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Chapter 34.2

Hey guys. I know this takes you out of the story, but since not enough of you check my other sources for announcements, this is the only way I know to make ALL of you aware of this—when I made Elmiryn and Co. leave the Lycan village, I made a critical error by not stating certain key items leaving with them. These things are needed for the plot, so in this chapter, just be aware that those items will be made available to them, and in my next round of edits, I’ll be sure to change this silly error. You guys are literally getting the rough draft version today, so it’s going to look rather raw. I hope you just remember the circumstances this story is being written under and that, above all, it’s free.

Thanks for your understanding.

–Illise M.

ELMIRYN________________________

“Nyx…uh…Kali…Ny–FUCK! Can you two stop doing that!?”

“We aren’t doing it on purpose, idiot,” Kali–that was definitely Kali–snapped.

“I’m sorry Elle, I–er–we were working on it, but as things stand it’s a little hard to concentrate now.”

“Oh you mean because we’re about to be hurdled into the white void of space at high speeds by an inept cum sucker?”

Nyx had spoken to Elmiryn about her desire to go through with Quincy’s plan, and the warrior had grudgingly agreed. She knew Hakeem must have said something rather persuasive to get the girl to agree to such an idea, but as it stood, it was the most solid plan they had so far. She wasn’t prepared to say this out loud, but Elmiryn wasn’t even sure she could sprout wings and fly.

Heh, if only Saelin could’ve heard me think that. He’d say, “So pigs finally did it, huh?”

Quincy was meditating over Eate’s Son, her magicked boomerang. Elmiryn had yet to actually see it, but apparently the magic little item had the power to create tiny tornadoes. The warrior had seen tornadoes. Out in the Sibesonan heartlands, where the Ailurans and Fiammans fought their war, vast plains of open grassy fields were host to tumultuous weather. Luminous thunder storms would drag in from the west during the summer, and made the air smell like wet dirt and chamomile tea. Powerful cold winds would sweep in from the North during the winter, carrying snowflakes and clouds swollen with moisture that, by the time it fell to the earth, turned to bruising hail. When the warm and cold seasons clashed, it was like the heavens warred with one another, and in that battle the sky would meet the earth in a winding cyclone that tore at the bloody fields without care for human or therian. Everything in a tornado flew. Everything in a tornado was destroyed. A quarter of her men had died to sudden tornadoes interrupting a battle mission.

Elmiryn did not like tornadoes.

Nyx–it was Nyx now–bit her lip and nudged Elmiryn. “Maybe we shouldn’t antagonize the woman controlling the situation.”

The redhead snorted. “Well if we die and I become a ghost, I’ll only wish I had. So why waste the opportunity?”

Quincy brandished her finger at Elmiryn, one eye squinting open. “You know, I have more control over the winds than you think. I could just let a certain inbred get tossed out into the void.”

“Or we could just stop speaking in hypotheticals, and just get on with it,” Hakeem said pointedly.

No one spared any quips to that, and Quincy returned to the meditation of her artifact.

The warrior sighed roughly and rubbed at her face. “Look, I just wanted to ask you Nyx…both of you, I guess, if you still wanted to go through with this.”

“Yes,” the Twins said in unison. Their faces smeared together as one, making her eyes cross.

Elmiryn shook her head with a dubious grin. “Wow, I never thought I’d see the day you’d have to talk me into doing something, and not out of doing something.”

“We haven’t got many options,” Nyx responded, eyeing the boomerang warily.

Kali appeared and gave a shrug, “I don’t see what the issue is. The wizard has lifted you before, hasn’t she, sister?”

“And broke every bone in my body when I came back down…” Nyx muttered with a frown.

“Wow, that’s really comforting.” Elmiryn just stared at the Twins, her hand pulling at the skin of her brow, wrinkling the top. “Before, if it had just been me, I would’ve been all for this. Now? Not so sure!”

“We were supposed to be convincing her, Nyx!” Kali snapped.

“I was just being honest!” Nyx snapped back. The girl gave a sigh of frustration and said to Elmiryn, “Elle, Quincy wouldn’t suggest the idea if she didn’t have all contingencies covered. I’d think our landing would be an important one.”

“About that…” Quincy murmured. Without moving her head, she said, “Bwa-taika, can you use the Aeumani Armor?”

“The ay-yoo-what?” Elmiryin asked.

