there right away.” I heard Elmiryn say.

Regarding the enemy you seek…I have been unable to ascertain his whereabouts.  This disturbs me.  I fear that you may be fighting a force far more insidious than any here can imagine.”

“…Do you believe in astral demons?”

The guardian’s voice frothed.  “I believe there are ancient things in existence that I know nothing about.  If you wish me to validate your theory, Elmiryn, I cannot.  I will not, however, cast out your idea.  My only suggestion is to look elsewhere for your answers.  What the dreads of Fanaea call a ‘pamu’, the fair of  O’kai call an ‘apple’.

“One final thing, before you resume your journey.” The guardian dipped low, so that she peered up into my face.  “Nyx, there is something for you to see down by the river shore.  Walk out far until my influence leaves you entirely.  Then drink of the water.  You will see what the Medwin has to bear.”

The guardian pulled back like a retreating current, and as she did so, I heard her whisper, “Thank you…and goodbye, my braves…”

Elmiryn and I stayed until she vanished into the river completely.  Then the warrior, with a grunt, bumped and dragged me back down the hill where we came, and we went around the side.  Together, we loped awkwardly, banging with our belongings, along the river’s edge.  The further we went, the stronger I became.  When I felt as though I could walk on my own, I pulled out of Elmiryn’s arms and knelt by the river to drink, just as the guardian had instructed.  The water felt refreshing and a calm settled over me.

A moment later, the water where my hand had dipped into, bubbled and sloshed.  Tendrils of it stretched up into the air.  They weaved and thickened, making an elaborate framework, until they formed the shape of a man.  This was different from the inhuman beings the guardian had at its beck and call.  The watery golem had a human face–a very familiar one–and I felt my throat constrict when my mind made the connection.

Sedwick stepped towards us, his watery form turning very much to flesh as the formation of his naked body completed.  The only thing left transparent were his shins, which faded back to water the closer it was to the river.  He was completely hairless, with white eyes and his face free of the scar that had once distinguished him.  He looked at Elmiryn, then held his gaze at me.

“Hullo,” he said quietly.  Nothing of his voice seemed magical or peaceful in that way that ethereal beings tend to be stereotyped with.  He sounded very much like an ordinary man.  A sorrowful one.  “It’s a surprise, isn’t it.” He continued, when neither Elmiryn nor I responded.

“You…had hair before…right?” Elmiryn asked, with a slight tilt of her head.

Sedwick looked at her.  Then barked out a laugh.  His clean-shaved face broke into a slash of a grin.  “Yes, yes I did.”

“You’ve…you’re…different,” I noted lamely.

The man looked at me, his somber expression once again in place.  “The guardian gave me a second chance.”He held up his arms.“Unlike you and Elmiryn, she could end your union by calling back what was hers.  In my case however…the flesh was already separated, becoming a permanent part of me.  In a sense, it was like she rewrote history and made me her son.  I’m…not immortal, but she tells me I will live long, and can travel beyond the river as you do.  But my well-being is forever tied to to the health of the Medwin.”

I covered my mouth with my hand.  “Sweet Aelurus…I’m so sorry!”

He gave me a small smile.  “It isn’t your fault.  You couldn’t stop what Aidan had done.  It’s my penance…for leaving him there.”

“You can’t be held accountable for that!” Elmiryn said in a firm voice.  She had a stern look in her eyes.  “It was his failing.  Your obligation was to the people you protected.”

Sedwick nodded, but without any real conviction.  “You’re right.”

My gut twisted.  I stepped close to the river’s edge, nearly falling into the river on the mossy rock.  “Baldwin was in…my care.”  I strained the last two words out.

The man chuckled and shook his head.  “Nyx, our memories were shared.  I saw what happened and I know that…I was wrong in allowing Baldwin to come to the cave.  But he would’ve done so anyway.  The boy was stubborn.  He never really listened to me.  All he wanted was his family back.”

I opened my mouth to object further, but found I couldn’t think of anything to say without repeating myself.

“This new life will take getting used to…but I’m already looking forward to the possible good I can do,” Sedwick said, looking at us both.  “I want to thank you.  For all your efforts.”

My eyes, which had gone dry from my shock earlier, watered once more as my cold skin flushed warm.

I wanted to get away from that haunting gaze, that subdued voice, the battery of words, so bizarre to me that they felt almost entirely offensive.

With quivering lips, I forced a smile.  “Sedwick, I’m just glad to see you’re alright.”

Continue ReadingChapter 8.3

Chapter 8.4



It was a silent consensus by the both of us, that the eyes of others weren’t quite what we desired.  We avoided the main roads that led to Gamath and made our own way, silent, each consumed by her own thoughts after our meeting with the river guardian and Sedwick.  We traveled until the mud turned to firm soil, and the firm soil to shy grass, and the shy grass to unchecked meadow–so tall that the fields teased my fingers.  The wind chilled us and made the earth sigh.  When the three suns peeked beneath the reign of clouds–their smoldering gazes hot and searing in the clandestine evening–Elmiryn and I cut the fields to the inland forest.  It sat dark in the shadow of the Torreth Mountains, and there was a mist in the air that clung to my skin and made me shiver.

