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Breaktime: Distractions…

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Nyx stomped into the common room, her eyes ablaze. “Where is everybody!? I’m the only one on set!”

 

Her eyes fell onto Elmiryn at the computer. “Elle, what are you doing?”

 

Elmiryn didn’t even turn her head. “Huh? Oh. I’m playing Bioshock Infinite. Nyx you gotta see this. There’s this girl named Elizabeth, and she can—”

 

Nyx grit her teeth and turned her eyes toward the living room. There she saw Lethia, Quincy, and Hakeem all staring up at the widescreen television. “And what are you three doing??”

 

“Watching Legend of Korra,” Lethia said with a glance over her shoulder. “We hadn’t watched it yet. Omigosh, Nyx, it’s sooo—!”

 

Nyx pulled her hair. “You guys! We have an update to make! People are waiting!”

 

The girl nearly fell over at the chorused response she received.

 

“But we’re almost done!”

 


No, really guys! I’ll get back to it. I don’t know what happened this week. I got…well…distracted. 😛

–Illise Montoya


Back to Chapter 37.2 | Forward to Chapter 37.3

Chapter 37.2

QUINCY_______________________

Before her was a small vial. Quincy stared at it, both palms on the table. Her forehead creased as sweat beaded on her skin. Her eyes flickered to Lethia, who stood on the other side. The girl’s expression was somber, her eyes downcast. But why did she look so sad? Surely someone who was willing to put a person through this wouldn’t look so contrite?

Quincy’s eyes narrowed. “This is it?”

Lethia closed her eyes. “Yes.”

“No, I mean… Is this is really what you say it is?”

“When you focus on something for too long, anyone can doubt it.”

“I suppose.” Quincy wiped at her face. “It feels like I’ve been staring at it for ages.”

Lethia opened her eyes again, her expression gaining a hint of wry humor. “That’s because you have.”

The wizard said nothing in response, instead finally picking up the vial. She held the glass up to her eyes and watched as the milky white liquid sloshed inside.

“It looks like an abortive potion…” Quincy murmured. Her eyes flickered to Lethia. “But you could’ve added something to it.”

Lethia gave her a suffering look. “Quincy…I already offered to make the potion in front of you! If you’re still suspicious after choosing to let me get this one, then you’re only letting your fear speak for you, not your common sense!”

“I can change my mind, Artaud. Do you think I’m stupid?”

The teenager covered her face with her hand. “No. I don’t think you’re stupid.”

“Really, because it sounds like you do!”

“Do you put Hakeem through this too?”

At the mention of her husband, Quincy tensed. “Shut up!”

“Quincy, just drink it!”

Her hand tensed around the vial, and the wizard stared at the stopper.

Lethia groaned at her hesitation and leaned forward onto the table with one hand. With a look that spoke of disappointment, the girl shook her head. “You’re not going to do it, are you?”

Quincy glared at her. “I’ve decided. I want to mix the potion myself.”

“Because you think I’m trying to make you infertile?”

“Yes.”

Lethia smiled humorlessly. “Quincy, did you stop to ask yourself why you didn’t think I would try to poison you instead?”

Quincy blinked. That was right. Why hadn’t she thought of that first? Why had she been so focused on her ability to have children?

“You have to consider what it means if you value something more than your own life.” Lethia continued. “But with you, it’s like loving the door and not the room behind it. You’ve held onto the hope that you can start a family of your own, and yet even when you had the chance to, you opted to continue living the dangerous life you led. We have to be real here. Your hopes were false and empty. Like a security blanket for a child. But you’re not a child anymore, Quincy. If you want to make a potion, I can let you make one, but it’s still up to you to accept the truth. This isn’t about whether or not that vial in your hand is bad for you. It’s about your own misconceptions. The ones you’ve got to let go.”

The woman swallowed hard as her eyes clouded with more tears. Her cheeks were already tear-stained from earlier, she wasn’t about to go through that again. Roughly, she wiped the tears away.

With a breath, she removed the stopper from the vial.