Hakeem, who stood near the edge of their island, gave a faint shake of his head. “Not as it is, no. It is too much for me in this state. It’d kill me most likely.”

Quincy’s head made the faintest of turns. “But if we changed it somehow…?”

“Yes. Maybe then.”

“We should test it first.”

“Yes, we should.”

“Are you ready? I am done with my preparations.”

“Yes.”

Elmiryn and Nyx/Kali looked back and forth between the couple, bemused looks on their faces.

“What are you wizards talking about?” Elmiryn snapped, annoyed at being left out.

“Aeumani Armor,” Hakeem explained as he approached Quincy, who stood to her feet, reaching for her magic bag. “It is the chainmail shirt that I wore back in Belcliff.”

Understanding passed over the woman’s face. “You mean that black armor. The one that gave you gravity magic.”

Hakeem smirked as his wife pulled the large chainmail shirt from her bag like a hat-trick. “It is a spacial-temporal artifact that allows me to transcend the limits of time in small increments, and to break the limits of space…but yes, among other things, it lets me use gravity magic.”

“But if you can’t use it…” Nyx started.

“As a little human…” Kali continued.

“What do you intend to do?” The other finished, frowning at her twin’s word choice.

“Well,” Hakeem started as he took the chainmail in his hands. “This is chainmail. A thick one through four weave. It’s a heavier version than you might find, but flexible compared to other chainmail grades.”

Elmiryn shrugged. “I prefer one through eight with scales, myself. White steel, of course.”

“That isn’t a bad choice,” the man-boy conceded. He traced an edge of his armor and the metal grew hot where his finger trailed, the links melting from the piece at large to fall to the ground in a neat square. He picked it up and it was roughly the size of his palm. “But this? This is ahkpetra. A rare metal found on Talmor, harvested and refined by the nymphs of the Doros Volcano. It is tougher than steel and much more capable of being infused with higher levels of arcane power.”

The woman raised her eyebrows to show she was impressed and gestured at the small piece of chainmail with her chin, “And how is that going to help us with landing?”

Hakeem’s smirk blossomed into a soft smile—something he seemed more apt to doing now that he was in a child’s body—and stepped over to the edge of their island. He turned his back to the void and looked at them all.

Now his smile was a manic grin. “Like this!”

And with that, the wizard back flipped over the edge into the void. Elmiryn’s mouth dropped. Nyx/Kali gave a start, yelling as they clumsily started forward.

“Hakeem!” Elmiryn heard Nyx yell between their quick shifts.

That was when Hakeem suddenly launched back into view, flipping through the air. When he landed safely before Nyx/Kali, who fumbled in their attempts from tripping over him. However, the wizard’s momentum was more than his adolescent legs could handle, and he slammed down onto the ground face down.  The boy grunted, lifting himself up onto his hands.

Quincy burst out laughing.

…That’s when Elmiryn realized the brunette hadn’t shown any signs of fear or alarm.

“You knew!” She snapped accusingly.

“You cared!” Quincy only giggled back. “That is surprising. But Taika, your landing was not! HA! Ha, ha, ha!” She doubled over, clutching her stomach.

Hakeem glowered at her sullenly as he rose to his feet. “Well the effect works at any rate.” Was the warrior imagining things, or were his chocolatey cheeks turning rosy?

“What effect was that? Some goddamn peek-a-boo trick?” Elmiryn argued, still annoyed that she’d been taken in by a joke.

Quincy wiped at her eyes as she went to hug her husband around the shoulders and wipe the dirt from his cheeks. “Elmiryn, you are fantastically short-sighted,” she sighed. The wizard looked at her, azure eyes wide. “When we come down onto those other islands, and you should have no doubt as to whether or not we will, we will be falling at an incredible rate and force.”

Nyx/Kali crossed their arms and rubbed their chins. Then she turned to Elmiryn with wide eyes. “It’s a brake!”

“A brake?” Elmiryn parroted, before her features cleared and she grinned. “Oh! Ohhh! I get it!”

Hakeem nodded, wincing as he checked his knees for scrapes. “I can’t use the full force of my mage armor. However, I can take a piece of the Aeumani to produce a small gravitational force in the direction I choose. It won’t make our landings completely pleasant,” and here he looked at Nyx/Kali, “But at least nothing will be seriously damaged.”

The redhead nodded. “Okay…that sounds reasonable. I guess.” Her eyes moved to Quincy. “You said you were ready?”

