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Chapter 41.2a

ELMIRYN______________________

Elmiryn huffed as she ran along the cosmic lane, her eyes on the lookout for anything dangerous. She may have given Meznik the slip, but it would just be a matter of time before the demon found her again. After she had learned what she needed from him, she knew she needed to break away. She would not live as Syria did.

Thanks to the help of a rather strange disembodied entity, Elmiryn found herself running in a direction. She thought she recognized some of the flashes she saw in the Worlds she passed, but she couldn’t be sure. Traveling in the Other Place was not like traveling in the greater reaches of the universe.

To her relief, her journey was uneventful. Its end destination?

“A gate,” Elmiryn breathed, stopping short of the large shimmering passage that would grant her entry into the mortal realm of some world. Did her strange ally lead her straight back home? “One way to find out…”

And with hand outstretched, Elmiryn pressed in through the gate…

Only to find her foot falling through air.

With a shout, the warrior tried to twist around and catch the edge of the gate, but she wasn’t quick enough. She careened through space, a single word flying through her mind:

Shit!

Before she promptly crashed through what felt like cold hide, then slammed onto a bed of green leaves. Elmiryn stared up through a hole of torn plastic at the sky where she could see the gate shimmer once before vanishing from sight. A temporary door? Or maybe it was one of those conditional things–like it only existed if the prick end of some planet bum-fucked some sun. Regardless of the reason, it was gone, and Elmiryn started to wonder if her disembodied ally was really an ally at all. Why did she insist on making strange deals with spirits?

Elmiryn’s winded musing was interrupted by a new voice nearby.

“What the HELL?”

The woman craned her head back just as a shadow fell over her.

Another woman stood over Elmiryn, her dark eyes glaring. She wore a thin white cotton tank top with no bra and blue bloxers, no socks or shoes. Her black hair was buzzed short on the sides, but left long at the top, and her furious gaze was framed by thick black glasses. Then Elmiryn finally noticed the gun in the stranger’s hand. A revolver by the looks of it.

“Who the fuck are you, and why are you in my lettuce bed?” the newcomer demanded.

Elmiryn sat up with a wince. “Believe me, I didn’t want to be in your lettuce bed…”

“Who. Are. You?”

The redhead rolled her eyes shut as she rubbed the pain out of her back. She must have landed on a rock or something.

“I’m a bird. I’m a plane. I’m…really not in the mood for questions,” she groused.

Elmiryn stiffened at the sound of the pistol’s hammer cocking back.

The dark haired woman’s glare had narrowed. “I’m not in the mood for games either. How about you just get up then and we can let the cops decide what to do with you?”

“Cops…” Elmiryn chuckled. “I should tell you, I’m not from around here. I don’t think they’ll know what to do with me!”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I’m a fucking alien and I’m going to melt your brain with my alien powers. Can you put the gun away, please? I didn’t mean to mess up your stupid lettuce bed!”

Elmiryn stood to her feet with a grunt, the other woman following her warily with her gun. The warrior gave her a look. “What? Are you really gonna shoot me over some vegetables?”

The woman’s frown deepened, but she uncocked her pistol and pointed it skyward. Her eyes traveled the length of Elmiryn’s body. When she returned her gaze, she gave a faint one-shoulder shrug.

“For an alien you sure do like ren-fair clothing,” she remarked.

Elmiryn frowned at her. “Ren-what?”

“Ren-fair. Y’know. Renaissance fair? Does your planet not have that?”

“Renaissance…” the warrior murmured, searching her vocabulary.

Apparently she took too long, because the other woman sighed and said, “Forget it. My name’s May. May Kliff. What about you? Do you at least have names on your planet?”

Elmiryn spared her a grin. “I’m Elmiryn. So what World am I in?”

“World?”

“Yeah like…” the redhead trailed off. With a sigh she rephrased. “I meant to say, where am I?”

“Felmore, California. Also, it’s the year 2013 A.D. and Barack Obama is currently in office. Need any more hints?” May said with an ironic smirk.

“Maybe…” Elmiryn rubbed her head with shaky hands. Not only were her withdrawals back, but her head was hurting her to an unusual degree. “Can I trouble you for a stiff drink? Please?”

“Fall through somebody’s greenhouse and ask for a drink? Gotta love America…” May muttered as she turned and walked away.

Elmiryn blinked after her a moment before realizing she was expected to follow.

The two women exited the greenhouse and crossed through a small overgrown backyard to the backdoor of a small white house. May entered through the screen door, and let it shut behind her. Elmiryn hesitated only a beat before entering in after her.

