NYX____________________________

I wanted to beg her not to go.  I wanted to tell her she was being foolish, being reckless, being unrealistic.  She was just an ordinary human being–a skilled warrior, true–but pitted against someone of magic.

“Elle…”

“Yes, Nyx?”

“…Please, be careful.”

The words were stones, pressing on my tongue.

Her cerulean eyes winked with her broad smile.  I turned to look at my shoes, and saw my Twin’s arm hanging by my side, like a dead thing.  Then Elmiryn’s shadow crossed mine, and I saw her shoes step near.  When I looked up I had just enough time to take a breath before she leaned down and kissed me.

My eyes slipped closed…

It was a gentle contact–meant more as a brief message of affection than an invitation for a prolonged activity.  She brushed her hand along my cheek, then started to pull away.  I bit my lip, trying to contain the whine in my throat, and hugged her with my one arm before she could leave my reach.  My eyes squeezed tight as I pressed my face into her shoulder.  I breathed in deep, and her wild smell filled me.  The woman paused, then hugged me around the shoulders and laughed.  The sound was broad and deep.  Like it encompassed so much more than just passing humor.  It had self-assurance, genuine joy…

It made me feel better…but not much.

This would be the first time since Gamath that we’d be separated.  The thought horrified me.  I suddenly wished for the days when it was just the two of us traveling, talking, laughing, even training.  Elmiryn had tried to warn me of these moments, these troubling times.  …And didn’t I ask for this?  Every part of me had demanded action for Lethia–the young girl, the sweet idealist, who had nothing to lose.  I hated the fact that she had nothing to lose… I wanted to help her.  I wanted to have the peace of mind knowing she was okay.  She was not much younger than me, this is true…but at her age, the most she should’ve had to worry about was chores and doing well in her lessons.  Not running from bounty hunters, fighting with rapiers, and risking life and limb just for the chance to be happy.  It wasn’t fair.

…But for the first time in a long time, I realized, whereas Lethia had nothing, I had plenty to lose, now.

I shifted to look Elmiryn in the face, and she brushed her lips against my forehead.  It made me feel warm.  “Kitten…” she breathed.  “There’s no need to worry.”

I was too emotional to bother correcting Elmiryn on her use of that diminutive nickname.  I only shook my head and turned away.  When I stepped back from her, I felt cold.  Immediately the shivers set in.

Graziano chose that moment to interrupt.  His voice was soft, and his eyes apologetic.  “You’ve got to go, Elmiryn.  Quincy will have seen the commotion from earlier.  She will know something has happened to Hakeem.  She won’t come running out like an idiot, but given where the explosions happened, I can guess where she’ll stake out first.”

Elmiryn gazed at me a while longer.  I found I couldn’t even glance her way.  I turned my back and covered my face with my sapien hand.  My Twin’s arm was twitching next to me, and it patted against my thigh.  I didn’t know the reasons for Her convulsions.  She was cross with me and had gone back into her domain.  I had no idea what my Twin was doing, or what she was feeling.  At the moment, I didn’t care.

I heard Elmiryn turn around and walk, her boots scraping along the rocky ground.

“Alright.  Just give me a lift, Graz, and fast.”

ELMIRYN________________________

Elmiryn stood shivering.  She could feel it, down to the core of her soul, that this was going to be a fight to remember.  That this was going to be good. She didn’t often find opponents of the grand sort–mostly rabble and riff-raff, mediocre combatants, and children with blades.  Arduino had been a step above those, but not quite there, mostly because he turned out to be predictable.  He and the countless nameless opponents she had faced had been exciting and exhilarating in their own respect.  Danger was danger after all…

But not like this.

Quincy was a little taller than Nyx, but still a fraction shorter than Elmiryn.  Her golden hair was pulled back in a messy flip, and the tips were colored a curious honey.  She wore a slate gray velveteen jerkin that stopped just before her thighs, the front cut in a V shape that gave her breasts ample room.  Underneath, the white cotton shirt with the draw-string neck had long, billowy sleeves that rooted in black bracers.  A belt of moderate width encircled her waist, playing host to small pouches–one of which looked entirely empty.

