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Chapter 33.3

ELMIRYN________________________

Wham.

Elmiryn was so caught off guard that she barely flinched her head to the side in time to avoid a broken nose or a broken front tooth. The impact of Nyx’s fist was so hard she was knocked flat onto her back and her vision went dark before returning in a fuzzy, spinning tunnel. Disoriented, she couldn’t make out what was happening until she felt something pounce on her with fingers digging into her skin like claws.

Üle hejka, lunae! Üle hejka, LUNAE!!” she heard Nyx scream.

She remembered those Ailuran words. The bond she had shared with Nyx had given her knowledge of the therian language, though it was like giving an incomplete cipher key to a foreign child. The warrior covered her head as she felt punches rain down on her, and she tried to focus her thoughts. The assault only lasted a few seconds before the woman heard a loud, thunk, and felt Nyx cry out as she fell off of her.

Blearily, Elmiryn opened her eyes.

Nyx scrambled to all fours, her back arched, her facial features swimming in an illusory haze of sapien to feline and back. Quincy held her staff at the ready, her body tense but with an aura of certainty she had lacked before. Hakeem appeared at Elmiryn’s side, his little hands helping her to sit up.

“Quincy,” Elmiryn managed to slur out. “Don’ hurt her…”

“That might be a little difficult, Elmiryn,” The wizard responded without so much as a turn of her head.

Lunae,” Nyx panted, her skin shimmering suddenly in black fur, before shifting back to gray skin, then back to its usual pale luster. She snapped her teeth, and her eyes went cat, fangs clearly in her mouth, before they too vanished out of sight. Foamy saliva dripped from her quivering lips. “Lunae. Och mochitye, ya bodani oobivat. Oobivez, kotorik rak moyet syemta. Och ni da oobivat! LUNAE!

Nyx leapt at Quincy with remarkable grace and power, her limbs suddenly like that of a cat, before the wizard dodged her and—blink—the animal limbs were gone upon the moment the Ailuran hit the dirt, and she was once more just a bipedal creature awkwardly on all fours. Meanwhile, the redhead managed to grasp onto something meaningful in her thoughts.

‘Lunae’…’Lunae’ means die. She’s telling us to die. And ‘hejka’ means traitor. She thinks we’re traitors?

Elmiryn woozily stood to her feet. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been hit so hard…and was that molar feeling loose? The woman rubbed at her throbbing face and said, “Quincy jes’ hold on a moment.”

“I can’t Elmiryn. Busy,” Quincy snapped back.

Nyx charged for her again and the wizard twirled her staff. Light shot up and down the length of it before the woman snapped it toward her attacker in one quick strike. It hit the Ailuran in the shoulder and the girl cried out as she spun and crashed down onto the dirt.

Elmiryn gave a shake of her head to clear the stars she still saw and advanced on the wizard.

‘Oobivat’. Means kill. ‘Oobivez’. Means murderers. ‘Syemta’ means…

Her eyes went wide.

Nyx began to tremble, and her skin rippled visibly. Her body contorted in agony as she groaned and let her head drop. Elmiryn placed a hand on Quincy’s shoulder. Partly for support, partly to let the wizard know she was there, and partly so she could hold the woman back.

“What’s happening…” she whispered.

Quincy shook her head as Hakeem appeared on Elmiryn’s left. “I don’t know,” the brunette responded.

Lunae…lunae…lunae…” Nyx breathed raggedly. Her hands went to naked paws, then back to hands. Her spine bulged in her back, then vanished beneath the skin. “Och ni da oobivat. Lunae! Lu–” She broke off in a scream, her forehead touching the dirt as she curled up and pressed her hands to the sides of her head. Then without warning…

They all heard Kali’s voice. “No. No. NO! You idiot! You’re just letting it get the better of you!”

Elmiryn raised an eyebrow and looked at Quincy sidelong. The other woman was doing the same. Hakeem dared to step closer, his hands held up cautiously before him. “Ikati?” he breathed.

Nyx slammed her head into the dirt once. Twice. Three times. It looked painful. “Damn you! Let this go!”

There was a small growl, then suddenly it was Nyx’s voice again, all filled with wrath. “Cajeck! Kincht de nedret! Teme och ni aldan!?”

Then it was Kali again. “You idiot baboon, it’s coming again, it’s–”

LUNAE!

“They’re battling each other,” Elmiryn murmured.

“No.” Quincy shook her head.

“They’re battling the beast inside,” Hakeem finished. He bowed his head in thought for a moment, then raised it with a shrug. “Or maybe, they are all battling each other.”

“Is there anything we can do?” Elmiryn asked, feeling almost desperate for action.

Quincy leaned on her staff and placed a hand on her hip. “Unless you know how to dive into that hurricane of a mind, there is nothing left for us to do but wait.”

Elmiryn thought about this seriously, one hand on her chin.

Well I could just use my fae power and…

“Wait.” Quincy looked at her sharply. She thrust a finger into the warrior’s face, her eyes narrowed. “Don’t. Even. Think. About it.”

“But I could make myself really tiny and–”

“What in the fuck? I–no–I can’t even–Gods no. Elmiryn, just shut up and wait. Ugh, you can be such a quack.

Elmiryn pouted, genuinely stung. “It was just an idea…” she mumbled.

KALI____________________________

Three monoliths swathed in a cascade of liquid memories, all simmering and shimmering in the transcendent glow of years melded with sorrow, joy, anger, and fear. These giant spires were testaments to a single entity, but they were separated on islands of thought and being, an ocean of darkness and void keeping them from unity. On one island was Kali, her feline head raised as she roared over the vast expanse at Nyx, who sat seized by trailing insanity from the Last, the Nameless One, the Beast, who was on her own island black and featureless as ever, but with a calmness that could have been interpreted as equal parts infuriating and disturbing.

“Nyx!” Kali shouted, her claws digging into the dirt. Behind her loomed her monolith, its colors swathed in times spent resentful of her sister, times spent happily under the full moon. The feline persona paced as she tried to reach her counterpart with Words she had just come to learn the power of. “Listen to me! I know things have been hard! I know things have not worked out well between us! But we have to stop this! We have to come together again!”

