Now that she was actually trying to walk straight on it, Elmiryn found she disagreed with the feel of asphalt. It was hard and cold and unnatural. She decided this was not the kind of place she wanted to vomit on all fours, so she made an effort to keep from letting vertigo swing her inebriation into the deep realms of unpleasantness. The challenge was increased, she found, by…well…a great many things.
The glare from the tall glass buildings hurt her eyes. The car exhaust from the rush hour traffic, and the steaming sewer grates created a ripe dizzying smell that was dwarfed only by the slum streets of Fiamma. The city also felt noisy with its car honks and people yelling. Elmiryn actually thought she’d prefer Tiesmire to this ruckus.
Then there was the bizarre wonderland that was Molly and Julie’s territory. There were moving pictures on the giant billboards, each waving to each other and shooing pigeons off of their signs. Mixed in with the ordinary people were cartoon characters made of crayon and objects come to life, like statues and stuffed animals.
Elmiryn even saw a pink elephant squeeze its way into a compact car.
To make matters even worse, her head still ached from the want (or rejection–she couldn’t tell which) of forbidden knowledge. Her thoughts as she tried to make sense of things were wild and varied.
Cars have to go to gas stations, but why isn’t anyone stopping at this one? Isn’t that blue metal box on the sidewalk a ‘gas station’? Why the FUCK is that guy putting paper into it!?
Hakeem, meanwhile, seemed immune from the effects of being in a world not his own. He was alert, his eyes searching their surroundings as if expecting an attack any minute.
“How come ya aren’ havin’ a hard time like me?” Elmiryn muttered resentfully. “Doesn’ this world confuse ya?”
At the question the wizard suddenly chuckled. It was a quick, tight sound.
“Confuse me? Fiamman, I was struck dumb! I could not move or speak for how much pain and fear I felt!” he answered.
Elmiryn blinked at him. “So how’d you get better?”
“That girl. Molly. She seems to have your penchant for…ah…rearranging things that are unseen. It took a few days. She didn’t trust me out right. I’ve only been in my right mind for a little over a day now.”
“I’ve been here before. I wasn’ havin’ this much trouble last time…” Elmiryn said with a pout.
Hakeem nodded, giving her an intent look. “I know. I watched you.”
He sighed. “It was before Izma sent me here. I was still with you all, but it was during her mind games with Lethia. She made me watch what everyone went through.”
Elmiryn scowled. “Why jes you?”
Hakeem raised an eyebrow at her. “Haven’t you been paying attention to what Molly and Julie have been telling you? The demon used me.”
“Nuh, uh. That don’ explain it, wizard. Ya said Izma made ya watch what everyone went through first. But if she wanted to send ya here and replace ya with a doll all along, why bother?”
He shrugged. “I don’t pretend to know everything. The best I can guess is that this is simply the demon’s way. She likes to watch others suffer.”
Elmiryn crossed her arms. “She wouldn’t have made you watch for nothing. She wanted to get into your head.” The woman’s eyes narrowed. “That’s it, innit? She showed you something so horrible, it made you not want to come back.”
“I’m not afraid,” Hakeem said ominously. “I’ve told you to leave the matter alone.”
“She got to you, wizard. But you know what…?” Elmiryn took a deep breath to say what came next. When this initial preparation fell short, the warrior paused on the sidewalk, hands on hips, and glared down at her boots. She mumbled through stiff lips. “She got to me too.”
Elmiryn looked up at Hakeem to see him standing and watching her with an unreadable expression. She thumbed at her chest.
“Maybe the drink is the only reason I can say it out loud, but Izma got to all of us! I could see as much in the others when we were fighting her. She’s a demon who feeds off of sadness and hopelessness. That’s how she works!”
The redhead flicked a hand. “But you know what? Fuck ‘er. We all survived!”
Hakeem gave a soft snort. “So I should just come back? Forget everything I saw and heard?”
“Uh, yeah. Thas’ bas-ic-ally what I jes said!”
“If you knew the things that I knew…” but the man broke off, turning and walking stiffly down the sidewalk. “Just take my word for it, Elmiryn. It is not so simple!”
Elmiryn stared after him, mouth open as she tried to grasp at the wispy, but very important detail that she suspected was staring her in the face.
What’s with this idiot? Being changed into a child didn’t faze him, but he sees some stuff and falls apart!
Then the warrior’s brows knitted together as she hurried in a haphazard line to catch up with the man.
