Tributaries Cover In Sight, In Mind Cover Blackwood Cover

Chapter 36.1

NYX___________________________

The desire to shout Elmiryn down was there, for all of us, I think–but inevitably we found ourselves more concerned with the task before us. Hard to ignore the chance of finally facing down the one who had put us all through hell, after all. My only concern was in how well the warrior could function. I wanted to ask her to give me the gourd, but I could already foresee the clash of wills that would be, and I needed all of that energy for the task before us. It was easy, being brave and saying I wouldn’t let anything happen to Elle back in the blackwood. It was a wee bit harder at the actual threshold of the keep. After all…

If there was one thing the Other Place had proven to me, it was that it had no exhaustible amount of terrible surprises to sling at us. I’m not sure I could ever shake away some of the sights I’d seen here, and I suspected I had many rough nights of sleep in the future. Would this challenge really be the last I’d see? My fears seemed to stack up sometimes, swaying in the cold winds, and I was always stuck in the shadow of them, gulping down my courage–because things always tended to go wrong whenever I tried to do…anything. My lack of a family is probably my best example.

My confidence was like a rollercoaster. One moment I’d be filled with purpose, the next I’d be wringing my hands in doubt. I just wanted to do the right thing, and in such a dark and twisted halfway dimension, that became more and more distorted…especially when we were all walking such fine lines between salvation and destruction. And the horrible part? Half the time that misfortune was wrought by our own hands. Elmiryn’s drinking. My self-made monster.

Standing shoulder to shoulder, we came to the arched entrance of the castle keep. The looming structure, with its worn and mossy stone, its dark crenellations, and its many gazed windows seemed to bare down on us. The large double-door entrance was painted red, and had a smaller inset door to the right. We stopped before this, and exchanged looks.

In a weak attempt to bolster my courage, I tried to be blithe. “D-Do you suppose we knock?” At the looks I received, I resolved never to do that again. Ever.

Hakeem tried to pull it open by the handle. It didn’t budge. “We will have to break it down unless we can find another way in,” he remarked.

“Fuck that,” Elmiryn snapped. The drink was clearly working for her. Maybe I needed to have some.

She stepped up to the door as she took another swig of drink. Her other hand twirled her sword. Quincy crossed her arms and said in the dryest voice possible, “What are you going to do? Belch at it?”

The warrior turned and squinted one eye. “Uh…No. I was going to bust it down.” She turned back, shaking her head. “‘Belch at it’…what a boob!”

Quincy’s face grew red. “I was being sarca–”

“Shh!” I hissed. “Sweet Aelurus, we’re in a very dangerous place right now! Can we save this nonsense for later!?”

Elmiryn spoke, and as she did so, she raised her foot to kick the door. “Then let’s quit stalling and just–”

Before she could kick out, the door swung open with a faint creak. My mouth dropped and I took a step back. Elmiryn didn’t move, her foot still in the air.

“Orrr…that could happen,” she said insipidly.

I took another step back as my body trembled. “This could be a trap!”

Quincy shook her head at me. “You just ran through a field of evil spirits, but you can’t walk through a door?

My hackles rose. “Syria could be on the other side of it with some diabolical plan to turn our minds inside out! She’s done things like that before!”

“Well it isn’t going to be very productive to just sit out here, now is it?” Elmiryn said. She had a jocular smile on her face, but I could see the way her head swayed ever so slightly on her neck as she turned to face the door. If she kept at that gourd, she’d be slurring her words any minute now.

Just as she started to cross the threshold, I jumped forward and ripped the gourd from her hands. She was quick to try and take it back, like I knew she would be, and maybe if she were sober, she would have succeeded, but she wasn’t. It only made me more certain that my bold move was in the right. Elmiryn had made the argument that she needed to keep drinking to stay functional. True, that her hands were looking steady now, but the warrior wouldn’t be able to stop herself from going too far. I had to do something, and that wasn’t going to be talking things out.

“Nyx what the hell!?” she cried.

I didn’t even stop to try and defend my actions. With a look that begged for understanding, I turned and fled through the door. I heard the others follow me, and was glad too, because the antechamber made my skin go cold.

The ceiling swirled in colors, bright and dark, cool and warm. As I stood beneath it, the yellow color on my skin began to rise up like liquid into the air. It floated up to join the colors on the ceiling. I shook my head slowly.

“What sort of sorcery is this?” I breathed.

“It could be a more focused form of energy sorcery,” I heard Quincy murmur behind me. “Though I’ve never seen it exercised on light before…barring Tonatiuh of course.”

I turned to look and there she was with Hakeem, holding a hand out to keep Elmiryn from trying to take the gourd back. The warrior glared at me, her expression speaking of betrayal, and I ducked my gaze.

Gods, she must think I don’t trust her to control herself! Why can’t she see that it isn’t HER I don’t trust, it’s her fae side?

Isn’t that the same thing? Kali responded quietly.

Quincy met my eyes, and leaving Hakeem to ensure Elmiryn didn’t do anything rash, she approached me with her hand held out. “Give the gourd here. I can keep it in my pouch.”

Grateful the source of conflict was being removed, I handed it to her and watched as she quickly slipped it into her magic pouch.

“Just how much can you hold in there?” I asked, my curiosity getting the better of me.

Quincy thought for a moment, then answered. “I think about as much as a two-floor mansion can, from floor to ceiling.”

My eyes went wide. Meanwhile, Elmiryn had stormed off to fume by herself, and Hakeem let her go. The antechamber wasn’t that big, so she didn’t go far.

“Gods, how can it hold so much?” I exclaimed.

