Out there, on that scarred field where malevolent beings had devastated the land with their depravities, all of us stood at a standstill, poised to fight and teetering on the edge of what could very well be a calamitous showdown. The soil beneath my bare feet was dark and muddy, and my toes squished in it, clenching and digging in anticipation. But I could see, in the lightless light of the Other Place, that the moisture that softened the earth beneath me was not water, but blood. In messy patches, it scabbed over the earth. If we weren’t careful, our blood would soon be joining the messy soup at our feet as well.
Elmiryn opened her mouth to speak, and I could tell by her expression that she was set to shoot off a witticism, but a loud boom cut her off and made us seize up like cornered animals. The source of the noise became quickly apparent, even without Quincy calling out and pointing. In a plume of dust and debris, something had blasted its way out of Izma’s tower and was now jettisoning towards us. My eyes squinted, struggling to assess just what the thing was—and then it dawned on me that this was not a thing, but a person.
And when they landed hard at the ground beneath Izma, dust rising from the crater that leveled with their impact, the sick realization of just who Izma’s champion was hit me in full.
“Syria…” I moaned. This would be the one trying to kill me. The one I was supposed to keep Elmiryn from killing. Oh this would be a disaster, I was sure of it.
The master enchantress straightened, her long silky black hair curtaining about her face. She wore a dark sequined dress, cut scandalously down the front, that clung to her voluptuous body. She wore no shoes…for her feet were rootish and wooden, their ends anchoring into the soil. She was a demon’s pet, enslaved to Izma’s mad designs. Was this the sort of transformation that awaited Elmiryn?
Since all this had started, I hadn’t thought of Syria as much as I perhaps should have. I’d been too preoccupied with surviving, with regaining the things I had lost. But now the question came to me…the Other Place was a place of division. Each of us had lost something in coming here. Me, my Twin; Quincy, Tonatiuh; Elmiryn, her physical form; Hakeem, his years; Farrel, his moral direction; Argos, his loyalty. Looking at Lethia, I knew it was the same case with her, though I didn’t know exactly what her sacrifice had been. Surely then, if all of us had suffered such a fate, a dog included, what did the enchantress lose?
When her gaze turned my way, Syria’s face bore a thin smile, and I could see that her eyes were red-ringed and swollen. Had she been…crying?
Lethia made a sound–and I could not tell if she were trying to swallow a sob or muster up the courage to say something. Her face showcased a sort of despair I felt uncomfortably familiar with. It was a look of regret. Of guilt. The anger in me flared.
She was still loyal to Syria this whole time! I thought, before I could stop myself.
Kali snorted at my brashness. Idiot. Listen!
What the teenager said next dispelled my foolish theory quickly, as my Twin so gently indicated. “I should’ve killed you…” Lethia intoned. “Then this wouldn’t be happening!”
“But you didn’t,” Syria replied, and her voice lacked the smug confidence I had been expecting. If anything, she sounded…disappointed.
“We don’t have to do this. We can just walk away!” I cried, trying to be reasonable, though I knew it was pointless. Syria, in her madness, was intent on following Izma despite nearly being discarded. Elmiryn, in her ambition to kill Meznik, was going to go through with her plan of playing along to the demon’s wishes. We’d all heard the others commands. We all knew there was no recourse, and it was a mistake on my part, to pretend there was. It made me sound weak and scared–which I was, but that was besides the point. Harmony had granted me the strength of presence, and right now, I was destroying whatever progress I’d made in my new image.
Not that it would’ve worked on Elmiryn, anyway.
She carefully moved away from Lethia, and Syria and I moved with her, all of us tensely united in our opposition of one another. The scenario was turning my stomach into knots, and I liked my insides well and ordered. I didn’t like the prospect of having to fight Elmiryn. In my peripheral vision, I saw Lethia move with Quincy. Together they followed our movements—at a cautious distance, but unwilling to stray too far from the upcoming action. Would they interfere? Could they? For all I knew, this would turn into a real battle royale.
Elmiryn, satisfied now that she had both Syria and I well in her view, slid her left foot back and raised her sword hilt to temple level. She had taught me this stance. It was the Ox. In this position, the blade was high and aimed at her opponent’s face or throat, with the weapon slightly angled to allow for blocking. Her weapon was trained on Syria when she did this, but I could see from the slight turn of her body that she was ready to evade me if necessary.
“Nyx,” the warrior said, her eyes still fixed on her target. “You know I’m doing this for you, don’t you?”
I responded with hands held out, beseeching, “Elmiryn, I don’t want to hurt you. Please. Don’t attack her! We can find another way!” I had already chosen my path, there was nothing more to lose in seeing it through. Maybe by some great distant miracle I could at least get the redhead to stand down.