ELMIRYN______________________

Elmiryn’s cheeks were hurting from her attempts at keeping her smile up. Lethia was watching her like a hawk now, and it was putting her on edge. She would have loved for a drink, but since that weird moment earlier with Nyx, Elmiryn thought it best not to diminish her ability for good judgement. She tried not to think how close their lips had been, how her body responded to what was happening…

They were sitting on the sofas, Taila having rejoined them, and the conversation had somehow turned on to politics, but the woman was only half paying attention. When she wasn’t woefully comparing her lack hipness to those in the room, she was trying her best not to look at Nyx and Taila sitting adjacent from her, touching hands and laughing together. Lethia sat on Elmiryn’s other side but leaned in close to be heard over the music, making the redhead feel cornered.

Nyx reached over and gave her a small shove in the shoulder. “Well hey, what do you think?”

Startled, Elmiryn looked at her, her eyes fluttering. “About what?”

“About Clinton wanting to overturn his marriage law.”

The woman started to sweat. “Uh…which was that again?”

Nyx grinned as Taila snickered next to her. “The Defense of Marriage Act he signed in ‘96.”

Sensing danger, Elmiryn tried to play it cool. “Oh! Yeah…that. Well…” She paused as she tried to think.

Clinton, Clinton, Clinton…fuck, all I know about him is that he’s married to Hilary and he got a blow job in the oval office! Or…wait. Okay, wait. These guys are all about gay rights, so obviously it has to do with that. So he signed an act against gay marriage in 1996 and now he wants to overturn it? Jesus, I really need to read more about this stuff.

Clearing her throat, Elmiryn said what she thought was safest. “Look. Clinton is a politician. Politicians change positions all the time. If he wants to support gay marriage now, then good for him.”

“He’s only doing this because it’s what Obama wants,” Taila said with a derisive snort.

Nyx looked at her, a stung look on her face. “You don’t think it’s because our movement has gotten stronger?”

Taila patted her knee. “Babe, you know I do. I mean that Clinton is just an opportunist who is only interested in furthering his career. There’s gotta be a pay off in this move somehow.”

“It does feel inauthentic,” Lethia agreed with a nod. “But when it’s about something like marriage rights, where over thirty states have gone out of their way to define it, can we really afford to be picky?”

“But people can change,” Elmiryn said, looking at them all. “Or is it impossible for someone to change their opinion?”

Lethia gave her a pitying look. “We’re talking about a politician, Elle. It’s a little different for them. In all the years Clinton has worked, he’s never been on record supporting same-sex marriage. What is on record, is that he passed DOMA and DADT, which have hurt the gay community for years.”

Elmiryn stared at her cousin, who stared back. Slowly her head turned to look at Nyx and Taila. They were gazing at her curiously. She opened her mouth as though to speak, but didn’t know what to say. Belatedly, she closed her jaw and stared at the untouched beer in her hands, lukewarm and watered down.

“You’re so self-involved.

Lethia’s voice. But when had her cousin ever said that?

People can change. What the hell kind of thing is that to think, that a person can’t? What does it matter what they do? I mean, forgiving a person for what they did is one thing, but do you have to forgive them for a mistake to believe they’ve CHANGED?

Taken by emotion, Elmiryn stood abruptly, her beer sloshing onto her jeans. “Fuck!”

Nyx stood too, her hands held out. “Woah! Oh shoot. You need a towel!”

The redhead wiped vainly at the damp stain with her hand as she set her half-filled cup down. “No, I’m fine.”

“It’s no problem. Let me just get–”

“I’m going to the bathroom anyway,” Elmiryn blurted out as she stumbled past Lethia. They all stared as she went, and she fought very hard to keep the blush from creeping up her neck and into her face.

Hardly thinking, she hurried out the room as fast as the crowd allowed her before she realized she had no idea where the bathrooms even were. After getting directions from one of the partygoers, the woman headed upstairs where she found a line of people waiting to get in. She sighed and leaned against the wall.

When she got tired of listening to the girls next to her talk about how much they loved Nicki Minaj, she took out her phone and sent Izzie a text.

hey. this party sux. miss u

After hitting send, the woman stared at the far wall and tried to sort out the sense of guilt in her stomach. “What happened back there?” She murmured to herself.