The other woman gave a firm nod. “Yes. If you’d all gather close together. Just give me a moment to put Hakeem’s armor away and we’ll do this.”

Hakeem and the Twins stood at either side of Elmiryn. Nyx took the warrior’s right hand suddenly, her face managing to hold for a moment while the edges of her features flickered like a flame.

“Elle, I’m nervous.”

Elmiryn squeezed her hand. “I’m right here. Whatever happens. You won’t lose me.”

The Ailuran smiled up at her, before her face shifted to Kali’s awkwardly blinking into the warrior’s eyes. With a cough, they released hands.

Quincy, done returning Hakeem’s armor to her bag, retrieved Eate’s Son and stood before them all. “Are we all ready?”

“Yes,” they said simultaneously.

The wizard nodded and stepped in close to Hakeem. “Everyone, I know it will be tempting, but don’t hold on to each other. It’ll just lead to injury and confusion.” She took a breath. “Tuck your limbs and heads in. Don’t tighten up. When we land, you want to be as flexible as possible.”

Quincy took another breath deeper this time.

Then another.

With a hup she threw the boomerang, and it whistled through the air, twirling and twirling. They all watched it go. Elmiryn’s heart beat hard against her chest. Her palms grew sweaty and a weak feeling entered her legs as she felt the beginnings of a strong wind touch her skin.

She smiled with excitement a split second before the tornado appeared and launched them all up and away.

——–

Lethia knew something about dreams and nightmares. More than having just studied them, she experienced them, vividly, every night. Syria had trained her to record her visions upon waking, even the bad ones—especially—the bad ones, when she was a teenager. Lethia couldn’t foretell the future or anything like that. She just gained…insights. On things. On people. At least that was what Syria said. Then again, she never said much else on the matter. Just recorded whatever the girl recorded, soothed her tears if it had been a particularly harrowing nightmare, shared in her delight if it was a good dream. Looking back, it was odd that Syria never told her what any of it really meant. At the time, the teenager had just assumed that her mistress had been trying to teach her to think for herself. Now…now

Now a nightmare stood before the girl, live and breathing, its presence so unwholesome and terrifying that Lethia could not move. Could not speak. These basic functions left her, like fair weather friends, as the being known as Izma approached her…one root-like-foot after another…

Her voice, nauseating and yet enchanting, came riding not in words, but in a mysterious music filled with sorrowful violins.

does the dozy daisy wonder,

where her tomorrow has gone?

do not cry, my daisy.

such a pretty little thing.

the haze and the blunder

of thy mistress poses no more consequence

than a wilting plant in thy flower bed.

all that is required…

…is some simple gardening.

Words returned to Lethia’s tongue like spirits from the after life.

“You want me to kill Syria…” the girl whispered, her eyes streaming still with tears.

Izma smiled again, and the girl managed to close her eyes, though she could not escape the terrible sight.

Among other things…yesss…

ELMIRYN________________________

After the third landing, Elmiryn threw her hands up into the air and screamed. “Again!”

“NEVER again,” Nyx/Kali moaned, still lying on their side  on the grass.

Hakeem was a bit unsteady on his feet, but seemed otherwise fine. Like Elmiryn, Quincy seemed more exhilarated than anything else.

“See?” the wizard said. “That wasn’t so bad!”

Elmiryn went to lean over Nyx, her expression critical despite her grin. “Nyx, you do the whole flippy-floppy thing with your champion powers. Why the hell is this any different?”

“Because I never fall so fast and I always know where I’m going to end up!” Nyx snapped. A shift, and in the next second, Kali’s feline face mirrored her sister’s sickened expression.

The warrior rolled her eyes and held out her hand. After a moment, the Twins took it, rising to their feet.

After a series of wind howling, tornado launches, the group had made it to the island that held the keep. It was the largest of all the split land masses and its forest appeared appropriately thick and ominous.

“We’re okay,” Kali growled, staving off Elmiryn’s attempts at holding the Twins up.

Quincy and Hakeem were already heading toward the forest line. The brunette looked at them over her shoulder. “Not that you haven’t heard this a thousand times before, but can you two hurry it up?”

Elmiryn waved at her. “Yes, you impatient hag, just give us a second.”

The wizard made a rude gesture before stopping to linger at the trees with Hakeem. At least they were staying in sight. The last thing they needed was to be split apart now.

