Intermission II

The Wind and the Web (cont.)

Unto the audience of champions, Wind spoke, his voice carried by the world’s breath to each ear.  ”Brothers and Sisters,” said he, “Admiration is due for your swift answer to thine patron’s call–but there need be only one party to this hunt.  It is in no way a reflection on yourselves, but simply a practical matter.  The Spider has strewn her web along all paths.  Disaster lies waiting for the overzealous tramp of an army’s feet.  Let us, in guile, slip along her web, with steps unburdened.”

“You would ask us to turn away from our duty?” One boisterous brave shouted, a suit of gleaming armor on his person, and a mace as large as his head.

Toshihiro, calculating son, said unto him, “I know not your patron, but champion, perpend on the purpose of our meeting.  All present seek the same goal.  Should the preliminary party fail, another will rise in vengeance.  Your coming here need not be in vain.  A perimeter may be set about the jungle.  The Spider may be tempted to flee, and your watch will be of most value.”

“And who shall be of the first party?” Called another brave.

Wind gestured at himself.  ”I, Champion of Njord, have right to this hunt, being the first to arrive.  Next, I call on Flame, for her light and ferocity in these dwindling hours. Also, the Sweet Blossom, whose skill is specially required, as well as Toshihiro, the wise and intelligent.”

“And I shall go,” I rumbled.  Taking my strength from the earth at my feet, I rose, and bore my eyes into Wind.  ”I claim the right to witness this act.”

“Thou cannot interfere,” Wind said to me.  His gaze was chilled.

I faced him, unrattled. “And I’ve sworn to correct any who would harm the Spider.  I mean to keep this vow.”

Wind sighed and turned his back to me. “Very well.”

There was a clatter as all turned to fulfill their role.  Left alone in the rubble, we five convened near the fountain–the only thing left untouched in all the mayhem.  ”We remain together,” Flame said as she held up her hand.  It ignited, dancing licks of fire rolling from her fingertips.  ”My light is somehow weaker here.  Danger lies for any who fade from its glow.  The dark of this jungle may very well swallow thee.”

“The Spider has weaved enchantments throughout,” said the Sweet Blossom. She eyed the dark jungle with disdain. “Tis sloppy work, but still effective.  Other traps likely rest for us.  Our pace must be gradual if I am to give ample warning of any malicious threads of magic.”

“How can we seek to find her quickly if we must travel as sloths?” Flame asked, her brows knitted.

Toshihiro answered.  ”Flame, of the tales I’ve gathered of the Spider, she is the prideful sort.  I confess that our brethren wait in vain for the rogue to dash into their midst.  She would much rather sit at the center of her web and meet all threats.”

“Nay, brother, that was good of you,” Spoke Wind.  ”To have so many agents thrashing about the jungle would never do.  The Spider would take hold of that confusion, and use it to her advantage.”

“It will not be a satisfying hunt, for you all, I fear,” Said I, in my bitterness.  ”The Spider would take initiative, should she feel it to her advantage.”

“There will be no complaints from this man, if that would be her wish,” Said Wind.

We moved as a line–Flame at the helm, with the Sweet Blossom behind.  After her came Toshihiro, than I, than Wind.  Night fell, and the jungle turned to utter darkness.  Only Flame’s torched fist, held high over head, undid the mysteries about us.  But as she had said prior, the power of her light seemed weaker here, and did not penetrate far into the dark.  Now and again, Arlés would whisper to Flame of some danger we could not see, and in turn, Toshihiro gave further advisement as to the Spider’s likely whereabouts given the traps laid and the terrain of the land.  Wind was a chilly breeze behind me, and my shoulders were as rocks against his resenting stare.  I did not look back upon his face, for fear of seeing the wraith that had taken my Brother.

Our discordian cinq passed roots that were as high as our waists, and cut through ferns taller than Flame’s reaching light.  Closed buds quivered at our passing.  It were as if they sensed the alienness of our persons.  From the red soil at my feet, I drew up an understanding.  I was the chosen son of the earth, and from the land intuitions came quietly.  With darkened eyes, I kept my knowledge to myself.

As we passed the broad trunk of an unnameable tree, the fallen vines at our feet gave a stir.  The Sweet Blossom gave a start, and leapt to the side, crying out that we should follow–but Toshihiro, man of keen mind, saw from the dying reaches of light, the unnatural weave of the hanging vines behind her.

Too late came his warning.  With a shriek, the emerald tendrils snatched at the Blossom’s limbs, and pulled her into the void.  Wind howled, some remnants of his love for the sorceress ripped out of his throat.  Flame ignited, all of her form turning bright and brilliant–an instinctual reaction, but one with dire effects.

Toshihiro, too close to her fiery body, stumbled away with arms held up to shield his face.  The vines at their feet lay forgotten.  Startled to life, they tripped the Son of the East in his lack of care, and away he went, dragged by the jungle to the unknown.

Wind shouted, “Arlés!  Toshihiro!  Speak to me, brothers!” but no answer came.

Flame’s sabers were drawn.  Her brilliant body burned bright, but still her light failed to illuminate our comrades whereabouts.  ”She is here!” Cried the daughter of the sands.  ”The Spider leers at us from the dark!  Arlés saw nothing of the danger that lay at our feet!”

“But where!?” Cried Wind, his teeth grit.

“All around Brother,” Said I in quiet.

Both my companions eyed me beadily.  ”What dost thou speak of?” Flame spat.  ”You speak as a man who knows!”

I eyed her, face as smooth as a river’s rock.  ”Flame, douse thy anger.   If I believed there to be danger, my voice would have been yours.”

“I call on it now, damn you!  What dost thou speak of, when you say the Spider is all around us!?  Why does she not strike?”

I smiled at her.  ”Because she knows I love you both, as life does the suns.”  I gestured at the dark trees.  ”The forest is alive, Flame.”

Flame scoffed, the fires over her body reaching higher into the dark.  ”Of course it is!”

I shook my head, and my smile faded.  ”Nay.  I mean, the forest is alive, my friend.  Aware.  These leaves stir with the whispers of beings sentient.”

Wind took a step toward me, his face dark.  ”Dost thou meanst to say that the Spider has given ‘agnitio’ against the will of the gods?”

“Her patron may have charged her with the task.”

“Task of what, Earth!?” Wind bellowed.  The trees and fauna rustled.  He paid no mind, and even in the thick of the jungle, a gust swept through.  ”To forsake the threads of creation for whimsical fantasies bred in a bastard mind!?”

“Speak not of bastards, lest your fledgeling suffer from your curses!” I growled.

Wind took me by the front, his face tight with murder.  Flame shouted at us something unintelligible to our fury-driven minds.  She made for us, one saber gone and a hand outreached in its place.

Then a light brighter than even her brilliance broke through, and all attention was drawn to the canopy, where glowing threads, the shade of mint, weaved in a confusing cross that sometimes condensed to form patches against a black backdrop.  Small beads traveled along the threads, where they vanished into the pale trunks of the tall trees.

And there hung Spider, upside down, held in the cradle of a design still a mystery to me and my fellows.  Her eyes were small beacons that challenged the mettle of all they laid gaze to.  Her long blunt bangs swayed, as she rocked from side to side, emerald threads about her shoulders and legs.  With each swing, the corners of her mouth spread wider into a grin.  At either side of her, tangled in her web, were the Sweet Blossom and Toshihiro.  They hung like rag dolls.  From their chests erupted similar threads as the ones that spanned the canopy–but these lines pulsed periwinkle, and tangled with the weave of emerald.  Beads flowed from their chests.

My heart chilled.  ”Nay, Spider!” I cried, “Thou mustn’t harm them!  Let the braves free, so that I may speak with thee.”

“Speak–Father Stone.” She said in an accent clipped and lisping.  ”The Spider listens.”

Flame brandished her saber.  ”Demon!  Thou art a plague on life!”

Spider only blinked at her coolly.  Then her grin turned to a lion’s smile.

The probing threads that made nest in the bosoms of our brothers were severed, along with the other lines that kept them aloft.  They fell, and it was Wind’s quick gust that slowed their descent.  The world stirred by his powerful suggestion–the trees rocked, Flame’s light flickered, and the dead leaves and dust fluttered upward in a startled dance.  Even the emerald threads, alien to us, were made to shift and sway.

It was Flame’s voice, as gunpowder ignited, that alerted me to what came next.

Spider seemed to fall, a marionette doll tangled in her own strings.  To these eyes of burnt umber, I could call her descent nothing else.  But the humor that fell from her lips–a chitter more than a bubbling giggle–proved my error.  As she came near to the ground with limbs a disarray and her body twisted and toiled to disquieting dimensions, she seemed to spring to salvation.  It was at the last possible moment, when in my soles I felt her hair brush the soil, that the Spider came up again.  She went rolling, left knee the weight that lead the swing of her body, right arm extended, with her other leg tucked in.  I saw the flash of pale threads, caught in the light of Flame’s anger, caught in the glow of Spider’s mystery, pull from the girl’s clenched left fist.  The sight was lost to me in the coming moments.

In her spin, the Spider touched the earth once with her right foot, before she kicked away, up and over me, to my companions behind.  From above, she jerked to a stop mid-air, by the grace of her curious webbings, and it was this startling halt in motion that caused Flame a costly pause.  Her saber came rising too late, like a sleepy king against a dark assassin, before it was struck away to the shadows.  The next blow was swift to the head, and sent Flame spinning to the ground.

“Monster!  I would have your head!” Wind bellowed as he started forward.

I blocked him, my brows furrowed deep. “You will stay your anger, Brother Wind.  She will not be harmed.”

“You would have her slay us in our passivity!?”

“Nay, I would have you keep your word, Son of Njord.  Flame is not beyond being burned by her own passion, thou knows this to be true.  I beg thee, stay your anger.”

“You ask much of me, Earth.” Wind hissed.  But for his heated stare, he stepped down.

I turned, and struck my staff on the ground. “Spider!” I bellowed, urging all of my frustration into the name.  The care of my companions was not swallowed by my differing goals.  She stood, as a predator guarding her dinner, with Flame’s fire extinguished as she lay still on the ground.  “Restrain yourself, foolish girl!  They have given their word you shall not be harmed.”

“Must speak lightly, then.” Spider murmured, her lion’s smile now back to its original grin.  ”Words sting.  Poison to life.  My life…”  Her grin twitched.  ”…Hers.  They harm.  Verily.”

I shook my head and stepped near her, slowly.  My Spider, my child, was different.  Perhaps corrupted by whatever source of power she reveled in.  I extended my hand.  Fear was a demon in me…and it cackled that perhaps my companions had spoken the truth.  “Child.  Your life is in shambles.”

She flinched from my hand and glared at me through her overgrown bangs.  Her lip pouted.  ”You wound me.  Liar. You bring harm.”

“Nay, sweet Spider.  Thou knows my love for thee is everlasting…”

“Even with death?  My soiled hands,” And she held them to her face, tensed and curled like claws.  ”Will not clean.  I pull.  Pull many threads…But my own eludes.  Eternally, He says.  Rules, He says.  All folly.”  Her eyes, emerald stones, pierced me from their shadow.  ”Father Stone. Spider can undo…the knot in you.”

I clutched the stitch in my chest, and felt my legs tense with the desire to step back.  I fought for stalwartness.  ”Nay, sweet Spider.  I would keep this knot in me.  Not all in the world must be undone and rewoven.”

“But Spider must.”

“Child, you know not of the things you ask for!  You have taken and given things that are not yours to give!  Do these new lives–these quivering flowers and these hissing ferns–do they speak happiness unto thine ear?  And of the souls parted and sprinkled elsewhere from your punitive hands, does their evil demise vanish from thine heart?  Nay, sweet Spider, you seek to mend the world of perceived wrongs, but in doing so, you create wrong within you.  This most important aspect of your life–this most important weave of existence–is the one thing you cannot change.  Stop this!“

Tears, luminescent with her potent grief, trailed into the hollows of her cheeks.  Spider turned from me, and hung her head.  Behind me, I felt the stirrings of our other companions.  The Sweet Blossom sucked in breath as a desperate fish, and Toshihiro coughed roughly.  I did not turn my head, but instead tried to keep my focus.

“It is with pain that I ask this of thee…But Spider, perhaps thou should accept our solution to these troubles.  Rest your heart, rest these souls who scream of entrapment.  You need not fight anymore.”

“Aye…” Murmured the Spider, face still hidden.  ”Would accept. Will accept.  …But Father Stone…dost thou know?  Spider’s web trembles.  Events, Father Stone.  Long and far.  I must follow.  Toward tangled prey.”  She turned back to me, and her eyes were aglow.  Over head, the canopy dimmed to darkness once again.  All the jungle shivered and creaked.  ”I shall succumb…”  There was a crack, and Wind grunted as he pulled me back from the path of a fallen tree.  The behemoth swung from the shadows and laid itself between us and the Spider.

The girl smiled.  ”…But only to my conqueror!”

Continue ReadingIntermission II

Intermission III

The Wind and The Web (concl.)

In a speared blast of air, Wind dashed forward, sword tip eager to taste the mischievous weaver. The Spider sprung upwards, and the canopy seemed to part, opening onto the sky with trees splintering in their haste to abide. There were flashes of luminescent threads, long thin lines that waved and winked in the great dark space overhead. All around us, the air whipped and howled, spitting splinters into our faces.  As the conflict escalated higher into the heavens, tired breaths circulated to us far below.

My eyes were caught, like a feather to a grate, to the sky.  Wind was an unfriendly shadow, whose face in the brief flashes of illuminated truths, revealed a bloodthirsty demon.  No more was the comrade I had known and loved present.  That man had come undone under the wily hands of my precious Spider.  From the ground I felt the displeasure of my god and patron, Tellus.  I had failed to uphold her highest principle of steadfastness.  I closed my eyes to the violence and whispered a prayer, begging forgiveness.

Then the familiar hiss and sputter of my dearest Flame brought my attention back to the matter at hand, and I hurried to her side. She sat up from the moss covered ground and rubbed her head, her countenance rumpled in blurry pain and bewildered anger. Her eyes flickered to me, and her person came to glow with the promise of a true fire. I felt the heat hit me like a wall, and I moved back with hands held before me.

In my deepest voice, I tried to placate my companion.  ”Flame, please.  Let not your anger rule you!”

She hissed and I leapt to my feet and took a step away as her arms became swathed in flames.  The moss and grass blades screeched as they curled on themselves from the fire, black and pitiful.  On the cool dirt, the fire stopped.  ”Fool!” She spat.  ”Mongrel! Look where thy bleeding heart has taken us!”

I refrained from offering my hand.  The daughter of the sands was too prideful for such a gesture.  Instead, I gestured behind me, where the rest of our hunting party began to rise yet again.  ”Hope is not lost! The Spider shall yield if we can best her in combat. Look skyward, and thou will see that Wind already endeavors toward this end.”

“Yes, Strong Earth,” Arlés the Sweet Blossom said with lilted tongue.  “But the Spider has shown herself to be of unsound mind. In her eyes, what constitutes victory?” She, in the light of Flame’s anger, gazed with sullen eyes at me, her face pallid and glistening. “I fear the witch has taken something vital from me.  I care not how it is returned, but it SHALL be returned!”

“And me,” said Toshihiro, from his place near the Blossom. His dark eyes were narrowed, and his breath heaved over dry lips. “This battle must be quick.”

All eyes turned to the sky, where the raucous of combat faded. I frowned, my grip on my staff tightening. “Where are they?”

Toshihiro shook his head. “Their battle is beyond us, lest they return to the earth. But we cannot sit idly by.” He looked at me, with back straightened. “If thou art truly on our side, you will clear these plant creatures with thy power. They are abominations and must be destroyed.” The jungle rustled and shifted, dark phantoms beyond the warmth of Flame’s glow.

My eyes were as jagged rocks. “You would seek me to kill these innocents!?”

“It would be a merciful fate, considering the alternative. And it is not without reason. The Sweet Blossom can replace the lost life with that of proper origin–a necessary preparation when the Spider is to be sealed.”

From the soil, Tellus spoke, in her quiet language of intuition.  My lips thinned.  Trapped beneath the order of my patron, I could do nothing.  I raised my hands, and the earth took to quaking.

The soil cracked and parted in a circle around us.  The jungle seemed to screech in terror, the leaves and the branches and the bushes alive with panic.  The earth ruptured, and around us, gaping maws of rock and sand split wide open to swallow all.  Trees were felled, stupefied at the sudden removal of their foundation.  They were great groaning giants of cracked bark and upped roots that fell top first into the splits of the land, where the compacted soil and rock shifted to the swallowing sands beneath.  The noise was deafening.  When all had been up-ended, I pulled my hands down close to my person, and with palms outward, pushed away from myself.  The ground exploded in a high rolling wave that blasted all away.  There were great cracks as trees collided with trees at high speed.  The dust was so high, it seemed to hang over us.  The air rang as all around us, things settled.

I turned to Arlés.  ”It is done, Blossom.  Proceed before the battle returns to us.”

She gave a curt nod.  With a flourished hand, she called forth creeping vines from the churned soil, and the new plants grew rapidly. They curled about the fallen tree that lay between us, the one thing I had not removed, and with a flick of her wrist the strong plants tossed the trunk away.  The Sweet Blossom then, with both arms extended caused all around us to sprout and flower in green.  The ground beneath my feet hummed from this magic, and though it was natural and void of the consciousness that once permeated through the soil, something of it felt different and offensive to my senses.

Toshihiro murmured to the Sweet Blossom, advising her in the arrangement of the new plant life.  Their plans were beyond me.  Moss and ferns covered the clearing.  At the center, a tree sprouted, its growth accelerated by Arlés’ suggestion.

Then Flame gripped my arm, and her hand stung me from the heat.  ”Earth, the air shifts!” She whispered, one saber drawn. The daughter of the sands had always been sensitive to Wind’s approach.  With staff before me, I eyed the trees in wariness.

Sure enough, a strong whip of wind beat us from the south.  Toshihiro appeared at our side, his fists clenched.  ”They return!  We must keep the Spider busy as the Sweet Blossom works!”

“Dost the Champion of Tenjin know of a plan?”

Toshihiro, quiet son of the Far East, said unto me, “At the first available opportunity, thou must create a deep hole. So deep as to beg for light.”

“…A hole?”

“Yes.  The reason for this shall be revealed.”

“And what would you have me do?” Said Flame.

Toshihiro glanced at her coolly.  ”What you normally do, Fiery Flame.”

Never one to let a quiet insult lie, Flame made as if to argue, but the sudden strengthening of the winds robbed all words from her lips.  The jungle to the south rustled, then erupted in a dance of leaves.  The shadows, as curtains, parted in surprise to reveal the fast approaching Spider.  She came at us, arms extended before her with fists clenched around things unseen.  Then with a vicious pull that set her hands behind her, she rocketed forward through the air, feet first.  The others were forced to part, but I, steady son of the earth, stayed my ground.

With my staff quickly raised and my right foot slid back to offer support, I blocked the Spider’s incoming knee.  I did not give an inch, but my supporting foot sank into the soil, and my upper body was forced to lean back from the impact.

The Spider seemed to hang there, suspended in the air, her shin resting against my staff as though that were all she needed to remain aloft.  Her lion’s smile, no longer obscured in the pitch black of the jungle, seemed to glisten through the dim of night.  ”All must dance,” Said she.  Her arms extended at either side of her, and her eyes widened from behind her long bangs.  ”The Spider wills it!”

Her hands clenched to fists and she pulled them quickly to her chest, just as she pushed away from me.  These eyes, perhaps slow in their growing age, took note of the glimpses of glowing thread that slipped between her fingers, but did not register their purpose.  When the bodies of Toshihiro and Flame collided into either side of me, the purpose became all too clear.

The breath rushed from my lungs, and I fell to a knee with Toshihiro and Flame at either side of me.  Through the Spider’s legs, I saw Wind charge from behind, his approach quiet as his feet did not touch the ground.  I leaned forward and braced myself, willing my body to be as a rock.  With my head covered under one arm, I heard rather than saw the collision.  Spider and Wind were sent toppling over my person.

Bewildered, I raised my head to look, and saw that Wind had once again engaged the Spider.  Toshihiro and Flame, though dazed, were already rising to their feet.  I followed suit, a weary sigh slipping past my lips.