“What happened where?”

Elmiryn’s looked sharply to her side to see a tall swarthy man with dark shoulder length hair, gaunt features, and a goatee in need of trimming. He was dressed in bummy clothing–sweats, a grease-stained Captain America t-shirt, and dirty generic sneakers. What really got Elmiryn was his eyes. They were like Izzie’s.

“Uh sorry, were you talking to me?” She asked.

The man shrugged his hands. “I don’t know. Were you talking to me?

Elmiryn rubbed at her neck and turned away. “Naw. Sorry.”

For a while it seemed that was it. Then the man leaned in and breathed, “I’m Nick.”

“Not interested, Nick,” she snapped over her shoulder. She wasn’t in the mood for shitty come-ons.

“You’re not…interested? You’re not interested?” The man laughed, causing people to turn and stare. Even the girls in front of Elmiryn stopped blathering long enough to glance over their shoulder.

The woman turned fully to glare at Nick. “What’s your problem?”

Nick slid out of line and started backing up toward the stairs. “My problem, Elmiryn, is that meaningless scenes like these are what get your juices flowing!” He pointed at his face and shouted, “Do you have any idea the sort of trouble I had to go through just to get into this nightmare? Do you know how hungry I am? No. Of course you don’t. You’re starring in your own drama, featuring you and your fantastic ineptitude. Your name doesn’t even fit into this setting! None of theirs do! Has that managed to squeeze into your fat head you self-involved bitch!?”

“Dude, I don’t know what you’re talking about! I’ve never even met you before!” Elmiryn shouted. “Go be crazy somewhere else!”

“I’ll remember that when you come crawling back to me!” Nick seethed as he stumbled down the stairs. “You are my toy, Elmiryn! MINE!”

After Nick left, the people around the woman continued to stare. She said to no one in particular, “I don’t know who that was. He looked like a crack addict.”

“They should call campus security,” One of the girls in front muttered. There was a murmuring of assent.

The redhead put on a brave face and shrugged. Inside, however, she shivered.

How did that guy know my name?

A little while later, and Elmiryn was finally in the bathroom, staring at her reflection in the mirror. She wasn’t sure why she was even in there. The beer on her pants had soaked in enough that the smell was going to linger and there was no longer a need for a towel. Was she scared of being around Nyx? But what did she have to be afraid of? She was with Izzie, right? She was happy…

Right?

“…You self-involved bitch…”

“People can change…” She murmured. Her brow tightened and she struck her palm against the edge of the sink. “People can change!”

Her features slackened and she covered her eyes.

Everyone’s so stupid. They don’t get it. The issue isn’t whether or not people can change…it’s whether or not they change for the BETTER.

She thought of Izzie, and how her girlfriend was now that they had moved in together. The change was subtle, but it may as well have been screamed into her ear with a megaphone. Every day, every hour, minute, second, was weighed by an expectation for more. It was hiding behind Izzie’s words when she teased Elmiryn about how she folded her clothes, or when she rearranged the fridge to make room for her Diet Pepsi, or when she got them new comforters for the bed. It said she wanted Elmiryn’s tomorrow.

Elmiryn only wished she knew what she wanted her tomorrow to be.

Feeling depressed, she opened the bathroom door and stepped past the next person in line, only to bump into someone else. Coming out of her funk, the woman raised her eyes and apologized as the other person did the same. It was Nyx. Elmiryn blushed and rolled her shoulders in an attempt to shake off her embarrassment. “Oh. Hey.”

Nyx tilted her head to the side. “You look thrilled to see me.”

“What? No! That’s not it…I just–” Elmiryn gave a rough sigh. “I don’t feel good. I think I might have to go soon.”

“Aww.” Nyx pouted. It was horrendously cute, and the woman’s blush deepened.

Someone sidled past them in the crowding hallway, and they both stepped to the wall. Elmiryn’s heart quickened as Nyx stepped in closer. She poked the woman in the ribs, making her squirm. “Well hey, I was getting a book for Lethia. Wanna see?”

