Tributaries Cover In Sight, In Mind Cover Blackwood Cover

Chapter 2.1

NYX____________________________

She split the rays of the early suns with her well-cut figure–hands planted at the base of her hips and her shoulders squared against trailing storm winds. She had taken her hair out of her braid, and the auburn locks lifted with the breeze. With my arms hugged around my head, I peeked with sleep-winked eyes from beneath them.  Her shadowed face split into a grin.

“Morning,” Elmiryn said.

I groaned and curled in on myself, hiding my face. “Already?” I whined in a low voice.

The woman warrior sighed and I heard her walk a few steps away, probably to put on her bracers and shoulder guards. “Wake up, Nyx. I won’t have you wasting precious daylight, y’know. If I’ve gotta drag you, I’ll drag you.”

I stiffened at this declaration and jerked myself upright, my eyes trained on her as she adjusted her gloves.

“Besides,” Elmiryn added as she went to pick up her other things, laid neatly out on a blanket. “We need to get out of here before the farmers wake up. They might still feel the need to look around the area with daylight on their side. I don’t want to hurt peasants if I don’t have to.”

She tightened the straps of her shoulder guards and gave them a firm pat to see if they were well secure. Satisfied, she looked back at me and quirked an eyebrow. “Well? Come on. We need to get your things. I imagine you don’t want to walk around barefoot all day.”

I rubbed at my eyes and stood, somewhat unsteady, and gave my shoulders a roll. The arm I dislocated didn’t ache anymore. I picked up the arrowhead I had saved from the night before, which I placed near my head while I slept, and held it between my teeth as I grabbed the blanket Elmiryn had let me use.  With a sigh, I folded it awkwardly.

I snuck some looks at my new companion as I did so. She was strapping a belt around her waist, with two blades holstered on it–one a six-inch knife on her right hip, the other a long sword.  From what I could tell from the shape of the sheath, the blade wasn’t very pointed–that told me it was a sword meant to be swung, not to stab with.  It also had a red-jeweled pommel and a gilded cross guard–the crescent moon variety that faced the direction of the blade, of which a phrase was etched in an ancient language.  My mind tickled with recognition at the design, and I paused in my actions with a frown.

Elmiryn caught me staring and followed my line of sight. She smirked. “I got it through combat,” she said, bending to pick up her own blanket. “I liked the sword, so I took it. The other guy didn’t need it anymore.” She looked at me again, an edge to her gaze, as if daring me to question further.

I blinked at her, and looked down. She thought I knew where the sword was from. I wanted to ask her, but feared what would happen if I did. I handed her the blanket and she took it, along with hers, and placed it in her satchel. She came up again and turned, tossing me an apple.

Startled, I caught it.

“That’ll have to do until we find some food later. Right now, let’s go get your things before the village wakes up.” she said. Elmiryn shouldered her bow and quiver, grabbed her satchel, and began walking away.

I looked at the apple, then her. I rubbed it on my gambeson–trying not to think about the futility of that action considering the cleanliness of my clothes in general–and bit into it. Juice dribbled down my chin. After a few quick strides I had caught up with the woman and we walked in silence.

Dawn. A creeping warmth on a cold land. I thought about these things when dream and reality hazed together in my head. Light was peeking past the hills and splintered through the leaves in shafts. Mist carried the rosen glow about our shadowed forms as we marched over the damp leaves and tender roots. My breath came in light fogs before my face. The hark of a bluejay made my ears perk. It felt incongruous in this sleepy setting.

I didn’t walk quite alongside Elmiryn, but rather, just a little behind. I didn’t want her to think I was calling myself her equal. She was a warrior, a strong one, and had clearly experienced enough in life to walk as surely as she did now. But of what class was she? Was she a noble on a quest for enlightenment? Was she a soldier following orders from her king? Was she a simple peasant, a common person, making a name for herself through brave deeds and other such heroic acts in the hopes that she could escape the banality of normal existence?

…Was…Was she like me?

This last thought brought me no comfort. Instead, it made me nervous. The apple in my hand dwindled like my certainty as I gazed at Elmiryn’s back. I didn’t want to mingle with thieves, murderers, or charlatans. I stole, yes, but only from those who could afford a loss. I only resorted to theft out of necessity, not greed.

I told myself these things often at night.

I scrunched up my nose and frowned down at my apple. I had finished it–even eaten half of the core. I tossed the thing away, thinking firmly, “And what would an evil person be doing saving kittens and fighting demons?”

The answer eluded me.

“Hey, Nyx. As much as I like having you staring at me like the answer to life is hidden in my backside, d’ya think maybe you could lead? You’re the only one who knows where your things are.”

I gave a start and looked at Elmiryn, who stared back at me with an expectant look. Blushing, I mumbled an apology and went ahead of her.

My back tensed as I felt her gaze on my back. Did she have to stare? …Oh, well I suppose it was only fair. I peeked a glance at her over my shoulder and our eyes met. Nervously I looked forward again. Elmiryn started to hum. I felt like she were teasing me for my skittishness.  The tune was a curious one, and at first I was a little perplexed that someone like her would know it.

It was too innocent and frivolous to come from such a source, I thought with pursed lips.  I hadn’t even seen the woman draw her sword, and I was certain she could incapacitate me permanently with one strike–TWO if she wanted to draw it out with some flourish. But she had as much reason to trust me as I did her…right?

“Your clothes are enchanted, aren’t they?” Elmiryn asked me suddenly.

I looked back at her, then turned forward to properly duck beneath a low branch of a bay tree. “Yes,” I said.

My mother’s clothes were specially made by an Ailuran tailor, who knew the spell roughly known as, “Second Skin.”  It allowed a therian to shift into any form, and not tear or lose his clothes in the process.  Whatever shape I took, my clothes would fit to my body perfectly.  It was practically a necessity in therian cultures to have clothes blessed with Second Skin.  The lives of shape-shifters had many risks and dangers, the kind that other sentient creatures couldn’t possibly comprehend.  They were expensive, and in the case of the poor, were treasured items that were passed down from generation to generation.

I thought of my mother, and felt a surge of audacity channel through my veins.  “You put a hole through my gambeson,” I said in a churlish tone.

…The fact that Elmiryn saved my life by doing so, not withstanding.

I could hear the smile in her voice when she asked, “Well, considering the state of your clothes I didn’t really think a–”

“It belonged to my dead mother.” The amount of force I put into those words surprised even me. I stopped and glared back at Elmiryn, my hands clenched at my sides. Inside my chest, my heart pounded hard against my ribs–but my fear was overshadowed by anger.  There were certain things that I  just couldn’t ignore.

