Tributaries Cover In Sight, In Mind Cover Blackwood Cover

Chapter 42.2

ELMIRYN______________________

Elmiryn knew now that it was her burgeoning fae nature that made her so aware of the alcohol coursing through her system. It was hot and warm and in her veins, becoming her blood, choking her brain in a fog of caprice that didn’t allow her to appreciate the bizarre circumstances of her situation. The sky rolled overhead as Molly and Julie carried her out of May’s house and over the gravel path leading to the street. The moment Elmiryn’s boots scraped the sidewalk, she could feel her alcoholic blood leap and turn. She didn’t even blink.

The world just changed.

Gone were the small homes, replaced instead with tall metal and brick buildings, the streets bloated with people and cars. Elmiryn’s eyes fluttered as she let her eyes take in this sudden and drastic change of scenery. Then she started giggling.

“Ladies, I think I’m gonna be sick!” she chortled merrily.

“Hold it,” Julie snapped on her right. She was the one who smelled like cigarettes, Elmiryn realized.

“We’re almost there,” Molly sighed on the left.

The warrior tilted her head back and blinked. Swimming through the clouds were crimson and golden fishes with shimmering scales and long pearly fins. “Sky fishes,” she breathed.

Her escorts looked up simultaneously as they gently pierced through a group of gangly teenage punks.

“Yeah,” Julie said. “They show up on Tuesdays.”

Elmiryn stared at the side of the other redhead’s face. “Thought ya’d tell me I was seein’ things?”

“What? Your world doesn’t have sky fishes?”

It took the warrior a few seconds to realize Julie was being wry. By the time she did, the moment to respond had passed and the unusual pair were guiding Elmiryn through a dark doorway that fed into a narrow hall and up a creaky set of stairs. Plastered on the graffiti walls were fliers and posters, detailing the latest shows and performances. Elmiryn recognized Julie’s face on many of them.

As they approached the third floor, the warrior had become disinterested in actually walking and laughed as the two women struggled to hold her up.

“Jesus, does she always get like this when she drinks?” Julie complained.

Molly shook her head and let Elmiryn go. The redhead collapsed to the stairs, giggling.

“This is pointless,” the brunette huffed. Looking at the walls, she stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled.

Elmiryn pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes as she lay there lost in her mirth. Then she started to feel small, cold hands lift her up. Startled, she raised her head and looked down at her body to see the black and fluorescent people from the posters on the walls had emerged from their paper dwellings to lift her up on behalf of Molly and Julie. Stunned, the warrior looked up at the pair in question and she saw them smirking down at her.

“Look at her! I bet she still thinks she’s hallucinating!” Julie snickered.

“Uh, hey–” Elmiryn tried to move, but felt her muscles lock up. Molly’s hand was fanned open over her.

“Stay still. You’re in a time out,” the brunette said with a grin.

The small poster people, no taller than a foot, wordlessly carried Elmiryn the rest of the way. Paralyzed, the redhead could do nothing to get up or stop them. Honestly, she thought the situation was amusing, but she couldn’t help but struggle instinctually against the spell that bound her.

Finally, they stopped at a door near  the middle of the third floor hallway. Julie produced a key and unlocked the door, pushing it open. The poster people paraded Elmiryn inside and dropped her on the floor without ceremony.

“Thank you,” Molly said politely as they marched back out the door. Julie closed it behind them.

Elmiryn found Molly had released her, and gratefully she sat up. “That was fun! So you guys make stuff come to life or somethin’?”

“Whatever we want to happen, we can make happen,” Julie said. She crossed the room from the door to a beat up plaid couch next to the window overlooking the street. She crossed her legs and said next, “It’s easier to do stuff within our territory, but it’s much harder if we leave it. The more universal laws we break, the harder the task tends to be.”

Molly vanished down a hallway as Elmiryn stood to her feet. The warrior looked around her.

This was supposed to be Julie’s home. For a woman who was essentially a demi-god, Julie didn’t live extravagantly. Her furniture was beat up and cheap, dirty disposable plates on the coffee table from what looked like a pizza night. The walls had a smattering of more concert posters as well as rock memorabilia and counter culture art. Elmiryn thought she could smell coffee in the air, mixed with the musty smell of sweaty socks.

“Nice place,” the warrior said, just managing to keep the smirk off her face.

Julie shrugged. “It works.”

