The blood came fast, seeping into her mouth and almost choking her. It dribbled out the corners of lips, along her tensed cheeks into her ears, where the world became a muted beast. The blood in her mouth was hot and sour. Her vision rippled. A wail of sound came to her, screeching in violin–
No, no, NO!
You idiot, don’t swallow–
But with a muted pop, the violin voice was gone, and Elmiryn felt her spirit being pulled through her scalp. She felt out of body, up high, like a specter happily shivering in the ferocity of the scene. Her pounding headache, shakes, nausea, and weakness gradually receded. She felt fierce and indomitable. The warrior felt like a predator.
Artemis’s strangled scream encouraged her to bite harder, to the point that the flesh in her mouth was severed.
With a great wrench, Elmiryn twisted her hips and torso, and lifted her arms, overthrowing her attacker as though she were a pillow. The warrior spat out the severed piece of tongue, her eyes fogged in her bloodlust. Her body trembled, excited, fueled by an anger so pure it burned her from within. With a roar, Elmiryn raised her fist, but before she could attack, Artemis swung her arm and caught her with the back of the hand. The blow was powerful, setting Elmiryn on her back.
Her spirit returned to her, and the feeling of invulnerability petered out in the face of her reality. She felt ill, her stomach doing turns as a dull ache came to her head. Her lips tingled. She felt feverish and wondered why her ears were ringing.
Then she heard Artemis laugh.
It was gurgling and thick, but there was no doubt that Artemis was actually laughing. Elmiryn lurched onto her side, her chest heaving as she stared at the goddess. The deity was holding herself up by the arms, blood still dribbling from her mouth to give her a rabid, demonic look. Indeed, her manic gaze seemed unholy, and the warrior tensed.
“Houu has-shh hurr me…” Artemis chuckled, the sound wet and squelching. Her head lolled to the side and she smiled.
When the goddess didn’t continue, Elmiryn made to sit up, dragging her body just a little further away. “What?” She asked breathlessly. The blood was drying on her face, but her lips were still sticky from it. Disgusted, she wiped at her mouth with her arm.
The goddess held up a finger and turned her head. Within the next instant, there was a strange and muted noise like flesh sizzling. Then, the warrior realized with a start that Artemis was growing her tongue back.
Giving her new tongue a quick click, Artemis returned her eyes to Elmiryn, grinning smugly. “Ah! Much better! Now, as I said before…thou hast hurt me…truly…but not verily.” She raised a hand. “Still. As the infinite sky above us, this truth cannot be changed. Thou were able to remove a piece of mine person. And that is commendable enough. I am not surprised, but I am pleased.”
Elmiryn stared at her in disbelief. “So this was a game to you?”
Artemis’s eyes rolled upwards as she absently wiped her face. Though she didn’t get all of her face, the blood seemed to vanish all the same. “Well, I would have said ‘test’, but a game? I suppose that is fair to say.”
The woman’s face grew red. “Fuck you! Fuck you!! Who do you think you are?”
Artemis raised an eyebrow. “A goddess.”
Elmiryn scrambled to her feet, her knees weak and her illness swelling like an angry balloon. “You’re a fucking monster!”
The deity laughed as she stood, her graceful body practically glowing in the dark. “Oh come! You speak as one proper-false. It was not so bad. Look. Thine ambrosia goes unstirred…” And the goddess gestured at Elmiryn’s pants, her lips curling in a leer.
The warrior bared her teeth, her face flaring as the situation stared her down once again. The helplessness. The bewitching aura that had steered her mind clear of all rationale. The cold and listless feeling as things spiraled out of her control. Artemis had nearly…
Elmiryn’s hand drew her sword and she dared a step forward.
Artemis’s eyes dropped a fraction. “Mmm…this is more like it!”
With a yell, Elmiryn swung her sword at a diagonal cross, her back stinging from the cuts the Wolf Mother had raked down her spine. She felt her hate magnified by Artemis’s smirking lips–her sharp gray eyes taunting the woman mercilessly. But her target moved faster than she could comprehend. With a strike to the chin, Elmiryn flew backwards, her vision erupting in stars as her jaw stung. When she landed, she found it was more than pain that kept her down. She couldn’t move. She tried lifting her arms, her head, but they just twitched pitifully. She opened her mouth to speak and found she couldn’t.