To my astonishment, Elmiryn actually winced at my harsh look. Then her face went blank and she looked away. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you…or your mother.” She rubbed the back of her neck and gestured at me with her chin–a habit of hers it seemed. “I’m no tailor, but I’ve some needle and thread with me. I can sew it up if you’d like. That won’t mess with the enchantment, right?”

I stared at her. She knew how to sew? I guess even warriors cared whether their clothes were torn… “It won’t.” I said. I really was establishing myself as quite the lengthy speaker, wasn’t I?

She smiled and nodded. “Okay, then.”

I gazed at her for a moment longer, then continued walking. I felt more certain of myself somehow, and the tension in my back eased.

…Evil people don’t care about dead mothers.


Back to Chapter 1.3 | Forward to Chapter 2.2

Chapter 2.2

“Oh, Heaven, it is mysterious, it is awful to consider that we not only carry a future Ghost within us; but are, in very deed, Ghosts!” – Thomas Carlyle

NYX____________________________

We tromped through the tall grass, and blades of moisture and morning chill clung to our flanks. I had my things again–my boots were securely fastened, my small bag of trinkets was pulled nervously on both shoulders by the thin straps of cloth I had stitched in myself.  I had added to my collection the pewter arrowhead Elmiryn had shot at me.  I considered throwing it away.  The memory of that moment tied my guts into knots, and I preferred having my insides settled and ordered.

Then it occured to me that the little item was special.  There were the obvious reasons of course:  the arrowhead had saved my life in a sensational manner, the little item marked the first time in over a year that I found myself in the company of anyone, and as superficial as it sounded, it just plain looked interesting.  But beyond those lines of reasoning rested other things.  They were mystifying, and a little unsettling.  If I thought about it long enough, I was certain I could figure out the greater motives that guided me to keep the trinket…but I didn’t want to.  It tied my guts into knots.

There was a heaviness in the silence around us as Elmiryn and I walked.

Questions, like the feeble fragments of startled dandelions, drifted between me and that straightened back before me, lost and at the mercy of the cool wind that upped and carried them elsewhere. Elmiryn intimidated me still, despite my assertions regarding her lack of inherent evil or intent to do harm, for there rested something haphazard and unsettling in her regard to life and peace and will. Pale irises beneath the morning suns lit up aspirations that both bewildered and concerned me.

At first I felt afraid of the possible situations I may be cast therein; but then (I think it was just a little past Toah and the place we bivouacked, near the area where the poison oak and buck eye trees seemed weaved passionately together) I tried to imagine what Elmiryn had faced herself, alone, and felt my stomach twist in that loathsome way. With a dry swallow, I let my mind wander to less mystifying things.

Somehow my existence–lonely and dangerous and desperate–had been something I deemed only for myself, as if my dry petite hand could lay a claim to a way of living and shun all others skittering towards it. It seemed too cruel a thing to allow such a life for anyone else but me. As melodramatic as it sounded, I wanted that pain to be mine alone.

But beyond my unreasonable sentiments, I sensed something further amiss, and it was that untouchable something that kept drawing my gaze to the tall woman warrior, even as we stopped at the line of trees where the grassy hills and dense wood had given way to a rocky ravine and light mists of water. Elmiryn tilted her head back, her eyes turning lidded as she took in a deep intake of breath. She sighed, in what appeared to be satisfaction, and turned to look at me with an upbeat grin. “This leads to a lake. That stream we saw before must empty out there too.” she said.

I shrugged, looking at her. “You mean to fish?” I asked.

Elmiryn gazed back at me and placed her free hand on her hip. “You aren’t going to help me?”

Startled, I mumbled something along the lines of, “I don’t think I can.”

“You hate water.” She said flatly.

I glared at her.  “No.”

“So what’s the problem? You’re really going to tell me you can’t fish either? Can you even hunt at all?”

My cheeks turned red, and I crossed my arms and slouched. “If I could, do you think I’d be stealing from farmers?”

Elmiryn shrugged. “Point taken,” she conceded.

Then she put her arm around my shoulders and steered me forward, parallel with the ravine, and made a tutting sound befitting a long-suffering mother. “I guess I’ll have to teach you then,” she sighed.

“You don’t have to teach me everything, y’know…” I said contumaciously, and my eyes flashed up through my uneven bangs even as I felt her laughter reverberate through me. For some reason this made my blush worse; I could feel the heat spread from my face and creep down my neck and back like fire. Stiffly, I shrugged out of her touch and tromped ahead.  My bag bounced and jangled behind me.

Elmiryn continued to walk at a more leisurely pace, silent at first, before she started to hum a song.  This was different from before.  It was the same in nature, but more complex.  A melody of humor and frivolity that’s arrangement beckoned at my tense back like a playful call.

Odd as it sounds, it made my ears warm.

I glanced back at her, wary, but Elmiryn didn’t quit.  She only smiled when she saw that she had my attention.  Before I knew it, I had slowed my pace so that I walked along side her again.  The tension had sloughed off like an extra weight, and I sucked lightly at my teeth to keep the corners of my mouth from turning upward.

Earlier I had thought it bizarre that someone like Elmiryn would know such jocose music.  Now I felt it only too appropriate.

The ravine marked an invisible line along the land, so that beyond it a sparse collection of thick old trees and many wild bushes and weeds ruled–not a dense army of any one thing. Out there, it felt like there was more space, and light came easier to the ruddy Earth. Elmiryn stopped humming and the only thing that seemed to fill the silence was the conversation of leaves and the giggles and hisses from the stream of water carving through the rock.

Ahead, I thought saw the familiar glint of a body of water.

“Y’know, I guess it’d be good to try and get to know each other, seeing as how we’re going to be stuck together for a while.” Elmiryn said suddenly, as if the thought had just occurred to her.

I gazed at her sidelong, but didn’t say anything.

Bemusedly, she looked my way. “Don’t you think so, Nyx?”

“Yes.” I said, after a moment of thought.

The taller woman smiled, almost languidly. “Good to know you agree.”

But the conversation, if one could even call it that, stopped there, and I grew nervous wondering what it was Elmiryn was thinking.

The ravine fed into a fair-sized lake where large bugs skimmed and danced across the surface. It was large enough that if two people stood on either side of it, they’d have to really shout to be heard. The center of it was dark, and around the shallower waters tall slim plants I couldn’t name stood proud over the surface. The smells of algae and fish tickled my nose. Elmiryn went ahead of me and sat down on the rocky shore, where she began to take her boots off. I went to her and sat, setting my bag on the dry log next to me.

“How are you going to fish?” I asked. I hugged my knees when Elmiryn glanced at me, and for some reason my blush came back.