Elmiryn shook her head, and went to lean on the wall near the door. Her head felt fuzzy and her limbs heavy. She was ready for some sleep, but closing her eyes made her feel a little ill. The vertigo from the drink was kicking in.

Fae are such lightweights… the woman thought disapprovingly.

Then Molly’s voice caused Elmiryn to look up. “Elmiryn. Here’s Hakeem.”

The redhead raised her eyes in time to see a dark skinned man with wide shoulders and a close shaved head step out from around Molly near the hallway. He was dressed in gray sweats and a white t-shirt. He had no shoes. Elmiryn stiffened and moved away from the wall. Her eyebrows rose high.

“Hakeem?” she said uncertainly.

Hakeem’s warm eyes fixed on her gaze. “Yes, Elmiryn.”

Elmiryn’s mouth hung open as she tried to find the words to say. When none came, she snapped her mouth shut and pointed at the wizard.

The man raised an eyebrow at her. When her silence persisted, he glanced at Molly and Julie, then focused back on Elmiryn with a frown. “…Fiamman, do you have something you’d like to say?” he asked archly.

“No,” Elmiryn said finally. “I thought pointin’ at ya was about as good as it gets right now.” She shrugged her hands. “The fuck are ya doin’ here, wizard? Ya know yer wife thinks your back home?”

The redhead slapped a hand to her forehead. “Shit! If yer really here, then who the hell is back there!?”

“A doll,” Molly said, behind Hakeem. The petite brunette went to sit with Julie at the couch. “Elmiryn, do you remember your last visit here?”

“Sorta?”

“You ran into people that resembled those you knew back in your home world. Those were Izma’s dolls. Soulless animatons that carry out the demon’s will.”

“So that means–”

“The thing that is back home is not real,” Hakeem said. From where she stood, the woman could see his neck muscles tighten as he clenched his fists. “It is not living. It has no soul. No conscious that is its own.”

“So the Hakeem that attacked us was a demon’s doll,” Elmiryn murmured.

Hakeem approached Elmiryn with pressed hands. “Elmiryn, I know my wife. She would not give up on me. No doubt Izma has tried to use the doll to try and hurt her. I need you to go back and destroy it!”

“Of course!” Elmiryn said with a snort. Then her eyes narrowed. “Hey hold on a minute. Are you saying–?”

“I can’t go back with you,” Hakeem said tightly, looking away.

Elmiryn batted her eyes rapidly. “But this isn’ yer world, wizard…” she said slowly.

“I told you that Hakeem said he wanted to help us,” Molly said with a shrug.

The redhead glared at her. “That don’ fuckin’ matter! This isn’ his world! What’s he gonna do here that’s so much more ‘portant than goin’ back to his wife!?”

“I just can’t,” Hakeem said crossing his arms. He glared. “It’s none of your business.”

Elmiryn returned his heated stare, her eyes searching. “What was it? Did Izma actually get inta yer head? Screw with yer confidence? You afraid, Hakeem?”

Hakeem’s lips pursed. “I’ll take you to the gate that will take you straight home. You won’t have to return to the Other Place. The others will meet you there, I’m sure.”

“But ya can’t be sure,” Elmiryn spat.

The man turned and went back into the hallway. “My decision is made, Elmiryn. Let me get my shoes. The gate is just a short walk from here.”

Elmiryn glared at Julie and Molly as the man vanished around the corner. “You really gonna let this happen!?”

“We’ve never had access to a demon’s tool before,” Julie crossed her arms and gazed at Elmiryn coolly. “Meznik may not be a threat to us anymore, but Izma is. We can make an exception for Hakeem being here.”

“And anyway, we aren’t forcing him,” Molly added calmly. “As you heard, it’s Hakeem’s decision to be here.”

“Yeah. It jes don’ make any sense…” Elmiryn grumbled.


Back to Chapter 42.1 | Forward to Chapter 42.3

Chapter 42.1

NYX__________________________

That first night out in the Albian snow passed with little event. Whatever Quincy said to Paulo, they seemed to agree to set it aside until we could escape the Other Place. But after the following day came and went, then the one after that, and the one after that… The prospect of escape seemed to dwindle away. Paulo’s resignation started to feel infectious, and his avoidance of us understandable. Lethia was quick to succumb to her melancholy. As Lacertli’s champion, I felt duty-bound to keep trying. It helped that I was also desperate to find a way to escape my company. Lethia’s moping alone made the cold that much more unbearable. Quincy fought alongside me, searching the snowdrifts and attempting spells, but her presence was grating, and her frustration over our plight was palpable.