“Why?” Nyx snarled, her body trembling as she leaned back against her monolith—a spire of pain and sadness, shame and fear, bittersweet love and unexpected joys. “You never wanted me! You hated me! You always have! Why should we come together when we let something like that out!?” She pointed at the Nameless One.

The Nameless One did not move, did not react. Its monolith was a wavering black, its years spent gathering all the rage and fury and frustration its counterparts had felt almost pure and undiluted. Smooth susurrations came floating in the air from it.

Traitor…

Murderer…

Die…die…die…DIE.

The Nameless One’s island floated closest to the surface, where a bright wall reflected the goings on of the Real World. Kali was the second closest to the surface, but she was not close enough to beat out the Beast, and certainly not enough to bring the monster down. Still, at least she had gotten the creature to stop attacking the others. That shock from Quincy had really helped.

“I know I said all of those things,” Kali growled out in frustration. “I know I haven’t been fair to you…but can’t you say the same!? We have let our troubles pull us even further apart, and for what? For this monstrosity to get the better of us?”

“We are the reason our family is dead. We are the reason that thing got loose and hurt so many. We don’t deserve to come together again…” Nyx said through tightly clenched teeth.

“If we just continue to sit here, it won’t matter what you or I think, the Beast will become loose once more! Don’t you see? We have to deal with this!”

Nyx laughed emptily. “We can’t ‘deal’ with this. We can hardly deal with ourselves.”

“That isn’t true!”

“No?” Nyx glared up at Kali, her face coloring in anger. “Who blamed me for being too weak to keep Atalo safe? For being stupid enough to try and fight for our freedom against the Illuminati?” The black ocean around her island began to lap up higher on the sand.

Kali’s eyes widened. “Nyx, don’t you’re going to–”

Nyx ran her over with her Words, her eyes ablaze. “Who made power plays whenever she could just so she could have an ounce of control, however insignificant, at the possible expense of both our lives!?”

“Nyx, listen to me–”

“Admit it. This isn’t about the Beast, and this isn’t about me. This is about you. You are a base and crass creature and all you can think about is surviving one more day. But what does that day mean except more time for you to ruin someone’s life?”

The void was closing in. Nyx, in her sudden anger, now stood only on a small spit of land. Kali gazed down at this in alarm, feeling her counterpart float farther away so that her voice became a distant thing. She looked up. The Beast was near to breaking the surface again. If it gained total control once more, Kali wasn’t so sure she could bring it back down on her own. The others may end up having to kill them all.

Kali’s ears drooped and she lay herself down near the edge, her head cushioned by her paws. “Nyx…I’m sorry.” The girl below only continued to glare up at her. The feline let out a small rumble and flicked an ear. “I mean it, you idiot! I’m sorry! I was quick to blame you because of what happened to Atalo. And afterwards, all I could do was resent you for being the one in control all the time. I didn’t think you were strong or smart enough. But I was wrong. You’ve gotten us here so far, and while things could be better, I think I’d rather have a chance at having my life mean something than to have it amount to only mourning the dead and slavering over what meager prey I manage to catch for supper. Seeing more of your world…I know now that I could not survive alone in it. Not without someone with the finer understandings like you have. In fact, my sanctuary can feel quite safe in comparison to what you go through. I should be there for you more, but I’m not, and for that I am truly, deeply sorry. We are two parts of a greater whole, and we shouldn’t be in such disharmony. I just want to fix that. The gods know I’m tired of fighting.”

Nyx stared up at Kali with her mouth open, her eyes narrowed.

Kali let out a huff of air and closed her eyes, a tear leaking down her furry face. “If you won’t fight with me, then I will not fight, for there is nothing to fight for without you. There is nothing. And the gods know, that I am tired of battling the world alone.”

Thunder boomed out around them. It was deep and sorrowful, with edges of screams haunting the lowest depths of its waves. The feline did not move. She was tired. But in a bittersweet way, she felt content. Purged from her were years of pain and misguided hatred. She and Nyx would probably never see eye-to-eye completely. She and Nyx would probably die, right then and there. But Kali found her sliver of a heart lighter than ever it had been before, and with that she knew something of peace.

The thunder echoed far off until there was only silence. Any moment now the Beast would take control of their body, and the others would have to kill them. Kali waited calmly for her demise to come.

Instead, she felt a hand on her face.

Startled, the feline raised her head, her eyes flashing open. Nyx was gazing at her, tears streaming down her face, her hand still gently touching the cat’s fur. The girl sniffled, her features tight and glistening wet. Her island had risen quickly from its depths in the void, and it had joined Kali’s to form a larger mass. The girl suddenly giggled.

“Cajeck,” Nyx said. “Cats can’t cry remember?”

Kali blinked, then flashed a sheepish, furry grin.

A shadow fell over them. Both personas looked up as their third counterpart’s island began to descend, away from the surface of control. The Beast did not seem angry or perturbed by this. Its whispers of hate only grew louder.

DIE DIE DIE DIE

Kali looked at Nyx somberly. “Sister, I believe we have a mess to clean up.”

Nyx returned her gaze. “Yes…I believe we do.”

QUINCY_________________________

When Nyx had gone still and completely silent, Quincy had dared to come close enough to roll the girl onto her back with the end of her staff. Elmiryn looked ready to hold her now, but Hakeem blocked her, hands on her stomach, his face grave as he gave a negative shake of his head. Quincy sucked her teeth as she watched Elmiryn tense up at his intervention, then deflate, almost like a balloon. The relationship between the Fiamman and the Ailuran was not difficult for the wizard to understand. Though a bit too co-dependent for her personally, Quincy also saw how much one positively supported the other. There was an understanding between those two that not many shared. And dare she say it? Perhaps even she and Hakeem did not know such a bond.

Quincy felt those flames of jealousy flare again and she irritatedly huffed at them, trying vainly to put them out of her mind. She crouched, trying to focus her attention on Nyx before her, her staff held tight and ready, her weight shifted just so for perfect springing. She tried repeating her mantra for focus and calm but gave up after only two tries.

She wasn’t that cold person anymore. Golden Quincy was gone. Normal Quincy was back.

