Being with Elmiryn was like reveling in a new world filled with pleasure and delight. I’d never known that kind of release before. That kind of freedom. It was so nice that for a moment, I forgot about the fact that we were on our way to what could perhaps be our final struggle. This may sound odd, but if I could worship any part of Elmiryn’s body, it would be her tongue–not to say I didn’t love other parts of her–but ye gods, the things she could do with it…
Here in the blackwood, I somehow felt less concerned with restraining myself. The soil was soft as we had our fun. Then of course that time came to leave. I helped Elmiryn to wrap the scarf around her chest, then watched as she pulled on her pants and boots. As she dressed, she lured me into yet another one of her games.
“That isn’t true,” I argued, in response to her last comment.
She chuckled. “It is!”
“You’re just saying that because–”
“No! Because you’re being an asshat!”
“Oh ho! Someone’s getting cross, I see!”
I shot Elmiryn the most dangerous look I could manage. “Lady Picaroon, you are flirting with disaster!”
She threw her head back and put her hands on her hips. Her pants were still unbuttoned. “But disaster is my middle name!”
I raised an eyebrow at her, and the redhead scrunched her nose, blinking. “No wait–”
“I don’t cross my eyes when you’re down…there. I don’t care what you say.” I stepped close to her and fastened her pants. My eyes peered up through my bangs, my cheeks tinged pink. “And anyway, if I believed you, that would only mean I’d never want you between my legs again!”
The woman shook her head with a grin as she held my face. “Why? I think it’s cute when you do it!”
“But that’d be embarrassing!”
“Did you know that fifty percent of things that people consider embarrassing during sex actually turn out to be positively arousing?”
My lips gained a hook of a smile. “Like what?”
Elmiryn shrugged. “Oh, you know. Like female ejaculation.”
“Wh-What?” My eyes turned wide.
The woman’s eyebrows rose, and of course, my cheeks had to burn a deeper color at that moment.
She leaned in with a giggle as I shied away. “Now this is interesting! You haven’t heard of a woman ejaculating?”
“How is that even possible!?” I said with a grimace.
“It’s simple. When properly stimulated, a lover can…well, have an explosive climax!” Elmiryn’s smile turned sly, “You’ve really never heard of that? Never read it in any of your countless books?”
I looked up at her sharply. “What’s that pondering tone for?”
She took a step back, her cerulean eyes wide with earnest. My suspicion only rose. “Oh. Nothing!” She jerked her head. “It’s been a while. We should head back. Whether Quincy and her jungle python are done, it doesn’t matter anymore. They’ve had their fun.”
My nose wrinkled as I followed the woman back the way we’d come. “Python?”
She quirked an eyebrow at me. “Yeah! Didn’t you see Hakeem’s penis?”
I sputtered, my face going red all over again. “N-No! No!! Of course I didn’t! Sweet Aelurus, why would you ask such a thing!?”
Elmiryn shrugged. “Oh. Well, it wasn’t a sea slug, let me tell you that. Sedwick was no where near as–”
I slapped my hands to my ears. “Aaah! I’m not listening!”
The warrior stopped in my path, and when I glared at her, she held up her hands a sizeable distance and mouthed, “It was this big!”
I slapped at her with both my hands and stomped my feet. “Elle, stop it! I don’t want to have to think about that every time I look at him! Gods!”
She laughed and grabbed my wrists. “Nyx, don’t you ever wonder about those things?”
“Obviously, I do not!” I shot back. I gave her a small shove and she let me go. “And I was quite happy not knowing!”
“Relax! That isn’t really how big he is.”
“Sure. When a man has an erection, his penis gets–OW!! Do you HAVE to bite me!?”
My look was searing. “I find it’s most effective in getting you to shut the hell up.”
“So mean!” Elmiryn pouted, rubbing the place on her boob where I’d bitten her. “I think I’m a bad influence on you!”
“Oh wonder of wonders! Whatever gave you that idea?” I muttered with a roll of my eyes.
When we returned to the others, Quincy and Hakeem were still getting dressed. The wizard was helping Hakeem into his chainmail, her cotton shirt and pants being the only thing she had managed to put on. Like Elmiryn and I, their color disguises, which had been solid in shade before, were now mixed. On Quincy’s shirt, notably over her breasts, I could see Hakeem’s blue handprints–which of course made me look to see if such evidence was clear on my own skin.