But a part of me was glad.

We had returned to the wilderness, where insects made music beneath the bracken fern, and a nighthawk’s glowing eyes blinked at me from the high branches of an old whitebeam tree.  I was given a moment, finally apart from my revulsion, to appreciate this beauty.  I hadn’t realized how much Gamath had bothered me until I smelled the fresh soil and flowering fauna–heard the rustle of leaves and the shift of grass.  For more than a year, the wilderness had been my home.  No civilized place would have me.

“…And now,” I couldn’t help but think, “Not even nature will have me.”

“Feels better doesn’t it?” Elmiryn asked in a low voice.  She led me through the forest with careful steps, and spared me a glance to see if she could find a hint of me in the growing shadows.  I had to hold her elbow a little, as my lacking eyesight made grace difficult when busy roots sought to trip me.

“It does,” I answered, voice equally low.  In truth, I wasn’t sure if we were keeping quiet due to some precaution, or because the forest seemed far too peaceful to speak in a normal volume.

“Excellent.  I think I see a break in the trees.”  Elmiryn hurried her pace.  I tried my best to keep up.

We sidled past a set of young bushes and came into a man-made clearing.  The ground had clearly been swept and cleared of brush, and in the center was a simple pit circled by rocks.  The soil in the pit had turned black, and at the bottom was charred wood.  Elmiryn knelt by it, looked into the shallow pit, then around the clearing.  I looked around too, as well as I could with my one eye, but saw nothing of interest.  It was too dim to see tracks, bones, or seeds.  Finally the woman stood to her feet.

“I guess it’s fine. Whoever was here isn’t coming back or we would’ve found them.”  She set her things onto the ground.

I followed suit.  “Maybe it was a traveler from Dame?”

She shrugged.  “I don’t care so long as it doesn’t mean trouble.”

We set up camp.  Elmiryn managed to make a fire with the last glimpses of light.  I went about roasting the slices of seasoned sheep’s meat on a pan I found in the bag she brought.  She, meanwhile, prepared the bed rolls.  They were both laid out beneath the branches of the largest tree at the clearing’s edge, so as to protect against any possible rain.  She sat down and set about checking her things.  It didn’t take long before her eyes were on her modest collection of knives.

My eye watched the sheep’s meat turn brown over the heat of the flames.  Slowly, under some ghost of an idea, I raised my hand.  It felt heavy and weak.  I covered my eye and saw my world go dark.  The reality of my situation struck me again and a sob punched from within my chest.  I curled defensively against the sound.

Nyx!  You’re burning it!” I heard Elmiryn shout a few moments later.

I gasped and sat upright, my hand moving to reveal that the pan had dipped far into the flames.  “Why didn’t you tell me sooner!?” I yelped as I pulled the pan out of the fire and vainly tried to put out the fiery sheep’s meat.

Elmiryn had moved from her place to sit next to me, a jug of water in hand.  “Shit, shit…gods damn it, I only just smelled it now!”  She poured enough on the meat to stop the fire. Then she looked at me and started to snicker.  “Sorry…I was distracted.  I was focusing on sharpening a dull knife.” She chuckled and covered her mouth with her hand.

I blinked at her.  Then felt the corner of my lips pull upward.  I could feel my throat tighten.  “Elmiryn…what am I going to do?  What are we going to do?  …This’ll be like the blind leading the blind!”  These last words found themselves interjected by sudden fits of nervous giggles that came from some unknown place within me.  It built up, until I felt tears fall from the tip of my nose and my ribs ache from gasping out harsh laughter.

Elmiryn laughed too–even surpassed me, to the point that her humor turned to mute convulsions that had her bent over her crossed legs and her arms around her head.  Somehow, even sitting up as I was became a difficult task as some hysteria took me over.  I dropped the pan onto the ground and cried out into the night air through fast giggles,  “Look at us!  Two blighted fools knocked together out of poor luck, and we barrel onward towards complete chaos!  We make no sense!  None at all!” I leaned against Elmiryn’s body and shook her with both hands.  “Listen to me!  Oh, listen to me please!”  I paused to let another bout of giggles fade away.  “Sweet Aelurus…Elmiryn…my gods Elmiryn…it’s as if you’re a ghost and I’m just a twin hiding her sister!”

She managed to calm down enough to be able to speak.  When she did so, she sat up and peered at me.  “Hey…you’re right aren’t you?”  Her smile turned shy and I thought I saw her cheeks flush.  “That changes it a little, doesn’t it?”

I frowned at her, still chuckling.  “How do you mean?”

Elmiryn had fallen quiet.  She puckered her lips a little as she thought.  “Well,” she began slowly.  “They always say two eyes are better than one…” she snickered, a slip that almost set us both off again.  With light eyes, she glanced at me, “But in this case, what does it matter if you can’t see a ghost?”

I sobered and pulled away from her.  “Maybe…We…don’t count among the living?  Maybe We’re just unbeing?”

Elmiryn sighed and shook her head.  “Why do you do that?”

I shifted nervously.  “Do what?”

“What you just said.  Refer to yourself like you’re more than one.”