She still wasn’t sure which one she liked best.

Her eyes flickered to her husband for a brief moment as he drifted over to Gudahi’s corpse, his body moving with a heaviness that suggested grief and remorse.

Well, at least my observation skills haven’t gone, Quincy thought caustically. She was only half-serious. What truly bothered her was that she could see her husband’s pain.

In the brief time that they had spent with the Lycans, Quincy had found that Hakeem had made a connection with them. One he hadn’t had since his home village was destroyed as a boy. The therians lived simply, and were ruled by honor and brotherhood. He had made a friend in Gudahi. Perhaps even Sanuye. To see both of them die in so short a time by the hands of those in his company must have been one of the greatest of blows.

Not that Quincy disagreed with Elmiryn’s actions. Sanuye’s death was unfortunate, but the Lycans had let their emotions move them to recklessness. Her demise had been of her own making. And in Gudahi’s case? The wizard thought Elmiryn had tried rather well at getting the therian to stand down. Hakeem must have seen this, even if it hurt him to think so. All of these things, of course, were not the foremost of Quincy’s concerns. Oh no. That prize went to the Ailuran girl currently fighting a spiritual battle before her.

Quincy had considered killing Nyx while she was incapacitated. While she felt Gudahi’s death was unavoidable, that didn’t necessarily mean she didn’t see some of his points. What if the Ailuran couldn’t control the darkness inside her? What if it came back and that was all that was left? A quick blow to the head, full of electric shock, and that would have ended the matter right then and there.

But Quincy had made a promise. To Elmiryn.

Damn it all.

So here I sit, staring at a lit bomb as the fuse sizzles to its end. And what surprises will be in store for us? The wizard shook her head with a sigh. How do I end up in these situations?

The time ticked on.

The woman frowned at her left hand. I’m not getting as much power in my swings without a full grip in my left hand. Damned pugot, biting my fingers like that. I nearly lost my grip twirling my staff before…

Then Nyx started to move.

At once everyone was alert, Quincy, Elmiryn, and Hakeem standing in a wide circle around the girl.

“Get ready,” Quincy breathed.

“She might be okay!” Elmiryn snapped.

“We have to be sure,” Hakeem replied tightly.

Nyx’s hands placed themselves on the dirt and she raised herself with quivering arms. A groan slipped her lips and she raised her head.

Quincy took a step forward and lifted her staff up for a strike. Elmiryn took a step toward her as if to stop her.

The wizard locked gazes with the Ailuran.

“Quincy?”

It was Nyx speaking…and her eyes were normal.

Still not satisfied, the woman did not lower her staff. “How are you feeling, Nyx?”

“Where’s Elmiryn?” the girl mumbled, touching her head.

The redhead was at her side in an instant, her hands gripping Nyx’s shoulder’s tightly.

“I’m right here, kitten,” Elmiryn said, her voice quivering with excitement. “I’m right here!”

Nyx looked at her, then smiled drowsily. “Elle…” Her head lolled, and suddenly her features blurred. When her head raised again, her face had gone cat, her eyes now feline.

Elmiryn blinked at her. “Nyx?” She looked at Quincy, and Quincy gazed back at the warrior dubiously. Never in all her experience as a bounty hunter had the brunette ever encountered such a situation. She still wasn’t even sure Nyx was safe.

“Where…are we?” This time, the girl’s voice was different…deeper. Rougher.

“Kali?” Elmiryn asked uncertainly.

Nyx’s face blurred, and she was back again, her eyes fluttering. She sat up straighter and gripped her head with both hands. “I…am a little bilious, I’m afraid,” the girl said weakly.

Elmiryn raised an eyebrow. “Bilious?”

Nyx opened her mouth and her face shifted once more to that of a cat-like face. “Bilious,” Kali’s voice started. But she burped with what looked like a strong heave of her chest and ducked her head.

“It’s an adjective,” Hakeem continued, his features holding something of relief.

“It means affected with nausea,” Quincy finished, her eyes still narrowed at Nyx.

Elmiryn stared at them all, her eyes fluttering. “Oh…um…thanks?”

Nyx’s hand suddenly shot out and grabbed Elmiryn’s wrist. Quincy started forward to defend her when the girl suddenly leaned forward and threw up all over the dirt. Now feeling queasy herself, the wizard lowered her staff.

So much for the girl being a threat.

“Yep. She’s pretty bilious,” Elmiryn said as she patted Nyx’s back in sympathy.

Quincy just rolled her eyes.


Back to Chapter 33.2 | Forward to Chapter 34.1

Chapter 33.2

ELMIRYN________________________

Elmiryn’s mind splintered off into a series of expletives and confused wordless intentions as she shoved Hakeem off of her. In her haste, she used more force than necessary, making the Fanaean do a head-over-heels tumble before he came to a stop. He raised his head, face scratched and dusty as she leapt over him.

“Elmiryn, don’t…” but his words were swallowed by the commotion as the warrior came up on Gudahi from behind.

As all of this had happened, the Lycan man, possessed by anger, seemed set on the utter destruction of Nyx. In his eyes, she was no longer “his pet,” that was clear. She was just the beast, the foul curse that had beset his people for weeks before it had taken everything it possibly could from him. He reached down and held Nyx’s head tightly with both hands. The girl didn’t respond, her eyes still rolled up into her head, her body still contorting and cracking as Kali seeped deeper and deeper into her. The ribs were almost touching now. Quincy seemed strangely conflicted about getting involved, her face tight and sweaty. Elmiryn could not see the Lycan’s face as she neared, but she could imagine the hate and pain there. He meant to snap the girl’s neck. Maybe worse.

The warrior grabbed him around the shoulders and threw him back. He stumbled a few yards and snarled at her. Now she stood between him and his prey, and as Elmiryn locked gazes with Gudahi, she had an unpleasant recollection of her fight with Halian.

“This has to end here,” Gudahi growled. He sounded close to shifting, and indeed, his skin looked pale and sweaty. His muscles bulged. The gentle masculine beauty he had once possessed was lost in the hard etches of his fury.

Elmiryn put her hand on her sword hilt. “You’re right, but this isn’t the way, Gudahi!”