The brunette was driven by her need to save Hakeem, who remained in a coma. The wizard man lay wrapped in daesce skins near the fire where we fed him small amounts of clean snow in a feeble attempt to keep him hydrated. If he didn’t wake soon, it wouldn’t matter. He’d die of starvation. Quincy clung to a sort of stubborn hope over Hakeem’s survival, and I found myself envious of her dedication to her spouse. My chest felt devoid of those feelings, and I missed them.

When I found a moment to myself, I would sit and wonder where Elmiryn had gone, why she hadn’t found us yet, why I expected different from her. The Other Place gave me no stars to count–the stars that Elmiryn had promised me in her arrogance. I wished she were there with me, but my feelings were clouded with complications.

As if the rest of my life were any less complicated.

Lacertli did not speak to me much in those days. Sometimes I could see golden eyes blinking at me from the shadows, but my patron remained silent. I knew what he expected of me. Survival. For that, I knew I had graduated from his terse guidance. I was restless without it, but I tried to stay in the present, as he would’ve wanted. I just wish the present didn’t feel as suffocating as it did.

Why couldn’t anyone see that what we needed to do was to move camp? When I suggested this tactic, I was met with heavy resistance. The excuses ranged from Hakeem’s coma, to the treacherousness of the mountains, to the lack of resources away from Holzoff’s. Still, I felt it was entirely possible that Paulo could have missed something in his time searching here. The Albian mountains seemed to specialize in the hidden, and maybe something had changed? It felt appropriate that the Other Place would change with time.

On the fourth night, I trudged my way back up the snowy hill from the daesce valley. It was a horrible, treacherous place, but if we were lucky, sometimes we could find salvageable supplies. The daesce weren’t good for a food source–eating their tainted flesh would make us sick–but they were good for their hides, and their teeth and claws could be used to fashion tools and traps. These were things Paulo showed us in our first days on the shard. In the long frozen time that he had spent in that frigid place, he had grown into a strong and capable survivalist. Gone was the whiny teenage boy I had met, though his surliness lingered, dark like charcoal in the magicked flames that had scarred him.

Now and again, I’d catch him glaring after Lethia. For the most part, the pair avoided each other, but now and again, Paulo would spare a barbed comment. The enchantress took his withering animosity, and I could see the penance in her face. I did not feel sorry for her. Intellectually I knew my hatred for the girl was misguided, but it was like a compulsion that kept spinning me in circles. Sometimes I hated being so self-aware. The only way I could separate the nature of my persistent anger from that of Paulo’s was in believing this: While I was certain that Lethia’s part in Paulo’s disfigurement was completely coerced, I could not say the same for the fate I suffered under the girl’s powers and Izma’s will.

The more I lingered on this reasoning, the more suspicious I became.

So when I made my way back to our humble camp, I focused on Lethia and said, “Artaud, it’s been five days and four nights. As the only one of us who could sense the Gates, you said you’d find a new way out. Why haven’t you found something yet?”

She didn’t respond. Argos, his loyalty to his owner regained, stayed faithfully by her side as she stared into the campfire, waiting for the flames to wane before she added more wood. That was the most use she had been to us. In her sleeplessness, Lethia tended the flames that kept us alive while we toiled for an escape. This didn’t foster a great deal of gratitude in me, however. It was a far easier job staying near the warmth of the campfire then risking your life out in the dark cold where the monsters lurked.

Grinding my teeth, I crossed the distance between us in large strides and loomed over her. “Don’t ignore me, Lethia!”

“Nice to see you managing your newfound malice, Nyx,” Quincy said behind me. I turned to see her trudging through the snow, a dark look on her face. “Harassing the girl won’t make her any more productive,” the wizard finished. She must’ve finished her usual rounds, checking her magical wards and performing divination. At this point, I was prepared to say her efforts were worth about as much as Lethia’s.

“She isn’t being productive at all!” I growled in response. My scorching eyes turned back on Lethia, who still refused to look up.

“And I suppose acting bratty is better?”

My glare turned back on the wizard. “I’m only stating the truth.”

Quincy held up her hands and sidled past me, her eyes already on Hakeem wrapped up in daesce furs on Lethia’s other side. I pursed my lips and took a seat on the other side of the fire, across from them both. Paulo was absent from the camp and would not return for a few more hours, I guessed. That boy seemed to lose himself in the Albian wilds. I didn’t blame him, though. With us for company, who would want to stick around much? At least half of us were the reason Paulo had been trapped here to begin with.