With both boots off and her pants rolled up, the woman stood.  Her hair draped free over her shoulders as she stooped to pick up her bow and arrows. She gave a grin as if that were all the answer I needed, and then proceeded out into the water. When the lake was up to her knees, she readied an arrow and stood still, only her head moving as she searched for any sign of fish.

She didn’t fire a shot for a long time.

My stomach growled at me from beneath my gambeson and I slouched, grumpy, as I watched her.  With the time passed, I found myself emboldened enough by boredom to ask her a question. “Are you one of those folk heroes who are altruistic just for the sake of it, or was there an impetus to this quest of yours?”

Elmiryn paused in her quiet hunt to slowly turn and squint at me from over her shoulder. “Say what?

I resisted rolling my eyes.  At the risk of sounding pompous, I really hated having to simplify things I said.  “What I was asking was: why are you after this…um…demon? Meznik, you said he was called. Are you doing it for yourself or some noble sense of duty?”

Elmiryn shook her head, and a dubious grin spread her lips. “My, my. You’re quite the speaker now!”

“I’m asking a fair question, I think.”

She sighed and swiped at her nose with her arm. Her gaze had fallen downward, and I got the impression she was focusing on her reflection in the water.

“He cursed me,” she finally said. Her normally melodic voice became somewhat subdued, and I strained to hear her. “It’s hard to explain to you.”

“You’re the one who said we should talk and get to know each other.”

“I know.”

“So why not try and explain to me this curse of yours? Maybe it’ll affect me.”

“No. It has nothing to do with you. Not really.”

“Then what is it?”

Elmiryn’s eyes narrowed and I saw her ready her bow again. Some part of me tensed, afraid that I was being too pushy about the topic. But when she suddenly let loose the arrow, I realized that she had only seen a fish.  Blood appeared through the murk, and soon I saw the fish float to the surface. “Verisimilitude. Know what that means?” she asked.

I frowned at her.  I tried not to sound surprised when I answered. “Something that has merely the appearance of truth.”

“Hey, you’re pretty good at my language!” She exclaimed, with a brief smile in my direction. A warmth blossomed in my chest, and I barely was able to conceal my pleased grin. So maybe she wasn’t beyond appreciating a good education.

Elmiryn stooped and grabbed the fish, then pulled the arrow out of its side. When she turned to me and tossed the fish onto the rocks, she smiled sadly. “That is my curse, Nyx. Verisimilitude. …Or something.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.”

The fish slapped against the smooth rocks, blood and guts coming out of its wound, and my eyes went wide with delight at the sight of it. Though I preferred cooking my meat to some degree, fish I had no problem with eating raw.

“Go ahead and start cutting the fish,” Elmiryn said, “My knife is there with my bag. Don’t start eating without me though.”

I smiled eagerly, and the conversation we were having fled my mind as I washed my hands and set to work. But soon the question came bubbling up my throat as I pondered over what the other woman said. “How is verisimilitude your curse?” I asked. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Another strike. Another fish. Elmiryn paused to toss it back toward me before she shrugged and said, “Every sentient creature has the ability to believe in themselves and their experiences. He took that away from me. Among other things. I mean to get it back.”

“You don’t…believe in yourself?” I said, pausing in my actions to give Elmiryn a nonplussed look.

She laughed and shook her head. “Not like self-confidence. Something more important than that…” she wiped her face on her arm again and looked skyward, tapping the end of an arrow on her chin. “What I mean is the ability to believe that you impress on the world something…uh…lasting, I guess.  Like memories.  We all have memories–some more vivid than others, but memories all the same.  Then there’s the feeling that we’re noticed and acknowledged.  A sense of…um…” Elmiryn looked at me uncertainly, and I stopped what I was doing all together, transfixed.  She pointed at herself and squinted her eyes.  “It’s like when you know who you are and what you’re place in the world is.”

“A sense of self?” I offered with an awkward shrug.

Elmiryn nodded.  “Yeah.  As in, you look in the mirror and you’re certain that what you’re seeing is correct.  ‘Oh look, there’s my hair, styled just the way it is supposed to be.  And the look in my eyes matches just the kind of emotion I’m feeling.  And I look just as old as I feel.’  Y’know, that sort of thing.”

I thought about it for a moment, and felt an understanding settle in.  I looked back as Elmiryn began to continue.  I got the sense she was talking less to me and more to herself.

“Meznik took away my belief of the past and therefor took away my hope for the future.” She said, arms now lowered at her sides as she stared ahead blankly. “All I have is the present moment–the current feelings and current sensations–because all in the past becomes fiction, and my passion and trust in it fades.  But even the present feels a little hollow.  So…I guess…I…I don’t feel real. I feel like all the things that make up who I am could break and give way to apathy.  I mean, why care about a world you don’t believe in anymore?” she said all this quietly, her voice almost overpowered by the sound of the water coming into the lake. It was like she just realized what her curse meant for her.

She remained quiet for what felt like a long time, and it seemed like I was supposed to say something, but I wasn’t sure what.

But suddenly Elmiryn was smiling again, and she resumed her watch for fish along the water.  There was an eagerness about her–the way her gaze roved, the tense readyness of her arms.  Her eyes were lit bright and intense by the reflection of the suns in the water. “I guess that’s why I’d like you to come with me. To be my anchor. To remind me of who I was, so that…”

I frowned at her, suddenly nervous of this responsibility I now had. “So that what?” I prompted.

The warrior fired another arrow.  The water splashed and rippled before blood billowed in a dark cloud toward the surface.

“So that I don’t turn into something else.”


Back to Chapter 2.1 | Forward to Chapter 2.3

Chapter 2.3

NYX____________________________

It was a two-day journey to the town known as Dame, and in that time I discovered three things: if a tree branch squeaks, I probably shouldn’t rest on it; Elmiryn has no concept of personal space; and apparently, I talk in my sleep.

“You were muttering something about rats.”

“I was not.”

“You were asleep.  How do you know?”

“I find myself a bit concerned over the fact that you were close enough to make out what I was muttering.”

“So you’re saying I’m right.”

“No.  I’m saying you have alarming ideas of what’s permissible between two people who hardly know each other.”

“You can’t remember what you were dreaming.  Are you really going to argue with me?”

I settled for looking sullen and avoided Elmiryn’s gaze. “My hazy mutterings aside, what made you think hovering over me like you were would be interpreted as anything else but creepy?”

I sat at the base of an old poplar tree, where I picked twigs and dirt from my tangled mess of hair.  The bandages wrapped around my hands were smudged with the pollen from the catkins.  I tried to wipe it off, but it seemed to only set it deeper into the sweat stained fabric.