I recalled Toshihiro’s task for me, and without a word I stepped aside to accomplish it.  The ground rumbled once again, and the newly created plant life fell into a deepening hole.  I pressed, with the force of my mind, the soil downward, and bid the earth to widen at my command.  Soon the hole requested of me was created.  I turned in time to see Arlés the Sweet Blossom finish in her task as well.  The tree was done.  It was thick–perhaps thicker than the mammoths I had seen prior.  The bark was white and smooth, and it curved like a dollop of cream on the soil.  It’s surface was blanketed by curious vines, thicker and darker than those of the jungle.  My eyes flickered next to see that Toshihiro and Flame had joined the battle against the Spider.  Marvelous as they were, the girl’s power and unfathomable style were more than enough to keep them at bay.  I moved toward them, grim faced but intent on ending this quickly, but as I came near, the battle turned.

The Spider had simultaneously parried the attacks of Wind and Toshihiro, and as she rebounded past Flame, I saw her hand make an ominous gesture at the chest of my companion.  The daughter of the sands went still,  her saber raised for an offensive.  As Wind came forward, unaware, the woman lashed out at him with her saber, her face void of emotion.  Wind, fast and fluid, avoided her slash, and gazed at her with eyes wide.

Toshihiro did not pause, when he moved to engage her.  As his fists, strong and tempered by the mastery of pugilism, struck out at Flame, he said onto Wind, “You must not falter, Son of Njord!  Nevermind that she is faster than you.  Of us all, thou art the only one that the Spider cannot control!”  Wind, with a resolute nod, went on to resume his fight.  As he ducked beneath the swinging blade of the ensorcelled Flame, Toshihiro managed to glance at me, and all at once I understood.

“Brother!” I shouted, staff pointed at my dark trap.  ”Let the heaven and earth meet!”

Wind’s attention flickered my way briefly.  Tense, I watched him and the Spider battle.  It was blow for blow, attacks countered and blocked, a dizzying dance of skill and combined magic that to any mortal man, would have been too much.  I feared that Wind did not understand my suggestion, that perhaps his anger toward me blinded him.  But then, faith was restored when his intentions became clear.  His attacks, though convoluted, were to a positive end, and after tireless effort, Wind had managed to press the Spider backwards–toward the trap.

In truth, I cannot say for certain whether Spider was unaware of our intentions.  The girl was just the sort that would play along with a scheme, so as to draw greater satisfaction when she managed to best her competitor.  Regardless, the Spider was beat back, bit by bit, toward the waiting hole.  When only a few yards away, Wind leapt into the air, and with a great shout, called on all his strength to push at the girl with the breath of the world.  She was blown back, her body sent flying as if she were a fly at the mercy of a storm.  The Spider first crashed at the lip of the hole before the wind married her to the dark space.  I saw her ricochet off the far wall before hitting the bottom hard.  There was a crunch, and from the walls, unnaturally thick vines burst forth and anchored themselves into the soil opposite.  I looked to see the Sweet Blossom, who had been watching all this time, with her hand extended, working her magic.  Within a second, hundreds of vines crossed the hole, effectively trapping the Spider below.

The girl, given room only to crawl, circled the bottom like a shark in water.  Her eyes glowed from the dark, where little windows gave us view of her displeased face.  She shouted with a deep and sullen voice, “Fools!  This is no prison!”

The Sweet Blossom looked at us, her beautiful face marred by tension.  ”She speaks the truth.  I have made the spells of these vines complex, but she can undo my work, given time.”

Wind spoke.  ”Nay, Arlés.  For you have given me the first opportunity to do this,” and the Son of Njord raised his hand.  There was a rush of air from the hole, some dust rising with it.  Then quiet.  I looked at Wind, then down at the Spider below.  The girl made a choking sound and clutched at her throat.  Her eyes were bulged in fear.  Behind us, the sounds of Flame and Toshihiro in combat ended.  I looked to see Flame staring at her hands, dazed, and Toshihiro staring with solemn expression toward us.

“Before,” said Wind, “The Spider moved far too much and had the primal materials of the world to keep her free.  Trapped beneath the makings of your magic, she must first undo what is yours before she can use it.  But she moves no more, and the air she took advantage of now flees from her.  She can hardly say a word than escape our prison.”  He leaned forward, eyes dark.  ”Dost thou understand, Spider?  Wouldst thou yield?”

The girl choked, and tears streamed from her eyes.  She grabbed at the vines and scraped at the walls.

Tense, I turned to Wind, “Thou cannot kill her, Wind!”

“She must yield,” he snapped back.  He shouted down into the hole.  ”Yield, damn you!”

Finally, the girl, face contorted, gave a desperate nod just as she collapsed onto the ground.  Wind dropped his hand and the air hurried to refill the space denied it.  Arlés with a wave of her hand, chased away the imprisoning vines.

Toshihiro and Flame joined us at the edge of the hole.  ”Good work,” he said.  ”It was sloppy, but there was no other way.  You have done your patrons proud.”  He looked down at the Spider with lip curled.  ”The Spider manipulates some unseen fabric of this reality.  As we are, she could easily anticipate our movements.  Wind, as a master of a free flowing element, was her true match.  The breath of the world is too whimsical and vast to control and counter against, unless you have that attributed power.  When the Spider had the gall to take control of Flame, she put herself in a disadvantage.  To keep control of Flame, she had to relinquish a level of power and concentration.  That was our opportunity.”

“You knew she would do that to me.” Growled Flame, her spine curled and blood streaming from a cut near her ear.

Toshihiro bowed.  ”My apologies, but of us all, your passion made you the most susceptible.  Please, do not take offense.  You are an exemplary warrior who serves her patron well.  If I would have given prior warning, thou wouldst have fought the Spider’s control, and we would not have the chance we did to overwhelm her into our trap.”

“Thou truly art the champion of Tenjin,” The Sweet Blossom said with a nod.

“And thou truly are a harlot!” Flame spat.  To this the Sweet Blossom only smiled.

“I would have you meet my eyes and say that, Fiery Flame.”

“Do not push me, Arlés.”

“Enough.” Toshihiro looked to the Spider.  ”Now she must rise up, as she has sworn to do.”

The Spider sneered at him as she wiped the dirt from her face.  ”Would obey!  But only my conqueror!”

“And your conqueror commands that you rise up, petulant welp!” Wind rumbled.

The Spider leapt up, one hand pulling at an unseen rope.  She landed near us, and all but I tensed in preparation for a surprise attack.

Said I softly, “Stand down, you braves.  The Spider seeks no battle.”

To correlate this, the Spider crossed her arms and glared, but made no other movement.  The others eased once again.

Wind looked to the Sweet Blossom. “Art thou prepared?  Where must the demon go?”

The woman pointed at the tree she had created.  ”There, where the bark carries a slit.  Let her climb up the roots and rest her back against it.”

Wind looked at the Spider.  ”I would have you do just that.  And quickly!”

Together, we walked to the tree, all eyes on the girl with tussled hair.   She did just as commanded, climbing up the massive roots to that high place at the trees trunk.  Then with narrowed eyes, she turned and rested her back against the mentioned slit.

“I am fain to see this finished, but first I would have what was taken returned to me,” The Sweet Blossom snipped.  Wind pointed at her and Toshihiro.  ”Spider, thou have stolen from these braves.  Return what is theirs!”

The girl sighed and flicked her hand.  Both Toshihiro and the Blossom gasped, hands flying to the stitch in their chests.  I held the champion of Tenjin upright, as Wind held Arlés by the shoulders.  Then they each straightened, and something I hadn’t realized had been missing before seemed restored.  The Sweet Blossom somehow appeared more radiant, and Toshihiro stronger.

With a laugh, the Blossom made a grand flourish with her hands, and the vines of the tree stirred to life.  They snaked toward the Spider, and the girl eyed them warily.  Wind shouted, “Do not move!  You will allow the Sweet Blossom to do her work!”

“My conqueror, Spider wishes to speak.” The Spider said loudly.  ”The web.  It trembles.”

“Quiet!  For the mass murder of countless innocents, you shall remain sealed beneath the Sweet Blossom’s magic.”

“Until when?”

Wind turned his back.  ”Until heaven may judge thee.” He began to walk away.  He spared no glance or word my way.

The vines, golems under the command of Arlés, snatched at the Spider’s limbs.  The girl did not gasp or squeak, but bared her teeth as the plants wrapped around both her legs, pinning them together.  The vines pulled at her arms, raising them up and pinned them to the trunk of the tree.

As the plants crept across her shoulders onto her chest, the Spider cried out. “A feather!”

I tensed.  Wind stopped.  The Spider smiled.  ”A feather.  Caught.  On my web.”  She grunted as the vines seemed to tighten around her.  ”It trembles…from thy distant breath.”

Wind turned and stepped forward.  He held a hand out to the Sweet Blossom, who frowned and made a halting gesture that stopped the progress of the vines.  “What dost thou speak of, demon?” he asked in a voice that threatened to be a growl.

The Spider smiled her lion’s smile.  ”Your fledgeling.  Her nest falls.”

“Spider, child, what nonsense slips your teeth?” Cried I.

“Father Stone.  The Spider knows.  Events, long and far.  Enemies descend on your fledgeling.”

“What trickery is this!?” Barked Wind.  He grabbed me and pointed at the girl.  ”She lies!  Tell me she lies!”

I looked at him, my face drained of blood.  ”Brother Wind…thou knows that it was this exact power of intuition that led Spider to find those she murdered.  Perhaps…perhaps the event has already occurred.  Her knowledge comes from echoes.  It must have…already occurred.”


“Brother, I swear, if I had known, I would never have–”

Wind let out a deep hoarse scream that tore the heart from my sturdy chest.  The air around us swirled and stung us as it circled around the Son of Njord.  Toshihiro shouted at him through the din.  ”Enough!”

“Spider moves…toward tangled prey.  My conqueror.  I have it.  I have your grief!” The girl laughed.  It was a terrible sound, like a monster birthed upon my ear.  Never had I known the girl, in all her passion and mischief, to ever make such a sound.

Wind advanced toward her, sword drawn, murder in his light eyes. “Thou knew the whole time!  Thou knew!”

Toshihiro stopped him.  He crossed his arms and gazed down his nose.  ”We cannot judge her.  Her fate is for the heavens to decide.”  Wind, finding an immovable object in Toshihiro’s logic, let out a yell.  He turned and took three thunderous steps before he kicked away from the earth, riding on the wind that had saved him time and again from the problems of the material world.  But he could not flee this.  I called after him, my heart torn.

“Brother Wind, wait!”  But he was gone.

With eyes burning, I returned my attention to the Spider.  The process had already resumed, and in my gut anger weakened my sympathy.  My brow was furrowed dark as the girl locked gazes with me.  ”Why?” I wished to scream.  My Spider was young and susceptible to her own emotions, but never had I seen this cruelty in her before.

What happened next haunts me to this day, and left me stunned at its occurrence.  Angry as I was, my heart still harbored the bloodstained child, and I could accept no justification for what she suffered.

The smaller tendrils of vines dug beneath the Spider’s skin, and the girl’s face contorted in pain.  Perhaps it was too much, for the girl did not scream, even as the vines canvased her body.

“Stop it!” I thundered at Arlés.  ”You said she would not be harmed!”  Flame and Toshihiro came before me, faces grim and pinched in the dim night.

Toshihiro said unto me, “The process will not kill her, Noble Earth.  This is the only way.”

His words were a horror to my ears.  I looked to Flame, who could not meet my eyes, her form like cold black coal.

Tears, of which I could no longer contain, streamed silent down my dusty face.  With pained expression, I looked up at the Spider.

When this horror finished, I heard the tree groan, and I knew that the slit in the trunk had a purpose.  There was a wet crunch, and the Spider arched her back, her pale face stretched by emotions too strong for her to grasp.  Tears overflowed from her wide eyes.  Through her chest, ripping through her shirt, came out a thick and bloody flower bud.  It was as large as my head, and its stem as thick as my arm.

Though it was night, the flower blossomed, a great white star-shaped flower with six petals that curved and pointed outward.  The Spider let out some strangled cry, one that died out to a cough as blood sprayed from her lips.  Her eyes rolled shut, and she hung there limp.

From her mouth came a small drop of crimson.  It landed on the white flower, a terrible stain.

Silence gripped all there.  I shook my head.  My body trembled.  ”Sleep, my dear.  I will return.”

With heavy feet, I turned and began to walk away.  I heard someone approach and within the next moment, Flame fell in step with me. “Noble Earth…where will you go?”

“I must return to the fledgeling’s nest to begin my search…Wind will arrive there in a matter of hours, but if I wish to get there in a matter of days, I must leave now.”

“But…forgive me, did the Spider not state that the fledgeling was no more?”

“Nay, my friend.  The Spider stated she was lost…and what is lost, can be found.  Even if would take me all my life to find her, I shall.”

“Let me aid you.”

I gazed upon her, startled.  Flame’s countenance was aglow with determination.  ”And your people?”

“Fear not, they are cared for.”  She grabbed my hand and pulled me along.  ”Come, Noble Earth, there are still agents of heaven that await our word!  Many of this number have contract with the skies, and of them all, there must be one that can aid us in reaching your fledgeling faster!”

As I was lead away by Flame, my head turned to look back at the Spider’s new resting place.  Toshihiro and the Sweet Blossom spoke quietly to one another.  The earth whispered that their conversation would be of interest to me, but the nature of it was concealed–perhaps by the magic of Arlés.  My eyes slipped onto the Spider, my wiry girl of bobbed plum hair and sharp emerald eyes.  This man’s heart gave a lurch in knowing that the spirited young slave girl I had rescued years ago had been reduced to such a state.  Self-loathing was a weed in my chest, as tragedy was a flower in hers.

And what thief had crept in, and snatched the joy from Earth’s life?  What scoundrel toppled nests and pulled at webs?  Was it Fate or Chaos that had made these horrors of death and abandonment true in the eyes of youths?  I had come, determined, to save all that I treasured.  Instead, I had lost all.  The Spider was tangled in the knot of her own life.  The fledgeling, the little girl with light eyes that was truly her father’s daughter, was lost in the storm of things beyond her.  Only time would tell me of her fate.  Only time would tell me of mine.

I prayed, fervently, to a goddess that lay quiet, that the fledgeling be spared a violent existence.  I prayed that the sword her father had given to her as a gift would be lost in a happier life.  I prayed, that on the rumbling earth and in the whistling wind, evil never visit upon her pure soul as it had the petals of my sleeping Spider.

With a fire to keep my heart from cold death, I traversed into the unknown.


The End

Continue ReadingIntermission III

Chapter 9.1

Eikasia Book 2: In Sight, In Mind

“Our realities do not end in ourselves, but in the hearts of others.”  – Tobias

Light feet dashed through grass.  Moisture laid cold kisses on her bare skin, where the breeze chilled in its envy.  She held the book close to her chest.  Her heart hammered against the thick cover, the tome so large it knocked her chin and pressed into her waist.  Petite hands desperately clung to it, trying to find a firm grip.  Her little arms could barely encircle the book all the way, and the edges of it pressed into her muscles, cutting off circulation, and making the veins in her wrist and hands burn with want of blood. Still she didn’t stop.

Overhead, great misty giants from the north draped across a star studded sky.  The moon was not to be seen.  She crashed through growths of mountain grass, the tufts as whips to her bare legs.  A field opened onto her, alive and aglow with fireflies and the hum of crickets.  Her excited heart calmed.  The electricity in her eyes slipped away.  She spared one glance behind her before she walked to the center of the field, and sat down.

With her behind turned damp, and a mosquito buzzing in her ear, the girl opened the tome and began to read aloud.  Her voice and the symphony of spring became one, and a smile finally appeared on her face.

But she was interrupted when a heavy something collided into her from behind.  She yelped, but the sound was cut short as breathe left her.  With the edges of her vision rippling, she shoved at whatever had draped itself across her back.  She recognized the smell, her acute little nose wrinkling at the scents of sweat, taffy, and warm milk.

“Koen!?” Brother!?

A laugh.  A young face peered into hers, a monkey’s grin plastered there.  “Koah,” Sister, “You’re in big trouble if they find out!”

Angry, she shrugged him off.  He fell to the grass next to her, giggling.  “Cajeck!”  Idiot! She cried. “What are you doing, spying on me?”

“I’m not spying.” Her brother said, his face aglow. The dancing lights of the fireflies made it seem like he was still moving.  “Thad told me to look for you.  He wants to talk to you.”

She groaned and snapped the book shut with reluctant hands.  She pressed her forehead to the cover and muttered, “Where is he?  When did he get back?”

“He’s at the tavern, speaking with the nation leaders.  He and his men arrived three hours ago at the central grounds.  Leander told him about the things you’ve been saying in his lessons.  He even mentioned the elf trader.”  Her little brother sat up and patted her back in mock sympathy, “Aww…He might not whip you that bad, Nyx.”

“He won’t whip me!” She snapped, looking up to bump her shoulder roughly against his.  “He isn’t like Leander.”

“He was still mad, though,” Atalo returned, digging in his right ear with his pinky.  “You know he told you to behave while he was away!”

She bit her lip and looked at the tome in her lap.  ‘A Detailed Look at Elven Culture’.  “I traded all my gold pieces for this. I’ve been saving for months…” She sighed, eyes tearing up. “How am I going to hide this?  Thad will take it and burn it!”

Atalo fell quiet next to her, his little body slumping at the sight of his older sister’s tears.  He scratched at a rosy cheek and looked around.  Then his face lit up.  “I know where we can hide it!” he cried, shaking her with both hands.

She looked at him sullenly.  She wiped at her nose with her bare arm.  “What are you talking about, you little fool?  There’s not a safe place here or in the village to hide this great fat book!  Especially not with Thad looking for me.  He knows all my hiding spots!”

“No, no!  Not all of them!  Remember that great old tree we found not long ago?  We can hide it there, in the trunk!  All we’d have to do is cover the book with leaves.  Hardly anyone goes there, because of the ticks and spiders!!”

“But that’s so far away!  He’ll know I was up to something.”

“I’ll do it for you!”  Atalo cried.  He went for the book, but she shifted to keep it away from him, her expression incredulous.

“You’ve got to be kidding!?” She was barely able to keep from laughing.  “had trouble carrying this book, how can you carry it all that way and not drop it?  What if you tear it, or let it fall into mud?”

Atalo looked hurt, his brows crashing together over his eyes.  “I can do it, Koah!”

She bit her lip, then slowly handed the book over.  “Don’t you drop it.  That took me a lot to save for!”

He immediately brightened up and with a grunt, hefted the book into his lap.  “Don’t worry, I won’t!”  Struggling, he stood to his feet with her help.  Her eyes flashed with worry.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay, Atalo?” She asked.

“…Yes!” He grunted, his face pink.

She gave him one long, fearful look, before she took off running, back toward their village.  As concerned as she was, she couldn’t keep Thad waiting.  He was an impatient soldier.

As her form took a shortcut through the forests, pupils widening to adjust to the dark, a shadow watched her flee past.  It was a large cat, tawny eyes turned low at the sight of the young girl’s retreating back.  Its maned head turned to look back the way she came, toward the field, where Atalo took slow, shaky steps northward.  Furry chops pulled back in a smile.

Atalo would drop that book at least five times, once even in a dirty puddle, before reaching his destination.  Nyx would not speak to him for days, until he gave her a handmade book–sloppy but sincere–and as he gave it to her, he would sheepishly say, “I made this so that maybe you can make your own book…”  She never wrote in it.  She preferred reading.  But she forgave him all the same.

That was seven years ago.

“Why are you here?” A new voice, strangled and low.  The great cat, whirled around, lips pulled back in a snarl.

Nyx, of the present day, had the animal fixed with a hateful gaze.  “You’re dredging up what isn’t yours.  …And for what? To cause me pain?”  Her eyes were like bleeding cuts.  They overflowed with tears, and the creature half-wished the bitch would die from the grief.

The cat lifted its head.  Inhaled, and exhaled slowly.  It approached Nyx on quiet paws.

The young woman tensed, fists clenched.

…But the great cat just brushed past her with a growl.

Then the memory faded out of focus, and drained away–leaving the physical world free to remind all of its presence.


I awoke, mewling in pain, anything more excited or forceful beyond my capabilities.  My muscles, my guts, my bones were in mutiny.  I felt as though knives were hacking at my skin, whittling away my cartilage, and leaving bare my bones to pinch and grind my nerves and veins.  My neck had swelled, making breathing difficult, and desperate gasps punctuated my pitiful bleats of agony.  I was paralyzed, my hands rigorously frozen to fetal paws held close to my chest. Across from me, Elmiryn remained asleep.