“Well, actually, there’s a catch. Wizardry always has a catch. In the case of this pouch, I can only put in items that can fit through the four-inch wide opening. Next…things tend to get lost in there. So it’s best to keep the stock low. The pouch may be able to hold as much as a mansion, but I can only get as much as my arm can reach…”

Uncertain of what to say about all of this, I just nodded slowly. Wizardry was an odd profession–I knew this from my reading–and I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could find themselves practicing such an art. I mean, yes. I understand the appeal of having powers one would normally need to be born with. But wizards were a cutthroat lot, killing each other for their things, tomb raiding sacred sites, and battling magical beings on the off-chance that they may find some sort of treasure. Hakeem and Quincy both seemed very successful at it, given the number of artifacts they possessed. The average wizard only had one powerful artifact, and any number of common magicked items. In their case? From what I saw they were extraordinary, even for such an unusual practice.

We heard a door open and looked up to see Elmiryn pushing her way into the next room. I groaned and hurried after her, the wizards on my heels.

Wonderful. She’s mad, so now she’s going to be reckless about this all.

The next room turned out to be a sort of sitting room, but it was flushed with papers and books. There was a sofa chair, an ornate rug, and some tables, but otherwise the room didn’t have much else.

When we caught up to Elmiryn, I hissed, “Elle, please don’t rush off like that!”

“I heard something,” she replied in a steely tone.

I flinched and rubbed my arm. “Elmiryn, listen. I’m sorry, but I had to take the gourd–”

“Shhhh!” She held a finger to my lips and I stopped. “D’you hear that?”

I frowned, straining my ears. With my Twin back, my hearing had improved, but I heard nothing. I looked to the others and by their expressions they hadn’t heard anything either.

My eyes returned to the woman, my forehead wrinkling. “Elle, there’s nothing–”

“There!” She grabbed my shoulder, squeezing it painfully, and pointed at the empty chair.

Now my look was wary. “The…chair?”

She didn’t seem to hear me. Swaying a little bit, she walked to the chair, her boots clicking on the stone floor before they reached the carpet. With a graceless drop, the woman sat at the foot of the chair and gazed up, smiling.

My heart clenched.

Oh no…

“E-Elmiryn?” I went to her side, and waved my hands in front of her face but she didn’t look at me. She was fixated on something that only she could see.

When I looked to the wizards to ask them what we should do, I choked on my words.

Quincy had floated off to stare at a wall, muttering to herself, whilst Hakeem seemed to just fall asleep on his feet. I looked at them all in horror.

“This was a trap!”

“No. It wasn’t.”

I screamed and turned to see Lethia Artaud standing in a doorway I hadn’t noticed yet. From the way she stepped down to the floor, I assumed she came from a staircase. Clutching at my chest, I stared at her, robbed of words.

In a rush, memories came to me–long and stretched from a route of time that didn’t fit with my other memories. The one that stood out to me was the latest one. The one where I had stood and called Lethia a coward. How I’d threatened to break her bones. The silence felt heavy. There had been many things in my head I’d been keeping at bay, with Kali’s help, so that we could survive the challenges before us. But this one broke forth like a flood, weakening me.

My eyes filled with tears and I ducked my head in shame. “Lethia…”

She didn’t say anything for a long time, leaving the colorful ceiling to echo back Quincy’s dazed mutterings.

“It’s not your fault,” she finally said.

My face crumpled. “It is…It is, and I’m sorry! There’s so many things I regret, Lethia, I can’t even–” My voice cut off as my expression cleared and I blinked away my tears. Something had occurred to me. “Wh-What are you doing here? Where’s Syria?”

Lethia’s oval-shaped face twitched as she looked down at her shoes, then back at me. “You don’t have to worry about her.”

“What? I–I don’t understand. Who cast the Manus Dei?

Lethia wrung her hands, her shoulders coming up around her ears. With tight lips, she mumbled, “I did.”

My eyes went wide. “It was…you?

“That’s what I said.”

“But–”

“I was trying to buy some time. To think.” Her voice had gone tight, and I wasn’t sure if she was angry somehow, or simply fighting back tears.

As such I proceeded with caution. “Lethia, why are you here?”

Her green eyes fastened onto mine, and my heart leapt into my throat. The enchantress had the power to steal people’s thoughts by meeting their gaze. I looked away, feeling a little bad for my reaction, but more afraid of having my head emptied. Then I blinked.

“Wait…”

Slowly, my eyes returned to Lethia’s. “Elmiryn said Syria had lied to you about your eyes. Have you…controlled your power then?”

Lethia thought for a moment. Then she shook her head. “No…not really. I still have wandering amnesia. Any given moment there is something I can’t remember. But for a long time I didn’t have my full power, so it wasn’t so debilitating.”

I frowned at the girl’s tone and took a slow step back. “But your power has…come back?

She nodded once, and her gaze turned glassy. “Yes.”

The silence returned. I breathed hard through my nose, my heart rate going fast. Lethia just stood there, her hands and arms limp at her sides, her head lolled to the right, her face blank. There was something off about all of this, and I could feel Kali pacing inside me as I tried to figure out just what the danger was.

If the Other Place had taken her power, how did she even get it back? Syria clearly had been trying to keep Lethia controlled, and she wouldn’t have made the mistake of arming the girl with the very power that would free her. Lethia had only wanted to get away from this nightmare.

I took notice of the bandages on her arm…

“This isn’t a trap,” Lethia repeated suddenly, making me jump a little.

I raised an eyebrow. “I’m sorry?”

“I said this isn’t a trap.” She reached a hand up and brushed her wavy wheat blonde hair back over her shoulder. “This is…a last chance.”

My back tightened. “Lethia, what is going on? Where is Syria? Why did you cast the Manus Dei?” Then I gasped and took another step back as something finally occurred to me. “You’re working with Syria, aren’t you?”

Lethia shook her head, an almost disappointed smirk on her face. “No…”

Now my confusion had doubled. “Then please explain to me what is happening! Why are the others not responding?”

“I put them in dream states,” the girl said with a shrug. She started to walk forward, and my fists clenched. “I just wanted to talk to you in private.”

“About what? Be straightforward with me, Lethia! Please!