Elmiryn stood over me, her arms crossed and the corners of her lips turned upwards at the ends.

“You were crying,” she said with a twitch of her mouth.

I glanced at her with sullen eyes.  “I must have been thinking of something else.”

“You fell out of the tree.  It was kinda like you were trying to get away from them.”

I grit my teeth but made it a point not to look up at her again.  “No. The branch broke. And it broke because I jumped when I saw you were hovering over me.”

Elmiryn shook her head with a chuckle and palmed her face.  “Nyx, you wouldn’t wake up when I was calling you from the ground. How else was I going to wake you? Throw a rock?” Then she looked upwards as if something occured to her, and the smile that had been only a concept became fully realized.  “…Hey, wait a minute. You think I’m unsettling? As in, ‘Gee, I hope she makes a go for my pants’, or as in, ‘I think this crazy wench is going to shiv my hide’?”

The way she said this had a tone of absurdity that I’m sure she entirely meant for.  It caught me completely off guard.  I looked up at her with cheeks tinged pink and my mouth open, ready to speak.  It was an instinctual reaction after being posed a question.  …But nothing worth saying came to me until I could see the mischievous glint wink in her morning-lit eyes.

I shook my head and squeezed my eyes shut.  I felt like a bug beneath a magnifying glass.  “By the four winds, what is the matter with you?” I grumbled.  My hands went to rub my temples.  I could feel a headache coming on. “Do you like making me as flustered as possible?”

I heard Elmiryn sit on the ground and opened my eyes to gaze at her warily.  When our eyes met she tilted her head to the side.  “You make it so easy.” she said.  There was a note of fascination in her voice that made me squint my eyes a little.  “I mean, you’re the first one of your kind I’ve met that doesn’t know how to hunt or fight, and…well…” her voice trailed and she seemed to reconsider her next choice of words.

I braced myself.  Any sentence that trailed off like that had something unpleasant to unveil.  I let my hands drop to my lap, where I sprinkled away the dirt I had between my fingers.  “Well what?” I prompted uneasily.

“You speak funny.” She shrugged after she said this.

I just stared.  “…Pardon?”

She held her hands up, but there was no sense of urgency in the action.  Elmiryn wasn’t concerned with insulting me, it seemed.  “Easy.  I don’t mean it in a bad way.” Her eyes trailed from my face to my hair, then my hands.  She looked at me again and her expression went soft. “Where did you learn my language?”

“…Reading.” I paused and fiddled with the collar of my gambeson. “Before I was Marked I read a lot to pass the time. Human literature had…um…lots of nice stories.”

“Self-taught. That’s amazing.”

“Are you trying to distract me from the fact that you just spooked me off the high branch of a tree?” I gave her the driest look I could manage.

Elmiryn didn’t wither.  Instead, she seemed to brighten at my passive aggression.  “No, honestly, Nyx. I mean it.”  I pursed my lips as I stood and walked a few steps away.  She made as if to grab at my ankles, but then refrained.

“C’mon, look at me,” she said–not asked. “I really mean it. So will you accept that I’m sorry?”

I crossed my arms and tapped my fingers thoughtfully. “…Yes. But I think it’s clear we’ve got to establish some things if I’m going to travel with you.”

“Okay, great. What do you want established?”  Elmiryn leaned back on her hands and grinned up at me.  I consciously avoided looking at her.

“First of all, quit remarking about how I’m not like such-and-such or like so-and-so. Having my short-comings pointed out to me all the time is driving me mad.”

“Done.”

“Second, I’d appreciate it if you’d quit staring at me. It’s making me nervous.”

“Alright.”

“And third, you’ve got to give me my space. That means no messing with my things and no putting your hands on me just for the sake of it. Okay?”

“Yeah. You got it.”

“Good.”

“Great.”

“Fantastic.”

“Lovely.”

“…Have you got anything you’d like to tell me?”

Elmiryn held up a finger.  “Just one thing.”

I was already wary.  “What’s that?”

“If you’re going to use fancy words, you’ve got to tell me what they mean.”

“…That’s it?”

“Sure, why not? But you can’t give me the wrong definition. If you do, I might pull a sword on someone who was otherwise just telling me how well my pants compliment my ass. Granted, anyone who told me that would still have my blade at their throat, but the worst I’d do is slap their rump with the broadside of my sword.”

A crooked grin spread over my lips.  “Sweet Aelurus…conciliation really comes naturally to you, doesn’t it?”

“Well see, if I knew what that meant…”

Despite myself I giggled. Whenever Elmiryn spoke, it always seemed on the verge of laughing somehow—sometimes I was certain because of me, but other times I wasn’t so sure.  My guess was that she was aware of something I wasn’t.  Perhaps because of her condition.  Certainly, with every restless pass of her eyes, I believed more and more in her curse.

Since our time at the lake, all conversation between the two of us had been purely chit-chat: general observations about our surroundings, the weather, what it was we’d do for food, where we’d sleep, etc…. Now, as we entered the flat golden valley and could see Dame in the distance, our polite ease seemed to be slipping into something else. Something less inhibited.

I found I welcomed it.

“What are your plans in Dame?” I asked Elmiryn as I pulled absently at the straps of my bag.

She glanced at me and smirked. “To ask some questions. Get information about the territory and what is going on here. I suspect that Meznik’s come to this land. If he has, I’m certain he’s already done something to cause trouble. That’s what I’m expecting to learn about.”

“Will it take us closer to him?”

“Hopefully. I’m working against him, so anything of his I can undo is something in my favor, but what I’m really seeking is a way to get to Meznik himself. He’s an astral demon and exists on a different level than you or I. That means that taking a sword to him is about as effective as trying to cut shadows.”

I swiped absently at a daisy on the ground with my foot. “What sort of things did you do before you met me?”

“Oh…those are long stories. Complicated too. I get impatient telling them,” her voice changed, dropping a note.

I glanced at her, through my bangs.  “Can you tell me one thing, at least? If my job is to help you remember who you are and what you stand for, then maybe I should get an idea of the woman you were before Meznik?”

Elmiryn smiled, but the curl of her lip seemed a hair’s breath away from a snarl. “I was a fool.” she said, and the conversation ended there.

The gate to Dame was guarded by two men, and I could see between the crenelations of the town wall there were archers keeping sight of all who came near. Elmiryn walked ahead of me and approached one of the armed guards, an amiable smile on her face. “Hail,” she said.

“Hail,” the man returned, his squinted eyes shifting to rest on me. I tried hard to seem unobtrusive, turning my gaze elsewhere.

“We’d like to enter your fine town,” Elmiryn said, nodding toward the gate. “Will you grant us passage?”

“Your business?” the guard asked.