This is it, then. Elmiryn thought with disgust. I manage to literally fend off an army of men, and in the end, a woman has me on my back. This is just great. I bet Halward’s laughing at me.
But with these thoughts, she felt fear, and it gripped her stronger than anything she had ever felt before. It was worms in her stomach, a cold flash over her skin. Her throat tightened and the woman’s eyes clouded with tears.
Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck–
She could hear Artemis chuckle over her. Elmiryn closed her eyes tight. She could feel the goddess’s new tongue flick her nipple, making her jerk and her skin break out in gooseflesh. She could feel the deity’s hands on her thighs, squeezing, caressing the sensitive inner region near her sex. Then the hands traveled higher and–
Elmiryn felt something bite her left ear.
She gave a yell, her fist launching in an upward punch. She felt it connect something furry.
Her eyes snapped open.
“RAARGH!! IDIOT! THAT HURT!!”
Elmiryn gave a shout and sat up, her eyes fluttering. “…Cat?”
Before the woman was the Twin, it’s rump in the air as it covered its snout with both paws. The creature’s tail lashed behind it, and it growled in great displeasure before raising its head to glare at the woman with its glowing tawny eyes.
“Next time I find Elle the Idiot passed out and bloody, I will leave her there! No doubt, you were doing something unpleasant,” she snapped.
“Wh-Where is she?” Elmiryn sat up straighter, her head whipping about frantically.
“Where is who?” the animal grumbled.
“…Artemis? Who are you talking about?”
Elmiryn stared at the Twin, her brows furrowing. With concentrated effort, she breathed in deep through her nose and out through her mouth. Gradually, her heartbeat slowed and she rubbed at the place over her heart. “I…n-nevermind.”
What happened? Where’d she go?
Then the warrior recalled why she was out in the forest to begin with. Grabbing the Twin around the shoulders, she cried, “Hey! We’ve been looking for you!”
The Twin snapped at her arms, making her let go. “Well stop looking. You’re noisy and annoying.”
“Stupid animal–this is important. Nyx needs you.”
“Well I don’t need her!” The Twin returned to all four paws. She narrowed her eyes and turned as if to leave. “Leave me alone.”
Elmiryn glared. “LOOK you fucking flea-brain–” but distant voices caught her attention, effectively stopping her.
“Elmiryn! Elmiryn!! Where are you?”
“Elmiryn! Are you all right!?”
“Hey blockhead, quit wasting our time!”
The others. Just how long had she been gone? Was everything just a dream?
…Then why was she half-naked and still covered in blood?
“I’m over here!” She hollered, getting to her feet. She felt a mild dizzy spell and closed her eyes, her hand going to her head. Turning with her eyes still closed, Elmiryn said, “Anyway, as I was saying Cat, Nyx is in–” She dropped her hand and opened her eyes.
The Twin was gone.
Elmiryn kicked at the ground. “Shit!”
“There you a–aaaah!!”
The woman turned to see Quincy standing rock still amidst the trees, her face slack in shock for the second time that day. The wizard slapped her hands to her eyes and turned around. Sanuye and Gudahi appeared from behind her, their eyes inquisitive. Hakeem appeared soon after, and with a short cough, he looked away. Elmiryn looked down at her naked chest and grinned humorlessly. Any other time and this would have been hilarious, only…
“Sorry,” she mumbled, covering herself. “Has someone got something I can use?”
One itchy scarf later, and Elmiryn found herself facing down four expectant faces. She spared them a brief glare before turning her eyes in search of the Twin’s tracks. “What?”
“We’re waiting for you to tell us why you’re half naked and covered in blood,” Hakeem said patiently.
“I found the Twin. Now can you guys help me pick up her trail before we lose her for good?”
“Did she attack you?” Sanuye asked next.
Elmiryn moved to check the last place she had seen the cat, her eyes squinting. “No.” Then she froze, realizing her mistake. Her eyes flickered to the side. “Yes.” Her voice was quieter.
“Tell the truth,” Quincy snapped.
The warrior heard her approach and looked up. The wizard’s face was tense and her eyes were hard. She knew Elmiryn had been less than forthcoming with them before, and now she was fed up with it. That was plain to see. The redhead’s eyes flickered to the other woman’s pearl earring, still dangling from her ear.