“You do it too, when you talk to me,” I returned, defensive.

“Well…isn’t it…isn’t it not supposed to make sense?” Elmiryn rubbed the back of her neck.  “When you stop and think about it, it does sound weird.  Isn’t something in our minds just supposed to reject saying things like that so casually?”

“I don’t know, Elmiryn.  When I was young, I always saw it that way.  It wasn’t that anyone told me to think that way…I just…did.

“…But it’s not the truth.”

“And when did a person’s belief require credibility to come to pass?  Whole societies have bought into more ludicrous ideas!”

“More ludicrous than a soul being ripped in half?  But…you’re right…and that’s what I don’t get.  How does that kind of gut feeling turn out to be wrong?  What does that say…about every other notion I’ve ever had?”

I gave her a severe look.  When I spoke, my voice was sharp.  “You can’t think that way.  You’ll completely come apart if you do, so don’t you dare think that way!  Why does this matter all of a sudden?  It’s my problem–you’re just taking it too personally.”

Elmiryn raised an eyebrow at me.  And I felt my face burn hot.  “I’m sorry,” I said hurriedly.  “I…I don’t know why I got so upset.”

“No, no,” she said.  A smile crept onto her face.  “I sorta like it when you get a little worked up.  At least it’s you being protective of me instead of the opposite.  …Sort of.”

I brushed my fingers over my bandaged eye.  I tried to imagine Her, trapped in the dark.  My lips pursed as I thought, with bitter satisfaction, “At least I can still control what she sees.”  I tried to envision how frustrated she would be, pacing as a caged animal, given only a window to a world still denied her.  But then the blood drained from my face, and my mouth hung open as I launched to my feet.  My heart pounded in my ears.  I looked skyward.  There was moonlight, but from our location I could not see the moon.  It was perhaps concealed behind a cloud.  Fervently I counted beneath my breath.

I reeled.

Elmiryn had gotten to her feet, and held me steady.  “Nyx, what’s wrong?”

I looked at her, my face screwed up with worry, my mouth dry.  I was such a fool!  How could I forget something so important?  “The full moon,” I said, breathless.  “It’s tomorrow!  Elmiryn, it’s the only time of the month she has full control.  What if I can’t come back!?”

The woman looked skyward, then at me.  “I’ll watch you.  I think your Twin is a little afraid of me.  If she tries anything, I’ll just trap her until you come back.”

“Oh gods, it won’t be that easy!”

“As far as I’m concerned, she’s taking you hostage that night.  I can’t stop it, but I can make sure you return to me.”  Elmiryn smiled and brushed my cheek.  “I can’t go losing the voice in my head.”

I felt my face burn and I turned away.  I gestured at the sheep’s meat.  “Sorry about the food…” I mumbled.


I closed my eye.  “Yes?”

“I have an idea on how to change your eye back to normal.”

I looked at her in surprise.  “You do?”

“Yeah.  Close your eye again.”

I gave her a wary look.  “What will you do?”

“Nothing really.  I just want to show you a trick of mine.”


“It won’t hurt you.  I promise.”  She smiled at me.

I sighed heavily.  The shadow of her smile barely hid its ulterior motive, and her eyes had a hint of mischief to them.

But my eye slipped shut.

I felt her pull away the bandage, and I held my breath.  The air felt cold against my left eyelid.  There was another brush against my cheek–slower this time.  “Nyx,” I heard Elmiryn say. “I’m going to show you what I do on those nights when my mind disconnects.”  Her touch trailed from my cheek to briefly brush back my hair.  She tucked the longer bangs behind my ear and blew softly at my face.  “When I start to doubt what’s mine and what isn’t,” She said, “All I do is focus on what that part of me is feeling…are you focusing?”

“Yes.”  Inwardly, I berated myself for sounding so meek.

I could hear the smile in Elmiryn’s voice.  “Good.”  She cupped the side of my face and lightly brushed her thumb over my eyelid.  “If you can feel this part of you, then it’s yours.  Believe that.”

I swallowed.  I wondered at the conflicting desire to step forward and step back at the same time.  I could feel the heat of the fire, displaced by the occasional breeze.  Elmiryn was standing perhaps closer than necessary.  I didn’t move.  I didn’t want to find out how close she was…or how far.  My body was becoming warm in a way entirely unrelated to the fire.

The logic of Elmiryn’s argument was sound.  What I felt, was mine, and the sensation spread throughout me.  A sort of possession.  Elmiryn blew softly against my eyelid, where her hand trailed down to hold my chin.  Her breath was warm…so warm that it left a light moisture where it fluttered.  I swallowed and felt my throat constrict.  Shortly after, her lips touched my skin lightly.  She kissed the corner of my eye, then my cheek, before she pressed her face against mine.  “Nyx, you know…I’m fond of you.”

I bowed my head a little.  “Is this really the best time?”

She gave a huff of a laugh, and her breath startled my mess of hair.  “When’s a good time?”


Elmiryn pulled away.  My eyes slipped open and I looked at her sideways, brows pressed together.  She lifted my face with a finger under my chin and tsked.  “You try to hide, even when you’re in plain view.”