When my mind came into full function and I understood the situation at hand, I tried to smother my own voice and fight away whatever was happening.  I pressed my eyes shut, hard enough that they seemed to push at my eyeballs.  With practiced focus, I sought to reclaim control of my body.  Gradually the pain faded.  The swelling of my neck receded.  My hands unclenched and I could once again move my arms freely. My ears rang.  I wiped at my eyes, where tears had leaked from the corners, and made to sit up.

That’s when Elmiryn stirred. Her eyes were shining slivers, where I could only assume she looked my way.  Then they blinked and labored to open them in full.  I trembled a little.  My body was spent from the effort of returning to normal.  With my back to her, I looked at her over my shoulder.

“Good morning,” I croaked. My throat was still raw. Elmiryn reached out slowly, and ran her hand down my back in a lazy paw.  She let her hand rest on the blanket and closed her eyes again.

“Nyx…” she murmured.

“This is a bad habit you’re forming, Elmiryn.” I tried to smile, but my lips shook unwillingly.  A laugh, high and tense, reverberated through my chest.  It made my trembling worse.  “If I keep waking up before you, we’ll lose so much daylight!” Even as I said that, I knew it was very early. Birds still chirped sleepily in the trees.

Elmiryn rolled onto her back and stared up at the sweet, persimmon sky.  Her lips were parted slightly and her eyes lidded. “It’s morning…you’re right.” She sighed and sat up, head in hands.  “I had a bad dream.”

“What about?”

She looked at me through parted fingers. “You were hurting, and I didn’t help you.” My faux smile fell away.  I turned my face.

“It was just a dream.” I could feel her eyes on me.

She let her hands fall to her lap.  Her face drew long and a wrinkle appeared on her brow.  “Now I know…it wasn’t.”

“Elle, just cast it out of your head.”

“Your voice tells me the truth even when you aren’t trying to.” I closed my eyes to that and sighed heavily. She continued, voice flat. “It wasn’t that I saw you, my eyes were closed.  But I heard you.  Only, I didn’t know where I was.  I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t moving.”

“It’s normal to be confused when you’re half-asleep.”

Elmiryn shook her head and stared at her hands.  “I don’t like it.” She chortled, but it sounded sardonic. “I thought for a second…”

I turned to look back at her.  “…Elle?”

She wiped at her mouth as her eyes unfocused.  Then she stood to her feet, shaking her head emphatically.  “Nevermind.”

Elmiryn set about packing, and I followed suit.

I didn’t try to press the issue.  Pressing the issue would’ve meant returning to what happened to me, and I didn’t want to discuss it.  The Beast had gotten too close–dug so far deep into my memories as to usurp my dreamscape in favor of viewing what wasn’t hers.  In gaining this control, my body had become confused in sleep.  If I had not stopped her, I would have shifted.

You’re paranoid. That wasn’t my intention at all.

I cried out, dropping the blankets I held in my arms. Elmiryn looked at me, blinking. “Nyx, you okay?”

I looked around me. My mouth felt dry. “I…I thought I heard–”

Me. You heard ME.

In my head. A gravelly voice, much like mine, but deeper and with an accent that suggested the speaker was unaccustomed to the language.

I was speechless. I touched both hands to either side of my head and felt faint. “No…”

Your precious Expression is mine now too. Does it bother you, tyrant?

Elmiryn came towards me, hands held out in caution. “…Nyx, look at me.”

“But you’ve no USE for it!” I screamed, stepping back, as if that could distance us. Elmiryn froze, her eyebrows going high. I didn’t pay her much attention. I clawed at my head. “You thief! You vile monster, get out of my head!

“Nyx, that’s enough.”

Two hands grabbed my wrists and I became limp, falling to my knees. Elmiryn knelt with me. “I can hear her…” I breathed. “She’s speaking to me. I can hear her.”

“It was bound to happen.” Elmiryn said, stroking my hair. “She’s your Twin, remember?”

I leaned into her touch. “I don’t want to hear her at all.”

I dislike being talked about as if I’m not here.

I tensed. “Stop it.”

Elmiryn stopped and started to pull away. “All right.”

I grab at her. “No! Not you, Her!”

The warrior’s eyebrow quirked and she took a finger to tap at my head. “Maybe you should talk to her in your head. It’s confusing, otherwise.”

“She means you sound like a crazy person.

My fingers curled and my teeth found themselves grinding. I felt flames burn at the edges of my face, and a growl tensed my throat.

“Be quiet!” I thought.

My animal counterpart purred at me, amused, and sat on her haunches. Her den, her prison, had become larger. With my Expression, she had made it larger.

“Has she stopped?” Elmiryn asked me, still partly turned as if about to stand.

I wait, my eyes on the ground. Then I nod. “I think she’s done.”

Elmiryn patted my arm. “Then let’s go. We’ll need to find a good place for you to shift tonight, farther from the roads.”

This made me feel ill.

The Beast only chuckled.

You see? I have no reason to play games. Tonight is already MINE…

Continue ReadingChapter 9.1

Chapter 9.2


A person can be embodied in a sentence, a phrase, a word.  There are the distinct smells associated with that person–the special expressions that flash across their face.  Do they feel like leather, or rose petal?  What is their laugh composed of?  What colors drape their back?  The bits and parcels of life we glue together, messily, account for a typical creature’s memory.  What did people remember of me, then? Was I truly considered, animal and all?  Or was my shadow a separate entity; my hidden self, a sister, too shy to show her face?

Elmiryn had already made that distinction in her mind, it seemed.

“She’s listening, isn’t she? Your Twin?” She asked, with eyes that peered over her shoulder.  “She sees?  She understands?”

“She…just hears.”  I felt her digging at the back of my eyeballs in the hope of reclaiming one of them as she had the day before.  “But her vision is secondhand, like a dream.  I only say this from my own experience.  I’m, um…not certain if her vision has become sharper, or if she has any access to my other senses.  I just know she’s pushing to see.”

My mouth became a displeased curve.  “How can we do this?  How can we hope to do anything if she’ll have all the means to undermine our efforts?”

“She won’t.”

“And how not?”

“She just won’t.”

It occurred to me that it was stupid to bother asking–for if She could hear and even partially see, then what was the use in explaining, then?  Still, I disliked not knowing.  I wanted Elmiryn to be as a book, right then.  To reveal her intentions, dark with mystery and possible danger.

We passed deciduous trees–my favorite sort–great large things with broad leaves that grew shorter and stouter the closer we ventured to the Torreth Mountains.  Our progress was labored and slow, as we fought against thick underbrush and uneven terrain.  There were places so thick with bushes and low-branched trees that we were forced to make great detours around, which, in my weariness, appeared to set us back at least a dozen yards.

Rest came to us in a small little spot devoid of foliage, where the forest canopy broke onto the clear blue sky.  I stared upward, stricken by the rich bright shade of the day.  Somehow, the wind seemed to breeze easier here, and I relished the cool air that took the heat from my neck and back.  I leaned against the trunk of a lean poplar and sighed.

My eyes slipped shut, and I wondered which of these trees I could climb up and nap in. Then the sound of things snapping brought me out of my haze, and my eyes flew open to see Elmiryn with her favorite dagger out.  She pulled at the grass and small ferns, leaves weeping onto the ground as roots growled and snapped out of their homes.  She looked at me, then gestured at the trees.  “Go ahead.  Rest a bit. Have some breakfast too.  This will take me a while.”

My brow wrinkled and I looked at Elmiryn warily from where I still leaned.  Her complacency didn’t match the eagerness with which she attacked the undergrowth.  Torn bits of grass sprinkled the churned, dark soil, and I took a step back as if daring Elmiryn to truly excuse me from her arduous task.  When no protest or sly trick came at me, I turned and vaulted up the nearest oak I could find.

I felt bad, leaving Elmiryn to work alone–but perhaps it was in preparation for the coming night.  I told myself that it would therefore be counter-productive to the night’s success should I aid her, let alone watch her.  Feeling better by this line of logic, I took Tobias’s book out of my bag and began to read.

I flipped back toward the front end, the sewn parchment cracking like old bones at my hurried fingers.   I had read all the complete tales there were to be found in the book.  Now all that was left was to read were Tobias’s thoughts, his essays, and what I hoped, were intimate accounts of his own life.

But the first page I came to confused me, and I had to read the starting paragraph twice:

“Dawn.  With relish.  Had a man speak about the tragedy of a dying sun, and countered his churlishness with the radiance of a child.  He spat on my robe.  Had to get a scrub.  The stain was of tobacco.  Naomi would’ve killed him, but I think my unconquered positiveness worked toward a better victory.”

I wrinkled my nose and scratched my head.  It indeed seemed a personal anecdote, as I’d hoped, but there was no greater explanation beyond that.  Much of the book seemed comprised of that. There were vague thoughts, interrupted sentences, and even single words, of which entire pages were dedicated to. My skimming found six of these.  “Patterns, Stars, Singed, Ink, and Breath.”  But the one that caught my eye was:


The period at the end caught my attention.  None of the other words had one.  I tried to imagine the sort of state Tobias was in, to write this word alone on a page, and feel so compelled to have bothered with a period.

Excited by this bit of mystery, I held my chin and tapped the page.

It didn’t take much for my mind to travel to the story I had told last night–the tale of the Spider of the West.   In it, a flower had erupted from her chest, a white, six-petaled flower that resembled a star.  Though it was never explicitly named, my bet was that it was a lily.  But again, I came to a wall.  Just because the flower had been used in Tobias’ story did not make it particularly significant.

Such items were always meant to stand for something in literature…but there were enough metaphors and concepts surrounding the lily that I wasn’t certain which one Tobias had meant.  The first, and most obvious possibility was of tarnished innocence or purity; the Spider’s blood had stained the beautiful white of the flower.  The other two seemed related to the cycle of life.  Having read a book or two on such things, I knew that lilies were related to the two most incredible stages of life:  Death and Reincarnation.  The latter I believed in, as Aelurus had been known to reward great individuals with a new, and harmonious life.  But did Tobias believe in it?  Where was he from?  Was he worldly enough to adopt the ideas of others despite his origins?

“Elmiryn,” I called, eyes still on the scrawled word.  “What did you think of the story last night?”

Her voice floated up to me.  “What?”

“I asked, ‘What did you think of the story last night’?”

“Oh.  I thought it was funny.”

My nose scrunched. “…Really?  That heartbreaking story amused you?”

“Heartbreaking?  Are you kidding?  Do you really think the gods would bother themselves with judging some other deity’s lesser?  Someone will wake her up. Just you wait and see.”


“Yeah.  Will.”

I had an incredulous little smile on my face as I looked up.  “…Elle, it was just a story.”

“But you told me it was about that man…Tobias, was it?”

I shook my head, hand tugging at my ear as my eyes squinted. “You’re right, but I was only guessing! I hardly believe he actually did all of these things.  It’s all just one big metaphor for events in his life…I think.

“I dunno, Nyx…I remember hearing stories when I was younger, about a slave girl that made people hang in mid-air.  My father used it as a way to scare me into behaving.  He’d tell me, ‘Arachne will string you up with her silk if you don’t listen to me!’  That trick always worked.”

“But…Why would a Legend just walk up to me and give me a book?  Why didn’t he go and help Gamath, if he’s supposed to be an agent of heaven?”

Elmiryn grunted, and I heard the snarl of roots freed. “He vowed to find his fledgeling.  Simple.  He didn’t sound like the sort of man to take that kind of vow lightly.” I heard her let out a huff.  Then she added, “And really…who the fuck gets Legends anyway?  When a god picks them to be their champion, it’s as if they become…I dunno.  Alien. They don’t think like a person of the earth would anymore–they think in terms of heaven.  It was that sort of thing that killed so many of them.  They got full of themselves, and the gods had to kill them–if the people hadn’t already.  I don’t even know of an active Legend left alive anymore.”

“…So you’re saying that maybe Tobias–IF he were a Legend–would want to hang low?  To not attract attention?”

“Yeah.  Imagine how the man must’ve felt, having lost so much, only to see his comrades all fall in a short span of time?  There used to be thousands of Legends, before they all died and disappeared within a decade.  It was a sign. There were too damn many of them.”

“Too many…” My eyes glazed over.

If what Elmiryn were saying were true…then the word “Lilies” likely represented death.  Perhaps Tobias had been depressed.  The period after the word made sense now. It wasn’t reincarnation, it was death. The ultimate end.

I traced my fingers over the page and frowned.  Even this revelation felt insufficient.  Elmiryn had uncovered another possibility–one almost too fantastic to accept.  I had no way of proving it or disproving it, and that made me frustrated.

“Hey, I’m done,”  Elmiryn called.

I looked over.  Frowned.  “Uh…doing what?

Elmiryn had made a circle of dirt.  It was lumpy in places, but she had clearly tried to smooth it out–possibly with a big leaf.  She placed her hands on her hips.  “It’s a fighting circle.”

I nearly fell out of the tree.  “Today?  You mean to do that today!?

She nodded, her eyes unblinking.


“But today is the day I shift.”

“I know.”

I visibly sagged.  Of course she knew.  But she was still insane.  Still ridiculous for believing nothing bad would come of this.  I could already feel Her inside me, pacing.  The idea of fighting made her anxious.  “Are you asking for a premature change?” I snapped.

“No, I’m asking for you to fight me when you’ll be less likely to over think things.  Get down here.”

“I’m over thinking things right now.  Namely, the word, ‘NO’, over and over.”

“If you’d like, I can make this your first lesson.  Get down when I say to get down, or I’ll make it happen.”

The words slapped me. I leaned back from the force, felt my eyes burn with surprise and hurt. I hurried to climb down, my eyes on Elmiryn’s face all the while.  “I don’t appreciate threats…” I mumbled as I went to join Elmiryn on the damp dirt.

She shrugged one shoulder. “I don’t like making threats either, but if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right.  Your feelings can’t be coddled anymore than your body would.  And you’re going to be eating dirt today, make no mistake.”

As I stepped onto the damp soil, I immediately felt stupid.  Somehow–despite its hurried creation–the circle managed to look neater than I did.  Me, with my muddied pants and boots, my wrinkled tunic, and my disheveled hair.  I didn’t belong in it.  I nearly took a step back when a look from Elmiryn froze me in place.  It was similar to the look she had given Sedwick back in Gamath, when they were arguing.  But this was more focused.  What was just a threat, now blossomed into a promise.

“If you don’t mind,” she began, circling around me with hands behind her back, “I’d like to get a better sense of what you can do.  So far, it seems you’re extremely good at dodging a punch.  You’re agile, flexible, and have good reflexes.  Before you met me, you stole food to stay alive.  Am I right?”

“Yes.”  I resisted the urge to add “Ma’am” to the end of that.

“But a girl who takes from peasants doesn’t get the level of skill you do.  How’d you get it?”

I clenched my fists and stared forward.  My mind rolled over memories so visceral, my body ached just bringing it up.  I finally settled on an answer.  “My older brother, Thad, was a warrior.  He tried to teach me the basics of self-defense when I was younger.”

“But that isn’t all.  It can’t be.”

I blinked and looked at her.

Elmiryn was adjacent to me, the side of her face a glow of sunlight.  “I can’t recall the specifics of that day–you know my memory is a joke.  But I still remember how well you moved when the mercenaries tried to kill you.  For someone who told me she didn’t fight, for someone who told me she stole just enough to survive, it didn’t make sense.  I don’t care that you’re an Ailuran–that you have 200 bones in your spine, heightened senses, and the strength of a fit wrestler even when at your weakest.  Your story doesn’t match your reality.  Tell me what else you did, how else you trained.  You know I can hear when you’re lying.”

My mouth went dry.  I didn’t want to talk about this.  At least not so soon.  Wasn’t it enough that she had seen my brother’s last moments?  Seen my terrible Mark?  I felt as though I’d been stripped of things so personal…and here, she demanded more.  What more of myself did I have to kick out into the suns before I could rest my heart?

Slowly I began to speak.  “I was part of…a rebel group.  Against the war.  It was spread out, over several villages, including my own.  I never did any fighting.  I never…never hurt anyone.  I just wanted our leaders to stop killing us all over their mad agendas.”

“What did you do?”

“I was a spy.  I’d listen in on important meetings, copy records and plans, and sometimes helped with the sabotage… This went on for some time.  It was how I found out they were going to take Atalo away.  He was on a list of young men to be collected for battle.”

“They never charged you for treason?”

“They never knew.”

Elmiryn nodded, then moved so that she stood in front of me.  “I’m going to say this once, and only once,” her voice had lost all the melody I had grown accustomed to.  All that was left was steel.  “I will not take ‘no’ for an answer.  You do as I say, and fast.  You pay attention, or you’re going to regret it.  We stop when I say we stop.  And finally…”  She smiled, “You will not leave this circle.”

Then we began.

Elmiryn started off by telling me I had no business carrying a weapon until I polished my evasive techniques and learned how to execute a proper counter-attack.  This annoyed me, because I didn’t want to carry her silly sword anymore if I wasn’t even going to use it, but any opportunity for derisive thought was dashed away in the hours that came.


I thought there would be running, push-ups, me carrying most of the equipment; consistent, but paced, physical training. Not this. Not hours of avoiding pain, feeling it anyway, wondering if I’d made Elmiryn mad, getting mad at her, spitting sand from my mouth, and sweat-stung vision.

I was given only enough time to think: “It hurts; Here it comes,” or “I can’t do this.”

Then another thought came to me, when I was laid out on the ground, eyes lidded as they watched a wisp of a cloud trail by.

“Elmiryn is trying to break me.”

And she was. This realization, when I finally came to it, made my sinus’ ache and brought an itch to my limbs. She was trying to destroy my timidness, trying to kill the pacifist that had made a home in me.

As such, Elmiryn did not go easy on me, did not feel the need to curb her attacks or start off slowly.  We practiced high attacks aimed at the head, mid-range attacks aimed at the stomach and waist, and attacks from behind.  Three different counters to each, three different ways to evade.  I didn’t catch on right away.

But to her credit, Elmiryn was patient in showing me the proper stances and movements.  It was the only respite she offered, and I quickly learned to pay complete and utter attention at these moments…or else.  The first lesson seemed simple enough.

“Keep your left arm in front of you, and the other near your chest.  Look at your feet placement.  Do they make an L-shape?  Point the toe the other way–or else I can come in and just knock you over like a tree.  Good… Now, when I come at you, keep in mind my momentum.  When inertia takes me past you, strike that way. With it.  Never go against the flow of a traveling object–especially when doing a counter.  Too much resistance might cause you injury, and even lessen your attack.  Keep in mind, unless you can leave me open or pull me off balance, then you can’t counter.  You’re better off not letting your guard down and getting cocky.  We’ll start off with attacks aimed at the head.  Unless your opponent is skilled in hand-to-hand, chances are, he’ll aim for your body more.  Easier target.  But this–this is just to get you on your toes.”

When she felt satisfied with my positioning, she mirrored my stance and locked eyes with me.  No more forewarning than that.

Perhaps Elmiryn believed greatly in my ability to evade, for she never stuck to one way of attacking.  I never would’ve been able to imagine so many ways to throw a single punch.  The target was the same each time–she was aiming for my head.  But she came from the sides, from below, at one point even feinting with her knee.  That time, I barely managed to block her right hook with a timid turn of my shoulder.  She scolded me immediately, telling me that in turning my face and baring me her side, I was asking for a kidney blow.

“Again!” she barked.

I returned to my stance, my heart hammering.  I missed the tenderness of the night before.  This was my error.  In that lapse of focus, Elmiryn pushed forward with her back foot, and feinted a strike with her right fist that I reacted to.  I lifted my left arm to deflect it, my face contorting in sudden surprise.  In that fraction of a second, her left fist came swinging in a fast arc toward my face.  My vision was knocked askew, and my jaw screamed with pulsing pain.  I went down, my vision blanking for a moment before it fuzzed back into view, spots and ripples making it difficult to even see the rich brown of the earth.

I resented Elmiryn, greatly.

As I pushed myself up shakily onto my hands, I had to pause to steady my breathing.

My lungs shuddered in my chest, ribs expanding a fraction, like a predator’s mouth.  Sweat dripped from the tip of my nose, onto the soil, and I saw it mix with the blood that dripped from my lips.  My front teeth had cut into the inside of my mouth.  I gasped and pulled at my mind–away from the claws of my Twin, who thrashed and snarled.