Then Lethia mumbled something.

It was the first I’d heard her speak in days since arriving, and even Argos perked his head up in what seemed surprise.

Quincy paused in her hydration of Hakeem to turn and stare at the enchantress next to her. “Did you say something, Artaud?”

Lethia paled in the firelight and I could see her visibly shrink into herself, as if she were hoping Argos’s fur could just swallow her out of sight. I rose to my knees to better be seen over the licking flames of the campfire.

“Lethia, what did you say?” I demanded.

She looked at me, like a whipped child. Her eyes were ruddy and raw, her nose a deep pink.

“…North,” Lethia rasped.

“North?” I frowned and looked at Quincy, who shrugged at me. I turned a glare back on Lethia. “What is north?”

The girl bit her lip as if to keep the words from coming out. My eyes slowly widened. “Do you mean you’ve sensed a way out of here!?”

Again, another moment of silence.

“Well, answer!” Quincy barked.

Lethia looked between us meekly. “I may have.”

“What do you mean, ‘may have?'” I pressed.

“If what I sense is truly a gate… Then…”

Paulo’s booming voice cut her off, and like a snail, she retreated into her shell.

“I have dinner!” Paulo said as he came up with what looked like two thin rabbits gripped in one hand. “Finally, my snares worked!” This was the most upbeat I’d ever seen him. He had a crooked grin and a slight spring in his step, even.

“Lethia may have sensed a way out,” I said quickly.

This made the boy freeze, and his victorious smirk faded from his face. He turned and gazed at Lethia intensely. “Is this true?”

As I stated before, Paulo and Lethia had avoided addressing one another. It wasn’t the accounts we told him of what had happened to us since coming to the Other Place, or even something the two teens had spoken of together. They mostly just pretended the other didn’t exist, a peculiar social dance that both amazed and unsettled me. I would have thought, of all people, that Paulo would be angriest with Lethia for her part in his mutilation and his brother’s death. Instead, he was simply coldly indifferent to her presence, even his occasional harsh comments, usually shot off when the girl was in his way somehow, seemed hesitant. It were as if he hoped his refusal to acknowledge her would make her go away.

Now, seeing the two lock eyes felt like almost as big an event as Lethia talking after days of silence.

“I don’t want to say for certain,” the girl mumbled, breaking eye contact first.

“I don’t care how you say it, just say it!” He snapped.

“The north!” Lethia spat, suddenly glaring up at him. “I sense something to the north, all right?”

At this the boy, took a step back, his eyes widening. “You’re mistaken,” he murmured. “You have to be!”

“You’ve felt it, too! I know you have!”

“But it can’t be there!”

“Believe me, I don’t want it to be there, but–”

“Where!?” I shouted. “Sweet Aelurus, you two keep speaking in circles!”

“Syria’s tower!” Lethia cried out at me. “I sense that a gate may lie somewhere in the direction of Syria’s tower.

Silence fell over us all.

Then Quincy snarled, “You knew this whole time, didn’t you?” She looked at Paulo next. “Both of you!”

But my eyes lingered on Paulo as something gnawed at me. “Lethia said you sensed it, too… But how could you?”

Paulo’s face hardened and I could see a dangerous look in his eyes, but I didn’t care. I rose to my feet slowly, taking his measure, thinking to myself, I could expect Lethia to be too weak to want to face her old home, but Paulo has no excuse!

“He’s an enchanter, like me,” Lethia said quietly.

Paulo was quick to close the distance between them and slap her. Argos rose, snapping and snarling, but with his companion retreating into his side, he could not act as he wished to.

So Quincy did it for him.

She punched the boy straight in the face. To his credit, Paulo did not fall, though he stumbled back a few steps in the snow.

“So long as we travel together,” the wizard seethed, “I will not suffer such conduct from you! Your brothers raised you better than that!”

“It’s just too bad you broke up my family, isn’t it?” Paulo returned hotly. He spat on the snow and crimson stained the white.

This cooled Quincy’s ire, but I could see her stance had not relaxed. She stood strong between Paulo and Lethia, and said, “I should’ve seen it… You were always sensitive to changes in the air.”

“I’m not an enchanter,” Paulo hissed. He pointed angrily at Lethia. “She’s lying!”