“Straightforward…that’s what you want?” She stopped just a few steps from me and Elmiryn. Her eyes flickered to the warrior, still dreamily focused on whatever it was that Lethia had tricked her mind into seeing. “Okay. I can be straightforward.”

Her green eyes locked onto mine again, and I could see her lower lip quake. “You have to help me decide. Either I choose your side, and risk the chance of Izma killing me, or I choose her side, and risk the chance of you and Elmiryn killing me. Give me your arguments.”

I didn’t know how to react at first. I stood staring at her, waiting for her to explain herself further, but the girl said nothing more. Up close, I could see now that her aloofness was really just an act to contain her numbing fear. Lethia was terrified, and she was asking for my help.

“I can’t…” I shook my head, my look twisting up in incredulity. “What kind of–?” I grabbed my hair and took yet another step back. “Lethia, what is this!? Some sort of sick game?”

“It isn’t a game,” and for the first time since she’d walked into the room, her voice cracked. “This is important. Life or death. But I can’t decide until I hear all the arguments! I’ve already heard Izma’s and now–”

Who is Izma!?” I screamed.

In a flash of recall, I answered my own question.

Ooooh…. My little sum of somes is quite a something!  Now my error is known.  Come.  Tell Izma what it was like to break the things she loves…

The memory came hard and fast, and a residual pain appeared deep inside in a place unreachable–like my soul were being attacked–and I cringed, clutching my sides. When I caught my breath and managed to fight off the nightmare, my gaze crawled back to Lethia, who was staring at me wide-eyed now.

“You know her, Nyx. You know her,” she whispered, and tears pooled into her gaze. “You know she is chaos. You know she is powerful. And she has a hold on me, much as I try to resist it!” Her head tilted to the side and she smiled shakily. “But I managed to convince her…that I was not like Syria or Elmiryn. I am not a pet, or a toy. If I worked with her, it would have to be in my choosing. This gave me just enough time to decide whether to follow through or to try and fight her…but you’ve seen how powerful she is, Nyx!” The girl sobbed and shook her head. “I’m scared. If it were just a matter of dying, then I would gladly die, but it isn’t so simple with her. Defying her and failing…I would suffer. Immensely. Y-You were right. I am a coward.”

Slowly I shook my head and with cautious steps I went to her. “No…No! Lethia, listen to me. You are not a coward!”

“Don’t do that…”

“But Lethia–”

“NO!” The girl shoved me away, her gaze turning wild. “I have to decide, and I have to decide now. Will I fight her, or will I fight you? I need arguments for both sides. Pros and cons. I…” She started wringing her hands again, her eyes trailing the room. “I can’t do it myself.”

“But why not!?” I cried. “You know what I’ll say to you! Izma is evil! She’s an abomination and she’s only going to use you for her own sick goals! And I…I thought we were friends? We fought together! We’ve confided in each other! Or do you really hate us that much??”

Lethia smiled at me brokenly. “I can’t remember.”

My breathing hitched, and my look melted once more into shame. “I…oh no…of course…”

“I can remember that I liked you all, and I can remember certain recent…unpleasant things,” she whispered, her gaze going glassy again. “But I don’t remember…us being together in our world. I don’t know why I liked you, or even how deeply that feeling goes. For all I know, I could’ve just thought you were nice because you shared a piece of bread with me in passing.”

“But even then, you could bring yourself to harm a stranger? The Lethia I knew wouldn’t do that!”

“The Lethia you knew is in the past.” She chuckled derisively. “She’s forgotten. Literally. Izma is terrifying, yes. And she is just using me, I know. But…she has a plan, Nyx. To fix the world. To make it better.”

“And you believe her?”

“Syria did. Maybe I should’ve trusted in her. I didn’t have all the facts before. I didn’t…” she trailed off, and I stared at her, wondering how these things could be coming out of Lethia’s mouth.

Izma had a plan? In most cases, that would be referred to as world domination, if I wasn’t mistaken. Why couldn’t the girl see that? The Lethia I knew had a high moral code, and she not only expected others to behave honorably, but for herself to. The girl before me was almost alien in how she was rationalizing–

…Sweet Aelurus…of course!

I didn’t know why I didn’t see it sooner. Lethia was hyper-rationalizing.

It was a common tactic by those placed under great distress to be able to compute what was happening around them. I’d read it in some book, of course, so my knowledge was limited, but in extreme cases such thinking could lead to decisions that others would find reprehensible. The enchantress was possessed by a moral code, and I had mistakenly conflated that with someone who took things on faith. Lethia wasn’t about blind faith. When she said she believed Syria was innocent of those murders in Albias, it was because the evidence hadn’t added up to guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As an enchanter, Lethia was also a scholar, and her mind functioned heavily on the process of scientific reason. If her amnesia was preventing her from remembering all of the possible arguments for why she should trust and work with us, then in her state of stress, Izma’s arguments for “changing the world” would seem much more appealing.

I had to change this, and I had a feeling I couldn’t just put a vermagus spin on my Words and let the whole matter be done with. If I didn’t want to fight Lethia, which was quickly turning out to be a very dangerous option, I was going to have to convince her it was better to fight Izma.

I rubbed at my face. “My gods, I haven’t debated like this since I was in erduk.”

Lethia took a breath, her shoulders shuddering. Glancing at me, she sidled past Elmiryn to sit in the sofa chair and crossed her legs. When she looked at me again, her expression was somber.

“I’m listening,” she murmured.

QUINCY________________________

“I’m listening.”

Quincy’s eyes narrowed as she took in Lethia, sitting in the sofa chair with her legs crossed. Her gaze crawled back over her shoulder. Her husband was standing near the door, swaying on the spot. Elmiryn was sitting in front of Lethia, grinning and nodding her head like a little girl listening to story time. And Nyx? She was off to the side, leafing through the stacks of papers on the tables, her eyes glazed.

The woman looked back to Lethia as she crossed her arms. “So you want arguments, hmm?”