When they took notice of us, we stopped. No one said anything. They stared at us and we, in turn, stared at them. Quincy’s face blushed, and because she was blushing, I blushed.
Dear gods, I should’ve known how awkward this would be!
“You wanna hear something funny?” Elmiryn started, and I winced.
Oh gods, here she goes.
Warily, my eyes fixed on her sideways.
She went on, a simple grin on her face. “One second, Stanislav was sitting in front of us, puffing his weird perfume. The next, I wake up somewhere else with my clothes off! It’s just the damndest thing! It took me forever to find everything and get dressed again!”
I squinted one eye. What is she…?
“That’s odd,” Hakeem said with a pensive frown. “The same happened to me!”
Now I stared at him.
Quincy’s eyebrows rose. “Curious that I suffered the same!”
Elmiryn patted my shoulder. “I found this one curled up in the bushes like a sleeping baby!”
My eyes fluttered “You did?”
For all your wit, you can be a bit thick, can’t you? Kali grumbled.
I frowned for a moment before my eyes widened. “Ah!” I nodded emphatically and looked at them all. “That’s right! I was asleep in the…uh…” my voice trailed as the corners of my lips jerked upward. “In the bushes.”
At my lame attempt at carrying on the charade, Elmiryn snorted into a laugh, and I joined her, my stomach tightening from my combined humor and anxiety. Before I knew it, Hakeem and Quincy were laughing too, and we carried on, hysterical at the absurdity of the situation.
The laughter died as I turned to spy Lacertli scuttling out from the underbrush. “I trust we are ready to proceed?” he hissed.
My eyes narrowed at him. Did his little reptilian face hold a look of smugness, or was I just imagining it? I was tempted to ask.
But in the end, I said instead, “Aye, sir,” and knelt down with my arm held out.
The lizard god climbed up to his usual place on my shoulder, and I stood.
“Good,” He said. “The devils over yonder have reached a lull in their festivities. The castle keep has quieted. Now is the time to strike!”
An idea struck me. “Sir, would it help if I slipped into the Somnium?”
Lacertli closed his eyes as he considered this idea. Quincy and Hakeem quietly rushed to finish dressing in the meantime.
At last he said, “No. The visions these beasts would visit upon thee, Nyx, is much for thy mortal mind, extraordinary as it were. Thou art safer pressing into the villainous nest unaltered.”
All those warm fuzzy feelings I had before? Gone now!
“Y-Yes, sir,” I stammered. My stomach was twisting into knots.
Elmiryn brushed her knuckles down my arm. “Don’t worry, kitten. These spirits are having a party. What do people do at a party?”
I frowned “Drink?”
She shrugged, and I thought I saw the slightest tic in her right eye as she did so. “Among other things. If that’s the case, I’d imagine these spirits are not going to be super perceptive…am I wrong in thinking this?” Elmiryn directed the question at Lacertli, and it was easy to detect the note of challenge in her voice.
I tensed with a breath, my mouth turning into a hard line, but when I exhaled, the fight seemed to go out of me. I don’t know that it was resignation. If anything, I found myself accepting the fact that–given how Elmiryn normally was in situations like these–she was actually behaving herself. Quite a bit. So what use was there in picking a fight?
Lacertli didn’t really seem to care, at any rate.
“Thou art correct, Elmiryn,” was all that he said in response.
Her eyebrow went up at that, and with a shake of her head, she walked away. I watched her go, my brows pressed together in concern.
I wanted Elmiryn to be human. Her fae nature created a rift between the ordered world we all lived in, and while I was still capable of understanding her roundabout logic, it was with the acute awareness that no one else did. What would happen the day that I ceased to understand her? Would that ever happen? We connected on so many different levels, but since meeting her, I’d seen Elmiryn change. Her whimsical humor was dying, being replaced by something thorny and bitter. Her need to be acknowledged, to feel useful, to be important–and by powers that challenged simple definition, no less–was becoming ever more extreme.