“Then why can you sense the same things she does?” I questioned. Then my eyes widened. “Gods… This whole time, you’ve been reading each other! That’s why you never spoke to one another! You could already hear what the other was thinking!”

Lethia flinched as if I’d threatened her. Paulo’s cold fury gained some heat as I could see his warm skin flush hot.

“Lies!” he shouted.

But it made so much sense. The pair’s odd behavior was tense, to be certain, but their refusal to address the other’s presence spoke of something deeper. A sort of fear? What did it feel like to have another enchanter around anyway? They were so busy building walls around their minds that neither stopped to really think of the true implications of the situation. The danger of it even.

I had read accounts, in my voracious reading as a youth, of enchanters going insane when not properly trained. Complications with the function of the mind and brain was inevitable, but to have a young enchanter lose control in their ignorance not only had risks for them, but for the people around them too. Had Paulo heard our thoughts without meaning to? Was that the real reason he avoided our company?

Quincy tutted at the boy’s protests. “Stop denying it! You’re an enchanter whether you like it or not! It’s bad enough you’re a late bloomer, but now we have to find you an enchanting master before you melt your brain in your obstinacy!”

“I’m not an enchanter,” Paulo argued stubbornly. He threw the rabbits down. “And I’m not going to Syria’s tower! I’m never going to that cursed place!”

He turned and stormed off, back toward the daesce valley. Quincy started to follow him.

“Paulo! Paulo!” she called.

“Leave him,” I said wearily.

I sat back onto the snow and buried my face in my hands. Paulo an enchanter. Lethia lying to us about sensing the gate. Clearly I had not done a good enough job of being focused on the present. I was too wrapped up in my frustration and loneliness. I could practically feel Lacertli’s stern eyes on me from heaven for my failure.

“He’ll get himself killed,” Quincy murmured, returning to Hakeem.

“He’s survived this long without us, I’m sure he’ll be fine,” I replied with a sigh.

My eyes flickered to Lethia, who still hadn’t emerged from the folds of Argos’s fur. The dog licked anxiously at the exposed skin of her neck, trying to offer her comfort.

I rubbed my chin. “We should leave as soon as possible. With or without Paulo.”

“I’m not leaving him,” Quincy said without looking up. She was once again trying to feed Hakeem clean snow.

“Then stay here,” I snapped. “I am tired of this Other Place and I won’t remain trapped by it any longer!”

“Ailuran don’t talk to me of exhaustion,” Quincy uttered ominously, her head turning just enough to let her eyes cut across at me.

“Paulo will come,” Lethia mumbled.

We both looked at her in surprise. Sniffling, she emerged from Argos’s side enough to glance at us both meekly.

I crossed my arms. “And what will persuade him to come so quickly?”

The young enchantress tucked a lock of wavy hair behind her ear and bit her lip.

“Me,” she said with a weak shrug.


Back to Chapter 41.3 | Forward to Chapter 42.2

Chapter 41.3

ELMIRYN______________________

Elmiryn was stumbling over herself. She could claim she was still out of sorts from falling from a great height earlier, and she may even win the argument. But the truth was, she felt fear. A sort of primal, rabbity fear that sent shockwaves from the base of her neck to the ends of her fingertips and her gut. The air crackled, making her hairs stand on end. Colors and light seemed altogether harsher, like bleach on her eyes.

She had trespassed, and Julie and Molly knew it.

Elmiryn could feel their wrath, even as she tripped and fell down the back steps of May’s home. When she scrabbled at the grass and dirt, ripping out clumps in her haste to resume flight, she could feel their presence getting nearer. She knew, too, that they had turned this powerful influence on like a switch to keep her from fighting back when–

Wham.

The woman yelled as she felt the hard heel of a shoe stomp onto her back, pinning her on the ground.

A moment later the screen door banged open, and the wooden steps creaked as one–no, two–people descended.

“Guys what the hell!?” Elmiryn heard May cry out. “Why are you attacking her? And I thought I said no strange tricks where the neighbors can see! Unlike you, I have to live here!”

“Sorry, May,” a familiar voice said. Elmiryn guessed it was Molly. Her visual memory may have been poor, but she still had good auditory memory.

Molly said next, “This geek was warned not to come back here. Soon as I sensed her presence we had to come.”

“And I guess you were just in the neigborhood?”

“No. We nightcrawled.”

“Huh??”

“We teleported,” Molly clarified patiently.

