Tributaries Cover In Sight, In Mind Cover Blackwood Cover

Break Time: Dual Citizenry

In the Author’s mind, a fight broke out.

“It’s on!”

“It’s off!”

“It’s on!”

“It’s off!”

“Look!” Nyx snapped, pointing at the flat screen TV’s power light. “It’s dim!”

Elmiryn squinted at it. “It isn’t dim.”

“It is!”

“It isn’t!”

“Oh my god you idiots it’s ON, okay!?” Quincy shouted from the couch. She held up the remote control and pointed at the power button. A little red light was on next to it. “See!?”

The redhead pumped a fist. “Yesss! I win!”

Nyx tongued her cheek. “Okay. So why aren’t we getting anything on the screen then? The DVD is in!”

Elmiryn kicked the TV stand. “I connected the HDMI cable right!”

Nyx pinched the bridge of her nose. “Did you plug it into the right plug?”

“There’s only one plug for HDMI!”

“No there’s not,” Quincy declared from the couch.

The redhead stared at her, hands high on her hips. “What?”

“There’s a reason there’s HDMI one and two, Cable Guy.”

Elmiryn glared at the TV stand, one eye twitching. “I’m not moving this fucking thing again.”

“You gonna let the furniture beat you?”

“Honestly? I’m not sure why I’m working so hard for a Michael Bay film. I may as well go to YouTube and watch a compilation of things exploding for the next two hours.”

Nyx tried to keep her face neutral as she went to flop onto the sofa chair. “Maybe we should just play Scrabble instead?” When the other women gave her withering stares, the girl shrank in her seat. “It was just a suggestion…” she mumbled.

“Why did we have to get a new TV?” Quincy groaned. She tossed the controller onto the coffee table and put her feet up. “The other one worked just fine!”

Elmiryn sat at the other end of the couch and leaned on the arm rest. “Because we’re Americans, and Americans go big.”

The wizard raised an eyebrow. “Does that go for stupidity, too?”

Nyx frowned. “Wait. We’re Americans?”

Elmiryn glanced at her. “Well, sure. The Author is in America. She started writing our story while living in America. Ergo, we’re Americans!”

“But that isn’t in our story!”

“Think of it as dual citizenry. Or…something,” the redhead shrugged.

“Technically, if the Author’s life affects us, then that would mean that you’re both bisexual!”

“The hell I am,” the warrior and wizard snorted in unison.

Nyx shook her head. “You can’t have one thing without the other. Elle, if you think you’re American, then you’re also bi.”

“No way.”

“I’m serious!”

Elmiryn laughed and leaned over to smack Quincy’s shoulder. “Are you hearing this?” But at the brunette’s look, she faltered. “Hey…Hey come on, don’t tell me you’re buying that!”

Quincy looked at her sidelong, her lips puckered. “Mmm…well. Her logic is sound.”

“No it isn’t!”

“If you’re going to arbitrarily pick details from the Author’s life and declare it applies to you, then what’s stopping a person from attributing all the other details too?”

“Do I look like the sort of fucker who would watch anime?

Nyx curled up in her seat, her lips tilting up. “Actually, you’ve got that one video…”

Elmiryn held up a hand, her cheeks blushing. “That’s just the one! And I only got it as a gag. I mean honestly, how many things can a girl fit into her–”

“This is an example of the kind of things I don’t want to hear,” Quincy said loudly, hands over ears.

Nyx’s face drew long. “Oh… Oh no!

The others looked at her with quizzical expressions. “What?” they asked.

She peered back at them with a wince. “If the Author is expecting a baby…does that mean that we…?” When she trailed off, she gestured at them all weakly.

Elmiryn jumped from her seat, waving her arms in a panic. “No! No, no, no! Can’t be! No way!”

“But why?” Quincy pressed, her eyes fogged in a curious far off look. “Why can’t…why can’t we have that too?”

“Because we’re not real!” A voice called from the kitchen.

All heads turned to see Lethia stepping out, a sandwich in her hand and some peanut butter and jelly on her cheek. She finished chewing with a loud swallow, then said next, “Obviously we are going to be influenced by certain aspects of the Author and not others. But we were created to be imaginary people with our own unique personalities and stories… So there’s no need to worry!” The blonde shrugged and started to walk away.

Nyx and Elmiryn let out a sigh of relief.