I gave a small shake of the head.  “We can’t do this.”

“Why not?  Is it because I’m missing a body part?”

I scowled and blinked.  “N-No…I mean…I confess, I’ve never thought about being with a woman before.  But it wasn’t unknown, where I came from.”


“It’s just our way of life.  The men often leave home–it was rare to find a constant fatherly presence.  The women stuck together and sometimes special relationships came out of it.  Society didn’t care so long as they answered the call to bear children. …But…but really, Elmiryn, the issue is more than that.”

She crossed her arms.  “Enlighten me.”

“There’s been so many surprises these past few days.  So many startling revelations.  It’s a lot to take.  Can you accept that it’s a lot for me to take?  I just got through calling you a friend, I’m…it leaves me a little breathless to think otherwise so soon.”

“…But you do.”  There was a dare in her cerulean eyes.

My breath caught and I leaned back a little.  “It’s inconceivable.  I can’t think of a time in history when a therian and a human ever–”

She snorted.  “What?  You think a propagandist culture like yours would ever fess to inter-species relationships as something remotely good?  As something that’s even physically possible?

I sighed and shook my head.  “No.  They wouldn’t.”  I gazed at Elmiryn somberly.  “But there’s the obvious complications.  Something of our curses adversely react when you touch my Mark.  And…and…you’re so passionate.”  I closed my eyes and ran my hands through my hair.  “It’s more than I can take.  Especially now.  Tomorrow, I shift.  I won’t be the same.”  I sat heavily on the ground and pulled the pan toward me gloomily.  “I might never be the same.”

Elmiryn squatted next to me.  She fisted her cheek and leaned on her right knee.  “You know, I wanted to ask.  When you were young, did they ever explain why you are the way you are?”

I looked at her in confusion.  “You mean why we transform?”

“Not just that.  I mean your relationship with the world.  I was taught that Halward was the father of the human race, and he created us to serve as channels for the energy of the universe.  Fair folk and elementals cultivate energy.  So what about therians?”

“In the case of Ailurans, we’re just descendants of Aelurus.  Where as your species channel life, and other species cultivate it, we simply conduct and regulate.  I don’t know what other therians say.  Likely something similar.”

Elmiryn squinted one eye.  “So does that make you more of a spiritual being?”

I bit my lip.  “I think so.”

“So you’re like the river guardian?  Is your spiritual ban to shift under the full moon?”

I gave her a startled look. “I–what?  No!  Of course not!”

“Then you’re telling me you have the choice to shift.”

I stared at her.  My mouth hung partially open.  Was that what I was saying?

“We have to change,” I whispered.  “We have to.  There’s no way we can’t.”

“But it’s a spiritual matter.  If you can control your spirit, you can control your body.  If you can control your body…can you still call yourself a therian?  As far as I can tell, that’s the only thing that sets you apart from me.”

My jaw tensed.  “Do you even hear yourself right now!?  You’re calling an entire species weak-minded!  If I never shifted again for the rest of my life, would that make me ‘better?’  Would that make me human?

Elmiryn shook her head, unfazed by my indignation.  “No.”  She grinned.  “It’d make you boring.”  I turned to her, indignant, and she held up a finger, effectively stopping me. “Joking, Nyx.  Joking.  I never meant to call your species weak-minded, I’m just thinking aloud, all right?”  She sat down on the ground and looked skyward.  “…Maybe I’m a therian.  I always did love the moon.”  She gave me a sideways look.  “That’d take care of at least one of your problems, wouldn’t it?”  I felt a heat blossom deep in my abdomen, and the anger I felt drained to an unnameable sort of discomfort.  The woman chuckled and idly wiped a hand across her brow.  “Gods…What if I were a cat, like you?”

A smile spread itself across my face, and I tried to hide it by ducking my head and letting my hair fall forward.  It was easy for me to envision Elmiryn as a cat.  A wide variety of breeds existed within the Ailuran race.  I tried to think what kind she would be.  A lion?  A tiger?  A cheetah?  My face grew hot, and my eyes spaced.  She’d have a sleek coat, a powerful body, and to hear her purr would be–

“Hey, Nyx?”

I jerked upright, and my eyes went wide.  I looked at Elmiryn and laughed nervously.  “Yes?” I squeaked.

Elmiryn raised an eyebrow at me.  “Could you turn your face a little more towards me?”

“Huh?” I shifted so that my I faced her fully.  “What is it?”

“You haven’t noticed?” The woman asked with a smirk.

“Noticed what?”  I touched a hand to my left eye. “Elle, tell me!”

“You’re drooling.”  Elmiryn snickered and bit a knuckle to keep from laughing outright.

I wished the ground would swallow me whole.  I wiped hurriedly at my chin, where sure enough, drool dampened my palm.

Elmiryn sighed and hugged her bent knee.  She leaned back and puckered her lips as if in thought.  Then she added casually.  “By the way, your eye is back to normal.”

I gave a start, my jaw dropping.  “Really!?”

“Yeah.  You’re seeing out of both eyes aren’t you?” I blinked.  I was, but hadn’t thought about it.  “Just check your reflection in one of my knives if you don’t believe me.”