A pleased sound tickled the back of Elmiryn’s throat, and she recognized a human being with life, and not just a creature to be ignored.

The wizard had left her a dare.  As the initiator of this confrontation, Elmiryn was hard pressed to refuse this invitation.  To refuse would suggest uncertainty.  Weakness.  That was unacceptable.

The woman’s mind raced, carried by giddy thoughts and a growing lust for action.  What was the best way to attack?  Quincy’s blade was different from Elmiryn’s.  It was shorter, but faster for it, allowing for a wider use of technical maneuvers in close quarters.  Add on the fact that Quincy’s blade was a magical weapon, an enchanted blade, whose only revealed power so far seemed to be that it gave the wizard the ability to draw on natural light for power…and the danger rose astronomically.  The ways in which that power was utilized still had yet to reveal themselves in full.  It was a good thing Elmiryn had acquired her sword again.

She couldn’t believe she had considered, even for a second, to sell it.  She was good with her bow, and certainly good with her dagger, but her sword–her captain’s sword…It was hers.  Truly hers.  She knew and loved its weight, its bite, its grip.  Elmiryn was glad to have it back, especially now.

But still–how to proceed?

“Now listen,” Graziano began as they reached the tip of the mountain. “When you fight Quincy, keep on the lookout.”

“For what?” Elmiryn asked in a grunt.  She felt like she were practically hanging on to Graziano, the way she was forced to grip the edge of the saddle, legs pointing down the slope and straining in their stirrups as the scultone’s body turned nearly vertical.

The Moretti looked at her, eyes squinted.  “Anything. She’s a wizard.  Wizard’s always have tricks up their sleeve.”

The warrior was about to ask for a little more clarification when the scultone went over the ridge and down the steep mountain face in a speed that robbed her of breath.

It was this advice that made Elmiryn cautious, if not wary.

She could try a feint of some sort.  She imagined charging forward, screaming, sword held high before she shifted her weight and struck low instead.  It would come across as intense while being equally deceptive…but it would not do.  Quincy was smart.  Too smart to believe that Elmiryn’s open attack was real.  She was also steadfast.  Even given the harrowing situation with her partner, Hakeem, the blond was amazingly in control.  She would not be intimidated by a passionate initial attack anymore than a rock would.  So Elmiryn tried something different.

She came forward with slow, calm steps, her eyes on Quincy’s as she held her sword before her at an angle.  The wizard didn’t move back as she approached.

When Elmiryn was within striking range, her left foot leading and her knees a little bent, she let the end of her sword cross with the wizard’s, let the blade slide down its length some before she tapped it aside with a quick jerk.

In a simultaneous move, the woman took a sidestep, bringing her right foot forward and shifting her weight so that her body followed with the motion.  Her sword came around Quincy’s so that it was between it and the wizard, tip pointing downward as she swung her right elbow around for a blow to the jaw.  This happened in less than a second.  The warrior had to move fast, or else the wizard would see just what her true intentions were.

Elmiryn managed to execute the attack, but Quincy didn’t let her elbow connect.  She jerked away, effectively dodging the warrior’s swing whilst moving her sword down and under Elmiryn’s so that she held it out at her other side, tip pointed to the ground.  The wizard could deliver a counter attack, slashing up toward Elmiryn’s shoulder or face…Only the warrior was still in an ideal position to block with her sword, and could even deliver a possible fatal counter.

Elmiryn had lain a trap.

Her eyes flashed, and the corners of her mouth turned upward. …But the wizard didn’t take the bait.  Elmiryn’s chest was still left open from her high strike, giving the wizard the opportunity to push her away with her shoulder.  This was the smarter choice.  This was how the redhead knew, she was facing someone worthy.

The redhead did not stumble when Quincy’s shoulder slammed into her right breast, which screamed in pain, but she had to lean back from the force of the blow.  It left her winded.  Quincy used Elmiryn’s body to push herself back to a safer distance, her sword slashing upwards in a fast arc as a parting shot.

Elmiryn grunted as she turned her right shoulder and leaned farther back, her right hand forced to let go of her sword as she did so, lest her arm get cut.  She saw the gilded blade slice past her face, barely inches away.