“Well that’s good to hear,” the redhead said with a grin.

The Ailuran puckered her lip in thought. “Still…I wonder what it would be like if the Author turned one of us into a mother in our story?”

Quincy stared at the black television screen, still on mute, still not displaying the latest blockbuster.

“Yes. I wonder…” she breathed despondently.


Back to Chapter 40.2 | Forward to Chapter 40.3

Chapter 40.2

ELMIRYN______________________

Elmiryn wondered if she was really breaking rules. Nyx kept warning her about adding to her debt to Harmony, blah blah blah… It hadn’t even been a week and the warnings already felt wearisome. And had the girl not traversed into Elmiryn’s own subconscious? Was that within her domain as a heavenly champion? As far as the woman was concerned, the gods could do with detailing their boundaries a little better.

“Me and rules don’t get along do they, Cat?” Elmiryn panted as she slid down an embankment of shadows. Running with dead weight over such strange terrain was exhausting enough without the woman’s constant ache of addiction dragging her down. How long had it been exactly since she’d last had a drink?

At this rate, I may as well just find a way to inject liquor into my bloodstream. O’course, that’d be deadly. Ha! Gives buzz kill a new meaning, Elmiryn thought sardonically.

At the bottom of the embankment, she could feel a pressure pushing against her–a veil perhaps? The winds were certainly stronger…angry, even. Was this what separated the different dimensions? She wasn’t even sure she was doing this right. She had just picked a direction and ran, all the while trying to visualize an entryway to Nyx’s mind. The threads of the Umbralands pulsed and shivered. She didn’t know if this was them cooperating, or if it was the universe’s way of saying, “Fuck off!”

“Elmiryn!” she heard Syria cry behind her.

The warrior looked up to see the enchantress at the top of the crest, her dark hair whipping with fury. With a raised hand, Syria blasted out the crest beneath her, sending an avalanche of darkness down on their heads. Elmiryn shouted and put up her fae shield, the solid weave of air and dust straining as they deflected the cascade while she sprinted forward with Kali, out of the way.

The pressure around the woman intensified as she stumbled over the shifting shadows. The ground was turning uneven. She grunted as she fought to keep her grip on Kali, and just when she thought she was going to lose her hold–

She made a breakthrough.

Elmiryn crashed onto what appeared to be moonlit soil, but when she looked up, she saw no light–only pitch darkness. Around her were jagged rocks, where in them glowed the twisted forms of those caught between bestial transformation. Elmiryn stared at these, before remembering her charge. The sound of Syria’s pursuit was gone, as was the whipping wind and the pressure.

“Kali!” She reached over to where Kali had fallen and gripped the feline’s arm, her knees scraping as she crawled closer to her.

But the Twin did not open her eyes.

Elmiryn felt breathless. She pressed a hand to her forehead, then glanced around her, then held Kali’s face. She didn’t understand. This was supposed to work. Nyx’s consciousness was supposed to override Kali’s and allow the feline to breathe again…at least, that was what the warrior had hoped would happen.

“Cat!” She shook Kali. “Wake up!”

Then because she didn’t know what else to do, she started breathing into Kali’s mouth and pressing on her chest as the Fiamman medics during her first year of recruitment had taught her. She kept repeating the process until her panic and fury won out.

Kali!” Elmiryn screamed, slapping the twin in the face. “You wake the fuck up, right now!

But even as she struggled to wake the feline, Elmiryn could sense, through the echoes of the space around her, that Nyx was now falling. She looked up and felt the air grow cold, heard Nyx’s frightened confusion like a trembling whimper in her ear.

Elmiryn tried to speak around the growing lump in her throat. She was certain the girl could hear her. “Nyx… Kitten, I’m sorry!” She shook her head and tangled her hands in the mess that was her ponytail. Her voice raised an octave in her stress, and she fought to keep her breathing even. “This was your life! I shouldn’t have gambled with it!”

The woman didn’t hear Nyx’s voice. Rather, she felt her name in the air with every breath she took.

Elmiryn…

The warrior hung her head, one hand on Kali’s shoulder. “Syria stopped Kali’s breathing. I thought, if I reunited your consciousness, you could help her breathe again! I was trying to save the both of you! I just didn’t expect–”

The woman cut off with a sputter as a voice that was not Nyx’s boomed around her.