“Food, drink, a place to rest…we won’t even be here long.  One night, at the most.”

“Who’s your friend?”

I tensed and kept my head down. Better to seem bashful and timid than to let him see my eyes. It had, of course, occurred to me that perhaps he had seen them already, but I still I didn’t lift my gaze.  Perhaps it was a childish logic.  Pretend hard enough and the world would pretend with you.

I could hear Elmiryn shrug, the metal of her shoulder guards hissing. “She’s my ward.”  There was a sense of finality to her words, as though any more questions on the matter were unneeded–and unwelcome.

The guard took a moment to consider. Then he said, “You’ll have to check your weapons at the garrison. Those aren’t allowed within town walls. You can retrieve them when you leave.” then he gave a whistle and a second later the gate doors opened inward.

I followed Elmiryn as she passed through. As we proceeded further into town I breathed in deep, taking in the scents. I could smell the smoke and ash from hearth fires, dung from horses, the hay used to feed them, roasting meat and stewing vegetables, freshly dyed cloth, and potpourri. Thatched homes, many of them two-stories, were set neatly side by side in what appeared to be a planned arrangement. Importance seemed to shape the town in an orderly way of business—a trait most trading hot spots shared. Everyone there was so well dressed. Dame was a prosperous town.

I fingered the hole in my collar and decided I’d take Elmiryn up on her offer to mend it.

The both of us entered the garrison, a cold stone building that smelled of steel and sweat. As Elmiryn checked her weapons, she glanced at me and raised an eyebrow.

“You aren’t a turtle, Nyx,” she said.

“I realize that,” I returned, looking up at her. When we left the garrison I continued in a low voice, “If our first encounter was any indication, this area hates my kind. I was actually on my way to leave for someplace safer when we met.”

Elmiryn smiled in a way that made me nervous. “And instead, you met me.”

“Yeah,” I said, glancing at her.

“Go on, lift your head. My job is to keep you safe. If you’ve got to hide all the time, then I must not be doing a good job, right?”

“I suppose…”

“So?”

With a sigh, I laboriously straightened out, my eyes gazing straight ahead. “I like being inconspicuous. Just about everything about me is easy to forget except for my eyes.” I fussed with my bangs, irritated over the fact that one side was so long it tickled my nose, yet the other side had grown only an inch from my hairline. I vowed never to get ‘creative’ with a pair of garden shears again.

“I wouldn’t say you’re easy to forget,” Elmiryn said, clasping her hands behind her back.

I looked at her, skeptical. “Oh?”

She shrugged, and gestured at a group of young girls hovering near a merchants cart. They were cooing over foreign fabrics and giggling at the merchant’s extravagant attempts at getting them to buy his product. “Take those girls for instance. For me, they blend into the background. They are common and easy to ignore.”

“Is that because of your curse?”

“I think the curse just makes it worse. I’d have passed them by without a second look even if I didn’t have this problem.”

“I know you’ve told me what it’s like for you, or tried to, but somehow I can’t even imagine it,” I said, crossing my arms high on my chest and tilting my chin down just slightly. I felt a little exposed walking with my head up like I was. “Has your perceptions changed greatly?”

The woman chuckled.  “Well of course they have! I can’t rely on what I see as I once did.”

I gazed at her in wonder. “So it’s like your blind…”

Elmiryn blinked. Then she smiled and a stronger laugh came up her throat, deep and raw. “I guess I am,” she said. She gave me a nudge, “But it’ll help having someone to lead me, won’t it?”

I glanced at my arm as if she slapped a manacle there. I felt like I was in over my head. Wishing to change the subject, I pointed down the way at a shop sign squeaking on its hinges. It read, “The Red Shield,” and offered a helpful picture for the reading impaired. “Look. There’s an inn,” I said lamely.

The warrior turned her head and nodded. “Good. Let’s see if we can stay the night there.”

ELMIRYN________________________

Brown ale wasn’t her favorite choice of drink, but the nutty, bitter-sweet taste seared through her conscious like a sensual streak from a painter’s brush. The taste filled her, and after she swished the drink sufficiently in her mouth, she swallowed it down and took the mug to her lips for another gulp.

The inn was clouded with tobacco smoke and dust, the patrons there conversing amiably amongst themselves with little regard to those around them. A trusting town. She had almost become used to the shifting glances of skittish customers, the barely contained snarls, the flatulence, dirty faces, and visible weapons. She leaned against the bar, eyes slightly squinted as she regarded a fragile sight at risk of falling away.

Nyx sat on a high stool next to her, slouched and with her back to the room. She was hunched over a bowl of stew, curls of steam brushing the sides of her face as she chewed on a large chunk of beef. The bulge in her cheek tempted Elmiryn to poke it, but she restrained herself with a small grin.

They had secured a room without trouble.  Two beds, but a small space.  The woman didn’t plan on turning in soon.

With one elbow on the counter behind her, Elmiryn swirled the liquid in her mug with a frown. Not the best drink she’d had, but so long as it did what she hoped it would, it didn’t matter.

Sometimes she imagined, when she allowed herself too, that the world before her stood only because she let it. If she wished, a simple push was all that would be needed to send the theatrical backdrop tumbling. The woman wondered what would lie behind the flimsy perceptions. Would there be black nothing, or a radiant truth?

She felt so…small

When she felt the depth of the room suddenly stop at her nose, Elmiryn closed her eyes and pressed herself further back into the counter, so that the edge dug into her spine. It felt like her face were against a wall. She took two deep breaths and reminded herself that this was an impossibility, and her belief could easily be disproved by simply stretching out her hand. So she did so, and felt it press against nothing; no backdrop, no curtain, no wall, just…nothing. She didn’t open her eyes or drop her arm, but instead let her other senses take over.  The sounds of people yards away, the tremble of the floor from footsteps, the brush of air against her face…

“Elmiryn? Something the matter?” Nyx. The girl’s stool squeaked as she turned to regard her. It was sweet, that concern. She let the girl’s voice echo in her head.

“She’s not just a picture, Elmiryn. She’s a living, thinking being.”

A ghost from the past came to haunt her through the present, but she could recall nothing of who they really were, and so, let the warning slip through the sieve of her attention.  Wasn’t it funny, how she could banish these melancholy shards of hushed voices and vague portraits and feel banished from life herself?

Almost as if by will, the warrior made herself feel the room expand. She heard the sound of chairs and silverware scraping ahead of her; felt the thud of goblets and fists against the counter, as well as the circulation of air that teased her face as the inn’s door opened and closed. She took another swig of her ale and felt all right again. Warm even.

Elmiryn let her arm drop.

“Don’t worry, Nyx,” she said, eyes still closed. “Just listen—we’re bound to hear something.”

