Tributaries Cover In Sight, In Mind Cover Blackwood Cover

Chapter 41.2

NYX__________________________

Scars. Paulo was covered in strange scars. A mess of lines and shapes on his cinnamon skin. Then I remembered.

Back when this whole mess began, Syria, along with her control of Lethia, had carved those into his skin using fire.

“Paulo,” I repeated when the boy didn’t speak. I looked over at Lethia and Quincy. Lacertli had excused himself in the usual abrupt manner. The enchantress hadn’t emerged from the safety of Argos’s fur, and the wizard had frozen where she was–half crouched over her husband’s body. Something about her stance, even in the dim light, felt rigid.

I looked back at Paulo, and saw that he had approached a few steps. The blanket he shrouded himself with stirred with the wind, and more of his features were revealed. He looked older, in the way that my brother Thaddeus had looked older when he returned from his first season at war.

“You’re…real?” Paulo croaked. “Nyx? That’s you?”

I blinked, bewildered by the question. My voice was slow in answering. “Yes. Yes, Paulo, I’m real. We all are!”

He looked at the others. “Quincy…? That really you?”

Quincy straightened slowly. “It’s me.” Something was off about her voice.

“Have you–Do you know where Graziano is? Arduino? Where is my family?”

Where her husband’s coma had previously failed to crack her brave face, Quincy suddenly crumpled at Paulo’s question. She looked down at her hands, which started to wring together, then looked up again, shoulders hunched. “I don’t know where Arduino is. I–But Paulo, Graziano… He’s dead.”

The news slid off of Paulo’s skin like rain water.

Pulling the blanket off of his head, the boy ventured closer. I was surprised to see that his hair had grown to his shoulders. How much time had passed for him here? “Quincy, where is my family?”

Quincy hurried forward, fighting her way up through the snow. She had her hands held up. I wasn’t sure if she was trying to reassure Paulo or ward him off. “Paulo. Listen to me. Graziano is dead!”

“Where are my brothers, Quincy?” Paulo asked again, but his voice had gone quieter. Colder.

I took a step back as Quincy stopped near me. Up close, I could see the tears in her eyes now. “Graz et moréChoi,” she murmured.

“YOU’RE A FUCKING LIAR!” Paulo bellowed, and he advanced on us, suddenly drawing his rapier.

Without thinking, I leapt in front of Quincy and shouted. “Paulo, stop! Why would we lie to you!?”

Paulo pointed his rapier at Quincy, forcing me to shove the wizard further behind me as I moved to dodge being accidentally slashed in his fury.

Two years!” He snarled. “Two years I was left to rot in this eternal winter with no way of leaving, and Quincy let it happen! This bitch let me and Graziano walk into a trap, so if he’s dead, it’s her fault!”

“That isn’t true–!” I started to argue, but Quincy grabbed my shoulders and flung me aside.

She was still crying, but her face had started to harden back into what could be called the wizard’s usual expression.

“Don’t go speaking about things you don’t know!” she snapped at me.

I glared at her, scandalized. “I’m trying to defend you!”

Quincy hissed at me through her teeth, seemingly oblivious of Paulo’s sword tip pressed into her throat. “I do not deserve nor want your defense! If you want to help, then take Hakeem and the girl up to that campfire before they die of cold!”

I threw my hands up into the air and shrilled, “Fine! Üle lunam? Yibken! I don’t care! You’re on your own!”

I stormed over to Hakeem’s body, which in the slight wind had already started to cover with snow. As I passed Lethia and Argos, I barked, “Argos! Lethia! Stop blubbering and help me!”

Argos whined, but I heard him follow. As I stooped to heft Hakeem up into a sitting position, I muttered darkly, “I’m cold, numb, tired, hungry, spurned–and of all the people I could be stuck with, I have these cajecks!

The dog grumbled at my remarks as he came alongside, but I didn’t apologize. I just hefted Hakeem up (no small feat, let me just say) and put him on Argos’s back. In truth, the dog’s strength was probably comparable to my own, but simple physics made his large frame more capable of carrying Hakeem than I.

As it turned out, Lethia had followed us, and with her help, we kept Hakeem’s body steady on Argos as he made the arduous return to Paulo’s camp. The enchantress seemed to shrink the closer we got to Paulo and Quincy. The boy only had eyes for the wizard however as they spoke in tight, quiet tones back and forth. We passed them without a word.

Finally we reached the camp.

The cold was such that despite the fire being so near, I couldn’t feel its effects until I was a foot or two from its warmth. But even its draw didn’t have me like my old belongings did. Sitting at the edge of what seemed to be a giant horde of scavenged things was my modest little bag of trinkets, and next to that, my old clothes.

I nearly cried at the sight.

Rushing to set down Hakeem, I immediately went to my clothes and started to dress–first my trousers, then my boots, then my undershirt, then my gambeson. Certain other little items, like my stockings and my bandages were still missing. I was also so numb by this point that I knew it would take a while longer before I’d feel the full effect of my newly returned clothes. But I didn’t care.

I had my mother’s gambeson back, and that was all that mattered.

Returning to the fire, I sat across from Lethia and Argos, who had returned to huddling close to the fire. Next to them lay Hakeem on a blanket. I scooted close to the flames, letting my feet soak in the warmth. Looking over at Quincy and Paulo still in the shadowy cold, I could see they wouldn’t be returning any time soon. Well that was fine by me. I wasn’t sure I could take any more melodrama. My patience and goodwill was taxed.

I returned my gaze back to Lethia. “Can you sense the way out from here?”

She looked at me from amid Argo’s furry shoulder, and I could see the red in her puffy eyes.

When she didn’t answer, I scowled. “Lethia? Did you hear me?”

“…Yes,” she responded meekly. She gave a wet sniffle and hid her gaze again.

I clenched my jaw. “Then? Do you know how we can get out of here?”

Again, I got silence. Finally Lethia mumbled, “No.”

“Wonderful,” I sighed.

If Paulo’s change in appearance was any indication, we could be there a very long time…

Gods, to be stuck here for that long with these people!

“Maybe I should just let myself freeze to death,” I muttered next.

 

QUINCY________________________

Quincy swallowed and she could feel Paulo’s rapier tip sink into her skin just enough to bring forth a bead of blood. She found the young man’s eyes, shadowed by his tight brow, and she held them as best she could.

The wizard had been prepared for many things. She had been prepared for another fight, for a timely return home, for her husband to wake from his coma… But somehow, in the hustle that she had found herself swept in since finding Graziano’s body, she hadn’t thought to reunite with Paulo. She had almost taken it for granted that he was also dead. Did she feel sorry for not searching for him harder before? …No. It was clear now that it was meant to be this way. And she hardly had enough reason to strike out searching for the boy on the other shards when they were being accosted by outside forces. He was the last discovery they had to make, the lost thing that had to be found on this path home. Why? She wasn’t sure. But what Quincy did chastise herself for, was not being better prepared for this meeting.

Loathe as she was to admit it, Elmiryn was perhaps better equipped to break the news to Graziano. Quincy, with few to grieve for in her life, didn’t know how to handle such loss. The closest she had to that was when Jack, her father, abandoned her and was never heard from again. But it wasn’t the same. Quincy stared deep into Paulo’s warm eyes and knew it just wasn’t the same.

“I’m sorry you had to hear it from me…of all people,” she said. “But it’s like Nyx told you. What reason would I have to lie?”

Paulo’s mouth curled into a sneer. “Two years gives a person a lot of time to think. I thought about that night, when the others came with Syria. You stayed behind. You knew what was going to happen, and you let us walk right into it!” At these last words, Paulo pressed in deeper with the rapier, forcing Quincy back half a step.

She winced and closed her eyes. “I know. That was wrong of me.”

“Yes! It was! So when you tell me that you have no reason to lie…I don’t believe you! You always have a reason to lie! You are like a snake in the tall grass, waiting to strike!”

Quincy opened her eyes again and felt the tears she had kept at bay slip down her cheeks. “I was a different person then!”

The teenager let out a short caustic laugh, and with his rapier, he flicked at her brown hair. “Yeah. I can see you’ve changed.”

“No, I mean–” Quincy broke off. This wasn’t a time to quibble about the details. Was she really so different just because Tonatiuh’s spirit no longer possessed her? She bowed her head. “I don’t know what else to tell you, except that I’m sorry…”

Paulo didn’t respond, but Quincy could see from her peripherals how the teenager’s sword tip wavered.

When the boy spoke, his voice was choked with emotion. “Do you have his gun?” he asked tightly.

Quincy sighed. “I don’t. Elmiryn does.”

“And where is she?”

“I don’t know. We think she might meet up with us later, once we escape this place.”

Paulo snorted. “Escape? There is no way out!”

Quincy looked at him sharply. “There has to be!”

“If there was, do you think I would’ve stayed here for two years? Alone in the snow?”

The wizard blinked at him. “How did you survive?”

Paulo glared at her before looking away. He sheathed his rapier and the tension melted from Quincy’s shoulders. “At first,” the boy started, but then he broke off, growling.

He turned and looked up the hill to the campfire. He tried again, this time with a stronger voice. “At first I looked. Tried to find any sign of the others. The supplies we had left were all still there, but I had to hide them, because these…these ghost people would come. I think they were scavenging the old prison tower. I tried leaving this place when it became clear that no one was around, but then I found out that there is nothing else beyond this place! It’s just an island floating in nothing.

Quincy rubbed her arms, trying to fend off the cold. The numbness was creeping up her legs. “Were you always in winter here?”

Paulo swallowed audibly. “Yes.” He pinched his blanket tight around him and glared at her again. “I was alone here, in the cold, with no way out.”

“Paulo, if we could’ve come here sooner, we would have!”

The boy just shook his head. The motion felt weary and resentful. “It doesn’t matter anymore. Now we’re all stuck here.”