May’s home was small and modest, and while Elmiryn was able to identify some things she saw (“Radio, fridge, phone,”) there were some things she couldn’t. Like the big black box sitting across from the sofa, or the strange metal devices sitting on the counter in the kitchen. As she tried to fill in these blanks, Elmiryn’s headache flared, and she groaned, leaning against the wall for support.

“Hey…you okay?”

Elmiryn felt a cold glass touch her shoulder and opened her eyes to see May holding a glass of what looked to be rum on ice to her. The warrior took it gratefully and swallowed the drink in one go. It burned pleasantly. She pointed at the big black box in the living room.

“I can’t remember what this is,” she mumbled.

May gave her a confused look. “You mean the television?”

“Huh?”

“Geez, either you hit your head really hard, or you’re telling me the truth about that ‘alien’ thing!”

“I’m not an alien,” Elmiryn returned sullenly. “I was just joking around. Don’t call me an alien.” The warrior slid down the wall, staring forlornly into her empty glass. She held it up to May with a pout. “Can I have some more?”

May put her hands on her hips. “I don’t know if you need more! Maybe you’ve got a concussion? I can take you to a hospital and–”

“NO!” Elmiryn slammed her free hand onto the floor and glared up at May. “No hospitals! This isn’t something they can fix!”

“But your head–!”

“It’s just the Universe being angry at me, okay!? I don’t belong in this world, and it’s punishing me for the few things I remember about it!” Elmiryn set her glass down and pressed her palms into the sides of her head. She screamed up at the ceiling. “Hey! HEY! I know what cars are, and planes, and penicilin, and computers, and condoms, and video games! Take THAT Universe! Fuck you!”

May stared down at Elmiryn with eyebrows raised practically to her hairline. “So you’re really not from my world?”

“How else did I fall into your gods damned greenhouse?” Elmiryn snapped. “Did you hear a plane go by or something? I came through a portal!”

“But why did you come here?

“I wasn’t trying to come here! I was trying to get home! I have friends waiting for me!”

May exhaled deeply and tapped her bare foot. She looked over at her phone. “To call or not to call…”

This put Elmiryn on alert. “Call who?” she asked warily.

But May was already walking to the phone, “I’m a freelance problem solver. I deal in really bizarre stuff, but sometimes, when I’m too busy to take on a client’s case, I call these friends of mine over in downtown. They’re better at dealing with inter-dimensional stuff than I am.”

“And who,” Elmiryn started slowly. “Might these two ‘friends’ of yours be?”

May glanced at her, the phone pressed to her ear. “I guess you might have heard of them, huh? They say they’ve got a reputation in other dimensions.”

“But who?” the redhead pressed. “Who are your friends!?”

May opened her mouth to answer but was interrupted when her doorbell rang. Frowning she hung up the phone and went to open the front door. Elmiryn craned her neck to try and see around the woman, but May effectively blocked sight of who stood before her.

Turns out, Elmiryn didn’t need to see to know who it was.

“Julie? Molly?” May exclaimed. “Geez, I was just about to call you!”

And that was when Elmiryn jumped up and ran out the back door.


Back to Chapter 41.2 | Forward to Chapter 41.3

Chapter 41.2

NYX__________________________

Scars. Paulo was covered in strange scars. A mess of lines and shapes on his cinnamon skin. Then I remembered.

Back when this whole mess began, Syria, along with her control of Lethia, had carved those into his skin using fire.

“Paulo,” I repeated when the boy didn’t speak. I looked over at Lethia and Quincy. Lacertli had excused himself in the usual abrupt manner. The enchantress hadn’t emerged from the safety of Argos’s fur, and the wizard had frozen where she was–half crouched over her husband’s body. Something about her stance, even in the dim light, felt rigid.

I looked back at Paulo, and saw that he had approached a few steps. The blanket he shrouded himself with stirred with the wind, and more of his features were revealed. He looked older, in the way that my brother Thaddeus had looked older when he returned from his first season at war.

“You’re…real?” Paulo croaked. “Nyx? That’s you?”

I blinked, bewildered by the question. My voice was slow in answering. “Yes. Yes, Paulo, I’m real. We all are!”

He looked at the others. “Quincy…? That really you?”

Quincy straightened slowly. “It’s me.” Something was off about her voice.

“Have you–Do you know where Graziano is? Arduino? Where is my family?”

Where her husband’s coma had previously failed to crack her brave face, Quincy suddenly crumpled at Paulo’s question. She looked down at her hands, which started to wring together, then looked up again, shoulders hunched. “I don’t know where Arduino is. I–But Paulo, Graziano… He’s dead.”

The news slid off of Paulo’s skin like rain water.