She should’ve said no. The thought entered her mind instantaneously, her eyes even flickering to the stairs. Ears were everywhere, and if she learned one thing in college, it was that people talked. Somehow, sooner or later, this would get back to Izzie. Her girlfriend. The woman she said she loved.

“Sure,” Elmiryn said with an almost resigned grin.

Something’s got me right now. I don’t know what this is.

Nyx’s smile turned sly and she took the woman’s hand. “Come on, then!”

This is so stupid, on so many levels. This isn’t who I am. What’s wrong with me? Is this what Ting felt, when we first met? …No. She knew what she was doing. She knew her girlfriend was at that party and she brought me anyway. I was the other woman. Me. And now I’m the other woman again. Only this time…I’m choosing to be.

But just as they came to Nyx’s door at the end of the hallway, screaming was heard downstairs, and the both of them turned their heads in confusion. Nyx hurried back the way they had come, Elmiryn following her, and when they got downstairs, she pulled one of the sorority sisters aside and asked what was going on.

“Some guy went crazy! He’s got one of the pledges by the throat with a knife!”

Before Nyx could speak, Elmiryn grabbed the girl by the shoulder. “Which pledge!? Does she have long blonde hair? Green eyes?”

The girl nodded and Nyx covered her mouth with her hands. “Omigod! Lethia!

Elmiryn bared her teeth. “Where are they!?”

The girl pointed mutely outside, and Elmiryn barreled past them both, her heart pounding in her chest. When she managed to shove past the crowd that had gathered, she saw Lethia standing out on the grass, Nick behind her with a knife at her throat. He grinned maniacally when he saw Elmiryn.

There you are!” Grabbing Lethia by the hair, he jerked her head back and pressed his knife in tighter so that the skin bleed. Her cousin cried out. “Now I’ve got your attention!”

“Let her go!” Elmiryn shouted, her hands clenched into fists.

“Not until you listen to me!” Spit flew from Nick’s lips.

Lethia sobbed. “Elle…please! Help me!”

“I’m trying to Lethy, just hang tight!”

“Campus security is on their way!” Nyx. Behind her. Elmiryn didn’t look. All her attention was focused on Nick. On his thin face, his white cracked lips, his foggy eyes. The guy was out of it. What did he really want…?

“I’ll listen to you, Nick,” She breathed, holding up her hands. She dared a step closer. “Okay? I’ll listen to you. Just let Lethia go.”

Nick laughed. “Oh, Elmiryn. This is what you’ve always wanted, wasn’t it? To be the hero? To save the damsel in distress and get the girl in the end? Well it’s not all its cracked up to be, is it? But if you snap out of this, I can promise you a few adventures you’ll just love!

“Look, I don’t know how you know me. I don’t know what you want! Lethia doesn’t need to be involved so just let her go and we can talk it out, okay!?” Elmiryn dared another step closer.

“Why should I let her go? Hmm? Why? Are you afraid to remember what it feels like to be my toy?”

“I’m not your toy. People aren’t things.”

Nick grinned and pointed the knife at her. “Well that works, because you aren’t a person.”

“Fine. I’m not a person. But she is. Let her go.”

He’s got the knife off her throat. Good.

“You’re patronizing me. I hate it when people patronize me.” Nick raised the knife as if to stab Lethia. The girl screamed as she tried to get away.

Elmiryn let out a yell and charged the man, tackling him around his torso. They tumbled down the small incline, and when they stopped the woman was on her back and dizzy. When she tried to rise, Nick jumped on her with his knife, and she only just managed to catch his wrist in time before he stabbed her in the heart. For a skinny drug addict, he was deceptively strong. As they struggled, others came hurrying down the slope. People shouted and screamed.

Nick leaned in real close and hissed, “The things I do for you!”

Elmiryn yelled and wrenched his knife away. The man had been leaning his weight in that direction so his balance was off. Twisting her hips, the woman was able to throw Nick off. When he was down, she took her fist and slammed it into his nose. He yelled in pain and so did she. She’d never punched anyone before.

Holy shit…was this…is this a fight?? I’ve never been in a fight before! Christ, I could’ve DIED!