Elmiryn? Wh-What are you doing in Nyx’s mind??

Elmiryn stood with a start, her mouth hung open. “Lethia!?”

LETHIA________________________

Lethia Artaud could count the number of minds she had read on one hand. In her training with Syria, she had been told that sentient minds were a complicated thing, and even the master enchantress hadn’t done her first full reading until the age of twenty. As such, the most Lethia had been allowed to do were quick scans–the sort of smash and grab procedure she used whenever stealing other people’s memories or abilities. The reason for this was…well…she stole things. It had been involuntary for Lethia. Her power was so great that it cannibalized that of others, snatching and grabbing at information with greedy phantom hands. When it was “clear” Lethia could not control this, Syria stopped allowing for scans, reasoning that perhaps more training was in order. It had shamed the girl to think that she would be behind in her training as an enchantress all because she couldn’t control one of the most basic enchantment techniques.

But like the danger of making eye contact with others, this too turned out to be a lie. Lethia could read minds without stealing something. She’d done it when Izma had manipulated her into playing her game. She could see the heart and soul of those across from her and leave everything she saw right in the mind it belonged to.

So when she held Nyx’s eyes (old habits die hard) she focused her ishin, the essence of her power and a sort of extension of consciousness, and gently pierced the Ailuran’s mindscape. Her progress was tentative and cautious–partly because Nyx’s mind was so complex and fragile, and partly because she could still feel Nyx’s anger towards her. It hurt Lethia’s head, and needless to say, it hurt her heart, but she was doing this to save Nyx’s life. When a person collapsed without explanation and there was a maniacal enchantress out trying to kill people, Lethia thought it was reasonable to guess that dark enchantment was at play.

But before Lethia could find the source of the problem, she came across…

“Elmiryn?” The teenager’s eyes fluttered, and she heard Quincy join at her side. The wizard was being annoyingly distracting, but the enchantress just managed to block her out and asked aloud next, “Wh-What are you doing in Nyx’s mind??”

Lethia!?

Lethia felt her surprise dissipate as she felt Nyx’s desperation press in on her like a giant’s fist. “Elmiryn, gods damn it, are you the reason she can’t breathe right now!?”

Elmiryn’s response was rushed and teeming with emotion: Syria cursed Kali and I thought joining the Twins together would fix that but I fucked it up and–

Lethia slammed her fist into her thigh, her teeth bared with frustration. “I’ll yell at you later, just get out of her head now so I can fix your mess!

The warrior didn’t stay to argue. In a blink she was gone, and Lethia took a breath to calm her professional outrage.

Arrogant! To think she could just mess around with other people’s minds without prior training and not face any consequences! Her fae powers are getting to her head! The enchantress seethed.

Lethia stroked Nyx’s hair, her eyes closing as she sought out that part of the Ailuran’s mind that controlled basic reflexes. “Nyx, you’re going to be okay,” she murmured to the older girl.

As okay as you’ll ever be, Halward help you and your luck! Lethia thought wryly.

…I…can hear you…you know, Nyx replied in her mind, her reddening face screwing up in annoyance.

Lethia blushed just as she reactivated Nyx’s breathing. “S-Sorry.”

It was a painful reminder of why Lethia was still just a journeyman enchantress.

ELMIRYN______________________

Elmiryn tumbled back into the Umbralands as she couldn’t come up with an adequate route straight from Nyx’s mind back to the Real World. She was in a hurry to comply with Lethia’s demand, and she wanted desperately to know if the enchantress was able to save the Ailuran. As simple as she had hoped for their relationship to be, Elmiryn was aware that something more complicated existed between her and the girl, she just didn’t know what. She had wanted to explain this to Nyx after her outburst earlier–to tell her that just because she didn’t think they were an “item” that the Ailuran was still special to her. There was a phrase Elmiryn had heard, but she couldn’t remember if it was from her world or that other one: “I love you but I’m not in love with you,” or…something?

The warrior did a mental face-palm.

Slay me, I’m an idiot.

Of course, nearly losing someone important to one usually resulted in such emotionally convoluted go-arounds as this. It wasn’t as if Elmiryn hadn’t felt such turmoil before. Nearly losing her second-in-command and best friend in the whole world, Saelin, during the Fiamman-Ailuran war had just about punched a cannon’s hole into the redhead’s chest. It was a deep embarrassing secret that the woman wondered, for a very brief time, if she actually loved Saelin, and thus that was the cause of her distress.

