Tributaries Cover In Sight, In Mind Cover Blackwood Cover

Chapter 8.1

NYX____________________________

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

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

It was raining at Gamath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…I can what?”

“Nevermind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———

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

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

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

“Nyx.”

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

“I’m still cold.”

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

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

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

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

Nothing to diminish the intimacy.

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

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

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

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

“No?”  She sounded unconcerned.

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

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

I tensed.  “You mean a therian?”

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

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

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

“Was it the gargoyle?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I heard myself speak.

“…You want something I have.”

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

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

I responded.

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

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

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

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

“Nyx!?” she cried.

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

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

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

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

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

…Terror struck me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Back to Chapter 7.4 | Forward to Chapter 8.2

Chapter 8.2

ELMIRYN________________________

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

People only have one set of eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

“Elmiryn!”

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

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

“You all need to leave.”

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

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

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

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

Her lips still burned.

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

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

“Does She…speak to you?”

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

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

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

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

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

How it would go small and quiet.

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

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

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

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

The girl was angry.

“…Nyx, look at me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kind of like how you think of me.”

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

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

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

“Elmiryn, please answer my question.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then she couldn’t keep it in anymore.

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

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

The woman’s laughter died instantly.

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

————-

Mid-afternoon.

The rain died.

Elmiryn didn’t mourn it.

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

Was it because these streets were inhabited by ghosts?

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

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

The real question was, would Nyx come back?

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

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

“Miss.”

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

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

Opal blinked. “How?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hoo’sfere?

“…What? Elmiryn, are you all right?”

Nyx.

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

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

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

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

“Nyx, could you do me a favor?”

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

“Push me.”

“Sorry?”

“I said push me. Hard. Go on.”

“But…but why??

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

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

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

“Are you okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The girl sighed. “Okay, fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

Nyx nodded and stood.

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

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

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

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

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

—–

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

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

“Well, I did. But why did you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Back to Chapter 8.1 | Forward to Chapter 8.3

Chapter 8.3

NYX____________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I.  Was.  Anathema.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…Do you believe in astral demons?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Back to Chapter 8.2 | Forward to Chapter 8.4

Chapter 8.4

NYX____________________________

Nighttime.

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

But a part of me was glad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shifted nervously.  “Do what?”

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

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

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

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

“…But it’s not the truth.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I reeled.

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

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

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

“Oh gods, it won’t be that easy!”

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

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

“Nyx.”

I closed my eye.  “Yes?”

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

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

“Yeah.  Close your eye again.”

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

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

“Elmiryn–”

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

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

But my eye slipped shut.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I…um…”

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

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

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

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

“Really?”

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

She crossed her arms.  “Enlighten me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I bit my lip.  “I think so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, Nyx?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did I do?” She said behind me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I looked at her, taken aback.  “I–I–”

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

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

And I paused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I blinked.  “…Really?”

She snickered.  “You sound disappointed.”

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

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

“Oh, right…”

“…What’s the matter?”

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

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

“…Okay.”

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

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

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

 

…quietly…quietly…

we speak to fall.

but close at heart

are we

from the start:till death apart

are we

 


End of Part I


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