Pulling the blanket off of his head, the boy ventured closer. I was surprised to see that his hair had grown to his shoulders. How much time had passed for him here? “Quincy, where is my family?”

Quincy hurried forward, fighting her way up through the snow. She had her hands held up. I wasn’t sure if she was trying to reassure Paulo or ward him off. “Paulo. Listen to me. Graziano is dead!”

“Where are my brothers, Quincy?” Paulo asked again, but his voice had gone quieter. Colder.

I took a step back as Quincy stopped near me. Up close, I could see the tears in her eyes now. “Graz et moréChoi,” she murmured.

“YOU’RE A FUCKING LIAR!” Paulo bellowed, and he advanced on us, suddenly drawing his rapier.

Without thinking, I leapt in front of Quincy and shouted. “Paulo, stop! Why would we lie to you!?”

Paulo pointed his rapier at Quincy, forcing me to shove the wizard further behind me as I moved to dodge being accidentally slashed in his fury.

Two years!” He snarled. “Two years I was left to rot in this eternal winter with no way of leaving, and Quincy let it happen! This bitch let me and Graziano walk into a trap, so if he’s dead, it’s her fault!”

“That isn’t true–!” I started to argue, but Quincy grabbed my shoulders and flung me aside.

She was still crying, but her face had started to harden back into what could be called the wizard’s usual expression.

“Don’t go speaking about things you don’t know!” she snapped at me.

I glared at her, scandalized. “I’m trying to defend you!”

Quincy hissed at me through her teeth, seemingly oblivious of Paulo’s sword tip pressed into her throat. “I do not deserve nor want your defense! If you want to help, then take Hakeem and the girl up to that campfire before they die of cold!”

I threw my hands up into the air and shrilled, “Fine! Üle lunam? Yibken! I don’t care! You’re on your own!”

I stormed over to Hakeem’s body, which in the slight wind had already started to cover with snow. As I passed Lethia and Argos, I barked, “Argos! Lethia! Stop blubbering and help me!”

Argos whined, but I heard him follow. As I stooped to heft Hakeem up into a sitting position, I muttered darkly, “I’m cold, numb, tired, hungry, spurned–and of all the people I could be stuck with, I have these cajecks!

The dog grumbled at my remarks as he came alongside, but I didn’t apologize. I just hefted Hakeem up (no small feat, let me just say) and put him on Argos’s back. In truth, the dog’s strength was probably comparable to my own, but simple physics made his large frame more capable of carrying Hakeem than I.

As it turned out, Lethia had followed us, and with her help, we kept Hakeem’s body steady on Argos as he made the arduous return to Paulo’s camp. The enchantress seemed to shrink the closer we got to Paulo and Quincy. The boy only had eyes for the wizard however as they spoke in tight, quiet tones back and forth. We passed them without a word.

Finally we reached the camp.

The cold was such that despite the fire being so near, I couldn’t feel its effects until I was a foot or two from its warmth. But even its draw didn’t have me like my old belongings did. Sitting at the edge of what seemed to be a giant horde of scavenged things was my modest little bag of trinkets, and next to that, my old clothes.

I nearly cried at the sight.

Rushing to set down Hakeem, I immediately went to my clothes and started to dress–first my trousers, then my boots, then my undershirt, then my gambeson. Certain other little items, like my stockings and my bandages were still missing. I was also so numb by this point that I knew it would take a while longer before I’d feel the full effect of my newly returned clothes. But I didn’t care.

I had my mother’s gambeson back, and that was all that mattered.

Returning to the fire, I sat across from Lethia and Argos, who had returned to huddling close to the fire. Next to them lay Hakeem on a blanket. I scooted close to the flames, letting my feet soak in the warmth. Looking over at Quincy and Paulo still in the shadowy cold, I could see they wouldn’t be returning any time soon. Well that was fine by me. I wasn’t sure I could take any more melodrama. My patience and goodwill was taxed.

I returned my gaze back to Lethia. “Can you sense the way out from here?”

She looked at me from amid Argo’s furry shoulder, and I could see the red in her puffy eyes.

When she didn’t answer, I scowled. “Lethia? Did you hear me?”

“…Yes,” she responded meekly. She gave a wet sniffle and hid her gaze again.

I clenched my jaw. “Then? Do you know how we can get out of here?”

Again, I got silence. Finally Lethia mumbled, “No.”

“Wonderful,” I sighed.

If Paulo’s change in appearance was any indication, we could be there a very long time…

Gods, to be stuck here for that long with these people!

“Maybe I should just let myself freeze to death,” I muttered next.

 

QUINCY________________________

Quincy swallowed and she could feel Paulo’s rapier tip sink into her skin just enough to bring forth a bead of blood. She found the young man’s eyes, shadowed by his tight brow, and she held them as best she could.