“That could’ve gone better,” The woman thought.  Now, she was on the defensive.

But the redhead started to smile in full.

Quincy’s eyes flashed as she followed her attack, her arms lowering only somewhat as she turned her sword with a flourish meant to give more power to her swing, not to show off.  The short slash was meant to catch Elmiryn in the face or neck.

Elmiryn brought up her sword in time to stop the blow, her left wrist and forearm strained to keep from relenting.  Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw the metal spark from the collision.  Quincy pulled back fast only to bring her sword around again in an overhead swing to attack Elmiryn at the left side of her head.  The warrior, in the brief time before this, took hold of her sword with both hands and blocked this as well, with a much steadier grip.  Elmiryn decided to turn things around.

She pushed Quincy’s blade away with her whole body, and when she was free, held her sword outward at the side.  She slid her right foot back in a fast crescent along the ground so that her left foot was in the lead.  Quincy, though her balance was rocked backwards from Elmiryn’s forceful push, recovered quickly.  She brought her sword back, pointing forward and the hilt held close to her body for what looked like a mid-level lunge.  Elmiryn was ready.

They both struck at the same time.

The warrior lunged forward with a push from her right foot, her sword slashing wide and her body twisting to lean to the right.  Quincy grunted, eyes flashing at this suicidal cross.  The wizard was forced to duck and lean back from the swing.  This changed the course of her attack, leaving it to slice Elmiryn’s quilted doublet.  The blade managed only to scratch the skin.

As Elmiryn’s sword slashed through the air, she let go of the hilt with her right hand and let her grip with her left hand turn loose, the top of her wrist facing the ground so that her forearm was turned skyward.

As Quincy stepped away, Elmiryn mirrored her movement, letting her now free hand go to her hip, where her dagger waited.  The wizard, oblivious to the warrior’s intentions, brought her sword back and low for an upward slash.  Elmiryn, using the momentum of her slash, turned her swinging sword in her hand, thumb gripping tightly and fingers moving lithely in a move practiced and repeated countless times.  The blade swung around, the hilt twirling in her grip, and when she held it firm again…

Quincy struck out, blade coming up to strike Elmiryn’s left side.

The warrior turned her left arm and blocked the attack with a downward swing from above.  There was a ring and a hiss.  The tip of the gold blade slammed to the ground near Elmiryn’s foot, sparks flying.  It was pinned beneath her forearm.

For the first time since Elmiryn had met her, Quincy looked at her in what could be called astonishment.  The warrior drew her dagger and jabbed forward, towards her opponent’s chest.  With her blade literally pinned to the ground, the only option left for the wizard was to stumble backward.  Elmiryn didn’t press her attack, and instead, watched her opponent go.  She could’ve killed the woman.  Could have ended it.

…But she didn’t want to.

Elmiryn felt euphoric.  Her pleasure was such that a knot had grown in the pit of her stomach, and her throat was tense with the need to moan.  Every inch of her skin tingled, and though the scratches, cuts, and burns stung, it reminded the redhead that she was alive.  She saw nothing of their surroundings–not the buildings, or the shifting sky.  Her eyes seared with gold–tasted the purity of their battle–felt the heat and the fury pulse through her limbs in an orchestra that made her soul sing and her spirit fly.  She wanted it to go on forever.  The world felt just right in this place of singing swords and glittering skin.

Slowly, Elmiryn started to laugh, and her amusement echoed around the empty square.

At a safe distance, some yards away, Quincy stood breathing heavily, her sword held up once again.  The gilded blade seemed to flash in indignation.  The wizard stared with eyes that were wide and brows deeply furrowed.  Her pretty bow lips were quivering ever so slightly.

The redhead straightened, holding both arms up.  Her left hand held her sword hilt the other way, and the blade lay flat along the underside of her forearm.

Elmiryn smiled wickedly.  “Hey wizard, your humanity’s showing!”

Then something happened that made the warrior’s chuckles die away.  Both women stared at the sky, then at each other.

…The clouds had parted just enough to allow a shaft of sunlight to illuminate their battle.