She sat on the grass, dumbfounded, watching as Nick tried to staunch the bleeding from his face. Nyx, Taila, and Lethia came hurrying down the small slope, but before they reached them, campus security appeared with guns drawn. They yelled at her to put her hands up. Elmiryn stared up at them, cradling her hand. She felt her phone buzz in her pocket. That was Izzie.

She’s going to have to wait for a response… Elmiryn thought miserably as she raised her hands.

When campus security, who were actually city cops on loan, had control of the scene, the redhead was cuffed and pulled aside to be questioned. Nyx and Lethia protested her detainment loudly along with some others, but she cooperated anyway, too dazed to do otherwise.

When the cop speaking to her asked for her name, she said, “Elmiryn.”

Then she frowned.

The cop paused as he waited for her last name. When she didn’t give this, he leaned forward, his pen resting on his clipboard. “Ma’am? Your last name, please?”

She looked at him, her eyes squinted. “Hey…Elmiryn’s a weird name, isn’t it?”

“Ma’am…your last name, please?”

Elmiryn turned to look at Nick, also handcuffed, but sitting in a squad car. He was staring at her steadily from the dark of the backseat, a smile on his face, his eyes glowing eerily in the shadow…


Back to Chapter 37.1 | Forward to Breaktime: Distractions

Chapter 37.1

HAKEEM_________________________

He had just witnessed some of the barest and most personal feelings of three women, one of which was his wife. Enthralled by the ugliness of it all, the man could not close his eyes. Their insecurities unfurled before him like a carpet, and he followed their fears until all lies were bypassed. Love. Hope. Identity. He saw them crack and fissure, watched with horror as they began to fall apart. How could they be so fragile? How could their hearts waver so, after all they had been through? Was this what they fought for? To exist in doubt and shame?

With a will, Hakeem turned his face away.

He heard Lethia’s voice, and it was devoid of the twisted humor that had so violated it. Izma was gone then. The man wasn’t sure if he felt all that much better with the alternative, however.

“I’m sorry…” she whispered.

“Does this satisfy your needs, Lethia Artaud?” He asked quietly. He gazed at the far wall, still trying to resist the macabre curiosity that compelled him to witness the systematic deconstruction of his companions’ minds. “Are you closer to your answers? Do you have what you want after turning Nyx’s love against her? Causing Elmiryn to doubt who she is? Making my wife–” but he broke off here, his voice choking out.

Ringing in his mind were Quincy’s words–over, and over, and over…

“I was Tulki’s concubine. Okay!?”

In all of Hakeem’s years, the only time he had felt so much pain was with the death of his family. Quincy’s words hit him hard and ripped out his soul. All expression felt inadequate for the amount of suffering that washed over him, powerful and suffocating. And the worst part was that his wife had been right. He had known the truth deep down in his heart. In his youth, he had beat his chest against the idea, choosing instead to trick himself into thinking he could keep her safe with a superstition. Even into adulthood, Hakeem liked to think that he had done right by Quincy and kept her safe. But he was just a child then, and a silly man now.

“I’m sorry…” Lethia said again. Louder now.

Like a wolf sensing blood, the man tensed up, his lips pulling back in a snarl. “You’re sorry?

The enchantress said nothing, and Hakeem’s eyes snapped onto her. His gaze burned with his anger, his pain, his regret. Even in the grips of emotion, the man’s heart knew only pure focus.

“If you were truly sorry, girl, you would end this!” He spat. Lethia flinched and looked down at her shoes. Hakeem gestured at the ball of light before him with disgust. “Apologies do nothing for me. Nothing for them. It’s all just empty words. Mean what you say, or keep silent. Your presence is enough of a lie as it is…”

Lethia’s face turned blank, but in the girl’s eyes, the wizard saw his pain reflected. The tension in his shoulders eased, but his gaze remained wary as the youth turned and drifted away, toward the staircase.

“You’re right,” she breathed. “I am a lie.” She rounded out of sight, up the stairs.