“Is she a threat?” May asked brusquely. Apparently she didn’t need more clarification than that.

“Consider her a virus. Having her here runs the risk of things getting unraveled. We had another one pop up the other day. We’re still trying to decide what to do with him.”

Elmiryn grunted as she tried to crane her head to look at them. “I’d be happy to leave if someone would just point me the way!”

The shoe in her back dug in deeper. “How do we know this isn’t some ploy by Meznik?” Another voice said over her. That would be Julie.

Elmiryn spat through her teeth, “Oh sure. Real clever trick. Send me in unattended, then have me caught immediately. Just think of the damage that would cause! Are you out of your mind!? Of course I’m not here on account of that asshole! I ran away from him, and now I just want to go home!

“But how did you get here if it weren’t for him?” Molly asked. She sounded closer. “You aren’t powerful enough to travel like this on your own!”

“Okay, well…” Elmiryn huffed into the dirt as she tried to wiggle out from under Julie’s foot. Her back throbbed in pain. When this attempt failed, she growled out, “Meznik brought me out to see the universe proper for a lecture! We were out in space a while, but I didn’t like what he was telling me, so I left! A ghost, spirit, thing helped me find my way here! It said this was the quickest way back home!”

“Well we are dimensional neighbors,” Julie murmured to Molly.

“That doesn’t mean her story is true. After all, what about the other one?” Molly returned.

What other one?” Elmiryn asked irately. “It’s just me! I came alone!”

“Can we resume this conversation back inside? Preferably without any violence?” May piped up.

There was a beat as Molly and Julie seemed to consider this.

Soon the boot came off of Elmiryn’s back, and the warrior rose with effort. Once on her feet, she rotated her shoulders with a wince and regarded Julie and Molly with a phosphorous glare. They took her hostility with nary a twitch.

Molly, the shorter brunette with warm brown eyes, was dressed in a grey skirt and blue hooded sweater. She had a much more cherubic face than Elmiryn remembered, and her bobbed hair seemed eerily immaculate and shiny. In fact, everything about her seemed to suggest perfect symmetry. Julie, on the other hand, screamed asymmetry, with her zebra print top askew on her shoulders and her brown canvas pant legs messily stuffed into her biker boots. She was tall and of a brighter palette, with her tanned skin, pumpkin orange hair, and sea green eyes. Her face was more oval shaped and her features more angular, like Elmiryn’s.

Elmiryn sneered at them and spared a mocking bow before shoving past the pair to follow May back into her house. The warrior knew, despite her primal knee jerk attempt, that she could not escape. She recalled what Meznik had told her, not so long ago: this world’s balance was in disarray, and in the power struggle, god-like individuals had taken total control over the reality of certain areas. May’s house was within Molly and Julie’s control apparently, and Elmiryn, now that she could connect the source, could feel their influence humming through the air.

She sat on the couch as the two women entered. They crossed the room to stand before Elmiryn, towering down over her. May, who sat on the recliner near the door, cleared her throat loudly.

“No looming in my house. Take a seat,” she scolded.

Julie pouted at this, but Molly sat on the coffee table without a word. Sighing, her companion followed suit.

“Here’s the problem, Elmiryn,” Molly said, lacing her fingers together and resting them on her crossed legs. “Right now? We’re currently at war. People with abilities similar to ours want to become the new godly rulers of our world. Among the ones causing trouble for us are the astral demons. You are a demon’s pet. I can see it in your essence. Do you see how this makes things complicated for us? You’re a threat, and yet…”

“Pets rarely stray from their owners,” Julie finished. She puckered her lips. “But that isn’t to say that you aren’t still acting under Meznik’s command.”

Molly flipped over a hand. “So forgive us if we don’t take your claims to heart.”

“Don’t you think Meznik would’ve been more subtle in his approach?” Elmiryn snapped. “I obviously didn’t escape your attention!”

“Could be a distraction. Maybe Meznik is trying to hurt us elsewhere while we’re distracted with you?”

“So why sit and talk to me if you think that’s the case?”

Molly slowly shook her head. “Because we’re not sure. We can’t sense Meznik’s presence like we can sense yours. That’s what makes the demons so dangerous. We have no idea when they actually set foot in our World.”

“But you mentioned someone else! Who else is here? Why would Meznik bring them first, then me after?”

Julie and Molly exchanged looks. Elmiryn glared between them. “What? What is it?”

“Well…” Molly started.