And the hell does he mean, ‘If I knew what he knew that I…knew…what? …No…’
Elmiryn palmed her face as she fell into step a little after Hakeem.
I’m too drunk for this shit.
The rest of their walk continued in silence. Just when Elmiryn thought she was going to throw up again, Hakeem turned sharply down a narrow alley. Bewildered, she followed him until they took yet another turn, and that’s when she saw it.
This gateway was smaller than the ones that she had encountered, but there was no mistaking its shimmering energy against the alley’s dead end brick wall. She hurried toward it eagerly, but stopped when she realized Hakeem was no longer with her. When Elmiryn looked back, it was to see the man already backpedaling away, his face tense. For a fleeting moment, the redhead had an extreme idea:
If I grab him, maybe I can push him in?
But she discarded this quickly. She was in no shape to be wrestling with someone of Hakeem’s stature. Besides, the man would probably just leap right back the way he’d come.
“Ya really oughta come with me, Hakeem,” Elmiryn said somberly.
“I will return. I promise,” was his stony response.
The warrior cursed. “Yer askin’ a lot o’ me, y’know? If Quincy thinks ya died when I destroy that doll thing, she’ll…” she trailed off meaningfully.
Hakeem turned and started to walk away. “I trust you’ll do the right thing. Take care of my wife while I’m away. She’s more vulnerable than she’d like for people to think.”
Elmiryn sighed and let her shoulders sink as she watched the wizard round the corner out of sight.
“Yeah?” she muttered. “Well the same goes for you!”
Turning back around, the warrior appraised the gateway critically. Then she wagged a finger at it.
“Ya better take me home! I mean it! Or I’ll tell all the other portals jes how teeny ya really are!”
Just for good measure, she gave the gateway a stern glare, before stepping through.
The date is unknown. I’m not even sure what time of day it is. Maybe I just won’t bother with that sort of thing for this. It seems a trivial thing to care for in a place that doesn’t follow time.
Before I write anything more, I just want to apologize to the soul whom I must now borrow this journal from. Jydel Anv.
I found your journal near our camp when I was scavenging with my dog companion, Argos. It was wrapped up in cloth in a torn knapsack. Some of the earlier pages were damaged by the damp snow, but some were preserved. I was able to read enough to know that you were forced to become a guard at Holzoff’s, like so many were, and I know you were young. Not even fifteen. It was not fair that you met your fate at the claws of the daesce. I can’t presume to know what your last moments were like, but judging from your last entries, your guardmates were of the unsavory sort, and they must have left you behind at a critical moment for you to fall prey to the monsters. In that regard, I think we can relate to one another. I too know the sting of that kind of betrayal.
Maybe that’s how I should approach this? I’ll just write to you, from now on, Jydel. Pardon the charcoal. It was the only thing I could find to write with.
I wonder if the gods would frown down on me for writing on the pages of a dead man? Oh, but I’m almost certain they despise me anyways for all the taint I’ve been exposed to. Being a demon’s plaything and a mad woman’s prisoner leaves a person less than pure…
I’m sorry. I’ll stop. I’m not ignorant to my own self-pity. I know I should be stronger, and I’ve tried in awkward spurts to be just that, but my strength as of late seems so fleeting. I wanted to help my companions in our most recent struggle, but when the battle was over and I looked back, it really felt that nothing I did could make up for the harm I had caused. The others seemed to agree. Nyx, for instance, loathes me. I can hear it echoing in her thoughts sometimes. She’s been more on guard these days, trying to build walls around her mind. I think it was the revelation that Paulo is also an enchanter that did it. I don’t blame her. Two unstable enchanters must make a person feel paranoid…
My apologies again, Jydel! I’m talking about these people as if you know them.
Nyx is an Ailuran. She’s suffered a lot in her life, and more so these past few weeks. You should know that she’s Marked, but she is not a bad person. Like you, Jydel, she just made mistakes. Honestly, out of this strange group, she is the only one who might understand how I’m feeling right now, but also out of this group, she is the one whom I’ve hurt the most. It’s cruel the way life works sometimes. I wish I could make it up to her…
Quincy is a human wizard. She’s a bounty hunter–or was, I should say. Given her decision to help me sometime ago, I doubt she has much of a career to return to. Bounty hunters going back on their contracts is not a small thing. To be fair, of this group, she is the one who dislikes me the least. She’s more focused on trying to keep her husband alive.