But no. It soon became clear that she loved the man as a brother, and with great pains she tried to forget that harrowing second when society’s niggling expectations had nearly got the better of her. It was why she had reacted so strongly to Saelin proposing to her, shortly before her exile from the kingdom. Elmiryn was embarrassed her integrity as a person had nearly been compromised.

Her? …Love a man?

But in the droves of female company she had enjoyed, she had yet to find anyone that truly made her wish to stick around.

Until Nyx.

But did that mean monogamy? Preposterous! After all, didn’t people have their favorite whores to frequent?

Elmiryn paled and stopped as she was trudging her way back up the shadow embankment.

What the fuck is the matter with me? Maybe I need Lethia to shrink my head. This can’t keep up!

The warrior scrabbled up the last stretch of darkness to the top of the crest, the angry winds spurring her forward as if the universe were trying to push her away from the lines she had crossed.

A few steps, and the woman was reminded just why she had been in such a hurry to go the opposite direction not a moment before.

“Your gamble has cost me…” Syria seethed from behind.

Elmiryn drew her sword and whipped around, lashing out with as much fae power as she could to augment her swing. The wind and dust that arced from her blade scythed into the darkness, ineffectual.

The warrior jerked around as she heard Syria’s voice again, closer now. “I have stopped with the games. Now either you take me back…or we both die here!”

Then the shadowy earth exploded beneath the woman’s feet.


Back to Chapter 40.1 | Forward to Break Time

Chapter 40.1

ELMIRYN______________________

Elmiryn once had a pet cat of sorts. He was an old fat tabby that hunted on her family’s estate, killing rodents and the like. As a child, she had loved chasing him around the yard, and sometimes she snuck a treat to feed him. The tabby didn’t have a name and wasn’t particularly fond of petting, but in odd turns, the surly creature always seemed to be close by her. If she looked out the window, he was there, sleeping in the plants. If she looked up a tree, he was peering down at her with his green slitted eyes. If she woke in the night, the cat was there, sitting on her dresser and watching her sleep.

Then Warner shot the cat around the time of Elmiryn’s seventh birthday, and the animal was replaced with a yippy little terrier that the girl hated.

The image of her father standing over the tabby’s corpse was something that she would remember for a long time, and though the cat had been nowhere near her thoughts lately, the moment of its death came rushing back to the warrior as she took in the sight of Syria standing over Kali.

Elmiryn was not fond of Kali for a variety of reasons, but despite her feelings, a great sense of outrage came over her.

When she charged Syria, she did it with sword up and yelling. There was no use in being stealthy. Syria may not have been able to read her mind, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t sense her presence.

Syria moved away from Kali, and the cat did not rise, her eyes staring fearfully into the dark. Elmiryn slowed her charge until she had successfully maneuvered herself between the enchantress and the feline.

“Kali,” Elmiryn said, not taking her eyes off of her opponent.

No response.

Frowning, the woman dared to move back slowly until she could glance down at Kali. The Twin’s mouth moved, and her throat muscles tensed, but her bulging eyes turned to Elmiryn, and the warrior finally understood what was happening.

“Let her breath,” Elmiryn hissed at Syria, her grip on her sword tightening.

Syria cocked her head to one side. “But why? Will you stop attacking me if I do?”

Elmiryn took a step forward. “Kali is not the one you were ordered to kill!”

Syria’s brow wrinkled and she gave a small chuckle. “She is connected to Nyx, is she not? If one twin dies, the other will soon follow. Nyx’s incomplete soul will be devoured by this dimension, and she cannot escape to our world in her weakened state. I have won.”

The warrior’s jaw tightened. “I can unravel Kali. I can unravel her, save her essence, and put her back into Nyx–no more separate consciousness or any of that bullshit!”

Syria smiled. “But you won’t. You aren’t the Spider. You cannot work with the patterns of others, and attempting to do so could kill them.” She craned her head to look at Kali. “Oh! It appears she’s passed out. Impressive. She managed to beat her childhood record of two minutes.”

Elmiryn nearly turned her back on Syria right then, but her years of training beat out her emotion, and she managed to keep her eyes focused forward. The enchantress glanced at the fight that was taking place in the Real World, and she made a small appreciative sound.