After that, Elmiryn let me have one break, when the suns were high overhead, and their brilliance a spotlight through the canopy.  I made to leave the circle when she jerked me back by my tunic.  Her eyes flashed.  I stepped back, muscles tensed for a blow that didn’t come.  She brought me some water and some left over sheep’s meat from the other night.  It tasted terrible, but I said nothing as there wasn’t much else of substance to eat besides bread and some fruit.  Neither of us spoke for a time.

When I was down to my last bites of meat, Elmiryn spoke.  Her voice was quiet, but it was the first time in several hours that the steel had gone from her words.

“I just want you safe, Nyx.”  She didn’t look at me, just up at the sky.  “I know you hate this, but you know we have to do it.  And you have to get this fast–because I don’t know when the next danger will come.  I have no idea.”  She looked at me, her face blank.  “You can’t shut me out, or else this will be for nothing.  Are you mad?  Then focus that energy into what we’re doing.  Or else, this will be for nothing. Got it?”

I sighed.  Rubbed at my eyes and found tears there.  I swallowed and held them back.  I thought about Thad and fought to make my voice as strong as possible.  “Got it.”

And we resumed.

My momentary brush with danger aside, Elmiryn had perhaps been right in starting my training that day.   I did feel angry.  Angry for the pain Elmiryn made me feel, angry at my Twin for her brutish gibbering, angry at myself for not being stronger.  I felt it burn my skin and pull at my being.  It took away my exhaustion, my desire to hide, any possibility of pretense or civility.  The dirt circle had become my cage, and in it, I felt myself fight, passionately, to purge the anger that built up with every blow, every surge of embarrassment and fear.

In the early evening, I had finally managed a counter or two, and the red on Elmiryn’s cheek showed it.  She didn’t cry out or get angry.  She smiled at me and nodded once.  Then we kept at it.  I was exhausted, and I could see she was too.  Her skin was flushed, and sweat trailed through gleaming skin.  Wisps of her hair came out of her braid, and she had discarded her top, leaving her chest bare save for the strip of cloth she used to wrap around her breasts.  At that point, I wanted to do the same, but I remembered my Mark, and let out a low growl from the back of my throat.  If she touched it, we could see a repeat of the day before.

Elmiryn stared at me when I did that, pausing mid-movement, and I paused to look at her too.  She let me have another break, then.

Not long after, the forest became dark.  Overhead, the sky was a deep violet.  The birds had become quiet in the trees.

Heaving, Elmiryn and I stared at each other, feet away.  “Elmiryn, it’s almost time.”  I felt spent.  Spent of all anger, spent of all energy.  I fell to my knees and looked at her helplessly.  “It’s almost time.  Please tell me you had something in mind while we spent all day grunting and sweating.”

She nodded, and took a step back, out of the dirt circle.  She took her right hand and made three deliberate gestures–tracing a circle, a slash, then a fast squiggle, like she were making a character from a language. I didn’t recognize it.

All around me, I felt the air press in. My heart clenched.  “What did you do?” I squeaked.  My hair stood on end.  I went to the edge of the circle and she held out her hand, shaking her head.

“Relax,” Elmiryn breathed.  “You don’t want to cross the line now, believe me.”  She tapped her foot, and I had to lean down to see the line Elmiryn had drawn into the dirt.  All that time, and I hadn’t noticed it.

“I’m trapped in here?” I said, my voice little more than a breath.

“Until I let you out.”

I nodded grimly, then looked skyward.  The sky was almost completely dark.  I looked at Elmiryn.  “Could you do me a favor?”  My voice was turning hollow and faint.  Not by choice.  My body began to feel sore, and my eyes drooped to a sleepy fraction.

“Sure,” she said.

I let out a little sigh.  “Could you leave me alone for a bit?”

Elmiryn didn’t say anything.  I thought I saw the corners of her lips twitch, but she nodded and walked away, without looking back.  I waited for her to slip completely from my view before I proceeded to shed my clothes.  There was no use in staying dressed when it came to Her.  She didn’t like wearing clothes–not even clothes that shifted with her.  Shivering in the cool night air, I folded my belongings as neatly as I could, then lightly tossed them out of the circle.  I tried to swallow, and felt my throat constrict.  Overhead, I watched as the sky turned dark, and the teeth of the universe glinted at me.

Then my body seized, and I sank to the ground with a choked wail.

Continue ReadingChapter 9.2

Chapter 9.3

“The transformation is invested
With the mysterious and the shameful
While the thing I am becomes something else
Part character part sensation
The shadow is cast”1


Elmiryn didn’t feel bad, or guilty. Not really. Not truly. The way Nyx had to squint at the line she had drawn told her how much the girl’s senses had diminished–a side effect of her new “condition”. If the girl didn’t see her, then there was no harm. Nyx would soon be gone, replaced by her Twin, and Elmiryn’s memory would become a foggy dream. What did it matter?

She felt almost unreal, cut up by differing shades. Her hand was a spider’s reach that teased into the light’s view. Her eyes were wide, swallowing, trying to get in as much as they could.

Damn human sight. Damn her curse that brought a mystifying smoke to her eyes. She wiped at them, with her free hand, and tried to squeeze out the gray that mingled in the black, indigo, and milk. Elmiryn looked again, and balked.

Where’d Nyx go?

She placed a hand on the ground, where pine needles and torn leaves were crushed in her curled grip.

Elmiryn strained her eyes, felt her eye stalks ache like they were on the verge of pushing her eyeballs out of her skull. What were those pitiful sounds she was hearing? Was Nyx already changing? The moonlight spilled over the mountains, and came down in broken shafts through the canopy. Not direct light, nothing that lit the earth brightly, but enough to bring about some sort of idea in Elmiryn’s head of what was before her.  There was a trembling mass on the ground, spined along its backside, and at one end of it, pale arachnids tangled in a mass of black snakes–writhing, pulling, scraping.

…There she was.

The shadows still served as a frustrating veil to those finer details, but a warmth took home in Elmiryn’s skin. The delicate slopes and curves of Nyx’s body, the light skin slick with sweat, the labored breath and the low cries that stretched and died out in hisses and moans. The situation had quickly turned voyeuristic, but Elmiryn dared to creep closer.

The redhead wasn’t certain what brought the change. In her experience, it seemed to depend on the therian in question. Sometimes it happened only when the moonlight touched their skin. Other times, when the sun set, or the moon first came into view.  She thought of the hundreds of thousands of therians that would shift this night–the fear that would grip their enemies.  It tickled her throat.  Made her limbs suffer a dull ache.  Screams filled her head.

Elmiryn’s eyes peered through the leaves of a robust bracken fern, and they widened to take in the sight of Nyx’s flesh, changing.  Finally changing.  (Or forever changing…which was like never changing.  Static, like a fundamental principle.  …What a pain in the ass!  How can you “be” and “not be” at the same time?)

A gurgle brought Elmiryn’s attention back to the spectacle before her.  She had seen shifts before. But those had been fluid and graceful–more like a person changing position than a person’s flesh and bone twisting and reconstructing to fit another form. This, however, was drawn out agony, pure and unabashed pain. In her lapse of attention, the confused mass that had once occupied the center of the circle had been replaced with some horrible looking creature.  Nyx was…gone.  The thing in her place had a narrow chest, a sunken stomach, and a powerful back with a large spine.  A tail had sprouted, where it lashed, naked.  The thing’s head was turned to the ground.  Elmiryn crawled, past the fern, over the roots and tall grass, felt some of the light swathe her skin and it made her shiver.  Was the face still human?  Was there anything left of Nyx in those eyes?

Then the shoulders shuddered, and there was a sickening pop as the bones were forced to fit into their new sockets.  The hips too, which had seemed connected only by skin and muscle, appeared to snap into place.  The skin rippled, fingers and toes gave way to stout digits fixed with claws, and the soles and palms to tough pads.  It was a gruesome, choppy process, but it was like an inexorable wave that hit everything at once.  As the limbs changed, so then did the head.

Elmiryn, who had come near the line, eyes squinted in foggy discernment, reared back, dirt and sand still clinging to her bare stomach where it had dragged.  Her expression became stern, her mouth a thin line.  She went to her things, carefully set against an alder’s base, and took up her bow and quiver.  Notching an arrow, she aimed it at the new being before her.

Quiet, like a wind’s whisper, fur sprouted along the skin.  It swept over the stilled body, covered it in a thick coat of black that made even the shadows envious.  The creature stirred.  It trembled as it moved its legs, tucked them underneath it, and pushed.  Head still bowed, its wet nose quivered before its lips pulled back to reveal white fangs.

In a fraction of a second, the thing leapt forward, toward Elmiryn, its jaws spread wide.  The woman could imagine how her whole neck could fit neatly in there–tender, fragile, and delicate.  But she didn’t give, didn’t twitch.  When the beast came to the circle’s boundary, there was a crack, a small white flash, and the creature was blasted back.  The air smelled of singed fur.  It yowled, and its tawny eyes fixed Elmiryn with a look of astonishment.  True astonishment.  One of comprehension.  The warrior gave a whistle.

“You weren’t paying attention,” Elmiryn said.  She smirked a little.  “Nyx didn’t get it.  It’s alright, all that fighting still did something for her.  Made her determined, made her stop worrying about the night.  But you?  You stopped focusing.  I bet you wanted to hurt me–kill me even.  But you see that line?  It means you can’t cross it.  You can’t leave until say so.  So fucking sit down.  We need to talk.”

The animal snorted, paced back and forth, its paws trailing little lines of dirt from where it collected between its toes and claws.

The bow lowered a fraction.  Then Elmiryn chuckled and brought it up again.  “…Okay, fine.  So maybe it won’t be a conversation, really.  But I don’t fucking care.  You aren’t really the most admirable cunt-licker this side of the Torreth.”  Elmiryn ventured closer.  “So just to be absolutely certain…you understand me, right?  Give a shake or a nod.”

The cat just spat at her, ears flat on its head.

Elmiryn’s face hardened.  “I can just leave you here all night, if you’d like.”

The cat growled, looked all around it as if to try and confirm the existence of the circle.  Then with a short sigh, it shook its head.

“No?” The warrior grinned.  “So when I tell you I want to have a contest, you’d understand me?”

The cat nodded, but its face bunched, eyes narrowing.

“Then here’s my challenge:  I bet I can kill a deer before you can…without my bow and arrows.  If I win, then you have to respect Nyx’s space between each full moon, and respect our…uh…partnership.  Even when control is in your hands.  But if you win…then you get to do as you please, without my stopping you.  The contest doesn’t begin until I’ve named a target.  The kill has to be made where the other can plainly see.  Anything else, doesn’t count… I’ll only let you out if you agree to this–and by agreeing to it, you can’t kill me or run away.  You have to swear it.  Even a coward like you can’t break a direct promise like that.”

The cat blinked and its tail lashed behind it.

Elmiryn pulled the arrow farther back, her eyes flashing.  “Do you agree to these terms?  Do you agree to this contest?”

The cat nodded once, stiffly.


The woman licked her thumb, then quickly stepped forward and broke the line with it.  A breeze picked up, as the freed air circulated.  Elmiryn stepped back and jerked her head.  “Go on, you can get out now.”

The cat took cautious steps forward.  Its body crept low to the ground.  It took one tentative paw and with squinted eyes and attentive ears, lightly touched the earth beyond the circle’s boundaries.

“See?”  Elmiryn said, her bow and arrow put away, replaced by a short blade.  “The spell is broken.  Now come on.  The field Nyx and I crossed was riddled with deer dung.  Nearly stepped in it a few times.  I’m certain they graze near the forest at night.”

They left the little opening, and the feline was swallowed in the shadows beneath the trees.  Elmiryn paused to look for it again, when she saw its surly eyes shine at her.  Certain the creature would honor its promise, the woman went on, leading through the forest.  “What am I supposed to call you?” the woman asked in a low voice.  “Nyx and I have kind of started calling you ‘the Twin’, but that isn’t a proper name.”  Her steps were slow and careful.  She didn’t have the sight of her inhuman companion.

The cat let out a noise, like a weak growl and a yowl mixed together.  Elmiryn heard it lick its chops and grinned.  “It’s a serious question!  What if we’re in the thick of a fight, and you don’t realize I’m trying to get your attention?”

No answer.  Elmiryn suspected it was less because the cat couldn’t speak, and more because it just didn’t want to.

“Is a name so bad to have?” The woman shook her head.  “Don’t tell me it didn’t make you upset to realize Nyx’s name didn’t belong to you.  You know that, right?  That it isn’t yours?  I mean…that’d be accepting clothes, literature, and walking upright.  And you can’t.  You two aren’t in sync, but I heard and felt some of your feelings too, back in that cave.  They echoed of her, the way they echoed of you–”

The cat hissed, loud, the sound dying out to a rumbling growl.  Elmiryn stopped where she was, balancing on the ball of her left foot on a fat alder root, as her other foot hovered over a dark drop off where buried roots snaked out of an eroded dirt wall.  Narrowed cat eyes glinted at her, like the edge of a knife.

“Don’t be a fucking idiot,” the woman scorned, though her voice lacked the fire.  “You’re cut from the same cloth, whether you like it or not.  That’s why you’re the Twin.”  Then a thought occurred to her, and she rubbed the back of her neck.  “Actually, since you’re here now, then I guess Nyx’d be the Twin…which brings me back to my first question–what in the nine hells do I call you?”

The minutes slipped by.  Though the conversation–if one could call it that–seemed finished, the woman still thought about it.  It bothered her, the idea of something so determined to be someone, but lacking a true name.  If there was anything in the world that was important, it was something to go by.  Even animals did it…right?  There were signature smells and unique calls, so that even those creatures that did not use spoken language could recognize one another.  In therian cultures, it wasn’t an issue.  After all, the animal within was just a part of a greater whole.  But in the Twin’s case…she was not whole.  Not truly.  And without Nyx’s name, she was nothing.

“If your goddess doesn’t think you’re fit for a name, then there’s no reason to fuss.  You aren’t worth it.”  Elmiryn went on, quiet, each step dropping her voice till it was barely a breath past her lips.  “You can’t talk, you can’t sustain yourself, and you can’t stay in control past a single night.  Maybe that’s why Nyx has trouble facing her problems…” Elmiryn looked over her shoulder, where the wraith that was the feline drifted behind her.  “You hold her back.”

She didn’t know if the beast heard her or not.  Perhaps it did, with those great ears that swiveled to catch all the world in its canals.  In many ways she didn’t care.  The creature was a selfish being, too focused on its present reality to ever consider the far reaching effects of its actions.  Nyx suffered for it.  She had nearly been left for dead because of it.  Elmiryn hadn’t intended for cruelty, but she had to admit…she felt good seeing the beast singed by the containment spell.

Ahead of them, illuminated, was the field.  It was a cool wave of tall grass.  Some short distance away, a family of deer grazed silently.  One deer was apart from the others, trailing away.  Elmiryn, who was crouched, tapped Her shoulder and pointed at it.  The wind was stronger here, but the gust carried Westward, to their advantage.  The feline, with its quarry marked, stalked forward, low to the ground.  Elmiryn didn’t budge or say a word.  She watched as the cat vanished into the tall grass, its movement concealed by the shifts of the field.  The cat seemed to make good progress–good at sneaking, which was no surprise–but its shortcoming soon revealed itself.

When the feline was several yards away, the deer raised its head, rock still.  Elmiryn guessed it was only acting on a gut feeling, but the feline didn’t seem to think so.  Almost in a panic, the creature lunged forth, paws scratching desperately in an attempt to catch its prey in anyway.  The deer quickly skittered away, its family bounding to the safety of the forest, but as Elmiryn sprinted forth, she saw it wasn’t a complete miss.

The cat had caught the deer clear along its left rear calf.  The wound was severe enough that blood stained the grass in fat dark splotches.  Sloppy, terribly sloppy.  Elmiryn held up her knife, the blade in her hands.  She felt her eyes burn, her heart pounding in her ears.  She was an instrument, a deadly tool, and she was faster than the clumsy kitten that scraped to its feet.  The Twin, snarling, snapping, smelling blood, perhaps tasting it already, went for the wounded deer.  But the creature was not down yet.  It made a painful spring to the side where its weight leaned on its hurt leg.  The deer stumbled, nearly fell, but righted itself.  Cut off from the forest, it headed east.

No, no!  It wasn’t supposed to move away like that!  Elmiryn would’ve applauded the Twin for steering their prey away from her…if she actually believed the thing had done it on purpose.  But it hadn’t.  Perhaps didn’t even have a greater plan other than running straight at it, tackling.  No method, no idea of what it took to anticipate a desperate animal’s moves.  Stupid creature.  Fucking moronic, mangy four-legged–

Never mind that now.

Elmiryn sprinted, after the feline, after the wounded deer.  In truth, it wasn’t so bad.  The deer would soon be fatigued.  But Elmiryn was already there, already seeing tunnels of rippling white and wondering why her breath was so short.  The cost of her earlier activities, of her skimpy meal.  Her muscles and bones rattled with every footfall.  She tried to keep the image of the hunt alive in her. “Remember who you are, remember what you’re doing,” she thought.  Elmiryn blinked the sweat from her eyes and focused on the cool air on her bare skin.

A surge of black barreled toward the deer.  Their prey bleated, but the sound was cut away as the Twin took its hind leg in its mouth and pushed upward.  The deer fell over, into the grass, out of Elmiryn’s view.  She cursed.  Did the Twin do it?  No, no, if she couldn’t see it then it wouldn’t count.  But if the stupid cat had thought about it even halfway, it would know, that Elmiryn couldn’t do this again and hope to keep up.  She’d have the advantage.  It had to end now, or else it was all over.

The woman stumbled to a stop, where a surprise sight made her relieved, yet wary at the same time.

The Twin was tugging at the deer’s leg, seemingly determined to tear it off.  The deer warbled low, its struggles weak and the life fading from its eyes.  Elmiryn looked at the feline, and turned the knife in her hand so that she gripped it by the handle.  Its eyes were glazed over, in a bloodlust.  Did it even remember what they were doing?

She moved sideways as quickly and as carefully as she could, keeping a certain distance from the deer.  Elmiryn wasn’t certain how the cat would react to her coming so near to the wounded animal.  When the deer’s body was between her and the cat, she crouched slowly, one hand held out, the other with the blade.  “Hey, kitten…are you paying attention?”

The cat paused and looked at her, brow bunched in what could be called a frown.

Then Elmiryn struck.  The knife plunged into the deer’s throat, killing all sound.  The deer’s weak struggles ended.  The woman didn’t even try to pull the blade out, only stepped back quickly, with hands held up.  The cat roared and advanced on her, teeth bared and its tail a whip behind it.  The warrior smiled down at it.

“The contest was to see who killed it first, not who brought the deer down.” Elmiryn shrugged.  “So I win.  You’re bound to your word.”

The cat looked at her, then back at the deer.  It licked its wet muzzle, where blood dripped in dark droplets to the ground.  It snorted and glared at her one final time before it returned to its meal.

The woman shook her head.  Turned her face as the cat began to tear at the fresh corpse.  What a simple creature.  Did it truly understand what she had just said?  Or had it simply gotten mad that she had laid hand on its prey?  It didn’t care that the kill was sloppy, or that the deer was of small size.  But to its credit, it was a show of self-restraint that it didn’t kill her immediately for getting so near.  It really had become smarter.

Elmiryn’s eyes narrowed as the sickening noises of the Twin’s dinner violated her ears.

“You’re smarter, Cat, but you aren’t any wiser.”

‘Mask’ by Bauhaus, from the album ‘Mask’. Beggars Banquet, 1981. []

Continue ReadingChapter 9.3

Chapter 10.1

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-Illise M.


Morning came. Light didn’t come till the sun had conquered the mountains.

Elmiryn was laid out in an oak tree a few feet from the little dirt clearing.  The trunk was thick and wide, so much so that the woman could rest on top of it as though it were a makeshift chair.  Her body ached in places she couldn’t readily name, yet the contours of her seat relieved some of the discomfort. The branches fanned out around her, and while her bottom had been turned soggy from the way moisture collected in the tree’s self-created bowl, she began to realize, in the deepest sense, why it was Nyx preferred to sleep in lofty places.  Half-awake, she turned her head and didn’t see the ground, only the glow of high leaves wet with morning dew.  They were daytime starlets that illuminated misty ideas in her head.  Dreams of crimson, dreams of tooth and claw.  And a terrible doubt…a terrible, terrible doubt…

The branches twisted up and out of her view toward the lit canopy. A sound came up her throat, but it was weak and unintelligible.  Elmiryn reached out her arm, and felt gravity pull at it through the air. The world could move her, if only she weren’t propped up by material things.