Hakeem gazed at the place he saw her last before letting his eyes trail back to the orb of light before him…

NYX____________________________

Stuck in some sort of dream or memory, I watched as Elmiryn approached me.

“I was going to leave.” Her voice was playful, like when she liked to joke and play games with me. I tried to move, feeling my panic rise.

I don’t want to see this!

But try as I might, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even look away. I even tried calling the shadows or changing over to the Somnium. Nothing worked. I was being blocked somehow. Kali was absent in my mind, and it made me feel alone.

Amidst my hysteria, Elmiryn looked at me as if I had just spoken. “I would so leave you!” Her eyes pierced into me. I’d never seen such clarity in Elle’s eyes. The look…scared me. “I’d leave you and let you stew in your own juices. It’s what you deserve, the way you jerk me around.” The person Elle thought I was must have spoken again, because she let out a throaty laugh. “Mmm…yes. I like it when you’re bad.”

As the woman pulled me close and pressed her mouth to my phantom lips, I heard Lethia’s voice echo around me.

“You’re probably wondering what’s happening.”

Then it hit me.

Rage.

If I thought it was bad before when Lethia mentioned my mother, it was a blessing in disguise being held captive like this, then. Words failed me. The only thing that would’ve satisfied my urges was violence. Whether Lethia was aware of this or not, she made no indication.

“I should tell you. This isn’t a memory per se. It isn’t quite an illusion either. Well, as far as what you’re seeing Elmiryn do. You could call this a mosaic of small truths. Everything Elmiryn is doing, she has done at one point or another with the lovers she’s encountered. It was really difficult, picking out the memories strongest in her mind. You know her memory is white-washed. I think I did well, though. Does some of this feel familiar?” I could hear the laughter in Lethia’s voice as Elmiryn guided me to the bed.

Every touch from the warrior I could feel, but I was not here. I was nothing. Just like all the women she had ever fucked and left.

I was nothing.

My anger was culled by my despair as I fell upon the silk sheets. It gave me room to speak. As I felt Elmiryn’s fingers trail down my abdomen to the place between my legs, her eyes fastened onto mine, I could only ask one thing–

Why?

Lethia laughed again, and it made my soul shiver.

“Because. I want to help you.”

How can this possibly–!?

My question cut off as I felt Elmiryn’s fingers slide into me. Whether or not I was aroused by this situation seemed irrelevant. I was feeling what this other person felt. Or maybe what Elmiryn imagined she made them feel. It was so strange–feeling aroused despite my distress. I was just a puppet, doomed to the performance…and gods the shame I felt, knowing that someone else was seeing this. For all I knew, Lethia was putting this show on for everyone. Quincy, Hakeem…Elmiryn. The thought made me want to scream…

So I did, for all the good it did me.

“I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be with a woman…” Lethia sighed, as if I hadn’t made a sound. “It’s horrendous being a virgin. I can see why you were so quick to cast yourself at Elmiryn.”

I started talking. Or…thinking I guess. As fast as I could. As much as I could. It helped take my mind off the feelings that started to invade me, against my will.

I didn’t throw myself at her. I’d resisted my feelings for a long time. I wasn’t even sure I loved her until we came to the Other Place! But things sort of–sort of–HAPPENED that way, and it gave me hope! It gave me strength! And I think about her all the time, because she is, and continues to be, the only true motivation I have in my life! I mean, that’s sad, I know–but but but–I mean, it’s just how it is, isn’t it? I can’t help that I’m an abomination–or could I have? I don’t know. I really don’t. I don’t, I don’t, I don’t, I don’t KNOW! I just know that I love her! I do! I LOVE ELMIRYN, and you can’t make me feel otherwise! Not with this sham. Not with this LIE! This isn’t Elle! This isn’t her!

“When you say ‘love.’” Lethia twisted the word. “You mean the kind of love you’re feeling right now?”

This is NOT love! This–This is–

Rape. It wasn’t really happening, but this was rape, I was sure of it.

I couldn’t help it. I moaned in pleasure. My shame and horror multiplied, and when I heard Lethia laugh at my pain, I finally realized that I had let myself get trapped here. I had let myself, because I had trusted in who I had been speaking to, taking for granted that if they had the power to control everyone in such a manner, then I was seeing the truth.