“But how did you survive? You still haven’t said,Quincy pressed. If the boy was right about being stuck out here, then she wanted to know what resources they had to work with.

“I did what I could! I hunted what little game came my way. Scavenged for tools out in the daesce valley. Right now I’m collecting daesce hide to make warmer clothes. The dog…Argos. When he came, my luck really turned. He helped with food and fending off the daesce.” Paulo jerked his head behind him. “He saved my life.”

Quincy pursed her lips. She reached toward him. “Paulo, we’ll find a way–”

“Don’t touch me!” He snapped, swatting away her hand. He pulled his blanket back over his head, shrouding his face in darkness. The whites of his eyes seemed to burn from the shadows and Quincy felt her head ache inexplicably. “Just because I’m not trying to kill you right now doesn’t mean I won’t try later! I haven’t forgiven you for what you’ve done!”

With a sweep, Paulo turned and marched back up the hill.

Quincy gazed after him, her shoulders sagging.

“Fair enough…” she murmured.


Back to Chapter 41.1 | Forward to The Spectre

Chapter 40.1

ELMIRYN______________________

Elmiryn once had a pet cat of sorts. He was an old fat tabby that hunted on her family’s estate, killing rodents and the like. As a child, she had loved chasing him around the yard, and sometimes she snuck a treat to feed him. The tabby didn’t have a name and wasn’t particularly fond of petting, but in odd turns, the surly creature always seemed to be close by her. If she looked out the window, he was there, sleeping in the plants. If she looked up a tree, he was peering down at her with his green slitted eyes. If she woke in the night, the cat was there, sitting on her dresser and watching her sleep.

Then Warner shot the cat around the time of Elmiryn’s seventh birthday, and the animal was replaced with a yippy little terrier that the girl hated.

The image of her father standing over the tabby’s corpse was something that she would remember for a long time, and though the cat had been nowhere near her thoughts lately, the moment of its death came rushing back to the warrior as she took in the sight of Syria standing over Kali.

Elmiryn was not fond of Kali for a variety of reasons, but despite her feelings, a great sense of outrage came over her.

When she charged Syria, she did it with sword up and yelling. There was no use in being stealthy. Syria may not have been able to read her mind, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t sense her presence.

Syria moved away from Kali, and the cat did not rise, her eyes staring fearfully into the dark. Elmiryn slowed her charge until she had successfully maneuvered herself between the enchantress and the feline.

“Kali,” Elmiryn said, not taking her eyes off of her opponent.

No response.

Frowning, the woman dared to move back slowly until she could glance down at Kali. The Twin’s mouth moved, and her throat muscles tensed, but her bulging eyes turned to Elmiryn, and the warrior finally understood what was happening.

“Let her breath,” Elmiryn hissed at Syria, her grip on her sword tightening.

Syria cocked her head to one side. “But why? Will you stop attacking me if I do?”

Elmiryn took a step forward. “Kali is not the one you were ordered to kill!”

Syria’s brow wrinkled and she gave a small chuckle. “She is connected to Nyx, is she not? If one twin dies, the other will soon follow. Nyx’s incomplete soul will be devoured by this dimension, and she cannot escape to our world in her weakened state. I have won.”

The warrior’s jaw tightened. “I can unravel Kali. I can unravel her, save her essence, and put her back into Nyx–no more separate consciousness or any of that bullshit!”

Syria smiled. “But you won’t. You aren’t the Spider. You cannot work with the patterns of others, and attempting to do so could kill them.” She craned her head to look at Kali. “Oh! It appears she’s passed out. Impressive. She managed to beat her childhood record of two minutes.”

Elmiryn nearly turned her back on Syria right then, but her years of training beat out her emotion, and she managed to keep her eyes focused forward. The enchantress glanced at the fight that was taking place in the Real World, and she made a small appreciative sound.

“You’re in a bind aren’t you?” Syria murmured. “You want to keep fighting, but killing me won’t mean that Kali will breathe again. I’ve turned off that part of her brain. You can’t take Kali back to Lethia either, because Kali only exists apart from Nyx in the shadows. Attempting to bring her into the light will only result in her vanishing, and without access to her, the Twins’ fate would be sealed. It’s a paradox, of course, that she could’ve done this to begin with. But that’s what this dimension allows for. Division, even if it has to break the rules to do it.”

“Division…” Elmiryn murmured. She dared a glance at Kali as her mind began to turn, cobbling together a plan. Slowly, the warrior returned to Kali’s side and crouched down. As she did so, she spoke, “And you? The Other Place divides things. It must have taken something from you.”

Syria laughed, but the sound was cold. Her eyes now turned up to Izma. “My joy. But that was something Izma arranged for.”

Elmiryn sheathed her sword and grabbed Kali’s arms, pulling her into a sitting position. The feline’s head lolled disconcertingly. “Arranged for? How do you mean? What could the demon want that for?”

“She didn’t want it,” Syria snapped. “She wanted it gone.” This made Elmiryn freeze mid-grab with her arms around Kali’s torso just as Syria turned to look at her.

“What are you doing…?” The enchantress asked slowly.

Elmiryn finished hefting Kali over her shoulder, her eyes fluttering as she looked at Syria to Izma, then Meznik. “She didn’t like your joy, huh?” she mused aloud.

“Elmiryn–”

“You know, Meznik feeds off of my hatred? But he and Izma are different aren’t they? Even though they’re both astral demons, they’re different, and that means they want different things.” Elmiryn flashed Syria a grin. “You don’t have hatred in you. I could see it then at Holzoff’s, and I can see it now. That isn’t what makes Izma want you.”

Syria’s only response was to raise her hands, and with their rise followed the earth before her, the soil and dirt churning into a wall before it blasted outward toward Elmiryn. In all this time, the enchantress had focused on using mostly gravity magic, and the warrior was surprised to see her resort to an elemental approach. But with her fae shield up and her feet kicking her up into the air, where the resulting dust held her, the woman ran, as fast as she could.

Nyx had once explained to the warrior how the Umbralands was the barrier between her mind and the Somnium. The Ailuran had once visited Elmiryn in her mind, could she do the same?

“Cat, there are so many things that can go wrong with this, but the one thing I really hope for is that you can heal that pea-sized brain of yours in time!” Elmiryn huffed.

Behind her, Syria screamed.

QUINCY________________________

In all her life, there was no one Quincy trusted more than Hakeem. She would wake from nightmares to find he was always there, his deep voice a bulwark to any resurgent demons that wished to wreak havoc with her heart. Even in the detached brilliance that was Tonatiuh’s power, her affection for him was something she could not quell. It seemed in those burning, golden days of distance, he was waiting for her to return to him. Patient. Ever patient. And it pained her to admit that Hakeem had adopted a stony disposition because of how emotionally vacant she had become. Her taika had known a greater source of self-restraint since he was a child, but there had always been a passion in his actions, and she had brought him to bury these things for her selfish pursuit of power.

Quincy wondered if she could ever forgive herself that.

Syria was an enchantress. She read minds–saw the hidden truth of people. The wizard was almost certain that Hakeem’s cold and ruthless assault on them was another ploy–another tactic to hurt her with.

…And she hated that she saw it that way. She hated that her mind, even in emotional turmoil, could not stop seeing the angles to victory. This was Hakeem. Not a monster or a rival. This was personal, and yet Quincy wondered if her failure was not in feeling pain, but not feeling enough of it.

Hakeem certainly wasn’t holding back, but Quincy was certain this wasn’t him exercising his ultimate power. Her husband’s armor, like all wizarding artifacts, had drawbacks for its uses–but should one be willing to make those sacrifices, the Aeumani Armor could achieve terrifying things. Ripping a hole in space and time, or leveling a mountain with gravitational force, was theoretically possible, but doing so would kill Hakeem in the process. This was why Hakeem had always been circumspect in what capacity he used his magic armor. What Quincy was observing in this fight, however, was still less of the usual power input. Oh it was certainly still dangerous, and the others were no doubt believing this was Hakeem when he was free of restraint, but Quincy gathered that Syria’s total control of him whilst still functioning herself must’ve lowered what both were capable of.

…It was an effect Quincy had seen once before long ago, with the Spider. Arachne. Controlling others may have been a terrifying concept, but doing so was hubris. A mortal mind could only handle so much in simultaneity, no matter how powerful they were.

Quincy just didn’t know how to capitalize on such information.

It had been a few minutes since Elmiryn had vanished, and Quincy had no idea where she’d gone. Nyx didn’t seem to know, but then again she’d been incapacitated to the point of not being able to crawl, so this didn’t surprise the woman. Lethia on the other hand gave off the air of being unconcerned–making Quincy believe that she had something to do with Elmiryn suddenly leaving the fight. But with Hakeem once again in pursuit of Nyx, the brunette’s suppositions were low on her priority list for the time being.

Taika!” she cried, as she threw Eate’s Son Hakeem’s way. The resulting cyclone swept the man up and away from Nyx, who had healed enough that she could at least limp away, her balance stumbling as the edges of the winds buffeted her pale form.

While the man was up in the air, Lethia aimed Quincy’s lightning staff at him, and before Quincy could tell her not to, a bolt of energy lanced through Hakeem, leaving the arc of warped space and time he’d just created unused as he tumbled helpless through the air.

“Hakeem!” Quincy yelled as she caught Eate’s Son and threw it again. She took off running, watching as the magical boomerang scythed through the air in high speed toward her husband. The tight arc she had aimed her weapon in reached its apex just as Hakeem neared impact. The resulting effect was a wide gust of twisting air–too wide and weak to be a full tornado, and yet strong enough to affect the trajectory of her husband, whose heavy armored body slowed and swung at the ground at an angle, lessening his impact.

Quincy caught Eate’s Son, its return so quick it stung her hand painfully, and she hurried to Hakeem’s side, one hand checking his pulse, the other holding her sword’s pommel up in case she needed to knock him out with it. Lethia approached, but stopped a few feet off, her chest heaving as she glared at Hakeem’s prone body. She aimed Quincy’s staff at the man’s chest, ready to fire off another bolt.