“I was wrong!” He shouted. “I was wrong to think that someone could be innocent of this…this…monstrosity! Even if Nyx becomes whole again, the beast will continue to exist inside of her! It will always be there to strike again!

“And I will always be there to deal with it,” Elmiryn shouted back. She drew her sword and held it ready. “Gudahi, we all have things we regret, and a lot of those things turn out to be beyond our control. Show some fucking mercy for Nyx and let her be! She’s going to punish herself enough as it is!”

“NO!!” Gudahi screamed. He thumped his hand over his heart, and spit flew from his mouth as he raged on. “Her darkness killed my brother! It killed my friends!” He pointed over her shoulder. “Look at what’s left of Sanuye! Who will answer for that crime? Who will answer for all the others!? How will my people ever know peace if the evil is not destroyed!?”

“And what about your evil?” Elmiryn countered. “Not too long ago, you spoke of Nyx with such fondness. Now all of a fucking sudden she’s something you have to destroy?” The woman snorted. “I took you as a fickle man, but now I know it isn’t just that. You’re just a conniving bastard who likes to have things his way.” The warrior slid her right foot back and fell into a fighting stance. “Well it’s not going to work like that, Gudahi. I’m warning you right here and now. Stay. Back. Or else.”

Out of her peripheral vision, she saw Hakeem limp toward them but stop some feet away. He must’ve hurt himself at some point in the tussle.

“Don’t do this,” the Fanaean said. From the sound of his voice, Elmiryn wasn’t sure who the wizard was addressing.

Behind her, she heard Quincy’s voice, still distant, still strangely uncertain. “Her chest is beginning to close, Elmiryn.”

Gudahi took a step toward her, and when he did, his hands shifted smoothly to furry sharp claws, his teeth suddenly sharp and too large for his mouth. Sounding that much more fierce, the Lycan growled, “I will stop this, even if I have to go through you.”

Elmiryn only narrowed her eyes.

Behind her, Nyx let out a cry.

The sound seemed to ignite Gudahi, for he howled and charged, claws and teeth bared. Elmiryn’s body, for the first time in what seemed to be ages, fell into that comforting zone of instinct. In her bones, in her muscles, in her blood, she knew without thinking the appropriate course of action.

And so with good timing, great power, and great certainty, Elmiryn chopped off Gudahi’s head.

His body toppled forward, skidding gracelessly to a halt at Elmiryn’s boot tip. The stump of his neck gushed rhythmically with blood, then the flow quickly ebbed and turned into an ooze. The claws reverted to hands. Gudahi’s head had rolled a few feet away, the fangs gone, his slackened features still holding some of that animal fury. The Lycan’s blood turned the dirt almost black. Elmiryn stared down at the remains, her heart hardened. The man had made his choice. There was nothing to be sorry for.

Some didn’t seem to agree.

“What have you done?” Hakeem whispered.

Elmiryn didn’t take her eyes off the corpse. “What I had to. Gudahi wasn’t going to stop until Nyx was dead.”

“We could have stopped him. We could have made him see reason!” Hakeem limped into view, his small dark face contorted between what looked like pain and anger. “Do you have any sense!?”

The woman glared at him. “Do you?” She wiped her sword on the dead Lycan’s clothes, then sheathed it. Turning, she knelt down by Nyx. “This wasn’t about us. Gudahi couldn’t see that. He couldn’t see anything. There was nothing else to do about it.”

The Ailuran was now silent on the ground, her fur receding, her features calm as though she were asleep. Elmiryn could see her ribs slowly shift beneath her skin as a long and red scar down her torso vanished from tip to tip. Paws became hands and feet. Cat ears receded. Fangs vanished. Finally, bit by bit, her face returned to its original form. Nyx, whole and restored, lay naked on the ground.

“Wasn’t there!?” Hakeem snapped over Elmiryn’s shoulder. “Do you realize the repercussions that will come from having two members of the Lycan tribe dead by our hands? They can easily tell that Sanuye and Gudahi were dispatched by weapons not by claws!”

Elmiryn laughed dryly. “Oh wizard, you should’ve seen what I did back at the village. That bridge was burned way before all of this!”

Hakeem looked at her sharply. “What do you mean by that?”

“May I just remind everyone that Nyx and Kali and the beast have now become one?” Quincy interjected as she approached slowly. She was opening up her magic bag.

Elmiryn glanced up at her as she brushed a sweaty lock of hair from Nyx’s forehead. “What of it?”

The brunette reached in and pulled out a long slim staff. Her eyes were hard. “Perhaps Gudahi was right. What if Nyx is still a threat?”

The warrior’s face darkened and she gripped her sword hilt. “Wizard, don’t even think about it.”

“You’re letting your feelings blind you! We have to at least consider the possibility!”

“You lack the same faith I have! Nyx is whole again, and with Kali’s help, they can either destroy the beast, or suppress it long enough to gain control again. We have to give them a chance!”

Just as these last few words left her mouth, Elmiryn heard Nyx’s voice, so small and frail.

“Elle?”

The warrior’s eyes snapped back to the girl’s face just in time to see her fist flying toward it.

LETHIA_________________________

Lethia’s mind felt electric. She could feel her animus pulse and buzz, and the air around her seemed to waver a bit as she took a deep breath.

Slowly, she stood from the table. “Syria, I am not your puppet anymore.”

The older woman stared at her, mouth agape, her eyes wide. Then her lips twitched, and without warning, they spread into smile. Lethia blinked at her, taking a step back. Her mind was sensing danger, and she could feel Syria’s power rolling off of her in increased waves. It was like a pressure that squeezed in all around the teenager, and her breath became labored under the stress of it.

“Not my puppet anymore?” Syria chuckled once, twice.

She threw her head back and laughed madly.

Lethia stared at her, deeply disturbed as she realized the depth of her former mistress’s power. So much energy…what a fool she was to think she was this woman’s equal! Syria was a master of the Unbound Disciplines. In her mind was a treasure trove of arcane knowledge. How could Lethia possibly…

The teenager’s eyes widened.

Wait a minute.

Syria stood from her seat, and the light around her seemed to warp, creating an illusion of compressed space. Her gravity magic could even pull at the light.