“The other one isn’t actually Meznik’s,” Julie said next.

Elmiryn wrinkled her nose. “And what does that mean?”

“It means that the other one actually belongs to Izma. Only he’s not a pet. Not even a toy.”

“He’s a tool,” Molly said with a grim tilt of her mouth.

Elmiryn was about to ask who the person was again when May piped in. “Question! Can someone tell me what astral demons are, and why the hell they’re so scary with their ‘pets’ and ‘toys?'”

Julie grimaced. “May, it would take too long to explain to you. Besides, that knowledge is dangerous. It could draw attention to you!”

“Draw attention to me? Are you kidding? Some alien woman drops in on my greenhouse. Don’t you think I should know what’s at least happening in my backyard, if not my fucking neighborhood?”

“For the last time, I’m not an alien!” Elmiryn griped.

“Demons are intelligent interdimensional monsters whose goal is to pervert reality as we know it to their fucked up needs,” Julie said with a weary sigh.

“They don’t attack directly. Instead, they prefer to use what they call ‘pets, toys, tools, and children’ to carry out their plans,” Molly said next. She picked at her skirt hem, her brow tightening. “Tools are beings that the demon uses for a short period. They are the throw aways. The little pawns the demons abandon once their role is done.”

“Like Nadi!” Elmiryn murmured, sitting up.

Everyone stared at her.

Clearing her throat, she sat back into the couch.

Satisfied that the warrior wouldn’t interrupt again, Molly continued. “A ‘toy’ was what Elmiryn used to be, just a short while ago. Unlike tools, the demons will interact with toys more directly. They’re valued more, but they are still controlled only by manipulation. A curse is mandatory. It binds the toy to their owner.”

“Then there’s pets,” Julie said with a distinct curl of her lip.

Molly gave a curt nod. “Yes. Elmiryn is now a pet. That means that she is no longer manipulated. She knowingly carries out Meznik’s will. He shares more information with her and she is typically to be at his side at all times.”

“But I’m not,” Elmiryn snapped.

“Next,” Julie interjected with a roll of her eyes. “Is the child.”

The word hung in the air, dense with foreboding. Elmiryn leaned forward onto her knees, her eyes gleaming. She’d never heard of ‘tools’ before, but she already had an idea of the demon’s using people in such a way–like Nadi and Lethia. But a ‘child?’ The word carried with it terrible implications and they made the warrior tremble on a minute level.

“A child,” Julie huffed out, as if the word took great effort. “Is basically a demon’s right hand. They aren’t on a ‘need-to-know-basis’ like the pet. They know everything and they have a set of lesser powers to match those of their demon master.”

Molly put a hand on Julie’s shoulder and said to May and Elmiryn. “It’s the final step before a person becomes a demon themselves. We…lost a friend that way to a demon.”

Elmiryn’s mouth fell open. She searched Molly’s face, trying to find something that would suggest the brunette was lying, but she saw nothing. “So…I’m on a track to become a demon? I thought Meznik wanted to turn me into a fae!”

“Not all pet’s advance onto the child state, Elmiryn,” Molly said with a dark expression. “Sometimes they stay pets until they die. Being a demon’s pet can be just as transformative as being a demon’s child. It just means you’re changing into whatever else the demon may desire. In your case? A fae.”

“This sounds way beyond my pay grade,” May said with raised eyebrows.

Elmiryn clenched her fists. “The other person you have. Izma’s tool. Who are they? Where are they? When did they get here?”

“Time works differently between worlds, Elmiryn,” Julie replied with a shrug. “They got here days before you. They’re currently being held back at my place in downtown. We’ve got our people watching them.”

“But who are they!?” Elmiryn shouted. “You keep avoiding that question and I want to know why!”

Molly and Julie exchanged looks again, and the warrior wanted to slap them both.

Finally, Molly said with a nervous tug of her ear. “The person’s from your world, we think. They’re strange because they seem to know they are being used as a tool, and they say they want to work with us. If what they’re saying is true, revealing them to you could ruin that opportunity.”

“If he’s from my world, then he isn’t your problem!” Elmiryn snarled. “You want to be the new gods here? Fine! But you can’t control people from other dimensions and expect the universe is going to be okay with that! My world is my story, and right now you’re keeping things apart that you shouldn’t be! Take me to this person, and after that, you can give me the boot! I’ll be happy to get out of your hair!”

Molly screwed up her mouth.