“She’ll kill you if I don’t stop her.” Then Elmiryn raised her voice and asked Syria sharply, “Isn’t that right?”
“I’m afraid your friend speaks the truth, Nyx,” Syria murmured. I could feel her eyes on me, heavy and hungry. I was her way back into Izma’s good graces. The only reason she wasn’t launching at me right that second was because of the warrior baring down on her.
My fists clenched, and I started to tremble. I wished Harmony would come back and steel me. I wished I had clothes to cover my shivering distress. I wished Elmiryn wouldn’t use me as a thin excuse to learn more about Meznik. I wished, I wished, I wished… But these wishes were useless. So I resolved to do the best I could and said instead, “Then I’m sorry, Elle.”
And without a word or a gesture, I willed her shadow to swallow her.
The redhead realized what was happening just as she tumbled out of her shadow through to the Umbralands on the other side. She hit the dark ground with a soft thud. Her breath fogged in front of her face and her skin broke out in gooseflesh. Elmiryn straightened with an audible growl and quickly scanned her monochromatic surroundings. She was disappointed she hadn’t thought to anticipate such a move from Nyx.
She decided that using champion powers was a form of cheating, and it sucked, to borrow an otherworldly phrase. As she saw it, it was not a strength gained by the person in question, but a strength given by some unfathomable entity whose fat spirit took up too much cosmic space. But she was not angry with Nyx for flexing her god-given might. After all, the warrior had been given things too, and she had not neglected to use them…
Around her was a perfect mirror of the scene she had just been ejected from. Quincy, Lethia, Izma, and Meznik were all in the same places as before. Even the spirits watching the battle hadn’t moved. But as Elmiryn watched the fight commence without her—Syria lunging at Nyx, the girl dodging her, the mad enchantress striking with a quick reprisal—she knew she was not there. The others were gray and seemed…a touch blurry. The warrior could still see their faces, but their forms seemed fuzzy at the edges. Like she were looking through an unfocused lens.
Elmiryn tried to get her bearings straight. Tried to wrack her brain for a solution to get back into the fight. Syria had pressed her offense, forcing Nyx into the defensive. The warrior could see the girl had advanced exponentially as a fighter since coming to the Other Place, but it was her opinion that Syria was out of her league. If the lightning fast leg swipe that shook the girl’s balance, and the following meteoric uppercut that hit Nyx in the chin was any indication, Elmiryn had very little time to balance the battlefield. Even if all the warrior could do was interrupt Syria’s momentum, she was certain Nyx could regain her footing.
Syria had stumps of roots for feet, but judging by the way she moved, Elmiryn couldn’t say for certain it was a real hindrance. Her fluidity of movement even rivaled Nyx, who the woman knew to be naturally quick and dexterous. Quincy was twisting her staff in her hands, clearly eager to do something as she eyed the demons that stood apart from them all, quietly observing. Lethia’s focus was more on the fight, though now and again, her eyes flickered to Meznik on the ground, or Izma in the air. The demons themselves showed no desire to participate in the fight, as Elmiryn expected. They were passive creatures who liked to pit people against each other. Even if the warrior were foolhardy enough to attack them, she was certain it would come to nothing…and it would ruin a perfectly good opportunity in the meantime.
“Kill Izma’s pet. And as a reward, I’ll tell you where we come from!”
How could she resist? It wasn’t as if she had many clues to work off of now. She wished the others would understand. She wished NYX would understand. She couldn’t get close enough to Meznik until he trusted her. She couldn’t kill him until she knew what his weaknesses were.
She couldn’t even fight him because her hateful attention made him stronger.
But Elmiryn didn’t think killing Meznik would be much of a victory if Nyx died. So killing Syria was beneficial, really. She wasn’t putting anything on the line.
When the seconds ticked by and Syria kicked Nyx in the stomach with such force that it was a certainty something had broken, Elmiryn realized with great self-admonishment that she’d been looking for answers in the wrong place. There was nothing she could use on the other side to help bring her back, and every second she wasted was a chance for Nyx to die. She looked around her quickly–at the stark shadows and the harsh lines of light. Then an idea came to her.
Shadows here are solid, like walls. Light is the opposite. So if I do THIS…
Elmiryn raised a hand and focused the light around her to coalesce around her fist. Then with it, she drew an opening and felt the cold air rush past her, as if a vacuum had been created.
Nyx should’ve realized, she thought as she jumped through the passage of light. Color is a form of light, and I can control that. So her Umbralands can’t hold me.