Quincy was relieved to find her husband’s pulse, but she didn’t spend long rejoicing as she turned to criticize the young enchantress. “You little fool! What do you think you’re doing, blasting off like that?”

“Hakeem isn’t in there anymore, Quincy,” Lethia said without looking at her. “It’s his body, but–”

“And I’m supposed to take the word of an amnesiac?” Quincy snapped.

“You did before!” The girl shot back.

Nyx’s voice floated to them, making them look up. “What matters is whether or not he’ll keep attacking,” she panted, still cradling her chest as she neared. The Ailuran looked like a fresh corpse the way blood and dirt seemed to exaggerate the paleness of her skin. But she looked more or less healed now, and Quincy was relieved. It was getting tiresome trying to keep her husband from single-mindedly smashing the girl’s head in with only unpredictable tornadoes and an ordinary sword to hold him at bay.

Quincy lowered her sword as she gazed at Hakeem again. “I think…he may be done. He must’ve hit his head on the landing.”

“Syria isn’t done with him yet…” Lethia murmured ominously. Quincy could see her staff tip crackling with static as the youth squeezed it with her hands.

“Then I will kill her before she can do more harm!” The brunette snarled.

Nyx let out a cry, making both women turn to look at her.

“Now what?” Quincy groused.

Honestly, how much more time does this girl need to sort herself out?

Nyx looked at them with eyes wide. She had both hands at either side of her head.

“I–I don’t know!” she stammered. “I just felt–”

But the Ailuran’s voice cut off with a dry rasp as she grabbed her throat with both hands. She looked at the others in alarm, and it took them too long to realize that she couldn’t breathe. Just when Quincy thought the girl would take a gasp, Nyx’s eyes rolled into the back of her head and she collapsed.

The wizard jumped to her feet, shouting at the same time that Lethia cast aside her staff to go to Nyx’s side.

Up above, Meznik chuckled in his alien music voice:

Fraying, fraying, little thread…

Izma joined in, matching his sick sing-song:

The sum is totaled…and thou art dead!

 


Back to Chapter 39.3 | Forward to Chapter 40.2

Chapter 39.1

NYX____________________________

Out there, on that scarred field where malevolent beings had devastated the land with their depravities, all of us stood at a standstill, poised to fight and teetering on the edge of what could very well be a calamitous showdown. The soil beneath my bare feet was dark and muddy, and my toes squished in it, clenching and digging in anticipation. But I could see, in the lightless light of the Other Place, that the moisture that softened the earth beneath me was not water, but blood. In messy patches, it scabbed over the earth. If we weren’t careful, our blood would soon be joining the messy soup at our feet as well.

Elmiryn opened her mouth to speak, and I could tell by her expression that she was set to shoot off a witticism, but a loud boom cut her off and made us seize up like cornered animals. The source of the noise became quickly apparent, even without Quincy calling out and pointing. In a plume of dust and debris, something had blasted its way out of Izma’s tower and was now jettisoning towards us. My eyes squinted, struggling to assess just what the thing was—and then it dawned on me that this was not a thing, but a person.

And when they landed hard at the ground beneath Izma, dust rising from the crater that leveled with their impact, the sick realization of just who Izma’s champion was hit me in full.

“Syria…” I moaned. This would be the one trying to kill me. The one I was supposed to keep Elmiryn from killing. Oh this would be a disaster, I was sure of it.

The master enchantress straightened, her long silky black hair curtaining about her face. She wore a dark sequined dress, cut scandalously down the front, that clung to her voluptuous body. She wore no shoes…for her feet were rootish and wooden, their ends anchoring into the soil. She was a demon’s pet, enslaved to Izma’s mad designs. Was this the sort of transformation that awaited Elmiryn?

Since all this had started, I hadn’t thought of Syria as much as I perhaps should have. I’d been too preoccupied with surviving, with regaining the things I had lost. But now the question came to me…the Other Place was a place of division. Each of us had lost something in coming here. Me, my Twin; Quincy, Tonatiuh; Elmiryn, her physical form; Hakeem, his years; Farrel, his moral direction; Argos, his loyalty. Looking at Lethia, I knew it was the same case with her, though I didn’t know exactly what her sacrifice had been. Surely then, if all of us had suffered such a fate, a dog included, what did the enchantress lose?

When her gaze turned my way, Syria’s face bore a thin smile, and I could see that her eyes were red-ringed and swollen. Had she been…crying?

Lethia made a sound–and I could not tell if she were trying to swallow a sob or muster up the courage to say something. Her face showcased a sort of despair I felt uncomfortably familiar with. It was a look of regret. Of guilt. The anger in me flared.

She was still loyal to Syria this whole time! I thought, before I could stop myself.

Kali snorted at my brashness. Idiot. Listen!

What the teenager said next dispelled my foolish theory quickly, as my Twin so gently indicated. “I should’ve killed you…” Lethia intoned. “Then this wouldn’t be happening!”

“But you didn’t,” Syria replied, and her voice lacked the smug confidence I had been expecting. If anything, she sounded…disappointed.

“We don’t have to do this. We can just walk away!” I cried, trying to be reasonable, though I knew it was pointless. Syria, in her madness, was intent on following Izma despite nearly being discarded. Elmiryn, in her ambition to kill Meznik, was going to go through with her plan of playing along to the demon’s wishes. We’d all heard the others commands. We all knew there was no recourse, and it was a mistake on my part, to pretend there was. It made me sound weak and scared–which I was, but that was besides the point. Harmony had granted me the strength of presence, and right now, I was destroying whatever progress I’d made in my new image.

Not that it would’ve worked on Elmiryn, anyway.

She carefully moved away from Lethia, and Syria and I moved with her, all of us tensely united in our opposition of one another. The scenario was turning my stomach into knots, and I liked my insides well and ordered. I didn’t like the prospect of having to fight Elmiryn. In my peripheral vision, I saw Lethia move with Quincy. Together they followed our movements—at a cautious distance, but unwilling to stray too far from the upcoming action. Would they interfere? Could they? For all I knew, this would turn into a real battle royale.

Elmiryn, satisfied now that she had both Syria and I well in her view, slid her left foot back and raised her sword hilt to temple level. She had taught me this stance. It was the Ox. In this position, the blade was high and aimed at her opponent’s face or throat, with the weapon slightly angled to allow for blocking. Her weapon was trained on Syria when she did this, but I could see from the slight turn of her body that she was ready to evade me if necessary.

“Nyx,” the warrior said, her eyes still fixed on her target. “You know I’m doing this for you, don’t you?”

I responded with hands held out, beseeching, “Elmiryn, I don’t want to hurt you. Please. Don’t attack her! We can find another way!” I had already chosen my path, there was nothing more to lose in seeing it through. Maybe by some great distant miracle I could at least get the redhead to stand down.

“She’ll kill you if I don’t stop her.” Then Elmiryn raised her voice and asked Syria sharply, “Isn’t that right?”

“I’m afraid your friend speaks the truth, Nyx,” Syria murmured. I could feel her eyes on me, heavy and hungry. I was her way back into Izma’s good graces. The only reason she wasn’t launching at me right that second was because of the warrior baring down on her.

My fists clenched, and I started to tremble. I wished Harmony would come back and steel me. I wished I had clothes to cover my shivering distress. I wished Elmiryn wouldn’t use me as a thin excuse to learn more about Meznik. I wished, I wished, I wished… But these wishes were useless. So I resolved to do the best I could and said instead, “Then I’m sorry, Elle.”

And without a word or a gesture, I willed her shadow to swallow her.

 

ELMIRYN________________________ 

The redhead realized what was happening just as she tumbled out of her shadow through to the Umbralands on the other side. She hit the dark ground with a soft thud. Her breath fogged in front of her face and her skin broke out in gooseflesh. Elmiryn straightened with an audible growl and quickly scanned her monochromatic surroundings. She was disappointed she hadn’t thought to anticipate such a move from Nyx.

She decided that using champion powers was a form of cheating, and it sucked, to borrow an otherworldly phrase. As she saw it, it was not a strength gained by the person in question, but a strength given by some unfathomable entity whose fat spirit took up too much cosmic space. But she was not angry with Nyx for flexing her god-given might. After all, the warrior had been given things too, and she had not neglected to use them…

Around her was a perfect mirror of the scene she had just been ejected from. Quincy, Lethia, Izma, and Meznik were all in the same places as before. Even the spirits watching the battle hadn’t moved. But as Elmiryn watched the fight commence without her—Syria lunging at Nyx, the girl dodging her, the mad enchantress striking with a quick reprisal—she knew she was not there. The others were gray and seemed…a touch blurry. The warrior could still see their faces, but their forms seemed fuzzy at the edges. Like she were looking through an unfocused lens.

Elmiryn tried to get her bearings straight. Tried to wrack her brain for a solution to get back into the fight. Syria had pressed her offense, forcing Nyx into the defensive. The warrior could see the girl had advanced exponentially as a fighter since coming to the Other Place, but it was her opinion that Syria was out of her league. If the lightning fast leg swipe that shook the girl’s balance, and the following meteoric uppercut that hit Nyx in the chin was any indication, Elmiryn had very little time to balance the battlefield. Even if all the warrior could do was interrupt Syria’s momentum, she was certain Nyx could regain her footing.

Syria had stumps of roots for feet, but judging by the way she moved, Elmiryn couldn’t say for certain it was a real hindrance. Her fluidity of movement even rivaled Nyx, who the woman knew to be naturally quick and dexterous. Quincy was twisting her staff in her hands, clearly eager to do something as she eyed the demons that stood apart from them all, quietly observing. Lethia’s focus was more on the fight, though now and again, her eyes flickered to Meznik on the ground, or Izma in the air. The demons themselves showed no desire to participate in the fight, as Elmiryn expected. They were passive creatures who liked to pit people against each other. Even if the warrior were foolhardy enough to attack them, she was certain it would come to nothing…and it would ruin a perfectly good opportunity in the meantime.