ELMIRYN_______________________

“What the hell d’ya want me ta say?” Elmiryn snapped. “Izma is bad news. Even Meznik is afraid o’ her. And you wanna jes’ settle on some crackpot plan to fix the world’s boo-boos!? C’mon kid, I thought you were smarter than that!”

Lethia shook her head. “It isn’t that simple, Elmiryn, and you know it. Izma and Meznik are cut from the same cloth. Are you telling me that the things he’s told you hasn’t appealed to you at all?”

Elmiryn’s eyes widened. “The hell? What’re you… No. No. You got into my head…saw things…”

The girl just laughed. “Come on, Elmiryn. Remember what happened last time? We both know that–”

HAKEEM________________________

“–Wouldn’t work.” Lethia finished.

Hakeem nodded, his fists on his hips. He glanced at the others. Quincy murmuring at the wall. Nyx leafing through the papers. Elmiryn sitting on the floor like a little girl. He turned his eyes back on the enchantress.

“Then why talk to me at all, if you know this charade will not work?”

Lethia shrugged. “Because. I may be playing mind games with the others, but you’re…too shrewd. I’ll get bored manipulating everything. I’d like to have at least one unfiltered conversation.”

The man rubbed at his mouth, his eyes returning to his wife. “She’ll see through this, you know. She’s good at picking up lies.”

“That pearl earring of hers doesn’t hurt either,” Lethia said with a wry smile. “I know Quincy is smart. Nyx and Elmiryn will get caught up chasing their own tails trying to sort out the logic. But Quincy? I’ll have to make her believe. And trust me, she’ll want to. Your wife may be attentive, and she may be intelligent, but when you live in reality like she does, you become prey to belief. Like how she chose to believe that her father and uncle were dead. Like how she chose to believe using the Morettis as bait against Syria was the right thing to do. Like how she chose to believe that she needed Tonatiuh to be strong. Did you know? Reality just amounts to all we can touch, smell, see, and hear. The sad fact is…all those senses we rely on is less than one-millionth of reality. The rest is just faith. So you see…I won’t trick Quincy into buying the lie. She’ll do that all by herself.”

Hakeem’s fists tightened and his eyes searched the girl’s face. “And I suppose I don’t have that problem?”

“You don’t live in belief. You know that life is far beyond anything we can comprehend, and so you adapt. You’ve adapted all your life. Like how you became one with the Lycans. It’s just what you do. Perhaps the only reason you haven’t moved on with your life is because of your wife. Because she can’t let things go, and she’s the only thing you can’t let go–”

“Shut up.” Hakeem’s armor flared with power as he stood to his feet. “I thought we weren’t playing any mind games…”

Lethia gazed at him for a long time before shaking her head sadly. “You’re right. Even the truth can’t be trusted.”

Hakeem glared at the floor, his muscles tense beneath his armor. Finally, he bit out, “What is this all for? Why don’t you and your master just kill us all?”

The girl bit her lip and wrung her hands. “I wasn’t lying Hakeem, when I said I cast the Manus Dei. But I borrowed that spell from Syria, and that knowledge is gone. Even with my raw power, I can’t control it like she could. It was just enough to defeat her in a moment of weakness. But you’re all determined to go home. Your mindscapes are…vast. Complicated. I may have the power, but I don’t have the skill to keep you all under and talk to you separately like this.”

“Izma…she’s augmenting your power…” Hakeem said, his eyes widening. “She’s the one really in control, isn’t she? But that still doesn’t tell me why she’s doing this! What is her plan, Lethia?”

Lethia’s voice was raspy when she spoke. “She wants to know more about you all. She wants to see if she can turn some of you. Part of it is out of spite. She wants to anger Lacertli by taking away his new champion. She also wants to steal Meznik’s toy. A power play. But in the case of you and Quincy…it’s curiosity. She recognizes your origins. The kind of triumphs you’ve achieved. The disasters you’ve survived. She thinks it might be useful.” She turned her face away. “And in the end, it all just amuses her. Your death or cooperation don’t really mean anything to her.”

“And you? Do you think she’ll spare you somehow?”

“…No.” The girl’s face crumpled and she shook her head. “I’ll be just like Syria. Just a thing to use and throw away.”

“So why play along?” Hakeem asked angrily. “Why do this to us?”

Lethia closed her eyes and tears slipped down her cheeks. “My mind is so confused, Hakeem. You may think my choice is easy…but it really isn’t. You all have agendas, just like Izma does, and I have to know which side is best to follow. I have to decide where I can do the most good.”

“And how will you decide this with Izma puppeting you!?” the man half-shouted. “Even if you can’t remember why you should trust us, you have got to know that Izma isn’t the answer!”

“Izma…she isn’t…she isn’t in control all the time. Please–” Hakeem started to speak, but Lethia stood, raising her hands. “Please! Let me explain!”

Hakeem crossed his arms, scowling. “Fine. But only because I’m certain I can’t kill you in this…illusion you’ve created.”

Lethia paled, but she moved past Elmiryn, daring a few steps closer. Wringing her hands, she started quickly. “Izma’s game works like this. I am her…screen. The field where she’s conducting everything. Imagine that she’s the controller, boosting my powers. But because she’s boosting my enchantment, she can only appear to one of you at a time. Most of the time, you’ll be speaking to me. I’m not allowed to tell the others what’s happening. She only allowed me to speak to you because she knew you wouldn’t fall for it, and for that she’s particularly interested in you. But the others…what she intends to do is to pick their minds. Peel away the layers. Izma is an astral demon, meaning she can do a lot, but she still isn’t a god. She doesn’t know everything about us, just certain things. While she tries to fill in the blanks, she’ll be evaluating your worth and interest. If she likes what she sees…she’ll convert you. If she doesn’t…” Lethia’s voice trailed, but Hakeem didn’t need her to finish.

He shook his head. “It’s a festival game. Hit the rodent when he peeks out from his hole. How can the others tell her apart from you?”

The girl shrugged helplessly. “Do you even know if I’m here right now? Maybe I’m Izma, just chatting you up. Judging your life.”