The woman couldn’t help but spare a brief smirk as she returned to the normal realm. Her smugness was short lived when she saw Syria encase Nyx in a gravitational field just over the ground–likely so that the girl couldn’t use her shadow power to escape. The enchantress raised a fist, and the air seemed to cyclone around it, whipping the dust and dirt around them into a frenzy. Her eyes glowed faintly from some deep power drawn up by her anima. She was going to try and deliver a killing blow, no doubt.
Elmiryn reprimanded herself as she charged Syria from behind, bringing her sword back for a swing. For fuck’s sake, I can pat myself on the back later!
Quincy could appreciate that the Ailuran was getting beat up by Syria, but she was a champion and frighteningly resilient, if her being ripped apart not long ago illustrated. The wizard had seen that much. Seen the blood spray into the air, Nyx’s body divide itself as the spirits took their prizes. She had survived that, and without much fuss. No, the wizard was more preoccupied with the demons that were currently in their company. The ringleaders of their misfortune. The sowers of all this destruction.
They’ve done something to Hakeem…I can feel it! She thought, trembling on a minute level with fury.
But a primal instinct tickled her from deep within, telling her that these beings were untouchable. This animal intuition was further backed by her sixth sense for magical energies, which she had trained and cultivated during her training as a wizard. The intellectual clusters–those bindings that fed energy through animas and minds–was warped. She could do nothing against them, much as she’d like to. At least for the moment.
Nyx had explained to them, in their exchange of stories not long ago, what she had gone through before arriving in the Fiamman shard. She mentioned Izma. Her otherness. How her alien nature was too much for her to comprehend.
And yet now, we can gaze on them freely. Is it some sort of power they activate? Some ward or barrier they use as a precaution?
Quincy would have kept on puzzling over the mystery of the astral demons if Lethia hadn’t cried out. The wizard snapped her gaze over in time to see the teenager rush forward just at the same moment Elmiryn somehow returned from the shadowy prison Nyx had cast her in. From the corner of her eye, she could see Meznik regard Lethia with a frigid sort of attention.
Moving quickly, Quincy caught up with the girl and wrenched her back by the arm. Lethia stumbled, her arms wheeling as she caught her balance. She cast an infuriated stare at the woman.
“What are you doing!?” She shrilled. “Nyx–”
“Is being helped by Elmiryn,” Quincy interjected. “Don’t go jumping in without thinking! You could just make matters worse!”
“You don’t actually mean to sit by and watch, do you!?”
The wizard sneered at her. “Why not? It’s what you’ve been doing this entire time!”
The girl’s lips pinched shut at this, but she turned her eyes back to the fight. Her body was still tensed as if ready to rush in at any second. Quincy rolled her eyes behind her back. If the little fool was so dead set on getting herself killed, then she wasn’t going to stress herself by trying to stop her further.
Her original train of thought already disrupted, the brunette found her eyes reluctantly turning to the battle at hand. Just as she had expected, Elmiryn had succeeded in intervening, but by the looks of it, only just. Quincy pursed her lips as she watched the warrior interpose herself between Syria and Nyx through a lancing hybrid attack of her fae power and her sword. With the master enchantress’s concentration broken, Nyx crashed to the ground.
An all encompassing gravity spell was hard to maintain no doubt, even for Syria, Quincy mused.
Lacertli was gone from the Ailuran’s shoulder, no doubt to watch the fight’s proceedings from the ethereal realm. Thoughts of the god got Quincy thinking about goals and allegiances as she watched the fight move further up the field, forcing some of the surrounding spirits to scramble out of the way.
Her eyes narrowed as certain promises nagged her.
The right moment, Elmiryn. I just need the right moment! Hang on!
The warrior in question was locked in with Syria now, and she pressed the enchantress away from her lover. Nyx, meanwhile, struggled to her feet, her face tensed and dirt clinging to her sweaty skin. She appeared winded, her left arm hugging her chest.
Did Syria try crushing her with the gravity spell? Quincy wondered.
Elmiryn and Syria began trading explosive blows–the master enchantress sending blasts of force at the warrior, while the redhead returned with a barrage of air and dust from her twirling sword. Quincy thought it stupid at first until Syria let out a curse and lost a costly second swiping dirt from her eyes. Elmiryn capitalized, but the manner in which she did so made the wizard start.
The earth about Syria’s rooty feet suddenly rose and gripped her ankles like hands. The enchantress only had enough time to look down before the soil ripped her legs out from under her, sending her whipping forward. No cry slipped her lips. She didn’t wheel her arms in a panic. instead, her hands instantly shot up, palms faced outward and fingers splayed, and she was halted in mid-air. Quincy couldn’t see the magic Syria was casting, but she could feel the gravitational forces in the air tensing as a foreign aura redirected a portion of the network. That was all magic was in the end–even primal magic. Networks. Patterns. Weaves. Creating an effect meant altering the existing state of life, and Syria did so with such grace and command that Elmiryn’s fae tricks seemed vulgar and clumsy in comparison.