“Lethia,” The enchantress said as she lifted an arm, palm out. Her head had bowed forward, her hair blocking off her gaze. “You always did take my intentions the wrong way. How sad.”

Lethia felt a powerful punch in her gut, and she was launched up and back into the stone wall, where she then crumpled to the ground, her body seized in pain. She was breathless, and she could feel a sudden fit of nausea come up. Wildly, the girl realized that Syria hadn’t used the whole of her power. Not even half of it. Was she going to try and beat the girl into submission? …Out of “love?” No. The woman had said she would kill her just a moment ago. So what was the woman doing? Why was she holding back?

“I want you to know, that you were like a daughter to me, Lethia,” The enchantress said over her.

Lethia glared at the woman’s unnatural stumps for feet. “Then you are a sick mother, and I curse the day I met you!”

Ghostly hands lifted the girl up into the air, drawing a gasp from her lips as she found herself spreadeagled midair. Syria didn’t raise her head to look up at the girl. “You don’t mean that…” the enchantress whispered.

Tears rolled down Lethia’s face, hot and plenty. As she strained against the gravitational hold on her, she trained her eyes on Syria’s face, waiting for a moment. She steeled her mind and quieted her heart as best she could as she growled out, “You…are a witch.”

The girl felt the pressure around her increase and she wheezed feeling her chest and lungs compress just enough to make her grimace in pain and want of air. A soulless smile spread across her twitching lips as she tried to keep her vision free of her tears. It was getting harder to talk, and for more reasons than just Syria’s power. “I hated every day with you,” Lethia whispered. “You kept me trapped in your tower. I was your play thing, wasn’t I?”

Syria’s hand tightened into a claw and Lethia croaked as the pressure increased even more, causing one of her lower ribs to crack. It became agony just to try to breathe. Her vision lurched as blood trickled from her nostrils. The teenager could only manage small, miniscule gasps. Either she did this now, or she would die here, a failure.

Through sheer will, Lethia forced her eyes open, and with great effort, she focused on Syria’s face. In barely a breath, she managed to gasp out, “I…hate…you…”

Syria’s face lifted, revealing her tear-streaked face, her eyes wide and hurt and disbelieving. Lethia seized onto her gaze and the world stopped, the room vanishing from around them. Color faded to shades of gray. Then slowly…grudgingly…Syria broke apart into a murmuring cloud of tiny flickering shapes. Phantom voices narrated things to her, and as they neared, Lethia heard more and more of her former mistress’s mind.

She…the time is nigh…will not…but…g…learning under…Lethia can’t mean…all this time…r…HOW DARE…hurting…must stop…a…depravity…begin anew…revolution…YOU…v…am I strong enough to…Izma will surely kill…i…she hates me?…HAVE NO POWER…must save the world…t…I did this all for her…Spider helped me…I am a liar…y…love…CHILD, I CANNOT ALLOW YOU…death…fate…is this the way?…GET…all these years…dwarven secrets…afraid…can’t stop…gra…YOUR…she has to understand…WILL…madness…evil…sacrifices in the name of…vity…OUT…gravity…OF…gravity…MY…gravity…HEAD!!

GRAVITY

Lethia screamed as she pulled the knowledge into her mind—the great and subtle complications of primal magic expanding like a balloon in her mindscape. She could feel her animus throb, and her head felt as though it were splitting into two. So much information…so many years…years? No. Seconds. Syria had cheated time by piercing deep into her own subconscious to train her other powers. Gravitational magic. But Lethia had a unique talent. She didn’t need years of training, or even to delve into her subconscious to gain such skill.

She just needed to make eye contact.

The teenager squeezed her eyes shut, and with a push of gravitational force, she broke free of Syria’s prison to land gracelessly on the floor. A room appeared around them once more, warm and bright and familiar. She wheezed, her nose still dripping with blood so that it stained her lips and chin. She could hear Syria’s labored breathing near her and guessed the woman had suffered a bit of a shock as well.

“You…were always very clever…” Syria gasped out.

Lethia’s eyes rolled before she managed to focus on the older woman some feet away from her. The enchantress was doubled over onto her knees, her face once more hidden behind her hair. “I didn’t know you had the guile to trick my emotions like that. To let you into my mind so easily, as though I were just an apprentice again. You were always so honest and noble. But still…at the foremost you were clever. It’s what I get for underestimating you.” Syria straightened, her feet shuffling as she tried to keep her balance. “But this ends now. Goodbye, Lethia.” The woman raised a hand.

Lethia smiled drunkenly at her.

Syria paused, her hand still in the air. She cocked her head to the side. “Something isn’t right…” she whispered.

They were not in the castle keep. They were once more in their old tower, in the study, where the pair had spent many days pouring over books and going over lessons. Sunlight filtered in through the cased windows, highlighting the dust in the air. The fireplace crackled as a pot of cider bubbled over it. Throughout the tower, Argos’s barking echoed and bounced off the stone walls. The stairs creaked. Claws clacked on wood, then soon, stone.

The girl let out a dark chuckle as she clumsily rose to her feet. “Syria…since your incarceration, there were two words I yearned to say to you.”

Lethia didn’t flinch as Argos flew past her in a blur of white. The enchantress, clearly startled, managed to flick a hand at the dog. Nothing happened. He bowled right into Syria, smashing her into the wall of books behind her.

“…Welcome home.”

The walls wavered. The sunlight faded. Soon the wooden floor beneath them became stone.

They had never left the keep. There had never been any Argos. Only Lethia’s power, which had been disguised as her faithful companion to keep the enchantress distracted long enough to incapacitate her. Hugging her chest with a ginger touch, Lethia shuffled forward, her face pale as she looked down at Syria’s still form on the floor. Just as in the illusion, she had smashed into the wall. Blood trickled from her hairline, and one of her tree-like horns had snapped.

Lethia knew how to kill her quickly. With just a quick squeeze, she could crush Syria’s head in a vice of gravitation force. Or like a bullet, she could punch through the woman’s heart and lungs with precise shots. The teenager raised her hand. It shook. Her chin crumpled and her hand dipped down a fraction. Then she raised it again. Her eyes clouded with tears.