“Kill Izma’s pet. And as a reward, I’ll tell you where we come from!”

How could she resist? It wasn’t as if she had many clues to work off of now. She wished the others would understand. She wished NYX would understand. She couldn’t get close enough to Meznik until he trusted her. She couldn’t kill him until she knew what his weaknesses were.

She couldn’t even fight him because her hateful attention made him stronger.

But Elmiryn didn’t think killing Meznik would be much of a victory if Nyx died. So killing Syria was beneficial, really. She wasn’t putting anything on the line.

She wasn’t.

Really.

When the seconds ticked by and Syria kicked Nyx in the stomach with such force that it was a certainty something had broken, Elmiryn realized with great self-admonishment that she’d been looking for answers in the wrong place. There was nothing she could use on the other side to help bring her back, and every second she wasted was a chance for Nyx to die. She looked around her quickly–at the stark shadows and the harsh lines of light. Then an idea came to her.

Shadows here are solid, like walls. Light is the opposite. So if I do THIS…

Elmiryn raised a hand and focused the light around her to coalesce around her fist. Then with it, she drew an opening and felt the cold air rush past her, as if a vacuum had been created.

Nyx should’ve realized, she thought as she jumped through the passage of light. Color is a form of light, and I can control that. So her Umbralands can’t hold me.

The woman couldn’t help but spare a brief smirk as she returned to the normal realm. Her smugness was short lived when she saw Syria encase Nyx in a gravitational field just over the ground–likely so that the girl couldn’t use her shadow power to escape. The enchantress raised a fist, and the air seemed to cyclone around it, whipping the dust and dirt around them into a frenzy. Her eyes glowed faintly from some deep power drawn up by her anima. She was going to try and deliver a killing blow, no doubt.

Elmiryn reprimanded herself as she charged Syria from behind, bringing her sword back for a swing. For fuck’s sake, I can pat myself on the back later!

 

QUINCY_________________________

Quincy could appreciate that the Ailuran was getting beat up by Syria, but she was a champion and frighteningly resilient, if her being ripped apart not long ago illustrated. The wizard had seen that much. Seen the blood spray into the air, Nyx’s body divide itself as the spirits took their prizes. She had survived that, and without much fuss. No, the wizard was more preoccupied with the demons that were currently in their company. The ringleaders of their misfortune. The sowers of all this destruction.

They’ve done something to HakeemI can feel it! She thought, trembling on a minute level with fury.

But a primal instinct tickled her from deep within, telling her that these beings were untouchable. This animal intuition was further backed by her sixth sense for magical energies, which she had trained and cultivated during her training as a wizard. The intellectual clusters–those bindings that fed energy through animas and minds–was warped. She could do nothing against them, much as she’d like to. At least for the moment.

Nyx had explained to them, in their exchange of stories not long ago, what she had gone through before arriving in the Fiamman shard. She mentioned Izma. Her otherness. How her alien nature was too much for her to comprehend.

And yet now, we can gaze on them freely. Is it some sort of power they activate? Some ward or barrier they use as a precaution?

Quincy would have kept on puzzling over the mystery of the astral demons if Lethia hadn’t cried out. The wizard snapped her gaze over in time to see the teenager rush forward just at the same moment Elmiryn somehow returned from the shadowy prison Nyx had cast her in. From the corner of her eye, she could see Meznik regard Lethia with a frigid sort of attention.

Moving quickly, Quincy caught up with the girl and wrenched her back by the arm. Lethia stumbled, her arms wheeling as she caught her balance. She cast an infuriated stare at the woman.

“What are you doing!?” She shrilled. “Nyx–”

“Is being helped by Elmiryn,” Quincy interjected. “Don’t go jumping in without thinking! You could just make matters worse!”

“You don’t actually mean to sit by and watch, do you!?”

The wizard sneered at her. “Why not? It’s what you’ve been doing this entire time!”

The girl’s lips pinched shut at this, but she turned her eyes back to the fight. Her body was still tensed as if ready to rush in at any second. Quincy rolled her eyes behind her back. If the little fool was so dead set on getting herself killed, then she wasn’t going to stress herself by trying to stop her further.

Her original train of thought already disrupted, the brunette found her eyes reluctantly turning to the battle at hand. Just as she had expected, Elmiryn had succeeded in intervening, but by the looks of it, only just. Quincy pursed her lips as she watched the warrior interpose herself between Syria and Nyx through a lancing hybrid attack of her fae power and her sword. With the master enchantress’s concentration broken, Nyx crashed to the ground.

An all encompassing gravity spell was hard to maintain no doubt, even for Syria, Quincy mused.

Lacertli was gone from the Ailuran’s shoulder, no doubt to watch the fight’s proceedings from the ethereal realm. Thoughts of the god got Quincy thinking about goals and allegiances as she watched the fight move further up the field, forcing some of the surrounding spirits to scramble out of the way.

Her eyes narrowed as certain promises nagged her.

The right moment, Elmiryn. I just need the right moment! Hang on!

The warrior in question was locked in with Syria now, and she pressed the enchantress away from her lover. Nyx, meanwhile, struggled to her feet, her face tensed and dirt clinging to her sweaty skin. She appeared winded, her left arm hugging her chest.

Did Syria try crushing her with the gravity spell? Quincy wondered.

Elmiryn and Syria began trading explosive blows–the master enchantress sending blasts of force at the warrior, while the redhead returned with a barrage of air and dust from her twirling sword. Quincy thought it stupid at first until Syria let out a curse and lost a costly second swiping dirt from her eyes. Elmiryn capitalized, but the manner in which she did so made the wizard start.

The earth about Syria’s rooty feet suddenly rose and gripped her ankles like hands. The enchantress only had enough time to look down before the soil ripped her legs out from under her, sending her whipping forward. No cry slipped her lips. She didn’t wheel her arms in a panic. instead, her hands instantly shot up, palms faced outward and fingers splayed, and she was halted in mid-air. Quincy couldn’t see the magic Syria was casting, but she could feel the gravitational forces in the air tensing as a foreign aura redirected a portion of the network. That was all magic was in the end–even primal magic. Networks. Patterns. Weaves. Creating an effect meant altering the existing state of life, and Syria did so with such grace and command that Elmiryn’s fae tricks seemed vulgar and clumsy in comparison.

Speaking of the warrior, Syria’s recovery hardly seemed to phase her. She started to go in for an attack, her sword held aloft and a sharp gleam in her eye–

–That was, until Nyx came out of nowhere and grabbed the woman by her right arm and pulled. Elmiryn managed to keep her balance, but when her body turned to adjust to her companion’s pull, the Ailuran did something that made Quincy laugh without thinking.

In one fluid movement, Nyx grabbed onto Elmiryn’s neck–and still holding her arm–the girl leapt up and tucked her body. She was not a heavy person, but her dead weight forced the warrior to bend forward. The moment this happened, Nyx wrapped her right leg around Elmiryn’s head, forced her right arm straight, and extended her hips with a snap. The warrior let out a strangled yell.

Quincy covered her astonished grin as she watched Nyx release the Fiamman to avoid having her skull crushed by one of Syria’s tree feet. Elmiryn stumbled off to the side, her left hand gripping her sword as her right arm hung limp.

Nyx just caught Elmiryn in a flying arm bar and dislocated her arm. That was…unexpected!

Of course, now the Ailuran had Syria to deal with on her own again. The girl rolled away from Syria, but the enchantress followed her doggedly, and the moment Nyx stopped in a crouch, the other woman sent a kick toward her face. The girl blocked this with her forearms and rose to her feet. Syria followed up with yet another kick, but instead of jumping out of the way like a scared girl as she had been before, the Ailuran raised her leg at the knee and used her shin to block the blow. Quincy winced as she saw the impact. She knew from experience that the only reason Syria wasn’t using elaborate magic spells was because she was using small scale casting to augment her martial arts. Add on to the fact that the lower half of her legs were made of solid wood and you were looking at fractured bones.

But to Quincy’s surprise, Nyx took the hit with just the barest of grimaces, her legs moving fast to intercept Syria’s other kicks. The wizard was in awe of how quickly the enchantress could move with such heavy appendages, but looking at her one would think she was even stronger than before. The exchange drew out as both women started to compete for the upper hand. Quincy realized that the battle was not for who could land the deadliest blow, but to see who would lose their balance first. Indeed, the more she watched Syria try to stomp Nyx’s feet, or Nyx to swipe out Syria’s legs, the more apparent it became that this was a battle of finesse.

Quincy frowned. She wondered why it was that the enchantress saw fit to challenge Nyx in a style of fighting that the girl clearly excelled at. Was it to make Izma pleased by illustrating how Syria was superior in whatever form of battle that she found herself in?

Quincy looked Elmiryn’s way. The warrior was trying unsuccessfully to reset her arm. Apparently her fae abilities did not extend to such an injury. Sighing, the brunette started to march toward her, staff out.

If there’s ever a moment to enter into things, it’s now!

At Quincy’s approach, Elmiryn snarled at her. “Stay out of it, wizard!”

“No,” she snapped back. She crouched down to inspect the exact nature of the injury. “We took an oath to help one another in our goals, right? Well this counts.”

“You’re just doing this because you can’t think of another way to find out where Hakeem’s gone,” Elmiryn grumbled, her eyes fixed on Nyx.

Quincy leaned her staff against her shoulder and started to roll up her sleeves. “Yeah, well…someone’s got to keep Nyx off you.”

Lethia’s voice cut in from behind. “Quincy, if you’re going to get involved too, then I can’t sit by and watch. This is my fault. I have to make things right. That means the demons can’t have their way!”

Elmiryn looked up sharply. “Lethia what are you saying?”

