LETHIA________________________

 

Dear Jydel,

 

I’ll have you know that people are fantastically annoying sometimes.

 

Being tended to by Daedalus is fine. But Quincy? Ye gods! I would rather chop off my other arm than have to suffer her prickly bedside manner any longer!

 

Sorry, was that joke too soon?

 

It’s just that I’m so irritated! Everyone has started treating me as though I’m a lunatic about to hop off the nearest cliff. Halward help them, they just don’t understand at all! I mean, if I was really intent on killing myself, I think I would have enough intelligence to go about it more efficiently than just amputating a gods damned limb!

 

But what can I do? I can’t make them see what they don’t want to. And in the end, I didn’t do it for them. It was my own blood pact, paid in flesh. I know what my destiny is now, Jydel.

 

I have to kill Syria.

 

I lay awake in the barn, staring up at the rafters, and it’s all I can think about. And even if I told this to the others? I still do not think they would understand. They would say, “Ah! She must really hate Syria to wish her dead!”

 

That just isn’t true.

 

Syria was my mother. I can no more cease to love her than I could stop breathing. It is just a fact of my reality. But I do not need to love the crimes she has committed, and as her adopted daughter, I see it is my duty to preserve what is left of her legacy. I feel almost rejuvenated, to have such a clear goal in front of me now. Izma’s way was wrong. I couldn’t see that before because I was lost in the labyrinthine logic that no doubt trapped my mistress. What is wrong with intellectuals, that we manage to complicate things that are supposed to be simple? We get so caught up in our ideas that we lose sight of the point, whatever that may be.

 

Nyx does it. She weighs her thoughts on a scale like an alchemist, ticking off pros and cons, arguing one point against another. I think she would have made a stellar scholar. But her passion! It’s strong and highly unreasonable, jerking her this way and that by a storm of feelings. I can see it every time she looks at me. Conflict rages inside of her. The anger tenses her brow and darkens her eyes when her charity is scarce. But when she’s in a lighter mood? I see a strange bout of sympathy bubble up. It’s tiring, that hot and cold attitude. I’d almost prefer it be the anger alone if it meant I knew where I stood with her!

 

Oh, but listen to me complain! I’m sorry Jydel, I can probably guess what you’re thinking. “Complains about the drizzle, but hardly wants the storm. Typical woman!” I suppose I can just shut up and try to find the silver lining to this. Maybe Nyx can finally find it in her heart to forgive me? We’ll see. She left earlier today to search for Elmiryn. I don’t think she’ll be back for a few days. Maybe all she really needed was some time to herself.

 

Sometimes, I feel the same way.

 

At night, I think I hear Paulo outside of the barn, skulking. He’s such a self-conscious boy, Jydel. I think Quincy is aware of this, but Nyx isn’t. I can’t really blame her. It’s not as though Paulo makes it easy for anyone to feel sorry for him, but just imagine being stuck alone for a year in a cold, dark half world with monsters. Then the only company that finds you turns out to be group of judgmental women and a snarling dog.

 

Oh and by the way, your brother is dead. Cheers!

 

Don’t get me wrong. Paulo is still a git, but I can understand why he is one. Does that make sense?

 

Of course not. I suppose that’s what I can expect after living most of my life in a tower with a crazy woman. I end up feeling sorry for assholes. It’s like some weird cosmic joke.

 

If the universe thinks that is funny, it should see what I’m about to do next.

No. Nevermind. Tomorrow. I’ll tell you tomorrow, Jydel. My hand is starting to cramp up and I’m feeling anxious enough for a walk.

 

 

NYX__________________________

The Albian wilderness was no less treacherous now that winter was over. Despite the fact that the only snow could be found on higher altitudes, the daesce still lurked the mountains. I’d learned from Daedalus that Holzoff’s Tower had been indefinitely closed in light of Syria’s dramatic escape. That meant the food source the terrible daesce relied on was now gone. The population of monsters spread, sometimes in large herds, other times alone or in small packs, attacking and devouring whatever they could get their claws on. Families had been destroyed overnight. Travelers were attacked and left mutilated on the roads, hurting trade. This prompted the new leader of Belcliff to hire help in beating the beasts back, exterminating them where possible. Many of these people were bounty hunters waiting for their next real job. It was amazing the devastating effects, both in the community and personally, our group’s past actions had.

 

So traversing into the wilds, I was on guard at all times. There was no telling when a bounty hunter or a daesce could appear.

 

But with so much time to myself, I couldn’t help but brood.

 

Lethia’s words echoed in my head.

 

When you figure out what you want from me, tell me.

 

What do I want? I thought angrily. I want to stop hurting! I’m sick of feeling so much pain!

 

Kali chimed in on my private thoughts. It was her new favorite thing to do, apparently.

 

Perhaps instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you could just talk about it? she offered dryly.

 

I balked at this. What in the four winds are you talking about?