NYX____________________________

“Hey…ah…are you okay?”  Paulo asked.  I looked at him sideways.  The boy seemed keen on establishing a more amicable rapport between us, perhaps because of my suicidal dive for his deceased father’s trinket.  Or maybe he really was just concerned for me.  As much as he rubbed me the wrong way, I could appreciate this effort.  Still my answer was guarded.

“I’ve got a headache.”

An understatement.

My head felt as though it were splitting in two.  My Twin was in severe agitation.  I was glad that she didn’t waste words trying to convince me from my task, but she made her displeasure known in the way her claw curled at my side and refused to help in the simple task of climbing onto Paulo’s scultone.

Our part of the plan was simple.  While Elmiryn and Graziano kept Quincy busy, and possibly most of the militia as well, we would circle with our mount to the north of the city, where we’d then proceed on foot to where Lethia was being held.  I was entirely reliant on Paulo because I had never been to Belcliff.  Originally, Arduino was to go with me, but Paulo had been insistent.  My eyes glazed as I thought back to just before we had left our temporary camp…

“What if the girl did do this to me?  What if she can fix it right away, upon her release?  I’m not going to sit here like an ass!” He had argued.

So Arduino remained with Hakeem as his prisoner, along with Argos.  Argos, through his curious way of communicating through barks, whines, and body language, also made his wish to come along known.  But we could not take him, and explained as much to the dog.

“Argos, I’m sorry,” I had said, kneeling down to look him straight in the eyes.  “We can’t take you.  With you along, there won’t be room on the scultone for Lethia.”

“And anyway,” Arduino added, though he looked at me as he said it.  “The dog can help me watch this stupid calgato here.  He won’t be much use to you, anyway, once you move on to the second part of the plan.”

Argos growled at the Moretti, resentful of being talked over.  I patted his shoulder.  It truly helped my fear of dogs to look at him as a person–a furry person, albeit–but a person all the same.  He seemed to be of a better temperament than Arduino most of the time, anyway.  “Don’t worry, Argos.  I’ll make sure Lethia is safe.  If all goes to plan, you’ll be with her and her mistress by tomorrow.”

I had tried to keep my voice steady as I said that.  I was nervous enough about my own performance in this scheme, but I had even more doubts about the youngest Moretti.  Would he lose control?  Would he hurt Lethia?  My jaw tensed as we descended down the other side of the mountain, toward the black city of Belcliff.

I would not let that happen.

As we passed, I could see forms darting in some of the broader streets, buildings turning glowing eyes on us, and some chimneys even belching smoke.  Belcliff didn’t have a curfew, like Dame or Tiesmire did.  I even thought I saw some of the militia men at the outskirts of the city.  This made me scared.  What if the local law enforcement managed to intercept us?  The scultone’s body blended well enough into the surroundings–but did that matter when we were traveling nearly three times the speed of a horse at full gallop?  Though the suns were still nowhere to be seen, the city was coming alive.  Likely the earlier commotion had expedited this.

We arrived at the plains north of Belcliff without incident.  Paulo and I dismounted from the beast, and the Moretti offered the creature a dead rabbit for its service.  Then the teenager crouched low, next to the creature’s hole of an ear, and made a low yipping sound with his throat.  He patted the scultone’s side three times, deliberately it seemed, then leapt back, pulling me with him.  The scultone, without a sound, closed its eyes and reared back.  Then with a great inhale, it dove into the earth, its snout lost beneath the gray and white ground.  It used its claws, scraping and pushing, digging in further as it pressed on with its head.  Within five minutes it was completely submerged in the earth, the soil churned from its efforts, but no higher than my knees–hardly noticeable in these uneven plains.

Paulo took a stick from the ground and stuck it into the earth, then he took a red scarf from the little bundle on his back, and tied it securely at the tip.  I looked at him doubtfully.

“What if the wind blows this over?”  I asked.

The boy looked at me and shrugged. “Then I’ll whistle really loudly.  The scultones are trained to surface at our call.”

“And if that doesn’t work?”

“Then I suppose we’d be in a lot of trouble.”  He didn’t seem as concerned as I was when he said this, however.  It made me wonder how many times he’d done something like this, how long he and his scultone had ridden together, and how someone as young as him even got into this lifestyle.