The redhead looked at Nyx and bit her lip. “Hey…both of you…listen to me…”

The Twins turned their faces to her and the warrior sighed. “I’m getting…a feeling…in my gut. This will be serious. I just want you to know that no one else matters. Nyx, and you Kali, are my priority. Everything else is secondary.”

“Everything?” That was Nyx. Her solemn expression seemed to hiding a serious question there, but the warrior was confused as to the nature of it.

“Of course,” she said, declining a comment.

The woman rubbed the Twins’ arm, awkward in that she couldn’t hold Nyx without holding Kali, who was clearly uncomfortable with the intimacy. This frustrated her, and the woman had to occupy her hands by gripping her sword belt. She felt stupid, like how her former military leaders did when they assessed the battle field in their shiny, untested armor.

Elmiryn waited for the Twins to fall in step with her before walking together to the wizards at the forest line.

As one they entered, and everything went black.


Back to Chapter 34.1 | Forward to Break Time

Chapter 34.1

QUINCY_________________________

Time was given for Nyx to recover.

…Or was it Kali?

Quincy watched, fascinated as the girl alternated between states almost like the ghosts had back at the dwarven settlement. One second, the Ailuran’s face was perfectly sapien, with round pupils, a round nose, and ears on the side of her head. With just a turn of her head, her features would smear, blending to suddenly become feline: slitted pupils, a small, pink, heart-shaped nose that trailed down to a slim split upper lip. Then of course there were those ears. They just managed to poke out of the girl’s mane of hair, but they were visible, and in Quincy’s opinion, they looked almost silly. Like the costumes she’d seen people don on during the Aesutian Festival.

The girl was naked and covered in filth, but she didn’t seem aware of it. Only of Elmiryn, who held her closely, murmuring to her as she stroked the girl’s hair. Nyx’s face was quite emotional–not surprising considering what she’d gone through. Kali, on the other hand, seemed remarkably placid, and when her countenance appeared in the flash-flash-flashings of the Twins’ faces, she fixed Elmiryn with a tepid look that was not hostile, nor particularly warm. The Fiamman didn’t seem overly concerned with her lover’s fluctuating states. In fact, she couldn’t stop grinning.

Quincy sighed melodramatically as she reached for her magic pouch. When she gave the warrior her scarf to use as a makeshift chest wrap, she didn’t think there was anything left to use. But perhaps there was something to cover the Ailuran with. An extra cloak or a tunic…heavens, even a tea cozy was better than nothing. It always irritated her how therians exposed themselves so regularly. It wasn’t a matter of shyness—Quincy had seen it all both as a bounty hunter and a wizard’s apprentice. It was more the lack of consideration that irked her. Fine if the beast people wished to parade their delicate bits through the wilds to each other. But when in the company of others, wasn’t that a bit much?

Quincy’s arm sunk deep into her magic pouch, and she scowled as she rummaged through the infinite space of contents.

“Blast it all…I need to organize this stupid thing,” she muttered.

“Look!” Hakeem exclaimed.

Elmiryn and Nyx/Kali looked up from their intimate reunion, and Quincy paused in her search to look to where her husband was pointing.

Leading off into the surrounding forest, they saw an aurora light up the sky–a phenomena the wizard had only seen in the most Northern of regions.

Quincy squinted her eyes and took a step closer, her arm slipping out of her pouch.

No wait, she thought. This light is different. It’s got oranges, blues, and greens in it. The movement of the pattern spirals and is shifting far too quickly. What could…?

The woman’s eyes widened.

“Get in the cave..” she whispered. With fumbling fingers she re-fastened her pouch to her belt.

Elmiryn stood instantly, raising Nyx/Kali with her.

“What is it?” the warrior demanded.

Hakeem, always never too far from her conclusions, turn and bolted for the cave, his little feet crushing bones and animal skulls.

“No time! Move!” he shouted.

Quincy followed him, and with a deft scoop of her lover, Elmiryn was quick on her heels. They made it just under the lip of the cave when a thunder reached them, so loud and strong that Quincy could feel it in her teeth. The ground lit up for a moment, and there was a high squeal in the air. The woman pulled Elmiryn back even further as the warrior watched in a stunned sort of fascination. They had to get farther back or—

SKREEEEEE

A bright green curtain of light lanced through the ground like a cleaver. The earth cracked and split in an explosion of dust and rock. Everyone was thrown to the ground. For a moment, Quincy was afraid the cave would collapse on them, but it held. When the quaking ground quieted to a dull rumble, the woman dared to raise her head.

