Parallels. Elmiryn would never admit this, though she had a disconcerting awareness of it. A leaning of common decency that she had always tucked to the side whenever her father or mother came near, or whenever training with her fellows. It tickled at the back of her fingertips–feathery brushes that painted her skin flushed and heated. Bodily functions. They made her too human sometimes, it seemed. Parallels. Such neat lines to her as to hold up this little atrocity, this nasty truth that drew up a harsher shade to her being. Fighting was such a carnal act. A mosaic of broken images and sounds and smells and tastes all clashing together to make the muddied color a child creates whenever he mixes all of life’s palette. Maybe that was all it was. Mud and– Parallels. The blood and the sting of salt. Her own voice a grunt ripping at her, while a heavy danger sought to kill her. How close her end seemed, embedded in the spaces of those crooked fangs like rancid meat. A body over hers. Clothes feeling a bit too tight, and she knew she was on the verge of something. She recalled… Parallels. Tender wrists in her hands, a sort of ache in her that begged release, and a pair of sweet eyes mirroring her desire. The wind a mercy on their heated skin, breath coming as hisses between parted lips. Her teeth wanting to leave a mark on the expensive toy that father said she couldn’t have… Parallels. This fucking thing was going to tear at her. Rip out her throat. Her heart pounded against her chest, and she was only dimly aware of the pain in her right shoulder and hand. Was it okay, to feel so apart from the discomfort? What if that meant she were becoming less alive and more of a ghost?
Paralleled arms holding back the demon ape, who at the moment, didn’t feel altogether so different from her.
The daesce snapped and snarled, body straining and quivering in its fury as it pushed against her hands. This wouldn’t last long, she knew, but even as she tried to shift her weight to throw the creature from her, the monster beat her to it. Tired of its contest of strength with Elmiryn, it turned its right shoulder back without warning, and took her left arm in both of its claws, its scissor grip biting into her bracer and elbow.
Then it gave a great pull, its thick leg sliding up her chest to keep her body down as a stab of sharp pain hit her shoulder then down her forearm. The side of her left neck went numb and tingled.
To the warrior’s credit, she did not scream, but she could not contain her yell of pain. If her arm wasn’t broken, it was, at the least, severely dislocated. The blood that seeped from the monster’s clutches looked no more gentle. Her vision went black and for all her fighting, the dark swallowed her…and were it not for the beast’s rough actions, she may have stayed that way, leaving herself open to an easy kill. The daesce took her forearm in its mouth, the press of its jaws so strong it hurt. The thing pulled at her arm, sending more waves of pain through her, and this roused her out of her unconsciousness. When she reoriented herself, she was certain the daesce’s fangs would break through the leather of her bracer. There was no concern of ghostly disconnection now. She was utterly in tune with the excruciating sensations, aligning her once more with the mortal life. She would’ve been screaming outright if the monster’s weight wasn’t so tremendous as to make breathing a labor. The daesce shifted so that its elbow pressed on her cheek, and her cries were sent into the creature’s fur. The smell of the monster was horrid.
The daesce yanked backward hard and she gurgled, vision turning fuzzy then black again, for a moment. She fought to stay conscious. If she didn’t, the damn thing was literally going to rip her arm out of its socket. She felt the leather of her bracer break and some of the daesce’s fangs bite into her. Any harder and the bracer would give, allowing the creature to snap her forearm like a twig.
Now the parallels were broken, like her arm probably was, and Elmiryn was marginally glad that her depravity didn’t crawl so far. She saw no pleasure in this anymore. Now she just wanted the fucking thing dead.
Struggling, the woman twisted her right arm and tried to worm her hand behind her. The daesce had pressed her almost two inches into the snow with all their struggles. She scraped frantically with her fingers. If Nyx wasn’t helping, then there was likely something wrong with Lethia. Seriously wrong. She twisted her body and managed to scrape the pommel of her dagger with the tips of her fingers. “Is the kid okay?” The warrior thought distantly to herself.
The daesce shifted its elbows from Elmiryn’s face and pulled back hard once more. This lifted her body up from the snow, and though a scream tore up her throat, the warrior still had the presence of mind to draw her dagger.