That stupid artifact must be giving me away, too…what did Quincy say it does? Let her know what’s relevant, or something? If she isn’t getting any tips, then she must know what I’m saying is bullshit. What truth can I give them without saying I was nearly–
Elmiryn’s face went blank. She adjusted the scarf wrapped around her. It was dark wool. Quincy had tried to give it to her days ago so that the woman wasn’t only wearing her chest wraps, but Elmiryn had refused because of the uncomfortable material. It was itchy and hot. She hoped the others would see this as the reason for her sudden sweat.
“Artemis.” The word barely made it out of her mouth.
Quincy’s eyes narrowed and Elmiryn could see the Lycans exchange looks from the corner of her eyes.
The woman returned to the task at hand. Her voice was tight when she spoke. “Anyway, she’s gone now. The Twin showed up right after her. If we hurry, we might catch up.”
“Leave that to us.” Gudahi and Sanuye appeared at Elmiryn’s sides and knelt to the ground. Putting their faces close to the soil, they sniffed and sniffed.
Both stiffened and exchanged looks once again.
“Gihli?” Gudahi asked Sanuye.
She gave a terse nod. “Rothen ron-kwe.” Then without another word, she quickly began to strip.
Quincy gave an exasperated sigh. “Again with the nudity?”
“Get over it,” Elmiryn snapped. She looked to Gudahi. “So I take it you’ve got her?”
The Lycan nodded. “Sanuye is going to run ahead to make sure we do not lose her. We shall follow as quickly as we can.” He turned to Hakeem as Sanuye, now naked, stepped further into the bush, her skin darkening. “Prince of my heart! Would it hurt your pride too much if you rode upon my back?”
“Only if you don’t say it in such a lewd way…” Hakeem muttered.
Elmiryn looked away from them to watch Sanuye shift. Unlike Nyx, whose transformation was slow and painful, the Lycan’s form seemed to shift like water. Her skin rippled with a full coat of fur, her limbs shifting smoothly and quickly to that of an animal’s. Within seconds, Sanuye no longer stood in her sapien form, but rather, as a wolf, her gaze glowing in the dark. She glanced over at the others, her dark tongue appearing to lick her chops once, before she put nose to ground. Within the next moment, she was off at a full gallop, her slim form vanishing in the dark of the forest.
Elmiryn turned to see Hakeem on Gudahi’s back, and Quincy eyeing him suspiciously. “Ready, Elmiryn?” The Lycan asked.
The woman gave a silent nod.
For once, something is going to go as planned. I fucking swear it.
Since coming to this sweltering cesspit of hot weather and torpid beasts, I have known something of freedom for the first time in my (arguably) short existence. Since knowing awareness, I had felt trapped and stifled by my other half’s constant hatred and fear of me. But I was free. Finally. Free.
…And freedom brought its own onslaught of miseries, I quickly learned. Suddenly, that extra layer of insight was gone and lost, to where I knew not, but there it was. My lacking experience and my basic animal instinct was all I had to survive and find pleasure with in my new phantom world. The survival came easily. Before my sense of self appeared, I was the very spirit of survival after all. But pleasure…? I realized with a sinking sense of depression that I had no idea how to find joy or happiness for myself. In fact, I seemed to have every reason to feel sorrow and regret. Stalking the forests, I heard the monster, heard the havoc and carnage it wreaked upon the land. In its wake, it would leave nothing save for that miasma of death and despair, but hidden in the scent was a lace of something I knew. I shied away from the truth, feeling ill and frightened beyond comprehension. On my own, I do not think I could have parceled out my emotions any better than an infant would an alchemical formula. With this misery over me, suddenly my basic sense of survival seemed so cruel and terrible that my hunts for spirit flesh led me closer and closer to the Lycan tribe. Though I knew they would see me as a threat, still I ventured near, because I had nothing. No one.
Naturally, I had to find Her.
My other half, my Twin, my sapien counterpart split free of me as I was her, and there we sat staring at each other for the first time in separate states of existence. Finally, that small sliver of doubt that had haunted me was answered. I was not a figment of her imagination. I was real, and none could deny my existence.
But like all things between Nyx and I, the meeting was painful and infuriating. As I had suffered, alone and dodging the spectre of my own mistake, so had she been living her dream of singularity, and with that freedom, the joy of love.