The man glared at her sidelong.

Lethia hugged herself and turned her body a quarter away, her chin tucking into her chest. “That’s the game, Hakeem. The others all think they’re only speaking to me, but at any given moment Izma can slip into my consciousness like I were a glove and just take over. If they can see it’s her…well…that’ll be dangerous, but at least they have a chance to fight back. I don’t like this either, but I have to know. I have to know what to do, and the only way I can do that is by talking to you all. One-on-one.”

“Only it’s not,” Hakeem snarled.

Lethia covered her mouth with her hand, her head shaking. He could hear her stifled sobs.

The wizard clenched his fists, then released them. Then with an explosive yell, he struck out, an arc of gravitational power blowing a table apart and sending books and papers into the air. He felt powerless. He didn’t want to feel powerless. He didn’t want to sit waiting for…whatever would happen.

For a long time, he stood panting through clenched teeth, his neck tight. Finally, he hissed, “This isn’t right…this is all just a lie…”

Lethia let out a cold laugh, and Hakeem looked at her sharply.

The girl was gazing at him with dead eyes, and the man shuddered involuntarily.

“Izma…” he whispered, taking a step back.

The demon grinned at him, Lethia’s green eyes glowing from the tainted presence.

“Silly, silly little time keeper. Don’t you know? Hope is just the universe’s way of lying to you. Identity is just your way of lying to yourself. Love is your way of lying to each other. Little Lethia knew this. Perhaps I should show you?”

Hakeem couldn’t help but flinch as the demon held up Lethia’s hand and a ball of light appeared. The orb flew to him faster than he could retreat, and the man’s eyes widened at the scene he saw within the orb’s depths.

Izma’s words gave way to music, and yet the man understood her meaning, as much as it repulsed him to do so.

Hope, identity, and love…look, little time keeper. Watch as these things die one by one…” the demon giggled.


Back to Chapter 35.3 | Forward to Chapter 36.2

Chapter 35.3

NYX____________________________

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–”

“It’s true?”

“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?”

“No…”

“Hmmm…”

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.”

“…Really?”

“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…?”

“Elle?”

“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.

“Ah–ah–ah–little–trickster! We–aren’t–done–with–you–yet…”

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.

Kyaaah!

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.


Back to Chapter 35.2 | Forward to Chapter 36.1

Chapter 35.2

NSFW Warning!

Advisory: NC-17 content. Click to expand. »

ELMIRYN________________________

Elmiryn had originally wanted Quincy to take her clothes off for what she intended, just to get a good look at all those delightful things that so few had witnessed. The idea only just came to her. It was a basic human desire, to fulfill one’s wants, and being a creature of many wants, the warrior couldn’t help but traipse her thoughts along the old avenues of promiscuity. It had been days since she had last been with Nyx, and it seemed like it would be days until they could be together like that again. This drove the woman crazy.

So she told herself to want others was natural, and if she ignored the fact that Quincy got on her nerves half the time, she found it was easy to fantasize. But when time came to bring up her brilliant idea, her gaze happened on Nyx, and without warning the woman suddenly felt robbed of her tongue. A nettled feeling entered her chest, and the others gazed at her curiously. Opting to stall for time, the woman held up a hand.

“Just one sec. Let me get what I need.” Then after a thought, she added. “I promise it won’t do anything bad!”

The curious looks turned to wary ones as Elmiryn turned and ventured into the shadows of the black trees.

Since she had colored herself in different lights, the warrior had been continually fascinated by the way her glow seemed to die upon the dark nature around her. It colored the ground, and it colored the dark mauve leaves, but the tree bark was a void of all light, tricking her mind into thinking the trees were doorways to another place.

Another place, than the Other Place. Hah!

But her humor quickly faded as she set to work, carefully extracting the color from deep within the trees’ wood. They wafted through the air, and collected into a ball of light as they mixed. Remembering Bronislav’s anger, Elmiryn tried to spread her harvesting to leave each tree with what she thought was enough light. Blues, greens, yellows, and oranges…So many colors.

Ah. There was red.

In her studies as a youth, Elmiryn had learned that red was the lowest spectrum of light. That was why astronomers and theater halls used enchanted embers to emit a soft glow. She thought it was funny that a color meant to represent romantic passion was actually the weakest of its ilk.

Just goes to show you how dim love is, she thought with a roll of her eyes.

Back at the Lycan village, Elmiryn had decided to let her relationship with Nyx stand on its own, without design or criticism. As if to spare herself from deepening questions, she’d just think of making love to Nyx instead. Even if it left her wanting, the warrior was better accustomed to sexual frustration than matters of the heart. Elmiryn had no real wish of being monogamous, and the Ailuran didn’t seem to have any expectation for her to be.

…So then why did that fact bother her?

And why am I getting nervous whenever I act like myself? It’s getting annoying! If Nyx really understands as much as she says she does, then what’s the big deal? This is what I do!

Elmiryn’s fist clenched tight, and the light on her skin pulsed. The color she was extracting from a tree flowed a little too quickly, and she hurriedly pushed some of it back.

She shook her head as she chastised herself. What am I doing? This isn’t the time to sit whining about my love life.

And with a stiff nod, the warrior drew the ball of light she had collected and returned to the others. Nyx was staring at her feet, preoccupied. Stanislav busied himself with inspecting the area. Hakeem now wore his chainmail shirt again, as well as a new pair of impromptu shorts which had been fashioned from the scraps his wife had collected from Bronislav’s rags. It made her wonder why Nyx still lacked clothing. Then the woman wondered why she was wondering about something so wonderful to begin with.

Quincy stared as the redhead approached, her eyes lingering momentarily on the orb of light Elmiryn held. Her arms crossed high over her chest. “It’s almost unfathomable how strange you’ve become since we’ve met,” the wizard muttered.