“I can move,” she breathed.

Down below, the woman heard something stir.  Then someone started to hack and cough.  A rustle of sound, like fabric being disturbed, then a rough tear of the vocal chords, as though they were so determined to make a sound they were not beyond pulling themselves inside out to do so. Elmiryn didn’t move. Didn’t raise her head. Only took to staring at the canopy.  She didn’t truly see it as just focused on the new sounds that entered her ears. She was waiting for it. Waiting for that moment when she could be sure…


The woman was up, twisted around and propped by her elbows, all at once feeling wide awake–though the burn of her eyes suggested her body had yet to catch up to her mind. “Up here,” she called, straining to look down at the ground.  Framed by the reaches of elms and aspens, she had a clear view of the ground.

Below, on the dirt, Nyx stumbled backwards as she made to look up.  She had on only her tunic and underpants. Her eyes were like fogged bits of glass, their beautiful shade duller than Elmiryn ever remembered them. The girl blinked with mouth agape. “Why are you–”

“It was the smell. No offense, but I had to get away from it.  Your Twin’s a messy eater.”

“Oh…”  The girl gripped the front of her tunic in an anxious bundle and moved her eyes to her toes, where they wiggled in the dirt.

Even as Elmiryn said these things, she saw the blood that stained the Ailuran’s skin as certainly as bright paint thrown on a white canvas. It was like a sign to her. The Twin had lived there. The Twin had taken residence and made a mess with her unbeing, her uncaring, her selfishness. The woman wanted to wash away this taint herself, but knew her hands were also guilty of this sad curse.

Nyx had sunken eyes. Her hair, if possible, seemed wilder. It knotted itself in startling directions, little bits of grass and dust making it seem a lighter shade beneath the filth. She trembled, like she were cold.

“This is the…the worst I’ve ever felt,” Nyx croaked.  The Ailuran let herself fall to the ground, with her arms wrapped around her body. “She didn’t let me see much…and…and I confess I didn’t want to see much. Was…did everything go okay?”  Voice so frail.  Was that the same girl Elmiryn had sparred with?  The same girl who had left a light bruise on her cheek?

The woman moved to sit so that her legs dangled over the ground.  She leaned on her palms and swiped at her right ear with her shoulder. “…Fine. I talked to her. Or talked AT her. However you want to see it. She understands. She’s sworn to respect your space until the next full moon.”

Nyx’s face flashed through several expressions at this news.  First, she went blank, her dull eyes cool beneath her morning stupor.  Then she lit up with jubilation, the corners of her lips turning upwards as a warmth took home to her gaze.  Then this look was gone, replaced quickly with a doubtful frown.  “She swore?

Elmiryn nodded.  Believed herself more after she felt her head settle back into place.  An illusion?  “She couldn’t speak, but she did.”  No, no.  She was sure.

“…Did you define what my space was?” The woman paused, mind tripping over this wrinkle.  “Sorry?”

Nyx shook her head, looking forlorn. “Oh, Elle…I appreciate your effort,” The girl sighed and rubbed her brow.  She seemed much older, all of a sudden. “Unless you were absolutely clear on what She could not trespass on, then She’ll just find ways to get around her promise–and she’s be better at it now that she has my knowledge.” The next sentence seemed to fight its way to her lips, and Nyx’s face soured at its birthing. “Even I’m not sure what’s solely mine and what’s solely hers.”

Elmiryn rubbed the back of her neck.  She replayed the night, her voice, in her head.  Tried to find a point to argue with.  Found none.  The warrior cursed under her breath.

Nyx added hurriedly, her voice cracking back to what the woman was used to. “But really, I appreciate it! I’m surprised She even listened to you.”

“It took some coercion–but half the work had already been done by the time the sun set.”

Nyx wiped at her mouth.  Her head turned to look at the line still visible in the dirt.  Her eyes squinted.  “Elmiryn, why didn’t you ever tell me you knew that spell? Whatever it was?”

The woman shrugged.  She gestured at the ground carelessly.  “It’s just a containment spell.  I’ve done it a few times.  Sometimes, me and my men would come across a powerful enemy, and the only way we could hold them was with this spell.  We’d hold them there until a trained caster came to take them away.”

“When you say powerful enemy, you mean a therian, right?  That’s what the spell is for.”

The woman smiled.  Chuckled a little, though she wasn’t sure what was funny.  “…Yeah.”

“How does the spell work?”

“Prep an area by clearing it and churning the ground.  The soil has to be fresh.  Then draw a circle and place four objects from the environment at the circle’s boundaries.  Then bind the individual to the space by sprinkling their sweat and blood within the circle.  After that, someone outside of it activates the spell.”

“The words you said that night.”


“What were they?”

Forca bestia.”

Nyx’s shoulders bunched, but her face held no sign of anger.  Instead, her eyes had become downcast.  “Initially, I would’ve guessed the spell to be alchemy, but at this point, it sounds like animancy.  A paladin taught you this?”

“No.  A wizard.  Paladins aren’t fans of Fiamman war campaigns.”

The girl laughed.  The sound was dry and low.  She looked up at Elmiryn with a weak smile.  “How many Ailurans have you used this on?”

Elmiryn didn’t answer right away.  She rubbed at her eyes and frowned at Nyx.  The girl didn’t seem so far away.  If the woman closed her eyes, she was certain she would feel the girl’s breath brush her lips.  Elmiryn’s chest gave a clench, and she answered quietly.  “Three.”

“Are any of them alive now?”

Nyx knew the answer.  Elmiryn knew the girl knew, she had to. Still she answered.  She followed that voice, that tease of breath, foolishly, like it were a certain path.

“No…” Elmiryn heard herself say.

Nyx didn’t say anything. She turned away and went to her things, to her weaved appearances and pieces of life. The warrior watched her from the tree for a time before she jumped down.

Elmiryn had realized, in the deepest sense, why it was Nyx preferred to sleep in lofty places.  Up there, the world held no more importance than the duty to hold her…and who would ever expect the earth to fall away?


Elmiryn was dead set on removing the feel of the night from their skin, and would have gone marching all the way back to the Medwin river to find respite, had they not found a small brook trickling through the forest. It was a slow process without a proper container to catch the trickling water in, but their goal was accomplished. Happy to be clean, Elmiryn ate cheese and crackers while Nyx watched.  The girl mumbled she was still full from the night before.  Then, the two women were once again on the move.

Conversation was scarce. Elmiryn felt the ellipses like stab wounds, and her ire was stirred. It bored her. Impatient, she gave Nyx a nudge. “Let’s jog some of the way,” the woman said.

Nyx stared at her like she’d grown a third head. “Elle…after last night and all that ridiculous sparring you put me through yesterday, you want to go running!?”

“Not running.  Jogging.”  Elmiryn stopped to drop her bag and cross her arms. “What are you complaining about? I know you can’t be sore.”

“No–but I’m not half-crazed with the impending moon anymore either! Why DID you try and push me so hard yesterday?”

“To get you to focus on something else. Like gaining control.”

“You mean lose control.”

“No. Gain it. A berserker only goes so far before a smarter person comes and puts them in their place. You ended up figuring that out when the Twin pushed at your skin. But you fought her, just to keep fighting me.  You needed control to make a dent in me.  That was your goal.” Elmiryn gestured at the red bruise on her cheek and smirked. “And you achieved it.”

Then without another word, the woman picked up her bag and pushed into a jog, turning to flash a smile at Nyx. “And now that you know you can do it, even under those conditions, the real trick will be in getting you to stick with it.”  The woman looked forward again.  Even at a jog, she’d need all her concentration not to drop any of her things, or break her ankle in a fall.

Elmiryn could hear Nyx behind her.  The jingle of her trinkets lit a smile on the woman’s face.

Nyx made it three miles before she complained she needed a rest.  Elmiryn let her have it, and they had a fast lunch eating deer jerky.  Again, Nyx didn’t eat much.  Before they set off again, the warrior decided it was a good idea to review the previous day’s lessons.

Her companion balked at the announcement, but Elmiryn didn’t give her a chance to set into whining.  Her fist was too fast.  The first time, she caught Nyx in the shoulder with a straight punch because the girl wouldn’t focus.  Then Nyx, with a sour expression, managed to block Elmiryn’s second advance–she side stepped and pulled at Elmiryn’s wrist, pulling the woman off balance.

“That’s good!” Elmiryn said with a grin.

Nyx crossed her arms, and her lips seemed thin.  “Can we stop these plays of violence?  I’ll jog if you want–fine–but I just had to wash my skin clean of some other creature’s blood.  I can’t even entertain the idea of doing this!”

The warrior gave a nod.  “Okay.  I’ll be nice.  But you have to get this in your head…you have to be prepared to defened yourself at any moment.  I’m going to sound like an idiot, but this saying is true, ‘Danger doesn’t wait for you to be at your best’.”

Nyx turned her face, her throat moving a little as she swallowed.

They traveled on.

Three more days they traveled through the country side.  Elmiryn caught a rabbit, and later a fowl, so that they wouldn’t go without meat.  Though the crackers were gone, there was still some bread left.

The warrior knew that technique would not be an issue with Nyx.  Not considering her natural skill and her background.  The problem would be in bringing the girl to optimal physique.  As a human being, it didn’t take as much to get Elmiryn to her most fit.  Not when compared to the natural strength of an Ailuran, who needed a great deal more conditioning before any physical training mattered.  That was why the Ailuran army was so powerful, despite their small numbers.  If the Lycan tribes decided to align themselves with the Ailuran Nation, Fiamma would be doomed.

That was why the kingdom made a peace treaty with the werewolves, first thing.

The regenerative trait Nyx had was also something of a problem.  Unless Elmiryn could push the girl hard enough and fast enough, the body would only revert back to what it was previously.  But this was a challenge Elmiryn was eager to meet.  Could she keep up with a trained Ailuran?

Every morning she would wake with aches and sores.  Every morning, she was hungry to do more.

A pattern came quickly.  The warrior would wake and rouse Nyx from sleep.  Then they would jog three miles before stretching.  Afterward, they did push-ups, pull-ups, and combat drills–practicing kicks, punches, and knee lunges.  Then they would rest and jog for at least another three miles. In the evenings, they would review blocks and counter attacks.

It was all basic and at times unorthodox, but it was a routine cannibalized from Elmiryn’s days as a foot soldier.  By the third day, Nyx was at her surliest, but the training was having its intended effect.  The girl’s technique was becoming sharper, and her stamina was showing an improvement.

By the fourth day, Tiesmire was well in view.

Elmiryn wasn’t all that glad to see it.

It would be a disruption to their newly formed routine, a problem the woman had quietly puzzled over since they had begun their joint training.  That, and Elmiryn could already hear the ants of noise marching over her ear drums–invasive, perverse, and unpleasant.  The option of going around Tiesmire was too silly to entertain.  The city-state was so wide that doing so would cost them at least an additional two days.  That was time wasted not moving toward a solution for Nyx’s condition, time wasted not fighting Meznik.

Elmiryn sighed, “We have no choice.  We have to go through.”

“What’s so bad about it?” Nyx panted.  They had just stopped from their usual jog.  Her eyes squinted at the city.

The warrior shook her head, a derisive sound slipping her lips.

Tiesmire was a city-state built on an elevation of land that overlooked the Eastern plains and forests.  Its perimeter was guarded by two sets of high walls, which housed the city’s militia.  From their point atop a knoll, the two women could see to the heart of the city, where a three-story manor loomed over all other buildings.  Its height was only matched by the towers dispersed throughout Tiesmire, where armed guards stood lookout for any misconduct.  Past the manor, the city fell prey to trailing mist.  Elmiryn couldn’t even see the northern boundaries.  To walk across the city would take more than a day, and she knew this because she had once visited Tiesmire as a guard to a royal envoy.  If she had to sum up the city-state in one word, it would be…

“Obscene.   That’s what this place is.”  Elmiryn spat in memory of the atmosphere.  In her head, she held no memories of the architecture or the people, but the loud voices and the feel of disrespect was enough to make her lip curl.  “Tiesmire is full of arses.  The faster we’re past it, the better.”

Nyx said nothing.

They came to the southern entry gate, where guards watched the two-lanes of people entering and exiting.  Traffic was heavier leading out of the city, toward Gamath.  The moving crowd consisted of people light and dark, tall and small, large and skinny.  There were even some dressed in colorful foreign garbs.  Southern Islanders, Indabans, Westerners, and many others that Elmiryn couldn’t name.

“They aren’t checking our things?” Nyx muttered as they passed the first archway.

“Too many people,” Elmiryn replied.  “This place isn’t like Dame.  Have you ever been to a city this size before?”

The girl shook her head.  She was slouched, and she did nothing to push aside the bangs concealing her eyes.  Elmiryn reached a hand and brushed them back.  She smiled.  “You don’t need to worry, Nyx.  You didn’t get to see it because Gamath was empty, but cities like these are filled with people of all kinds.  It’s true, there aren’t many therians of the moon here, but there’s plenty therians of the sun.”

Nyx gazed at her in surprise.  “Really?”

“In my last visit here, I got into a drinking contest with an Arktan.”

“…You tried to out-drink an Arktan?

The woman smiled sheepishly as they passed the second archway.  “I was already tipsy, so I got ‘Avians’ and ‘Arktans’ mixed up in my head.  I didn’t realize I was competing against a fucking bear.”  The woman chuckled at the memory, her recalling drink-induced illness and unsteady limbs.  Then Elmiryn’s eyes lit up.  “That’s it!” she cried.  She gripped Nyx’s shoulder and pointed ahead of them.  “This main road is lined with taverns.  We have to stop in one!”

Nyx’s eyes grew wide and she shook her head vehemently.  “Elle, no!

The warrior didn’t let the girl’s lack of enthusiasm faze her.  Her tongue could already taste sweet wine.  “It’s the only way I’ll be able to get through all this bullshit and not want to shank someone.  Come on, don’t you want to relax a bit after these past few days?”

“I thought you wanted to get through Tiesmire fast!”  Nyx returned hotly.  A traveling merchant bumped past her, sparing an irritated glance over his shoulder.

Elmiryn watched him go, his form becoming an inconsequential smear in the bustling crowd.  Voices washed over them in a relentless wave.  She recalled the architecture as mismatched throughout the city, and they lent to the feeling of falseness.  But now, as her eyes roved the facades, the signs, the flashes of scenes from open doorways–no criticism could come to her mind other than how banal it all seemed.  The noise took dominance of her attention.  The noise, the jostling, the smoke, the heat–

“Believe me, Nyx. I wanna get the hell out of this ridiculous place.  But if I have the chance to take the edge off, I want to take it.”

“So you want me to babysit you the entire way?  I don’t feel like playing the role of caretaker, thank you very much.”  The girl crossed her arms.  Pouted even.

“Who said you weren’t going to drink with me?”  Elmiryn grabbed Nyx by the hand and began to pull her through the crowd.  Nyx protested behind her, but the woman took a moment to smile at her, the warmth of those around them breeding mischief in her heart and spurring her forth.

“Tonight, Nyx, we’re going to make a tavern master very happy!” Elmiryn crowed.

Continue ReadingChapter 10.1

Chapter 10.2


The road was little more than compacted dirt strewn with pebbles.  Sometimes, Elmiryn’s feet would lose an inch or two when she pushed forward in her haste.  Hodge-podge buildings–some done in brick and mortar, others cemented wood logs.  It was a mecca city, a location that expanded over decades of settling merchants and families from all walks of life.  They were unwilling to give up their cultural backgrounds, and instead, brought it with them.  She passed taverns of different sorts, different sizes, different sounds and smells.  Wished she could recall the name and place of the last she had been to in her past visit to Tiesmire, but that had been so long ago.

Elmiryn stopped before “The Cannon’s Punch”, a two-story tavern whose facade was painted an odd mauve.  Outside, a signpost held a heavy wooden sign featuring an exploding cannon that resembled a bottle. Through the wavy windows, she saw a promising arrangement.  The building was large–larger than the previous she’d seen.  Enough so that its main floor could house at least ten large round tables.  There was a loft where more tables were hidden in shadow.  The bar was of decent length, and had spaces available.  From the ceiling hung a large candle wheel, which lit the establishment dimly.

“This is it,” the woman announced happily.

Inside, Elmiryn felt her initial impressions affirmed.  There were squeaky chairs, and the air raked smoky fingers down her insides.  That smell–pleasant but horrid at the same time, of gas, good food, a prostitute’s perfume, and a captain’s overpowering cologne.

“Thisis it, Nyx!” Elmiryn repeated with a grin.

“You’ll excuse me my lack of enthusiasm, Elle,” Nyx grumbled at her side.

The contract guards blocked them from going further.  Told them their bags needed to be checked.  Nyx’s bag got a pass, but Elmiryn had to put all of her belongings in the item storage near the bar, where two more guards stood watch.  She did so without much complaint.  She knew–drunkards plus weapons were normally a bad combination, even in her case.

They ventured further, and Elmiryn drank it all in.  That was when she noticed.  In the cacophony of boisterous laughter and music, through smoke smiles and spirals of streamers that seared fluorescent in her retinas, she saw the ribs of the tavern expand.  They were great, beautiful stained bones along a dark hide.

She paused, her grin freezing on her face.  “Hey, whose is that?”

“Whose is what?”  Nyx asked beside her.

That, up there!”


Elmiryn blinked.  Rubbed at her mouth to contain the explosion of nonsense, because something wasn’t right, and when she looked at her companion, she tried to tell Nyx’s eyes, through concentrated telepathy, to stay put in the paint.  “Don’t splash around,” she eventually exclaimed, “I’m telling you, you’ll drown!”

“Elle what in the nine hells are you talking about?”  The girl’s brows crashed together.  Her face bunched and little dimples appeared in her cheeks.  Elmiryn felt something brush her arm.  She gave a start, fists clenched to punch, when she looked down to see a petite hand recoil.  She followed along its [stem(arm)root] to find that it was Nyx’s–AKA, Twin One, the Turnip, her instrument, her Kitten.

Elmiryn closed her eyes.  She whacked the side of her head with the heel of her palm, to see if that would shake the cobwebs and chase out the mist.  In her head, a flute bled all over her ideas, and while she knew it was day, she still saw the dark insides of a deer’s carcass steaming in the night.

Quickly, under breath, over tongue, she ran down the certain facts:  They were in Tiesmire–the city, the mesh–and Nyx was not a cat; The three suns (one two three) were still burning over the horizon; and the building she was in, was not made of bone–couldn’t be, as that would be against city law.  Unsanitary. Unsound.

So maybe the owner just wanted to make it look that way.

“I need a drink,” Elmiryn asserted with a gruff voice.  She wiped her forearm over her forehead, felt sweat kiss the skin, and consciously told her body to relax.  She led Nyx past the bodies and tables toward the main bar.

“How long are we going to be here?” she heard Nyx ask.

When her hand touched polished wood, cool and like a tether to a room that had a disconcerting feeling of instability, Elmiryn turned to reply when her breath caught in her throat.  She was face to face with a wall of inconsequential metaphors (“Fuck”) facades (“Gods damnit”) trees of life rooted in greater meanings (“Not now”) but still esoteric.

Elmiryn tried to keep her eyes from crossing.  Fought to grasp the fact that free flowing sound and a hand extended meant that the space she occupied was, indeed, wider than what she perceived.  Elmiryn extended her arm before her, eyes unfocused, fingers grasping.  Felt the tips touch rough cloth.  The corners of her lips twitched upwards as she felt her sense of the world expand.  But then a rough sound, like it were fighting through the walls of a box, hit her ears, “Leggo a’ my jacket you priss!”  The touch was gone, torn away.  She felt further trapped.  Let her arm fall as she felt something invisible press it down.

That wasn’t right.

She tried to say, “Nyx, where’d you go?”  Heard it, but was certain that it wasn’t her voice.  So Elmiryn tried again.  “Nyx, where–

“I’m right in front of you!  Right here!”

There she was!  That voice, that beautiful little voice of reason!  Now all Elmiryn had to do, was attach sound to image.  She scrambled inwardly, tried to connect the dots before her brief moment of clarity was lost.  Something warm and petite enclosed around her hand.  Her body relaxed, her eyes fluttered, and the room came into focus (but when did it blur away?)

At her side, Nyx looked at her, her face bunched with worry.  “Elle…I’m so sorry, I wasn’t paying proper attention,” she leaned forward and dropped her voice.  “It’s happening to you again, isn’t it?”