We came to the city.  We were not stopped, nor harassed by any of the officials we passed.  The wizard had not warned of our approach.  …Perhaps to save our capture for herself.  But we did not squander this good fortune, and traveled, amain, to where Paulo said the girl was being held.

I thought it horrifically audacious that the marshal would place the regional jail directly beneath his primary office.  Something of it seemed fascist and in poor taste.  But there were two guards stationed at the front doors, and a patrol circling around the building, so we could not venture near.  Paulo’s breath became a little heavy as we surveyed the building from a block away, in an alley that smelled of rotten fish and wet dog.

“This isn’t really part of my skill set, lia.” His voice quavered some.  “So ya got any ideas?”

“Well,” I started, voice equally shaky.  “Luckily for you, I’ve a background drenched in subterfuge.  So don’t worry…or rather, don’t worry about us getting in.”

“…Wh-What do you mean?”

I looked at him, grimacing with the thought of it.  “The real hard part, will be slipping back out with Lethia, completely unnoticed.”

“So…?”

“Given our chances, I’m sort of, pretty, fairly, absolutely certain we will be noticed.”

Paulo turned ashen, his young face gaining a couple of years worth of worry and fear.  “De reán, me soque, Eate!” he exclaimed in a hoarse whisper.

Whilst caught in anxiety, the mind can delineate in odd directions.  In this case, I didn’t know exactly what he said, but I recognized the name he used.  Eate–god of fire and storm–also the herald of heavenly disasters wrought through nature.  I realized that Paulo and his brothers were from the Santos Kingdom on the continent of Erminia, which was south of the Sibesona.  The subjects of the Santos Kingdom worshiped the powerful god, Eate, as their stalwart protector.  I appreciated his prayer.

I added my appeal to Aelurus with closed eyes.

“Pez na och, Aelurus, ia-soltezch…”

Paulo gazed at me, and I turned to gaze back.  We both nodded, eyes reflecting the other’s determination.  That’s when far away, we heard a sound unlike any I had heard before.  It was like a scream–high and forceful–that punched through the thick walls of the buildings and echoed throughout the streets.  Paulo and I gripped our ears and winced.  The guards standing at the doors of the tower gave a start.  They looked at each other.  The men on patrol came running around the building, their plate armor clanging.  I lowered my hands from my ears to see if I could hear them, but since my senses had been dulled, there conversation was lost to me.

The patrol men gave stern nods, then took off running in the direction the alien sound had come from.  The guards at the door were distracted, watching their peers go and talking with one another, expressions tense.

I pulled at Paulo’s arm, body sinking low.  “Now’s our chance!” I hissed.

ELMIRYN________________________

Elmiryn turned, body already moving away from Quincy before her eyes had even turned to pinpoint her exact destination.  She disliked how graceless this looked, turning and running from her opponent…but she tried to assure her pride that she wasn’t really running away from the battle, just running from–

There was a sharp ring, like metal that had been struck hard.  Then Elmiryn was flying forward, her back stinging, her spine feeling as though it had become intimate with a knife.  She crashed to to the ground in a nasty skid that chewed up her arms and front, and it was all she could do to hold on to her weapons.  The woman rolled onto her back and saw Quincy over her, her sword raised for a strike.

The wizard had changed.

Her hair, eyes, and skin seemed to glow–almost blinding the warrior–and her sword was a hot ray whose heat was so powerful as to burn simply with its intention.  Elmiryn could feel the energy roll over her, hot and stifling, and her eyes teared as she raised up her sword arm.

The action was useless, and the warrior knew it.

Quincy struck at an inhuman speed, the luminescence of her body flaring.

Within the next instant, Elmiryn realized the sword was in her chest.

It occurred to her, as the pain started to register, that she had never been stabbed with a blade before.  Ever.  She wondered if it was supposed to hurt this much–if it was supposed to burn and sting and ache all at once.  They had called her a silken warrior in Fiamma, had said she was blessed by Halward never to be marred by the horrors of battle.

When her scream stretched on to the sky, she wondered if the bastard of a god would realize his failure.

…But the wizard hadn’t aimed at the warrior’s heart.  The woman had jabbed toward Elmiryn’s right shoulder, well away from the neck and lungs.  She was looking to incapacitate.  Not kill.