“You’re in a bind aren’t you?” Syria murmured. “You want to keep fighting, but killing me won’t mean that Kali will breathe again. I’ve turned off that part of her brain. You can’t take Kali back to Lethia either, because Kali only exists apart from Nyx in the shadows. Attempting to bring her into the light will only result in her vanishing, and without access to her, the Twins’ fate would be sealed. It’s a paradox, of course, that she could’ve done this to begin with. But that’s what this dimension allows for. Division, even if it has to break the rules to do it.”

“Division…” Elmiryn murmured. She dared a glance at Kali as her mind began to turn, cobbling together a plan. Slowly, the warrior returned to Kali’s side and crouched down. As she did so, she spoke, “And you? The Other Place divides things. It must have taken something from you.”

Syria laughed, but the sound was cold. Her eyes now turned up to Izma. “My joy. But that was something Izma arranged for.”

Elmiryn sheathed her sword and grabbed Kali’s arms, pulling her into a sitting position. The feline’s head lolled disconcertingly. “Arranged for? How do you mean? What could the demon want that for?”

“She didn’t want it,” Syria snapped. “She wanted it gone.” This made Elmiryn freeze mid-grab with her arms around Kali’s torso just as Syria turned to look at her.

“What are you doing…?” The enchantress asked slowly.

Elmiryn finished hefting Kali over her shoulder, her eyes fluttering as she looked at Syria to Izma, then Meznik. “She didn’t like your joy, huh?” she mused aloud.

“Elmiryn–”

“You know, Meznik feeds off of my hatred? But he and Izma are different aren’t they? Even though they’re both astral demons, they’re different, and that means they want different things.” Elmiryn flashed Syria a grin. “You don’t have hatred in you. I could see it then at Holzoff’s, and I can see it now. That isn’t what makes Izma want you.”

Syria’s only response was to raise her hands, and with their rise followed the earth before her, the soil and dirt churning into a wall before it blasted outward toward Elmiryn. In all this time, the enchantress had focused on using mostly gravity magic, and the warrior was surprised to see her resort to an elemental approach. But with her fae shield up and her feet kicking her up into the air, where the resulting dust held her, the woman ran, as fast as she could.

Nyx had once explained to the warrior how the Umbralands was the barrier between her mind and the Somnium. The Ailuran had once visited Elmiryn in her mind, could she do the same?

“Cat, there are so many things that can go wrong with this, but the one thing I really hope for is that you can heal that pea-sized brain of yours in time!” Elmiryn huffed.

Behind her, Syria screamed.

QUINCY________________________

In all her life, there was no one Quincy trusted more than Hakeem. She would wake from nightmares to find he was always there, his deep voice a bulwark to any resurgent demons that wished to wreak havoc with her heart. Even in the detached brilliance that was Tonatiuh’s power, her affection for him was something she could not quell. It seemed in those burning, golden days of distance, he was waiting for her to return to him. Patient. Ever patient. And it pained her to admit that Hakeem had adopted a stony disposition because of how emotionally vacant she had become. Her taika had known a greater source of self-restraint since he was a child, but there had always been a passion in his actions, and she had brought him to bury these things for her selfish pursuit of power.

Quincy wondered if she could ever forgive herself that.

Syria was an enchantress. She read minds–saw the hidden truth of people. The wizard was almost certain that Hakeem’s cold and ruthless assault on them was another ploy–another tactic to hurt her with.

…And she hated that she saw it that way. She hated that her mind, even in emotional turmoil, could not stop seeing the angles to victory. This was Hakeem. Not a monster or a rival. This was personal, and yet Quincy wondered if her failure was not in feeling pain, but not feeling enough of it.

Hakeem certainly wasn’t holding back, but Quincy was certain this wasn’t him exercising his ultimate power. Her husband’s armor, like all wizarding artifacts, had drawbacks for its uses–but should one be willing to make those sacrifices, the Aeumani Armor could achieve terrifying things. Ripping a hole in space and time, or leveling a mountain with gravitational force, was theoretically possible, but doing so would kill Hakeem in the process. This was why Hakeem had always been circumspect in what capacity he used his magic armor. What Quincy was observing in this fight, however, was still less of the usual power input. Oh it was certainly still dangerous, and the others were no doubt believing this was Hakeem when he was free of restraint, but Quincy gathered that Syria’s total control of him whilst still functioning herself must’ve lowered what both were capable of.