Elmiryn gazed back at her blankly.  Told her face muscles to show relief, to show joy, to show love, but she felt tired.  “All I need is a drink.”

“But if–”

“And so do you.  I need a drinking partner.”

“Elmiryn.” Nyx used a firmer voice.  Frowned in light scorn, even.  It was a tempting note to submit to, but the woman knew what she wanted.  Until a better way was discovered, it was all she had.

Elmiryn pounded on the counter, cutting through the chatter and music around them.  “I’ve still got coin and a dry tongue.  Why?!”

A moment later they had a nice sturdy table, sequestered from the others in a dark nook lit only by a single candle.  The tavern master took one look at Elmiryn’s ashen face, and seemed to decide it best.  The warrior didn’t care.  Just enough drinks, and she wasn’t going to stay hidden for long.  How much gold did they have?  Not much.  She didn’t tell Nyx that their funds were close to being entirely spent.  Elmiryn made a note to ask for some compensation next time she did some heroic deed.  She was a human being, not a fucking Legend.  Charity was not required in her book.

Time for the first round.

Elmiryn turned to Nyx.  “You’ll need something with extra kick.  Something that’ll burn right through your throat.”

Nyx was rubbing her temples like she were suffering from a massive headache.  “Are we just relaxing or are we intending on staying here tonight?”

Fourth round.

“Nyx, I know we’re supposed to hide who we are, but I think we ought to try and build up some reputation.  Something to precede us when we travel.  It can help us get some coin.”

“And what if we get a bad reputation?”

“Fuck it.  We’ll charge extra.”


“Why…why can’t I lift my body?  Elle, is there something wrong with me?”

“Don’t think so.”

“…I–I really need to go to the bathroom.”

“No one’s stopping you.”


“Uh oh.”

Nyx brandished a finger, one eye squinted.  “I dun wanna hear ‘uh oh’.  That issin even proper ver-nack-ular.  Explain yourself Elly!  Why…why…” A burp.  “Why ‘uh oh’?”

Elmiryn swayed in her seat.  Her eyes on the eight shiny coins in her money pouch.  Her eyes lifted to the room.  The people were only halfway to being people.  After all, they weren’t supposed to slither and squawk like that…right?

“Wasn’t nothin’.  I thought I saw a fly.” She took out two coins.  “Oi!  Another round!”

Thirteenth round.

“Hey!  Hey! Yesh you!  …C’mere!  No, no!  C’mere! Oh damn it all you beautiful lil’ bacon, dun look so confused, we just wanna tell ya somethin’.”

“Elle, leave ’em ‘lone…”

“No, no…I need help with this ‘un.  In fact…HEY!” Elmiryn whistled to the room using her pinkies.  Large men, around the edges of the tavern, began to move.  The contracted guards.  One came up from behind, likely stationed there with the expectation of trouble.  She smiled winningly at him and he paused, his bold eyebrows quirking upwards.  Elmiryn settled back into her chair.  No, she would not start trouble.  Finish it maybe, but she wasn’t seeking trouble.

Weight, weight, weight, glorious weight, glorious feeling, with vibrant colors, and boundaries dispelled.  Ah yes, now Elmiryn would be okay.

To those whose attention she had, she spoke to in a clear voice.  “Men, boys, ladies, an’ lap toys–drop the dull convershation and len’ an ear to my frien’ here.”  Elmiryn snickered.  “That rhymed…!”

Nyx looked at her in alarm, her head coming up off her arms. “S’cuse me??”

“Tell ’em about yer book.”  Elmiryn turned back to the onlookers.  “You all’ve heard tales of Legends, right?”

“Elle.”  Nyx pulled at her sleeve, her face green.

“Bet ya haven’t heard ’bout…Earth, Wind, and…wuzzit Water, kitten?”

“Oh sweet Aelurus…I’m gonna throw up!”

“Here.  Drink up.  Enough o’ that, and you won’t care if ya do.”


Spicedwine, sweet, but strong.  I had one, thinking I’d tell the waitress to bring me water next…only Elmiryn was quite attentive to me, so I was afraid.  In truth I greatly liked the drink.  In sad fashion, one became two and so on, and so forth.  By the thirteenth drink, I knew, more by illness than common sense, that I had to stop.

“Here.  Drink up.  Enough o’ that, and you won’t care if ya do.”  Elmiryn pushed her drink my way, and some of it sloshed on the wood table, the beverage flowing to dampen my sleeve.

My stomach lurched. I hugged it with both arms, and shrank so that I barely peeked over the edge of the table.  “Elle, we have’ta stop, or else we wun’ be able t’leave of our own v-vol-ish-on!”  A burp fought its way up my chest, bringing tears to my eyes.  Acid burned my throat.  I turned and leaned my forehead against Elmiryn’s arm with a groan, “Les’ go!”

“Aww…but looky, we got a’ audience!  They wanna hear ’bout yer book.  Go on, tell ’em!”  Elmiryn gave me a nudge, a giggle coming up her throat.  She leaned forward to whisper not-so-confidentially to the patrons, “She’s shy!”

One middle-aged man with caramel hair that receded far on his head, smiled wrinkly at me.  “What story have you got, little one?”

I stared at him, unable to move.  It seemed this attention was turning infectious.  Even the music seemed to fade away.  The young man that Elmiryn had first called to, leaned on the table to our left and smiled at me, a little intently.  “I think I’d like to hear, too.”

There were murmurs.  Then Elmiryn stood up with a bang.  “There were three Legends, two men an’ a woman, all ve-ry good friends.  They went out an’ had very…adventure-y…es-peer-riences ta’gether…If ya know what I mean!”  There were laughs as the woman made loopy gestures with her hands.  She started to speak in a nasally voice.  “These t’ree braves o’ the earth, wind, and water, discovered the Valley of Eso-me-chanical-whats-its, and single-handedly…no, triple-handedly sealed the Spider of the Weaste!”

“It was fire, not water!  Fire! And the girl’sh name was the Sh…sss—Spider, the…yes…the Spider of the West!  Not ‘weaste!’”  I snapped, giving Elmiryn a reproachful glare. “And it wasn’ the Valley of…whatever da blazes you said!  It was the Valley of Eso–ess—ESSS–Es-so-ter-ic Proofs!

I stood and looked at the room.  I swayed a little and tried to steady myself by placing my hands on the table.  More wine sloshed as I fought to keep balance.  “An’ they weren’ the only ones who fought the Spider!  There was Toshi…osh…toshi-hiro, champion of Tenjin, an’ Arlés the Sweet Blossom, the world’s mos’ powerful sorceresh!”  I was aware of how stupid I sounded, and it bothered me beyond measure.

“I know of the last one!” The young man said.

I glowered at him.  “I bet.”

“But who is this Spider?” the caramel-haired man asked.

“Arachne.” Elmiryn said, with a wide smile.  Excited whispers.  People in bars and taverns don’t need much to get worked up over when all they’ve got to do is drink, I’ve come to learn.

I gave her another look, displeased that she would offer such information without actual confirmation.  But I shrugged.  “S’possible.”  I placed a hand on my head as the room gave a nasty lurch.  I turned to look at Elmiryn, but nearly fell.  I clasped onto her to keep from going down.  “Elle, really!  I think…I think–I–”  I burped again, but it was so strong that it turned into wretch.  I could feel my insides swirl up.  Some of it splashed my tongue, and I felt faint.  It was sheer will that I kept from spilling everything onto the table and floor.

Elmiryn held me up as I started to slip, her arm winding around my back and beneath my left arm.  The placement of her hand was a bit…dubious, but I was too far gone to care.

“Woah!”  She laughed, and the sound seemed deafening to me.  She looked to the patrons.  “Ah, sorry fellows.  Looks like we hit our limit!  In more ways than one!”  Laughs.  I closed my eyes to the sound and whimpered as I felt the world tumble in my head.  The room was spinning so fast.

“Elle, this is scary!” I cried, tightening my grip around her mid-riff.  “Nothing is staying put!”

“Isn’t it great?” The woman replied, chuckling.  “Open your eyes, kitten.  We’ll find a trough to dunk your head in.”  As she said this, the woman began to kneel to pick me up better when something made her stop cold.

This was awkward for me, as her bent body didn’t offer as much support.  The effort of holding on soon became too much, and I found myself plopped onto the ground.  Beneath the table, I saw a sea of boots and dress hems.  My eyes squinted when I took note of a curious trail of smoke.  It was faint, but still distinctive enough from the haze of the room.  When I followed it with my eyes, I realized it led to Elmiryn.

She shook her arm violently, and her eyes were alight with anger.  The trail of smoke vanished to nothing.

“Whose rope was that?” The woman asked as she straightened to address the room.  Her voice was quiet, but dangerous.

The guard near us came forward and took hold of her shoulder.  “If you’re going, then go quietly.”

What occurred next happened so quickly, that in my poor state hidden beneath the table, I can hardly recount it.  All I know is that when I looked up from beneath the lip of the table, I saw Elmiryn had managed to get behind the guard, where she twisted his arm.  “You fucker.  You silly bastard.  You think jes’ because I’m drunk I can’ get the drop on you?” she snarled.

The man sputtered, “Wh-what d’you think yer doing!?” His face was tensed with discomfort, but I suspected the red of his face to be more from embarrassment.

The tavern went deathly quiet.  I shifted further under the table, swept up in the belief that by hiding, I could somehow stay out of the violence that might ensue.

Elmiryn boomed, “Who’s the smart ass that tried ta’ get a rope on me?” She jerked the man’s arm, and he growled in pain.  “Was it you, ape?”

“Agh!  What the fuck’re you talking about you ditzy–yaaah!” the man’s words trailed into a scream as the warrior gave his arm another twist.

The young man looked at the ground near our feet.  Looking at Elmiryn, he frowned.  “What rope?”

Elmiryn’s head whipped his way, and he quailed.  “THE rope, moron.  The one that twisted up my arm.”

The caramel-haired man shook his head. “But woman, there is no rope.  Look, you’ll see your arm is free.”

“I know what I saw.”

I heard the ring of swords.  My heart took an agitated turn.  I could feel it fight in my chest.

“You’re making a huge mistake,” the tavern master said from behind the bar.  I could see part of his gray beard.  He stroked it, calm and slow.  The act itself seemed ridiculously forced, but the message was still apparent.  He was unconcerned.  Either we’d be arrested, or killed.

Unable to contain it anymore, I threw up all over the paneled floor.

“What isn’t a good idea is thinkin’ that I’m someone to trifle with.”  I could hear the smile in Elmiryn’s voice.  From where I was, I saw some of the tavern goers shift.  One even took a step back.  I didn’t want to know the look she was giving them now.  “Ya see, I’m the Ghost.  I can’t die.”  Elmiryn pulled roughly at the guard.  This time he screamed and fell to his knee.  The woman fell with him, arm going around his neck, purposefully keeping his body between her and the rest of the tavern.

I looked around with weak turns of my head.  Was there someone armed with a crossbow?

I shifted to join Elmiryn, and she grabbed me by the bag on my back, pulling me the rest of the way.  Quietly she whispered, “Hold on to me,”

“What are you thinking?” I hissed as I hugged her around the waist.

“Jes’, shh!” She turned her cerulean eyes back to the room, batting them over the guard’s shoulder.  I looked and saw his arm was limp and twisted at a funny angle.  …Broken?  Dislocated?  Whatever it was, the man’s only interest was in cradling it.  His wide muddy eyes blinked, unfocused, but his face dripped with sweat.

“Up, you big ape,” Elmiryn hissed.

“Even if you get out, they’ll put out a warrant for you,” the wounded guard said in a hateful tone.

“Shut up.”

“They’ll shoot you dead before you even leave this block!”

“I said quiet, or I’ll break your other arm!”

Awkwardly, we stood, like some cripped animal. I looked over and saw her things at the item check.  “Wait, what about–”

“Shh!  Jes’ hold on.”  The woman turned back to call to the room, her voice loud.  Ringing.  Steady.  Where did this control come from?  Against all odds, I started to believe her when she said that drinking helped her gain her bearings…

This situation aside.

“I’m gonna fade away.  I’m gonna walk out an’ vanish, and there isn’t a thing any of you can do about it.  I make men into ghosts, and bring misery to any living person that crosses me.”  We started to shuffle forward.  I thought I was going to throw up again.  Most of the tavern goers just eyed us blankly.  But I saw some show fear.  Others aggression.  The guards looked like they wanted to grind our bones.  “My friend here is the Twin.  She’ll switch on you, if you’re not careful, and you can meet her sister.  She isn’t nice.”

We passed some of the first few tables.  One man took a menacing step forward, but Elmiryn jerked the guard’s throat, her fist curling around his jaw and her other hand taking hold of the back of his head.  She fixed the man with a stare.  He faltered and stepped back.

“It was our doing that Gamath is okay again.  We want no trouble, really.  But we’ll meet it.  And end it.”  The room seemed to shift.  Fast whispers broke out like snakes.  Eyes widened, and realization took a hold of many gazes.  Some scowled at us, skeptical of her claim.  Our deeds had preceded us, but many failed to attach description to face.  How much longer before that changed?

“You’re a liar,” A heavy man shouted.  He stood from his seat and flexed his arms.  “I heard there was only one person who saved Gamath, and that was a man.  Named Aidan.”

“Aidan was a cocky idiot that got himself killed,” Elmiryn shot back.

I buried my face into her side.  I didn’t feel the added attention was a good idea.

“I know a friend in Gamath.” A waitress with curly dark hair chimed.  “She sent me a letter telling me everything.  If you were at least there, then you can tell me the names of the two men who also went to the cave!”

Elmiryn snorted at this quiz, but she answered the question anyway. “First of all, there was only one man.  A blacksmith named Sedwick. He isn’t human anymore.  He’s become an agent of the river guardian, or some nonsense like that.  The other that went with us was a boy.  Baldwin.  I didn’t want him to go, but he insisted.  …He died in that cave.”  My grip tightened around her.  “The river guardian swallowed me and my friend whole.  It was in spiritual union that our knowledge brought her out of her madness.  I woke up, days later, half-crazy–thinking I was being fed blood and ants.  Now I’m here.  Does that get any more detailed for you?  Who is this friend o’ yours, anyway?”


I peeked my head out, unable to resist.  “…Um…Does she have mousy hair an’ a boxy face?”


I smiled weakly, glad for something nice to recount.  “She gave me the boots and clothes I’m wearing now.  Please, when ya write to her, tell her thank you for me.  I never did get a chance.”

“Oh yes, I will!” The woman breathily exclaimed, her face going flush.  A greater stir spread through the room.

Something dawned on me.  All this time, we had been moving.  The tavern was so fascinated by the prospect of us being Gamath’s saviors, that we faced no trouble in traveling the room.

The tavern master gestured at us angrily.  “They’re criminals!  They hurt one of my guards!”

“I didn’t like him anyway!” Someone said loudly.  The room burst into laughter.  I looked around, stunned.  Not all had joined in, but most had.  The atmosphere of the room had changed drastically.  I eyed the caramel-haired man, who didn’t smile, but his expression was light.  The “lil’ bacon” was grinning in a sort of goofy awe.  The large dissenter sat again, sullen, but his fists had unclenched.  A short old man held up a goblet to us, and others matched him murmuring in positive tones.  Through the forest of people now standing, movement caught my eye.  A man with skin like chocolate, dressed in chainmail sleeves and a black doublet, put something away in his side pouch.  He eyed us with a narrowed gaze, but my sight of him was lost as we neared the front of the room.

We reached the guards.  Elmiryn smiled at them, a hint of smugness in her expression.  “If you’re smart, you’ll let us pass.  I’ve faced down a nature spirit, fought therians twice your size, and escaped the fury of an entire fucking kingdom.  I have no problem taking on all of you.”

The room jeered insults at the guards.

The two thick men, fitted with leather armor, iron shields, and longswords, glanced at each other.  Some silent communication passed between their flat faces.  One’s eye twitched.  Then, they glared at us for a moment, before stepping aside.

My legs were weak at that point.  I dragged along Elmiryn’s side, struggling to keep my grip.  We sidled past until our backs were to the door.  The woman fiddled with her captive’s sword belt.  She managed to unbuckle it.

“You won’t get away,” one of the guards grunted.

Elmiryn smiled at him.  “I bet you one man’s life ya can’t catch a ghost!”

Then she shoved her hostage away, swept me up, and we were out the door.  The tavern exploded behind us, in what I made out to be a roar of applause.

Continue ReadingChapter 10.2

Dragon’s Night

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As promised, here’s a moment of Elmiryn’s past…

-Illise M.


The Fiamman kingdom covered the entire south-west of the Sibesona continent.  Kingdom of metal and glass–they were the sun-lovers, with warm hair and light skin.  Halward’s fist.  Feared by the heartlands, and resented by the frosty north.  It was divided into four provinces.  Ebinus, home to the farmers and the largest military forts and training camps; Ethea, where the merchants and artisans outlook the Maelic Bay; Eurevius, the province of the scholars and magic users; and Engus, home to the royal family and the noble community.

It was good to be back, good to find reprieve from war life.  Not that she couldn’t handle it.  There was something delightful in the mud, the cold, the death–and she meant that entirely without irony.  All her life she had trained to be a warrior.  Discomfort and stark reality was hers to keep.  As was the thrill, the freedom, the wine, the–

–smooth rose lips, balmed so that they caught the candle light.  Seated on a plush couch, somewhere in the city of Malvene, Ethea.  She was vaguely aware of shouting, but she was in a bar.  That was to be expected.  She paid it no mind.

“They say you’re a silken warrior.  Never touched by a blade,” the youth whispered.

Elmiryn’s fist rested near her temple.  She brushed back a honey lock of hair.  “Where’d you hear that?”

“Captain, you know that everyone talks!”

Everyone!”  Elmiryn touched a hand to her chest.  Her face pulled into a look of shock.  “I had no idea!”

A playful shove.  The young girl laughed.  “Stop teasing!”

“…Then would you like to see?” Elmiryn’s lip curled into a smirk.  She pulled at the girl’s wrist, and wide-eyed, the youth did not fight.  Her other hand snaked around the girl’s back.  Soon she was over Elmiryn’s lap, leaning onto her chest.  No name–that was lost already.  No conversation, so the woman didn’t bother.  Instead, she savored the softness of the girl’s body, the smell of light powder on her baby skin.  She took the girl’s hand and pressed it to her breast as she kissed her…

“Captain!”  A fly in her ear.

The woman broke the kiss, at the protest of the girl, and leaned in so that their cheeks touched.  “…Yes…Lieutenant?” Elmiryn’s head turned to stare over the back of the love couch with enough ire to kill a man.

Saelin, her second-in-command, batted his mint eyes at her in fear through the metal posts.  He stood, plumed helmet in one hand, on the stairs leading down to the first level of the bar.  “Sir, there’s a situation outside,” he said in a quiet murmur.

The woman scowled.  Saelin wasn’t incapable of handling a rowdy soldier.  How bad was it that her help was required? She turned to her company.  “I’m sorry, little thing.  I’ve got to take care of this.” When the girl was off her lap, the woman stood, her eyes as blades.  “What the fuck is going on?” She seethed.

“Just loudmouths sir.  Only…the villagers are getting really riled, and our men won’t back down.  Some feel it’s an issue of pride.”

“My ass it is…” Elmiryn grumbled as she sidled past the maiden to join Saelin at the stairs.  “How did this get started?”

Saelin spoke quickly, easily keeping up with her quick steps as they went down.  He was used to it.  He could keep up with her in the middle of an active battlefield.  “Lake had gone out for a breather when a man came up and started harassing him.” He gestured vaguely, his eyes rolling.  “First he laid into Lake for his foreign looks and dark hair.  Then he started to put down the army in general.  Said we didn’t know what we were doing, that the Fleabiters should have been squashed already.  He worked up into a rage, and started blaming us for the death of his brother.  Said Lake wasn’t half the soldier he was, because of his foreign blood.”

Elmiryn blasted through the entrance door with a bang. Outside, the heat sweltered in the breathless city.  The high lanterns, through clear glass, shone brightly down onto the paved streets.  Curved mirror bowls with the centers cut out reflected the enchanted candle light.  The created effect made the evenings a warm world–a place to blister in.  The men in her unit were truly of the solar kingdom, but she wished they had better sense.  Their passion was meant to burn others, not themselves.

“You’re cowards!  Swine!”

“I’ll have you come here and say that, peasant!”

“Look’it ’em!  Lined up like a bunch of prisses!  Are you going to dance, ladies?”

“On your face?  Gladly.”