But Lethia Artaud, no matter how empirical she was, would never laugh so boldly at someone else’s pain.

The saddest part was…this realization was too late, and Izma knew it.

Had Lethia ever been there? Maybe she had been, but had been switched out partway through our talk? Or maybe she was still here somehow, just stuck in a parasitic relationship with Izma and unable to speak for herself?

…Maybe she knew what Izma would do and let it happen anyway?

Where is Lethia…? My voice was small. Weak. What would Lacertli say to me, if he could see me now? Some champion I was, duped and at the mercy of some abomination that had turned a friend against me.

“Ha! My little sum of somes is subtracted! Artaud? She lives. What really fascinates me is how you still manage to muster up the compassion when your friend, the weed, leaves you so divided,” Izma purred.

The game is over. You have no reason to hold me here. There is nothing left for me to give you!

“Ah, but Nyx I have every reason! You think that now the curtain has been pulled back, the show ends? But there is still so much to see!”

And while you waste your efforts with sadism, the others will free themselves of you, demon! They will cut you out, cut you apart, and I will watch–

So much for threats. My voice died out in a whimper as Elmiryn took my phantom breast into her mouth, and Izma’s melodious voice danced with amusement.

“My sum of somes. Let us engage in simple addition. Take one pathetic excuse for a creature–”

N-No–

“–Add a reckless beast of debauchery–”

Stop it! Stop! SHUT UP!

“–And you get a sad couple, writhing futilely in their mortal trappings as they go careening into a mind-numbing hole of basic bodily pleasure. It’s a nasty worm, that need you have, Nyx. It has eaten its way to the core of you. I must give credit where credit is due–after all, it was very impressive how much you resisted your urges, even in Volo’s realm. Was it scary, realizing you were more like your mother than you liked?”

I’m…I’m not…like her…

“But of course, how silly of me! Your condemnation of Elmiryn’s rather colored past has absolutely nothing to do with your own insecurities–perish the thought!”

My mother overcame her problem! And in Elmiryn’s case, it was nothing like that! She has control!

“All the better for the warrior, then, to be able to wield her appetites with such precision! Your mother was sloppy in comparison, wasn’t she? And when all was said and done, the only reason she stopped was because she became too weak to keep up with her games. Contracted some disease perhaps?”

That isn’t true…

If I had any control right now, I would’ve curled up into a ball. Instead, Elmiryn was presently half-naked and utilizing that position she’d tried with me in the blackwood. How many women had she done this with? The question was almost compulsive, and I hated myself for it.

“Certainly, though, you’ve considered the possibility that Elmiryn will not be able to keep up with your appetites, dear?”

This conversation felt almost like a carefully designed tactic on Izma’s part. I didn’t want to think about what was happening to me, so I was eager for the distraction. But talking with this demon was dangerous–after all, it had already landed me here. But what else could she do to me? I felt broken enough already.

What do you mean? I asked, like a dumb beast wandering into a hunter’s shot.

“I mean, Elmiryn is but one human. Well…half-human, but we needn’t get picky. Can she really satiate your needs? Haven’t you ever wished to seek out the pleasure of others without care?”

No. I am not like that!

“So repressed! I can feel your shame, feel your self-loathing, so powerful it makes my taste buds tingle! Mmm…but child, I imagine we’d both be more satisfied if you’d just let go.”

Of what? My moral sense!?

“Don’t be stupid. Morals are only illusory concepts that people use to trick themselves into believing they are right. What you need to do, my sum of somes, is to remove this crippling idea that you cannot have the things you want. If you want, then so should you pursue. The truth of whether or not you should have the object of your desire rests only in your success or failure. A simple prospect, yes?”

My spirit recoiled.

No! That’s just selfish indulgence! What can that bring but more suffering?

“Do you think morals and common sense to be the same thing? Goodness, even Lethia Artaud knows the difference! My suggestion does not carry with it a wanton disregard for consequence, little sum. What it carries is an awareness that there are certain paths in life that can be taken with little struggle, others, with more. Even your god, Lacertli, can attest to this, can he not?”