Speaking of the warrior, Syria’s recovery hardly seemed to phase her. She started to go in for an attack, her sword held aloft and a sharp gleam in her eye–
–That was, until Nyx came out of nowhere and grabbed the woman by her right arm and pulled. Elmiryn managed to keep her balance, but when her body turned to adjust to her companion’s pull, the Ailuran did something that made Quincy laugh without thinking.
In one fluid movement, Nyx grabbed onto Elmiryn’s neck–and still holding her arm–the girl leapt up and tucked her body. She was not a heavy person, but her dead weight forced the warrior to bend forward. The moment this happened, Nyx wrapped her right leg around Elmiryn’s head, forced her right arm straight, and extended her hips with a snap. The warrior let out a strangled yell.
Quincy covered her astonished grin as she watched Nyx release the Fiamman to avoid having her skull crushed by one of Syria’s tree feet. Elmiryn stumbled off to the side, her left hand gripping her sword as her right arm hung limp.
Nyx just caught Elmiryn in a flying arm bar and dislocated her arm. That was…unexpected!
Of course, now the Ailuran had Syria to deal with on her own again. The girl rolled away from Syria, but the enchantress followed her doggedly, and the moment Nyx stopped in a crouch, the other woman sent a kick toward her face. The girl blocked this with her forearms and rose to her feet. Syria followed up with yet another kick, but instead of jumping out of the way like a scared girl as she had been before, the Ailuran raised her leg at the knee and used her shin to block the blow. Quincy winced as she saw the impact. She knew from experience that the only reason Syria wasn’t using elaborate magic spells was because she was using small scale casting to augment her martial arts. Add on to the fact that the lower half of her legs were made of solid wood and you were looking at fractured bones.
But to Quincy’s surprise, Nyx took the hit with just the barest of grimaces, her legs moving fast to intercept Syria’s other kicks. The wizard was in awe of how quickly the enchantress could move with such heavy appendages, but looking at her one would think she was even stronger than before. The exchange drew out as both women started to compete for the upper hand. Quincy realized that the battle was not for who could land the deadliest blow, but to see who would lose their balance first. Indeed, the more she watched Syria try to stomp Nyx’s feet, or Nyx to swipe out Syria’s legs, the more apparent it became that this was a battle of finesse.
Quincy frowned. She wondered why it was that the enchantress saw fit to challenge Nyx in a style of fighting that the girl clearly excelled at. Was it to make Izma pleased by illustrating how Syria was superior in whatever form of battle that she found herself in?
Quincy looked Elmiryn’s way. The warrior was trying unsuccessfully to reset her arm. Apparently her fae abilities did not extend to such an injury. Sighing, the brunette started to march toward her, staff out.
If there’s ever a moment to enter into things, it’s now!
At Quincy’s approach, Elmiryn snarled at her. “Stay out of it, wizard!”
“No,” she snapped back. She crouched down to inspect the exact nature of the injury. “We took an oath to help one another in our goals, right? Well this counts.”
“You’re just doing this because you can’t think of another way to find out where Hakeem’s gone,” Elmiryn grumbled, her eyes fixed on Nyx.
Quincy leaned her staff against her shoulder and started to roll up her sleeves. “Yeah, well…someone’s got to keep Nyx off you.”
Lethia’s voice cut in from behind. “Quincy, if you’re going to get involved too, then I can’t sit by and watch. This is my fault. I have to make things right. That means the demons can’t have their way!”
Elmiryn looked up sharply. “Lethia what are you saying?”
The wizard hadn’t even realized the girl had followed her. She blinked and looked up over her shoulder. Lethia’s eyes locked onto hers, and she felt something sharp stab just behind her irises and pull. As the numbness rolled over her, making her fall backward onto the ground in a stupor, Quincy heard Lethia say as she confidently removed her lightning staff–
“Excuse me while I borrow this…”
Quincy struggled for breath as the warrior’s face swam over her, her hand clutching the collar of the wizard’s shirt.
“Lethia Artaud, you get your ass back here!” Elmiryn shouted. “You give this woman back her skill! You hear me? …Lethia! LETHIA!”
Quincy groaned and touched her head. “Wha…what? What happened? Elmiryn what are you talking about?”
The redhead looked at her with a grimace, then helped her sit up. “Lethia ‘borrowed’ your skill in using that lightning staff. She’s going to try and stop me from killing Syria—the gods know why!”
Quincy blinked at her thickly. “…I—I had a lightning staff?”
Elmiryn spared her an impatient glare. “Wizard I haven’t got the time to deal with your goofy stupor, so just pop in my dislocated arm before I rip it off and beat you with it!”