Tributaries Cover In Sight, In Mind Cover Blackwood Cover

Chapter 10.1

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-Illise M.

ELMIRYN________________________

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…

“…Elle?”

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.”

“Yes.”

“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.


Back to Chapter 9.3 | Forward to Chapter 10.2

Chapter 10.2

ELMIRYN________________________

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.

“This is 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!”

“…Huh?”

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.”

Sixth.

“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.”

Ninth.

“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.”

NYX____________________________

Spiced wine, 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?”

“O-Opal.”

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

“Yes!”

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.


Back to Chapter 10.1Forward to Dragon's Night

Chapter 10.3

[WhospeaksWhothinksWhoknowsThewayThatchanceWouldcallSwiftaction]

???____________________________

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?

–Tick……tick…–

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.

Quincy.

His partner paused.  Looked back at him.

–Tick…ti………..–

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–

ELMIRYN________________________

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.

“Elle.”

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

shadows

walkways

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.

“Elmiryn?”

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

“I’m still thirsty…”


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