Her gut dropped.

Their little spit of land was floating away from the rest of the ground. She dared to stand to her feet and go to the edge of the cave and looked up to see that more chunks of earth were parting in a similar fashion.

“We’re floating away. The Manus Dei have vanished.”

“The what?” Elmiryn asked. Nyx/Kali was no longer in her arms. The warrior’s cerulean eyes took in everything, and that little wrinkle Quincy had learned meant genuine worry appeared on the redhead’s brow. “Quincy, what the fuck is happening?”

“Someone just cast a very powerful spell,” She replied with a sigh. “It’s a rare sorcerer’s spell. It requires deep training that allows the user to control elements at the most basic level. In this case, it’s sorcery based in the element of air and energy. It’s hard enough for a sorcerer to master one element, but to master two? I think I’ve only read of three people in history capable of something like this.”

“So this spell just cut us off from our way forward,” Elmiryn said slowly.

Quincy gave a stiff nod. “This was cast for a reason. Maybe the reason wasn’t us, but somehow I doubt that. Nyx was placed too conveniently for us to find. She was supposed to kill us, but perhaps the one orchestrating all of this didn’t count on Kali agreeing to go so far to help. So they went through with a back up plan.”

Elmiryn snorted. “Keep us stranded.”

“Exactly.”

Quincy’s eyes roved the islands below, above, and around them. When she spotted what looked like a castle keep on a hill overlooking a dense wood, the woman grabbed the warrior and pointed excitedly. “There!”

Elmiryn squinted and peered where the woman was pointing. The keep was just a level higher than they were, but it was the furthest from them than all the islands, and the harsh glare of the Other World’s nothing space made distinction a trial on the eyes.

Finally, the warrior seemed to spot it. “Yeah. Yeah! I see it!”

But then Elmiryn’s worry wrinkle appeared again. “I don’t know how to make wings yet.”

Quincy stared at Elmiryn as though she were insane. Which she probably was.

Giving a quick shake of her head, the wizard opted to skip on commenting and said instead, “I have a way we can get there.”

The warrior looked at her, one eyebrow raised. “Oh?”

HAKEEM________________________

“Fuck that.”

“It’s our only viable option right now!”

“The hell it is! If you guys would just give me a second, I could figure out how to sprout wings and–”

Tai’undu, Elmiryn! For the last time, you can’t just use your fae abilities whenever!”

“Why not!? It’s gotten me this far!”

“Like where? Stuck on this despondent little clod of dirt with your schizophrenic girlfriend, a bruised up face, and an itchy scarf for a shirt!?”

Bite me, Quincy.”

“Hey, need I remind you that I gave you that itchy scarf.”

“You want this stupid thing so badly? Fuck it. Here. You can have it back.”

Kwa upendo wa miungu, mkundu msgaji! Put it back on! I don’t want to see your sweaty tits! In fact, I’m not even sure I want this scarf back anymore, after you’ve soiled it.”

“Shove it up your ass. Nyx and I are not moving until we find a better plan.”

Quincy threw her hands up in the air. “FINE! Stay here and starve to death. Or wait until something comes and kills you! Even better!”

Elmiryn made a rude gesture with her middle finger and stormed off to sit with Nyx…or was it Kali? Either way, the Ailuran seemed to be still too weak and dazed to be of any considerable use in this situation.

Hakeem sighed. It was up to him.

Counting the amount of time it took to calm his wife down, the man-turned-boy walked up to his wife who stood glaring out of the mouth of the cave, her features partially lit by the non-light outside.

“She’s an idiot,” The woman snarled before he could even say anything.

“She’s stubborn,” The man-boy conceded.

He ran a hand over his shaved head and puckered his lips as he worded his next sentence.

“Elmiryn is a risk taker,” He finally decided to say.

Quincy snorted. “Reckless.”

The Fanaean nodded. “She’ll do anything if she thinks she might have a chance at succeeding, however slim the odds.”

“She gets a rush out of it.”

Hakeem looked up at his wife as he closed in on his point. “So why isn’t she taking this risk now?”

Quincy looked at him sharply, then glanced surreptitiously over her shoulder at Elmiryn. He did the same.

Elmiryn was kneeling before Nyx, holding her head between her hands, her eyes searching the girl’s face rapidly as the Ailuran’s features continued to shift and change. Her lips were moving imperceptibly, and both Nyx and Kali responded to her in equally quiet tones. The girl, the Twins he should say, looked weak. Beneath the dry blood and caked mud on their skin, they were deathly pale. Almost green. What had they gone through to get the beast under control? What had happened inside of them to lead to their sudden ability to both be in control simultaneously?

