Time was given for Nyx to recover.
…Or was it Kali?
Quincy watched, fascinated as the girl alternated between states almost like the ghosts had back at the dwarven settlement. One second, the Ailuran’s face was perfectly sapien, with round pupils, a round nose, and ears on the side of her head. With just a turn of her head, her features would smear, blending to suddenly become feline: slitted pupils, a small, pink, heart-shaped nose that trailed down to a slim split upper lip. Then of course there were those ears. They just managed to poke out of the girl’s mane of hair, but they were visible, and in Quincy’s opinion, they looked almost silly. Like the costumes she’d seen people don on during the Aesutian Festival.
The girl was naked and covered in filth, but she didn’t seem aware of it. Only of Elmiryn, who held her closely, murmuring to her as she stroked the girl’s hair. Nyx’s face was quite emotional–not surprising considering what she’d gone through. Kali, on the other hand, seemed remarkably placid, and when her countenance appeared in the flash-flash-flashings of the Twins’ faces, she fixed Elmiryn with a tepid look that was not hostile, nor particularly warm. The Fiamman didn’t seem overly concerned with her lover’s fluctuating states. In fact, she couldn’t stop grinning.
Quincy sighed melodramatically as she reached for her magic pouch. When she gave the warrior her scarf to use as a makeshift chest wrap, she didn’t think there was anything left to use. But perhaps there was something to cover the Ailuran with. An extra cloak or a tunic…heavens, even a tea cozy was better than nothing. It always irritated her how therians exposed themselves so regularly. It wasn’t a matter of shyness—Quincy had seen it all both as a bounty hunter and a wizard’s apprentice. It was more the lack of consideration that irked her. Fine if the beast people wished to parade their delicate bits through the wilds to each other. But when in the company of others, wasn’t that a bit much?
Quincy’s arm sunk deep into her magic pouch, and she scowled as she rummaged through the infinite space of contents.
“Blast it all…I need to organize this stupid thing,” she muttered.
“Look!” Hakeem exclaimed.
Elmiryn and Nyx/Kali looked up from their intimate reunion, and Quincy paused in her search to look to where her husband was pointing.
Leading off into the surrounding forest, they saw an aurora light up the sky–a phenomena the wizard had only seen in the most Northern of regions.
Quincy squinted her eyes and took a step closer, her arm slipping out of her pouch.
No wait, she thought. This light is different. It’s got oranges, blues, and greens in it. The movement of the pattern spirals and is shifting far too quickly. What could…?
The woman’s eyes widened.
“Get in the cave..” she whispered. With fumbling fingers she re-fastened her pouch to her belt.
Elmiryn stood instantly, raising Nyx/Kali with her.
“What is it?” the warrior demanded.
Hakeem, always never too far from her conclusions, turn and bolted for the cave, his little feet crushing bones and animal skulls.
“No time! Move!” he shouted.
Quincy followed him, and with a deft scoop of her lover, Elmiryn was quick on her heels. They made it just under the lip of the cave when a thunder reached them, so loud and strong that Quincy could feel it in her teeth. The ground lit up for a moment, and there was a high squeal in the air. The woman pulled Elmiryn back even further as the warrior watched in a stunned sort of fascination. They had to get farther back or—
A bright green curtain of light lanced through the ground like a cleaver. The earth cracked and split in an explosion of dust and rock. Everyone was thrown to the ground. For a moment, Quincy was afraid the cave would collapse on them, but it held. When the quaking ground quieted to a dull rumble, the woman dared to raise her head.
Her gut dropped.
Their little spit of land was floating away from the rest of the ground. She dared to stand to her feet and go to the edge of the cave and looked up to see that more chunks of earth were parting in a similar fashion.
“We’re floating away. The Manus Dei have vanished.”
“The what?” Elmiryn asked. Nyx/Kali was no longer in her arms. The warrior’s cerulean eyes took in everything, and that little wrinkle Quincy had learned meant genuine worry appeared on the redhead’s brow. “Quincy, what the fuck is happening?”