In front of the posh watering hole, a small mob had gathered.  From the size, she guessed the number at twenty to thirty men.  They faced off with her dragoons, about forty of them, who stood collected in off-set lines, shoulder to shoulder, with rabbles of supporters about them.  This formation was done perhaps in instinct or conscious defense.  Weapons had not been drawn yet, but the men held their sword hilts.  Some, the rowdy ones, Elmiryn could recognize by voice.  They argued irascibly with the commoners.  Others stood as stoics, but their eyes held a murderous fury, usually only reserved for battle.  A push, a pointed insult, a tossed rock–that was all that was needed.

They were the sons of the suns, her dragoons, but Elmiryn could not let this escalate.

“So after that, this happened?” She looked at Saelin, arms crossed over her chest.

“Oh no, sir!” Her Lieutenant shook his head, his eyes clearly saying, “Give us more credit than that!”  But then he tugged at his ear and turned his gaze elsewhere.  “You see, that just caught our attention.  Everyone was fit to drag Lake away when…” Saelin faltered.

She looked at him, a light frown on her face.  “Well?  What else, Saelin?”

He sighed and pointed at the man with the unshaven face and overgrown brown hair at the front of the mob.  He had a near-empty bottle of rum in one hand.

“That drunkard, the one who started this all, started to mock you.  After that, people started taking sides.”

Elmiryn bit on her tongue.  Looked from Saelin, to the drunk, and back.  Some part of her wanted to laugh, but the greater issue still demanded attention.  Loudly.  “Where the hell are the guards?”

Saelin snorted.  “The guards are just commoners with swords.  When they saw the moron baiting Lake, they figured it would have been taken care of.  They didn’t count on this.”

“In other words, it’s my problem now.”The Lieutenant looked at his boots, hands clasped behind his back.  Elmiryn chuckled with a sardonic grin, her head shaking.  She looked skyward.  “Halward, I give you five acres of Ailuran land, and you give me eighty angry drunks!”  She laughed again, and kneaded her brow.  “Ugh…Forget it.  Let’s just get this over with.”

As she moved forward, her polished leather boots made sharp clicks on the stone paved road.  From her gut, the woman let out a loud kai that stopped the shouting matches.  Her men snapped straight with their arms at their sides, eyes forward. The commoners sneered, “Mutts scramble at the howl of the queen bitch!”

Elmiryn looked to the mob.  They quieted as the leader, the one who had started it all, came forward.  He brandished his bottle of rum at her, and the stench that hit her was an offense in of itself.

“You…the…the fuggin’ lapdog of Lord Westley.  Daddy Warner’s lil’ girl.  Yer…juss…juss a curs-ed gimmick.  A sh-show for them nobles…ta…laugh at!  Meanwhile, g’men get killed.”  He took a quick swig of his drink and spat it in her face.  There were cheers.

The drink felt warm, and stung her eye.

Elmiryn, without much thought, snatched the bottle from his hand and smashed it over his head.  Then she took him by the front of his clothes, and with the broken end of the glass, stabbed at his face.  Once, twice, three times, as hard as she could.  There went an eyebrow, the lips were split, a chunk of the chin gone, the nose slashed, the cheek now a tattered hole that wept blood.  The man screamed, and the sound squelched into a disturbing wet wail.  It was like he was drowning in himself.  The brave commoners started forward in outrage, but the unified drawing of swords from her dragoons stopped them.  Many of the folk were unarmed.  Simultaneously, they all reared back at the sight of possible death, faces drawn and white.  The commoners on the side of the dragoons had all fled out of sight.

Elmiryn threw the bottle to the ground, where it shattered in crimson pieces.  The drunkard’s body started to go slack, but the woman pulled him close, the strain of her muscles hardly the worst she had felt.  The man must’ve weighed less than a hundred pounds. “And what would you know about good men, poison sucker?” she hissed.  His face was a mask of red that hardly resembled a human being.  She let him drop, and he fell to the ground, still with the shock.

She eyed the crowd before her, her lips a displeased line.  “My men and I fought, and will continue to fight, for the benefit of bottom feeders like you.  We’ve seen friends torn apart, had family die while we were struggling to make them proud, had our limbs snapped, skin torn, hearts made black.”  She marched before the crowd.  Some tried to flee the other way, but more soldiers blocked them.  The group was surrounded now.

Elmiryn resumed speaking.  The snare of her pacing boots was louder than everything now. “The punishment for disrespect toward a soldier of any rank is typically death, but I find that’s far too kind.  Not when the insult is this great.  You wish to lay shame on us, today? Our first day of rest?  Fine.  I’ll make your life a living shame.  I’ll forever mark you, as I did this man…assuming he lives to see tomorrow.”  She gestured at her dragoons.  “Grovel before these soldiers, and you fuckin’ hope to all of heaven that they leave you unscathed!”

Some were quick to oblige.  The older men, the infirm, the drunk, and persuadable.  They kissed the boots of the front line dragoons and wept, shaking.  The younger ones, the prideful ones, stood, hackles raised, at the back.  The soldiers that blocked their escape, closed in, swords up.  This last intimidation worked.  The youngsters scurried to make amends.

Elmiryn looked to her dragoons.  “Satisfied, men?  Have they earned your mercy?” The dragoons looked at each other, smirking.  Mischief danced in their eyes.  When they looked back at Elmiryn, however, they saw her face dark and humorless.  The smiles fell away.  As one, they answered.  “Yes, sir!”

The woman waved the commoners away, not even looking at them.  “Fuck off.”  Before the last could sprint away, she shouted and pointed at the man at her feet.  “And take this shit eater with you!”  Two teenagers came running, and with one frightened look at Elmiryn, lifted the drunkard by the arms and dragged him away.

Saelin handed her a handkerchief, which she used to wipe away the blood and rum.  She licked at the drops on her lips.  It made her thirsty.

None moved.  The soldiers knew better than to leave formation when no had excused them.  She waited for the commoners to be out of sight before she turned to regard her men.  Her hands clenched to fists.  Her cheeks were a bright pink.  “You idiots!

Elmiryn paced before them, rubbing her face.  Then she gave an impatient wave.  “Demerits.  ALL of you!”

Lake, the dark-haired youth who was in the center of the front line, gave a start.  He was younger than she and Saelin, but had a profound chin and cheek bones that made him seem much older.  “Sir–!”

The warrior fixed him with a look of pure murder. “Answer me just one thing, Lake.  What the fuck were you thinking, getting into an argument with that man?”

“He was disrespecting me, sir.”

So correct him.  FAST.  In the only way these people understand! They’re gods damned Fiammans, same as you.  If you argue with them, they’ll argue back!  But are they in the position to argue with you about fuck all?”

“…N-No, sir.”

“Exactly.  But you’ve disgraced yourself.  ‘A wise man who argues with a fool, is a fool himself.’”  She looked at the others.  “And this applies to all of you.  This shouldn’t have gotten to the point it did.”

Elmiryn took a deep breath.  She looked at Saelin who gazed back at her with a thin mouth.  The woman rubbed the back of her neck and placed a fist hand on her hip.  “You’re dragoons. Act like it.  If a peasant wrongs you, give him your sword or your fist, but never spare time for words.  Leave that nonsense to the politicians.”

“We couldn’t abide their slanderous talk, sir…” someone muttered.

The woman’s shoulders bunched and the scowl returned to her face.  “I don’t need anyone to fight for my honor.”  She glared into as many faces as she could.  “If anything, fight for your own.” She turned and began to walk back toward the bar.  Onlookers gasped and hurried out of the doorway, retreating back inside.


Elmiryn turned to look at Saelin.

He shuffled and glanced back at the men, still at attention.  “Are we to return to the barracks?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Elmiryn gestured toward the bar.  “This is our first night back in over a year.  If all of you go back, have to go back…but I’m not going anywhere until my rubyfruit’s been taken care of.”

Saelin smiled, clearing his throat.  “Ah…Y-Yes, sir. Of course, sir.”

Elmiryn re-entered the bar, finally letting out the laugh she had been fighting down that entire speech.  All hell nearly broke loose over something as abstract as her ‘honor’.  Before she was up the stairs, she heard her Lieutenant bark at her men.

“You heard the Captain.  Dismissed!

Continue ReadingDragon’s Night

Chapter 10.3



They were gone.

The guards gave chase, of course–and their backs, in turn, were chased by flying bottles and slurred insults.  The woman had threatened to kill the guards comrade–they would not let that go.  …But the tavern master should’ve been wiser.  It was a stupid idea, putting friends together at the same location.  Had the injured guard been any other man, the mystery woman would not have had any leverage.

Personally, he hadn’t given the pair any thought when he saw them come through the doors from his seat near the bar.  He was counting ticks in his head, marking the passing time.  He was a man of clockwork, a man of rhythm.  Under the flow of drink, the tempo slowed, but forever would it progress, and forever would he be mindful of it.  It was his barrier.

–Tick, tick, tick–

It didn’t take much for the tavern to go back to its drinking, its music, its other licentious activities.

He passed through the main entrance, his dark eyes trained on the bobbing heads of the guards over the crowd.  He wasn’t so broad, but his dark skin and black doublet made him seem slimmer than he truly was.  His shoulders held power.  He gave them a roll as if to shake off the feel of the tavern, his chainmail sleeves ground like teeth.  Eyes darted this way and that before he crossed the road, against the flow of the crowd, to the other side, where he slipped into a small alley between a tailor shop and a bakery.  Midway through, he stopped and waited, one hand reaching up to brush along his shaved head.

–Tick, tick, tick–

A moment later, a rope cascaded down, and the man took a quick look around before he set to climb against the building face of the bakery, coiling the rope as he went.  At the top, he pulled himself onto a tiled roof, where the early evening sun made a wraith of him in the shadow of the chimney.  Waiting for him stood a cloaked figure overlooking the street.  They were crouched, with their hood up to block out the wind.  They did not turn as he pulled himself nearer to the chimney, where the rope was tied.

He had long ago stopped trying to convince his companion to join him for his brief visits into average society.  It was repulsive and unnecessary to them.  In truth, it was repulsive and unnecessary to him as well, but sometimes he feared the thought of losing touch with the world altogether.  Sometimes, he feared missing something worthwhile.  He shared none of this.  He had long ago stopped trying.

–Tick, tick, tick–

“Please don’t tell me you were behind that commotion I just saw.” A quiet voice.  His partner was an individual who, like him, strove for control.  It chilled him to say, that they were better at it than he.  Much better.

The man shrugged off the coil of rope and moved away from the chimney, to escape from the smoke.  “There were two women–”

“We already have a quarry, Hakeem.” This time the voice held more force.  He focused on his counting.

–Tick, tick, tick–

“Why would you risk detection?  Tell me your reason.”

“…Because they mentioned the chronicles.”

The hooded figure turned to cast their shadowed gaze his way.  Peach lips barely moved as they spoke.  “…That’s impossible.”

The cold words were gaining warmth.

–Tick, tick, tick–

“I heard them.  The whole tavern heard them.  They mentioned the characters by name.”

“But how would they know those stories?”

“That’s what I figured you’d want to find out.” He gazed levelly at his companion as he pulled out a black lacquer pipe, lined with a carving of a dragon on either side.  From his vest pocket, he stuffed the pipe with tobacco, then procured a match.  Striking it against the tiles, he lit the tobacco, puffing gently.  The smoke that rose from his mouth curled before it seemed caught on a sudden breeze.  But rather than fade away, the smoke created a moving figure–the woman from the Canon’s Punch, carrying her companion.

When this image was fully formed, Hakeem gave one last long exhale.  Against the direction of the wind, it slithered northward before dissipating.

His partner said nothing.  Then they asked, “How formidable are they?”

“One is a therian, but a young one, and not very confident.  The other one, the redhead, looks like a trained fighter.  She mentioned escaping a kingdom.  There might be a bounty on her.  Took down a guard twice her size and dazzled the whole tavern with the claim that she and her friend were behind righting Gamath.  With the whole room on their side, the guards were too afraid to do anything, so that they slipped away through the main entrance.  They left some of their belongings in their hurry.”

The hooded figure nodded.  “Alright.”  They pulled a medium sized pouch from within their cloak and tossed it over.  Hakeem caught it with one hand, the jingle of coins tickling his ear.  “Pay the guards and the tavern master to keep quiet.  Get those belongings.  They might hold a clue as to who they really are.  When you’re done, meet me at the marshall’s.”  Then his companion added quickly, “And get better tobacco.  What’s the point of a pipe like that if a drunkard can see the smoke in a hazy room?”

“What will you do?  What about our original target?”

“I’m going to head the women off.  I think I can manipulate this situation to our advantage.”  They held up golden rings.  “We should put these on.  We won’t achieve without these.”

Hakeem’s brow furrowed and his fists clenched.

–Tick…tick, tick–

“I dislike these. They’re dangerous.” He pulled out a similar ring.

“I know, but they’re necessary.”

“…How long this time?”

“Three days.  Maybe four.”

“That’s pushing it.”

You’re the one who told me about this!”

Hakeem’s jaw went tight.  That change in pitch, that sudden outburst…maybe this wasn’t a good idea?


The figure bowed their head.  “I’m sorry.  I know I’m asking a lot, but please.”

The man sighed.  He slipped the band onto his ring finger.  Resisted the jolt that kicked through his nerves.  He clenched.  Growled deep in his throat.

His companion did the same.  They were better at concealing their discomfort, but if their hood wasn’t up, Hakeem would’ve been able to see the pain in their eyes.  The immediate sacrifice.  He was tired of these toys and trinkets.  But it was their life.

–…Tick, tick, tick–

“I’m off then.” The figure moved to jump down onto the street.


His partner paused.  Looked back at him.


This was different.  This was all different.  Already, they were out of harmony.  Already, they were deviating toward an uncertain end.  What was wrong with wanting everything to be okay?  What was wrong…in saying as much?

“…Come back to me.”

The other didn’t move.  Then they reached up to lower their hood.  A young woman with a creamy complexion and round azure eyes peered at him, their clear depths illuminated not by the light, but something Hakeem could not name.  Her golden hair, that faded to honey at the ends, was pinned back in an impatient flip whose lifespan only continued thanks to the hold and protection of the woman’s hood.  Her eyes, bright, even in the tired evening, shone curious and warm.  A rare show.  The peculiarity of this situation was certainly not lost on her.

She offered him a small smile, though she might as well have reached out and squeezed his hand.  Such was the power of her congeniality.

“I will,” she breathed.

Then the hood was up, and Quincy was gone, just an illusory shimmer in the dying light.

–Tick, tick, tick–


They had to stray from the main road, because if they didn’t, then the guards would have caught up with them.  A tipped merchant cart, a thick stream of people, and a discreet slip down a small road was all that it took to lose their pursuers.  Not that hard, not in this big a city, even while under the influence.

The real issue, Elmiryn quickly found, was that she found it damn near impossible to track her way back.  Exhaustion caught up with her fast.  The warrior, with one hand gripping the sword belt so that Nyx seemed only to rest on her arm than actually be held, slipped onto a shadowed stoop of someone’s home.  The door was shut, the narrow, crooked street quiet.  She leaned against the building face and felt the peeling sky-blue paint scratch at her cheek.  Nyx was in her embrace, back to the wall, her bag of meager belongings pinned between so that she couldn’t sink in all the way.  Her head was curled beneath Elmiryn’s.


The woman hadn’t realized she had closed her eyes.  The shadows and the black of her exhaustion seemed one and the same.  Blinking her eyelids open, she shifted her head to gaze blearily at Nyx.  Her eyes were dark slits, but her lips moved.

“Elle, I’m thirsty.  I don’t want to sleep.  I’m thirsty.”

Elmiryn kissed the girl at the hairline.  Felt the sweat against her lips.  “I know, kitten.  So am I.  It was all the excitement.  It disagrees with the wine.”

“You don’t feel well either?”

“No I don’t,” The woman wrapped her arms around Nyx and sighed. “Bu’thas okay.  Because we’re okay.  …’Kay?”  Her eyes started to fall shut again.  She was feeling nauseous.  Faint.  Perhaps she had drank too much.  Elmiryn couldn’t remember the last time that had ever been the case.

Nyx shifted in her arms, her petite hand clutching at the front of Elmiryn’s clothes.  “Elle, what happened? Tell me what happened!  Why’d you have to hurt that guard?  Why did…I–I just don’t understand…”

The woman pried her eyes open.  No, no, she couldn’t fall asleep.  It was good to talk.  Even if she felt like vomiting, it was good to talk.  They couldn’t fall asleep here.  “Shh.  Don’t get worked up.  Yer’ half-awake and your memories are making it into a scary dream.  Scarier than it really was.  Here, straighten up and I’ll tell you what I saw.”

The girl did just that.  Elmiryn smoothed back the girl’s hair.  “When I was reaching down to pick you up, I saw a rope wrap around my arm.  Or, well, it could’ve been a snake.  Or a centipede.  Or a–”

Nyx frowned.  “You mean you don’t know.  You thought you knew.  But you don’t.”

Elmiryn rubbed the back of her neck.  “I guess not.”

“What convinced you?  In your mind, what made you believe it was dangerous?  That it was even there?”

The woman breathed deeply.  Saw people in her mind, devoid of particular detail, and tables lit by fire in containers she could not recall in the slightest.  She recalled ribs, beards, goblets.  Then she saw the rope, the snake, the centipede make its way up her arm, swirling.

“It moved too smoothly.” Elmiryn finally said.  “Like it knew where it was going.”

Nyx nodded and leaned back, her eyes now wide open and brows pressed together in worry.

“…And why would a rope know to slither towards you?” she murmured.

Elmiryn shrugged.  “Or maybe I’m just crazy.”

The girl shook her head.  Rested her head high on Elmiryn’s shoulder so that when she whispered, the woman could feel it on her neck.  “You’re not crazy.”

She leaned her head to the side a bit to give Nyx a sidelong look.  The girl squirmed when Elmiryn didn’t look away.  “What?” she whined.

“I’d kiss you right now, but I’m pretty sure you’d taste like vomit.”  Nyx went crimson red and turned her face into Elmiryn’s shoulder.  The woman grinned.  “That said, I think we should find a water trough.  We both need it if we want to get out of the city tonight.  Can you walk?”

The girl peered at her shyly.  “I think so.”

“Then let’s go.”

Upward.  Onward.  Elmiryn felt more like she were floating, which was appropriate, in many ways–many multi-faceted, complicated, convoluted, ass-backwards sorts of ways that made her head hurt–and to the heavens, and on to the hells, she swore, if her eye stalks would just quit aching, she’d be just fine, but–

Upward.  Onward.  Downward.  Vomit, clear and runny, all over the cracks and crags of the pebbled ground.  Her along with it.  Nyx along with her.  More recycled wine–such a horrid smell.  Yes, yes.  She had too much, and by that token, so had Nyx.  Poor girl.  Elmiryn had over done it.  Stupid desperation and confusion (wordsmashingtogether ” sans;syntax and holy-helly-heaven-Halward where was the punctuation when you needed it



windows and light

night had come and Elmiryn was on and on in a cloud that suffocated

Here, Elle

Here what?

A bucket of water Smells okay Let’s in

And in they went

It sobered her. The stark sensation.  It did what she forgot to do in her tiredness, in her illness.  It was cold common sense.  Water in her sinuses, made her head ache.  But things, simple things, well known facts that had slipped away in the mystery of her afterthoughts returned.  Sensibility.  Science, and rationale.  Years of training and certain living. Living.  Living.  Living.

That’s right.  She was living, and as a living thing, she could no more drift through walls than she could her own existence.

“Fuck.  Fuck, I’m back.  From where ever I was!” Elmiryn gasped, thrilled–not for her return, but for her incredible departure.

Who knew there was a place beyond definition?

Nyx’s head was submerged in the large wooden bucket.  Water sloshed over the edges. She emerged, head whipping water, gasping like a fish.  Nearly looked like one, the way her eyes seemed to bulge and her mouth made a great oval of an orifice.  “Sweet Aelurus, that was cold!  Is this water enchanted!?”

“Possibly,” Elmiryn said, pinky wiggling in one ear.

Nyx shook her hair out, splashing everything.  The woman only shut her eyes to the assault.  “Phew,” the girl sighed, smiling.  “That felt good.”

“Too bad we didn’t think to drink a little before sticking our slimy heads in.  It would’ve been good for the dehydration.”

The girl’s shoulders sagged and she stared into the water.  It swirled, cloudy now.  “That’s right…” she muttered.