But perhaps it was this last fact that still gave me hope. It was my feeling that Elmiryn wanted the universe to acknowledge her existence. Not society–but nature itself. She needed have a place in some greater order, and while her ambitions begged a place higher up amongst the stars, I believed she could find that place if she searched hard enough. It stemmed from the human part inside of her, the one that still believed in the world of the gods and their universal laws. If I could find a way to take that part of her and put it to my advantage, I might be able to save Elmiryn. But she had to overcome some obstacles first. Accepting Lacertli was one of them. Her search for fault in him would be tiresome, surely, but her frustration at his refusal to rise to her baiting seemed just the treatment she needed. Maybe the lizard god could change her opinion.
There was no doubt in my mind that the warrior had somehow convinced herself that the gods deserved her hatred–and the terrible thing was that I feared some of her loathing was justified.
Artemis potentially had another enemy in me, after some of the things the warrior told me.
Laying with Elmiryn, I had a chance to quiz her about the strange scratches on her back. The story came hard, and the troubling part was that the woman still refused to divulge all the details, but in short, the Wolf Mother had attacked her.
“She’s…hunting me,” Elmiryn had said. “This is a game to her, Nyx. I’m the prey.”
“This can’t stand, Elle! It isn’t right! She has no reason to harass you like this!”
“Careful kitten, gods have long ears…”
“I don’t care!” And it terrified me, but I didn’t. “Maybe…M-Maybe Lacertli can do something!?”
“Right, because I like that about as much as Artemis stalking my ass…”
“I’m serious!! The gods stay out of mortal affairs for a reason–if Artemis were pursuing you to right some wrong against her people, she would be threatening divine balances as set forth by the God King! Even I know that!”
“You’re ignoring the fact that I could’ve challenged Artemis personally, Nyx.”
My heart skipped a beat. “You mean…you mean when you went unconscious?”
She had nodded, a pondering look on her face. “I defied her. And I survived. Or was it something else…?”
“I feel like it’s on the tip of my tongue, but it just won’t come to me…”
“Maybe you aren’t supposed to remember?”
The look on her face had caused a shiver down my spine. “That only makes me want to remember more.”
There, in our little spot in the blackwood, I gazed at Elmiryn’s tightened back and wished for simpler days.
“Well, we’re ready.” Quincy said, giving Hakeem’s armored shoulder a pat.
I blinked. Ah…I drifted off.
“If there’s nothing else, then we should get going,” Hakeem said next. I could see his arms flex, and his chainmail seemed to flare with life for a moment before returning to its newly acquired shade of blue.
I looked to Elmiryn. She looked at me. I gave a stiff jerk of a nod, and she returned it. I can’t say for certain, but it felt as though she were trying to speak to me with her gaze. To reassure me? Instill me with courage?
Either way, the warmth in my chest was undeniable. and my back straightened.
Elle, I won’t let anything happen to you! I swear my LIFE on it!
The woman drew her sword and gave it one twirl in her hand. Looking at Lacertli, then the wizards, she turned and stalked off toward the open field.
“Let’s go kill us a witch!” I heard her cry.
Taking a breath, I followed with the others, and that terrible sight blossomed before us yet again.
There was the castle keep atop its hill, and in the field below it was the field of evil spirits. They were just as terrifying as before. The trampled grass and soil seemed an unhealthy green and purple color from the slime and refuse that was spewed and ejected. Amidst the ruckus of laughter, I could hear screaming, and my heart chilled. I wouldn’t put it past these devils to have a live mortal snack to enjoy between their other depravities.
As a group, we moved forward into this frothing nightmare. The blood, and bones, and bodily fluid rivaled even that of the Albian daesce, and I had to fight to keep from retching. The air was sharp and acrid–like singed hair–and my eyes watered. I wanted to grab Elmiryn’s hand, but Kali held me back, and her voice came in a low growl within.
No! These spirits know nothing of love! How do you think they’ll react if they see you doing something as simple as holding hands?
Swallowing down my protests, I relaxed my hand at my side.
Glancing at the others, I saw that Hakeem and Quincy were staying rather frosty. Neither’s expression gave anything away. They even seemed unaware of what was going on.
Meanwhile, I was fighting hard not to piss myself again.
Up ahead, Elmiryn was at a brisk trot. I could see her shoulders were hitched up a degree, but like the wizards, she made no show of noticing anything around her.
Inwardly, I sighed. I was going to have to toughen up if I wanted to make it out of the Other Place. What sort of merciful sight was I expecting when we encountered Syria, anyway? Tea and biscuits?