Quincy sighed. “That answer, Taika, is easy…” she muttered reluctantly. “She has an anchor that is keeping her frustratingly grounded for once.”

Hakeem nodded, satisfied. “So would the answer not lie in the anchor that keeps our friend from taking flight?”

His wife looked at him sidelong, then with a scowl and a wave of her hand, she said, “Be my guest.”

Hakeem reached over and gave a squeeze of her hand. Just before he turned to leave, he thought he saw Quincy’s lips turn up at the corners.

One minute, twelve seconds. Not bad.

The man-boy approached Elmiryn slowly. His heart still swirled with conflict over the warrior’s unflinching murder of Gudahi, his friend. But was it really murder? The woman had stood her ground, and she had warned them all to stay back. The Lycans weren’t accustomed to taking orders from outsiders, so their brash actions could be understood as a simple flaw in hierarchical thinking. To Gudahi, Sanuye was Alpha. The female Lycan had decided to attack, and Gudahi, with all of his well-masked pain and rage toward the beast that had harmed his people, eagerly followed.

It was all a tragedy no doubt.

But Hakeem put these things away. He began to focus on his counting again, and he felt a comfort among the facets of time.

“Elmiryn, may I speak to Nyx and Kali?” he asked.

The woman squinted up at him. “What for?”

But Nyx–it was her face this time–touched Elmiryn’s shoulder and gave a small nod. “Elle, it’s okay. I’ll be fine.”

The warrior almost looked like she doubted this, and the wizard feared she would take her stubbornness to a new level and refuse to go. Thankfully, however, Elmiryn stood and pointed toward the other side of the cave.

“I’m going to be right over there…okay you two?” With that, the woman walked away, sparing Hakeem a warning glare.

The man-boy only gave her a nod of thanks, and went to sit next to the Ailuran—her features showed Kali now. Her nakedness did not bother the man in the slightest, anymore than Elmiryn’s did. On the one hand, as a man (though trapped as he was in an adolescent body) he thought Nyx’s body appealing, even with all the blood and the mud caking her skin. But it was almost a mechanical response to beauty—and the girl, whether she knew it or not, had a very unique beauty to her. Beyond his appreciation, the mind felt no desire. Quincy was enough for him, and in his mind, he could see no one else as even remotely desirable.

As if his ease allowed the girl to remain relaxed, Nyx—who was now showing—did not make attempts to cover herself in any way. She simply gazed at him curiously and waited for him to speak.

He looked at her as he leaned fully back against the rocky wall. “Ikati. This may be a complicated question to answer, but how are you?”

The girl blinked, her face shifting a moment to feline before returning again in the blink of an eye. “I’m fine. We’re fine. I…I think.”

“The beast?”

Nyx bit her lip, then her features shifted and Kali appeared. The feline released her lip from her fangs and let her eyelids drop low. “It is taken care of,” she said in her customary rough voice.

Hakeem cocked his head to the side. “How so?”

Kali started. “The beast was just–”

But Nyx finished. “–Spiritual energy. The remnants of our animus that me and Kali did not control.”

“So what did you do with it?” Hakeem pressed. He had to be sure the threat was truly gone.

Nyx looked him in the eye, and suddenly her round pupils turned slitted.

“We tore the beast apart and weaved its energy into us,” Kali growled.

Hakeem’s eyes widened. “All that darkness? Wouldn’t it take you over?”

The feline shook her head. “You don’t understand…the monster you saw in the forest was not our darkness alone.”

This made him frown. “What do you mean?”

A shift. Nyx’s face appeared. “She means that when we saw that giant creature before, it was augmented by some other power. Magnified, you could even say.”

Hakeem’s frown eased. “So when we found you…”

“That augmentation had been removed. It was just me and the dark energy inside me.”

“That power must have come from somewhere. From Syria, perhaps? But why would she take away your added power? The beast was near invincible!”

Nyx’s face grew sad. “Because the monster could not speak. You’re right. It was Syria who gave my dark shard its extra power. But she took it away when it assimilated me because she wanted me coherent enough to harm Elmiryn.”

“She didn’t want you to just kill us. She wanted you to break us psychologically…destroy our group’s cohesion,” Hakeem said slowly.