The wizard had been prepared for many things. She had been prepared for another fight, for a timely return home, for her husband to wake from his coma… But somehow, in the hustle that she had found herself swept in since finding Graziano’s body, she hadn’t thought to reunite with Paulo. She had almost taken it for granted that he was also dead. Did she feel sorry for not searching for him harder before? …No. It was clear now that it was meant to be this way. And she hardly had enough reason to strike out searching for the boy on the other shards when they were being accosted by outside forces. He was the last discovery they had to make, the lost thing that had to be found on this path home. Why? She wasn’t sure. But what Quincy did chastise herself for, was not being better prepared for this meeting.

Loathe as she was to admit it, Elmiryn was perhaps better equipped to break the news to Graziano. Quincy, with few to grieve for in her life, didn’t know how to handle such loss. The closest she had to that was when Jack, her father, abandoned her and was never heard from again. But it wasn’t the same. Quincy stared deep into Paulo’s warm eyes and knew it just wasn’t the same.

“I’m sorry you had to hear it from me…of all people,” she said. “But it’s like Nyx told you. What reason would I have to lie?”

Paulo’s mouth curled into a sneer. “Two years gives a person a lot of time to think. I thought about that night, when the others came with Syria. You stayed behind. You knew what was going to happen, and you let us walk right into it!” At these last words, Paulo pressed in deeper with the rapier, forcing Quincy back half a step.

She winced and closed her eyes. “I know. That was wrong of me.”

“Yes! It was! So when you tell me that you have no reason to lie…I don’t believe you! You always have a reason to lie! You are like a snake in the tall grass, waiting to strike!”

Quincy opened her eyes again and felt the tears she had kept at bay slip down her cheeks. “I was a different person then!”

The teenager let out a short caustic laugh, and with his rapier, he flicked at her brown hair. “Yeah. I can see you’ve changed.”

“No, I mean–” Quincy broke off. This wasn’t a time to quibble about the details. Was she really so different just because Tonatiuh’s spirit no longer possessed her? She bowed her head. “I don’t know what else to tell you, except that I’m sorry…”

Paulo didn’t respond, but Quincy could see from her peripherals how the teenager’s sword tip wavered.

When the boy spoke, his voice was choked with emotion. “Do you have his gun?” he asked tightly.

Quincy sighed. “I don’t. Elmiryn does.”

“And where is she?”

“I don’t know. We think she might meet up with us later, once we escape this place.”

Paulo snorted. “Escape? There is no way out!”

Quincy looked at him sharply. “There has to be!”

“If there was, do you think I would’ve stayed here for two years? Alone in the snow?”

The wizard blinked at him. “How did you survive?”

Paulo glared at her before looking away. He sheathed his rapier and the tension melted from Quincy’s shoulders. “At first,” the boy started, but then he broke off, growling.

He turned and looked up the hill to the campfire. He tried again, this time with a stronger voice. “At first I looked. Tried to find any sign of the others. The supplies we had left were all still there, but I had to hide them, because these…these ghost people would come. I think they were scavenging the old prison tower. I tried leaving this place when it became clear that no one was around, but then I found out that there is nothing else beyond this place! It’s just an island floating in nothing.

Quincy rubbed her arms, trying to fend off the cold. The numbness was creeping up her legs. “Were you always in winter here?”

Paulo swallowed audibly. “Yes.” He pinched his blanket tight around him and glared at her again. “I was alone here, in the cold, with no way out.”

“Paulo, if we could’ve come here sooner, we would have!”

The boy just shook his head. The motion felt weary and resentful. “It doesn’t matter anymore. Now we’re all stuck here.”

“But how did you survive? You still haven’t said,Quincy pressed. If the boy was right about being stuck out here, then she wanted to know what resources they had to work with.

“I did what I could! I hunted what little game came my way. Scavenged for tools out in the daesce valley. Right now I’m collecting daesce hide to make warmer clothes. The dog…Argos. When he came, my luck really turned. He helped with food and fending off the daesce.” Paulo jerked his head behind him. “He saved my life.”

Quincy pursed her lips. She reached toward him. “Paulo, we’ll find a way–”

“Don’t touch me!” He snapped, swatting away her hand. He pulled his blanket back over his head, shrouding his face in darkness. The whites of his eyes seemed to burn from the shadows and Quincy felt her head ache inexplicably. “Just because I’m not trying to kill you right now doesn’t mean I won’t try later! I haven’t forgiven you for what you’ve done!”

With a sweep, Paulo turned and marched back up the hill.

Quincy gazed after him, her shoulders sagging.

“Fair enough…” she murmured.


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