The wizard hadn’t even realized the girl had followed her. She blinked and looked up over her shoulder. Lethia’s eyes locked onto hers, and she felt something sharp stab just behind her irises and pull. As the numbness rolled over her, making her fall backward onto the ground in a stupor, Quincy heard Lethia say as she confidently removed her lightning staff–

“Excuse me while I borrow this…”

Quincy struggled for breath as the warrior’s face swam over her, her hand clutching the collar of the wizard’s shirt.

“Lethia Artaud, you get your ass back here!” Elmiryn shouted. “You give this woman back her skill! You hear me? …Lethia! LETHIA!

Quincy groaned and touched her head. “Wha…what? What happened? Elmiryn what are you talking about?”

The redhead looked at her with a grimace, then helped her sit up. “Lethia ‘borrowed’ your skill in using that lightning staff. She’s going to try and stop me from killing Syria—the gods know why!

Quincy blinked at her thickly. “…I—I had a lightning staff?”

Elmiryn spared her an impatient glare. “Wizard I haven’t got the time to deal with your goofy stupor, so just pop in my dislocated arm before I rip it off and beat you with it!”


Back to Chapter 38.3 | Forward to Chapter 39.2

Chapter 38.2

QUINCY_________________________

Quincy couldn’t connect the moment she had finished drinking the vial to the moment she woke up, confused and disoriented. It had just happened that way, as if Lethia Artaud had simply switched off her memory, leaving a huge gap for the woman to contend with. The wizard sat up, squinting, uncertain as to the source of the horrendous sounds of roaring and squawking and scratching. They echoed in the air, almost taunting her. The damp smell of wet rock and soil tickled her nose. Was she outside? The wizard groaned and called her lightning staff to her, her hand reflexively wrapping around the magic metal before it had even finished materializing. The energy from her recall spell burned her palm a little, and it helped to rouse her from her grogginess.

 

More alert now, Quincy used her staff to push herself to her feet.

 

Where am I? she thought with tensed features as she took in the plant-covered walls and floor. I’m indoors?

 

It was when she saw the strange stone archway fixed in the back of the room that four beasts slammed into the windows, sending tremors along the floor. Quincy jumped, bringing her staff to bear. The creatures were giant monstrosities with insect bodies and black horse heads gnashing their teeth. Their eyes glowed red as they fixed on her, and their long thin hairy legs scrabbled at the edges of the windows. Their ruddy carapace bodies strained against the stone, scraping and cracking as they tried to squeeze themselves inside.

 

Repulsed, the woman aimed her staff and sent a bolt into the beasts’ soft undersides, and they screeched as the energy turned their bodies into boiling slush.

 

When each of the creatures were dispatched, Quincy hurried to shove them out the windows and turned her gaze to the field. Her face turned pale.

 

The evil spirits…they’re converging on the castle keep!

 

The woman checked the room again in vain. She knew she was alone, but this fact only served to worry her.

 

Where was Hakeem? Where were the others?

 

Hurrying out the door and down the dark stairs, the woman slipped and realized that the reason she did was because the steps were covered in blood. On her guard, Quincy held up her staff and continued at a more cautious pace. Down below, the sounds of combat echoed up, louder and louder the more she progressed, until…

 

Lunam!

 

That voice, Quincy thought, picking up her speed. That must be the therian!

 

Sure enough, at the bottom of the steps was the Ailuran, though the wizard wasn’t sure who was present, Nyx or her Twin. The girl had half-shifted, using bestial claws to render her enemies as she struck, slash, and parried. She was fighting tooth and nail, literally, and for every wound she suffered, she gave back in spades. Quincy was so taken aback by this raw show of defiance and strength that she didn’t think to act until the dark lizard on the girl’s shoulders turned his little head and hissed, “Wilt thou watch, or wilt thou act, wayward sparrow?”

 

Lacertli. She’d almost forgotten the god took to using this lizard state as his avatar. His words were very sobering, and the woman steeled her resolve.

 

Quincy shouted loudly so that the therian could hear her over the din. “Ailuran! When I say to, flatten up against the wall!”

 

A brief glance from the girl was all the brunette received in terms of acknowledgement. It would have to do. With a deep breath, the wizard turned a quarter and widened her stance. With her injured hand, the woman was incapable of controlling her staff as she once could, and this fact became all the more apparent now. But for this trick, she would not need a firm grip. Only focus.

 

With the tip of her staff, Quincy made circles in the air. Her animus stirred the power of her weapon, and she started to feel the energy coursing from the core of her body along the staff’s length. It was warm. Almost comforting. Soon a bright electrical ring appeared in the air, and within it, cracks of lightning shot across its diameter.

 

The wizard could feel the static energy tingle over her skin as her staff started to pulse with surges of power.

 

“NOW!” she yelled.

 

The Ailuran flattened up against the wall. Quincy pulled back her staff, and with the electrical ring still in the air, she jammed its center. The spirits that had started to push forward didn’t even have a chance to raise their arms before the lightning magic cracked and boomed outward in a violent tunnel, disintegrating those at the fore, and blasting the ones in the rear back down the stairs.

 

Panting with the adrenaline, the wizard tried to blink sight back to her eyes. The flash of her attack had been bright, and in her haste she made the clumsy mistake of not turning away.

 

“Nyx? Kali? Are you okay?” She reached blindly toward the wall, slipping on the bloody steps.

 

A hand snatched her forearm, gripping it tightly. Quincy winced and turned to look. Through the white of her blindness appeared the Ailuran’s face. A second more, and her vision cleared, allowing her to see some scorch marks healing and scabbing over the girl’s features from the attack.

 

The woman inwardly winced. She needed to find a weapon with more finesse, and soon. It wouldn’t do for her allies to continuously get caught in the crossfire.

 

The wizard was sure this was Nyx. She could tell, despite the slitted feline eyes, because her Twin had a tendency of widening her gaze and baring her teeth when stressed. Nyx on the other hand, placed the burden of her tension on her brow and lips.

 

“You’re awake,” the Ailuran said. The wizard noted an almost disconnected tone in the girl’s voice, not unlike the time Nyx was consumed by her dark urges. Needless to say, it did not put the brunette at ease.

 

Down below, their enemies had retreated…for now. Quincy’s attack had scared the evil spirits, but reinforcements were still storming up the path every second. They didn’t have a lot of time before the fiends regrouped for another wave.

 

“Where are the others? Hakeem?” Quincy asked sharply, pulling herself free from the therian’s grip.

 

“I don’t know. You were the only one here when I broke free of Lethia’s spell.” Again with that dispassionate voice.

 

Quincy could feel her unease grow. “You were the one who dragged me upstairs?”

 

Nyx gazed at her wordlessly for a moment before she turned away and started down the stairs. “Yes.”

 

Quincy grabbed the girl’s arm in alarm. “What are you doing?”

 

The girl ripped free of the woman’s grasp and glared at her. The wizard gave a start. In the few steps the Ailuran had descended down, enough weak light was swathing her face to illuminate the sapien persona Quincy had recognized as Nyx. But on the other side of her face, where the girl’s features were swallowed by the dark of the stairwell, Quincy could see Kali, with her feline nose, her sharp canines, and her cat-like ears.

 

When the Twins spoke, it was as one.

 

What we’re doing, wizard, is surviving. Thou art awake now, and we must take this battle to a more appropriate stage. Or art thou content with bumping elbows in a claustrophobic stairwell until weariness sees us overrun?” Quincy swallowed and shook her head.  Nyx turned and started down the staircase again, Lacertli’s glowing golden eyes piercing into the wizard as she went. “Then let us make haste. I am fain to see this battle done.”

 

The brunette cursed and hurried to undo her magic pouch. Reaching into it, she rummaged around desperately until she felt her hands close on a familiar curve of wood. She sighed in relief as she pulled out Eate’s Son. It was true that she could not wield her lightning staff with the same sure grip she once could, but that did not mean she couldn’t use it. She just needed something else to make up for her lack of martial power.

 

As she hurried down the stairs after Nyx, she found the Ailuran already fighting the spirits in the study. Kali was no longer visible. Quincy tried to focus on the struggle at hand, because a moment’s distraction could mean life or death, but her mind rebelled with wayward thoughts of what she had just seen.

 

Did my father ever speak as this girl just did? Is another persona making itself known? What happened to Nyx that she feels so…cold?

 

Quincy tossed Eate’s Son vertically into the air, making it spin. The artifact produced small scythes of air as it went, cutting into a bipedal pig wielding a giant axe. Its squeal was cut short when it fell to the ground in bloody pieces. When Quincy caught her weapon, she turned to see Nyx maneuvering out the study toward the exit.

 

She cursed, but followed.

 

Whatever the case is, I just hope it doesn’t get us killed!

 

ELMIRYN________________________

 

The redhead wasn’t concerned for the wizard. Quincy had a lot of firepower down on that field. But Nyx…she had no armor, no weapons. Just because she could heal quickly and had some new tricks didn’t mean she could do anything. The woman was certain that included diving into a frothing mob of evil spirits. Elmiryn needed to get down there, fast. So she took the quickest route she could…

 

She jumped out the window.

 

The warrior heard Lethia scream after her as she fell. The wind howled in her ears as she plummeted feet first, the unsettling sensation of free fall sweeping through her. Elmiryn knew she could die from this. She knew she could scatter across the rocky hillside below like a bug on a windshield. She was also aware that she was using imagery inappropriate for her world, but she didn’t care. The moment she had started turning into a fae was the moment she ceased to really be of any world. She didn’t need to follow the rules if she didn’t want to, and it was lucky for her that the Other Place had very few rules to break in the first place.

 

She could see the elements around her like threads waiting to be pulled.

 

So she did just that.