I stood to do just that, my feet tripping over themselves in their haste.  I picked up the biggest knife and scooted near the fire so that I could catch some of the light.  I gasped.  My eye was indeed completely back to normal.

“Told you,” I heard Elmiryn say.  I looked at her just as she picked up one of the slices of sheep’s meat from the pan and took a bite.  She grimaced and set the meat back down.  “Really burnt,” she said around the food in her mouth.  She spat it out in the bushes behind her.

I swallowed and put the knife back.  I straightened slowly from setting the blade down, a little embarrassed to look back.  When had my eye changed back?  Why hadn’t it hurt?  Did Elmiryn know the whole time, or did she just notice it herself?

…And how distracting was the woman that I couldn’t even take note of sight returning to me?

“Elle…thank you,” I said quietly to the trees.

“What did I do?” She said behind me.

I turned and peered at her.  “You helped change my eye back.”

Her face drew long, like this statement surprised her.  Then, in the usual sudden fashion, Elmiryn started to giggle.  She covered her face with her hands.  Something about this made me smile shyly.  Once again, Elmiryn came across as strangely feminine, the way she pretended to conceal her amusement.

“Elle, why are you giggling?” I asked as a chuckle slipped into my words.  I drifted nearer to the fire and sat down, cross-legged.

Elmiryn peeked at me through her fingers and grinned.  “Nyx, I’ll be honest.  I just wanted to get close enough to give you a kiss on the cheek, that’s all.  Any other way, and you would’ve panicked on me.”

“Oh.  Was that all you wanted?” I muttered.  My collar felt hot.  I tugged at it, and glowered at the trees.

Elmiryn dropped her hands from her face and breathed in deeply.  “I wasn’t lying when I said I was fond of you,” she murmured.

I fiddled with the hem of my tunic.  “Fond how?”

“Fond as in…I want to wake up to you in the morning.” She fixed her attention on me.  I looked back at her, like a fish biting at a hook.  I expected the eyes of an architect–the focused and objectifying stare that had leveled me that day in Gamath.  My lips quivered, burning with the memory of her kiss.

…But to my surprise, those eyes were not there.  Not there in the way that I knew they were hidden, tucked beneath a separate persona, not unlike my own special set of bestial eyes.  What I was confronted with instead was softer.  This gaze–cool eyes swathed in heat–held simple sincerity.  My hand planted itself on the ground and I leaned my body in Elmiryn’s direction, my eyes widening in fascination.

This was a side of Elmiryn that had previously only revealed itself under the influence.

“I’ve seen you turned inside out…and you were good to me,” The woman continued, when my silence stretched on.  She paused, then turned her gaze to the fire with a shrug of her shoulder.  “Don’t read so much into it.  I’m only being honest.”

“And yet still vague,” I returned with a frown.  “Elmiryn, I won’t be one of your conquests.”

“No,” she said with a soft smile.  “…You’ll be the thread that holds me together.”

I snorted and looked away.  “And if the thread is poorly spun?”

I immediately regretted opening my mouth.  Elmiryn sat upright like a bolt, her eyes at the widest I’d seen them.  When she spoke it was a harsh whisper.  “What did you just say?”

I looked at her, taken aback.  “I–I–”

She crawled to me frantically, and I scrambled back in alarm.  She caught up to me quickly and moved over my body.  Elmiryn stopped when she hovered over my waist.  The fire lit her from behind, and her face was illuminated by the soft touches of the moonlight.  I blinked up at her, frozen in my anxiety.  She reached a hand toward me, but stopped partway.  The woman then shook her head and turned her face.  I heard her mutter, “It isn’t yours,” before she stood up and walked past me.  She didn’t pause to dust off her knees or hands, just sat on her bedroll and laid back.  I remained where I was, my breath quiet, but short.  I dared to move only when the fire started to die down.

I sat there and watched the weak flames lap at the black and disfigured wood.  In the quiet that was given me, I reflected on the recent conversation–my meekness against Elmiryn’s self-confidence, the pain versus the humor, my anger versus…

And I paused.

Feeling low, I turned where I sat and looked at Elmiryn’s still form.  She was under a blanket and on her side, feet towards me, with her arms tucked beneath her head.  Intuitively, I knew she wasn’t asleep.  I moved to her side and knelt.  “Elmiryn.”

“Mmm?” She didn’t move her body, but I saw her eyes blink.  Lightly I touched her shoulder.

“Elmiryn…I don’t know why you got upset, but I’m sorry.  I–”  My voice cracked.  I took a deep breath and tried to resume as steadily as possible.  “I’m just worried.  What if I come apart, and no one is left to help you?”  I wiped hurriedly at my eyes.  Tears slipped between my fingers.  “I don’t want to be the reason you…”  My words left me.  I bowed my head and tried to contain myself, and my body shook with the effort.

Elmiryn rolled onto her back, and her side brushed my knees.  She reached a hand up and brushed back my hair.  “Nyx…You forget.”

With a hiccup I looked at her and frowned.  “What do you mean?”

Her smile reached me, even in the indefinite darkness.  “It was my job to protect you, before it was your job to contain me.”