In my solitude, I had become better practiced at the verse of sentient minds, but nothing could adequately explain the depth of rage and jealousy that I felt toward Nyx upon sensing Elmiryn’s scent intimately weaved into hers. That heady scent of sex. That spice of attraction.
Villain! That you would know a thing apart from me, and still demand that I yield to your desires! What of me!? Am I not allowed to know my own brand of joy?
…And there I was, still nameless and shunned when the return of the despicable monster broke our unhappy reunion short. I fled, seeking my refuge, and I did not know what became of Nyx.
But Elmiryn’s sudden appearance just now gave me an idea. If only I cared.
Certain that I had no reason to fear being followed, I moved as carefully as I could through the woods, mindful of my trail. I sensed, however, a presence behind me. Spurred on, I tried to shake the feeling only to find that it was doggedly keeping pace with me. Now alarmed by what I knew to be a pursuer, I took haste through the forest, taking all the ways familiar to me in the hopes of losing them. But with each clever twist and deceitful turn, never did I lose them. My alarm rising to all-out panic, I did the only thing I could think of–
I climbed up a tree.
It was a beast of an oak, with thick tangles of branches that supported my weight without trouble. I peered down into the dark, and soon I saw my pursuer. They peered up at me with eyes fierce amidst a warm face of fur. A wolf. A Lycan, by the scent of them. Now my embarrassing tactic seemed less silly. There was no hope for me to lose this creature. The Lycans were as one with the land, and understood every inch of it intimately. Really, it was a small comfort, knowing that I had practically resorted to fleeing up a cliche just to deal with my racial rival. Just to make matters worse, I could’ve sworn the mongrel down below was smirking up at me.
Not long after, Elmiryn and her comrades appeared. Nyx was notably absent. My suspicions were confirmed. The warrior approached my tree, her eyes squinting up at me. Then she grinned suddenly.
“Cat. Tree. Funny!” She said with a chortle.
I just narrowed my eyes at her. “Human. Idiot. Unsurprising.”
Quincy raised her eyebrows. “Well. She’s observant, at least.”
Elmiryn spared a moment to shoot the wizard a glare. Her demeanor became grave. “Twin. Get down here. We need to talk.”
“We are talking, you ungodly sack of refuse.”
“This is just as much fun as that time I got stabbed in the shoulder…and had my arm dislocated…and had my head beat in by a Lycan…Quincy, am I missing anything?”
The wizard thought seriously for a moment before answering. “Vicarious nipple tear.”
Elmiryn pointed in Quincy’s direction. “And that. Multiplied by ten. That’s how much I fucking enjoy this skit right now, Cat.”
“So let’s end the charade and go our separate ways,” I spat. “Whatever you have to say, I am not interested!”
The woman kicked the tree. “Will you listen to me!? Nyx is GONE. The beast has her! You’re the only one who seems to know anything about that thing! We need you to find her!”
“Maybe she wants to be GONE? Maybe I want her to be GONE? Why is it always about what Nyx needs and not Me?”
“And who the fuck are you?”
“A mere shadow. Clearly,” I growled, turning my back.
There was a heavy sigh.
“What can we offer you that would persuade you to help us?” This was a voice I had not heard before. My ears perking, I turned to look over my shoulder. Ah. It was the little dark skinned boy. When I didn’t answer, he continued. “There must be something you want. From our last meeting, it was plain to see you were less than pleased with your life as it was. What can we do to improve it?”
“Hakeem–” Elmiryn started, but Quincy held up a hand and gave a terse shake of her head. I saw all of this out of my peripheral vision. My eyes were on the boy. This was Hakeem? I remembered only a strong and confident man. This child certainly resembled him, but…
“And how can you give me what I seek?” I asked suspiciously.
It was the tall dark haired man who spoke next. “We can only know once you tell us what you want, of course.”
I spared him a look, then shifted so that my body was turned a quarter of the way around. My tail flicked idly at the tip. “Then this is what I want…” I leaned down, my chops pulling back in a sardonic grin of fangs and whiskers. “A name…”
No one said anything for a moment.
Elmiryn tapped her chin, her lips puckering as she gazed up at me. Then she pointed at my nose.