“Someone just cast a very powerful spell,” She replied with a sigh. “It’s a rare sorcerer’s spell. It requires deep training that allows the user to control elements at the most basic level. In this case, it’s sorcery based in the element of air and energy. It’s hard enough for a sorcerer to master one element, but to master two? I think I’ve only read of three people in history capable of something like this.”
“So this spell just cut us off from our way forward,” Elmiryn said slowly.
Quincy gave a stiff nod. “This was cast for a reason. Maybe the reason wasn’t us, but somehow I doubt that. Nyx was placed too conveniently for us to find. She was supposed to kill us, but perhaps the one orchestrating all of this didn’t count on Kali agreeing to go so far to help. So they went through with a back up plan.”
Elmiryn snorted. “Keep us stranded.”
Quincy’s eyes roved the islands below, above, and around them. When she spotted what looked like a castle keep on a hill overlooking a dense wood, the woman grabbed the warrior and pointed excitedly. “There!”
Elmiryn squinted and peered where the woman was pointing. The keep was just a level higher than they were, but it was the furthest from them than all the islands, and the harsh glare of the Other World’s nothing space made distinction a trial on the eyes.
Finally, the warrior seemed to spot it. “Yeah. Yeah! I see it!”
But then Elmiryn’s worry wrinkle appeared again. “I don’t know how to make wings yet.”
Quincy stared at Elmiryn as though she were insane. Which she probably was.
Giving a quick shake of her head, the wizard opted to skip on commenting and said instead, “I have a way we can get there.”
The warrior looked at her, one eyebrow raised. “Oh?”
“It’s our only viable option right now!”
“The hell it is! If you guys would just give me a second, I could figure out how to sprout wings and–”
“Tai’undu, Elmiryn! For the last time, you can’t just use your fae abilities whenever!”
“Why not!? It’s gotten me this far!”
“Like where? Stuck on this despondent little clod of dirt with your schizophrenic girlfriend, a bruised up face, and an itchy scarf for a shirt!?”
“Bite me, Quincy.”
“Hey, need I remind you that I gave you that itchy scarf.”
“You want this stupid thing so badly? Fuck it. Here. You can have it back.”
“Kwa upendo wa miungu, mkundu msgaji! Put it back on! I don’t want to see your sweaty tits! In fact, I’m not even sure I want this scarf back anymore, after you’ve soiled it.”
“Shove it up your ass. Nyx and I are not moving until we find a better plan.”
Quincy threw her hands up in the air. “FINE! Stay here and starve to death. Or wait until something comes and kills you! Even better!”
Elmiryn made a rude gesture with her middle finger and stormed off to sit with Nyx…or was it Kali? Either way, the Ailuran seemed to be still too weak and dazed to be of any considerable use in this situation.
Hakeem sighed. It was up to him.
Counting the amount of time it took to calm his wife down, the man-turned-boy walked up to his wife who stood glaring out of the mouth of the cave, her features partially lit by the non-light outside.
“She’s an idiot,” The woman snarled before he could even say anything.
“She’s stubborn,” The man-boy conceded.
He ran a hand over his shaved head and puckered his lips as he worded his next sentence.
“Elmiryn is a risk taker,” He finally decided to say.
Quincy snorted. “Reckless.”
The Fanaean nodded. “She’ll do anything if she thinks she might have a chance at succeeding, however slim the odds.”
“She gets a rush out of it.”
Hakeem looked up at his wife as he closed in on his point. “So why isn’t she taking this risk now?”
Quincy looked at him sharply, then glanced surreptitiously over her shoulder at Elmiryn. He did the same.
Elmiryn was kneeling before Nyx, holding her head between her hands, her eyes searching the girl’s face rapidly as the Ailuran’s features continued to shift and change. Her lips were moving imperceptibly, and both Nyx and Kali responded to her in equally quiet tones. The girl, the Twins he should say, looked weak. Beneath the dry blood and caked mud on their skin, they were deathly pale. Almost green. What had they gone through to get the beast under control? What had happened inside of them to lead to their sudden ability to both be in control simultaneously?
Quincy sighed. “That answer, Taika, is easy…” she muttered reluctantly. “She has an anchor that is keeping her frustratingly grounded for once.”