 

Oh you know. When you two-leggers open your mouths and sounds come out? TALKING, Nyx! Sweet Aelurus, I thought you’d be familiar with the concept by now? You do it all the time, after all!

 

But what would we talk about, I mean! I snapped back. Lethia knows what happened! She knows why I’m upset with her!

 

Oh, and I suppose you feel she understands everything you felt and thought given that moment?

 

Yes! She does! Quite literally, as a matter of fact since she– but I broke off, my feet slowing to a stop as I neared a slope that led into a small field between the hills I traveled through.

 

I was about to finish that thought with she was reading my mind the whole time but it occurred to me that in that moment Lethia hadn’t been in control. Izma had. Lethia’s decisions may have led to the situation, but did that mean she was present the entire time?

 

Kali, ever aware of my thoughts, said quietly, We once acted under the best intentions, and our family perished as a result. I don’t think Lethia meant for what happened any more than we meant for our family’s fate. That’s all I will say about that, sister.

My throat grew tight. I didn’t argue her point, but I didn’t dive too deeply into it either. I couldn’t afford this level of reflection if I wanted to stay safe and find Elmiryn before it was too late.

 

That thought firmly in mind, I forged onward.

 

 

LETHIA________________________

 

Dear Jydel,

 

Daedalus sat down to talk about the request I made of him the other day. You remember, right? I’ve kept it a secret from the others for a reason, but perhaps if they learned of my intentions, they would treat me differently.

 

After all, I couldn’t be suicidal if I intended to replace my arm.

 

And here’s the good news: Daedalus thinks he can do it!

 

He showed me some sketches and plans, then a few parts from his wagon that he thinks he can use. A lot of it, he says, will have to be custom made, and he’s missing some rare elements that would be necessary for the arm’s function, but he suspects he can find these things within the next few weeks! I was elated, I tell you!

 

Daedalus may make a living as a jeweler, but he’s always been a tinkerer at heart. I’m sure you can probably see up there in heaven, Jydel, but the elf’s work is amazing! His automated guard statues aren’t even his best work. Apparently, he’s been constructing a ship in his spare time too. He keeps it hidden, for you see, it’s not just any ship, it’s

 

[The ink trails off and smears]

[The writing continues at the bottom of the page, but in a shakier hand]

 

Jydel he’s awake gods I didn’t think it was possible but Hakeem is AWAKE!

 

NYX__________________________

The days came and went. I was losing myself in the Albian wilds, gradually returning to that almost feral way of life I had adopted before I’d met Elmiryn. It was nighttime. Kali hovered close to the surface, peering out of my eyes as we sat hunched in the dark in the shadow of a broad and fragrant blue juniper tree. We were downwind, and I was hoping the strong tree smell would mask our scent from the daesce that had wandered across our path. It wasn’t the largest I’d seen, but it was still big enough to make me pause. Its clawed paws dragged along the dirt as it lumbered along, head bowed, red eyes glaring at nothing. This one was skinny–its mangy white coat thinned enough in places that I could see its dark skin. I sighed. If this beast didn’t leave the area soon, I’d either have to turn around or fight it. I didn’t like either option.

The best part? I was just three days away from the full moon. All I could feel was the primal aggression burning in my limbs, urging me to run. It was part of the reason I had trouble resisting Kali’s will.

Fight it! Scare it off! she snapped at me.

No! I fired back. I don’t need to stir up trouble! Besides, engaging this one might attract others!

What’s the matter with you? You’re a champion of heaven and you’ve fought things twice this size! Just kill it and let’s be on our way!

I clenched my fists and bowed my head as I tried to reign in my frustration. Kali, enough! You know it’s not your turn! If you promise to behave I’ll…I’ll let you have full control for seven days!

That got her attention. I could feel her perk up like I’d just offered her a treat. A full week? You promise?

My heart skipped. What a fool! Just what had I offered without thinking?

In what I hoped felt nonchalant, I replied, Not a full week. Seven days. We’ll switch off.

Kali growled. You’re backpedaling!

I never said a full week!

It’s fucking semantics and you know it!

Regardless, this is the best you’ll get right now! I can’t have you running off and ruining the things I’m working for.

Why can’t you trust anyone? Kali asked, hurt clear in her words.

I faltered. I…I DO trust people! But things are delicate right now, and we both know you have no desire to take charge on those matters. At her sullen reticence, I added imploringly, Oh, sister please don’t be upset with me! I’ve already got enough on my plate, I don’t need to have you resenting me on top of it all!

I could feel her sink away from me, deeper into her realm. My gut clenched. Since we had more or less reconciled our differences, having Kali on my side had been a tremendous relief. I’m not sure I could have gotten through those last days in the Other Place had we still been at odds. But if she decided to quarrel with me again….

When Kali returned to the surface, I tensed in anticipation.

Fine. We’ll switch off for seven days, she grumbled. BUT I want to be able to walk upright.