She didn’t hesitate in her strike.
The first blow was directed at the daesce’s neck, and the blade sunk in to the hilt. The daesce let go of her, a bubbly exhale slipping past its horrid fangs. She pulled the knife out and with a yell, blood spurting over her. She felt the dark liquid enter her mouth, like some nasty agent bringing to mind chemical acid and a sense of violation. She shut her lips and pressed the back of her tongue to the roof of her mouth to keep what little there was from going down her throat. She then slashed at the daesce’s black pug face, cutting across both eyes, and turned her face from the warm spray that hit her. The monster reared back, ugly sounds coming from its cut throat. It slashed wildly with its claws making Elmiryn squirm to dodge and block. It caught the woman on her left brow and her collar bone. Poisonous blood sat on her tongue and she spat it out. Elmiryn winced and pushed back into the snow with her shoulders, giving her leverage as she kneed the monster in the side, then stabbed into the other. As the beast fell over, the blade dragged, letting more of its life flood out onto the snow. The daesce still lashed out, but it was weaker now, and it could not bring itself to sit up. The pain Elmiryn felt was nauseating, and the blackness crept along the edges of her vision again, but she rolled over onto her knees and with dagger raised, stabbed into the beasts chest repeatedly till it stopped moving.
The rusted snow about them was splashed a shade darker, and she was covered in hot blood–disgusting but it did its part in fending off the cold. Her daesce hide was somewhere nearby along with her sword. She’d have to look for those. But first…
She cleaned the blade on the snow, then sheathed her dagger and cradled her left arm to her chest. The woman turned her eyes in the direction of Nyx and Lethia. The girl was crying over the enchantress, hands pressed to her chest which was almost completely stained dark. Cursing, the woman crawled away from the daesce corpse to where the snow was a shade lighter (all the snow there looked so dirty.) She took some in her right hand and washed her bare skin with it. The fabric had soaked the monster blood in, but her face and hands could be freed of it, and if she wanted to help Lethia, she’d have to get rid of the poisonous stains. When this work was done, she folded over so that her chest and upper thighs pinched her left arm between, keeping it from flopping around, and with her now free right hand, she pulled a vial out from her boot. Putting the vial gingerly between her teeth, she straightened and took hold of her left arm again as she crawled to the two girls. Her forearm was stabbing with sharp pain, and her shoulder sent waves of agony washing through her thoughts. The warrior’s breath was labored and her face dripping with snow making her features turn numb.
“Move.” Elmiryn bit out as she came up behind Nyx. She stopped next to Lethia’s body, hissing as she saw the injuries. The girl appeared to have been cut badly along the chest. The worst of it seemed to be along the breast, where amid the blood she could make out how deep the wound went, going so far as to reach the fat and intricate blood vessels. While the rest of the cut looked bad, it wasn’t as severe, but that wasn’t to say that blood loss wasn’t a threat.
“Press the skin together as best you can!” The warrior told Nyx as she uncorked the vial with her teeth, her left arm pinched in the crook of her right arm, which she had to press close to her body just to be able to hold the damaged limb up. The translucent silver liquid in the vial sloshed a little, and the woman jerked back with a scowl.
Nyx scowled at it. ”Wh-What–”
“Shh!” The woman snapped, holding the vial delicately now that it was open. ”Down there, press the edge of the wound as close together as you can and keep going up as I pour this, okay? Don’t let it touch you.”
The girl did as she was told. Then with a deep breath, Elmiryn lowered the vial over the bottom of end of Lethia’s wound…and tipped it, just enough for a trickle to come out.
There was a hiss as the skin bubbled. Lethia’s back arched and her eyes flew open, sending some of the liquid to go trailing down her stomach, where it sizzled the skin. Her arms flailed, like the muscles spasmed, and a stray hand nearly knocked the vial away.
“Put your knees on her shoulders, gods damn it, and grab her arms!!” Elmiryn barked as she leaned back far.
Nyx flinched and followed her order, but her eyes were incredulous. ”Elmiryn is that the monster liquid that Graziano uses on the scultones!?”