…It was an effect Quincy had seen once before long ago, with the Spider. Arachne. Controlling others may have been a terrifying concept, but doing so was hubris. A mortal mind could only handle so much in simultaneity, no matter how powerful they were.

Quincy just didn’t know how to capitalize on such information.

It had been a few minutes since Elmiryn had vanished, and Quincy had no idea where she’d gone. Nyx didn’t seem to know, but then again she’d been incapacitated to the point of not being able to crawl, so this didn’t surprise the woman. Lethia on the other hand gave off the air of being unconcerned–making Quincy believe that she had something to do with Elmiryn suddenly leaving the fight. But with Hakeem once again in pursuit of Nyx, the brunette’s suppositions were low on her priority list for the time being.

Taika!” she cried, as she threw Eate’s Son Hakeem’s way. The resulting cyclone swept the man up and away from Nyx, who had healed enough that she could at least limp away, her balance stumbling as the edges of the winds buffeted her pale form.

While the man was up in the air, Lethia aimed Quincy’s lightning staff at him, and before Quincy could tell her not to, a bolt of energy lanced through Hakeem, leaving the arc of warped space and time he’d just created unused as he tumbled helpless through the air.

“Hakeem!” Quincy yelled as she caught Eate’s Son and threw it again. She took off running, watching as the magical boomerang scythed through the air in high speed toward her husband. The tight arc she had aimed her weapon in reached its apex just as Hakeem neared impact. The resulting effect was a wide gust of twisting air–too wide and weak to be a full tornado, and yet strong enough to affect the trajectory of her husband, whose heavy armored body slowed and swung at the ground at an angle, lessening his impact.

Quincy caught Eate’s Son, its return so quick it stung her hand painfully, and she hurried to Hakeem’s side, one hand checking his pulse, the other holding her sword’s pommel up in case she needed to knock him out with it. Lethia approached, but stopped a few feet off, her chest heaving as she glared at Hakeem’s prone body. She aimed Quincy’s staff at the man’s chest, ready to fire off another bolt.

Quincy was relieved to find her husband’s pulse, but she didn’t spend long rejoicing as she turned to criticize the young enchantress. “You little fool! What do you think you’re doing, blasting off like that?”

“Hakeem isn’t in there anymore, Quincy,” Lethia said without looking at her. “It’s his body, but–”

“And I’m supposed to take the word of an amnesiac?” Quincy snapped.

“You did before!” The girl shot back.

Nyx’s voice floated to them, making them look up. “What matters is whether or not he’ll keep attacking,” she panted, still cradling her chest as she neared. The Ailuran looked like a fresh corpse the way blood and dirt seemed to exaggerate the paleness of her skin. But she looked more or less healed now, and Quincy was relieved. It was getting tiresome trying to keep her husband from single-mindedly smashing the girl’s head in with only unpredictable tornadoes and an ordinary sword to hold him at bay.

Quincy lowered her sword as she gazed at Hakeem again. “I think…he may be done. He must’ve hit his head on the landing.”

“Syria isn’t done with him yet…” Lethia murmured ominously. Quincy could see her staff tip crackling with static as the youth squeezed it with her hands.

“Then I will kill her before she can do more harm!” The brunette snarled.

Nyx let out a cry, making both women turn to look at her.

“Now what?” Quincy groused.

Honestly, how much more time does this girl need to sort herself out?

Nyx looked at them with eyes wide. She had both hands at either side of her head.

“I–I don’t know!” she stammered. “I just felt–”

But the Ailuran’s voice cut off with a dry rasp as she grabbed her throat with both hands. She looked at the others in alarm, and it took them too long to realize that she couldn’t breathe. Just when Quincy thought the girl would take a gasp, Nyx’s eyes rolled into the back of her head and she collapsed.

The wizard jumped to her feet, shouting at the same time that Lethia cast aside her staff to go to Nyx’s side.

Up above, Meznik chuckled in his alien music voice:

Fraying, fraying, little thread…

Izma joined in, matching his sick sing-song:

The sum is totaled…and thou art dead!

 


Back to Chapter 39.3 | Forward to Chapter 40.2