I looked at her, then laughed and buried my face in her stomach.  She patted the back of my head, and I peeked at her shyly from beneath my mane of hair.  She grinned at me through the valley of her breasts.  “You’re a little off the mark, as you can see.”

I poked her side.  “Oh, don’t start!”  But I had a grin to match hers.  The way the shadows draped us, and the privacy of the untamed forests protected us, I felt safe.  From this angle, Elmiryn didn’t seem like the fearsome warrior I had met a week ago.  It occurred to me then, that this was the first time since we had met that we spoke like this–in the dark.  But the difference then, was that a stretch of branch and preconceptions separated us.  I could hardly say that the mysteries surrounding our relationship were solved.  But the waters I had previously eyed with trepidation were now up to my waist…and it was a relief to know that despite the horrors faced, I didn’t drown.

I licked my lips and sat up a little, my left hand planted on the other side of Elmiryn’s body so that our sides pressed intimately.  The woman had laid her head back again, and her eyes had gone closed.  “Elmiryn…” I breathed.

Her eyes opened a sliver, and I thought I saw her smirk.  “Mmm?”

My heart pounded.  I leaned over slow, and my arms shook with the effort of supporting me.  I planted a light kiss on her brow and pulled back to whisper.  “Probably against my better judgment…Elmiryn, I’m…I’m fond of you too!”  I shook my head and let a wry smile spread across my face.  “It’s against all of my common sense, actually,” I added with a giggle.

Elmiryn tsked.  “Nyx, you know how to make a girl feel special.”

I just giggled again.  Carefully, I laid at her side, and Elmiryn shifted so that she faced me, one arm tucked beneath her head.

“Well how can I make it better?” I asked quietly.

The woman scooted closer, and brushed her nose against mine.  “You want to know what you can do?” she asked in a breath.  She draped her arm over my side.  “I can’t sleep.  Could you…tell me a story?”

I blinked.  “…Really?”

She snickered.  “You sound disappointed.”

I hoped she couldn’t see the way my face flushed in the dark.  “No, no…I…just don’t know any stories well enough to tell you.”

“Maybe you can tell me about that guy.  Wind.”

“Oh, right…”

“…What’s the matter?”

“I’m trying to remember what Tobias wrote.”

“Forget what he wrote.  Tell me in your own words.”


Beneath the branches of tall trees, I told Elmiryn in hushed tones of the time mighty Wind had trapped the godless Spider of the West.  Their conflict played out in the space between us, like a suspended breath, but rather than replace our dreams, it weaved into them.  Spider, a Legend without a master, and Wind, a man without a home.  Us beneath the arms of nature, hunted and hated, with the blessings of an immortal spirit and a compass that pointed northward.

The fate of a man, Sedwick, who lost so much to gain an opportunity beyond what anyone could have conceived, hovered in our minds…and who was to say it was a good or bad thing, what happened to him?  Who was to say I was a monster, doomed to be alone?  Who was to say Elmiryn was a ghost, doomed to fade away?  Didn’t all of our misfortunes return us to our hopes, in the end?  In stories of lives far apart, that echoed across lands and cultures, that whispered across hundreds of pages, and that haunted children’s dreams as much as our own…

Who was to say that a river, couldn’t have its tributaries?


we speak to fall.

but close at heart

are we

from the start:till death apart

are we



End of Part I

Continue ReadingChapter 8.4

Intermission I

The Wind and the Web

by Tobias Aretuli

“He came by a leap to the goal of purpose, not by the toilsome steps of reason. On the instant his headlong spirit declared his purpose: this was the one being for him in all the world: at this altar he would light a lamp of devotion, and keep it burning forever.” – Gilbert Parker

T he sky, blanket to the soil I tread, had lead me away from the comforts of dandelion hair and lilac scented dresses.  But as an agent of heaven, I knew my peace was not to last.  I had tried my level best to prepare the fledgeling for my departure, but let no one say that the tears of one so high cannot crumble the ground below.  Weary was I of this capricious life, but it had been my choice, and with the earth rumbling beneath my disgruntled feet, I sought the one I had fought alongside–my brother of sweat and blood–Mighty Wind.

It was perhaps by the grace of Atargatis that Njord did not send me to an early grave.  That god of endless breath cursed my travels, and made every attempt to impede my efforts.  But with the protection of the sea goddess and the memory of a slave girl in my mind, I reached the red soil of the Indabe triumphant. Through an arid desert and along unforgiving cliffs traveled I.  Pleasantries could not be spared, yet I thought of dear Flame, with her scorching tongue and eyes brighter than the suns that blazed upon my back.  This was her homeland, and her kingdom was nearby–it winked on the horizon like a promise of food and drink.  Time had become a slow insect for this man.  In the span of a year, I already feared the stranger that would face me.  I lumbered on.

I moved southward, as a rolling wave of riled earth, to the emerald jungles of lost sons.  There, the deeper I traveled, the stronger Night became, till the suns were extinguished from my eyes.  Vines draped in languid trails along the thick branches of trees I could not name–with trunks so thick I was certain a hollowed one could serve as my home.  There were leaves as broad as my chest and twice as long that hung like shadows over my person.  Were I not attuned with the earth, this man would have been lost in the grips of foreign heat.