“Yes.” Elmiryn poured some more of the liquid, and the silver bondage mingled with the blood, turning it dark…but the skin closed. Lethia was conscious again, gibbering. The woman spoke over her. ”I stole some of it after they used it on Argos. I’ve been carrying this vial around in my boot ever since, just for a moment like this.”
“But that was meant only to be used on hard tough skin like the scultones! They didn’t even use so much for Argos’ wound! You don’t know what this could do to her, Elle!! Shouldn’t we atleast sew her up first or–”
“This is all we have, and she needs this wound closed up now.”
“This is called field medicine, Nyx. Nothing about it is ‘gentle’ or entirely ‘safe’. You want Lethia to survive? Then she’ll have to live with the scars.”
“It isn’t just scars I’m concerned about, gods damn it, it’s–”
Lethia’s screams reached a peak, silencing both women. Elmiryn had reached the girl’s breast, the most difficult part. The rest of the cut had been more or less sealed. The skin was raw and puffy, and had a twinge of gray to it. There were small gaps along the wound as the warrior couldn’t use too much of the liquid, and Lethia’s squirmings made the liquid trickle out to burn the surrounding skin in whimsical lines that reminded her of glass windows on a rainy day.
“The fact that she has the energy to scream and fight us so much shows that she hasn’t lost so much blood for it to be fatal yet,” Elmiryn said, wincing as she wiped at her brow. Her left arm was killing her. ”But we’re not done.” She looked at her companion. ”…I don’t like this either, y’know.” And she found she meant it. Lethia was to be under their protection. The girl had trusted them, and her blood stained the snow. Elmiryn felt something gnawing on her heart but tried to keep focused. The girl was not lost yet.
Nyx’s chin crumpled and her lips pressed together. There were tears in her eyes, but she made no other sound or motion other than to press the edges of Lethia’s wound close together and to settle more securely on the youth’s shoulders. ”Aelurus, ia-moa, nich Lethia lunam…” she whispered, but her prayer turned inward and the woman heard nothing more.
Elmiryn held the bottle near, swallowing as Lethia stared at her with wild eyes, her pale face sprayed with her own blood. ”No, no, no!! Don’t! Stop, please stop!!” she wailed.
The warrior gazed her way for a moment before she tipped the last of the liquid out, emptying the long vial.
Lethia threw her head back and howled, the sound wrought with pain and an unnameable animal emotion. If the daesce had any desire to challenge them again, the girl’s scream surely would have put an end to it.
The skin knitted back together, but the shape of the girl’s breast was clearly never going to be what it once was. The scar was wide and seemed dented in. The rest of the wound had become a dark gray, marring the youth’s marble body. Elmiryn bowed her head and sighed. She sat back and so did Nyx. Lethia writhed between them, her head lolling now and again. She was caught in fever, it seemed.
“We have to go back,” Nyx rasped, her eyes now freely weeping tears.
“No.” Elmiryn breathed.
Her companion stared at her as though she were mad.
“What do you mean…’no’?”
Elmiryn shook her head but couldn’t look at the girl. Her Words held some sense to them, and the compassion that laced her voice was like a barrage to the warrior’s judgement. She knew they could not return…and it hurt to defy such feelings. ”You did good, pressing at her wound like that, Nyx. Any other person would’ve thought the cause lost, but the injury wasn’t as severe as it looked. It would’ve killed her, if you hadn’t done anything, because then Lethia would have kept bleeding freely. But…we can’t go back.”
“Elmiryn look at her!” Nyx half-shouted. ”Are you seeing this!?”
The woman grit her teeth, knowing what the girl had really meant by ‘seeing’. ”Yes,” she intoned. ”I am seeing this. And we still can’t go back.”
“Lethia wouldn’t want us to quit. She’s…strong. In a way I hadn’t seen before. She can do this, Nyx.”
“She’s just a girl.”
“Going backward is no safer than going forward, y’know. In fact, it may be harder.”