Quincy had not completely run her through with the sword, but Elmiryn could feel it sink a little deeper as the wizard pressed in just to get the leverage needed to pull it out.  The blond’s form turned to a shadow over her as the clouds moved over the suns, and her glory started to die with the expenditure of her attack.  As she prepared to extricate her weapon, there was a hiss, and steam curled from the wound.  Elmiryn bit back a cry, body tensing and her muscles twitching from the adrenaline.  The redhead thought she could smell her own burned flesh, and wondered with a shaky grin what she’d taste like as dinner.

Then, before Quincy pulled away with her sword completely, Elmiryn spat on the gilded blade.

There was a flash.

Quincy screamed as she was blasted backward across the square, her arm clipping the corner of a building column on the way.

Elmiryn winced, body trembling as she forced herself to sit up.  Nausea rolled over her in thick waves, and a splash of bile managed to reach her mouth, despite her efforts to suppress it.  The bitter swill swished in her mouth, washing up the flakes and pieces of cold iron she had kept safe between her gums and inner lip.  She leaned over to spit it all out, her hand reaching up to check her wound.  That was when saw, with a great surge of satisfaction, what she’d been waiting for.

Quincy’s gilded sword lay on the ground near her, somehow looking duller without its mistress’s grip to guide it…

“Okay, lia,” Graziano said, as Elmiryn climbed off the scultone at the city limits.  “Have you got enough cold iron in your mouth?  You haven’t swallowed any of it, right?  Because that would be bad.  Really bad.”

“No kidding?  …No.  I haven’t swallowed any of it.  But this stuff is scratching my gums a lot.  When can I use it?”

“You’ll have to wait until Quincy activates her sword’s powers.”

“…You’re kidding, right?”

The man shook his head, his brows pressing together in what appeared to be pity.  “I’m afraid not.  Remember when you used the chain on Hakeem?  The purpose of cold iron is to deactivate the magic.  It doesn’t destroy the item, or completely disenchant it.  It just stops it, and it does this by taking away the energy fueling the magic.”

“But what good will that do me if Quincy can just wipe her blade and use her powers again?  What then?”

Then Graziano smiled.  “Hakeem’s armor works differently from Quincy’s sword.  His armor works with a constant level of energy that cannot be increased nor taken away.  That is why it is an inward form of magic–because it’s primary power affects no one else, but him.  So when you used the iron on him, the energy was locked away, inward.  Quincy’s sword is primarily an OUTward form of magic–its power is not constant, and directly affects her surroundings.  So when the cold iron makes contact with the sword during its use of energy–“

“The power will be released externally too.” Elmiryn said, catching on.  A smile spread on her face.  “The wizard won’t be able to control the blade at all, and its reserve of power will be emptied, making it mundane again.”

Graziano nodded.  “If you wait until the right moment, you can lessen the chance of yourself getting hurt when the sword’s energy explodes.  Most of the damage will be turned on the wizard anyway, as she is the one tapped directly into its power.”

“Great…” Then the woman placed her hand on her hip and smiled sardonically.  “So…are you coming with me?”

The man looked at her as if she were stupid.

Elmiryn chuckled, sheathing her dagger and taking her sword with her left hand.  Blood trickled down, hot and sticky along her doublet–but the heat of Quincy’s sword had cauterized the wound to the point that blood loss was hardly a concern.  Gingerly, the woman stood, her balance awkward as she used her sword momentarily as a crutch.  On her feet, the woman swayed, her flesh turning cold, and she thought for a moment that she’d throw up for real.  Elmiryn fought through the pain and dizziness through sheer will, sweat rolling into her eyes as she stared at Quincy’s prone figure, lying across the way.  She stumbled forward a few steps, her eyes looking down at the gilded sword, then she kicked it behind her, sending it clattering into the shadows of the buildings–though the action was unnecessary.  Quincy was unarmed and stunned.  She was no longer a threat.

It seemed to take ages before Elmiryn reached the wizard.