But my way broke to an open space where rested the ancient ruins of an unnamed people.  The masonry was conquered by fauna that snaked and twined too intuitively for what could be construed as normal.  These vines weaved in such a way as to form pictures–living hieroglyphs against a dead civilization.  I smiled humorlessly. Always the whimsical one, my sweet, sweet girl.  The Spider of the West was here, there was no doubt.

The wind whipped at me in a strong gust that swept up from my legs.  Unstartled, but now at the ready, I held my staff before me and gazed upward. Wind touched onto the arch of a stone hawk, and with his eyes bright beneath his bangs, the man held me fast in his gaze.  

”Friend Earth, what bringest thou here?” he asked, his voice weightless yet surging with power.

“Thou seeketh the Spider,” I said, twisting my staff with my dry hands.  “Brother Wind, you know I cannot allow this.”

The man’s brow snarled together. “Thou wouldst turn blade on one you call ‘brother’?”

“And thou wouldst turn blade on one I call ‘daughter’?”

“She was lost to you, Friend Earth.  Leave it be.  She is none of your concern.”

“I say thee nay!  Her actions weigh heavily on me, Brother, but I cannot turn away!”

“Friend, the Spider has earned the ire of my patron.  I am obliged to correct her.”

“You speak falsely, Brother!  Her patron lays silent–and she is but unguided!  She was my ward in the Battles of Hazmes, let me lead her back to the way of harmony!”

“Her power is unnatural.  She disrupts life.”  Wind exhaled and gazed upon me with sadness in his eyes.  ”Please, Friend Earth, it is not my wish to do this.”

“Nay,” growled I, “But it is your cowardice that allows it.”  The ground began to quake.  ”The Spider has a champion in me, Brother Wind.  I cannot allow this.”

“Thou art mad!” Cried Wind.  ”That abomination has ensnared you, Earth!  But I cannot fail my patron!  Njord’s word is all I answer to!”  He drew his blade, and were it not for my anchor to the soil, his furious gusts of power would have turned me away.

“Thou cannot fail your patron, but what of your flesh and blood, of which I have been left to care for!?  Who can the fledgeling look to–with your misguided heroics, and I, forever cleaning up after you!  What the Wind turns over, the Earth is left to bear, and I have grown weary of this!  I can hold no more, Brother!”

Wind let out a roar that collapsed weak walls and shook the dust and dirt from the mossy pillars.  He came at me in a swift arc, and we collided.  His sword was to my staff–but I would not yield, and he would not relent. “Everyday I think of my fledgeling!  Everyday!” He thundered.  ”How dare you say otherwise!?”

“I say otherwise–and more!” I rumbled back.  ”A poor trade, a father for a blade.  She is traveling a dark path and you know nothing of it!” We parted with a shove, and he came at me again.  Again, I blocked his blow and he pressed on me, the strength of his anger whipping the air around us into a great frenzy.

He shouted over the din, “And what is your intention then? To make a new home for yourself with the Spider and my fledgeling?  You delude yourself!  Why are you really here!?” I shifted my weight and let him pass me.  The end of my staff came up fast to strike at his legs.  He fell to the ground with a thud.

I pointed my staff at his face and snarled, “Perhaps you are right.  But I cannot abandon those I love simply because my life makes it difficult! I refuse to choose one child over the other.  My heart is as broad as this earth, and it can harbor whom I choose…which is more than I can say for you, fickle Wind!” I was swept back with an invisible punch to the gut.  The wind robbed me of my breath, and I crashed into an unsuspecting wall.  The stones fell about me, but I stood, a hardy man.  Wind had risen to his feet.  Without a twitch or utterance, I bid the earth to swallow him, but just as the ground beneath him cracked and split, just as the slabs of rock rose to snap about his form like a lion’s mouth, Wind took to the sky.

“Thou wouldst risk the welfare of my child for your repugnant idea of happiness!?” Wind spat from his lofty throne of gust.  ”I would spend the breath of this world a thousand times before any such horror would come to pass!”

Our battle raged until the high suns flirted with the tips of the trees.  What was a place of quiet disrepair was becoming one of heated destruction–basalt and mortar turned to dust in the air.  Crags were as claw marks from my livid struggles, and the air swirled with debris and vegetation.  It seemed an age since I had fought so ardently, and even Wind seemed to show signs of fatigue, but still we fought on.

It was at a critical point, when a misstep led me into one of the many streams of fast moving air Wind created, that the battle turned.  As anchored as this man was to the soil, there was no parallel to the force that barreled into my body.  By the grace of my heavenly blessings, I was left whole, and thus the whole of me was sent deep into the cold jagged embrace of a rotunda.  Its arms encircled me, yet through the mess I was afforded a small view of the rosy sky.  Outside, I heard a cry.  It was not Wind, yet a voice I knew well.

Grunting, I called upon the earth to free me, and the ground shifted, parting the heavy basalt blocks with the added suggestion of my arms and legs.  Covered in dust and shaking from my effort, I forced my tired body to rise from the rubble.