Hakeem nodded, satisfied. “So would the answer not lie in the anchor that keeps our friend from taking flight?”
His wife looked at him sidelong, then with a scowl and a wave of her hand, she said, “Be my guest.”
Hakeem reached over and gave a squeeze of her hand. Just before he turned to leave, he thought he saw Quincy’s lips turn up at the corners.
One minute, twelve seconds. Not bad.
The man-boy approached Elmiryn slowly. His heart still swirled with conflict over the warrior’s unflinching murder of Gudahi, his friend. But was it really murder? The woman had stood her ground, and she had warned them all to stay back. The Lycans weren’t accustomed to taking orders from outsiders, so their brash actions could be understood as a simple flaw in hierarchical thinking. To Gudahi, Sanuye was Alpha. The female Lycan had decided to attack, and Gudahi, with all of his well-masked pain and rage toward the beast that had harmed his people, eagerly followed.
It was all a tragedy no doubt.
But Hakeem put these things away. He began to focus on his counting again, and he felt a comfort among the facets of time.
“Elmiryn, may I speak to Nyx and Kali?” he asked.
The woman squinted up at him. “What for?”
But Nyx–it was her face this time–touched Elmiryn’s shoulder and gave a small nod. “Elle, it’s okay. I’ll be fine.”
The warrior almost looked like she doubted this, and the wizard feared she would take her stubbornness to a new level and refuse to go. Thankfully, however, Elmiryn stood and pointed toward the other side of the cave.
“I’m going to be right over there…okay you two?” With that, the woman walked away, sparing Hakeem a warning glare.
The man-boy only gave her a nod of thanks, and went to sit next to the Ailuran—her features showed Kali now. Her nakedness did not bother the man in the slightest, anymore than Elmiryn’s did. On the one hand, as a man (though trapped as he was in an adolescent body) he thought Nyx’s body appealing, even with all the blood and the mud caking her skin. But it was almost a mechanical response to beauty—and the girl, whether she knew it or not, had a very unique beauty to her. Beyond his appreciation, the mind felt no desire. Quincy was enough for him, and in his mind, he could see no one else as even remotely desirable.
As if his ease allowed the girl to remain relaxed, Nyx—who was now showing—did not make attempts to cover herself in any way. She simply gazed at him curiously and waited for him to speak.
He looked at her as he leaned fully back against the rocky wall. “Ikati. This may be a complicated question to answer, but how are you?”
The girl blinked, her face shifting a moment to feline before returning again in the blink of an eye. “I’m fine. We’re fine. I…I think.”
Nyx bit her lip, then her features shifted and Kali appeared. The feline released her lip from her fangs and let her eyelids drop low. “It is taken care of,” she said in her customary rough voice.
Hakeem cocked his head to the side. “How so?”
Kali started. “The beast was just–”
But Nyx finished. “–Spiritual energy. The remnants of our animus that me and Kali did not control.”
“So what did you do with it?” Hakeem pressed. He had to be sure the threat was truly gone.
Nyx looked him in the eye, and suddenly her round pupils turned slitted.
“We tore the beast apart and weaved its energy into us,” Kali growled.
Hakeem’s eyes widened. “All that darkness? Wouldn’t it take you over?”
The feline shook her head. “You don’t understand…the monster you saw in the forest was not our darkness alone.”
This made him frown. “What do you mean?”
A shift. Nyx’s face appeared. “She means that when we saw that giant creature before, it was augmented by some other power. Magnified, you could even say.”
Hakeem’s frown eased. “So when we found you…”
“That augmentation had been removed. It was just me and the dark energy inside me.”
“That power must have come from somewhere. From Syria, perhaps? But why would she take away your added power? The beast was near invincible!”
Nyx’s face grew sad. “Because the monster could not speak. You’re right. It was Syria who gave my dark shard its extra power. But she took it away when it assimilated me because she wanted me coherent enough to harm Elmiryn.”
“She didn’t want you to just kill us. She wanted you to break us psychologically…destroy our group’s cohesion,” Hakeem said slowly.
Shift. Kali was back, and her angry face replaced Nyx’s look of remorse. “Yes. And that witch will pay! Her and the little one!”