Shift. Kali was back, and her angry face replaced Nyx’s look of remorse. “Yes. And that witch will pay! Her and the little one!”

Shift. Nyx shook her head, alarmed. “No! Not Lethia! It isn’t her fault!”

Shift. Kali snarled, her eyes narrowing. “She let this happen! She should be held accountable!”

Shift. Nyx, her face now contorted in frustration. “It isn’t that simple! What could she possibly have done!?”

Shift. Kali punched the ground. “More than let you sit sucking at dry bones for all this time!”

Hakeem grabbed the feline’s shoulder, and she looked at him sharply. He gazed back at her hard.

“Kali, be careful. I know you and Nyx have said that you have dealt with the beast, but its energy is a part of you now. All that rage and anger is now in your hearts. It is good that you can finally reconcile with it, but do not let it escape you. Either of you. Or we may again see its black ways return.”

Kali’s slitted gaze bored into him. Then she turned her eyes away and nodded stiffly.

Hakeem made a mental note: When it comes to eye contact, Ailurans behave similarly to Lycans. Fixed eye contact means challenge. Averting one’s gaze means to concede.Remember never to concede with Kali. Unlike Nyx, the feline persona is more apt to violence and should be kept from believing she’s in command.

Another shift and Nyx was back, looking at Hakeem with a grateful smile. Still, she held a wary glint in her eye. “Hakeem, you didn’t come to tell us that. What did you need?”

The man-boy crossed his arms and looked to the cave. “Ikati, you mentioned that Lethia was with Syria. Is she in that keep Quincy saw?”

Nyx nodded, her features flickering but remaining intact.

Hakeem continued, “You know as well as I do that the Manus Dei were summoned for a reason—to stop us, or at least, slow us down. Why do you think that is?”

“So that Syria could escape with Lethia?” Nyx said uncertainly.

He shook his head. “They must have a quick exit that wouldn’t require all of this. Think. What reason would Syria need to have lots of time for.”

Nyx thought hard, and when her features flickered to Kali’s, the man-boy saw the feline thinking hard on this too.

“Syria is trying to slow us down…because she’s trying to cast another spell?” Kali tried slowly.

Hakeem nodded. “Yes. Syria must be casting something—something that would require a long ritual that cannot be interrupted.”

“And anything she wants to cast would be bad for us, right?” Kali said, scowling.

“Right.”

“You humans and your…” but the feline’s grumble was cut off as Nyx shifted into view.

“Hakeem…” she said slowly. Her tawny eyes looked over him carefully, their lids low. “You want me to convince Elmiryn to go through with Quincy’s plan don’t you?”

The man-boy nodded. “Time is of the essence, and whatever reality-bending trick Elmiryn has up her sleeve won’t come quickly enough for us to stop Syria. We are so close, Ikati. If we defeat Syria, we can go home, and then this whole nightmare will be over.”

“We might go home,” the girl said shrewdly, her eyes narrowing. “And there’s still the matter of Paulo—I know he’s a prat, but he doesn’t deserve to be left in this dimension.”

Hakeem held up a pacifying hand. “Okay. You’re correct. There are still important things to deal with, and Syria may not be our answer. But what better leads have you to go on at the moment?”

Nyx frowned and looked down at her crossed legs. Her features shifted now and again. Hakeem counted the time.

Five…four…three…two…

Nyx sighed. “I don’t like Quincy’s plan anymore than Elmiryn does, but I see your point.”

Hakeem smiled. “I’m glad you do.”

“But tell me something first.”

The wizard’s smile turned bemused. “All right. What would you like me to tell you?”

“What does ikati mean?”

Hakeem laughed, a full genuine sound. It surprised him, but pleasantly so. Still chuckling, he stood. He looked down at Nyx–Kali–The Twins, and they both pouted up at him.

“In my language,” Hakeem chuckled. “It means, ‘cat’.”

The Twins’ expressions lightened.

“Oh!” One of them said. He didn’t know who, as their faces had been in mid-shift when they spoke.

Hakeem walked away to stand at Quincy’s side again. Elmiryn passed him, sparing him a curious glance as she went to rejoin Nyx.

He couldn’t stop grinning. ‘Cat’ wasn’t the literal translation for the word, but he figured the Twins would not appreciate his new nickname for them.

Because in Fanaean, what ikati really meant was, “silly puss.”


Back to Chapter 33.3 | Forward to Chapter 34.2

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