Elmiryn quirked an eyebrow as she extracted Quincy’s favorite color: Green.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“I mean…that.” Quincy pointed as Elmiryn approached with the light in her hands. “This thing you do, where you mess with the elements–and not the normal elements, but the elements of elements! Minerals, gases, soul energy, light…When I first met you, the sword was your only weapon! But now…?”

Elmiryn shook her head. “My sword will always be my weapon. This fae stuff is just useful because of where we are! Here, hold out your arm. I’m going to test this.”

“This isn’t permanent, is it?”

The warrior smiled wickedly. “We’ll just have to see now won’t we?” And before the other woman could stop her, Elmiryn smeared the green light all down Quincy’s arm.

She laughed as the wizard squealed, and held up the green orb of light. “Here, just take it! You can spread it yourself! I wanted to make sure it would go on right.”

Quincy blinked at her. “I can…take it?” Elmiryn raised an eyebrow and shoved the orb at her. The other woman let out a gasp as her hands held the light to her chest. “This is amazing!” the wizard breathed.

“Actually, I’m pretty sure us holding the light isn’t a fae thing. I think we could always do it. I just needed my power to get the light out to begin with.” The warrior started to give everyone their colors.

When everyone was ready, she nodded in satisfaction. “Looks good!”

“What are you talking about?” Nyx despaired as she stared down at her yellow skin. “I look like a fruit!”

“Mmm…looks like something I could eat,” Elmiryn purred.

The girl sputtered and the warrior ducked as Quincy swung her staff at her.

“Knock it off!” the brunette snapped. She was glowing entirely in green light.

Elmiryn just laughed. “You’re all so sensitive!”

“I’m sick of your perversions, is what I am!” the other woman huffed. “I’m surprised you didn’t try for something more!”

I almost did… Elmiryn thought with a sober grin. Her eyes trailed to Nyx again, and she took a breath.

The Ailuran may have complained that she looked like a fruit, but to Elmiryn, the girl looked nothing short of brilliant. Her slim taut body radiated warmth, and it reminded the warrior of the suns in the sky. And given the warmth she’d felt whilst nestled in the youth’s bosom, Elmiryn was ready to bet that the Ailuran held a shard of Ortus in her heart. How else would the girl feel so amazing? What was more–with her beauty naked and free, the warrior found her mind burning with thoughts of Nyx in passionate throes. Her throat tightened. Her sex pulsed.

Elmiryn grinned ruefully and knuckled her eyes. Gods, I need to get laid…

Hakeem spoke. “Now we’re all dressed, so to speak. Is this really enough for us to slip by?” His skin was colored in a soft blue.

“Aesutan was said to have done this, so I don’t see how we can’t,” the warrior said with a shrug. “I mean, how many humans come here and think to disguise themselves in light, anyhow?”

“Appearance-wise, we might just make the cut,” Quincy murmured. “But there’s one thing we’re forgetting.”

Elmiryn blinked. “What’s that?”

“Our scent!” Nyx cried out, her eyebrows going high.

Quincy snapped her fingers with a tilt of her head. “Exactly.”

“Oooh…” Elmiryn nodded slowly. “That’s right. Aesutan didn’t just look different, he smelled different too. From his time with the Lycans.”

His orgy with them, to be precise,” Lacertli chipped in. “Their musk was powerful.

Nyx blushed through her lemony glow. “But sir, I’m the only non-human here besides Stanislav!”

Aye. This is true.

The Ailuran stared, aghast.

“Well, Nyx. You heard the god,” Elmiryn’s hands made as if to drop her pants when Quincy whacked her on the head with her staff. The redhead clutched it with both hands. “Ow! I was JOKING, wizard! Fuck!

“Look,” Quincy said as she ignored Elmiryn’s raging. “I simply will not do Nyx to get past those spirits!”

“I wouldn’t let you even if you wanted to!” Nyx snapped, her blush deepening. “Can we talk about something else? Please?

Hakeem’s deep voice followed this request smoothly. “Lacertli, if I may?” The lizard-god looked at the Fanaean, and he continued. “May Stanislav not help us in some way?”

Lacertli flashed a reptilian smile. “Aye. He may.

Nyx fixed the god with a scandalized look. “Sir, why didn’t you say that to begin with??”

Because you didn’t ask,” was the short reply.

“Stanislav?” Quincy called.

The young leshy spirit had ventured some back the way they had come, his strange hands poking at the dirt like he were meaning to plant seeds in these places. At the sound of his name, his leafy head popped up, and he came waddling back.

“Yes?” He asked mildly.

“Can you douse us in some scent or fragrance that would mask our human odor?”

“Hey, hey,” Elmiryn interjected. “I don’t have an odor. I have a scintillating musk.”

“Is that what that stench is?” Quincy returned.

Before the warrior could shoot off a come back, Stanislav spoke. “Oh, yes! If you wish it, I can make you smell quite sweet! But it might be a bit much for your noses. This scent is quite strong. Are you sure you still want it?”

Elmiryn sidled up to Nyx. Out of the corner of her mouth, she murmured, “Hey, you know I’m still up for trying that other idea–”

“That sounds great, Stanislav,” Nyx said loudly. She spared a quick glare before going to the nature spirit.

The warrior pouted after her. Something told me I shouldn’t have made that into a joke earlier…now Nyx is cross with me!

Dragging her feet some, the woman stopped next to the others. “So what are you going to do?” She asked the leshy.

“This!”

Stanislav took a deep breath, his small chest expanding. Then when his face had turned a darker hue, he exhaled in a great rush of air.

Elmiryn’s nose filled with a sweet, deep scent. It was familiar, but so potent she had to sort her memories just to name it. Then her eyes fluttered.

“That’s…jasmine?” The air seemed to turn warm around her, and her skin flushed. She grinned. “Mmm, I like that!”

Hakeem let out an appreciative sound, and Quincy smiled at him.

“There! Have I done well?” Stanislav asked, rubbing his hands together.