“Bullshit!” Nyx stood to her feet, trembling in fury. She pointed at Lethia. ”She is not a tool for you to use! She isn’t your lackey. She’s a young girl who’s life is at risk and we can’t force her forward into peril just for the sake of your fucking quest!”
Elmiryn stood, her ire raising. ”I never saw Lethia as a tool, or a lackey. You dishonor her by trying to hold her back!”
“What, from certain death!?”
“No!! From carrying out her ultimate wish! To save her mistress! Fuck, you know I was against this idea in the beginning, and fine, I wanted to find out the connection these people had with Meznik, but it’s gone beyond that now!”
“I don’t believe you!” Nyx shrilled, her clawed fists curling at her sides. There was something behind her words–something desperate.
Elmiryn looked at the girl down her nose. Her companion shrunk beneath this gaze, the fury draining from her face as she took a step back.
“And I don’t believe you.” Elmiryn snapped. ”Your Words tell me the truth. Didn’t I tell you, I can hear your true Meaning? You know that isn’t how I feel.” The woman sighed and tilted her head back. ”There could be some medicine in the tower. Maybe some herbs to lower her fever and to help her body from the effects of the blood loss. We can’t go back. Not only would it dishonor her, it could kill her.”
Lethia sighed at their feet. Both women crouched quickly, eyes wide as they took in the sight of the enchantress’ eyes fluttering to stare at them. She took a deep breath and reached a hand out to Nyx.
“…up…” she whispered.
“Lethia, we probably shouldn’t move you–”
“I think it’d be okay,” Elmiryn said to Nyx. ”The bond works upon contact, so as long as she doesn’t twist her body or something, she should be fine.”
Nyx sighed and took Lethia’s hand.
“Move slow, though,” Elmiryn warned.
Nyx said nothing to acknowledge her, but helped Lethia upright, and she did so slowly. Lethia’s eyes rolled a little in her head, but she managed to focus on the Ailuran. Then she looked down at her chest. A low, choked sound squelched from deep in her throat, as though she were trying to cry through a slosh of bile. She reached toward the gray scar with a trembling hand, but Elmiryn caught her arm.
“Don’t. Just leave it be for now. If it works like it did for Argos, then it should be fine within a few minutes.”
“Huh…” Lethia sighed, wincing. Her eyes lit onto Elmiryn’s left arm. ”What happened to…?” Her voice floated between scratchy and phlegmy.
The woman looked at her arm and grinned. ”I killed the daesce that got you, but not without it fucking me up.” The woman shrugged her right shoulder. ”I’ll live,” Her grin widened. ”So will you.”
“Huh,” the girl said again. She swallowed and leaned against Nyx, but winced and let out a small cry when she moved her torso too much. The Ailuran hugged her gingerly. ”What did you…use? On me?” the youth asked her.
Nyx glanced at Elmiryn before answering. ”A bonding liquid Graziano had. It’s…strong.”
“It hurt.” Lethia’s brows pressed together in a tight bunch over tearing eyes. ”It still hurts…so much!”
“Can you keep going?” Elmiryn asked, frowning.
Lethia didn’t answer her, just stared ahead blankly. Then her eyes slipped shut. ”I need a–” she winced, a hiss slipping her teeth. Nyx’s face turned stricken and she looked at the redhead. The woman just shook her head. The enchantress continued after her eyes rolled back open, “I need…a moment. Can I have my daesce hide? I’m…cold.”
Nyx nodded and pulled the hide over the girl’s upper body. She looked at Elmiryn as Lethia settled into her arms. ”We have to dress her wound to keep the skin from breaking. We have nothing sterile. But…we can change the wrappings once we’re in the tower. For now, we can use my tunic. Those are cleaner than the wraps on my hands.”
“I can use your wraps. The cuts I have aren’t so bad, so I can treat them in the tower. First, set Lethia down. You’ll need my help with her, but I have to set my shoulder back in. You know how to do that, right?”
“Yes, Atalo did it twice when he was a boy and I had to pop it back in. I’ve popped back my own arm before, too. Just let me set Lethia down.” Nyx let the girl lie back, her eyes on her face. Then her brows pressed together. ”Is it okay to let her sleep like that?”