 

With her will, Elmiryn took hold of the air, and the dust, and the rock, and she ripped them up so that they caught her. The landing wasn’t graceful—in fact it skinned her arms and knocked the wind from her lungs—but that wasn’t what was important. What was important was the fact that Elmiryn had created a path of unrelenting gas and matter in mid-air and could now run safely down to the field. The warrior stumbled, forcing herself to keep moving as she looked back to the window she had leapt from. Lethia was there, staring at her in shock.

 

Meznik was in the next window, his fist in his cheek. He seemed bored again. It occurred to the woman that leaving her cousin alone with her nemesis was probably folly, but quickly following this thought was the realization that the demon had no interest in the girl. Still, she gestured for the enchantress to follow, but didn’t stop to watch if she did. Too many things to deal with. Lethia had proven she could take care of herself. All the woman could do was make it possible for the girl to stick with her. Her priorities may have shifted, but there was one focus that remained paramount above all else.

 

Elmiryn drew her sword. Hold on, Nyx. I’m coming!

 

It was difficult, at first, continuously creating a steady path before her whilst maintaining the one behind as she run full tilt into the chaos. It was doubly hard, because running on air and small debris wasn’t exactly familiar, and she had to keep her balance. But Elmiryn did it. She did it because if she didn’t, Nyx would be…

 

The warrior leapt into the air. She was over the field now and she had a number of options available to her. First, she could take the obvious route and make herself into a giant in a sort of inverse performance of her miniature transformation. Second, she could will a tornado of dust and rock to sweep a path through the crowd of spirits.

 

But the woman was a warrior first and foremost, and she did what she felt most comfortable with.

 

As Elmiryn came down toward the ground, she swung her sword, and using her power, she amplified the kinetic energy. The attack carved into the soil, cleaving those below. Taking a page out of Hakeem’s book, the redhead braked her descent with an opposing push of wind. The moment her boots hit the ground she took off running, cutting with her sword whenever an obstacle presented itself.

 

As she went, she couldn’t help but marvel at how she hadn’t thought to do this before—marry her new fae abilities with her swordplay. It was almost stupidly obvious, in retrospect. How many video games had she played where a character—

 

Damn it, this isn’t the time to get mixed up on shit like that!

 

With this harsh admonishment, the warrior focused herself on the task at hand—and that was getting to Nyx as quickly as possible. No longer distracted, the warrior moved and killed more efficiently. One powered swing of her blade sent an arc of energy slicing through a wood demon with horns. Another dispatched a dark cloaked man that stood twelve feet tall.

 

Soon she found Nyx. If only that would’ve solved everything.

 

The Ailuran was dangling by her arm as a giant crocodile with shimmering blue scales and diamond teeth fought what looked like a ghost fashioned out of bed sheets for the right to have her. Smaller spirits shouted and frothed beneath them, their hands and tentacles and claws extended as they shouted their insanity. The sheet spirit seemed to grow weary of the quarreling and made a bid for Nyx. What happened next took all but a few seconds. Long slim black limbs shot out from the spirit’s flapping sheets, and they grabbed the girl around her torso. Meanwhile, the crocodile spirit wrenched his head the other way. Blood erupted from Nyx’s shoulder as her arm was ripped off, and her torso rended of its skin. The monsters below cheered in the shower of carnage.

 

Elmiryn screamed, putting all she could into the overhand swing of her sword. The sheet spirit lost an arm in the arc of raw energy that blasted from the redhead’s blade, and the smaller monsters down below were lost in the periphery of the blast. The crocodile spirit was only rocked, however, as Elmiryn’s attack struck his scales and failed to pierce his hide. He turned to look at her and opened his mouth, showing his long rows of teeth. Stuck in them was Nyx’s arm, still caught between the fangs.

 

The monster roared and started to charge toward the warrior, his clawed feet gouging into the soil, crushing the heads of his brethren, making the ground shake as he went. Elmiryn braced herself, bringing up her fae shield of dust and air—

 

But the monster was wrenched back by some unseen force. Both the crocodile and Elmiryn appeared equally bewildered…that was until the beast started to descend into its own shadow. The warrior watched, feeling waves of relief wash over her. The source of her joy was not the demise of the crocodile, who was sliced in half when the shadows beneath him closed with half his torso submerged. No, it was the fact that Nyx was still alive and well to do these things.

 

But where is she? Elmiryn thought, her smile waning.

 

When the woman found her lover, the smile vanished entirely.

 

Nyx looked like road kill, and the woman used this phrase without qualm because even Fiamma had road kill. The Ailuran’s arm was growing back, and though it was clearly a great feat of healing that left Nyx’s previous healing ability in the dust, to Elmiryn it could not heal fast enough. The stub of the arm was a red, raw wound that seemed to bubble with flesh and blood. And this said nothing of the girl’s chest, whose skin and fatty tissue had yet to completely cover her gleaming rib cage. In fact, some of the flesh that had been ripped off had failed to detach, and instead hung dripping at the girl’s waist.

 

For once, Elmiryn did not have a cute one liner. She could only stare, and wonder if Nyx were really safe at all.

 

The girl’s gaze was far away as they regarded the warrior in her stunned silence. Then slowly, she lifted her clawed hand and took up her flap of dead flesh.

 

Thou have arrived, Elmiryn,” Nyx said…only it wasn’t her. It was Kali. Only it wasn’t Kali. It was both of them at the same time…and something else, too. Somehow, the warrior knew that all these statements were true.

 

With the barest flinch, the Ailuran tore off the dead flesh and cast it aside. Elmiryn, hardened to carnage, did not turn away, but her sensibilities protested just the same, making her feel cold and ill. With the skin gone, the body began to cover the girl’s abdominal muscles.

 

Nyx turned her head and regarded the sky. “It would seem thou hast come just in time.

 

Elmiryn frowned and looked up as well. She cursed and raised her sword.

 

“Izma!”


Back to Chapter 38.1 | Forward to Chapter 38.3

Chapter 37.3

“Gimme danger little stranger

And I feel with you at ease

Gimme danger little stranger

And I feel your disease

There’s nothing in my dreams

Just some ugly memories

Kiss me like the ocean breeze

 

Now if you will be my lover

I wish you were insane

But you can’t be my master

I will do you anything

There’s nothing left alive

But a pair of glassy eyes

Raise my feelings one more time”

‘Gimme Danger’ by The Stooges, from the album ‘Raw Power’. Columbia, 1973.

NYX____________________________

 

To say that I was ‘ready’ for whatever it was Izma had to show me, would not have been right. Willing, yes. But not ready. I was just at my wit’s end.

 

The light of the room dimmed, and I could feel my hairs stand on end as I started to pull open the red door.

 

Then Lethia’s hand slammed the door closed again from out of nowhere. I gazed at her wildly, and her green eyes met mine, mirroring my bewilderment. Where had the enchantress come from? Was this another trick? I turned my head and saw Izma glaring, her previous smugness gone.

 

“You dare–?” she started.

 

Lethia cut her off. “I do!” But her voice trembled, and I could see her whole body shake as she turned back to me. “Nyx…you have every right to hate me right now. But please believe me when I tell you that going through this door will ruin you!”

 

I looked her up and down. “…Why?”

 

“It’s a trick, it’s Izma–”

 

“No,” I interjected through my grit teeth. “I mean why should I trust you?” Lethia’s expression fell. Somehow her deflation fanned the flames of my anger, and I shoved her, hard. It felt good, to see her nearly fall. To let out some of the wrath I felt toward her. “I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for you, Lethia Artaud!”

 

“I know that! And I’m sorry!” Lethia fell to her knees and clasped her hands. “No more games! I’m done playing! I remember now, Nyx! I remember how you and Elmiryn went out of your way to help me when you could have turned and walked away! You risked your lives to save me and help me in my goals!” She buried her face in her hands.

 

I mulled over her words as she took a moment to compose herself. When the lights dimmed…that must of been her power shifting, letting her remember.

 

“I’ve repaid you terribly!” She continued, with her hands curled to fists she pressed them to her chest. “But even if you spurn me, beat me, or kill me, it would be a far better fate than to continue–”

 

Only she didn’t get to finish, because Izma grabbed her by the head and flung her across the room like a doll. It happened so fast, I barely caught it. Odd, how our group seemed capable of speeches and impassioned declarations whilst under fire. Izma didn’t appreciate our verbosity, clearly. Whatever Lethia had to say, she was going to have to be more economic about it. If she was even conscious.

 

…And I wasn’t too sure I was willing to keep listening anyway.

 

I gazed at her crumpled body on the other side of the room, her hair fanned out around her on the white floor, and felt strangely…passive about the scene.

 

Izma’s cold eyes fell on me, and I turned to face her. Her human disguise was vibrating, as if it would shatter at any moment.

 

“Well?” she asked, her voice harsher and deeper than it was before. “What are you waiting for?”

 

She was right. I had nothing to wait for.

 

I turned back to the door, ready to open it.

 

“She’s looking…for…you…” Lethia’s voice. It came in broken gasps.

 

My hand stilled on the doorknob and I turned to gaze over my shoulder.

 

Lethia’s arms shook as she tried to push herself up. I could see blood dripping from her nose, and I wondered if this was real, or just another illusion.

 

“She’s looking for you, Nyx!” she said more firmly. “You promised…to be by her side! Always!

 

My eyes widened.

 

Izma took a menacing step toward her, but I started forward, cutting her off. Lethia’s eyes brightened as she held out a hand to me. “Nyx! Oh, Nyx! Elmiryn needs–”

 

My fist slammed into her head so hard it bounced off the wall. Lethia’s body went limp, and I could see the blood pooling from beneath her down turned face. Her hair effectively covered the damage, but I was sure I had felt something break beneath my knuckles. I stood heaving over her, tremors of rage coursing through me.

 

“Promises? You want to talk to me about promises!?” I spat.