Finally, Lethia let her hand fall to her side.

“I can’t do it…” she whispered.

and that we will have to fix

Lethia turned with a great start, her feet tripping over themselves as she took in the new comer.

A strange creature stood before her, both fantastic and horrific at the same time, and the teenager could feel her courage flee her. The thing looked sentient, but like no being the girl had ever heard of or laid eyes on. It had no skin, for the creature’s teeth, jagged and misshapen in a curling rictus grin, was as one with the rest of its face. Some flesh did seem to be a part of it, however, as Lethia noted with a growing sense of illness, the muscle and sinew about its neck. Though it had two eye sockets, one was void of anything, while the other seemed higher up on the forehead and caught behind small spikes, where it bled each time it turned in its place. Sprouting from the creature’s cranium was a small forest of branches, all cascading with vine-like tendrils that eerily resembled those of a willow. It’s skeletal body was draped in a translucent cloak of light, color, and stars.

Lethia fell to her knees. From her exploration of Syria’s mind, she knew this…thing. She knew its name, and its power, and she feared it more than she had feared her mistress.

“You’re…You’re Izma…” Lethia’s voice quavered as it slipped past her trembling lips. “The one…who turned Syria into what…what she is now.”

Impossibly, the thing’s hideous grin widened.

and you are Lethia

the weed of which I warned Syria of

but I wonder wonder wonder…

which witch was truly the weed?


Back to Chapter 33.1 | Back to Chapter 33.3

Chapter 33.1

ELMIRYN________________________

Elmiryn stood staring into the cave, her body seized by emotions too numerous to name.

“And you’re sure?” she whispered.

“Don’t be stupid,” Kali snapped. “Of course I’m not sure.”

“Given the intense atmosphere of malice here, I’m guessing we’re at the right spot,” Quincy whispered next.

“Oh come, come,” Gudahi murmured. “Maybe the air just woke up in a bad mood.”

“You’re still assuming the air is alive enough to wake up. All I can smell is death…” Hakeem muttered.

Quincy covered her nose and mouth with her hand. “This could also simply be the passing attack of the beast’s morning gas!”

Sanuye wrinkled her nose. “I’m confused. The air does not do these things!”

Gudahi bit his lower lip and gave three slow deliberate pats to her shoulder.

Kali shook her head, her ears flapping as she let out a low growl. “Arr! Are we pressing forward or not?”

“Forward,” Elmiryn said firmly, but her stomach was boxing with her insides, and her throat was constricting to the point that she was certain she’d either toss up her meager breakfast or scream for the want of drink. Her hands were shaking terribly. They had followed Kali’s guidance through the forest, watching with grimness as the trees became darker and the wildlife seemed to fade. Quincy dug into her with an, “I told you so,” but Elmiryn only snarled at her like an animal, because honestly, the tonic the wizard gave her barely gave any release from her withdrawals as it was. What did it matter?

Before them was a short cliff face, the gnarled roots of the trees at the cliff’s lip tangling down toward them like thick and earthly fingers. The stone and soil was dark and tinged crimson, the grass shrinking from the mouth of the cave that sat looming at the base of the landmark. There were no bones, no leavings of food or scat here to tell them they had found what they were looking for. There was just the aura of foreboding and the oddly electric feel of something unnatural in the air.

Elmiryn swallowed and clenched her quivering hands. She took one step, then another, and another…and soon she was marching, with great determination, the fear enveloping her and somehow inciting her anger—because she was Elmiryn Manard, damn it, and she wasn’t supposed to be afraid of anything.

The others followed quietly behind. She heard them draw their weapons, but she did not pull out her sword. They were here to find Nyx, and no matter what they found, she was not going to approach her friend hostile.

The darkness swallowed them. Soon even the feeble unnatural lighting of the Other Place was beyond their reach.

“Wait a moment!” Quincy called, and everyone stopped. Elmiryn heard rustling, and a moment later, she heard something strike—like a match. There was a hiss like something was lit, but no light came. She could hear the wizard curse, and again the sounds came, but still no light. Quincy tried and tried, but after almost a full minute passed, Hakeem quietly spoke.

Mweze, I do not think this darkness is natural.”

And she replied with resignation, “Taika, I think you’re right.”

Elmiryn had already started walking on ahead. Their voices grew smaller in her ears, but as far as she was concerned, their importance was little. The only thing that mattered to her was finding Nyx again, and she couldn’t take the separation anymore. The ground beneath her was level–smooth. It were as if the darkness wanted her to go forward, and she could feel her body steadily move into a quicker gait, like something were pulling at her.

Something winked in her eyes. A light. Fire.

Elmiryn started to run, her heart hammering in her chest. She couldn’t hear the others now. They were lost, like she was lost, like Nyx was lost. But soon that would be corrected. Soon, soon, soon…

The fire brightened, then flared, and with a roar it engulfed her…

LETHIA_________________________

“They’re here,” Syria said, a note of satisfaction to her voice. Lethia stared down at her plate of roasted meat and rice with gloom.

They were seated at the dinner table, a long and lonely stretch of dark wood that was decorated with a tasseled mauve runner and two silver candelabras to bring more natural light to their unnatural home. Syria sat at the head of the table, though she had no plate, only a silver goblet of some mysterious amber liquid that she refused to explain. Lethia sat adjacent to her on the right, a fork loosely held in her right hand.

“What will happen when they find her?” She whispered.

“She will kill them,” Syria said simply. “And if she does not kill them, she will damage their spirits enough for us to kill them.”

“Why do they have to die?” Lethia said, her voice growing hoarse. “Why must they suffer?”

She could feel her mistress’s unnatural gaze fix on her, and the teenager shrank, setting her fork down onto the table.

“Because, Lethia,” the woman said quietly. “They are not where they ought to be.”

“And where should they be, if not for us?”

“Us? And what did we do to lead to their misfortunes?”

Lethia balled her dress in her hands. “We brought them here. They never wanted to come.”

“They never wanted us to come either, darling.”