Spider, the willowy crack of youthful rebellion, met Wind in combat.  She flew through the sky, tugging at threads I could not see, but that nevertheless kept her aloft.  Wind, tired from our fight and unaccustomed to her startling evades was becoming sloppy in his advances.  Spider, mischievous Spider, with her plum-dark hair bobbing at every sharp turn, her bare feet kicking, her fists pulling at the way of the world…
I gripped my fists and cried out as loud as my voice could boom, “Spider, you foolish child!  You must flee!”

But I was soon distracted.

I noted flower petals that were not native to the region.  They drifted in capricious fashion along the strong breeze.  I cursed, and followed the trail of broken purity to the source.  On the edge of a cracked fountain, near the jungle forest, sat Arlés the Sweet Blossom, champion of Kupala and sorceress supreme.  Vines snaked to reach her, and flowers blossomed near her, despite the descent of night. She smiled at me alluringly, and I made all efforts to avoid her ensorcelling eyes.

She laughed.  ”Place not your fears on this sordid creature, Strong Earth.”  With a lazy hand that unfurled as an opening bud inviting a kiss, she gestured to her side, and I saw to my horror that more agents of heaven had come–and all were rushing forth, weapons eager to taste the blood of my Spider.

My chest tightened.  I could feel the slabs of rock beneath my feet quiver at my fury.  With a yell that threatened to tear out all that I was, I raised my arms.  A deafening noise cracked through the air.  The earth shook with such ferocity, that those on the ground were felled.  Those in the sky, unabated by my wordly displeasure, soon found that Earth was not easy to escape.  A chasm tore open across the ruins, and from its bowels erupted such a thick wall of dirt and rock that the pursuers were effectively stopped before they could reach their quarry.

Just as the curtain rose, Spider gazed upon me sullenly, her bold eyebrows furrowed deep over her pickled eyes.  She disliked being rescued.  I had a brief fear she would resume her fight without care.  When the curtain fell, I breathed a sigh of relief.

She had gone.

The wind quieted and the earth stilled, but there was still a roaring within my mind.  As I turned my head to gauge how many had come for this nefarious purpose, Wind came at my side and breathed quietly, “Friend Earth…you see now, I am not alone in my quest.”

Before me, amid weak foundations and destroyed walls, crumbled buildings and downed pillars, came men and women of the most illustrious cloth.  Just as I, they were servants of the gods.  They gazed upon me with virulence, and it was as if the entire universe had come to press on my heart.  Toshihiro, champion of Tenjin was present.  Once, we had fought side by side.  Now his dark eyes narrowed at me, colored with unsympathy.

And like a torch amid darkness, there stood my Flame.

My heart grew heavy.  Said I to Flame, “This is too cruel.  Not even your brilliance will survive to dance another day should this come to pass.”

The woman, with her twin blades, gazed at me levelly.  ”Noble Earth, you know it must be done.  Whether the intention was there, the Spider must account for the death she has caused. The gods demand it.”

“Brothers and Sisters,” cried I, “How can ye speak of harmony when you seek to unravel it?  The Spider has a patron!  His fury will undo our world should we seek to kill her!”

Wind sighed.  ”Friend Earth, your wisdom runs as deep as the soil.  Do not assume the basest of us.  What you speak of, we have anticipated.  We seek another solution.”

I gazed at him with tight jaw. “…What dost thou speak of?”

“The Spider, whether through folly or intention, has weaved herself into the jungle.  To destroy her would leave a void of hunger that would consume all.  Instead, we seek only to lay her to rest.”

“Thou speaks of entrapment.”  I looked at Arlés, who had hardly shifted from her spot.  My lip curled. “I was mystified as to the reason of your presence, but no more.”

Her rubious lips pouted. “Oh Earth, thou art a cullion…you always held me in such disdain.  Tisn’t fair.”

“My Spider holds greater sway in these jungles, Sweet Blossom.  All that lives here, answers to her.”

“Which is why she is dangerous,” Toshihiro, quiet son of the Far East, murmured.  ”She oversteps her station.  Twists existence and makes a mockery of it.”

“Is this an issue of pride, Toshihiro?”

“Noble Earth, you are wise, but stubborn, and bear far too much!” Flame cried passionately.  She stepped toward me, and her arms flickered away the harrowing sight of her sabers. “Shed your burden.  Let us deal with the child.  Thou knows that even should she come under your charge, she would not be exempt from destruction.”  Her hands held my face, and I felt myself weaken at the feel of her warmth.  Said Flame to me,  “She needs her patron above all else to understand her power and the discretion that should come with it.” She added in a low voice that burned me.  ”Perhaps she has been abandoned?  …And with reason?”

I looked around, hundreds of eyes on my person.  My eyes burned and I bit back my grief.  ”…Tis my fault, the tragedy this has become.  I can take no more.  I curse this life…I curse it!”  I fell to the earth.  I gripped my hand around my staff and bowed my head.  ”She cannot be harmed…Should she suffer, the perpetrator will never again walk this realm without the earth seeking to swallow him!”

“You have our word, Friend Earth.” Wind whispered over me, reduced to a shadow in the dusk.

Continue ReadingIntermission I