 

…And I felt a hollow sort of satisfaction–a salve, if you will–for all the cuts and bruises my spirit had suffered at the hands of this girl who, good intentions or not, managed to hurt me so much. The fury that I knew for her was violent and terrifying. But as I heard Izma laughing behind me, I felt that fire die down. It didn’t go away. I wasn’t sure if I could ever stop the wildfire that was inside me now. But without the incessant roar of bloodlust confusing my thoughts, I was able to gather that…

 

The girl may have played along with Izma’s sick game, but it was under great confusion brought on by her amnesia, and the worst acts I suspected she had been entirely absent for somehow. The parallels this situation had with Atalo’s death–the misguided intentions, the loss of control, the horrible consequences…Lethia Artaud was just like me a few years ago. She was as weak, as naive, and as self-righteous as I was. Faced with these facts, I realized I could not forgive her, because I could not forgive myself.

 

Izma’s hand touched my shoulder, and immediately a feeling of pins and needles spread down my flesh. Her voice sounded tight with glee.

 

“Kill her. Kill the weed!” She giggled.

 

I reached down and grabbed Lethia by the hair. My lip curled as I laid eyes on the girl’s swelling face. At a glance, my guess was she had a broken right cheekbone. The skin was broken and bleeding. Her nose was still bleeding too, but I didn’t think that was from my punch. I pulled back my palm. A swift strike angled upward to the nose could kill her, especially given the force I could put into the blow. It was one of the fatal points Elmiryn had taught me to strike.

 

My jaw tensed.

 

Elmiryn…

 

Kill her,” Izma hissed behind me.

 

My eyes narrowed. “Would you ask me to kill myself if it pleased you?”

 

“Why would I want you dead, little sum?”

 

“Why do you want her dead?” I countered readily. I started to drop my hand, but still held Lethia’s head up with the other. “She has done everything you asked.”

 

“She has failed me. Tis simple.”

 

“Is it?” I let go of Lethia’s hair and rocked forward onto both my palms. Given how close I was to the enchantress, the space for this was cramped and awkward, but I was able to move well enough that my upper body weight was sufficiently shifted onto my hands. With a deep breath, I let out a sharp kai and kicked backward with both my legs.

 

They struck air.

 

I didn’t actually expect my attack to hit Izma. I just wanted to make a point. I was not going to become the astral demon’s new pet. Whatever hatred I felt towards Lethia, I had to admit to myself that I could not do to the girl what I could not do to myself–and that included killing her.

 

Grabbing Lethia’s body, I called on the shadows and willed them to swallow us. As we sank into darkness, I could hear Izma screaming in rage.

 

ELMIRYN________________________

 

The precinct wasn’t as busy as Elmiryn expected it to be, given the day and the hour. Still, there was a steady hum of activity–of printers squealing, keyboards clacking, chairs creaking, and papers rustling. The air smelled like ink, gun oil, and carpet freshener. Those brought in handcuffs were sullen and quiet, their attitude suggesting a familiarity with the setting. She didn’t like being here. It reminded her of her childhood.

 

“Thank you for your cooperation, Ms. Manard. It really helped us to clear things up faster. The other witnesses corroborated your statements, so just one more thing and you’re free to go.” Officer Gale undid the handcuffs and offered the woman a seat next to her desk. She’d mentioned her first name, but the woman had already forgotten it. The officer had russet brown hair at shoulder length, and rich azure-blue eyes. She didn’t look that much older than the redhead, but there was definitely some age about her eyes…probably from stress and sun.

 

Elmiryn rubbed her wrists, glad to be free of the confines. She locked eyes with the cop and grinned. “Hey, no prob. I know how you guys work. I mentioned my dad used to be an officer, remember?”

 

Gale smiled, and the redhead detected a hint of irony in the expression. “Yes. You did.”

 

“Oh-ho! You worked with him. I can tell.”

 

The other woman coughed and sat down in her chair. “That obvious?”

 

Elmiryn shrugged. “Warner isn’t exactly Mr. Congeniality. Let me tell you, whatever you went through, it was a thousand times worse being his gay daughter growing up. At least you got away from him when you clocked out!”

 

The other woman laughed. “I was never partnered with him. He was already an investigator by the time I hit the streets. He seemed a good man. Just…strict.”

 

“That’s a nice way of putting it.”

 

Gale laughed again as she pulled her clipboard to her. “Well, we’ve got your statement down. We just need you to confirm it with a signature. Your cousin is still filing her charge against the suspect. You’re free to wait for her if you’d like.” She passed the clipboard over with a pen.

 

Elmiryn signed it quickly, then glanced over her shoulder to the room where she saw Nick had been taken. “Say…D’ya think I could talk to that guy? Nick?”

 

Officer Gale gazed at her shrewdly. “We don’t normally allow for that.”

 

“Hey, I’m not pressing charges!”

 

“But your cousin is, Ms. Manard. You and the suspect had a physical confrontation. We’re not looking to have trouble in our precinct. The paperwork would be a nightmare. Anyway, I think they’re charging him formally now. He’s going to be transferred to a holding cell until he posts bail.”

 

“I don’t care where I talk to him. What if you were there with me? I just want five minutes.”

 

Gale puckered her lips in thought and craned her neck over the sea of desks. When she looked back at the redhead, it was with a sideways gaze. “Five minutes? That’s it? You aren’t suddenly going to change your mind about all of this? Because again…the paperwork. It’s a bitch.”

 

Elmiryn shook her head eagerly. “I’m not changing my testimony. I’ve already signed my statement, right? Soooo…can I see him?”

 

The officer drummed her fingers on her desk. Then with a sigh, she stood and jerked her head. “All right…Just five minutes! But the moment things start to get out of hand, I’m ending it!”

 

Elmiryn made a small fist pump. “Yes!” She stood with a pop. “Thank you!”

 

“Settle down. I’m still not sure this is a great idea.” Officer Gale moved past Elle, and the redhead followed her down the aisle to the interrogation room.

 

Gale rapped on the door briefly before poking her head in. Elmiryn could hear her speaking with someone, and a second later, she opened the door wider and stepped aside. Elle glanced at her before entering.

 

A plain clothes officer in a gray suit and dark button up was glaring at her as she entered. He was a tall black man with broad shoulders and slim hips. The light of the room made his close-shaved head shine. Elmiryn gave him a small wave when he didn’t move or speak.

 

“Uh. Hi,” she said. She glanced at Nick. “Geez, Nick. The way they’re treating you, you’d think you just tried bombing a place!”

 

Nick was slouched in a chair behind a small table. He smirked at her. “How are you sure that wasn’t what just happened?”

 

“Five minutes,” Gale said pointedly as she shut the door and leaned on it.

 

Elmiryn sat in the chair opposite the man. The investigator went to speak with Gale, and the redhead could tell her ‘five minutes’ was going to be more like three. She leaned onto the table with her elbows and narrowed her eyes at Nick.

 

“Did you get what you wanted?”

 

The man just chuckled and held up his hands. His wrists were still cuffed. “Elmiryn. Dear. Just look at me. What do you think?”

 

Elmiryn frowned and was about to point out that he was going to get legally boned when something occurred to her.

 

“Your face…” She breathed with widening eyes. “You look…different!

 

Nick’s face was fuller, his lips no longer dry and white rimmed. His eyes were clear and his hair looked almost lush. Like those shampoo commercials she hated so much.

 

“How do you think that happened?” he asked mildly.

 

“Water,” she murmured, looking away. “A comb. Maybe some Carmex. Fuck. I don’t know. Does it matter?”

 

Yes,” Nick hissed, and Elmiryn snapped her gaze back onto him. The man hadn’t raised his voice. Had barely moved even. But something about his presence screamed at her. “I was able to feed. Not the usual portions I enjoy from you, but our encounter gave me some strength, nevertheless. And hasn’t our little chat gotten you thinking?”

 

“About what?”

 

“About everything you ignoramus,” he snapped. “Honestly, I’m surprised a toy like you survived so long without me!”

 

“Why do you keep calling me that?” Elmiryn bit back. She struggled to keep her voice level. She didn’t need their meeting cut short. Weird things had been happening all night, and for whatever reason, she felt Nick was at the heart of it all. “How did you know my name? We’ve never met!”

 

Nick sat back and stared at her. “Good lord. You really have no idea.”

 

Elmiryn gave him a suffering look. “Duh! I’ve been saying that this whole time!”

 

“No. I mean…you have no recollection of anything. At all.” Nick rubbed his chin, his eyes turning distant. “Damn. Damn. Our connection has deteriorated, just as I feared. I was hoping Izma had just been leading you on, but I see it’s more than that now. DAMN, that you were such a fool to imbibe Artemis’s blood! I tried to warn you–!”

 

Elmiryn reached her limit of patience. “What are you talking about? Who is Artemis!?”

 

She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up to see the investigator looming over her. “Time’s up.”

 

“I’m not done!” she protested.

 

Gale appeared behind the man and placed a hand on his arm. “Hakeem, maybe just another minute–”

 

“No,” he said firmly, forcing Elmiryn to stand. “This guy is part of an on-going investigation, and we don’t need any more interruptions!” He started to guide the woman toward the door, his colleague trailing behind.

 

“This is bullshit!” Elmiryn ripped her arm out of the investigator’s grip just as she was forced out the door. She turned to square off with him, but Gale was there, blocking her way, her hands up in a placating manner.

 

“Hey, hey! Let’s kill it here, girl. If the man says leave, we have to do it!”

 

Elmiryn started to pace. “I wasn’t done! I need to talk to that Nick guy!”

 

“Look, he was dinged on some other charges. You’re just going to have to wait!”

 

The redhead clenched her fists. “If he had warrants out on him, then why would he let himself get caught!? That doesn’t make any sense!”

 

Gale raised an eyebrow at her. “Let himself get caught?”

 

Elmiryn opened her mouth to respond when she heard Lethia calling for her.

 

“Elle!”

 

The woman didn’t even have time to turn before Lethia crashed into her with a hug. She grunted as she patted her cousin awkwardly on the back.