Hakeem is a Fanaean wizard like her but he is in a coma and getting weaker by the day. I won’t bother talking about him much. I don’t think he’ll survive.
Argos is my dog companion, as I mentioned before. As a puppy, he was the subject of an illegal experiment by a satyr, and so grew very large and is very intelligent. I’ve always had an affinity for reading the minds of animals to begin with, so Argos and I, we speak telepathically. Very recently, my friend was apparently the agent of the god Lacertli. I doubt you’ve heard of him. I certainly hadn’t until recently!
Then there’s Paulo. He’s…
Actually I don’t want to write about him. Just know that Paulo is a young human man whom I’ve hurt the same, if not worse, than Nyx. It goes without saying that he dislikes me. Intensely.
I believe that just about covers the basics for you, Jydel. I’m afraid I’m tiring, and fast. I will have to resume this some other time. Nyx and Quincy are returning from their scavenging, and Paulo is once again absent. We’re all doing our part to prepare for the journey to Syria’s tower, where we hope to find our escape from this place. It should be any day now…
I had a nightmare last night. Syria taught me that when an enchanter has nightmares they should be heeded. You see, in enchantment we see nightmares as more than just warnings. They are used as a tool by the animus to communicate with the intellect. What was my nightmare, then?
I dreamt of devouring myself, flesh and bone.
Yes, I know. Sometimes I wish my animus had better communication skills.
today was a bad one. i cannot even bring myself to say why. writing this alone takes effort.
i’m not sure i can wait till we get back to do it
Forgive my poor writing yesterday. Have you ever been so depressed you could not sit up, let alone move or speak? That was just such a day. That doesn’t excuse the childish scrawl I gave you, however. This is what happened that brought on such a thing–
I was out scavenging with Argos when I came across Paulo in the snow. Argos and I never travel far, and we usually search to the south. You see, unlike the others, I cannot defend myself adequately, and my companion can only do so much to protect me. The deeper into the valley, the more dangerous it is–as I’m sure you’re aware. Further north is much the same. Thus, why I was surprised to see Paulo. He usually delves deep and far northwest into the valley, but for some reason he had bothered to come around where we were.
To summarize things for you, I promised Paulo something grave in order to convince him to go to Syria’s tower. You see, he didn’t want to go. He was scared, and I understand why. As an untrained enchanter, his thoughts go unchecked, and his power has the curious effect of amplifying his mind. I saw his fears.
When he first visited Syria’s tower so long ago, back when he was hunting me as a bounty, he became afflicted by Izma’s taint. It was worse for his vulnerability as a magic caster. Since he lacked training… Well, you can understand it as a gaping wound having salt rubbed into it. Hard. It was traumatizing to him. He became haunted with visions and a constant pain throughout his body. Who would want to return to the place that started all this after such an experience?
But I offered him something he cannot resist. A chance at closure.
Argos protested of course. It pained me to do that to my friend, but I had to wipe that memory from his head to stop him interfering. He is suspicious now. He keeps asking me why Paulo changed his mind. Oh, how I loathe myself for treating my best friend so poorly! I don’t know what else I could have done. Argos certainly deserves better than me.
I’ve digressed. Back to what happened yesterday–
When Paulo sought me out in the snow, I suppose he was afraid I’d back out on our agreement. He threatened me. His words sent me low, and I had to return to camp early.
It’s sort of funny now, looking back. After the deal we struck, what could Paulo possibly threaten me with?
The day has come! We are leaving this terrible place. We have cloaks with hoods to protect from the chilly winds. We have enough food and firewood that, if properly rationed, should last us at least another five days. We’ll have to hunt for more meat, possibly. Quincy believes she can scrape out some more usable wood from her magical bag in an emergency. Together, we’ve either scavenged or fashioned tools for the trip. The one thing we still greatly lack is proper rope. Whatever ties we could scrounge up have gone to the task of hauling Hakeem’s limp body along in a sort of gurney. I was afraid to say it before, but I agree with Nyx. Trying to carry an unconscious man over the mountains with our poor resources is impractical. But we need Quincy to come with us–to fend off threats if nothing else, and believe me, that is plenty.
She cannot be convinced to see Nyx’s arguments, and Nyx is a vermagus. Have you heard of those, Jydel? Well. I suppose all you need to understand is that if Nyx cannot convince Quincy, the rest of us certainly can’t.
The others are calling me. I have to go now. We’re so close. If we can just get through this, I may find a way to make it up to everyone.