“I’m not used to these places.” the youth answered.

“To be honest, neither am I,” Elmiryn said. “This place is very tame.”

A small snort. “Oh, I bet you’d love a good bar fight. …Hey, why are you keeping your eyes closed?”

Settled in a zone of comfort, Elmiryn resisted a chuckle at Nyx’s dry comment and gently let out a, “Shhhh,” in answer of her question. She then turned her full attention to the conversations around her.

“…see the new baker’s wife? Boy, I’d love to fill her bun with my…!”

“…been word of a forgetful girl up north, who seems to be looking for…”

“…a marriage next week…!”

“…storms are getting worse. So odd. They aren’t even in season…!”

“…some new parchment going around. People can’t stop buying it…”

“…past the mountains. Word has it that the Medwin River has become poisoned. The people of Gamath are suffering…”

Elmiryn’s eyes snapped open and she looked to her right, where two men sat two tables away, grim looks on their faces. She took another second to listen to them—to watch their lips move—just to make sure she got it right.

“I hear they are having great trouble. The storm passed them by without a drop of rain.” The eldest man said, turning his cup idly. “They’ve been resorting to using fruit to keeping hydrated, but the supply is running low and they lack good meat.  Most of the plants in that area have been killed by the river, and the animals have turned rabid. It’s horrifying how quickly that place has come to smell of death.” He shook his head, liver-spotted face pale and drawn.

“Won’t Tiesmire help?” the other man asked, younger and with a bushy beard.

“King Brice is taking advantage of the whole thing. Tiesmire’s economy has flourished since this tragedy began. No ‘competitors’ to rob them of trade.”

“Has anyone gone to speak to the river’s guardian?”

“The last one that went never came back.  No one knows what happened to him.”

“Perhaps they just need someone more skilled.”

The two men looked up with a start, their eyes resting on Elmiryn’s beaming face. “Hullo. Care to tell me more about this issue?”

The gray-haired man frowned at her sharply. “Who’re you?” he grunted.

The warrior pulled out a chair and sat next to the stranger, her elbows resting on the table. She felt Nyx reluctantly sit on her other side. Elmiryn felt pleased that she didn’t need to tell her to join. “I’m the one who’s going to help Gamath. My name is Elmiryn. I’d like it if you could tell me what you know.”

“But you’re a—”

“Warrior. Yes. You’re right. Do we need drinks?”

“No, no we aren’t interested in—”

Elmiryn snapped her fingers and called over her shoulder.“Inn keeper, can we get four drinks here?”

Nyx began to protest, her tawny eyes going wide. “Oh—no, no, no! I don’t want one!”

The warrior waved off her protests with a crooked smile. Oh yes, the ale was doing its duty. “You’re old enough.” she said jovially to her companion.

The Ailuran grit her teeth. “That’s not what I meant!”

Elmiryn leaned in and muttered out of the corner of her mouth. “It isn’t a big deal. I’ll take your drink if you don’t want it!”

“You’re kidding,” Nyx deadpanned.

“You’re an Ailuran…” the bearded man said, his gaze going narrow.

Nyx paled, and even out of the corner of her eye, Elmiryn could see the girl’s muscles go tense. “No, no. She’s a turnip,” the warrior said, without skipping a beat. All at the table blinked at her. Smiling goofily, she rubbed at her face and said through light chuckles, “She’s my ward. Completely harmless. Doesn’t have the slightest idea how to throw a punch let alone kill a person.”

“No Ailuran is harmless,” The bearded man argued obstinately. “I’ve seen them in battle.  They killed my friends without a thought!”

Elmiryn quirked an eyebrow at him. “You really don’t believe me?”

He slammed his fist onto the table, making Nyx jerk as though she were about to launch into a run.  Elmiryn snatched the front of her gambeson and gave her a sharp look.  The youth looked at her, equally startled by this sudden action.  She fixed the woman with a bewildered stare.  Elmiryn slowly let the girl go, and made a point of raising her eyebrows.

“Trust me, damn it,” she wanted to say.

“Of course I don’t believe you!” the man snarled, going red. “I’m shocked you were even allowed to bring that thing into the town!” He pointed a shaking finger at Nyx.  People around them were beginning to watch.

The warrior shrugged and leaned back. The world shifted as she did so, and a giggle built up in her throat before she brought up her palm in a quick strike upside Nyx’s head. The girl snapped forward from the harsh contact as a loud yelp escaped her lips. Nearly all the tavern stopped and stared now as Nyx rubbed the spot she had been hit, a look of dumbfounded anger on her face.

“That hurt!” she snapped irately.

Elmiryn snickered and raised her hand as if to say to the men, “See?”

With a bang, Nyx stood, her breath coming quick through her nostrils. With a sneer she stormed out of the inn, but not before the warrior noted a glistening at the corners of her eyes. Elmiryn gazed after her, suddenly sorry for what she did.

The woman looked disdainfully at her empty mug and thought, “…If only I’d had two more of these. That may have turned out better then!”

The bearded man shook his head, clearly impressed. “Gods…I’ll admit. I’ve never seen one of her kind take an insult like that so lightly. She behaved more like an embarrassed child!”

“It doesn’t matter about her,” the older man said firmly. He looked at Elmiryn with furrowed brow. “If you want to know about Gamath I’ll tell you all that I know, but I really don’t think you can do anything. The situation is just too terrible.”

The warrior rested her chin on her laced hands and smiled at the man sweetly.

“I’m all ears.”


Back to Chapter 2.2 | Forward to Chapter 2.4

Chapter 2.4

NYX____________________________

That wretched cocksure witch made me want to scream.

How dare she.

How DARE she?

No debt was worth that humiliation, I thought to myself. The nerve, doing that to me in front of those men, as if it didn’t matter? If she made any attempts to explain the issue later, I certainly wasn’t going to indulge her. No clever reasoning could ever forgive the blatant violation of trust. And what of her expectations from me? How did she expect me to take my duty to her seriously after having my pride stepped on like a belly-scraping roach?

Hypocritical bitch.

My skin tingled and my clothes felt tight. Heat flashed over me. Anger and fury played games with my misplaced pride, calling up the ghostly vestiges of self-respect I’d once had.  It seemed to appear from nothing, like sparks from flint, and if I’d thought about the situation more, I’d have seen the gross hypocrisy that existed not just in Elmiryn, but in myself.  I was a Marked therian.  What respect did I deserve from anyone?  But I’d been away from others for a long time, and to have my trust violated in such a way made anger a slow thing to cool.