“And maybe they were right!” Lethia shouted shrilly. Her voice echoed far and long in the castle keep, scoring in further the audacity of her outburst. The girl squeezed her eyes shut, hot tears leaking down her face, but then she raised her head. Though her body trembled and her head began to ache, she forced herself to look into Syria’s face. The enchantress was, as always, obscured by her curtain of hair and some inexplicable magic. Yet through the part of the curtain, the teenager saw a single eye, and she held it, her headache turning to outright pain. “All these months you have tried to show me how evil the mortal world is! How people are lost and misguided! How we are but wretches under the tyranny of the gods! But these people—my friends—they have fought tirelessly for one single goal! EACH OTHER!  Whatever agendas they may have had in the beginning have been washed in light of their bonds, and I know it is true even if they don’t, because when I look into each of their faces, I can see there is still light there! And what have you done? Killed, and murdered, and manipulated everything so that it came to the satisfaction of some unfathomable monster that doesn’t belong in our world! Your soul is empty! Your heart is black!

Lethia shook her head, trembling fiercely now, her face red and her eyes bulging, a fever rushing through her body the longer she held Syria’s gaze. But she refused to look away. She was tired. She was done. “Was the woman who raised me just a lie? What happened to that kindness and wisdom I once knew? I looked up to you. You were my world, and I would’ve died for you…but now I see that it was never really my decision. You isolated me…Syria. You hid me from the world and controlled me for your sick schemes, and now my hands are awash with your blood debts! There’s only ONE way I know I can atone for any of this!”

Syria set down her drink and sat forward slowly, her hands gripping the armrests of her high back chair with a white-knuckled grip. Suddenly Lethia’s vision went black, and all she could see was her own abstract Fear, a twisted and maniacal thing, that constricted about her body like a snake and tightened until she found it hard to breathe. Syria’s voice came to her, echoing as though she were some omnipotent god.

“My Lethia…my sweet, sweet Lethia…I tried. I did. But now I shall spare you what my master would do a thousandfold. It is the only mercy I can spare, and for all my love, it is not enough…”

Lethia gagged, struggling in the dark space as the spiny Fear tightened and tightened. The teenager’s eyes rolled. She tried to breathe in, but could not. Distantly, she recognized that this was all an illusion. Syria was making her mind believe in a lie. But the conscious mind was inferior to the subconscious mind, for that was the part of a person that had a direct link to the animus, and so her awareness came to nothing when prefaced by her reptilian beliefs.

Her eyes rolled. She could feel herself falling away…death coming to her like sleep did a young child.

She heard barking through the ether.

Dazed, Lethia forced her eyes to blink open. She saw something large and white bounding toward her. At first she thought it were a monster. Then she thought it was some sort of albino bear. And then…

Her eyes widened.

Argos!?

The dog came close enough that his furry face came into focus, and that was when Lethia noticed a dark mottled lizard atop his head. She blinked drunkenly at it, her will to stay awake just a while longer losing out to her lack of oxygen.

Then Lethia wondered if this were just another illusion, for the lizard spoke and said in a hissing voice, “Argos, thou wimpled sheep-biting scut! Forget thy simpering and give the girl what she needs!”

Argos whined and pressed his face against Lethia’s just as she started to pass out. As her thoughts and the illusions fell away, something light and warm and invigorating settled into her chest. It pulsed once before exploding.

Lethia’s eyes snapped open as she gasped for air, like a fish starved. She could see the dining room again—the colored walls, the lonely table, the high ceiling.

More importantly, she could see Syria, who had half-risen from her seat, her face drawn in shock.

The girl’s eyes blinked.

Wait…her face? Oh my gods! I can see her face!

Syria looked much as she had before this nightmare had started, except for a few key details. Her eyes were pitch black, even the scleras, and spidering about them were dark and wicked veins that vanished into her hairline. Two wooden horns sprouted from either side of her forehead, their branches bearing green tear-dropped leaves like they were saplings just beginning to grow. Small fangs could be seen from the woman’s open mouth as she stared in shock at the girl who should have died under her spell.

“How…” she whispered.

Lethia touched her head, then her heart, and felt her soul lift. “That power…that power you used in me to do those rituals in Albias…the one you tried to hide from me all my life…” The girl looked at her mistress with a new fire in her eyes. “It has come back!”

ELMIRYN________________________

Elmiryn tried to control her breathing, her heart still doing a marathon in her chest. Slowly, she lowered her arms from around her head and looked around her. She was out of the darkness, out of the cave, and around her was much like the other cave entrance had been…only all those missing signs of habitation were present here. Blood stained the soil, bones large and small strewn about. The woman heard someone take a step behind her and slowly turned around.

“Nyx,” she whispered.

It was the Ailuran. There was no doubt in Elmiryn’s mind. But she was different. This wasn’t entirely unexpected for the warrior. From what Kali had explained, if Nyx had survived at all, it was to become one with the beast. Yet nothing could prepare her for the horrible sight before her. The one she cared for the most looked like a demon—her chest open to bare some impossible void, her body furry and clawed, her eyes holding the deepest contempt, her lips and chin stained with blood.

“What took you so long?” Nyx asked quietly, her pawed feet careful stepping over the bones on the ground as she began to circle around.

Elmiryn followed her with her eyes, her hands clenching and unclenching. “I tried. I tried really hard, Nyx, you have no idea—”

“I might have some,” the Ailuran interjected. Her voice did not rise, did not seem harsher, or more animal-like. She sounded like Nyx. But something was off. Her voice…was chillingly incongruent with her form.

The warrior shook her head. “I’m sorry I let myself get in the way of…us. If I hadn’t have–”

Nyx interjected again. “Us?” she chuckled softly. “What do you mean, ‘us’?”

Elmiryn blinked and stared at her, her body now turning on the spot to keep Nyx in front of her. “Nyx, you’re all that matters to me. You have to believe that.”

“Is that why you can’t help but go chasing after death and glory like a bitch in heat?”

The woman blinked at how much that cut into her. “Aside from you, it’s all that I have. You know that. You understand that, I know you do!”

“What I understand, Elle,” Nyx spat, pausing in her circling. “Is that you are a self-absorbed detestation who would still be suckling at her mother’s teat if only her father hadn’t shoved his dick into her fate.”

Elmiryn’s eyes fluttered. “Wha-What?