“With that pain? She isn’t sleeping.”
“No’sleepin’,” Lethia affirmed in a mumbled voice. ”Feel like vomitin’.”
“You’ll be okay,” Elmiryn said to her as Nyx came near.
The girl took the woman’s arm and looked at her. ”Are you ready? Just relax.”
The warrior stared ahead, her right hand gently resting on the top of her lap. She let her knees touch the ground and tried to relax her muscles. Nyx took her wrist and elbow and rotated the arm outward slowly. Elmiryn bit her tongue at how her shoulder hurt from the slight movement. She closed her eyes and hummed gently to herself to distract from what she felt.
“Y’know,” Nyx breathed in a flat, disconnected tone, as she rotated the arm slowly back toward the body. ”When you shot me with the arrow the night we met? My shoulder dislocated then. Popping it in yourself hurts much worse than–” as the girl rotated the arm back outward, the joint suddenly slipped back into place. Elmiryn grit her teeth and would’ve rocked forward had Nyx not held her upright. ”Still! Stay still!”
The redhead’s face flashed cold and everything from her left hand’s fingers to the top of her head tingled. ”Damn!” the woman hissed, opening her eyes and taking her left arm with her right.
Nyx nodded at her as she unwrapped her hands. ”You’ve never dislocated your shoulder before?”
“Or been stabbed with a sword,” The redhead added, panting as she tried to keep the spit up that burned her from coming all the way up her throat. ”But that changed today too.”
The girl gripped the woman’s left forearm tightly as she started to make the sling. ”Quincy stabbed you!?”
Elmiryn’s eyes bugged and she jerked back. ”Ouch, OUCH! Fucking hell, Nyx, did I mention I think my forearm’s fractured!?”
Nyx let go as though shocked, her eyes wide with alarm. ”Oh! Oh my goodness, I’m sorry!” Elmiryn gave the girl a reproving stare, but then, Nyx’s face shifted to mirror it. ”Elle! Why didn’t you tell me about your arm?! We need a splint for it!”
“And we’d use what as a splint? There’s nothing out here!” The woman groused, squinting as she tried to see if the girl’s squeeze had made her arm crooked or something.
“There’s bones we can use, for heaven’s sake!”
“I–” Elmiryn paused, blinking up at her. ”There is?” She looked around. Her eyes saw walls of black night with stones and rocks like earthy fingers coming through the stained snow. The bridge they traveled parallel along was a disruption to the dark horizon. And there may have even been glowing wisps of interests (“No, the daesce–their eyes catch the weak light,”) but she saw no bones. ”I don’t see it.”
Nyx sighed as she stood and went back the way they had come. She stooped down to pick something up from the snow, and there, when Elmiryn strained her eyes, she thought she saw spindly objects, like pale spiky plants, amidst the snow. The girl stepped on one end of the bone and pulled, snapping off the bulky head. She then repeated this for the other side, leaving only a straight piece. Nyx returned, a long femur in her petite hand, still furry and clawed.
She crouched down next to Elmiryn and looked at her. She pointed at the woman’s right sleeve with the bone she held.
“Can I cut a piece off to use for padding? Your doublet looks thick. I won’t use much, just enough to pad your arm in the right places,” She said. The woman nodded. ”Then let me get your dagger for a moment.”
The girl reached around and took the blade from its sheath and set down the bone. She carefully cut off the sleeve up to the elbow. Then she placed the piece around the woman’s arm and began to wrap the arm using the long bandage. After she had wrapped the arm once, she pressed the bone to Elmiryn’s forearm. The girl’s hands, though no longer sapien in nature, were no less adroit, and the woman felt no more discomfort than what she already did. She watched, mildly fascinated as Nyx proceeded to make the arm sling. First she looped the long bandage around the woman’s wrist, then around her neck, then close to the elbow. After looping it once more, the Ailuran tied the bandage behind the woman’s neck.
Elmiryn looked at Nyx’s other bandage, which she used for her other arm. ”You can use that for Lethia.”