I closed my eyes and breathed in deeply—taking in the human scents around me. Things to hold onto while my other self writhed. I leaned back against the inn behind me and wondered why it was I separated my current state from my bestial one. ‘Her’, versus ‘me’. Us. Like two things could ever really ever occupy such an uncertain shell. Bitterly, I thought of how my animal counterpart would have stood up for herself given the great insult I suffered. My shoulders deflated with a sigh, and I shook my head, allowing my eyes to open.

“If She were in charge, I wouldn’t be here to begin with.” And this confession seemed enough to quell the stirring creature into silence.

All around, the smells and sounds of town life called to me, draped over me; it was warm like blanket—one that wasn’t mine. I stood awkwardly for a moment before deciding a small walk wouldn’t hurt. Ruffling my uneven mop, I stepped out onto the street. I could hear Elmiryn in my head, saying with amusement, “Good. That’s the first step. What do you do next?”

Gods, she was already becoming a voice in my head.  How pathetic was I?

A group of teenagers stampeded past me, knocking me around in their haste to get by. As they continued out of view, I muttered shakily, “You try not to get run over.”

“That can be quite a task in this busy little town, miss,” a new voice said.

My head turned, and between the passing bodies I made out one man whose gaze locked with mine. Instinctively, I shrunk in on myself and took a step back. I didn’t look away, though. He had already seen my eyes—seen the otherness that colored them. Better to see what he did and react appropriately.

But the man only smiled, his mature countenance wrinkling with mirth at my reaction. Dark eyes peered from beneath a barely connected unibrow—a trait that on anyone else would have seemed brutish or unkempt, but somehow rested regally on him. He extended a hand to me and I could see the blisters in his palm. My suspicion increased and I took a deep breath through my nose. I managed to make out his scent from those around me. Citrus, oil, and earth mixed together with the common scents of a warrior; the scent of leather, metal, and sweat.

“Don’t be afraid, kitten. This lanky oaf means you no harm,” he said. His voice was calm and deep. I was reminded of my mother’s heartbeat when I slept beside her. Reluctantly I came closer.

“What do you want?” I asked, my eyes wide and wary.

“You seem upset,” the stranger said, brushing his overgrown coal-gray hair away from his face. He was seated on a thick honey-colored wicker basket, which was turned over and strained beneath the weight of his long body. His legs were bent as if he were ready to spring away at any moment, and the cloth of his crimson aketon was tinged a darker shade in some places. “I saw you come in with your friend,” the man continued, nodding toward the direction of the gate, “And next I know it you’re outside that inn with the most puckered face I ever laid eyes on.” He shook his head, looking at me sympathetically. “She did something brash, didn’t she?”

I crossed my arms and frowned at him. “Do you know her?”

The dark man chuckled. “Personally? Oh, heavens no. But her eyes say a lot. Sharp eyes, yes, but eyes that wander—like she’s looking for something. A little aimless. Careless in their own way. You could say I was just waiting to see you come out of that inn by yourself.”

“And of me? What did you gather from seeing me?”

“That’s a trap, young girl. I won’t go tripping that anytime soon. Too many men have stuck their foots in their mouths from a question like that.”

I shook my head and waved him off. “This is silly. I shouldn’t even be talking to you.” I started to walk away.

“I bet your life makes it hard to speak casually with anyone, kitten. But you should know that not everyone in this region wants your kind dead.”

I turned and glared at him, my eyes searing. “Shh!” I hissed. I went back to him and said through tight lips, “Most haven’t noticed what I am, and I’d like to keep it that way! And stop calling me kitten, for gods sakes. I hardly know you!”

“Sorry,” the man said. He held out his hand, “I’m Tobias. Not from around here, as you can probably guess.”

I didn’t take his hand. “Leave me alone,” I snapped. I stalked back toward the inn, deciding that finishing my bowl of stew seemed a lot nicer than dealing with odd men.

“I’ve got something I think you’d like. Something that might take your mind off things when they get hard.” he called after me, his voice carrying easily through the bustle that surrounded us.

Against my better judgment, I stopped. I looked back at him over my shoulder, trying to seem indifferent despite my curiosity. Tobias smiled, his large upper-teeth a little crooked but otherwise endearing in an honest, openhearted sort of way. He reached behind him, rummaging through things I couldn’t see, and a moment later he straightened again with a worn, leather-bound book in his hands. I frowned and turned fully as he stood and crossed the stream of passerby to hand it to me. He towered over all he passed.

The man stopped just short of arm’s length and held out the book. I thought for a moment before I took it gingerly from him, half-expecting him to grab me as soon as I did so, but he didn’t move. Instead, Tobias only gave a satisfied nod and went back to where he had sat and picked up a traveler’s bag from behind the basket.

“There. I hope you enjoy that,” he said, returning to me. He shouldered his bag.

I blinked at him. “Why give me this? What is it?”

“Poetry, thoughts, small stories. It has a little of everything,” Tobias said with a shrug.

“That’s it? This is what you planned on doing all along?”

“You sound disappointed.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I just…I mean…why?

The man quickly tapped his long finger on my head before I could react. “Because you seemed like the grounded, intellectual sort. Or perhaps, a person who could be one.” He winked before walking away. I stared after him, mouth slightly agape.

“When you tire of the book,” he called over his shoulder, “Trade it for another! It’s the only way things like that should be shared.” And after that, even my keen eyes couldn’t make him out of the smear of the crowd—colors and scents melding together in a great and formless herd as the suns crept closer to the horizon. I looked at the book in my hand skeptically. There was no title to it.

I went to the basket and sat down. It didn’t sag nearly as much as it did with the man. Nervously I looked around me before I opened the book and began to read.

‘There was not enough in me to speak lest I drown. Any other dawn and this man would have been as brave as a minute—knowing nothing more than that moment’s charge of exhilaration and fulfillment by the sweep of his sword…’

ELMIRYN________________________

There is no barring imagination from reality when walls shift and waver, and humor makes a home in bruises and dust. She delighted in the weight of her limbs. Lyrical language and capricious phrases darted about her head in a game of tag. Her tongue tingled with want of speaking these nonsensical fragments, but Elmiryn refrained, aware she lacked an audience.

When she came outside of the inn, the air was cool and the sky had shifted to a glorious velvet. The merchants were long since packed and gone, only a small crowd of folk wandering here to there, taking care of things before they were expected to retreat for the night. The warrior spotted Nyx across the way, sitting on a basket with her head bowed down and what appeared to be a book in her hands. She cantered towards her.

“Hullo there, my kitten in cutie’s clothing. What is that you’ve got?” Elmiryn chirped. She bent over and tilted her head to one side, her body swaying. “Is it because of what you are that you can read out here with so little light?” the woman asked.