Elmiryn chuckled and stood.  “Don’t worry, Nyx.  I could’ve said something too.  We’ll find somewhere to drink, just fine.”  She still felt like her limbs were a bit hollow, but she had better sense of herself–better energy.  She could keep going and not stop.

Nyx stood with her.  “Let me get up this building and try to find which way we’re supposed to go.”

“You sure it’ll be alright?”

“I’m only taking a peek,” the girl said with an unimpressed shrug.  With a great jump up the brick facade, she had a grip on the edge of the flat roof.  Hoisting herself up with a bit of effort, the girl peered up and over.

Elmiryn smirked and crossed her arms.  She didn’t get how Nyx couldn’t see the bravery in this action.  Didn’t she know that the guards were armed with crossbows?

Maybe she forgot.

Soon she came down, scalp intact, but a little breathless.  She pointed toward the building before them, and to the left.  “That way is north.  I can see the main gate.  We actually aren’t that far off.”

And they kept on, keeping to the shadows, where the guard towers could not see them.  The girl led the way, not by request, but as if the situation brought her to the fore like a string to the front of a child’s toy cart.  All the city had gone dark, and while there existed no curfew, only the seediest lurked about.  These individuals were typically harassed by the city militia on principal.  In light of this, Nyx did not move slowly, but kept her pace at a mindful speed, treading on the balls of her feet and with knees bent.  She ducked when an armed guard, on patrol, would pass by, and Elmiryn would follow her lead, a shadow, an admirer, a pupil in her own right.  The woman had her moments of stealth and espionage, but Nyx’s body was a poem that moved with such fluidity that Elmiryn felt crude in her attempts to read along.

Her favorite passage possibly came, when Nyx slunk low on a set of cool tiled stairs, and peered with all the cautiousness of a cat in foreign territory.  Her body was taut, one hand hovering in contemplation over the ground as two guards, young but jumpy, conversed ahead.  They slipped by without incident–all it took was a well tossed rock and light feet–but the beauty of the moment was in the slope of the girl’s back, the grace and self-control that had come over her body as she willed every muscle still.  There was the feline in her that showed through the skin, even when she insisted on the separation of her sapien self and her bestial twin.

Elmiryn smiled as she and Nyx arrived at the Northern wall.  They joined the thin crowd through the first archway, then the second, both heads down.  When Tiesmire was a twinkling phantom behind them, both stopped to admire it.


The woman turned to look at her companion, her eyelids turned low.  The girl wiped at her mouth and grimaced.

“I’m still thirsty…”

Continue ReadingChapter 10.3

Chapter 11.1


We slept inland, amid a sparse collection of trees, the first seen for at least two miles.  The area around Tiesmire was cleared for matters of security.  It was easier to spot a threat in the open.

I curled into Elmiryn’s back–for the cold, I’d said–but my fingers were against her, and my knees lightly touched the back of her thighs.  This gave me a different sort of comfort.  In this closeness, I trembled, unused to the contact, made timid by it, but welcoming it all the same. I was grateful that Elmiryn sought no more, though her eyes flashed in the dark, and I could hear her swallow hard. It was a peek of humanity, beneath her slippery exterior of haunted laughter and distant looks.

Feeling faint, and with a headache blossoming throughout my head, I slept, and wondered if Elmiryn would still be there in the morning, both in body…and in mind.

The morning was quiet, and a mist carried over us. I felt it trace my exposed ears and nose. Confused with sleep, I opened my eyes to see my surroundings, and the light of the morning tore into my retinas, sending a pain like my nerves were being shaved by a razor. I hissed and turned my face into Elmiryn’s back, and relished her warmth. Then my mind stirred, bothered by an observation.

Elmiryn was still there.

Normally, she would wake me with impatient hands. Today, I could hear her snore a little, a light growl that signaled she would not rise soon.

I came up from the ground, stiff, and with a damp side sprinkled with dirt, and tree bits.  I stretched and groaned, inhaling deeply.  Something in my mind said I didn’t breathe in right, so I took a breath in through my nose again, faster this time.  Confused, I swiped at my nose and took another breath, one that left me feeling light headed.  Then I realized what was missing.

My sense of smell had dulled.

I could certainly smell the campfire smoke, the damp soil, the dew on the plants and trees…but now that I stood, I could no longer sense the signature smell that I had attributed to Elmiryn–untamed nature, sweat, sometimes wine or other drink, and oiled metal.  I could not sense the bluebirds chirping in contest with the crows and the siskins.  I could not sense the trace markings of local wildlife–deer, mountain lions, foxes, or raccoons, usually apparent in the moisture.  I could not even sense the rotting trunk yards away, its broken insides alive with bugs and moss and fungi.

And how had I come to see this now?  How had I noticed that which wasn’t mine?

For it was Hers, all of it, the strong sight, smell, and hearing.  I was just the creature that played at being human, the one who knew society and language like second nature.  I could no more take back what she had taken than erase my own memory.  It made me think of Elmiryn’s attempt to protect me from Her, my Twin, and I scoffed derisively–not at the intent of the action, but at the reality of it.

There was nothing either of us could do.  Locked together as quarreling sisters, we would always trespass on the other’s most personal thoughts.  But my hands were mine, my voice mine, my smooth skin mine.  In her world, she knew fang and talon and fur–and could sense far more than I could, even with good health, utter silence, and utmost concentration on my part.

It made me feel inadequate.

But I pushed these things away, and let my base needs take precedence.  I had to go to the bathroom–which surprised me.  I’d thought all the poison and water in me had been pissed and vomited away.  But the burn I felt, and the pinch of my bladder told me I was terribly wrong.

Being upright was a terrible feeling, one made worse with the pain the light offered my squinted and resentful eyes.  I felt like an unsteady pole on a swaying ship.  My limbs, as I walked, were sluggish and my head felt stuffed in cotton.  My mouth was dry, and the light frayed my nerves.  I could almost swear, my brain was a swollen organ that battered the inside of my skull with every clumsy move of my body.  I leaned on my knees, occasionally finding a close enough tree to hold on to while I tried to catch my breath.  Snaking roots and mischievous rocks were my bane.

From our place, one could see the Tiesmire road and the ambling mass of bodies and vehicles, thicker here than towards Gamath.  Around us, others also camped, sprinkled on the sloped hillside.  Light smoke trails and shifting forms made the land seem alive.  Each resting traveler sought meager privacy, and so tried to keep their camps spread apart.  None were near us, but eyes followed me as I made my clumsy way.

Then an unwelcome voice resounded in my head.

“Quite possibly the dumbest thing you have done, second only to agreeing to follow Elle the Idiot–”

“Shut up, ingratious animal!” I snapped aloud.  Her voice echoed in my head, and it hammered my senses painfully.  Didn’t this hurt her too?  I wondered.  Or was the venom in her voice because she felt as I did?

My Twin went on rambling, “–Let me in control for a while, your sense are shot–”


“–I’m asking this purely out of necessity. You’re straying from camp–”

“I have to relieve myself!  You aren’t supposed to–”

“–And you’ll be more vulnerable with your pants down–”

“–You think shifting before all these strangers won’t make me vulnerable–?”

“–US vulnerable. And I’m only asking for a moment–”

“NO, gods damn you!”

“FINE.” She snarled, and then she fell quiet, slamming the proverbial door shut and locking it.

I snorted and let Her have her tantrum.  Now that she was sealed away in her unnameable home, she didn’t make my head hurt as much.

When my business was done, I returned to our little camp.  We couldn’t find a proper space, but our exhaustion robbed us of any care for absolute perfection.  I knelt down by Elmiryn, and my heart palpitated in my chest a healthy rhythm.  The sight of her cheeks, turned a fair rose, with her hair as hot searing locks tangled in the cracked leaves and dark dirt…  She was quiet and still, her face devoid of her typical restlessness.  But this was only her exterior, her shell, and I knew with an ache in my throat that she was lost to something unseen.  I raised a cold hand, and contemplated brushing back the rebellious locks that trailed her cheeks.  My hand curled back and I chewed my lip.  I thought, “I’d rather not be burned.”

I went to my bag and pulled out my gambeson.  The bag deflated like a hollowed out corpse.  The clothing was rolled tightly and smelled of soap.  I held it up in the sleepy light and frowned unfavorably at the darkened fabric.  The blood didn’t wash out completely.

My grip tightened as my mind flashed–bringing the sight of a pale man with spiky dark hair and wild eyes.  Aidan’s pale face, once handsome, was dominated by thick purplish veins and cancerous red skin.  His hands at my Twin’s throat, sick laughter echoing in our mind, Sedwick screaming at Her to stop, me pushing forward to force her to do just that–

My eyes teared, and I bit my tongue to anchor myself.  I pressed the gambeson to my nose and tried to find the scent of my mother.

…I sensed nothing of her.

I stared forward, feeling as though someone had just ripped the breath from my lungs.  One small tear leaked out the side of my eye, but I didn’t bother wiping at it.  I let my hands fall to my lap, where the gambeson draped my thighs like a dead skin.  With slow hands, I pulled the item on, tying it at the front.  Underneath, my tunic bunched and wadded, but the warmth my gambeson afforded me in this morning chill was worth more than the slight awkwardness this caused.  Even if I could no longer smell my mother in the fabric, I tried to find consolation in the fact that, no matter what, it was once hers.

I repeated this to myself as I rubbed my arms, fingers stinging after a while from the brush of the cloth.

Partly selfish, partly sympathetic–my motives for letting Elmiryn sleep on was met with no irritated questions.

Her eventual rising was slow, and she greeted the late morning like a corpse in the sun–stark and morbidly beautiful.  It were as if she were an artistic portrait that no one knew the meaning to anymore.  I was afraid for a moment, the way her eyes seemed so glassy…

So dead.

“Elmiryn…good morning.” My breath was a fog.  There was still a chill about us, even with the sun over the Torreth.

No answer.

I shifted nervously from my place sitting next to her.  “Maybe we should get going?” I asked.

She remained quiet, some flicker of recognition coming over her eyes as she gazed my way.  Then she pulled her knees up to her chest and braced her hands on the ground.  Her lips parted to let out a rattle of breath.

“Meznik…?” she narrowed her eyes.  “Do you feel this, Nyx?”

I shook my head and lightly touched her shoulder.  “Elmiryn, it isn’t Meznik.”

Elmiryn scowled.  “Then what–?”

“We were drinking last night.  You’re hung over, like me.”

“…I am?”

The odd turn of this conversation wasn’t lost on me.  I gave a tentative nod of my head.  “Yes…you are.”

Elmiryn’s eyes lit up.  “That’s right.  That’s right!”  She broke into a laugh.  The sound was off to my ears, like she forgot what key her humor was supposed to be in.  “Let’s look for some water and something to eat,” she said, standing with her newly acquired sword.  She still had a jocular smile on her face.

As we walked, passing camps and wary stares, her smile faded.  She spoke and her tone was uncertain.  “I had a dream.”

I looked at her, trying not to appear concerned.  I didn’t want her to feel doubt regarding her summation.  “What about?” I asked.

“I was fighting.  Lots of people.”  She shook her head and rubbed at her temples, closing her eyes.  “My head hurts…”

“Who were you fighting?”

She blinked.  Elmiryn scratched the back of her neck and rolled her shoulders.  “Everyone.  I think.  My hands sting like it, anyway.”

I frowned and gazed at her sidelong.  “Huh?”

She held up her hands to show me.  “Look, aren’t they swollen?  The knuckles?  The palms?”

“No, they aren’t.  Save for the scar in your right hand, they look normal.”

“Scar?”  She frowned and looked at her palm.  “Oh, right.”

I gave her an uneasy smile.  “Elmiryn, you weren’t really fighting.  That’s why it was a dream.”

“Uh-huh.  That’s what I said, right?”

I forced a smile and looked to the ground, my arms still around me.  My grip tightened.  I felt like crying again.

“Yes…of course, Elle.”


Quincy was drawn in the cool reaches of groaning buckeyes.  A shadow beneath her cloak, unmoving, she watched from her lofty place as the young therian wandered from camp and hid behind a large shrub.

On her way there, she heard the girl snap at something.  She appeared agitated and unsteady.  Hung over?  Likely.

When she returned, there was a curious moment where the girl paused to gaze at her friend.  It was with admiration and warmth, but her expression was somewhat strained by a sort of fear that Quincy didn’t quite understand.  Concern.  For her friend.  Beyond the typical companionship.  How long had they traveled together?

The therian reached toward the older woman’s face before curling it back.

Ah.  Longing.

Having reconsidered her previous action, the girl turned to her bag and took out a feldgrau gambeson, its shade uneven as though it suffered some large stain.  She then pressed the item to her face and inhaled, and her eyes opened with some haunted realization.  She went slack, letting the gambeson fall to her lap and remained there for a time, staring into space, before she pulled the clothing on with shaking hands.

A precious item–but it had lost something.  Something important.

When the other woke, she could hear their words, even with the cool wind in her ears that swept eastward from the ocean.  Her fingernails gripped into the grain of bark as Quincy shifted just ever slightly, enough to see beneath the spined reach of the buckeye to catch the bewildered expression of the therian.

She was particularly intrigued by the very human-like mannerisms that draped the girl, as if her other self was just a different coat, to be tucked away, unseen, until the right time.

Her companion was another curiosity.  At first she spoke slow and quiet–like a hollow instrument–but then as alertness set into her the woman revealed to have a melodic voice that lifted and jumped on the ear drums–pulled along by some hidden observation that colored her words with humor.  Her eyes were perhaps her most intriguing feature.  Whereas her therian friend’s gaze spoke of the otherness that essentially completed her, the woman’s eyes were devoid of something.

They slipped, flickered, rolled, found something distant and far to watch, before they were back to her friend, perhaps the only thing she could fully focus on for any stretch of time before the world danced with her attention again.  She was restless in her gaze, and yet she still laughed, fascinated by the things she saw.

Not inattentive.  Just searching.  For what?

Quincy did not know what to make of this person or her companion.  She was an expert of observation, a master of detail, yet these two presented only more questions with every revelation.  Her azure eyes narrowed as they began to pass her, hidden, farther inland.

Carefully, she slipped out of the old buckeye, her choice for the all-night watch she had endured.  With confident steps, she followed the two women, eyes trained on them.  She did not feel exhaustion weigh her down, did not feel thirsty, or hungry.  She was honed in on her targets, her new interests.

…How did they know of the chronicles?  How could they possibly know?

Nyx.  The small dark-haired girl.  Elmiryn.  The taller, red-haired woman.  Perhaps the latter was her age?  A little younger?

She’d heard tell of the saviors of Gamath.  The stories varied from person to person, but she had gathered enough accounts from eavesdropping at the rooftops to have an idea of the truth.  Two women, one taller than the other, with beautiful eyes and more danger than either had ever intended on.  They came from the West on a mission, still a mystery to the general gossiper.

Heroes?  Fame chasers?  …Victims of circumstance?

Quincy’s eyes were sharp beneath the lip of her head, and they pierced through smoke and trees to the two women.  For her intended gamble, it was enough.  She could survive circumstances of dubious outcome, could defeat a person of greater reputation, could hold her own when outnumbered–this challenge would be no different.  She would make sure.  True, it would take more work, but Quincy was certain she could have her answers, have her reward, and be unscathed in the end.  With Hakeem, she was doubly sure.

Since she could recall, she had always encountered some unexpected variable in the equation.  She had gathered information that had led her here, and she knew the one she searched for was near.  The city had barred her original quarry from entering due to inexplicable incidents that occurred within its walls.  Cast out and with supplies dwindling, they wandered along the Tiesmire road, searching.

Quincy did not believe in fate, but she believed in resilience and preparation.

She slowed as the two women before her slowed, instinctually keeping a measured distance.  The smaller one was red in the face, and her voice had become shrill.  The taller one looked sheepish.

You spent all the gold!?

“I wasn’t thinking!”

“No!  You were drunk.  And gods damn it, so was I!” The girl gripped her head and teetered.  “Sweet Aelurus, my head…”

An Ailuran.  Quincy figured she was a therian of the moon, but she’d hoped for a Lycan.  Easier to manipulate.

The redhead gripped her companion’s shoulder.  “We’ll be fine–”

Nyx brushed her hand away and glared.  “And how will we be fine when these camps stretch on for several more miles?  With so many people, the only water and food to be found out here is to be bought! All of our most important things were left in that filthy tavern you dragged me into!  We can’t even trade!

If they had set up a water catch, Quincy thought, then the clean morning dew would have been enough for them.  The girl didn’t seem the sort to know this, but the redhead did.  If her assumptions were correct, the woman should have remembered this even while sick from drink.  The blond found herself disappointed by this.

“Maybe someone will be generous,” Elmiryn said with a shrug.  The situation seemed lost on her.

“I’ve had my fair share of ‘generosity’.  That’s why I never could make a living as a beggar.” The girl sat heavily onto the ground.  “Go on, Elmiryn.  Ask around.  I see no point in walking until the matter is solved.”  She fisted her cheek, then glared forward.

The woman threw up her hands and walked away, a loose smile on her lips and her eyes rolling.

Yes.  Completely lost, that one.

Elmiryn approached a man fletching arrows.

Quincy reached for a small bag on her hip.  It was limp and empty.  With both hands, she rubbed the bag until she felt something grow beneath the suede leather.  It was round and smooth.  It grew and grew until it fit snug into her palms.  Then she loosened the bag’s strings and let the ball fall into her waiting hand.  It was a reflective orb.

The woman closed her eyes and held the orb to her lips.  “I see, so you see.  I hear, so you hear.  I know, so you know.  Illuminate this for the eyes of the blind.  Reveal what is hidden, bring forth what is desired,” she whispered.  Then she kissed it, and when she was certain none were looking her way, she tossed the ball high into the air.  It caught the morning light in a brilliant shine.

The light seemed brighter than it should be, and it flashed onto everyone nearby.  Quincy caught it as it came down and tucked it away again.  She turned away, behind a plume of smoke, and was gone in the refracted light of someone’s shield.


I glared holes into the ground.

In truth, I wasn’t sure who I was angrier at.  Elmiryn, for being foolish enough to spend the little money we had on something so stupid, or myself, for allowing her to.  I wasn’t much of a drinker, and while the wine was child’s play compared to an Ailuran’s brew, I was a cheap drunk.  A very cheap drunk.  I made a note to never drink again–especially in Elmiryn’s company.

I watched sullenly, out of the corner of my eye, as Elmiryn went to speak to a man some yards away.  I was a bit surprised she was actually asking around.  Not begging–she was too proud for that.

I squinted my eyes and rubbed at my head.  It still pulsed with pain, and I suspected my foul mood was due in part to my illness, but I didn’t care.

“Elle the Idiot” should never have spent all the fucking gold…

There was a flash that lit the ground.  I frowned and sat up to look around.  Then my ear prickled at the snatch of a nearby conversation.

“–Yeah, sure!  A small stream up North, run-off from the mountain.  Very refreshing–”

My eyes brightened, and I turned to look at Elmiryn.  She was coming back towards me, an enthusiastic grin on her face.  All around us broke out sounds of surprise and joy.  Distantly, I found this odd, but didn’t pay it too much attention.  I rose to greet her.  We both started to speak.

“Elmiryn, did you hear–?”

“Hey Nyx, this man just told me–!”

A thundering sound, like heavy paws on the earth, made me stop.  My expression caused Elmiryn to stop as well, and she placed her hands on her hips with a quirked eyebrow.  Shouts of alarm came nearer and nearer.  I looked past my companion, and my face drained in horror.  Elmiryn turned to see what the ruckus was as well.  “What–?” but then she saw.

A massive shaggy dog, the size of a small bear, came charging, its eyes fixed on us.  With every great push of its incredible paws, clumps of dirt and grass flew, and a thick thread of drool trailed from its large pink tongue.  Elmiryn whipped around, shoving me behind her, one hand on the sword hilt.

“Nyx, have I got this right?  It’s coming our way, isn’t it?” She asked quickly.

My heart was pumping hard in my chest. “I-I’m not–”

As it neared, I saw just how huge the animal was.  On all fours it nearly reached Elmiryn’s waist.  There was no hope in out running it, and as I heard, that only made the dog want to chase you more, but the urge was hard to resist.

“Well is it, or isn’t it?” Elmiryn snapped.

“It–It looks like it!  Yes! Oh Sweet Aelurus, yes it is!!”

The woman bent her knees in preparation, her grip on her sword tightening.  I cowered behind her, feeling nauseous again.

Shit,” the woman cursed.

Continue ReadingChapter 11.1