Lacertli chuckled as he peered into Nyx’s smiling face. “Aye. Thou hast done well, Stanislav.” He nodded at the leshy.“These braves can take things from here. Thou shalt find a safe place to hide until this matter is dealt with. Thou art still too young to face such a threat as they face.

The nature spirit gave a bow. “Then I wish you all the best of luck! Goodbye, and thank you!” And with a quick turn, he vanished amongst the trees, his vine-like arms swinging along the branches.

Elmiryn watched him go, her eyes at half-mast. Her breathing had turned steady. Her hands, which had started their usual shaking from withdrawal, seemed to calm at her sides. “What was he talking about? This scent isn’t so bad.”

“No, it isn’t,” Quincy murmured. Her eyes were glazed. “I actually quite like it!”

The warrior looked to Nyx next. The girls eyes were closed and she stood swaying on the spot. “Nyx?”

When she touched the girl’s arm, the Ailuran gave a start and looked at her. Elmiryn’s breath caught as their eyes met. “Nyx…”

“Yes?” Was the whispered reply.

“Are you all right?”

“I feel fine. A little dozy, I suppose.”

The warrior frowned when she realized their speech had slowed. “O-kay. Maybe Stanislav was right about–” She broke off when she saw Quincy and Hakeem in arms, their lips locked in a passionate kiss. She blinked, mouth open. “Uh…”

“Elmiryn?”

Elmiryn turned her head just in time to see Lacertli slip off the Ailuran’s shoulder. She stared after him as he scuttled into the brush. “Hey, where are you–?”

“Elmiryn!”

Her eyes snapped onto Nyx’s. The girl’s eyes stared past the warrior at Quincy and Hakeem. “M-Maybe we should go…”

“Why?” The warrior followed where she was looking and gave a start.

Now Hakeem had Quincy up against a tree, her legs wrapped around him, his hands on her jerkin. He was loosening the ties, freeing her breasts…

Elmiryn’s eyes popped. “Woah!” Then she grinned slowly. “Wow! Those two are completely gone!

She felt Nyx’s hand pull at her. “Elle, come on!”

The warrior pouted at her. “Aw, but–” her voice stopped as she took in Nyx’s earnest face and her perky bosom, all pressed up as her arms squeezed close to her body. With effort, she focused her eyes back on the girl’s face. “Kitten, somehow I don’t think they care where we are.”

“But I do!” was the desperate reply, and Elmiryn let the girl lead her away, to a place apart.

When they stopped, Nyx fell to her knees, her breathing deep and shaky. The warrior swallowed as she took in the sight of the girl’s naked body curled and glowing like a work of art. Smooth. Gracious. Vulnerable.

“It’s the scent…” Elmiryn panted, feeling the pit of her stomach tighten along with her throat. “That’s what Stanislav was trying to tell us!”

“I know!” Nyx said in a breathy whine.

“How long do you think this effect lasts?”

“I–I don’t know!”

They both gave a start as Quincy’s cry carried through the trees, high and passionate. Elmiryn’s eyes widened. “Damn! Who on Halward’s plane would have thought we’d be here like this?”

When Nyx didn’t respond, the warrior turned to look at her, and her breathing hitched.

With her hands, the youth touched her breasts, slowly kneading them, her breath coming in uneven gasps past her lips. Her dark nipples perked as her fingers brushed them, her palms pushing at the soft flesh. Elmiryn went to stand over her, her mouth suddenly dry, and the Ailuran looked up, her eyes lidded. With a slow hand, she reached up and pulled the redhead down with her, and the older woman knelt, her throat moving in a tight swallow.

Stiffly, she whispered, “Nyx…I don’t need some weird scent to tell me how much I want you. How much I’ve been wanting you.”

The girl fixed the woman with a shy look. “Kiss me, then…” she breathed.

And Elmiryn did, her lips crashing against Nyx’s, her heart doing a somersault in her chest as she fumbled to undo her belt, the girl’s hands helping her. Soon, with the hated belt gone, the redhead pressed forward so that her partner was under her.

Is this real? she wondered as her lips moved against her lover’s. Or is this all just Stanislav’s magic?

Their tongues met, and Elmiryn groaned, her hips grinding into Nyx’s as the girl’s taste filled her mouth. All the while the scent of jasmine swirled in her senses. Her hands snaked between them, and she marveled at how soft Nyx’s breasts were. Her fingers squeezed and the girl’s back arched into her.

Why do I care? Elmiryn wondered as she broke their kiss and let her mouth lay a wet trail to the girl’s neck. This is wonderful. This is just what I wanted. She smiled as she felt the girl whimper in her throat–that precious birthplace of Words and Meaning.

No. This is everything I wanted. This is who I am.

In a quick roll, the woman kicked her boots off with her feet whilst her hands moved to slip off her pants. Nyx, with an air of impatience, helped by grabbing her pant legs and giving a strong yank. Elmiryn laughed.

And Nyx DOES understand. Look at her. Look at US.

Tugging off the last bit of clothing–the scarf Elmiryn had been using for her chest–the process was complete. Now the warrior’s skin, in all her desire, was free to feel Nyx.

And gods, to feel her!

Elmiryn moaned when the girl straddled her and leaned down for a kiss. Their nipples brushed, making the redhead shiver in pleasure. The tight pit in her stomach was near unbearable now. She wanted Nyx. All of her sweet flesh that burned and trembled at her touch. The bright sunny glow that dressed her skin mixed with the colors on the woman’s to blend and create odd designs as their hands roamed.

The warrior hugged the girl as she sat them up, and Nyx’s legs wrapped around her waist. She could feel her sex rub against the girl’s and she sighed.

This was bliss. This was one of the greatest pleasures in life. What was wrong with wanting this? What was wrong in keeping love simple? It was all Elmiryn ever wanted. For her life to be simple. Straightforward.

Who cares if this isn’t real?

But as soon as the thought hit her, the warrior’s lips and hands stilled.

…This…isn’t real?

Her eyes flew open.