 

“H-Hey, Lethy…” She looked up and her eyebrows rose. “And Nyx!”

 

The sorority sister smiled. “Hey hero!”

 

Lethia pulled away, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “Oh my GOD, can you believe all this happened?”

 

Elmiryn shrugged uncomfortably. “Are you guys through?”

 

“Yeah. I’m totes ready to go home…” Lethia took her hand and started to tug. “Let’s go! You’re done, right?”

 

Elle glanced at Officer Gale, and the woman gave a nod. “We’re done for now. If we need anything else, we’ll be in touch.”

 

She felt disappointment settle in her gut. “…Okay.”

 

Together, the three women left the precinct offices. They made it to the lobby before Elmiryn’s phone started buzzing in her pocket. When she answered, it was Izzie.

 

Her girlfriend squealed on the other line. “Elle! Christ, are you okay!?”

 

Elmiryn followed the others as they made it outside. Pausing at the precinct doors, she held up her hand indicating she needed a moment, and stepped aside. “Hey, Izzie. I’m fine.”

 

“I only just got a chance to call you now. Oh geez. I’m shaking. I can’t even believe…I mean, a guy really pulled a knife on you??”

 

“Yeah…”

 

“Holy shit!” Izzie sounded like she was going to cry.

 

“Hey. Shh…it’s fine! We’re all fine. I totally clocked the guy. My hand’s a little sore, but it’s not swollen or anything. I can still make a fist.”

 

She heard a laugh. “Baby, you are so–”

 

Only Elmiryn didn’t get to hear what she was, because a surge of static swallowed Izzie’s words. The woman frowned as she double checked her connection. “Izzie? You there? Hello?”

 

“I need to see your phone.” The woman turned to the sound of Lethia’s voice behind her.

 

“Huh–?”

 

Caught off guard, the woman did nothing as her cousin calmly took her phone from her hands. Then, before she could react, Lethia dropped it onto the concrete and stepped on it with her heel. Hard. There was a loud audible crack, and Elmiryn let out a small cry, her jaw dropping.

 

“L-Lethy! Lethia, what the fuckin’ fuck, man!” she sputtered.

 

She dropped to her knees and started picking up the pieces hurriedly, as if being quick would somehow salvage her device.

 

“Elmiryn–”

 

“I can’t fucking believe you!”

 

“Elle–”

 

“That was, like, a month’s salary! And THEN some!”

 

HEY!

 

Elmiryn looked up sharply to see Lethia glaring down at her. “What?” she snapped. Behind her cousin, Nyx was approaching a concerned look on her face.

 

Lethia spoke through her teeth. “Elmiryn, you need to wake up!”

 

“From what?

 

“This isn’t our home, and we need to leave!”

 

“Why does everyone keep talking in riddles!?”

 

“Maybe if you didn’t keep your head shoved so firmly up your butt, it wouldn’t feel that way! You just. Have. To. Pay. Attention!

 

Nyx stopped at Lethia’s side. “Is everything okay?”

 

Elmiryn stood to her feet, holding the broken pieces of her cell phone. “Oh. I don’t know. Sure. Except my cousin seems to have lost her shit!

 

Lethia rolled her eyes and walked away.

 

Nyx stepped in closer as Elmiryn prodded the cell phone bits in her palm glumly. “She wrecked your phone?” the sorority girl asked.

 

“It’s toast…” Elle sighed. The woman turned to glare after her cousin. She had approached an officer in a kevlar vest at their vehicle and was saying something to them. “I don’t know what got into–” Her voice choked as she saw the officer open their trunk and hand Lethia a shotgun as if they were a librarian handing her a book.

 

Blinking, Nyx turned and looked too.

 

The officer loaded a pistol and handed the girl that firearm as well. Lethia smiled at him before she made her way back.

 

The moment she was within talking distance, she said, “Elmiryn, we’re on something of a time limit and we have a lot to do, so I can’t stop and give you a spiel. So while I appreciate you’re disoriented from being in a reality that is not ours, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to snap the fuck out of it and help me get Meznik out of that precinct. Pronto.” She glanced at Nyx and back. “And you might want to shoot her. For simplification.”

 

That would simplify things!?” Elmiryn sputtered. “Lethia what are you doing with those guns??

 

“Lethia, have you lost your mind?” Nyx added next. She was backing away, her face drawn up in horror.

 

The blonde ignored her and continued to address Elmiryn. “One gun is for you. One for me. Do you want the pistol or the shotgun?”

 

The redhead shrugged helplessly. Partly because her mind still had yet to make sense of the overarching mystery of the night. Partly because the part of her mind that had broken up her sensory information into manageable bits honestly couldn’t decide between the two weapons.

 

Lethia handed her the pistol and the woman took it weakly. “Fine. I’ll use the shotgun. Your doubt isn’t right for this firepower.”

 

“Jesus Christ, can you just explain to me–!”

 

“Elmiryn, what’s your opinion of this Nyx?”

 

“Th-This Nyx?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Elmiryn blinked and turned to look at Nyx. The dark haired sorority sister had backpedaled some feet away and was looking ready to run and get help. From who, the redhead wasn’t sure. All the officers in their vicinity still had yet to even take note of the situation.

 

“She’s–”

 

“Not real,” Lethia interjected harshly. “Shoot her. She’ll let Izma know where we are.”

 

“You can’t be serious…” Nyx whispered. She shook her head slowly, and looked at Elmiryn. “Please tell me you aren’t buying this!”

 

Elmiryn felt a sweat drop trail down the side of her pulsing temple. “I–I’m not–”

 

Lethia’s voice was low and fast. “Elmiryn, she’s just a caricature of Nyx. She’s too arrogant. Selfish. For Halward’s sake, she’s unbelievably pretentious! Is this the same girl you care about so much?”

 

Help!” Nyx screamed suddenly, putting her whole body into the cry. “Someone, please!

 

“They won’t hear you,” Lethia murmured. Her expression was dark.

 

“HEY! THEY’RE GOING TO SHOOT ME!”

 

“This isn’t Izma’s world. She just set up a stage on it. So I was able to gain control of these people. You’re without help.”

 

Nyx stared around her wildly. No one was moving. No one behaved as if they heard her at all. Slowly, she looked at Elmiryn.

 

“Please…” she begged, tears streaming down her face. “Don’t!”

 

Elmiryn frowned at her. “Do you…do you know what Lethia is talking about? Do you know who this Izma is?”

 

“Elmiryn, I like you! I really do! I know we just met, but please! Don’t do this to me!”

 

The woman’s frown deepened as she heard her voice in her head.

 

“What if you regret it? Where will that put us then?”

 

She didn’t remember ever saying that, but that was definitely her voice. Was it really a memory? Of a different time, a different place, a different person?

 

“I don’t want to hurt you,” she murmured, gripping the pistol. Her thumb checked the safety. It was off.

 

Nyx clasped her hands together and fell to her knees. “I can pretend this never happened! I won’t breathe a word, I promise! I’m even sorry that we ever met, but is it really right to punish me for that!? I didn’t ask for this!”

 

Elmiryn’s brow twitched as she heard Nyx’s voice in her head.

 

“…And for the record, Elmiryn, I never regret anything when it comes to you!”

 

Her face pulled long.

 

Nyx held out a hand to her. “Elle, please!

 

“I’m sorry.” The woman raised the gun and fired. The sound was loud, and her bones seemed to vibrate from the shock.

 

“…You don’t make me want to believe,” she breathed in the stillness.

 

Red spray stained the concrete dark.

 

Her hand stung from the force of the shot.

 

The people around them still did not move, as if nothing had happened.

 

Elmiryn let her hand drop, and as she watched Nyx’s blood pool out onto the ground, she found…she felt nothing. No horror, or glee.

 

“Do you remember?” Lethia asked quietly.

 

The woman stared at her cousin and gave a small shake of her head. “Not really.”

 

“But you know this life is a lie, don’t you?”

 

Elmiryn gave a stiff nod.

 

Lethia patted her shoulder. “Then that will have to be enough for now. I wasn’t kidding, Elmiryn. We have a time limit. Izma will try to stop us, and we still have the problem of getting Meznik free.”

 

“Why do we need him?” Elle’s voice was hollow.

 

“Believe me. I don’t do this out of any particular joy. But it’s necessary for the moment. A means to an end.”

 

“Can you…make the people in there not attack us? Like out here?”

 

Lethia bit her lip and shook her head. “No. I was able to take hold of this group because they were not aware. But the minds of this world are…foreign. I won’t be able to take hold of Izma’s other familiars within the precinct, and the other officers will be on alert. We’ll have to fight our way through.”

 

“And I’m…good at fighting, aren’t I?” Elmiryn murmured. In her head, she substituted the word ‘fighting’ with ‘killing.’ She could feel it, like an aftertaste riding on the reality of Nyx’s abrupt execution.

 

Lethia’s voice suggested she was aware of the distinction. “Yes. You are. Very good. That’s why I need you to remember as much as you can.”

 

The woman took a breath and looked at the girl. “Are you still my cousin?” She hated how vulnerable she sounded.

 

The blonde hesitated. “I…can be. If you want me to.”

 

“I do.”

 

“Then let’s go, cousin.”

 

Elmiryn clenched her jaw as she raised her pistol. “Let’s rock and roll, then!”

 

QUINCY_________________________

 

The light in the room dimmed.

 

Quincy paused as she glanced around her. Her eyes fell on Lethia.

 

“What just happened?”

 

Lethia rubbed her forehead with a wince. Her green eyes batted a few times before they lifted to meet the wizard’s gaze.

 

Quincy lowered the vial and rested her wrist on the edge of the table. “Are you all right?”

 

The girl stared at her for a few moments.

 

When she spoke, it was with a whisper. “I’m fine. Go ahead and drink, Quincy.”

 

The wizard scowled, and did just that. The drink burned her throat.


Back to Breaktime | Forward to Chapter 37.4