This argument startled me. I hadn’t expected Izma to bring up the Lizard King to support her claim anymore than I had expected her to suddenly become a benevolent being. But the logic twisted around my mind, and as the rushing ecstasy of Elmiryn’s ministrations hit me, so did I understand the demon’s reasoning. If all parties were willing, if all intentions were clear, then what harm was there in having multiple partners? Especially if you knew you would never see them again? Lacertli only cared for Harmony–and even he pressed me to discard notions of right and wrong. Was this how things truly were then? Primitive and empty? Did people really just collide into each other and spiral away? I wasn’t agreeing with this idea. But…

I just thought it strange that I had never let myself see things that way.

Having reached her climax, Elmiryn–this dream version of the woman I said I loved–rolled to the side of the bed and immediately started to dress. The phantom I was embodying gazed at her back, and my heart wrenched as though I was the person she were actually leaving.

Izma’s voice sounded smug around me. “Here is a simpler question, Nyx, as it seems the last has overwhelmed you. Without too much thought, I want you to answer me this: If you knew Elmiryn held no love for you whatsoever, would you lay with her again?”

I didn’t need to think on the answer, for I already knew it. My voice was small. Almost non-existent.

Yes.

Izma chuckled with satisfaction. “Then see what your ‘love’ has enslaved you to.”

My phantom must have spoken again, because Elmiryn turned to look at me over her shoulder.

“Of course I’m leaving,” she said simply. “You were late. I have things to do.” There was a pause. She shrugged at my apparent response. “Honestly? I’ve had better.”

I sat up quickly, as the scene demanded that I did, and Elmiryn looked at me sharply, her hands stilling on her shirt buttons. A cold smile spread her lips and she chuckled. “I’m a bitch, huh? Funny. That was the same thing your sister said after I fucked her. Did you two practice on each other? Because your techniques are much the same!”

My shock mirrored my phantom’s.

Wh-What!?

“Don’t shrill. I just said I’m leaving.” The warrior gathered her coat and blew a kiss as she passed me by. “Goes without saying that I won’t be coming back, darling. Do give my regards to your sweet sister!” As I heard her slip out the door, I heard her mutter, “Stupid cunt.”

The room faded to black. I was lost in a place of darkness, and all I could feel was my heart breaking into a thousand sharp pieces.

This…this isn’thappeningthis can’t be real…

“As I’ve already explained,” Izma sighed. “This is a collection of small truths. Everything Elmiryn has done or said…she has done or said before!”

But how could she be so cold? I’ve…I’ve never seen her so cold!

“Perhaps you do not know your lady love as well as you thought? It stands to reason. How can you know her, if you do not know yourself?”

The darkness around me began to lighten. It became warmer. Like a sun was rising. I found myself shivering on some tiled floor, hugging my knees to my chest, tears streaming down my face. Confused, I looked around me and saw a woman with short cropped brown hair and gray eyes. I stared at her. Her clothes were strange–she had on what looked like a soft green brazier with thin straps and small blue shorts. She smiled at me as she cocked her head to the side.

“Do you want find out what really lies inside you, little sum?” Izma. Her voice was light. Almost normal.

I didn’t answer. I was so afraid and the pain of what I’d gone through still struck deep.

Izma’s avatar stepped aside, and behind her was a red door. She gestured toward it. “Here…Surely, you cannot serve your Lizard King if you are too afraid to know what you are?”

Slowly I stood.

There were lots of things I was afraid of.

I had told Lethia that, as an abomination, I was not deserving of love. But in my dedication to Elmiryn, wasn’t I acting out of some dim hope that someday my feelings could be reciprocated? Ailurans were passionate people, and our hearts got away from us sometimes. We could act on our desires on a subconscious level, and never be fully aware of what was really going on. The truth of this had already led to tragedy once in my life–when my dark rage and pain surfaced to murder Atalo. What if something equally horrible happened if I clung to this notion that Elmiryn could possibly love me back?

Skirting past Izma, I went to the door and turned the handle.


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