The girl nodded, already taking off her tunic. The shivers immediately set in, but Nyx’s face was hard with concentration as she cut out a large square from her tunic, nearly all the back. Then she gestured for the woman to follow her. ”Come help me put this on her. Just prop her up with your body so that I can get around her torso easier.”
The two women scooted back toward Lethia, this time with Elmiryn near the girl’s head and Nyx at her side. Her companion gently shook Lethia’s shoulder as her other hand pulled off the hide.
“Lethia,” The girl said, a hint of uneasiness in her voice. ”We have to lift you up. We’re going to bandage your wound, okay?”
The girl’s eyes opened a fraction, showing the whites. Her lips and throat moved as she made an indeterminate sound. Elmiryn and Nyx exchanged looks before they moved to lift the girl. With the Ailuran’s aid, the warrior was able to hold Lethia up in a sitting position, her right arm looping beneath her left arm pit and across the enchantress’s shoulders. Nyx pressed the folded cloth to the girl’s wound. The large piece she cut managed to cover most of the wound, leaving only the stray lines where the silver bonding liquid had burned the girl’s skin exposed. Elmiryn noted the pink tinge to Nyx’s cheeks as she wrapped the bandage around the girl’s naked torso. The front of her dress was so severely cut that the Ailuran didn’t have to tear it much to be able to reach around. The warrior sucked at her teeth, suddenly disliking the idea of how intimate Nyx’s first aid was with the girl, but the impracticality of this sentiment was not lost on her, so she tried to ignore it.
All of their work, though it felt as though it took forever, was finally done.
Nyx sat back after tying the end of the bandage. She wiped at her brow and looked at Elmiryn.
“Well?” she prompted, gesturing at Lethia who was now staring sleepily at the sky. ”How would you like to proceed, given the state we’re in?”
Elmiryn looked down at Lethia and gave her shoulders a terse shake with her right arm. The girl’s eyes widened a degree but still appeared lidded. (“Elle, be gentle!” Nyx snapped.) The youth appeared paler, and her eyes held a hint of delirium. She hissed out a breath before swallowing hard, and looked at Elmiryn with a frown.
“Now?” she whispered.
The woman nodded.
The girl’s lips pressed together and she moved to sit up. Her face screwed up in pain and she grit her teeth. Elmiryn helped her as best she could with her free hand. She bit back a grunt when the teenager bumped her left arm. Nyx came forward and pulled the girl away from her so that the woman could stand up herself. It took almost a whole minute for all three to stand together.
Lethia touched the bandage on her chest, and from where Elmiryn stood, she could see the way the front of the dress exposed the enchantress’ skin stained with red. The woman crouched briefly to pick up the girl’s daesce hide, and when she stood, she draped it over the girl’s shoulders. Lethia smiled her thanks, but her lips quivered.
With a deep breath, the youth looked forward, and Elmiryn and Nyx followed her gaze. The tower was less than a quarter of a mile away now. Resolution flashed across the teenager’s face and she took a step forward. She swayed a little but fended off Nyx’s attempt to help. She took another step, steadier. Then another. Elmiryn smiled after the girl in approval.
“She’s strong,” she whispered with a smile to Nyx. Lethia was two yards away from them.
Nyx looked at her sideways. ”She’s stubborn. Like someone else I know.” But amidst the worry and exhaustion in her voice, there was a sense of relief.
Elmiryn touched her companion’s shoulder. ”I know…you’re scared for her. But this isn’t your choice. You can’t shield her, Nyx. And if anything happens to her…it won’t be your fault…”
The girl looked away, her head tilting forward some so that her wild bangs shielded her tawny eyes. ”It isn’t just Lethia I’m worried about, y’know,” she mumbled.
The woman felt her chest tighten a little. She let her hand trail from the girl’s shoulder down to brush her knuckles against the tender side of the girl’s wrist. ”…I know,” she breathed.
“Hey!” Lethia’s trembling voice floated back to them. And the two looked to see that she had traveled quite a ways by herself. Her voice sounded tight and raspy, but her eyes were sharper.
“Why am I the only one walking?” the enchantress asked, her lip pouting.