The blond was lying on her back, her left arm at a funny angle and blood staining her teeth and the inside of her lips.  She stared with glassy eyes toward the gray sky, and Elmiryn wondered for a moment if she were dead, but then the woman gurgled, and more blood dribbled from the corner of her mouth to pool down into her right ear.

Azure eyes rolled to meet cerulean.

Elmiryn knelt down, her legs shaking as they fought to keep steady.  She spoke, her voice a low murmur. “I guess we’re all like used dolls in the end…all glass and wonder and broken bits.”

Quincy’s face twitched as she gazed at Elmiryn with a look akin to repulsion.  “Are you…the rea…reason…this place is so…ha-haunted?

Elmiryn chuckled again, and shook her head.  “I’m a ghost.  But this isn’t my home…”  She reached down and caressed the wizard’s face.  “Hmm…but do you feel haunted, wizard?”

The blond stared at her for a long time.  Then she shook her head.  “I d-don’t need…magic…to know that…that you’re a part…of this corruption.”

The warrior sighed and shrugged her uninjured shoulder.  “Shit, you noticed?  And I was starting to wonder if it was all just in my head.  You feel a pressure at your eyes, right?  Feel like something, somewhere, is not right?”

“I’ll stop you.” The wizard’s voice gained strength when she said this.

Elmiryn waved the woman’s comment away.  With a grunt she stood and turned her back to her, intent on retrieving the magic sword, still left in the shadows.  “You’re hardly in the condition to do anything, Quincy.”  She came near the sword.  The shadow of the building that loomed over her felt cool on her skin, and she smiled.  “Whatever hopes you had for me, you can just kiss those good–”

The sword shuddered and it flared a brilliant gold.  Elmiryn sucked in air, her eyes widening even as the sudden light made her eyes burn.  Then without warning, the sword flew toward her, blade first, and the warrior shouted as she spun out of its way, crashing painfully on the ground onto her injured shoulder.  Stunned, she blinked and rolled over, tears from the shock of the light spilling from the corners of her eyes.

Quincy was kneeling on the ground, panting heavily.  Blood dripped in a long rope from her mouth, and now her nose was bleeding as well.  Her eyes were dull as she looked at Elmiryn, her right arm using her sword as a prop.

Elmiryn struggled to straighten up so that she was on her knees.  Her eyes narrowed.  “Wizard.  It’s over. The suns aren’t out to recharge your sword, and you’re probably bleeding on the inside.  Just yield, already!”

The blond blinked slowly.  “I’ll never…yield…to the likes…of you!” she snarled.

That’s when the wizard took her sword with both hands, face screwing up from moving her injured arm, and with the tip of the blade pressed against her left breast…

She impaled herself.

Elmiryn stared, eyes blinking rapidly.  Was she seeing another illusion?  Was she getting things mixed up in her head again?  Why would a person like Quincy ever–?

The warrior’s thoughts were silenced as Quincy’s body began to glow once more, rays of gold and white swirling from her wound and winding about her body.  The world darkened, and the wind picked up, stirring the heat that emanated from the wizard.  Within seconds, Elmiryn could not even see the woman anymore, and she scrambled back, anticipating what would happen next.

There was a scream–it could’ve been Quincy.  It could’ve been the explosive release of energy.  Where that might have come from, the warrior hadn’t the slightest idea.  She’d thought she’d stripped the sword of its power.  She’d thought she’d stripped Quincy of her power.  But the incredible bang that blasted her ear drums and blew her back against the ground said otherwise.

Elmiryn closed her eyes to the great flare of light that chased the shadows from all around.  Her world became white, and hot, and loud.  She heard the buildings around her crumble, felt the ground tremble, felt the dust and debris fall on her like a fine rain.

Then silence.

When the woman dared to raise her head, she could hardly see, and her ears rang loudly–muting her world.  She crawled, achingly, along the ground, great slabs of stone and rubble all about her.  Her eyes were not able to pierce the clouds of dust that filled the air.  She coughed hoarsely and made to stand.

When the dust settled enough, and the woman shuffled forward, she saw…

Quincy was gone–the only hint of her presence being the black scorch mark on the paved ground.

Elmiryn sighed.

“…Fucking hell…I guess that’s what Graziano meant…when he said wizards always have tricks up their sleeves…”


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