I faltered at this. She wanted to assume the sapien form? I thought she hated it? Kali, I know we did that in the half-dimension, but what if it doesn’t work here? We’re fully in the realms of the gods once more, so there are more limits!

If I’m not really our animal nature manifested, then that should mean I can exist in the world as you do! Haven’t I done it before?

She had a point. Sort of. My sneaky sister was failing to mention that the only reason she had been able to assume my form in our world was because Meznik’s evil influence had allowed her to.

Still, I mulled over this.

After several moments, I replied, If you can do it, and Lacertli does not object, then I suppose it isn’t a problem…. I didn’t know if Kali purposefully taking control of my sapien form would somehow be an affront to Harmony. That was the tricky thing about being an abomination of nature. When your very existence was wrong, what could you do that was permissible in the first place? I was a champion of heaven–did that give us some kind of temporary pardon?

Thinking of the Lizard King made me anxious all over again. It had been almost a week and I still hadn’t heard from him. Just what did Fortuna ask him to do, and was he all right?

Are you worrying about a god? Kali snapped, annoyed. She was so much more irritable these days, it was exhausting. Focus! We’re still talking!

My expression turned contrite. Sorry…

Just at that moment, I heard a twig snap. Kali fell silent as I went stiff, eyes raising once more. Our inward exchanges were fast–taking mere seconds what would ordinarily take longer to say aloud. But even that discussion had been lengthy. I couldn’t see the daesce anymore. Was it really gone? There were lots of things lurking hidden in the Albian wilds. Many of these creatures were completely harmless. But if our inattentiveness had allowed a beast to get the jump on us….

I breathed in deep.

I could sense the damp soil, the juniper trees, the frost that clung to the rocks. The stench of the daesce was like an ugly streak in the air, making my nose wrinkle. I couldn’t hear the beast anymore, and the smell hadn’t grown any stronger. Perhaps it really had moved on?

I crept out of the shadows, cautiously straightening.

That’s when the daesce hit me from behind, screeching wildly. My face went into the dirt when it grabbed the back of my head and tried to crush my skull. My hands clawed at the ground in a panic as I tried to get the leverage needed to throw the monster off of me.

Rage built up, burning my muscles, slicing my lungs as desperate breaths cut up my throat in sharp whines. I loathed these creatures with every fiber of my being. Loathed their violence. Loathed their hedonism. Loathed our similarities.

With a roar I grabbed its supporting arm and wrenched, twisting my whole body. Without anything to bear its weight, it rolled with me, leaving us in a tangled mess, but at least it wasn’t on top of me anymore. With a few sharp elbow strikes and wild punches, I found myself scrabbling to my knees and leaping on the monster’s head. It’s rancid fangs bit down onto my hand when I tried to grab it under its chin. I screamed, but simply took hold of its entire lower jaw, my other hand firmly gripping the matted fur on the back of its head. With a sharp wrench, I snapped the thing’s neck, and it collapsed to the ground, dead.

Rolling away from the twitching body, I lay there, catching my breath. My peace was short lived.

Nearby, I could hear more daesce coming. It was by no means a herd–from the whoops and screeches, it sounded like two or three at most–but I had no idea how strong they were, and if this one was any indication, I didn’t want to be caught out-numbered, godly champion or no. Cursing, I fled in the opposite direction of the beasts, deeper into the thick underbrush and low broad trees.

Try as I might, the daesce were closing in. I could hear them crashing through behind me, trampling over everything in wild abandon.

In my desperation, I made the mistake of looking over my shoulder as I ran. That led me to charging straight over a low cliff. I wheeled my arms as I fell through the air, a shout ripping out of my mouth before I crashed and tumbled, head over heels, down the sandy slope to the hard earth down below.

Ye gods!

I stared up at the sky, pain assailing my entire body, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of deja vu at the situation.

Get up! What are you doing reminiscing for? They’re coming! Kali roared.

I jerked back up, my eyes wide. She was right. Sliding down the cliff’s steep slope was one of the daesce, a short but muscular brute that looked ready to eat my face. His companion soon appeared, leaping off the cliff with a wild hoot and a slavering mouth. He hit the ground hard, the vibration moving up my feet, and straightened with an almost knowing grin. He was taller, with unusually long arms and a misshapen face.

I backed away from them, and if I had been in my feline form, my hackles would have been raised. The two daesce circled me slowly, their red eyes taking in my petite form. I wondered at their hesitance. This wasn’t normal behavior for the monsters at all. They were ‘attack first, think never’ type creatures. But these two? They were assessing me, their eyes holding an intelligence that shouldn’t have been there.

Kali didn’t like it either. She didn’t say anything, but I suddenly felt the urge to growl deep within my throat.

I could kill these daesce with my vermagus abilities…but wouldn’t that just attract more? I didn’t have time to fight these beasts endlessly.

That’s when a third figure burst over the cliff, landing just behind the two daesce.

I froze, my eyes widening. “E-Elle?”


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