Nyx approached her slowly, and the warrior backed away, her eyes squinting in disgust as she saw the Ailuran’s ribs move back and forth like the teeth of a beast. The girl quickened her step to close the gap, making the woman flinch, but she only ran her clawed fingers down Elmiryn’s cheek and whispered, “Don’t act is if you don’t understand my Words. I know you do. You eat them up like a fat boy does candy. I have so many Words for you, Elmiryn. Do you want to hear?”

Elmiryn’s face lengthened in despair. “No…”

Nyx smiled emptily, her cat eyes turning wide. “Here’s a few descriptors for you. First word: Liar.”

“Nyx, this isn’t you.”

“Arrogant.”

“Nyx, stop it.”

“Ignorant.”

“I said–”

Whore.

“Nyx–”

MURDERER.

“STOP IT!” Elmiryn shoved the Ailuran away from her, her gaze wild. “This isn’t you, Nyx! This anger, this hatred! It doesn’t mean anything! You can’t even call it darkness because there is no light left inside of you to contrast it!”

Nyx hissed and slashed at the warrior with her claws. The woman dodged it, but the Ailuran didn’t press her attack. She only crouched low to the ground and growled out, “You’re right. As I am now, I am not darkness, I am me! This is the truth, Elmiryn! LOOK at me! This is what you and your fucking murderous kingdom created! All the years I spent fighting to keep my family together, only to lose it all for my hatred of YOU! Fiammans! Warriors! Soldiers! You may as well have killed Thaddeus. You may as well have killed Atalo and my mother! All the shit between us is a lie! THIS is real. This. Look at me, Elle, and see what you’re death and glory have created!”

Elmiryn felt like she was going to cry again, but she fought against it. Now was not the time for silly emotions. She was better than that. Trained. She knew better than to let her head get muddled with distractions. So when Nyx charged her, claws slashing, she was ready. She dodged and ducked. Blocked and parried. But she did not attack. She couldn’t bring herself to. This wasn’t like their sparring sessions all those weeks ago. This was life or death, and Elmiryn would rather die than raise a hand against her friend…

In the end, the others made it so that she didn’t have to.

A spear whistled and caught Nyx in the shoulder. The girl screamed, gripping the shaft and falling to a knee. It had gone completely through. Elmiryn’s head snapped around to see Quincy, Hakeem, Kali, Gudahi, and Sanuye emerge from the darkness of the cave. Gudahi lacked a spear, his face hard as he beheld Nyx.

“Don’t!” Elmiryn shouted at them.

Sanuye and Gudahi didn’t listen. They charged forward, Sanuye bringing her weapon to bare, Gudahi raising his fists to strike. Elmiryn ran to intercept them, but she was too slow. Nyx broke off the spear from her shoulder with one powerful wrench, her bestial scream alien and terrifying. As the Lycans neared, she parried Sanuye’s spear so that the tip jammed into the dirt before Gudahi’s feet, making the man trip.

Then, in one sure strike, Nyx stabbed Sanuye in her exposed neck with the broken spear shaft. The Lycan’s face went slack and blood gurgled from her mouth. But the Ailuran wasn’t done. She kept pushing forward, making the taller woman stumble back until she tripped on a skull and crashed to the ground. There Nyx ground the shaft in further, her face twisted with monstrous rage. Sanuye struggled feebly beneath her. Then her arms went limp.

Elmiryn, Quincy, and Hakeem, who had each been moving to intervene, slowed their steps, shock evident on their faces. The only one who didn’t stop moving was Kali. Her dark furry face seemed enlivened by something–some sort of awareness that spurred her forward just as Nyx pulled the broken shaft from the Lycan’s neck, then pulled the spear tip from her back. They collided and rolled. Both shrieked and roared in anger and pain. Elmiryn watched in horror and fascination as Kali tore at Nyx’s throat, whilst Nyx’s rib cage seemed to bite into the feline on top of her, her claws raking down the animal’s back.

Simultaneously, as this all happened, Gudahi righted himself from his frantic stumbling, and he turned just in time to see Sanuye’s arms flop to the dirt. A number of emotions flashed across his face. Shock, disbelief, grief…

Then rage.

Kuhkle! Ey-hote, KUHKLE!” he shouted in Lycan. He charged the two fighting personas, and this time Elmiryn did not hesitate. She tackled him, bringing him up into the air briefly before slamming him down onto a pile of small animal bones.

“Gudahi, Gudahi! NO!” she shouted. But he was in a rage. Perhaps all he could see now was his dead alpha and younger brother, the warriors he had called brothers and sisters left strewn about in bloody pieces around the forest he had called home. Perhaps he had lost his mind.

It didn’t matter. Elmiryn knew somehow, that this was between Kali and Nyx, and she couldn’t allow him to interfere. She couldn’t interfere. It was both crushing and uplifting to know that for once, it was not about what she had to do. This wasn’t about her or her feelings. It was about Nyx. It was all about Nyx.

Sadly, Gudahi didn’t seem to see that.

With his prodigious therian strength, he flipped Elmiryn over him bodily with one foot, then rolled over onto his feet. The warrior scrambled to raise herself when she saw small black arms wrap around Gudahi’s neck. Hakeem appeared over the man’s shoulder, and he shouted into his ear. “My friend! I know you suffer, but you must not do this!”

Gudahi only screamed in response and pried the wizard’s hands from his throat. With one might swing, he threw Hakeem at Elmiryn and the two tumbled back to the ground, winded.

“Something’s happening!” the woman heard Quincy shout.

She raised her head and managed to see beyond Gudahi’s striding legs enough to see the grotesque event that the wizard was referring to. Kali was being…devoured, by Nyx. But not through her mouth. Through her gaping chest. The large feline howled as her body bowed and snapped to fit in through the void that was in Nyx’s body. The girl, in turn, was stiff, her back arched and her mouth open as her eyes rolled up into her head, veins bulging from her neck.

They’re becoming one again… Elmiryn thought.

Her eyes widened as she fought to disentangle herself from Hakeem.

Shit, and Gudahi’s about to ruin it all!


Back to Chapter 32.4 | Forward to Chapter 33.2