And so, with a rigid body and stiff neck, I managed to keep walking. A good thing, too, because if I kept focusing on the horribleness, I would’ve turned and fled screaming like a fool.
…Or maybe when the giant flesh demon–with its exposed muscle tissue and bloody veins–keeled over right onto our path.
The real trouble wasn’t that the thing was blocking our way. After all, we only needed to walk around him if that were the case. But that wasn’t the case. For when the flesh demon fell, his six eyes blinking stupidly, he had knocked into a thick serpentine creature with shark-like teeth. The monster turned to attack when he knocked into another spirit, and well…the misfortune just kept chaining on and on, until–like a classic bar room brawl–we were suddenly in the middle of one very dangerous battle.
I yelped, leaping to the side as a hairy beast without a face nearly trampled me to death.
I looked to my shoulder. Naturally, Lacertli was gone. What appeared there instead was a large black hand, and I followed it to see Hakeem’s face staring intensely into mine.
“Ikati, we have to run!” he shouted.
Without waiting for me to respond or even react, the Fanaean pulled me after him, and we dodged through the long legs of what at first appeared to be a crane, but then turned out to be some nebulous of energy. I could see Quincy up ahead of us, her staff held before her as she evaded the fighting of the spirits.
It was about this time that I realized I couldn’t see Elmiryn.
“Elmiryn!?” my head twisted just in time to see what looked like a pack of carnivorous worms devour a very fat and sweaty man with one eye. “Elle, where are–”
My words were cut short as a long purple tentacle punched me hard in the gut, effectively ripping me out of Hakeem’s grip. When I hit the ground, it was to find three tall men stop to peer down at me. It only took me another second of inspection to realize, however, that these “men” had bat-like ears, blood-red eyes, and unnaturally waxy skin. In unison, they tilted their head to the side, and again, in unison they smiled down at me.
When they spoke, it was with each spirit saying a single word in a fluid sentence. “What–have–we–here? A–tasty–mortal–trying–to–disguise–as–one–of–us?” They laughed, and just as before, it was in unison. The terror in my heart escalated, and I tried to rise.
One of the three spirit men slammed a pointed boot into my shoulder, making me scream. Their touch made me feel as though fire had erupted across my skin.
I squeezed my eyes shut, willing the shadows to take me…only to find that the shadows resisted my commands. Just as the terror reached its apex in my heart, a fierce cry ripped through the chaos in the air.
My eyes snapped open just as the three spirits were blasted away by what appeared to be an invisible force. Stunned, I stayed there, trying to calm my heart, when Hakeem appeared over me. His chainmail armor had changed to the smooth black armor with arrow-designs I’d seen him wear in our fight against Syria. Grabbing my hand in his cold gauntlets, I could feel the power rolling off of it in thick waves, and my hair stood on end. He said nothing as he pulled me to my feet, let go, and took off at a run towards the castle keep. Startled, I followed him, my thanks dying on my lips. What was I thinking? We had no time to stop and chat–not with our lives still at risk.
The brawl between the spirits raged on, and in the confusion we managed to slip by the spirits at the edge of the field, who seemed taken in by the violence happening closer at the center.
Before I knew it, we were at the steps leading to the castle keep.
We rounded the hill, to better hide from the attention of the spirits in case any looked our way. For a long time, none of us spoke. All that could be heard was hard breathing. Finally, when my heart had quieted to a more reasonable pace and enough breath had returned to my lungs, I straightened and asked, “Where…is Elle?”
Just as Quincy and Hakeem shrugged at me, a voice sounded behind us, making us jump.
“I’m right here, kitten!”
I whirled on the spot, my face breaking out in a huge grin. “Elmir–” My grin waned. “–ryn…”
Clutched in the woman’s other hand was a massive gourd, and this she raised to her mouth for a long deep drink. My face tightened. I didn’t need to guess what she was imbibing.
After an especially long pull, Elmiryn lowered the gourd and wiped at her mouth. With a great sigh of satisfaction, she cried, “Now I’m ready to–” her eye twitched. She paused, then slapped a hand to her face. “Fuck, I forgot I can’t wink anymore!”
“Because that’s what’s really the issue here…” Quincy muttered behind me, and I found myself silently agreeing.