Shift. Nyx shook her head, alarmed. “No! Not Lethia! It isn’t her fault!”
Shift. Kali snarled, her eyes narrowing. “She let this happen! She should be held accountable!”
Shift. Nyx, her face now contorted in frustration. “It isn’t that simple! What could she possibly have done!?”
Shift. Kali punched the ground. “More than let you sit sucking at dry bones for all this time!”
Hakeem grabbed the feline’s shoulder, and she looked at him sharply. He gazed back at her hard.
“Kali, be careful. I know you and Nyx have said that you have dealt with the beast, but its energy is a part of you now. All that rage and anger is now in your hearts. It is good that you can finally reconcile with it, but do not let it escape you. Either of you. Or we may again see its black ways return.”
Kali’s slitted gaze bored into him. Then she turned her eyes away and nodded stiffly.
Hakeem made a mental note: When it comes to eye contact, Ailurans behave similarly to Lycans. Fixed eye contact means challenge. Averting one’s gaze means to concede.Remember never to concede with Kali. Unlike Nyx, the feline persona is more apt to violence and should be kept from believing she’s in command.
Another shift and Nyx was back, looking at Hakeem with a grateful smile. Still, she held a wary glint in her eye. “Hakeem, you didn’t come to tell us that. What did you need?”
The man-boy crossed his arms and looked to the cave. “Ikati, you mentioned that Lethia was with Syria. Is she in that keep Quincy saw?”
Nyx nodded, her features flickering but remaining intact.
Hakeem continued, “You know as well as I do that the Manus Dei were summoned for a reason—to stop us, or at least, slow us down. Why do you think that is?”
“So that Syria could escape with Lethia?” Nyx said uncertainly.
He shook his head. “They must have a quick exit that wouldn’t require all of this. Think. What reason would Syria need to have lots of time for.”
Nyx thought hard, and when her features flickered to Kali’s, the man-boy saw the feline thinking hard on this too.
“Syria is trying to slow us down…because she’s trying to cast another spell?” Kali tried slowly.
Hakeem nodded. “Yes. Syria must be casting something—something that would require a long ritual that cannot be interrupted.”
“And anything she wants to cast would be bad for us, right?” Kali said, scowling.
“You humans and your…” but the feline’s grumble was cut off as Nyx shifted into view.
“Hakeem…” she said slowly. Her tawny eyes looked over him carefully, their lids low. “You want me to convince Elmiryn to go through with Quincy’s plan don’t you?”
The man-boy nodded. “Time is of the essence, and whatever reality-bending trick Elmiryn has up her sleeve won’t come quickly enough for us to stop Syria. We are so close, Ikati. If we defeat Syria, we can go home, and then this whole nightmare will be over.”
“We might go home,” the girl said shrewdly, her eyes narrowing. “And there’s still the matter of Paulo—I know he’s a prat, but he doesn’t deserve to be left in this dimension.”
Hakeem held up a pacifying hand. “Okay. You’re correct. There are still important things to deal with, and Syria may not be our answer. But what better leads have you to go on at the moment?”
Nyx frowned and looked down at her crossed legs. Her features shifted now and again. Hakeem counted the time.
Nyx sighed. “I don’t like Quincy’s plan anymore than Elmiryn does, but I see your point.”
Hakeem smiled. “I’m glad you do.”
“But tell me something first.”
The wizard’s smile turned bemused. “All right. What would you like me to tell you?”
“What does ikati mean?”
Hakeem laughed, a full genuine sound. It surprised him, but pleasantly so. Still chuckling, he stood. He looked down at Nyx–Kali–The Twins, and they both pouted up at him.
“In my language,” Hakeem chuckled. “It means, ‘cat’.”
The Twins’ expressions lightened.
“Oh!” One of them said. He didn’t know who, as their faces had been in mid-shift when they spoke.
Hakeem walked away to stand at Quincy’s side again. Elmiryn passed him, sparing him a curious glance as she went to rejoin Nyx.
He couldn’t stop grinning. ‘Cat’ wasn’t the literal translation for the word, but he figured the Twins would not appreciate his new nickname for them.
Because in Fanaean, what ikati really meant was, “silly puss.”