Julie nudged her with her elbow. “So…?” she jerked her head. “Yay? Nay?”

The brunette scooted to the edge of the coffee table, and her knees touched Elmiryn’s, making the warrior stiffen. Molly’s dark eyes locked gazes with the redhead, and she murmured. “I’m going to read you. Do you know what I mean when I say that?”

Elmiryn swallowed audibly but fought to keep her face stoic. “You’re going to look at my pattern. See my spirit. My history.”

“Yes. This may be uncomfortable. You might feel like you’re coming apart, but I can’t avoid that.”

“If it means you’ll stop suspecting me, then just do it!”

Molly nodded. Then without word or gesture, the pain struck.

It wasn’t a foreign pain. Elmiryn had experienced this before, when her spirit had been torn asunder, when her essence had been scattered in the hungry white of the Other Place. It was a sort of intense tingling, a razoring of her consciousness down to the finest nerves. The redhead went rigid, her mouth opening in a quiet scream as she instinctively fought to strengthen her body and soul’s integrity.

Through the pain, she heard Molly hiss across from her, “Stop fighting me! I’m not done!”

But Elmiryn couldn’t help it. Surely this wannabe goddess from another World was trying to unmake her…?

And then it stopped.

Elmiryn took a loud gasp of air, her body shuddering as she shook off the last vestiges of pins and needles. By her third deep breath the sensation was gone altogether, but the warrior felt weakened and her thirst for a drink burned hotter than ever.

Without saying a word or even thinking on her actions, Elmiryn swayed to her feet and stumbled over to May’s kitchen. Sitting on the counter was the bottle of rum her host had used earlier to pour her a drink. Elmiryn uncorked this and took a long swig.

May let out an indignant sound behind her. “Hey!”

“Leave her. She can’t help it. I’ll buy you a new bottle, May. Promise,” Elmiryn heard Molly say. She sounded winded herself.

“Moll, you okay?” Julie asked.

When Elmiryn felt her fae urges die down inside her, she leaned on the counter and turned with effort to glare across the room at the others.

Molly seemed pale and her eyes were fixed on Elmiryn. “She’s telling the truth. About running from Meznik.”

“Finally saw that, huh?” the warrior harped.

“No,” the brunette said firmly. She stood and narrowed her eyes. “It wasn’t that. You didn’t give me a chance to see your recent memories. What I mean is…the gold thread inside of you.”

“Gold thread?” Elmiryn spat. She swayed on her feet and could feel the rum burning inside of her. Damn, how she hated the ease with which she became drunk. Hated and loved it. It was a strange feeling.

“Artemis,” Molly said flatly.

Elmiryn’s face slackened and she turned away. “Oh,” she mumbled. “That.”

Before the others could ask, Molly turned and explained. “Elmiryn has a thread of Artemis’s essence inside of her. It’s literally a part of her. The demons hate the gods, and vice versa. Elmiryn may be a demon’s pet, but her brush with the gods, however that may have happened, gives her the power to escape Meznik. It acts like a signal blocker. So with her here, he can’t know what she’s been up to. A demon would never willingly relinquish control like that.”

Julie put her hands on her hips. “So she’s telling the truth about defying Meznik?”

Molly gave a small shrug. “All the evidence seems to suggest she is!”

The phone rang, making Elmiryn jump. May went and answered it, her expression bemused. “Hello?” There was a series of fast squeaks from the receiver. “Pauline? Hey slow down, I can’t understand you.”

May nodded her head as she listened to ‘Pauline’, a frown appearing on her face. “Uh-huh…uh-huh… Wow. God! Hey hold on a minute, okay?” The bespectacled woman quickly covered the phone’s mouth piece and looked at them all.

“Hate to cut a party short, but a close friend just called me with something I can actually work on, so if we’re done here…?”

“We’ll go,” Molly said. She gestured at Elmiryn. “Come on. You want to meet our other guest and get out of here?”

Elmiryn took a step toward them but stopped. “Who…is the other, uh, person? Again?” She fought to keep hold of her speech but could feel the drowsiness take over her faculties.

Molly and Julie stepped forward to each take hold of Elmiryn’s arms. They smelled like butterscotch and cigarette smoke respectively. May resumed speaking in low urgent tones with her friend on the phone, her back already to them. Gently, the pair escorted the warrior to the door.

As they exited May’s house, Molly said, “He told us his name was Hakeem.”


Back to Chapter 41.2a | Forward to Chapter 42.1