Nyx stopped at her partner’s hesitance, her foggy eyes blinking as she pulled back. “Elle? What is it?” She asked breathlessly.

“We shouldn’t do this…” Elmiryn murmured, her face drawn up in tense conflict.

What the hell am I saying?

“I–I mean…” Her voice trailed and she looked at Nyx, at a loss. “I don’t know. I don’t know about this, Nyx.”

The Ailuran frowned and held the woman’s face. “What don’t you know about?”

Elmiryn couldn’t look into her eyes at first. Her chest had become tight, and for entirely different reasons than before. But when Nyx kissed her cheek, the woman’s face turned just enough to catch the girl’s eye. The Ailuran’s gaze had cleared some, and in her eyes’ tawny depths was concern.

“Elle, talk to me,” she pleaded.

“This isn’t us, is it?” The woman answered quietly. The tension in her chest pulled down until she felt it sit heavy in her abdomen. “This…craziness. It’s all just from Stanislav’s scent. And when it goes? What will this mean? Nothing. Absolutely nothing, because neither of us were in our right minds.” She bowed her head. “I thought I’d be okay with that. But I’m not. I’m just…I’m not, Nyx. What if you regret it? Where will that put us then? I mean–Fuck, I don’t know what I mean…”

Elmiryn scowled and turned her face once more.

Damn it. I’ve ruined everything. When did I get so twisted up about things like this? It all could’ve been so easy!

Nyx pulled her into a hug. The warrior blinked, but let her arms encircle the girl. Even in her anxiety, she felt a stirring at their bodies so close together. The Ailuran felt warm. Soft.

“Jasmines…” the girl murmured. “That’s what the scent reminds me of. Jasmines.”

“Yeah.”

“It’s very nice, isn’t it?”

Elmiryn’s frown twitched and she rested her chin on the girl’s shoulder. “I guess.”

Nyx laughed, making the warrior sit up again in surprise. Her lover pulled back just enough so that she could see the smile on her face. “What else can you smell?”

This question confused the older woman. She blinked as she gave a quick whiff. “I can smell…the grass? The dirt? The trees?”

“Could you smell those things before?”

“Huh?” Elmiryn’s eyes squinted.

Nyx rolled her eyes and gave the woman’s shoulders a small shake. “Go on! Could you smell these things before?”

The warrior’s frown deepened as she thought. “I…” she blinked, and slowly shook her head. “No.”

Nyx giggled, “Neither could I!”

“All I could smell was jasmine,” Elmiryn mumbled. Her eyes widened, and a grin appeared on her face. “All I could smell was jasmine!

Nyx reached around and tugged at the woman’s hair tie. Her red locks spilled free over her back, and the girl sighed as she ran a hand through it. “You wanna know what I can sense now?”

“What’s that?”

The Ailuran gently pulled forth a lock of hair and pressed it to her nose. Breathing in deep, she giggled. “Your scintillating musk!”

It took a moment for the joke to sink, and when it did, neither of them could stop laughing. Then, with sudden passion, Nyx kissed Elmiryn, her hands tangling in the woman’s hair. Their tongues fought one another, fast and furious, and when they broke for air, the girl gripped the redhead’s hair and forced her head back.

Panting into her open mouth, she hissed, “And for the record, Elmiryn, I never regret anything when it comes to you!”

That did it.

With a growl, Elmiryn pulled Nyx off of her, their bodies spinning so that she was yet again on top. The girl raised herself onto her elbows, her eyes bright with lust as the woman dipped down to suckle at her right breast. She could feel the girl’s skin raise in gooseflesh beneath her fingertips, and her lips quirked upward as the girl arched into her mouth. Holding Nyx’s body to her with one arm, the woman placed her other on the ground for support as she shifted her leg between the Ailuran’s. When her pelvis was against the girl’s the woman ground into her, and her body seized with the explosive pleasure her clitoris felt. It speared down her thighs, up to her breasts, and into her mind.

Nyx seemed similarly possessed, as her grip on the woman’s hip and hair tightened.

“Elle, oh gods!

Elmiryn couldn’t bring herself to speak, her passion stealing her breath away as she rocked her hips into the girl’s, again and again, the pleasure and elation she felt building within her. She straightened, gasping, and Nyx lay back, her head rocking into the ground as their sexes met and their essence mixed, wet and warm and singular. She moaned, her hands planting at either side of Nyx’s head as she ground into her, shuddering, her eyes rolling into her head.

This is…amazing.

She gave a small cry as Nyx began to match the woman’s rhythm, and she shifted back as the girl turned to her side, her body propped by one elbow, her hair spilling into her warm eyes. Now they both worked into one another, a synchronized match. Elmiryn watched, fascinated, as the girl’s teeth bared, and fangs showed. When she blinked next, her eyes were slitted. For a split second, the woman paused, wondering if it were really still Nyx, but when the girl spoke again, the doubt fled her mind.

“Don’t stop!” she bit out, her features tight. “Please!

And Elmiryn listened, her eyes closing as she gave into the steady sensations that made her groan with pleasure. They went like that for a time, lost in one another.

Then without thinking, the warrior moaned and whispered, “Halward, help me!” before her climax rocked through her, hard and rolling. She rode the waves of pleasure, her hips still moving, her lips spreading in a delirious smile, and within a few moments, she heard Nyx follow, the girl’s body seizing as her orgasm came.

Spent, the woman laid back onto the ground. She chuckled out, “Nyx…you are heaven.

Nyx only laughed.

Their legs remained tangled as they lay there, trying to recollect themselves. Elmiryn wiped the sweat from her brow. “Hey…”

“Hmmm?” Nyx sounded sleepy.

“Do you think the others are done?”

They heard a deep groan, followed by a cry of passion.

“M-Maybe we should wait here a moment…” Nyx stammered.

Elmiryn sat up, a leering grin on her face. “Why just sit and wait?”

Nyx sat up as well, her eyebrows raised as a smile spread her lips.


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