Nyx sighed and stopped reading, her tawny eyes rolling up to glower at her companion.

Elmiryn pouted. “You’re still mad at me,” she grumbled asininely.

“That’s very astute of you, considering your head’s drowned in ale.” Nyx looked back at her book. “Step back, please. I’ve got a sensitive nose and you’re making my eyes water.”

Elmiryn knelt down with a flop before the girl and blew wisps of hair away from her forehead. “My head isn’t swimming just with ale, you know,” she said matter-of-factly. “It’s also swimming with information!

“Lovely. I can just imagine what that would look like,” was the dry response.

“We’re going to Gamath.”

“Fine. Go to bed. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Elmiryn shifted so that she could stare up into Nyx’s face. She blinked a lot, trying to get a fix on the girl’s face, which just didn’t seem to sit still.

The youth looked up at her in annoyance. “What?” she snapped.

“I don’t want you to be mad at me,” the woman said, cerulean eyes lidded. She leaned forward unsteadily, her neck straining as she tried to look at Nyx full on. The girl sat back with a curl of her lip. “C’mon…please don’t be mad,” Elmiryn beseeched. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. Honest!”

The girl frowned at her. “Sweet Aelurus, you’re just like a child!

“Sweet as a babe when drunk, my mother says,” Elmiryn said proudly. “It’s also been said that I’m more attractive when tipsy. I’d say I’m beyond that state, right? So what would you make of me now, Nyx? Am I…desirable?” The woman waggled her brows.

Nyx stared. Her cheeks became flushed, so much so that even Elmiryn noticed it in the poor light.

“Hey, it’s working!” The warrior said, her voice strained as she held back a giggle. “And to think, I didn’t expect that line to go anywhere!”

“It hasn’t!” Nyx huffed. She stood to her feet and began to stomp away. “Gods, I can’t believe you! I thought there was some level of respectability in you, but here you are acting like a callow, fatuous nincompoop!”

“Wait! Come back! I’m still apologizing!” Elmiryn stumbled to her feet, limbs in seeming rebellion; but as she fixed her eyes on Nyx, she shifted her weight and followed through with her momentum, her mind caught up with her desires and she found herself moving purposefully in a calculated line. The woman managed to stop before the girl, successfully cutting her off. Nyx stared at her in surprise.

Elmiryn held up her hands, her breath heavy. “Now wait! Just wait!

“No.” Nyx said vehemently, the muscles in her face strained. “You’re acting like a buffoon, and I’d rather not talk to you like this. It’s shameful.”

“Shameful.” Elmiryn’s face fell.  She rubbed the back of her neck and looked down at the ground. “How is it that you take words and give them so much meaning? Am I really so blind…that it has to be brought to my attention all the time?”

The Ailuran faltered. “…Sorry?”

The woman looked up at the girl, her wavering gaze somehow brighter by the drink in her system. The space between them seemed so great, and there was something vibrant, but flat about Nyx that made Elmiryn’s eyes water. She slowly stretched out a hand toward the girl, and when the youth didn’t pull away, she stroked her cold cheek.

Elmiryn trusted the contact.

“I like drinking. It isn’t a very admirable habit, but I do it when I can.” Elmiryn’s face went blank and she took back her hand. “I think differently like this. Sometimes what I come up with isn’t the brightest of ideas…but there’s sincerity here,” Elmiryn pointed emphatically at her head and looked at Nyx pleadingly. “I’m sorry. I’m. Sorry. It won’t happen again. I swear on my mother’s life.”

Nyx flinched and hurriedly took the woman’s shoulder. “No, no, no! Never do that. Ever. Not for me. The way you’re acting it’s as if you’re afraid I’d leave. I still have my debt to you, remember?”

“Your debt.” Elmiryn rubbed at her eye and placed a hand on her hip. Her nose tickled, and she wiped at it a little more forcefully then necessary. “That’s right. You’re still indebted to me. For saving your life.”

The youth nodded, now watching Elmiryn carefully. “Yes,” she said slowly. “That’s right.” She indicated gingerly toward the inn. “Let’s get inside. We should rest if we’re to set out tomorrow…”

She led Elmiryn by the arm toward the inn, where they entered. The company inside had dwindled to those that were staying the night. The stairs that led to the second floor were at the back across from the bar. Nyx pulled the warrior along to their room.

Elmiryn cherished this. The sudden care that rested in her companion’s touch. There were dying embers of anger in the girl’s eyes, but a softness was coming over them that the warrior wanted desperately to believe in. She wouldn’t say it, but Nyx was sobering. Perhaps because the woman rarely found herself in the company of such a person, or because any individual she found herself with in the past had never been expected to remain past morning.

“Nyx,” Elmiryn whispered as they entered their room—two beds on either side of the modest space, their things at the foot of each. “I lied earlier today. I did.” The warrior muttered as she was led to her bed, where she sat on the edge ungracefully. The world was getting too heavy. It didn’t swing or sway in an ideal way, but a way that made the woman wish to close her eyes and fall to nothing.

Elmiryn was beginning to feel small again.

Nyx placed her book on her bed and knelt down onto the floor, where she began to untie her companion’s boots. “What is it, Elmiryn,” she asked, distracted with her task.

“There’s some more conditions. Besides the one I told you. You’ve really gotta know.”

The girl looked up at her, her eyebrow raised. “Yes? What are they?”

“Stay with me. As much as you can. Please.”

Nyx frowned at her. “Elmiryn, I am with you. I told you, I won’t leave.” She tugged off one boot and set on the other.

Elmiryn shook her head, brows pressed together as she leaned down. “No. I mean stay with me. You don’t leave my side unless you’ve got to, okay? You’re my anchor. You’re my anchor now, and if staying with me means getting angry and calling me an unfair bitch in front of other people, then so be it—but don’t you go. Please promise me.”

The youth gazed up at her with a look that Elmiryn couldn’t quite pin. “All right… Okay, Elmiryn. I…I promise.” she said quietly.

Nyx pulled off the last boot and the woman shook her head, a smirk now flashing on her face. “And that’s another thing…” she began, voice low and thick as she laid back onto the bed.

“What?” the girl asked, pulling the sheets over her.

“Call me Elle. Having someone like you calling me by my full name just makes me feel old.” Elmiryn’s eyes closed for a moment. Then they snapped open again. “…And y’know, it really isn’t fair that I can’t call you a cute pet name. Your name’s already short. So unfair. That is just really unfair! …And hey, wait a second! You didn’t tell me what callow and fatuous meant!”

Nyx offered an exasperated smile and patted Elmiryn’s arm.

“Good night, Elle…”


Back to Chapter 2.3 | Forward to Chapter 3.1